Saturday, October 22, 2005

My space with my host family...

These are pictures from the guest apartment that I stayed in while with my host was one of the best night's sleeps that I had in Japan!

Pictures From My Host Family

A picture in front of the castle (it was over six hundred years old!)....

All the edemanmae that I ate for dinner...I sure do love it! :)

Dinner at my host family's house...look at all that food!!! Relaxing after dance class...

Taking a dance class in Japan! It was one of my favorite experiences!

Visiting a Buddist Monistary with my host father... notice the sandales I had to wear!

My Japanese Family....

Whoa, What a day!

I am doing my home stay this weekend, where I stay with a Japanese family and it has been AMAZING! They are letting me use the Internet right now (yes!) so I can try to record this all before I forget it. This is by far the best part of my trip.

So we wake up early from the hotel and have to pack out stuff yet again (which I think is stupid, b/c we will unpack it tomrorow when we stay for another night). But we did and I fit it all, so I can`t complain. We all waited downstairs for our host families to arrive after breakfast. I have to admit that I was very nervous. I didn`t know what to expect and was afraid that they would know no English. The Japanese families started to arrive and they all gathered on one side of the room while we sat on another (kind of like a middle school dance!). Slowly, they started to come over. My host Matsumura came right over to me. He was so nice! It was just him and we braved the elements (lots of rain...dang it all...left over from the typhoon) and got into his Jeep. He kept telling me his car was American and was loving that my Honda was Japanese!

We drove to his house where I took my shoes off at the door and put on slippers. I met him wife and 85 year old mother who lives with them. He has two kids around my age, but the boy is away in medical school and the girl went to a concert. We sat in his living room (which is not that much different from an Ameican one, but they have mats all over instead of carpet) and he laid out the game plan. We would first go to Ski Jam, which is their big ski resort for pizza (nice!) and then go to one of the oldest shrines in Japan.

Oh, and he took me to my "pad" which is actually across the start. I have my own little apartment to myself complete with a stocked fridge of all kinds of chocolates. I love them!!!!!

His wife went with us to get pizza and it was really good. We drove up winding hills to get to the mountain top and I was afraid my car sickness would kick in. He made me sit in the front with him, though, so it was a bit better. They drive on the wrong side of the road here and the driver sits on the right side. I keep mixing it up and going to the wrong side! They ordered three big pizzas and a plate of pasta for the three of us. I am beginning to think that the Japanese think we eat a lot!

We dropped Matsumura`s wife off at home so she could prepare dinner...sushi! The shrine was a ways away but it was amazing. It was a large grounds area where buddist monks live. I made my first big mistake of the weekend when I took off my shoes to enter and had no socks on! It was so bad! You don`t wear shoes inside and I had to walk all over barefoot...ugh! We followed the path and got to see a lot of cool things. I prayed at a alter where you put down a coin, take a bit of ash and put it into the incense. I then saw their shrines to budda and a lot of the monks. My host "father" made me go on a photo shoot and took a ton of pictures! You aren`t allowed to take pictures of the monks, be he made me pose for one when they weren`t bad! We kept posing for pictures and all the Japanese people aroudn us would also take one. I think they were intrigued to see an American (Catholic, none the less! ) at a Buddist temple! I bought a ton of souviners, including incense that I will burn for everyone. He bought me two prayer bracelets when I wasn`t for me and one for my sister, he said, since I kept talking about her.

We stopped at a tofu factory on the way home (YUM!) b/c I told him I liked it and then a bamboo musueum that was really interesting. I ran into a lot of people from my group there and bought way too many things (including a toy for baby McCrea and the Whalens!!!).

Now for the best part...he asked me if I would like to go to a dance class with his wife. I told him I use to dance when I was younger and he got all excited. Somehow they found me some jazz shoes (which I don`t understand b/c my size is so large...right, Rich???), but they did and off we went. I entered a house and walked upstairs where they had a dance studio! It was soooo cool! I did a dance class with three other ladies! Somehow I got to talking about how I take yoga and so the instructor started to do that! Then I was taking a yoga class! Towards the end she had me lie down and she started to walk on my back and then give me some strange (but good feeling!) back massage! If my dance classes could have ended like that, I would have loved it! After class it is tradition to drink tea. We sat at a table in the back and someone brought us green tea. We had to drink it in a certain way. We turned the bowl two times, sipped in it three sips, turned it three more times and then rubbed the rim. It was very bitter so we had a tiny sugar cake to eat afterwards. I loved it! The best part was, they pull out a bag for me filled with the cakes and strange treats! Score!

I went home and took a quite shower before dinner. Okay, their shower is so weird. First of all, the toilet is in a different room and you wear special shoes for it. I go to the shower room and get into the bathtub. It makes sense, right? Wrong! I guess the tub is seperate and you shower on the floor. I made a huge mess and was VERY confused! Ugh!

Last but not least was dinner! It was the BEST! One of the ladies from the dance class came with her husband. She runs a boutique and brought me a shirt. Everyone here is sooo nice! We sat down to a feast! I can`t begin to tell you what we ate, because there was sooo much! I had so many different kinds of fish including octapus, squid and lots of other good raw stuff! Yum! The shrimps all had little eyes and kept watching me. I ate all their edemomae and tried so stuff that I probably don`t want to know what it was! We sat on the floor on pillows and ate at a low table. It took about two hours and was a lot of fun!

Now I am getting ready to brave the apartment again...wish me luck!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pictures from the High School and Dinosaur Museum

Hanging out with some friends at the dinosaur museum...

A view from the top of the mountain at the beautiful!

No matter where I go, I find someone to teach! Ha!

The museum is in the shape of a big dinosaur egg!

Katsuyama High School...

Watching the after school club drumming was great!

Japanese characters in calligraphy class....

Look! Teachers everywhere have MOUNDS of work! I am not alone with grading! :)

Some friendly students...

This would NEVER happen in my classroom!

The Japanese version of me...this is their tenth grade literature teacher!

Perry High School...the Japanese Version!

Well, it has taken me almost two weeks into my journey to visit the high school, and I was ready when we showed up! We found out that they wanted us to arrive early so the administrators could talk to us. I have to admit that I was kind of disappointed, because I had planned to get up early and run, but what can you do! I packed my slippers and headed off to the high school with the rest of the teachers.

It really is amazing how similar the schools here look to our American schools. I guess there are things in our world that connect all of us, and I’m excited to show all of you (my students) the similarities when I return! We got a bit of an overview at the high school. The school is grades ten through twelve, but we learned that the eleventh grade wouldn’t be there b/c they were on a field trip to Korea (wow…what a class trip!). The craziest thing that I learned is that when a teacher is absent, they don’t hire a sub. Instead the kids watch themselves alone in the classroom! I cannot imagine my Perry students doing that at all (sorry, guys!).

We got a schedule of classes and my friend, Heather, and I went immediately to the calligraphy class to watch. Students had the choice of three different art classes. They could take drawing, theory or calligraphy. We were lucky because this was one of the classes where the teachers weren’t there! The kids were soooo good! They all walked in and got to work. I wanted Heather to pinch me because I thought I was dreaming! We watched them for a bit and went on to explore other classes, including a tenth grade English class (where I took pictures of my Japan equivalent). I talked with the teacher and learned that the students read all Japanese literature all three years. They read no American Literature (some of my students would love that!). I can’t fathom the thought that your entirely schooling would be centered on one type of writing. Can you imagine a world without Shakespeare? Or Fitzgerald or Steinbeck? Crazy!

P.S. Tara...we found a boy sleeping through class so I took some pictures of him for you. I thought you'd like to see your "Japanese" twin! Imagine, sleeping through class....

I thought we got lucky and had a good lunch, because the hotel catered it (the students bring their own lunches in the high school). I was wrong when I opened my pack and found it was full of….fish! Surprise! I’ve never had that in Japan! There were some pieces of cheese so I ate that and mooched some off of other people. Good thing I packed plenty of grape mentos! I chowed down on those. We watched a video for students who were trying to decide where to go to high school and then explored a bit more. I befriended three senior boys and sweet-talked them into helping me get onto the computer. They used one of their friend’s passwords and I was e-mailing away!

We got to watch a club sport at the end of the day (every student has to participate in one). It was very cool. We saw tyko drumming, which involved the performers dressed in masks and almost dancing as they played these huge dreams. It was incredible! I wanted to stay and watch more, but we had to head to the dinosaur museum.

Yes, the dinosaur museum. Apparently, a twelve-year-old boy found a dinosaur bone in Katsuyama in 1996 on a field trip (what a find!). They learned that there were tons of bones in the area, thus creating a museum. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of dinosaur bones, so the trip wasn’t too exciting to me. I spent most of the time in the gift shop (yes, Mr. Jenkins…shopping), but one can only look at so much dinosaur merchandise.

The day was well rewarded, though, because Don, Carla, Heather and I set out for pizza for dinner. There was a Farm Fresh Pizza restaurant near our hotel and it was a taste of heaven! We all ordered our own pizzas and inhaled them. I have to admit that I once again paid a huge sum of money (six dollars) for a glass of Coke. Geez!

I went to bed full of pizza and a little nervous of what awaited me the next day with my host family experiences. Okay, not a “little nervous,” I was VERY nervous! Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pictures from Our Meditation...

This was the room we sat in for the meditation...

These were the Buddahs that filled the room where the giant figure was. There was over a thousand of these. The room felt very spiritual...

These statues were at the front of the monestary...

This was the temple that housed the giant Buddah...Isn't it amazing?

There were different dieties and objects that guarded the doors to the temple...

A Taste of Buddism

I was excited to visit the Middle School because I wanted to see students who were closer to my age. Our day at the MS started a little later then the elementary school, because we would not watch them arrive. The MS in Japan is grade 6-9th and all the students wear uniforms. However, I noticed that a lot of them just wore their gym outfits instead of dressing in the formal uniforms.

Arriving at the MS, we got the same celebrity treatment as the elementary (no autographs, though…darn it!). The kids were excited and anxious to see us. We got to tour the teacher’s lounge where I was glad to see stacks of papers! I took pictures as proof that I am not the only one with MASSIVE amounts of grading every night. Ha! The day was a lot like the elementary school, where we were free to roam the school and observe what we wanted to see.

I observed a cooking class that was pretty interesting. The kids were making miso soup and there was little involvement by the teacher. I am still surprised by the lack of teacher interaction; I don’t know how the kids know what to do! I also watched a literature class, but it was hard to tell what they were doing since they didn’t speak in English. I kind of concluded that they were diagramming sentences or doing something with grammar, instead of reading. I also found a computer and e-mailed a bit (score!).

I ate lunch with the sixth graders and they were very excited to have me. Some of the boys got their English workbooks out and were asking me phrases in English. They kept laughing every time I would answer…hmmm! I got asked some thought provoking questions such as, “Do I like music?”, “What age am I?” and “Do I ski?” Something tells me they are learning the basics in their class! Lunch was a little more manageable. There were no silvery fishes! We had croquettes, which I didn’t eat because they had red meat in them, but there was a really good rice dish, and we all know I heart rice! The kids cleaned like mad again after lunch and made their school spotless. It’s crazy!

After the junior high visit, we hurried back to the hotel to change b/c some of us had asked to do a Buddhist meditation. Wow, this was a truly incredible experience! We got to go into the temple first, which house the large Buddha in Japan. It is over 13 meters tall and GIANT! There were also 1221 Buddha statues in the temple, also. It was very spiritual. We got to enter and walk around, reflect and examine the area. There were candles and incense burning and we had the choice to pray to Buddha and ring the gong by him.

We moved on to a separate room in the monastery that a monk led us to. There were sat on pillows and prepared for a mediation. Traditionally, Buddhist pray for an hour or more at a time, but we were only doing fifteen minutes. I have to admit that I was a little upset. With all the yoga that I do, I have learned a lot about this religion and I felt like I wanted and could do the whole experience. Regardless, it was very moving when we did the meditation. The monk rang bells and clapped his hands to begin and end. We were suppose to clear our minds of all thoughts. When we finished, we drank green tea as an offering for the experience.

I opted to walk back to our hotel (about two miles) with Renee, Scott and our guide, Aiko and interpreter, Maturyano. We stopped at a soba noodle restaurant and had a great dinner! I made sure that mine had no moving fish on it, although Aiko had little fish eggs all over hers! Blah! I need to brag a bit more about my chopstick skills; they rock! Our translator was from Hiroshima so she told us some really interesting stories about the city now and the aftermath from the bomb. She is working with HBO as their translator for a documentary that they are filming about Hiroshima. She told us some very moving things. Again, I thought about how lucky I am to have this opportunity. I took a step back after dinner and thought about the magnitude of this trip. The fact that three Americans were in Japan talking to two Japanese citizens, one who was affected by Hiroshima, about the event. I set out on this trip with the hopes that I would learn more about this culture, their ideas and views on the impact America had on them, and I have learned so much more. I am so thankful to be here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Elementary School Pictures

Our welcoming crew!!!!

Posing with some of the students. I had the third graders at Perry make bookmarks and some of them were holding up their new gifts.

Signing autographs...I swear, I get this everywhere I go! :)

The students had their own sweet potato farm.
They are showing off their crop here!

Here are the students arriving to school. They have no buses, everyone walks. The younger kids wear hats in specific colors to identify what grade they are in.

Can you spot me in this picture!?! You have to look close!

Meeting the Munchkins....

I woke up early enough to catch the buffet breakfast (yesterday I didn`t and had to subsist on a great meal of Mentos and Diet Coke- yes, I did hunt down the Diet Coke here. It wasn`t easy, either b/c in the resturants it cost six dollars for a glass!). The breakfast was Japanese style which meant lots of fish. I don`t know about you, but that`s not what I want to wake up to in the morning. What is it with all this fish here???? Luckily, they had white rice so I had a HUGE bowl of it. I could like this country and their love of rice!

Today I finally stepped foot into a Japanese school (well, one that was not a college). The verdict is... it really is not any different from a school in the United States!

We started the day bright and early at the elementary school so we could see the children arrive. They do not take buses, everyone walks. We watched everyone arrive at the school and you could point out all the trouble makers! They were being wild and running around outside the school. The interesting thing was, though, that no teachers were in sight! No one was watching these hoodlums! The kids all wear different color hats to distinguish what grades they were in (for hats for first grade, yellow hats for second grade...).

We met with the principal and assistant principal and took a tour of the school. The children were very excited to see us and practiced their English on me. They kept asking me, "What is your favorite color?" I have a feeling that is what they learned for us since I told about fifty of them how much I love blue! We got to go into the classrooms and observe the students and hang out with them. They are very very well behaved and I was surprised again to see that they teacher was often missing from the classroom? Hmm...where do they go? Maybe to the secret teacher`s lounge like the one I have in the hollow floor next to my desk! Right, tenth graders???!!!

I got to eat with a first grade class from lunch and that was an adventure. First of all, they prepare the lunch! They all have specific tasks such as setting the desks, serving the food (they put on white aprons, hats and masks) and passing out the trays. It is crazy! They all know exactly what they do and get to work. I think the craziest part is what they eat, though.

Drumroll, please......

We dined on a delicious meal of miso soup, rice and silver fish! THE WHOLE FISH!!!!! Each child got two long silver fish. Now they didn`t just eat the middle of it, no, they the whole dang thing! Bones, tales, insides, head and all! I just sat in awe (I am trying to be polite here!). The kids were chowing down like there was no tomorrow. The one girl next to me started pulling her`s apart and smacking her lips. Then another boy came over to talk and sprayed it on me. NASTY! The worse was the poor girl who did not eat her fish spine, and her teacher made her eat it! I felt bad, but I did not touch any of them. I would have covered them if I could have! Blah!

The rest of the day was spent exploring the school and getting to know the students. We talked with the teachers at the end of the day and again, I found the school was not much different from my own school. Who knew!?!

We returned around four so I put on my running shoes, grabbed my i-pod and went running. It was amazing! The town is nothing but mountains and green land. I ran past shrines, castles and structures that were thousands of years old. I did not want to stop because it was all so incredible. I found a shrine in the woods with buddhas all around it and stopped to rest and just reflect for a bit. It really is an incredible feeling and thought to know that I am a part of so much, and my world in Cleveland is just a little tiny speck of what is out there. I really am loving this trip and how it is opening my eyes to the vastness of the world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Meeting the City...

Today we started off the day at city hall and I felt like a minor celebrity...We all walk in and all the government workers stand up and clap for us. I am not quite sure why, but I have decided that my students should now do that when I enter the room! It would be rather nice to have my ego inflated every day. I really can not get over how well they treat teachers here. They really respect and understand the job that we are doing.

Anyway, we meet with the mayor and all the city councilmen and their superintendent. I have a nice picture of all of us together and one of me with the mayor! Ha! They talked about the city and the town and we asked questions for about two hours. I think the best part is that I got to meet my host father for this weekend when I do my home visit! He works for the city to arrange travel and tourism. He is sooo nice and I have a feeling that he will be able to show me some good places! I am really glad I met him, because I was a bit nervous about this experience.

We took a bus to a traditional Japanese resturant for lunch. I have to admit that I was a little picky here. We had red meat and my guide forgot that I don`t eat it. Luckily, I had some nice friends who gave me their extra white rice (now how could I turn rice is not like I love it or anything!) and their miso soup (which is a broth with tofu and seaweed in it). We all tracked across the highway to get some food at the gas station...I bought the biggest apple I have ever eaten. I swear it was as big as my head and I have a picture to proove it!

Our group went to a buddist shrine and temple area next. We walked around this area for about two hours and it was very very interesting. It was a living space of monks in the 1600`s and there are now shrines (little buildings) all around with dieties and budhas to pray to. Gorman, I got you your rock and Mrs. Phillips-Brown, I took a lot of pictures because I know you like this stuff. I felt that it was very peaceful and spiritual. I enjoyed it a lot.

Now for the best part of the day.... I ate sushi!!!!!

A few of us walked to a resturant in town. We actually got lost and found a nice man who led us about a mile to the resturant. The people here are just so nice. We ordered over four hundred dollars worth of sushi (thank you, Fulbright!) and tried some adventurous stuff. It was the best sushi I have ever had in my life! My favorite was the toro, which is the belly of a tuna. You eat it raw. Hmmm...I wonder if it came from the tuna I saw at the fish market!

I am going to bed fairly early tonight b/c we are going to the elementary school tomorrow. I figure I need to rest up!

Did I mention that I miss you all!!!??? ;)

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Change of Scenery...

This is the view from my hotel room in Katsuyama...amazing!

Today was another looooong day of traveling (does it ever stop!?). We had to get up bright and early to move on to our next location....Katsuyama. I left my suitcase outside the door and it will magically appear there later tonight...nice!

We (the 20 in my prefecture) took a bus to the airport. I was not too happy to be flying again until I came upon a Starbucks in the airport! Score! Suddenly my day was looking a lot better with a hot Venti Chai Tea in me (hmmm....somehow that does not sound like the total Japanese immersion experience Fulbright had in mind!). The flight was only about an hour long so I can`t complain too much.

After landing at the airport we took a bus to a very fancy French resturant. Yes, French. I am not sure about having French food in Japan, but it sure was good! It was six courses and we had so much silverware I had no idea what to do with it.

We traveled next to Fukui University to see what college life is like. It was nothing like Ohio University! There was no school spirit anywhere and all the students were dead silent studying. We met with the Dean and then spoke with a panel of professors and students. It was quite interesting, although it all seems a little intense for me! The students do not stay on campus, they commute (usually living with their parents). Everyone rode bicyles to school and there were hundreds of them all over with no locks. It is a very trusting country!

We finally made it to our new home *Katsuyama New Hotel* around seven. The hotel is not as nice as the one in Tokyo, but it is very relaxing. There is a steam bath in the basement, massaging chairs and the best of all.....a washing machine! I needed new clothes very badly! Could you all smell me from Cleveland????? I ate dinner at the resturant with a few other lazy people (I just wanted to sleep!). Dinner was an adventure b/c the menu was in Japanese! I tried to order edemonmae, tofu (yum, yum!) and soba noodles.


I got edemenmae (my favorite new out Perry lunch room!), but the other two items were a bit different. The tofu came out in HUGE hunks about the size of drink boxes. They were on a mound of ice with harb garnishes. Interesting...

The worse was the soba noodles, though. They brought the bowl out and I look down and something on the top was slowly waving. I swear to god it was moving! I don`t know what it was, but it smelled like fish and I think it was slowly ending its life. I shoved the bowl away and threw a napkin on it. So much for being respectful in another country. Ugh!

Katsuyama looks like it will be really nice. It is very rural and peaceful; a lot different from Tokyo. I am afraid of what other goodies I will be enjoying!

Shop Till You Drop...Japanese Style

Where else would one eat in Japan but TGI Fridays??? Ha!

Amy getting her new haircut in Ginza (while I do more shopping!)...

This is the pizza place we were eating at when the earthquake hit!

Well,well, well...

This weekend I did more shopping then I have done in a looooong time. While other groups were out site seeing and visiting shrines\mesuems, I was shopping! My friend, Amy, and I hit all the major districts. However, Ginza was by far our favorite. So much so that we went on Saturday and Sunday! Ginza is like Beacon Street in Boston or Fifth Ave. in New York. Nothing but ritzy ritzy shops. We went into stores such as Louis Vuitton, Mikimoto (pearls, which are huge here) and Tiffany`s (where I might have bought something...ha! Something I could not afford...but, hey, when else are you in Tokyo!? Ask me to show you all when I return!).

Not only did we shop, but Amy got her haircut! What an adventure! I wanted to get my nails done but it cost 130 dollars for a manicure! I could not believe it. I wonder what the heck they do to your nails! Every place we went to was that much. It was crazy!

I have to admit that we also found a TGI Friday`s and ate at it! Ha! So much for always eating Japanese food! We needed a break. We did really really well on the subway and could find our way around after a short while (well, maybe there were some detours!)

The best part (or scariest) of the weekend was when we had an earthquake! It registered 5.1 on the scale! We were eating pizza (which was a good thing...if I was going to die, at least I was eating the food I love!). The resturant started to shake and all the glasses clattered. I thought it felt like you were on a raft in a swimming pool and someone started to make waves. The whole ground just started to move. I was about to dive under the table! I saw my life flash before me! ha! Everyone gasp but then when it was over, they just went back to eating like it was nothing. Amy and I took about an hour to recover. What an experience!

After a busy weekend, I will be heading to the prefecture Katsuyama tomorrow with 19 other teachers. We are taking a plane. A prefecture would be like a state in the U.S. We will be visiting schools there. I hope there are no more earthquakes! :)