Notes from Japan 6
Menda Elementary School Sports Day
Sunday (9/25) was the long anticipated sports day at Menda ES. Sports day is a day long festival
for all the children and their families. I guess there were about 2,000 people at the event. The
closest thing I can think of to compare sports day to is Color War (or Color Games, at Seeds of
Peace) at summer camp.

The school is divided into the red and white teams, and they spend the day running in all kinds of
races. There is also a performance aspect to Sports Day where each grade has a dance
performance they do together. Some of these were pretty involved. There were pyramids and
waves and all manner of acrobatics.

In the evening the very tired Menda teachers had an enki (party). Standard enki food and drink.
After the meal teachers reenacted and parodied their students performances from the day. Some
of the teachers were clearly a little burnt out having spent the last few months preparing for sports
day. They definitely enjoyed their party.

After the first party we moved to the second party at a Karaoke Snack-Bar. Key phrase here is
Snack-Bar. At snack bars there are snack bar hostesses. I don't know exactly what their function is,
they serve drinks, straighten up the table and sit and talk with the party goers. There was one
Philippine hostess who was constantly in my vicinity. I asked a teacher who the woman was and
why she kept sitting close to me. I tried to make it clear that I was not interested in the
conversation. When that failed, I just moved to another table. I really did not like the vibe in the
place, even though the Karaoke was fun as always.

Bowing and Crossing the Street
Stopped my car at a cross walk where a boy was waiting with his hand in the air. The boy walked
across the street. Reaching the other side he spun around, bowed quickly and ran along on his
way. At another crosswalk later that day, a woman and her 3 kids were waiting, the two older
children had their hands in the air. The youngest, a toddler, saw her older siblings doing this and
put her own little arm into the air. After they crossed the mother and the older children turned
around to bow. People here are so cute!

During my self introductions a few weeks ago, I would pass around a blank sheet of paper and
have students wright questions for me to answer at the end of the class. Here are some of my
favorites with my answers:

Are you busy? Yes I am teaching a class right now.
Does Joshua play the swim everyday? No, he dose not.
Did you like Junior High School? Now, I love the JHS in Menda, when I was your age however, I did
not like junior high school.
Were you happy yesterday? Yes
How old is your Father? Good question.
Do you know Baseball player Ichiro? Seattle Marieners, 5 seasons over 200 hits, $12 million per
year, and I think he comes from somewhere in Asia.
How long have you play canu? I have canoed for about 10 years.
Do you know Matui? Godzilla, New York Yankees, also from some country somewhere in Asia.
What do you like Japanese food the best? Sushi and tempura.
What is interesting in Japan? Everything.
Can you write to Japanese? As long as they read English.
Do you like nattou (fermented soybeans)? Yes.

Are you play Soccer? Do you have any comic? Have you ever been China? Do you play tennis in
Amerika? Do you like a run? No

What played summer vacation? Do you go to ocean? Do you like rice? He was watching TV
yesterday? How lang have you stayed of new Jersey? Yes.

Do you like Japan? Very much.
Do you have a laver? Sorry, I seem to have left my laver at home.
Do you have girl firind? You have a girlfriend? Time is up.

Rosh Hashona & Yom Kippur
For about two months before Rosh Hashona I searched for a synagogue, a rabbi or even another
Jew. Nada. I am it for Kyushu as best I can tell.

So I took the days off and celebrated Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur at home myself. I turned my
tatame room in to a small synagogue. I did as much of the services as I could. In the afternoon of
Rosh Hasona I walked to a river about a mile from my house for a Tashlik.  On Yom Kippur I
observed the fast and read through as much of the service as could.   

Suee Nursery School
Q: What does Suee Nursery school have in common with Disney World (or Goucher College
according to a US News and World Report)?

A:Suee Nursery School is one of the happiest places on earth. At least that's my feeling on the
matter today.

I got to school at 9:30 and had my three classes. Well 2 "classes" and one half hour with the 2
year olds. The first 2 classes were my standard nursery school shtick. "Head shoulders knees and
toes" , "The Hokie-Pokie", "Go Dog Go", followed by coloring in "Apple Ball and Car". The third
class with the 2 year olds was a little more free flow. I would try to teach "Eyes and ears and mouth
and nose" while they would throw plastic apples and oranges at each other and of course me.
Then I gave up on singing and started reading, which surprisingly held there attention for about 5
minuets. After I finished a very abridged version of "Go Dog Go", I just hung out for a while while
the students served me plastic fruit, and cups of "tea".

After the last  class I sat down for lunch with the 4-5 year olds. Today, in honor of me eating lunch
at Suee, the entire school was treated to completely vegetarian fare. Did I mention I love this
school. After lunch, I took a quick nap during nap time.  I am convinced that a nap time after lunch
is a great idea for anyone.

Yea, what can I say, life is good in my world. Oh yea, and they pay me for this too.

Just Talking
Sometimes I walk into a class before the teacher gets there. I sometimes entertain myself (and
maybe the students) by going into a monologue.

"Good Afternoon. Your teacher isn't`t here now, so I will start your English class alone. English can
be a difficult language, but it is easy if taught the right way. The best way to learn language is in a
class where the teacher speaks in the target language. Now since your teacher can't do that, I will
for a few moments expose you to that style of learning."

Students: "Ego wakara nie"

"Yes, I know that you do not understand what I am saying, and the perplexed or quizzical looks you
are giving me verify that I am basically talking to myself. But is that really such a bad thing? I ask
you, whats the harm? You live here in Asagir, in Kumamoto, Japan. Really, how much opportunity
are you going to have to listen to a language that you don't understand."

"This on the other hand, is the nature of my life. See every day I walk around in town or at school
and everyone is talking in a strange language that, you all seem to understand. Why shouldn't you
get to experience this. That is why I am going on with this now. Yes, I know you don't understand,
that's OK, your getting internationalized, that's another point of this exercise.  See only part of my
job is to teach English, the rest of it involves the somewhat nebulous concept of "internationalizing"
you students (whatever that means) and that is exactly what I believe I am doing now"

"In closing, I would like you to all meditate on what life is like when you don't understand what is
being said. This is why language is such an important tool that we must all strive to improve upon.
Keep fighting. Gam Bate Mas. OK, your teacher has returned now, and we will start class. Today
we will be learning the days of the week. Seven days Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Friday Saturday and Sunday. Lets start on that."

Just another Guijin on the road
Josh's interior monologue on the road: "Look a car coming down the road. Hey, looks like he is in
the wrong lane. Getting closer.  He has to realize that he shouldn't be in the left lane, wait a
second. Shit. Left lane. (Swerve) Japan, Japan, Left lane, Left lane."

No actual problems on the road, but another ALT in my town just totaled her car on a piece of farm
equipment that was making a very wind turn.  I understand that some of my predecessors also had
accidents here, so you can believe I am being very careful.  Most days I leave the car and bike to
work, it has the added benefit of getting the blood flowing before I have to face the cherubs.

Early Morning
Its 5:00 am, and again I find myself meditating on the following possibilities: patties, nuggets,
baked, broiled, BBQ, fried, deep fried, Parmesan, salad or with matzo balls in a nice little soup.  I
have been contemplating what I will do with the carcass, after I kill the rooster next door.  I don't
know how my neighbors will respond, when they find only hens in the pen next to my house.  
Perhaps they will ask me what happened to the bird.  Perhaps they will just understand that it was
his time.  

I think it is sad that I, a vegetarian, spend so much time contemplating the end for these creatures,
still as I am typing this, he is doing his best to communicate with birds in some distant place like
maybe South America.

I purchased a beautiful hand made knife from a local blacksmith the other day.  It cuts through
carrots, pumpkins and onions like butter.

Saw the Hytoyoshi Parade last weekend.  I believe it was a Shinto religious event.  The floats were
basically lots of folks carrying these big portable shrines and chanting.  There were usually also
people riding on the shrines as they were being carried.

Several men in a dragon head costumes were working their way through the crowd.  They
represented the shrine.  For a few coins you could put your child's head in the mouth of the
dragon.  The parents thought this was a great idea because it brings the child wisdom and good
luck.  The children, especially the smallest kids thought this to be a terrible idea as they did not
want to be eaten by the dragons.  This led to many crying children hiding and trying to escape from
their parents and the dragons.
(see picture on the website)  

After the parade I went to the festival's food area.  Here you could get virtually any type of food you
wanted.  As long as what you wanted was Octopus that had been either baked, fried, deep fried or
deep fried and cooked into a pancake with soy sauce and mayonnaise.

New Photos now on the website: