Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!

If you didn't know already, Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Halloween in Japan, while not non-existent, lacks the substance and creativity of Halloween in the US. There is no trick-or-treating, no American candy (which I find to be far superior), few costumes and most kids don't really understand it.  So, I teach extraordinary Halloween lessons. This year, I made 3 girls cry from fear/ disgust.

The first part of the lesson was just introducing Halloween words, then we moved into the serious stuff.
First, I got very serious and told them that I had cut off the fingers and skin, and took out hearts, brains and eyeballs of last year's bad students- then to make sure the current students would be good, I made everyone touch said items. 

I prepared 5 bags of said items:
Eyes= pickled quail eggs (better than grapes because they pop if you squeeze too hard).
Brains= konnyaku (
Skin: katsuo bushi (sliced, dried bonito).
Heart: one day peeled tomatoes, the next day canned peaches.
Fingers: Chikuwa

After feeling everything and getting thoroughly grossed out the students guessed what each item actually was. It so fun!  

At school, I dressed up as a black cat, but for the annual ALT Halloween party, I dressed up as a mummy.  The party which is hosted in my town at a campsite, is really fun because for all the ALTs and friends not from the US or Canada, it is a special treat because they didn't have Halloween growing up.  Almost everyone gets really into it, with great, often homemade, costumes. The winner this year was Muammar Gaddafi, although there was a great Mr. T, trio of Wizard of OZ characters, and the three blind mice.

For my costume, I went to the "dollar store" and bought A LOT of gauze and wrapped myself up from head to toe.  I wrapped over some leggings and a sweatshirt to ensure warmth!  People really liked it. The only problem was that my face got really itchy after a few hours! 

Mr. T and Gaddafi

Wizard of OZ


Jean Clawed Van Frog and the Disappearers

Last weekend I got myself an aquarium and some new friends.  Picking who and what would come home with me was very stressful.  I wanted fish, but I also wanted frogs and I also wanted a sea crustacean, but there was no way they could all live together. I finally decided on 3 frogs and 5 mini- shrimp.  The frogs are African Clawed frogs, two white, one black. The black one I named Hot Rod, but I couldn't decide on names for the white ones for a few days.

Unfortunately, the next day one of the shrimp was dead.  As sad as I was, I took him out of the tank with chopsticks.  I thought the worst was over, but then...

When I got home one night, after being away for only a few hours, one white frog and one shrimp were gone.  Not dead, gone.  They were nowhere in the tank. I checked the filter, I checked around the tank (despite having a lid, who knows what these guys can do?) NO LUCK! They disappeared. Either they got buried under the dirt and have yet (a week later) to float up, or they were eaten by the other frog.

Still no signs of them but thankfully none others have gone missing.

The other day I decided on the name for the other white frog, Jean Clawed Van Frog-get it? He's a clawed frog.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh Noh!

This weekend I attended a free Noh performance in Shimabara (the southern peninsula of Nagasaki prefecture).  Noh is a very traditional classical drama.  This particular production was supposed to be outdoors, lit only with bonfires surrounding the stage, known as Takigi O-noh.  However, due to the rain, it was moved into an indoor location.

So, as you know, where most people have problems falling asleep, I have problems staying awake. It's not hard to imagine what happened; dark, warm, hard as I fought my eyes would not cooperate.  Unfortunately I was dozing in and out for the first 4 plays and was out cold for most of the final (and apparently, best) one. 

I did see some of it though. The night started out with some short performances by a children's noh group which was really cute. They also were the main actors in one of the 5 primary plays about a fisherman. 

Two of the plays had live music with drums and flutes, which was... interesting. At points I questioned whether it was music or just noise, but it was cool nonetheless.

The final play, about demons and ghosts, featured special masks used in noh. Depending on the angle the actor positions his head, the expression on the mask changes. I didn't actually see this (sleeping) and didn't learn about it until after. So maybe, if I ever see it again, I'll keep my eye out (and open) for it.

Noh actors manipulate their voices in such a way that makes singing/speaking sound pretty goofy and they used very classical Japanese, so even Japanese people had a hard time understanding. 

All in all, I'm glad I had this opportunity to see it and I am pretty annoyed I couldn't stay awake. However, not sure if I'd go out of my way to see it again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Camping at the Bottom of a Volcano

Okay, I admit, it's not quite as exciting as the title makes it seem.  I took another trip to Kumamoto prefecture to see Mt. Aso, the most active volcano in Japan.  Despite not having lava, it's still really cool because it has a green lake of aqueous sulfur.  It was really clear this time around so I could see it a lot better.

My two friends and I were planning on going on a two day hike and camping somewhere out in the wilderness, but plans changed so we ended up just hiking somewhere else in the day and stayed the night at a campsite. 

Our hike was really fun, we walked up to the highest peak around. Within the hike we climbed 850 stairs. The view from the top was really nice, but would have been better if it weren't so hazy. 

Since it's fall, the nights are pretty cool. So in anticipation of the chill of sleeping in a tent, I went to sleep with 3 layers of pants, 4 layers on top, a hat and my sleeping bag. I was well prepared and miraculously didn't get cold! Amazing!

It was a short, but fun trip. Perfect weather.

Sidenote: We met an old man selling rocks who told me 23 is getting old and I should hurry up and get married. Haha! No way old man!

Sports Day 2011

It seems that I didn't write about Sports Day last year, but it was one of the events I was anticipating most this year. Sports Day is a day-long competition between the different classes in each grade. The grades also join together in blocks (so class 1 of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students are one team, etc) and compete against the other blocks. The day starts out with an opening ceremony where all the students march by with their classes. It's very militaristic looking, and I have a very hard time seeing American students not refusing to do it. When I say marching, I mean marching. Their arms and knees need to reach a certain height on every step and the must be in sync with their classmates. They practice marching for HOURS in the days leading up. Next on the program in radio taiso- or radio exercises. Pretty much warm up exercises. If you've seen the Michael Keaton movie Gung Ho, you know what I'm talking about. It's actually pretty fun. However this too needs to be executed perfectly and thus requires hours of practice.
The events themselves include 50m, 100m and 200m sprints, 800/1500m (girls/boys respectively) runs, relays, and then the fun events. At my junior high school, the first years have an obstacle course relay, the second years have a jump rope contest- all the students in each class jumping with one long rope per class, and the third years have a mukade race. I don't know if I've mentioned mukade before, but it's the word for centipede in Japanese. So this race requires all the students in each class to have both legs tied to ropes in a single file line- think single-file three-legged race, but with 40 students.
First year relay
Mukade race

The event ends with a big traditional Japanese dance. At my school, all the grades come together to perform soran, the fisherman's dance. Apparently, it's rare for the three grades to perform the dance together; at most schools each grade does a difference dance. Further, my students seem to be extraordinarily good at it! My friends told me it was much better than anything their students did. I really want to learn the dance, but I was never at that school on the right days to learn it.
Fisherman's dance 
In the weeks leading up to Sports Day, it seems as if the students never stop practicing. I could hear them from my house in the morning, they practiced at least 2 hours during school and then after school as well. The kids are so tired during this time, and then they get in trouble for not doing their homework because they're too tired. Rough. But the students love it, and I love it. I ran in two relays (despite my food poisoning induced fever and having not eaten at all the day before). But how can I say no to Sports Day? I can't. I didn't do much though. For the first relay, with the PTA, we carried a basket of balloons on our backs and balanced a ball on a ladle while "running" about 20 meters. My team lost :( The second relay was with the second grade teachers against the second grade girl relays. They only had me run about 15 meters. Again, we lost. Sports Day is one of my favorite events all year. My elementary school also has Sports Day, but it's in June. Last year I missed it due to my foot disaster. You better believe I'm looking forward to it this year.


[I suppose this is a little overdue, I apologize. I really am going to try to be more consistent with my posts.] In mid-September I ventured to, what is pretty much my favorite place in Nagasaki, if not Japan itself, Iki Island. In summer, Iki is a beach paradise. This was my third time to the island, and I would go more often if it wasn't an hour bus ride and 2 hour ferry away. But nonetheless, I headed up there with some other ALTs, one of whom lived on Iki for 4 years, for the long weekend. The first day the weather was beautiful. It could not have been more perfect- other than the jellyfish. I got a few light stings, but then, what I assume was a previously free-floating tentacle stuck to my arm and I didn't realize it was stuck there for a good 20 seconds. After I rubbed it off, it got really swollen, I looked like I had a huge bicep! But after I put vinegar on it, it stung less. It was still swollen for a few days and I have a scar now. It makes me look tough. On the second day, despite some light rain, some friends took us out surfing. Man, I love water sports! I just could not get enough. Even just laying on the board and moving with the waves would have sufficed. I wasn't very good at surfing but I did stand up on the board for a long ride once. I can't wait to surf again! For the weekend we stayed at a friend's guesthouse. It was really cool- pretty much a living room with 6 bunks built into the wall. The view was spectacular. It was a good thing we had such nice accommodations because a typhoon came. During my friend's 4 years on Iki, she had never heard of ALL the ferries to and from the island being cancelled for more than one day. But lo and behold, the ferries were cancelled for 2 days and we got the only one that left on the third. Crazy! The typhoon was centered much further south so we only experienced wind and a little rain, but man, were the waves raging. I've never seen waves so big, even though they were first stopped by a break wall. I was feeling a little adventurous, so I walked out on the beach a little bit (far from any danger, don't worry) and felt the water. It was so warm, I was very surprised. It was quite an experience to be close to the water during a typhoon. Despite having to use 2 vacation days and missing some school, it was a really fun, relaxed trip. Next time I go out there though, I will make sure ther are no typhoons coming.