Monday, September 28, 2009

"You look happy to meet me..."

I was so excited to meet my host family in Shizukuishi Saturday evening!

Here's a picture that was taken just moments after I was introduced to my host mom (left) and her niece (beside me)...

We ate a delicious dinner together--with other ALTs and their host families--and then listened to people in the community play a Japanese instrument called a koto. (Those are kotos on the stage behind us in the above picture. I'll write more about them and have a couple of videos to share in my next blog post.) Then we went to my host family's house...

My host father took this picture, and that's my host brother beside me.

No one in my host family spoke English, so I had the challenge of communicating with them in Japanese! We sat around their kitchen table for two hours on Saturday night, and I tried my best to understand what was being said. :) I took this video for the purpose of posting it here...

In the tour, I said that the room beside the living room was a bedroom, but that's actually a lie. It was a sitting room, and the bedrooms were upstairs, which I never saw.

My host father had a very nice voice, and I enjoyed singing "Edelweiss" with him. (The title of this post is from that song, by the way.) I kept the video running after "Edelweiss" so you can listen to him sing a different song and also talk...

After a good night's sleep on the super comfy futon, I was greeted by my very friendly family and a big, Japanese breakfast...

Rice and miso soup, spinach, eggplant, egg, salmon, salad and blueberry yogurt (which isn't pictured).

After breakfast, they told me we were going for a drive. I had told them the night before about my addiction to ice cream (haha), so they took me to an ice cream 9 a.m.!! I had the mountain berry flavor and immensely enjoyed the delicious, creamy goodness. :)

Just for fun, I had a little taste of wasabi ice cream! (Wasabi is the ridiculously spicy green horseradish stuff that you eat with sushi.) The ice cream definitely tasted like wasabi, but wasn't real spicy. I felt like I should eat sushi with it!

And finally, here's a picture of the outside of the house where I stayed...(quite large by Japanese standards)

Overall, the homestay was a really great time, and I couldn't have been treated any better! They took several pictures of us together, and then (bless their hearts) had the photos developed and put into a little album, which they gave me as I was boarding the train to leave.

Japanese people in general are extremely polite and kind, and the hospitality of my host family was almost overwhelming! Good times indeed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Three Months Until Christmas Day! There's always something to be excited about, right?

I'm looking forward to doing a homestay with a Japanese family this weekend! It's in a town about three hours away, so it's kind of like a mini retreat. I'll have pictures and stories to share next time, I'm sure. :)

But for this post, I'm going to back up and share about what's been going on since I last wrote.

On Saturday night, I attended a fancy shmancy dinner for the mayor of Franklin and his wife. I enjoyed the entertainment of traditional Japanese dancing...(and now you can, too)

And next, a few photos from the parade on Sunday...

We carried lanterns, leading the way for this...

Nate is one of the guys carrying the heavy shrine. (You can't see him because he's in the back, on the other side.)

Stop for the photo op. :)

A special thank you to Liz for styling my crazy "festival hair." And Nate, for doing the hairspray.

As I said last time, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were holidays. I had a relaxing three days in Ninohe. Here are a few photos stolen from Nate's facebook page...

Jamming to a local band called Texas Style. I got all of their autographs. :)

While in Ninohe, a bunch of us had a scary movie marathon, went to a park to hang out and also did a little bit of hiking. Here are pictures of a beautiful view from a mountain overlooking Ninohe:

Well, peace out for now!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's festival time in Kuji!

And what a fun time of year it is. :) There are lots of photo ops, that's for sure. So many in fact, that instead of putting photos in this blog post, I've made an album called "Aki Matsuri" (Fall Festival) 2009, that you can find on the right side of this page at the top. Enjoy...

In addition to taking pictures, I've taken advantage of the video setting on my camera so you can get a real taste of what the festival is all about. Along with the videos, I'll give a little explanation about what goes on each day of the festival...

Thursday night, 6 p.m.: Opening Ceremony

All of the handmade floats that different community groups have been working on for months are lined up at the Dofukan. (The Dofukan is pretty much my backyard, so it's real convenient!) Lots of people gather to see all the floats and watch the shrines being carried.

Friday, 4 p.m.: Parade of floats

All of the floats are paraded down the street by lines of people -- my students included -- pulling on long ropes! There are usually singers and people playing the drums on each float.

Saturday evening, 7 p.m.: Welcome Ceremony for the mayor of Franklin and his wife

This year is very special because Franklin's mayor and his wife came for the festival! It's been at least 12 years since the mayors of the two sister cities have met with each other. Liz, Nate and I enjoyed eating and visiting with the mayors. After the meal, City Hall workers did a cheer...

Historic moment: The mayor of Kuji and the mayor of Franklin together.

Saturday, 2 p.m.: Parade of dancing, singing, drumming, etc.

The senses are overwhelmed! You smell all kinds of fried festival food, and you hear all different kinds of music and sounds. Here's a four-minute sampling of what the parade is like...

Sunday, 2 p.m.: Parade of floats and shrines, similar to Friday

What makes Sunday different, however, is that Liz, Nate and I will be involved in the parade! Liz and I will carry lanterns, and Nate will help carry the heavy shrine. I'm looking forward to it!

I'm also looking forward to having three holidays in a row next week -- Monday through Wednesday we're off work. :) We're planning on going to Ninohe to hang out with our friends there, and I'm not exactly sure what we'll end up doing. Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Hello. Hello. Hello, how are you?..."

I have some cute teaching stories & videos from elementary schools to share! I figure it's about time that I write about my job, instead of what I do for fun on the weekends. :)

I recently taught a fifth grade class in which I called on students to tell me what fruit they like. One boy said, "I like apples." Next, a girl said, "I like cherries." Very common answers. Then I got, "I like persimmons!!!" Wow. Very impressive that he knows the word persimmon in English!

In another fifth grade class, we started by singing "The Hello Song," a very popular song from the textbook. The teacher decided to use the song to teach other replies besides, "I'm fine." I respect that. So she sang, "Hello. Hello. Hello, how are you? I'm sick. (instead of "fine") I'm sick. I hope that you are, too!" Oh no. And then the students sang it just like her. I couldn't help but chuckle.

This is what greeted me when I went to Ube E.S. on Monday. I like that it says "Nice to meet you," when I've been to this school at least ten times!

Here's a little video I took while I was there, so you can meet a few of the cutiepies I teach...
(Notice that the kid with the monkey on his hat keeps acting like a monkey.)

So. Adorable.

It was in the first grade ("ichi nensei") class at Ube E.S. that I had a student ask me how long it takes me to swim from America to Japan. Aww.

At Samuraihama Elementary School, the first grade class sang me the "Do Re Mi" song from The Sound of Music in Japanese. I took a video of it to share...

(Be sure to watch the two kids in the front row. The one on the left looks really bored and starts yawning at one point, but the kid next to him has enough gusto for both of them!)

By the way, this is the school where I have kids come up to me and say, "Hello! Mayonnaise (their name said really fast)!" They think "mayonnaise" sounds like "My name is," haha.

I enjoy walking around the elementary schools with my camera sometimes. It takes only a quick glance of my blog to realize that throwing up the peace sign is a common reaction to the camera (from folks of all ages). Here are just a few "peace pictures" from my collection...

Being attacked/mobbed is another common reaction to my camera, as you can see.

I love when they do the peace signs up against their cheeks. :) By the way, it's hard to read, but her shirt says, "Leave me alone if you don't love me. But you'll be sorry about it."

Nice hat.

The boy doing the peace sign has been on this blog before -- he's so cute!

Well, that's all for now. As I like to say, "Peace out!" Happy birthday, Mom!

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Let's get together and feel all right..."

Hanging out with friends, eating good food and jamming to music were the three main themes from my weekend.

Those are pretty much major themes of my life, but anyway...

The weekend kicked off with celebrating Oliver's birthday at the classy Italian restaurant just around the corner from my apartment, followed by a couple of crazy hours of karaoke.

The gang at dinner. I think this might be Georgia's first appearance on my blog -- she replaced Jemma in Noda (about 20 minutes away from Kuji) and is on the right side of the picture.

Yumyumyum. :)

Goofy picture from karaoke, haha.

On Saturday night, I went to a hole-in-the-wall reggae bar and really enjoyed listening to a husband & wife peform. He played the guitar the whole time, and she played all kinds of random instruments. Check 'em out...

I don't usually listen to reggae, but I've been diggin' it lately. :) (In fact, as I write this I've got Bob Marley serenading me.)

Group picture after the concert.

On Sunday, I had an eikawa at Kenji's office. Since Georgia is new to the conversation class, she gave a self-introduction and talked all about her hometown in New Zealand. (I am totally convinced that I NEED to go to New Zealand since everyone I've met from there is so cool, and it sounds and looks absolutely lovely.) As always, lunch after the eikawa was deeelicious...

I love yakisoba! {and green tea & miso soup}

After the eikawa, you'll never guess what I did. I went to yet another concert. It was at Tamaya, the rustic bed & breakfasty place I went to last weekend. Here's a little snippet of a percussion group that had me wigglin' the whole time...

Reggae-style hair! Groovy.

During the concert, I made it my mission to get a picture of the cutest little girl EVER! (I know, I know, that sounds familiar.) She didn't make it easy on me to get this photo, that's for sure...

"Kawaiii!" (Cute!!)

That's all for now. Peace out!

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Please don't stop the music..."

Turns out that is was a good idea to bring my flute to Japan with me. It's been put to good use!

Especially lately.

I've had three performances with my friend Hideto in the past two weeks! Hideto plays the classical guitar, and I play my flute & sing.

A few weeks ago, you could find these posters around the Dofukan (as a reminder, that's the community building right behind my apartment), advertising our upcoming performance...

I still don't know who made these posters or how the mystery person got this photo.

Last Thursday, Hideto and I were part of a concert that Emiko from my eikawa (English conversation class) arranged. Here were some of the different acts...

That's Kenji, my guitar teacher on the upper right.

By the way, guitar lessons are going well! I had my fourth lesson last night, and I can play six chords now and pick my way through a couple of praise songs. I never realized before the sacrifices that must be made in order to play the guitar. First, I had to cut my fingernails real short, and they need to stay that way. Bummer. And now the tips of my fingers are sore -- especially on my left hand, from holding the strings down. I have a whole new respect for guitar players!

Back to concerts/performing...
Last Saturday before I went camping, Hideto and I had a concert in front of the Dofukan. Before the event, everyone lit candles around the stage area.
(I still don't know exactly why. As you've probably realized by now, I don't know what's going on most of the time, haha.)

Harriet and I with out candles.


After the candles were lit, Hideto and I (carefully!) took the stage and performed four songs. The first was "My Favorite Things," which Kenji took video of...

When my Swedish couchsurfers were visiting on Sunday, we hung out at a cafe in Kuji to chill and play music together. Peter is an extremely talented musician, and I wish that I had taken a video of him! Oooh, I just had the idea to see if he has any videos on YouTube, and sure enough, I found this.

He often plays at coffeshops and even has a CD of all original songs! He gave me his CD, and I had him autograph it for when he becomes famous. :)

Kenji and I playing "Moon River" as Peter sings it.

Well, I need to get going since it's almost time to celebrate Oliver's birthday with the gang, so I'm signing off for now.

Or should it be singing off? Lalalala...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Mama mia, here I go again..."

Hej! Hvor er du!?

That's Danish for "Hello! How are you?"

I just figured it was about time Dana learned a phrase in Danish, haha!

I don't have any Danish friends and I've never been to Denmark, (even though Dana actually means "from Denmark") but on Sunday I hung out with some new friends from Sweden! Sweden and Denmark are neighbors and "hej" --pronounced just like "hey!" so it's super easy to remember -- is "hello" in Swedish as well.

Aaaanyway...I met Peter and Nellie through Couchsurfers, a Web site I found out about a few months ago and signed up for because it allows me to host travelers from all over the world and therefore make new friends and learn about other cultures, which of course are two of my favorite things. (And whenever I'm traveling, I can use the site to stay somewhere for free!)

So around noon on Sunday, Takenori, Harriet and I picked up my new Swedish friends at Ninohe station and we hung out at the Ninohe festival.

Peter and Nellie are on the left, P.J. is behind me and Harriet is beside me. (Takenori took the picture.) The Swedes haven't been in Japan long enough yet to start doing the peace sign, haha.

After we dropped off their stuff at Jarlath's place, the first thing we did was go on a hunt for food. Festival food booths lined the streets, so it really wasn't hard to find.

Takenori eating takoyaki. :)

While waiting for the parade to start, I spotted this hair salon, and just had to snap a photo...

"Haer saron." Brilliant.

Love that this boy is just chilling out with a butterfly net. :) For some reason, I've seen little boys with nets on the prowl for bugs a lot recently. It always makes me smile.

Then the parade started...

Look who's coming...

Jarlath and Peter helped push this float down the street. The day before, they played the drums on the float. Too bad we missed it!

She stopped playing the flute so she could pose for my picture. :)

I had a nice time with my "couchsurfers" from Sweden. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to sing ABBA songs at karaoke (haha, that was Jarlath's idea), but we did chill out Sunday evening and play some music since Peter is an awesome guitar player. More about that next time.

In other news, only nine days to go until the kickoff of the fall festival in Kuji! Hooray! So there are lots more festival photos and stories coming soon. Stay tuned.

* * *
For my most recent entry in "Keep Shining," click here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A traditional Japanese experience

It's been a sunny, beautiful and relaxing Saturday, with a cool breeze that hints of autumn.

After last night's stay at a bed and breakfast (and dinner, too) kind of place called Tamaya, I'm quickly getting into the mindset of fall.

Tamaya is so rustic and lovely. Gotta love that roof!

In typical Japanese fashion, as soon as you step through the door, there was a rack to place your shoes.

I saw these traditional sandals on the shelf.

We stayed in a big tatami mat room, on futons....

One of the other rooms had a traditional-style hat worn by workers in the rice fields.

I felt like I had stepped back in time as we gathered around what can best be described as a sand pit. We sat around the fire, which was surrounded by corn and potatoes roasting near the flames.

The vegetables had a wood-smoked flavor that was absolutely delicious.

The husband and wife who own the place served us a dinner full of vegetables right out of their backyard...

I'll do my best to identify everything. From the bottom right corner, going clock-wise: takoyaki (octopus ball), peppers and beef, cucumbers?, salad, edamame (Japanese soybeans), eggplant, egg salad, daikon (Japanese radish) and meat. Later on, they served us miso soup and onigiri. (rice balls)

After dinner, we passed around a few unique instruments to try.

Harriet -- the new ALT who replaced Sean and is from Bath, England -- trying the didgeridoo. It was hard to get a good sound from it!

We had a very nice time at Tamaya, just 30 minutes away from Kuji. It kind of felt like indoor camping since it was so rustic. :)

Tonight there are about 15 ALTs in the area going tent camping, and I'm looking forward to more relaxing time around a fire.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trying s'more American treats

It's always fun to share my culture with students and friends in Kuji.

Yesterday was no exception, when I took some graham crackers, Hershey's chocolate and marshmallows to Yamane Jr. High School and taught my students about s'mores. They'd never even heard of such a treat before, and I had to remedy this sad situation ASAP!

I told them that usually we roast the marshmallows over a fire, but the school's microwave would work just fine. :)

Getting ready to bite into a s'more for the first time ever -- a historic moment, indeed.

Yuya enjoying the marshmallow gooey goodness. By the way, Yuya was absent from class last week because he was in a national judo tournament!!
He's that good.

I've also been sharing other American snacks that have been sent to me. Thank you again SO much for those of you reading this who have sent me things. I really appreciate it, and so do the folks I share with!

Tomoki has discovered that he loves Goldfish crackers....

He loves fishes 'cuz they're so delicious! (Now singing the commerical song.) What a goofball, posing like he's feeding a goldfish to my Japanese doll.

At my English conversation class ("eikawa" in Japanese), we talked about places we like to visit, and I told them all about the state fair. Go figure, right? I passed around some cotton candy, even though it turns out cotton candy can be found in Japan, too.

This is the group I've started meeting with once a week so they can practice casual English conversation.

The guy on the left, Nao, is a marathon runner, and somehow he talked me into going on a run with him after last week's eikawa!! I almost died. Ok, not really. But I was probably pretty close to passing out!

I've had some good workouts the past few weeks as part of my training to climb Mt. Iwate. (next month! eeek!) The exercise is definitely neccessary...

Especially because of all the snacking! :)