Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Frisbee Camp and Drinking With the Dragon King

Well it’s been a while since I’ve last written (gomen, I’m sorry). I’ve been surprisingly busy, and for a time I was without internet due to lightning strikes. Thankfully I’m now reconnected. My apartment continues to feel more and more like a home. I love the process of nesting in a new space. Converting someone else’s clutter into your organization and the slow but steady patch work filling of once empty wall space is more rewarding that expected.

Two weekends ago I went to a very flat farming area of Kochi (that was rather unremarkable as Japan standards go) to attend the Ultimate Frisbee Training Camp. There were perhaps 25 other JETs and Japanese Ultimate players from our team there. Knowing quite a bit about the game (thank you Robert Olson, David Wigger, and the Wooster Ultimate team) from my time in college I was asked to help train up the new comers in the ways of frisbee force. So forehand throws were attempted, field positioning was explained, and in total 7 games were played in the span of two days. It was fantastic! The frisbee team has a lot of really great folks on it. The newbies really picked up the game quickly, and everyone seemed to have a great time, although it was very sweaty unrelenting weather both days.

My classes continue to go well, even though most of my students are still quite shy. The typical response to a question from me is to remain still as though I was the T-Rex in Jurassic Park and they are doctor Allen Grant. “If you stay still he can’t see us! Don’t move Ian, DON’T MOVE!” Luckily there are a handful of outgoing “crazy kids” (this is their description of themselves not my words) who laugh, speak frequently, and also are a great help in class. Some even go so far as to translate difficult directions for the other students. I have a small amount of frustration with the class sizes. I have one class of 7 and one of 3 or 4, and then four classes of 30 plus. The small classes go fantastically. They all remain engaged the entire 50 minutes of class. The 30 plus classes are difficult, and it’s a bit like herding cats to get 100% participation. Hopefully that will come soon. My JTE’s remain fantastic resources and are quickly becoming good friends. Sakamoto Sensei is my main JTE and she and I have developed a very light-hearted and humorous relationship that is quite refreshing to see in a Japanese friend. There are some issues with her and I both being new teachers. Many of the students are used to her predecessors team teaching methods of translating most of what Rachel or the other older JETs in Susaki said. We have been trying to force the students to depend less on translation and practice English listening more, however . . . it remains to be seen if that is working. There is a frustrating habit for most Japanese students of saying they understand when they really don’t. I typically explain a lesson then ask if they understand, and am met by smiles and affirmative nods . . . only to find out later that the students are running to other teachers saying they don’t understand me. Will be working on that.

Last weekend I hiked Kajigamori near Kochi City. It was beyond gorgeous! The hike begins with a waterfall whose name translates to “Waterfall of the Dragon King”. It’s customary to drink from the various streams and waterfalls for good luck as you climb the mountains. The water was sweet, the air cool, and the cedar forests were verdant. The climb begins with a steep scramble straight up over loose stones covered in moss. After a good bit, the mountain opens up and the views begin. Once atop (though slightly hazy when we climb) the view is astonishing. I know not why Buddha’s always seem to find homes atop the mountains of Japan, but they inherently add a level of reverence and respect for the effort you just put into scaling the summit (no matter the size). Unfortunately, the American Army decided to place some large antenna arrays atop Kajigamori. In a sense they are equally impressive and simultaneously offensive. The angular, cold, and obtrusive steel of man made towers surrounded by red and white signs and barbed wire dropped atop the rolling green everything sprawled before you. Makes you think at least.

We descended via the 1000 step course. This was fast in comparison to the vertical climb up, and ran us past many waterfalls. All in all it was a fantastic weekend. I must apologize for the time it has taken to finally get this post edited and up. I’m quite behind on my blogings, but hopefully this will satiate those of you frustrated by my relative Internet silence. More to come as always.

Hope everyone at home is doing well. ALSO, should any of you have any burning questions about daily life in Japan, questions on Japan in general, or interests you think I should pursue please post them as comments! I will do my best to answer, or do any of your questions and suggestions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Friends, fireworks, and (yes oh yes) rain and river lobsters.

Minasama konbonwa (Good evening everyone). Well it’s the last Tuesday before I begin teaching classes. Tomorrow is opening ceremonies and my first official lesson, and to say I’m ready is about as severe an understatement as possible. I have been salivating for things to do about the office, however soon very soon I believe I will be quite pleasantly engaged in lesson planning, studying Japanese, and hopefully the art club.

This past weekend I hopped an express train out west along the coast to Nakamura, where Colin, Jamie, Marie, and many more dear friends live. I came down on Friday and stayed with Colin, our night was consumed with appropriate amounts of political, philosophical, economical, and travel related banter with wonderful interludes of serious modern dance outbursts provided by the immensely talented Jamie E. The next day was filled with sleeping in, and spats of rain all day. The rain held off that night for an excellent display of fireworks (made delicious with matsuri (festival) food: karage (friend chicken chunks on a stick) Yaki ika (grilled squid head on a stick with a sweet sauce), or, my personal favorite, takoyaki (imagine if you will crepe batter with onion and octopus grilled in ball form, and covered with dried fish flakes, mayo, pickled ginger, and sweet soy sauce). The rather large group of ALT’s from all over Kochi Prefecture then migrated in mass to a surprisingly fun dance hall where a few drinks were had by all, and jovial dancing (lead by Mr. Jamie E. of course) was practiced to what was probably the same damn techno song all night. Four other people were staying with Colin that night. We stayed up till 6 talking frisbee tactics and sharing college experiences. It was great fun, and (as I’ve stated before) I’m very pleased with the comfort and ease with which everyone seems to be getting along. Our time together seems more like a reunion of old friends rather than the creation of new ones. Maybe it’s the shared experience of being thrust into another culture, or maybe I’ve just been lucky yet again and landed in a wonderful place surrounded by wonderful people.

Sunday the skies were gray, and it rained on and off all day (making it borderline impossible to take any photos of the beautiful city of Nakamura, which is often called the tiny Kyoto of Kochi. The City is cut in two by the Shimanto River (the only undamed river, I think left in Japan (but just incase), on Shikoku. The sides of the river are public parks and vibrant green fields of reeds and manicured campsites. All the ALT’s met in the gray and rain clad in swimming attire to spend two hours floating down the Shimanto’s cool waters on various inflatable toys. The funniest of which belonged to Mr. Jamie H. (a Scotsman not to be confused with the ever dancing Jamie E.). He chose a large lobster as his trusty steed, although Thomas the Train Engine came in a close second). The lobster proved to be a continual source of entertainment as we drifted down the rivers picturesque curves. Floats were flipped, laughter was had, and yes it rained on and off the whole time, but it was relaxing and a pleasure I hope to repeat at least once more before the hot weather gives way to Autumn’s cool.

I didn’t return home until late Sunday night, and had barley the energy to toss my wet clothing into the washer before crashing down to my futon (and favorite pillow from home, thanks again mom and dad).

On Monday morning my head teacher (Kyoto Sensei) attended the Susaki High School rowing club, he showed up in swimming cap and scuba mask to attempt balancing in a Japanese racing kayak along with me, I was humbled and grateful. We both attempted 3 or 4 times and failed completely. Imagine a western style-racing skull without oarlocks and two paddles (thus the rower must use only his core muscles to maintain the set of the boat). So the students in the club laughed at us both, and attempted to give advice in childlike Japanese. I had attempted to show them the difference between our boats, but somehow the only parts that translated were, “Andrew rowed in high school”. Interestingly the cove where the team practices is a gorgeous place. Sky blue waters, jumping fish, green hills carpeted in bamboo, and hoards of opaque, non stinging, jellyfish. They float about curiously like gelatinous button mushroom caps. If I stopped kayaking long enough to look at them they would, at times, seem to drift towards my boat – as thought they were capable of being curious of this alien neon shaped parading loudly atop the water’s surface. It was a fantastic morning, and I walked away having a host of new memories and a rather unpleasant sun burn (everyone at school said I looked like a drunken tomato).

And lastly today was the first day of classes and students! Hizzah hurray for a real day of work. I taught one class of 7 students today, and it went better than I could have hoped. Japanese English students are well known for being very reserved in classes where speaking is the focus, but these students (for the most part) were loud, active, and constant participants in my various games and conversational lessons. The teacher said she could tell I had taught, or worked with students before, and I felt as though all the lesson planning (and money that went to The Boston Language Institute) was completely justified by my day. I also received the radiant news that my school is very generously going to buy me a new air conditioner (bye bye hot box, I’ll always reassure our month together). The rest of my day was spent assisting my JTE with the grading of an English quiz some students took in her class today. I was going to keep a list of funny errors, but I stopped recording them after the first test was nothing but comically misplaced verbs resulting in Yoda like speech.

Well it’s late and my futon beckons. As always, more to come!