Japan Time

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A bunch of wiseguys I'm dealing with here...

So, I'm not going to lie - this week started out pretty rough. Wednesday and Thursday were really stressful - I walked home from work wondering if I could really do this. But Friday and Saturday were much better; I ended the week on Saturday with a really great group lesson. My students in that class are funny and hardworking, and they were making me laugh so hard on Saturday that my stomach hurt.
The lesson was about softening criticism and there was a lot of focus on phrases like, "I'm sorry, but..." "I'm afraid that..." "Maybe you could try..." Toward the end of the lesson, there's usually a lot of free conversation, where the students are given something to talk about and they have to try and use the target phrases. In this case, I paired them up and gave them different cards with scenarios on them. For example, Student A was a parent and Student B was their child's teacher - they were at a parent-teacher conference and Student B had to inform Student A that their child was doing poorly in school. Since I had an odd number of students, I paired up with someone and the conversation went something like this:
Partner (Student B): "I'm a little concerned with your son's attitude in school."
Me (Student A): "Why? Isn't Bobby doing well? He's so smart and I'm so proud of him."
Partner: "He's very smart, but...I'm sorry to tell you that his last test scores were horrible."
Me: "Horrible?!"
Partner: "Horrible...terrible!"
Me (whispering): "Remember - softened criticism!"
Partner: "Oh, right, right...his test scores were...not so good."
In another scenario, Student A and Student B were married and getting ready to go to a party; Student A had to tell Student B that he/she didn't approve of their spouse's outfit. One of the pairs in my class spent a looooong time on this particular scenario - and when I checked in on them, I found out why:
Me: "What is going on? How can you possibly still be on this scenario?"
Student A: "He says that if I don't like his outfit, he'll just take off all his clothes!"
Meanwhile, Student B is just cracking up, along with me and the rest of the class. Oh, man...that was a perfect way to end a stressful week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Because how many times have you said to yourself, "Man, I could really go for some octopus balls right now..."

Tonight my school manager, Michiko, invited me to Shizuoka for a takoyaki party. Takoyaki is fried octopus balls. Yeah, you read that right. Fried. Octopus. Balls. I wish I was kidding, but unfortunately, I'm not.
After taking the local train from Fujieda to Shizuoka, Michiko and her friend Kana picked me up at the station. We headed to their friends' "mansion" (a Japanese apartment with more than two rooms) and the takoyaki party began.
Just in case any of you back home want to make your very own takoyaki (and I mean, really - who doesn't?), here's what you do:

1. Get yourself a nice slab of octopus.

2. Add some batter to your takoyaki pan.

3. Drop in some of that chopped octopus goodness.

4. And some squid if you're feeling daring.

5. Add some chopped onions and pickled ginger.

6. Get your friends to help you flip the balls so they cook evenly.

7. Keep flipping until...

8. ...they are a nice golden brown. Then you can add some okonomiyaki sauce, dried fish and dried seaweed.

And, actually, they weren't that bad. There was enough batter to kind of mask the fact that there was octopus even in them. I didn't throw up at the table, which is always a good sign. But will I go out and by a takoyaki pan so I can make some octopus balls at home? Probably not.

9. Smile with your new friends because you just survived your first takoyaki party!

And last night, they lit the Christmas lights near Fujieda Station, right in front of my school. I took a quick photo tonight on my way home:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hooray for a good day.

Today was a really good day.
Saturdays are the busiest days at work - I will be teaching lessons pretty much back to back for eight hours (with an hour and a half break). At the beginning of the week, I observed Jen while she taught. In the middle of the week, I taught some and she taught some. Today, I taught all of the lessons but one. I was pretty nervous at the beginning of the day - just anxious about the lessons and hoping that everything would go smoothly.
All in all, I think it went really well. My students are great - I've been getting along with them well. There's still a lot of information for me to learn, but I think I'll be fine.
I'll miss Jen, though! I've gotten so used to having her around to help me and answer my questions. It's been really fun getting to know her.
And after work, I went to Jen's goodbye to Fujieda party and had a great time. I met some more foreigners and had some good conversations. It was really nice to talk to some people who have been in Japan for a few years and share some of the struggles that we've experienced.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating...one of my favorite pastimes.

On Tuesday night, I met up with some girls from work at a restaurant near the school. They had nabe, but I had already ate at home, so I just hung out and enjoyed the company.

(Jen and Miho enjoying some nabe)

And yesterday night, we went to the Gato Rojo - a Mexican restaurant about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Everything is 500 yen (about $5). I was so happy to have some Mexican food - we had such a hard time finding some when we were in Japan in 2005. It was great to spend some time with some of my co-workers. AND, they play classic rock - incredible. This might be my new favorite restaurant.

me, Yusaku, Hiromi, Jen, and Miho

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"treasure what you know is real..."

So, today was my first day at my school. I just observed Jen for some lessons, applied for my Alien Registration Card with the help of the assistant manager, and familiarized myself with the school. The students seem wonderful and the staff is super friendly - I think I'm really going to enjoy my time there. Tomorrow all the teachers are going out to a Mexican restaurant in Fujieda - I will take photos and post them for sure.
On another note...
I love Skype. I've talked to Mallory twice now and it's so good to hear a friendly voice from home. The call was clear and without delay - and free. So...those of you who haven't downloaded Skype yet - DEW IT. Then call me. I can't tell you how great it is to actually hear someone's voice when you are a world apart.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quite the eventful day off.

Embarrassing Moment of the Day:
I went grocery shopping today to finally get some food in my apartment. I rode my bike that I bought from Jen (the teacher I am replacing) - photos to come of the bike later. In Japan, bike riding isn't just for kids; it's for everyone, from businessmen to old ladies. Since I've just moved in and my cupboards are bare, I had to stock up on a lot of stuff. More stuff than I should have since I was riding a bike with only a small basket on the front and some bungee cord on the back to strap stuff down with. Somehow, I loaded everything on the bike. With the front basket piled high, my purse on one arm, and a bag hanging off one of the handles, I pedaled my way back to my apartment. I did really well - just a little wobbly here and there - until I tried to stop. Sure enough, the weight of my groceries overpowered my bike and my balance, and everything went toppling over in the middle of the street. In front of the playground with about five kids, whose laughter I distinctly heard as I scrambled to right myself and my bike. Luckily, my groceries weren't hit by any cars, and the only casualty was my eggs.

"Really, Did That Just Happen?" Moment of the Day:
So, after I dropped AND dropped off my groceries, I took my camera out around Fujieda. I stopped at shrine-looking place that had caught my eye when I first moved in. I'm not sure what it is - the first time I passed it, some men were sitting in one of the buildings, kind of looking like they might be having tea. I figure it's a shrine of some sort, with an area to cleanse with cups of water and another area to write down prayers. So, I was getting ready to walk into into the shrine to take some photos, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man - a NAKED man - running from the middle building to a small building on the right (I didn't actually take a photo of him, but I've made this helpful diagram so you can visualize what I'm talking about). I just kind of stood there, dumbfounded, and then quickly turned my head, realizing that I was holding a camera and starting to look much like a creeper at this point. By the time I looked back, the naked guy was righting himself and pretty much fully clothed. I have no idea what that was about - maybe there's some kind of public shower and tub for cleansing in one of the buildings. Even weirder was the fact that I saw him still kind of lurking around the area - still clothed - and when I turned to look at him, he hid behind a big statue. He must have been super embarrassed...or maybe he was a lurker who wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. But I mean, really...did that just happen?

And just the normal stuff...
I went to the used bookstore here in Fujieda that Jen told me about. It has an English section! Normally English books in Japan are super expensive. BUT this store has them cheap! I bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Cat Who Said Cheese, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby for 1100 yen (about $11.00). I am really excited about this store.

My apartment!

my bike, which I've decided to name "Popeye the Sailor Man"

It's coming along. I bought a really pretty wall hanging today for about $10.00, and I am planning on putting up a lot more photos from home.

Be sure to check out some more photos from my adventures today in Fujieda!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"back to the street where we began..."

Well, after an intense week, I finished training this afternoon and took the shinkansen to Kakegawa, where I was met by my school manager. We took the train to Fujieda, picked up the rest of my luggage from the school, said a brief hello to some of the teachers, and moved into my apartment!
I will post photos of my apartment soon, BUT, let me just say...
it's bigger than I expected! Which is pretty awesome, considering this is Japan, where it seems like most things have been run through a shrinking machine. It's definitely not the size of my apartment in Saginaw, but still perfectly fine for one person.
Tomorrow I am heading to Shizuoka (the nearest city) with the teacher I am replacing to meet up with some of her friends for dinner. I am looking forward to it.
I was inspired by Real Simple (my new favorite magazine) to start a gratitude journal. I really want to make a conscious effort to cherish my time here. My three months in Japan in 2005 went by so fast (I know this year will, too) and I wish I would have kept a better record of the simple little things I experienced everyday that made my semester amazing.
Also, I know there will be days that I will wish more than anything that I was back in the States, and even during those tough times, I want to keep some thankfulness in the back of my mind.
Sometimes, I think the world would be a better place if we were all just a little more thankful to be alive.
And with that, I'll leave you with three of my favorite photos from Nagoya (more to come) and my gratitude from yesterday:

"American movies in my hotel."

"So many encouraging blog comments from home."

"Warm weather in the middle of November!"

"The random guy on the street corner that says 'Hello' to me every night."

"Feeling more relaxed during my lessons and slowing down my speaking speed."

"The nice businessman in the elevator this morning."

Monday, November 10, 2008

"two drifters off to see the world - there`s such a lot of world to see..."

Just wanted to post a quick update before I go to training this morning.
Since I am the only one training in Nagoya this week, it`s been intense. Yesterday, I was at Honbu (main office) from 10 am - 7 pm (with an hour lunch break). My brain is pretty overwhelmed with all the info I`ve been listening to and reading. And tomorrow I teach my first lesson to real students - and I`m nervous. I know that once I`ve been here for a while and have a ton of lessons under my belt, it will be second nature and no big thing. BUT until then - nervous.
Today was the first day that I didn`t wake up at 4 am (Breakfast at Tiffany`s was on TV last night, so that helped me stay awake).
Ans of course, there`s the homesickness, which I anticipated would be lurking around. It hits me mostly in the mornings, when I have an hour or two before I have to start my day. I know it will subside (but not disappear completely) when I get settled at my school and feel more like a resident than a tourist.
But, truly, I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to be back in Japan.
Sorry I haven`t posted any photos - my laptop is out of commission until Saturday.
So, friends, if you could send a little prayer up for me, it would be so appreciated. Please pray for calm nerves, a clear voice, and slow speaking during my lessons, a joyful heart in the mornings, and thankfulness.
Much love from the Far East!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'm here!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I made it safely to Nagoya. The flight went very well - it was surprisingly short-feeling.
My laptop power cable got forwarded to my apartment (I thought I was bringing my carry-on to training, but it was recommended that I forward it so I would have less bags to carry to the hotel) - so I won't be on the computer as much as I would like. I will be on much more when I get to Fujieda on Saturday.
Wish me luck for my training and I'll catch up with you all later!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arigato gozaimasu.

Can I just say that I am so moved by the generous outpouring of support, gifts, and monetary assistance that I have received from my friends and family as my adventure in Japan approaches.
What incredible people I am blessed to have in my life.

Thanks and love to all.