Hallway Inspiration 02: Live Long and Rainbow On!

Japanese hallways are the best. I feel that if I look hard enough, I could make this into a legit once a week article.

In the meantime, I bring to you the latest hallway inspiration, which I endearingly titled “Clean Water: Live Long and Rainbow On”. Japanese schools come in two neutral color schemes: beige or white. Or both. But this may just be the inaka experience (one of my schools is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary so it follows in the general tradition of We Are Rebuilding The School And This Is The Way The Walls Have Always Been Painted). For the most part, though, it doesn’t really matter what color the walls are because teachers like to plaster them with motivational posters like the one above or with announcements for upcoming museum exhibits, concerts, and other interesting educational events going around the prefecture. And then there’s this one… oh the spectra.

The colors are flawless, that is true, but the centerpiece obaachan is even more brilliantly rendered. Her pose suggests the grace of having aged marvelously well (arthritis, gout, and diabetes are clearly for the non-water drinkers of the world; sorry, Hemmingway) while still bringing forth that inner strength, that inner force of character which only the elderly can posses after two world wars and several market crashes. Above the fanfare, above the modernity, it is the final message that shines clearest and nearest to all of our hearts: drink clean water and you too can live a long, rainbow sparkly life. Otsukare~ 😉

 

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Hallway Inspiration?

“It’s when you find yourself thinking that you’re doing well that the end is near.”  

I’m trying to figure out if this means something along the lines of “It’s once you’ve reached your peak and you’re at your best the decline is near” or a little bit more of what my kendo instructor likes to call encouragement: “If you think you’re at your best and you get too cocky, you’ll lose”. 

Thoughts? Comments? Translation advice?

Rice Farming 101

 

I love science classes in Japan. They’re so much more fun in small schools, where the kids get a special yellow folder-esque backpack that they use to collect their data and samples. And because we’re out in the middle of nowhere you can be sure that the school owns a rice patch (or two) as well as a bit of extra land for vegetables and flowers.

About two weeks ago the kids planted the ricelings. By now my schools know I’m allergic to rice… But there seems to be some confusion on how the allergy side of things works.

“I just heard from Natsuhori-sensei! When do we plant the rice?” I asked excitedly. It’s been my dream, nay my sole reason for living (in the countryside), to plant rice.

“Oh.”

I await eagerly for my orders to ditch the indoor shoes and to go wade knee-deep into a field of water-logged mud.

“Well… It’s just that… The kids have already finished planting. They’re coming back soon.”

Shock. Dismay. Heartbreak. WHY?! Was I not loved? Was I too foreign to help plant rice? Did they not think I could survive a near drowning in a rice paddy?

“You’re allergic to rice so we didn’t want you to get a bad reaction. The kids were sad but they understand.”

O.O”?!

After a brief explanation that I needed to ingest the rice before feeling any of the ill effects they decided to schedule the follow up field work day on Wednesday (or as it is known at that particular school, the only day we know in English. Also known as, the day the ALT comes to the village).

The awaited day arrived and I counted down the periods to science with all the anticipation that my four-year old self counted down the days to Christmas.

A kind farmer who lived in the neighborhood brought all the necessary supplies to care for the field. After giving us a brief lesson in the ways of rice and growing the perfect batch, we set down to business.

We threw soy beans so that they could rot at the bottom of the murky waters. Then we threw left over a rice flour and mulch looking mixture to cover the top of the water with “a curtain”. This, I was assured, would prevent other plants like grass from sprouting. We were in effect feeding the rice plants and weeding out the competition in one fell swoop.

In two months  we’ll be releasing some koi and carps into the paddies. They’ll eat up whatever weeds and grass did manage to grow but leave the rice alone. Some farmers use ducks instead of fish, but I’m rather partial to the fish method because FISH.

And that was how I learned for the first time that fish get to swim in the rice. Mind blown.

That moment when…

…the math teacher begins to furiously grade the final math test papers as if it were a life or death situation while muttering calculations and exclamations vigorously under his breath. Each corrected paper slammed into the pile rather than just being casually dropped in.

Or that moment when, the JTE can’t imagine how one student gets all the grammar right on a foreign language test but doesn’t know what day Tanabata lands on. His bemused comment: “She gets all the English grammar right… But she doesn’t know that Tanabata lands on July 7. And she’s Japanese.”

The art teacher on the other hand just strolls in relaxed and happy with the creative output for the test.

Moral of the story: teach art. No right or wrong answers 😀

I had one job today: give the kids encouraging messages in their Daily Life journals. And I did it. Thumb twiddling and banging head in laptop screen commences as I try to justify killing a character who could technically still make it through another chapter…

 

Emergency Preparedness Day

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Today was Emergency Preparedness Day at one of my elementary schools. As far as cultural exchanges go some things are exactly the same no matter where you go in the world… And other things will throw you for a loop.

Lock the kids and pregnant teachers in the gym? Check. Have the two tallest, strongest looking male teachers guard the gym with “weapons”? Check. Kill the lights and cover the windows? Check and check. Send administrative staff to pitchfork the intruder…? Check…

Let’s just say I was not very prepared about the Japanese version of Emergency Preparedness Day.

If you have seen the picture up above and are a) not terribly surprised to imagine your coworkers pitch forking a local police officer as part of training and b) not taking copious amounts of photos as they proceed to quite literally drag said police officer to the genkan with full force… then you are most likely Japanese or have been to a Renaissance fair as a pitchfork wielding peasant.

In any case, let us say that as far as ordinary days goes this one included pitch forking along with the banal lesson planning and coffee runs to keep awake.

Since they forgot to warn me about the fire drill two months ago (which wouldn’t have needed explaining anyhow because blaring lights and sirens are international lingo for GTFO), my coworkers were more than excited to constantly remind me about the “Intruder Drill” (insert knowing smiley face and wink). Are you familiar with those, they ask, do you know intruder drills?

The great nation of ‘Merica in all her infinite wisdom has allowed some outrageous guns and weapons to be sold across Walmart/sports supply stores nationwide and the right of ‘Merican citizens to own said weapons of self destruction are enshrined as natural rights in the Second Amendment. I grew up in Chino (home to the men’s state prison) and have also attended school during my formative years in LA county. Do I know emergency and intruder drills? Pshaw. We can do them in our sleep, I thought to myself. I got this, I said.

And then they bring out the pitchforks. And that’s when I realized I wasn’t in SoCal anymore.

Let me tell you, they really put up a fight. The police officers did not go easy on anyone and there were a couple times I thought the “intruder” was going to win. Literally, it could not have been more appropriate to start chanting “Fight, fight, fight” at work. Watching my shy, reserved coworkers break out into survival samurai mode was also quite the experience. But at least I now know that quite luckily I’ve got some pretty fit coworkers who can handle intense situations.

So. Moral of the story: never be without your pitchfork and expect anything to happen on Emergency Preparedness Day.

..

Three Second Rule and Other Adventures in Home Economics

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Home economics is taught during a students’ last few years in elementary school. Here in Aomori the topics covered include sewing, cooking, nutrition, cleaning, washing clothes, and farming. Though I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the soy bean or potato harvesting that went on a couple of months ago, I might yet be able to see the rice being collected if I get called in next Wednesday. At this point in time I would like to point out that though my elementary school had a thriving arts and science program, home economics was the far away distant dream that would not be an option until high school…

Lunch in Japan is also quite different from the United States. Food is prepared by the local school lunch plant and shipped to each school in town but it isn’t served in a cafetaria or by any staff member. Instead, kyuushoku (school lunch) becomes a collaborative effort that is distributed in each class room by the students themselves, similar to cafetaria duties. Then while everyone is eating, students selected to serve as school announcers relate the nutritional information of each meal before playing music for the lunch hour.

Cooking days for home economics at the elementary school occur once in a couple of months, if not once a semester. Students contribute ingredients and the equipment is provided by the school for them to use. Skills learned include the proper ways in which to prepare food for consumption (washing, peeling, chopping, and spotting for mold or rotten parts of ingredients), how to read and interpret recipes, substituting certain items for others, and the actual cooking part itself. All students chop their own vegetables so emphasis on class cooperation and mature level of expectations are widely understood and followed.

But that isn’t to say that kids won’t be kids, even here in Japan where so many behave like mini adult versions. In one epic moment, one of my students accidentally tripped and dropped her ingredients on the floor. Before anyone, even the head teacher, could react she grabbed the spilled veg and invoked the most sacred rule known to man, woman, and child alive by shouting: “THREE SECOND RULE!!!” And yes, in the soup they went – much to the head teacher’s horror and my amusement.

MACHIMONOGATARI, PART I

Long time, no write and hopefully it will be the last long hiatus! I wish I could brush it off as a matter of not having enough material from which to make a post, but the truth of the matter is that the opposite occurred and I have too much material and not enough days to whip up the requisite posts to do justice to all of these wonderful adventures. August and September are the busiest time of the year in Aomori Prefecture in terms of matsuri and speech competition training.

In a nutshell…

6am: Wake up, stretch, exercise, clean house… lately though my am schedule has been to furrow even more deeply beneath the covers and hibernate until the last possible moment. It’s so cold I already brought out the second blanket. Can’t wait to see how long it takes before I need to plug in the electric blanket >.>

7am: Cook and eat the best meal of the day: Breakfast! I’m a breakfast person; it excites me more than dinner or lunch although recently with kyuushoku with the kids

7:30am: Last minute preps/head out the door

8:15am: Monday through Friday, I teach at a different school in the area and in most cases teach just about every level imaginable depending on what they need me for that day. For the most part I love the elementary schools, crawling with children eager to play and sing in a foreign language. Middle school is trickier. By this age they’re quite over English and though it outranks math and science in terms of interest from the students, it’s still pitifully low on the scale. It’s a language so absolutely foreign, with so few opportunities to hear or to practice, that it gets chucked in the metaphorical bin in favor of more important subjects. English is studied intensively as a means of being admitted to a good high school or university but otherwise not regarded as a useful life skill. Unlike the United States where entry into high school is guaranteed on public funds for all minors, the Japanese school system favors test scores for admittance. Those who aren’t admitted into the public schools because their scores were too low must then apply to private schools, which are looked down upon for accepting anyone who pays. During the intervals when I am not teaching, I use the break to set up lesson plans and test out games. On the rare days when I am so well prepared there is not much to do, I study for the N2 as diligently as I can… which is to say not very.

Noon: Kyuushoku (school lunch) with the selected class of the week/day (more pictures to come). Not sure if this is just Aomori Prefecture but Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday is traditional Japanese meal: bowl of rice, bowl of soup, two side dishes (one veg based, the other fish/some sort of mystery meat). Wednesdays are considered the fun kyuushoku days: you either get bread or noodles (or both, as I experienced recently) instead of a bowl of rice. For me, Wednesdays are a Godsend because my body can’t digest rice… I don’t really eat much on the rice days. However, Wednesdays are however, either a hit or a miss. For example, the Doraemon pita pan kyuushoku featured: pita bread, noodles, and veggie salad… the kids ate the veggie salad and put the noodles into their pita bread… and they laughed when I did the opposite. Culture shock, man.

16:15pm: End of work. I like to stay behind for a couple extra minutes before leaving as it’s the polite thing to do in the Japanese workplace. Because I have my own car now, I’m not rushing to the bus station but can leisurely meter out my goodbyes and the general hum of cleanup time. I try to work out with my colleague Mina at least twice a week at the local gym, break down them kyuushoku carbs!

17:30pm: End of work out, grab dinner, prep for the next day, watch TV, read…

I’m practically dead by 21:00pm. Gone are the days when I could party all night long, sleep two hours, and get up in time for 7am class. I find myself missing my Waseda days more than I originally gave them credit for, especially since most of us are back in Japan spread out for work or school. I see my friends’ Facebook posts and think, man, wish I could be there now… but then I take a look at the beautiful inaka life that is Gonohe and I wouldn’t want to peace out on it for too long. Although I miss my family and friends, living on my own at my own pace suits me well 95% of the time 😀

DIY Project 01: Teacher’s Survival Kit

I’m not going to lie: this was totally inspired by the Altoid survival kit for campers and decided to create a variation with teachers and teaching assistants in mind… because you know, I’m going to be one in a matter of weeks. Working at two different schools, having two offices… I felt like I might need this on my person just to make sure I’m prepared.

I only used items that I could find around the house (as a writer, former student, and former-not-so-former teaching assistant, I have a treasure trove in excess of school related paraphernalia) but if you find yourself short on any of them, a quick run to the nearest discount store will provide a cheap alternative. Also, having your own personal variation is not only unique but will also serve your needs better. Don’t need a hole puncher? Toss it, simple as that. The whole point is, of course, to find as many items that fit the essential tools of your trade. Preferably ones that you can find at home 😉 Total cost: $o.oo to $5.oo (depending on how many items you might need to purchase).

Dimensions of box (recycled cell phone box)

5.5 inches/13.97 cm L x 3 inches/7.62 cm W x 2 inches/5.08cm H

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Items used: 1 red correction pen, 1 pencil, 1 black pen or small mechanical pencil, 1 USB with enough memory to back up semester/year’s worth of lesson plans, 1 pencil sharpener, 1 stapler, 2 packs of staples, 2 small magnets, 3 plastic clips, 2 medium binder clips, 1 staple remover, 1 manual paper hole puncher, 10 paper clips, 2 small Post It Note stacks, 4 thin stacks of large Post It Notes, 1 small bookmark, 2 mechanical pencil lead refills.

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Step One: Place bookmark flat against wall of box length-wise.

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Step Two: Place the two staple packs against the same side you put the book mark and line bottom of box with post it note flag dispenser.

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Step Three: Nestle the staple remover inside of the hole punch remover grip (this will ensure that the staple remover compresses to save space). Place them flat against the floor of the box on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Four: Nestle pocket-sized stapler next to the hand held hole puncher and on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Five: Next take the two medium sized binder clips and settle them however they best fit into the box without adding bulk. In my example, one lies on top of the hole puncher and the other against the wall. USB will be lined on box wall opposite the two stacks of staples.

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Step Six & Seven: The two small magnets should be placed directly above one of the stacks of staples (metal attracts magnet end), slip the plastic clips onto one of the small stacks of Post It Notes to compress, and top off with chain of paper clips.

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Step Eight: And finally! Place (and flatten as much as possible) the last few items – red correction pen, pencil, small pen (or mechanical pencil), two mechanical pencil lead refills and small pencil sharpener into place 😀

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Step Nine: Top off with large Post It Notes to act as intermediary cover and…

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Step Ten: …Done! Should fit snug but well. Not exactly necessary but if the dimension of your box make it necessary you can opt to wrap a bento box band to make sure it doesn’t open in your suitcase 😉

So that’s the Teacher’s Survival Kit in a nutshell! It’s simple, cheap (practically cost-less if you can find all items or variations thereof at home). Remember, the point of the survival kit is to have an easy to reach and close at hand set for those moments when you might need it for emergency purposes. Keep it in your purse/backpack, inside your car, or homeroom desk drawer in case you forget something important in the teacher’s lounge/home.

For the student variation: substitute the red correction pen with a highlighter and the large Post It Notes with a small stack of flash cards. Magnets and plastic clips can be substituted for small erasers. Hole puncher can be replaced for correction tape/small bottle of white-out fluid. Also, packet of hole punch reinforcements are immensely helpful for those days when you accidentally tear out a page from your binder! In reality, two packs of staples might be a bit much for a survival kit so feel free to toss one out entirely. I just have an irrational fear of not having enough staples for some odd reason >.>”

For the artist variation: Use your preferred medium. Classic examples include: 1 sketching pencil, 2 artist pens in colors of choice, 2 small erasers, a pencil sharpener, and 1 Exacto knife. Can also add: 5 small tubes of paint of your choice (three in primary colors plus black and white in either watercolor/pastel/acrylic/etc) with corresponding brushes of your choice and a brush cleaner, a small shot glass for water. Or if you prefer: a set of small colored pencils or set of molding clay. The combinations are endless.

For the crafter variation: 1 glue stick, 1 tube of crazy glue, 1 pencil, 1 pen in color of choice, 1 Exacto knife, some yarn or a spool of thread, 1 small pin cushion with pins/needles, small scissors, set of small origami folding paper (multicolored), assortment stamps and ink pad, ribbon, trimming, cloth swatches/patches, assortment of buttons (different sizes/colors).