Sunday, 25 January 2009

Conference Over -- Changes Begin

It snowed again last night.

Yesterday, I had a migraine. I still have a slightly sore neck and head but it is much improved over yesterday's agony.

On Thursday, I tried taking some advice we were given at conference the previous week: to request that we be able to observe other classes at our chuugakkou (junior high schools). It was also a chance to practise a little Japanese with the teachers, as Mizobuchi-sensei encouraged me to ask them myself.

I sat in on Japanese (kokugo) with the first graders and Science (rika) with the second graders. I understood neither, but Science was much more interesting.

Of course, we had our mid-year conference during the last three days of last week. The first overall speaker was one Prof. Goro Tajiri, whose English was very impressive and whose ideas and teaching methods for Junior High are very good.

The other speaker was Tom Merner, who teaches Elementary school level and is trying to encourage teachers to understand that an ALT is not there to drill the kids or even have them speak English sentences within the classroom; rather, we are there to encourage children to develop an interest in communication -- through exposure to a foreigner -- and to realise that communication is more than just spoken language.

Since then, I have not spoken any Japanese in shougakkou classes -- and it has worked out well. Some -- no, most -- teachers still believe that we are there to teach the children English and I have even had some tell me that I wasn't getting the children to speak enough English -- or were themselves translating as much as they could so that the kids understood via language what they were supposed to do.

But it is a process. I hope that over this year, a lot of teachers will come to more of a realisation of our role in an elementary-level class and will themselves see that children are learning without an understanding of the language being spoken.


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Suiton-jutsu: Snowstorm Extravaganza

Woke up with yawn this morning; glad to be alive. Didn't realise it had snowed overnight till I opened my front door and was greeted with white. Such a gorgeous sight.

I stepped outside to see this

The drive to work was beautiful, if a little hazardous. Kids at the primary school next to the junior high were having snowball fights. It snowed some more during the day, too, although most places -- especially the roads -- thawed out during the day.

It looks like a clear sky tonight, so I doubt we will be greeted by such a sight tomorrow. The roofs shouldn't be blanketed by this frosty phenomena as they were this morning.

Up early and off to Kochi. It will be freezing, whether it snows or not.


Monday, 12 January 2009


It has snowed on and off these past few days. Light flakes mostly, but it is still snow.

Yesterday, I went to the Roman Catholic church in Nakamura with Michael. Afterwards, we decided to explore a little of Nakamura city that we hadn't seen before. We eventually made our way up to a castle situated on a hill, which turned out to be a historical museum in the style of a small Japanese castle.

The name of the museum is Kyoudoshiryoukan (郷土資料館). There were a lot of artifacts, from 3,500 year old pottery to arrowheads, katana and jewellery. And the view of Nakamura city from the top was very cool. Too bad it was unplanned, as neither of us had our cameras present.

Today is a public holiday. I'm simply keeping warm inside. It's good to not have to go to the office. ;)

Tomorrow will be my only day teaching, as we have our JET mid-year conference this week, Wed-Fri. The office pays for both our travel and two nights staying in a hotel in Kochi-shi (Kochi city).


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Kyoto - 2009 Commences

Continued from Kyoto - Pre-departure Preparation, Kyoto - Guys in a City and Kyoto - New Year Festival.

Welcome to 2009. If you are still hanging onto the ways of 2008, think of all the starving children in Japan. Move on, leave last year where it was and stride towards the future with confidence and aspirations to succeed and see this as a year of amazing potential and difference in your life.

I really hope that I meet a nice girl this year. If I mention it enough times, maybe people will get the word out that there is a real person behind these words and that that person is both single and good looking; not to mention clever, witty and good-humoured. XD

Thursday: New Year's Day. We walked to that movie world we had located on Tuesday night, but the entrance fee was beyond our budget. We backtracked to the shopping centre and geisen that we had gone to on Tuesday, and spent some time there instead.

I had had a bad headache all day, so upon our mid-afternoon return, I went to bed for a while. We went out for dinner and then watched another movie. T'was definitely my coldest New Year's experience ever. :o

On Friday we went to Nijo Castle. I took a lot of photos, which you can see here. Walking, walking, walking.

Resting. Gaming. Music (-ing).

Walkiiiiiing. And dinner.

Movie: Saving Private Ryan.

Saturday. We went to the nearby shops for a while to allow the morning to wear itself down. Mid-afternoon, we took the train down to Kansai airport in Osaka, to see Mikey's brother Joe off on his flight back to the States.

Don't bump your head on the way out :p

We came back to the hostel, watched Dawn of the Dead, and prepared for our own departure in the morning.

Sunday saw us up nice and early. We took the Shinkansen to Okayama and then a train back to K-town. The holiday was over, but the legend would live on.

Two current Japanese fads that I noticed while in Kyoto were chitensha and Polar Puffs. What? You ask. It's quite simple really. They have this thing about small bikes -- even tiny, in some cases. Yes, full-grown people, young and old alike, roll around on undersized bicycles. I have nicknamed them chitensha, as the Japanese word for bicycle is jitensha and the word for small is chiisai.

Fancy a dub?

Polar puffs are the name I gave to the jackets that 50% of people were wearing. Because if you're not wearing a shiny, puffy, fur-hooded jacket, you're not hip, yo! Even better if it's purple. Not sure what the deal is with purple polar puffs but they predominated. The whole range was displayed throughout the city, however: white, black, pink, blue, green. One thing was certain: they sure love their puffy jackets!

Puff, puff, pass


Kyoto - New Year Festival

Continued from Kyoto - Pre-departure Preparation and Kyoto - Guys in a City.

It seems that during the week of the New Year, the city goes into holiday mode. A lot of attractions and notable sites were shut for the holiday period, which meant a bit of wasted footwork on our part, and extra scouting for things to do in place of our carefully planned schedule.

Monday. We discovered that most places we arrived at were shut. Disappointing, and a little surprising, but it was the start of our holiday and we tried not to let it faze us. So, with financial problems and recreational problems standing before us, trepidation loomed on the horizon. If it weren't for my high spirits I'm sure that the others would have sunk into an irreparable melancholy and gone postal in downtown Kyoto. As it was, we plodded on, were reminded of the positives, and enjoyed those moments of interest, awe and building up the muscles in our legs and feet.

We went to a shopping arcade, Teramachi, and had a good look around there. After lunch, we went to a multi-storeyed merchandise place. It had a few things to see (and buy), from kimonos to katana and books to paintings.

Dinner was enjoyed at a different okonomiyaki joint to the one we had appreciated upon arrival. As the evening wore on, we wandered around Kyoto some more, discovering new places and breathing in more of the city.

Tonight's feature: Desperado.

Tuesday. We walked a great distance: past Nijo Castle, which we had found closed the day before. We found a small shopping centre with a geisen, a movie theatre and some eateries. The food at the place we chose was terrible, but our afternoon was great: we watched the new Bleach movie, Fade to Black at the cinema.

Afterwards, we walked further on, in pursuit of the location of some Movie World, which we intended to mark and then return to in daylight. We eventually found it, then sought the station and took a train back to Kyoto-eki (station).

We had some pizza, ghetto style*, after a bit more ambling. The second Bleach movie, The DiamondDust Rebellion, was our piece for the evening.

Wednesday: New Year's Eve. We walked to Teramachi again and wandered around the surrounding area for a bit before realising we were close to the Imperial Palace, which we were sure to visit.

Tim at an Entrance
One gateway to the main palace

Strolled - stumbled and trudged - back to our room. Again. Resting and playing. Yay. Even dinner was rather mediocre (convenience store food is so healthy!).

Tonight's movies: Con Air and Meet the Parents.

Happy New Year!

Read the concluding entry.


* Imagine three white guys in the middle of Japan, sitting on the ground outside a random building, munching out on wedges of pizza, cheese dripping off our fingers and ravenous hunger apparent in our wild, gaijin eyes. Suffice to say, our hobo pizza night garnered us a few odd looks by passersby.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Kyoto - Guys in a City*

Continued from Kyoto - Pre-departure Preparation.

We left for Kyoto the following day -- Saturday the 27th -- taking the train up to Okayama (a four hour journey) and then the expensive, but fast, Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) over to Kyoto.

Lugging our way to our hostel, the Tour Club, seemed like an arduous task at the time. But as the week wore on, we realised just how short a distance it was between the station and there -- or there and the station; however you want to see it.

Tour Club Accomodation
Tour Club, Kyoto

We had okonomiyaki for dinner that evening. We returned to the same place a few days later. Good food.

Off to a geisen (videogames arcade), where Joseph sought to be pummelled by businessmen and schoolkids -- a little disappointingly, perhaps, only one suited gentleman jumped at the chance to put a silly foreigner in his place with Street Fighter IV. The endeavour to pursue martial challenges continued throughout our week. We often had fun in the arcades, even if facing each other wasn't nearly as exciting as having some young punk strut his stuff and show us why white boys shouldn't play fighting games.

Sunday saw us head over to Starbucks, near the station, to procure breakfast. Two things to note here: we realised that we were all pretty low on cash -- me, more than anyone; and Japan is a very cash oriented society, so although the brothers each had credit / debit cards, they were really no good most of the time.

Still, we survived a week in Kyoto on dwindling funds. In fact, I think Mikey and I arrived in Kubokawa with less than 100 yen between us.

So, Sunday. We bussed to the Sanjuusangendo Temple before heading to Kiyomizu Temple, later checking out the surrounding marketplace.

Outside Gateway


That afternoon, after a nice lunch at a cafe, we took the train to Tofukuji, a suburb of Kyoto, and sought out the Nintendo building.

Nintendo Building
This is where the magic happens

We chilled at the hostel upon our return. In fact, most of our days ended mid-afternoon and were comprised of either sleeping or sitting around playing games. I played Final Fantasy III on my DSi most days. Yeah, eight days was much too long -- especially considering that a lot of sites were closed for the New Year period. :(

We spent most of our evenings wandering around the city, however. Sunday night was no exception, it being our first real night there. That evening we browsed game and book stores, just wandering aimlessly from dark alley to hidden porn caches. I kid. It wasn't Akihabara, but it seems that there can't be a Japanese bookstore without it's very own pornography section. Ich.

Upon our evening return, we all sat down together to watch our first movie for Kyoto, Ghost in the Shell.

Next up, the New Year's week begins.


* The title of this post is a play on words. If you say the first two words with a Japanese accent it is very close to "gaijin", which means foreigner. Therefore, it doubles as "Gaijin, a city". Which is exactly what we were: gaijin gawking at granite. Or as Joe would have put it: a bunch of crackers cracking their heads. O.O

Kyoto - Pre-departure Preparation

Between returning from Tokyo and heading to Kyoto, we had Christmas. My Merry Christmas entry should be sufficient to cover that period, but to summarise my three days back home, I write:

On Christmas Day, I had to go to school in the morning. That's right, classes on one of the few days of the year that we take for granted as being work free and peaceful. However, content-wise, it differed from our normal lessons.

I had two classes at junior high: ichinensei and ninensei (1st and 2nd years). We made Christmas Tree cards and giant snowflakes.

That afternoon, I talked to my family for over an hour. It was good to make contact at that time, and to see everyone, as Christmas has always been a family affair for us.

Michael, his brother Joe and I went to Yamagoya for dinner that evening and watched The Dark Knight (blu-ray edition) on my beautiful TV. Mint.

Friday was spent in Nakamura city. After a substantial pizza lunch, we played at a geisen (videogames arcade). We also had a game of bowling. I was in good company, as we all pretty much sucked. But it was fun!

Back home that Friday evening, I watched another movie: The Protector. Action, RAWR! Early Saturday morning would see us leave on our eight day holiday in Kyoto city.

Next up: Kyoto - Guys in a City.


Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kyoto 2008-09 Photos

Imperial Palace
Pathway An Entrance Tim at an Entrance

Kiyomizu Temple [Click for all]
Entrance Inari Shrine Sacred-water Shrine

Koudai Temple [Click for all]
Koudaiji Sign Koudai Temple Prayer Wheels

Miscellaneous [Click for all]
Nintendo Building Chitensha with Seat-back Mikey

Museum of Art
Museum Building Museum Entrance

Nijo Castle [Click for all]
Entrance Ninomaru Garden Pond Honmaru Palace Entrance

Other Temples [Click for all]
Giant Heiyan Arch Chionin Temple Nishihonganji

Sanjuusangendo Temple [Click for all]
Central Building Outside Gateway Bell