This Christmas was a little strange at first, being the first time we've ever spent the holidays in another country. I mean, New Jersey felt a little bit like another country sometimes, but my sister was always there to give it that family feeling. Actually, Christmas in NJ was great, for the last few years we'd invited some of Nathan's actor friends over and we'd eat and play Rock Band into the wee hours. It was great! So I was a little perplexed as to what we were going to in Japan, as most of our friends were spending their holidays overseas in exotic locations.
We started off with Christmas Eve at the German Christmas festival being held for the last month in Odori Park. Ethan was really wanting a German apple pancake, and I was wanting some mulled wine. We both got what we wanted.
Christmas day starting bright and early, with Ethan getting us up at 8:30. It was a nice, simple present-opening, which I really enjoyed. I got Nate and new wallet (wallets with a pouch for change are essential in Japan), and he got me a nice new winter hat that I'd been hinting about for some time. Ethan loved everything he got, and at the last minute, we brought out our gift to him - an electric guitar.
I got a good deal on it from another JET who didn't have a use for it, and Ethan had been saying that he really wanted one to practice on, so I thought, why not? He loved it, as you can see.
It included a little amp with the purchase, which I'm sure our neighbors are going to love!
After our traditional Christmas breakfast, we went to meet our friends Arisa and Takumi to eat lunch and see Tron. I'm not sure they enjoyed Tron too much, they said it made their eyes hurt. After the movie we invited them over to our house for some Christmas cake (it's what they eat here). What happened next was a couple hours of dancing and video game playing.
It was a blast, but 11:00 rolled around and they had to catch the last subway back home. We stayed up a little longer, talking with our friend Mark, another ALT who wasn't doing anything for Christmas, so we decided to invite him to the par-tay.
Nathan was telling me that it's strange for us to be so sociable. We've been out and about to parties and get-togethers for the last 3 days, and frankly, being sociable is lots of work! We've always had a close group of friends, but I think we've alienated ourselves in years past because we're usually the only ones to have a kid. I think that makes us feel a little different, which in turn ends up with us just staying at home. As sappy as it sounds, I love the friends we've made here since moving to Japan. They don't replace the family I'm missing back home, but they sure do come pretty darn close.
I hope everyone - friends, family, and everyone in-between - has a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year!!
We bought this little Christmas tree at a store across the street from our apartment. It's small, but it's the perfect size for our place. I didn't want to spend any money on ornaments, so we made all of them with stuff we already had around the house. Everything on the tree is either yarn or paper. And we now have a few more presents under the tree since I took this picture. Ethan was so worried that none of the presents from relatives would make it in time, but luckily they did, and Ethan's much happier now.
We went to a party hosted by Nate's boss yesterday, and we had a lot of fun. His boss, Mary, is Japanese, but was raised in Brazil, so she speaks Portuguese, English, and Japanese. She made tons of yummy Brazilian food, and after eating our fill, some of her friends got out the drums and guitars and started singing Bassanova music. Japanese singing Brazilian music - it was quite an international day! We also met a really great couple who live not far from where we live. He's Australian and she's Japanese, and they have a really cute son. It was nice to meet another young couple with a kid, and we plan to get together with them again some time.
It's hard to believe that it's Christmas tomorrow. We're planning to go watch Tron with some friends tomorrow, but I still need to figure out what I'm going to make for our traditional Christmas breakfast. Anyone know where I can find some bacon?
In an effort to make this blog more than my school experiences and more a part of my everyday life, I thought I'd share some music I've been listening to lately.
I've been a fan of Sufjan Stevens for several years, and was pleasantly surprised with his latest album, The Age of Adz. It's completely different direction from Illinois, but artists are allowed to grow and change, and I like the new sound. Check it out:
Harlem is a band that my friend Brandon turned me on to, and now I don't know where they've been all my life! They remind me of those bands me and my sister used to listen to in those seedy music venues in Amarillo (remember that Rachel?). Like music you'd hear coming from your friend's garage. Gotta love it.
I finished my elementary school tour this week, and honestly it was a little anti-climactic. I suppose I've been a little spoiled at my previous schools - the kids treat me like royalty and the administration and staff are always so interested in me. I guess it was inevitable that they weren't all going to be this way.
My first school of the week didn't have me speak in front of the staff like schools usually do. Instead, after a quick greeting to the principal, I was led to a room on the third floor being called the ALT Room. Obviously this room was not used in anticipation of an ALT's visit, as it was more like a closet. I was given a tray of drinks that I suppose were meant to last me for two days, and I was left to my own devices. A third grade teacher who speaks good English came and spoke with me about the day's lessons, but I never met the 5th and 6th grade teachers, who I would be teaching with, until I went into their classroom. I didn't spend much time in that room, since it was freezing and I would much rather visit classrooms. I especially enjoyed a science class I visited where the 3rd graders showed me how electricity works. Well, I think that's what they were trying to explain.
These two 5th grade boys were my groupies, and later on my last day professed their love for me. I told them I'm sorry, but I'm married and much too old for them. Maybe I should learn how to say that in Japanese.
My second and last school of the week was hard to find - it didn't even show up on the map on my phone. When I got off the bus, I decided I'd just follow the kids, as they seemed to be going in the direction of where I thought the school was. Luckily, the students did lead me to the correct school, and was again led to a special "ALT Room" and again didn't get to meet the teachers until the actual class. This school was especially challenging, as it was obvious that the 6th grade teachers were not that proficient in English, and the 6th graders just didn't seem interested. I guess it's good practice for Junior High, as I'm sure I'll come across that attitude more than once.
I did make a few friends, like this 1st grader who spoke pretty good English. And by pretty good English, I mean she could tell me, "I like fruit. Do you like fruit?" Kawaii!!! Notice her mask she took off for the picture. Yes, Japanese do actually wear the masks, but I have yet to try this out. I'd just rather take the sick day.
All in all I'm so happy I was given a chance to teach elementary school for 2 months. It was a great confidence booster and I hope I'll get an opportunity to teach some next year, even though our supervisor told us that most of the ES jobs are going to other independent companies next year.
So now it's time to get ready for Christmas! The holiday spirit hasn't quite hit me like it usually does this time of year. We do have a tree, with a few presents under there, but apparently not enough, as everyday Ethan says something like, "Is this all the presents this year? This is going to be the worst Christmas ever!" However, the relatives presents are en route, and he doesn't know the BIG present that's awaiting for him from us!
It's also strange to not be spending Christmas with my sister, who came to NJ for Christmas every year we were there. I miss you Rachel!!!!
The Robinson fam just got back from meeting up with our first, genuine, Japanese friends. Harada-sensei (I guess I can call her Arisa now), was my first JTE at Higashi Yonesato, and we promised to keep in touch once I left the school. It's been two months now, and we finally met up with her and her husband tonight at Jacksonville, our favorite burger joint. Arisa's English is pretty good, and I have a feeling her husband knows more than he lets on (as most Japanese do). We laughed and talked about school and learning English and Japanese. Her husband gave Ethan his old Kendo boken, and I'm pretty sure he's now Ethan's best friend. He was impressed with how much Ethan already knew about kendo (thanks Butch!) and Japanese history, and told him that he had "a Japanese soul". They told us that they'd take us out for ramen some time, and we're going to get together again on Christmas day. As much as I love my JET family, it feels really good to have Japanese friends. It really makes me want to learn Japanese, just to take the pressure off of them from having to speak English all the time. I've met many other wonderful people at elementary schools as well, and some of them I've swapped e-mails and fully intend to keep in contact with. And I can't forget my adopted Japanese family at our favorite gyoza restaurant - I love Junko-san!
So this week I only attended one school, since Thursday and Friday I attended our ALT mid-year workshop. The school was waaaaaaay up in northern Sapporo, and I had to leave our apartment at 6:50 to catch the bus out there. It's supposedly a "lower-performing" school, but the kids were just as eager about English as the other schools I've been to. And not just eager about English, but eager about me in every way. I had 6th grade boys telling me they loved me and girls asking me to hang out with them on the weekends.
They also asked me if I "liked" their teacher. I always get this question when the class has a male teacher. I always kid around by saying, "Yes, but I'm married!"
When I had to leave, the kids made this tunnel for me to walk through.
Such a sweet group of kids. Three days go by so quickly.
And boy, did the students at this school really lay on the presents!! Letters, cards, a soap dispenser (!), and about 8 straps! I was overwhelmed.
My favorite gift was the friendship bracelets given to me by a group of 6th grade girls who also wrote me the huge "Sara Book". And yes, that is an artistic rendition of me with giant blue eyes.
It's sad to think that I now have only 3 more schools this next week and my elementary school tour will be over. I think my visits to these schools are more than just helping the home room teacher with an English lesson or two. I feel like my visits have helped these students begin an interest in English that I hope will continue as they grow. And who knows, I may even see some of them again when they enter Junior High!!
Wow. I'm exhausted. The fifth week into my elementary tour, and I think it's finally starting to wear on me. Not in a bad way - I really enjoy teaching those kids - but being that high energy all day really takes a strain on you after a while. You think I'd be used to it, as I taught 6 or 7 high-energy classes every day back in the US. Despite the exhaustion, I've loved every school I've gone to, and I'm always sad to leave after the 2 or 3 days I'm there.
A statue in front of Shiseikan Elementary School. All bundled up for winter!
My first school of the week was in the heart of Susukino, the entertainment district of Sapporo. A young school - it was built only 7 years ago - it had a very modern feel, which I loved. The whole school had what they called open classrooms, which meant that there were no doors or hallways separating the classrooms, only walls. I think there was an elementary school in CISD that had this same concept. Was it Sundown Lane? Anyway, I thought it would be extremely distracting to the students, but they seemed to work with it quite well. As always, the students were friendly and eager to speak English with me. One group of 6th grade girls really took a liking to me, and asked me if I knew the song "Country Road". Of course I do! I sang it for them a few times in English, which impressed them so much! They even asked me to write it down in English for them. I asked a teacher why the interest in this song, and I was told that it's a song in their music class. The song was used in a Studio Ghibli film, Whispers of the Heart, and is apparently a very popular film with kids that age. Here we are singing it, you can mostly hear me, but they really are singing with me, I promise!
For my second school of the week, I would be staying for 3 days. I always like staying at schools for 3 days, I feel like I get to know the kids better. And these students were a delight! Every one of them so eager to speak English with me, even the cute 1st graders!
And this school was autograph crazy! Kids were literally running down the halls screaming, "Sarah, sign kudasai!!" I was signing notebooks, pencil cases, caps, hands. This is probably the closest I'l ever be to feeling like a celebrity.
Oh, and did I mention it snowed Monday? Big, beautiful, fluffy flakes. Ethan I enjoyed walking to school together in it.
Until the next day, when all that beautiful snow became packed down slippery ice. I had a few close calls, but never totally fell, thank goodness. I was taking the tiniest steps, it took me forever to reach the subway. And then it turned 50 degrees on Thursday night and all the ice was gone overnight. I'm sure there's more to come.