Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Yarrr, Hoist the Sails and Swab the Deck

On Saturday, we took the car in to K-city to get a checkup. We spent the whole afternoon at the car dealer's pretty much, where we took it to get done. We did go for a short walk and bought the Lion King soundtrack for 250 yen from a second-hand store.

On Sunday, after church, we went to Susaki - about 30 mins east of K-town. There was a sailing ship in port: the Kaio Maru (海王丸). A lot of stalls and vendors were set up at the port where it was docked. After ascending the gangplank and walking around the deck, we disembarked and grabbed ourselves some food for a late, unhealthy lunch.

The ship is mostly steel - although the deck is wooden - and it has four steel masts with some insane rigging. Apparently the ship is used for training young sailors. This particular 3,000 tonne sailing ship is 19 years old but it is in excellent condition. It was interesting going aboard and seeing everything so close. It wasn't my first time aboard a sailing ship, but it was my first time aboard such a snazzy one.

It was a nice family day out. Below is a slideshow of photos that we took:

We are going to make a nice apple pie soon. I made the dough tonight. I may put a picture of the finished product up if it turns out well.



Thursday, 11 November 2010

English Recitation Contest

Sorry about the long overdue update.

Last Tuesday, we had the Taisho-Towa English Recitation Contest here in Taisho at the local town hall. Students from Taisho, Showa and Tokawa chuugakkou, as well as the local high school here, competed in the contest.

There were four categories, each of which had both a first and second place: 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade junior high students; and high school (all three grades together).

Mika came along with Maya, and we enjoyed sitting through each of the recitals and performances.

Every student that I had helped did well, and others that I had some association with also won awards. The 3rd graders from Showa, whom I had helped with a Romeo and Juliet performance, did excellently. They came in second, but were beaten by Mei-chan from Taisho JHS, whom we tutored throughout last year. So I was happy.

In fact, all three grades at Showa got either first or second place! For the high school students, one of our very own church members, Yuu-chan, whose speech I helped to revise, came first. Mika and I were both glad; especially since she gave a testimony of how her life had changed. The essence of her speech was to respect your parents, no matter what. I think it even brought tears to my wife's eyes - I know it brought a lump to my throat!

So the speeches went well. It was my first time to attend, and this is my third year here! Unfortunately, classes had clashed with the contest in previous years. So my attending was another reason to be happy. :)

Coming up: display walls at both Kubokawa and Showa Junior High Schools. Stay tuned!



Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Awajishima no Onokoro

Yesterday was a public holiday. We drove to Awaji Island, a large island between Shikoku and Honshu. It proved to be good practice for when we go to New Zealand at Christmas time, as if we do decide to drive, we will take the exact same route to get to Kobe, on the mainland (and take a ferry from there to Kansai airport).

Onokoro World Park is a small, rundown theme park - much like any in Japan. Travelling there was a mission in itself. We left very early - 7am, by the time we actually got away. We took our lunch with us and ate upon arrival. It was nice spending the afternoon walking around, looking at the miniature world wonder replicas, the world museum and going on some of the rides. Eddi really enjoyed herself - it was a great family outing.

The trip home was just as arduous as the trip there. But at least we got a sample of how it could well be come December and our travel to and from the airport.

Below is a slideshow of pictures that we took - there are about 50 pictures, so it may be a bit sporadic as they load. I'll get some video up at a later date.



Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Ōnaro Shougakkou - Class Summaries

Here is a summary of the lessons I did this morning. Every lesson started with a greeting: "How are you?" > "I'm fine, and you?", so there is no need to mention that.

Period: 2
Grades: 1-2 (6-8 year olds)
Number of students: 6


Activity 1: Song: Old MacDonald Had a Farm
Unlike yesterday, only three of the six students knew this song. But it was easy enough to teach E-I-E-I-O after introducing the animals and their sounds.

Activity 2: Song: B-I-N-G-O
We sang through it. Even though the same students who didn't know Old MacDonald also didn't know this song, it was easy enough with such a small class to teach them and get them to clap.

Activity 3: Game: Bingo
We played animal bingo. Probably the highlight of the lesson. I gave stickers to the winners in each of the two rounds we did.

Introducing the animals and their sounds and singing through the song took quite a while. Never assume that kids know something. I also want to try and reduce the amount of Japanese that I use. I need to use more gestures and actions and to let the pictures speak for themselves a lot more.


Period: 3
Grades: 5-6 (10-12 year olds)
Number of students: 10

Countries; the body (revision).

Activity 1: Body parts review
After the initial greeting we reviewed body parts for a while and tested that the students could listen and respond. The teacher says a body part and the students have to place their hand (or hands) on it as fast as possible*.

* Another suggestion for this is to just play Simon Says, but if students don't know the game, it can be difficult to explain it without using Japanese.

Activity 2: "I want to go to..."
The teacher put up pictures of flags and we reviewed country names in English. We then had the students suggest things in the nine countries that were on the board: landmarks, food etc. The target sentences were introduced: "I want to go to to..."; "I like..."; and "I want to see...". Each student chose a country and after some practice they used the target sentences.

Not a very exciting lesson. We could have had more fun with reviewing body parts and the country exercise could have been a bit more interactive. The teacher chose to not use Eigo Note 2; the lesson was simply based on the section on countries. Things could have been done differently, but at least the students got to practise talking about foreign countries.


Period: 4
Grades: 3-4 (8-10 year olds)
Number of students: 8


We reviewed the numbers 1-10 and then clapped through them a few times, starting out slow and getting faster.

Activity 1: Body Numbers
The students divided into their respective red and white teams*. I used my number playing cards to randomly select one number at a time and the groups tried to make each number on the ground using just their bodies. Everyone had to participate. I gave stickers to the members of the winning team.

* Japanese schools have their students divided up into a red team and a white team (akagumi and shirogumi), kinda like how we have houses. This makes splitting the class very easy, as you just need to ask them to get into their prearranged teams.

Activity 2: Memory Game
I gave the numbers 0-10 to the 3rd grade students and the numbers 11-20 to the 4th grade students. The cards were shuffled and spread out face down. Each student took turns to flip two cards to try and match the numbers. Each time someone got a pair, they held onto it and it moved onto the next person. At the end, total pairs are tallied and the person with the most is the winner. I gave a sticker to the winner in each group.

The body numbers game is great fun and can be used in just about any sized group. Children love competing against each other and it is interactive and engaging. The memory game is easy to implement, as most kids know how to play instinctively. It works a bit better when you have more cards (and more kids!). This lesson went well.

So, yet another recap. It helps to reflect on the lessons that I'm involved with and to see how I can improve.



Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Niida Shougakkou - Class Summaries

This is my first shougakkou English class recap. Hopefully I can consolidate lessons, activities and ideas from these summaries over time.

Period: 2
Grades: 3-4 (8-10 year olds)
Number of students: 19

Greeting and warmup
"Hi, how are you?" > "I'm fine." After the initial greeting, I asked each child in the front row, and had them turn to do a greeting with the student behind them, and so on to the back. This is a good way of getting individual responses and engaging with the kids from the start.

Animals and directions.

Activity 1: Animals at the Zoo
We had both this and the fourth period class in the gym, at the school's suggestion and my acknowledgement. It makes activities with this many kids a lot easier.

I wanted to mix a couple of things together today, that involved both animal names and giving and reacting to spoken directions. I started off by introducing Left, Right, Forward, and Back, and had the kids repeat them a few times before singling out random kids to respond and then testing them again together, speeding up until they were able to react well.

Once I was confident they could both say and listen to directions, I introduced the 12 animals I would use for the activity. Once I had them all up on the board, I asked them where you would find these animals together (I chose to use a little Japanese here to explain). None of them could get it, so I wrote the word Z-O-O up on the board. Usually with something like this you will have at least one person who clicks. It took a few seconds before one student called out "doubutsuen!" (zoo in Japanese).

While the teacher went to get a blindfold, I took my A4 animal cards off the board and had the kids stand at one end of the gym. I then went over the directions again and had them turn and move until everyone could do it. After that, I placed the animal cards in random places, spread across the floor of the gym. It was then a matter of choosing a volunteer to blindfold and having the rest of the kids call out directions to each animal that I chose.

It was noisy and fun and I was pleased with how the activity went. The entire period was spent having the kids yelling out directions and finding animals. This activity works well in any size group. The more kids, the louder and more confusing - and therefore fun - it will be. But even with just a handful of kids you can still have a boatload of fun. I have used the compass points (four, then eight) as an introduction to this game with a smaller group and it worked really well too. You can be more focused with a group of 5-10, with more specific directions, and in a larger group you can just let them go crazy because everyone is involved.


Period: 3
Grade: 6 (11-12 year olds)
Number of students: 9 (supposed to be 12; 3 were absent for that period)

Greeting and warmup
We skipped a warmup and went straight into the lesson after a brief greeting. For the senior primary school kids, there is a greater balance between their teacher leading the class and the ALT's involvement. This is especially workable with the use of Eigo Note 1 and 2, the 5th and 6th grade students' activity books that we use for these more focused English lessons. With the younger kids, the ALT tends to very predominantly lead the class, so a lot more preparation is necessary.

Today's focus was on the months of the year. We worked from Eigo Note 2.

  • Repeat after me: students repeated the names of the months in English as I placed them up on the board.

  • Listen to the CD - a rhythmic chant: 12 months. We did this a few times.

  • Listen to the CD - festivals activity: where and when are Christmas, New Year and Halloween celebrated? They worked in groups of three for this.

  • Keyword game: a very handy device for any lesson. Students place an eraser between them and their partner. A keyword is place on the board and I will say the lesson's related words. If I say the keyword, the first person to grab the eraser wins that round. The second stage is where one student forms a mouth (like a crocodile) with their hand and their partner places their fingers, palm facing down, in the mouth. If the keyword is called, SNAP!

  • Repeat after me: students repeated the days of the month (first, second, third... thiry-first).

  • When is your birthday? Students worked out when their birthday was (March twenty-first, November eighth, etc), and reported back to the class.

Structured lessons like this are very easy. You just have to engage the students as best you can and allow the teacher to lead the lesson. Teachers have a lot more confidence when there is a textbook that is written in their native tongue, and the students are happy with the structure of the lesson and the physical presence of having a book to work through. Chanting along with a rhythm on the CD, filling in the blanks and the keyword game are all good activities that work better when the kids and their teacher have become familiar with the material. In the second term, as we are now, there is no need for the home teacher to explain very much anymore, and you can focus more on interactivity and enjoying the lesson.


Period: 4
Grades: 1-2 (6-8 year olds)
Number of students: 17

Greeting and warmup
  • "How are you?" > "I'm fine."

  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Children don't need to remember the names of body parts but they are always enthusiastic about doing this song. It is a great warmup and even more welcome as the weather gets colder. I start off by getting the kids to repeat each body part as I touch it (head > nose). We then start off slowly and build momentum until they can't keep up and half the kids fall to the floor in fits of laughter. :)

English songs

Activity 1: Old MacDonald Had a Farm
I introduced six farm animals along with their sounds. I knew that the kids knew the song already, so when we sang, I had them fill in the E-I-E-I-O parts, the animal names and the sounds that they make. I had written the names and sounds up on the board using katakana, the Japanese syllabary mostly used for foreign words and sounds.

Activity 2: B-I-N-G-O
After E-I-E-I-O was B-I-N-G-O. The kids also knew this song, so it wasn't difficult to do. I had them fill in the letters and the clapping.

Activity 3: Bingo
Singing B-I-N-G-O was a good segue to the game of bingo. We did animal bingo and played through it twice. I gave stickers to the winners of both rounds.

Choose songs that the kids are likely to know. Having a CD is great because music helps, but I tend to make do without. It was fun just singing and doing animal noises, and giving stickers to kids is always a bonus, as it feels like such an accomplishment to them.

And those were my lessons this morning. I'll try and summarise a lot more if I do future recaps, with basic descriptions of activities. I will file these lesson summary entries under the categories taught.



Omoshiroii Undoukai

Omoshiroi does not mean interesting. Look in any Japanese to English dictionary and you will find something similar to this: Omoshiroi (面白い): amusing; funny; interesting. Japanese people think of something omoshiroi as laughable; something that is silly. Interesting is quite the opposite. Things of interest engage the mind rather than the emotions.

Mathematics is interesting because the numbers, shapes and formulas are logical and involve brain activity. But maths is definitely not something we enjoy laughing about. Acts of nature are interesting because they are so very different from what we experience in the course of our normal human existence. It is this uniqueness that makes them interesting. But more often than not they are not funny in any way.

Japanese humour also differs to ours. What we find to be clever, witty or punny may not incite a humoured reaction from someone here. And things such as strange slapstick comedy or saying silly, redundant things that we would find inane and pointless, Japanese would laugh and say the situation is omoshiroi.

Don't let this word get lost in translation. Never apply it to something serious. Just remember that for something to be omoshiroi you have to be able to laugh about it. So next time a colleague does something weird, laugh quietly to yourself and whisper "omoshiroi".

A couple of weekends ago, we had Eddi's undoukai (school sports day). Undoukai is something that parents look forward to all year. The kids put in weeks of practice to make sure the whole day is perfectly memorised.

The weather was nice. Mika packed up enough lunch for us, Eddi's grandparents and her uncle and cousin. The kids had a lot of fun, with various running races and a lot of activities involving their parents. Mika and Eddi did a giant pants relay together, and there were other fun games that the various grades did, such as pushing a giant ball, firing water rockets into the air, and balloon popping.

[Video] Giant Pants Relay

I have decided to try and recap my shougakkou classes by posting blog entries. This will allow me to reflect on and critique my own classes, and will create a record of successful activities for future reference. Feel free to take ideas, as a lot of the things I do are ideas that have either been taken or adapted from other people's experiences. I will do my best to tag English class summary entries as accurately as possible for future reference and may even add an extra menu section for better searching.



Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Tickets, Toes and Tournaments

The summer break finished and school kicked off again. It's a slow term for me, over all, as I don't have as much primary school as last term. Part of this is due to the kids' undoukai (sports day) preparation. I'm not sure exactly why I have so few shougakkou classes scheduled for October, though.

This month so far has been pretty quiet. With so much free time at K-town chuu, I made a pretty neat wall display. Part of my duties there when not in class teaching is to make a monthly wall display. I settled on focusing on summer - namely, the summer break. As I didn't do much during the break (most of my time was spent in the office), I had to be quite creative. I'll try and get a photo of it when I have fixed all the bits of paper that have curled away from the wall. >.<

We went to K-city on Saturday. I had a wire installed in each of my big toes to try and counter the ingrown toenails. So far it is turning out to be effective. I just have to wait for my nails to grow for another two months before we see if there is a substantial change. I'm hoping that it will permanently fix the problem, but we won't know until November. I have to be very careful, too, that I don't make contact with anything - as any pressure could tear the wires out of the holes in the nails. :/

On Sunday, we stopped at Kitanokawa to see a little of their undoukai. Mika used to work at the junior high school and she said hi to some of the teachers that are still there. Eddi's school's undoukai is this coming Sunday, and I intend to attend the Shouwa shou/chuu combined one on Saturday.

The weather has continued to be pretty hot. It may be Autumn but there is still a lot of green around and the overall temperature hasn't dropped a great deal. The humidity has eased off somewhat, and nights are a little cooler. But we do still need to run the fan to try and cool our room down. Could be a few weeks until we see a noticeable change.

We got a refund (minus a huge cancellation fee) for the botched up tickets that the travel agent booked for us. I wouldn't recommend IACE Travel. They are impersonal, unfriendly and cost us a great deal of money due to their incompetence. We hope to book our (real) tickets to and from New Zealand for Christmas time before the end of this week.



Tuesday, 31 August 2010

25 Ways To Express Yourself

I think I've seen enough Japanese TV by now to know how to express my appreciation and enjoyment of culinary creations. From commenting on the textures and array of flavours inherent in your mouthful, to allowing an exaggerated smile to spread across your face as the juices trickle across your tongue and your taste buds dance with delectable delight at this wonderful accompaniment of gourmet excellence, here are 25 ways of expressing yourself in the dining room.

Learn To Express Yourself
1.This is delicious!oishii!
2.This is nice.oishii!
3.This is good.oishii!
4.This tastes great!oishii!
5.You've done a good job with this.oishii!
6.Mmm, sweet and fruity.oishii!
7.Not bad.oishii!
8.Very nice. I like it!oishii!
9.Very refreshing.oishii!
10.Juicy and tender.oishii!
11.The sauce really complements it.oishii!
12.Nice texture and not too salty.oishii!
13.A wonderful combination of flavours.oishii!
14.My tastebuds approve of this.oishii!
15.You've really outdone yourself!oishii!
16.A masterpiece of culinary excellence.oishii!
21.Truly appetizing.oishii!


Monday, 16 August 2010

Just Passing Through

August. Summer is well under way and it won't be too much longer before school is back in session. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out of the office and back out there, doing what I enjoy most in this job: assisting kids in learning and experiencing another language and culture.

We have been planning to head to New Zealand at Christmas time. In order to go overseas, Mika needed to update hers and Eddi's passports, and Maya needed one as well. I took the day off on Wednesday to go with my family to Nakamura to try and sort this out.

Getting a passport when you have a foreign surname is difficult enough because of the difference between actual spelling and katakana romanisation. There needs to be a link somewhere; a reference. And when you spell your daughter's name differently in English than its hiragana to romaji equivalent, it just adds to the bureaucratic nightmare.

Despite spending a good deal of the morning in N-town, we are still waiting even now - five days later - for confirmation of everything having gone through. The link that we provided - my "Gaijin card" - has not yet been confirmed as an official connection between the actual spelling of my surname and the romanisation of its katakana counterpart here in Japan.

Our planned trip is still four months away. My family's passports will come through eventually, so we are not worried at all. Everything always works out, given enough time.

Passing on
I was "trying" to sell my car for quite a while - basically, ever since getting the shaken (vehicle inspection certificate) renewed at the start of June. When I say trying, I wasn't really putting in a great deal of effort. I had a sign on my car, had posted it two or three times to the Kochi JET message board, and had mentioned it around the place.

It wasn't until we decided to really pray and I made up fliers and we decided to advertise it in the town newsletter, that we found a buyer - miraculously. See, I didn't get a chance to print the flyers, and we didn't even have to advertise it in the news. It was truly an answer to pray that someone local approached us with great interest towards buying the car.

And so, last weekend - just days after praying and starting to take real action - I sold my car. One less burden, and just one step closer to making this holiday happen. God blesses us at the right time, always.

Now, we have all but purchased our airline tickets. We found the ideal flights (direct both ways, and at good times of the day to allow for domestic travel at both ends), and will pay for our tickets today. Everything is going ahead because we trusted in God, and allowed his timing and blessings to lead the way for us.

Passing away
Early Thursday morning, Mika's maternal grandfather died. He was 91 years old and had been in hospital for about 18 months. I only knew him as a stroke victim; the old man lying in a hospital bed. Being non-Japanese wasn't the only thing that made me stand out during the family proceedings over the weekend: I didn't know Mika's grandfather as everyone else in the family did, with their entire lives a part of his.

On Friday, I took the day off in bereavement leave. Mika had a lot to sort out - especially with travelling to get appropriate attire for that night - and so I was able to look after Maya for the four hours that she was away during the day.

On Friday night, we had otsuya (formal "o"). Tsuya is a pre-funeral ceremony, where people can pay their respects to the dead. We went to the funeral home, where most of the extended family gathered. Kira ojiisan's casket sat at the front, decorated with various icons, and there was a huge display of flowers behind.

A buddhist monk came and sat between us and the casket, performing some sort of ritual. He chanted and rang a bell and the deceased's children and their spouses went up, one at a time, to pay their respects. Incense burned as we sat in black; a sombre occasion. A number of people had small circles of prayer beads that they held both during tsuya and the funeral.

After the small ceremony, there was eating and drinking. Mika's relative like to drink, as I found out over the weekend. It's quite sad really, how much alcohol people feel they need to imbibe. :(

The funeral was the following day. It was like an extension of tsuya the previous evening. More people showed up and more family members went up to pay their respects, as their names were called. We went up together as a family as the monk continued to chant, hit a metal bowl that rang like a bell, and beat a hollow item that thumped like a drum.

The funeral ceremony lasted about an hour. Many people came up to a small table that had been set up between family and the rest of the visitors - more distant relatives and friends. They would take a pinch of something and add it to a bowl - possibly incense, as it began to smoke more, the more that was added.

When everything was done, the casket was brought out to stand in the centre, completely open. Everyone was able to gather around and add flowers and other items, which were arranged around the body. When it was done, the lid was replaced and a whole lot of items and tall saplings decorated with various coloured banners and lanterns and such were brought out. They were distributed amongst 22 family members and the monk - Mika carried a basket of fruit - and everyone walked around the coffin a few times, the monk leading. Men wore woven straw baskets on their heads, women wore white cloths draped over their heads and Mika's brother shook a basket on a sapling, filled with confetti.

The procession went out of the funeral home and the casket was loaded into a hearse, a gold and black shrine incorporated into the vehicle - very fancy. We got into our cars and followed the hearse to the crematorium.

It was my first visit to a crematorium. The operator explained that it would take about an hour and a half to complete the process of cremation. A small shrine was set up in front of the cremator and everyone placed sticks of incense into small pots of sand as the monk chanted some more. The baskets and white cloths were collected and we all went into the waiting area, where we ate a rather substantial meal as we waited.

When it was done, we all went into the preparation room, where Mika's grandfather's remains sat. It was a truly amazing sight. There were some whole bones and most of the skull sitting there and the whole room simply smelled of heat - like a hot iron. Nothing of the coffin remained: just discoloured ash amongst the white bones and pieces of bone.

Everyone was able to put the cremains into the urn and the technician crushed some of the larger ones. At the end, the jaw and skull were placed on the top and the urn was closed and placed inside a box, which in turn was covered with a decorative covering.

We all returned to Mika's grandmother's place and people ate (and draaaank) more. I wasn't hungry until everyone else had left, leaving the immediate family to clean up and spend time together. The urn had been placed on a small shrine that is set up in one of the family rooms.

On Saturday night, we went to the K-town bridge to watch a 40 minute fireworks display. Not bad for a small town.

All in all, it was a busy weekend, but very family orientated. It was my first experience of a Japanese funeral and gave me more insight into a typical Kochi family get together.

We were all pretty tired by yesterday, which consisted of church, a church lunch, a meeting with the guest speaker, and then spending the rest of the afternoon and evening at Mika's grandmother's place again.

Onward, to another week in the office!



Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Engrish, Two Years and A Special Occasion

Tomorrow, I am going to the airport with Marisa (CIR*) and Toda-san from K-town kyouikuinkai (Board of Education) to meet the new JETs. It will be nice to welcome Candice's and Brittany's replacements to Kochi, and it is a good opportunity for me to say hi to JETs that I haven't seen since Mid-year Conference back in January.

This means I have been in Japan for two years. Sugoi!

*Coordinator for International Relations - what Laurel used to do here.

Sunday was Mika's and my first wedding anniversary. :)

We went to K-city after church and booked into our hotel. After just chilling for a bit, we went out for a wonderful Italian dinner, complete with a bottle of wine.

Out on the town

After dinner, we walked down to the station and took a taxi to Aeon. We saw Inception at the movies. Good movie. See it if you get the chance.

Have I ever mentioned that Japan is big on bicycles? There is a two-storey storage area tacked onto the end of Kochi train station that houses hundreds of bikes.

Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles

Back to the hotel well after midnight, as we decided to walk from the mall and the movie had finished just before twelve.

After checking out on Monday, we spent a good deal of the day at Aeon mall, shopping and looking around, while waiting for my doctor's appointment. I had my ingrown toenail assessed and another appointment made for September.

Well, aside from such excitement over the weekend, there are a couple more things I want to mention in this blog post.

Firstly, I've talked about the fireworks displays here before. I had no idea, though, that the launching equipment was so industrially... huge.

The Susaki hanabi is on the 7th of August

We are looking forward to both the Nakamura fireworks display and the Tosa-Shimizu one, which is supposed to be magnificent. There will also be the usual fireworks at the end of the Ayu festival.

Now is a good time to go swimming in the river.

Swimming in Shimantogawa

Lastly, I wanted to put up a few Engrish pictures. I don't have my whole collection, but these range from a poster in a shopping complex near where we had MYC in January, to a sign on the door of the bathroom in our hotel room just this last Sunday.

Engrish in Kochi

In the last picture, it says "Sound the alarm for steam." The Japanese roughly translates as "The alarm will sound because of steam." I understand the thinking behind this. They translated "the alarm will sound" as "sound (of) the alarm" or "sound, the alarm"; and "because of steam" as "for steam" - ie. the reason being steam. It just goes to show how differently we think. No wonder I struggle so much with Japanese. :/



Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Dragonflies and Kappa Sculptures

Yesterday was uminohi - Marine Day. We decided to go to Nakamura. Before leaving town, however, we stopped at the local concert hall to see a large collection of sculptures. The theme was kappa, a legendary water spirit. There were some truly impressive sculptures on display, and they ranged from fist-sized to about a metre high.

Below, you will find my top two pick as well as a slideshow of all the photos I took. Click the slideshow to view the album in its entirety.

A turtle-shelled kappa squatting on a gnarled tree - my top pick

A very unique snapshot of action - a sumo being effortlessly tossed

A slideshow of the exhibition

We ate lunch at McDonald's upon arriving in Nakamura. The weather was a bit funny - it rained on and off, as if temperamental rainclouds just kept moving across the sky constantly, sometimes dumping their contents unexpectedly as we found ourselves often caught without the means to deflect such reckless and sporadic precipitation and at other times scowling at us reprehensibly in preparation for another release of their contents.

Not that we didn't bring umbrellas on our excursion; we just didn't always have them with us as we went between car and shop.

After some shopping, we visited the tonbokouen - Dragonfly Park. Despite the drizzle, a few of the flying insects could be seen flitting from stem to stem near the ponds. We saw red, yellow, and black and white dragonflies, and even blue ones whose wings were of a solid hue as opposed to the usual veined, transparent appearance so prevalent in the genus. Suffice to say, I took what photos I could, as seen in the slideshow below (click to view album):

A slideshow of our visit to the tonbokouen

All in all, a nice day out. Had the weather been better, our visit to the Dragonfly Park may well have been more exciting, but as it is, I was happy to get a few closeups of these unique and beautiful creatures.

This was my first use of slideshows in these blog posts. If people like them, I may continue to use them in place of individual photos; except when I want to highlight a particular snapshot. Please leave a comment regarding my use of slideshows in this entry.



Sunday, 11 July 2010

Super Invaders

A friend of Mika's met us for lunch today. We decided to eat at a cafe just this side of K-town, called Super Invaders. As you might have guessed, it is a play on Space Invaders.

The decor is anything but limited to videogames, though. Greeted by a giant Ernie as you approach the door, you soon see that the entire restaurant is full of entertainment paraphernalia. Warner Bros. collectibles seem to make up the bulk of the displays, though from Col. Sanders to hundreds of Simpsons models, a Terminator head to a giant pair of jeans, there are hundreds of toys, models and posters on display; not to mention the two arcade machines sitting in the entrance.

What arcade machines you might ask? Well, Space Invaders for one, of course. But there is also a Pac-man machine. These cabinets look like the original top-down ones, as you will see shortly.

Suffice to say, after eating a very satisfactory lunch, I proceeded to take snapshots around the place. You can find all of the photos I took [here]. It definitely made for an interesting place to eat. I doubt I've seen a larger collection.

Super Invaders

Goliath called - he left his pants on the wall

Just one display

Many characters! Left side!

Pac-man | Space Invaders

What's your score?

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos. They looked sharper on my wife's phone than the ones I first took on mine. Looks like cellphone photos are hard to take well, however they look at first glance.



Friday, 25 June 2010

A Blog Redesign

I changed the layout and look of the blog. It needs a new header and I'm not sure if the current background image will be my final choice, as I picked it from among the default selection. But so far it is shaping up quite nicely.

Comments on what I've done are welcome, as are suggestions for further changes or additions.

Not much has been happening around here. I didn't have school today because Hashimoto sensei, the JTE I work with at K-town chuugakkou had a meeting. I still drove all the way out there only to have to drive back to the office after eying the schedule. So much for communication. :/

There will be no junior high school classes for me next week, either, as the current term (来学期 | らいがっき | raigakki in Japanese) is coming to a close and the summer holidays will be upon us before we know it. The students have exams next week.

This weekend, we are planning on heading into K-city to have a picnic lunch and then to check out a botanic garden that Mika has wanted to visit for a while now. Hopefully the weather will clear up by tomorrow, as it is raining today and is the middle of the rainy season. You never know how long it is going to rain for or if the ever-present clouds will suddenly release some precipitation.

When the weather clears up I will try to get out and take some photos for another much more visually appealing blog entry; and for want of things to talk about.

So until then, and until we are hit with summer festival fever.



Sunday, 6 June 2010

Hotaru Matsuri

Yesterday, we attended the Hotaru Matsuri -- the Firefly Festival -- in Shimotsui, deep in the hills northwest of here. It was during the day, so we didn't do any firefly watching. That is something we will do one night this month, perhaps.

The festival had a few things going on. There were performances -- we arrived too late to see the taiko drummming, but could hear it as we approached; there was a raft race; the kids had a treasure hunt and caught eels; and there was mochi (rice cake) throwing.

The Hotaru Matsuri was a nice way to spend our afternoon.

Photo collection here.


Ready, Set, Paddle!

Raft race

Taisho JHS girls' band

Girls' Band Performance

Mochi throwing

Mochi throwing

A bridge over calm waters

This bridge was actually by the road on our way to the festival. We thought it was cool so we stopped on our way home to take a few photos. The same goes for this water wheel.

And this tunnel video:




Sunday, 30 May 2010

Hook, Line and Scooter

We spent the weekend in K-city. I had to get the shakken (2 year checkup) for my car. It was very expensive but actually less than I expected.

We did some shopping: I got presents for some family members' birthdays. As the sun went down, we met up with Mika's sister-in-law for sushi -- Ten Ten Maru, our favourite kaitenzushi place.

That was yesterday. We stayed overnight at Mai-san's. Mika's brother was down here to do some go-karting and he stayed with their parents. It was like we did a swap between Kochi and Shimanto.

This morning, we attended the K-city Pentecostal Church before grabbing ramen for lunch. On our way back to Mika's brother's place to get Eddi, we spied this fellow riding gaily along as if he didn't have ten fishing rods, a net and goodness knows what tackle and bits and bobs hanging off his scooter:

Between a Rod and a Hard Place

And thus I captured a taste of rural Japan. People around here love fishing. Mika's uncle and her younger brother went fishing a couple of weeks ago and netted us a good feed. Cuz it's all about the sashimi, baby. ;)

Here's to continued warmth and a good week over all. :)



Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Birthday Party and Chopsticks

A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated Eddi's 7th birthday. I baked and decorated her birthday cake and Mika made a piñata for the party we gave her on the Saturday.

I also made cupcakes

Happy 7th Birthday!

Smash that bee piñata

Axt weekend, we made chopsticks. The father of one of the girls that went to Eddi's kindergarten, Mr. Kawashita, was kind enough to invite us and a couple of other families over to learn to make chopsticks. He does it as part of a cultural / tourism activity, usually charging people for his time. He has a blog and an advertisement in the local tourism brochures.

So the kids were all able to play together, and we all had a big barbecue for lunch.

We made hashi

The finished product

Mika's skills

We didn't do anything this past weekend, really. Just relaxed on Saturday and had the usual church service on Sunday. During the last few weeks school has been pretty standard, too, although I did teach at a primary school a couple of Fridays ago instead of at K-town JHS, and last week I didn't have classes at Shouwa JHS because they had a sports event.

My shakken (2-year car inspection) is due this month, as is the tax for both our cars. Huge expense right there, but we should manage. Planning to go into K-city this weekend to do some shopping and hopefully get my shakken done. :)



Sunday, 2 May 2010

Springtime Tabi

We have been having wonderful weather. God has really blessed us with cloudless skies and warmth. And even though the mornings are still a bit chilly, we can be thankful that for most of the day, when life permits, we can revel in the sunlight. Summer is coming!

But it is still spring, and for that we are all thankful. Once the humidity and insect-ridden weather hits, the clamminess is unbearable. So praise God for spring!

Last week, Eddi's school had a sports day -- just the morning, actually. As my job allows it, and I had no school that Wednesday, I went; along with Mika and baby Maya. The kids all had fun, but here in Japan it seems less competitive and more about balance between the red team and the white team -- akagumi and shirogumi. That, and they play old fashioned music and all do warm-up exercises in unison, reminiscent of some Chinese military regimen. [Photos]

Eddi in the relay race

Thursday proved to be yet another sunny day, and one that we were especially pleased to have fine weather on. It was a statutory holiday, so we took the day to go out to Uwajima. On the way, however, we stopped to take photos of the koinobori strung out across the river at the entrance to Tokawa. Koinobori are streamers of carp, much like wind-socks, that everyone puts out around this time of the year. You can see them on a lot of houses and all around Japanese towns, in different colours and sizes. [Photos]

Koinobori strung out across shimantogawa

After lunch at McDonald's in Uwajima, we got a good deal on some end of season fruit and then tracked down a garden in the middle of the city.

Built by feudal lord Date near the end of the 19th century, Tensha garden has 22 different types of bamboo and a lake in the middle. During the month of April, the irises and wisteria -- fuji, in Japanese -- come out in full bloom and light up the garden with floral elegance. I'd say we went at the right time. [Photos]

A trellis bridge over the Tenshaen pond

We left the city and headed out to a park where Eddi could play and we could relax. It was quite tricky to find, but worth the trek. Eddi had a good time playing. She has no problem finding other little girls to run around with. [Photos]

Maya likes to sliiide

Late in the afternoon, we headed off. I had promised everyone ice creams, and took up my own offer. Because who doesn't enjoy a nice cold treat at the end of a family outing in spring? Well, my wife and daughter, that's who. They ate an onigiri each -- a Japanese rice ball -- rather than have ice-creams. I told Mika I was going to mention it in my blog because it was just such a Japanese thing to do. :p

Now it's the weekend and also the start of Golden Week. Too bad I had school on Friday, otherwise I could potentially have had a whole week off! As it is, Golden Week goes from Saturday until Wednesday, and so I will be back at work on Thursday. Mika's brother and his family have come down from Osaka to stay with his and Mika's parents, so we should be seeing them a bit in the next few days.

Yesterday, we went to K-city without Eddi. She stayed with her grandparents and uncle, etc. We met up with Mikey at Aeon to have lunch together. He is finishing up on JET in summer, so we're not sure how many opportunities we will get to see him before he goes back to the US.

Our main reason for going into the city was to get Eddi a present for her birthday. We also got something on behalf of her grandparents, who wanted to get her something special. More about that after next weekend, when Eddi has had her birthday. The party is next Saturday.

I don't think I ever put up photos from Eddi's youchien graduation, so here they are.

Eddi, having received her graduation certificate

That's all from me for now. I look forward to having three days off work and enjoying this fine weather!



Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Noichi Zoo

Two weekends ago, we went to Noichi Zoo, near Kochi city. We met Michael afterwards, at Starbucks, followed by a (very) late dinner at Tentenmaru, our favourite kaitenzushi place.

Meerkats were having fun

Aren't they cute?

Sealions were swimming

Giraffes romped around

The anteater was a beast

Mama bear climbed a tree

Because she was thirsty

The baby bear was also cute

Colourful parrots

Otters :)

A lone red panda paces his cell

American beavers. From AMERICA!

Sea lions bask in the sun

Sorry about the quality. I had to take all of these on my cellphone! You can view the rest of the photos here.

School starts for me again tomorrow. My schedule is different this academic year. I will be teaching at K-town chuugakkou, among other things.



Thursday, 1 April 2010


Today is the start of the new fiscal year. That means that everywhere in Japan, staff changes are taking place. For us, this means that teachers in schools all around the place are getting shifted to and fro, and that town office workers have been swapped around and relocated.

In my own Board of Education office, we had one woman leave -- New Lady, I called her, because she only got swapped in this time last year. She has been replaced with another woman, whose name I have yet to learn; and whose nickname I have yet to concoct. ;)

Some people have retired. The chief of the town office has retired and will have been replaced by someone else. We just had the five new people for the town office come into our office and introduce themselves, as this is their first day in their new office.

This afternoon, we have a meeting at the Kubokawa office, where we will get to meet the new school principals. As with any Japanese meeting, it will be boring and tedious; but I have to attend to introduce myself, even if I won't interact with most of them after that. But perhaps that is the point. :)

I'm not sure if all school principals will be there, or if there will be a mix of just the ones that have been swapped and Board of Education people that have been swapped around. I won't assume anything for now. All I know is that I don't like Japanese meetings and I'm glad I don't have to attend any very often at all.

Next Friday (the 9th), we have an office nomikai (drinking party) to farewell those that have left and to welcome new people. As only one person from our office has been replaced, it will be a rather small affair, I'd imagine. But it will be the first enkai/nomikai that I have attended this year -- not including the small get-together with a handful of Mika's old co-workers for yakiniku that we had on Tuesday night.

Happy April Fool's Day everyone. Find your sense of humour if you've lost it and take it easy. ^^


Monday, 29 March 2010

Still Cold

Despite the fact that the sakura are now out in full bloom, we still have cold nights and mornings. It is nice to see the sun burn away depressing shade, but we still have to turn the heater on first thing in the morning and at night when the cold creeps back in.

I managed to retrieve a hinamatsuri photo from my phone:

Hinamatsuri cake

I captured the last snow of the season near the end of school. It is still cold enough to snow up north, but here the weather should only get warmer.

The last snow of winter 2010

Last Monday, it was a public holiday. We went to Kochi and had a picnic at One Park. We also looked at the animals at the small zoo there. There was a "bird show", with falcon trainers sending a bird between them. It flew really low over our heads and even caught a training pigeon in mid-air. Afterwards, people queued to hold the falcon and take photos.

Holding a peregrine falcon

On our way home, after shopping at Aeon mall, I saw the following pimped van. It was worth a keitai snapshot. ;)

Pimp my van

Next weekend is Easter. Yesterday, after preparing throughout the week by blowing the contents of eggs out of their shells each time we used eggs, I filled the empty eggshells with chocolate. Some are less hollow than others, but I did leave air in most. Now, we're ready for our chocolate fix!

I am also going to make hot cross buns on either Wednesday or Thursday, so that we can eat them on Friday. Easter is not celebrated in any way here in Japan. It's understandable, as it is a Christian celebration, but you'd think that with the affection that Japanese have for festivals, they would have at least embraced the commercial side of it.

So until the celebration of the greatest and most amazing sacrifice this world has ever known, be at peace. ^^


Thursday, 18 March 2010

Blooming Kochi

It's the end of the academic school year. Everyone moves up a grade or finishes school at the end of this month. I had my last chuugakkou classes today.

We had graduation on Saturday. I attended the one for Shouwa chuu. Now that I have no school, it will just be office work between now and when the new term starts.

On Sunday, we dedicated our daughters at church. It's always important to pray God's blessing on your children. Because Eddi had never been dedicated, we had her prayed for at the same time as baby Maya.

Dedication at church - 14 March 2010

To backtrack a bit, it was my birthday on the 28th of February. On the 27th, we went out for dinner to a steak restaurant with Mika's brother and his family. We went back to their place for cake.

30th Birthday Cake

The Cutting of the Cake

A couple of weeks ago, it was Hinamatsuri, the Doll Festival. We also had cake for that and Mika's mum set up a doll display according to the tradition. Unfortunately, the photos we took have been lost, otherwise I would put something of ours here.

Hina Matsuri - The Doll Festival

Two weekends ago, Michael came for a visit. He and I watched a couple of movies and went to Yamagoya to eat. It was somewhat nostalgic (in a recent sense).

Now that spring is almost here, the sakura -- cherry blossoms -- have started coming out. The weather has struggled to warm up and we even had a smattering of snow this month. But it will get warmer, the blossoms will come out and we can enjoy new life among all of the changes that come with April.

Sakura - Cherry Blossoms; The First Sign of Spring

That's all for now. Sorry about the lack of updates. I had to cram a lot into one post. I'll try and be more diligent in posting blog entries throughout the rest of this year. ^^


Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Baby's First Video

Took some photos and video tonight:


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Maya Shimada Gough

Our baby was born at 5.45pm on Friday night. The day started off well, with us leaving for the hospital after a regular breakfast. Mika went into labour around 3pm (I say labour, being the time that she went to the delivery room in great pain and close contractions).

I snapped some photos with Mika's camera, just minutes after Maya-chan was born. Since then, I have been receiving a photo a day to my phone from my wife in the hospital. Our little angel is so beautiful. I look forward to when they come home on Thursday!

So, six days in the hospital. It's a long time. Not sure why, but I guess she just wants a break, and to make the most of this time of recovery in a comfortable place. Our house is freaking cold, and isn't something I would look forward to bringing a newborn baby to. Still, winter is almost over, and we will do our utmost to heat the impossible-to-heat place. Or at least one room. ;)

I drove to Kochi city four days in a row, and so today I'm quite tired. You could say that the timing was really good. Being born on Friday, it meant that I could spend the weekend travelling to and from the hospital, visiting. And then yesterday, my hard drive finally gave up the ghost, so I went to K-city to buy a new one; and to visit my wife and new aka-chan once again. Suffice to say, she was surprised to see me, unannounced!

Eddi stayed with her cousin over the weekend and has been with her grandmother since then. It's good because I have to get up early most days for work and can't possibly get her from youchien during the day. That, and it made it much easier to just jet into the city last night.

Today, it's a bit of a relief that I don't have school. Kitazoe sensei is away today, so I am in the office instead of teaching classes. It means I can take this afternoon off (three hours of nenkyuu, since I started early this morning), and spend time just resting -- and probably installing my new HDD (and all that that entails).

I currently don't have any photos of Maya that I can put up, as I haven't retrieved any off my phone. I can, however, affix photos that other people have put up on Facebook, having received them from Mika over the last few days. And I promise to do my utmost in getting some photos up once my family is home.