Archive for March, 2012

March 27, 2012

Japan Firsts

I was reading the JET Programme Official Forums yesterday and someone posed the question:

What was your first experience with Japan?

Well…

When I was 6 years old, I hated the Narita Airport.

My family had gone back to America on “home leave” in 1994, the same summer that the Lion King came out in theatres. My mom took us (my siblings and I) to see it with my aunt and cousins. I soon became obsessed with Simba. I loved the movie so much and quickly became my favorite! While we were in the US, my mom bought me a Simba stuffed animal.

AAAAAmZqlV0AAAAAABqIwwIt was love at first sight for me. I had always slept with a blanket ever since I was born, but Simba and I soon became inseparable. Simba and blanket were my bedtime companions.

We flew back to Singapore and had a layover in Tokyo/Narita airport. Simba and blanket, of course, had to come on the planes with me. Carrying a blanket around was childish, but carrying a stuffed animal seemed okay. Before boarding our final flight to Singapore, I went to the bathroom, taking Simba with me. When I came back to the gate with my mother, they had already called us for boarding. So my family of five rushed to get in line.

When we landed in Singapore, I gathered my things and packed up my backpack. I looked everywhere for Simba, in the overhead bins, under the seats… but he was nowhere to be found. My mom said that I cried for about an hour.

Where did I last see him? In the women’s bathroom in Narita airport. I was so upset that I had lost something so special! But I was also a little angry upon imagining some Japanese child with my Simba. I imagined some cleaning lady finding him and taking him home to her child. I wanted to fly right back to Tokyo to get him, but… sadly, that was impossible. (I now know that the staff in Narita probably must have taken him to their Lost and Found, where he must have lived a sad, childless life… Sniff-sniff.)

They didn’t have those exact stuffed animals in Singapore at the time, so I couldn’t get a replacement. But, life went on until… My amah Maryflor took her winter vacation and went to Australia. She found that exact stuffed animal and brought him home for me! I was absolutely overjoyed. I think I still remember the moment in the kitchen when she came home and presented Simba the Second to me.

Every time I thought about Japan after that, I remembered my poor stuffed animal lonely in the women’s bathroom. When I returned to Japan by myself in 2005, I got off the plane and went to the restroom to brush my teeth. To this day, Narita Airport will always remind me of The Lion King.

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My sophomore year roommate Asako snapped this shot of me while I was taking a nap.
To this day I am most comfortable sleeping while hugging something.

But other than that, what were my first real encounters with Japan and Japanese culture?

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March 18, 2012

Mother Teresa Middle School Madlibs

Okay, it should be “Junior High” School Madlibs, but “Middle School” just sounded better.

This is the madlib that I created last week with my second-years that I love dearly. I have never laughed so hard in class. My face hurt, my stomach hurt, and I was doubled over with laughter for quite a few minutes. Maybe it is a “you had to be there” kinda thing, but… I still think this is funny.

I had to design some activities based on the Mother Teresa reading in the textbook. I had an idea that would take up about 20 minutes of the class time, but was at a loss at what to do for the other 15 that I was in charge of (the Japanese teacher was in charge of the rest of the class). But then it came to me…

“Eureka! Madlibs! I shall make a madlib out of this boring Mother Teresa story!”

For reference, here is the original story:

Sister Teresa opened a house for the dying and, after that, another house for children without families. Sister Teresa loved everyone like a mother so her name changed to Mother Teresa.
One day, Mother Teresa found a dying man. No one would go near him because he was very sick. Mother Teresa and her friends took care of him. The man asked, “Why are you helping me?” Mother Teresa answered, “Because I love you.”
She once explained, “If you feel that no one loves you, it is true starvation.”
In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. She said, “Love begins at home. Smile at each other. Help each other. Then, more and more love will grow.”
On September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa passed away at the age of 87. But today, around 4,700 sisters in 132 countries continue to help the poorest of the poor. Teresa’s work of love goes on. She once said, “Our work may look big, but it is only a drop in the ocean. But if we stop this work, the ocean will have one drop less.”

And then, from that story… This masterpiece was created:

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March 15, 2012

Junior High School Graduation

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The schedule for 3/8/2012: Graduation Ceremony

I know what you in America are thinking. Graduation? But it’s only March! The Japanese school year actually starts in April.

Almost all schools run a three-term school year (trimester system), and most universities and colleges have a semester system. Most schools with a trimester system have a first term from early April to late July. Commonly, the break lasts for about 6 weeks. The break originated to avoid the heat in summer, so schools in the northern regions may have a shorter summer break than the rest of schools in Japan.
A second term lasts from early September to late December with a winter break at the end of the year. The term is followed by a third term from early January to late March and a brief spring break lasting 2 weeks. The graduation ceremony occurs in March, and the enrollment ceremony in early April.

I was able to go to my first ever Japanese junior high school graduation ceremony last week. I received the invitation from the vice principal, who is also the 3rd-year student English teacher. I teach with him a lot. Is it strange that the vice principal is also a teacher? That doesn’t happen in America, I don’t think. Administrative staff tend to stay in the administration division and the teaching staff tend to stay in the teaching division.

This vice principal speaks English so well and with such native intonation. It is so impressive for someone who lives in northern Japan and probably does not speak English every day. But he has a love for the language and an incredible interest in learning. He always asks me questions about words and sentences and what sounds more “natural” to me as a native speaker. I always learn something when I talk to him.

But anyways, he invited me and I was so honored. If I had a base school (instead of my office), I would automatically get to go to that school’s graduation. But since I am not based in a school 24/7 (or should I say 7/7?), I was hoping for an invite. Of course I jumped at the chance to go and asked for permission from my bosses. They agreed that I should go.

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March 13, 2012

Random Observations As Of Late #2

  • I know it is a Friday afternoon when my co-workers get chatty and start talking to me about how hard Japanese must be to learn. This then turns into a 15-minute conversation about different dialects in Aomori and them complimenting me on my Japanese. Ha ha.
  • When my co-workers say that they are leaving for their meeting at 8:40am, they actually mean 8:35am. Which means that they will start to get ready at 8:30am.
  • Japan could benefit from a legion of professional proofreaders. Preferably native English speaking ones. There is bad English wherever you go. The latest, an email from the JET Program Language Course administrators. The subject reads, verbatim: “To whom may take JET PROGRAMME JAPAESE LANGUAGE COURSE”
  • I helped teach a lesson about the kids’ future dream jobs. I learned that many students want to grow up and help people, which is awesome. Some students wanted to be nurses or pharmacists, so that they could help sick people and make them healthy. Other people wanted to be cooks so that they could make a lot of delicious food for people. Another girl wanted to be a singer so that she could make people happy with her songs. I love hearing children’s desires to help people. It is so endearing. Oh, and then there was one girl who wanted to be a cook because she wanted to become better at cooking than her mother.
  • I live in Aomori prefecture, Japan. My little city is called Hirosaki. After 8-ish months, this fact still amazes me. I don’t really realize it until I look around and I see all the mountains covered with snow. I never grew up around mountains, so this is still new for me. I am still getting over the fact that I actually live here and have a life/friends/job/apartment.

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March 7, 2012

Japanese Car Names

My family has had quite a few Japanese cars that I can remember: The Toyota Landcruiser, Toyota Camry, Nissan Murano, to name a few. We had a Honda in Singapore, I think, but I can’t seem to remember the name. In 2009 I was able to buy my first car, a Honda Civic. That Civic quickly became my favorite little car in the world and I could fit all my worldly possessions inside it (for my move to Texas).

See Specimen A, 2007 Honda Civic EX with hopeful 18 year-old Stacy-face:

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But, moving on.

Those car names up there don’t seem too odd, do they? Landcruiser. Camry. Murano. Civic. Pretty normal. Other Japanese cars in America have pretty normal names too, like Corolla, Prius, CR-V, Pilot, Odyssey… Just off the top of my head. None of those really strike me as odd or funny.

But in Japan, I find Japanese car names absolutely hilarious. I tend to take pictures of them wherever I go and now I have built up quite a little collection.

Before that, here are the cars I that I was not able to see or photograph… but wish I had:

Isuzu GIGA 20 Light Dump
Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard
Honda Life Dunk
Honda That’s
Mitsubishi MUM 500 Shall We Join Us?
Mitsubishi Chariot Grandio Super Exceed
Mitsubishi Guts
Yamaha Pantryboy Supreme
Nissan Elgrand Homy
Daihatsu Charade Social Poze

Haven’t you always wanted a Izuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard? Or a Pantryboy Supreme to get you to where you need to go? I am always a pedestrian/bike rider, so I probably have too much time to catch the amazingly ridiculous names on the backs of these cars.

Without further delay, the cars!

I once saw an old woman driving a Honda Life Diva: I would buy a Honda Vamos Turbo
based on the name alone.
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March 6, 2012

A Frozen Waterfall (Nioga Falls)

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I have been going to Nishimeya Village to teach just about every week, but I never have time to explore. I take the bus there from Hirosaki (1 hour each way in winter time), get off, go to school, spend the day at school, then take the bus home.

I was chatting with Tori one day last week when she told me about this frozen waterfall in Nishimeya. Apparently, this waterfall had not frozen for 4 years, so this year was a very special year. I had never even heard of it! I looked at a couple Japanese blogs and and the pictures of it were amazing! They lit it up at night with colored lights! Tori told me that I should go see it if I have time, so I asked Kyohei if he was interested. And it was a go!

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