Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ho, ho, ho!

The second grade teacher at Tobu-chu likes to dress Nathan and me up. First it was witch hats at Halloween, then it was a doctor's lab coat and a Hello Kitty stethoscope, but this week took the cake. Who knew that the 100 yen shop sold full Santa outfits? Well they do and they are made completely out of felt and what appears to be cat hair. A rolled up t-shirt under the jacket and the look is complete - Ghetto Santa. He's just in time to teach the students some Christmas vocab and help them make some Engrish Christmas cards!

Luckily, I didn't have to wear the nasty itchy beard five times this week but I did feel sorry for Nathan. The worst part was he kept having to change because we would have a second grade class followed by a third grade followed by a second grade class followed by lunch and then another second grade class. He changed in and out of that costume today four times!

Evil Rumi-sensei likes to dress us up. Where's her elf costume, huh???

The students enjoyed it. We made them say good morning and goodbye Mr. Santa during the greetings.

Nathan reviews some truly horrible Christmas greetings for their Christmas cards. Happy Merry Christmas to you!

ALT no sensei Mr. and Mrs. Claus

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thankgiving wrapup

I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to invite 12 people over to my not-so-big apartment for Thanksgiving. Perhaps I was trying to introduce a holiday that is the least commercial in America and thus less well-known in Japan. When Nathan and I told the story about the Pilgrims and Indians having the first Thanksgiving the teacher asked us if it was real. So it wasn't exactly as hunky-dory as the story we read made it out to be but anything more complex is beyond a second-grader's grasp of the English language, but that doesn't mean the first Thanksgiving wasn't real. So thus I set out to educate the small portion of the population that lives in Tahara and whom I spend my time with about the excellent tradition of eating more than you should and reflecting on the things that are good in our lives like friends, family, and turkey.

Of course it didn't turn out to be exactly all-American. We celebrated a few birthdays in addition to Thanksgiving and no one was too keen to say what they were thankful for. But we had a turkey...albeit a very tiny baby turkey so it would fit in my small oven. We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, and even deviled eggs. There was also lots and lots of sushi and fried octopus balls and even some guacamole. Because nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like some tako-yaki.

Marie makes tako yaki while Nagata-san looks on.

I even managed to impress Nathan with my turkey cooking skills. My Japanese friends said it was good, but they are known to be very polite and none of them had ever had turkey before. However, I figured if I could make the Americans happy then I had done an alright job. I was so nervous, considering it was my first, it was only slightly bigger than a chicken and my oven isn't exactly known for being very precise. I still haven't managed to successfully bake in the damned thing.

My turkey!

We ate, drank, talked and played several rousing rounds of "chopsticks" (a card game that usually goes by the name of spoons except that I only have two.) Everyone went home with some food and Marie even managed to make off with my salt and pepper, which she returned a couple days later. A good time was had by all. I might even consider doing it again next year.

My apartment full of people and not everyone is even in this picture. We had a few latecomers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

So apparently full refund doesn't mean all of your money back it really means all of your money back minus 30,000 yen or around $300. No love H.I.S. Travel, no love!

We still canceled though and I have a ticket back to Cincinnati after a few near heart attacks. Why does the price jump up hundreds of dollars with multiple layovers in a day but when I check three hours later it's back to what I saw last night? Are you trying to make me mad kayak and orbitz? Because you're doing a pretty good job at it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hong Kong!

Hong Kong was never on my list of places to see before I die. (Someday I will have to actually write that down.) I went because that's where the Best Friend was having her Asia trade show and since I had a long weekend anyway, she extended her plane ticket a few days and I used a few of my vacation days and we ended up with three full days of fun in Hong Kong. It was great! I would recommend Hong Kong to anyone. Go! And if you don't believe me then here are some very good reasons why.


The Food

The food was amazing. And cheap. Cheap and amazing. Does it get better than that? The first night we stayed in hotel connected to the convention center on Hong Kong island. A pricey place paid for by the Best Friend's company. After I got there and she introduced me to her co-workers, so as to prove I was real and not a flimsy excuse to skive off the final company dinner, we headed out to SoHo where we promptly found a sidewalk cafe and ordered what looked good. Which happened to be what was on the table next to us. "We want what they have," we said. And that's what we got. Unfortunately because of that I have no idea on the names of the dishes so let's call it chicken with every bone and piece of gristle left (ok so that part wasn't great) in a delicious brown sauce and baby cabbages in a garlic sauce with free Chinese tea from a thermos on the table. If you are one of those people who is picky about hygiene (*cough roommate cough cough*) then this is not the place for you. But if you think that germs add flavor then you are in luck.


We went back to the hotel pretty early since I had been up at 4:30 to get to the airport but not before we stopped in at the hotel lounge where we listened to cheesy classics and ate dessert and drank port. It felt very Lost in Translation and I couldn't help notice the contrast between our two chosen venues.

The next day we ordered room service for breakfast (a trend the Best Friend had started earlier in the week and one we continued throughout the rest of our trip.) After we checked into our new hotel with a goodbye to swanky Hong Kong island and a hello to budget friendly Kowloon, we set out on foot to explore and more importantly find some food. We found a small diner with a great Mabou Tofu served by a cute little Chinese lady who tried to teach me how to say it correctly. We had Hall Fun from the diner across from the hotel for dinner. And then because it's true that when you eat Chinese food you get hungry an hour later, we found another diner where we gobbled down some beef brisquet noodle soup and more cabbage in garlic sauce. (I seriously have to find me a recipe for those!) Each meal only cost around $6 for the both of us since tea and rice came free of charge.

The only thing I had that I didn't like was the mango juice with the little pieces of jelly mixed in. The texture was oh so ewwww!

The second day I'll admit we cheated and had Burger King with dessert at the fancy Peak Top Cafe, but that night we tried a fancier Chinese style restaurant. Our waiter was adorable and kept coming over to our table with brochures and suggestions on where to go and what to see. We ordered an ostrich dish and beef in garlic sauce. (Yeah, I couldn't get enough of the garlic sauce!) Both were delicious and this time the meat was of a much higher quality. Despite the nicer place we still ended up only paying around $20 for dinner. Cheeeeaaap.

By the third day our poor stomachs were reeling from the grease that seems inevitable with Chinese dishes so we stuck to American things like salads and sandwiches ordered from room service. But even so the food was amazing overall. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip. I wish we would have eaten at more of the sidewalk cafes. Our last night there I headed out to the night market and happened across one that had its fresh seafood displayed on a table as an advertisement. The shrimp weren't even dead yet. I jumped when one flipped itself off the plate it was on. Moral of this story is if you like Chinese food there's no better place to eat it than in China.

The Shopping

We happened to be there during the sales period which would have been great if I was Asian woman sized. However even though I am considered slender by American standards I am still too large for most clothing sold in Japan and also apparently China. Too bad too. We did get some great deals though at the Jade Market and the Night Market, where we had to use our bargaining skills to drive down prices. It was okay for awhile and then I got tired and just paid what they asked. Man, am I sucker! But if you think bargaining is a great adrenaline rush and you wish you could find more size 00s in America (like my roommate back home who only weighs in at 90 lbs) then Hong Kong is for you!

The Sights

Day one: We set out for our new hotel on Kowloon and then from there headed down the famous Nathan Street to the Harbor. The view of the island we had just left was gorgeous. After some more wandering around we eventually found the jade market where we reluctantly haggled over several pieces of jewelry (and subsequently finished my Christmas shopping.) From there we realized we were close to the temple of Tin Hau so we ventured in. Chinese temples are different than Japanese ones. This one had these long spirals of incense hanging from the ceiling burning slowly and big gold garish statues of the gods and goddesses. Every surface was painted and decorated. A man kneeling in front of the main statue shook a can of sticks while rocking back on his heels while he prayed. Then he stood up, chose a stick, and then presented it to another man behind a counter who gave him a fortune corresponding to the stick he chose. Behind the temple in a small park, groups of old men gathered around to play mah jong. Yes, we were one of many tourists but I got the feeling that there were just as many daily visitors to the temple as well.



Later that night, we headed to the harbor to witness the Symphony of Lights. At precisely 8:00 each night the Hong Kong skyline on both sides of the harbor lights up in a fantastic ten minute light show that includes both lasers and music. The first night we saw it we weren't quite close enough to hear all of the music but our last night there we secured a prime position. So many things were happening at once, it was hard to know where to look . It was really really cool.


Day Two: After breakfast in bed, we took the Star Ferry across the harbor from Kowloon over to Hong Kong Central and then caught the Peak Tram up to the top of Victoria's Peak where we had a fantastic view of the city and the sea. I should mention that the Peak Tram is not for the weak of heart. In fact nothing about getting to top of Victoria's Peak is for those who don't like the thrill of getting up or down a truly steep peak. The tram going up made me nervous with its steep steep incline and quick pace up the hill. And the bus hurtling back down the less steep but necessarily curvy roads reminded me of rides at Kings Island. But the view was worth it. We even got to do a little geocaching while we were up there!



That night we headed out to the night markets. After my experience at the jade market I kinda gave up on bargaining, especially since I was only buying little trinkets like magnets. I did get a very nice piece of threadwork for about $7 and a painting on a silk scroll for about $5. They aren't masterpieces for sure but they certainly liven up my apartment. One of my favorite parts was walking along Nathan Street and seeing all the neon signs lit up. I believe that every city has its own personality and the hustle and bustle of street vendors calling out to people to get their business under the glow of the neon is what I'll always remember of Hong Kong.



Day Three: We left the hustle and bustle behind and headed out to Lan Tau island where we took a 30 minute cable car ride from the village of Tung Chuk up to the Po Linn Monastery, famous for the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue in the world. I assume that if you remove even one of those adjectives it is no longer the largest in the world but even so it was still spectacular. I always assume these things are older than dirt because no one these days goes around building great big new cathedrals in Europe or America, but I would be wrong. Because Buddhists still like to show off their devotion by building large outdoor seated bronze statues honoring the Enlightened One. This particular statue was finished in 1993. And if I do say so myself they really chose a nice spot for it. The view from the top was amazing. The bus ride down was similar to the ride down from Victoria's Peak except this time the bus driver had to slam on the brakes because there were cows blocking the road. Truly away from the hustle and bustle.






We spent most of the late afternoon in the hotel since both me and the Best Friend were feeling sickly - her more than me. Our last night we watched the Symphony of Lights one last time and I ran back out to the night market to buy one last Christmas present. (My grandmother will never forgive me if she knew I had forgotten her!)

The next day we checked out and headed to the airport where we said goodbye until summer, except of course now I'm going home for Christmas so we'll get to see each other sooner than we planned. Next year the plan is to meet in Beijing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cancelled Plans

Protesters in Thailand have forced both commercial airports to close in an attempt to force the prime minister to resign. I don't usually follow Thai politics except that I have a trip planned to Bangkok and Koh Chang during the winter vacation. I wasn't worried last month when it was just some protests outside the government offices, but now that the airports are closed and there has been reports of violence (40 people injured and around 3 dead) me and my friend Marie have decided to cancel the trip with the hope of going next year. If we cancel by Thursday then we can get a full refund for the plane tickets. I still have to cancel the hostels and the domestic flight we have with Bangkok Air but I don't think we'll be out more than about $60.

So since Thailand is off I think I'm going home for Christmas. I already had money budgeted for a big trip and there are still tickets for about $1600, which is roughly what I paid this summer. And if I really feel like it I could probably convince my parents to pay part of that. Especially since they are off the hook for visiting me in Asia this year if I come home for the holidays. I've been trying to convince them to come and meet me in Beijing since they've felt like they've already seen Japan. Mom is crazy about that idea but Dad is the one who controls the finances so it was looking like it might not happen. The Best Friend though told me in Hong Kong that her trade show next year will be in Beijing so maybe we'll do a repeat of this year and I will meet up with her and we can tour some more of China.

I still really want to visit Thailand though. so I think I'll go next winter with Marie providing that the protesters have sorted themselves out in a year's time. Surely by then, right? And the two of us hope to visit Shizuoka for a weekend trip sometime in February to make up for our cancelled trip this year. I want to sit in an onsen and look at Mt. Fuji. And eat sushi made by Marie's brother who is a sushi chef.

Yeah, so those are my travel plans for the next year or so. If I don't go to Beijing for spring break I'll have to find somewhere else. I was thinking maybe Korea during Golden Week since it's so close. Maybe Indonesia? Any suggestions? I took this job so that I could travel, travel, and travel some more and that's what I intend to do!

Monday, November 10, 2008

So this morning started off badly when I hit a curb too fast and ended up with a flat tire. I had to walk most of the way to school and was late. When I went out after lunch to see if I could pump it back up I was dismayed to find that it looked like I had punctured the inner tube. The kyoto-sensei (vice principal) tried pumping it and also came to the same conclusion. Then he rattled off some Japanese, I smiled and nodded, and then we went back inside where I started whining to Nathan about having to walk my bike all the way back into town to the bike shop.

But then one of the teachers told me that kyoto-sensei was going to fix my bike before it was time to go home. Hooray! That solved the mystery of what he had said to me outside and better yet it meant I didn't have to lug the bike back into town myself.

What he actually ended up doing was loading the bike into his car and taking it to the bike shop himself while I was in class. After school one of the other English teachers presented me with a receipt for 1,200 yen (around $12) - the cost to replace the inner tube. I walked outside to a fixed bike and came home at my regular time. I work with some really awesome people. :-)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Am feeling badly. When not performing essential tasks related to my job I am napping and lazing around. I spent most of my three day weekend in bed, getting out of it only to attend choir rehearsal on Sunday and our concert on Monday. Yesterday I spent all morning sneezing, leaving me little time to teach. My students kept asking "sensei, daijobu?" (translation: teacher, are you alright?) If I knew how to say "uh not really" I would have, but I don't so I just kept at it and we eventually made it through the lesson. Ganbarimashita!

I did go to dinner at a friend's house yesterday despite the cold, which was nice (but not before a two hour nap to get my energy up for it.) Her stepfather is an American from Michigan so he gave me some root beer to take home and when he saw I had a cold he was kind enough to give me an entire box of Puffs Plus. It's amazing the difference it makes for my poor poor nose!

After dinner they took me on a tour of their English school. They have Halloween parties every year around this time and my friend's mom uses hundreds of boxes and spends over a month making this gigantic maze. It was amazing! It's pitch black inside and I kept trying to come out the entrance until I finally found the passage that took me closer to the exit, although I still got lost a few more times. The second time through they let me take a flashlight.

As for today, I made it through five classes and even a short game of tag at recess with little sneezing but my voice is on its way out and my nose is basically useless. I'm taking a nap and then contemplating whether to try and make chicken soup or just go for a cup of noodles from the 7-11 across the street.
Am feeling badly. When not performing essential tasks related to my job I am napping and lazing around. I spent most of my three day weekend in bed, getting out of it only to attend choir rehearsal on Sunday and our concert on Monday. Yesterday I spent all morning sneezing, leaving me little time to teach. My students kept asking "sensei, daijobu?" (translation: teacher, are you alright?) If I knew how to say "uh not really" I would have, but I don't so I just kept at it and we eventually made it through the lesson. Ganbarimashita!

I did go to dinner at a friend's house yesterday despite the cold, which was nice (but not before a two hour nap to get my energy up for it.) Her stepfather is an American from Michigan so he gave me some root beer to take home and when he saw I had a cold he was kind enough to give me an entire box of Puffs Plus. It's amazing the difference it makes for my poor poor nose!

After dinner they took me on a tour of their English school. They have Halloween parties every year around this time and my friend's mom uses hundreds of boxes and spends over a month making this gigantic maze. It was amazing! It's pitch black inside and I kept trying to come out the entrance until I finally found the passage that took me closer to the exit, although I still got lost a few more times. The second time through they let me take a flashlight.

As for today, I made it through five classes and even a short game of tag at recess with little sneezing but my voice is on its way out and my nose is basically useless. I'm taking a nap and then contemplating whether to try and make chicken soup or just go for a cup of noodles from the 7-11 across the street.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chotto homesick


They grow up so fast. Looking at pictures of my nephew at his first birthday party makes me laugh and it makes me want to cry. I want to be at home so I can go to family things like this, but when I'm home I want to be far away. I love Cincinnati and I'm close to my family. I talk to my parents for several hours each week, but at the same time I really like living in Tahara. I'm drawn to the challenge of living abroad. I love the language and the kanji. And let's face it, the celebrity factor is nice. But still...I'm always at odds with myself.

My trip to Thailand this Christmas was almost cancelled and my back up plan was to go home for the holidays. When the Thai trip was back on, I almost cried. The idea of going home for Christmas sounded so much better than even beaches, massages, Thai food and elephant rides just so I could watch my nephew roll around in the wrapping paper and try to grab the ornaments off the tree.

When I get like this I have to remind myself of the perks of this job. I am paying off my loans. I have time to read and study the things I like to study rather than listening to customers complain about how we shorted them on toilet paper or the logo on their shirts is off. I get an insane amount of time to travel. I have real friends here. I can walk or ride my bike just about anywhere, including the beach.

And there is Facebook, email, my webcam, and my digital phone for when I get homesick. Other than the fact that a one year old can't really use any of those, it's an almost ideal situation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Speech Contest

Tuesday was the Tahara Junior High School Speech Contest. And I was very excited. Not because the idea of speeches about table tennis given in badly pronounced English sounded like a good time but because I have been coaching the students at Tahara and Tobu JHS for the last month and the end was finally near. Also, I was a judge and that part sounded cool.

There were two parts. The first was a recitation of A Mother's Lullaby - a very sad story about the bombing of Hiroshima. It's moving the first fifty or so times you hear it. The next two hundred or so and you just want to hit something, maybe another American for bombing Hiroshima in the first place. I could probably recite it myself by now. "A big old tree stands by a road near the city of Hiroshima. Through the years it has seen many things. One summer night the tree heard a noise."

The student I helped coach from Tahara came in first place and my other girl did pretty well too, although she didn't place. Although to be honest I was really worried for the winner, Reina. She was having trouble just getting through it with the book in front of her two weeks ago when I was at Tahara so when we showed up on Tuesday, I was blown away by the progress she had made on her own. She won on her own, not because of anything I did.

In the second part the students had to write their own speeches, which made for a nice change. But I still had the two students from my schools speeches memorized before the contest. Their speeches were the best. I'm not saying that out of pride but because they had Nathan - who has an English degree and is a proud winner of the G-town English Award - to help them polish their speeches. And it helped because one of our students came in first and the other in third, although it was a very close contest. The top four were all separated by only one to four points.

As judges we had to pick four as winners. The students aren't told what place they come in, just that they've won. We chose one recititation and three speeches while eating cakes and drinking tea - just one of the perks of being a judge. Actually it was the only perk. The contest ended with the president of the Committee for English Research (don't ask, I don't know what they do other than sponsor speech contests) handing out the certificates to our four winners.

Now the students will go to Toyohashi for the next level of competition. Students from all over East Mikawa will be there. I'm excited for them but dismayed to find out I have to continue helping out, which means more A Mother's Lullaby just when I thought I was going to get a reprieve. "One day a Big Bomb fell on the city of Hiroshima..."

Sunday, October 26, 2008


There was another festival in Tahara today. This morning in front of the library they had a parade that I didn't see because I stayed in bed all morning but I could hear it as it went by my apartment. When I did finally drag myself out of bed and over there, we found lots of food stalls, games, and a stage where they had a Power Rangers show and later some taiko drummers. Naturally, I preferred the drummers.

Unfortunately, it was spitting rain so I went inside only to be ambushed by members of the local International Association who threw a hoppi on me and put me behind their table where I helped them sell "Kentucky goods" for awhile. They had some Georgetown College stuff (my alma mater) along with some postcards and randomly a few boxes of raisins. It wasn't so bad though because one of the ladies from choir spotted me and gave me 1,000 yen worth of coupons for free food! I shared them with Vanessa (one of the other ALTs who lives next to me) and then we had some coffee before coming home (slyly avoiding the TIA members in case they tried to put us to work again.)

When I went to the gym tonight, I saw that the festival had moved from the library to the main drag through town. The main attraction was dancing. They played one song over the speakers and groups of dancers, maybe ten or fifteen, down the whole length of the street did different choreographed dances.

When I left the gym about an hour later they were all doing the same dance in what was the largest line/fan dance I have ever seen. I watched over three or four hundred people doing the same dance for three or four songs. All of the dancers from before in their costumes were dancing and then regular people were joining in as well. I'm going to ask around to find out how everyone knew the moves. Maybe I can learn them and join in next year!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Today I jumped out of a third story window.

It was in one of those fire safety chutes, but still, it was scary. Even with the genki fire chief telling me to let go of the rope and say 'banzai!' as though it were supposed to be fun. I can't imagine what it would be like if there was really a fire. The actual descent wasn't as fast as I imagined it to be, but the nerves leading up to letting go of the rope kinda ruined the whole experience. But I couldn't or wouldn't rather back down from Nathan's peer pressure. He knows how to get me do things...and that is by taunting.

Also, the kids did a fire drill today and I swear out of 500+ teenaged children not one word was said while they exited the building or while they waited for everyone else to come out. Sometimes they scare me. They're like cute Japanese robots. It's just not natural that kids should be so well behaved. Really, it's not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How old am I?

Conversation today with my favorite class:

Student A: Miss Jennifer, how old are you?

Me: How old do you think I am?

Student A: 40?

Me: Whaaat?!?

Student B: 30?

Student C: 18.

Me: That's a good answer!

Student C: No, no, 80.

Me: I don't like you. I'm 26 years old.

Masamune: 36?

Me: I don't like you either.

So the lesson here is don't ever ask children how old they think you are because you aren't ever going to like the answer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I've had the nicest day. We only had a half day at school today because the teachers had some sort of inservice to do at another school nearby. I taught two classes, one of which included 20 minutes of playing cards with the students, did fifteen minutes of speech contest practice and then we were out of there by 12:30.

Since the weather was gorgeous and we were free, Nathan (the other ALT I work with) and I decided to make the most of it. We had lunch at my favorite cafe, where I ordered the bacon hamburger. We were both surprised when it came. First it was on a wheat bun. Wheat! You don't know how expensive and hard it is to get wheat bread around here. And the burger was huge. It looked like it could easily be served in any American restaurant. And it tasted great. I'll definitely be ordering it again soon.

With our tummies full, we jumped on our bikes and headed to Long Beach. It's about a 40 minute bike ride down the peninsula. Once there we beach combed for awhile and then climbed this big rock where we sat and talked and had a pebble throwing contest. I brought back several nice rocks that I found, although I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them. Maybe start a rock garden?

I'm a little sunburnt and tired from riding, but it never ceases to amaze me how close to the ocean I live. Coming from the landlocked state of Ohio, it's truly awesome.



Check out the Shinto statue on the top of this big rock.

And not from today but last weekend when I biked up to the Eco Park to find a geocache. My town is so environmentally friendly! Check out all our windmills!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm skipping choir. Every week I mean to post a rant about choir but then I get home and I'm too tired to do anything but go to bed. But this week I decided I was too tired to go so here I am.

We have two directors. One is actually a director. The other is an old choir biddy who thinks she can lead a choir. She can't. We are singing easy Christmas carols and the Hallelujah Chorus with her and we sound terrible. We are singing some very nice Japanese pieces with the other guy - Tanaka sensei - and though we still sound like a bunch of old people singing (I'm the youngest by at least 20-30 years) we sound like a bunch of old people who know what they are doing.

Unrelated to the choir in Tahara but in regards to a group in Toyohashi, I went to see Mozart's Requiem this past weekend. I have sung this piece before. I listen to it quite often. My friend Sue who goes to choir with me here in Tahara and Tanaka-sensei were trying to swing it so I could join in and sing it with them. They told me it was too late back in May. Now they just performed in October. So three months apparently was not enough time for me to relearn a piece of music I have performed before according to them.

At the time I thought, no big deal they must be really good to have such high standards. Uh no, actually they had elementary school kids singing it. And ladies who looked like they might fall off the stage and into their graves. They didn't even have an orchestra to play with them, just a lone piano, so in the end it would have been a great big disappointment anyway, but what's more disappointing is that they think so little of me. I don't know if it's because I'm a foreigner or because they just didn't know me, but still it irks. I could have easily sung with them this past weekend, and sung it well.

Other things that drive me crazy:

We take almost thirty minutes to warm up and at the end, I'm not very warmed up. But my legs are nice and stretched out so that's helpful.

Choir biddy director likes to warm us up on the syllable Eeee. Quite possibly the ugliest vowel and hardest to sing in the upper register.

They like to sing on solfege (do, re, mi, fa, so etc.) except that they sing them all as if we are in the key of C even when we are clearly NOT in the key of C. This drives me CRAZY! The distance between do and re should always be the same except that this way it isn't. So how is that helpful?

We have practice on Friday nights! Who does that? Although for a group of old people in the inaka I suppose they don't have anything else better to do. (And really who am I kidding neither do I but my cultural sensibilities are still maligned either way.)

And to end on a positive note because I really do enjoy choir:

I really like the music we are singing with Tanaka-sensei.

I may not have any idea what I'm singing but I can read hirigana now like nobody's business.

I get to hang out with my good friend Sue.

Tanaka-sensei seems to like me and I think he gets frustrated that I can't speak more Japanese. He likes to make me sing all the way to the top of my register, way past the rest of the other sopranos. It can be embarrassing but it's nice to go that high every once in awhile. (I can hit a high C if my voice isn't too tired.)

I was photographed and profiled in the monthly magazine here in Tahara (all the ALTs were) and I mentioned that I sang with the Tahara Chorus. I won major points with that. They loved that I gave them some extra PR.

I can't seem to live without choir and yet I can't really live with it either. I really miss Cincinnati Choral Society though. :-(

Monday, September 29, 2008

The perks of living in a small town

I left my umbrella on the bus Friday coming home from one of my elementary schools. Today it is raining again so I take a different bus to my junior high school. I have to take my beat up broken umbrella and get pretty wet, but as soon as I get on the bus this afternoon the driver tells me, in English no less, that he has my umbrella in his office. Then he stops the bus, calls the office, and tells them to expect me. When we got to the station he got off, pointed me in the right direction, and now I have my good umbrella back. Good thing because it is supposed to rain again tomorrow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Here are the pictures from the Tahara Festival. It was tons of fun.

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There are three dashi floats in Tahara, each one dedicated to a different local shrine. Drummers sit in the bottom while girls with flutes walk behind. The music is sedate while they walk down the street but it quickly picks up when they have to turn a corner, to inspire the men pushing and pulling it. Every ten minutes or so they stop to take a rest while the puppets on top perform traditional Japanese dances. Several of my students were up front, carrying flags and holding onto the long ropes that attach to the float. They were so excited to see me.

At Tahara Castle they had food booths set up and a large stage where they had dancing. One nice older man bought me some flavored ice and then asked to take his picture with me before showing me over to where the dancing was starting. All part of my celebrity status here in Tahara.


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Other than the dashi floats there are several others that wander the streets throughout the day as well. This one had many of my students helping to pull it. The floats act as their own traveling party so the festival is never really in one place at a time but moving around town. They stop and perform like the dashi floats, first with two cute elementary school girls doing a fan dance and then some drunken men dancing to a pop song. The party continues into the night.


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On Sunday all three of the dashi floats come together at one of the temples where a special service is held. Large fireworks are carried around town and then shot off in the evening. The festival ends with a large fireworks display. I went to a party hosted by City Hall Sunday evening and then got VIP seats for the fireworks. Because it was still warm, I jumped at the chance to wear my yukatta, or summer kimono. At one point, they let me help make mochi. Using a big hammer, I beat at ball of rice. They do that until it sort of resembles taffy and then add different things for taste like sesame.

All in all, I had a great time. It was very different than the festivals I'm used to in Cincinnati, which are generally parish festivals that consist mostly of rides, beer, and gambling. I'm glad I had Marie with me though to scan the newspaper so we knew which floats would be where and when. Maybe next year I'll don my own hoppi (blue vest everyone is wearing) and help pull one of the floats.

Click on the links for two short videos of the dancing and floats.