home daily journal comments original site


Oct 1st.
Monday, October 1st, 2007

     It is the dreaded October 1st. The antithesis or anti something to June 1st. Today we revert back to formal attired. All the men are dressed in formal dark black suits with white shirts and TIES. I wore my standard issue green winter pullover, with no tie. I could wear a tie under this even though itís just stupid, but I only have two suits that are more formal than casual. Iím just going to keep on trucking with this set up until someone tells me otherwise.

Just Ask Me, Please.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

     I had a class 1st period with the JHS 1st years. We watched part 2 of Monster House, which is some Pixar style movie that should fit perfectly within two periods. I say should because when we got in the room it was still set up for the PTA meeting last night. OK, I can understand that when I think about it with my Japanese hat on. But what I canít understand is how they took apart the projector. We have this desk with the projector and some other A/V things on it. They are all plugged into this thing at the bottom and it is set up so all you do is unplug two cables at the bottom and move the desk out of the way. I have told them this 3.5 billion times. I actually spent an entire century doing nothing but telling them how to easily disassemble the projector set up.

     But thatís now how they do it and my explanations were variables, which were ignored. When they move the projector set up, they unplug every cable. Anything that is a cable connected to another cable or machine will be disconnected, relevant or not.

     So I get in the room and tell the kids to quickly reset the desks and chairs while I redo all the cables. So thatís done and then there is that mysterious problem of how the projector wonít show what is on my computer when it was just set up. When I have no urgent need for it to work, thereís no problem. When I am in a hurry, nothing works. Itís my life and Iím used to it.

     When I got back to the teacherís room I mentioned it to the teacherís room and told him to have the vice principals just ask me when they are setting up for PTA and I will help them as well as move things out of the way, properly. Itís more proper to just scurry around and do whatever the upper rank people say, but I am foreign and far more blunt than the Japanese.

     Something else I have come across as far as their non-bluntness goes, is a few grammatical structures. I kept hearing one teacher say ďI think I want to finish nowĒ. I also heard it in some other cases that just didnít make any sense. When I asked a teacher he explained that saying ďwe are finished nowĒ would be far too direct for Japan. Again, when I think about this with my Japanese hat on it all makes sense. You never get to a point and you never say how something should be, you talk all around the point and hope the other person understands what you are getting at. For an American, this is quite annoying sometimes and I would imagine it would be even more annoying for someone from Germany or France where they are known for being quite direct. I still remember when the Greek guy came and did a karate exhibition for some kids and told the principal and some visiting congressman to be quiet since it was rude to talk during the performance. I loved it since that is truly annoying.

The Man in my Apartment.
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

     It sounds odd, but one night last week I woke up and swore a man was in my apartment holding my TV. I figured it out, but it was a really freaky image. I have a power strip behind the TV, which is in the closet. The lights from the switches on the strip shine and reflect on the side of a box. That looked like a shirt. Then there is a white bottle of wet wipes on top which looked like a head. Then something in the bottom of the cabinet looked like pants. I was actually terrified and when I put on my glasses I still saw him. Why is this guy holding my TV? Last night I tried to take a picture of it, but it has to be out of focus slightly to get the full image. Iíll try again later.

     Tonight I am going into Koriyama to have dinner with some friends and look at someoneís grammar book. I have an addiction to buying Japanese grammar books and I swear I have all that have been written about the subject. If I would just read them all and learn then I would be a wicked master of all grammatical things. I keep trying the osmosis method, but itís not working so well. I am studying pretty hard at school though and making progress I think.

     Another thing we are going to talk about tonight is a girl he is trying to set me up with. I think this guy is in the witness protection program since I am unable to get in touch with him apart from meeting randomly at a book store with a coffee cafť. He and some other people go there nearly every day to study for the stupid JLPT test in December. When I email or call him he never answers so hopefully he will be there tonight and we can go eat and talk about things worth talking about.

     I said the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) was stupid, because it is. Itís a big dumb stupid test for people with dumb heads and stupid faces. Iím not mad that I failed it by 3 points years ago. Iím mad because it is the opposite of how English tests are. Let me explain:

The JLPT is the standard test for Japanese.
The Eiken is the standard English test for students.
The TOEIC is the standard English test for business English.

The JLPT is once a year in December.
The Eiken is 3 times a year, TOEIC seems to be 4-12 times.

The JLPT has 4 vastly different levels. Starting with #4 (basic), #3 (conversational),
                                                                   #2 (nearly fluent), #1 (fluent Ė tough for Japanese people).
The Eiken has 7 levels that gradually get more difficult. 5 main levels and two mid way check points.
TOEIC has no levels. Your score is based on how much you get right.

JLPT plays the listening parts once with full natural speed speakers.
Eiken plays listening twice with using clear annunciated speakers.

JLPT is completely in Japanese including directions.
Eiken has mostly Japanese, but all questions and answers are in English. Directions are in Japanese.

English from the Eiken tests I have heard is natural and useful.
JLPT grammar is archaic and technical. I am often told it is no longer used.

JLPT tries to trick test takers and focuses on common problems with learning Japanese.
Eiken never plays on common English problems and questions are plain and simple.

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

     I really have a hard time getting my head around the indirectness of Japan. Another example, though small, happened today when the grades were passed back from the big test yesterday. Students get circles around correct answers because, and I quote, ďthey become confused if correct answers arenít circledĒ. So then when they are wrong they would get Xís correct? Nope, that would be too direct. They get triangles with a line in the middle, that doesnít mean ďthis is wrong you idiotĒ, it simply means ďyou should take a look at this item because in the future it might need a bit of attentionĒ. Anything else would be seen as too direct.

     Another thing of interest is how the students scored. Out of 22 students, 5 made around 45 out of a possible 50. The rest made around 10-20 out of 50. After the papers are returned and grades seen and correct answers are given, I repeat Ė after the correct answers are given, students are allow to focus their attention on the problems that were marked with the triangle symbol. Then they write what they think the correct answers might be, again after the correct answers are given, and then they get partial credit for giving attention to the answers that need attention.

     Students that scored poorly donít get excluded from sports. They donít get reprimanded. They donít get letters sent home. Nothing happens. When grade time comes around, they get some vague positive statement about how well they did in some obscure aspect. ďHe always had a smiling face in classĒ (but he never actually did anything). You canít write anything negative or direct about them, everything has to round about and not really say anything.

     I had a class with the first years who also got their tests back. They scored really low to the point that some kids made a 1 or 3 out of 50. The group leaders plus a few others scored in the high 40s with some making a 49, but no 50s due to one tough question. The room was getting stuffy so I wandered to the back and started to open the door. There is a door to the hallway and one to the inner courtyard. The kid by the door looked at me and said I couldnít open the door. I asked why and he was just quiet. I continued and he again said it. I asked why again and he was still quiet. Then I said is it broken? I flipped the latch and opened it a bit. Then he said no it wasnít, but I canít open it. I suggested, sarcastically, is it because today is after Oct 1st? As soon as I said it I knew that was it. We canít open windows or doors after Oct 1st regardless of the temperature inside or out. In the spring at the start of the rainy season people will take an umbrella with them to work regardless of the weather. Simply because that is the day the rainy season starts and therefore one must take an umbrella. Before that day people get drenched because they donít carry an umbrella unless it is already raining.


[large amount of journal lost - more on that below]


Monday, October 8th, 2007

     It should be illegal to lose important things. That and fish having bones should both be illegal. I lost something that isnít life threatening, but itís just annoying. Itís my USB flash drive again. Thereís nothing on it I canít do without, but there are some things on it that I donít have a backup. The last time I lost it and then found it, I made a back up of everything on it, but I think I put some other stuff on it after that. This time it's just some journal entries and some Japanese learning notes. If I find it again, I am going to write a little BAT file that automatically copies everything from it to my computer at home every time I plug it in. ARGH.

     I just realized something odd. When a student is sick he/she doesnít come to the school nurse alone. There is always another student who explains the situation to the nurse. I just saw two elementary 3rd graders come in and one went to the nurse and said ďso-and-so is feeling ill, what should we do?Ē I wanted to interrupt and say ďSHE should come tell us alone and you should go back to your classroom, how are you even involved in this?Ē But everything in Japan is done as a group, nothing is done alone. Itís something that is really hard to understand.

Use Me !!
Thursday, October 11th, 2007

We had an observed class that I found out about yesterday. It was with the elementary 5th grade, which is my favorite class in the whole school. They are just a well balanced fun class. Anyway, there were about 40 people watching including all the teachers, two people from the board of education, and some visiting dignitaries from Tokyo University. Overall it was a typical ALT class in the sense that I wasnít used nearly as much as I should have been. At the very least I should be used for all repeating activities. I was at first, but then the other teacher started just saying everything. There was even one time when I leaned over and said ďshouldnít I be saying moreĒ and he let me say one thing and then he went back to saying the words. It was supposed to be a 45 minute class, but he always takes too long to explain the games so this class ran over. It was actually nearly 2 hours. People were getting anxious to leave and shuffling around, but we just chugged right along. I spent much of the time standing off to the side just looking.

     It was such a waste, but itís how things are in Japan. There is such national pride sometimes and it gets in the way. I couldnít imagine in a million years teaching Japanese in the US and having a native Japanese speaker and not using him/her to the fullest extent. I would have him/her making tests, recording his/her voice, talking in class. But we are result based, not process based.

     After that class there was a meeting in the big hall from 2:30 to 5. There was no way I was going to that tortuous hell so I walked around playing with the kids. I get a little detached around this time because all the kids jump into their groups and they each have some predetermined duty to perform. When I try to help I am usually blocked in some polite way. Either they would take too long explaining something to me or they are proud of having that duty and want to do it their best. I end up walking around looking stupid and taking pictures.

     After the meeting I heard that several teachers suggested I be used more. It seemed wasteful to have a foreign native English speaker in the class just standing and watching most of the time. I was a little embarrassed and uncomfortable since there were so many people watching and they were all important and I was just doing nothing. I even asked to do more in class one time real subtle like, but I wasn't used more. He let me talk one time and then he kept talking. I like the teacher, but he has a tendency to do his own plan and forget about me.

Those Meddling Kids
Friday, October 12th, 2007

Every time I create a board game for the kids to play, the 1st years tear it apart in some way. They donít actually ruin it by ripping it up or something, but they find things I missed or ask questions about points I never thought of.

Getting Cold
Monday, October 15th, 2007

Friday night I went to Stephanieís and stayed the night in her spare bedroom. Then Saturday we woke up early and she made a Texas Breakfast. I feel like I could combine those two words in some corny way, but I donít know how. Anyway, then we went to some kindergarten that she goes to once every two months and teaches English to the young kids for 30 minutes on a Saturday. I joined her this weekend and it was a blast. Hopefully I can help her again at future ones.

     Then she had to rush back for some KALMIA thing. I forget what that stands for but it has something to do with Koriyama and International Association. So really itís just ALM that I donít know. Iím not sure what that was that she had to do with them, but they are the ones that planned the ďRice Harvesting for 3 minutes and watching a local dance group for 3 hoursĒ day that I went to a few weeks ago. She seems to be doing a lot with them and I think they are a bit pushy. She has mentioned she had to make some presentations about something and she didnít want to.

     While she was doing that I drove around and got some errands done. Then on Sunday I had to go back in town since I forgot to buy a few things, one of which being a humidifier. My throat has been hurting recently since the air has become dry. I bought some other things as well and then came back. I had dinner at the local restaurant (there are 2 options in my town). There is another one in the next time that I should try sometime. After that I cleaned my place a bit, which kicked up more dust and made my throat hurt worse, but I drank a lot of water and had some throat candy so it was ok.

     The weather has officially turned cold. Itís not really that cold, but it has tipped over to the cold side of the scale. Iím going to have to pull out my electric blanket and heater soon. ARGH. There are things I like more about cold weather, but for the most part I prefer warm weather. Iím no longer impressed by 6 feet of snow and I have heard this year will be really snowy due to El Nino or something. The summer sure was cool so I fear the winter will be freezing. Or really wet, which then means tons of snow. As long as I had some food and the power stayed on, it might be interesting to get snowed in.

     I can see that sentence coming back to bite me in the butt later.


Just Pull It!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

     I started to use the teacherís computer and the student teacher came over and apologized for leaving her USB stick in the slot. She started gathering her things and then went to right click the icon and click ďremove driveĒ. There was some error message and she started to panic. She called a few other teachers over and they all clicked the same icon and received the same message and also started to panic. Then they got worried and said ďhow are we going to get the USB stick out of the computer, what on earth can we possibly do?Ē I pulled it out and handed it to her. They all went bonkers and ran around saying ďoh no that will erase the memory, itís ruined, oh noĒ. Then she plugged it into another teacherís computer and saw it wasnít erased. They all laughed at how carefree and reckless I was.

     I have never once clicked the ďremove driveĒ icon. I always just pull it out and there has never been a problem. Furthermore, itís not really possible to have it erased by pulling it out. That would have to happen within the blink of an eye or less. That reminded me once of when my cousinís computer locked up about 15 years ago and my dad suggested she just turn it off since thatís all you can do when it locks up. She laughed and said ďthat would erase the hard driveĒ. I always wonder where these rumors get started.

     My favorite ones are when my friends, people who I know are smart, send out these stupid ďforward this to 900 people and Microsoft will give you a billion dollarsĒ. That doesnít make any sense whatsoever and I always laugh when smart people suddenly turn dumb. They always add ďsomeone I know said this is realĒ, and yet no one anyone actually knows has ever received any money from one of these things.

     The USB thing was one of those ďdo what you are told and donít think for yourselfĒ things. It has happened in the US, but it is far more common here. I have made a few people mad with my attempt to get people to just thinking rationally for a minute. Just stop and think about this. How can this USB thing get erased if I yank it out of the slot? But that is not what people are told so that is not what people think.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

     I had a class about Fruits with the elementary 1st years. They are exhausting since they are full of energy and itís more or less ok to run around and do whatever you want. I was a ball of energy at that age, but I seem to remember the teachers saying ďSIT DOWN and BE QUIETĒ a lot more often and with a louder tone. We played a game called ďCockroachĒ in Japanese, but itís really about evolution. You start as a cockroach and each time you win you move up the scale a bit. Usually you start with a cockroach and then move up to some other animal and then end with monkey or something like that. I started with cockroach and moved up to grasshopper since they have one as a pet. Rather they have one as a torture victim. Overall it was a good class, but they wear me out every time.

     Sometimes I really wish there was a train that was near my town. In one sense I like the seclusion of it, but I think I would prefer even limited access to a train that I could walk to from the school or my home. Even if there was only 1 train per hour or less, it would be really convenient, especially around the winter months. It takes an hour to clean the snow off my car sometimes and I fear this year will be even worse.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

     I went home a bit early last night since I was feeling bad from this nasal drip I get every year around this time. This year it has been much better since I drink a lot of green tea and also got some medicine for it as soon as I felt it coming on. Anyway, I went home and had dinner and got a little tired so I got on the bed (one of two pieces of furniture in my apartment) for a minute. I woke up 13 hours later in the same clothes and my glasses and even in the same position. Wow, that is such an odd feeling. Itís like falling asleep on the toilet or even worse on the toilet at some other place. When you start to wake up you have that feeling of ďwhere am I, oh I must be in my bedĒ, but then you wake up and youíre like ďWHAT? Iím on a toilet? Where am I?Ē

     Anyway, today I had a class with my 1st years again. They are a great class overall since about 7-10 of the kids are pretty high level English. Some go to a private school after school and others are just into it. I gave them a short quiz to start the class and one question said, in Japanese, ďif the word is spelled correctly then circle itĒ. About half the class kept asking what ďspelledĒ meant. It was in Japanese. How can you make it to the 7th grade and not know what the word ďspellingĒ means? They also donít know the Japanese word for ďadjectiveĒ either, nor do my 8th graders.

     I had a class after that with my seniors who are all really smart and with it. Before each class we ask a few questions and they can sit down if they answer them correctly. For some reason, today I couldnít think of any questions. I have a list, but I usually ask a few regular ones. So today I turned to one kid who is a loudmouth, but usually gets quiet when the time is right. I told him ďI am lazy today so please ask questions for me.Ē There was a moment of awkwardness since this was a variable, but then he asked the usual opener ďhowís the weather?Ē Someone answered and some kids sat down, then it was the teacherís turn and he followed suit and had the kid ask some questions. It ended up being a really great activity and I just made it up on the spot.

     I have done that a few times and it always turns out ok. Itís strange and I canít do it on purpose. I can only do it when I really didnít prepare enough or something runs short. In this situation it was just me being a little sluggish recently due to various reasons. One of which is due to the fact I have some head cold thing going on. I know itís really just my dust allergy kicking mucus down the throat and causing problems, but itís making me feel a little sluggish and overall bad. The other reason isÖ

     I always seem to get a little depressed around this time of the year. At least while in Japan I should say. The kids are all focused on their group duties for the school festival tomorrow and Sunday and I get left out a bit. Sometimes the kids will tell me I canít enter some room since they are working on a secret project, which is fine and I understand it. Other times I try to help and they each have a duty that they are proud of and there is nothing for me to do. The other thing which is annoying as well as separating is when I suggest an idea that would make something so much easier and they reject it simply because that is not how they do something.

     An example of that is the tennis club. They are building this standup thing that people will throw balls at and try to hit a target. It kept leaning over and I suggest some supports, but thatís not how they build things so they were rejected. Then they used some flimsy box which is going to break in about 10 minutes if people are hurling tennis balls at it. Then I suggest an easy system where people throw at the target and if it goes in the hole (target) it will hit a back board and then fall down a chute and be sent back to the starting line. I even offered to make it for them, but again, thatís not how they make it. I think they actually enjoy the fact that the balls will go all over the place. It gives other members a job of collecting them. So they politely rejected all my ideas and my help and I just wandered off to another room.

     By itself these things are small and no big deal. I can take rejection like anyone, but when they keep stacking up then they become noticeable. There are so many walls of separation in Japan. Once you tear one down, you see another one. I flip between being apathetic to the walls and then getting distressed when I see another one. I think it is impossible for a foreigner to truly fit in as an equal member in Japan. I think there are inner levels where one could feel like they were part of the inner circle, but I donít think we could ever be actual equals.

     One of the biggest annoying things about this whole ďwe must do the same thing every yearĒ mentalities, is the volleyball club and their yearly haunted house in the English room. Last year I helped them with the preparations. Then when they had the performance where people lined up down the hall to go in, it was stupid. It was just a zig zag path bath and forth that consisted of people entering and not wanting to walk around the corner since they knew someone would scare them. It was really just awful. So I told them that this year I would help them and we could do it like an American haunted house. Basically there would be a central hallway where groups would be led down the hall. We would stop at various rooms and see something scary. There would be a place for people to stick their hands in a box and feel a brain or intestines or something like that.

     Since last year the volleyball club agreed over and over. ďYea that sounds great, letís do itĒ. I have prepared some things and mapped out the room and I was going to buy everything as long as they help me set up and then with the performance. Then today I found out they were actually doing the exact same plan as last year. A maze where people walk through and people reach through the walls and scare them. Then they exit. I really just donít even want to help them since itís just so boring and not even remotely imaginative. As I typed that I wondered why I even expected them to do something different.

     The school festival is the exact same each year. Last year was the same as my first year and I can only predict this year will be identical. I donít mean similar, I mean they do the same things. There are some dances, well a lot really, then some people sing. Then a few teachers perform musically. Then the teachers (minus me) sing a song. Then the classes each sing a class song. Then they open the ball in the sky thing and confetti falls out. Then people cry at how beautiful it was. Then we go buy things at the mock stores the seniors made which are the same as every year (I saw a photo from a festival about 9 years ago and the shops were identical). Then we go to the class room projects such as the haunted house, a coffee shop, a maze, a shooting gallery, a soccer in the goal contest, and some other things. I think itís actually an illusion that we are here for internationalization since things donít really change in Japan. ARGH.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

     The school festival is finally over and things are starting to return to normal. Itís been a long weekend. In summary, Friday we had a big research presentation where some of the kids present a massive report they have been working on since April. There are always two reports about Nagasaki and Hiroshima in some way. Then various teachers look at me and ask what I think. There is only one response. I cannot even think of saying anything like ďoh itís tragic like Pearl Harbor or Nanking.Ē I can only say ďit was tragicĒ. Since the other things never actually happened (according to the Japanese) they canít be tragic.

      Then Saturday we had the national English test, which usually isnít the same weekend as the festival, but it was this year for some reason. It was from 8-10. I stayed around until noon and then went home since my cold medicine was making me feel funky. Then Sunday was the big festival where parents come and the kids put on dances and have activities in each room. Then we had Monday off since we had to work on Sunday. I went into town to wire some money back and get some shopping done. I ate at Jintei, which seems to be my favorite restaurant in Koriyama. I also bought some needed stuff, but didnít spend too much. I ordered 30 sets of flash cards (40 yen each) for my 7th graders. I am going to try to get them to use flashcards to study since they simply donít remember things. Finally this morning we cleaned the school and got it back to normal. It was like ants on a piece of honey flavored candy. It took about 45 minutes to undo 2 weeks worth of work.

     Iíll get to a blow by blow update of the festival soon, but there are other things I want to babble about first. Letís see, I am planning on buying a nicer camera soon. I need about a 10-12 MP digital camera to start taking nicer photos of places in Japan. I have already had about 5 magazines contact ME about using my photos, but in most cases they werenít able to use them since the resolution was too low. ARGH. Two of which were going to pay about $450 per photo, and one of those two was interested in 4 photos. Quadruple ARGH. I plan to go ahead and splurge and get one that wonít be obsolete the minute I walk out of the store with it. [later] I just read some reviews and a few people were saying the camera I am looking at is good, but there is a newer, cheaper, slightly less powerful version that is better. So hmmmmm, I donít know now. Well poo.

     Today I had a class with the 8th graders. Itís the better of the two classes I think. Anyway, I came up with this great game idea and I made all the preparations. Itís a fishing game where they each have a 3 foot small pole with a string attached and a magnet for a hook. The ďfishĒ have magnets and words. I call out a word and they have to snag the fish-word before the others. Itís based on a game the Japanese kids already know called Karuta, or we might call it a slap game. You call a word and a group tries to slap the card with that word. Anyway, I played the game and it was a flop. Only because the magnets on the fish-words were too small. It took me 10 minutes to figure that out and then replace them with bigger ones and then it worked, but it killed half the class time. We had the short quiz and then 10 minutes of redoing the game and then 5 minutes of re-preparing everything. It was good that I got some of the bugs out on this class because the elementary school kids would have torn me apart with this. I need to get it down to an art before I use it on them.

     Ok, the school festival. Apart from the fact that it was identical to last year, there were so many annoying things. I know I say that all the time, but these were just little things that easily could have been fixed or prevented. First off the haunted house room was a disaster as I predicted. The walls were flimsy newspaper and people naturally grab them when they are scared. We had to stop and rebuild them about five times. Then there was a part where someone jumped out and scared people, but the girl would do it when the first person passed so no one else would walk past that area. Once some kids backed up too far and knocked over a table and tore down a wall. Then they kept letting people in too soon and the open door lit up the room and gave away all the hiding places. I am really going to try to push for doing an American style haunted house next year. Thatís where people are led through and stop at various ďroomsĒ and see something scary. This maze thing never works, plus they did the stupid ďstick your hand in the box to see what will happenĒ just like last year and everyone said ďno, someone will grab itĒ which was true. There was one room that started out scary and then went stupid. They entered the last room to see someone bandaged and sitting in a wheelchair across the room, then when they went over the bandaged person rolled closer and then something stupid happened. But for a second it was scary.

     The presentations were pretty JHS student like. The dance groups did the same dances to the same songs. The biggest and most hugest (I know itís not a word) annoying thing was the finale. The dance group came out for an encore and then all the kids rushed the stage. Finally they passed the flame from one student council to the next. Then they opened the ball in the sky and let some banner fall and confetti fall out. Then all the kids rushed the stage and cried (because thatís what you do) and hugged and threw some people in the air. Then some started bawling (I donít know why, there are 5 months of school left). Then it all died down and they were just standing around. Then they just casually walked around and finally left. It was the most anti-climatic ending ever.

     There were some parts that I really wanted to join in, but I couldnít. I couldnít because I donít have that certain thing that impresses people. I could get on stage and grab a guitar and people would say ďWOW Ryan sensei plays guitar, letís hear something!!!Ē Then I would say, ďI canít really play anything impressive nor anything all the way through, and I canít solo, andÖwell let me just put this back downĒ. Iíve never had that thing that impresses people and it has also brought me down. Iíve heard all the usual ďjust be happy with what you can doĒ and the other nonsense, but it doesnít matter. I canít even hold peopleís attention which is really annoying. Iíll be hanging with some friends and telling a story and they will just fade out and start talking about something else right in the middle of me talking. I really hate that and usually just stop talking and get quiet. Iíve never been really good at anything, at least not to any level of being impressive.

     Well that was a downer. Anyway, after the festival there was a party for the teachers, but I didnít go. I just didnít feel like driving into town and not drinking and then driving back then driving right back Monday morning. So I sat at home watching movies I have seen a billion times. Tomorrow there is some city wide teacher meeting that I am actually going to attend. We watch an English lesson and then talk about it in Japanese. Then I will eat in Koriyama again and buy more wood poles for my fishing game. Not sure what I am doing this weekend yet, but probably not much. I want a sofa-bed from a certain store, so maybe I will buy that within this year. I want that nice camera too, but I donít need it until after the first of the year. I still donít know if our jobs are being renewed or not. If not, then I will have a job until July and then I donít know what I will do. Maybe Thailand or something, but I would really rather stay here for a bit longer. ARGH at the thought of leaving.

     Oh, I did one possibly bad thing during the festival. Totally unintentional, but I should have said something about it. I had this small part with the elementary 6th graders skit. They read this poem calling a Lion. My name in Japanese sounds like lion so at the end I ran up to the stage and said ďme?Ē and they said, ďno you are RyanĒ. We did it in the elementary school gym and it went over well. Then we did it in the JHS gym and the teacher suggested I use a microphone. When we were getting ready I went over to the set up table and said I needed a mic. There was this, expected, circular talk about how I didnít need a mic and then I said yes I did. Finally near the start of the skit I saw someone pointing at my mic and flipping switches on the control box. Just to be sure they didnít turn mine off I tested it briefly. I flipped on the mic and went ďuh uhĒ.

     The problem was my voice was froggy from my dust allergy causing a nasal substance to drop down my throat, thusly causing a cracking voice. Before this moment I hadnít spoken in about 30 minutes so my voice was really froggy. When I checked the mic by saying ďuh uhĒ, it sounded, and subsequently broadcast throughout the gym, like someoneÖfarted into a mic. The room got quiet and there was nervous laughter. Then one of the cut up kids, who was holding a mic, started imitating the sound by sticking the mic to his bum region. So the teachers and other people in the gym naturally assumed it was he who intentionally made the noise. Needless to say, he got in a little trouble, but since there is no real discipline in Japan, he didnít get in much trouble. I should have admitted it was me, but I didnít want to and then it was too late. Oh well, no harm done.

Around Konan
Sunday, October 28, 2007

     I had that "gotta get out of the house" feeling for a while and decided to take my camera around and snap some shots. I went to a few small temples and some other places. One place was an old temple gate I found in the woods down this narrow road. Basically you follow a certain road until it ends and then keep going and you get on this path used by monks ages ago. At one point you pass through some old gates. I went to a few other places, but here are the highlights.

The gates to temples always have a nice little path.

This one also had a weird pipeline running across the mountain. I think it
supplies fresh mountain hot spring water to the nearby onsen.

It looked cooler than the photo shows.

Once the road ends, it turns into a path, and then back into a small
one lane road that goes on for a bit with this scenic view.

Then we come across the old path, now beside the road. At the end you can see
the temple gate, though they are actually called toori gates.

A shot from the other end. It's about 25 feet tall.


Then I drove around and found some really small road and ended up at this massive wall
in the middle of no where. It looked like a dam and I was able to barely drive around it.

Again, seemed like a great shot.

Two nice trees by the gate.

These are the huge windmill power generators on the distant hill. It was really trippy seeing
them, it was like I was spying on some secret base with a UFO or something. They are huge
so I know they are far away. They were spinning too, which made it even more UFO-like.

Finally back in civilization. The building on the left is a local gymnasium and the
one with the two points on the right is an onsen or public bath.

Big Fat ARGH.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

     We had an interesting observation class at one of the other Native Teacherís schools on Monday. Itís at my school next month so I plan to do something interesting I hope. I learned a few things that might work here. Something else I learned was something I really didnít want to hear. IF the place I love so much renews our teaching license they will most likely force us to change schools. That really bugs me since I love this school and I have made a huge effort to learn about the people here. Had I known we would be forced to change I wouldnít have gone to as much effort. I would still have learned their names, but not as many. Who am I kidding, yes I would have.

     Some of my friends say I should just get over it since it is the Japanese way to change schools every three to five years. But thatís dumb, because I am not Japanese and more importantly, the reason they change schools doesnít apply to me. They change often so each teacher gets a chance to teach at various schools and see how different places run, even though they all run the same way. They change so teacherís donít stay at one school too long and so each school has to more or less renew itself every year. In my hometown, different schools have different feelings or souls or vibes or images. Here, everything changes each year since there are always some teachers moving around (and starting over). I can partially understand it in the sense that teachers get to know a lot of other teachers and see how other schools work (which is exactly the same as the others). Then when they are promoted they have a wide base of experience to draw on. Sometimes they are at small distant country schools, other times they are at huge downtown bad schools.

     The thing I hate about it is teachers canít really form bonds with kids. Why bother learning everyoneís name and their history and their future plans when you are going to be rotated out in a few years. What happens when the tennis coach gets transferred to the rival school? How do you have any school loyalty? I hate it because I make a bond with a teacher and build trust or an understanding, and poof itís all gone. Itís never about things running smoothly here, thatís a byproduct, itís about things being done a specific way with no deviations.

     Iím going to write a nice letter to the BoE explaining how I feel even though it wonít do any good. Whatever is going to happen, is what is going to happen. Iíd prefer to stay at this school in some capacity, though I wouldnít mind visiting another one as well. In the end, if they renew my license and make me move, Iíll have to decide then based on the school I get. I donít really want a big one, but I do love working for the Koriyama Board of Education. They have a great thing going if this other nameless place would just let them run it.

     Some people have expressed interest in my job, but what they donít realize is itís not the easiest place to be at. First off, I am about 45 minutes away from the big city, really from the nearest anything. The two restaurants in my town close at 6:30-7:00 and the convenience store closes at 9. Thereís a 7-11 down the road, that is 24 hours, but itís 5-7 min away. There is an obscene amount of snow in the winter and that causes some issues. Whoever lives here must have a car and canít drive into town every single night, especially in the winter. There are a lot of lonely nights here and lonely weekends. Plus at school I teach grades 1-9 so I always have a messy desk and several things to plan. I canít plan one lesson and use it 9-12 times like other schools, I have to plan a new lesson for each class. Soon there will be only 3 classes per grade which will be convenient and strange.


     I had a funny language thing today. I was translating a memo I received about the Monday observed class just to pick out the kanji I didnít know. I came to one and it was confusing since it wasnít in the dictionary, but it was two that I had seen a lot though never together. So I wrote it down, including part of the sentence and showed it to a teacher. He said he had never seen them together and thought it was wrong. I tried some readings for him and he said he had no idea how to read it. Then he asked a passing teacher and she had no idea. Then I showed them the memo from which it came and they still had no idea what it meant. Itís so fun learning Japanese some times.

     The elementary kids had a marathon today. It was just around the school, but it was a long way for them I guess. I think it was about 2K which should be just over a mile, maybe 1.25 miles. I could Google it, but that would require effort. I watched part of it, but it was just kids running and panting and sweating and then it was over. Later, after lunch, the 8th and 9th graders sat through lectures about possible high schools they could attend. No way I want to sit through that and thereís no problem since it doesnít concern me at all.

Itís My Job.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

     I find it funny how efficiency takes the back seat if someone will lose a duty. It doesnít matter if it will save time or money, if something takes away someoneís job duty in some way, we canít implement the new idea. I donít want to list specific examples, but there are plenty in Japan. I think it was much worse at one point on a national scale and has lessened a bit, but in smaller situations such as schools or small businesses, the tradition is still there. Iíve suggested a few things that would save paper and time, but they would have taken away duties from people and I was given the roundabout replies that I have learned means ďnoĒ. Recently I offered to help someone sort and staple a big packet of papers. My offer was rejected and I thought he was being modest, but it was because he had allotted a certain amount of time for this job. If I helped it would be cut in half (or less really) then he would have to find something else to do since looking busy is more important than being busy.

     We got a memo today (we as in everyone as in teachers, lunch staff, the maintenance guy, etc). The memo said that the memo sent last week about the bus times, was a little wrong. The 3:30 bus actually leaves at 3:35. That was it. This couldnít be announced or put on a bulletin board. If we did that we wouldnít meet our quota of 50 million sheets a year. I donít understand why everything is sent out by memo. I want to understand this culture, but itís so difficult sometimes.

     I have two stacks of memos on my desk. One is for memos I think might concern me. When I have free time I glance over them looking for key words such as my name, or English, or other things like that. The other stack is for things that I can just tell right away have no concern to me and usually should have been announced rather than put in memo form. Then at the end of the week I toss them.

     I have suggested several times that we either post some of these things on a bulletin board or, even better, create an internal web page with the schedule, bulletins, lunch menus, etc. The schedule often changes which then causes new schedules to be printed and distributed. Bulletins and the lunch menu would be better served on a page, but taking away the printing multiple copies aspect of it would take away someoneís job.



next  ::  menu  ::  home



© Ryan McDonald 2005-2007, for information about using images or text please click here.