Tuesday, September 27, 2005


So tomorrow is the big day. Jeff got to enjoy his elementary school undokais last weekend, and tomorrow I get to enjoy my junior high's taikusai. Basically the same thing, just a different name (?)
This week, and much of last week has been spent practicing for this crazy event, my personal favorite of the year. The students practiced marching, saluting the flag, singing, standing in rows, doing warm-up exercises, dancing, running, playing class tug-of-war and jump rope, etc. etc. I have been enjoying long days in the warm sun, goofing off with the third (final) year girls. It's awesome because they are comfortable enough with me, and my Japanese is good enough now that we can have pretty decent conversations. My relationships with the students have definitely benefited from this time.

For me, the highlight of tomorrow will be the final event, the third year dance. I will be joining the third years in a traditional Japanese folk dance, the Soran Bushi. It's an amazing (and painful) dance depicting the catching of fish. About 200 of us will be dancing together in rows. Many students will get to wear happi coats (haha...I love that... "happi" coats!) and I was informed last week that my vice principal is borrowing a special one for me! I've spent most of tonight in front of the TV in our tiny living room, watching a video of the dance and trying to get all the moves down pat. I'm hoping to get the dance video recorded tomorrow. And of course, there will be another TON of pictures!

On a side note, we know we haven't been really great bloggers lately. What can I say? Life is really good here. But not always in a "blogging" sort of way. It's just become a lot more like home here this year, with some more established routines and closer friends. But don't worry folks, I'll finish the Kamei sensei story... sometime!

And Karen, you are LOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG overdue for a long email from me. Thanks so much for your e-cards and your email. I may not have written yet, but I think of you often. And the mail is coming soon!

Okay, gotta get my pre-taikusai sleep!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Torinogo Elementary opening ceremony (gr 2)
Kamei Sensai will be back soon, I promise. And Kathy's back is a lot better today, possibly due to changing futons. And I know this is a little late. But take it or leave it folks....

Niriagawa Nishi Elementary yellow team cheer

This past weekend was a three day weekend. Only problem is, I had Sports Days (UNDOKAI) on Saturday for three of my five schools. So Saturday was a learn how to take pictures of kids day, and actually a ton of fun. The dances and games and opening exercises make so much more sense the second time through! So here are a couple of my favourite pics - make sure you check out our photosite site - there are about 50 pictures from Saturday there.

Chuo Elementary gr 6 girls

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thought of the Day

Well, I'm at home resting today due to a severely strained back (sigh...)
But I thought you'd all get a kick out of this...some kickin' English off a notepad I got last week:

I wish to be a dreamer sometimes. My another newly born dream. I felt the visit of love a little earlier than others.

Woah! Who wrote this? And what exactly does it mean? We had some fun with possible "translations"... especially the last line... we'd love to hear yours.


Monday, September 12, 2005

We Interrupt Regularly Scheduled Broadcasts...(about Kamei sensei)...

Hey look guys! I'm 30 now!
Just want to show you a bit of how we brought in my happy new decade... it was an absolute BLAST of a weekend! Thanks most to Jeff for making it amazing, although a few good friends, both here and back in Canada, helped to make it good too. Hope you enjoy the pics even half as much as we enjoyed it all...

Friday night
We went to Eru, a new bar owned by the same folks as our old standby, Ikkyu. Eru is a lot more hip (and a lot more expensive), but as you can see, we had fun :)

The group of us (minus Ayako) in our own room (with our own dart board) at Eru. From the left, Christian, Kevin, Jeff, me,Mikiko, and Casey.

Oh look, here's Ayako...!

And the latest and greatest addition to the elephant collection: Dumbo!!! I also received a plush elephant toilet paper dispenser. It dispenses out of its bum. No joke!

Jeff hamming it up with the infamous "sex on the beach" flower.

I just think this is a cool picture of Mikiko and Kevin. You guys rock!

Saturday (and Sunday)

Well, it was a slow start, beginning with the fact that both Ayako and Mikiko stayed at our place overnight. But eventually, Jeff and I got on the road. I had requested an overnight stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) with an onsen, and that's what I got... in the beautiful area of Yamanashi. We enjoyed traditional Japanese meals and more naked dips with curious Japanese folk. It was great, and really relaxing. And as usual, we saw some great mountain scenery.

That's me, relaxing in my yukata after a dip in the onsen at our ryokan.

The area was really famous for its fruit and wine. (Sounds Niagara-ish, wouldn't you say?) Check out the grapes! They are grown higher than back at home, and the have these protective paper thing-ies that are put around them. And of course, each bunch looks perfect, in typical Japanese style!

Finally, Sunday morning we left the ryokan and went to a nearby outdoor onsen that is famous for its sunrise/sunset views of Fuji. It was, of course, hazy, but the outdoor baths were amazing regardless. So beautiful, on the side of the mountain, with a great view and volcanic rocks to sit on and lean against. We agreed we will definitely come again later in the year when the air clears up... perhaps when Maria comes (?)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Did You Enjoy the Suspense?

I knew something was up with Kamei sensei from the moment he greeted the class. I've taught with Kamei sensei for a year now, and, as we would say in English, "he wears his heart on his sleeve." EXTREMELY unusual for a Japanese man. First case I've witnessed, to be honest. I've learned, for instance, that if Kamei sensei greets the students in his ultra-genki voice (read "yell"), they had better be on their toes.

That's right, folks. Kamei sensei is in a mood.

And so, last Wednesday, I knew things were, shall we say, amiss. I ploughed through the material, keeping his impending explosion in the corner of my mind. The material was quite easy, really. Easy and interesting. Ten simple facts about how I spent my vacation in Canada. Ten simple sentences that the students needed to follow on the board, and "repeat after me."

And so it went... Kathy: "Repeat after me: She went to Niagara Falls." (only a minor lie)
(Half of) the Unfortunate Students: "She went to Niagara Falls."
Kathy: "She enjoyed her sister's hot tub."
(Half of) the Unfortunate Students: "She enjoyed her sister's hot tub."
Kathy: "She played volleyball on the beach."
(Half of) the Unfortunate Students: "She played volleyball on the beach."
Kamei sensei: "Excuse me, Mrs. Epp, but can I interrupt for a minute?"
Kathy: "Of course, Mr. Kamei. Go ahead." (Unspoken message behind my smile: "Shit! Head for the hills!!!!!!!!")

And then, ***WHAM!!!*** Kamei sensei's fist on the blackboard, and a series of: "なんだよ!" And many more Japanese-style "blah diddy blahs" which I did not fully comprehend. (But fully enjoyed!)

What I did understand was that he was not impressed with their lack of enthusiasm. WOW, and I thought this was just the norm. I know this is a pet peeve of Kamei sensei's, since one of our most commonly used Japanese expressions in class is, "大きいこえで,ください。" (In a loud voice, please). He proceeded to give them a series of directions which I didn't understand, and then he abruptly left the room. I understood that they had 10 minutes to do whatever it was that they had to do.

After some interaction with the bemused and confused students, I figured out that they had to memorize one of the ten sentences on the board. None of us knew why.

Ten minutes later, a jaunty Kamei sensei re-entered the room. He looked about a bit, and then proceeded to the balcony (which directly faces the teacher's room). He then yelled the-dear-Lord-only-knows-what to the heavens, at the top of his voice. I started to earnestly concern myself with his sanity (as well as the astonishment of the teachers in said teacher's room). He then spouted off some instructions to the students and, once again, left the room. The students responded with the near-famous Japanese chorus of "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhh??????" (read with super-rising intonation) as they looked at one another. And then they went outside.

I followed. Confused, and bowing my apologies to a surprised (and also bemused) Kimura sensei in the hall. We went outside.

The following events took place in the morning of August 31st: We went outside; Kamei sensei stood in the middle of the field; a mini stage was set up near the school (there for our upcoming sports' day). And yes, 10 unfortunate losers of jan-ken (paper, rock, scissors) had to stand on the stage and yell their chosen sentence at the top of their lungs. Once again, our location was in uncomfortably close proximity to the teacher's room and I was left wondering what was being said about our newly inspired pedagogy. Yikes.

Kobayashi-kun went first. He was fantastic. I am sure most of the neighbourhood heard him scream: "SHE WENT TO NIAGARA FALLS!!!!!" The rest of the students were less inspiring, but humorous nonetheless. I never knew my summer vacation would be broadcast for all the world to hear.

After much yelling and general confusion, Kamei sensei came back to the group of us (I had been trying to encourage the students in any way I could think of), spouted off more directions, and, once again, charged away from the scene.

The students all looked at me and said, "Kyashi (their form of Kathy) sensei, どうする?”(rough translation: what the heck are we supposed to do now?" I responded with, "ぜんぜんわかりません” (rough translation: damned if I know). And then we proceeded to sit around, practice dance moves for the upcoming sports' day, play 'see-see my playmate...' whatever came to mind.

At one point, I realized my next class was also with Kamei sensei, teaching the same grade the same lesson. I envisioned myself once again coaching students on their yelling technique while sweating buckets in the disgustingly humid Japanese heat. I exclaimed a loud “やだ!!!” (rough translation: this SUCKS!) and the students all laughed at my expense.

But I was saved. Luckily for me (and all other parties involved), by the time I made it to the next class, the rumour mill had done its job, and Kamei sensei and I were both greeted with a super-genki "GOOD MORNING!!!!!" And so the class continued, without a hitch.

The next chapter in the story of Kamei sensei:
The Aftermath...

Don't Mess With Kamei Sensei

Anyone who works as an ALT in Japan is familiar with the following situation:
ALT greets students in genki voice. Students return with similar greeting, in very UN-genki voice.
ALT says, "Repeat after me: Blah diddy blah diddy blah blah blah."
SOME students repeat, "blah diddy blah diddy blah blah blah," while most other students sleep, talk to each other, complete unrelated homework, play with erasers, stare blankly...
And the Japanese teacher? Right, the Japanese teacher smiles apologetically at you and does... ab-so-LUTE-ly nothing.

But then there is Kamei sensei.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Isn't This a Great Shot?

I love that picture of Jeff and Kevin. This is another
picture from our trip to Akagi on Saturday. It was a great day, although our car is getting tired of carting around all these gaijin! Mixing the air conditioner and mountain roads is just not fair to our poor, miserable mini beast.
We toured around, checked out some lakes, shrines, bridges, and ugly carp, and hiked a really cool boardwalk that went around some funky vegetation. I know this sounds ridiculous (Sue) but the trees seriously made us all think of Africa!

Well, I've Been Meaning to Write...

I absolutely love that picture. It captures my feelings about our new friend.
Mikiko arrived on August 26th. She came full of energy and fun. She's 23. She's from London, Ontario. She's half Japanese/half Canadian. She shares our faith in God. And best of all, she lives a 5-minute walk from our apartment.
I'm really excited. Life here has taken a dramatic turn for the better. It's amazing when a person can just fit right into your life like they've been there all along. She comes over and we talk and talk for hours. And does she ever love to talk! Jeff's up against some steep competition now! We've missed having people who can just drop by. It's really cool to share tea with someone on a Sunday morning. And Ayako and I now have a third girl to add to our girls' night.
So that's the latest and greatest: our new friend.

Kathy and Mikiko, our new friend. Saturday Kevin, Mikiko, Kathy and I went for a drive to the top of Akagi (mountain). The road we normally use was closed because of fallen rocks and major erosion from all the rain we've had this summer so we had to go around.

I'm really just writing this to prompt Kathy into writing a bit about her new friend. Let's just say it may be a blessing to have her here - and you know I don't use that word often.

Until then, here's a picture for your enjoyment: Kathy with Mikiko impersonating a table lamp.