Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Musical Teaching Positions

I’ve written entries explaining how Japan doesn’t always make sense to me before. Prepare for another of those.

So, last March I was preparing for my trip home for Spring Break. The final week of school before I left, I was informed that one of my English teachers would be transferring to another school. She had just found out. Four other teachers and the principal were also transferr
ing. It seems that the normal stay at a school is only 3 years. Then you are
 transferred to another school.

At my other Jr. High school, the teachers did not know who was going to transfer and who was going to stay by the time I left. I was not happy to hear this at all as, a) I would be unable to say goodbye to anyone who was transferring, and b) it meant my other English teacher could trans
 fer as well.

I was very worried as to what I would find when I returned to school. I was worried I would have to relearn how to do my entire job all over again (and just when I felt I had it pretty much down, too!). Remember, the school year here ends in March and then begins again in April. So all of these transfers were taking place in time with a brand new school year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Held to a Different Standard

This article is going to shock many of you. It still shocks me. Not in the same way the last article shocked you. Well, maybe they are more similar than I first thought. Both are shocking because they are so contrary to certain things I thought I understood about Japanese culture.

Back within my first few months of teaching, there was a class at Jr. High where test papers were returned to the students. I was shocked at how low most of the grades were. I had 3 students score in the single digits. One was a 4. And this wasn’t because they had just missed every answer. They had simply left most of the test blank. When I saw this in my first grade (7th grade) class I was surprised, but not shocked. This was their first year with a formal English class; surely some were going to struggle. But when we went to the second and third grade (8th and 9th) classes and the results were about the same, I began to wonder. How was it that these kids who left their tests blank were advancing to the next grade level? Why weren’t they being held back a year or forced to repeat a class?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hemp and Playboy

You read that title right. This entry is about Cannabis and Playboy. In my schools. But not how you are probably thinking right now.

I should start out by explaining a few quick things. 1) Japan can be very strange. Things are not always going to make sense to a foreigner. This is one of those cases. 2) Marijuana is VERY illegal here. If you have it you go to jail, for a long time. End of story. Drugs are bad and the punishments are severe. This will make what I am about to tell you even more strange.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Valentine’s Day and White Day

I meant to put this article up in February, and now its even a little late for White Day, but its still interesting so I'm getting it up now.  Enjoy!

Valentine’s Day works a little differently in Japan. On February 14th girls give chocolate to boys that they like. There are huge displays at the stores of all kinds of chocolate treats. Many girls make their own chocolates as a special gesture for the guy they like. Chocolate is pretty much the only gift associated with Valentine’s Day. The chocolates you buy or make for the one you love are called affection chocolates. There are also obligation chocolates, which are chocolates you buy for someone you work with or want to express thanks to in some way. But I think these are becoming less popular. Friend chocolates are becoming more common, which are of course people simply buying chocolate for their friends male and female. Some companies also cater to guys during this time hoping they will buy their chocolates for themselves. The example I saw on the news was made from aged sake, and they hoped that sake enthusiast would pick them up.

Now March 14th is White Day, the day on which all of the boys return the favor to the girls who bought them chocolate on Valentine’s Day. The most common treats for this holiday are cookies and marshmallows. I forgot to take pictures of the Valentine's Day displays, but here are a few of the White Day ones.

For both Valentine’s and White Day the stores set up a special area where they will wrap your gifts for you, free of charge. It’s very convenient, especially if you have bought a lot.

Last year I bought chocolate for all of the male teachers I work with. With four schools it ended up being nearly fifty chocolates, so I had to buy rather cheap ones. But as far as I am aware, I’m the only female teacher who brought them chocolate at all, so I think the gesture was appreciated. I did it because I wanted to say thank you to everyone for helping me in my first year and because I wanted to try experiencing Valentine’s the Japanese way. Since I didn’t know if the other female teachers would be bringing chocolates I didn’t want to be left as the only one who didn’t bring any.

Everyone seemed very amused at my participation in the holiday and I think my gesture was appreciated. After all, everyone loves to get free chocolate. When White Day came I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I pulled in quite an impressive haul all things considered. It was pretty exciting.

This year Valentine’s Day fell over the weekend and I decided not to buy chocolates for all my teachers. After all, I actually had Eric here this year to buy chocolate for.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Preparing for High School Entrance Exams

A Jr. High third grade student of mine wrote this on a test in July, “I have played volleyball for six years. It’s very fun. But I can’t play now because I have to study.” In July the first term of the school year ends. At this point, third graders are no longer allowed to take part in club activities so that they can devote their time and attention to studying for the High School entrance exams. In one of my schools the third graders are on the third floor of the school while all of the other kids are on the second floor. It is hoped that the isolation will help them not be distracted from their studies. So begins the ultimate terrors of Jr. High.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hina Matsuri

March 3rd is a festival in Japan called Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, also known as Girl’s Day. On this day people pray for the happiness and health of girls. Families with daughters bring out a tiered display of dolls for the occasion. There are 15 dolls in the set, not to mention furniture and few trees. The dolls wear costumes of the Imperial Court from the Heian period (794-1192).

Monday, March 1, 2010

In case anyone was worried...

I have not been washed away by a tsunami. 

We apparently got some tiny swells, but I didn't even notice the difference.  The ferries were still running and things seemed pretty normal.  But I know some people hear "Japan" and "danger" and worry about me, so I figured it might be comforting for anyone who was worried to see this.

Even if something did hit my island, I (and most everyone else on the island) live on the side of the island that faces all the other islands.  To my knowledge there isn't much of anything on the side that faces out toward open water.  I imagine that this was done by design. 

But all of this did remind me of something rather amusing, so here it is for your amusement.

Here is the description from youtube:

"This is a clip from 'Troop of One Hundred', taken from a Japanese comedy/prank show, where 100 people chase after random strangers and you see their reactions. Totally harmless but their reactions are priceless.

For a translation of what they're shouting (thanks Digg):

- For the 1st and 2nd guys, they shout: "There's a tsunami!!" (tsunami da!)
- For the 3rd guy they shout: "That's the guy!!" (koitsu da!)
- Nothing for the 4th guy
- Last scene: "Watch out!! (danger)" (abunai!) "

Thanks to Leslie for showing me this forever ago.  It still brings me joy.