Friday, February 26, 2010

Amanda asks – What do you want to know?

So I had an idea. I am always wondering if people are reading my blog or not. Comments inspire me to update more often. So I was trying to think of ways to get more people to leave comments. And I came up with this.

Welcome to the first Amanda asks column in which I ask for your thoughts and feedback. These questions may relate to previous or future blog entries, or may just be something that’s on my mind. If this goes well and I get a good number of comments I’ll try to make this a weekly thing. That way you’ll have incentive to check back every week to see what you’ve missed.

My first question is: What are you interested in about Japan? What types of things would you like to know more about and read about on my blog?

I really want to know what the people actually reading my blog are interested in. There will probably be posts about things that only I will find interesting, but I’d like it if people were also getting information they want out of my blog. Your answers can be specific things or general topics. They can be silly or serious. Help me out gentle readers!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Go Mao Asada!

I realize that by the time anyone reads this that the Women’s Free Skate may already be over and you will all know who won. But since it hasn’t happened yet I’m going to post a quick update about it anyway. Also it gives me an excuse to try posting a youtube video on my blog. ^_^

I love figure skating. It’s one of my favorite sports to watch. And if I could go back in time and participate in one sport that I never got a chance to try as a kid it would be skating of some variety. I’ve only been ice skating a handful of times in my life (darn you Texas and your usually nonexistent winters), but I really enjoy it. But since I can’t do it I settle for watching others. I will admit that it gets slightly more frustrating as I get older. When I was a kid I could look up to the Olympic skaters and their success. Now a lot of them are younger than me, but I try not to let it make me feel inadequate.

I talk about the Winter Olympics almost every day with my students. They are now all aware of my love of figure skating. One of my students asked if I cheer for team Japan or America and I told her both. And that’s super true in women’s skating. I have followed a little bit of figure skating through the last year. It’s pretty popular in Japan (especially the women since they have top skaters at the moment) and I’ve been able to catch several competitions on TV. And in the very first one I watched I fell in love with Mao Asada. She is adorable and just looked so happy out on the ice. I was an instant fan. Here is the routine I saw. (If the double video is too much for anyone another version can be found here with English commentary.)

I love how she nearly falls over at the end. And I like even more that she is able to laugh about it. The music is wonderful and her costume is one of the best she’s had in my opinion. She did a variation on this routine for her Olympic short program, but I honestly think this one is better. The footwork at the end of this one is just magical to me and reminds me of dancing (she originally trained in ballet and I think it shows here). But I suppose when the program was altered from a free skate program to a short program they had to cut some things. And at the NHK she was in front of a home crowd and probably not nearly as nervous as being at the Olympics.

Mao is really popular here (although Miki Ando is close behind her) and it would be hard to live here and not be a fan. I like Kim Yu-Na too, but Mao is my favorite. I really don’t know much about either of the America skaters but I wish them luck. We’ve seen a come from behind gold medal before, so it’s not impossible. But I’m still cheering for Mao to win a medal. Most of all I am hoping that all of the skaters enjoy their Olympic experience. I know I will enjoy watching them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Year’s Card Game

This is a little late, but I don’t want to have to wait another year to post about it. Every year at one of my Jr. High Schools we play a traditional Japanese card game at the beginning of January. The game is called Hyakunin isshu 百人一首 and means one hundred people, one poem (from each). This game is played with 100 cards. Each card has the second half of a short poem. Players spread the cards out face up between them. The caller, who does not play, has a special stack of the cards with the complete poems on them. They shuffle these cards, and then read the first one out. As soon as a player knows which card it is he begins to search the field for that card. The goal is to claim the cards before the other players do (by smacking it). This can involved diving across the mat to get to the right card. If you grab the wrong card you take away one point from the cards you have already collected.

This is a really long entry with pictures, so I'm inserting a break here.  "Read more" for the rest!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Let's go make a kite!

Next week is the 7th Annual Amakusa Kite Flying Festival.  Kite flying is a popular activity in Japan during the celebration of New Year's.  The Japanese word for kite is tako 凧 (not to be confused with octopus which is also tako 蛸 [and not to be confused with the wonderful Mexican dish which in Japanese is takosu タコス]).  Eric and I will be attending the festival next week, and in preparation for the event we attended a class on kite making. (Read more for the full story and pictures!)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am an American Los Angles Teacher?

So in my Jr. High third grade (9th grade) class my kids were playing a game. They get in pairs facing each other, one kid facing the blackboard and one kid with his back to the blackboard. We write a word on the board, and the kid who can see the word has to describe that thing, in English, to their partner who tries to guess what the secret word is. It is a really great game and very amusing to watch the kids’ brains working. For example, if the word was lemon they might say, “yellow,” “fruit,” or “sour.” We only give them about 25 seconds, so they have to think fast. They can say whatever they want, as long as it’s in English. After we do 4 rounds we switch who is giving clues and then do 4 more. Then we review the kinds of clues they gave and write them up on the board.

One of the words on that day was Amanda sensei (that’s me!). I was easy to give clues about. “English teacher” “woman” “ALT.” When we were reviewing these clues, the teacher thought to ask if the kids knew what ALT stood for. I think they knew each letter stood for something, but they really had no idea. The first guess was American Los Angles Teacher. Classic. We laughed and asked the kids if I was from Los Angles. They realized no, I was not. And San Antonio does not start with the letter L.

They were right on the T. T is for teacher. That made sense. So we moved on to L. They guessed “listen” and then got closer with “lesson.” I not sure what Japanese clues the teacher was giving them, but the smartest girl in the class actually came up with “language.” So now we had two. I am a language teacher. The A was a bit more difficult. American didn’t make sense because ALTs are from many countries like Australia, Canada, England, South Africa and so on. So it can’t be America. He gave them a clue that they might know the term from soccer. One kid guessed “off sides” (as it sounds like aff sides when pronounced in Japanese). I kind of like the idea of being an offside language teacher. But no. When they still didn’t get it he asked them what it was called when you help someone else score a goal. And this let to the correct guess of “assist.” From there it was just a change of word form to get to “assistant.” Assistant Language Teacher.

I suppose I should not be surprised they didn’t know what ALT stands for. They have had an ALT since the first grade of elementary school, and language and assistant aren’t exactly easy words. But it had simply never dawned on me that they might not know what it means before this happened. It was interesting for all of us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I think I've been in Japan too long...

So today during class we were teaching my Junior High first graders (7th graders) about past tense verbs. They have this handy little verb handout that has 3 pages of common English verbs with cute pictures to show the meaning of the verbs. So in class we were reviewing the third page and the Japanese English Teacher had me say the word in present tense, which the kids repeated, and then I said the word in the past tense, and the kids repeated that.

So we were going along nicely until we got half way down the page and got to the word throw. And my brain just kinda died. I honestly could not think of what the past tense of throw was. So there was this awkward pause after the kids repeated throw where I finally just said, “What’s the past tense of throw?” My teacher came to the rescue and responded, “Threw?” Of course! I felt really silly, so I told the kids and the teacher, “I don’t speak English,” which is what many of my students say when they don’t know an answer. They were all pretty amused by the situation.

I have noticed my vocabulary has started to wane recently as I often cannot remember the word I want to use in conversation with other English speakers. But I have never been unable to answer something basic in class like that. I’m still pretty embarrassed, but luckily it was at my awesome school where the kids are super friendly and forgiving of their crazy teacher. And I suppose it probably makes them feel better when they can’t remember a word knowing that the native English speaker also forgets really basic stuff from time to time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Where I am

This was originally going to be part of the About Me entry, but I felt I had enough information (and spiffy pictures!) that it could really stand on its own and keep the intro from being super long.

Okay, time for fun with maps! I live in Japan. Here is a map of Japan:

I live on the southernmost of the four main islands, called Kyushu. My prefecture, which is kinda sorta like a Japanese state, is Kumamoto. Kumamoto, or 熊本, means “Origin of the Bear”. I colored Kumamoto pink on this map for you.

This is a close up of Kumamoto prefecture. I live in the city of Amakusa, 天草, which means “Heaven’s Grass”. It’s dark green on this map. Amakusa is actually made up of about 9 smaller towns that incorporated a few years ago. They all still have their own names and branch offices of the city government and such. My town is Goshoura, 御所浦, which means “Emperor’s Palace by the Sea”. Goshoura is a series of islands (mostly tiny and uninhabited). The main one is circled in red. That’s where I live. The island next to it is part of Goshoura too, and is connected by a bridge, but since my schools and apartment are on the other island that’s the only one I circled.

Here is a close up of Goshoura. I also teach on the much smaller island of Yokoura. It’s so small it wasn’t even visible on the other map. You can see it here, above Goshoura. I can see it out my bedroom window as well.

I live in the inaka of Japan, 田舎, which means countryside, and it really doesn’t get more inaka than this. From my experience, the word has the connotation of being cut off and away from things. That is very much the case with me. Goshoura is only accessible by ferry. The ferries stop running at about 6 pm. After that, you can still get to the island, but only by taking a sea taxi. Yes, sea taxi. Their very existence continues to blow my mind. On my island, there are no bookstores or video stores or arcades or bowling alleys or movie theatres. We have a very small grocery store. Very small, and the prices are high because all the food has to be brought in from off the island. We have a small convenience store, that to me really isn’t a convenience store. It’s horribly cramped and carries a lot of things I’ve never seen at other conbinis but instead see at grocery stores.

But to make up for our lack of things you normally find in a town (I guess) we have dinosaurs. Yes, Goshoura is a thriving community for dinosaur fossils. Well, mostly shell fossils, but there have been some notable dino fossil discoveries here. We have a fossil museum and you can even rent equipment to go smack at rocks trying to find fossils yourself!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An update, an apology, and a promise

It's a pretty good thing that I haven't really told anyone about this blog yet, so hopefully no one has been waiting for me to update for the past six months and been disappointed. But hopefully all that will change soon.

My computer died soon after that last entry and I was mostly computerless for several months, which was terrible in so many ways. I got a new laptop over Christmas break, so all is well again and I should be able to update more often. I really want to make updating a priority, so I'm going to do everything in my power to update this thing two or three times a week. After I've done that for a month or so hopefully I can decide if it needs to be updated more or less often. Also, by then I should have a better idea of who is actually reading my blog and hopefully I will be able to tell what kind of entries you all most want to read about. So if you have found your way here and enjoy an entry or two, please leave a comment!

So what has happened in the past six months? Well, a lot of little things that will probably get brought up here and there. The biggest news is that I have yet again recontracted, and so will be here in Japan for another year and a half. This is the last time I can recontract (you can technically go up to 5 years, but my Board of Education only allows 3) so next year I will likely be coming home (although there is a chance that I could just hang out here and be Eric's housewife for a year. We're still discussing things).

I'm still playing with the format of this thing too. I've changed some things around, and I like it better than the old version (that no one else saw...), but don't be surprised if things get changed around again. I'm still learning about this whole blogging thing, but hopefully things will go smoothly and I will pretend to know what I'm doing and you will all humor me.