Notes from Japan 2

Hey Folks, Two points I was asked about but didn't mention in my last email: 1) The big earthquake before I landed here and 2) I must have slept through the big Typhoon that came through Tokyo while I was there, because I sure didn't notice it. Monday Aug/2/05 Last night my host family had a guest over. The woman is Japanese born, but married to and American and living in Idaho. It was nice to have a good conversation in English at a regular speed. For dinner we had Sahimi and Tempura. I learned how to make Tempura. After dinner the leader of a scout group that was meeting in the temple asked me to come with him, I did and found myself in front of a group of boy and girl scouts from probably 5 years old to teenagers. I did my Japaneses introduction and then talked about camping activities kids do in the states. Next I taught them a camping song a camp style banging cheer. Everyone got really into it. Then the scout leader invited me to go with the group when the go hiking and canoeing. I was then presented with a scout bandanna and a wood gadget to hold it around my neck. Tuesday Today I visited some of the kindergartens I will be visiting monthly. First I would go into the directors office for tea and introductions, then they would take me around to different classes. I did a version of the self introduction and then in some I would teach a cheer or a song. The kids would initially run around very excitedly then settle in once I got started. I had a blast.


In one class the kids were practicing for a drum festival that was coming up. They were amazing. Then we walked into another class where the kids were just back from swim. Probably 25 or so were running around naked. I asked if we should come back latter, but was told it was OK. One of the children noticed me stopped running, and shouted "Atashi Briony Sensi" (Look it's the new Biony Teacher) the children briefly paused, looked up, then went back to ruining around helter skelter again. ------------------------------------------------------ Something I don't understand at all: -Japaneses people eat a ton of salt every day at every meal. -Raw fish, eggs and meat play a big role in their diet. -At work, everyone drinks coffee all day long. -Food is frequently fried, and Mayonnaise seems quite popular. -People smoke everywhere and all the time. In my office there are probably half a dozen people smoking right now. Given that, how do people in this country have the highest life expectancies on earth? (Highest for women second highest for men) ------------------------------------------------------ Wednesday I have been working on my self introduction for schools (power point presentation) and studying the language. Every once in a while we have a meeting or some paperwork to take care or something else comes up. Today one of the secretaries gave us an impromptu lesson in painting Japaneses calligraphy. The Japanese language is ridiculously difficult. The syllabary is made up of 4 different alphabets. Hiragana and Katakana are the easy ones with 50 characters each. These are the phonetic alphabets used for teaching children and for foreign words. Then there is Kangi, the Chinese characters of which there are many thousands. The fourth alphabet, Romanagi, is the only one I have mastered thus far. It is based on Roman letters with English pronunciations. At least I am learning some words needed for everyday living. Friday Night Tonight the Board of Education and all the teachers from town had a party.


First there was the Volleyball portion of the evening. A little shy of 150 teachers and administrators showed up at onof the school gyms for a massive beach-ball volleyball tournament. In the Japanesese version of volleyball, each team must tap the ball 2 times before sending it over on the third tap. To start, someone blew a whistle and all 150 people came to the front of the room and formed about 20 perfectly straight and perfectly spaced lines and sat down. The rules were explained and then it was time for stretching. Another whistle and the assembled group spread out and followed another teacher who led us through stretching. Then onto the game. 5 person teams with subs, a ref, line judges and 2 score keepers. These folks do not mess around with their volleyball! My team won one and lost one. And were the ref/scorekeepers for the third game. After the game we went to a party in a local restaurant. The tables are about 16 inches off the ground and the food is there when you arrive. The menu is always set and you pay a fixed price to attend(usualy 3000yen or about $30). To get everyone eating with people from different schools and offices, we picked numbers out of an envelope and went to the corresponding places. At first another ALT and I were called upon to do our self introductions, then the Kampi (Cheers) was said to begin the meal. The food was excellent and the Sho-Chu flowed like water. Sho-Chu is a type of alcohol that is pretty much only made and consumed on the island of Kiyushu. It is similare to Sake. The popular way to drink it is hot and out of very small (2 thimble size) glasses. In this region of the country there is a tradition called Saka-Zuki where someone will present you with their cup, pour you a glass and say "Saka-Zuki". You then drink the shot of Sho-Chu, return the glass and fill it. I did quite a few Saka-Zukis at the party. At one point the winners of the volleyball tournament went into a hard core elimination round of rock, paper scissors. I was called upon to recite "rock, paper, scissors 1 2 3" in English and to officiate. Saturday Menda Elementary school, one of the schools I will visit regularly, has designated itself as an "international themed school." Saturday morning we took part in a school program that involved singing and games. In the afternoon, a group of us including the ALT`s, some of the kids and parents went Rafting / Swimming / Kayaking in a section of the river near our town. I had a great time. Some of the boys who were at the river were jumping into the river off of a bridge that was easily 40 feet high. I chose to jump off a more modest 15 foot rock ledge. That evening there was a BBQ with some of the teachers, students and parents. In my experience, some Japaneses men like to drink and get drunk at work related social functions. My new principal is no stranger to this custom. He was chugging Sho-Chu from a plastic cup. He started talking to me and asking lots of questions. If the questions got a little personal, I would be a little evasive in my answers. He would react to this by slapping my back and laughing. After sharing a drink with him, one of the officers in the PTA came up to me and gave me a big bear hug. I was a little surprised by this, but I chalk these things up to some kind of "cultural differences". Sunday I participated in a Soba Noodle making class. In the evening I went to the Asagiri Cho Summer Festival.


Asagiri-town-festival This was pretty cool. There were traditional drummers, dance acts, Japanese music, and one western style rock band who played covers of "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Come on Eileen".


It was very funny listening to English music being preformed by someone who could not pronounce half the words he was singing. There were also rows of food and junk vendors. The festival was a little overwhelming. I was one of three foreigners in a sea of some 4,000-5,000 Japaneses people. Every few steps someone came up to me and shook my hand or tried out their English "Hello my name is...How-are-you-fine-thank-you".


The children and the older folks are especially outgoing. Again with the hugging, I don`t know how to explain the concept of a "touch bubble" or "Bad touch". I need to learn the phrase, "Look buddy, I don`t know all about your culture yet, but where I come from you don`t slap another man`s ass after you meet him at the Town Festival." Monday Aug/9/05 Moved out of the Temple and into my new house today. More on that in the next blog. I will be away in Kumamoto City for the next few days on an orientation session. sssss That's all for now. Peace out from Sunny Asagir-Cho, Josh Random Fun Japan Fact to Know and Tell: In Japan, when twins are born the one who comes out 2nd is considered the oldest. Reason: It is considered mature to let another go before you. Ie. "After You" Josh Bernstein JETAA 2005-2006 Asagiri, Kumamoto Prefecture





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