Archive for November, 2011

November 25, 2011

Random Observations As Of Late

This is just a random collection of my thoughts about recent happenings. Each of them is not really enough to make a full post out of, but I thought I might put them all together in one post.

 

– Yesterday I saw a gaggle of kids playing in the principal’s office during recess. This made me tilt my head and go… “What?” I can count on one hand how many times I have met the principal of my k-12 schools. And those times were for either having good grades or making the honor roll or some other goody-two-shoes reason. ^^;

– So this week I bought a box of tampons here in Japan. I kept hearing from my friends how interesting the experience was, so I was kind of curious about it myself. I went to the register, the gal rang it up, and began to package it in a brown paper sack. Like they do in America when you buy liquor. I knew this was coming, so I told her that no, I didn’t need my tampons gift-wrapped and disguised for me. She kind of looked at me and asked, “It’s not embarrassing?/You’re not embarrassed?” I assured her that yes, I wouldn’t be embarrassed if anyone caught me red-handed carrying a box of tampons. It is store policy here in Japan for the register clerk to wrap your feminine products in a nondescript paper bag or put it inside another dark-colored bag before they go in with your other purchases. This is so amusing. I felt like a bandit with my undisguised purchase. Haha.
Also, a side note: I haven’t bought tampons in many many years, but is it highway robbery to pay over $11 (USD) for a box of 32??

– Trains here in the north are like saunas. They turn on the heaters and the windows fog up entirely! I had to catch the train yesterday morning to get to my visit school. My journey includes a 25 minute walk after the train ride, so I was bundled up pretty well. I got inside the train and immediately started sweating bullets. It was so hot. I even chose a car with open seats and not that many people. I immediately had to strip off my jackets and fan myself. I don’t know how the guys next to me with their full-on jackets, scarves, and hats could handle it. I imagined them silently sweating too.

– I joined the expensive gym. So far the rules have not killed me yet and there are no 30 minute time limits on the cardio machines like at the other place. It just says to “use manners”, I think. But the thing that kills me is that I pay ¥6300 a month for a membership with these restrictions: 1. The club is only open from 10am-11pm on weekdays and 10am-10pm on Saturdays. So that completely ruins any sort of morning exercise plan. 2. I can only use the club for three hours in one day. 3. I cannot use the club on Sundays or national holidays (that is another, more expensive membership.) 4. The club is closed every Wednesday anyways for a staff holiday. I pay that much, but I can only use the club for 5 days a week, three hours at a time. Less if there is a national holiday that week. Man, the price I pay for my sanity. I joined in the hope that it will keep me sane during the winter. The one super plus to this situation is that it is less than 10 minutes walking from my apartment.

-  Speaking of winter, it has been snowing here quite a bit. After seeing the snow here and comparing it to my experience in Minnesota… I think the snow here is just prettier. The scenery is also tons better than “Minne-no-place” scenery. Beautiful Japan for the win! Here, have a photo of my view this morning:

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This is just the beginning.

– I actually might make a separate post about this, but Kimberly and I went to the Kuroishi Apple Festival last weekend. We got to see some awesome shamisen playing, lots of apples, and eat some yummy mochi. Also in the Adventures of Kimberly and Stacy, we went to a little community thing at my work and got to pound some mochi rice into mochi. And we bought huge bags of delicious apples for ¥1000 each. Here is a picture of Kimberly showing that mochi who is boss:

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– Last week was the Skill Development Conference for all JETs in Aomori. I did learn a lot at the workshops I went to, especially the Goal Setting workshop. Why did I not learn or pay attention to goal setting earlier in my life? I’ve always been bad at setting goals because of lack of confidence and fear of failure. It really inspired me to work on setting some concrete goals.

– Lastly, but not least… Lisa (a good friend from Lewis & Clark, my college days) came to visit me! The last time we had seen each other was actually in Japan back in 2009 when I was in Tokyo for my host sister’s wedding. It was awesome to see her and hang out with her again. We both agreed that it was really comforting to get to talk to someone “from the past” who you have history with. We talked of old things, new things, and it looked like she had a great time in Aomori. I was working during the day time, but we had a couple of really nice dinners, watched Pocahontas (she had never seen it!), bummed around Aomori City, tried lots of different kinds of apples, and took some purikura.

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Voila!

November 15, 2011

Recess… (SAVE ME!)

At most of my elementary schools, I play with the kids during their afternoon recess. When it was warmer I went outside and played tag and such, but today I really didn’t want to go outside. Plus, I had a 40 minute bike ride back to the office immediately following recess. I told the kids that I did not want to play outside that day, but was open to staying inside and playing inside games.

The children swarmed around me and grabbed at me, my hands and my clothes. I was actually backed into a corner at one point and I felt a little claustrophobic. Some boys came very near me and were yelling really loudly: “Out-side! Out-side! Out-side!” over and over and over again in my ears. Their voices actually began hurt my ears a little bit. But I stayed calm and told them that I would much rather play inside today.

I was saved when an absolutely adorable little girl from my 2nd grade class took me by the hand and led me into the nurse’s room where some older boys were calmly doing origami.

I was impressed with this girl because she really tried to use English in class that day. When I asked the students if they had any questions for me, the teacher said it was okay for them to ask in Japanese (since they are only 2nd graders). Other students asked me questions in Japanese and then towards the end this girl raised her hand and asked me in clear English, “Are you hungry?” I was quite taken aback! Plus, we had eaten lunch next to one another and spent some time together then too.

But anyways, she led me into the nurse’s room with the boys from another grade. I could see that they were making helmets and frogs and balls out of origami paper. I am not a very artistic person, but it was inspiring to see boys and girls making this paper art. I think there is a certain social stigma about arts and crafts. In general, I think girls are thought to be more creative and artistic while boys are supposed to be more interested in sports. But I loved seeing these Japanese boys and girls doing a creative, artistic activity together.

My little friend and I sat down at the table and she showed me, step-by-step, how to make a helmet. She was a good, patient teacher. I was so happy to be able to make something cool out of paper. Like I said, I am not very good at art so it was very fun to learn from someone so young.

Below is my “helmet” and a piece of paper that says “To Stacy-sensei: Thank You”.

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Oh, and I also got a bit of the celebrity treatment in the nurse’s room. While I was sitting and doing origami, many students from all grades came into the room with pieces of paper, notebooks, and pencils. They formed a line and asked me to give them their signature. I think I must have signed my name over 20 times! My signature is messy and not pretty at all, but they were all so happy and amazed to see me do something as simple as sign my name.

I must say that my tastes are much more suited to sitting quietly and learning origami. I’ll take that over being swarmed and cornered by elementary school kids any day. My goodness!

November 15, 2011

Elementary School Recital

That title up there is kind of an abbreviated translation. I was trying to translate 学習発表会 (がくしゅうはっぴょうかい) and I think it is more of a “Presentation of Learning Event/Assembly.” <– I went to one of those on Sunday, 11/6!

 

The teachers this elementary school had invited my friend Tori when she was there teaching last semester. They called it a “recital” and told her it would start around 9am. Tori, Kyle and I got up early in the morning and drove out to the school. This school is in one of my favorite little towns surrounded by mountains.

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They make things like this on the side of the cliff above the down to protect from landslides. It is quite a sight to see.

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November 9, 2011

Indirect vs Direct?

Japanese is a very indirect language. Even Japanese people will tell you that they have a hard time understanding each other’s true feelings because of their language and their culture. But they are comfortable in their indirectness because most Japanese people go out of their way not to step on anyone’s toes. The word that literally means “No” is rarely used. I have an excellent example of this in something that happened to me a little while ago.

On a Wednesday night at the grocery store some time ago, they were having a deal where you could purchase two packs of a deli item for a discount. It was a shredded daikon radish stir-fry thing, something I thought I would like. So I took advantage of the deal and bought two. I ate one pack on Wednesday night, and then decided that I just didn’t like it. The flavor was just not my taste. I did not want to eat the second one at all.

I went back to the grocery store the next evening and tried to return the unopened, still-within-the-expiration-date item. I went to the customer service counter and gave the lady my receipt and the item. I know this wasn’t Whole Foods where you can return anything, but I at least wanted to try. She apologized and went to call her supervisor to ask about the possible return. She was on the phone for 5 minutes.

She came back and asked me if there was anything wrong with the item. I explained to her that I just didn’t want it any more, that I didn’t like the first one. She then told me to wait a little more and went back to the phone.

Then some other customers came to buy some things at her counter and in all, I think I had waited 15-20 minutes.

She finally came back to me from the phone and launched into this huge speech. But then I picked up that she said it would be a “little difficult” to return the item. I knew there was no hope. I was never going to get my money back. I’ve learned that if a Japanese person says that something is “a little difficult,” it almost always means no.

So then I asked her, clearly, “So I cannot return it?”

To which she nodded her head a little bit and said, “It looks that way…”

After all that, she never said the word “No” to me. That’s all I wanted to hear! Anyways, I left and ended up giving the food to my friend. Lesson learned.

 

Yesterday I had another episode where I wondered how in the heck I could possibly make people understand me more without being incredibly direct. I was at one of my elementary schools and was waiting in the principal’s office. I was waiting there until it was time to leave (I was being picked up by someone from the Board of Education). The principal himself was off doing other things, so it was just me sitting at a round meeting table. It was around 11am, so the natural light from the sun coming through the large windows was quite enough to brighten the room. Plus, I wasn’t going to be there but 5 or 10 minutes.

One of the homeroom teachers came in to bring me some tea, the second cup of the morning. Not quite necessary, but oh well. I enjoy green tea in the morning.

This is how the conversation went (entirely in Japanese, so I am translating):

Teacher: Here’s your tea…
Me: Thank you very much!
Teacher: It’s a little dark in here, isn’t it? (She looks around for the light switch)
Me: I’m fine, I’m fine.
Teacher: (Continues to search for the switch) Really?
Me: It’s not dark, really. It’s okay. I don’t need the light. (Insisting) There is sunlight coming in.
Teacher: (Does not stop searching for the light switch) Really? Where is that switch…?
Me: Really. I am really fine.
Teacher: Oh, there’s the switch. (turns the light on) There you go.
Me: (Sigh…)

It’s like she wasn’t even listening to me when I was insisting that the sunlight was fine for me. What else can I say, besides “Please do not turn on the light”?

And then today I was at a different elementary school. Since I am a visiting teacher, I do not have my own desk. There is a desk designated for me to sit, but it is used for other things when I am not there. This morning I came in and noticed a stack of papers off to the side of the desk. These standard desks have quite a bit of space, so I hardly even noticed. There was plenty of space for my stuff.

One of the teachers came by and noticed the stack of paper and asked me, “Is this bothering you?” I said to her, “No, no, not at all. You can leave it like that, I don’t mind.” She went ahead and picked it up, “Here, I’ll move it for you.”

I wonder if they just think that whatever they want to do will be better for me or something… I don’t know. I don’t think there is any deep meaning to this. It just annoys me because I wonder if I am saying the wrong thing in Japanese and I want to be understood.

November 6, 2011

All Halloween-ed Out

I never though I would be tired of Halloween! But after prolonging the holiday over 9 days… that’ll just about do it.

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Kyle’s “Jack”-o-lantern invites you to read about my Halloween in Japan…

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