Saturday, October 29, 2005

KAMPAI !!

i've got to tell you a little story. this happened to me a week ago friday.

but before i tell you it would help to give a little background.

actually, let me just start - and you see if you can't keep up.

so, a week ago friday i was teaching grade one students (six year olds). i usually eat lunch with one specially selected class - so i was scheduled to eat with one of the grade one classes. there are about 25 students in the class.

normally in the schools, the students arrange their desks in groups of 4 to 6 to eat lunch. i sit with one of the groups. today was a little different. when i walked into the classroom carrying my lunch tray, all the desks were arranged in two concentric circles - so everyone pretty much faced each other. my seat was in the midst of the circles. (i guess they decided that everyone should share me today).

as we were about to start, one little boy got out of his seat, took his milk, said something about gyunyu (milk) to me in japanese. next thing i know, he has the class's attention and says, "blah blah blah Jeff-sensei blah blah kampai!" loosely translated that's "blah blah blah Mr. Jeff blah blah blah kampai!"

[PAUSE]

maybe you don't need the background info anymore, but here it is:

whenever we go out and drinks are involved we start our evening with a hearty "kampai" and "otsukarasamadeshita" - "cheers" and "you've worked hard and done a good job".

[UNPAUSE]

To which the class replied heartily, "KAMPAI", looked at me, and clinked their milk cartons enthusiastically and took back a swig like it was the best premium beer money could buy.

CHEERS! YOU'VE DONE WELL. CHEERS! Do you see it? These cute little first graders, on their own initiative decided that i deserved a "CHEERS" for just being me.

sometimes kids can be so sweet.

they like my picture! they like my picture!


Ryuzu no taki (waterfalls)
Originally uploaded by Bob Jones.


hi everyone. i have to blog this. i'm really excited. i've got lots to tell you, but right now i'm just happy about this picture.

this past sunday (oct 23) i took a trip up to Nikko again. this time i went by myself and i went with only one purpose - to take pictures of the fall colours. this is one of the best scene type shots i took.

so yesterday i posted it to my flickr site (that's the photography website i have for those who don't know - you can see small thumbnail pictures on the left margin of this page for a link). long story short, other flickr people noticed it and came by my site to check it out - LOTS OF PEOPLE. in fact, flickr has a way of measuring "interestingness". this picture was the 22nd most interesting photo of october 28th! of the thousands of pictures people post each day! it made me pretty proud to say the least.

for my friends and family who read this blog though - you don't have to wait for the rest of the pictures from Nikko. you can browse through them right now on our photosite. click here or scroll down the left margin and follow the link to "CHECK OUT OUR PHOTOSITE".

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Day Three: Miyajima

On Sunday afternoon, we hopped on the ferry, with car, to Miyajima. Miyajima is a very touristy island a 10-minute ferry ride from Hiroshima. The reason for its popularity is that it has been dubbed "one of the three most beautiful sites of Japan." There is a bright orangey-red shrine on the shore of the island and the view of this shrine, with its accompanying tori (gate) in the water is what is considered to be the focus of this "beautiful site." We got a kick out of our ferry ride. Many foreigners have been to Miyajima, but we doubt many have gone by car! The island is small, and all sites are within walking distance. We simply needed to bring the car over for the free parking and our camping supplies.




This is the view of Miyajima from the ferry, with tori in site.


Once we got on the island, we headed straight for its one campsite. Few tourists stay overnight on the island, and accomodations are of the very expensive, traditional Japanese inn variety. But we SUPER lucked out. Yes, we Epps were crazy enough to lug back our tent with us from Canada this summer, and we finally got to benefit from it: sleeping arrangements for two for only 600 yen! Yup, roughly 6 bucks. That's amazing compared to the usual cost of 6000 yen and UP for the two of us. One thing this country is NOT is CHEAP.



The campground was nearly empty, the toilets were Western-style and clean, and the deer were friendly. Here's Jeff posing with the tent.


After sunset, we grabbed some dinner and spent the evening taking in the sites. It was incredible, and I found myself getting very sentimental about Japan. The entire area around the shrine and coast was lit by stone lanterns. Jeff and I slowly walked the town, me sitting on benches and inhaling the sea air while he set up the camera for night shots.

Tourists staying at the inns were out taking their evening strolls in their yukatas and wooden clogs, deer were snacking, and the island was strangely peaceful, lacking the motorized vehicles you usually can't avoid throughout the rest of Japan. It was a good night.

More to come soon...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Day Two: Hiroshima

On Saturday night, we drove to Hiroshima. We awoke to an absolutely perfect day on Sunday. Hiroshima is just as wonderful as I remember it. It is a modern-feeling city. The streets are unusually wide for Japan, and there are lots of greenspaces and boulevards. The people are friendly, and a large number of them speak English. All of these aspects are of course in part due to the fact that Hiroshima was completely obliterated during WWII by the first A-bomb ever dropped. Since then, the city has been completely rebuilt and has become a world-wide center for peace studies and rallies. We spent the whole day in and around the massive Peace Park. Simply put, the bomb was dropped above the park. The park contains structures still left standing after the bomb, as well as many statues dedicated to different groups of people, such as the children killed by the war, the mobilized schoolchildren and teachers killed, Koreans killed, etc. The park is moving, to say the least. It is not all pro-Japan, as one might expect. It simply speaks of the horrors caused by nuclear weapons, and it stands as a constant plea to destroy all nuclear weapons.

The A-bomb dome, as it is now referred to. The bomb was dropped above this building. Everyone inside it was instantly killed. It's amazing so much of the structure survived.

The plaque shows the building before the bomb. It was designed by a Czech man (close to home!) with a green dome. Jeff did some cool photo-work on this one!
This is Sadako's memorial. It is actually dedicated to all the children who died as a result of the A-bomb. You may know the story of 1,000 paper cranes... Sadako was a girl who developed leukemia as a result of the A-bomb. There is a belief in the luck that lies behind making 1,000 paper cranes. Sadako died before she completed her cranes, but her classmates completed them for her, and then pushed for a monument dedicated to all of the children of the bomb. As a result, the whole park is full of these paper cranes. Sadako's monument has glass cases behind it that are emptied daily. It's impressive, to say the least.



And here is a close-up of the cranes. We wondered what is done with all of these cranes. Well, apparently, Hiroshima has a paper crane museum, but even more cool is that they recycle these cranes into pens and notebooks that they sell and also donate to children in need all over the world.
This is a monument (much better when you're there)which shows the time at which the bomb was dropped, and time "stopped." 8:15am. In the museum, there are many watches on display that stopped working exactly at that time due to the bomb.
Finally, Jeff doesn't like that he didn't get this perfectly lined up... but whatever... It is taken through the cenotaph, where there is a big box that contains all of the names of people who died as a result of the A-bomb. It is opened every year when a commemorative event is held, and names are added, as there are still A-bomb related deaths, mainly due to a variety of cancers. At the far end of the picture is the A-bomb dome. In the middle is the commemorative flame, which will not be extinguished until every nuclear weapon on the earth is destroyed... which of course, will probably never happen.

You can probably see that we were deeply impacted by our visit to Hiroshima, me for a second time. It is hard not to be. The museum especially hits home very hard. It's an incredibly sombering and thoughtful experience.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Our Amazing Road Trip, Day One: Nara

So we just had a four-day weekend. What do you think we did? Got in the car and drove, of course! This drive was a bit exceptional though, since it involved 12 hours of driving (one way) and a span of 2100 km. We visited the three destinations that were my favorites during my stay in Japan 8 years ago: Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima. I've decided to divide them up day by day. As usual, Kathy has got lots to say!

We left Friday at three, and cruised into Nara around 11pm. A long, long time ago, Nara was once the capital of Japan, but only for a short time. Political power was soon moved to Kyoto since the pesky priests were getting too powerful. Kyoto is THE place to go to see unbelievably gorgeous shrines, but to be honest, I much prefer Nara. Kyoto is a big city, with all the usual problems of big cities. But in Nara, all of the beautiful sights are in and around Nara Park, and you can see them all comfortably in one day, on foot. And there's lots of overly-friendly wild deer that hang out with you. That's cool too.

The most major site in Nara is Todai-ji. It's the largest wooden structure in the world, and it houses a really really big Buddha. That's the picture below. It's amazing really, because the present structure is only two-thirds the size of the original.

Unfortunately, it started absolutely pissing rain while we were at Todai-ji, and we had earlier decided to lug around the tripod instead of the second umbrella, so we spent the rest of the day getting really really wet. But who cares! It was so exciting to be in Nara and to have the whole amazing weekend before us.

From Todai-ji we meandered through Nara park up to Ni Gatsu Do (next picture), which means February hall/second month hall...(?) Very cool building, with what would have been an amazing view of Nara had it not been for the buckets and buckets of rain.

After this, we headed over to Kasuga Shrine. The walk over was amazing. It was through the park again. The path was lined with stone lanterns. Trees, grass, and moss were everywhere, and super green. And the walk was unusually quiet and peaceful, mostly due to the rain. To see some pictures of the shrine, check out this site.

We did not pay the fee to enter the shrine. We agreed that the outer view and the amazing walk leading to it was enough for us. However, while we were admiring the outer part of the shrine, something really awesome happened. I noticed some really dressed up people waiting with large cameras, and I thought, "oh, it must be a wedding." It was. The bride and groom, followed by their families, mothers both in beautiful black and gold kimonos, made their way up the steps and were quickly ushered into the main part of the shrine. We thought that was the last we would see of them. But as we made our way around to the side of the shrine, we realized the bride and groom were just inside the shrine, posing for their formal pictures. Wow. What a beautiful sight. They were both gorgeous. What made it all the more memorable was that there were some excited British tourists gawking and taking their pictures. The groom broke his formal posing for awhile and humoured them by casually coming over and saying hello. It was really neat. He spoke some English, and told them his age (28) and his bride's age (23). He shook hands with them, and then they asked him if he would pose for a picture. He agreed, and the sudden change in him was literally breathtaking. He was wearing a long black kimono and holding a fan in one hand. He suddenly took on a serious, what I called "samurai-looking" pose, puffing out his chest, and holding the fan at his side, just so. As soon as the picture was taken, he broke back into his easy smile, but I was, well, smitten. Wow.
Later, as we left the park, we were lucky enough to see them being escorted away. Not the best picture, but what a great memory.

Finally, the deer. They were everywhere. And they were funny. Very personable really. In one section of the park, we were trying to figure out where the strange high-pitched barking was coming from. A small annoying dog? Oh no, it was a deer. A male deer, obviously distressed about ... we're not sure what. But he ended up distressing all the tourists around him too.

Then, when we were on our way to Kasuga Shrine, we saw the following scene: those audacious deer! These two almost walked straight into this woman's store! We were trying to figure out what was going on. Most of the vendors sell "deer senbei" - rice crackers for deer. We thought maybe the deer were trying to steal her senbei - most vendors have to keep them locked in a cage. We later found out why the deer were so forward with her. After some time, she came out with a bowl-full of old bread...to feed the deer. You should have seen them come running...down the streets, from over the hills... she is one popular woman, she is...

And finally, this picture is blurry, but I like it. Jeff was having a conversation with this deer. Looked like the deer wanted to talk back...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I Love Japanese Sports' Days!!!


How do I choose? I can't. I simply can't. I want to show you all of the pictures! But I've managed to narrow it down (a bit). Here are some of the highlights of last Wednesday...

First off, some student pics. My goodness, aren't they beautiful? These are some of my 3年生 (final year of junior high) girls. Some of my favourite girls. In my school, there are 15 classes... five of each grade. Each class is numbered: 1-1, 1-2....1-5, 2-1, 2-2.... all the way to 3-5. Got it? Each class then has a colour: 1 is red, 2 is blue, 3 is yellow, 4 is green, and 5 is pink. The students wear headbands in their class colour all day, and they also have pom-poms and flags in their class colour. Therefore, these girls are from 3-3. It's cool cause the teachers get really into it. Lots of them dress in their class colours, resulting in pretty humourous outfits, especially since the three teachers who each teach class 5 are all men! Sometimes the students make t-shirts for their teachers with their signatures all over the t-shirts.


These girls are from 2-2, a blue team. Check out their cool flag. Their teacher's name is Masayo Kurihara, so on the flag they wrote, "Masayo's Children" and they signed all their names! They also gave her a blue t-shirt done in the same style as the flag. In this picture is also Imayasu sensei, an English assistant I teach with. She was in our blog earlier when I posted about the mandolin concert we went to earlier this year.


And some cool guys from 3-5, just chilling....


And here are two of the aforementioned "pink" teachers. I never got the picture I wanted of them posing together, but this will do just fine. One of the third year team events was a class tug-of-war. It was awesome to watch. The teachers got right into it, cheering like crazy for their classes and waving their class flags around. 3-5 did well, but they did not win. In the end they were beaten by 3-3, the class that also came won first for the whole event.


There were many events held throughout the day, including tug-of-war, class jump rope, races, whole-class races, crazy relays, four-legged races, "slow" bicycle races, etc. But for me, the favourites were always the dances. Each grade learned a traditional (well, and not so traditional) dance. And then, they performed it as a whole. Our school has about 600 students divided across three grades, so that meant close to 200 students dancing all together at one time. Very cool. This picture is from the end of the first year dance. The teacher in red is there in case anyone falls! They pulled it off perfectly.


This picture was taken after the second year dance, the "Matsuken Samba," apparently named after some popular Japanese entertainer. At first I thought they were just saying "Mexican Samba" with a really bad accent! Haha! As a surprise to the students, Yamano sensei, the head teacher of the second years, came out in the middle of the song and danced on a small stage at the head of all the students! A definite crowd pleaser! Especially since he didn't really know any of the dance moves. He just kind of stood there awkwardly shaking around his pom-poms! Nadine, didn't I give you the exact same head piece before we left for Japan last year? I hope you wear it for Halloween this year with your new students!

And only one more picture, I promise...


Yes, here I am, dancing the Soran Bushi with my third year students. This was a big moment for me. I absolutely love the Soran. It is a very traditional dance. Many of the students got to wear those beautiful red and black happi coats. I was so nervous, I spent the whole night before the taikusai practicing the dance moves with a video I borrowed from a teacher. In this particular move, you are supposed to go down as low as you can. It's a week later now, and my butt and thighs have FINALLY recovered. Let me tell you though, it is one heck of a good workout! We got a standing ovation and an encore, that I half cursed at the time! Let's just say that my moves were a bit stiff the second time through. But it was such an awesome experience. I got it all on video, too. And I think it brought me even closer to my students cause they saw my efforts, and my interest in their culture. My relationships with them were already good, but I've noticed even warmer attitudes this week. It's great. And with that, my last taikusai experience comes to a close. This is definitely one of the Japanese experiences I will most miss...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bras and Umbrellas Beware!

The morning of the taikusai I opened the patio door of our bedroom... the door right beside our heads... to fetch my bra. My white bra. The perfect one. The one that fits well. The one that has a nice feminine design, but isn't super-duper lacy. I don't like bras like that.

"Jeff, where is my bra?" (He had been a real hero and hung the laundry the night before.)

"Right there. Where I hung it." (Slight defensive tone in his sleepy voice. How dare I question him when he was the hero who thoughtfully hung it all the night before?)

"Um. Okay." A few minutes passed as I stood staring at the laundry in a fuzzy sleepy stupor. No, I'm definitely NOT a morning person. Slow hazy thoughts gradually formed themselves and drifted through my befuddled brain. Hmmmm... Jeff's underwear is here... Yup, everything else seems to be here... Ya, I guess there's kind of a space where my bra might have been. No, it couldn't be... But they always said... nooooo... no way, man... damn, that was my favourite bra...

I turned my head, deep in sleepy thought, and noticed a confused Jeff staring up at me from his futon.

"Well, it's not here. Definitely not here. You hung it right here?"

"Ya, right there."

"Someone stole it."

Yes, folks, that's right. Some FREAKISHLY DISTURBED AND DISGUSTINGLY PERVERTED GROSS-O OF A PERSON STOLE my favourite bra. Stole it from a hanger just outside our screen door. While we were sleeping. Unbelievable.

But, truth be told, seven years ago when I was getting ready to come to Japan my first time, I went to an orientation session where they specifically told us, "Yes, Japan is still a relatively safe country. Crime rates are low. However, there are three items you should never leave unattended: bicycles, umbrellas, and women's underwear." They proceeded to tell story after story of unsuspecting females having their underwear stolen right from their clotheslines. In the middle of the day.

And when I told one teacher at school the next day, she told me about how one time all of her and her mom's underwear was stolen from their private yard (rare in Japan) in the middle of the day.

Sigh... And my bra was an easy target. It was placed outside overnight to dry. Just outside our first floor apartment that sits by the road.

But why the bra? I mean, there were many other nice items to choose from... pants, shirts, Jeff's underwear...

Well, that's because in Japan there are weird people who get a real kick out of this thing. Specifically, used women's underwear. When I first came to Japan, I heard rumours that you could find vending machines that actually dispensed the stuff. Never found one though. Good thing. And if you watch Tom Green's video, "Subway Monkey Hour" (I know, I know, really trustworthy academic source) he goes to an apartment in Tokyo where this creepy man actually sells used women's underwear. Gross. I don't even want to consider what fate my poor bra has met. Double gross.

Oh ya, Jeff had his umbrella stolen once too, from right outside our apartment. He had left it on his bike. But that doesn't make for half as exciting of a story.

And the lock on his bike broke months ago... I guess that's next...