Thursday, April 28, 2011

花見 (hanami)

 花見 literally means flower watching.  Every spring in Japan, people can be seen sitting under the さくら (cherry blossom) trees eating, drinking, visiting and enjoying their flowery surroundings. 

I took these photos about two weeks ago.  The cherry blossoms last about two weeks before they being their fluttery descent to the ground.  When it is windy,  it honestly appears as though it is snowing flower petals.  It's strikingly beautiful. 

This river runs directly behind our apartment building.  (Our apartment as you look at the river is to the left.) During the さくら season, it is difficult to resist the urge to go for a walk every evening to look at the flowers.  Karl and I definitely took advantage of this, as you can see here! 
 I am not sure what this little flower is...I think it is related to the Lily of the Valley flower.  They have an incredibly sweet, dainty scent.
 The cherry blossom trees.  I asked, since they are cherry blossoms, do these trees then produce cherries? The answer is no.  I looked it up and discovered that these particular trees are cherry trees, but they have been bred for ornamental purposes and therefore do not produce any fruit. Interesting.
 Karl standing underneath the blossoming trees.

 There are many different types of daffodils around here.  I have noticed at least five or six varieties.
 I have no idea what this little bush is. But it was so pretty I had to take a picture!
Sakura. They have the sweetest scent!
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じゃんけんぽん (jyan-ken-pon)

As far as I have been told, these three little words have no real meaning.  This really doesn't matter though because these three words solve so many daily issues amongst my students. 

It’s a game, you see.  One that you know as “rock-paper-scissors.” 

If there is any dispute at all-big or small-fists are whipped out instantly.  Students pump their fists as they chant, “さいしょぐじゃんけんぽん!”  (Saishogu Jyan-ken-pon!) If the conflict is not immediately resolved, there are subsequent rounds of じゃんけん.  (Everyone says Jyan-ken for short.)

I have seen this resolve many-a-conflict over the past several months.  The winner typically yells out “やたあ!” (yataa!-This basically means “Woohoo!”, or, “I did it!”) The loser-“ざんねん!” (Too bad!) Either that, or they just put their hands on their head while yelling and acting dramatic.  And that is the end of it.

This entire process lasts approximately thirty seconds or so.  It’s remarkably efficient. 

Sometimes I think adults-especially politicians-could learn a thing or two from these kids.
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Seven Weeks Gone By

Our trip back home to the United States was a welcome relief to the stress immediately following the earthquake and it’s aftermath.  We visited our families and friends.  We all ate, drank and made merry for two weeks.  It was a lovely time.

I purposely didn’t read or look at any news when I was home.  I was there to relax, and reading about devastation is certainly not on my relaxation list.  Besides that, I knew I would just hear the sensationalist news and have to spend far too much time digging for facts. 

We hoped that the situation in Japan would improve during our time back at home.  To be perfectly honest, I am not sure it got better or worse.  I really had no idea.  As far as I can tell, things where I am are completely back to normal.  Trains are running on their usual schedules, there is no more panic buying, there have been no black outs. Things feel normal.

I was surprised at how happy I was to be back in Japan.  I have become so used to my life here that I found myself missing Japan while at home in the States.  I missed teaching, I missed our cute little apartment, I missed the language, I missed the trains, but mostly, I missed the people. 

I have grown to love Japanese people and their culture.  One thing I really missed was the politeness of the Japanese people.  It is so nice. 

During our trip to the States, we spent some time at a fitness center swimming, hot tubbing and using the sauna.  I went with a close friend.  She and I were sitting in the sauna talking about Japan.  I was explaining some Japanese etiquette regarding my experiences teaching at Japanese elementary schools.  Another lady who was sitting in the sauna seemed very interested and began asking me questions.  As I was answering one of her inquires, I was suddenly interrupted. 

Another lady who was sitting in the sauna-who had been silent up to this point-had acted on her urge to share her opinion.  She began by asking me if I had ever heard of the march of the batons.  She then proceeded to inform us that her father had fought in WWII.  She did not hold back any of her very strong feelings, letting us know point blank that is very prejudice against “Asians.”  I had been talking about schools and the terms of politeness that the Japanese children are taught.  She told me that they might seem nice and polite, but were truly awful beings. 

I allowed myself to absorb this tirade as politely as I could.  I simply sat there until a natural break in her rant and excused myself to go check on Karl in the pool.  Although I was calm on the outside, I was fuming on the inside.

How could someone speak in such a negative way towards a people going through such a monumental disaster? I was utterly flabbergasted. But even more so, I was deeply saddened.  Saddened that someone could say such awful things about people they didn’t even know.  Saddened that she didn't even seem to view the Japanese (or any “Asian,” apparently) as real human beings.  Saddened that she seemed to base her entire opinion of the Japanese based on one of the worst wars of, you know, all time. 

I guess the best thing I can do is hope and pray that this woman, and others of the same mindset, will come around and begin to view all people as, well, people.  Human beings.  Deserving of respect, love and compassion.  It is my greatest hope that people cease being so quick to judge and begin exercising compassion.  
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Fresh Start

Before the sultry summer settles across Japan…we have spring.  Blossoms abound, covering the countryside in every shade of pink, purple, yellow, and white imaginable.  Spring is known as a season of change and transformation; this season is proving to be exactly that.

Over our trip home to the U.S., I was informed my board of education back in Japan had decided to move me to three new schools for the coming school year.  I was heartbroken.  Over the past three months I had formed bonds with my students and the teachers with whom I worked at Yorii, Youdo, and Sakurazawa elementary schools.  And now I would (most likely) never get to see them again. 

Now, I know this may sound a bit whiney…but I had just gotten the systems at those schools down.  I understood the idiosyncrasies and the methods of teaching.  And now, I start again.

It’s not all that bad, of course…In fact, I could easily argue that my current situation is much better.  For starters, I am closer to my schools, which means my earliest train clocks in at a reasonable 7:20 am. (An extra half hour makes ALL the difference!) Secondly, instead of having to be completely in charge of the lessons, the new schools actually have a curriculum for me to follow.  Fancy that! Now, it is all in Japanese…but what’s life without a challenge, right?

Another up side to my current situation is that two of the schools are about a twenty or thirty minute walk from their respective train station.  I have no problem with this.  The neighborhoods are gorgeous and it is good exercise.  Plus it gives me time to get my nerd on and listen to my favorite pod casts.

My current schools are quite a change from my previous schools.  Hachigata Elementary School (鉢形小学校)is about the same size as my previous three schools. Orihara Elementary School (折原小学校)has a tiny student body. (Only seven third graders!)  Obusuma Elementary School (男衾小学校)is huge! Almost five hundred students.  Quite the variation compared to Yorii, Youdo and Sakurazawa, which are all roughly the same size.

With this change, as with every change, comes a choice: The choice of attitude.  Either mope around and whine about how much I miss my old students and schools… or embrace my new situation with arms and heart wide open.  I truly believe ones attitude manifests itself in real life …you have the power to make or break any situation that arises.

Naturally, I will miss my previous students and fellow teachers for a while yet…but I am already beginning to feel at home in my new schools.  The students, teachers and schools are different-but they are all just as wonderful as the ones I knew last term.

Here’s to embracing change.
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