unallersimple: (hectopus)
This is an absolutely monster sized post so to keep things tidy I've hidden it all behind something called an lj cut.

Simply click here and all will be revealed! )
unallersimple: (japan poster)
sakura = cherry blossom
hanami = "flower viewing"
having a picnic under blossom filled trees whilst appreciating and admiring their beauty


Normally at this time of year Spring and cherry blossom would be starting to creep out round about now, but Shimane has had one of the worst winters in 50 years and it's still snowing over there! As graduation time approaches though, I still have a bit of that "sakura season" feeling. Even if nature is a little whited out, I know cherry blossom flavoured food and drink are available to buy and that shops are stacked with plastic sheeting and disposable plates and chopsticks ready for when those picnics start.

Last year I enjoyed hanami at Matsue castle for the first time (my plans to picnic there were rained off in 2009). Throughout Japan castle grounds and parks are surrounded by cherry blossom trees, and when the blossom is fully open and at its best, food stalls and decorations are set up which creates such a wonderful atmosphere. You can reserve a place to sit, get there really early or be disappointed, the free space goes fast! It's great to sit out in the sun all afternoon, eating and drinking whilst petals fall all around you. As the light fades, lanterns get turned on, blankets are wrapped round and more drinks are cracked open. It's a good party, and a really nice way for people who normally work all the time to spend some together. Often the other spaces are occupied by people you know, and friends or co-workers wonder round from picnic to picnic saying hi to everyone and pinching a bit of their food. It may be crowded, but whether you know them or not everyone is enjoying it and experiencing it together.


^Matsue castle and the lanterns put up for hanami.


^Trees seen by the side of the lake.

For me the blossom is really meaningful in a way that is tied in with the school year. You have a few weeks of this beautiful blossom, then it falls away and you're really sad it's gone, but then Spring comes in and all this new life appears. It's like having the graduation ceremony where you appreciate how far the students have come and how much they've grown, followed by the sadness of saying goodbye to them all. After, the cycle begins again and all this new life appears in the form of 100 or so terrified first years!

...

I've just had one of those "I think like a Japanese person more that I realised" moments. I just re-read 2009's cherry blossom related post and it was nowhere near as lovey-dovey as this one. Staying a second year must make a huge difference! It's really interesting and weird to see how my thoughts and feelings have changed over time.

There's more info, pics and a video of cherry blossom rain in the 2009 post here.

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unallersimple: (boat)
July passed in a blur of leaving parties and events. After days and days of cleaning the apartment, packing and lugging boxes to the post office on my bike (not fun in the heat & humidity) it was finally time to leave.
I think the main difficulty was that for years other ALTs lived in the same apartment and left whatever they wanted for the next person. Well no ALT will live there after me so everything except things like the TV that the B.O.E. owned had to go. ArghhH! I did my best to give away or sell as much as I could. By the end though I was forcing people to take items like rolls of toilet paper because it's just such a waste to throw them away but nobody wanted them!

I managed to get the place empty 3 hours before leaving time. Phew! Before giving back the key, I sat on the floor writing the last few goodbye letters in the dark because it was cloudy and the electricity had just been stopped. Any sounds I made echoed in the room. I couldn't believe I'd spent two years in there and that they had finished already. I wanted to hug someone hard and I wanted to put all my friends in boxes to England so they will be there when I arrive. I miss everyone so much, even though it's only been about two weeks since I left! (3rd August)

I took the 7:01pm train to Kyoto. I chose an evening train because I knew I'd need a day to get everything wrapped up, but also so that friends could come and see me off at the station after work. I was a little early, so I sat in a Mister Donut reading a book until it was time to meet people. I was really surprised when 5 of my 17/18 year old students walked in. I asked them if they had come to buy doughnuts before going home. (Even though it's summer holidays, they still go to school almost every day.) They said they hadn't, they had come to meet me at the station to say goodbye. I was so moved I had to do the fastest blinking ever to avoid crying. Even though we were all really sad, it was a great chance to spend time with them and answer their questions. At 6pm we went to the waiting area. By this time I was well and truly surprised because more and more people kept arriving. Loads of them gave me leaving presents or cards, even though many of them had given me a gift already. The people ranged from students to co-workers who brought their families to non-work friends, from 2 to over 70 years old. It was amazing. I have never felt so loved!

About half of those bought a platform only ticket to wave me off as I got on the train. I made sure I got on last so I could wave to them from the door and I took a picture of them taking a picture of me hahaha. As the train left Matsue I took one last look at my school in the distance.

After that I slept my way to Kyoto because by that point I was absolutely cream crackered.

I got to the hostel around 11pm, made the bed, pulled on the pjs and crashed with my clothes strewn around me. Ahhhh it was a good sleep. It was a good sleep and an amazing goodbye from everyone. Thank you. I love you.

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unallersimple: (lost)

In Japan, all KFC joints have a statue of Colonel Sanders outside. One thing I love about these statues is that they get dressed up whenever there is a special occasion. When I cycled past the KFC in Matsue yesterday I saw that the red trousers of his Santa outfit (which had shockingly been put on before Halloween) had slipped down.





It gave me a good chuckle as he stands right next to one of the busiest crossroads in Matsue.
He should just stick to donning a happi (a traditional Japanese jacket) when there's a festival on.





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unallersimple: (hectopus)

"There are two seasons in Japan, too hot and too cold!"
Status update on Facebook.



Now that it's getting chilly, I've been getting everything ready to stay healthy and warm during the Japanese winter. The heater has been pulled out the back of the closet. Clothes that went mouldy during the rainy season cleaned. Both duvets had to be taken to the cleaners for the same reason. This week I've been shopping for woolly gloves, hats socks and jumpers. Both desks at my schools have been equipped with tea bags so I have a large supply of warm drinks to cosy up to in between classes. I even have a drawer full of kairo!

All Japanese homes have sliding doors leading outside, usually onto a mini balcony. This is what I overlooked last year; I didn't insulate the thin glass doors that effectively makes up one wall of my apartment. I'll make sure I do that in a few weeks but I'm not quite ready to cover it up yet. I'm trying to keep my spirits up, but it's hard not to sink to new lows when you have to tape bubblewrap to your windows and sliding doors just to stop your fingers and toes from going numb when you're inside. (Most Japanese homes and schools don't thick walls or any form of insulation.) I've started wearing thermal underwear again. When I sit in my apartment I have to wear gloves and a hat and wrap myself in a blanket with the heater on. It's so depressing!

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unallersimple: (hectopus)
As it's Halloween on Saturday I ran a little Halloween event for my eikaiwa (adult conversation class) last night. Sadly you can't cut a face into a Japanese pumpkin because they are tiddly and tougher than the Terminator, but this year I managed to import some foreign pumpkins so I could teach the group about the tradition of carving them. I've never stayed in on a Saturday waiting for pumpkins to be delivered before. I've never tried to cycle with a box of them on my bike either! Thankfully I live near the community center.

The first awesome moment of the evening came when I lit the candles inside and turned off the lights. To my joy all the adults went "Ooooo!" and "Wow!". I felt that they passed the test of making a scary face when one person's two year old started crying. We had to turn the lights back on straight away bless.

The second awesome moment was when I found out no one had a carved a pumpkin before.

My class always clean up, take the rubbish home for me and give me all the extra food and drink from events like this. Last night was no exception. I am so lucky to have an eikaiwa full of such kind and generous people. I'm more than happy to teach them for free.


^One way to make small children cry.


^ Eikaiwa members rush in to take a photo!

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unallersimple: (japan poster)
It was so weird waiting for Yvette at the airport. I still couldn't believe she was really coming! It was funny that we were the only black and white people there, and conveniently this meant that it took us less than a second to spot each other in arrivals. We got the bus back to Matsue and immediately started jabbering away about how much we've changed, recent news, jet lag, the weather anything/everything else.

After a long sleep for both of us we finally dragged ourselves out somtime the next day to the lantern festival at Matsue Castle. Every weekend for a month between mid-september and mid-October the city puts lanterns decorated by local schoolchildren up around the castle and moat. The car park is filled with food stalls and you can ride around part of the moat after suset which is something you can't normally do. It's an absolutely wonderful experience as it looks so beautiful by lantern light. We wandered around for a while eating festival food then rode the boat back round to where we parked our bikes and wobbled home. She was so much better on the bike than I was this time last year. She didn't fall off once.

It was interesting to see Yvette's reactions to Japan. I've become so used to everything now, that seeing her puzzled look at people bowing or my students yelling "Riji!" at me from across the road brought back many memories of my first few months here. There was a re-awakening too of the parts of my own culture and language that I'd forgotten. It was hilarious watching her trying to discretely take a photo of someone wearing a face mask in public. She was so shocked by them.

The following day we had a picnic by the lake, wandered around Matsue castle so she could see it in daylight and stuffed ourselves full of sushi. We seemed to have started a trend then of taking photos of us either with a restaurant character or eating inside a restaurant. My photos seem to show little else!


^ Yvette meets Spiderman, who lives in Matsue when he's not staring in movies or fighting crime.


^Showing this photo to my Japanese friends produced a lot of startled reactions because of her skin colour and the fact that she was eating left handed.


^ Posing with "Big Boy", one of the amusingly named restaurant chains in Japan.


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unallersimple: (japan poster)


Just got back from taking part in the drum festival. Absolutely knackered but had an awesome time. Thought I'd share my favorite photo from the day.




^Lizzie learns the hard way that Angelo doesn't know the difference between people and drums.
unallersimple: (stars)
This is taken from our rehearsal last Tuesday. As it's only the second night of practice, things are still looking a little bare. There are no costumes or fancy floats in sight yet. Just a bunch of people drumming in a car park after work. We haven't started on the second drum rhythm either, so we're only playing one tune.




^Okay so I just looked at the video and the sound on this is terrible! Please know that it sounds 100 times better in real life! The flutes sound strange too because the tune is a traditional Japanese one, which sounds really out of tune to us at first. There's a guy in a black t-shirt with glasses, he's the strongest drummer I've met. The sound he whacks out is incredible! So loud!
I love this video though because you can see experienced drummers, little kids who need to stand on a bench to reach, newbies who are drumming with the wrong technique, old men sitting, drinking and watching, old men teaching younger men and a woman patting out the rhythm on her daughter's head.

At first I was really annoyed with myself for signing away lots of free time, but once I started drumming I was glad. Now it's not new, and I seem to have a better technique this year. I can drum for up to 20 minutes without collapsing from severe arm pain and muscle ache. Once you get into it and know the rhythm off by heart, it can feel similar to meditation. You just drum away and zone out and suddenly come round some time later realizing that you weren't thinking about anything, your mind was just drum. It's a nice feeling, and one that I didn't really have last year due to the constant arm pain. It's also been fun to teach some of the first timers the beat and technique. They generally look very shocked when a foreigner knows what to do better than they do hahaha. It's also good to watch the people who've been drumming for decades since they were wee beans. Their style and technique is amazing, so I've been trying to pick up some better practices from them this week too.

My first night of rehearsal was memorable. After a short practice of about half an hour, I was invited into a small community building room upstairs. I was shocked to find at least 50 people (mostly men) seated at a table while some women were serving the food and alcohol. I was beckoned by the drumming group chief to sit at the top of the table as the guest. Then he welcomed everyone and opened the celebrations for starting this year's drumming. After he had spoken, I had to stand up and introduce myself. I talked about how awesome the festival was last year, how kind and welcoming everyone had been and how excited I was to take part again.
For the next 20 minutes or so I was surrounded by no fewer than 20 old men who teased me and got me guess how old they are. (I'm telling you at 75, they look 10 years younger and can move faster than me!). This ended when the chief, who was thankfully wise enough to spot I was 50 years younger than everyone nearby, ordered a young man to come over. He noted our ages were only 6 years apart and announced he'd found me a husband! (If only it were really that simple!) He then ordered us both to the other end of the table where young people sit. Those kinds of people crack me up, I had a good giggle on the way home. At the young end of the table I talked with some of the women who were waiting on the men, and my future husband who looked thoroughly embarrassed by the whole thing.

I still can't get over how kind everyone was. I ate so much delicious food for free, and everyone tried talking with me at some point. The elderly folk try to improve my drumming technique, and when they see I have no clue what they are saying, they kindly gesture the correct way to move your arms to hit the drum.

I'm excited for the big day, though I don't know what my costume looks like yet (I'm in a different drumming group to last year). I hope it doesn't rain!


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unallersimple: (onsen)
Yesterday Regina surprised me with a little gift. After opening my eyes and looking at what she'd placed in my hands I was a little confused. It was a photo of me, Marie, Emily and a man in a green costume dancing in the street from Matsue's St Patrick's Day Parade from way back in March. I assumed it was a photo she'd printed out but had taken her time (A long time!) to give it to me, except I don't remember her taking a photo of us. She pointed out that it was actually a postcard she'd bought on the weekend. She was at the art studio for an event and happened to see it. I was absolutely delighted. I still am in fact, and have been doing nothing for the past day except tell everyone about it. "Ms. Lizzie, please English help me." my student said. "Okay, but look at this, it's a postcard of me!" I replied. Not content with several appearances on TV and featuring in a newspaper article, I have now branched out into the world of holiday souvenirs without even knowing or trying! The art studio had a photo competition for shots of the parade. I suppose that was one of the photos that won. I was shocked to realise that postcards of us ALTs have been on sale for months and I didn't have a clue. What makes me laugh though is that it's actually quite a bad photo and I wasn't even part of the parade!

After the weekly work meeting had finished I cycled over to the art studio, found 13 copies of the same design on display and swiftly bought them all. The lady on the till looked a little alarmed, but I enthusiastically pointed out myself in the photo. It's so cool! A postcard! Oh Japan, sometimes you delight me so!

Watch your letterboxes. Postcards are coming your way.


^I'm the waz prancing around on the left.

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unallersimple: (hectopus)
Today ALTs had to spend the day at the Board of Education to officially re-contract. This involved a lot of sitting around as we were told the rules of our home and workplace. It also involved a lot more sitting around while we went over the details of our contract. Last year I was the one absolutely falling over myself desperate to make a good impression. This year I sat daydreaming and thinking about what I would pack for Tokyo when I got back to my apartment. How times have changed!

In the morning we had a ceremony to receive our letters of appointment which said that we will be employed by the BoE for another year (and worryingly that we have been adopted by them). In the afternoon we had a ceremony with the Mayor of Matsue. It's nice to be officially welcomed by the city, especially as I'm sure he has better things to do than talk to me. For some reason this occasion attracts a lot of media attention and we had several photographers and a cameraman there to record our 40 minute long meeting. I suspected they would be there, but it's still a really difficult and nerve wracking experience. You have to try and drink tea, answer questions in Japanese, smile and ignore the photographer pointing a camera only inches away from your face while you're being filmed from the other side of the room! It was embarrassing because this year, I'm now the JET with the worst Japanese and I couldn't always follow the conversation. I felt like the dumb idiot sat in the corner. After long sentences I didn't catch the meaning of, the mayor would suddenly swing the conversation my way by saying, "How about you Elizabeth?!". Shame. Lots of shame. Sadly all caught on camera.

Shame aside though, it was fun to see the media people running around the room again and today makes it the 5th or 6th time I've been on local TV!

After meeting the mayor the new JET was cornered for a TV interview. I'm so glad this didn't happen to me last year! He did a grand job despite his nerves. I snuck a photo using my mobile phone.




So now I'm contracted to stay until August 3rd, 2010 and I've finished packing my bags. I leave for Tokyo tomorrow morning. I can't think of a better way to spend the first few days of my second year.


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unallersimple: (japan poster)
Friday 10th saw another enkai for the leaving ALTs. This time it was the Board of Education (who actually employs JET Programme ALTs and assigns them to the schools they work at) throwing the party. It was fun to dress up, eat, drink and play some games.

It was also really cool to see my previous supervisor at the BoE who had retired in April. I miss that guy! He's the ultimate dude in helping us out, and he's one of the few Japanese people who really understands what it feels like for foreigners living here. He really gets what problems we face and what things we really need to help us through. An example of his greatness comes from when I called him in a panic about needing to go to the doctors. I had only been in Japan a few weeks and had no idea what to do. I was really upset and scared. He drove me there the next morning, translated everything and was an absolute gentlemen during the awkward moments of medical check ups. He commented on how the hospital should provide forms and signs written in English. This was amazing for me as most of my conversations with Japanese people are still about whether I like sushi or saying random things like "England! Harry Potter!" at me. In the 9 years he worked as the ALT supervisor he has worked with around 70 different JETs. He's like my Japanese grandfather. Such a legend! I couldn't have asked for a better supervisor at my place of employment. Here his is with me and Bryan below.



At these kinds of events they also get the flags out for the photos. ALTs never miss a chance to prat around with them.



It was also my last night out and last bike ride home with Bryan. We cycled round the grounds of Matsue castle for a little bit, and when we reached our apartments he offered me more free things that he still hasn't managed to clear out of his place yet. I was still taking bags and bags of things to use at school the following week. Who knew a guy could have that much stationary?!

4 ALTs will be leaving this time, and one left earlier in the year. We'll get one newbie this summer so my city will now have 8 ALTs in all. When Bryan arrived there were 18, when I arrived there were 12. Our company is being phased out and slowly replaced with a cheaper one (Interac) and it's sad to see us JETs slowly heading towards extinction here. (Though of course I appreciate how lucky I am not to be in some small random town on my own!)

It's also sad to say goodbye to our friends from America, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Internationalization is great but I fear future re-unions will be a bit difficult! Best wishes to life after Japan, we'll miss you!

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unallersimple: (hearts)
One afternoon an English teacher was walking down the street where she lived. Some children were playing on the road, and when a car was approaching she heard one say to another; “A car's coming, move out of the way.”. Shocked to hear Japanese children speaking native English, she assumed that her recent holiday to Australia left her imagining things. Later she found out that the children lived two doors down. The family are Japanese, but lived in the Philippines for a few years while the father worked there. As a result the children became pretty fluent in English and speak to each other in both languages.

Now they are back in Japan it would be really easy for the children to grow up and lose their English ability. The mother doesn't want this to happen so she asked around to see if she could find any foreigners to come and visit them. Word eventually made its way to me that a family were seeking a native speaker to play with the children once a week. Would I be interested?

Now, I'm generally quite good with people. I'm a friendly and approachable little thing. Where ever I go people flock towards me like moths towards light for conversation or information. Directions, platform numbers, the time, to tell me about their cats, anything. This is especially amusing to me because I rarely know the answer. People even ask me for directions when I'm abroad wearing my backpack. The one exception to this is with children. The elderly love me. Teenagers are no problem. It's just with children I never know what to say or what to do with them. After long periods of awkward silence I eventually creep them out and they run away. Knowing this, would it be a good idea for me to visit them? Could I do it without making them cry?

I decided to give it a go anyway. This year I'd been looking for something to do in the community outside of work and I thought that if it didn't go well, I could always feign busyness and never go back!

A few weeks ago I had my first visit. I shouldn't have been nervous. Once I overcame my shyness, the kids overcome theirs and stopped hiding under and behind the furniture. Hell we even started to have fun. The kids are a boy of 4 and two girls aged 6 and 9. (Let's call them 4, 6 and 9 for short.) 9 soon dragged me upstairs, sat me down and proceeded to give me an extremely detailed explanation of her Sylvanian Families doll house. Later 4 and 6 decided I would make a great trampoline and climbing frame. Soon we were all making a right noise having a paper and pillow fight. When the mum came up to see what all the noise was about we all hid our weapons and flashed our best "I'm innocent!" smiles. When we had thoroughly tired ourselves out it was time for tea. The family kindly offered me a place at the table to say thank you for visiting. I love getting free food!

I've been to visit a few times now and things are getting better as we're getting to know each other. I have discovered how nice it is to visit and play with the under 10s. We often play with other Japanese children in the street and it's so great that foreignness and language doesn't matter. They don't have stereotypes and hesitations about me at all because it has been socialised into them yet. At first they didn't know my name, age or country but I was invited to play immediately anyway. (Of course I'm always "it" when we play tig though 'cos I'm the biggest!) While all of them are cute, 6 is especially adorable when she keeps forgetting things. During my latest visit we'd played, eaten together then settled down to watch Snow White. 6 sat on me for the whole movie. Finally at the end she turns to me and asks, “What's your name?".

I can't wait for my next visit.

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unallersimple: (hectopus)
One of the classes in school somehow ended up with a pet turtle in their classroom. I remember the shock I felt when I first saw it in a tank at the back. Mainly because few high schools and teachers would ever let their classes have a pet let alone a turtle. Also because I'd been teaching in that room for months before I even noticed it! How did I not see it in the room?!

Yesterday I happened to walk out of school at the same time as some of the students from this class. I asked them what they would be doing that evening, and they showed me the turtle and told me they were going to put it in the river. The science teacher had told them it would die soon unless it was set free. I joined them to see the release into the wild. We couldn't find a suitable place in that part of the river by the school, so me and two other students ended up cycling across town to Matsue castle. The moat there has a whole bunch of turtles in, so we thought that it would (hopefully!) be the best place.

While we were cycling the turtle came out of its shell and tried to climb out the basket, causing one girl to scream and wobble on her bike into the road. The look on her face was priceless!

I managed to get a quick photo on my cellphone when we stopped at some traffic lights.



When we arrived at the moat of the castle we put the turtle down near the water and waited. It was a tense moment. Would it be ok? Would it crawl in? Could it still swim after a year of living in a tank in a school? The students were so cute when they said their goodbyes in English. ("Turtle... sorry. Very sorry turtle. We not...we didn't not care for you. Goodbye. Sorry turtle. See you! I love you. I love you forever!")
Thankfully it seemed to be ok, and after a couple of seconds it quickly waddled into the water and swam away. I hope it's doing good. I hope I didn't put it in a dangerous place or endager the turtles already living in the moat by releasing the one from the school in there!

It was awesome to see it finally going back into the wild and not sit neglected in a tank in the school any more. Watching it waddle towards the water was surprisingly moving. I swear I saw one of the students wipe a tear when she thought I wasn't looking.


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unallersimple: (japan poster)
A few weeks ago there was a lot of excitement across the prefecture because one of the biggest events our end of Japan was taking place in Matsue. The event was Horan Enya, which is the name of a boat festival which happens only once every twelve years. The festival features around 100 boats and is the third biggest traditional boat festival in Japan. It started about 360 years ago after bad weather caused a severe food shortage in the region. In response the feudal lords took a portable shrine from Matsue Castle to a different shrine in a town 10km away, where they prayed for the blessing of the Gods, a good harvest and of course better weather. After this the harvest and weather did improve, so people continued the tradition every 12 years to show their gratitude and ensure good fortune in the future.

During the weeks leading up to the festival there were signs and posters all over the city. I saw some of the rowers who would take part practicing on the river which added to my levels of excitment. There was a real atmosphere of build up and anticipation throughout the city for the big day.
I wanted to make sure I got the best spot so asked around for information and where the best place to watch it would be. As the event is so rare I only found one or two people who'd seen it, but was told that it would be absolutely packed as people travel from all over Chugoku to see it. The advice I was given was to head down to one of the bridges on the river well in advance of the start time.

As you can see they weren't wrong; the bridges, riverbanks and any other available space were absolutely rammed!






^Many photographers had the right idea!

I woke up early and cycled down there for 9:30am. It was already was packed so I shoved my bike down a side street, hurried over to one of the bridges and elbowed my way past some tall people to get a good spot. I had to wait about an hour and a half until the boats started sailing up the river but it was worth it, I was so close to them when they finally sailed my way.

The parade began at the castle like always and the shrine was carried to the river where the boats were waiting. Once everyone had boarded the parade continued on water. Matsue is a city divided into two by a river and there are four main bridges that connect the north and south sides. People started rowing the boats around the space between the two bridges nearest the lake first. After about 20 minutes, the boats lowered their masts and rowed under the second bridge to start rowing in the space between the second and third bridges. I was on the third bridge from the lake, so it was then my turn to watch.

I've never seen anything like this festival. There were so many boats! The traditional boats were all filled with local people, some were so young they were still in high school. Only men were allowed on. Some rowed, while others danced at the front and the back of the boats. Other people lowered and raised the masts for low bridges or sat ready to take over the oars when the rowers got tired.





There were also some large boats which were the main ones in the parade which had people in costume and dancers. These were followed by small boats with important looking men in suits. Zipping around these were little motor boats full of photographers and camera men covering the event for the news.



After another 20 minutes or so, the masts were lowered again and the boats sailed under the third bridge (where I was standing) and began sailing around the space between the third and fourth bridges.

When that part of the parade had finished the boats pulled over to the riverbank so those taking part could rest and hop on shore for a while. An hour or so later the boats lined up once more and the parade sailed on to the other town 10km away.

I took some videos of the event too. The first two clips are the boats sailing between the second and third bridges. The final clip shows one of the boats about to sail under the third bridge with the mast lowered.




Sadly there was rain and skies so grey they could give Kendal a run for their money, but despite that it was still an amazing morning. There atmosphere was amazing. It felt like everyone in the city had come out to watch. When the boats were sailing on to the space between the next two bridges the noise of the applause from the crowd was immense. I felt so lucky to be living in Matsue this year. Most JETs will never get to see Horan Enya.

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unallersimple: (hectopus)
I forget exactly when, but some time in the final half of 2008 something happened in Japan. Three words from America took the country by storm, and soon everyone from the youngest to the oldest began to say “Yes, we can!” You'll recognise these words from Obama's election campaign, which became even more prominent after the speech Obama gave when he won the election. I can see why it became so popular here. It's a short, cool and catchy phrase. It's really simple and easy both to understand and to say. The chance to use it comes up a lot in daily conversation.

I think ALTs really noticed the Obama effect. For example at an English festival one of the Japanese speakers introducing the event stuck his thumb out and said “Yes, we can!” at the end of his speech. At school my classes would erupt into giggles every time somebody said “I can” or something similar. Even my most unmotivated classes would suddenly shout it out whenever I asked a “Can you . . ?” type question. Students would stick their thumbs out in the corridors at me and say those three words.


^ A sign board in the main corridor of my school during exams.

Thankfully the “Yes, we can!” fever has died down now, although I noticed that a lot of Japanese people still say Obama when they talk black person.

As a person who is familiar with Bob the Builder, I always end up with the show's theme tune in my head. I also didn't realise how well and truly it was ingrained in me until I was looking back through my high school's graduation photos from March. I found a picture of me sticking my thumb up instead of doing the usual peace sign! Arghhhh!


^Yes, we can!



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unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
Me and Bryan were coming out of school the other day when he spotted this creature on the wall by the road. It freaked me out big time, though not as much as when I saw a snake. Both of these were only little tiny things thank goodness. I'm not good with these kinds of animals.






As Bryan is from Texas though, he's a lot more used to seeing these kinds of creatures than I am. He was quite happy to pick it up. He told me that in Texas you can see these in your garden. All I could think was that I'm glad I don't live in Texas and that in Japan, I'm glad I don't have a garden!



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unallersimple: (boat)
As I've mentioned before the school year in Japan runs from April to March. At the end of every academic year a lot of changes happen in school. In Japan teachers are not free to choose which school they work at or how long they work there, they are assigned a placement within their prefecture. The only constant is that they stay within their chosen age range of students to teach, for example elementary or junior or senior high school. Unless they are over a certain age or have special positions within a particular school, teachers seem to be assigned to a new school every 3-4 years. Sometimes they get moved before this. Sometimes they can stay in a school for up to 8 years, which is the maximum number of years allowed. Only in extremely unusual and rare circumstances would someone be allowed to stay at the same school for longer than that. I can't really figure out any logic to how or why the teachers are moved though. This system ensures a fairness for everyone though. During their career every teacher will have worked in all kinds of schools from large to small, those in the city and ones in the middle of nowhere.

However, I have to admit that I struggle to see many benefits to this system. It seems so sad to me that, even if teachers have friends and family in their city, they still have to move to their allocated position when the call comes through. It must to be difficult to have to move so often, and see so many co-workers come and go. Every year teachers leave and new ones arrive. This makes it harder for the students to form stable and long lasting relationships with their teachers. It also affects school clubs. When the only teacher who can run that sport or activity is moved, the club has to shut down or be run by someone who doesn't know enough about it for the members to improve. It's harder for teachers to work together as a team too. For people like myself who team teach with a Japanese teacher of English, the move comes just as you are figuring out how to run a good class together and are building up trust and learning how the other works.

A month or two ago the teachers were told if they will stay or go, but it's custom here not to talk about it or let anyone know. It creates a really strange atmosphere where you know a lot of teachers will be gone, but don't know which ones! It must be difficult too, to have to pack up your whole life with only 1 or 2 months notice. At my school, a week before term ended (last Tuesday) a list of who is leaving was read out in the morning meeting. While we had heard some of the names before through gossip, or been able to work out who might be leaving by finding out how long they had already been at the school, others were a complete surprise. For a foreigner used to different customs, it feels quite hurtful that someone you work closely with would be leaving and not let you know, especially when you consider them a friend. However, I can only try to respect and understand these differences in culture and not take it personally.

The students were told on the last day of term. So many were in tears, especially the young ones who were head over heels for the good looking guys!

At my school twelve teachers were moved this year. In some cases we got lucky as one of these was awful to work with (hurah!). Another frequently coughed all over the kitchen and the coffee filters (earning her the nickname "coffee cougher"). So long, farewell!
With other departures we got hit hard. A good friend was one of the twelve and many other good teachers had to go.

I thought it was only teachers that got moved but last week I found out that the secretary/assistant at my junior high school has been moved too. I feel so sad. She's an absolute legend and to be honest she's my only friend and ally there. We always do a language swap and share gossip. She hears about my ALT adventures (that I would never mention to anyone else!) and I hear about her secret weekend trips to Korea! She never said a word that she was leaving, not even on her last day. I miss her already. Life at junior high school will be absolutely awful without her.

Last night my base senior high school had a leaving party. It was pretty much the same as every other "enkai", or work party, as it involved a lot of eating and drinking. There was an opening and closing ceremony and many, many speeches too. Each person leaving stood to make a speech and received flowers. It's not taboo for men to touch or hug each other in Japan. Crying is ok too, unlike the UK these things aren't judged as making you any less of a man. As a result there was a lot of emotional and drunken behaviour by both the guys and the gals! The male teachers frequently gate crashed the stage to hug each other. One guy was stood looking up at the ceiling crying out loud. Nearly all the female teachers were dabbing their eyes with a little hand towel. It's so strange for me because I don't understand about 60% of what's being said, so all I get is a lot of incomprehensible talk followed by people bursting into tears. This unfortunately looks rather amusing so I have to duck my head and bite my hand to stop inappropriate fits of giggles.

I enjoyed talking to the staff and having the chance to find out more about them, usually that they have about 3 children who are my age or older. After mentioning this two or three of them will pair up to talk about how young I am. I suppose at 21 I am, especially to be a high school teacher in charge of my own classes and my own syllabus.

At the end of the evening, everybody paired up by the door and made and arch by holding hands and raising their arms with those stood opposite. Then the teachers who were leaving walked through. Due to the alcohol a lot of them were very silly...I won't forget the sight of the female, middle aged cooking teacher being thrown in the air several times by four of the guys! I'm also rather tiny, so most of the teachers had trouble fitting under my arms, even when I stood on my tiptoes!

After such an eventful evening I wobbled home on my bicycle, unless you read a post from the 1st of March, in which case I walked.

Things are going to be really different next month. I hope the new teachers will be good to work with. I'm always so tired at the end of term. I'm glad I get a break from it all before starting again with the new students. Shikoku tomorrow. I'll be back next Thursday.

love

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unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
In my last post I wrote about what kind of events take place for St Patrick's Day, but not why such a rural place in Japan with only a few Irish citizens celebrates it.

To answer this we'll have to look back to 1890 when an Irish author called Lafcadio Hearn arrived in Matsue. If you've never heard of him, fear not. Neither has anyone else. He's supposed to be famous, though I suspect Matsue's tourism office has milked his name for all it's worth in an attempt to attract more visitors here. In Matsue the house where he lived is now a museum. In school and city speech contests, students are often set the challenge of having to recite passages from one of his short stories. Any ALT who has worked in Matsue will have had to coach someone for one of these contests. I imagine that many like myself will have heard them so many times they will have his words forever scared in their memories. What makes it all the more alarming is that his stories are so violent and disturbing. He wrote horror stories based on Japanese folk tales so his characters are usually being slaughtered by a spirit seeking revenge or having their ears ripped off by a ghost or something.

Things get a little silly when you look into how long Lafcadio Hearn actually lived here. It was a mere 15 months. Something which often prompts ALTs who have lived in Japan two or more years to declare that their apartments should become museums too. After all, they've lived here longer than he did! The author actually spent more time living in other areas of Japan, America, Greece and Ireland than he did in Matsue.

Anyway, issues over Irish authors aside, that is why St Patrick's Day gets celebrated here.
unallersimple: (globe)
Yesterday I attended my first St Patrick's Day Parade. Yes, it was in Japan and yes, it was about nine days too early! I've written about why St Patrick's Day is celebrated in this remote area of Japan here.

When I was at university St Patrick's Day meant people were employed in the student bar to do nothing but pull pints of Guinness all day, then give out shamrock hats to those stupid enough to have bought eight. Students would usually skip lectures to consume alcohol, and by the end of the day the square would be a disgusting pile of litter and vomit once everyone had moved on.

Well thankfully here in Matsue events were a lot more family friendly and involved a lot less alcohol! But before I type about the day, isn't it strange how all over the world St Patrick's Day is a huge celebration, but hardly anyone from England celebrates St George's Day? How many English people actually know when it is? Why is this?

Anyway, there was a parade throughout the city where locals and foreigners all wore a shocking amount of green. Many had put in serious effort to try and win the best costume contest. There was also performances from school students and local groups. Other events included juggling acts, face painting and Irish dancing.


^In the parade Adam, an Irishman who works as the CIR in Matsue, had the honour of being St Patrick for the second year running. (A CIR is a coordinator for international relations which is also a job provided by the JET Program. Whilst ALTs work in schools CIRs must be fluent in Japanese and work as part of the local council.)


^I bumped into some friends who come to my adult conversation class too.

Later in the day I learnt how to do some Irish dancing from the Irish ALTs which was a whole bunch of fun. It's the kind of dance which involves swapping partners as you step this way and that and then finish the cycle of moves in front of a new pair of people. You then repeat the set of moves and keep swapping partners thoughout the song until the music finishes. This kind of dancing worked brilliantly for this situation because after a couple of songs we all got to meet and dance with everyone else. It was really great to see the locals, some of my students and other ALTs all interacting with each other. It really brought everyone in the community together.

Here's a video of a performance by one of the local dancing groups who took part in the parade. It's soooo Japanese but hey, it's the support and the taking part that counts! The music, high pitch vocals, dancing and man wearing a large comedy character head are common features of Japanese performances. Not quite sure why there is a rabbit in the background though... Anyway, they definitely captured the spirit of the day by adding green to their usual costumes!




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