Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flying fish flags!

I've been seeing these wind socks for the past month and didn't know why. Until now. (Thank you, Google!)

Turns out that these are called koinobori (鯉幟), which means "carp banner." Hmm, that makes sense. :)

In Japan, the carp ("koi") is a symbol of perseverance, strength and determination. So the carp flags represent advancement in life, as well as good fortune and luck. They're flown in honor of sons, in hopes that they will grow up healthy and strong.

Each member of a household with boys in it gets a flag. They're flown as a set over the roof of the house. Traditionally, black fish flags (the biggest) are for fathers, orange/red for mothers, blue/white for boys and red/pink for girls.

Flags and other Childrens' Day merchandise are sold at Universe.

My friend Moi stood inside one of the flags! We found these hanging outside of a furniture store. (I'm really not sure why.)

Children's Day on May 5th is the last holiday of the three consecutive holidays that make up Golden Week. May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day, and May 4th is Greenery Day or Nature Day.

Because there is no school (and in many cases, no work) on these holidays, Golden Week is a popular time to travel. That's how I'm able to be in the Philippines next week! (By the way, I just wrote a new post in "Keep Shining.") So this will be my last post for a little while since I'll be traveling.
"Ja ne!" ("Later") <><

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Saturday afternoon in Hirosaki

I definitely made good on my promise to take lots of cherry blossom pictures over the weekend!

In fact, I made a photo album of them. (Click here or on the right side to see it.)

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let the pictures do the talking for now. Here are just a few of my favorite photos from my cherry blossom viewing in Hirosaki, a city about three hours northwest of Kuji...

So. very. gorgeous.

This is the famous Hirosaki "castle" in the background. And yes, I wore pink on purpose. :)

The word "hanami" 花見 in Japanese is the name for an outdoor party/picnic underneath the cherry blossom ("sakura" 櫻) trees. Everywhere we looked, people were sitting on blankets, enjoying food they either brought with them or bought from one of the the many vendors.

Hanami in Hirosaki. :) If this were a painting, I'd call it A Saturday Afternoon at the park in Hirosaki.

The above picture makes me think of a painting I studied last year in my art history course...

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Geourges Seurat
(My professor should be so proud!)

We had our own hanami before the rain began around 3 p.m. Our group of ALTs and Japanese friends kept growing as the afternoon progressed.

From right to left: Hatsumi, Jemma, Mayla, me, Nao, Liz, Lauren

When I lived in Washington, D.C. three years ago, I admired the cherry blossom trees (which were a gift from Japan, by the way). Unfortunately, I was gone for spring break when the blossoms were at their peak. But this weekend in Hirosaki, the cherry blossoms were at their prime, making it the perfect time to go! I've been told that Hirosaki is the second best place in Japan to go for cherry blossom viewing and hanami -- the first being Kyoto.

We spent seven hours in Hirosaki, taking it easy and enjoying the lovely scenery. Despite the drizzling rain, it was a very nice time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Daffodils delight my soul

As a little girl, I got so excited to see daffodils growing in the yard. They were the first flowers to bloom, signaling the beginning of warmer weather. I was always eager to pick a beautiful yellow bouquet to give away.

So to me, daffodils are not only a symbol of spring, but of home and childhood memories. That's why I'm so thrilled to see daffodils here in Kuji!

I couldn't help pulling over on my way back from school to take a few snapshots of the lovely flowers...

"And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils."
from "Daffodils" by poet William Wordsworth

I was given my own bouquet of daffodils recently for teaching a volunteer English class. What a nice gift! I taught nine elementary-aged students the alphabet, and will continue to teach the class every other Saturday afternoon for an hour.

This weekend, I'm going to a place called Hirosaki, which is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms. (Sakura 櫻 in Japanese). There are some cherry blossom trees in Kuji -- which are just now beginning to bloom -- but not very many. In Tokyo and other cities far south of Kuji, cherry blossom season has already come and gone. I've seen other ALTs' pictures of the trees, and they're incredible!

I'm excited to see lots of gorgeous flowers for myself, and of course I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures to share with you next time.

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To read my latest entry in "Keep Shining," click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hotel, hamburger and other "foreign words"

As I wrote about recently, there are several Japanese words -- such as sushi and sumo -- that are in the English language.

But it works the other way around, too.

Words from other countries are written in the Japanese script, katakana. They are usually pronounced about the same as they are in English, which is great news for me!

For example, if you ask for a menu in Japan, you'll be understood since it's the same word in Japanese. On the menu, you might see pizza, coffee and ice cream.

Granted, they'll most likely be written in katakana (so ピッザ, コッフェエ and イセクレム, respectfully), but they're pronounced just about the same way. So if you say the word pizza to a Japanese person who doesn't speak English, he or she will definitely know what that is. :)

There are only two pizza places in Kuji, and one of them (named 10.4) is just around the corner from my apartment. I like to buy frozen pizzas at the Universe grocery store; they're delicious! (and some are unique, like shrimp and corn pizza!)

Another food that everyone knows (and loves! At least I do...) is "cake." Although here they pronounce it like "kay-key."

This is a photo from the cute little cake shop I went to on Easter. What beauties!

A couple of other words that are not quite the same, but similar, are supermarket (pronounced "supa" in Japanese) and department store ("depato").

Right outside my apartment is a vending machine that sells cola. The sign above the machine is written in katakana, and reads "Dorinnku cona" ("Drink corner")...

Here are some more foreign words that can me found in Japanese: credit card, present, computer, America, jeans, tape, video game, and hotel.

Liz has a story about a Japanese guy who said the word unicorn in English. She was so impressed by his knowledge of English vocabulary...until she found out that "unicorn" is what the Japanese call it, too! Similarly, I was once really proud of a student who said the word "communication." But then I found out it's the same word in Japanese. Pretty tricky.

Well, that's all for now. Bye-bye!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Back to school...hoorah!

It sure was good to be teaching again this past week! I really missed interacting with my students during spring break.

Here's my schedule this school year: (it's a bit different since Mugyo closed)
  • Monday: a different elementary school each week
  • Tuesday: Okawame Jr. High School
  • Wednesday: Yamane Jr. High School
  • Thursday: Misaki Jr. High School
  • Friday: Kuji Elementary School
I'm excited to have two days a week of elementary schools! I know I've said this a hundred times, but those kids are just sooo adorable. :)

Case in point: On Friday, a little girl -- probably first grade -- came up to me and said, "Hello. My name is what is your birthday!"

I love this girl's "All you need is love" shirt. Yay, Beatles!

At Misaki Jr. High, my "ni nensei" (second grade) and "san nensei (third grade) classes were on a school trip, so I taught only "ichi nensei." (first grade) As a side note, first grade at junior high schools in Japan is the equivalent of 7th grade in America. It was good to meet my new class of first grade students; they seem so young though! I already knew some of them from teaching at Kosode Elementary a few times.

I saw some of my third grade students from Misaki the next day as they were arriving back to Kuji. While listening to my iPod, I heard some sort of screaming over the music. So I took the headphones out, looked up, and there were my students, hanging out the windows of a passing bus and shouting, "Dana-sensei!!!" It made me feel special. :)

I also felt special at Okawame Jr. High because Takada-sensei made me some onigiri for lunch! Onigiri are balls of rice wrapped in seaweed with usually some kind of fish inside.

She had written "Dana's Lunch!!" on a folded piece of paper, and used it as a bag for two nice, big tuna onigiri, which I took home and ate while they were warm...

So it was a nice week back at the schools. I've also had a pretty good weekend in Kuji: volunteering at preschool on Saturday; eating ice cream with Sean and Takenori (I had to buy Takenori's ice cream because he -- barely, I might add -- beat me at table tennis. Boo!); making and eating eggrolls with Mayla and friends from church after the service today.

I just finished watching a cute "chick flick" (Sean and I taught Takenori this term yesterday) called The Ramen Girl. It's about an American girl living in Tokyo who learns how to make ramen noodles the Japanese way. It was really interesting for me to watch because I was thinking, "This is like my life! Learning all these new things about the Japanese culture and not always knowing what people around me are talking about." Anyway, if you want a little taste of life in Japan for a foreigner, I recommend the movie. Yay for happy endings. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Subaru & Suzuki, sumo, sushi, and such

Even if you think you don't, you know some Japanese. Really.

I recently wrote about karaoke -- a Japanese word and favorite pastime. That's just one example of a word in the English lexicon that comes from Japan.

I bet these names sound familiar: Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota and Yamaha. These are just a few examples of Japanese automobile companies that are known throughout the world.

This Honda shop is just down the street from my apartment. When I tell my students that I drove a Honda Accord back home, they usually seem impressed. :)

Maybe you have a Casio calculator, a Canon camera, or a Toshiba TV. Yep, all Japanese.

Sumo (スも) wrestling, karate (空手) and judo (重度) are all Japanese words and very popular sports here. But sumo and karate have different pronounciations in English than they do in Japanese. In Japan, it's pronounced "smo" instead of "soo-mo." (So the "u" is silent.) Karate is actually pronounced "kah-dah-tay." I get funny looks here if I pronouce it the Americanized way of "ka-ra-dee."

Flashback to August when I went to a sumo wrestling match in the Kuji gym.

One of my favorite Japanese foods is sushi. In fact, I went out for sushi last night with Oliver and Julian, the new ALT in Kuji. Sushi (素足) is a Japanese word that English borrowed, as is wasabi (ワサビ), the super spicy green condiment that gives sushi a kick. Just a dab will do, believe me!

This was a fabulous sushi dinner I ate a while back. We're sitting on tatami (畳) mats, a traditional type of Japanese flooring. And I actually just learned a couple of nights ago that the name of this kind of Japanese paper window is called shouji (正二). Now we know. :) Oh, and the woman across from me is wearing a kimono (着物), another Japanese word we say in English.

Finally, the word futon (布団) is also Japanese. But in Japan, it refers to the traditional style of Japanese bedding -- a mattress you put on the (tatami mat) floor and sleep on at night, that can be folded and stored away during the day. The Western-style futon is a frame with a cushion, and can be used as a bed or a couch.

Interesting, huh? "Omoshiroi, ne?" Well, that's all for now. Sayonara!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Let's go on a picnic!

I woke up yesterday morning {Easter Day} to the sound of birds singing. 'Twas glorious. The rest of the day was also quite lovely.

After church, I spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with "my peeps." (including the marshmallow kind, haha!)

We went out for lunch to a place I'd never been before, where I ordered one of my favorite things ever, curry katstu -- fried pork with curry and rice. おいしい 買った! "Oishii katta!" ("That was delicious!")

Then we went to the game/arcade center, where I'd also never been until yesterday. We headed straight for purikura, the fun picture booths that are great to do with a group. :) You do about six different poses with your friends then spruce up the photos with pictures, words, borders, etc. Here are two from yesterday...

I think we ran out of time to put cutesy little pictures on this one (like the hearts above)...

みんな ("minna") = everyone, だいすき ("daisuki") = to really like

I was so excited to run into Marina at the game center! She's one of the girls who did a homestay with my family in January. Ah, good times.

A few intense games of air hockey later, we continued the fun with karaoke. Big surprise, right? ;) By the way, purikura is a really popular thing to do after karaoke since they have the photo booths at the karaoke place.

After singing out hearts out, we took a cake break! :) There's a really nice French-themed café a few skips down the street from karaoke, and I just had to take a few photographs while we were there...

A pretty picture of my pretty-as-a-picture blueberry cake. :) Oooh la la.

We all ordered a different kind of cake and shared with each other. Oh, how I LOVE doing that!

A little cake picnic -- doesn't get much better than that! On second though, maybe if we had glasses of milk...

So that is how I spent Easter. I might add that I also talked to my dad and brother, as well as my g/f Ariel on Skype, which was a nice ending to the day.

I feel like I need to apologize to my guyfriends Sean and Takenori for this girly blog post! They were good sports to hang out with us goofy, girly gals all day. :)

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To read about Easter in Japan from the religious standpoint, click here for my "Keep Shining" entry.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My life is a musical

I've mentioned it occasionally, but I've never actually written a blog post about karaoke!

Gasp. This has to be fixed. Right now...

Karaoke is a pretty big deal in Japan. It's a Japanese word, in fact. It means "empty orchestra." Americans don't pronounce this word the same way that the Japanese do. In fact, whenever I say "karaoke" ("care-ee-o-key") -- in my supposed Hoosier accent -- to a Japanese friend, I often get the response of, "Heeehhh???" FYI: The proper way to pronounce it is "kah-dah-o-kay."

I love karaoke. (No matter how you pronounce it!) I've determined that the reason I like karaoke so much is that my life is a musical. Truly. I sing in the shower, in the car, in my apartment...and I sometimes catch myself humming along to my iPod as I walk down the street.

Yep, I am that girl who snaps her fingers while strolling down the sidewalk, then randomly bursts into song and dance about how great life is! Ok, only kidding. But it really isn't a total stretch of the imagination!

Anyway, my point is that singing is great fun, and I do it a lot. So it's really no wonder that I like karaoke so much and go sing with friends probably an average of once a week! (That's why it shocks me that I haven't written much about it before now.)

Here are a few karaoke highlights that I'm finally sharing pictures of...

  • My welcome party with co-workers back in August was my first karaoke experience in Japan. It was amusing to hear Japanese folks singing English songs -- especially my "Beatles buddy" from City Hall. Here is a clip of him singing... :)

  • Oliver's birthday in September involved all of the Kuji ALTs and Kenji.

Oliver got numbchucks for his birthday, which is what he's wearing around his neck, haha.

  • At Jesse's going away party (a.k.a Jesse Fest), karaoke was three hours long! Of course all the of the times I've heard Jesse scream/sing at karaoke are definitely...memorable. ;) By the way, Jesse just shared this cool video with me, and it's sure to make you smile! After sticking around Kuji a few extra weeks, Jesse heads for home today. He will certainly be missed.
I had a brilliant time at Jesse's party singing "Shine" by British band Take That with my Irish friend Jarlath, and British friends Becky and Bobby.

I've actually been on a British entertainment kick recently (in Japan, go figure) -- listening to British music and reading novels by British author Sophie Kinsella. And of course Tomoki still likes to speak British English when he comes over. :)

Well, I'm singing off...err, I mean signing off, for now. Cheerio! La la la la la...

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Click here to read the latest post in "Keep Shining."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Showing off the talents of my artistic students

I'm convinced that my students can create a masterpiece with any medium -- pencils, paint, and...egg shells!(?)

Check this out...

Aki from Mugyo Jr. High created the ocean, flowers, butterflies and birds all out of colored egg shells to make this work of art.

The four junior high students made these eggshell creations in art class. The finished artwork was displayed at Mugyo's graduation ceremony. I think one of the teachers from Mugyo made this next one. Again, all egg shells...

It's a portait of Mugyo Elementary/Jr. High School, the one that's closing. Egg-cellent work. :)

Atsumi made this beautiful picture of a cherry blossom tree ("sakura no ki" in Japanese -- 櫻の木)...

I can't wait to see some beautiful cherry blossoms soon. :)

A couple of weeks ago, the meeting room where I have my dance practice was lined with paintings. Apparently, students at different junior high schools in Kuji had to paint a picture about forest fires. I went around the room looking for pictures by my students. Here are the ones I found...

At some point, I'll have to take some pictures of the anime cartoon figures that my students have drawn in their notebooks. What they draw in 10 seconds is better than what I could do in 10 minutes! I have some talented students, that's for sure. Maybe they can teach me some art skills. :)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Goodbyes and hellos

I've had to say goodbye to some friends and co-workers recently.

Last weekend, I went to a going away party for my friends Emiko and Yasuyoshi and their adorable son, Shogo. We took a group shot after a wonderful, all-we-could-eat (and more) dinner.

There's Shogo front and center, with this mom and dad behind him. What a little cutie!

The family is moving to Mizusawa, about three hours south of Kuji. They said that I'm welcome to come visit any time. :) I met this super nice, English-speaking family a few months ago through Ra, a fellow ALT, who did a homestay with them a while back.

Even though I had to bid farewell to friends, I made some new friends at the going away party, which was fun...

On Wednesday, I went to a fancy dinner to welcome the new workers in the office and say goodbye to the people who are leaving the office. Again, I met some friendly people and had a good time. (It was especially fun trying the different kinds of cake, including the cool-looking strawberry cake.)

Hmm, I guess I've kind of switched from throwing up the peace sign to giving a thumbs-up! I don't really have an explanation for this. (This cake was definitely worth two thumbs-up though.)

Apparently, it is very common for people in the education field -- from teachers to the office workers in the Board of Education -- to stay in one place for only a couple of years. I guess they just like to switch it up.

So every spring, many of the teachers transfer schools. I learned that I'm going to be working with a new English teacher at Okawame Jr. High School once the new school year starts on April 14th.

Until then, I'll still be in the office during spring break, along with some new co-workers. :)