Monday, March 23, 2009

Cycles of the System

The end of March, in Japan, signifies the end of a school year. Graduation was held last week and I will attend my school closing ceremony tomorrow morning. The junior high school, where I have been based this last year and a half, will be closing permanently this spring. Decrease in birthrates in Japan are apparent in countryside towns like Ikeda.
I drive about half an hour every Monday morning to teach all eleven students at Kawasaki Elementary School. And the student population at my junior high school is decreasing at a rapid speed. Also, the actual building is not up to current building codes.
Graduation ceremonies in Japan are tearful with the anticipation of nostalgia. This year, as the head teacher could barely speak through his tears at the ceremony, I found myself growing wistfully sentimental. And when I told a co-teacher this she took deep breaths in attempts to suspend her tears.

I gave my favorite student my email address and told her she must contact me when she goes to America to study English. In her American accent she responded, "Yes, of course I will."

Teachers are moved to various locations throughout the prefecture (or state) this time of year. Sometimes they will be moved hours from their family home, only to return on the weekends. This movement is seen as part of the job, an expected transition every few years.
My two favorite co-workers will be leaving our elementary school this year. One to an elementary school in Ikeda that I will not be visiting.
The other will be transitioning from the role of a vice principal to a principal.
Both these women have made all the awkward moments of my life here in Japan somehow less awkward. This afternoon when I called the school to ask about the location of tomorrows work party I spoke with the vice principal. We both giggled our way through the conversation and as it ended she told me, in English, "You have become very good at speaking Japanese." I told her, in English, "I know."

This time last year I was tramping around New Zealand. This year I stuck around Ikeda long enough to see winter actually end as the cherry blossoms opened this morning.
Hopefully, I will have enough time and sobriety after tomorrow evenings party to pack for a weeks return to Thailand. And when I return from another visit to Southeast Asia my aunt, uncle and cousins will be convening back in Shikoku.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I recently discovered that applesauce tastes sweet and will make my entire apartment smell like a bakery. It can also be used as an egg substitute which is particularly lovely in a pancake:

3 sweet red apples
2 cinnamon sticks
ground cinnamon
brown sugar

Cut and peel apples. Mince ginger. Heat apples, ginger and cinnamon sticks in water. Add lemon and a few dashes of sugar and ground cinnamon. Let heat for about 20 minutes. When apples are soft mash to preference.

Now, drink too much wine with dinner, make pancakes with more fruit, include ice cream and a bottle of Bailey's.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Circus Starring Britney Spears

Britney is now on tour. She will be coming to Pittsburgh March 27th. If you live in the south, well, she already went through Atlanta.
Ticrketmaster is selling tickets for over a hundred USD.

If I were in that country I would pay that to them and go.
I am being serious.
If I did not I would be "missing out on life," as Ms. Britney has said.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Approaching Spring Adjectives

I had my last class with these nine sixth graders Tuesday afternoon. Before I began class and before their homeroom teacher joined us one of those boys was excited to tell me that he has a girlfriend and she is a fifth grader.
I then demanded that he tell me all about her, in English.
I learned that her hair is not long and not short, presumably it is somewhere in the middle. She is also tall and happy.
Then their homeroom teacher came into the classroom and my questioning felt awkward.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


"... as the world continues to nose-dive..." is what I just heard while streaming NPR.
This is the only direction my life dives in:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The 3rd day of the 3rd month is my sisters birthday and Hinamatsuri or Doll Festival or Girl's Day. The principal at the elementary school called me while I was at the junior high school and told me she was going to stop by to bring me a gift.
These dolls were all wrapped up in a box with a bow around it. This gesture made me feel: loved, grateful, and like I am a twelve year old girl. I then spent a portion of my afternoon reading about the significance of the gold screen behind them and the colorful stand they are on.
The finest things I own here in Japan are all from the same person. And these things include fancy dresses, tea sets, and now dolls. A demonstration of femininity I suppose.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Singing Off Key

Ann, Carl, and I took the long road to Naruto on Friday afternoon. We stopped at an old mountain onsen along the way. I wiped the fog from my windows and drove slowly through the rain as Ann and Carl slept and did not use tissues. After dinner, I loaned them money for the bus and protested carrying the futons they had been sleeping on in various apartments throughout the week.

When the 5:30 a.m. bus picked them up for the airport Saturday morning I took a deep breath. I drove back as the sun was rising. I thought about getting a cup of coffee and taking in the beginning of the day somewhere. Then I decided to forget it and climbed right back in bed, a little more relaxed.

By Saturday evening I started to miss them. And this morning as I got ready for work, alone, in my apartment, I really missed them.

We spent their first full day in Shikoku at the Ikeda Sake Festival.
Some people drank far too much.
Carl was enthusiastic about making new friends.
We went back to my apartment and got trapped under the kotatsu.
And continued to discover all that Ikeda has to offer.
We took a bus to Hiroshima Monday morning and visited the Peace Memorial Museum. I had never been to Hiroshima so I was pleased to take two days off work for a short trip. Everyone seems to agree that the museum is devastating while remaining completely unbiased.
The city of Hiroshima is beautiful. And I, yet again, tasted what it is like to be in a city surrounded by young people and parks.
The following day we took a ferry to the nearby island of Miyajima and put a little tick mark next to visiting a major Japanese tourist attraction.
My adult conversation class was very kind in having a party for the two visitors.
And I commend Ann and Carl for taking such an interest in this group of people that I see every week.
On Thursday, they continued to be surprisingly interested in Japanese culture when they met every student and teacher at my elementary school.
The school principal was proud to show them around her school and Ann and Carl remained interested in her various briefings on a wide array of things.
Having visitors to Japan and showing them around my life provides a sense of relief.
By the end of the week Ann and Carl had done pretty much every Japanese thing there is to do in Ikeda. They were really good at Kate Bush karaoke. My apartment and car were really messy. I was really tired.
And the Thai hot season will be well worth all the sweat and bottled waters for the good company.