Monday, June 30, 2008

Patrick- International Lesson Study

Last week, a delegation of 26 teachers and principals from 25 countries visited the junior high school where I am teaching. They spent an afternoon at our school, during which we had a presentation, followed by an opportunity for them to visit the students' classes.

The countries represented included about 5 teachers from Africa and the Middle East, 10 from Europe, and 10 from Asia. The program is paid for by the Japan Foundation, which is a generously funded government institute that, for example, can host $100/head dinner parties for these 26 and another 75 guests, plus cover the flights, trains, and a weeklong stay in Japan for all participants. Of course, if your country doesn't go to war and maintain a standing army then perhaps you have money for other things.

It was interesting for me to get to meet and talk to many of the visitors. Also, when asked "Where are you from?", it was nice that people actually knew where Indiana was. Aside: It gets a little tiring when Japanese teachers ask, "Where are you from?"->"The US"->"Where in the US?" but when they ask that second question they maybe only know one or two cities in the US, such as LA and NY, and can't put them on the right coasts. Unfortunately, US and Japanese students are about the same when it comes to total ignorance of maps.

For me, perhaps the most interesting part is hearing what people expected to see when they visit a Japanese school for the first time. Since I've been working here, and I studied the Japanese educational system, I have forgotten some of the things that people expect, for example an absence of chalkboards (and in turn LCD screens/smartboards/something fancy in their place). In fact, nearly every school in Japan still uses chalkboards, and not just for classwork but to collect the attendance for the day and other mundane things.

In fact, Japan uses very little "high tech" equipment in the schools, and that includes not just computers but TVs.

Aside from that, probably the other biggest surprises for people were the inability to fail and suspend/expel students. "Without those punishments, how would we maintain order in our classes?" one teacher asked.

One does wonder sometimes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sara-Baseball finals and horse festival movie

Today I had a surprise at work. Instead of classes the whole school went out to the big ballpark because our team went into the finals. (We lost, Catherine's school won. 0-1) So when I got back to work, I didn't have a lot to do to fill the time. After 3, I finished studying Japanese and by 3:30 I was getting bored of reading so I made this little slide show/video of the horse festival I went to on Saturday. Hopefully it gives a better idea of the main street. Unfortunately I was stuck to one place so it's not much. I replaced the sound of all the bells on the horses with music. If anyone really wanted to hear what they sounded like, just think of 100 cow bells, and hooves.


Yesterday morning there was a relatively powerful earthquake in our prefecture. Some roads collapsed. But, the four of us are fine-- we all had dinner together last night-- and are all safe.

Although we certainly felt it here in Morioka, we were far from ground zero.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sara-Chagu Chagu Umakko

Yesterday Patrick and I went to the Chagu-chagu Umakko festival. The festival celebrates the horses of Iwate/Morioka. 100 horses came and walked down the main street to a temple. The horses were elaborately decorated and children were riding them. Before the horses there were a few bands and other parade festivities, including a super hero. The horses rested at a river and there you could see them up close. However it was raining and there were thousands of people so Patrick and I left before seeing them close. The horses were really beautiful and it's definitely a must see for horse lovers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Individually wrapped everything, PS3

Despite many good efforts to reduce waste, it seems like everything I buy comes individually wrapped. Usually there are packages within packages within packages. For example, when I bought yogurt the other day, it came in a three pack. So, the three little yogurt containers were supported by a cardboard base, which was then again wrapped in plastic. When I purchased the yogurt, it was put into a bag, and the ice cream I purchased along with the yogurt was put into a separate, smaller bag, which was then inserted into the yogurt bag, which was then taped.

I didn't really need a bag at all. But if you don't say it quick enough, you can be triple bagged before you know it.

Also US economic intuition doesn't work here. For example, it's cheaper to buy five individually wrapped ice cream cones than a box of five ice cream cones-- of the same brand, in the same store. It's cheaper to buy several regular chocolate bars than a single large one. (Why all my examples are desserts I don't know...)

Second, it's cheaper to buy things out of vending machines than convenience stores. This one gets me every time. I'll go into the convenience store, buy a bottled drink for $1.50, and then walk right outside the convenience store and in the vending machine right outside the same drink is selling for only $1, and it's colder.

But it's not just the little stuff. I bought a PlayStation 3 the other day, because I wanted to play Metal Gear 4. Well, for Metal Gear 4, there is a special bundle that includes the PS3, the game, and a special controller. There is also a special edition bundle that's very expensive, but the regular bundle is intended for the mass market and is supposed to be a value (it's not a limited run). However, it was still cheaper for me to buy the game, the system, and the controller separately.

Buying individual parts instead of packages is hard to get used to, and my fear is that as soon as I become accustomed to it, I'll go back to the US and get confused all over again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sara-Nihon Buyo (Japanese Dance)

On June 1st I went to a Japanese Dance rehearsal/performance. My teachers are of the Wakayagiryu School/branch of Japanese dance. The students of my two Japanese Dance teachers performed at the Morioka community theatre. The event was from 10am to 7:30pm. I stayed for most of it and had a nice time. The costumes and sets were very beautiful and the dancers were amazing, especially since 30 students were between the ages of 50 and 80. There were 2 high school girls, and 4 girls between the ages of 3 and 7. I have two movies to show. The first is a sampling of the variety of dances and the second one is a longer version of three of the 4 little girls (the 3 year old is not with them.) It is also the dance that I am practicing at the moment.

Sara-Taikusai (Sports Day)

This past Monday was Shitakoji's Sports Day. On that day we went to the large track and field stadium in the Sports Park. It was from 9am to 5pm and between 7am and 9am, students and teachers were getting everything set up. Parents came and watched. It was a big event. Basically it was a very big mini Olympic for those who had mini Olympics in the JHS. I did when I was a middle school student. But for the junior high students in Japan, Sports Day means a lot to them. The different classes in each grade competed against each other. So Class 1 of grade 1 vs. Class, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
To try and recreate the atmosphere of the event I made a short movie with music so please be aware of where you have your volume set.