Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Impressions

So after a month of living in Japan, today was my first day at my first school, Higashi Yonesato Elementary\Junior High School. I was warned beforehand that the school was incredibly tiny - there are only 5 kids in elementary school and 4 in junior high! I knew this was going to be a completely different experience than any other school I will visit this year, and was a little nervous when I arrived at the school this morning, since I was told earlier that the English teacher would be absent today.

As I entered the school, there was a sign in English, bidding me welcome, take off my shoes in my shoe locker, and to find the vice-principal in the staff room. As I entered the room, there was Mr. Wakamatsu, the school's vice-principal. He gestured for me to sit down and handed me a message he had written with the use of Google translate:

"Today, the school principal is not for the meeting.
English teacher in charge of today is closed.
If you have trouble, please tell me.
Thank you"

He then handed me a few papers regarding the schedule and school, and attempted to talk to me in Japanese. I had no idea what he was saying, but I figured I could read the papers and answered with a few "OK"s. I was then led into the the staff room, where I was to introduce myself to the 6 or so staff in Japanese. It went a little something like this:

"Ohayo gozaimasu. Watashi wa Sarah Stone-Robinson desu. Sarah to yonde kudasai. Amerika no Texas kara kimashita. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu."

I had practiced so much more for this very occasion. I was going to say, this is my first time in Japan, and that I had a husband and a son, but a combination of the oppressive heat (schools have no air conditioners here) and nervousness allowed only those few sentences. They clapped for me anyway, and Mr. Wakamatsu showed me around the school. As he was leading me, I noticed all the empty classrooms. This once-thriving, two-story, 50 year old school was now reduced to less than 10 children. He told me that the school will be shut down next year because of lack of enrollment. Of course he said this in Japanese, but I got the gist of what he was telling me.

The rest of the morning was spent waiting to meet the elementary students, taught by Mr. Yamanaka. The class consists of four 4th graders and one 6th grader, with Mr. Yamanaka teaching them all. I was to give them a short introduction of myself and where I'm from, and then the students were to introduce themselves to me. A sweet 4th grader, Miki, gave me a flower, and told me that she loved english. After introductions, they gave me a tour of the school (again), and then I was asked if I wanted to eat lunch with them - a delicious meal of curry rice, some kind of salad, and a tangerine. Everyone was interested in if I like Japanese food. I told them I loved it, and asked them if they like American food. " Hamburger!", Mr. Yamanaka said, and the rest of the lunch was spent trying to communicate with him and the school counselor, since neither speak much english. After lunch I played tag with them in the gym, which didn't help the heat factor at all, but I had a lot of fun.

I have to say that my first impression of a Japanese school are good so far. All the teachers and staff have treated me very kindly and with a mild curiosity, especially the vice-principal, who seems very interested in Texas and US maps. I've been given loads of iced Japanese tea, and been given a tour of all the bathrooms by the school nurse (it's important to know - not all bathrooms have Western toilets. When any of the teachers want to talk to me or I to them, we just fire up the good ol' google translator - I've had full conversations with the vice-principal today merely using that! So despite the size, it's a great school full of great people, and I can't wait to meet the (4) junior high kids tomorrow!

Monday, August 30, 2010

(Past) Week in Review

I'm a little behind on my week review, not because I've been particularly busy, but I guess I still haven't gotten quite in the habit of posting regularly. Some highlights of the week past:

  • Mr. Ito modeling Japanese summer wear at the New ALT Welcome Party.
  • A kampei to the new school year.
  • Beer with good friends at the North Island Brewery.
  • My octopus burger in Noboribetsu. Just a note: "taco" in Japanese is very different from what we Americans are used to!
  • A demon posing for the camera at the Noboribetsu Festival. A full post on this festival very soon!

Friday, August 27, 2010

They grow up so fast...

When we moved to New Jersey, Ethan was just a little tyke starting 1st grade. Now we live in Japan and he's in 6th grade!! In true parent style, Nate and I have taken pictures of Ethan's first day of school every year. Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

First Grade

Second Grade

Third Grade

Fourth Grade

Fifth Grade

Sixth Grade

His body gets taller and his hair gets longer! How does time go by so quickly? I don't feel any older, really. I guess time really does fly!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Only in Japan: Holy Cute!

This is a regular segment I'm going to feature on my blog. Just things in Japan that I've noticed since I've been here. This week's segment: Japanese Cute!

There seems to be an abundance of cute in this country. You'll find cute things everywhere - in the grocery store, on subway signs, even the airplanes are cute (that's the Pokemon airplane I saw at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo).

I've shown this picture before, but it's worth showing again. I have no idea what this sign says - for all I know, it could be warning me about not leaving my luggage unattended, or not riding on tiny planes in the lobby area. The point is there's a cute boy waving and riding a tiny plane. Cuteness!!

The perhaps the best place to find cute is the grocery store. The above picture is of lunchboxes - I mean, has your lunch ever looked this cute? Making sure your child's bento (lunch box) is cute seems to be a national pastime here - you'll find all sorts of decorations and frills for food, it would be hard to eat those cute pieces of art. And just when you think you've seen all the cute you can stand.....

Then they gotta put a face on the sponges. Cleaning just got cute (and yes, I bought one)!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Week in Review

  • Ethan had his first day of classes at the Hokkaido International School on Thursday!
  • We saw a stuffed/shellacked tortoise at the flea market. I didn't even think you could do that!
  • Dancing at the obon festival.
  • Trip to the Sapporo Art Park. Pricey, but well worth the trip.
  • There was a Miyazaki exhibition at the Art Park. We added our own little soot balls to the exhibit a la Spirited Away. Ethan's pointing to his, mine is the one with the bow.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Obon Festival

Summer is a great time for festivals of all kinds in Japan. This past week, Sapporo and other Japanese cities were celebrating Obon, which is a festival to honor the deceased. It's now evolved into a time when people go back to their ancestral family places to honor those who came before them. Every night during the week of obon, there is a dance called the bon odori, which consists of the dancers making very simple moves around a podium of singers and musicians. It's extremely repetitive, but we couldn't help but watch it. I eventually wanted to join in, and a lady in yukata, sensing my eagerness, came out of the dance to invite me and Ethan. Ethan wouldn't go, but I did, and it was awesome! I tried to get Ethan out there with me, even bribing him with money, but he would have none of it. We went back a couple days later, and I finally got him to go out with me, and Nate did too! It was a great experience and really made me feel like part of the community, and I think the dancers liked having us out there as well.

Nate took some video, check it out:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Japan, Pt. 2: I'm still alive!!

Yes, I'm still alive - I've just been separated from the world while waiting for my internet to be connected in the apartment. It's hard to believe that I've been living in Japan now for about 3 weeks, and that Nathan and Ethan have been here for a week. Every day it feels a little bit more like home. Pictures of the apartment will be posted soon, as it's still a work-in-progress, I' m a little reluctant to share just yet.

It's been so nice to have Nate and Ethan here; it was incredibly lonely before their arrival. However, I kept myself busy cleaning out the mountains of stuff left behind my countless apartment predecessors. That seems to be the JET tradition, but I just couldn't handle it - it felt as if I was living in someone else's home. But now, over 20 trash bags later, it's beginning to come together. I also had a surrogate family while I was living the bachelorette life: Tim, Kele, and Adrienne.
Since we were the only ones that arrived as Group A, we became very close, and that has carried on over the weeks. We've decided that they are Ethan's honorary Aunt and Uncles, and Ethan seems to approve. They unfortunately live in another apartment complex across town (the "Gash" as it's called by the other JETS, it's where the single or younger JETS are housed), but we still visit each other.

So classes begin for everyone this Monday except me and another girl - we start the first of September. I'm eager to start teaching again. It'll be here soon!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Japan, Pt.1

It's been a week since I arrived in Japan and I'm just not getting around to writing about it! It's hard to write about, because it's all felt so surreal, like I'm going to wake up from this crazy dream any minute. Once I stepped onto the plane in Denver, I knew this was going to be unlike anything I'd ever experienced before, especially since I'd never traveled outside the U.S., I didn't know what to expect.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Tokyo in the summer is the extreme humidity. It's hard not to notice - it's like hitting a wall! People are sweating and Japanese men have towels wrapped around their heads, which is a great idea, in my opinion. JET Volunteers herded us onto buses and we made our way to Keio Plaza, where JET Orientation was going to be held for 2 days. It was amazing to see all the other people that were going to be in JET as well this year - Irish, Australian, South African, etc. I was feeling pretty jet lagged the first day and a half of orientation, but I soldiered my way through as I attempted to remember all the things they were telling us. I joked to the others that I felt we were in some Japanese Amusement Park, because being in the hotel with all the other foreigners just didn't feel like we were actually here. When we weren't in workshops and orientations, a few new friends and I tried to make it out to Shinjuku, which is exactly how you imagine Tokyo to be - bright lights and people everywhere.

We ate at a Udon place and walked around and around, just taking it all in. When we stopped to sit for a while, this older Japanese man came up to us and tried to speak English to us. He said something about Obama and asked me why my eyes were so big. I told him I didn't know. One thing I noticed about Japan is that the workers in the stores are always yelling - I'm assuming it's to coerce you enter their restaurant or store. Another thing I noticed is how extremely clean Japan is - I have not seen a single piece of trash anywhere, and there's hardly trashcans to be seen. You can't say that about New York!

So on Wednesday we made our one-hour flight up north to Sapporo, and as we departed the plane I was relieved to feel a cool breeze and hardly any humidity! There are 4 new ALT's in our group - myself and another from the US, one from Australia, and another from South Africa. We've all become quite close, and it's nice to have the others for support when you need it.

We've been staying in a hotel while the ALTs before us move out and clean. The other three moved out of the hotel today, since they live in an apartment complex separate from me, and I move in tomorrow. I feel that that's when I'll feel like I'm truly in Japan and not on some vacation - when I have a place to call my own and have to figure out how to buy stuff at the supermarket! And of course when Nathan and Ethan finally arrive. That's when Sapporo when truly be home.