Friday, April 30, 2010

Hello! My name is...

Since living in Kuji, I've given a self-introduction approximately 2,527,028 times.

Ok, so that random number might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I've introduced myself A LOT.

When I first came to Japan, I gave my "hello speech"--in both English and attempted Japanese--to every single class I taught, at every single school. (And to date, I've taught at four different junior high schools and fourteen different elementary schools!) Plus, I'm always meeting new people outside of schools and introducing myself.

The new school year started at the beginning of April, so for the past few weeks I've been teaching 5th & 6th grade students how to do a basic greeting in English. That's the first lesson in the book that all elementary schools use.

The English greeting demonstration goes something like this:

Me: Hello! My name is Dana. What is your name?
Brave student who has come to the front of the class: Hello. My name is (their name, usually said pretty fast.)
Me: Nice to meet you!
Student: Nice to meet you, too.
The whole class claps.

For some reason, I have students who think it's just hilarious to say, "Nice to meet you, tooth!" I still don't understand why that is side-splitting funny.

At Osanai Elementary, the students made name cards to give out along with their introduction.

So now I have a whole pile of fun name cards to add to the collection I started last year when we did this lesson.

I was told 10 minutes before one class started that I needed to make 18 of my own name cards to give out.

So I frantically scribbled out these lovely little masterpieces. Looks just like me, right? And that other thing is supposed to be a pineapple.

Sidenote: Exchanging business cards ("meshi") in Japan is an important part of showing respect, and there are many rules of etiquette.

On Monday at Taiyama Elementary, I took video of meeting some cute "ichi nensei" (first grade) students during recess...

Since I don't teach the younger grades very often, I like to walk down their hallway just to say hi.

When I did that last week at Osanai, the new first graders who'd never seen me before absolutely freaked out. "Eeeeeehh! GAIKOKUJIN!!!"

There's nothing like being called FOREIGNER!!! to make you feel welcomed, ha. I said, "Hello! My name is Dana. Not Foreigner." Then they proceeded to examine me, the exotic creature. They were stunned by my brown hair and amazed by my green eyes.
I love first graders.

In other "foreigner news"...
This article, welcoming the new ALTs to Kuji, appeared in the local magazine last week...

And in other, non-related news...

Next week is Golden Week, so I have some days off! I'm going to Morioka over the weekend for a picnic under the cherry blossoms, and then up to Aomori for a few days. I'll post pictures sometime late next week when I'm back. Sayonara for now...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Keep on believing

When I told my students at Yamane Jr. High that I'm learning how to play guitar, they challenged me to learn how to sing & play a Japanese song.

So I told them to pick out any song, and I would learn it for them. They chose "Tegami" (which means "Letter") -- a really popular song right now. I've heard it being played in restaurants and stores, so I was already familiar with the tune.

"Tegami" is about a 15-year-old girl who writes a letter to her future self because she has worries she doesn't want to tell anyone else. In the second part of the song, the "future self" replies to the letter saying, "keep on believing" in yourself, and don't be defeated. It's an encouraging, uplifting song, and a good one for me to learn.

I've been listening to "Tegami" a lot lately, and it's been stuck in my head even more than "the peach crush song."

I'm going to keep on practicing and listening to it. :)

Click here for a prayer on Keep Shining.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Peach, the color of love

Hello. How are you?
Just peachy, I hope. :)

I don't quite know what this girl's t-shirt means, but I like that it has the word "peachy" on it.

At karaoke with my friends Minako and Kuniko, they sang the following bouncy song...

Again, I didn't understand the meaning. But I could pick out a few words -- "momo" means "peach." Of course I know that one!

I asked my friends if this was a kids' song since the video certainly makes it look like one. But it turns out that it's not! It's just a typical Japanese pop ("Jpop") cutsie video. I was curious, so I looked up the English translation of the lyrics to this song, "Momoiro Kataomo." Here's what I found...

I’ve got a peach crush, I love you
I can’t stop staring at you
If our eyes meet for a moment
My heart thumps
I’m in a peach fantasy

It looks like I’ve got a crush
This is the first crush I’ve had
I love him so much
That I don’t know what’s what

I wonder if
He has a girlfriend?
He’s even in my dreams
As of now, he’s on my mind

I’ve got a peach crush
It happened before I knew it
If we run into each other
My heart thumps

I’ve got a peach crush, I love you
I can’t stop staring at you
If our eyes meet for a moment
My heart thumps
I’m in a peach fantasy

I can’t ask him out, I can’t possibly ask him out
I get too nervous
I know, yes I know
It’s time to tell him

I’m going to talk to him
In an upbeat way
I get up my courage, say “hello” and then “goodbye”
I can’t get a conversation started

I’ve got a peach crush
I want you to feel the same
We’ve gotten closer than we were yesterday
My heart is thumping
I’ve got a peach crush
I can’t stop dreaming of kissing you
Can you see me?
This season
The color of love is peach

I’ve got a peach crush
It happened before I knew it
If we run into each other
My heart thumps

I’ve got a peach crush, I love you
I can’t stop staring at you
If our eyes meet for a moment
My heart thumps
I’m in a peach fantasy

I think this might just be one of my new favorite Japanese songs. It's been stuck in my head all day. Like many things in Japan, it's almost overwhelmingly cute. (not to mention catchy!)

And what's not to love about a peach fantasy!? :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Take it from me

Over the weekend, I met the three new ALTs in Kuji -- Adam and Gary from England, and Lee from Wales.

From left to right: Takenori, Lee, me, Gary, Adam, Kenji in front

We had dinner together at Kenji's house on Saturday, and Kenji asked me to give the guys some advice about living in Japan. My first thought was, "Say yes to everything and bow constantly." :)

Here are some more serious tips I have to offer of Ways to make living abroad easier:
  • Get involved. Lead a conversation class, join a dance team, a sports team, etc. It really makes you feel like part of the community, and that makes all the difference.

  • Be patient. It truly is a virtue. Things that should be very simple are made complicated by the language barrier. I've found that Japanese people are patient with me as I try to communicate in Japanese, or English, or Japanlish -- a combination of the two. ;) I do my best to be patient as well.

  • Do as the Japanese do. There's really only one way of doing things here -- the Japanese way. My boss Yamadate likes to say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." So when Yamadate told me that I shouldn't eat fruit at my desk (unless it's lunch break) because no one else here does, I had to respect that and stop.

  • Keep smiling. Smiling transcends the language barrier, and it make you more approachable.

  • Use Skype. This free program is such a great way to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Being away from my loved ones would be SO much harder without Skype!

  • Enjoy each day because time truly does fly!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A fish tale

Today was market day right outside my apartment.

After buying some produce, I passed by a stall where "my fish lady friend" (as I refer to her) was selling fish.

There she is, in her element. This is actually an old picture; unlike at home, it is unfortunately not warm enough here to go outside without a coat on.
(It snowed last Wednesday! (???) But I don't want to talk about it.)

I digress.

While attempting Japanese conversation with this sweet lady, she asked me if I like fish.

"Of course!" I said. "I love fish."

So she gave me these lifeless guys as a present...

"Umm, you really don't have to do that," I said. (I mean, really).

"I insist," she insisted. "It's a birthday present!"

At that, I chuckled. "My birthday is in June."

"Happy birthday anyway!!" She would not be deterred.

I tried paying her for them, but she wouldn't have it. (Very typical Japanese behavior.) So I had no choice but to say "thank you so much" -- "arigatou gozaimasu "-- and take the fish home. I later went back to the fish stall and gave my friend some chocolate as a return gift (which is the polite & Japanese thing to do). I think she got the better deal.

Back at home, I put the slimy presents on my counter and got out my heavy duty knife, prepared to dissect...

Don't they look upset? :(

There was just NO WAY I could do it.

I was thinking about how "roly poly fish heads" would be in my trash can, and that totally grossed me out. And at the same time, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor creatures...

So as much as I like the taste of fish, and even though I've seen fish being gutted before, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Instead, I took them to the eikaiwa at Kenji's office and gave them to the newest member of the English conversation class.

Here you go...

"Happy birthday!!" :)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Living the dream

I grew up eating whole wheat bread.

We never ever had white bread in our house. Not that I remember, anyway.

But I can remember being on a field trip as a young elementary school student, watching as classmates opened their lunch boxes and pulled out sandwiches made of the mysterious white bread. And I thought, "Mmm, that Wonder Bread looks wonderfully soft and fluffy. They're so lucky!"

I never would have guessed then that years later I'd be in Japan, living the white bread dream....

Of all the white breads here, this one is the softest and fluffiest.

You see, there are very few whole wheat products in this country, and I have yet to find wheat bread.

The truth is, I miss it. I miss all of my favorite snacks made with whole grains. (Teddy Grahams!) I realize now that white bread is not the most nourishing choice. But now I have no other choice.

It's been a long time since I've had brown rice, but I eat white sticky rice every day. This is thanks to my new rice cooker (well, it's new to me, anyway) that Jarlath gave me when he left...

So happy to have this newest addition to the appliance family. :) Cooking rice is so much more convenient now.

I'll end this post with a photo of a "dessert." I never shared about April Fool's Day and how I fooled Jarlath into taking a bite from this scrumptious-looking candle, which I even pulled out of my refrigerator...

See the teeth marks on the "chocolate" part? Hehe. (p.s. The candle hadn't been burned yet when I gave it to him.)

Just a little joke and a little fun...not a white lie. :)

* * *
Click here for my latest post in "Keep Shining."

Monday, April 12, 2010

A gem of a place

"Amber, much loved around the world throughout human history, is a mysterious portal to the ancient world of its own origins. The Amber Museum unveils the secrets of amber for you to see, touch and experience."
-- from the museum's pamphlet (hooray for it being in English!)

The only amber museum in Japan is in Kuji, and it's just 10 minutes away from my apartment, set near the woods. It's a very nice place, with many displays of amber and hands-on exhibits.

The first thing I saw when I visited was the "Stone of the Sun"...(which kind of looks like a giant football in this picture, ha)

According to Greek mythology, part of the sun crashed down to Earth into the ocean and broke into a million pieces, creating amber.

Amber supposedly has healing and relaxing powers. The museum has an amber embedded floor to walk across. I can't say I experienced any relaxing powers when I walked across it -- actually, it kind of hurt my feet!

I learned that Kuji is one of the world's leading amber producers, and the amber in Kuji is among the oldest in the world processed into ornaments. Kuji's amber is from the late Cretaceous Period, about 85 million years ago.

The museum is part of an "amber complex," which also includes an amber work studio, a spot to dig for amber, an old amber mine tunnel, an amber shop, a shrine, and a restaurant.

As the pamphlet says, the complex is a good place to "enjoy a deep, refreshing breath."

Friday, April 9, 2010

T-Money and Jar-man -- A Buddy Movie

T-Money and Jar-man journey to Lawson to get a pizza-man (a delicious snack) for Mama Dana. :)


Written, directed and produced by Jarlath
Filmed by me
Starring the one and only Tomoki

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tomoki's movie

A couple of weeks ago when Tomoki came over to my apartment to practice English, he announced that he wanted to make a terrorist movie.

Apparently he's been watching action movies lately that involve terrorists, and he wanted to make his own. So for nearly an hour, we choreographed and practiced a fight scene in my living room. Then the next time Tomoki came over, Jarlath came too, and he filmed our "terrorist movie" for us. (He also played the Mr. Big character.)

Tomoki did all the work. He wrote the script, directed, edited and made the following video:

Part 1

Part 2

I'm not sure if the story will continue, or if it ends here. However, after filming this, Jarlath decided that he and Tomoki should make a more light-hearted "buddy movie" together.

Stay tuned to watch "T-Money & Jar-man -- A Buddy Movie" next time. :)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Oh, happy day!..."

Happy Easter from Kuji, Japan! I hope you have a day full of sweetness. :)

After 40 days without chocolate, the Reeses cup I savored at midnight--the first moment possible--was mighty good. Special thanks to my grandparents for sending some Easter sweets from "A-me-ri-ca," as we say here.

I shared the love with the lovely ladies at my English conversation class on Wednesday...

Keiko and Hiyoko sampling a little bit of everything. Everyone was intrigued by the hot pink Peeps...

Two new friends I met at the gym last week. They approached me to practice their English (which is quite good). We chatted and worked out together, and I said, "Come join my English class!"

Group shot with the pink Peeps. :)

Today was an Easter concert at church, and my first time to play guitar for an audience. I've been taking lessons from Kenji since September. I played & sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart," (the second time in Spanish) "Shout to the Lord," and "Here I am to Worship."

Here are the videos:

I was super impressed by the Kuji High School choir! They sounded beautiful, and I loved their songs...

Have a happy day!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blood types

One day at Okawame Jr. High, Mr. Otsuki asked me to erase the blackboard.

So I wiped it in my usual crazy person way, with the eraser going in all directions on the board.

When I was finished, Mr. Otsuki turned to the class and said, "Based on the way Dana Sensei erased the board, what kind of blood does she have?" At this point I was thinking, "What??"

"Raise your hand if you think she has A blood."
No hands.
"B?" Still no hands.
"AB?" hands.
"O?" All hands shot up.

Wow. "Yeah," I said in absolute amazement.

They knew.

The only reason I knew about my O negative blood type is that back home, the Red Cross would regularly call and ask me to donate blood since O - can be received by anyone.

But it seems like everyone here knows their blood type. Not because the Red Cross is out for blood (hehe), but because blood type is important in Japan. Your blood type apparently determines your personality.

Japanese blood type personality chart
Type A
Best traitsEarnest, creative, sensible
Worst traitsFastidious, overearnest
Type B
Best traitsWild, active, doer
Worst traitsSelfish, irresponsible
Type AB
Best traitsCool, controlled, rational
Worst traitsCritical, indecisive
Type O
Best traitsAgreeable, sociable, optimistic
Worst traitsVain, rude

When I was searching the internet for a list of the characteristics for each blood type, I came upon this blog post. The author posts a chart like the one above, and then goes on to give his own interesting spin on blood types. Pretty funny.

I'm still not exactly sure how my students could tell my personality and blood type by the way I erased the board. I'd like to think that they don't see me as being vain and rude! Yikes!

Overall, I find the whole fascination for blood type very...well..fascinating.