Hisashiburi (long time no see)

Wow, it’s been a while. I’ve actually been really, really busy lately…a 9-hour dress rehearsal Saturday and a 6-hour one Sunday, plus racing to finish the programme/playbill ASAP, plus just a ton of other stuff as well–but things are finally settling down now.

Today was surprisingly good; the elementary and junior high schools in Ikeda had a bowling night across the prefectural line in Kawanoe, over in Ehime-ken (one more for my prefectural visitation count, and that’s three of the four Shikoku prefectures down, since I live in Tokushima and have visited Takamatsu (and sat in the Zentsuuji train station) in Kagawa; when Shikoku-wide ultimate frisbee happens in Kochi-ken in April, that’ll be all of them!), and I went with five other teachers from my junior high and ran into a ton of the teachers I see and work with at all my elementary schools (six out of the eight in the town). My JTE had to back out at the last minute, but I think that almost ended up being for the better, because I didn’t “cling” to her the way I sometimes might, and I ended up having a really good time with these teachers. We had people place in the top three for highest individual male and female scores (not me, though–heh, noooo), and I won one of about a dozen gifts in a random drawing…all in all, a fortunate night. We also went out for dinner in Kawanoe, and they made sure to ensure that I could find food to eat (Ten Don, with all vegetable tenpura–really freaking awesome), and just took really good care of me, and I honestly felt like I was part of the group and not just someone who was tagging along. I think getting out of the teachers’ room and having something we actually could talk about and do together made a big difference–normally I just don’t know what to say to them. I think this really broke the ice tonight. There’s an enkai tomorrow night, so let’s see how that goes now.

I also found out that several people from Tech (hey, Jason and Pat) are probably coming to Japan over spring break, and at least one of them wants to come down and see me. And Louise may be coming down for a long weekend at the end of March as well. Australia, which we thought we were doing for Golden Week, has fall through, and we’re probably spending our holidays in Kyoto instead, with a couple of days here afterwards.

Our platform statements for AJET positions for the next year were due today, so I sent one in to apply to be AJET webmaster (which is actually more than just maintaining the website–Andy, the current webmaster, is for all intents and purposes the head of Tokushima AJET as well). I have no idea if what I wrote is appropriate for a platform statement, if it’s too long, or what…but at least I got something in just under the deadline.

I may also volunteer to work on Teamwork Tokushima, a collaborative lesson planning idea book that’s compiled and released quarterly and created completely by prefectural JETs. Jordan’s thinking of making me the editor of the senior high section. If all this does indeed end up happening, it’ll be quite a busy year next year…but I kind of like it like that, you know?

And this month’s Japanese correspondence test…was due today. Uh, oops. But there was no way I had enough time to devote to it, and since I already have studied a lot of it, I’ll just take the dreaded Yellow Card and make sure to get the next several in on time.

Musical rehearsals are going really, really well. And I’ve finalized my costume, and it looks awesome and totally in character (I’m SO GLAD I found those legwarmers at the ¥100 store–they totally make the costume!)–which is to say, like a huge geek. I’m really excited about the performances, but I know it’ll be pretty depressing when it’s actually done in a few weeks…seeing all these people that we never, ever would get a chance to see regularly due to the hours of travel between us, and just the fun of putting this production together. (I got an immediate okay today from my kocho-sensei to duck out immediately after graduation on the 11th, since we have an evening performance with an afternoon calltime on the far opposite corner of the prefecture. And a “ki o tsukete,” to boot! My kocho and kyoto-sensei are really awesome; I wish I got a chance to chat with them more than just when I need to ask them for something.)

I also found out that we have several closet pianists–I think I’ve gotten Amber interested in doing some violin-piano collaboration sometime, maybe even for the next Open Mic Night, if we can just find a piano for her to play!

And today, Claire posted a link at our AJET forum to what seems to be a really, really awesome weekend camp devoted completely to musical creation and improvisation across instruments and genres. And it’ll be in Kamiyama and Hiwasa in April! I e-mailed one of the organizers to let her know I’m interested in volunteering for the Kamiyama camp. I’m really excited about this–this is such a wonderful concept, and I really hope that I can get involved.

Today is also the final day that Ikeda-cho is Ikeda-cho; tomorrow it merges with most of the surrounding towns and becomes Miyoshi-shi, or Miyoshi City. We’ll still be Miyoshi-shi Ikeda-cho, so it’s not like much will change…though I also am switching offices and will be sitting in our board of education from now on (if not for bowling tonight, I would’ve been back at the community center clearing out my desk, most of which is full of my predecessor’s papers and clutter, and transferring my stuff across the way and into the BOE office).

All right–I’m off to finish touching up the final addition to the musical playbill, and then sending it off to Jamie. It’s finally done! I redrew Peter last night (using photo references to make him look more Christian-like, since I’d gotten some very basic resemblances to the actors with the other sketches on the cover), and got the translations for the synopses this afternoon from Andrew; I was wrapping up right as we were heading out the door to go bowling, but am not quite there. Just a bit more…


Back from Tokyo. I’ve been feeling a bit trippy all evening, as if I’m on a train or a plane that’s ascending or descending and constantly in motion, even though I’m just sitting here, perfectly still, under my kotatsu. Over three hours on a shinkansen will do that to you, I guess.

Tokyo was quite cool–though this trip was more about seeing specific things, rather than taking in the city as a whole. I’ll definitely have to go back. It’s far, though–730km (450 miles) via shinkansen alone, and then another 95km (60 miles) via local express to my town. To give you an idea of the train speed, the local express took about an hour, a little more, to travel those 60 miles, while the shinkansen took about 3 1/2 hours to travel those 450 miles. Really impressive stuff.

(And yes, I did see Fuji-san…just the base, though. It was really cloudy, so no snow-capped peak…just gorgeously gradually sloping flanks that were obscured far too prematurely by smoky white. It was too dark on my way in to see it–the sun had set at least an hour before I passed the area. It’s a big mountain, though. And the sloping flanks were definitely exciting–while I wasn’t completely sure since I couldn’t see the world-famous peak, the very Vesuvius-like base raised my confirmation to about 70%, and the “UCC Coffee: Fuji” sign on a nearby building nailed it.)

So, some highlights…

  • saw Louise!
  • discovered that the Barber violin concerto and Muse (particularly “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Ruled By Secrecy,” on repeat) make for really, really good train music
  • ate at McDonald’s a couple of times (it’s becoming a tradition of ours)
  • hung out in Azabu Juuban while Louise took the GRE, wandered, saw Tokyo Tower from afar but didn’t think to try and find it until an hour till our scheduled post-test meeting time, and it was too far
  • saw a classical music concert–the Japan-Gewandhaus Symphony Orchestra–but while the conductor was really amusing, the hall was stunning, the piano soloist really rocked, and the reportoire (Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto, and Beethoven’s 7th symphony) was wonderful, the ensemble was a big disappointment, mainly in terms of intonation…they weren’t even in tune with each other during tuning, much less while playing, and there were actual mistakes left and right–very amateur and disappointing, almost like a student orchestra (they were on par with, or even worse, than the GTSO, which is a good orchestra for a school with no real music program to speak of, but by no means the best), but we did get the student discount, and it was my first live concert in nearly a year, so eh
  • got “gaijin”ed afterwards–I wish I’d thought to turn around with a comeback
  • visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka (absolutely adorable building, and I loved the real storyboards and conceptual art/design/reference materials on display on the upper levels), saw one of 3 original shorts made for the museum that only were showing for a short time: “The Day I Harvested A Star,” or “Hoshi wo Katta Hi,” (images/info–scroll to 11Feb06), bought a plush Totoro and stuff for myself and others, including (surprisingly) a Finding Nemo conceptual art poster
  • had lunch at Ben’s Cafe, a NY-style cafe, where I had a hummus/veggie sandwich and Louise had a bagel
  • had bad stomachaches for the next several hours
  • went to a used English book/CD/movie store, The Blue Parrot, where I decided not to buy a copy of Lonely Planet Japan–which would’ve been practical, yeah?–in favor of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (I haven’t read any of the Narnia books or seen the film–please, don’t freak out, kthx), a couple of books by Indian authors, and a surprisingly good-quality version of the original VHS release of Return of the Jedi
  • went to see Your Light Shadow by Olafur Eliasson at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, also playing the “college student” card, and I got approached by a Japanese guy, probably in his mid-20s, who was really eager to practice his English with me (he was obviously in sales/marketing, from how he was pitching himself–I recognized a lot of his mannerisms from my dad)
  • wandered out of the museum, still feeling sick to our stomachs and not quite sure how to get to the station (since we’d grabbed a taxi), and ran into the guy again, this time with two of his friends–they walked us back to the station and we had some hilariously amusing conversation; they ended up being really cool, and I may e-mail the guy, at the very least to e-mail him the group photos we ended up snapping at the end of our 15-minute walk
  • realized that our stomachs were a lot better–as hokey as it sounds, there really is something to be said for the power of a smile, and our encounter with those guys really cheered us up
  • discovered a 100%-natural skin care store called Lush, and picked up some really nice and effective hand and foot creme, had Louise introduce me to pretty much every product they had, and regretted not getting the cuticle softener*
  • did not get Indian or vegan food, like we’d originally planned to have for dinner (her idea, to make sure I got something good and fulfilling to eat), due to Louise’s stomach Louise accidentally leading us to the wrong place, so we wandered around for about an hour, exhausted, and finally found a reasonably priced Italian place in the basement of JR Tokyo Station
  • ate lots of wonderful breads/pastries and drank lots of Starbucks coffee (which did nothing for my waistline–except make it flabbier, I mean–and yes, we went to Starbucks 3 times; cinnamon streusel latte, hot chocolate, and cafe mocha, mmm)
  • ran into Julie and Lindsay while boarding the local express train in Okayama, had “dinner” with them (nothing vegetarian, so I settled for french fries and made myself something later, after I dragged myself to and from the grocery store)

*The more time I spend with Louise, the girlier I become–I think in a good way.

So I can’t comment on the feel of specific wards–the only ward I was at all conscious of being in was Azabu-Juuban, because I did have several hours just to wander around and do whatever, while Louise was taking the GRE. It was a fairly upscale but still friendly area of town. I really wanted to check out Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Harajuku, but maybe that can happen later. I don’t see myself making it back to Tokyo before the end of this year (er, the end of this JET year, as in July), since I have a checklist of places I’d like to make it to in the next 5 months, and would like to start taking overnight trips on weekends (to avoid eating up my nenkyuu) to go volcano-watching, but maybe during my second year. (And maybe I’ll try taking an overnight bus–that much time on a shinkansen was a bit excessive.)

In all, though, it was a good but tiring weekend…I’m hoping to get a decent amount of sleep tonight (if I go to sleep as soon as I post this, heh) to attempt to recharge for this week, during which I design the musical programme, finish my costume, talk to a Yahoo!BB CSR to figure out why they keep rejecting my direct-deposit payment slips, call the travel agency to get this Sydney-for-Golden-Week thing started, clean out and unplug/defrost my fridge (NEW FULL-SIZED FRIDGE THURSDAY! YEAH!), and scour my apartment, in case people do crash here Saturday night after musical rehearsal.

Now, though, sleep. I took surprisingly few photos, so those’ll probably go up pretty soon. Good night!

New layout

It’s about time, too. I liked the old one, but that was some random image I lifted from stock.xchng, and I’ve taken plenty of my own photos in the meantime. (Speaking of which, there are some new ones at my Flickr gallery, of musical rehearsals and Engrish.)

I’m already finding things I can nitpick about this layout…like maybe removing the subtitle, trying to figure out how to brighten the header image, and so on.

There’s a story behind the name, if you were wondering. So I’ll tell people that I was either going to Japan (before I left) or that I’m currently living here, and every single person, without fail, asked me, “Oh, so you’re in Tokyo, right?”

To be honest, this started to really annoy me, because Tokyo’s only a small part of everything Japan is! It’s a huge megalopolis, yes, but there are 46 other prefectures, one of which I live in (and it’s in what I believe is the most rural and most “untouched” region of Japan), and I’m hundreds of miles from the Kanto region. And there’s so, so much more to Japan besides its most famous and largest city.

But then it hit me: before I was accepted to JET, I found it really difficult to envision anything in Japan that wasn’t the huge sprawling cities that make it into western newscasts, or the images of pristine temples and picture-perfect mountains/volcanoes surrounded by busy streets and tall buildings. And in that, it hit me that urban Japan has succeeded in how it wants to present itself to the world; it’s proud of its heritage, but to compete with the rest of the world, it wants to be seen as being as modern and sophisticated and cutting-edge as the US and Europe. Therefore, the inaka never, ever makes it into western news broadcasts, and therefore, it’s extremely difficult to envison what life in rural Japan–which a huge chunk of Japan is comprised of–is like.

And it isn’t the only way that Japan has succeeded…this article is a good example of that. It’s about a foreign man who’s lived in Tokyo for many years, and he makes some very bold statements about the current state of Japan and how un-Japanese it’s becoming. It’s painfully apparent that he’s spent very, very little time outside of urban Japan, or he’d have something quite different to say. Rural Japan has succeeded in staying extremely traditional and avoiding this wave of brute modernism in many ways. It’s modernizing, true, but only very slowly, and not at the breakneck speeds of Japan’s major cities, and it maintains the heritage and traditions that it’s kept up for so many generations now. Of course Tokyo will have more foreigners–it’s the capitol and the biggest city in the world! On the other hand, I would venture a guess that the cities of Shikoku haven’t changed very much in the past several decades, except to incorporate some new things, like cellphones (no matter where in Japan you are, that’s one piece of cutting-edge technology you’ll never escape) and other “modern conveniences.”

So, yeah. In short, this is most definitely not Tokyo. Just thought I’d make that clear.

Ohayou, Chinkaberu! Nani shion na?

blah blah blah blah musical musical rehearsal driving kawashima konbini hanoura costumes lines choreography props painting rehearsing musical musical aaaaah.

(Yeah, that about sums it up.)

Seriously, it’s been a lot of fun, but I’m really, really glad we’re getting this weekend off…it’s a huge time and energy investment for all of us, but particularly those of us who have to travel long distances. Saturday’s rehearsal was in Kawashima, where we’ve met a few times, and that’s not so bad for those of us out west (though it makes the Deep Southies suffer)–just an hour away–but Sunday’s prop-building fest was down in Hanoura, well over 2 hours from here (but quite close for the Southies for a change). On Saturday I crashed at the apartment of the ALT in Hanoura, Noam, and “killed two birds with one stone” by using it as an opportunity to hang out with and get to know someone I only rarely get to see as well. (You could say that I killed three birds with one stone, because I hitched a ride into Tokushima with Bessie and Julia, and then down to Hanoura with Julia, her husband Ben, and a friend of theirs, and in the process managed to score an awesome-as-always burrito at Sombrero’s, more informally known as Dave’s Taco Stand.)

Well, anyway…it’s good that we get this weekend off, but it’s not exactly going to be restful, since I’ll be in Tokyo with Louise in 3 days’ time! Eh, maybe I can sleep on the shinkansen and hope I don’t miss my stop. We have this weekend off due to the Hadaka Matsuri/Naked Man Festival (they aren’t actually naked, they’re wearing sumo-like loincloths), which some JET guys are participating in and many others (guys and girls) are watching. I figure I can see it next year, though…I’d much rather check out the Ghibli Museum and a classical music concert, myself.

And even during the week it doesn’t end–I essentially have to redesign the musical playbill cover, because I was kind of hoping that I could see a preview of Jamie’s ideas for the poster, since we’d talked about having a kind of unified design motif for the poster and playbill/programme. It turns out that our concepts on this are as different as night and day–the first time I saw the poster was when he mailed me an image of the finished product. I did a rough sketch today of something new that follows the idea that his set up, so hopefully I can follow through with that and get this done next week.

And on the same topic, I’ve started a Flickr set for my musical photos…just from rehearsals thus far, but I’m sure there’ll be dress rehearsal and performance photos as well. NHK won’t be airing the musical in its entirety this year, but hopefully there’ll still be someone there to tape it so that we can see how it turned out. I borrowed a copy of the 2005 musical, A Night Of Fantasy, from Joe–it was a series of three shorter plays, each done regionally. Noam and I watched the first of the three shorts, Goldilocks (done by the city folks), on Sunday, and it was all right; I watched the second two Sunday night, and they were a lot better, particularly (it figures!) the Little Red Riding Hood skit that the Westies did. It’s really got me psyched about getting up on stage.

And with that, I’m off to sleep. I have a Double-Length Class of Doom in the afternoon, but it doesn’t seem so doom-like anymore, now that I know I can throw phonics at them and have them actually pay attention somehow. Good night!

Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

The weather was crazy today. When I first woke up, the light coming in through my curtains was kind of grey, but just before I left, I noticed that it’d become a really pleasant-looking golden color. When I went out there were a lot of puffy clouds, but there was a lot of beautiful blue sky as well (and some really strong wind). Cue three hours later, when one of the kouminkan staffers looks up and suddenly lets out an exclamation; we turn around (my back’s to the window), and it had started snowing like crazy! It cleared up, and the afternoon was a mix of clouds and blue sky again, but with some really ominous grey clouds piling over the mountains. I decided to introduce, “How’s the weather?” to my kids, and of the five choices (sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, snowing), they answered all five–and then realized that it actually hadn’t been raining. Geez.

I think I’ve finally figured out how to teach phonics and make it fun and interesting! It’s all about the games…I’ll hopefully come back to this in a future post, since it’s long enough to warrant its own post. It’s just a shame I didn’t discover this earlier, so that the 6th-graders in my classes had a stronger foundation in it to prep them for April.

And…Louise and I have been talking, and we discovered a really good roundtrip airfare deal to Sydney, Australia, leaving on April 27th (¥62,000/$525 out of Osaka, ¥67,000/$570 out of Tokyo). This is the Thursday before Golden Week. Our flights would both arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, and we’d catch the same connecting flight from there to Sydney, where we’d spend a little over a week.

I think we’re going to do it. We both want to…we’re just waiting to see if anyone else we know is interested in joining us, but we can’t wait for too long, or we’ll risk missing out on the deal. I almost feel like this is an impulsive decision, except that Golden Week is a huge vacationing time in Japan and this is the time to start making reservations, and we’ve been talking idly about doing something for a while. I also got an e-mail via the TravelingJETs mailing list about a Gunma-ken JET Habitat For Humanity house-building project in Mongolia during that time, but we don’t have enough vacation time; otherwise, we would have both jumped on it. How many opportunities does anyone have to go somewhere like Mongolia?

Oh, completely switching tracks, I forgot to mention that I got yet another gaikokujin comment on Friday. I went to find the restroom at my Friday afternoon elementary school, and as I was walking in and slipping on a pair of bathroom slippers, a girl came out of one of the stalls, saw me, and froze stock-still, staring at me for a second, until I smiled and moved out of the way and excused myself for being in her way. She excused herself as well and passed me, still staring at me the whole time, and washed her hands as I finished sliding into the slippers and stepped forward. I turned and saw her backing away, still staring at me with wide eyes and drawing in a big breath, and as soon as she made it out into the hallway, she dashed away, blurting, “Gaikokujin! Gaikokujin!” in a breathless voice at (I’d presume) friends who were further down the hall.

And another unrelated story…in Monday’s junior high 1st-year classes, my JTE asked me to give a speech on “strange things” in Japan, as compared to the US and maybe India. One of the things I came up with was the almost complete lack of vegetarian food in such a Buddhist-heavy country, and though I’d just quickly jotted it down, when I got up to talk about it before both classes of first-years, I started really getting into it…if not for the fact that I was limited to using really basic English, I could have gone on for a while, I’m sure. It’s just so contradictory–they’re very Buddhist, but they eat so many different kinds of meat and fish…doesn’t that completely contradict a major aspect of their faith? Buddhism and Hinduism share, among other things, the “respect for all life” doctrine, and Buddhist priests ascribe to an almost vegan diet, even in Japan–how is it that eating meat/fish has somehow evolved to become such a widely-held exception to that?

Okay, I’m going to go make dinner and watch Tonari No Totoro to prepare myself for the Ghibli Museum next week. Rock on!

Awkwardness and warmth

I’ve spent all of today (with the exception of the 90 minutes I was in class) designing the programme for the musical. It actually took me pretty much the whole day to finish the typography on the cast list, and I’d just gotten started on the front cover by the time 4:10 PM came around and it was time for me to go catch my bus. I’d consulted my JTE for help, with the katakana and some phrasings and whatnot. But other than that, saying my requisite “hello”s when I came in, asking a nearby science teacher for help with finding an outlet to plug my laptop power cable in, and complimenting the music teacher on her swishy corduroy pants when she was talking to a few other teachers nearby about them, I didn’t talk to anybody today. At all.

It makes me feel incredibly guilty. I know I need to put in much more of an effort, but I just have no idea what to say. I’ve noticed lately that I seem to always just talk in the first-person to any of my teachers, not counting my JTEs–I have no idea what to talk to my teachers about, unless I need their help with something. I do try to go into the lounge area when a few other teachers are in there and join them and listen in, and sometimes I can follow what’s going on…the thing is, it isn’t just a language barrier thing, because I’m on pretty good terms with my coworkers/superiors at the community center and board of education.

So I left the teachers’ room feeling guilty and uncomfortable, and when I went walking down the hill that leads to the main street, I passed the bus stop (that doesn’t have nearly enough buses that go by it) just below the school, where two of my girls were waiting (ninensei? sannensei? Don’t remember, whoops). It was drizzling lightly, freezing cold, with the weather just above freezing…and while they were wearing jackets, they were wearing their school gym shorts.

They saw me and waved, and I smiled back and said, “Samukunai?

They both responded, simultaneously, “Samui yo!” and then one repeated, in hesitant but enthusiastic English this time, “It’s cold!”

I gave them a sympathetic look…if I’d had any warmth-inducing stuff I wasn’t using, I would have gladly lent it to them. I don’t understand how so many kids keep wearing shorts in the winter–apparently there are sweatpants, but nobody wears them because the shorts “look cuter.”

Suddenly, they kind of murmured to each other, and then both trotted across the street towards me, with an expression on both their faces as if they wanted to give me something or tell me a secret, and then they came and huddled next to me for a moment, kind of holding out their arms as if they wanted to give me a group hug, but feeling a little shy/embarrassed about it. It was such an incredibly sweet gesture! It caught me by surprise, but after a second I put my arms very lightly around them (only briefly, unfortunately–I had my own bus to catch), and must have said something like, “Awww!” because they both started echoing me and pretending to sniffle, as if they were crying because I was leaving them, as I finally let go of them and made to continue walking down the hill.

“See you!” one wailed, still mock-crying.

“See you…next time? Next time!” the other chimed in, interrupting her mock-crying to straighten out her English.

I grinned and said, “See you! Tabun ashita…see you tomorrow!”

They both perked up and grinned back at that. “See you tomorrow!” they repeated.

The smile on my face, and the warm fuzzy feeling the encounter left, stayed with me the rest of the way down the hill, even as I passed the bus that they were waiting to catch not even a couple of minutes later as it climbed the hill, and I knew that they’d be a little warmer, at least. It doesn’t make me feel better about not being a more proactive member of my teachers’ room (even though I’m only there 3 days at most and usually not even for a full day, due to coming in late or leaving early because of elementary school lessons), but at least my kids really like me–maybe because I do try to have fun in class and laugh along, I’m not a strict disciplinarian (though I did notice today that while the kids were still messing around when my JTE kept shushing them, as soon as I said, “shh,” the class immediately fell silent–hahah!, I’m okay with (shh) slipping into Japanese to answer their in-class questions…I also make it a point to try to comment personally on all the papers I grade (on the rare occasions that I grade them). I don’t have much of a chance to get involved with the students and in their activities and whatnot since my “base school” really isn’t much of a base, but I guess the little things I try to do are making a difference, somehow.

I may not be going to school tomorrow, though. The 3rd-years have tests (not sure if that means more entrance exams or just regular testing), so I may hang around the community center again. I think I’m “supposed” to go to school, since it’s one of the days I should be there, but nobody seems to have a huge problem with my deciding to stay at the kouminkan instead. (And that way, I can make sure I remember to draw money during the business day, so I can immediately pay off my rent, which was due today. CRAP.)

I don’t know. I wish I just knew how to jump in and get involved and become a bigger part of the team. I’m here for another 17 1/2 months, and I don’t want it to be this awkward and stilted for that entire time. It’s fine at the rest of my elementary schools, generally…it’s just this one thing that I really would like to improve.

Tokyo trip gushing

I’m pretty excited–this evening, I reserved a pair of tickets for a Japan-Gewandhaus Symphony Orchestra concert at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall for 2 weeks from today! (By the way, “Gewandhaus” is pronounced “Gevandhoss,” with a “guh” G and not a J-sounding G. Sorry about that, to any German speakers reading this. I really, really butchered that on the phone, and I kind of flustered the poor operator.) The conductor is David Howell, who I don’t think I’ve heard of (I haven’t even heard of this orchestra, to be honest), but they’re doing an awesome lineup…Borodin’s “In The Steppes of Central Asia,” Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto, and Beethoven’s 7th symphony. We also got student tickets (shhh–we both still have our BuzzCards)! I have no idea where in the hall that’ll put us, but for ¥2000 for our first real classical performance in a really long time (almost a year for me…the last true concert was a brilliant Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert with guest conductor Charles Dutoit last March–by far the best conductor and classical performance that I’ve ever seen), I’m not complaining. The only “trouble” part was spelling my name for the reservation, but that was only a minor snag.

And speaking of the hall…holy crap, that’s incredible. It by far is the most beautiful hall I’ll have been in. It seems like it should have wonderful acoustics–my classical music fanatic side is really, really giddy right now!

We’re also hoping to go see some bunraku, Japanese puppetry (it turns out Louise’s family is really into puppetry, which I never knew), and maybe even visit the Studio Ghibli museum (I really, really need to watch Tonari No Totoro and maybe Laputa and Nausicaa before I go–I know, how can I call myself a Miyazaki/Ghibli fan and not have seen those? At least I’ve seen a lot of the others, though!). And, of course, foreign food, and a couple of indie/artsy coffeehouses. It’s going to be such an artsy weekend–I’m getting really excited about this trip! I finally got my nenkyuu approved by my Friday afternoon elementary school today, and my BOE was just waiting for the okay from them, so I’m all set to go–I have the express and superexpress/shinkansen tickets in hand (this route takes me past Fuji-san! SWEET! Volcano encounter #2.5!), we’ve made our hotel reservations…rock on.

I still have to decide whether or not I’m taking the GRE in 2 weeks, though. I finally started work on the programme/playbill design for our musical, and I’ve put at least 6 hours into it already and am still pretty far from being finished with it. (I’ll definitely be doing some illustrating–I got kind of into it and, during the 45 minutes where I was sitting at the kouminkan after my elementary school lesson, I started doing silly, unrelated sketches of a punk Tinkerbell, since Anya as Tinkerbell is awesome and anything but conventional, and the general concept has kind of inspired me. But anyway.) But yeah…this is going to take me the next week to finish, and that’ll give me all of a week to prep to take the GRE that weekend in Tokyo. I’m not concerned about the math section at all, and I’m not too terribly concerned about the essays, but I really need a lot more time than a week to cram myself on vocab and etymology. I’m not sure it’s worth dropping over $100 if I’m not sure I’m going to do my best. Plus, that week will also be busy with musical preparations–trying to track down costume stuff and props and whatnot.

Oh well…at least it’s a weekend away, in a new city. It hit me that I’ve done a decent job of traveling while I’ve been here–nowhere in August (due to having just arrived in Japan at the end of July), but Osaka in September, Fukushima in October, back to Osaka for a day in November (GRE #1), then India and Malaysia and Osaka and Kyoto in December and early January, and now Tokyo in a couple of weeks. I probably won’t go anywhere in March, due to three of my weekends being eaten up by the musical…but at the same time, we do have a break before the new school year starts in April…the problem is that I’m running low on my nenkyuu days, and am probably down to 6 1/2 days left for the year now. If I can make them last me until the summer, then I can take a few unpaid days or something, particularly if friends come or if I go home.

And that’s another thing…I’m still not completely sure whether or not I’m going. Tickets are expensive…but it’s a chance to buy clothing in my size (Japanese stores are good at making tall westerners feel overweight) and food…but if I go home during Christmas, a lot more of my friends will be there, even if it is almost a year away, but seeing them is one of my biggest motivating factors in going home. Another thing is that if Star Wars Celebration 4 happens in spring/summer 2007, I’m already planning on setting aside money and vacation time to fly back for it (I’ll deal with the jetlag after I get back, and I can plan lessons on the long plane rides!)–if not for JET, Celebration 3 would have hands-down been the high point of the year for me. I can’t go home all 3 times, though–that’s just too expensive, and too much time off.

Okay, this is getting long…I should go make dinner and clean my place up, since somebody is actually coming over to hang out (and watch Sailormoon, of all things!) tomorrow night. Later!


You know you’re an online journaler when you get random flames from strangers–it’s almost like an initiation of sorts, and this blog has received its initiation today! Go me! And naturally, it’s from an anonymous commenter (on the January 30th entry):

“Congrats on making such a big decision! But, here is some advice: I know you say you get stared at. It’s probably not b/c you are a ‘foreigner’. Slap on some makeup, straighten that hair, and for goodness sake don’t dress like you live in the 90’s. That’s all. Oh, p.s., don’t be so critical of others.”

Awww, thank you, you shouldn’t have! But let me return the favor and give you some advice: get a life and stop trying to belittle the looks of random strangers on random online journals. Do I even know you? Why do my decisions about my appearance seem to bother you so much? And are you so insecure that you have to insult strangers to make you feel better about yourself?

Oh, and PS: don’t be so critical of others. Pot, kettle, black. Idiot.

Anyway…I should post something so that this isn’t a complete waste of space. For example, how I discovered vegetarian ramen tonight, while having a really inexpensive dinner with Lindsay, Hannah, and Nate! And it was good! (They just left out the meat/fish and replaced the usual fishy broth with miso soup.) SCORE.

Another high point this week–I’ve finally figured out a way to teach phonics that the kids really enjoy. It’s all thanks to Lindsay and a book on word sorting based on vowel sounds that she left on my kouminkan desk months ago, the potential of which I’m only now beginning to tap. I have to change it up a bit so that the kids don’t get tired of it, but if I can rush them through this in the next month, before the rokunensei graduate and are thrown headfirst into the rigid, imperfect English curriculum of the Japanese school system, maybe I still have a chance to do them some lasting good. They know a lot more than they let on–somehow, they can read and string sounds together! It’s definitely my predecessor’s doing, but still. Wow. I’ve been so surprised and thrilled this week. Even my Double-Length Class Of Doom was a huge success yesterday.

And speaking of the DLCOD, at the first class this term, one of the teachers had asked me if I wanted to switch around group members. I didn’t really see the point of it, so I just said that no, it was okay. After talking to Lindsay and understanding the rationale for the groups a bit better, though, I did suggest it to the teacher supervising this week’s class. I couldn’t help but feel a really smarmy surge of satisfaction over the fact that the two boys who were passing notes back and forth a few months ago (during one of my phonics lessons, ironically) are now sitting on opposite sides of the room. However, one of the kids, a 6th-grader, is now sitting next to this really, really adorable and shy 3rd-grade boy, and the 6th-grade boy sort of jostles the 3rd-grader around roughly. At least, though, there’s only one more month before the 6th-graders graduate and go to junior high…I feel mixed about it, though, because while he’s obviously bored and can get a little snarky about it, he’s really precocious and definitely the best student in this class, and when he’s challenged, he’s actually a great kid. I think that being in a more challenging junior high setting will do him more good, though the English classes there may bore him a bit. This is the one school that doesn’t feed into my junior high, so I won’t be seeing these 6th-graders after March.

Tomorrow kicks off high school entrance exams for the chuugakkou sannensei (junior high 3rd-years). Hannah’s getting all dressed up (the junior high kids actually go to the high schools to take the tests), and her boyfriend Nick, a high school ALT about 45 minutes east of here, was told to be at school by 7 AM because he wouldn’t be able to find a parking spot otherwise. I really hope my kids do well–the 3rd-years are the most outspoken ones, the ones who come up and chat with me (however briefly, but they do it) in the teachers’ room, the ones who start bellowing, “Good morning!” as soon as I walk through the classroom door…they’re a great crowd and I’m going to miss them a lot. I wish I knew more of their names and a little more about them.

Something I realized recently…there are a bunch of different personality types in these classes. There are the shy and sweet ones, the shy and insecure ones, the moderately social, the ueber-social, the jocks, the smartasses (sorry, Mom and Dad)…and I like them all. Being a teacher completely changes how you view these things. I can very distinctly sort out which “group” I would’ve been part of if I were in that class (the quiet, nerdy ones…however, I think that being a nerd in Japan, so long as you aren’t an otaku, is a far lesser offense than it is in grade school in the US–but I can write a separate entry on that, and probably will later), and which “groups” I would have stayed close to or avoided. But all these kids are just great towards me, and I still can’t really explain why. After school, they all take great pleasure in trying to use English with me when we pass each other, and I’m always getting “hello!”s and “see you!”s in the halls or at the bus stop or wherever. I love it–it’s such a warm and fuzzy thing.

All right, I’m going to go review tax forms, look for my install CDs with the hopes of finding my copy of Adobe InDesign, and get some work done on the playbill design for the musical, before Desperate Housewives comes on tonight. Later!