Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sayonara Japan

My lovely ladies of Friday Conversation Class
I have been back in Oregon for almost a week, enjoying beautiful weather before the wet weather sets in.  My last six months in Japan were the exact opposite of the first six months.  Due to existing school schedules that were not flexible to accommodate the new position they created for me, (Coordinator for International Relations between Yamagata City and Florence, Oregon),  I spent my first six months following ALT's around to all 13 elementary and jr. high schools in Yamagata City.  I also visited the many pre-schools and taught adult English in one of the community centers.  After the new school year started in April, I became the ALT (assistant language teacher) at 2 Ijira Elementary Schools and the Ijira Jr. High.  I also started teaching more adult sessions, so needless to say the "teacher" in me was much happier the second part of the year.  Here are a few pics of some of my adult and children's classes I taught since April.

6th graders at Ijira Minami

I told the elementary students in Ijira that this would be my last teaching assignment after 36 years of teaching.  Let's see if I can figure out what to do with myself if I stick to this plan.  Below are just a few pictures out of thousands that we took in Japan.  Charly and I are already missing our wonderful friends to made, the incredible food, the temples and castles, and the amazing beauty we enjoyed in Ijira and all around Gifu prefecture.

Charly loves the creepy crawlies

Amazing food

drying persimmons / kaki

Nagoya Castle 

Even the bugs are beautiful

1,000 year old cherry tree
Every city has there signature man-hole covers / Gujo 

Mino washi of art 

Good-bye party with great friends at our favorite soba restaurant

Tea ceremony in traditional home in Ijira 

Taiko Drumming at Coming of Age Ceremony

Pagoda at Gifu  Koen

Our favorite local temple at Ijirako

Kyoto temple 

Best sushi ever.....thanks Sano-san

Warrior protecting temple at Ijirako

"Ya put your right hip in"    Ijira pre-schoolers

                            Doumo Arigato Gozaimasu.....Japan!
What an amazing year.......where to next?   That's the question.  All Charly and I want to do is travel again.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Waiting for Spring

I have not been very diligent with my blog posts because big changes are coming in April for my job here in Yamagata City.  I will feel much more like a teacher once the new school year starts here April 7th, for I will finally stop following around the ALT (Assistant Language Teachers) and become the ALT at two elementary schools and one jr. high here in Ijira where we live.  I will still be visiting the pre-schools one day a week and teaching citizens English one day a week.  I can't wait to finally feel like I am doing something useful here.  We are still enjoying the people, food, culture, and history here.  So until I start actually teaching and have more to say, I will share some photos of Japan.  

Comorant fishing on Nagara River

Downward looking Buddha in Gifu made of bamboo & paper 
Pagoda at Gifu Koen 

Charly's 70th at our favorite soba restaurant 

Miniature Ooga Catstle or Giant Charly

Nagoya Castle (not a miniature)

       Next time I blog I will show you pictures of cherry blossoms.
my latest flower the class

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Year of the Horse

1st Calligraphy of the new year at Ijira Elementary (4th graders)
Happy New Year to all.  Charly and I had yet another interesting Christmas and New Year's adventure. Christmas is celebrated by some in Japan, but it is not a recognized holiday, so on Christmas morning Charly and I found ourselves at a pre-school with about 60 two, three, four, and five year olds. They sang for us and did a little Christmas program.  We presented them with small treat bags of candy and stickers which was our way of making it feel a little more like Christmas.  In the afternoon Charly & I went to our favorite soba restaurant in Ijira for a very nice dinner.  We did get to skype with Caitlin & Zane that day, which always makes us happy.  The Christmas tree Charly drew was decorated with old photos of past Christmas cards, which made me smile when I looked at it.

I hated to take it down.

Our next adventure was a much anticipated trip to explore more of Japan with our old dear friend Marsha.  After her short two day rest from jet-lag, we boarded the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Okayama prefecture and our first destination - Shiraishi International Villa.  Most of our Japanese friends had never heard of this island in the Seto Sea, but thanks to our dear BCF friends Vicki & Ian, we were turned on to this great set of international villas, made for foreign tourists.  Japanese people can only go to these villas with foreigners.  We had this marvelous place overlooking the sea all to ourselves.  It is a small mountainous island with many hiking trails, shrines and temples, and large beach area.  Charly was happy that he finally had a beach to use his metal detector.  While Marsha and I hiked and explored the temples, Charly spent his first full day in a hard cold wind looking for treasure.  He found lots of coins, so even though he hurt his back staying our too long, he was pleased with his bounty.  Marsha & I tried to spend New Year's Eve at the Buddhist temple to bring in the new year.  We were not sure about the ceremonial conventions and with little Japanese to help us communicate we did our own version of meditation, lighting candles & incense, and prayer.  After four days on this traditional small island we boarded the ferry back to   the big city of Hiroshima.
Shiraishi Island

Our first day in Hiroshima was spent at the Hiroshima Peace Park.  This was a sobering experience for us, but one we felt we needed to shed a few tears and pray for an end to nuclear weapons.  After this emotional experience, we accidentally walked into a delightful Christmas Light Display on 6 blocks of downtown Hiroshima.  It was an uplifting experience topped off with wonderful Hiroshima Okonomiyaki (delicious).  This was also recommended to us by Vicki & Ian.  They are Japan experts.

Atomic Bomb Memorial 

Downtown Hiroshima

On Saturday the last weekend of the winter vacation we took a ferry with thousands of others to Miyajima Island near Hiroshima.  This is a World Heritage Site with incredible hikes to the top of Mt. Misen, pagodas, temples, and the large red tori in the picture below.  Our pictures from the top of the island don't do it justice, as it was a bit cloudy that day.  We shopped a bit in the craft stores and bought some Japanese door hangings and ate delicious smoked oysters.  Even though there were massive crowds of people, it was a very good day.

On Sunday we got on the bullet train once again and traveled up to Kyoto.  Our wonderful friend & interpreter Ayako arranged to meet us with two of my adult English students there for a tour of the main attractions.  Our first stop was Gingkakuji Temple, (Silver Temple), where we enjoyed the beautiful zen gardens and vowed to return again in the spring.  We then took a walk along the Philosopher's Path, where Charly and Marsha found a local artist who does remarkable pencil drawings of the area.  After lunch we visited the fascinating Nijo Castle.  The history and restoration of this 16th century castle is full of lavish Edo period carvings and paintings.  Our final stop of the day was the Kinkakuji (gold) Temple.  This was also spectacular in its beauty and gardens.  Having Japanese tour guides to explain the history and meaning of these historic places, made the experience much more meaningful.  It was a wonderful day.

Our final day in Kyoto was spent visiting the Traditional Japanese Crafts Museum.  This is a wonderful museum which shows traditional weaving, pottery, lacquer ware, metal work, bamboo fencing, kimonos, umbrellas, fans, and much more.  We returned to Ijira tired, but very happy to have been able to experience more of Japan.  

Marsha's final week with us in Ijira was jammed packed with two school visits, helping teach the English workshop, a trip to Mino to see the paper lanterns, Ijira Lake & Temple, and a good-bye luncheon with new Japanese friends.  It was wonderful to be able to share our generous and friendly Japanese friends with Marsha.  

At local temple in Ijira

Sunday, December 1, 2013

                                       Fall in Ijira 

We have been in Japan for a little over two months now and have gotten very good at finding our way around the spread out, (3 villages combined into one), Yamagata City.  I have spent much of my time driving to the 13 different pre-schools, elementary, and jr.high schools in Yamagata City.  It has been lots of fun and very enlightening at most of the schools.  The Japanese students are smart but their educational system which is geared towards test taking to enter a preferred high school, has many students under constant stress by Jr. High School.  English is a fun class in elementary school, but once they hit 7th grade, it all becomes memorization of the English text, writing, and grammar.  Far too little conversational English is practiced or learned, so it is not surprising in a culture that is reticent to make mistakes, that many students leave high school with very poor conversational skills in English.  I have started to visit all the pre-schools in the district which has proven to be great fun.  Little 3, 4, & 5 yr. olds, have sang songs and danced for us, done complicated plays, and let Charly and I join in their games.  Great Fun!

Exploring more of Yamagata City and the surrounding cities is getting much easier for Charly and I to navigate.  We have visited a delightful old town part of Mino where they make traditional paper called washi and turn it all into many kinds of art.  The lighted paper lanterns that line the streets of old town Mino are all very unique and beautiful.  We are also exploring all the different temples, waterfalls, onsens, and other attractions in Yamagata City as I will be translating the cities attraction map into English.  Below is a Goddess statue here in Yamagata City.

The Florence Friendship Groups, past and present, are all very strong here, and we have had the pleasure of  seeing many pictures of past visits to Florence as far back as 16 years ago.   We had a delicious traditional Japanese meal with members of the first Friendship Group just last week.  One of my main endeavors here will be to rebuild the Florence side of this friendship and hopefully start to send Siuslaw students back to Yamagata City by the summer of 2015.

The weather is starting to turn cold but so far no snow.  I am not looking forward to driving these narrow, windy roads when they are snowy.  We are planning to explore much more of Japan during winter vacation but we will be the bullet train instead of driving.  Below are just a few of the beautiful paper lanterns in Mino.  The pictures don't do them justice.  They are exquisite.  Here is wishing you all a peaceful, happy, and healthy holiday season.  

Happy Holidays

Julia & Charly

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ijira / Yamagata City / Gifu / Japan

Young Taiko Drummers at Chestnut Festival 
Charly at Community Sports Day doing the difficult hoop &
stick relay
One month now in Japan and the changes have already kept this old brain a whirling.  The first change has been the has gone from hot and humid to cool and cloudy within a week.  Granted there have been numerous typhoons that have hit the island.  Luckily we are inland enough that we don't get the devastation that the coast gets.  Other changes are numerous; lack of understanding & reading the Japanese language (going food shopping is a hoot), learning how to operate the microwave, stove, car, even the toilet, driving on the left, going to 13 different schools in the Yamagata School Dist. and reading a simple map, all in Japanese.  Charly and I are both in the adjustment period but all in all, we are very happy that we are here.  

Our friend and interpreter Ayako has been invaluable.  She found us a great house to live in, sold us a great car, and helped us at every unfamiliar turn.  She has gone to all the schools with me this month, and organized many social activities and welcoming dinners and luncheons.  So far we have participated in a community sports day, biked all over the region, visited a sword museum in a near by town, eaten many wonderful new Japanese foods, like octopus, squid, soba, jelly fish, and many unusual fruits and vegetables, baked sweet bread at the local community center, Charly is taking calligraphy classes once a week, and I tried my hand at Japanese flower arranging.  Below are a few photos from these activities. 

Seki Samurai Sword Museum 

These flowers bloom everywhere in the fall & spring

Our wonderful landlady who fixes delicious lunches when she
comes from Nagoya for the day

As far as my lofty goals of a true cultural exchange between the Siuslaw School Dist. and Yamagata City Schools, I have pretty much given up on making any real impact.  I visit 9 elementary schools, 3 Jr. Highs, and 2 pre-schools every month.  I spend one day a week at city hall writing for the city's newsletter and website about my experiences and teaching English conversation to anyone interested.  My original plan was to try an internet exchange of projects or programs using the National Geographic site called e-Pals. This is not going to happen.  The Japanese system is very rigid and with little time for anything that doesn't come from the English textbook.  So my plan now is to get Siuslaw Schools to send me any videos, power point presentation or field trip experiences to share with the students here in Yamagata.  I am going to do something that pertains to my glorious title, "Coordination for International Relations"  from the city of Florence.  

The Japanese people have been very welcoming, and for the most part, very helpful and kind with our limited Japanese.  We are looking forward to exploring Japan, but we are very happy in our home in Ijira with rice patties and forested hills around our house.  Charly and I find ourselves talking about Bhutan more than we do about the United States.....given the current events back home tis no wonder.  Let peace and goodwill return to our government so we don't need to feel embarrassed  by the foolishness that has been happening.

Sayonara for Now