Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Real Reason I Haven't Been Blogging of Late

Do you want to know the truth? It has a lot to do with feeling very tired and quite sickly... you can find out all about it here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Spelling Mistakes

Today was the last lesson with the students attempting to write funny stories. I had one more to share with you, not because it was a good story, but rather for the way it changed with its spelling errors;

.... He was a shy boy. He couldn't say
elotic words like "sox" and "possy"....


Personally, I'm not too sure who'd be turned on by those words, maybe a homie with a foot fetish?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More Student Writing

It's all starting to wind down for the calendar year here at school. Tests are finished, marked and returned. We know have two weeks of classes before the winter break. So much of the school year is spent teaching for tests, that these two weeks are a great chance to let the students have a bit of fun with the language.

In the junior high classes, we've started doing Christmas activities and we'll continue those into the second week. In the high school class, we're playing a game and then putting the students in pairs to write some stories. They're encouraged to write a piece with some humor. The paper they are given has some pictures that they have to use to inspire them or to tie into the narrative. One picture has a couple kissing. It usually brings out the funniest results.

I thought I'd share a couple with you (both written by boys and I haven't corrected the mistakes)...

Piece one;

There was a man whose name is Hiroshi.
There was a woman whose name is Tetsuko. He loved her and she loved
him. It was hot. It was terrible hot. It was hotter than any
other thing.


But there was a man whose name is
Smith. He was very cool. Here was more cold than cool. He was
getting closer and closer to the couple. The temperature turned
down. It was colder than any other thing.



Piece two;

They are crossing their tongues. A man takes
off his wears.... It was exciting play.


Really, it doesn't take much to excite boys does it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A list - about me

A fun little list of things I have and haven't done. If it's in bold, I have, if it's not, I haven't.

1. Started your own blog.
2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band.
4. Visited The
Great Barrier Reef.
5. Stood under the stars in the outback, the real outback – think
Uluru.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to the Gold Coast’s
theme parks – anyone, you take your pick.
8. Climbed a mountain.
9. Held a praying mantis.
10. Sung a solo.
11. Bungee jumped, jumped out of plane, been paragliding or hang-gliding, hot air ballooning – you get the idea, you’ve been hundreds of metres about earth in a seemingly flimsy contraption.
12. Visited
Melbourne.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
15. Had a child. Raised a child. Worked with children. (only worked with for me so far)
16. Had food poisoning.
17. Been to the
Snowy Mountains. (I’d say climbed Uluru, but the Aboriginal custodians would prefer you didn’t.)
18. Grown your own vegetables.
19. Visited the Brett Whitely
studio in Surry Hills, Sydney.
20. Slept on an overnight train or bus.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Been backpacking.
23. Taken a mental health day.
24. Been buried in sand with just your head and toes sticking out.
25. Held a possum, kangaroo or koala – or any other native Australian animal.

26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Been in a fun run.
28. Been on the Blue Mountain
cableway.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.
31. Played, or watched, summer cricket.
32. Sailed, kayaked or canoed our beautiful waterways.
33. Seen the
Daintree.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Visited an Aboriginal settlement or mission.
36. Learned a new language.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Toured the
Sydney Opera House.
39. Tried rock climbing (indoor or outdoor), abseiling or just simple bushwalking.
40. Visit Queensland’s
Gallery of Modern Art.
41. Been to the
Tamworth Country Music Festival.
42. Sunbaked at
Bondi.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant.
44. Visited
Broome.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance.

47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone fishing.
49. Seen Tasmania’s old growth forests.
50. Been to the top of
Q1, on the Gold Coast.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.
55. Been in a movie.
56. Driven the
Great Ocean Road.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class.
59. Visited
Norfolk Island.
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold
Girl Guide biscuits.
62. Gone whale watching.

63. Got flowers for no reason.
64.
Donated blood, platelets or plasma.
65. Gone jet boating.
66. Visited Port Arthur.

67. Bounced a cheque.

68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favourite childhood toy.
70. Visited the
Australian War Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.

72. Pieced a quilt.
73. Stood in
Federation Square.
74. Been on the
Murray River.
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Travelled, or
climbed, over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (travelled, would love to climb it one day)
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the
Three Sisters at Echo Point, Katoomba.
80. Published a book.
81. Visited
St Mary’s Cathedral, in Sydney.
82. Bought a brand new car.
83. Been to
Hermannsburg.
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible.
86. Visited
Parliament House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous.
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Saved a
pet.
95. Been to the site of the
Eureka Stockade.
96. Swum in
The Whitsundays.
97. Been involved in a lawsuit.
98. Owned a mobile phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.

100. Read an entire book in one day.


This is an Australian version put together my Katie. There's also the original American version going around. Join in, it's fun, quick and easy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Something to Blog About - by the absent blogger

I'm so terribly sorry for my blog absence of late, both in writing and visiting other blogs. It's one of those things, every morning I would tell myself that I would blog that day, and then either the day would run away from me or I'd get the chance and found I had nothing to say.

Nothing to worry about, it just seems that my headspace has been elsewhere. Since I blogged last, I've been a little unwell, nothing serious, nothing that won't pass, but it's just been zapping my energy. My focus has also started turning toward the move back to Australia next year.

I have been managing to write on my other blog from time to time.

Again, apologies to everyone and I'm very sorry that some of you were worried.

Anyway - I finally have something to blog about! Today, I ran into a student that I taught last year. She's the author of the very funny Love Triangle story. She had a new piece for me, all decorated with pictures of the animals she associates myself and fellow teachers as; me - a frog (I had a croaky voice for a while), Sam - a dog, my husband (not a teacher here but she met him recently) - a bunny rabbit, Adrianne - a piranha and Sean (the new teacher in town) - a teddy bear.

The message goes like this (please take it with a super-sized grain of salt);

"My teacher is Sean now. He is as good
as you. Do you remember me? Of course you do!! You like
me. Sean is very warm-hearted. We like him very much. But he
is a mystery man. My friend's name is NS. NS really turns Sean
on.....
(OK, I have to butt in here - I think that she meant to say that Sean
turns NS on, there's nothing suspicious about Sean's behaviour, now back to the message....)... Sean is a lady-killer. NS is
a knockout. But Sean seems to like Melanie. NS says "I can't handle
a man like Sean". I saw Sean and Sam walking close. Sean is trying
to make a pass at Sam. NS said "Look at me!!" She can't live without
him. Don't tell anyone. That is about all I know. It was a
slip of the tongue. Trust me. Love is blind. I'll never let
you down. You're so sympathetic. I respect you. Are you
impressed me? NS said "I wish I had never met him. He has beautiful
eyes. I want to know all about him. I think of him day and
night. There will never be another him. Smooch!!" But NS isn't
Sean's class. I'm surprised. But NS is a good student. I like
Melanie and your husband."


Ahh.. how I miss teaching her class.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Sweetest Pocky

My day hadn't started well. It had me feeling sad and full of regret. I needed a good dose of quiet and calm to know where and how to step next.

I was in Kyoto at the time so headed off for Ohara, in the Kyoto hinterlands. Getting on the bus, I was happy to have gotten the last seat for the hour long ride. After a couple of stops, three sweet old ladies hopped on. I have to confess, I did consider staying in my seat, my feet sore from two days of walking. Instead, I got up and offered my treasured spot to one of the women. After a short protest, she gladly took it.

The bus was crowded but I was lucky enough to have a good view out the window. I watched the landscape change from bustling city centre, to city outskirts, to rural towns to the wooded mountains.

When we finally arrived at our destination, the lovely old lady who had accepted my seat rummaged through her bag. She produced a box of Pocky, a Japanese snack of chocolate coated biscuit sticks. She handed it to me, telling me it was to thank me for the seat. I was so touched and the gesture really made my day. Pocky has never tasted so sweet.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Going Bananas

For a long time now, I've always eaten a banana with breakfast. While I wouldn't claim it to be my favourite fruit, it's high up there. It's convenient (no washing or cutting); unlike most fruit, it's filling; it's tasty; it's one of the few fruits I'm not allergic to and it's a fruit I can buy cheaply, all year round in Japan. Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, they disappeared from the supermarkets. Why? It all has to do with a fad banana diet. A friend of mine watched the TV show that tested the diet and the ironic thing is, it didn't even work for the woman trying it out. And yet it seems like the nation is eager to get on it.

Last weekend Wayne happened to be at the supermarket at opening time. He went straight for the bananas. He and everyone else. He ended up walking away for a while, surprised at the rush. After picking up the other things we needed, he went back. Then the crowd around the banana shelves had thinned but was still four people deep and he had to fight to get us a bunch.

I wish everyone would get over this latest fad. I want my morning banana again!


Photo by -eko-

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Teaching Position Vacant at my School

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we are looking for a native English speaking teacher for an immediate start at my school. The school is in Aichi, just outside Nagoya.

I've written a bit about my school and the students on this blog, and you can get an idea of the position in this post, scroll down to the paragraph that starts "My second job in Japan..."

If you're interested please email Trevor Wilson at wilsont411(at)hotmail(dot)com. Make sure you put something like "Job application" in the subject line. Please don't send any applications to myself or through this blog.

*** Update - the position has been filled ***

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Earthquake Day

For a while, there has been talk of a large earthquake predicted in the area of Japan where I live, Tokai. My students were very serious when they told me that thousands of people would die and that buildings would be destroyed. It's referred to as the "Tokai Dai Jishin".

Well, some psychic has predicted that it will happen this coming Saturday. Honestly, I wouldn't have thought that people would give much credence to the report.

I was wrong.

I've heard a few people talking about concerns for their plans for that day because "the earthquake will happen." I've even heard of a dance class that was cancelled purely because of the earthquake prediction.

Personally, I don't believe it will happen, but just to be on the safe side, cross your fingers for me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Once More With Feeling

Summer holidays just flew by and I'm now back at school. Even though a lifetime of holidays would be wonderful, it is good to be back at school. I love how much the kids make me laugh.

This week in the high school classes, they are learning how to give advice for different health problems. We're really trying to encourage them to put lots of emotion into the conversation they are learning and to ham it up with gestures.

Last year, I taught the same lesson to my Domestic Violence class. In one group, a boy wasn't doing the gestures. His partner decided to help him feel the part. He swiftly, punched him in the head, and then with innocent eyes asked "What's wrong?" As the partner rubbed his forehead, he answered with the phrase on his worksheet "I have a headache."

That's one way to get your partner to do what the teacher asks.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fine Dining

By day, a taped up cart. By night, a noodle restaurant complete with milk cart seating. Shot in Tokyo.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bento Art




And to think, my poor kids will just be getting sent to school with a Vegemite sandwich and a piece of fruit...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Comes To Me

I have to confess something. I've boycotted summer this year. That's right, I'm not having anything to do with it, I'm pretending it doesn't exist. I do have an excuse though, with the health stuff that's going on at the moment, a few hours in the heat leaves me wiped out and in bed for days. I'm far happier (and healthier) if I stay inside air conditioning.

It does mean however that I'm missing out on all the fun summer festivals. Tonight I would have gone to the Seki Fireworks Display and tomorrow to a Bon Odori dance.

Luckily, I have been to both before, so I don't feel like I'm missing out too much.

Today, in I was on my computer in air conditioned comfort when I heard a funny little noise. A cicada had come to visit and remind me of the summer outside. It serenaded me for a while, before it flew away to partake in the summer fun on my behalf.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Legend of the Cowfrog

When I first came to Japan I was teaching in a few different schools for the same company. Every Tuesday, I would catch the train for an hour to get to the head office for classes there. I finished at 9.30pm and would walk home in the dark to the train station.

Just before the station was a small river. Often at night, I would hear a sound like that of a cow moo-ing. I found this quite strange as during the day I never saw any cows or any places a cow might be nearby, but yet the sound was very much like a cow.

That year I had a student who was a special ed. teacher. She was telling me a story of how she'd taken her students out to catch tadpoles. These weren't your normal size tadpoles, but actually rather large. She told me that they were the babies of an "ushi kaeru". Ushi kaeru she told me made a sound much like a cow.

Wow! I thought as I translated the animal name "ushi" = cow "kaeru" = frog. In Japan they have an amphibian called a "cowfrog". That's what I'd been hearing on these dark nights.

For about a year, whenever I heard the sound as I crossed over the river I thought of this mythical like creature, the "cowfrog". I imagined it the size of a cat, with tadpoles the size of mice. What an amazing country this is to have a "cowfrog".

Fast forward to a night much later at a karaoki bar to me singing the Three Dog Night song "Joy to the World".

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog..."

Hang on a second - "ushi" = cow, "ushi" also = bull....

In Japan, they have BULLFROGS!

Ahh... I much preferred my cowfrog image.

No wonder I'm feeling the heat - I forgot to eat eel!

This year, I missed the Japanese national eel eating day, doyo ushinohi うなぎ土用丑の日. Every year, in the middle of summer, there is a traditional day to eat eel. It is believed to help people who suffer from summer fatigue. This year, doyo ushinohi fell on July 24th.

It's interesting how this tradition came about. An owner of an eel restaurant was complaining to his doctor friend about slow business. The friend suggested that he tell people that eating eel in summer helps you fight the heat. The marketing ploy worked and so the tradition was born.

Eel is one of my favourite Japanese dishes. The city I first lived in when I came to Japan is quite famous for their delicious eel and there it is cooked a little differently I'm told (it seems a little crunchier than other places). The small city has something like seven eel restaurants, and that's all they serve - eel on rice, the same dish but in different sizes.

The dish of eel comes with pickles and a clear soup called o-suimono. This soup is also one of my favourites, lovely and refreshing in summer. One time I was drinking the soup at the eel restaurant and found a mushroom at the bottom. Being a lover of mushrooms, I snatched it up and started chewing. "Mmm... that's a funny tasting mushroom" I remarked to my friend. She laughed and refused to tell me why until I'd finished eating it. It was actually eel liver.

So I missed the official eel eating day this year, but I think this week, I'm going to have to get me some.


Photo by Conveyor Belt Sushi

Friday, August 01, 2008

Another Japanese Sound

I love the sound of pre-dusk on a sunny day. The sound of futons being beaten. The way the sound bounces off buildings and echoes. The way a number of women will be beating futons at the same time, it sounds like some sort of percussion jamming session.

Sitting at home and hearing that, I know it's been a lovely sunny day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teaching In Japan, My Experience

I regularly get asked about teaching in Japan, so I thought it was about time I wrote a post about it. I won't really go too much into the wheres and hows as there is a fair bit of detailed information out there on that. Some helpful links to start with for that are;

Teaching In Japan

Japan Guide

Secrets On Teaching In Japan

I first came to Japan to teach in 1999. Actually, I first came to Japan in 1999. I had applied for a job from a newspaper advertisement in my local paper for a small conversation school. Before I knew it, I was on a plane heading for a country I knew not a lot about, could hardly speak the language and knew no-one there. Before I left people were telling me how brave I was, but it wasn't until I stepped on that plane that I felt the fear.

For the most part, I loved the teaching side of working in the conversation school. The school I worked in, as long as I used the text book for a large part of the lesson and followed some other curriculum, I had a lot of freedom. I taught students from two years old to those in their seventies. I taught group and company classes and private lessons.

In our school, unlike many others around, we were not only allowed, but actually encouraged to socialise with the students outside of class. I formed many friendships with my students and one of my first students remains one of my closest friends to this day.

Working in the conversation school was hard though. I worked six days a week, each day with a different schedule. Somedays, I would teach six classes (averaging an hour each) back-to-back, not finishing until 9.30pm by which time I was exhausted and starving. At different times of the year, on top of the schedule we were also obligated to work to teach "free lessons", sample lessons for potential students and that was unpaid on our day off. We only got paid for our classroom hours and not our lesson planning time. I was also expected to travel to different schools, sometime between lessons, that time wasn't paid for either. Personally, I found that job useful as an introduction to working in Japan, but wouldn't want to have done it for much more than the three years I was there.

Mind you, the different conversation schools can really vary in style and rules, so it's important that you find out their system before deciding whether to sign up with them or not.

My second job in Japan, the one that I'm in currently, is very different. I work in a private combined junior and senior high school. I found out about this job through word-of-mouth. The other teachers that started at the same time as me, applied for the position from a job advertisement on-line.

Unlike many of the public school jobs, I'm not an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). I have my own classes, plan my own lessons and create the tests. I work with three other native English-speaking teachers. I have to say, I love this job. I'm blessed to be at a high-level academic school, so the students are smart and for the most part, eager to learn. The students are mostly very friendly and will say hello when you see them outside of class, some will even call out "I love you!" In class, I find the junior high students very eager to answer questions, the older students sometimes more reluctant to do so. Right from the first class, we try to instill on the students that our lessons are not going to be like a normal Japanese class so this helps a lot.

Of course, like any job, there are good days, and bad days. The school has a very good reputation (to the point that when people find out I work at this school, they suddenly act like I'm someone important), but with that comes a rather rigid way of thinking and doing things and that can take a little getting used to.

In this job, I work from 8.15am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays. Each day, I teach an average of three classes (65 minutes each) and the rest of the time is spent doing some marking, lesson planning and administration, with admittedly, a nice amount of free time. I get school holidays off, which amounts to quite a lot over the year.

Somethings are quite different in schools in Japan. For example;
  • At my school, the students are usually there from before 8.30am to 6pm. They have classes every second Saturday and often on holidays.
  • At Japanese schools, there isn't a cleaner. The students (and many of the teachers) clean the classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and gardens. I believe this practice has roots in Buddhist teachings.
  • In Japanese schools, the students stay in their classroom and the teachers move around for lessons.
  • Most Japanese schools are very strict about hair colour. Students are not allowed to lighten or colour their hair.
  • One reason why the students are at school so late is because they often have "club activities". The clubs can be anything from sports teams (baseball, handball and soccer are very popular at my school and taken very seriously), to creative clubs (photography, art, brass band), to something more academic (like the astronomy and nature science clubs).
  • All of the students were slippers at school. When they arrive in the morning, they put their "outdoor shoes" into their shoe locker and change into regulation slippers. The teachers also wear "indoor shoes", but this can be anything from slippers to high heels (that's what I wear), just as long as they are deemed for in-school wear only.
  • Foreign teachers can only work at the school for a maximum of three years.
  • The Japanese school year starts in April and finishes in March.

Admittedly, jobs like mine are a lot harder to find and may not be offered to first-timers. I should mention that I have a Bachelor degree and post-graduate studies in Applied Linguistics, which I'm sure didn't hurt when applying for the position. I have also taught English to foreign students in a number of private schools in Australia.

My husband works in the public school system and also enjoys his job. It's quite different to mine. He is an ALT and works at three different junior high schools on a rotating schedule in the one city. He doesn't have the same planning to do, but also doesn't get to teach a class on his own often. Somedays, he feels a bit like a walking tape recorder and his schedule will differ each day. This is his first time to Japan and his first job teaching English. Had we decided to stay longer he may have been able to get a job at the school where I work now once I finished my three years.

On my blogroll there are many other people who live in Japan, but not all of them talk about teaching here. Some good ones that do are;

Present Simple writes some hilarious accounts of teaching her university students.

The Monster Flower sometimes talks about teaching private students.

If you have an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, teaching is something that I would recommend, even if teaching isn't your be-all-and-end-all. I have used my time to build a business that I will take back to Australia as well as creative inspiration and travel time. My husband has spent some of his free time learning a martial art, Iaido, that would have been difficult to do in Australia. It is no longer a place that you come to make lots of money, those days are over.

So that's all that I can think about writing for now. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask. I'd also love to hear other people's experiences of teaching here, either in the comments or as a blog post that I can add as a link to this.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to Study Japanese

Got some spare time over summer holidays? Need to brush up on your Japanese? Well here's a unique way. Personally I love the advice they give you in this video, "It's no use trying to understand their meanings, you just have to memorise them."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing a Doctor in Japan

In Japan, you don't make an appointment with a doctor. Instead, you turn up during opening hours and wait. On a good day in a small clinic, the wait may be ten to fifteen minutes. On a not so good one, it can be hours.

Today, I went to see a specialist in Tokyo. While it was only a 15 minute consultation, it became a three day trip. There was a particular doctor I really wanted to see. The hospital where she works opens at six am. The doctors don't start seeing patients at six am, that happens at nine. At six am, the line up begins. A bit like camping out for a new iphone or concert tickets.

Being too early in the morning to leave from Nagoya on the day, I came to Tokyo a day early. Not wanting to check out of the hotel in the early hours of the morning, I stayed an extra night. That's how one short doctor's visit became a three day trip.

As I was already here yesterday, I did a trial run at the hospital. I made sure I knew exactly where it was, how to get there and what to do once I was there in the morning. For about ten minutes due to a small language misunderstanding on my part, I was told that I couldn't come when I had planned. I tried really hard to hold back tears until it was sorted out. At the trial run, I was told that I could wait until eight am to come, but luckily I went at seven instead, as I got ahead on the queue. By the time the doctors began at nine, the ticket machine counted over 120 patients.

With that many patients, their system really does need to be highly organised, to the point that you feel like you're on a conveyor belt. The process today was this;
  • Got a patient number from the ticket machine.
  • Lined up to get a new patients forms.
  • Filled in the forms and handed them in.
  • Waited in a big waiting room to be given my hospital card.
  • Got my hospital card and was sent to the second floor.
  • Waited in a another big waiting room until my number was called.
  • Waited in a smaller waiting room until my number was called again.
  • Saw the doctor for about 15 minutes, which by Japanese standards is very generous.
  • Was sent back to wait in the big waiting room.
  • Was shown to another small waiting room.
  • Had another quick test.
  • Went to a different big waiting room until my number came up on the board.
  • When my number came up, paid at an automatic payment machine, much like one you'd find at a car park.
  • Went back to the big waiting room for my number to flash on another screen.
  • When my number came up again, went to a window where I was given my prescription.

Was in at seven, out by ten. Had a lovely understanding doctor who was most helpful. Not too bad.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guess Who Was Interviewed By The Japan Times...

Me!

You can read the interview here.

Mmm.. now I really feel like I should do some blogging.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Transration

Found today on the back of a packet of self-sealing cellophane bags;

"When those where the tip becomes pointed are inserted being to be a possibility of tearing note."

Can anyone explain?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Japanese Sights

What I saw while riding to school this morning.

A Buddhist priest dressed in all his finery, probably on his way to perform a ceremony, riding a scooter with a wooden box placed on his lap.

You've gotta love some of the things you see in Japan.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I Like Fridays but not Mondays

This week in the high school class, the topic is giving advice. Part of the lesson is a game. There are twenty different problems and the students have to come to me in groups and perform little dialogues explaining the problem and giving a solution. For each dialogue I give them points. For a basic performance and advice, they get a single point. If they've gone the extra mile, they get two. What I don't tell them is that if there is blatant, unabashed sucking up, they get three points.

Generally, at some point in the game, one team will refer to me as being really nice or beautiful. I surprise them with the extra point. Usually word gets around pretty quickly and the sucking up becomes a whole new element to the game.

Friday's classes cracked me up. They found more and more creative ways of sucking up in the responses. Some of the dialogues went like this;

"I'm always tired when I'm at school." "Oh, you shouldn't be. When you come to school, you can see beautiful Melanie and you will get lots of energy."

"I don't know what to buy my (girlfriend/boyfriend) for Valentine's Day." "Oh, don't worry about buying them a present, you should buy one for beautiful Melanie."

"I don't understand my English teacher." "Oh, if Melanie is your teacher, it shouldn't be a problem, her voice is very nice. If Sam is your teacher, then you should go and talk to Melanie."

"I want to go to Tokyo University." "I think you should study very hard and when you study, think of Melanie's beautiful face. Then when you're doing the exam, think of her beautiful face again and it will give you power and you will pass the exam."

One that caught them out though was this;

"Every time I eat curry, I get a stomachache." "Oh, you should eat Melanie's curry because it is delicious and then you won't get a stomachache."

They didn't get the extra point as I explained that I don't cook. My husband does the cooking. This was met with shock. One girl churned over this news for about five minutes and then came and asked me "Do you really not cook? Does your husband really do the cooking?" "Yes" I told her. "So he cooks, and you watch TV?" Not wanting to get into the whole dynamics of our marriage, I simply said "Yes." She stared at me in disbelief, then simply shook her head and walked away. Another boy, at the end of class came up to me concerned, "I think you should cook", he told me.

One team worked their way around this problem though and came up with;

"My mum won't make me lunch and I can't cook." "Well, you should go to Melanie's house and have her husband make you a delicious lunch."

So that was Friday. Pure joy, so much fun.

Come to Monday. Same game, same lesson.

Not only did I get almost no suck-ups, but in the warm up exercise, I jokingly said to a student "I want a new husband. What should I do?"

The advice? "I think you should diet."

No wonder I don't like Mondays.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tanabata Memories

Today, July 7th is called Tanabata, the Star Festival, in Japan. It is believed to be the only night of the year that two lovers Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altiar) can meet. For the rest of the year, they are separated by a river made of stars, the Milky Way.

Once again borrowing from Wikipedia, one of the stories goes like this;

"A young farmer named Mikeran discovered on his farm a robe which, unbeknownst to him, belonged to a goddess named Tanabata. Soon after, Tanabata visited Mikeran and asked if he had found it. He lied and told the goddess that he hadn't but would help with her search. Eventually the pair fell in love, were wed and had many children. However, one day Tanabata noticed a piece of cloth which had once belonged to her robe on the roof of Mikeran's hut. His lie discovered, Tanabata agreed to forgive him on the condition that he weave a thousand pairs of straw shoes, but until that time, she would leave him. Mikeran was unable to weave the shoes in his lifetime and thus never met Tanabata again. However, it is said that the pair meet once a year when the stars Altair and Vega intersect."

To celebrate the festival, many Japanese write their wishes on coloured strips of paper and hang them on branches of bamboo. It looks a bit like a summer Christmas tree.

This year, I haven't been to any of the Tanabata festivals, and in fact my town actually celebrates in on August 8th. I find it interesting that the Girl's Festival is on the 3/3, the Boy's on the 5/5, Tanabata on the 7/7 and in my town the 8/8. Does anyone know why?

Many years ago, I went to the Tanabata festival in Ichinomiya City with a couple of friends, a fellow Aussie girl and a Japanese guy. Through the covered streets of the shopping mall, brightly coloured streamers fluttered in the summer breeze. People were dressed in summer yukata kimonos and there were lots of yummy festival food stalls to enjoy. There were also many gangs, rival gangs at that.

These weren't scary yakuza gangs, but rather younger guys, yakuza wanna-be or yakuza in training. Whatever their future may have held, I found them funny and cute. They were all dressed up in their matching uniforms of sorts and just hanging out. I wanted a photo of them and so not even considering there could be anything to fear, just went up to take some photos. My fellow Aussie came and joined me. Our Japanese friend froze in terror. He told us later that he was scared for our safety, but running through his head was "if anything happens, do I try to save the girls, or do I make a run for it?". He never did tell us if he decided which was the best option.

The gang leader however, was more than happy to pose with us and I have a great shot of his friendly grin and "peace" sign.

The police however, did not find the gangs so cute. There were many of them there on the night, decked out in full riot gear. If I was on the streets of Melbourne or LA, I would have been terrified. But instead, I found the short, slim policemen kinda cute, a bit like little boys pretending to be big scary men. The police decided it was time to move the gangs on, but the gangs didn't want to move. In their bullet proof vests, face shields down and batons striking on shields they held in front of their chests, they formed a strong line and slowly moved forward.

Again, much to our Japanese friend's distress, my Aussie friend and I thought it was a perfect photo opportunity. Somewhere (sadly I think it's back in Australia) I have this fabulous shot of her doing a very happy, cutesy pose in front of the line of riot police and one officer screaming in her ear "Abunai!" (it's dangerous).

I know I should remember the stories and traditions of Tanabata, but for me, it will forever be the image of my friend's cheeky grin in the face of "danger".

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Kakigori

Summer arrived and hit us hard last week. Until then, days were a bit steamy, a bit rainy, but on Thursday the mercury and humidity jumped and looks like it's ready to stay.

I hate the heat. Probably as much as I hate the cold, but I really do hate the heat. I cope with it in Brisbane as there always seems to be a green shady place to escape to, but not in this concrete jungle. Instead, I run for the shopping centres with their heavenly air conditioning.

To help me survive this season, yesterday I bought a kakigori (snow cone/ shaved ice) machine. There are many to choose from, most with characters. I went for a traditional looking one, one that I can easily take when I move back to Australia next year.

We christened it today.


Ice cubes go in the top and are then pushed down close to the blade. The wheel at the end is easy to use and it's so much fun watching all the shiny flakes of ice land in the bowl in the bottom.

Mmmm... just look at all those yummy artificial colourings! I bought strawberry, melon and lemon flavourings.


I had to be a kid and go for the trifecta of flavours. What a perfect way to cool down.

A Good Teaching Week

I love those weeks when the lessons just go off. One of those magical weeks when the kids are enthusiastic and eagerly speaking English, can't wait to be given the chance in fact. Sounds unbelievable doesn't it?

One thing I love about teaching my Junior High class is that they're easy to trick. In our subject, the kids are graded each lesson, but we also have a "bonus points" system, often for volunteering answers in class. This week (our teaching week began on Thursday and will finish the coming Wednesday), one of the things I'm teaching them is different hobbies and the basic sentence "My hobbies are ...... and ......" After going through the new vocabulary and grammar points, I have all the kids stand up. I tell them that we're going to have a "bonus points chance."

They love a "bonus points chance", sometimes I've asked them if they like a chance or a game, and they've always opted for the bonus points. Gotta love these kids! For the bonus point they need to produce the new sentence with two of their hobbies. Hands are instantly raised, kids are jumping up and down just waiting to be picked. Sometimes I tell them that I'll pick the person with the best smile. There is a sudden flash of pearly whites which always makes me laugh.

What no-one has seemed to notice, or maybe care, is that in the end, I let each kid answer. Each and every one of them gets a point. Admittedly, it isn't always the way in the bonus points chance sessions, gotta keep them on their toes.

At the end of this current lesson plan there are a few minutes left at the end of class. Rather than letting them all go early, I have the whole class stand up, but don't tell them what we're doing. I ask how to spell a word from that day's vocabulary. We have lots of little spelling bees, so that's not out of the ordinary. They first kid picked will spell the word. Usually, at this point they get to sit down. Instead, I wave good bye to them and say "Very good, see you next week." The realisation that they get to leave earlier than everyone is magic. Suddenly, everyone wants to spell a word.

The high school lesson plan was written by my co-worker, Sam. It's a really fun game. We call it "Teach Me Japanese".

They are put into teams and given a list of Japanese words. Many are unique to the culture so don't have a direct translation. The teams will work out how to explain the word in English, then one member will come and explain it to me. I've told them that if their description is basic, but good enough for me to understand, they get one point. If it's really good with lots of detail, or funny or with good gestures, they get two points. The next time another member from the team must explain a word. I don't care about their grammar, they can use what ever means possible to get the meaning across.

It's great they're lined up, can't wait to speak English to the teacher. They forget to worry about making mistakes, about being shy, they just want to get that point.

For the second part of the games, the teams are given one word each and fifteen minutes to prepare a description they they will then have to perform in front of class. They are told they'll get one point for each piece of information they come up with and extra points for anything funny or for gestures. Again, the shyness melts away, which anyone who teaches Japanese high school kids will know, is a breakthrough.

I've had kids miming ninja actions and learnt that ninja did not in fact wear black, but rather very dark blue. I've had then pretending to have a picnic under the cherry blossoms and tell me that at "hanami" people don't really go to see the flowers, they go to get drunk. Other groups have had cool boys hike up their pants so they sit up as high as possible to pretend to be "Otaku" and draw fabulous animation characters on the board. One group have explained the radio exercise programs and led the class through a session of the movements. One girl did the funniest imitation of a kabuki actor, a boy pretended to be a very traditional Japanese woman and showed the class the proper bow. They've done all of this while speaking English in front of the class.

I laugh, the kids laugh. It's a great time. It's one of those weeks that is great to be a teacher.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Ten Days

Ten days until summer holidays begin, which means;

Ten more days of teaching on a construction site with the sound of jack hammers and drills to scream over in class.
Ten more days of teaching in a dungeon of a classroom with peeling paint and curtains the colour of body odour.
Ten more days of having to make my lunch before work every morning.
Ten more days left in this old dusty staff room.

When we come back from summer holidays, a new school building will be finished, with our new classroom, new staffroom and we'll finally have a staff cafeteria back!

Just ten more days.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Kensa

Sounds like "cancer", which is unfortunate because doctors use it a lot. It directly translates to an "investigation" or "inspection", so they use it for any type of tests.

Still knowing that, each time my doctor says it, I jump.

Interveiwed, me *blush blush*

If you're interested, you can read it over at jDonuts.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Resisting the Urge to Blog

Do you ever have one of those days when something or someone has p*^%ed you off so much that you really want to blog about it, but try to resist?

Take today for example. *** Sorry, I have now edited this part out. I had my rant, now I'm back to resisting ***

I really wanted to blog about it, but I'm going to resist.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

One of those Japanese Sounds

Many countries have different sounds. I remember when I was in Indonesia, the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. In Japan, there is the sound of the roast potato man driving through the streets selling his wares. The garbage trucks sound like ice cream vans and then there's the awful noise created by politicians driving through the streets before election day.

One that freaked me out the first time, and still does to this day is the air-raid siren. At least that's what it sounds like, and it's probably what it used to be.

It just went off here a few minutes ago. It means that there is a fire in town somewhere. Many of the firefighters in Japan are volunteer, so the siren is rung to call them to the station.

In a town I used to live, they used both the siren and loudspeakers that are permanently rigged around the city. At four in the morning the siren rang and someone announced the location of the fire. It was a bad one, a restaurant near my house. Then again, at five, the siren rang again and we were all woken up to be told that the fire had now been extinguished and thank you to the firefighters. Thanks, but I would have rather slept and found out at a much more reasonable hour.

Morning Routine and Morning Panic

Wayne has a one hour drive to work every day, I have a five minute bike ride. Wayne's a morning person, I'm not. Actually, Wayne is a any-time-of-the-day person, I'm a late night and early hours of the morning person, but can't live those hours during school term. Wayne gets up at about 5.30am. I sleep through my 6, 6.15 and 6.30 alarms. Wayne wakes me at seven when he's leaving for work and I get up then.

Today is Sunday. Wayne is working. He doesn't normally work on a Sunday, but one of his school's has an open day, so they swapped a Sunday for a Monday. In Australia, you couldn't simply swap a Sunday for a Monday. In Australia, Sunday is still for most, a day of rest, a day of family, a day of recovering from hangovers. But in Japan, a Sunday can simply be swapped for a Monday.

I heard Wayne get up and I went back to sleep. At seven, Wayne kissed me goodbye and I went back to sleep. Later I rolled over and looked at the clock. It was nine. I knew Wayne had gone to work. I remember him in his shirt and tie. I panicked. It must be a school day. It was nine o'clock. I was late for school. I knew this would happen one day. It was Monday, OK.. what's my Monday class schedule.. that's OK, my first class isn't until eleven. I'm late for school, but not for class. Why didn't anyone call me?

Slowly, I remembered that it was in fact Sunday and that Wayne's Sunday was swapped for a Monday. Not mine.

Now I'm worried about tomorrow morning, when it's Sunday for Wayne. Will I get up?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jizo

Sorry, I don't have the energy to blog properly tonight, so instead, I'm going to copy from Wikipedia;

"In Japan ... Jizō ... is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, the tendency developed in which he was worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.

Jizō statues are sometimes accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles, put there by people in the hope that it would shorten the time children have to suffer in the underworld (the act is derived from the tradition of building stupas as an act of merit-making). The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō's features are also commonly made more babylike in order to resemble the children he protects.

As he is seen as the saviour of souls who have to suffer in the underworld, his statues are common in cemeteries. He is also believed to be the protective deity of travellers, and roadside statues of Jizō are a common sight in Japan. Firefighters are also believed to be under the protection of Jizō."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Please do it at home

Poster at a Tokyo subway station.

Other than the obvious, what I also find funny about this poster is that they've written it in English as well. I've seen plenty of this (and hair curling) going on in the trains, but it has always been Japanese women. Would love to hear if anyone has seen a western woman preening herself like this on public transport.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Geta


I hadn't realised until I started posting random Japan photos, just how much I like taking images of footwear. Japanese footwear at least. You'd never guess that I was into shoes would you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do you think I could be a cartoon character?

Maybe then, I could finally get my wish (that I made when I was five years old) and marry Astro Boy. Sorry Wayne!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Number 52

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Fuji Flower

Teaching Fun and the Japanese Language

In my junior high classes this week I'm teaching the question "Do you like...?" After we've gone over the question, answers structure and some examples, I go around the class to ask each kid a different question.

I like to tease the boys a bit, and will choose one confident kid, stand over him looking menacing (not that I do that so well apparently), and ask "Do you like me?" It gets a laugh every time.

On Thursday, I did this, but rather than answering straight away, the boy asked "Can I ask a question?"

"OK..." I answered.

He then rattled something off in Japanese that I didn't understand. I told him that I didn't. So he asked the question again, this time slower and with gestures. It went something like this;

"Do you mean "like" as in (gestures a handshake), or do you mean "like" as in (gestures hugging and kissing)?"

I laughed "I mean like, as in a friend."

"Well, OK then, Yes I do!" he replied. He certainly didn't want any confusion there.

On another topic, I chickened out of going to the doctor yesterday, but may have to today. In preparation, I've had to translate my symptoms into Japanese. No matter how scared I am, I think I'm going to have trouble not giggling when telling the doctor that I have "Piripiri, mukamuka, kurakura and girigiri."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Japanese Bandit

Taken in Harujuku

Friday, June 06, 2008

Sumo Shoes Girl Shoes


Photo taken in the entrance way of a Sumo Beya in Aichi.


Sorry I've haven't posted any photos for a couple of days. I should be back on track now.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to brave another doctor's visit (a different doctor from the last time), wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dancing in the Street

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hiding in the Shadows

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tabi

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pray for me

Photo of a Japanese prayer tablet, taken in Kyoto.

I'm going to try to start to post a photo a day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crazy Person Drill Day

I remember fire drills when I was a student. I remember them being in summer and standing under the shade of large trees as a relief from the heat. At my school in Japan, the fire drill is in winter and students stand in the middle of the baseball field in the freezing cold.

Last month, at school, there was an earthquake drill. There may have been something about getting under the desks, but I may have imagined that.

Today, there was a drill for a crazy person. There was some announcement about a crazy person being near the school. I don't what the students were supposed to do, they just ignored it and went to their next class.

Imagine

Imagine the sound of a drill, very similar to a dentist's drill, going all day long.

Imagine that this has been going on for months.

Imagine a hot classroom where you can't open the windows because of the noisy construction outside.

Imagine having to yell over the construction noise, just so students can hear you, even though you have the windows closed.

Imagine going, not just a little bit, batty.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meeting in the Real World

Wow, I can't believe it was a week ago that I was in Tokyo. This last week just flew by and other than marking tests and teaching, I can't even remember what I did. Oh, that's right, slept, trying to get some energy back after the big weekend.

One exciting thing I did while in the big city (Tokyo still blows me away with the number of people and the size of everything), was to meet my first blogger in the real world, La Fuji Mama! I was excited and really nervous at the same time. It was a bit like meeting an internet date. Will she like me? Will we have stuff to talk about?


I had nothing to worry about. She was such a delight, and my only regrets were that I only had a couple of hours to spend with her and that she doesn't live closer so we could do it more often. I also immediately fell in love with her little girl. As if the ever-so-blonde hair, the bright blue eyes and the gorgeous little smile weren't enough, this little one can talk more than me! And that's really saying something! The whole time, she happily chatted away to herself, joining in our conversation in her own way.

La Fuji Mama is a real foodie. So often, when reading her blog, I get really hungry and want to reach through the screen to taste her latest delights. This girl loves to cook and it looks like she's great at it. She's even made my all-time favourite Japanese sweet, ichi-go daifuku, rice cakes with strawberries. Yummm.. see here I go again, hungry now...

Trying to figure out where to go for a late lunch was a little hard, with so many great options. We ended up at a place she'd had recommended to her, Café-Creperie Le Bretagne. I went for the smoked salmon, sour cream and chives crepe, and it was delicious.

Just look at these girls, just how gorgeous are they!

The rest of the post is in honour of La Fuji Mama. I was telling her of a book, The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber. I bought hoping it would inspire me to cook Japanese food. Or actually, to cook at all. It goes through, often with a double-page spread on each Japanese ingredient. It explains how it's grown, its appearance and taste, its health benefits, how to buy and store it and how it is used. It then usually gives a recipe or two.









I have to confess, I haven't cooked much from it, but love to flick through it and dream of things that I will cook one day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Space-age Sleep-over in a Capsule Hotel


Sleeping in a capsule hotel was one thing I never thought I’d get a chance to do. I’ve always wanted to, but almost all of them cater only for men.

The capsule hotel is a place often used by drunken salarymen who have missed their last train home. Rather than having to sleep on a bench and arrive to work smelly the next day, the capsule hotel offers a cheap place to sleep and bathe before another day in the office. Or in our case, traveling around the city.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, my friend Christine and I decided to check one out for ourselves as a cheap and novelty form of accommodation for one evening. The Capsule Inn Akihabara is one place we found that allows female guests.

Check-in wasn’t until five in the afternoon. We were there before the door opened, eager to drop our luggage off before checking out the famous electronic stores the area has to offer. I was surprised at how many other people were checking-in at the same time. We took off our shoes and placed them in a locker at reception. The foyer had three computers with free internet, soft drink vending machines and free mineral water. A glass cabinet hinted that most of the guests were men who hadn’t planned the stay; it had a variety of men’s socks and underwear for sale.

We were given a green wrist strap with our capsule number and three keys; one for the capsule room, one for our tall but very thin locker and one for the shower room on the tenth floor.

At the Capsule Inn, the women’s floors are from eight to ten. Other than the reception and lifts, the hotel is totally segregated. Not an ideal place to stay with a partner of the opposite sex. There were about twenty identical capsules on our floor, all a faded lime green laminate that would have been the rage in the 1970s. Below the narrow opening to each capsule was a number. I was number 803. Into the capsule had been moulded a TV, shelf, light, radio and alarm clock and a bamboo blind provided some privacy. Air conditioning was let in through the vents at the head of the bed as well as through the bamboo blind. We were supplied with a futon, a pillow filled with beads that crunch through the night when you turn over, two small and one usual sized towel, a cotton sleeping robe and a toothbrush. There was internet (both wireless and cable) available to use on our laptops. Toilets and a basic washroom were on each floor. The basin area had tissues and hairdryers as well as chairs to comfortably sit in while doing makeup. The toilets provided were both western and Japanese squat type, and as evidence that the hotel was originally designed purely with men in mind, urinals.


For the most part, I slept well in my one by one by two meter, open-ended coffin. I am a person who likes small enclosed spaces as long as I have it to myself, but would not recommend it to the claustrophobic. I woke a few times in the night and early morning as other women came and went. Getting out was what I found the most difficult about the stay. It’s not unlike trying to exit a small one-man tent, except the tent doesn’t have a hard TV to smack your head into if you’re not being careful as I did. I still have the bump. I was very glad that I wasn’t in the upper deck. I’m not terribly dexteritious first thing in the morning and could imagine that I may have fallen the one meter drop.

We had to go from our room on the eighth floor up to the tenth for a shower. There was one private bathroom and one room with three showers, separated by curtains but sharing the same change area. At night, the private one was occupied, so used the shared room, I luckily had it to myself. Not only was there the usual “Rinse-in Shampoo”, and body soap, but also a facial cleanser. The next morning I got the other shower and what a treat it was! It was a body shower and offered water coming from six different angles, all at the same time. The feeling was a bit like running through sprinklers like I used to as a child. It was certainly not as good as the one I used in our five star hotel stay in Malaysia, but then again, we did pay a lot more for that room.

I was curious about the other women staying there. Other than some surprised and amused looks and a few smiles, we didn’t have any contact with them. It seemed to be the type of place that people wanted to keep to themselves. The next morning, the few that shared our room left with little or no luggage, and most were in business suits. There was one woman, who we never actually saw in person. The only evidence of her existence was her luggage; a small black overnight bag with pink Hello Kitty sandals carefully placed on top and a black jacket and washcloth on a hanger. If it wasn’t for the fact that the jacket changed between the times I went to sleep and awoke the next morning, I would have never known that she’d been there.

I don’t think the hotel would be the best place to stay over a number of nights. It was only open between 5pm and 10am and there is no entry other than during that time. The locker was very narrow and so most luggage is either left outside the capsule or in the foyer. Japan being as safe as it is, we were not too concerned, but I did sleep with my camera bag and wallet and other valuables in the capsule with me, above my pillow. This is only really a comfortable option for short people such as me. At 4000 yen (about $40) a night, I found it a great place to get a cheap night’s stay. This particular hotel is very foreigner friendly with not only an English website, but we were also given an English version of the “Capsule Inn Akihabara – Instuctions for Women” pamphlet with details about the hotel and surrounding area. If traveling to Tokyo without my husband, I would do it again. As the pamphlet says “Making the Best Out of a Small Space.”
I still have so much more to blog about last weekend, but for now, it's time for sleep.