Monday, January 31, 2011

334 days to go....

Day 24: Really beautiful art deco mosaics in the entrance of the school. I was trying to be artsy with the flash, and it didn't turn out the way I wanted. Doesn't really do the mosaics justice.
Day 25: First grade students during lunchtime. The one in the middle with the glasses is obsessed with me. Whenever she sees me, she screams out my name and scares me half to death. These girls ask me to eat lunch with them quite often and I enjoy talking with them.
Day 26: Calligraphy done by third grade students. In Japan, it's tradition to write a New Year's calligraphy on the 2nd day of the year, so it was the student's assignment over the winter holiday to write this. I teacher told me what it said, but I forgot.
Day 27: The tiniest paper crane ever, given to me by Go, a third grader (his nickname is potato, for reasons I don't know). I told him I want him to teach me origami, and he told me he only knew how to make cranes. The next day, he showed me some new origami he'd made - dogs, bears, various other animals. I'm pretty sure he's teaching himself every night just so that he can teach me!
Day 28: Firemen in front of our apartment building looking up at something.
Day 29: Ok, so it was 11:30 at night, I'd just come home from a friend's place, and remembered I hadn't taken a picture for the day. At least you get to see my cute Rilakuma phone case! And yes, that's our bathroom.
Day 30: A little puppet I made. You pull the string and the arms come out.

The Robinson clan is settling in to the long winter here in Sapporo, and man, is it cold! As you can see in the above picture, I deck myself in gloves, a hat, scarf, and other necessities so the long walk to the subway isn't quite so frigid. In fact, we're all pretty well-equipped for the winter here, although I'm still on the lookout for snow pants for Ethan.

Speaking of Ethan, it seems like he is really flourishing here, as I've never seen him so content with school before. I give credit to Hokkaido International School - it's a great education and I think Ethan is really getting the help he needs there, since math has always been his weakest subject. I just received his report card for the first half of the year, and although the math grades are not exactly where I'd like them, his confidence in the subject is improving, so I know the grades will follow. The class size is small for his grade, and I think that's helped him to feel like he's not lost in the crowd, since he can be a bit on the quiet side (like him mom). I'm proud of him - he's playing guitar, going to aikido classes, writing, drawing, and learning Japanese. I'm just going to put it out there and say that Ethan's the coolest kid I know!!

(can I take credit for some of that?)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good ol' Japanese "ganbarimasu"

がんばる: to persist, to insist on, to stand firm, to try one's best

"Ganbarimasu" means, "I will do my best", and I think there's no better phrase to describe the Japanese work ethic. From the McDonald's workers to the Junior High School students I see every day, the Japanese always look like they're giving 110% into everything they do. It's impressive, and makes me feel like a schlub, honestly. The majority of the students I work with are quite impressive - When the bell chimes, they're always right where they need to be, and are hardly ever absent. And as my friend Scarlett commented on her blog the other day, they never ask to leave class to go to the bathroom, in fact, I've never seen any student roaming the halls during class time. Teachers stay at work until 7:30 or 8:00, while I peace out at 4:30 (and that's a late day for me!) Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty that my job is so easy, when everyone else looks like they're working so darn hard, so on my time off, I try to keep busy as well - study Japanese, write e-mails, check facebook (hey, how'd that get there?) Ok, maybe I'm just trying to look like I'm busy.

Hard-working JHS students

Another good example of ganbaru happened this morning. About 7:00, just I was getting Ethan up, I heard a siren which sounded like it was making its way toward our apartment. A few minutes later, more sirens. I looked outside to see three fire trucks and a paramedic van parked right outside our complex. Out came the firemen with the water hose, while more trucks and vans came. Nate and I were frantically trying to get dressed and feed Ethan, because I assumed that whatever was happening was big and that they were going to evacuate us any minute. Come to find out that a person had left the stove burner on and a pan began to smoke, setting off the fire alarm, which is conveniently connected to alert the fire station of any emergencies.

Not even a fire, folks, but that didn't stop the fire station from pulling out all the stops.

No doubt this extra hard work has its disadvantages - late nights, burn-out, depression - but I think Americans could learn a thing or two from the Japanese work ethic. They take pride in what they do, even if it is flipping burgers. I'm hoping some of this work ethic rubs off on Ethan, heck, even on myself!

"Hai, ganbarimasu!!"

Monday, January 24, 2011

341 days to go....

Day 17: This newspaper article was left on my desk when I moved into it last week. I have no idea what it's about, but those two police men look like they're chasing a deer. It was just so out-there I had to keep it.

Day 18: My walk home from Hokuyo. My God, look at that snow!

Day 19: This is Taiga. He's a third grader I met after school one day with this crane taped to his head. He's hilarious, and should definitely be a theater kid, which is probably why I like him to much. I call him "Tiger Jones".

Day 20: Another view of Hokuyo JHS from across their sports field.

Day 21: Stuff at the 100 yen store. I just love all these signs.

Day 22: My wonderful sister sent me these prints last week. I love them so much!!!!

Day 23: Huge flakes falling on Sunday. Ethan here is telling me not to take his picture, but I just can't help myself.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's Friday I'm in love

Hokuyo JHS. Not the best view of the school, but when you've seen one Japanese school, you've seen them all

My, have things have changed since Higashi Yonesato.

I've gone from a Junior High that consisted of 4 students, to Hokuyo JHS, a school of 500, and my goodness, what a difference. Being at elementary schools - some of them very large - definitely helped me to prepare for this new assignment, but I was still pretty nervous when I started at Hokuyo on Friday. I had had so much success at elementary school, would Junior High schoolers accept me in the same way? What if they have no interest in English? Teaching JH Schoolers is such a tightrope walk, you're never really sure what's in store for you. So this Monday brought a lot of nervousness for me, as it was going to be my first full day at the school. The principal is very nice, and he even speaks a little English (and as I mentioned before, a wonderful singing voice, which I learned is because he was once a music teacher!) The three English teachers I work with are really great as well, and I've especially connected with the first grade teacher, an older woman who's sometimes forgetful and treats me almost like a daughter. I was so relieved when I entered the classrooms this week and found that a large majority of the students really have an interest in English, so half the battles already won! And I was also surprised that much of the rock-star feeling I had in elementary school has carried over to Hokuyo as well. Walking down the hall is always an adventure, as I hear "Sarah, Sarah! Cute-0" as I walk by. The girl students are so sweet, and are super excited to know that I like Arashii and Kara (J-pop boy band and K-pop girl band) (Note to self: listen to more Arashii and Kara music!) Two girls in first grade have taken a particular liking to me and yell my name at the top of their lungs whenever they see me. Then they walk me down the hall, arm in arm, and tell me about they boys they like.
And the boys....well, they like me too. Some much more than others. And by much more, I mean they have professed their love for me for everyone to hear. This week, I've had at least 5 five boys tell me they love me and if I love my husband. One conversation went like this, as third graders were giving their introduction of themselves to me one-by-one.

Me: Hello.

Student: Hello. My name is ----, and I love Sarah!

Me: (Points to myself) Really?

Student: Yes, but (points to girl on other side of room, she's in the picture above) my girlfriend, so (shakes hand in front of face)

Me: Oh........OK.

While I was walking with some girls after lunch, a large group of second grade boys appeared and pushed this one boy toward me. This particular boy had already professed his love earlier in class, but apparently that just wasn't enough.

Student: Sarah, I,I,I,I have heart. (puts hands to chest) And, And, And........

Me: Yes?

Student: And I love Sarah!!!! (Puts hand out as if proposing to me)

Me: (laughing hysterically with other students) I'm sorry, but I'm already married. (points to wedding ring)

Student: Oh. (Walks dejected back to group of boys, who are laughing as hard as I am).

I'm sure other ALT ladies are used to this type of behavior, but this is definitely a new experience for me. I'm just glad the kids like me, it makes my job a whole lot easier.

For those family and friends not familiar with Japanese JHS, here's some observations and comments:

  • I'm pretty sure every school in Japan is designed exactly the same way. The school office is always on the second floor, there's always at least 2 or 3 floors in each school (Hokuyo has 4), and the practice fields are always dirt.
  • Junior High is three grades, first grade (US 7th grade) second grade (8th), and third grade (9th).
  • Teachers stay in a large room called the Teacher's Room, and they move from classroom to classroom, with the students staying in one room all day. Except for specials classes.
  • The Japanese know how to do a uniform. Japanese students are the nicest dressed students I have ever seen; the picture above really doesn't do them justice, but the boys wear ties and jackets, and the girls wear a vest,skirt, and jacket. Spiffy. And yes, some schools do have the sailor-type uniforms for the girls, but I've only seen them on high-schoolers.
  • The tea lady is always awesome. Yes, our school has a tea lady.
The girls softball team

So it looks like once again I've been blessed with a really great school. I haven't met all the classes yet, but I'm looking forward to that next week. Hopefully with less love professions.

Monday, January 17, 2011

348 days to go....

So far I've been really good about my goal of a picture a day. It's no surprise that most of the pics are snow related, as snow has become a prominent figure in my life. It snowed all day today - honestly I've never seen so much snow in my life. Not that I'm complaining...

Day 11: snuggling under the covers with Ethan. Dang, it's cold here.
Day 12: I love the way the snow sits on top of the trees and the fence posts. Expect lots of snowy tree pictures in the future.
Day 13: Seriously. Those icicles could kill a man.
Day 14: Ethan's bike buried under this week's snow. Snowpocalypse ain't got nothing on us.

Day 15: Gyoza at our favorite spot.
Day 16: Ok, so I didn't take this photo, my friend Fay did, but it's so great that I had to include it. We had a little Sumikawa apartment get-together last night, which included lots of food, Apples to Apples, and Wii Just Dance. Nathan and Scarlett are jamming to Eye of the Tiger.

In other news, I started at my new school, Hokuyo Junior High, on Friday. Friday was a ceremonial Opening Ceremony day, since the students were returning from Winter Holiday. The Opening Ceremony included me speaking to the entire student body of 500, and believe me, you don't know nervous until you hear 500 kids whispering about you as you step onto a stage. After my intro, the whole school sang their school song for me. Yes, all 500 of them, and they sounded beautiful! I was told by the principal that the school is very proud of their choral program, which seemed obvious to me as they all sang so well, even the principal. Today I had three classes with first grade, and they students are very sweet. Who knows, maybe I'll even join the chorus club!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Only in Japan: Mame Shiba

In Japan, there are many, many cute characters to choose from. Most large department stores have sections dedicated to these characters - stuffed characters, key chains, pencils, folders, etc. My personal favorite is the Mame Shiba.


Mame Shiba is half bean and half dog. A hybrid, if you will. Each one of them is a different type of bean, and they enjoy telling various trivia. Only in Japan would they think of something like this.

Well, I couldn't resist their cuteness, and ended up buying "strap" (a charm that's usually put on your phone or bag). I use it as a keychain.


It's shaped like an edamame bean pod, and you can push out the beans to see the little mame shiba. Kawaii!!

But perhaps the cutest thing is the commercials. There are about 20 of them on you tube, and these are my three favorites:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Take a picture it'll last longer

Apologies for the long absence. Our little laptop's hard drive tuckered out on us last week, which meant a visit to the Apple Store. Most of the workers spoke some English, but even with the language barrier, I knew what "Hardu-durive, trouble" meant. They told they had to order the new hard drive, and that it would take a week. Now, the Robinson clan has become quite dependent upon our handy dandy laptop, and the few days we were without it felt like an eternity. How would we watch our nightly movies? The Daily Show? We might actually have to talk to each other!! But survive we did, thanks to books and field trips and *ahem* our iphones. Yea technology!

**Public Service announcement** Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Always back up your precious materials onto an external hard drive. We had seriously just bought ours and backed everything up a week before our hard drive crashed, and thank goodness we did. Crisis averted!

So with that out of the way, on to the good stuff. Another goal I've set for myself this year is to take more pictures. Not that I want to be a professional photographer or anything, but I just want to be better at capturing moments. So I'm going to do what many bloggers have done before me and take the 365 challenge, taking at least a photo a day for the whole year. It motivates me to play around with the Hipstamatic camera app on my phone, and I love the effects it gives photos. Here's what I got so far:

Day 1: Nathan reading. He's the most voracious reader I know.

Day 2: Ethan's quite the reader himself. Caught him doing some early morning reading.

Day 3: While Nate and I were having a brisk walk around parts of Sumikawa we hadn't explored, I took this. Part of the Toyohira River. Downtown Sapporo in the distance.

Day 4: In a model shop Ethan likes to go to. This place was so full of boxes of models and other things, that it was hard for us to walk through!

Day 5: Ethan practicing on his acoustic guitar.

Day 6: Stuff next to our bed. Playing around with light and flash.

Day 7: The snow cometh. It snowed for 2 straight days.

Day 8: Between snow storms, Ethan demonstrates how much it snowed in one day.

Day 9: The Texas Burger. Beef patty, chili, cheese, onions, and some kind of delicious relish. For McDonald's I have to admit it's pretty good. Maybe they're just tugging at my Texas heartstrings.

Day 10: Looking at one of the stages at the Sapporo Cultural Center to see one of my elementary students perform in an operetta. One of the nice parents I worked with invited me, and I brought Ethan along. The daughter's the same age as Ethan, and I think she took a shine to him. Ethan played it cool.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take a picture for today!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hello 2011!!!

A new year in a new country, man, I never thought I'd ever say that! The boys and I had a pretty low-key New Years Eve celebration. We played Just Dance, and had a Studio Ghibli movie marathon until midnight. New Year's morning we slept in pretty late, so much so that we missed breakfast, so we decided to go backwards and eat lunch and then breakfast for dinner, it was just a backwards kind of day. The rest of the day was spent lounging around the house, since most stores are shut down for the day. New Year's Day is an important holiday for Japanese, and certain foods and drink are taken throughout the day. Children are also given money, just like during Chinese New Year (but don't tell Ethan!) We started feeling a little cabin-feverish today, so after getting groceries, we headed out to the Hokkaido Shinto Shrine. It's traditional for Japanese to pay a visit to their shrine during one of the first three days of the new year, so we thought it'd be interesting the check it out.

The entrance to the shrine had this huge rope with paper hanging down. This means this is a holy place to the Japanese.

Me and Ethan in front of the Shrine. People were lining up in front of the doors of the shrine, throwing a 5 yen coin at the entrance, and then saying a prayer. There was also something going on inside, but I'm not sure what it was.

In the pine trees surrounding the shrine, people had tied what I believe are their wishes or prayers for the new year on the branches.

This was another smaller shrine on the grounds. There weren't as many people here, I wonder what it's for exactly?

After that we walked around Odori Park and looked at the Christmas lights in the park one last time before they take them down. It's still pretty snowy and icy around, with lots of big snow hills from the plows. Ethan couldn't help but check one out next to our apartment.
So I guess this is the part of the blog where I should be reflective and talk about what a great year 2010 was, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, it was a great year, with lots of HUGE changes. I mean, we moved to another country, for goodness sake! It's hard to believe that we've been here now for 5 months, and just to let everyone know, I've re-contracted for another year, so we'll be staying 2 years in Sapporo!! I just couldn't help it, after talking with Nathan, we decided that this first year in Japan has just gone too fast, and we're settling in so well. There's so many more things we want to experience, and another year just seemed like the right thing to do. There's no doubt that the last 5 months have been some of the best times of my life, and I think this year is going to be even better.

I'm not one for resolutions, because I never keep them. But I do have some GOALS for myself in 2011:

  • Have a conversation in Japanese
  • Get back in touch with my crafty side, like start knitting again.
  • Set aside time to connect with Ethan and Nathan. More hugs all around!!
  • Set up a garden in the summer on my balcony
I don't think these goals will be too hard to accomplish! So goodbye 2010, nice knowing ya, and can't wait to see what 2011 has in store!