Wednesday, November 28, 2007

serious teaching skillz & urban mermaids

I just found out the 6 or so 3nenseis I had been coaching for their english interview tests at the local prestigious HS all passed! woooo hoooooo! actually, 1 failed, but he's a 2nensei, and was just taking the test on sort of a whim, because he's kind of a genius, and only showed up to 1 of my practice sessions. better luck next year! I am thrilled for the kids, and look forward to working with some of them again in what one of my JTE's has organized as "sophie-sensei's special english composition class" or something. Basically, I've come up with a bunch of composition topics which some of the self-selected english-savvy 3nenseis will write on their own time and I will correct. Can't wait to read them.

Wow, I've had a record number of posts this month. I'll go with explaining it through the fact that I've had little actual classtime for the past few weeks. Take this week - in the past 3 days, I've had one class, mostly because mid-term exams were Monday and Tuesday. My free time at work has allowed me to advance ahead of schedule in both of my japanese textbooks, and create a "best of japan" digital photo album which I may or may not incorporate onto this site as a slideshow. I've also begun looking into what I'd like to see in Thailand, where I'll be spending Christmas. Recommendations? Also, ideas for work projects that will keep me busy at school?

A few weeks ago when making one of my frequent pilgrimages to the 100yen store, I heard a catchy song blasting through their speakers. Now, normally I am not into japanese pop music (or j-pop, as it's called), I get my fill of it at school, where it's played during lunch. Personally, I'd prefer it if they just played the school song over and over again during lunch, which is quite lovely, almosts sounds like opera. Anyway, this song from 100yen stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, and as I had been on the lookout for a japanese song to be able to sing at karaoke, so I looked it up. Here it is, Urban Mermaid by Yuna Ito. It struck me because for some reason I thought that with the english lyrics "I'm a beautiful mermaid..." and the army of professional- looking women in the video, the song might have some sort of progressive, feminist-y message about (urban) japanese women today being successful, independent etc., the mermaid being some sort of icon for such women. I then looked for a translation of the lyrics and was disappointed. Basically, the message is, if you truly feel sad/angry/frustrated or any other negative emotion, you should cover it up with a smile, because expressing negative emotions in un-ladylike. (ok, i'm elaborating here a little, but still utterly disappointing). ick.

What redeemed my faith in the idea of the japanese (urban) independent woman was an article a friend sent me, interestingly enough, about men's fashion. According to the International Herald Tribune, hip young japanese men strive to be skinny and cute, delicate and pretty, and look to be protected and nurtured by their significant others. The idea of this reversal of gender roles was pleasing to me, although not necessarily to my personal taste. I must say the fashion part of it is definitely true, I've seen plenty of young men around here in cute, tight, clothes, barrettes in their hair, eyebrows plucked.

I leave you with the reason I'm a little down this week - three of my bestest friends are having a visit in london right now. Kampai, guys, wish I could be prancing around londontown with you!

Monday, November 26, 2007

yokozuna desu!

remember that honjo ALT fantasy sumo tournament i was telling you about? well, the kyushu basho's over and the results are in - I am the champion! I came in far above the others in the rankings - #14 out of over 300, the next ALT was at #95. Actually, as Amelie (the true sumo guru) kindly pointed out to me, I would have been #1 had I not picked this handsome devil:

Kotoōshū Katsunori

I admit I was charmed by his bulgarian good looks (sometimes referred to as the "david beckham of sumo" according to wikipedia, but don't call him that to his face, he doesn't like it) and the fact that he was born just 2 days after me - I felt there might have been some special connection, but alas, he let me down. I'll stick to strict skirt prettiness points when making my picks next time around.

in other news, while in tokyo i was able to pick up a few of my favorite magazines, a real treat. On the cover of nylon's november issue...

...were sienna and savannah miller, who are, apparently, bringing their british cool stateside. this struck my curious side. i'm quite aware of most of the rest of the world's categorically negative view of america (at least for the past 6 years), and due to this, I wondered if a british mag would sport such a headline about, say, hilary and haylie duff. Cathy (irish) informed me that oh yeah, of course they would, just, you know, not about hilary and haylie, cause they're not cool. right.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


ah, tokyo. at last i feel like i have experienced the city. you know, besides those 3 years that i lived there. anyway, i'll let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

after a comfy and convenient night on the bus, leaving the snowdrifts and rice fields of akita...
we arrived in sunny, balmy, cosmopolitan tokyo. my very first stop was up this familiar hill...

to my old school, ISSH. suprisingly they let me without any hassle to wander around freely. school wasn't in session, it was a parent-teacher conference day, so I explored the eerily familiar grounds proudly sporting my alumni visitor badge. i even got into my old kindergarten classroom!

many a good time was had on this swingset.

the school's centennial celebratory timeline. sadly, my attendance 1987-88 was not noted.

many a skinned knee was had on this astroturf. the school had just had their annual international festival the week before, so i got to see pictures of that. I remember dressing up in my korean hanbok and mashing rice for mochi at the festival back in my day.

and back up another hill...

to my old 'hood

i didn't attempt to get into our old apartment, but it was fun to check out the area again.

next, i headed to nearby roppongi.

mori tower and (below) louise bourgeois' maman creepily squatting at its base

at the entrance to the mori art museum, where i saw roppongi crossing, definitely the perfect pick for the only museum i was able to visit during my stay (contemporary works from mostly japanese artists).

and up the tower to "tokyo city view"

tokyo tower and surrounds...

fuji-san even made an appearance!

oh, the sprawl of it all

after setting up shop at our luxurious capsule hotel, we headed back to roppongi for a night out. we ate at a fun spanish resturant and visited a dance club that provided hairstylists for the ladies free of charge. of course we had to try it...

let's just say there was backcombing involved. modeling our new do's with some girls we met at the club

the next day we visited the senso-ji temple in asakusa.

cathy below the "giant red paper lantern" i promised her we'd see

blessing oneself with the incense smoke.

the sumida river

edel and cathy in front of the infamous flamme d'or building

we finished off the afternoon and evening (window) shopping in and around shibuya. above is hachiko crossing, most likely place to get trampled in all of tokyo?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the loot

here is my loot from elementary school today (ie. items my students were generous enough to impart to me, usually without much other explanation than slipping it into my hand during a handshake):

  • one (1) drawing of a cat-like creature eating a slice of pizza called Mr. "Na"
  • one (1) pink christmas tree ornament
  • one (1) piece of nut shell of some kind (upper left hand corner) maybe a chestnut shell?
  • one (1) faux pearl button
  • one (1) drawing of a dog, and a snowman and a dog (note the katakana title "do gu")
  • one (1) gold star
  • one (1) tiny rabbit-person. i guess they didn't know about my fear of animals dressing up as people convincingly.
  • one (1) plastic banana shaped charm filled with green liquid trapping a creepy-looking snowman inside

heading off to tokyo on the night bus tommorrow! i'll be checking out my old haunts of hiro garden hills & ISSH in addition to exploring the city as thoroughly as my 2-day time period will allow!

Monday, November 19, 2007

first snow!

last post: surfing, this post: snowing! I awoke to a beautiful freshly fallen thick blanket this morning... I was so excited to wear my "real" winter coat and go out and scrape the snow off my car (although I'm sure that might get old). All I can think about is skiing!

I discovered the secret to staying warm while the temp inside your apt dips below 50 degrees at 3 am is ODing at the onsen the night before. Amelie, Edel and I visited one last night and for the first time I actually think I spent too long in the scorching water. Or perhaps it was our extended time in the outdoor area, sitting halfway outside the bath in the freezing wind. In any case, I think my blood actually boiled and afterwards I did not feel well at all, but I was warmed to the core and stayed that way till 7:15am this morning when I woke up and could see my breath when I stuck my head outside my duvet.

I was correcting some homework today in school where the kids had to describe their ideal room. One kid wrote..."There is an air conditioner. I can cool oneself." I had a giggle about that..I can't believe he's thinking of air conditioning at this time of year! Meanwhile, I am thinking of making a firepit in the middle of my bedroom. another favorite - "There is a massage machine in my room, because very nice pleasant."

anyway, of course amelie and I went to the park to make a snowman after work. check out his mohawk!

Also, check out akita in the ny times! (travel mag) they visit tsurunoyu onsen, near the one I went to when I visited lake tazawa, and there is a fun fashion shoot slideshow! the times also featured san sebastian (my favorite city in the world) this week!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

surfer boys of honjo

...and back at my park, autumn-style

Thursday, November 15, 2007

picnic & ikebana

last week, honjo higashi junior high trekked down to the nearby river and had a picnic on its banks, as requested by kochosensei. i'm not sure why november was deemed a good time to do this, but hey, who doesn't love a nice picnic. within each class, there are assigned lunch groups of 4-6, who push their desks together (they eat in their classrooms) everyday to enjoy the meal and stimulating conversation. for the picnic, each lunch group was given their own picnic blanket, gas stove and ingredients for making a soup. the kids had a great time and no one was injured using the stoves! i got to talking to a couple of sannensei (9th grade) girls for a while, who told me my outfit was well-coordinated. I said I was sorry I did not have a track suit to match everyone else, and they jokingly offered me theirs. I then asked them why they thought their track suits had the school name written in romaji, and "junior high school" written in english. they answered quickly, "of course, for the gaikokujin (foreignors), so they can read it and know who we are when they see us." to which I replied, "what gaikokujin? sophie-sensei and......who?". this stumped them, so they came to the conclusion that they were printed that way solely for my benefit.

some 7th graders - the boys have on the ubercool silver baseball jackets

some sannensei

the pre-clean up time briefing, with kochosensei looking down from above

trekking back to school

A couple of days ago I went to an ikebana (japanese art of flower arranging) exhibition in akita city. This whetted my appetite for a class I had arranged through my japanese teacher, miwa-sensei, who works at an herb shop. Edel and I went, with miwa, to the home of an ikebana master who taught us a beginner level arrangement. It was fascinating, all about geometric balance and simplicity, and I definitely want to learn more.

the exhibition

here you can see how they keep the flowers in place within the vase, with little twigs fitted against the insides of the vase

an interesting one involving yarn

the class

edel and i with the master

me and miwa-sensei

as you might have guessed, we traded arrangements when we got home (no pink for me, thanks!)

as seen in one of the ikebana arrangements at the exhibition, here is the fruit of the season - kaki (persimmons). There are seemingly thousands of trees filled with their fruit all around town, including this one right outside my balcony. I am offered them constantly at work, and they are indeed delicious, very juicy like a mango.

My fellow honjovian ALTs and I are doing online fantasy sumo - there are sumo tournaments every 2 months in different parts of japan that last for 15 days. the current one is happenning in kyushu, the island to the south of mainland japan. i based my picks on the prettiness of their skirts, and my fashion sense has served me well - I have been dominating the standings with my picks - was in 1st place a couple of days ago, currently in 3rd place (out of 300 something). we'll see how i fare as the tournament wages on, as there is chu-hi at stake. what else is going on? i've been visiting more onsens, particularly enjoying the ones with outdoor baths (can't wait till it snows!), helping a few kids one-on-one praticing for their english interview tests which they must take as part of an entrance exam for a few high-level high schools, and teaching some french lessons. the weekend after this one I will be visiting tokyo!