Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Road closure through Oirase Gorge Oct. 30th-31st

Rte. 102 will be closed to regular vehicular traffic through Oirase Gorge (国道102号惣辺交差点~子の口交差点 (約10km)) from Sat. Oct. 30-Sun. Oct. 31 9:00-16:00 in order to promote "eco(logically friendly) tourism."

For more details, see the Oirase Gorge Eco Tourism website (Japanese only).

Since the road is closed from 9am onwards, I guess it's still OK for me go to on Saturday morning from about 6-8am to see the fall foliage... (I was planning on going last weekend but ended up sleeping in... ^^;;).

布ぞうり制作体験・実演 Cloth Sandal Making Experience/Demonstration

Have been busy with Nihonbuyu practice among other things, so I'm a little late with this (the first chance was last weekend! ^^;;), but if you're not busy with Halloween stuff this weekend, it's something to consider checking out!

布ぞうり制作体験 Cloth Sandal Making Experience
Date: Sat. Oct. 30-Sun. Oct. 31
Time: 10:00-15:00 (1 pair takes about 4hr to complete - it's also possible to make a single shoe)
Location: 十和田湖畔休屋 十和田湖科学博物館入口
   Towadako Yasumiya  Towadako Science Museum Entrance
Fee: 2500yen  (材料費・講師料) 新郷温泉館入浴券付
   (materials + instructor fee) comes with coupon for the Shingo Onsen
No reservations necessary!

布ぞうり制作実演 Cloth Sandal Making Demonstration
Date: Sat. Oct. 30-Sun. Oct. 31
Time: 18:00-20:30
Location: ホテル十和田荘 1階ラウンジ前 Hotel Towadaso, 1st Flr Lounge Area

Monday, October 25, 2010


I'm usually not one for gadgets (preferring to spend my money on books/manga, DVDs and Uniqlo clothes), but recently my list of desired electric/electronic things has grown fairly large...

1) Electric Nabe (~3000-8000yen)
2) 5.5 cup Zojirushi IH Rice Cooker (~15,000-25,000yen)
3) Canon PowerShot SD1400IS (~$200 CAD +taxes)
4) Kobo eReader (~$150 CAD +taxes)

I suspect that I'll get the electric nabe (just need to figure out what'll give me the best value for my cooking needs/wants) sometime within the next month or two. And as a substitute for a better camera I'll probably get myself an 8GB memory card so at least I don't have to change cards and upload pictures so often.

But I'm actually rather surprised at my own restraint. Usually I don't think too much and just buy things within a short period of deciding that I want them, but with all of events I've had to budget for lately, I guess I've been trying to be more prudent than usual...

Incidentally, here's the list of big (re: somewhat expensive) recent and upcoming events:

1) Oct.: 4-day trip to Kanazawa/Shirawaka-Go/Takayama (totally worth every yen!!)
2) Oct.: Japanese Dance Performance (can you believe just the kimono rental fee is more than 30,000yen?! and with all the other fees, it's costing me nearly 50,000yen--and I'm not even the type who likes being in the spotlight!)
3) Nov.: taiko performance in Saitama (I'm going along as a helper)
4) Nov.: wedding (of a friend from taiko)
5) Dec.-Jan.: trip home
6) Jan.: wedding (back in Toronto)
7) Feb.: Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
8) Apr.-May: trip home (Golden Week!)

So yeah, with all this stuff on my plate, I'm having a hard time justifying buying the gadgets that I want but don't really need... Maybe I just really need to stop cut back on the manga/books/DVDs... Or maybe I need to set up another savings fund--I'll save up all my 100yen coins, and match 50% of what I spend on manga/books/DVDs. Hmm...The 100yen coins might actually be difficult since I need them to pay for school lunch, but the spending matching is definitely doable. Or maybe instead of matching manga/book/DVD purchases, I should match the money I spend on eating out?

(For my travel savings fund, I save 500yen coins and my mileage reimbursement money, and match 50% of what I spend on clothing/shoes/accessories--although recently I haven't been buying much clothing--so it actually accumulates fairly quickly.)

And of course there's still the sad fact that I have practically nothing saved up in terms of real savings and not just savings for spending... @_@;; *sigh* Looking at my financial situation is what always reminds me that I'm still far from being a mature, independent adult...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kanazawa (Oct. long weekend trip, Day 1)

I went down to 金沢 Kanazawa (石川県 Ishikawa Prefecture), 白川郷 Shirakawa-Go and 飛騨高山 Hida Takayama (岐阜県 Gifu Prefecture) for the October long weekend with a friend. It was a trip we'd been planning for more than half a year (from about February?) and it was totally worth the wait!

The trip began with a ride on a night train. We left Aomori around 19:30 on Thursday evening (Oct. 7) and arrived the next morning (Fri. Oct. 8) in Kanazawa shortly after 6:00.
Kanazawa Station

After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we meandered towards 金沢城公園 Kanazawa Castle Park and 兼六園 Kenrokuen, stopping at various temples (there are a TON in Kanazawa!) as well as the 近江町市場 Omicho Ichiba (market) along the way. (The Castle Park and Kenrokuen are both open from 7:00-18:00 from March until mid October which makes it perfect for early risers and/or visitors who want to maximize a short stay in Kanazawa!)
Kanazawa Castle Park
Kenrokuen: Kotojitoro Lantern & Nijibashi (Rainbow Bridge)


After Kenrokuen, we had "breakfast" at a nearby 茶屋 cha-ya (tea shop), 堤亭 Tsutsumitei. Going for the shop's most popular item (it was also recommended in the JTB るるぶ (Rurubu) magazine), we had the 抹茶ずくし Matcha Zukushi, which consisted of matcha flavoured soft serve ice cream, 白玉 shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), and 寒天 kanten (also known as "agar(-agar)", a gelatin made from tengusa seaweed).

Our next stop was the 金沢21世紀美術館 Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It's a pretty fun museum as far as modern art museums go. My far and away favourite piece was "The Swimming Pool." You can view it from above (admission free!) as well as below (from Gallery 6, ticket required). After a brief coffee (or iced lemon tea, in my case) and cake break at the museum's Café Restaurant Fusion21, we headed back to Omicho Ichiba.

At Omicho Ichiba, we wandered around for a while before settling on a restaurant for a sushi lunch. Kanazawa sushi is excellent but can be extremely expensive (some places offered "specials" of three pieces for around 1500 yen @_@ ). But the place we went to--鮨処源平 (Sushi Genpei?)--was quite reasonable, offering 8 pieces plus miso soup and chawan mushi (cup-steamed egg custard) for around 2000yen.
Omicho Ichiba

Although we were quite full from the cake (at the Museum café) and sushi, we had just enough space to go for the るるぶ  recommended 甘えび ama ebi (shrimp) and たこ tako (octopus) クロッケ croquettes. Yummy!!

Ama ebi croquette
Tako croquette

Our next stop was 東茶屋街 the Higashi Chaya (Teahouse) District. A brief introduction to chaya from the Kanazawa Tourism site:

Chaya is a traditional place of feasts and entertainment, where geisha (traditional female Japanese entertainers) have been entertaining people by performing dances and playing Japanese traditional musical instruments since the Edo period. The central part of Kanazawa was dotted with a number of chaya houses in the past. These chaya houses were moved into four districts distant from the central part in 1820. The largest one of the chaya districts in Kanazawa is the Higashi Chaya district.

The construction of two-story houses except chaya houses was prohibited in the Edo period. A chaya house is characterized with a beautiful lattice called "kimusuko" on the outer side of the first floor and Japanese-style guestrooms located on the second floor. When you enter back streets, you will soon find a maze of continuous alleys. 

The walk from the Omicho Ichiba had created just enough space for us to have ice cream at a shop there called 茶ゆ Chayu. There were a lot of interesting flavours to choose from, so we decided to order a double cone each so we could try four flavours in total: みそ miso and 甘酒amazake (sweet sake), はなり塩 hanari shio (salt) and 梅 ume (Japanese apricot). If I had an extra stomach (or two), I would also have liked to have tried the 醤油 shoyu, とうふtofu, and お茶の葉 と 手挽き抹茶various tea flavours. They also had really delicious looking カレーパン curry bread. (Strange mix, right?--ice cream and curry bread!)

After that, we checked out 志摩 the Ochaya SHIMA (国指定重要文化財 a designated Japanese National Important Cultural Asset). It's a really beautiful building--well worth a look!

With that we managed to hit all three of るるぶ's "Most Popular/Must-See" sites of Kanazawa: Kenrokuen, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, and Higashi Chaya. Still, I think Kanazawa is a place I would really like to go back to--if only it wasn't so far. ^^;;  In particular there were a ton of cafés and confectionery shops mentioned in the るるぶ that looked really delicious. If I had more time there I would want to check out more of them! 

We stopped back at Omicho Ichiba on the way to the restaurant we picked from the るるぶ to try out. The plan was to buy tamagoyaki from the store recommended in the るるぶ but we ended up not buying any because we knew we would be too full to eat it after dinner. *sigh*  It was definitely the right choice, but at the time I really regretted not having a larger stomach--or four, like a cow!  =P

For dinner we went to a 加賀料理 Kaga Ryori restaurant called 大名茶屋 Daimyo Jaya. Since we were still both pretty full, we didn't order the pricey 会席料理 kaiseki ryori set (10 dishes for close to 5000yen per person!) but instead ordered some of the more home-style kaga ryori dishes a la carte: 冶部煮  jibuni, ドジョウの蒲焼 dojou (a type of fish) no kabayaki, seasonal vegetable tempura, etc. It was delicious!
Dojou no kabayaki
Vegetable tempura

And that was the end of our day in Kanazawa. I was satisfied with everything that we saw/ate. I think we definitely hit all the key/must-see places, but as I said before, I'd really like to go back to Kanazawa to eat some more!!

Kanazawa Links:
金沢観光協会公式サイト - Kanazawa Tourism Site

茶ゆ - Chayu
兼六園 - Kenrokuen
近江町市場 - Omicho Ichiba
金沢城公園 - Kanazawa Castle Park
加賀料理大名茶屋 - Kaga Ryouri Daimyo Jaya
金沢21世紀美術館 - Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
志摩 (国指定重要文化財)- Ochaya SHIMA (National Important Cultural Asset)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I love school festivals

This weekend was school festival (文化祭) weekend in Towada.

Saturday (Oct. 16) morning I went to Ofukanai JHS from about 9:45-12:00. The most memorable event: I was mistaken for a junior high schooler by students' parents when I was eating lunch in the 食堂 shokudo--twice!!

Today (Sun., Oct. 17) I was at Kirita JHS from 8:00-18:00. As usual I helped out in the 喫茶 kissa(ten) (coffee shop). It seemed like this year was a lot busier than previous years. Once things got started I didn't really have a chance to go off to take pictures of other places... But it was a lot of fun. Seeing former students (from three years ago to the most recently graduated) especially made me happy.

The first, second, & third year plays, the (first ever) culture club violin performance and the song presentations were also particularly well-done this year, I thought.

And the 当夜祭 toyasai (a kind of wrap party for the students where groups present song and/or dance routines, comedy skits, trivia games, etc.) marked my first actual performance. Well, technically I performed "More Than Words" with another teacher last year but that was a spur-of-the-moment encore request when some of the other teachers realized I was singing along during that teacher's performance...

Some of the third graders and I planned it (on Friday afternoon) as a surprise "guest performance." I was actually really flattered that they asked me to perform something, particularly since when they asked first asked me, they said something along the lines of 「もしメリッサがでればみんなはメッチャ盛り上がります」 (basically, that it would liven things up/make the other students excited/happy if I performed). 

So I wrote out the lyrics and practiced singing the theme song for Evangelion (残酷な天使のテーゼ Zankokuna Tenshi no Theze, "Cruel Angel's Thesis") for something like 2 hours in preparation yesterday.

[I chose that song because a) I already knew the melody and first verse/refrain and only needed to learn the words for half the song; b) they play the song all the time during lunch/cleaning so I knew that all the students would be familiar with it; and c) no one else was already scheduled to perform it. ]

Since I didn't want to perform entirely solo, one of the third years who was in on the plan kindly agreed to sing along with me. Even though we never actually practiced together, I think it went pretty well.

But still, I felt a little bad because the 当夜祭 ended up running late (*shock* *horror*) and so the last two scheduled "performances" had to be cut short as a result. It wasn't entirely my fault--we were 10 minutes late and the song couldn't have been more than 5 minutes--but still... =(  That was my only regret from the 文化祭.

Another thing that I found flattering--even if it was simply a coincidence--was that for the final song performance by the third years (a 当夜祭 tradition--at least since I've been at the school), they chose the Porno Graffiti song that shares my name: メリッサ.

So I think that this year's festival will probably end up as my all-time best 文化祭.

Seeing as the 文化祭 is the last major school event before graduation, it also made me think about how much I'm going to miss this year's third year class when they're gone.

Just thinking about that makes me realize just how blessed I am to be at Kirita, where I can truthfully say that I'll miss the students when they graduate every single year.

And considering how terrible I am with names and what a poor memory I have in general, I think it's also a testament to how great the students are that I can still remember the name of every single student I've taught at the school.

Although I've had a lot of great experiences in Japan--seeing festivals, traveling to different places, learning Japanese dance and taiko, etc.--it's really the job and being able to interact with students (particularly my Kirita kids) that has kept me here for so long.

For a while--around the end of August when I was exhausted from the super hot weather and the busyness of work and other things and was starting to feel like I was plateauing out in terms of my work ethic/motivation-- I wondered if I'd actually made the right decision in re-contracting, but today I can unequivocally say that I am happy that I stuck around for a fourth year.

And thinking about today also makes me feel like I should stay for a fifth year because how could I possibly pass up the chance to attend one last Kirita 文化祭? Besides, if I stayed for a fifth year, I'd be able to see my first class with students whom I've taught since elementary school (6th grade) graduate... Sure there will probably be times ahead when I will struggle to stay motivated and...fresh...but I think I would really regret leaving my Kirita students by my own volition.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Character education

Recently I actually had to stop a class to address student behavior--a very rare occasion.

Having overheard--quite coincidentally--the teachers discussing the issue during the recess break before I taught the class, I was thankfully more aware of the classroom dynamics than I might otherwise have been and also was somewhat mentally prepared to deal with the situation that arose.

A student was consistently louder than the other students and they (the other students) found it very irritating. Their feelings were quite obvious as most of them were holding their hands over their ears when that student spoke too loudly for their liking (which was most of the time, apparently).

Usually I'm fairly loud and energetic when doing the "teaching words" portion of a class (i.e. I say words/phrases/sentences and the students repeat them), but, being conscious of the class atmosphere, this time when I did my "three times fast" repetition (e.g. "Apple. Apple. Apple, apple, apple!"), I purposely said it in a whisper. I was trying to gently hint to that student to lower his volume and also trying to defuse some of the tension with the other students.

Unfortunately the student only lowered his voice for the three times fast portion and went back to being noticeably louder than everyone for everything else. Some of the other students, frustrated/irritated, started saying "urusai!" (meaning "you're loud/noisy!" with a "shut up!" connotation) to the student. I let it pass once or twice, but then it wasn't just one or two students saying it once to let off steam, it was multiple students saying it repeatedly.

So I stopped the lesson and said something along the lines of (all in Japanese):

You know, if you always hear the people around you saying "urusai, urusai," you may stop wanting to speak. So please think about how your words make people feel and maybe ask in a nicer way, like "Could you please speak a little more quietly."

Also, I think it's great to be excited about English and to speak in a genki way, but it's also important to pay attention to the feelings of the people around you. Please look around and maybe contain your excitement a little if you see that it's bothering the people around you.

After that the atmosphere got a little better. The student did speak a little less loudly--sometimes. And the other students refrained from angrily saying "urusai"--for the most part.

I'm sure it will take quite a bit more time for the class dynamics to settle down, but judging from the looks on the students' faces while I was speaking, I think that they were at least really listening to what I was saying. And I can only hope that they were able to understand what I was trying to tell them.

My intention wasn't to scold them. I wanted to encourage them to think more about each other's feelings and to show more consideration and kindness to each other.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to talk with the teacher who was in the classroom at the time that I was giving the talk. I would've liked to have heard her opinion as to whether or not what I said was appropriate/beneficial in that situation.

(I also regret that I probably wasn't able to express my feelings as clearly as I wanted to--in general I'm not good at expressing myself when put on the spot, and my Japanese also still isn't up to par... )

I'll be at the school again this week, so we'll see how the atmosphere in the class is... I really hope I won't have to give a similar talk again...