About Me

maker, creative, living lightly, local, craft, minimalism, and taking joy in the small things

Monday, 24 September 2007

Geoff comes to Hagi and gets to ride a Combine Harvester

Today Geoff and I had to get up early to be at Sun Life at 10am, to meet the Japanese class, and the teachers, for our rice harvest. We drove for about 20 minutes, and came to Nishimura sensei’s rice fields – we were apparently still in Hagi. I’m not sure how many fields he had – somewhere between 2 and 6, 4 of them were at the sprouting stage, and the other 2 were ready to be harvested. So we were given hand held scythes, and instructed to clear a 2.5m square in each corner – then a combine harvester came along and did the field!

After the combine harvester had done the first field we had a BBQ – we made onigiri (rice balls), and then bbq’ed meat and vegetables. At some stage Nishimura sensei pulled out a fishing rod, and caught a tiny little fish – maybe 6 inches long. I’m sure in Australia you would have to throw it back, but here they packed some salt in its gills and threw it on the grill, and we watched it die. The worst part was that no one actually ate the fish – which I had assumed was the aim.

After the BBQ the combine harvester was back and we each had a ride on it – we actually had to drive it – around the 2nd field.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Long Weekend 1 - Yamaguchi Ciy & Shimonoseki

On Saturday morning I got up quite early, to get the bus down to Yamaguchi City. Flick had drawn me a map, but the bus didn’t exactly work out – it didn’t stop at the bus stop, but kept going to the station. So I got off there, grabbed the timetable for the way back, and wandered off in the rain to the shopping area.

I wandered up and down, and did some shopping. I managed to stumble into Autumn Fashion Week at the department store, where instead of the standard fashion show, the store had hired a geisha girl to perform to some taped shamisen music. On the 3rd floor there was a western toilet (yay) and the man in the optometrist store made admiring noises over my glasses, and then offered to clean them! Up on the 5th floor was an amazing market with all kinds of omiyage for sale.

There were some really cool shops in Yamaguchi-shi. A rather large shop that sold vintage clothes – the only one I have ever seen in Japan! (and for that matter, the only vintage clothing store that I have heard of in Japan.) There is also a Muji – yay! Bought some things, of course.

The next morning I had to get up even earlier for my Shimonoseki train, than the Yamaguchi bus! I raced down to the station for a train that left just after 9am! The train ride was really beautiful – all along the coastline. It wasn’t even that hard – just a few “sumimasen (destination)” at various places to make sure I got there! I arrived in Shimonoseki just before midday, and had a wander around the mall, before finding a bus to the aquarium.

Out at the aquarium I met Mitch, Lucy, Phoebe and Nicole just after 2pm. It was Y1800 to get in, and there were levels of cool stuff. Jelly fish, heaps of different species of puffer fish, and a whole range of other speciments, including a finless porpoise and sea angels – mini jelly fish with neon pink centres. We watched the dolphin show in the rain. I mean, there was a roof, but the rain was practically coming in sideways! Then the dolphins started doing huge dives and making mega amounts of splashing so we moved a few rows back to avoid some of the water!

We were all kind of hungry, so went for a wander. The renowned kaiten sushi place (train sushi restaurant) was closed, so we went to the snack place, and got some fish on a stick – plain, herbed, squid and fish and spammy tasting fish. Edible, but less than brilliant. So we wandered around to SunLive and got ice cream!

Met up with Louise, and her friend Wakako and we had a great dinner – I had awesome pasta: sundried tomato, chilli and anchovy, in an olive oil based sauce. So delicious! Wakako drove us out to the station as it was still raining, and we got a train to Ozuki, and then a cab to Kikugawa – Phoebe’s inaka town.

Phoebe’s apartment is awesome – it’s almost like a house, but still in an apartment block. And she has heaps of rooms – her bedroom, a spare bedroom, kitchen/dining, lounge room, laundry, shower, and toilet. Nicole and I had the spare room – I had a super thick futon, and Nicole had the bed (nice change for her).

Monday morning Mitch, Nicole and I got on a 10:55am bus to Ozuki. Mitch took a train to Iwakuni – the nearest city to where he lives and Nicole and I went to Shimonoseki. Nicole and I got lunch from a French bakery, bought our train tickets, and then got on our train home. Even though it was raining a lot, the train ride was still beautiful.

And then, because I couldn't think of a better way to end a long weekend, I agreed to go to Koshigahama to do speech contest practice! Saito sensei (the english teacher at that school) picked me up at Higashi Hagi and took me out to Koshigahama for speech contest practice – we did some run throughs with each of the girls, and then a practice in the gym, so they would have an idea of what it will be like on the day.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Hagi Nishi Olympics

The 9th of September was the Undokai (sports festival at Hagi Nishi, my base school. I arrived just before 9am, in time to grab my seat to watch the opening ceremony. During which we saluted the flag, encouraged each team, and various community members gave speeches. Thrilling stuff really. However, there were a couple of highlights – there was a torch runner, and he lit a fire, Olympics style, and the ‘robot running’. Basically the kids have to bend their elbows so there is a 90 degree angle there, and start running on the spot – right, left, right, left – before they run anywhere, even when they are running up to the lectern to encourage their team.

In the morning the kids had a variety of races. All the kids have to run – and they have continuous starts, as in before one race ends the next one has already started, on the same track. Then they did a cool obstacle race – they had to race under a net, over a beam, lucky dip for the number of hurdles they had to take, and then take that number of hurdles. The kids then did a vault, over a pommel horse, and then had to pick up a baseball bat, spin around 5 times, and then attempt to run to the finish line – more than a couple of kids ended up sprawled on the ground, or running in the wrong direction.

The next event was the statue race – actually, it probably wasn’t called that at all, but that is what I will call it. Basically the teachers sit on planks of wood that are suspended between bamboo poles, and the kids carry them around the track, often the teachers fall off, so the kids have to try and lift them back on, because the teachers are meant to be statues.

Then it was the PTA/parents/teachers races. I joined in the mukade (Japanese killer centipede) relay with the PTA mums. You have to tie your ankles to a rope and run together in a column. We came last. We also had a tug of war – it was meant to be men vs women but I managed to find 6 year 11 boys who were at the sports day just watching, to pretend to be women, and we managed to win!

Lunch break! The teachers had special bento, which were ok. So I sat in the staff room and ate that. Then it was back to the `real` events. The girls did a tyre scramble. So there is a whole bunch of tyres in the centre of the field, and the girls have to run and fight for them, against the other team, and drag the tyres back to their side. It was quite funny – they were getting pretty aggressive. Then the boys came out. I was really confused. Every 4th boy was shirtless and shoeless. It turned out they were about to play `horse and knight` - or as we might say, they were about to do piggyback fights. So in groups of 4 there were 3 boys carrying the fourth. And they had to charge at other groups and wrestle to the ground – that’s right, they were playing this on concrete. Seriously, don’t ask.

Then I was asked to judge the cheering competition – voice (loudness), teamwork, attitude and content. So I could easily do the first 3, but the content was difficult, given the cheers were in Japanese.

Then the boys did a `dance` actually more acrobatics, making pyramids and various other lifts, then the girls did theirs – with clacky things like maracas, but not. Finally there was one last relay and then they were ready to announce the winner. Shuji was in charge of organizing the scoring all day, so he and his helpers rushed upstairs and hung the covered up scoreboards out a 2nd floor window. Slowly they revealed the red team to be the winner. I was surprised, as the blue team had been doing well all day.

Home time, for a shower and stuff, then to the Well Heart Pia – a hotel near the beach, for the enkai (party). There was lots of food – well lots of plates with some food on them. Also, a fair amount of beer and coke too. But no one got really hammered, well not until the 2nd party. That was over at the UFO centre (in the arcade). The Higashi teachers were having their 2nd party there too. I did English karaoke with Shuji – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Boys Town Gang and Bon Jovi`s `Something For the Pain` with Shuji and Nakamura sensei. Many of the teachers came and talked to me, most of them spoke a little English, and once they had had some drinks they were confident enough to give it a try! One lady kept saying `I can’t speak English` and I just couldn’t help but laugh. I also love the way they all apologise for not being able to speak English.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The best mullet on an 8 year old ever!

This morning I went to Sanmi – I’m teaching at the Elementary today. As always, the train ride is spectacular, right along the coastline. The beaches are rocky, and it looks like a fair amount of rubbish washes up along them, so the beaches aren’t idyllic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite cool being on a train and almost being about to reach the water.

I arrived at the school before 8.30am –as nice as the train ride is, the walk from the station to the school in the humid weather is almost unbearable. Luckily, the teachers’ room is air-conditioned! I chilled, literally, in there until 10:30, when some of the first graders came to get me for class. Basically they just yell for me “Kato sensei, let’s go” and I go wherever they lead/drag me. I did my intro with a combined first and second grade class, then dashed back to the staff room in time for the 3rd grade kids to come and get me! Then I did my self introduction all over again – and still no one likes the taste of vegemite!

I ate lunch with the first and second grade, and then went out to play for a little while. One of the third graders has the most awesome mullet I have ever seen on anyone aged under 10! (There is a pic, but I`m not supposed to put pics up of students). Sat in the staff room and cooled down again before a train back at 2:40pm.

Only in Japan, again

So this is City Hall - and the little box/column thing at the front is a speaker. Everyday, during business hours, chimes play from the speaker so blind people can find the building. Yes I'm serious.

My Island Home

Real welcoming flag right? This is the first thing you see when you get off the ferry at Mishima - an island 45km away from Hagi or 70 minutes on the ferry. It's a pretty significant boat, and boat ride out there. It's quite comfortable, I just sit in the airconditioned room and sleep until I arrive!
When you arrive in Mishima the port is only 400metres from the school, but it's about a 45 degree angle from the port to the school. I arrived at the school before 10:30am, and didn't actually start teaching until after 11:30. This is pretty much the way it will be at most schools - turn up, slack off, do some teaching, go home.
I did my self-introduction 3 times. Once with one 7th grade boy, once with one 8th grade girl and once with a 9th grade boy and girl – yes, that’s right, there are only 4 students at the JHS. In between the classes I had school lunch, which was quite good. The students all have to help prepare lunch each day, and have to get dressed in lab coats, hair nets and face masks to prepare it – which only involves putting rice and the meal into a bowl and putting the bowl, along with dessert and a milk carton, onto a tray.
After school there isn't much to do out on the Island, so I went to the school gym to play table tennis with the students – actually I played with Morita sensei while the students played with each other, basically because they are so good, and I am terrible!
I stay at the only Ryokan out on the island - they always assign the ALT the back room, as it is the only one with its own bathroom. It's comfortable enough, though the futon is thin. The whole vibe out on the island is pretty chilled, I don't do much teaching and the people are nice.
At the elementary school the next day I did my self intro twice – once in the 1st & 2nd grade, and once in grades 3 – 6. Obviously I didn’t do the whole spiel, but spent more time playing with things, and making them eat vegemite! None of them liked it – some of their faces were fabulous, they just looked so totally disgusted by the taste.
At lunchtime a couple of kids came to grab me – literally! They came into the staffroom and grabbed my hands, and kept saying “lunch, let’s go”. Then of course I got all the “can you eat [insert Japanese food name here]” questions, and amazement when I used chopsticks! Then I was led around by a first grader and showed the cleaning up routine, before being dragged out to the playground.
What I love about the primary schoolers is that they have no comprehension of the fact that I don’t speak Japanese. They just speak at me, and drag me places. I spent the whole day just being completely illiterate. The dietician at the school speaks English, she works at it she told me, because she thinks it is important. The VP has a little, and the 3-6 Grade teacher also can a little.
After lunch I took the 2:30 ferry home, and was back at my apartment before 4pm.
Overall, it's nice to be out on Mishima, but good to be back in my apartment - and with internet access!

Saturday, 1 September 2007