Sunday, January 22, 2012

I forgot to hit "publish" last Thursday.

(As the tittle suggests this post is several days old, and has been sitting unintentionaly in the drafts folder. A more up to date one on the happenings of this most recent weekend will follow shortly)

It's chilly and wet here. Most days I feel like I live in a place where winter doesn't exist, or rather it exisits in the chill that sinks into you before you recognize the need for another layer (because no buildings have insulation). It settles in the tips extremities, and lingers far longer than it should. A place, where if the sun shines in mid January you only need a sweater, but the nights and little hours of the morning leave your breath suspended momentarily before you as though it wished to share some secret from somewhere within your chest.

I still think winter without snow is a damn wrong feeling winter.

Last week saw several things happen: my best and brightest 3rd year students fell victim to the trials of Japan's national standardized tests (more on this in a bit), I went to Nakamura to visit Mr. Colin for is big birthday (30 years the old man), and also had myself a wee birthday party. Yep I'm 25 and feeling about the same as I felt at 24. Though I will admit that post holiday tavels I am feeling more purposful and a little clearer in thought process.

A quick note on the test taking thing : Depending on your chosen course of study as a high school student in Japan, you may have to take up to 6 (I have been told) different 80 minute standardized tests. Think SAT and ACT combined into one giant test, and (here's the kicker) you only get one shot at it. There are no retakes. You either make the cut, or you don't. For me, this seems cruel. I have watched many of my favorite students crumble slowly under the pressure this week. One student in particular so much so that she broke down in class. Water works, quiet sobs, and a bumbling giant hairy foreigner telling her that she is very smart and shouldn't worry, but the language barrier is always there. My new years travels showed me how much my Japanese has improved since I came, but it is still . . . childish and broken at best. Perhaps the most appropreate word is functional. In instances like this though, where I wish to god I could comand all the grace and comforting powers of any language, I am left again scrambling to conveigh that I am at the least understanding and interested in listening.

I should mention that this student was more embarassed by her own break down, than eager to talk about why she was crying. So counseling, and offering the old teacher's shoulder are not always welcome. What can you do though?

Thats all for now

a quick picture of the birthday party crew.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Sorry for the several weeks of silence. I've been busy showing my sister all the reasons I love Japan. For those who many not know - I have a sister (from other parents), her name is Alice. Our paths crossed in college, we worked together at Kingsley Pines (the happiest place on Earth), and have kept in touch speaking at least once a week for two years of mutual international work experience (me in Japan and her in Zambia for a year and now in South Africa). Sometimes she writes about her adventures and work at this blog.

At any rate she came to Japan on Dec. 22 after something like 38 hours of traveling. I kept a bare bones diary of what we did day to day because for 12 days we were running full throttle to make the most of our time together. So much happened while Alice was here I am actually unsure what the best way to approach writing about and sharing it all. I think I will start with just the bare bones of the trip for today and follow that up with a more reflective post after I have some time to really workout everything that was taken in. So without further hesitation here's the nuts and bolts of what happened: 

Dec 22: Alice arrived in Susaki on a bus at 7:08 in the morning after a ten hour bus ride, two 8 or 9 hour flights, and an 18 hour layover in Doha, Qatar. She championed through a little drowsiness and spent the day meeting my students and coworkers. That night was also the bon enkai for my school so she cleaned all up and came out for the big end of the year party. 

Dec 23: Alice slept till 1:30 (just over 13 hours). We cooked together, and adventured down to the large local market to look for what we wanted to eat later in the week. We ate at one of my favorite noodle shops, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and remembering those we both miss from Wooster. 

Dec 24: Went to Aki city to meet up with the usual crowd of Kochi's best and brightest for a huge Christmas party. There was feasting, drinking, festivities, a gift exchange, and even a bicycling santa appeared. 

Dec 25: Aki is right on a stunning stone beach. Christmas morning was spent throwing stones into the ocean, sun bathing, and cooking yet again. Came home to Susaki to make eggnog, skype with family and friends, and watch It's a Wonderful Life (it just isn't Christmas without George Bailey). 

Dec 26: Alice and another friend of mine went for a day hike along a beautiful mountainous stretch of the 88 temple trek that runs near Susaki, and returned to Susaki for another bon enkai (this time with the Susaki Broken English Club). Way too much good food, they dressed Alice up in kimono, and took us to karaoke after. 

Dec 27: Spent the day in Kochi City. Took Alice to Kochi castle, and then met up with the lovely Mia who helped us adventure around for the rest of the day. She spirited us up to Godaisan (a mountain overlook of the city that has a beautiful example of what the 88 temple temples typically look like). The three of us then went to Hirome for beers, more great food, and even better conversations. 

Dec 28th: This was a long day of travel. Susaki to Osaka and Osaka to Koyasan. Took all day, but Koyasan, even in the dark, was beautiful. We checked into our temple (yep we stayed in a temple), and prepared to wake up the next day super early for morning prayers with the monks. 

Dec 29th: Up at 5:45 for morning ceremonies and meditation. Delicious vegan (monk's standard diet) breakfast, and out early into the snow and cold. Walked through the huge and beautiful Buddhist graveyard. Spent most of the day going from temple to temple and reading about why Koyasan is so important to Buddhism and the 88 temple trek I am doing. In mid afternoon we returned to Osaka where we spent the rest of the day vigorously hopping from bar to bar sampling the many different classic snacks and treats the Japanese frequently dine on while enjoying a beer or three. Temples one night to neon uber city the next. 

Dec 30th: Spent the night in a capsule hotel and woke up to find out most of the museums we had planned on going to were closed for the new year. Spent the day in an Onsen (Japanese hot springs spa) instead, and worked our way to Nara (Japan's first capital). 

Dec 31st: Nara is infested with tiny deer! They are thought to be the messengers of the gods . . . spent the day going to temples and museums. Saw the largest wooden structure in the world, and one of the biggest Buddha statues I have ever seen. Issued in the new year in a huge crowd of people waiting to pray at the temple of this huge Buddha, and sipped on a bottle of bubbly while walking through the street fair that mysteriously popped up all over the temple grounds. 

Jan 1st: Coffee and doughnuts to start the new year, and a day spent hitting  the last few temples we missed in Nara. Enjoying a big final feast together and reflecting on the trip we had. 

Jan 2nd: Alice leaves Japan. . . . 

WELLLL there you have it. After Alice left I spent a few days in Osaka with some Japanese friends of mine. You can see all the photos of Alice's grand adventure on my lovely Flickr page, but for now I think this post has gone on long enough. It is safe to say I have had an incredible past few weeks, and I can't thank Alice enough for coming all the way here to spend sometime with her Brother Bear. I hope all my family and friends back home had equally wonderful holidays, and may your Year of the Dragon (yep that's right) be everything you want it to be! 

More to come.