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    Week 1:   1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th  
    Week 2:   8th   9th   10th   11th   12th   13th   14th   15th  
    Week 3:   16th   17th   18th   19th   20th   21st   22nd  
    Week 4:   23rd   24th   25th   26th   27th   28th   29th   30th  
Image Jump:
  • My Jr. High Bulletin Board
  • A "Blower"
  • Kosanji Temple Complex
  • Nursery School Sports Day
  • The Koto Harp
  • Week 1

    Monday, Sept 1, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: School Starts!

      Most Successful Speech Yet! I did not do any actual teaching today. My one sole responsibility was to introduce myself to the elementary students during their opening ceremony. Luckily, I found a great Sheet Of Things To Say During An Elementary School Introduction and made use of it. At 8:30 am, I was taken upstairs. All the students had lined up by grade in the small auditorium on the second floor. Before starting, the students sung the school song. The only lyrics I caught were "Sakugi Elementary School" (in Japanese) so I knew this was for their school and not just a standard "Work Hard, Have School Pride" type song. Afterward, the principal (a woman! yay!) said some words then I was introduced. I had lots of fun making the students say "Good Morning" twice really loudly. After saying my name and telling them to call me Melissa, I said I was from America. Afterward, I used a great little phrase to ask everyone who knew where America was to raise their hand. ("Amerika-wa doko ni aru no ka shitte-iru hito wa te-o agete kudasai") Less than half raised their hand. I did the same for Colorado and maybe three (out of about sixty students total) raised their hands. Afterward, I promised to teach them and said "Raishuu kara, isshou-ni gambarimashou!" which means something Japanesey like "From next week, let's work hard together!" After my speech (which I felt great about), a woman teacher confessed to me that she didn't know where Colorado was either.

      Is School Lunch Supposed to Be Yummy? Today, I ate my first kyuushoku (school lunch). The elementary school cafeteria is very nice and made of shiny wood, including many long, wooden tables. I was sitting at my desk in the teacher's room in black clothes, trying to keep cool (I know they have air conditioning - it was on last time I was here, so why is it not on?) and I knew it was nearing lunch so I looked through the window across the hall to the lunchroom. I saw a little girl in a blue apron wearing a blue handkerchief doling out rice. Woah! I thought. The food is being prepared by elementary school students?? I eventually wandered in with the other teachers and saw a group of elementary students taking off aprons. At every chair was a tray with: soup, a small tuna salad, a plate of curry rice, a frozen pineapple treat, and a bottle of milk. The young children really did do the serving (with the help of a teacher or two). Re-usable wooden chopsticks were my utensils, so I dug in. The grades were all mixed up. I was sitting in the corner. Next to me was a quiet first grader named 'Akane' (whose name I remembered from my school list, imagine that). Next to her was a fifth or sixth grader I had met several times. Tsuyoshi is very talkative and confident - I like him. I was apparently sitting in someone's chair who was absent today. All the chairs had tiny labels on them with names written, but Tsuyoshi told me that they did not sit in the same place every day. One girl came up to me and told me my greeting was very jouzu (skilled). That made me happy. Anyway, I cleaned my plate. It was good stuff! The process of putting everything away was complicated. Every single dish went in a different pile and even the two parts of the milk container lid went in separate trash cans! I had to watch someone else do it first.

      The Chocolate Dilemma Finally (finally finally) I had time to meet with Tomomi-sensei, the Japanese teacher of English (or, if you will: the cute guy I met while walking among the peace lanterns a few weeks ago). He gave me less direction than I wanted but also let me have flexibility. I could have as much of the class as I wanted for my introduction (I opted for the whole 50 minutes) and then he told me I could come to him anytime with any idea I had for future classes. His English is decent so it was relatively stressless talking to him, though it is hard to tell if he really understands me when I'm speaking in English. Anyway, then I asked about the chocolate I had bought as prizes. Granted, I did not object to him saying "dame" (not good) and keeping the yummy chocolate for myself, but I really did not need TWO BAGS. In retrospect, I should have probably bought some weird Japanese candy instead since I would not eat that if it was sitting in my desk drawer. His answer was long. He said it was against government policy, but then said if they ate it in his class or after school then it was okay. I still have to ask him first, though. So I asked him if I could use it tomorrow and he said yes. Good, good.

    Tuesday, Sept 2, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Melissa Bingo!

      Another School Song It was deja-vu from yesterday morning: I was doing another Introducing Myself to the Students routine. I was brought upstairs to the second floor where the students had all lined up, just like the little ones, according to grade. The principal said a few words then led me forward. Only, right after I said "Good Morning" to the blank-faced students, they told me to wait. I wondered why they specifically placed me in front of all the students if I could not talk yet. Anyway, they proceeded to sing the school song. It sounded similar to the elementary school song, except saying "Sakugi Junior High" instead. During the second verse, I found the lyrics written on the wall (and at least one teacher reading directly from them). The students could not have read it from where they were standing, though. Then after someone said a few more words, I was finally able to talk. I did not want to be quite as silly as I was in the elementary, so I did an abbreviated version. Then, a nervous-looking girl walked up to me and gave me a welcome speech, reading it entirely from a paper in English, then in Japanese. She mentioned a nifty-sounding school festival in October, so I'm already looking forward to that and kind of know what to expect. (Sometimes, I think watching Marmalade Boy prepared me for Japanese schools better than all the reading I did.)

      My First Class Yeppers, I was pretty nervous walking up the stairs into that first classroom. I glanced at some third-years loitering in the hall and noticed that the classroom I was entering was labeled "2-nen-sei" (or Second Years). My very first impression was that the room was refreshingly small. Only sixteen students were there so I did not have to worry about having to talk really loud. Also, the students were younger than in my imagination, which was not a bad thing. They looked excited to see me. This class is unusual because fourteen out of the sixteen students are boys, leaving only two girls named Yamamoto and Yamaguchi. Oddly enough, boys outnumber girls in the other two years, too. The genders are almost exactly even in the elementary school.

      Cool Things About the Teacher! At the start of every class, instead of bowing, Tomomi-sensei says "Good Morning" (everyone says "Good Morning" back) then he asks "How Are You?" And, not wanting a standard response, he lets the students say "Good" "Bad" "OK" "Tired" and so forth. Way cool! I wonder if that was my predecessor's suggestion since it is a rather individualistic thing to do. He also teaches the majority of class in English and his pronunciation is not bad at all (though he has to watch himself saying "sheet" I think...)

      Melissa Bingo I had an action plan for the last couple days that I kept changing bits of. I borrowed the idea from Robbie (hereafter: Intro God) at the orientation. First I was going to have them fill out a card with Words Having To Do With Melissa (like "skiing" "America" "ping-pong") then I was going to do a little intro speech, having them cross off the words as they heard them. I was really scared I would freeze in the middle of talking or forget something important (like explaining the rules of bingo). But it did not happen. I was completely comfortable in front of the students. The best part was making them jump when I demonstrated saying 'Bingo!' really loud. When I started my intro schpiel and launched into Bingo about Melissa, I found the pace much, much slower than I expected which was quite nice. It gave me time to remember my map and prepare my chocolate prizes (including a special flag sticker for the 'first bingo.') I have to say though, that having a bingo sheet for my OWN reference saved me a few times when I had forgotten what to say next.

      Anything But the Heat I would have been having a better time teaching if it had not been humid and at least ninety degrees outside during the class. They had all the windows open and a fan going but it did not help much since there was only one fan and no breeze. I was REALLY hot. I was dreaming about the teachers room downstairs where they had air conditioning and making a decision to dress down the next day.

      Next Game I played a shorter game after that involving all of them writing information about themselves (except their name) and drawing a self-portrait. I handed the papers back at random and had them find the original owner, who would then write their name on it (Tomomi thought of this since I did not have a specific plan.) Although the game did not go quite as I expected (they did not use any English in searching for the paper's owner), the kids got a laugh out of the pictures and, at the end, I had a piece of paper with everyone's name and some details.

      Positive? Affirmative! Nosohara-sensei watched about half the class from the back and told me later that she really enjoyed it, which was nice feedback. :) Even when I told her I got the ideas from other JETs, she said they were good ideas. Before lunch, she came to my desk and asked me to explain the difference between "positive," "affirmative" and "active." She has brought several questions of this sort over to me in the time I've been here, which I like because it gives my mind a workout. What is the difference anyway? I gave her several examples of the word 'positive' ("I'm positive I'm going." "That was a positive response.") but for 'affirmative' I could really only think of war movies or Star Trek when cadets say "Affirmative, sir!" "Active" was easy since it had a totally different meaning. (To show her it could mean something not-so-positive I used the example "He was active in the yakuza.") I'm glad I brought that "Woe is I" book on English grammar. It might come in useful.

      Lunchtime at Sakugi Junior High I hung around in the teacher's room, knowing it was lunch time but sort of wanting to be shown there or given permission to go or something like that. Some students were hanging around and the teachers were going about their business so I wondered if lunch was not ready. Finally, I walked over there and, JUST LIKE THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, a dozen students (and two teachers) were in blue aprons with blue handkerchiefs over their heads, doling out rice, soup, and a main dish from thick, pink temperature-resistant containers into bowls. I kind of wanted to help, but was also too awed to do much more than watch. I wouldn't know what I was doing anyway and they were nearly finished. Along with the three dishes and wooden chopsticks was a small bottle of milk. Whole milk. Just like the elementary school. The room had about twelve tables that sat four students each (Third-years on the right, First-years on the left and Second-years in the middle). Since many JET advice handouts suggest eating lunch with one's students, I took a tray and sat down with the three first-years. I had a plan of action for small talk (and even brought a piece of paper) so I dove in and started asking them to recommend J-Pop to me. It worked fairly well. We talked about school subjects after that and I found out I had a lot in common with one bright kid who played the piano and liked math. That was pretty nifty. Later, I asked where the delicious lunch was made. I should not have been surprised to hear that it was made at the elementary school!.

      Bigwig City I did Melissa Bingo for the 1st years too, though naturally the process took a little longer since I had to talk much slower and wait longer for them to finish. Tomomi-sensei helped by pointing out the words on the sheet and also in general by helping me hand out stuff. I nearly forgot to explain the rules of bingo, but I remembered at the last moment. The 3rd year class was directly following, so we just went straight to the next classroom (without cooling off in the teacher's room first.) There were twenty students here instead of sixteen and it did make a difference in the feel of the class to have that extra row in the back. Also, the students here were very unresponsive. Two or three boys in the back looked just deadened, like they didn't care about anything. After I passed out my cards and was explaining the rules, SIX MEN IN SUITS walked in. I carried on, despite my mega sweating. I think they liked my yelling 'Bingo!' loudly and when I went around showing the picture of my family, the nearest one wanted to take a look. They did not stay the whole class. I was happy about that because I did not want Tomomi-sensei to get in trouble when I started throwing people chocolates. A couple third-years in the back did not pay attention, but most seemed to enjoy themselves for both activities. Finally, it was the end (and I could go back to the air conditioning!) I was told later the people in suits were from some other city's education system or something, but I got the impression they were pretty important.

      Well, if the principal says so... The principal is a nice guy from what I can tell. His staff-room desk (as opposed to his huge office) is adjacent to mine so sometimes he makes suggestions to me. Today, he told me that there was a general clean-up time around 3pm and that I could help. I remembered reading that it was a good way to get involved, so I helped this third-year sweep the staff room. (I took it pretty seriously and so did a better job of it than her, who seemed to be mostly doing it for appearences). Although I did not mind helping out a bit, I was right in the middle of lesson planning when the time came and so felt sort of interrupted. Am I supposed to drop what I'm doing and sweep every day at 3? If it was after work hours or after a class, it would make more sense, but that's just in the middle of the afternoon. Hmm. I'll play this one by ear.

      I Feel A Little TOO Wanted I received a phone call, at the school, from some fellow named Tetsuyo or something. He called to ask if I wanted to teach an English class in Miyoshi on Monday nights. Yikes! This is the second time I've been asked to teach an English class outside of my general duties. I haven't called the first woman back yet because a: I don't if I'm allowed to accept and b: I didn't really get a good vibe from her. I handed the phone over to Nosohara-san who politely explained that he needed to check with Jicho-san since I have to get permission from the school board to do any teaching for pay.

      Nothing Particular Toward the end of the afternoon, I was thumbing through the pile of introduction sheets (and pictures) I had the kids do today. Under 'Favorite Singer' were several artists like SMAP and Miki Fujimoto. One kid wrote 'Nothing Particular' (with katakana over it as if he was not sure of the spelling) and I was impressed that he used such complex English instead of leaving the slot blank. Then I came across a paper with the same thing: Nothing Particular (not "Nothing in particular" but maybe it was something they had learned recently in class?) On the last sheet was a katakana artist. I sounded it out and, lo and behold, it was Na-shi-n-gu-Pa-chi-kyu-ra (Nothing Particular) using the same katakana the first boy had written. After that I became a little suspicious. I think, next time I'm at the CD store, I am going to ask the clerk for 'Nothing Particular' and see what I get.

      Vegetable Inventory! Before I left, I was given a 'present' of a bag of pears from Nosohara. Earlier I gave 1000 yen to another woman for a bag of pears. I was not sure whether this was the same bag or what, but I am starting to understand something key. This is Sakugi. This is farmer's land. Gifts come in Produce form! So, all together up until today, I have received the following vegetables from residents:

      Asparagus (two bunches, twice, two weeks ago from Jicho-san)
      Tomatoes (2 big ones and about 20 little ones from the neighbor)
      Cucumbers (4 total from neighbor)
      Eggplants (2 from the neighbor)
      Eggplants (5 from Maruyama-san)
      Pears (a bag of 5 from Nosohara-sensei)

      Yet ironically I still have a bag and a half of chocolate left (I did not use NEARLY as much as I thought during Bingo), so the chances of all these vegetables getting eaten BEFORE the chocolate is, well, pretty slim.

      Japanese class! After getting totally lost in Miyoshi, despite two phone calls and finding three other buildings that ended in "center", I arrived at the something-or-other center a half hour late. Luckily, the Japanese teacher and Kate were still there. He talked in very, very slow Japanese which was a nice relief, and introduced me to a Japanese woman about my age randomly sitting in the room. It turned out she was another volunteer teacher and could teach me! Luckily, her free days were the same as mine and we made a time to meet for classes! Yay! The main teacher (a pleasant, gray-haired man who used to be a principal) is even going to order me a textbook. In the parking lot, I chatted with Kate for awhile. She has to teach on the third floor of a COMPLETELY un-air-conditioned school - actually, 14 schools with over 1000 students. Yikes! I can't complain about having trouble remembering my student's (and sometimes teacher's) names.

    Wednesday, Sept 3, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: The Little Ones

      Nursery School! I'm glad my predecessor told me the times that she used to go to the Nursery school because no one else told me. I was not even sure where I was supposed to be eating today. Kato-san finally told me that I would get my kyuushoku (school lunch) at the nursery school instead of the Jr. High. I'm not really sure how I'm paying for this or if it's just coming out of my paycheck or what. I do know that the school lunches are cheap, though - maybe 300 yen. Anyway, so I walked next door to the Hoikusho (nursery school) at 10:30. There was a desk there that they said my predecessor used to use, but I'm not sure why. Aren't I just there to hang out with the kids? If I needed a desk, I would go back to the Jr. High. Maybe it's just a place for me to put my purse. Anyway, this now makes Desk #4 that I've been assigned to, which would be cool except it's hard to keep track of what materials I have where. Anyway, apparently today was a special day and lots of kids were visiting. One staff member mentioned some sort of dance. I walked into the nifty high-ceilinged, octagonal main room and saw tons of little tots. Two or three came up to me, looking at me curiously. Lots of parents were there, too, a few with infants. They had the kids all take hands and make a circle. I sneaked into the circle one girl offering me her hand, but a boy on the other side way too shy to take it. Then we sat down. The main teacher said something briefly, then handed the microphone to me. This was the first time I had been given a microphone to make an intro (maybe because the volume in a room full of kids has potential to be LOUD?) My voice echoed weirdly when I spoke. I talked in slow Japanese and said only a few sentences. I asked them to say my name (the Japanese woman next to me quickly repeating what I said to the kids with a slight correction - I think they understood me, though). I said where I was from and a great deal knew where America was. Then I sat back down. Shortly after, they stood back up and began a dance. I had no idea if I was supposed to join in or not, but I did, mimicking the motions of one of the teachers who was doing it. Sometimes, though, the teachers forgot the right moves, and if they forgot, the children did not know what to do either, but the majority of it was pretty neat. We walked forward and back, did a funny Egyptian-style hand thing and some finger wiggling. During the second dance, though, I backed out having a feeling that this was a sort of presentation the kids were giving. Probably a good thing, since in this dance, the kids walked in circles. Anyway, after that, the kids were free to play.

      The Shoe Dilemma Lots of kids headed outside to the sun. I did not want to head outside if I did not have to. It was HOT outside. The inside was shaded and had lots of ceiling fans (they need to install these fans at the Junior High.) The other obstacle was that I was in guest slippers. My outside shoes were back at the entrance, which was not all that far away but I still did not want to carry my sneakers around everywhere. A woman randomly gave me a very silly orange baseball cap to wear outside, but gave me no direction on what to do about my shoes. I was not really in a rowdy or running-around mood so, carrying my hat, I went over to some big blocks in the corner that looked fun to play with. One little girl was climbing all over them and her mother was nearby. I chatted with the mother (who told me the little girl was a tomboy despite that she was wearing a pink dress today) then I pretended with the girl that all the blocks were different flavored donuts (the red ones being strawberry, of course). She was really cute and not 'wowed' by the strange foreigner at all. A couple other kids came over and climbed up on some of the blocks and I watched them for awhile. Some kids were way too shy to answer when I talked to them, but the one phrase that they always responded to was 'nan-sai?' (how old are you?) Lots of two, three, and four year olds held up their fingers just like American kids would. I talked with some other parent/child duos for awhile then decided to bite the dust and go outside. I wandered around vaguely, then I watched some kids spinning around on swings and said 'sugoi! tanoshisou!' (Cool! That looks fun!) They talked to me a bit, but I only understood about half of it. One little girl was trying to impress me by climbing up the swing set like a monkey, which I was just encouraging by saying 'Tsuyoi!' (You're strong!) Luckily, everyone seemed to go inside after a few more minutes. The odd thing about this was there were three different ways to get back into the main building. All three of them had shoe cubby holes. How many pairs of shoes was I supposed to have?? I figured out pretty quickly that the shoe dilemma was the reason most of the kids went barefoot inside.

      The Clapping Game At some point, near lunch time, the kids gathered in groups. In one classroom, I joined about 10 kids, a teacher, and one older fellow who looked a little younger than me. They were playing a clapping game, going in a circle. Everyone clapped and chanted:

      Mori-san (or whoever the next name was) wa doko desu ka? ('Where is Mori?') And Mori would answer:
      Koko desu, koko desu, koku ni imasu. ('Here, here, I'm right here.')

      They let me join in after a moment and I sung a 'koko desu koko desu koku ni imasu'. Then she took attendance. The guy was 19 years old and one of the kids' older brother I think. I had them guess my age (Some of the kids said '50.' Does my hair look white?) After quite a while and a few hints, they finally guessed. On the way to lunch, some kids said that I was really young. Huh? When I was a little tot, I thought everyone was old. Maybe they thought I looked young? I've actually been getting this comment ('wakai!') a lot from various people, young and old. Is it supposed to be a compliment, perhaps?

      The Most Talkative Yet! Earlier I had noticed a woman in the kitchen cooking so I knew this lunch was not brought in from outside sources. I sat in a tiny chair with three other children (who had asked me to sit next to them before we came in). Everyone had brought a bento (lunch box) full of rice with them except me. In fact, I was not entirely sure I was going to be fed since I had only heard I would be second hand. In any case, I waited for all the children to be served. When it occurred to me to go up, they had just made me a tray INCLUDING rice. Yay! They did mention, though, that next time I should bring some rice or bread with me. No problem. I have a rice cooker. We were not given whole milk. In fact, we were not given any drink until oolong tea was served about halfway through. I don't understand the whole not drinking while eating thing. Water, at the very least, would have been nice. I think I just drink a lot more than most people. Anyway, compared to the times I had eaten with the elementary students and the Jr High students, these were the most talkative by far. They cracked me up! They asked what a lot of words were in English and had no problem repeating their names for me. When they found out it caused a reaction, they started calling me 'obaa-san' (old lady) instead of 'onee-san' (older girl). Still, they were a lot of fun, and I found myself in non-stop conversation through the whole lunch, sometimes with the table behind us. Their Japanese was sometimes hard to follow, but it was adorably cute.

      First Schedule Change (key word: First) I had heard that schedules often change, but I did not expect a change so quickly. I normally would have had class today, but it was being changed until tomorrow, first period. Ack, morning class. So I hung around for a bit and prepared a 'sample dialogue.' I think I spent a little too much time finding on-line clip art to match my dialogue, but no one else was using the computer.

      What's a Blower? I received a short note in my mailbox today, handwritten entirely in kanji/kana. Very confused, I got out my handy kanji book and attempted to decipher the handwriting. I found out the note said something to the effect of: "Your 'bu-ro-wa-a' was broken so I'm taking it to be fixed." A name was signed, but not only am I not really sure what my neighbor's names are, I wouldn't be able to read the kanji for it if I did. It had the date and time written and I have to assume someone, somewhere is doing me a favor. Japanese elves? Except, what's a bu-ro-wa-a? The katakana sounded like Blower. Um?

      Where? To the fair. How? On a cow! In the shower (where all inspiration arrives), I thought of a rhyme to help the 1st years keep from getting Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How mixed up like Nosohara-sensei told me they sometimes do. I wrote a little page and drew some pictures, having a grand old time.

    Thursday, Sept 4, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Dialogues for English Elective Classes

      Because One Can Never Have Too Many Pears Yep, I got another bag of pears today. This is the one I paid for, I think. Add 4 pears to the above inventory. I've eaten a couple already.

      Party for Me! Okumiya-sensei is relaly nifty. First off, her English is really excellent. Secondly, she came and introduced herself to me a few days ago without prompting. She is the kokugo (Japanese; literally: country language) teacher so she is the one I should talk to if I want to sit in on her class and learn some advanced kanji. Anyway, she decided to organize a welcome party for me (yay!). She came to my desk to ask me if a week from Friday worked for me. I can't say no to that! She, like everyone else, has asked me if meat, fish, etc are okay. I don't think my predecessor was vegetarian, but it is nice of them to be sensitive to the issue. During the morning meeting, she brought it up as promised. Cool, cool.

      Skiiing There was no time to use the nifty chant I made up last night in today's elective class. And, in retrospect, it was probably too easy given that they were also studying How Long and Whose. These are second years, not first years, so I think I'll save it for first years (who are learning fairly simple things like "What's this?" "It's a monkey.") Also, I caught my first teacher's mistake. Okay, actually it was not the first time I've heard incorrect English, but it was the first time I saw it written wrong on the board. Nosohara-sensei had written 'skiing' with three i's and marked it as an irregular use of 'ing' which it is not. Because I was warned that it would be rude to contradict a teacher in front of the class, I did not correct the mistake immediately (though that was my natural impulse). I waited until Tomomi-sensei had started his third of the class and wrote the correct form down on a sheet of paper and showed it to her. At the very end of class, Nosohara fixed her mistake on the board. I think I handled it okay, but it's hard to tell. (Oddly, 'skiing' was one of my bingo words.)

      Out of Time For the third-year elective class, I did a little extra pronunciation work with Bs and Vs. One student gave me a funny look but most everyone got a kick out of me demonstrating the mouth differences between B and V. But, because of that, my allocated 15 minutes was not enough time for everyone to get up and do the sample dialogue I made. This is the weird part: During class, I was going to skip the pronunciation, but Nosohara and Tomomi both told me (with whispers and nods in the middle of class) to practice pronunciation first before having the students pair up. I assumed they meant the Bs and Vs, but then after that, they said to practice pronouncing the dialogue sentences, so I did. Naturally, we ran out of time and after class, Nosohara told me to cut out some of the pronunciation so everyone has a chance to present. So, what do they want me to do, here? I knew there would not be enough time for everyone to present but I followed their lead. Is it a terrible thing if everyone doesn't get a chance to perform their dialogues in front of class? True, Nosohara-sensei had me grading their performance. Maybe that is part of their grade?

      Lonely Yama Girl At lunch I sat with some second years, two girls and a boy. I asked them what their favorite subjects were. When one boy did not answer, I asked him what subject he hated and he smiled and said 'all of them.' I then asked about what bands were popular now. They had trouble answering though agreed that SMAP was going down in popularity, but the girl (Yamaguchi) was at least asking me questions in return. After the boys had left, I talked to her for a bit. She is one of the two only girls in 2nd year (8th grade). I asked her if that was tough going. She said yes, and that she was lonely, especially today when the other Yama girl (Yamamoto) was absent.

      Useful and Not Useful Tomomi-sensei asked me if I could help with his first-year class. It's not a class I'm assigned to, but I was all for it (I love the first years). Tomomi told me exactly what he was going to do, gave me copies of his handouts, and told me what he wanted me to do. I loved the specifics and clear direction, especially now when I'm just starting. I mostly was going to say words and help with pronunciation, but I think that is kind of fun (maybe I'll get bored after a few months of it, I don't know). His first activity was pulling objects out of a box (like an umbrella, tie, stuffed monkey, etc), showing part of it and saying "What's this?" Tomomi let me add my dreamcatcher to the pile. I was really shocked when a girl in the class knew what it was. Actually, Tomomi-sensei knew what it was, too, which I had been surprised about. Anyway, he told me this afternoon that he did not need me in the second-years class tomorrow because they "needed to study for a test" but I could make a dialogue for the third-years if I wanted. I had heard that this happens from Importing Diversity (the book about the JET program) but I never expected to be told that I was not needed in the class the first week. Well, I suppose it's one less class to worry about. I still can't believe there's nothing I could help with, though.

      The Secret Textbook I think my dialogues and my ideas in general would be improved if I was able to see the textbook that they are getting THEIR handouts from. I was given the standard (and very thin) textbook, but it's hard to tell exactly what grammar point they are working out. I finally confirmed the existence of this secret textbook, now I wonder how I should go about asking for a copy and maybe even a, gasp, schedule.

      In Case I Forgot I Was In Japan During one of the elective periods, we could hear koto harp practice outside the teacher's room. It was really neat sounding. Even the disharmony of many people playing different things still made for a pleasant background noise - not a noise I would ever hear in an American Junior High, that was for sure.

      I Lost My Japanese Somewhere... After three days of teaching and talking primarily in English (except for the occasional simple Japanese to students), I lost my groove! I was trying to talk to Jicho-san about all the calls I had received to teach English classes, and I was having the hardest time. Luckily, Jicho-san, being the awesome guy that he is, helped me to understand it. Takata-san was against the idea of me teaching other classes, but did at least ask if I wanted to. I am wishy washy. On one hand, I want to help if people are looking for English classes, but on the other hand, I feel really busy right now and don't want to add anything else to my schedule.

    Friday, Sept 5, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Hallway Activities and The Newsletter

      I Win, I Was First! Since I had left right on my contracted time to leave yesterday (4:00pm on the dot, err, it would have been on the dot if I had not left my keys in my desk drawer and had to walk back and change shoes again to get them, but it was close to 4:00) I decided to come in a little early today. Besides, I wanted to use the printer anyway. Well, the door was locked. Luckily a student was hanging around inside and opened it for me. The only one there was the principal! (Maybe I got some brownie points, though I'm pretty sure I'm not getting a bonus or anything.) The next person arrived about five minutes later at 7:45 and soon after everyone filtered in, arriving before the 8:15 meeting. This meeting is so important, they have a long bell (that sounds like a grandfather clock) announcing it. Every time I hear the bell, I wonder what time it is going to chime. It never actually chimes on the hour, though, just when classes start and when they are over.

      Newsletter, By Melissa Since Tomomi-sensei had cancelled one of my classes, I spent a lot of the day working on my English Newsletter. I included a little fill-in-the-blank English game, a short quiz ("What is the biggest city in America?" and so forth), a list of holidays around the world and a section for Learning Spanish. I also included lots of autumnish clip art, but I don't know who I'm kidding. Autumn? It has been over ninety degrees out and humid EVERY DAY since September 1st! Anyway, I had it all figured out on my laptop, only to find out the proportions got completely messed up when I opened it in Japanese Word. I had to fix everything before printing, but I think it turned out pretty nifty. I'll have to wait until Nosohara-sensei gets back to see what she thinks.

      Odd Hallway Activities I heard some drumming outside the teacher's room and went out to investigate. There was nearly a whole class of students practicing for the 'Kagura' dance I keep hearing so much about. Five were playing instruments: two drums, one mini-cymbals, and two bamboo flutes. In the middle were two boys doing a dramatized sword fight type thing with neat props. I watched for a long time (waiting for a pause so I could applaud, but it never came) and was amazed that they could keep up the music and dance that long. I don't know how much is memorized and how much is repetition, but it was still really neat to watch something so obviously traditional being diligently practiced by typical Junior High students. I talked to one girl off to the side (the same Yamaguchi I talked to yesterday at lunch) and she said that every year, the 8th graders put on the Kagura part of the school festival in October. I found out later that Sakugi is known for this.

      I Need a Ping Pong Paddle! A few days ago, I was invited by both the ping pong manager and the principal to participate in club sports, especially ping pong. (I definitely prefer that to soccer which would involve running around in the heat.) I earlier decided for myself that Friday would be my day to do this. So I went out at just before four and helped them set up the tables. It brought back memories (I haven't set up a ping pong table in ages) and was kind of fun. I was worried that all the tables would be full and everyone would have partners and I would not have a reason to butt in. Just the opposite. I not only had a free table, but a first-year (the one I had stuff in common with at lunch on Tuesday) had no partner. The only problem: there were no paddles! They had tons of everything else, but just no paddles anywhere that I could see. Did everyone own their own or was I just not seeing the Secret Paddle Bin. I tried to ask for one, but first they were confused by the word 'paddle' and when I figured out it might be racquet, I did not understand what they said about it. I hung around, watched, and played a silly which-hand-has-the-broken-ball game with the fellow for awhile, but it was all rather stupid. I wanted to play some pong! If the ping pong manager had just shown up, I might have been able to get a clearer answer, but I had not seen her all day. Eventually, one of the boys at the end vanished (with his paddle, apparently) and the fellow I was hanging out with joined up with the remaining player. They then started their "Ping pong exercises" which involved jumping back and forth on one end of the table and swinging the paddle to a steady count. Feeling vaguely like a chaperone, which was not the point at all, I gave up and went back to the staff room rather disappointed. Right as I walked in, I saw the ping pong manager at her desk and wondered what the deal was. But she might have not been participating in ping pong because of...

      A Random Meeting! Out of nowhere, a meeting suddenly started. All the teachers were there. I wondered if this was a weekly occurrence. (What a terrible time for a meeting - Friday afternoon when everyone's itching to go home). Anyway, the whole conversation sounded very serious and went on for over and hour. Two male teachers and the principal did most of the talking and it was not overly polite, just plain or plain formal I think. I really wanted to go to the copy machine but did not want to interrupt the meeting. To get from my desk to the copy machine or, indeed, anywhere I either had to cross in the middle of the room or directly behind the principal, so I stayed put and just prepared more stuff at my desk for both next week's Jr. High classes and Monday's Elementary school. (I feel bad using the Jr. High materials and printer for Elementary school lessons, but since I'm supposed to be at the Jr. High most of the week, when can I do Elementary lessons?) I suppose it was a good thing I had planned to work late tonight to finish up lessons.

      The Blower Mystery Continues... I received a receipt in the mail today saying my Blower had been repaired. I don't know who fixed it, how much it cost, or even what they fixed, but I hope they know I appreciate it. Um, I think I appreciate it. I will next time I need a 'blower.'

      Finally Checking Out Some Hand-Me-Downs One of the movies I was left was a DVD of 'Maid in Manhattan.' I think the DVD was bought in Singapore based on the subtitles available, but my DVD player accepted it. It did not play very clearly and it kept pausing but that could have been my computer. My expectations of the movie were nil, so I did not end up thinking it was too bad. The Nixon aficionado grade-schooler and neurotic campaign leader side characters were great, I thought. They also had a dog in it named Rufus in it which reminds me, sadly, of the dog my aunt had of the same name. Ralph Fiennes is also nice to watch. I don't know if I'd give it high recommendations, but it was not bad.

    Saturday, Sept 6, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: New DVDs, Old Kagura

      Melissa's Mecca I went to the video store today. Yay! And I discovered that they are not so far behind at all. It looks like both Two Towers and X-Men 2 (two of my favorite summer movies) will be out within the next couple of weeks! Their selection is not bad at all, though their 'adult' section seemed to take up half the store (thankfully blocked by a long row of action/adventure). The coolest thing: they rent CDs! This seems like a very silly idea to me, since it would be a very cheap way to 'buy' a CD. Just rent and burn, right? They have old American music, but the only new music is Japanese. I think I read on the Japanese CDs something that may have either been 'asking' a person not to copy the music or maybe saying that it would not play in anything but a standard CD player (I'd like to see how they pull that off). Anyway, I rented the one Enya CD that I did not own. I nearly rented Amelie when I remembered that a Japanese DVD would not have English subtitles available for a French movie. I will have to wait. I rented Hedwig and the Angry Inch instead (is there really Japanese dubbing available for this wild musical!?) I gave the DVDs a go in my laptop and they all gave me 'region' errors except for WinDVD which said I could change it 'Four Times.' I did not want to change it nor spend a lot of time looking for an alternative region-free DVD playing software. So, given that I'd rather watch movies on my TV and that my VCR is a piece of crap, so I went ahead and bought a Japanese video/DVD player for about $250 (which, coincidentally, is the amount of money I did not use for the Hiroshima trip, so it kind of feels like the town hall bought this for me.)


      How much did it cost to fill up my gas tank today?
      (answer at bottom of today's entry)

      Lost in the Rice Fields I knew a big group of us were all meeting at Ben's house, whoever Ben was, to see Kagura but I had so far only gotten his answering machine when I called to ask directions. Since we were supposed to meet in half an hour (and I guessed it would take half an hour to get to Kimita, two towns over) I went ahead and left. Luckily, I was only five minutes into the trip when Ben called. He told me I could park at his place, which was a relief, then to get there, he told me "Left at the T, then the second right." After a pretty mountain drive, I found the T and made a left, but the definition of "a right" is a little ambiguous in a country full of streets not much wider than sidewalks. It's hard to tell what is a 'real' street and what is a path pretending to be a street. I decided to take it literally, and took what I thought was the second right. The thing about Kimita is that it's less of a town and more of a giant rice paddy with houses built in between (kind of like a mini oriental-style Venice? Kimita does literally mean "Your Rice Paddy") The road I turned had long, green stalks of grass sitting in a swamp of water (i.e. a rice paddy) on the left and houses on the right, but none of the houses were as Ben described. At the end of the houses was a (you guessed it) rice paddy and a perpendicular 'street'. I suppose I theoretically could have pulled off an elaborate K-turn to get myself turned back around, but I was scared to since one false move and my pretty car would have tipped off into a rice paddy. I made a left and drove in second gear along this narrow road with a fairly severe drop into paddy o' rice on the immediate left as well as the immediate right. I was going straight, wondering where this road went, how far it was to those houses in the distance beyond the paddies, and what I would do if faced with a car coming the other way. Fortunately, a street suddenly appeared and I could make another left back toward the main road. I turned onto it. After noticing another intersection of narrow streets appear from amidst the stalks, I thought it strange how a grid of asphalt was laid upon the paddies. Anyway the road suddenly widened and I was back on the main road again. In the end, the cell phone (and Ben waving to me from a window) led me to the house. Yep, I needed to take an even EARLIER right turn.

      Kagura! A pretty big group of us drove up to the place the Kagura dance was being held. We were worrying about what to sit on, but some nice Japanese festival staff were handing out giant pieces of black plastic to non-blanket-holding passersby. After receiving a giant cut, we found a spot in the damp grass toward the back of the rather large audience. Everyone made good use of the bug spray I remembered to bring (Let Us Give Thanks To Off!) while the show was in its beginning stages. On the well-lit stage a very similar arrangement to what I had seen at the Jr. High. There were five musicians (two drummers, two flutists, and a cymbalist) off to the side while two people (in VERY extravagant and colorful Kabuki-type costumes and wigs) did a sort of dance in the middle. I learned from one of my companions that it was supposed to be a story and that, if told in full, the story would last 20 hours (though most were abbreviated versions). Behind the audience (in which many people were filming the performance despite how many people kept walking through and blocking) were food stalls. After perusing, I bought some overpriced yakisoba (a small container of fried noodles for 500 yen), an overpriced bottle of tea, and two "manjuu" which are sort of a yummy custard cake type thing. It was enough to fill me up, though, so despite that I paid 900 yen all together, I can't complain.

      Goldfish and Gossip Ben's cousin came back with a prize he had won at the stalls: a bag of 5 goldfish he had caught! Tiny little fish were swimming around in a plastic bag. He told us that the fish were said to only last a few days or so and since he is only in Japan a few days, I guess it works. He left the plastic bag among the purses, keitais (cell phones) and shoes while him and Ben went to find beer . Although the Kagura was somewhat interesting (it would have been more so if I had any idea of the part of the story they were trying to convey or, at least, who the 'good guy' was), I was far more intrigued by the conversation the others were having. I learned a bit of gossip about my predecessor. It was embarrassingly intriguing the way gossip usually is. What really topped it off, though, was when I was told that the 1,500 dollars that she paid for the car INCLUDED the shaken. In short it means I was right all along: she ripped me off BIG TIME. They thought I should confront her about it (I told them that I had once). I considered it, but decided it was so not worth the emotional energy I know I would invest in it. In an odd twist of fate, I found her driver's license the other day. She had mentioned it a ways back, but I had never thought to look in the small compartment of the fanny-pack size bag she left. She wants it back. I guess I have built-in revenge, but I think I'll take the moral high ground, enjoy that I got a chance to vent a bit over the money issues and be satisfied that it looks like her karma caught up with her anyway according to the last email I received from her. Well, anyway, upon moving my seat back I noticed that the right side of the big, black plastic thing was wet. Did someone spill some tea? Mine was still closed tightly. Anyway, when Ben and his cousin returned, he looked for his bag of fish. Yes bag, but no water in it anymore. Oops. So now we have an icky guess to why the plastic is wet, but where did the fish go? We only saw two in the empty plastic bag. Three were still in the area somewhere, but it was dark by that time and we never did find them.

      Quiz answer: about $30.00

    Sunday, Sept 7, 2003

      IN A NUTSHELL: Cool Stuff on TV

      Japanese Subtitles I got my new DVD player to work! Japanese dialogue and Japanese subtitles - to practice - was part of the reason I wanted a DVD player and it was all cool. The back of Japanese TVs and VCRs have all sorts of slots, way more than I'm used to, but the important ones were the same. I even found the connection for these 'BS' channels that I can get from the satellite dish. I have to decide if I want to turn them on and how much it will cost. If I can get CNN, it might be worth it. (I hope they don't give me any BS when I ask for BS...)

      Food for English Today, I continued the arrangement I have with a cool woman teacher my age. She makes me yummy food and I talk with her in English for an hour or two. It's pretty fun. We talked family (8 people live at her house!), instruments (almost all of them play a different instrument), and movies for awhile. She recommended this one Japanese cop movie that I think is the one I've been curious about since last time I was in Japan. Maybe I will try to rent it now that I can subtitle it. This time, I tried not to speak any Japanese and tried to be more corrective about grammar (which is what I would want). I hope she thinks it's worth it because I still feel like I'm getting the better end of the deal. It reminds me of Tokyo where my landlady would give me tea and sweets if I came up on Saturday mornings and chatted with her in Japanglish for a couple hours. I'm all about the food, so I don't mind a bit.

      Flashcards I spent the afternoon glueing the color vegetable printouts to the cardboard I borrowed from the Jr. High to make flashcards. I fully enjoyed the measuring, cutting and gluing while bathed by the sunlight in my cool living room.

      Sumo! I flipped on the TV and for the first time, I saw Sumo! It reminds me of when I lived in Tokyo and used to just stare uncomprehendingly but in fascination at this televised sport. Upon watching again, it still made just as little sense. I love it: the walking around slowly, the looking like they are about to fight but then not, the slapping one's own thighs and butt, the drinking out of the wooden cup, the salt-throwing, the referee yelling and holding a fan thing, and all the very serious expressions. I guess baseball season must finally be coming to a close.

      It's the Mayor! Lots of the world news was about New York (maybe because it's nearly the anniversary of Sept. 11th?) but they did hit England, Kenya, and Korea on their way back to Japan. And when I glanced up again, I said, "Hey, I know that guy!" It was the mayor of little Sakugi! On TV!

      Cooler Hair Than Koizumi It appears that a Japanese conductor with wild gray hair, is conducting a German philharmonic right now on NHK. As always happens to me when I'm watching symphony, I heard them play that damn Gershwin song that is used as United Airlines theme. Every time I hear it, I imagine being in a stuffy airplane. Oh, well. Still cool hair.

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