Thursday, 29 August 2013

starting school and Miyazaki shi

This week at school things started to finally kick off. Yesterday, I gave a 3 minute speech in Japanese to the 900 assembled students and staff at the school's opening ceremony. Having previously resolved on a 'baby steps' approach (my inner dialogue goes something like 'Well done Sophie, you bought a fish today! Sophie, good on you, you took a train!'), I'm thinking I need a new philosophy. Nevertheless, I'm lucky to have amazing (sugoi) friends who draw me cartoons to allay nervousness... 

One thing that struck me about the ceremony was how much responsibility the students take on. Students ran the sound and lighting, played the piano and conducted us all in singing the school song, and read the names of prize winners. It's a trend I've noticed in general in Japan - it seems that many members of the community are involved in local festivals and traditions. The students also clean the school for 15-20 minutes after lunch each day, as classical music is piped into corridors. Music is also played at the end of the day signaling home time - some other JETs from Nobeoka told me that a tune is played throughout their whole town at the end of the working day!

Today I completed my first two lessons. Just now the schedule is temporary while students prepare for their cultural festival and sports day next weekend - they are all scarily talented at their chosen activities, whether band, dance, choir or sports - but there has been time to do some short self-introduction activities. They went pretty well, apart from when the projector fell on my head after I gestured too enthusiastically towards the flags of Britain. At the end I had the students ask me questions (with a piece of Edinburgh rock as a reward for volunteers) - these were some of the ones I luckily didn't have to answer... 

I've also had a chance to get to know some of the other teachers. This week I taught Saito-sensei, who chats to me a lot, the phrase 'Oh my gosh.' He proceeded to repeat 'Ohmygoshohmygosh' for a while to himself; whenever anything mildly surprising happened throughout the afternoon he began shouting 'OH my GOSH!' He and Hayato-sensei took me and the other ALT out for lunch to eat okonomiyaki too. 

It's like an omelette with cabbage, bacon, cheese and barbeque sauce, served onto a hot plate embedded in the table. Delicious. We discussed our favourite movies - theirs were Titanic and The Hunger Games - but they were also surprisingly vocal about The Lion King and Aladdin!!

In other news, the volcano Sakurajima in neighbouring prefecture Kagoshima went off again today, leading all the teachers in the staffroom to watch out the windows with dismay as ash covered their cars. But, the hot weather is finally abating a little and allowing for less of the sweaty tomato face look. 

This means I've been able to explore a bit further around town without spontaneously combusting. This week I was winding my way home through some back streets and happened upon the first Japanese cemetery I've seen. Against the stormy sky it was pretty striking. 

But I'll move on. I'm aware that not everyone's idea of a fun trip out as a child was watering the flowers at the graveyard (still not sure if I was morbid or just very bored, but I digress). Last week I got to meet up with all the JETs from Miyazaki Prefecture at our last orientation in miyazaki City (shi). It was a couple of days of workshops and classes, punctuated by a lot of bowing and awesome lunches. Here we see the Japanese sarariman (salary man) - we got huge plates of amazing chicken nanban, Miyazaki's signature dish, for 500 yen. 

 And of course, we had to take another purikura on our first night in the big city. 

After a bottle of white wine and some very cheesy pizzas, we found what must be the smallest bar in the prefecture. This is literally all there is to it! 

Even better, it was called 'One Coin Bar' - the coin in question being 500 yen - about £3.25. 


What better circumstance for your first vodka martini?

We detoured somewhat between classes the next day, distracted by the carp. 

For lunch we decided on pork ramen. 

Then we found some creative ways to take advantage of the air con...

Meetings were held in this rather lovely old building (this one is for you Dad). 

On our last night, we celebrated with an all you can eat and drink buffet and karaoke session. This unlimited booze is a common - and dangerous - offer in Japan. Alissa and I started things off with Valerie and proceeded to while away the next few hours tambourining, dancing and drinking copious amounts of umeshu

In case you can't tell, that is excitement, not fear. 

These guys won my coolest couple duet award. 

This made for a charming surprise while trawling through pictures on my camera the next day. 

We finished our night in a wee bar with the best moscow mules I've ever tasted and chats with some Japanese computer science students. This interesting piece of evidence was useful in piecing things together the next day... still not sure who 'Colin' is. 

The next morning we hunted down pizza, chicken, chips and pancakes for a Westerner brunch blowout. Our friend failed to turn up after we asked for an extra seat for him and we received several bemused looks as we conversed with/ fed his empty chair... not so sure we gave good gaijin that morning, but hey ho. 

I'll soon post my pictures from the rest of the weekend, when we road tripped down to Kushima for a fire festival. In the mean time though, can anyone PLEASE explain to me why my phone company keeps sending me this picture?

It's starting to become disconcerting (Pepe is loving it though). 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

school notes and instagram round-up

This post will be just a quick round-up of instagram and other pictures I’ve snapped here and there. This week is our Miyazaki Prefecture orientation and I’ll be hosting a house guest till Friday, when we’ll crash at another JET’s place in Miyazaki shi after our welcome dinner and karaoke party. Then for the weekend, we’ll all head down with a bunch of people to Kushima for a fire festival. I can’t wait to see some more of the country! 

The kids are back at school now, though I won’t be teaching until next week.  But, I do have ‘conversation time’ with Saito-sensei every day. We talk about various topics, him saying Hai – hai – hai or So, so, so as I talk – the Japanese seem to be big into vocal listening – and then he’ll stop abruptly and say ‘Ok now I do job’ before returning to work. This happens several times as day and I love it! 

The students are now preparing for their sports day and cultural festival, which takes up Friday – Sunday of next week. Walking round school, I’m astounded by how professional their music and routines are. In most amateur dance groups you’ll have a few great dancers who stick out and a lot going through the motions – not so in my school! Even the gangly fourteen year old boys with fuzz on their upper lip are in perfect synchronisation, putting their whole body into it! 

In other news, I also said my first automatic ‘Hai!’ instead of ‘Yes’! It’s all about the baby steps. 

On to the pictures!

Checking out the menu at the mall... yes, that is fake food. Pretty helpful when you can't read! 

Miyakonojo by dusk.  

My kawaii hello kitty purchase... 

And an interestingly named second-hand shop by my block

My first smart-casual (or "cool-biz" as they say here) work outfit. Almost everything I wear in summer in Scotland is too heavy here! 

The moon is insane in Miyakonojo. Its light casts a strong shadow most nights and I catch myself looking at it from my balcony just like Aomame!

My super-keen self introduction noticeboard. I could get used to this teacher thing. 

Not all mornings are sunny here - although it was still about 34 degrees. 

I've been exploring the fields around Miyakonojo and the mountains are so beautiful. This is 5 minutes' cycle from my flat! 

Exploring the school some more. As you can see below, umbrellas are seen as common property in Japan. They're all full-size, well made and interchangeable with everyone else, so if you're stuck in a cafe, hotel, library or shop when it rains, you'll never get wet!

 This helpful reminder features prominently in my staff room.

The front of the school. 

 I indulged in some retail therapy at 'Please let me estimate.'

Jo and I explored a park 10 minutes' cycle away on Saturday. It was beautifully peaceful but, as the whole town seems to be on weekends, completely empty.

I knew Anne of Green Gables was big here but this is sugoi! (Amazing).

Cool-biz no. 2.

Some more views of the apartment (through the bug net)...

Friday night sushi

 Views from my cycle home from school - it almost looks like Wyoming

Living alone is okay but I miss my flat-mate and so does Pepe!!* 

And finally... don't do drugs kids. 

*Clear evidence I should never live alone after this.