Thursday, 25 February 2010

Open day and arty things

This Tuesday just gone we had some kind of parent open afternoon at school, and I love these days! This is when all students put out and on display the artwork they have recently produced. It's so cool wandering around the corridors looking at paintings, etched glass, metal sculptures, paper lanterns, hanga and silhouetted pictures (I don't know how to describe them in Japanese, so check the pictures below).

Thanks to these displays I have realised just what the art teacher gets up to, and so have been really fortunate to have her show me a few things. So far I've made a hanga - you etch/carve a line drawing into a flat piece of wood, then paint it in multi- or mono- colour and press it onto paper for a really nice woodblock image; and some metalwork - via a cut-cardboard 'mould' I formed a small, metal kangaroo.

I have every intention of trying the etched glasswork, as well as the cut-paper, silhouetted thingies. (I really need to find a name for those...). I also need to get back into sketching, I've done precious little since I've been here (although during winter I blame the lack of all-round motivation on the cold and darkness) and with inspiration hitting it's time to pull the thumb out!

You should be able to click on the images below for an enlarged version!

Glass etchings

Paper lanterns

And finally, those silhouetted things I don't know the proper name of...

Spring is on the way! ほんとだよ!

Well, that may be slightly premature, but the past few days have been absolutely glorious. Yesterday my day was full with lessons, but today isn't, so earlier I decided to take full advantage of the Vitamin D streaming down into my village. Armed with a sketchpad, magazine and Japanese studying materials, I headed out of school, across the field to the far side, rooted myself on a wooden bench, and soaked myself happy in the wonderful weather. Actually, at time of writing this I have another free period to go, so I shall be heading out there again soon to prepare my elementary lessons for tomorrow. I may even take a doughnut or two with me. Just wonderful.

Apparently we have some more cold weather to come (and some rain), I just hope it doesn't get too cold again before it gets warm.

We want your blood

A couple of days ago I was sat in one of my first year classes, munching my lunch and minding my own business when a kid ran up to me and shouted something. Unfased (it happens every day) I responded in Japanese, telling him I didn't know what he just said, and asking him to repeat it in english, which I suspected he was unlikely to be able to do. To my surprise the homeroom teacher was in earshot and repeated the line in english:

"What blood type are you?"

For a minute this threw me, and with what was obviously a puzzled look on my face I looked away to find the entire class staring at me. At this point I want to add a fictional narrative that did actually spin through my mind very quickly at that point:

[ To my horror I found the entire class staring at me with wide, vacant eyes, food bowls held with unmoving limbs, saliva dripping steadily from the corners of slack mouths. A low moan seemed to eminate from the entire room as the children slowly rose to their feet and turned towards me... ]

Ok, so that was genuinely what went through my head. I asked the homeroom teacher to repeat the question and he did. Still asking about my blood. I motioned in what I hoped was an indicator to the blood and veins at my wrist, and the teacher nodded. Still puzzled, I told them I had no idea what my blood type was. And, with my response met with a frown, I muttered under my breath "and you can't have any."

It wasn't until later I remembered my Taiko sensei had explained this to me at the end of year enkai a few months before. The Japanese read blood types as we read horoscopes, and each one is supposed to give you a certain (predictable) personality. I then gently cursed myself for not remembering this at the time and giving a suitable comedic response. Next time I'm asked "what is your blood type?", I'm going to say "green."

Wizard Winter

Woah! Another two weeks since my last update! Where on earth did that time go. Ok well, I can partly answer that actually. The time went to freezing my genitals off in the depths of the Japanese winter. Thankfully my kerosene heater has been trusty in combating the low temperatures, but I'm certain it's starting to make me insane. Snow days have been sporadic. Allow me to describe a 'typical' - but short - snow experience here:

[ I wake up. My shoji screens are shut and it looks alarmingly bright outside, but it's time to get ready for work so I don't think any more about it. I open my front door and find the world is coated in white, about which, depending on how late I am for work, I am either joyous or not so. I head to the lump of white outside my house, expecting to have to spend 10-15 minutes chiselling my car out of it. To my surprise the snow resembles millions upon millions of tiny polystyrene beads (!), and although thick and heavy, is easy to remove. Fast forward through the day and I'm leaving work, the sun having been out all day. 90% of all snow has melted and evaporated, with only chunks of ice laying in sunless areas of the village, under thick trees, etc. The following day there is no sign that snow covered everything the day before. ]

So, wizard weather here in Japan. Some days I expect to find a bespectacled kid wandering around and waving a short pointy stick while muttering to himself.

Other recent shennigans:

Mardi Gras Party - 13th Feb

A few of us southern Nagano JETs congregated around Marions for a celebration of Mardi Gras. I never knew what Et Tu Fais (sic?) was before, now I do. I didn't know Mardi Gras colours were officially purple, gold and green. And I never knew that if your party is too loud a neighbour won't bother knocking the door, they'll just call the Police. Thankfully the officer who came by was polite, understanding, and very nice, so we got away with the loud members of the party making asses of themselves. Thankfully the incident wasn't repeated or exacerbated.

Valentines snowboarding - 14th Feb

Without my Valentines to hand I decided to go snowboarding with Bryce and Kasumi in Hakuba. Once again I managed to land on hard ice, my left arsecheek breaking my fall yet again. I wish I could somehow swap it with the right one, I'm sure it'll be nerveless by the time I'm finished!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Passed JLPT 4! Woohooo!

Wooohooo! I passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 4 this year! I took the test back in early December and got the result a few days ago!

A bit blurry, but it's definitely a pass!

Ina Daruma market

Daruma market poster

It was a national holiday today so a few JETs gathered in Ina for the annual Daruma market. Despite it raining all day it was interesting to wander through the Daruma doll and festival food stalls, watching people haggle over prices.

"... there they are a-standing in a row..."

"... big ones, small ones, some as big as your head!"

What's a Daruma? Allow Wikipedia to explain:

Daruma doll (達磨 daruma), also known as a Dharma doll, is a hollow, round, Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. These dolls, though typically red and depicting a bearded man (Dharma), vary greatly in color and design depending on region and artist. Though considered an omocha, meaning toy, Daruma has a design that is rich in symbolism and is regarded more as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement.

Upon purchasing a doll it is traditional to make a wish. Upon doing so the wisher paints in the right eye of the Daruma. When the wish comes true the other eye is painted in. At the end of the year the doll is taken back to the temple where it was purchased and is burnt en mass with everyone else's.

Someone got what they wanted...

Block meeting and soba making

Last Friday we had our block meeting in Toyooka. To say the kids at our block leaders school were excited to see so many foreigners - a) in one place, b) in their school - would be an understatement. We did some introduction activities, the kids got to know us a little, and we did some little presentations to the rest of the class. Nice and easy.

We then headed south for a quick dip in the onsen at Shimojo, then off to a soba-making place to try our hand at the Japanese method of, well, making soba. We started with a doughball each of preprepared soba dough...

A fine day for soba making

The dough is pounded gently and then rolled into a big square

A wooden guide and knife is used to thinly cut the dough

The finished product

No, this wasn't mine. If only...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

すごい雪 "Fantastic snow!"

Click on the first pic for a bigger image.

Fanastic shot across fields in my village to the Chuo Alps in the distance

From my bedroom window

Frozen orchard

The road to my school

Monday, 1 February 2010

Snow, spontaneous and glorious

One thing that amazes me about Japan is the weather. It changes so incredibly quickly.

Take today for example. A cold day, but nothing unbearable. Around lunchtime I looked out the nearest window to see it had started snowing, quite thickly, but nothing special. Literally five minutes later I looked out the window and everything was completely and utterly white.

From the office window

By the time I left work a couple of hours later the snow depth was around 15cm, covering my car, and making the drive home (up a mountain) somewhat treacherous. Indeed it was my first time driving in snow, and as the car fishtailed up the mountain I wondered what would happen if I lost traction and slid the entire way down. I pushed that thought firmly aside and concentrated on edging my car up the mountain.

Good luck me!

Finally and painstakingly, I managed to get back to my house (after almost sliding into it!) and park. I scuttled inside and felt somewhat smug that I'd managed to get home, at which point I realised the drive down the mountain tomorrow may well undo that feeling of accomplishment.

Driving home