Monday, March 31, 2008

Lucky Number Seven?

I suspect that I have come down with bronchitis for the SEVENTH time in my life. *sigh*

The first time I had it was in high school, grade 10. I had a dry cough for over two weeks (and endured many "Melissa, you really have to stop smoking" jokes from Mr. Sawicki) before I finally went to a doctor. I got it again the next year.

My lungs took a break for a year before I got it again in the winter vacation of first year university. I got it once more in university (in third year, I think? maybe fourth year).

Then I hit the bronchitis jackpot and got it twice within one (school) year--once in November (a particularly nasty bout that was a double punch of bronchitis-laryngitis) and then again in May (when my parents were on vacation and weren't home to take care of me =/ ).

There was a time in November when I was worried that I might get it, but it ended up being just a minor cold (it went away after about two days).

This time, though, all my past experience is telling me that I've got bronchitis yet again. Monday night I developed a sore throat and the next morning I had sinus congestion and a dry cough. The cough has gotten worse and I'm coughing up a storm as I type. Wednesday night I felt slightly feverish and this (Saturday) afternoon I'm pretty sure I had a mild fever.

So yeah, everything is pointing to bronchitis.

I kind of wonder though, if it might be somewhat psychosomatic? I mean, every time I have a sore throat and a bit of a dry cough, I wonder "Could this be the onset of bronchitis?" Maybe my body gets tired of my mental breath-holding and says: "What? You want bronchitis? I'll give you bronchitis!"??

Otherwise I really don't know how to explain getting bronchitis (probably) seven times in ten years. I don't get it often enough for it to be chronic bronchitis (I think), but I get it frequently enough to wonder...

*sigh* Anyway, it's a good thing I brought lots of Ricola (for dry coughs and for sore throats) as well a bottle of Benylin with me in October. I've got a bunch of end of (the school) year enkai's right now, so I don't want to worry people by wearing a face mask or by coughing a lot.

Even though I was coughing pretty much all day today, thanks to the Benylin and Ricola I managed to not cough for nearly the entire length of the Kirita PTA enkai and nijikai (second party). I started coughing a bit towards the end of my time at the nijikai (being in a smoky room and being asked to sing karaoke probably did the trick), but it wasn't bad enough to make people seriously worry.

But yeah, if it gets really bad I may need to ask my supervisor to take me to a doctor so I can get a couple of days of sick leave.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Good Shepherd

I have a confession to make: last Saturday night I made a conscious decision to stay home and not go to church on Easter Sunday. At the time on Easter Sunday of all days I shouldn't be going to church purely out of a sense of obligation and knowing that I was going to begrudge the time I spent there.

In the past few weeks I've been increasingly dissatisfied with church life here. The pastor and his wife and the couple of people who attend off and on are nice enough people but they're much older than me (like in their 60s and 70s)--the one lady who is closer to my age (but still in her thirties) often can't come because of her work schedule--so we really don't have much to talk about. As a result, the lunches after the service have been becoming more and more tiresome. I've actually left right after the service a couple of times, but each time they (the pastor and his wife) really put pressure on me to stay and made me feel really guilty about skipping out.

Then too a couple of weeks ago the pastor informed me that he had told another pastor that I would be going with them to visit them in Misawa in the afternoon at like 4pm--without asking me beforehand! I was really super pissed that he would presume to accept an invitation for me and then put a guilt trip on me when I declined to attend because I had been out late the night before (at our monthly gathering at Sakagami's drinking house) and was really tired. He actually said something along the lines of: "I hope in the future you will get rest so you will not be too tired to join us on Sundays." I have to admit I was pretty snarky and replied: "I hope next time you will ask me ahead of time if you want me to join your plans for the afternoon because I may be busy or already have plans of my own."

So after that I told the pastor (without any guilt) that I would be attending the church in Misawa(Greater Love) the following week. (I had already been planning to go back because I hadn't seen Weldon and Crystal in a while and I really needed to hear a message in English, so that incident just confirmed my decision to go to Misawa the next week.)

At Greater Love the next week I was glad to see Crystal and Weldon again but the downsides to the church really seemed clear to me: the message and focus was all very American-base-centric (fair enough since that's the bulk of the congregation); and although everyone was very warm and welcoming, it was in a rather impersonal and shallow way. I mean, I suddenly stopped coming after attending regularly for about 2 months and when I returned over a month later it was as if I was a newcomer all over again. Honestly I think people didn't even realize that I had been there before--and it's not so large of a church that a lone Asian person in the crowd should reasonably go unnoticed.

So yeah, I didn't really want to go to Greater Love for Easter Sunday either, especially since they were having a big lunch after the service; I knew Weldon and Crystal would probably go and I would feel bad if I skipped out without anything pressing waiting for me at home, but I would also feel awkward if I stayed.

And that's how I came to the decision to stay home on Easter Sunday.

To make matters worse, I also intentionally stayed up late (until about 2am) so that I could honestly answer that I was tired and slept in if asked why I didn't go to church.

But as set as I thought I was on not going, I guess I still had some doubts about my decision since I did set my alarms so that I would wake up in time for church. (I figured I would do my usual weekend thing and hit the snooze button or turn them off and end up waking up at 12pm.)

Apparently God had other plans, though, because I actually woke up when the first alarm went off and I was awake enough that I had to make a conscious decision to stick to the plan (of not going to church) and to go back to sleep.

The same thing happened when the second alarm went off; I could easily have gotten up and gotten ready for church but I decided to stick to the plan and made myself go back to sleep.

Then the phone rang at the time service was supposed to start. Again, I could've answered it, but I knew it was probably the pastor's wife calling so I decided to let it go to the answering machine. But I could hear the message she was leaving, and in it she mentioned that there was a "young Japanese lady who was interested in learning English."

When I heard that I felt for the first time that I had made the wrong decision in choosing to stay home that week. I mean, the whole reason I was so disappointed in both of the churches was because neither of them gave me the opportunity to talk with Japanese people my age who were interested in communicating with a native English speaker and the one week I decided to stay home just had to be the week when such a person appeared!

But I realized that I had two choices: I could compound my error (of deciding not to go to church) by stubbornly sticking to my plan because it would be embarrassing to go to church so late, or I could take the chance God was giving me to correct my error and get up and go to church, even if I was going to be half an hour late.

So I chose the latter and it was definitely the right choice. On my way to church I was kind of worried that the pastor's wife's definition of "young lady" might be different from mine--like someone in their late 30's--but it turned out that she, Mayumi, was about the same age as me and a fun person to talk with.

We both stayed for the lunch and for once I wasn't just watching the clock and waiting for enough time to pass that I could excuse myself without being rude. Since Mayumi needed to go to Tsutaya but couldn't drive/didn't have a car, I offered to drive her there. (She had come by bike so first we had to stuff her bike in the back of my car and drop it off at her house. It didn't actually fit--the trunk couldn't close--but I drove slowly and she only lived about 5min away from the church so it worked out.) After that I hung out at her house for a couple of hours.

Even though she won't be able to come to church because of her work schedule (she's a hair stylist so her off day is Monday), we exchanged contact info so we can hang out again sometime. I wish I could've made plans to meet up this week but with all the parties for co-workers who have been transferred to other schools/departments, I just don't have the time. (Plus I'm sick and don't want to spread my germs around if I can avoid it.)

So yeah, the whole incident made me realize again what it means when we say that Jesus is the good shepherd. Usually we only think of the lost sheep metaphor as applying to non-believers, but there are many times when believers also stray from the flock and need rescuing.

And I think it's really amazing that God made such a great effort and gave me so many chances to come back to him on Easter Sunday even though I had made a conscious decision and effort to run away from him.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Movie Madness

Before coming to Japan I wasn't much of a movie person. It wasn't that I disliked them or anything, but more often than not I was too "lazy" to watch them, even when there were movies that I was interested in. Since I always had a stack of new books at hand, it was less effort for me to sit in my room reading than to go downstairs to put in a DVD or to make plans to go out for a movie.

But that's changed since I came to Japan. I can now spend an hour or more browsing through the DVD rental section at Tsutaya, and I'll often rent 3-6 movies at a time. Since rentals are only for one week, this means that I actually have to plan my time to make sure I can finish watching all of them before they're due back; some days I watch 2-3 movies straight!

I guess the main reason for the change is that I'm in Japan. Sounds obvious, I know, but let me explain! I always rent Japanese movies. (They usually have English subtitles, but sometimes they don't.) It's one of the ways I make the most of the fact that I'm living in Japan. I mean, most of the movies I'm watching aren't licensed for release in North America (and probably won't be anytime soon), so I want to watch as many as possible while I can.

Recently I went through my records and made a list of all the movies I've watched, and the count so far is just over 40 (about 2-3 times the number I would watch in a YEAR in Canada)! I figure I'll post a couple of titles (in no particular order) along with a brief description every once in a while, so you can try to look for them. So here goes:

1. Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu (Crying Out Love in the Center of the World)* - Randomly ordered this because the "Limited Edition Box" was on sale at CDJapan. (I did read reviews of the movie first, though!) Loved it! This is the film that got me hooked on Japanese "rabu sutori" (love stories)!

2. Cha no Aji (The Taste of Tea) - A very Japanese story about a slightly strange but nonetheless likable family. It drags at times, but for the most part the characters carry the film well.

3. Yomigaeri (Resurrection)*- Inspector Kawada from the welfare ministry returns to his hometown to investigate the strange case of a young boy returning to his mother after an absence of 58 years--looking exactly as he did at the time of his disappearance. As the investigation progresses, more and more people are mysteriously resurrected to return to their loved ones. Sounds like a suspense/thriller from the description, but it is actually a thoughtful drama about life, death and love (with a semi-gratuitous J-pop concert thrown in for good measure!).

4. Chichi to Kuraseba (The Face of Jizo) **- A moving story about a woman struggling with "survivor's guilt" in post-WWII Japan. Based on a play by Hisashi Inoue.

5. Swing Girls **- A fun story about a group of high school misfits forming a jazz band.

* - I own the movie.
** - I want to buy the movie, but am waiting until I find it on sale at a good price.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Grad Messages 2008

Messages from my graduated students--romanized Japanese (with katakana English translated to English) first, followed by my English translation (only of the Japanese parts):

From the boys:

- Hello! How are you? I'm very happy! I like your lesson. Melissa wa, itsumo akarui hito deshita. Dakara, bokutachi ga kurai toki meccha akarui Melissa no okagede, bokutachi mo dondon tension UP!! shitekite suggoku tanoshikatta desu. Melisa no okagede eigo no toki ga meccha tanoshikatta desu. Arigatou ne, Melissa-sensei.

(Melissa was always a cheerful person. When we were gloomy, thanks to Melissa's cheerfulness we were able to become more and more energetic and to have a lot of fun. Thanks to Melissa, English was very fun. Thank you, Melissa-sensei.)

- ...Melissa to wa hantoshi kurai issho ni manabete totemo tanoshikatta desu. Sore wa, Melissa no tension ga itsumo takakatta kara desu. Thank you very much. Tokoro de, mada ni Melissa no nihongo no nouryoku ga ki ni natterun desu. Hontou wa pera pera shabererun desuka? Moshi yokattara Melissa no nihongo wo kikitaidesu. Sonouchi.

(The half year I/we learned English together with Melissa was very fun. That's because Melissa was always psyched up (for class). Thank you very much. By the way, I'm still bothered about Melissa's Japanese ability. Can you really speak fluenty? If so, I want to hear Melissa's Japanese. Someday.) <- LOL My JTE gave the class the impression that I'm really good at Japanese, but you'd think that after listening to my horrible mix of English and Japanese during jishu gakushu (extra English, taught by me) they'd KNOW my Japanese is still pretty bad. =P

- Hontou ni ichinenkan arigatou gozaimashita. Melissa no English no jugyou wa, totemo interesting de totemo benkyou ni narimashita. Kore kara mo ganbatte kudasai. Never give up! Thank you very much.

(Thank you so very much for the past year. Melissa's English classes were very interesting and educational. Please continue to do your best.)

- Thank you for taught us English. I could learn many things from you. Because I want to say "Thank you" for you, but I can't do it. So, I write "Thank you" for you. (No translation required! ^_^ )

- Thank you teach us English. Melissa-sensei wa teinei ni bokutachi ni eigo wo oshiete kuremashita. Jugyou ya jishu gakushu no jikan ni oshiete kite kureta game wa totemo tanoshikatta desu. Mata hiruyasumi de atta toki no genkina "Hello" to iu aisatsu wa totemo boku wo genki ni shitekuremashita. Mata, eigo wo machigatteiru toki wa, shinsetsuni oshietkuremashita. Hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu.

(Melissa-sensei conscientiously taught us English. The games you taught us in class and extra English were very fun. Also, your cheerful "Hello" when we met during lunch break made me very happy. Also, you kindly taught me when I was mistaken in English. Really, thank you very much.

From the girls:

- Watashi wa Melissa to sugoshite, sugoku tanoshikatta desu. (Nihongo de gomennasai) Watashi wa Melissa wo miteiru uchi ni, "Watashi mo Melissa mitai ni naritai" to omou youni narimashita. Watashi wa mada eigo no chikara mo hikui, komyunikeishon (communication) no chikara mo tsuiteimasen. Demo kore kara koukou ni itte, takusan benkyoushitei to omoimasu. Melissa mo, itsumo egao de ganbatte kudasai.

(The time I spent with Melissa with very fun. (Sorry for using Japanese.) When I see Melissa, I think "I also want to be like Melissa." My English level is still weak so my communication is also poor, but from now on, as I enter high school, I will study very hard. Melissa too, please keep on smiling.)

- Hi!! Konnichiwa. Attoiumani, chuugakkou sanjikan ga sugimashita. Sensei to wa, kekkou takusan ohanashi dekita to omoimasu. Speech contest no toki mo arigatou gozaimashita. Tanoshi game mo takusan shite moratte, saikou deshita yo. Demo, motto motto sensei to kaiwa shitakatta desu. Koukou ni itte mo, watashi nari ni eigo de oshaberiirunna hito to shitai to omoimasu. Ato, Valentine no cookie hontou ni oishikatta desho yo. Kore kara mo, karada ni kiotsukete ganbatte kudasai. Hontou ni arigatou gozaimashita.

(Good afternoon. In less than no time, three years of junior high have passed. I think I can say many good things about you, sensei. Thank you for (your help with) the speech contest. You made many fun games for us--it was crazy. But, I wanted to have more conversations with you. I think that in high school I want to become a person who can make conversation in English. Also, the Valentine's Day cookies were delicious. From now on, please take care! Really, thank you very much.

- Hello Melissa. I LOVE you. <3>_< (Warau <3 ) Kore kara mo genki de ganbatte kudasai... (I can't quite figure out what she wrote at the end ^^;; )

(Thank you very much for (your kind help in) English time. Thank you. Warm ups (i.e. games) were always very very fun. (laugh) From now on, please take care...)

- I love you. <3 Ima made, irunna koto wo oshiete kure de arigatou gozaimashita. Melissa wa itsumo akarukute, omoshirokatta desu. Kore kara mo akaruku genki ni ganbatte kudasai. Watashi mo akaruku ganbarimasu. Ima made arigatou gozaimashita. I love you. Thank you. <3

(Thank you for the various things you've taught us up to now. Melissa was always bright (cheerful) and interesting. From now on, please continue to be bright and cheerful. I will also do my best to stay cheerful. Thank you for everything up to now.)

- Hi! Genki desuka? Melissa wa, eigo no jugyou de, game wo shitari shite kurete, totemo tanoshikatta desu. Melissa no okagede, iru iru to eigo ni tsuite shiru koto ga deki yokatta desu. Thank you!

(How are you? The games you made for us were very fun. Thanks to Melissa, I could learn many things in English.) <- This is a very bad translation!! m( _ _ ) m (bows in shame) Sorry!

- Melissa wa, waratta kao ga kawaii naa to omotte imashita. Mata, wakaranai eigo wo isshoukenmei oshiete kurete arigatou gozaimashita. Watashi ga mou sukoshi eigo wo hanasetara takusan hanashi, shitakatta kedo anmari hanashi dekinakute zanen deshita. Melissa wa, itsumademo kawairashi arinomama no ALT deite kudasai.

(I thought that Melissa's laughing face was cute. Also, thank you very much for doing your best to teach us what we didn't understand in English. I still can only speak a little English and I know it's too bad that I can't speak very much. Please stay an adorable (hard to translate this word!), straightforward (this one too!) ALT forever.)

- Ima made, yaku ichinenkan watashitachi no tameni English wo oshiete kudasatte, arigatou gozaimashita. Melissa ga itsumo wakariyasuku, yashiku oshiete kudasaru node, totemo tanoshiku jugyou ga dekimasu! Watashi mo haru kara wa koukousei nanode, kiri chuu de gakun dekita koto wo mune ni ganbarimasu! Melissa mo okarada ni okiotsukete kudasai! See you!

(Thank you for teaching us English for almost one year up to now. We could have very fun classes because Melissa always taught us kindly in a way that was easy to understand. Since I will be a high school student in the spring, I will do my best with what I could learn at Kirita. Melissa, please take care of yourself too!)

Why I'm Here

As a teacher there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students graduating and moving forward on the path of their choice knowing that you have touched their lives in some way, large or small.

Wednesday (March 5) was graduation day for the sannensei at Kirita. It was a very formal, organized affair, so in preparation we spent the first half of Tuesday in rehearsals. But somehow, even though we practiced the entire ceremony two and a half times on Tuesday, when it came to the real thing, it was still very moving.

The ceremony began with the entrance of the sannensei, led by their teacher, Ito-sensei. It was interesting because in Canada everyone rises during a processional (like at weddings) but here everyone remained seated and there was no clapping, so it was very solemn. (Well, it should have been solemn but I couldn't help being amused at the awkward way most of them were walking--with slightly exaggerated arm and leg movements, like toy soldiers.)

After the introductory greetings and singing of the Japanese national anthem, they went straight into giving out the diplomas. Again, this was all very formal and solemn with no clapping. Then we went into various speeches--from the principal, the Board of Education, the PTA, the class valedictorian, etc. This was a little tiring because for different people we had to do different things in terms of bowing. Sometimes we had to stand up to bow to them, and other times we could stay seated.

Following all the speeches, the ichi- and ninensei sang a song for the grads. It was very cute, particularly since some of the girls had already started crying but were doing their best to sing and not sniffle/wipe away their tears. Then the sannensei joined them and they all sang together. Finally, the ichi- and ninensei returned to their seats and the sannensei sang by themselves. Again, it was touching because many of the girls were crying but still doing their best to sing--this was particularly important since they weren't miked and there was only twelve of them altogether. Since I have sympathetic tear ducts (i.e. when I see people crying it makes me start tearing up as well) I had to look at the boys during the song to maintain my composure.

Once the ceremony was over, there was an organized photo time with the grads. Then they went upstairs to get all of their stuff while the ichi- and ninensei and teachers lined up downstairs to congratulate the grads as they left. I stood in the little alcove where first came down the stairs so I could hand them their presents right away. (The previous day, the vice-principal and some of the other teachers had discussed the best time for me to give them their presents and it was decided that it would look good for them to be holding the gift bags as they walked through the "reception line.")

After that there was a short post-mortem meeting for all the teachers. We also had a small lunch: sandwiches of the type that could be purchased from any local convenience store ("konbini")--tuna and mayo, pizza, gratin croquette, etc.--and sakura mochi. Then it was off to the "after party".

At the party, all the grads were sitting at the front (closest to the stage) tables, separated by gender, and the teachers were seated with the parents, in an alternating arrangement. There was a heck load of food--nabe, sushi, sashimi, fried onigiri, salad, fruit, etc. and there were many presentations by different groups as well.

The male grads (5) did "sushi Russian roulette": they put strange toppings in some of the sushi--a lot of wasabi, jam, etc.--and we all watched their reactions as they ate. There was about three rounds and then they got some of the teachers and parents to try their luck as well.

The girls (7) had three different performances. Three girls sang one song and three girls sang another with one girl accompanying them on the violin (she's going to a Tokyo high school for violin). Then all of them sang a song together.

After that, all of us teachers performed a graduation version (written by Ikeda-sensei) of "Sen no Kaze ni Natte". ("Sen no Kaze ni Natte" is a Japanese song based on the poem "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.") It's a very well-known song, plus we had already performed it at the Kirita graduation party the previous week, so when we invited everyone to sing along, many of the (female) students (along with some parents) joined in.

Once we had finished, the students gave each of the teachers a bouquet of flowers and an envelope with messages from them. (It worked out perfectly with twelve teachers and twelve students) and we took a couple of group photos. After that Ito-sensei and Ikeda-sensei, i.e. the teachers in charge of the sannensei, gave short speeches.

Next the mothers performed a dance routine. It was hilarious! They were wearing brightly coloured wigs and (homemade) flapper-style fringe dresses. When the call for an encore came, all of the students plus a couple of teachers (but not me!) joined in. It was a lot of fun!

In between the various acts there was a slide show of the sannensei from the time they were ichinensei up to the present. It even had a video of their Kirita entrance ceremony. They were so small and cute back then!

The final presentation was messages from each of the graduating students. It was really cute. The guy I would peg as the "coolest" guy in the class started crying during his speech. And he wasn't just teary-eyed, he was nearly sobbing--but he manfully kept on going . (I don't know why, but I find it really cute when boys cry in public, like in the hockey World Junior Championships.) Almost all of the girls were teary-eyed/crying during their messages as well. It was very moving to see each of them sincerely thanking their teachers and family.

One student moved me to tears as well (and not just because I have sympathetic tear ducts). She started off her speech by saying, in English: "First I want to give a message to Melissa. I will study English very hard in high school. I want to be like Melissa."

By itself I guess that doesn't sound so meaningful, but you have to realize that this is the student I worked with for hours on preparing for an extra-curricular speech contest (held in a high school?). We practiced during her lunch breaks and after school, plus she went to see another English tutor afterwards from 8pm-10pm (or something like that) for 3-4 days a week. We also spent several lunch hours together practicing interview questions for the interview for a special English program at a Hachinohe high school.

Moreover, in the program for the graduation ceremony, in the section where the grads wrote about their future aspirations, she wrote this:

Watashi no akogare wa, ALT no Melissa-sensei desu. Jibun no kuni wo hanarete, shitteiru hito ga daremo inaku, bunka mo kotoba mo chigau tokoro de, tsurai koto bakari no hazunano ni, itsumo egao de iru koto wa totemo sugoi koto to omou kara desu.

(I admire Melissa-sensei because I think it is amazing that, although she is away from her own country and facing difficulties alone in a place where she doesn't know anybody and the culture and language is different, she is always smiling.)

So when she said her message at the graduation party, I knew that she sincerely meant every word. And they were exactly the words I'd always wished to hear--right from the time I decided to become a teacher--from a student, but didn't think I ever would (because I was such a poor teacher in Canada).

It wasn't just that student, either. I was moved by the message I received from each student (even as I was amused by some of them). (But I'm posting those messages in a separate post.)

But yeah, after the students gave their individual messages, all the parents and teachers lined up and formed a human arch (with our arms) that the students went through to leave. Then they all got onto a bus and (presumably) went home while the teachers and parents got to stick around and drink (alcohol, of course) and talk.

It was fun. Some of the parents told me that their son/daughter always looked forward to classes with me, and/or that they were always bringing home things "from Melissa." One mother told me how her son would come into the car and immediately eat all of the cookies (or whatever else I'd given them) by himself, without even offering to share them with his three younger siblings. =P

After about an hour and a half to two hours, we closed the party. There was a nijikai (second party) but both my JTE (whom I'd gotten a ride from) and I were pretty tired, so we went home. I was happy to have received my first invitation to a (Kirita) nijikai, though.

That night, as I reflected on the day, there were two dominant thoughts running through my head: "This is why I'm in Japan," and "I can totally see why people end up staying for three, four, or even five years!"

I mean, I was only with the sannensei for half a year and I already miss them now that they've graduated. I don't know how I'm going to be able to leave my students after being with them for two years!

But that's something to think about at a later date.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Canadian Curse?

So I've noticed a strange correlation between snow in Towada and my mother recently.

The first snow in Towada came right when my mom and aunts visited me in November. At the time we joked that they brought the (Canadian) snow with them. In fact, it hasn't been so cold or snowed so much for an extended period of time since their visit.

But that's not the only thing.

Lately, whenever my mother's called, she's asked me about the weather in Towada, and each time my reply has (truthfully) been the same: "It was snowing, but it's pretty much melted recently." THEN the very next day, it gets really cold and starts snowing again!

No joking, it's 3-3 in the past month or two!

At first I thought that the most recent call was going to break the trend since it didn't snow on Sunday, but then I remembered that my mom called after 12am on Sunday, so today (Monday) was the next day, not Sunday. And yes, it did snow! @_@

In happier news, today was Hinamatsuri (Girls' Festival). This is a day celebration where people put up multi-tiered displays of dolls representing the Imperial Court of the Heian Period and eat special foods. Apparently the festival originated from the ancient belief that dolls could contain spirits. Long ago people would send straw hina dolls floating on boats down rivers etc. out to the sea, carrying evil spirits with them.

Anyway, in honor of Hinamatsuri, the special education class I sometimes help with at one of the junior high schools had a mochi-making class on Friday (since only one of the two students could attend class that day). We made kinako mochi and matcha to drink with it. (The mochi looks weird, but it tasted pretty good!)

The teacher also had three other types of mochi purchased for us to eat: sakura mochi, a green mochi that was supposed to be shaped like a bird (I didn't really see the resemblance, though, and I forgot the Japanese name ^^;; ) and sakura doumyouji (still sakura mochi, but Kansai-style). I only got to eat the sakura mochi and kinako mochi while we were there, but they gave me a green mochi and sakura doumyouji to take home. (Sakura mochi is so called because it is pink and it has an actual sakura leaf on it; the leaf is actually quite salty.

For school lunch today we also had "hina cake" which was a pink (cherry?) mousse type cake--yummy!

One of the people from the Towada Board of Education office also brought Hinamatsuri sweets for us to try. It was the green mochi and sakura doumyoji again, but there was also a white bun. I was expecting it (the white bun) to have red bean or some sort of sweet filling in it, but it actually had veggies so it was pretty salty.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Graduation Preparations

My sannensei (third grade junior high) students will be graduating on March 5th, so the past couple of weeks everyone's been busy with preparations for their graduation.

Last Thursday (Feb 21) I stayed after school to help clean the gym. It was a lot of work and freezing cold to boot! I spent an hour/hour and a half along with maybe twenty students and three or four other teachers washing and scrubbing the floor and when I left we weren't even finished. Hard to believe I used to think that having students/staff clean the school themselves was a great idea! You have no idea how hard black scuff marks can be to clean by hand!

This Thursday (Feb 28) was a fun day. Everyone ate lunch together in the first floor general purpose/meeting room. The tables were arranged so there was a mix of ichi-, ni- and sannensei (first, second and third graders) along with the teachers and everyone got a slice of cake along with the regular school lunch. Then for fifth and sixth periods, we had a graduation celebration in the gym. The ichi- and ninensei presented skits in honour of the sannensei, and the teachers (myself included!) sang a song for them as well. Their homeroom teacher, Ito-sensei, also made a video for them.

It was really cute! I thought it was going to just be a slideshow (and there was one) but he actually made a short film where Doraemon (a time traveling blue cat robot) appeared and brought him back to see the sannensei in the past. (Some ninensei students acted the roles of sannensei.) Of course, having only spent six months with them, I didn't get a lot of the references, but they did have one scene showing three of the "sannensei" (acted by the ninensei, remember) practicing for the culture festival after party, so I recognized that. ^_^

Anyway, it's finally starting to sink in that the sannenensei will be graduating in less than a week. Man, I'm really going to miss them!!

And realizing that I will indeed miss them has also reminded me just how blessed I am in the work I'm doing here. I mean, not only do I get to see my students regularly (as opposed to being a one-shot who goes to a different school every day and sees the same class maybe once every couple of months), but I'm based at a small school (38 students in total) so I've been able to really get to know them.

So yeah, apart from the stuff that's been happening in school, I've also been working on graduation gifts for the sannensei. Even though I've been planning their gifts since January, I only really started working on them three weeks ago so most of my free time has been thus occupied.

What am I giving them? One of the few things (apart from chocolate chip cookies) that I can make with any degree of confidence: sock monkeys!

I bought the socks at the 100 yen store (Daiso, to be exact) but they were a little short, so I actually had to reverse the body. See, usually the toe of the sock is the monkey's head, and the opening is sewn into the feet, but I had to sew up the opening to make the head and make the toe into the legs.

I also cut stars out of foam and wrote "Sotsugyo omedetou" ("Congratulations on your graduation) on the front and "Kirita Chugakkou - Melissa" on the back. I then pinned the stars to a ribbon I tied round the monkeys' necks.

I finally finished all of them today, so take a look: