Enduring the marathon...meeting

Wednesdays mean faculty meetings at Kwansei Gakuin Junior High. Last week we were spared because it was a national holiday. I should have seen it coming: this week's was going to be long. 3 hours. In which I didn't say a word. And I understood about 10 words in the meeting. But I've learned a lot from these meetings nevertheless.

Earlier in the month I was getting perturbed when students would sleep in my class. But then I realized that I sleep during these faculty meetings when the principal is talking and he doesn't get his feathers all ruffled up.

Tonight a few teachers discussed an issue for an hour of the 3 hour meeting. It was whether to have the school Christmas parties by class or by house. At our school, each grade is divided into 4 45-student classes. Students move from subject to subject, learning with the same class of students all day long. Houses integrate the grades and classes. But the students do less activities with this group. So teachers were discussing the merits of spending more time in houses or classes. None of the teachers got heated in the discussion, just animated with smiles and a series of points. In the end, the principal said a few comments and the bilingual teacher next to me told me that a concensus had been reached: students would have their party by house.

So I've learned that meetings involving everyone, participated in by fewer, serves to put everyone on the same page of all the issues of the school. I think this helps the management style where there are few people with executive authority on school issues and more people with partial responsibility in a lot of roles at school.

I've changed browsers to compose this post and found that the hotlink option has resurfaced. So now my blogs can get more interesting with some links. I'd like to link you to a fellow English teacher whom I know from Concordia Language Villages. Erinn Groeltz is a JET teacher on the island of Shikoku. Check out her blog here. She seems a little more embedded to the community with her language skills and prior study of Japan. Enjoy!


Virtual Daydreaming 2

I just discovered that my blog commentary on the picture below posted
to flickr instead of this blog. So here's what I wrote so you can see
them together on this page:

Isn't this a fantastic shot? My friend Nathan said it was something
out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" where martial artists run up
bamboo trees waving in the wind. Actually it is a little girl in a
maple tree in the Imperial Garden of Kyoto. She was put up there by
her father for a photo op, but I captured it too. Like something out
of a dream... that's what I've been feeling like for the past week.

Wednesday was Labor Day here. We got the day off from school. Thursday
was Thanksgiving in the USA, so I called up my expat friends Nathan
and Leon to make a meal of it. I'd heard that the Sheraton Kobe was
offering a Thanksgiving Buffet on Wednesday. Nathan came 3 hours by
train and Leon came down from his mountain apartment to Rokko Island
for the meal. It was touted as a Thanksgiving buffet by the American
coordinator for the hotel. So we had some assumptions about the menu.
As we walk to our table, past the buffet, we can't spot the chef with
cutlery in hand to carve a turkey under heat lamps. No yams, mashed
potatoes. Nothing. Well, not nothing. But nothing familiar to
Thanksgiving. It looks just like a pan-Asian cuisine. We ask the
waiter. "Oh, that's for dinner." Great. So much for delivering a taste
of home to my friends. The waiter comes back and says cryptically,
"they're preparing the turkey now." Leon interpreted that to mean,
"for dinner." But finally the waiter gestures over towards the buffet.
We see it. Arranged in slices like silver dollars are "turkey with
cranberry sauce." This the sole Thanksgiving item in the buffet. We
laugh it off and get 4 plates of food by the end of the meal. So we
got our money's worth for the buffet, but not what our stomachs were

I haven't been forthcoming with my blogs on schedule because school
has been getting quite intense over the past two weeks. Finishing up
the term. I have been working hard to leave my lesson planning at
school so that I can enjoy an evening at home without more work to get
back to. I finally did that on Thursday and felt on top of the world.
That feeling lasted until Friday morning when I neglected something in
the lesson plan and threw my co-teacher and students for a loop when I
deviated from the LP to fit it in. That sent me into a spiral of
frustration that I only got out of Saturday evening. Perhaps it was
exacerbated by lack of sleep during this week when I've been staying
late at work and then staying up late at home.

Staying up late at home has been induced by my love for technology and
gadgetry. I have recently become more interested in podcasting because
I have found out it is possible for me to produce a podcast almost for
free. So I've been surfing the web learning how to do it and testing
out software applications to do it. I don't have much of an angle for
a show right now: there's already EFL teachers in Japan with a
podcast. In due time, I'll have something. I just need to get on top
of my teaching first.

And the countdown clock has begun for my Christmas return to the
States. So I think that is making me think of places anywhere but
here. However, nowness is a good quality. I need to be focused on the
now instead of worrying/longing for the future. That will take care of
itself. Thanks for reading and I'll be back next week!

Virtual Daydreaming

Virtual Daydreaming
Virtual Daydreaming,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.


The restaurant less eaten by

Two restaurants lined up on a street... so begins the poem by Robert
Frost. Oh wait, maybe I have my facts wrong. But if Mr. Frost visited
Japan with me, he may have written that line. After working late at
school, I decided to eat out because by the time I could have made
something at home it would have been bedtime.

So I decided to go to my usual ramen shop. I'm trying to be a
connoisseur of ramen while I'm in Japan but I haven't gotten to far
afield in the noodle shops around my own town. Just this one on the
street across the train tracks, the school cafeteria, and the Nissen
instant noodles. Yes, I admit to eating instant noodles in Japan where
I can get fresh ones. But I thought the instant noodles would be
better than the 10¢ ones that slowly kill you with preservatives in
the powdered broth that starving grad students eat back in the States.
These instant noodles came in a nice looking package and they did have
a tantalizing piece of dried pork and radish in them, but after the
boiling water soaked the noodles, they were the same as the 10¢ kind
back home. But I'm totally going on a tangent to my open story.

There's a red lantern restaurant next to the ramen shop. I asked my
friend and teacher mentor Aki what kind of restaurants are those with
these lanterns and drapes that keep passers-by from peering in. Aki
says these are the local watering holes where people go for good
times. Don't think Cheers! with Cliff Claven and Sam Malone, but just
a low key restaurant where people can relax and drink and eat. Well,
I'm not much of a drinker but I decided: what the heck?!

As soon as I slid open the door, there was a sudden pause in the sound
and activity of the restaurant. It about as big as a reception room,
not a sweeping Denny's or anything. All 8 people stared at me without
a sound as I entered. Immediately I knew this would be a wonderful
dining experience. They didn't expect a foreigner to come to their
tucked away place. I had found someplace special. The proprietor moved
around some regulars at the bar so that I could sit alone and watch
Japan vs. Brazil women's volleyball. I took a menu and could read half
of all of it. That means that I could read the hiragana/katakana
syllables that come after verbs and foreign words but not the complex
kanji for the main ingredients.

So I went to strategy "B": sore wa nan desu ka? What is that? I
pointed to my neighbor's dish and asked. He didn't even know. He had
to ask his buddy from whom he'd been separated since my arrival. He
said something that I didn't even understand. The point isn't to
understand, its to establish some interest and interaction. Then I
pointed to a sizzling pancake of diced vegetables, noodles, and
mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki. My girlfriend Gilda says that Hiroshima and
Kansai are famous for their okonomiyaki, so I knew that I had to try
it. The chef asks me if I want seafood or beef. Well, I only picked up
beef but I saw someone else getting seafood so I'll have to try that
next time.

Cutting food with chopsticks is difficult, but it can be done. Even
beef doesn't stand a chance with my hashi cutting skills. A successful
dinner. I overcame fear of something new and potentially not delicious
and found a fun place with helpful people and delicious food. I chose
the restaurant less eaten by, and that has made all the difference!


Mother and Child

Mother and Child
Mother and Child,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
Nara. In addition to the Todai-ji temple, there is another other sacred attraction in Nara. Deer. What you can't see in this photo are about 6 deer poking for position to get the crumbs of food from the child in her mother's arms. The deer are considered sacred here so I don't think the population is "controlled" like I'm familiar with in the States. Instead, the deer are fed by all the visitors. They become quite aggressive to the tourists, but that's part of the excitement of visiting Nara.

I like to take this kind of candid photograph of normal people where ever I travel. These two were a good subject. Many families come to Nara to learn about the roots of Japanese culture. The city provided me with insights as well.

Todai-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple
Todai-ji Temple,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
For some Buddhists in Japan, this is a sacred destination. For me last Wednesday, it was also my destination though for less holy of a reason. I wanted to see if I could fit through Buddha's nostril and receive enlightenment. Todai-ji houses a statue of Buddha that is probably 10 stories high. So accessing the nostrils is no easy task. And can you believe that the supervising monks won't let you climb up to try? ;) So where did I get this cocka-mamey idea to fit through Buddha's nostril? Well, the guide book. And they have carved a hole through one of the huge pillars in the temple that is supposed to be the same size as Buddha's nostril. Thanks to so many people who have gone before me, the hole in the wood was quite smooth and perhaps a little bigger than when it was first cut. So I put my arms over my head and wiggled through. On the other end, I felt a little light-headed so I guess that's as close to enlightenment as I'll come on this effort!

Atomic Bomb dome

Atomic Bomb dome
Atomic Bomb dome,
originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
October 10: Hiroshima. This blog entry is out of chronological order, but I want to post more pictures. Here I am in front of the Exhibition Hall which was very near ground zero when the bomb exploded overhead. Ironically, because it was directly beneath the bomb, its location helped it to remain somewhat intact because the force of the explosion did not blow it over.

Looking at the modern buildings in the far background, you wouldn't know that Hiroshima had been totally decimated from the bomb. There was a lot of desire by people to move on from the painful memories of the bomb and destroy any reminders of it. But those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This hollow building is a reminder so that we never forget nor repeat what happened in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.


Fresh out of my journal from Toyama

On my way to Toyama to wwoof (willing workers on organic farms) it with a chicken farm family. My day started at 5:20 with a hodge podge breakfast and full reading of the Bible lesson. I walked to Kotoen Station to get the bus to JR Nishinomiya station. The bus filled up with businessmen and suddenly it was a packed ride for 20 minutes. I was part of the morning commute. I got there 12 minutes before my train was to leave. The idea of scheduling busses and regular commuter trains to coordinate with each other would be unheard of in the USA. Busses and light rail trains "come when they come". Here you set your watch by the train. I boarded with my backpack in front so as not to hit anyone like when I went to Hiroshima. I stood with the crowed of grey and black suits, looking out the window as silver haired businessmen slept in their seats.

For the land of the rising sun, I haven't been impressed with the colors of the sunrise or sunset so far. Often the mornings are hazy and the sun just appears after the haze blows off a bit. The sun sets quickly and without display over the West mountains. There is some dark pastel glow to the twilight and dawn - I have appreciated that. But its almost as if the sun is too busy to linger around to dance with the clouds and shoot its radiant beams into the fields and alleys of Japan's cities.

We pulled into Osaka station and I knew that I had a quick transfer to Toyama. Fortunately there wre conspicuous signs in Roomaji to guide me. I walked up and down the platform trying to find where my car would be. I asked a conductor and he pointed to these signs suspended parallel to the tracks. Thunderbird was the nickname of the train to Toyama. So I found track #3 and waited there. The train was 10 minutes early - what the? But it would wait until 7:12 before departing. It was an empty train but my seat was reserved in the very front by the window. No tray table to write on and no room to stretch my legs but I have what I need. The train pulls out and I watch the urban phenomenon of Osaka pass me by. I try to read some Kana on the buildings. I snuggle up with my scarf and Paul Simon to catch up on my reduced sleep from the night before. Almost no one is in the car until Kyoto when a lot of people get on, including an elderly couple just across the aisle from me. The man seems kind of out of it, his wife giving him direction where to sit, then switching with him as she sits next to another lady. He stares out the window, dressed in a grey suit. Later he reads his newspaper. I wonder about his life story: when he retired from the corporation, if he was alive during WWII, heck maybe he fought in the war. Now things change so fast that he is out of it. Then I start writing my thoughts. Now I wonder what to say to my farmer hosts. I'd better brush up on some survival Japanese!

11:17 a.m. Now I'm in Toyama and will be for another 75 minutes because I missed the train that left 5 minutes after I arrived. Once again, I'm not used to the tight connections. I assumed that I had to exit the JR system and buy another ticket to Yatsuo station. Wrong. For future reference, just stay in the JR system and adjust the fare when you finally get out. And don't waste your time buying an unreserved ticket in advance when there's no advantage to it. This is probably what made you miss the train. Also, you assumed there'd be one every 15 minutes. Well, this is not Kansai. The 10:27 a.m. train was the last for two hours. They came hourly. So I pay my dues once again. Then I was confused because I called the Hashimotos cell thinking I had done my duty to inform her but I assumed that she would call the intern who was to pick me up at the station. Wrong. So at 11 a.m. I get a call "where are you?" I'm so confused because I don't know the name of whom I spoke to on the cell and now the back up plans are confused. Hopefully country folks will be more forgiving.

I made the 12:30 p.m. train and Mr. Hashimoto picked me up. I immediately apologized but he seemed to jump right into greeting. I said a few things in Japanese: no boots, what river, and nice weather as we drove off but then realized that I should value the silence of the moment adn take in the expanded beauty as we drove further into the mountains. The roads got narrower and narrower adn the mountain views more beautiful. As the single lane paved road began to crumble. I thought that it looked a lot like the rural parts of Jamaica as bamboo grew along hillsides. I suppose there's two more steps to remoteness: two-track and no road. But it is still pretty bush here and I can tell my thinking is far away from teh worries and stress of Nishinomiya. Mr. Hashimoto welcomed me in, showed me my room, and introduced me to another wwoofer who was Japanese. We had tea, arranged afternoon work schedule and then set off a bilingual discussion. We rest until 2 p.m. then start work. Naps in Japan? Where am I?

At work, I shovel chicken feed, counted and collected eggs, cleaned eggs and packaged them. Had more social time with Japanese peers today than all previous two months. Had my ofuro (bath) and read until dinner. This will be a great opportunity to strengthen and enlargen vocabulary. Chicken curry was the hot dish with plenty of cold vegetable accoutrements and sashimi. I gave omiyage (souvenirs from USA) and called it a night. Oh and I read the vista's journal. All the comments are very positive and grateful. That's a good sign.


Just a quick note

Well, I'm finally back on the Internet. I don't have much time to
write now, but stay tuned for this weekend when I'll write to you
about my two trips this week to Toyama and Nara. Get our your atlas
and look those cities up. They're still in central Japan but were
fresh new views for me. Thanks for all of your correspondence and
patience with me as I get more fully entrenched here in the land of
the rising sun.

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA