Thursday, September 27, 2007

autumnal equinox

so, this past weekend was a 4-day weekend for me, due to the autumnal equinox holiday, and my school having a day off for sports competitions. and you had better believe i crammed those 4 days so full of activity, some might say i overdid it.

more recently, though (yesterday), i had my first day teaching at elementary school. they were so much fun, i left the school euphoric. the day started with a bang - at my welcome ceremony each grade sang me a song/performed a dance/or did a chopstick and red bean challenge for my entertainment. The third graders' song included lyrics such as "We are active boys and pretty girls", "I like basketball", and "Please teach English". The 6th graders chopstick challenge was fun, they were surprised that I almost beat their best chopstick afficionado at moving red beans from one bowl to the next. (sidebar: i wonder if this is a montessori "work". natalie - if not, i highly recommend it) the next great thing that i enjoyed was that i was given total autonomy in the classroom, which did involve quite a bit of planning work but was well worth it.

before i went, i was most worried about them not being able to understand anything, as most of the teachers have no English as well, but they caught on to games, activities, and songs (yes, i sang songs with small children), so quickly and enthusiastically, i was questioning whether their English ability was actually better than my junior high kids. I think it must be that they are just less inhibited, which just works better for learning languages. At my first classes at junior high, i would always have "question time" after my self-introduction, and this was always a little awkward and forced. at the elementary school, there were so many questions, kids stayed after class to ask them. or they stayed after to stand really close to me and stare at me, or shake my hand. after school, i was attempting to leave on my bike but was swarmed by children who wanted to tell me things (in japanese) like "my aunt is an english teacher in tokyo", "i have a dog", or "do you like koalas?". they also wanted to touch each and every one of my quite numerous panda stickers on my bike. in the end i had to say goodbye about 75 times just for them to allow me to leave the parking lot. looking forward to my next visit!

so, back to my fun-filled weekend. on Friday after japanese class, my fellow honjo ALTs and i finally made it to the "Cha Cha Cha" izekaya, a place recommended to me by almost every japanese person i've asked. It was quite friendly, and they even gave us free pears when we left! on saturday, Everest of Apples had organized a camping trip to Lake Tazawa, so I rode up there and we had a nice big barbecue, campfire on the beach, sleeping in kind of scene. The lake is gorgeous, and on sunday morning we rented swan paddle boats to explore. Someone had heard from their students that the lake was poisonous, so you should not swim in it, but I figure they just meant it is acidic, because there was nothing growing in it. anyway a few people did some nightswimming and are still alive. after the boating and such, one of the longtime ALTs brought a few of us to my first onsen (hot spring bath)! apparently it is one of the most famous in the area. it had warm milky colored water, as the spring was slightly sulphuric. it was outside, surrounded by the beautiful mountainside and the bottom of the pool was loose stones. quite an experience, very relaxing.

after that i headed off to sendai, the biggest city in tohoku (northern main island japan). I was excited for some city life. there was quite a large group of us traveling, (maybe like 20+?), which i was not such a fan of, so I broke off with a smaller group and we had a lovely evening doing big city things such as eating at a mexican restaurant, window shopping, and going out dancing. i really liked sendai, it had a cool "dirty" vibe to it, with plenty of young fashionable people running around. all the people my age tend to flee to the cities in japan. Monday morning we met up with the big group again in Matsushima Bay, which is filled with dramatic looking pine islands. after a fun boat tour and a visit to a temple, we headed on the long drive home.

that night, owen suggested we attempt mount chokai again the next day. i agreed. we headed out despite foreboding weather forecasts and made excellent time on our way up, but were met near the top by fierce winds, but thankfully, a few fleeting views, inlcuding above the cloud cover. the peak was basically a giant pile of boulders that you had to scramble up. I spent most of the time hugging the rocks for dear life, scared of getting blown off the mountain! but we made it, although with only a few low-quality keitai pics to prove it. Our way down was rough, with freezing rain and wind, so we followed it up with a much-needed onsen, this time an indoor one with burning hot water. the hike took us 8 hours and today i learned chokai-san is 2,236 m tall!

all in all, quite the autumnal equinox.

cha cha cha and karaoke

lake tazawa

nyuto onsen

this is a pic of the inside from the internet


covered pedestrian shopping streets that stretched for miles

matsushima bay

shiogama temple

chokai-san, attempt #2: great success!

a fleeting view above the clouds

getting to know some boulders intimately

Friday, September 21, 2007

my kids

i've been trying to find ways to take some pics at school without seeming creepy or disruptive. so today i asked my new friend the part-time home ec teacher if i could come to her class and take photos, and here they are! they are the first to be taken with my brand new camera! RIP lumix. and how symbolic, that they are of "my kids". As one of my (summer camp) mentors once said, "If you're not here for the kids, then you probably shouldn't be here at all." There is so much crazy fun stuff going on here outside of school that sometimes you can forget that we are, really, here for the kids.

i've started getting a little more involved at school, correcting homework and learning some names. some kids on their homework write little notes to me and draw pictures. so they are, actually, as cute as they look. also, one of my JTEs picked up on the fact that english class for them is japanese class for me, and makes me try to read the translations when he writes them in hiragana on the blackboard, solely to entertain the students. (i'm getting better, i swear)

This is a class of ichinenseis (7th graders) making a delicious carrot and daikon (radish) salad.

look at the size of those knives! pretty sure there would be law suits about this in the states.

my kids' sculptures..i'm working on trying to sneak into art class

the "great room", if you will, at my school

Thursday, September 20, 2007

volcanoes and samurai

So, this past weekend I attempted to climb a nearby volcano called Chokai. As you may have guessed, the attempt was unsuccessful. Some of my fellow expedition members who shall remain nameless did not choose their footwear as carefully as one might have hoped and we ended up turning back about 2 km (1.2 mi – parking lot to summit was 8 km/5 mi) from the peak with a boot held together with the string from my hoodie, an uncomfortable flip-flop wearer, minus a pineapple (eaten) and just enough time to get back before sunset. Despite chokai-san “winning”, it was a truly beautiful hike. Not much tree cover on most of the mountain, so there were plenty of amazing views across the coast line and other ridges. We also kept going in and out of clouds, which was fun (and refreshing). I’ll keep you posted on attempt number two.

Also this past weekend, Honjo had another festival – I think the theme was “little samurai kings”, as young boys were dressed up and carried around like royalty in a parade. As we have learned to expect, there was taiko drumming, and we were invited take part. I think being at the festivals is when I feel most like “Oh, wow, I really am in Japan.” But sadly, the heavy festival season is coming to an end. Plenty of winter ones in the area though, so I look forward to those.

(thanks jeff and edel for the pics)

getting a little overly excited over the views from the road on the drive up

or maybe understandably excited, considering this was the view from the road

jeff falling into a "gaijin trap" aka gutter

beginning the ascent

about halfway up was a beautiful lake

here you can see the top of the volcano, with kind of a crater in the middle. we almost made it!

my expedition group - jeff, phil, california jeff, and me

coming down to a sunset over the coastline

honjo festival

edel and i trying our hand at taiko. i, apparently, am rhythm deaf. the fashionable looking girl next to me had elaborate cornrows in her hair on the side of her head not pictured and when i told her i liked them she asked if they were "cool" in new york, to which of course i had to say yes. she was very excited. she also taught me the smart method of avoiding drinking drinks offered to you (outdoors) by taking a sip and then secretly pouring them out.

a young man who was not informed about this method, passed out inside the float.

jon was much less rhythm deaf than we

after the festival we visited jon in his village near honjo - he has a real house (!), which we have dubbed 'the chalet' for its ski lodge/vacation cottage feel.