after the storm/haze/blaze

10 09 2007

I was totally ready to sit down and write this post, and suddenly there was this terrifyingly loud siren going off, and having no idea what it was I panicked a little. I turned on the TV expecting some warning about a tsunami or something. With no reason not to go outside I left and saw few people running. I followed them to the cause of the alarm: a building whose second floor was engulfed by flames. For the next 90 minutes I watched my town’s firefighters rip apart the building while thoroughly soaking it (and some bystanders). Everyone is okay, thankfully and I have a renewed respect for firemen after having inhaled only one lungful of smoke blown my way. Even after I left at 2:00 AM the firemen were there until at least 3:30 AM (I heard one come home next door). All seriousness aside, it’s more important to note that the firemen have the sweetest digs ever: super shiny silver jackets.

Back to the post as planned: I had an awesome week. Or maybe it was just the weekend-ish half of it, and so I think the entire week was awesome. Yeah, come to think of it, Monday through Wednesday was (were? I think either is justifiable) completely mundane. The only highlight was when I played basketball at lunch and landed a 7/8ths court shot jokingly made in frustration at my inability to score any points. Of course that’s when the giggling posse of girls happened to walk in, so they all think I’m some basketball superstar now. Add “can you dunk?” to the standard list of questions.

Thursday was a kindergarten day and we were going to a horse-resort-farm thing nearby, but it was rainy so we stayed in and played for a few hours (and taught them “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”). I also found out why the young’ns have such bad teeth—every day the kindergartners have 30 minutes of “chewing gum time,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Kids chew gum and share candy with each other. Even with like, three rotten teeth and a whole lot of gum (both organic and chewing), they are just SO ADORABLE. I’ll have pictures next week, when we actually go to the horse farm.

Oh, I also realized I like kindergarten because I can read Japanese books to them and understand. Yes, my ability to read Japanese is now officially at the level of a five year old.

Thursday night after kendo, I took more lessons in Japanese cooking; this time the recipe was the lunchtime favorite of おにぎり (onigiri, a rice ball usually stuffed with fish). They’re actually just as easy to make as they sound. My lesson, though, ended up turning into an English lesson on the subjunctive tense, which I guess is rarely used in Japanese. By the end of it I was using my dry-erase board and wildly gesturing with a crumpled ball of paper to help demonstrate (IF a ball is in the air, THEN it will fall to the ground; IF students like learning English, THEN they will learn it faster and better). Easy as pie.

This lesson and others frequently reaffirm my beliefs about effective teaching here. Emphasis on the group rather than the individual often means that students sit silently so they make no mistakes. I’ve realized, on the other hand, that if I make no mistakes while I study Japanese, I will never learn. I’ve made it a goal to try and speak Japanese in class a bit and when I make mistakes, make light of the situation. I figure if they see me trying and screwing up, maybe it will inspire them to do the same. I’m not good enough at Japanese yet to give pep talks (if at first you don’t succeed…), so wise advise from an English teacher came to mind: show, don’t tell. I’m hopeful.

Friday I was back at the high school. My elective English class is going to be where I get to be the most creative. I’m there only one day a week, and because it’s an elective, there’s no official syllabus to follow. The teacher speaks excellent English, is genki and open to trying new things. What more could I ask for? My first plan is to develop an anti-Katakana English lesson plan to whip some clarity into the students’ speech. Katakana English, for the uninformed, is the result of teaching Japanese students to read English as they would Japanese. Thus, “English” (2 syllables) becomes エングリシュ e-n-gu-ri-shu (5 syllables), and “pronunciation” (5 syllables) becomes プロナンシエション pu-ro-na-n-shi-e-sho-n (8 syllables). Japanese is read with a fairly even meter, so all these extra syllables slow down speech and make some words completely incomprehensible when spoken. There will be a lot of singing, and clapping (developing rhythm is key) and people nearby will be jealous not to be in that class.

As the day was drawing to a close, the weather started getting really bad. Apparently a typhoon was hitting. A typhoon?! I love bad weather! I was literally giggling with glee as I sprinted to my car while freakishly hard crosswinds pelted my face with rain. My camping plans for the weekend were not very alluring given the downpour, so I managed to convince the reluctant high school teachers to come out that night, and uphold their “every week” drinking policy stated the week prior. Although, once sufficiently buzzed, it became another English lesson. I don’t mind, I guess–I was just looking forward to practicing some Japanese.

I got that chance Sunday when I got my hair cut. About halfway through the hour-plus process I realized I had been carrying on a (minimal) conversation with Kato-san (kah-to sahn—anyone else appreciate the circumstance of having a guy almost-named Kut cut my hair?). I was talking all on my own. No dictionary. No friends to help. I was quite happy to see first-hand the results of my studies. The haircut itself is good and the experience was mostly the same as in the States, there’s just some weirdness around my ears, but that’s just the way they do it here. I did, though, feel like a bonsai at times. Oh, and when I had my hair washed, I was asked to lean forward over the sink instead of back; that’s different. Next time I’m going to get the treatment the guy before me had which included a haircut, shave, massage, and face-misting with something that could have been water or liquid crack. It’s crazy here, I tell ya.

One of the high school teachers snuck in some action (and not-action) shots on Friday, so I’ve included those below. The last one is of a student and me playing a game where you make funny faces at each other until someone laughs. Write it off as cross-cultural learning.

PICTURES (click to enlarge):

high school girls

all people who enter Japan sign a form that requires the peace sign in all group photos

teaching

see, I actually work

a bu bu bu

but not always

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