|Notes from Japan 4
Spent the night at a friends house in Kumamoto city. In the morning I went to the immigration office
to get my multiple re-entry permit. It is good to have for traveling or if I ever needed to leave Japan
After that I walked around Kumamoto city for the day. I found a neat shine that was empty. I walked
around then as I was about to leave a woman came in to say her prayers. She approached the
shrine and put some coins in a large box out front. Then she rang an old bell about ten times, and
walked to the edge of the building. She then put her hands together for a few moments and
mouthed some words.
Later I went to one of the cities art museums and saw a big exhibit on Buddhist artifacts. Naturally
all the explanations were in Japanese, so I made up my own explanations and stories for the
First day of school. Today I went to the Menda Junior High where I will be stationed much of the
time. They had an opening ceremony where teachers and students would stand up bow to the
students, bow to the teachers, bow to the assistant principal, bow to the principal, bow towards an
empty wall (I have no idea) and then give a speech in Japanese and repeat the bowing procedure.
I was among the first to make my "self introduction" speech. First I did it in English, then I used the
few words i posses in Japanese to cobble together a sentence or two. After that I sat through about
half a dozen more speeches and introductions.
For whatever reason, they decided they didn't want me staying around since I had no classes, so
as soon as the assembly was over, they sent me back to the BOE office in town for the rest of the
First day at Menda Elementary School, which will be my other main school. First the self
introduction to a room of some 400+ students. They had me wait in a corridor outside the room
until the students were assembled. I walked in while they were singing the "Hello Song" Basically,
"Hello, Hello, Hello how are you? I'm fine, I'm fine, I hope that you are too" repeated over and over
Again I feel a bit of the "rock star" treatment here. As I am lead to the front, students sit up on there
knees in an honorific pose. I give my self introduction speech, the children sing two songs, I am
lead out and the Assembly ends.
Next, classes started. I pair up with a homeroom teacher and help them present an English lesson.
For now all the lesson plans and materials are ready for me when I get to school. This will probably
be the procedure for the foreseeable future, which is fine with me. Today's lesson was members of
the family. I have photos of my family and introduce the vocab words and sentence "Is this your
...Brother, Mother, Father, Cousin, Aunt, Grand Mother, etc", followed by "Yes he/she is" For some
reason, each of the teachers picked out the picture of Adam with his long hair and asked "is this
your Sister..." which gave me the opportunity to teach, "No he isn't".
At night there was a party with teachers from Menda Elementary. It was in a traditional Japanese
style restaurant where you sit on the floor around tables, and take food from platters. Of course, all
manner of alcohol flows more than freely at these events.
Later the Principal and about 15 teachers went to a Karaoke bar. I think I did about 1/3 to 1/2 of
the songs that night. Once I finished one they asked me for another selection. I kept to stuff I am
relatively good at, Billy Joel, James Taylor and Toto.
After that party I met up with a group of other ALTs who were having Karaoke parties in the same
venue. We rented a small Karaoke room and kept the party going.
Earlier this week, one of the leaders of the scouts group I am sometimes involved with invited me to
go on a rafting trip down the Kuma River.
I arrived at the base where I was given a life jacket and a helmet. None of the companies water
shoes were of an adequate size for me so one of the guides lent me his Teva-like water sandals.
I got into a van with 5 members of a co-ed bad-mitten team from near Hytoyoshi. The guide for the
trip was Masatoshi, my friend from the scouts and also the owner of the company. We started out
on a retaining wall along the River. Our raft was positioned so that once we started, we were able
to slide 20' down this 45 degree slope into the river and then on towards the white water.
We stopped at a few places along the way to swim. At one point we left the raft on a rock and
walked up a stream to a small waterfall and pool. Walking back from the waterfall, one of the
Back on the water, we came upon some white water that we navigated imperfectly, causing the raft
to flip over. We floated down the white water. I noticed that I was now wearing only one sandal.
In a calmer area we climbed on top of the raft. There some of the guys started playing a game
trying to push each other off. I started playing, and soon another boat came over full of men who
wanted to challenge me. One giant Japanese dude climbed on my raft, I look at him and asked if
he was a Suma wrestler, he indicated that he was. Some how, I was able to push even Suma boy
in. I though about pounding my chest and chanting "U S A - U S A" but thought the better of it.
After a few more challenges I was worn out and got pushed in by some little twirp I could have easily
trounced a little earlier.
Hanging up in the main office are promotional pictures of past participants on the water. Center is
a picture of a former Taragi ALT from 2 years ago who was sitting on the front end of a raft as it
was going through a stretch of white water, he has a striking resmblence to me, but I just cant place
Had nursery school today. Nursery school days are the easy days for me as I have a max of 3
classes each one is half an hour long. There are about 25 kids in each class of 3, 4 & 5 year olds.
I start of teaching hello & good morning. Then "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes", a cheer, "The
other day I met a Bear" and "stand up sit down". I finish by handing out a sheet for them to color in
and I give each child a sticker. The kids are awesome. At one point, I was sitting down singing with
them and one child came over and hugged me, then a few followed suit, and soon I was compleetly
over run with small Japanese children.
When I got home this evening, I put tape over my windows and moved everything inside. As I finish
this e-mail, a category 3 Typhoon is picking up steam. I figure the worst of it will be over within the
next 4-8 hours. The wind is prety strong outside now, but so far all is OK. I have plenty of botteled
water, flashlight bateries and ready to eat food.
I am following the storms progress at: http://weather.yahoo.co.jp/weather/jp/images/satellite.html
I am on the Suthern most major island, Kyushu. Judgeing from the map, I am in about the worst of it
Ill get out a quick note in the next day to let everyone know that I am OK after the storm passes.
I have been following the news about Katrina and Louisiana closely. It is sad to see the devastating
effects this storm has had on people down there. Over here storm season is beginning.
Politics in Japan
Japan is having an election on September 11th for their Parliament and that body will elect a prime
minister some time after that. It all came about after PM Koizumi called the snap election about a
month ago when he was unable to gather enough votes for a postal privatization scheme he has
been pushing for.
Now, I lived in the states during some pretty contentious elections. Last year I saw 2 women who
were perfect strangers arguing in a Trader Joe's parking lot over the presidential candidates. They
were yelling at each other, and I would not have been surprised if it had come to blows. I remember
this older Shrub supporter was screaming at a high school kid, "your a Communist, your as red as
I was in Israel in 2000 when Barak had called for a national referendum on his plan at the time to
return the Golan to Syria. Everywhere you went, there were very passionate people on street
corners with megaphones shouting their positions for everyone to here, sometimes shouting at
each other. Also the entire country was papered with banners, bumper stickers and the like.
Back to Japan. This has got to be the tamest election I have ever seen. Campaigners come
around at the BOE and put business cards with the picture of their candidate on your desk and
then apologies for interrupting your work. I have also seen vans that drive around with
megaphones and big pictures of the candidates proclaiming something in Japanese that I would
assume to be "Excuse me. Please vote for our honorable candidate. Thank you and excuse us for
On Sunday morning I watched part of what I believe was a debate among the main parties PM
candidates. They were seated around a table and all looked very serious, but they were very polite
in their interactions. When speaking over each other, they did so quietly and respectfully.
I guess the level of emotion and engagement has something to do with what the major issues are
being decided. In 2000 Israel was making a strategic decision that could affect is prospects for
peace and survival. In 2004 the US was deciding weather to reelect the guy who is pouring our
nations blood and treasure in to the sands of Iraq. And what is the big issue facing Japan that
caused these special elections? Should the post office be privatized and broken up into 4 separate
Now, in fairness, the Post Office here is also a major insurance and pension provider and it is the
largest bank in the world by deposits, so it's a little bit more important to it's citizens than the USPS
in America. But come on Japan, the mail? That's really the best thing you all could come up with
for a political crisis?
|Notes from Japan 4.5 after the storm
The Typhoon has now passed, for the most part, out of my area. Little remnants are still blowing,
but generally all is once again quiet on the far eastern front. Well, except for the chickens. I
walked around outside a little while ago. I could smell tree sap from a lot of broken branches, but
nothing in my neighborhood seemed to have been damaged.
This morning one of the women who works with us called and told me that since there were no
classes, I could stay home today if I wanted. She said I would need to use one of my 20 paid
holiday days. I decided to be a little strategic.
I told her that I would rather not use the paid vacation day, and would try to make my way into the
office despite the storm. She told me not to leave yet that she would call me back soon.
About ten minutes later I got another call from work. The BOE directors had decided to have me,
"work from home" today.
The funny part is that yesterday I told my boss that I wanted to help in any way I could during and
after the storm. Oh well, so much for that idea.