Monday, 19 April 2010

Clam digging & "the little things"


On Sunday Iida block headed south to Gamagori in Mikawa Bay, Aichi-ken for clam-digging. It was a beautifully hot and sunny day and I was more than a little excited to see the seaside, living in a mountainous, landlocked ken as I do. As we headed down the final road to the seafront I was already half out of the window like an excited pooch heading to the park, and as the salty air hit my nostils I realised how much I'd missed being near the sea.

First we headed out across the long bridge to the little evergreen woodland-covered island in the bay (Takeshima) and had a wander around the Yaotomi-jinja Shrine, which is supposedly where Takeshima Benten is worshipped (one of the seven famous Benten gods in Japan). On the far side of the island I was delighted to find a myriad of natural rock pools across the shore, and we all spent the best part of an hour poking our noses (not literally) into the pools. There were crabs, anemones, jellyfish and various other little critters skitting about. It was great fun: I don't remember the last time I went rock-pooling.

Wash your hands before entering or the water dragon gets you

Stone gods

McJellyfish being "investigated" by someone with a stick

Soon afterwards the tide had zoomed out and we were in our boots in the sand digging away furiously for shelled quarry. I'd never been clam-digging before so I was quite pleased with my impressive haul of the little shelled creatures. Truth be told I would have been happy sat there just digging a hole, such a childish nature I can have at times. After a solid couple of hours digging I left the others playing in the sand and located a nice rock for some reading.

My catch

We then headed to Nagoya for a nosh-up at Outback Steakhouse. It's expensive but it's a treat for us rural JETs. After that it was straight to the international store to purchase goods from our home countries that can't be readily found in Japan. I was delighted with my haul of cereal, chocolate and chai tea. Then it was to Starbucks for a latte! Back in the UK I favour the cheaper (and nicer) Costa Coffee, but beggars can't be choosers, and a nice smooth soy latte hit the spot. I've probably mentioned before but Japanese coffee is quite simply, awful. I drink it for a caffeine kick in the morning at work and nothing else! So you can understand Starbucks was also quite a treat.

On the way out of Nagoya Marion so kindly obliged our excited souls by producing She-Wolf by Shakira (which by now has to be the Iida block anthem), which produced a fantastically-active car-rave, much to the delight and amusement of Nagoya locals. Just before we got to the highway a red light produced the finest opportunity for a Chinese fire drill and we all leapt out of the car, the faces of the drivers around us a mixture of amusement and horror (if you were sat at a red light and the doors of the car infront were thrown violently open, spilling fast-moving foreigners in your direction, your heart would no doubt leap to your throat too).

A play in the sand, an armful of cereal and chocolate, a soy latte and a car-party with friends: life is most definitely all about the little things...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Takato sakura

Today we headed north to Takato in the Ina valley to see the lovely sakura in the grounds of a castle there. To say it was a sight to see is an understatement. It was absolutely gorgeous. There were pink and white blossoms as far as you could see, and judging by the whirlwinds of falling blossoms, a few days later and we'd have missed it all! Apparently the blossoms at Takato are some of the nicest in Japan. It was certainly busy with people!

Friday, 16 April 2010

A, B, C ... you know the rest

So with the induction of the new first graders a distant memory, it's now time to be teaching them the English alphabet and phonics. While singing "The ABC song" over and over again is instilling within me some kind of madness, the children, as always, are the best part of this job.

Today I was reading out the letters of the alphabet to coincide with a sheet of pictures of objects beginning with that letter, A for apple, B for bear, C for cow, etc etc. As we went through I got to P and a picture of a pig. One girl looked up, puzzled, turned to her friend and questioned loudly "pork?" I was lost to hysterics.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Onbashira Matsuri

The Onbashira is a once-every-seven-years festival held in Suwa on a steep hill. Is it held to celebrate the renewal of the Suwa Taisha shrine. It involves lots of crazy Japanese men riding a giant log down a really steep hill. Ok, there's a bit more to it than that, but for the purposes of entertainment it is very much lots of crazy Japanese men riding a giant log down the really steep hill.

A video of this years festival can be found here >

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Beautiful sunset

A beautiful sunset from my window the other night.

New school year & sakura arrives

So after a somewhat uneventful spring break we are finally back to school. On Tuesday we welcomed in the new first graders in a graduation-style ceremony. It was nice to recognise quite a few faces from my elementary schools, and of course, they all recognised me, and as such I am currently hearing my name called in the corridors several dozen times a day. I like it.

On top of that the sakura (cherry blossoms) have arrived. Yay! There is a fantastic and long line of them between my junior high and elementary schools, and they are also running rampant in my part of the village too.

Friday, 2 April 2010

私の English は、ちょっと clumsy ですよ!

Although this has been whirlwinding it's way around my mind for a while, I was talking to a friend earlier about it and certain realisations led me to believe it'd make an interesting blog entry.

I've noticed that although being in Japan for only 8 months so far, my use of English has changed slightly. The irony isn't lost on me, seeing as teaching English here is my job, but I find myself forgetting things outside of the classroom. Certainly I'm probably slightly behind with recent colloquialisms, seeing as I am not exposed to them here and have no use for them anyway, but that's not what I've noticed.

If I'm talking to a Japanese person I use the Japanese I know. If I'm talking to a Japanese person who understands English at conversation level I find myself slipping in and out of Japanese and English. Half a sentence, or several words may be in one language, the rest in the other. Now I know this probably means my Japanese level is improving, and that's fantastic, but in an attempt to justify the title of this blog I find myself forgetting English words mid sentence, replacing them quickly with the nearest Japanese equivalent and moving on. It's not until afterwards I realise what I've done, and desperately wrack my brain for the correct English.

I also find myself omitting plurals and conjunctions like "and" and "with." Indeed, I often do so while writing blog entries. And talking to friends and family back home. Sometimes I'll say something and catch myself afterwards, my ears not understanding what my mouth just said.

And sometimes it would seem the use of certain phrases, exclamations, idioms, slang, quotes, sarcasm, etc etc is redundant when I, an English speaker with limited Japanese, talk to a Japanese person with limited English, but I'm happy to say it's not always the case. Half the time when I explain a quote or phrase, I find there's a Japanese equivalent. Which is nice.

All in all I know I'm over-analysing it, but it's an interesting observation nonetheless. Perhaps I should start studying English as well though, just incase...

Thursday, 1 April 2010


And so we approach the end of the second (and last) week of the spring holidays, and I've had plenty of time to muse about various happenings. Allow me to share a couple of them with you..

First, it is supposed to be spring, yet it is still quite chilly at night, and when I look out the window today I see a low overcast and rain. At first I was silently complaining to myself and occasionally gesturing at the weather and asking whichever teacher was listening "haru wa, doko?" Then I took my usual moment to stop, stare, and drift off... and I realised rain always obliges the landscape by adding that wonderous infusion of moisture, and in doing so it reminds me of english summer rain. A hot day is always fabulous, but walking through the english countryside when there's a light rainy haze always makes everything looks so fresh and lush and alive and vibrant [insert more adjectives as appropriate]. So I have a newfound appreciation for the rainy spring we have in Japan at the moment.

Over the past two weeks I've watched the teachers scurry around getting things prepared for the opening ceremony of school, when they induct the new year of students. I've helped out where I can, but feel I get in the way, so sometimes step back and let them do what they are doing. I've watched teachers practicing their bowing (!) to eachother, as well as practicing their quoir conducting movements (!!) to eachother in the staffroom. You wouldn't think any Japanese person needed to practice bowing, but it's not until you watch them do you realise the sentiment and respect that generates the effort. I'm still in awe of the respect the Japanese have for eachother. I'm also adept at bowing now.

This week we've had an influx of new teachers, five replacing the four who left last week. One of the new teachers' desks is next to mine in the staffroom, the occupant a freshfaced university graduate (so I'm no longer the youngest teacher here). He seems pleasant enough, but I'm going to help him along by attempting to batter aside his Japanese shyness. I doubt it'll work, but hopefully I'll make a friend of him in the process.

My new JTE seems nice enough too. I introduced myself earlier today and he told me he worked here 10 years ago with another JET. I got the impression he had a good relationship with the individual, so I hope that's a good forecast for me.

We'll leave the musings there. There are of course more, I am blessed (or cursed?!) with an active mind, but we'll post more later. Er, ok, I'm aware I just referred to myself in plural there. Maybe the damp got to my brain...