Friday, November 28, 2008

School Trip: Day 1

This year I was extremely lucky--I'd even go so far as to say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance!--to be able to go on the school trip with the ninensei at Kirita JHS. Maybe it doesn't seem so amazing to others, but I imagine that if even one of the many factors that worked out in favour of my going had been different, I might not have been able to go:

1) my JTE (Japanese teacher of English) at Kirita, Tomabechi-sensei was one of the teachers responsible for the ninensei this year, so she was already scheduled to go on the school trip (the math teacher, Ikeda-sensei is their homeroom teacher, so of course she also went)

2) I get along extremely well with Tomabechi-sensei, so she was more than OK--happy even!--with the idea (of my going on the school trip) when I asked her in the summer

3) My Kocho-sensei (principal) and Kyoto-sensei (vice-principal) like me and therefore had no problem with me going

4) My Japanese is good enough (although still very broken) that I wasn't worried about creating extra work for the other teachers by going

5) I get along well with my office and I think they appreciate/respect the amount of work that I put into my teaching, so they were willing to let me take four days off for the trip in the middle of the busiest school term (last year I had pretty much all elementary visits while the students were on the school trip)

6) (Closely related to number 3 & 5) I'm a second-year ALT and I've put in the work to justify the privilege of going on the school trip

7) Since I didn't use much nenkyu (vacation days) last year, I could use the four days for the trip without having to sacrifice plans for going home this past summer (not ot mention this Christmas)

8) I don't have any debt/financial obligations back home, so I could afford to use what would normally be one month's savings from my paycheque to pay for the trip

So yeah, I feel super blessed to have been able to go on the trip!

Now, onto Day 1!

The thing that struck me the most on the first day was the amazing degree of organization for the trip. I mean, if I was in most of the planning meetings so I knew all the stuff that they had organized/scheduled, but it didn't really register until I saw all the planning in action. I mean, they had assigned seats not only for the train (which is a given), but also for the bus that took us to the Hachinohe JR Station and for the tour bus that picked us up from Ueno Station for our first day's excursions! Then too, on the train, we had scheduled snack and lunch times, and outside of those times, the students (and teachers) weren't supposed to eat on the train. Moreover, for their train snacks, everyone was only allowed to spend 500 yen and no one was allowed to buy anything from the in-train vendor cart.

Now, it's been a long time since I went on any sort of school trip/excursion, but I'm pretty sure it was anything goes as far as eating/spending money, so long as the appropriate opportunity presented itself.

Anyway, the ride to Tokyo went smoothly and the first place our tour bus took us was the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Even though I like history (Japanese in particular), I wasn't really expecting much from the place, but it turned out to be pretty fun. They had various displays that you could interact with (like a palanquin and a rickshaw to sit in) and since it's a big city museum, there were English translations! (I've gotten used to not being able to read all the display information here in Aomori.)

After the museum, we went to the Unicef House. Interestingly enough, it was near Shinagawa Station and the hotel (apparently quite well known within Tokyo) where Brenda, Cecilia, my parents stayed in April! Anyway, I've always kind of known what Unicef does (mostly from those trick-or-treating donation boxes we had in elementary school) , but it was something else to see and hear about the specifics of their work to improve early childcare, water & sanitation, education, nutrition, etc. in so many countries all over the world. It was also interesting to learn that Japan received Unicef aid immediately following World War II--and I suspect that the current school lunch program in Japan has at least some roots from that Unicef aid. I was further impressed that it was volunteers and not paid staff who led the tour; they were so knowledgeable!

(Side note: Kyoto-sensei's initial choice for our first day excursion was actually the Canadian Embassy--in my honour. Thankfully the arrangements didn't work out since I suspect that it would've been super boring! Also, I think it was really good for the students to get an idea of how fortunate they really are; living in a smaller city in Northern Japan, I think it's easy to get caught up in thinking about how "the grass is greener" in bigger (and particularly more Southern) cities.)

Following the Unicef House tour, we drove to Yokohama to check out the night view from Yamashita Park. It was really cold though, so we didn't spend too much time there (it was off the water) but just took a couple of group pictures before heading out to the Chinatown area where we had dinner reservations. We were quite early, so we wandered around the shops for a while; it was definitely the cleanest Chinatown I've seen yet! Our dinner was at a Chinese buffet. I've never been a particularly picky eater, but I've got to say, I think my trip to Hong Kong one month earlier had me spoiled. Even given that Chinese food in Missisauga/Toronto is pretty darn good, I'd say that before Hong Kong I would've described the char siu, siu mai and Peking duck I ate in Yokohama as "OK," but after Hong Kong, I felt like it was mediocre at best (although when asked, I actually said it was "futsuu" which is more like "average" or "normal"). I thought the veggies were pretty good, though. Since it was buffet-style, the boys really pigged out. They had a variety of ice cream flavours and puddings in small, individual size cups, and I think that between them, the boys (8 in total) ended up with some 50-60 cups stacked up on their table!

After dinner it was back to the hotel. Again, I was amazed by the level of organization for the trip when we--the teachers, tour guide and the student group leaders, a.k.a. hancho) had our end of the day meeting. All the group leaders had to fill out and bring health check forms for their group members (one student had the beginnings of a fever when we left the Unicef House, so we checked up on her). Then too, each hancho had to give a short report on what they thought went well during the day and what (behavioural) things they would work on for the next day--stuff like walking more closely together on the sidewalk so as not to block other people, or being punctual, etc.

Oh, and students weren't allowed to buy anything from vending machines, so each hancho was given enough drinks (Pocari Sweat on the first day, I believe) for their group members for the night.

Probably the most surprising thing was that the hancho also had to turn in the key for their room to one of the teachers staying on the same floor! Since they had autolock doors, this meant that students couldn't all party it up in one room and they also couldn't really sneak out late at night (unless they left one student behind in each room). Also, since the teachers had the keys, when they were doing the lights out check, they could (and I'm pretty sure they did) just open the door and look in without warning, rather than having to knock and wait for a response! Somehow I can't imagine a similar situation occurring on a school trip in Canada...

Anyway, following the hancho meeting, Kyoto-sensei, Tomabechi-sensei and I went out for a coffee (cocoa in my case) at Starbucks. =P Ikeda-sensei was feeling kind of tired, so she kindly volunteered to stay behind in case a student needed something. Kyoto-sensei treated us which was really nice, and when we were leaving, he told Tomabechi-sensei and I that we should feel free to wander around Akibahara (our hotel was very close to the area!) for a bit before going back to the hotel.

Most of the stores were already closed and I think a lot of the "otaku" (fanboys/fangirls) had already gone home, so it didn't have the atmosphere I was expecting, but it was still amusing to see the signs for maid cafes and to try to pick out the "otaku" among the people we saw walking by (stereotyping for sure, but oh well...). Tomabechi-sensei did ask if I wanted to try going into a store (with all the UFO catcher machines) or even a maid cafe, but we were both pretty tired, so I said thanks but no thanks. =P

And that was the end of our first day.

I've posted the link before, but again, you can see my Day 1 photos in this Facebook album.