There was also another trip I made to Tomo no Ura coordinated by the Hiroshima City’s international center, rather than the university’s. That way it had people who live in HCity as well as some students…good mix really! The day was a blast and I got to know some new people from Indonesia and from the US, as well as one of our Japanese volunteers from the local area. On our trip, we first went to a fish factory to make “fish cakes” or Chikuwa at the Uonosato fish factory. These cakes were actually fish tubes made from ueber-processed fish paste wrapped around a piece of bamboo. Regardless, it was fun to do and also to see the inside of a fish factory. They were drying octopus outside when we were there. It was fun to watch…they were all in a tray stacked up at a slant and spinning around. The women from Australia thought they were wind generators until I pointed out that they were drying racks. They had been in Japan for over three years and refused to learn any of the language—the whole trip they were complaining that nothing was in English…I avoided them as much as possible. After the fish factory, we walked around the town and up to a shrine on the hill called Nunakuma. It was a great place to get photos and we took plenty. On our way back to the town, we went to the Bingo Ankoku-ji (temple) where there is the Amidasanzon and the Hattokokushi, wooden statue of Buddha. These statues are considered national treasures. After that we walked around in the town a bit and to a homeishu brewery, where we sampled some homeishu. It was very tasty—probably my favorite of the day since it was sweeter. We continued to walk around and went to a Japanese tea-shop called Shiomachi Chaya for lunch. The shop had formerly been a shipyard, where they build ships. Some of the decorations were actually old equipment from the building’s former use. During lunch, I met and talked with an Iranian couple and their young boys. A while into the conversation, they told me that they thought Americans did not like Iranians. I felt a little hurt, but explained to them that actually I have a friend who lives in Tehran and that the US government and media doesn’t really always represent the US people. Also that many Americans would love to meet people from Iran, but all we ever seem to learn is negative from our media sources. After lunch we walked around a bit more and went to some more shops and another homeishu brewery. It was good, but a bit mediciny in taste. After that we walked around a bit more and went up a huge hill/mountain to the Ioji Shrine and graveyard. It afforded a lovely view and there was a large bell to normally be rung by monks calling people to prayer, but some in our group thought it was a toy. Once they settled down, it was really a nice place to be. We went back down into the town and to the lighthouse near the ports. After that we went to another homeishu brewery. This brewery let us come in to see how it was made and watch them bottle it with corks, the old fashioned way. We also were able to visit a small museum they had there and look at the whole place pretty much on our own. After that we went up a hill to the Tomo no Ura Museum of History and Folklore that had a lot of info about Tomo and the history, including festivals and so on. It was quite well done and a good museum. On our way down the hill, we were able to look at the Taigashima-Jo ruins. We also were able to see the Ota-ka house Chosotei as well. It is designated as a National Important Cultural Property and it is clear to see why. The building had been built in the mid-1800s and is simply a wonderful representation of building of long ago as is the whole town really. We then went on to a temple and to listen to the story of Tomo no Ura from a monk there. This temple was called Kaiganzan Senju-in Fukuzen-ji (temple). We were all brought into the Edo era reception hall that is designated a national historic landmark. It was spectacular—it has been considered “Japan’s more scenic beauty” by writers since 1711 when a Korean writer first penned the phrase. It was in this hall where we listed to the monk tell his story of the town in a strong dialect that most of our Japanese volunteers didn’t even understand. His is a true storyteller though and interpretation wasn’t entirely warranted. After his lesson, we all took photos of course, but I also stayed behind a bit to thank the monk as well. He thought I was German and showed me a figurine that Dr. Siegbold from Germany had presented his grandfather with decades ago. It was clear that he appreciated someone interested in the history he had to share, but unfortunately, we were far behind the rest of the group and had to excuse ourselves. We caught up with everyone else and walked to the seaside. There were many people fishing since it was a holiday and so we wandered about a bit. We found a fellow who was willing to show us his catch and here he had several small fugu in his icebox—that is to say, blowfish (also known as globefish). He said that these small ones are not poisonous, but the Japanese women I was with said they didn’t really believe him. He also had two small, slender fish—all of them no bigger than pike bait. Shortly after that the bus arrived and we were on our way home. It was a great day, but I was pooped!
A friend of mine in NYC sent me this song and said I should find out what it means and have someone sing it to me:
O kina kuri no kino shi ta de
Ana-ta to watashi
Naka yoku a so bi masho
O kina kuri no kino shi ta de
As it turns out, it’s a child’s song and roughly means:
Under the chestnut tree
Just you and me
We’re playing friendly
Under the chestnut tree
A colleague of mine was more than generous to sing it for me with the actions that go along with the song. I am planning to learn it and he’s even agreed to sing it so I may tape it to get the tune down too. I really like this song, especially when my other colleague’s kids sang it to me the other night. UPDATE: My kind and generous colleague taped it for me—now I can learn the tune and sing it to myself when I need to keep my head in Japanese or to amuse others, like y’all when I get home! : )
This weekend is a conference for my colleagues and they have been really working hard all week, but are still stressed. That’s something I have noticed here. It’s not necessarily that people procrastinate and then rush at the last minute. Rather it seems important to act as if you need to rush at the last minute—like if one person is, then we all should be in the same boat. It’s kind of funny, but I caught myself getting into it this week with the conference coming. So, I decided to work against stress and made everyone peppermint tea and brought in some treats I picked up in Tomo from my trip to calm folks down. One colleague actually thanked me for caring about everyone so much.
I believe certain things and one of those things is that there are spirits among us—no this isn’t some spook story, but do skip it if you want or if you’re going to be a smart-aleck. Ever since sometime while I was living in the 1BR in our current apartment building (in MN), I have sensed a cat and even seen it out of the corner of my eye at times. It moved from the 1BR to the 2BR with us…I’m quite sure it has come along with me to Japan too. I have had the sense a few times that it was here and then earlier this week, I glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye. I also think that this is a cat that I know well and is a kind of a companion/guardian. I have some ideas, but that’s enough for you to hash over as it is. Or I’m just going mad….ha-ha-ha!
The weather here has been non-exciting to say the least. It seems to have gone from humid and hot to humid and windy, with a touch of chill in the night air since we are in the mountains. Still, I haven’t had to wear more than a sweater and gloves in the evenings for biking. I hear that it may snow a bit, but it’s not so bad and usually melts quickly, which is fine with me since I am biking it everywhere unless it’s raining. I noticed today that all of the trees are really without leaves and things are starting to look like it wants to become winter soon. I’ve heard from folks here that although there isn’t much snow and the landscape looks dreary, often the skies are bright blue and sunny in the winter time.
So you think there’s a man in the moon, huh? Actually, in Japanese myth and story it is a rabbit or hare. Here are two versions of whence this comes:
"The Rabbit in the Moon." by Florence Sakade
Once, the Old-Man of the Moon saw a rabbit, a monkey and a fox all living in the forest as very good friends. He wanted to know which one of these animals was the kindest. He changed himself into a beggar and asked for some food. The monkey brought him back some fruit, the fox brought him some fish, but the rabbit did not bring anything back. Instead, he offered to
have himself cooked over a fire. Just as the rabbit was about to jump in, though, the beggar changed himself back into the Old Man and declared the rabbit to be the kindest. He then took the rabbit up to the moon to live with him.
Rabbit on the Moon Myth
In China and Japan, the rabbit is connected to the moon in a myth. The moon is supposed to be inhabited by the Moon goddess, Heng-o (Japan) or Ch'ang-o (China). She is the wife of Shen I, the "Excellent Archer." He had been given the drug of immortality, and his wife drank it while he was away. When he returned, he became so angry his wife fled to the moon. Her husband persuaded her, and she asked the Hare for protection. The Hare fought with her husband and made him give up his intentions of punishing his wife.
How to see the Rabbit in the Moon:
Well, I think that’s good for now and I think I might end up sending this in a few messages…didn’t realize it would be so long! Next time I’ll try to send it periodically rather than waiting to the end of a month!
I have begun going over to a colleague’s house once a week to chat in English and have dinner with his family. It’s kind of been like a cultural exchange, so to speak. Initially, they offered to pay me for English lessons, but I don’t especially like that kind of arrangement with colleagues/friends. We talked a bit more and sorted things out and it’s been a really nice time ever since—I think for everyone involved. We take time to talk only English one-on-one with his wife and oldest boy for a little while about whatever is of interest and then we have dinner. So far it’s been huge traditional meals like okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) or nabe (stew) and some kind of a drink like beer or sake or shochi. They also always want to be sure I have a beer or such and were concerned that I didn’t drink very much or very often. I explained that I am on medication for my allergies and so I am careful about drinking much, if at all. Once I explained that it could hurt my liver and makes me very tired, they offered that I could stay overnight occasionally, if I’d like and so that we adults could drink together and talk. My poor little liver quivered at the suggestion. I think if I sip on a beer each time, all is good. Regardless, I really appreciate that they offered this arrangement because I am learning a lot about Japanese foods and home life not to mention it’s just nice to be in a home rather than a dorm setting. I really like talking and playing with the two kids as well. They are both boys and are 3 & 10. It’s so cute, their mom told me that the youngest one was so excited last week that he wanted to prepare my ohashi or chopsticks in anticipation of my visit. They are very good boys and quite fun to play with—and learn from. They have been teaching me more Japanese with their toddler toys and the bug and animal books, too. Every evening after dinner and playing or singing/dancing a bit, a timer goes off and that means it’s bath-time and on Thursdays, that Tina has to go until next week. We all say “see you” and “bai bai” and I get home all happy about what a nice evening we had.
Washi, or the torn paper designs, has always been something that I enjoyed and here I can actually afford some of the paper. I have also been working on my New Year’s cards as well. People typically don’t send Christmas cards, but rather the new year and new lunar year seem to be the big celebration.
One Saturday, I had a spontaneous spaghetti party. That means that I didn’t plan to have a party in my quite small place, but we did and it was fun and funny! I had a ton (actually a kilo) of spaghetti that was given to me and so I invited a friend over, then two, then one friend wanted to bring a friend. Ultimately we were only three, but more than that and we would have not been able to walk past each other in my place. After eating far too much spaghetti, I made a kind of banana’s foster without the actual flambet. We had plenty to eat, so we just sat around talking and then decided to have the bottle of wine that a friend brought. Well, I don’t have a corkscrew…so we improvised. After trying a few things and the same friend insisted that we should be able to just push the cork in without a mess. We tried that…after using some of my art tools, we were able to get the cork to go inside the bottle, but it certainly made a bit of a mess! It was funny though.
November 16th I woke up from a dream that was a mix of English and Japanese…it was reminiscent of what I am currently learning in Japanese and included speaking and writing in Japanese…the writing was hiragana and I was especially writing and reading something with “Neko”—means cat…
My counterpart/colleague on the exchange was in Japan for a conference and we met a couple of times during the week he was around campus. It was good to see him again! He looked about the same, but with shorter hair. His English is so much better than when I first met him in the US. It is interesting to see him in his own classes and office. He doesn’t seem nearly as nervous or shy. He even brought a bag of stuff over for me from my roommate although he was traveling light. I look forward to his return to campus in April so that I can get to know him on his territory, too.
I also went on a trip to pick mikan (tangerines)!! It was a fun day though I was dead tired by the end of it. There were four of us who pretty much spent the day together, only one person I knew. It was a fun day and we went from HU to the Shimanami Highway which runs along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea and through some really lovely and also some heavily industrialized areas. On the way we stopped at two nice rest stops that had all the stuff of US and German rest stops, but also nice views of the mountains and valleys. Once we arrived near Setoda, we drove by a small grove of tangerines and grapefruit…I joke that that was were we were going, sure enough it was where we were going! So we got off of the buses, by now we only had three buses, not the ten we started out with. I think that maybe we went to different groves since they are quite small and then just ran in tandem the rest of the day. I all that I could since those were free—lost count after 12 and then also picked and paid for a bag of them to bring back for my colleagues.
While we were picking fruit a couple asked if I could pose with the wife and the fellow from Romania. She was amazed that we were so tall and especially that I am taller than her husband. They were very friendly and all giggly about it. It was fun and apparently, I’ll be interesting to their family back home in India because of my height. Only time this has really come up in Japan unless I brought it up…
After the “fruit picking” we went to Sunset Beach for lunch. We brought our lunches and the four of us (a Chinese girl, a Chinese guy, a German guy and me) found a table so that we could eat together. After lunch two of us found some toilets then went walking along the shore. I found two jellyfish and we had to call the guys over to see them. As they were coming over, I spooked her very good indeed! She was poking at it with a shell and the third or fourth time she did so, I went “boo!” She jumped half-way up from squatting and fell right on her bum! It was funny, but I felt sorry that she probably got her trousers quite sandy. The four of us decided to walk out one of the piers and take some photos. It was fun. We were acting like we were on a catwalk and stuff…just being silly.
Eventually we were all back on the buses and we went into the town of Setoda. Our first stop was the Hirayama Museum. It is a museum of Ikuo Kirayama, a living artist, whose main goal of art is to bring peace to the world, while at the same time preserving the World’s Cultural Heritage through what he calls the Red Cross Spirit for Cultural Heritage. He was a junior high school boy when Hiroshima was destroyed by the A-Bomb and he has suffered from radiation poisoning and side-effects ever since. They have artwork from his toddler years through to the present. In the early works, it is clear that he has a gift in drawing and painting. Some of his works from when he was 14 or 15 are simply incredible—in some cases, I like them better than some of the later works he has done.
Two things that really left an impression on me were a painting of the A-Bomb Dome he had done recently and also two paintings of the Buddas in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban. The Buddas were done in 2003 from memory after the Taliban destroyed the original huge effigies. It is really interesting to me that first of all, he did not paint them previously, for example during his travels there. They are also interesting to me because he took the time to paint them from memory once they were destroyed to preserve them further. Good for him to have the consciencous to do so. The other painting that really caught me was of the A-Bomb Dome he had done recently. It is a simply picture with a red that will “make you cry” as Lee-san described it. On the very bottom maybe 1/10th of the picture is the rubble and the Dome standing midst the red of hell. In the upper right corner is XXX, or the god of the underworld, as a colleague described him to me. He is sitting upon what appears to be a red cloud within the red sky and is looking down menacingly. I really like this image and actually missed it the first time I saw the picture. It makes me think that the aftermath of the A-bomb was a hell on earth. I can’t imagine any better imagery that what he has portrayed.
Personally, I really enjoyed the pen and watercolor paintings he has made best overall as a genre. His younger brother was actually at the museum and talked with most of the Chinese students that I was with.
After the museum, we walked to the Kosanji Temple and looked around for a while. It was an amazing temple and area. Most of the design and architecture seems to be very similar to Chinese temples, according to many of the Chinese students. I especially liked the dragons on the corners of the temple, as well as the stone deities along the natural walls of the areas. They were all very detailed and beautiful. I also was intrigued by a painted wood relief on the side of the temple of a woman dancing in front of other women and with women sitting behind her as well. There was a male child to whom she was dancing, but he just seemed to be in the middle of the picture…the real action of the relief was all around him. I liked it so much I took an up close photo of it that looks pretty good. We also walked up to the Colle della Speranza on the hill of hope. It reminds me of two people preparing to kiss, but only of the lips and chins. I like the anonymity and intimacy of it all at once.
During the course of the day a bit of slimy guy kept talking to me about learning English and studying English theory and stuff and so I was polite, but clear that I really don’t want to be his English teacher. He also mentioned something that everyone knows me on campus as the “tall western girl” and I checked this out with a friend who is also Chinese and she said that people were talking about how tall I am and that most everyone apparently recognizes me. What can I say to that?
After we got back on the bus, headed home, we stopped once at a rest stop, just in case, I guess. I wanted some ice cream, but couldn’t find it, so I got a kind of jellybeans instead. As soon as I turned around, I saw the ice cream coolers—bummer!
On November 22nd, I woke with the remnants of a dream in my mind. There was a hand reaching through an open window as I slept stealing a wallet and keys, etc. It wasn’t here and it wasn’t mine, but rather at my parents’ house in the spare room. At first, I thought it so strange and thought maybe I was dreaming of a youth hostel or something since it wasn’t all normal, rather it was all so surreal and nothing seemed to fit.
I also got the chance to visit a Juku or cram school where a colleague of mine works in teaching English for the national exams. At first, I was quite uncomfortable since we were early, but after a little while, it was just fine. They gave me some tea and had me eat some mochi (rice paste balls) in azuki (sweet red beans) like a soup. Ooooh, I love that stuff! Once the class started, I took the drill/exam too. I got 168 out of 200…yeah, and I’m a native speaker. At least I was on the high end of the curve. I realized that a few of the questions, just weren’t good questions or didn’t give good answers to choose from. My colleague who was teaching had me say several of the sentences and words over for the student to hear and figure out how they may have answered differently. At the end of the lesson, he let me have ten minutes to talk with the students about anything. I started off asking them about school compared to juku, but realized that was a bit much for their conversational levels. So we talked about hobbies and sports. They are quite nice students, just a bit shy at first. I’ve already been invited back for a visit and to observe again.
Initially, going into visit the juku, I had a negative impression of them. Mostly this was because basically they are studying to the test and taking drill/exams to get their timing down. After actually seeing one (only one time), I think it’s more than just that. It’s actually a good way to have a small cohort (under 10 students in this particular class) to commiserate with and with whom to prepare. It’s not such a bad idea and it seems quite a friendly place. I think that my negativity should better be placed at standardized testing as the end all to entrance to particular universities…though this too is changing in Japan.
Recently, I was working on an acquaintance’s introduction to their thesis. I am realizing that I have been very fortunate to learn all that I have by my age. The person I am helping with his thesis is from Southeast Asia and it’s becoming clear to me that although he has a M.A. on paper, some of the basics of setting up and executing a thesis were not part of his education. Fortunately, I am in the process of doing the same myself and have along many resources to help me out. So out come the handouts from my May and summer classes and the notes and the books and the references and the charts….it’s kind of funny. He looked at me at one point and asked me why I have all of this info and if I really used it for mine. I had to explain that, indeed I have been referring to the info I have and that I had classes that help me do just what he is wanting to do—an evaluation of a project.
Chinese Party (as the person who invited me to it called it…)
We had a party at a friend’s place and ate until we were more than full. Have I mentioned that I love real Chinese food? Oh yeah! After a delicious spicy start to the meal, we all worked together to make a course, Chinese dumplings (or potstickers as some may call them). It was a riot with about eight or nine people in a studio apartment making balls of dough or smooshing dough or rolling dough or stuffing and crimping them shut or cooking them up as quickly as they could be made. Each time we had a plate full of cooked ones at the table, we all stopped what we were doing and dove in. A word to the wise, those puppies are hot on the inside right out of the pan. One fellow and I both burned our mouths and hands upon impact, so to speak. It’s ok though: we made everyone else laugh by running to the kitchen faucet for some cold water relief.
After our delicious dining endeavors, most of us headed out for karaoke at one of the other karaoke places in town. This one had a broader selection of English songs and songs in general, it seemed. We rented one of the rooms (turned out to be a big one) and sang until our voices were hoarse. Acquaintances of friends met us at the karaoke and they happened to be new students on the intensive language and culture program. It was interesting how things played out. We all had a good time, but a couple of people asked me how old these American girls were. When I explained that they are probably about 20 or so since they are in college, they had thought they were much younger. I mentioned that perhaps they had something to drink at the other party they were at since they had just come from a costume party. It reminded me a bit of other Americans I’ve encountered overseas, except these girls were acting much less capable than other instances I recalled.
The first group of us ended up leaving a bit after 2am. I felt so bad, the fellow who had offered to drive us home in two shifts was just exhausted—they party had been at his place, so he had been working on that all day too! We offered to walk or take a cab, but he wouldn’t hear of it. So, after we were dropped off near one person’s apartment, I picked up my bike and made it home…although I couldn’t quite get to sleep until a little after 4am.
I bought a hair dryer—I know it doesn’t sound like an interesting purchase, but besides blow drying my hair, it’s perfect to warm me a bit when my fingers are cold while typing or if I need a bit of a warm boost while studying. Hey, it’s not my idea, thank my college roommate, Sara, for this strange idea.
I also made a visit to an elementary school. Here are some impressions about the school:
The children are very well-behaved and the teachers are quite good at dealing with students that are excited by visitors. One thing that I was surprised by, but perhaps should have expected was that it appeared all of the students we encountered were Japanese students. I did not see any visible racial diversity.
I was impressed to see some ability diversity in that there were a handful of students 1-6th grade in a special education room, however all of the grade levels seemed to receive the same lessons. I understand that in most cases students visit special ed for an hour or two a day and are mainstreamed with the general population the rest of the time. I saw one boy who was confined to a wheelchair and seemed to possibly have a type of palsy on second floor and he was also at recess when we were outside. I did not see any elevators besides the dumb waiter that is used for the meals carts. I am not sure how he got around. Each time we saw him, he had a teacher’s assistant with him and during recess while other kids played dodgeball, his assistant and a few other kids ran around the yard with the assistant exercising the boy’s arms. I think that this attention and care through the use of touch is very important and I hope that it extends beyond open school days.
The artwork and music ability of the students we observed is quite high comparatively speaking for the 1-6th grades. I was particularly impressed with the students while practicing for a coming assembly. Every student had an instrument (recorder, blow piano, bell) and they seemed to all be trying their best.
In general, the resources I saw at the school were amazing! They had instruments as well as art materials, classroom decorations and health education posters. The nurse’s office was very well outfitted with 3 or 4 beds for sick children and in a large space. There was also ample space in each classroom for the class and I was impressed that there were only 28-35 students in most of the classes. Class size is in good proportion comparatively speaking. I was impressed by the science rooms/labs for the students. The equipment I saw would normally not be available to elementary students in the U.S. They would first encounter it in middle/junior high school (ages 12-14). The only aspect that I thought may be lacking, is the school library. Perhaps, the students/parents utilize the public libraries more in Japan than in the U.S.?
Some perspectives that I found especially “Japanese” through my American eyes, were the many different footwear a child must wear during the course of a school day. I also noticed that the students have so many bags and so many things that they must bring to and from school—I wondered how they find time in the day to use all that they have in and around their desks and still learn! I was quite impressed with all of the “Ohaio gozaimas’” and “konnichiwas” I heard from the children. They were quite willing to say hello and I was surprised by how much they defer to older people—it’s part of how well they behave, I think. I also noticed the uniforms, of course. Personally, I think that uniforms are a good idea, assuming that the parents can afford them or they are provided for students. After noticing all of the same book bags for students, I was aghast when I noticed how much they cost at the store. It is an outrageous expense that has no apparent benefit—not to mention that they are quite heavy. I would be concerned for my child’s health having to carry such a heavy backpack also made heavier with books, etc. (I know for a fact that there have been studies regarding back problems for children with packs too heavy for their frames during their growing years.)
I found the school impeccably clean and no graffiti on the walls or in the toilets. I also really appreciated the list of duties that students must do on a rotating basis--everything from saving energy to handing out papers and so on. I think that this is an important aspect and helps students learn a community-focused way of living. It shows that their actions can have an impact on others, positively or negatively. I feel that this is lacking in some regards in the U.S.
The meals demonstrated on the hallway poster looked quite nutritious and to be plenty of food for active kids. Other hallway posters I noticed that seemed to be promoting learning English phrases were a nice reminder of students coursework, but I noticed a couple of errors. I cannot remember exactly what they were. I also appreciated the posters and artwork made by the children and displayed in the classrooms, hallways, and so forth. All in all it was a really nice trip and I really enjoyed the opportunity.
Internal Culture Clash
I have noticed that each time I have encountered a German here I have been amazed at how rude they are. I think I have kind of adapted myself to interacting with Japanese people and to try to jump to interacting with a German is tough for me. I know that when I moved to Germany, it really took a good amount of time to be able to handle how low context Germans are, although they are similar to Americans in that way. I think now I am trying so hard to understand the higher context Japanese, that when I encounter a German, they seem so out of place. It’s not to say I don’t like the Germans I’ve encountered, it’s that I have a tough time interacting with them in mixed groups. I am often encouraged by others to speak German because they want to see how good my German is, and then I interact the way I would in Germany/US, I feel that I am being quite rude in my actions compared to others, mostly Japanese, around me. Yeah, well, it’s just an observation…
I also got my haircut. Yeah, it’s humid here like the belly of a hippo. I think I am going to go real short in the spring and for the summer…I am just hoping that I survive the summer heat and humidity. People have asked me what the humidity is like: it’s Tanzania, Florida ain’t got nothin’ on this, kind of humid…looking forward to the summer. “Ha-ha-ha” al a James Early Jones.
Ah, yes, my colleagues and I decided we have to have a party since one of our colleagues was returning to Viet Nam. We decided to have a big ol’ BBQ over at one colleague’s place. It was a great time, but a bit different than at home. We were primarily in their front yard and near “patio doors.” I quote those because they were like our patio doors, except they step in and out of the garden, which was their front yard, about 10”x10”. We set up three good-sized grills and at first I wondered why we needed three…well, we only ended up using two of them any way. We, the women, got the food prepared in the house and once it was all sliced up for the grill, we went outside where the men were trying…emphasis on trying…to start a fire. It was funny…a scene from around the world. Of course I had to take pictures. Once they were able to get the charcoal (real charcoal, not briquets or something) with some help from the women and kids, we started grilling stuff. I have noticed that all of the meat are sliced small and thin and have wondered why. Well, I am slowly realizing that it is because it takes more energy to cook thick meat—something that is very expensive here in whatever form. It was also good news since as we put food on the grill everyone just kind of crowds around and grabs at stuff they think is done. It was funny, and made me think if creating a Monty Python skit about human crows—ok so that’s just my mind working away on a scene that was not familiar to me!
One thing that I noticed that seemed very Japanese, as I’d imagine, is that at one point, most of the women were inside handing the food out the sliding doors and passing drinks out and empty cups in and the such. Then those who were tending the BBQs were passing them food from there. Not a bad deal since it was cooler and out of the sun in the house, but the space of the doorway is so small and your meal depends on the wills of others. Still, it struck me as a unique action.
At one point, we ran out of charcoal, so two colleagues along with the kids ran to the store. They were gone quite a while and of course without charcoal we just sat around talking and the such. At one point, one poor colleague from China shifted on the little table that I was afraid of sitting at, at it collapsed with her legs pinned in it—all of the food slid onto her and the ground. Oh, it was a mess. Fortunately, I was next to her and she is small, so I was able to help pull her upright and that allowed her legs to come out of between the table and the seat where they were being leveraged and pinched by her body weight. She was fine, probably with some bruises, but I think she was so embarrassed she just wanted people to forget that it happened. She also kept apologizing for breaking the table, more than I could imagine someone doing at home. Probably a cultural difference…I’m guessing maybe more so Japanese than Chinese.
Once the folks getting charcoal returned we ate ourselves silly and just stopped at some point. Of course, we were nearly ready to send out a search party since they had been gone for so long. During that time, one colleague started playing catch with the kids in the street. They were all having a great time. A bunch of the guys, including the German visitor, all took turns playing catch.
We decided to clean up since it was getting late and as I overheard something like “the family is getting tired” was explained. So we all dutifully cleaned up and cleared out the front yard. Once that was done, they invited us inside…to sit down and talk a bit more—so we filled their living room and spilled over into the tatami room. I like Japanese homes. The rooms can be expanded or contracted by the sliding of a few doors. There were about twenty-five or so of us and we all had a spot to sit on the floor and kids and a few colleagues tried odd human tricks in the middle…of course, then the food came again. Whatever we couldn’t finish outside was made into a yummy hash and everyone got a small plate of it. Although we all grumbled at how full we were, we ate it up and had a few more drinks. Leaving early didn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind now that we were inside. So we talked and laughed and played with the kids and whatnot. At last, a colleague’s family was there and she wanted to get her kids home early-ish for bed, so she offered to give a few others rides and me a ride to or near campus. I really appreciated that!
Some of the grammar-focused classes I have been attending are just becoming more of a pain than helping me with functioning. That and the fact that I am in three Japanese classes of some sort at the same time, has me spending a bit too much time on a peripherial focus of my time here. So, I am planning to drop the written/grammar classes and concentrate on the spoken classes of “Nihongo Model Class” and “Elementary Japanese” that moves along quickly with verbal learning—these are both much more Freire-friendly learning environments.
I also had a health check this month. It was like a conveyor belt, first an x-ray of the chest. Apparently, all students have to have one each semester!?!? Too much radiation, if you ask me—unfortunately, that means in April I have to have another. They are so paranoid about TB because it’s been on the rapid increase the last few years apparently. Then you either used a “Pee Pole” or dropped yours from that morning off. You get weighed and measured (down 12lbs since departure) and then you are off to blood pressure check. Of course, by now I have been successful using my limited Nihongo and even the words I looked up last night to memorize for this occasion—but that also means that my BP was a bit higher than normal. Then I go to the eye check, where I am supposed to say in Japanese up/down/left/right for which way the “c” is facing. Then to wait a little while until I may see the doctor. During this wait, I met a student from the U.S. She’s an art student from Florida and is in the language & culture intensive program. She is frustrated that all of the other students are drinking their scholarships away and doesn’t really seem to hang out with them much other than in classes. She seems nice enough, but I am realizing that I am a bit older than the traditional student, aren’t I? : ) Well, we talked for a bit and plan to meet sometime for coffee, it might be good if she is having a rough time finding folks not keen on drinking. Once I got in to see the doctor, he explained everything in English and all is normal and fine, no worries, problems, etc. He even had the x-ray and everything. The whole check-up was a bit less than an hour. I took this time to ask about my swollen ankles and he said it could me many things (hmmm, where have I heard that before…), but that they look fine and I shouldn’t worry unless it gets worse or there is pain.
Wouldn’t you know it, the week after a health check, I got sick! Yeah, well, I think I have determined that I kept scallops in the fridge a little too long and was too much of a tightwad to throw them away when I realized it….
Here’s and interesting website about things made in Hiroshima: http://www.pref.hiroshima.jp/shoukou/shousei/original/S10-e.html
One day this past month, on my way there some girl on a bike hit me from behind—I mean really, how daft do you have to be!?! She clipped me good and although I didn’t go down, something with my wheel and brake isn’t quite right now. She didn’t even stop, all she did was ride past and yell something. What a B! Then I saw her just about 10 meters ahead then run into two bikes head-on, this time fully colliding. By the time I got there, she was gone and the two guys were kind of shell-shocked like I had been. We just looked at each other and tittered since neither of us knew what to say or do. I hope whatever she was rushing for was worth risking life and limb. (And I secretly hoped that she would be late for it!)
Hey, it seems that I am the in-house English assistant. Naw, there have been some journal deadlines and so many colleagues are asking me to proof their abstracts. It’s not a problem since the majority of the folks who ask are already friends and I am happy to do so. It’s interesting though, there are all of these Japanese journals and they only have abstracts in them based on the research one is working on or preparing for presentation/paper at a conference. It’s really a different way of doing things. I especially learned this when I asked what style they were using, the response was “whatever is in this journal.” I looked at it and there wasn’t a perceivable standard style, nor did it say anywhere the style requested. Must be nice…