Apple Farming

The fifth graders from the nearby village are tasked with helping a local farm raise the famous apples we are so well known for.

Uncharacteristically warm for September, our day of apple farming began with a brisk up-road walk; the knee was not amused but somehow we made it work. It’s about now that the weather will begin to cool drastically. One Californian’s winter is an Aomorian’s autumn…

Le sigh.

But it’s that same frigid temperature which make the region so rich in the agricultural production of apples so I can’t complain too much.

The lesson came complete with free apple tasting at the end of three hours of picking bugs and leaves off the baby fruits. Apple connoisseurship dictates that sweet is better than bitter, if we are to go by the farmer’s expert opinion. Although a few kids were brave enough to voice their opposing tastes, it seems as if the majority vote is that sweet is always better for business. I can see how this makes sense in Japan where the best flavor (whether savory or sweet) is that it lie somewhere in the real of harmoniously neutral. Also there are no real ovens here… Sour apples are thus under appreciated and unloved.

Does anyone else have a similar experience in their prefecture? What’s something your kids grow?


  
  
  
  
  
  

The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

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“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.

Road Trip Reactions

It’s a lovely, commitment-free city hall day in June. My notebooks are out, the coffee liberally poured, and The Google is running like a champ. It’s really quite a miracle – not completely lost on me – that the world of navigation has been simplified since the advent of the interwebs. As the Queen of Getting Lost in my family, I used to have to mapquest directions for something as close as the mall two cities over in a country where the streets have names (a.k.a Anywhere But Japan). Albeit street names are practically rendered obsolete and useless in Japan, mostly because of the Things Have Always Been Done This Way tradition of We Will Only Ever Take The Same Route Taken By Our Forefathers, Naming Streets Be Damned 😀 I love Japan. It’s a quirky, beautiful country full of gumption and character, which I wish everyone could see first hand.

By now word has gone round the office that I’m planning a suicidal road trip mission impossible: from Aomori Prefecture to Fukuoka then up to Tokyo to drop off a friend at the airport and back up to Aomori with just enough time to clock in at work by 8 am. It’s a standing tradition by now that whenever anyone comes to refill their coffee (machine of which is just behind my work station), said person stops to comment on the weather and chat me up about my recent inaka experiences. Quick, painless interactions that have now since come to mean this:

“So. You’re planning on going to Fukuoka?” Long pause. Coffee sip. “What are you: a college student or a shakaijin?”

Real knee slapper. Big grin from me and a joking, “Ohohohohoho.”

“But seriously, take it easy. Take a train! Or a camper van. Anything but a kei car.”

Kei cars are karui jidousha (lighter, fuel efficient versions of the white plate car and they are a pain to rev up past 80 kmph, though not impossible).

“Just… don’t.” Coworker shakes head, walks away.

“Ehhhh… why?” I ask after them.

“Traffic,” was the grim response. Apparently despite the fact that southern Japan is at 70-90% humid, no one seems to have qualms about travelling down there by car.

Another coworker comments, “I once went from Osaka to Tottori to Izumo to Hiroshima to Yamaguchi. I gave up at Yamaguchi. At that point Fukuoka seemed too far. Also, I wasn’t an adult like you, I was still an idiot college student. But I hear there’s a shrine that’s famous for housing a god of study. Is that why you’re going?”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like studying. I love learning new things. I’m a shameless nerd. Some might consider this statement condescending. I assure you it’s not. I just didn’t have much else to do growing up in a household where going out or visiting friends was Out Of The Question. Basically it was classical music CDs (the only thing lying around the house apart from mariachi) and unhealthy amounts of Discovery, History, and Bill Nye. I’m starting to realize that most of my social anxiety came from not being allowed to socialize normally with other kids. Bleh.

“Trust me, you won’t make it to Fukuoka. You should quit now,” lovingly said, I assure you. They’re worried I’ll get myself into an accident, or worse yet into an early grave. Suzu-chan, I believe in you! For those of you who do not know, Suzu-chan is my kei car (who’s gotten me through the thick and thin of Akita and Sendai road trips but nothing quite like a 21 hour drive down to Kyushu).

One of the special ed teachers though understands exactly where I’m coming from. He owns a camper van and frequently goes off on weekend adventures. It’s just him, his camper van, and the great outdoors. As soon as he heard that a noob like me was planning a trip of doom he had one of his kids whip out a map of Japan and turned it into a geography lesson for the kid and an Introduction to the Road Trip of Doom 101 with a 3 unit Lab lesson for me. I will have to thank him profusely again next time I see him because it’s quite the advice!

All of this led me to asking The Googles if it was feasible to travel in a camper van and sifting through several forums I’ve come to one conclusion far too late in life: there area lot of idiots online. So many of the people commenting had either never gone on a road trip or had only done a day trip out of their town and were condemning the idea of even setting off for a cross country road trip because they’d had horrible experiences getting lost in the middle of a country where there are no street names and where they clearly didn’t speak the language. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten lost plenty but at least I speak the language. I’ll have to see how much I love or hate Japan after this road trip but for the time being, despite the strange roadways and inconvenient ETC routes (Japan is mountainous, folks. We’re not in flatter-than-a-pancake Kansas anymore), I don’t think this road trip will kill it for me just yet. More word on that when I get back… >.>

And my favorite:

“Oh my God. Just train there. Trains are comfy, kei cars are like Death.”

Over and out.

Hangman, the Art of Spelling

For all the 90s babies who remember what it was like to live in a decade without internet distractions or cell phones… And who remember having to play a good old round of Hangman to pass away the hours.

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Brought out this golden oldie for the junior high first years (who did not question the hanging man) and had a blast spelling out classics such as “SPAGHETTI” and stumping them with “GRAPES”.

Elementary kids on the other hand immediately called me out on the translation work…

Kids: “American kids actually play this?”

Me: “Uhhhhhhh YES :D”

Kids: “But it’s so mean!”

Me: “I never actually thought of it until now…”

Kids: “Stop hanging him, can’t you see it hurts?”

Me: “Then guess more vowels xD”

Kids: “Is Y a vowel?”

Me: “Sometimes”

Kids: o.O”

The best way to make this lesson plan work: after reviewing the alphabet and breaking them off into teams, allow younger children (elementary school age) to have a visual of the vocabulary open (textbook should be rife with illustrations and words).

The smart ones will start to count out the number of spaces. Once they get the feel for it erase the spaces for a blind version of Hangman. They won’t know how many spaces and the word will be slowly revealed for even greater suspense.

For more advanced classes, don’t reveal the word for them but leave the answered letter scrambled as they guess each letter. For example, if the word is “FISH” but they guess the letter in the following order: “IFHS” then leave it as is and offer double points for the team that unscrambles it first. Beware… POST & STOP are anagrams of each other.

And there you have it: Traditional Hangman and Blind Anagram Hangman all in one lesson.

Cheers!

An Exercise In Not Lying To Myself And Not Editing

Heading off to Tokyo in a couple of hours via night bus – the sudden realization that I’ve become less and less prepared for trips the older I get. Last minute clothes shoved into a backpack, barely remembering to keep passport in hand, and perhaps the keys are in my coat pocket; somehow this feels more like living than before, irresponsible but alive… Question mark.

Lately, I have no desire to continue scheduling my life into hour-long slots any more. Being continuously trapped within four walls will do that to you, I guess. Or maybe this listlessness is a new development in nervousness. Big changes came last week in our district for our educational system, in addition to word on the street being that a new JET will be hired in Gonohe. Excitement. New things. Horizons expanding. Worlds colliding. Exclamation mark.

Sometimes people are so alive, it’s easy to forget that we’re all here on borrowed time. I think, maybe, it’s all just starting to settle into place. I think less about America as the country to which I will eventually return and more as the country from which I came. But I don’t know where I’m going next. When I first arrived I didn’t seriously consider that I would stay abroad forever. This was always supposed to be A Temporary Thing. I expect this opinion to change in three seconds/ day/weeks/months/years. Humanity is a beautiful complication, I’m not even going to pretend to understand half of what I’ve just written but the coffee was particularly strong this morning and the Word Document conveniently opened. Semi-colon.

lepetitprince

 

A Portrait of a JET in Its Natural Habitat

According to my precocious 1st graders, I look like…

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The days are going much too fast. It’s as if, there’s nothing but waking and eating breakfast then planning for lessons, teaching the lesson and suddenly it’s lunchtime followed by cleaning and more lessons and kendo. Sometimes there’s kendo in the morning, too, and those are the busiest days.

Thankfully it’s going to be a slow weekend this time. I’ll probably finally get Skype time with my parents. The first in nearly two weeks. In fact I’m going to schedule that now… Not now… In a couple hours when it’s not 4am in California. Anyway. I digress…

Yuki Matsuri Predeparture

TO DO
1. Laundry
2. Wash dishes
3. Pay bills
4. Take out money for a couple days of adventuring
5. Shut off water
6. Submit D&D character bio to GM
7. Pack clothes
8. Charge all electronic devices
9. Passport!
10. Coffee

Too much to do and not enough time but half the fun is in the undertaking! Just one more day and three more classes. Then I’m off for another adventure in Sapporo. What is this life?! Never in a million years did I see myself doing something like this on a regular basis. If it’s a dream, no one wake me. If I’m in the matrix, leave me behind and don’t come back for me.

Still, it’s been a rather stressful two weeks. A minor car accident on an icy road just last week, a snow writing challenge that needs to be finished before D&D eats up my every other weekend, D&D bio that had to be written and submitted ages ago, phonics lesson plans and prepping, and potentially snowboarding trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.

And somewhere between all that I forgot about ballet and kendo. Whoops… T.T The fault, however, lies not in my stars but in myself for being an underling.