Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's getting cold, thank goodness for Kotatsu

As the winter approaches we are catching our first glimpses of fall in Japan. The trees are beginning to change color, the rice is being harvested, and the cool fall breeze is visiting more frequently. With the transition comes the obvious drop in temperatures. There have been a few mornings that the temperature in our house has been 8 or 9 degrees Celsius. That translates to 46 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit. We are well aware that it is only going to get (much) worse before it gets better. We have taken a few preparatory measures: we got some of our winter clothes from the states shipped, we have done some winter clothing shopping, we've purchased a sleeping bag and an electric radiator heater, and we've fired up the Kotatsu.

The Kotatsu is essentially a coffee table and an electric blanket combined into one ingenious device. The table has a removable surface in which you lift off, place a blanket on top of the table's structure, replace the table top, and plug in the table. There is a heater that is attached to the under side of the table that heats up the blanket. You sit with your lap and legs under the blanket and as you might imagine, the Kotatsu becomes an instant hit for the frozen Northern Japan residents.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I am an English teacher.

School has been keeping me on my toes during the week. I am teaching at four schools, 2 junior high schools (JHSs) and 2 elementary schools. My schedule repeats itself every three weeks, for example, I am at one JHS one week then I am at the other JHS the 2nd week and I split the 3rd week between my two elementary schools. The JHS's have a set curriculum and a full time English teacher so at one of my JHS's, I am primarily used as a human cd player to spit English phrases on command. The other JHS I play a larger role. I am encouraged to create lesson plans and fun games to help the student's gain an understanding of the grammatical points from their textbooks. I am enjoying the latter mentioned JHS much more. The elementary schools are both very fun. One of my elementary schools is pretty similar to the JHS's in that I am an assistant to the homeroom teachers but I have more fun with the youngsters. I play a more important role in these classes and they mostly go smoothly because the teachers and students are really great. I am looking at this school as a sort of mentoring program. I am using my experiences from the elementary school I've mentioned to help me at my other elementary school. The other elementary school is sort of my baby. I plan and teach my own lessons and I am getting an idea of what does and doesn't work in an elementary classroom. I am enjoying the responsibility I have, but it is overwhelming at times because of the short amount of time that I see them in my 3 week cycle. Since there is no English that is taught between my visits at this particular school, I end up reviewing mostly with very little forward progress. I am, however, enjoying this school because it really is a challenge. The classes that go well are very encouraging and the classes that do not go that well, make me think of ways to improve the next class.

At times, I forget that I was hired to be an English teacher. Those who know me well (and those who read this blog) can attest that the English language is not one of my strong areas, but I really am enjoying my time in the classroom. With my weekends as busy as they are and all the traveling that I'm doing, I feel that it probably won't hit me that I am teaching English until I'm saying goodbye to these kids at the end of my contract. I hope that they learn something from me whether it's English or otherwise.


This is our taiko group's performance for the 2008 Ninohe matsuri held September 4th-7th. They performed these songs on a float that they built and decorated. I learned these songs but I did not perform with the group because Tyler and I were out of town during most of the matsuri. There are pictures from the opening ceremony here.

This was the opening ceremony that kicked off the Ninohe matsuri. Each Taiko group (9 total) was allotted 5 minutes to perform. At the end of the individual performances, all of the groups performed collectively. This video is of the collective performance with all the taiko groups.