お花見をしました – A Promise Kept – Osaka – Random Updates

As stated in a previous post, while I was in graduate school and dealing with cancer, I kept a picture of cherry blossoms in Kyoto as a reminder of my goal to live in Japan.

Additionally, my Japanese professor had told me that Fall and Spring are the most beautiful times in Japan and that everyone should experience hanami (お花見 – cherry blossom viewing) in Kyoto at least once.

Thus, this past weekend in Kyoto fulfilled both a long time goal and a promise I made to my professor.

I arrived late Friday night. After checking in, I walked to Kiyomizudera for night viewing or illuminated cherry blossoms. During the day, cherry blossoms are bright and vibrant and bursting with color. At night, illuminated and backlit, the sakura have a ghostly and electric look, like neon halos.

The next day I headed to Heian Shrine for day time viewing. The shrine gardens had trees that were heavy with blossoms and sweeping branches, long and laden with flowers.

After, I took a boat ride through the Okazaki canal for a different perspective of Kyoto and it’s sakura.

It began raining heavily, so I headed back to my hotel and sadly had to cancel my plans for further viewings that night.

The next day I took a small side trip to Osaka. Den-den town has become a favourite area of Osaka to visit. It’s the electronics center of the city, and one can find old school games, anime, manga, toys, etc.

There’s a certain bit of joy to be had while walking around Den-den and hearing chip music pouring out of the shops.

The new academic year has started and this means a lot of shuffling teachers and staff. In Kibichuo, all four JHS were closed and consolidated to one new JHS. This new school is really nice with modern equipment and lots of natural light. There are for JTEs there, one of whom is my neighbor.

Oh, by the way, I have neighbors now.

One of the hardest aspects of living in Japan has been my immensely remote location – with a house so far out in the country side that I have no neighbors. However, my house is part of a small complex of houses, all of which have been empty (except for mine).

Last month, three new people moved in to the complex – and all of them are teachers at the new JHS. The new English teacher lives directly across the path from me, and the science and math teachers live about 40 meters from me.

Having neighbors means I can practice my Japanese. I’ve literally been getting worse at Japanese because I have so few chances to use it, but now I’ll have many more chances to practice – which I am excited about.

Additionally, I am going to Fukuoka in August for a two week intensive course. I’m extremely happy about that.

Moreover, one of my new schools is literally down the street from where I live – a very short walk (maybe five minutes?) and I am there.

Loving life.

A pathway in Kyoto.

A pathway in Kyoto.

Hanami at night.

Hanami at night.

Hanami at night.

Hanami at night.

A crane.

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Prayers and wishes.

Prayers and wishes.

At a park near my hotel.

At a park near my hotel.

Legal vs. Ethical

Allow me to start this entry with a quote from John Stewart:

John Stewart - Values

And a corollary to that: If you were technically telling the truth, you were purposely setting out to mislead.

I do my best to be honest and ethical, though I do fail from time to time, and likely more often than I’ll admit to.

Something happened yesterday that really put my ethical resolve to the test.

Long before I got the job in Japan, I had booked a flight to visit my brother and his wife. After I was accepted to the JET Program, I had to cancel that trip as it overlapped with mandatory training at the consulate in San Francisco. I called the airline and canceled the ticket and was told I had a small but decent credit to use towards a future flight.

I have a friend in Australia whom I haven’t seen since I was living in France. I have wanted to fly down to visit her and her family, but the airfare has been quite expensive. Last month I called my airline to see if I could use the credit I have to fly from Japan to New Zealand and then from NZ to Australia. They put me on hold and, after ten minutes, they hadn’t come back, so I hung up.

Yesterday while at work, I received an email from the airline saying that the changes had been made and my flights booked.

I called them to find out what was going on. There had been a glitch in the software. The agent never canceled my request, and the ticketing system, for some reason, just converted my ticket to the flights mentioned above… at no charge. I had the following conversation with the ticketing agent:

“So, the ticket is legit?”

“Yes.”

“But, ethically, is it mine to use?”

“Well, no. But honestly there’s not much to do. It would actually be a lot of work to cancel this out, refund you the credit and not cost you another ticket change penalty.”

“So, I can use it. I can go to Tokyo, fly to NZ, and then on to Oz?”

“Yes, the ticket will work.”

“Can you run this by your supervisor? I don’t want you to lose your job just over my getting a nearly free flight.”

“Sure, hold please.”

He was gone for about ten minutes. When he returned.

“So, my supervisor is okay with this. Little glitches like this pop up all the time and we honor the tickets. So, please, enjoy your trip to NZ and Oz.”

Now this isn’t an entirely free trip. I had to pay a small sum last year for the original flight to visit my brother. And I have to get to Tokyo. And I have to pay for a flight back to Japan from Oz. But all in all, I’ve saved literally about 2/3rds of the cost of the entire trip.

Now, I have five days to kill in NZ. Whatever shall I do?

京都でお花見をします。

While in grad school, working on my MA TESOL, I had a teacher who made us write journals – and really, journaling as part of an MA program? Seriously?

I quickly grew tired of writing my thoughts on language acquisition, and, as I was diagnosed with cancer during this time, I started writing about my desire to move to Japan and what I wanted to do once I arrived. At the top of my list was hanami in Kyoto.

Right now I am in Kyoto fulfilling that dream. I’ll write more when I return.

Never Getting Back Together, Breaking Away, and Monthly Songs

The funnest part of teaching in Japan has been the monthly songs. Each month I choose a new song for the students and we sing it together at the start of class. We’ve sung The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne, and more.

Of all the songs though, I’ve most enjoyed Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Getting Back Together. It’s catchy and cute and fun. And when the class started taking “roles” in the song – some students singing lead and others doing backup vocals – I felt so proud of them and the effort they put into the class. But what is really kind of puzzling… I have no idea when they planned that out. It just happened one day.

Oh, and how many students asked me to explain “indie record”? – don’t ask.

The last song I did for the academic year was Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway. With the four junior highs merging into one for the new academic year (which starts this month), and the fact that there’s no high school in my town – thus many of the graduating students will be going to surrounding cities for their high school education – I thought that Breakaway seemed appropriate. It was my way of saying good-bye to the departing students. More than a few tears were shed by my students.

Japan… right in the heart.

…And There Was Enough Blame To Go Around

The Hiroshima Peace Museum was completely different than I had expected. If there’s any place in the world that had a right to espouse anti-American sentiments, it’s Hiroshima (and Nagasaki). However, there was little to be found.

The museum is separated into three sections. The first details the history of Hiroshima before the dropping of Little Boy on Hiroshima. The second part of the museum describes how atomic / nuclear weapons work, how they are triggered, deployed, etc. And which countries in the world have nuclear weapons and their reported stockpiles. The final section details the effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its citizens, the initial destruction and death tolls, the mid and long term effects on the population and, most disturbing, the effects on the people who didn’t die in the initial blast, but suffered for days or weeks before dying.

Interestingly, the gift shop for the museum is between the second and third parts of the museum.

The first section paints a very even handed and level picture of what lead to the bombing of Hiroshima. It was a joint education / military capitol for its region. It was the launching point for many attacks on China. The museum doesn’t shy away from Japan’s role as a military aggressor in World War 2, it’s sneak attacks on China and the U.S., its forced labor camps, etc. Nor does it gloss over the fact that Japan refused to surrender *before* the atomic bomb was dropped.

At the same time, it doesn’t ignore the Allied desire to demonstrate the might of the atomic bomb – especially as a deterrent to the Soviet Union’s expansion.

There were many things that lead to the bombing of Hiroshima, and there was enough blame to go around.

I spoke with my mother about this, how the decisions of those in power affected the lives of so many innocent people. She said it’s just further proof that those who decide to go to war are not the same people who have to fight the wars. They aren’t the ones putting their lives on the line, nor making sacrifices. The majority of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had little to do with the attacks on China or the U.S. But they are the ones who paid the price. And because of the nature of atomic weaponry, they continue to pay the price decades later.

One of the most overwhelming aspects of the museum was the display of all the letters of protest that Hiroshima has sent to nuclear powers around the world. Each time a nation conducts a nuclear weapons test, they send a letter of protest to the head of state for that country – 606 in all as of October 2013.

Hiroshima strives to be the peace capital of the world. It has a long, hard slog ahead of it.

Spring time in Hiroshima.

Spring time in Hiroshima.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sakura and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Sakura and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Children's Peace Monument

The Children’s Peace Monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peace Bell

The Peace Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

606 Letters of Protest

606 Letters of Protest

Spring Time in Hiroshima

After checking in to my hostel yesterday, I went for a late night stroll around Hiroshima. I found a small hanami party where a wandering musician was singing the Totoro theme song.

I was able to catch the Peace Dome from several vantage points last night as well. A family was out with their children. The two kids were running around the park chased by their dog.

This morning I went with a friend to Miyajima island to see the the iconic torii.

Tomorrow is the Peace Museum.

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広島市 に行きますか

Spring break in the Japanese educational system brings a lot of changes. Unlike the US – where teachers stay at the school and grade for decades – in Japan, teachers are moved from grade to grade and school to school. Also, the school year starts in April, not in late summer.

So, the academic years has ended, my town’s four JHSs are consolidating to one school, and nearly every teacher I’ve worked with the past eight months is being reassigned. Schools are all on Spring break, and I’d normally use this down time for lesson planning, but I’ve no idea with whom I’ll be working. So I’m taking some time off to travel.

Today I arrived in Hiroshima. It’s just one Shinkansen stop south from Okayama. It took me longer to drive from my house to the station than to get from my prefecture to Hiroshima-shi.

Stupidly I wrote down the wrong hostel information in my notes (having pulled the info from my trip that was canceled in February due to snow). I arrived, almost immediately realized I was at the wrong place, and made my way to the proper hostel. Only the address they have on their site took me to Hiroshima City Hall. Why? I’ve no idea…

I did a map search and saw I was across town from my hostel. I made my way back to the tram, boarded, and sat next to a grey-haired gentleman.

Staring at my smart phone, the stations passed by on my map. I turned to the gentleman and asked if I was headed in the correct direction. Just then I saw the Genbaku Dome out the window of the tram. I excused myself and took a quick picture.

Turning back to the gentleman I said, “gomenasai” or “I’m very sorry.” and returned to asking about where we were headed.

We found the right path together and the he borrowed my phone, scrolled through to find my photos, and looked at the dome.

He nodded, handed it back to me and said, “Make sure you go back to appreciate it more deeply than just passing it by it on the train.”

I intend to…

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Level Up & Changes

Here in Kibichuo-cho I teach at six schools – two junior highs and four elementary schools. Starting next month, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, it will be one junior high and five elementary schools.

There are four junior highs, but the town is combining them into one school. I’ll soon teach twice a week at the one junior high and alternate through the other five schools as needed (more on that in a moment).

When I first arrived at my home school, I was asked to give a speech. Initially they asked that it be in English. Then, the day before the speech, they asked that it be in Japanese. I spent all night working with a friend to translate it. We made three versions: one in English, one in Japanese using Hiragana, and one in Japanese using Romaji. I intended to use the Romaji version, but when I got on stage, I realized I’d brought the Hiragana version instead. My skill in Hiragana leaves a lot to be desired and I fumbled trying to read it.

It was a disaster and I apologized far too many times while at the podium. It was embarrassing. Afterwards, the principal said, “Well, your Japanese isn’t very good, but you certainly know how to say ‘Excuse me.’”

Well, this weekend was the school closing ceremony and I was again asked to give a speech in Japanese. I spent all week working on it and translating it to Japanese. I then made sure that the ONLY copy I made was in Romaji.

Before the ceremony, I was in the teacher’s room practicing. My JTE saw me and we ran through the speech together a few times. She said I was doing well and that speech (about saying good-bye to the old school while seizing the opportunity to build a strong name for the new school) was really good.

“Ookura-sensei, I am very nervous. I don’t want it to be a disaster like last time.”

She studied me for a moment. “Daniel-sensei, it’s time you leveled up.”

Ah, the joys of working with a fellow geek (I even gave her an R2D2 action figure for White Day).

During the closing ceremony, as I left me seat to approach the podium, she very briefly stopped me and whispered in my ear, “Level-up, Daniel-sensei!”

The speech went well. I was using some very complicated Japanese, so I couldn’t deliver it with much passion, but it went much better than my first speech at the start of my tenure here.

Afterwards, Ookura-sensei found me and congratulated me on the speech and told me that, as a reward for leveling up, I should enjoy myself in Hiroshima and Kyoto.

But, the real measure that my speech went well is this:

Many students came up to me and thanked me for my speech and felt it was very moving, especially coming from the ALT.

The text of speech (in English) follows at end of this post.

As the academic year draws to a close, I have been reworking the curriculum for my grammar schools. I have done a pilot program, teaching phonics to the 1st – 4th year students. I started in January and we did testing at the end of February. It’s been a success and they are spreading the program to all of my schools and possibly to the other elementary schools in town as well.

But the even better part is that they are letting me redo the main part of the lesson plan as well. They gave me 15 – 20 minutes in each class for phonics so long as I also taught new vocabulary according to the curriculum. But the order of the topics were disjointed – teaching time before teaching numbers, teaching days of the weeks, but not months, etc.

I sat down with one of the teachers and we reordered everything so that each lesson works as a foundation for the next. On top of that, since the lesson plans have been used for years, most of the students have this nebulous grasp on the topics. But nothing solid. So we are using the same lesson plan across all four grades (1st – 4th, I have no control over 5th and 6th as that is set at the national level). Then, starting next academic year, the 1st & 2nd grade students will have the same lesson plan again, but the 3rd and 4th grade students will have a more advanced curriculum that builds off what they learned in 1st and 2nd year.

This essentially commits me to Japan for a total of three years, which works just about right for me… for now. Time will tell what I choose to do after I am done rolling out the new programs here.

My Closing Ceremony Speech

I have only taught at Takenosho Junior High School for a few months, but I am sad to see that such a venerable school is closing.

However, I am excited by the opportunities offered by a new junior high.

For the current students continuing to Kaga Junior High School, you have the honor and responsibility of being the first students at this new school. Respect and seize this opportunity to build the foundation of Kaga’s reputation.

To all of you: good luck, and do your best!

Weekend in Osaka

Last weekend I went to Osaka with friends around Japan. We were there for the Sumo championship. Much like rugby, I have no idea how sumo works. Much like rugby, I love it anyway.

Saturday morning was spent getting everyone together. We’d decided to meet at the Starbucks near Osaka station – there are several near Osaka station, not to mention at least one and possibly two INSIDE Osaka station. We eventually herded ourselves together and went out for the best damn Mexican food I’ve yet had in Japan.

After lunch was three hours of sumo. It’s really quite amazing to watch. So much ceremony, and often many “what the hell?” moments – such as when one wrestler started doing push ups.

Sumo was followed by dinner at a Korean restaurant with table grilled pork and vegetables. So damn good. We then made our way to a pub to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and from there went to an incredible hole-in-the-wall martini place.

Sunday I spent mostly by myself. Hit Osaka-jo and the Osaka aquarium, which, while nice, is NOTHING like the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Then I hit Den-Den Town and geeked out to old school Nintendo games and the general otaku scene there.

Today was an enjoyable shinkansen ride back to Okayama. The academic year is winding down, and I will be having several weeks of holiday. I’ll be going to Hiroshima for hanami at the end of this month and then Kyoto the following weekend for even more hanami.

Life. Is. Good.

Osaka-jo.

Osaka-jo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

feeding the penguins

Feeding time for the penguins at the Osaka Aquarium…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

feed the dolphins

…and the dolphins, too.

View from beneath the glacier.

View from beneath the glacier.

In Which I Geek Out Just A Little Bit…

Wait a minute. So Anakin’s last name is Skywalker… and Luke’s last name is Skywalker? And it never crossed Darth Vader’s mind to do a database search on last name “Skywalker” for boys born around the time Amadala died? Really? Huh.
If The Empire didn’t even have a registry of its citizens, it deserved to be defeated by teddy bears.