Thursday, August 31, 2006

Asagiri Jam

So there's this Weekend Rock Festival in the town of Fuji where they do not tell you the lineup until 1 week before the festival. I really like things like that because it seems like they are obligated to pick good bands otherwise everyone will get pissed off and riot or some shit. Ya, as if. No, but I'm looking into camping gear, and I'm sure it's going to be totally sugoi! I hope it doesn't rain, cuz it's raining right now...but the festival is in October. This morning, I was like a wet puppy, and in my fancy clothes!!! Today, I'm being introduced to all the students at an assembly, so luckily my hair is frizzy and my clothes are slightly damp. Ya rain!!! I'm a little happy though because at least the temperature is nice and cool........

Monday, August 28, 2006

24 Hour Manga/Internet/Gaming Facility

Jackpot!!!! I found the coolest place where not only can bring my computer and use the web, but there are pool tables, it is open all night, they have a nice little free drink bar, and you can smoke in here. Now I probably just grossed out any non-smokers, cuz it does smell ashy when you walk in, but it is like a studious, bordering nerdy version of a casino in here. True, I am paying ridicuolous rates to use this internet connection, but whatever, I'm rich, bitch!!!!!!!!

I thought this sign was cute, and so true!!!!

I think the little shopping baskets are so cute.

I thought that little scarecrow was kinda creepy, and yet so cute.

I thought this old lady was so windy and cute.

We had a river festival where we sailed little lanterns down this washway. This is a block from my house.

If I ride my bike for 15 minutes to the east, I find this jungly area.

Apparently, we Americans have been driving on the wrong side of the road.

What the hell does this even mean????
I'll write a separate post all about the reasons for signs like this. I wish I could just attach the Portuguese Earthquake safety video we watched at orientation which was subtitled in English for us. It kinda scared me, but in that sorta irrational way I was scared during Earthquake safety day in elementary school in Los Angeles. "The Big One" is coming any minute now!!!!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chain of Command

During the Shizuoka Orientation in Kakegawa, us ALTs sat through 3 days of seminars on effective teaching methods. Our days were structured much like a typical day in high school--morning classes, lunch, afternoon seminars, dinner, life in Shiz seminars, biru time in the tatami rooms, bed. Okay, maybe that's nothing like high school. We were separated accourding to our school's academic level--beginning, intermediate, advanced, and specialty schools. Specialty schools include technical schools, commercial schools, and other random industry schools such as fishing school.
My school is a high academic level school where about 90% of graduates attend universities while the other 10% go into trade/specialty schools such as art, music, and beauty school. In junior high, the kids begin deciding what local school they wish to attend. There are many factors that accompany this important decision: academic reputation, club reputation, overall school reputation, along with practical matters such as location and convenience of attending the school. This decision is crucial in the life path these children will eventually travel because once you are set on a track it will eventually lead you to the career it promises, thus the social and financial stature that accompanies it.
So by junior high, it is expected for these children to already have a rough sketch of what they want their adult lives to be like. Of course, since this is such a big decision, many parents push their children toward the golden path--the "show me the money path"--that is the academic school-->university-->business/technology/doctor/lawyer path.
In Japan, high schools operate like universities--the children must apply, score well on academic tests, and have a sufficient skill as to improve the school's reputation in the club arena. The most popular and reputable clubs usually involve sports like baseball, soccer, kendo, kyudo, tennis, etc. At my school, the broadcasting club is well known as they have won many competitions.
Here, schools operate much like competitive corporations. The principal acts as a power CEO in that he is always encouraging the school to improve its reputation. He serves as both a leader and scout in recruiting capable and popular teachers since a strong army is best able to lead its people to victory, thus glorifying its leader. The principal position usually only lasts about 2-3 years at one school and their primary objective is to prove themselves as capable captains so that the Board of Education will then transfer them to an even more reputable school where they can continue on their path of glory.
Since the principal's position requires positive results, they place strict expectations upon the Vice-principal and the teachers he supervises and manages. The VP walks a fine line as both supervisor and liason with the teaching staff. He must set a standard of excellence among the teachers and monitor whether they are maintaining his expectations while also remaining friendly and realistic as to keep the teachers happy and motivated in their duties.
Teaching, in Japan, is highly respected and because of this, teachers become highly involved in the mechanics of the school-becoming club leaders, working long hours, and dedicating much of their personal time to the betterment of the school. It is common for teachers to transfer schools many times within their careers. Usually, this is a choice and is chosen for similar reasons as that of the principal--many times teachers would like to teach at a more reputable school, or perhaps they'd like to be closer to home, or perhaps they are attracted to the position of a club leader at another school. Occasionally, a choice is not given and a teacher my be transfered by the wishes of the principal for reasons of a more negative nature. Perhaps the teacher is not performing in a satisfactory manner, or there are other discrepancies between the co-workers.
Since students are selected by the school, and vice versa, they also become a powerful commodity within this chain of command. As far as advanced academic schools go, they must perform according to the expectations of their teachers in order to sucessfully pass into the next state--university. Conversely, the school must continually meet the expectations fo the students or they may choose to transfer to another school. In order to upkeep their reputation, the schools must deliver the quality education that their reputation radiates throughout the community. Because of this delicate system of checks and balances, students and teachers maintain a mutual respect of one another which greatly enhances the bond between sensei and gakusei.
Of course, my explanation is not always the status quo in all schools, since students are placed on a very apparent tracking system. Obviously, the theory and mechanics of this breakdown gets weaker at the lower spectrums of the tracking system, meaning lower level schools that have students with lower test scores tend to lessen the overall drive and motivation of the entire school. In America, tracking systems are often criticized because of the influence that are governed by factors beyond the students' control. Some of the factors are based on socio-economic differences that create hardships upon students in starting a successful academic career. I wonder if this is true in Japan since tracts are highly visible and an integral working of the educational system.
This explanation was given to me by my supervisor over lunch at a beef restaurant. She gave me much to ponder over, which natuarally led me to consider my role in this complicated and foreign system. I will admit that I was impressed with Japan's educational system and it provided me with a renewed motivation in delivering what I can to the system. I was extremely excited when I was introduced to the team-teaching room, which is located on the 4th floor away from the other homeroom classes. She remarked that one benefit of location is that the noise level goes unchecked and the students are encouraged to play games and be as genki as they'd like to be.
I was given the key to the room and told that I can arrange it and decorate it as I see fit. I was also told that it is the room that I'll be using for my Tues and Thurs Oral Communication class where I am in charge of the lesson plan, teaching and grading of the students. The downsides are that this class is an elective taken by 3rd years and viewed as the class where they can study and do their homework for other classes. This means that I am going to have to think of creative ways to make this class more interesting as to keep the attention.
It is quite foreign to me to have such an excited an positive view toward my job. Perhaps it is because everything here is so foreign to me right now, though I do realize that I perform better when the expectations of my performance is set at a high level, ad I am given a reasonable amount of freedom to determine how I am going to reach my goals. Cheesy cheese cheesey. mmmm, cheese.

Atarashi tomodachi

After spending a week on my own, away from the Gaijin my age-only conversing with older Japanese sensei's and younger ESL high school students, I realized how important familiarity is to me. That is not to say that I don't appreciate the difference in culture, because I adore newness and the world it presents to me. I find a strange congruency in the perspectives of the kids I've met to my own adolescence and teenhood. But I love people, and I love my culture and that is something I didnt expect to encounter.

I thought I was done with the American way, its loudness, pushiness, and nonchalance. I found my people brash and petty and unwilling to open their minds to change.

Again, allow me to preface or rather return to the point by saying that my American friends in which I choose to surround myself with-hardly fits that description. But here it is hard to choose your friends.

In this country, or rather this program, you have little selection in who surrounds you for this country is small and its gaijin, even smaller. Yet the people I have been placed beside are phenomenal. I think they are brilliant, halarious and incredibly openminded, but i'd hardly say that to their face.

When you are thrown into a tank and that's that--you learn to adapt to the food they're feeding you, the air they're giving you--and the fish you meet, eat sashimi and drink biru with at the baru just a few train stops away. And I think that's all life should be about. This photo shows us at an all-you-can-drink izakaya in Fujieda for about 3000 yen each person ~$30.00.

Group B meeting Group A and Sempai's in our little district area.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shameless Propaganda

I am at school, half working on my powerpoint self introduction, half day-dreaming about all the things i am wrapped in. Overall, I must say that I am exhilerated. I'm confused, scared, lonely, but excited.

Okay, so I'm not all that confused. Luckily, I do know how to ask most important questions in well-formed Japanese...things like "where is the..., how much is....who is that...what is do you call this in japanese...." You know, the basics...i know words like go, here, there, eat, have. So in reality, I'm only confused when I must read. I'm great at the Katakana...which is the alphabet made for foreign words. And well, there are many foreign words here. So the Supa (supermarket) around the block from my house is called Su-pe-ri-ya...Uh, SUPERIOR?? Um, ya, i know Superior, I uh, went there all the time back in Noho...It's pretty ghetto and cheap at home, but here....pretty good and expensive. Kanji is so hard.

Because of the small size and homely feel of this town, I just don't get scared. I mean, honestly, I've never been very scared of walking around any city by myself. I'd walk to the liquor store in Oakland at 11pm at night by myself...Uh, maybe I wouldn't if I lived in East Oakland, but 35th St. wasn't very cute either. So ya, this feels like the safest place I've ever been. So, i'm not very scared.

And lonely? Well, in the philosophical sense of the word, I am eternally lonely knowing that as separate beings, everyone dies alone, blah blah. But besides that, I have 2 other JETs in my town, and 2 more the next town over who are all pretty cool. I find 2 of them especially interesting and funny. There are ALT functions almost every week, a dinner here....karaoke night there. So as far as lonely...i guess I'm not that, either. It is different though, I will admit. For example, i do miss the way my friends and I have the comfortability and history that allow us to have immediate understanding of everything we talk about.
It's different with new friends. They require more attention, more thought. Remembering names, pertinent details, and when there are so many people from all over the English speaking world...the accents become hard to distinguish. Can you tell a New Zealand accent from South African accent? Well, I can, but it takes about 20 minutes of waiting for them to use their funny little words for things. Anyhow, lonely, kind of.
As of now I have nothing but good things to say about this program that I work for. The only other time that I've been able to say that was when I used to work for the Preschool in Berkeley. I suppose programs centered around education, they find that they must try and keep their employees healthy and happy so that it may trickle down to the main consumers, the kids. I like it here. I like this. Kore wa suki-des.

Silly Gaijin, Trix are for kids!!!

Shizuokan kids at the Kakegawa Orientation

What? No air-conditioner?

I was gonna take a shower, when i almost stepped on this guy. I opened the door to let him out, but he ran underneath. I couldnt get him out for 3 days. And yes, i showered with him chilling somewhere underneath the boards. Yuck, huh?

This is the view of my city, Shimada, from a cemetary in the hills.
This is my shower and bathtub area.
This is one of my 2 bedrooms.
This is my other bedroom.

Fancy Pants

This is a photo of the Takashimaya eki, train station in the crazy part of Shinjuku, Tokyo.
These were the kids I chilled with one of the nights in Tokyo.
This is a Pachinko. Crazy Arcade.
Another pic of Tokyo at night

This was one of the meetings we had in the fancy ass Keio hotel in Tokyo. I wish i took more pictures of the hotel because I don't know if I'll ever be able to afford to stay in a place this fancy.


The airport was easy because signs are in English and Japanese, and there are old-skool JETs at every hallway with signs and smiles. I was tired and my blood felt as if it had turned into cold menudo in my veins. Ewww....i got a mental image of bleeding cold menudo out of a wound and it made me throw up a little in my mouth. Man, i'm disgusting.
Anyway...ya, so i just wasnt feeling all that pleasant after a 12 hour flight. So to see these people so enthusiastic and peppy gave me an uncomfortable chill and I began to wonder where the hell I was. Everyone walked in a crooked line dragging their carry-on luggage toward customs, and I was behind a Japanese fellow who spoke excellent English who just so happened to my seat mate during the flight. There was a class of Japanese students aboard our flight so I assumed that he was one of their chaperones. We kept to ourselves, but he was very polite as to let me have the armrest for the entire flight. Anyway, he was ahead of me throughout the maze out of the airport. I began to wonder why he wasn't with his students. "What kinda teacher is this?" I began to wonder. Seems like something I would do, I joked to myself.

Since he was ahead of me in the line where they inspect our visas and passports, I heard him converse in, what seemed to me to be, perfect Japanese. I will admit that I felt cheated that I was not placed beside another JET like all the others were. I will also admit that I was jealous of the small talk that seem to be going on all over the plane except for my corner behind the wing. "It's cuz I'm not white", I whispered to myself and smiled at my own inside joke to myself. So by the time I passed through the doors that dropped us out into the wet, warm air of Tokyo, I was beat. Awake for over 24 hours, thirsty, angry at myself for making my carry-on so damn heavy, and burning with envy at how everyone else was in little groups of 2 and 3, watching each other's stuff as they scurried to the vending machines, bathrooms. I wanted cold green tea, I wanted to try the fancy bodet toilets, I wanted someone to watch out for my stuff.

This is when I decided to reach out to the strange, happy, welcoming Old SkooL JETs who just kept appearing 50 ft. after 50 ft. after 50 ft. I asked this girl with a British accent if she minded watching over my things while I quickly went to the bathroom. She smiled and said "of course, darling" the way that only a Brit can. I used the restroom, bought a tea and a mizu (water) and didn't know what to do first, congratulate myself for the wonderful insight of remembering to bring yen with me from America, or congratulate the Japanese for their superior tasting green tea. It was a toss up, but I chose myself because I am numero uno here, and I will continue to be.

Eventually, it was my turn to board the air-conditioned bus heading to Shinjuku, Tokyo, destination-Keio hotel. And who did I see sitting 3 seats behind me? Seat #47A--my courteous arm-rest buddy. He was a JET, and I think I might have learned a lesson, though I still can't really place what it is exactly. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

3 Days Left

I've been in San Francisco and Oakland since Friday, and I'm sad to see it go. But it's a very small sadness because I am so excited for this clean break. A whole new thing with whole new people. The excitement is killing me. I hope it lasts.