Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Day

I am having a great day today!

First Class: English Conversation for Juniors (2nd Year's)

The topic of today's class was "Future Hopes/Dreams." I borrowed the idea for the warm-up game from Rogue, the ALT in Tenri.

Warm-Up: Pairs of students come to the front of the classroom. Students stand with hands poised in Western style as though they are about to draw guns. I show them an occupation picture card. The first student to shout the occupation on the card and raise their hands like guns is the winner. Sounds silly right? The kids LOVED it! I called on volunteers who could then challenge another to "combat." The boys got really into it. Instead of drawing simple pistols, some drew bazookas, bow & arrow, etc. Even the losing player's death was dramatic. Some kids did a simple "touch the chest" move. Others fully acted like they had gotten shot. My favorite moment was the last fight. The winning student "shot" the losing student after yelling the right occupation. Except this time, the losing student did a matrix-style maneuver to dodge the "bullets." HYSTERICAL.

In another fight, one student thought he had won, but the girl he challenged managed to squeak out the answer before he did. He was angry because he didn't hear her so he thought he won. In a hilarious act of emotion, he jumped, slammed his feet, and said (in Japanese), "She's too damn quiet!" We all laughed. Then an idea was hatched by one of my more vocal students. They all collectively decided that in their next class (Classical Japanese), instead of bowing at the start of class, they would jump, slam their feet, and say "She's too damn quiet!" Just to make sure the kids followed through, I-sensei and I went to their next class with them and watched through the window. There are only 20 kids in my conversation class because we split them up. Storm takes the other half. In their Classical Japanese class, all 40 are together.

Now imagine all the students standing, ready to give their bow to the teacher. One student shouts the instigating word "De!" 20 students bow. 20 students jump, slam their feet, and shout "She's too damn quiet!" I've never seen I-sensei laugh so hard in my life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Takoyaki? Not quite.

Last Saturday, I enjoyed my first takoyaki party! Mind you, this is not my first time eating takoyaki (fried bread balls with octopus inside), but it was my first time participating in their creation. I went to the center of the universe (Tenri) and, after basking in the warm glow of Oyasama, went to Rogue's apartment. Since we had some time to kill, she took me to a store that supposedly sold clothes in larger sizes. I didn't buy anything, but it is good to know there may be a place in this country that I can buy clothes from.

My Japanese friend joined us kind of late, but we all went to the grocery store to pick up supplies. We got snacks, alcohol, soda, and materials for the actual takoyaki.

Rogue bought a takoyaki maker earlier that week. She did all the real cooking. I took all the verbal abuse and helped out in any way I could. Mostly I just drank Melon Cream Soda and ran around doing odd jobs.

Rogue knew that I didn't actually like takoyaki, so she made a custom batch just for me.

My Takoyaki:
-The takoyaki Batter
-Mini hotdogs

They were yummy! My only problem was the diced, pickled ginger. It's good, but it overpowers EVERYTHING else. It's like it takes the other ingredients, kicks them in the nuts, and shouts "I'M THE ONLY FLAVOR! THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!" Yes, Ginger is the highlander of the takoyaki world.

My Japanese friend made some Katsudon which is a bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, and condiments. ^_^

We concluded the night eating chocolate cake, cream puffs, and drinking Calpis chu-hai. I love Calpis Water, so the alcoholic version is amazing. As we munched our way through the night, we watched "War of the Worlds" in Japanese. Because I couldn't understand anything, I just watched and made jokes.

Side note: I finally bought a tanuki statue for my apartment! Meet the newest addition to my family:

Future Plans for February:
-Ramen Challenge
-Hokkaido Snow Festival
-Ookayama Naked Man Festival

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grading Student

The assignment: My New Year's Resolutions for 2011 are:

Student answer: "All time max voltage"

My Translation of the student's answer: I want to tackle all challenges by working my hardest."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where does awesome originate? Iga Ninja Village

I visited the ninja village of Iga in Mie Prefecture. There were (are?) two major ninja clans in Japan: Iga Clan in Mie and the Koga clan in Shiga.

I boarded the train bound for Kamo, Kyoto then switched to the super rural trains to get to Iga. It only took me about 1 ½ hrs to get there. The scenery of Mie was very pretty, but also pretty empty. It’s hard to believe there is a prefecture more rural than Nara. It was also snowing. I have experienced a little bit of snow in Nara City, but it was just a small dusting. ACTUAL snow was falling in Mie. The Floridian in me was actually excited, especially because I was warm and cozy in the train.

The city of Iga is covered in ninja imagery. Ninja cartoons animals, fake weapons shops, and tourist pamphlets line the streets near the train station. I met with my crew (about 11 other Nara JETs) and we made out way to the ninja museum.

The entrance to the ninja museum is a stone stairway. The addition of black ice made this trek a bit more nerve-racking.

We finally reached the entrance, paid for the museum AND show, then entered the replica ninja house. Our ninja guide sat us down in the tatami room and began her explanation of the ninja house. Because she did not speak English, she pulled down from shades which had the English explanation printed on them. The guide showed me all the ways my apartment sucks.

Things my apartment doesn’t have:
1. Hidden look out posts
2. Escape routes through revolving walls
3. Hidden ladders camouflaged as shelves
4. Weapons hidden in the floorboards
5. Valuables hidden under the molding against the door

Following the demonstrations, the guide showed us down stairs to the actual museum. Every item had an English explanation. I read EVERYTHING. Dammit, why are ninja so awesome?

The museum had an area where we could try the swamp-walking shoes.

There was an area to try on ninja chainmail.

There was even a section dedicated to the amazing variety of shuriken (throwing knives) that ninjas used!

After this section, we walked over to the ninja show. The show was AWESOME! There were 4 “ninjas” who discussed all the weaponry and tactics used by ninja clans. They had mock fights, weapon demonstrations, and shuriken throwing!

One of the “ninjas” spoke a little bit of English and really played to his audience. He was hysterical. At one point, he was using rope as a weapon in a fight. The other ninja caught his rope, then paused. The rope-wielding ninja turned to us (The JETs) and said: “Now. My mind, Oh shit!” We laughed A LOT.

During the introduction to the first fight, a ninja came on stage and challenged another ninja sitting in the back of the audience. He quickly ran to the stage, but before jumping into the fight, he fired a net made of string at me! It was surprising and hilarious. (They did tell me before the show that I’m sitting in the exciting seats. I couldn’t resist after that)

The English-speaking ninja did a nifty demonstration of balance by spinning various items on his umbrella including a 1 yen coin. It was great!

At the end, I got the chance to throw shuriken at a wooden board. It was empowering.

After the show, we took a nice picture with all the actors.

We all thought they were just cool actors, after all. It wasn’t until later that we learned they were in the movie “The Last Samurai!!!!” They helped train actors for the ninja raid scene in the movie. These guys are professional ninjas!

We finished the tour by walking through one last part of the museum. This part was dedicated to retelling the history of ninjas and some of their techniques for keeping secrets. Ironic, no?

I left that day KNOWING I must see the other ninja village in Koga.

Do you remember the silent samurai who followed Tom Cruise's character around the village in "The Last Samurai?" Bob is the one in the front on the left:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Day

I arrived back from my trip home just in time to celebrate New Year's in Japan! There is a lot going around New Year's in Japan. After dinner on December 31st, a friend and I settled in to watch all the magical TV programs. There are two shows, that I'm aware of, that are shown specially on the 31st of December.

Show 1: KĊhaku Uta Gassen ("Red vs White singing contest")

"Popular singers (and singing groups) split into two teams, women in the red team and men in the white, which then alternate while competing for the audience's heart throughout the evening. At around 11:30 pm, the final singer (or group) sings, and the audience and a panel of judges are asked to cast their votes to decide which team sang better. The winning team gets a trophy and "the winners' flag." The program ends at about 11:45 pm."

This show was really fun to watch. I got to watch all the popular artists in Japan including Arashi and Ikimono Gakari. These two groups are INSANELY popular here. In addition to pop music, some traditional singers are also invited to the contest. One enka singer was dressed like a glamorous baby crane. I looked away from the television for a moment. When I looked back, she was RIDING A GIANT CRANE complete with flapping wings. I wish I had a picture of my reaction. It was priceless. By the way, the white team won. Guy power!

Show 2: Gaki Tsuka

I'm borrowing the description of this show from someone because her explanation is priceless:

"Imagine a cold winter day ( snow but still cold) in a big high school field. Imagine there are many men all in black suits and black trench coats standing in front of a big stage. On the stage imagine a chubby man dressed in a woman's military uniform (with wig, red lipstick, blush. pantyhose, heels etc). Then next to him on the stage is some white foreigner (we think he is from Holland) dressed in a military uniform with a huge crazy mustache. Now...the foreign guy is yelling in the microphone (in some language) at the men in black. He is freaking out and the guys in black are trying not to laugh. But of course they do because it is stupid. Suddenly the foreign guy says in English "out" and points at the man who is laughing. Then out of nowhere, a guy comes running out on to the field with a big black tube in his hand and hits the guy who was laughing on the butt. This keeps up for like 5 minutes- the crazy foreign guy yelling and pointing at the laughing men and then the laughing men getting their butts hit with some kind of rubber tube. The point? Try not to laugh while the crazy guy yells."

We left her apartment around 11 to join some friends for the countdown. We went to a bar called the Wookoo Bar near JR Nara. I know the tradition is visit a shrine or temple for the Countdown, but they were crowded. We ordered some expensive Belgian beers for the toast at midnight and anxiously awaited the countdown.

Cultural Stupidity: Did I forget where I was? 10 seconds to midnight, I was ready to begin the countdown. "Ten, Nine,, Nana, Roku, Go, Yon, San, Nii, Ichi, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!" Yes, in my loudest voice, I began the countdown (in a crowded Japanese bar) in English. Everyone stared, but continued the countdown.

Around 1AM, my group and I made our way to Todaiji. Todaiji is the large Buddhist Temple in Nara City. 2 nights a year, the priests open the window so the Buddha Statue's face can be viewed from outside the temple. I am always in awe of Todaiji. I watched friends try to pass through the column again. I cast my 5 yen into the abyss and made a wish. I saved a deer's life by stealing away the plastic cup in its mouth. I am the hero everyone wanted, but nobody knew.

Another tradition on New Year's is to get your fortune. On New Year's, the fortunes are broken down in categories of luck. The fortune can range anywhere from no luck to (the grand daddy of them all) BIG luck. At Todaiji, I received Medium luck. Here is my exact fortune:

General Explanation: Stay honest as you are, and you will have a chance for promotion.
In Case You are Ill: You will get well soon.
A Legal Case: Things will come your way.
Trade: Profitable in both selling and buying.
Travel: Something good may happen if you travel.
A Person Whom You Wait For: The person will come sometime later.
A Thing You Have Lost: You will find it outside your place.
Competition: You will win. Be careful after you have won.


After Todaiji, we moved on to Kasuga Shrine. This place was extremely crowded. While we waited in line with the hundreds of people, we munched on yummy festival food like Karaage (fried chicken) and Mikan (sweet oranges). Once we entered the shrine, we threw our 5 yen pieces and made a wish, then bought another fortune. I got BIG LUCK!!! My Japanese friends squealed with delight. I smiled and remembered that this is the year of the Rabbit, MY YEAR. We walked around the festival grounds a little longer then retreated back to our homes (trains run all night on New Year's), away from the cold.

Big luck, year of the rabbit: keep your fingers crossed!

I. Am. Santa.

On December 14th, I became the embodiment of joy and happiness in the world. I became Santa Claus. I was told weeks before that I would being playing Santa Claus for a local kindergarten. Soon after, my Kyoto Sensei told me that another kindergarten had requested my thespian skills. That's right, I was in high demand.

The morning of the 14th, my Kyoto Sensei picked me up from school and we traveled together to the first kindergarten. We were greeted by a very nice lady who escorted us into the conference room. She gave me the costume (including eyebrows and beard), then left to let me change. The costume fit fine. It was the beard I was struggling with. It would not stay above my ACTUAL beard. I worried that the kids might see my brown beard beneath the costume...and Christmas would be ruined. I went over my lines for the show one more time, drank some hot tea, and mentally prepared myself for what was about to come.

I stood outside the auditorium with one of the kindergarten teachers. When it was my time to enter, the teacher started shaking some bells to simulate the sound of Santa's sled. I could hear the children's screams through the door. As I entered, a giant spotlight was cast upon me and the children WENT INSANE. As a Jew, I never really experienced the joy of Santa, but I could just imagine. These kids were literally thinking, "Oh my god!!! Santa is here! Santa is here in MY school!!!"

I said all the typical phrases (ho ho ho), waved to the children, then took my seat at the front of the room. The kindergartners' uniforms are over-sized aprons. They looked adorable! After I sat down, I answered some of the questions posed by the teachers (for the students). The questions included:

Where do you live?
How did you get here?
How old are you? (apparently Santa is over 100 years old)
What do you do all year?
Will you come back next year?

The kids then lined up in front of me to receive their presents. I actually had a big, white bag full of presents for the kids. Of course, the presents were provided by the school. The teachers were my helper elves. When the bag was empty, they started to just hand presents to me. Each child received one. They smiled, said thank you, and moved on. Some kids even said "thank you" in English. It was so cute!! Often, some children would get their gift, say thank you, then STARE at me. They were just too astounded that Santa was in their presence. With these kids, I gave them a hug to help the awkward situation deflate. That made them smile even bigger. Hugs are the miracle cure, really.

Santa said his goodbyes and told the kids, "I'll be back next year if you are all good boys and girls." The teacher translated and the kids, once again, lost their minds. I waved, said the same typical lines, and exited the room. Take a breath, one more Kindergarten.

My visit to the 2nd kindergarten went almost exactly as the first, but with one key difference: it was a lot bigger. The room at the 2nd kindergarten was had at least twice the amount of kids as the first and was decorated far better. There were Christmas lights, posters, and some of the teachers were wearing minimal costumes. I handed presents to 150 more kids. My arms were starting to fall off.

After the "ceremony," my kyoto sensei and I were asked to sit in the guest room. It was basically just a room with couches and pictures of past principals. The principal joined us soon and began to sing my praises. Apparently (no ego here), I was AMAZING. Considering their last Santa Claus was my predecessor, I don't blame them for being so excited. The principal gave me some nice polo socks as a thank you gift. She also gave me sweets and some small Japanese paintings. She told me the paintings are omiyage (gifts) for friends and family back home.

I was pretty tired when it was over. It was all worth it.