Sunday, May 28, 2006

Teachin' "Engrish"

So I made it through my first full week of teaching in one piece! It's really not so bad, and I think it will only get better as I get more and more used to it. Mainly, I am there for conversation practice. Each student is with the other teacher (who runs the school) for a half hour, and then we switch and they are with me for half an hour. The other teacher teaches more grammar, but I don't know exactly what he does. For the most part, I am free to do whatever I like.

With adults it is easy--they are usually motivated and interested in talking, and they understand that even if they aren't actually interested in talking about their favorite food or whatever, it's really just to practice talking. The young kids are a little harder, but my storytime experience at the library makes it more comfortable for me. Some of the youngest ones (3 and 4 yr olds) we just play with them and try to keep speaking English to them. With older elementary kids I end up just playing lots of games with flashcards (Concentration and Old Maid are popular).

The hardest ones are the middle schoolers who are not particularly motivated to talk to adults even in their native language, let alone in a language that requires extra effort from them--especially when they know these two phrases "I don't know" and "I forgot"--it can be really difficult to have a "conversation" with them. But gradually I'm figuring out games and strategies for all the different ages and levels to keep them talking. One tip I'm waiting to try with them is looking at "The Far Side" cartoons and talking about what's happening, why it's funny, etc. I couldn't find any in the English section of the bookstore, tho, so I've got one coming in the mail.

The adults I have are generally older housewives who are interested in English for various reasons--travel, something to do, whatever--and some businessmen who need English for their job. There are a couple of younger women who are planning adventures (going to America or Australia to live and work) and a couple of older retired men who come for an English lesson in the afternoon after they've gone bowling and watched the baseball game on T.V. There are all sorts of people--I have one man who is a surgeon who just bought a Harley Davidson. Another man owns a hip clothing and furniture boutique and he flies to New York every two months for businessAnother guy is an Engineering PhD student. There is a younger high school art teacher and a man who works on the third floor of big downtown department store. There is an older housewife who likes to play Chopin on the piano for a couple hours everyday. There's a middle-aged house wife who goes to several different aerobics classes each week and says she is very happy that her husband works from early in the morning until 11 at night because she only has to cook dinner once or twice a week and otherwise does what she wants! Most of the kids are into sports--usually dodgeball or tennis. . The most fun are a pair of brothers who are 4 and 5. Their mom requested only 5 minutes of structured lesson per hour and the rest is free play time--usually flying paper airplanes! Here's a shot of my boss on the left. We don't have breaks unless there is a cancellation, but there almost always is at some point in the evening. (We've only worked straight through from 2 to 9 without a break once so far). The time goes really fast that way--I like it.

Just for fun, here is a picture of a cup I got from an instant coffee vending machine on campus that I thought was cool. The Japanese says "KureenKyanpasu"--Clean Campus--encouraging us to give a hoot and don't pollute.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Saturday at Inuyama Castle

So, on Saturday a small miracle happened--sunlight flooding in the window when we woke up in the morning! (It'd been raining for about a week) So although we hadn't planned on it we decided to 'make it a day' and venture out from the immediate Nagoya area.... After a quick bit of internet searching we settled on Inuyama--a small town about half an hour north of Nagoya by express train and the site of Japan's oldest original castle and one of the most famous tea-houses in Japan...
A testament to Nagoya's violent weather changes, we were devastated to see black storm clouds on the horizon a few minutes after the train's departure--and even more devastated after they moved overhead, pelting the train and environs with heavy rain... When we arrived in Inuyama we had to run straight to Circle K and buy umbrellas, but miraculously, although we entered the Castle in the rain, by the time we arrived at the top floor of the tower, the storm had passed, and the whole river valley below glistened and sparkled as the sunlight reflected off the rain-soaked trees and grass and rooftops... Like a gift from the gods.

Above is a photo of the streets just south of the Castle--many of the buildings and homes are "preserved" from a hundred or more years ago... The whole area really had the feel of old Japan--and because of the rain everything was more or less deserted as well.

Here's a picture I took of Bradley--I think he's perfectly adorable in the cap and sweater... (If you haven't yet guessed--guest blogger Genevra here!)

An overview shot of the castle tower. Built in the 1500's, this is the oldest of only four castles in Japan that remain completely preserved and unreconstructed. Unlike Nagoya Castle, where tourist-friendly steps now replace the original interior design, we had to climb Nagoya Castle--barefoot--on incredibly steep old wooden staircases... On the first level there was some cool old armour and katana (swords) but for the most part it was just the castle interior itself--exactly as it was 500 years ago...

Here is Bradley and a sweet English-speaking tour guide explaining the "trap stone door" on which she and Brad are standing... The floor lifts up and during sieges the samurai would drop huge stone blocks down onto the heads of enemy soldiers below... Somehow this trap door also doubled as an escape route for the Castle's lord in times of danger.

A view from one of the castle look-out towers--the castle grounds are below.

Here is the Kiso River--which divides Aichi from Gifu Prefecture--and the beautiful Japanese hills beyond...

Here way in the distance on the top of the far hill, one can just barely make out Gifu Castle--the base of Inuyama's arch-enemies back in their heyday.

And from this side one can see all the way to urban Nagoya in the far distance...

Me and Bradley....

This is another "sacred" tree beside the Castle--but with a very unusual story. Some hundred or more years ago a terrifying lightning storm hit Inuyama and a particular fearsome bolt headed straight for the Castle. This tree--in legend inhabited by a powerful protector-spirit of the Castle--intervened and sacrificed its own life to save the castle. Subsequently a beautiful trumpet vine covered its dead trunk and the grateful lord of the Castle had a shelter built over the tree (a zelkova elm)...

A lost shot of the Castle's very pretty outer moat...

Jo-an teahouse at Inuyama

The following pictures are of Joan--one of the most famous tea-houses in Japan, built by a student of Sen-no-Rikyu (the "father" of tea-ceremony)and moved here from Kyoto some years ago...

Here are two tsukubai--or hand "wash basins" located in the Joan gardens... As a kind of purification ritual, all guests first wash their hands in such a basin before entering the tea house.

Above are the entrance and a couple photos of the interior of Jo-an. An absolutely simple and unostentatious single-room house, Jo-an was designed to exemplify the spirit of wabi-sabi (the beauty of the "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete"), it stands alone in the midst of a beautiful half-wild moss and bamboo garden... Guests, entering Jo-an from the wild and exquisite world outside were supposed to find a different kind of peace-of-heart inside the bare walls of the tea-house, undistracted by the worries and distractions of politics, religion and war.

The sometime student-of-tea himself outside the famous walls.

As usual I could only lament the limitations of photography when attempted to capture the beauty of a wild and overgrown mossy landscape... The wind was blowing in such a way that the whole garden felt filled with a kind of tangible magic--intense green moss, water and rock mixed at every turn, blowing, glinting, and gurgling... I could have spent hours just sitting there undisturbed. Overlooked so much of the time, it is amazing how profound an impact the aesthetics of place and space can have on one... As we were sitting there, B and I imagined someday building a tea house and garden of our own, just like it...

The two pictures above are of one of the other tea-houses on the grounds--newer but quite beautiful in its own right... Note again the "crawl-through" guest entrance, meant to symbolically convey the leveling of all ranks within the tea-room's four walls...

Last of all a few late bamboo shoots--in days even the smallest one will be taller than me--growing straight and fast toward the sun.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Job World

Here's an update from the Job World now that our sight-seeing tour has ended. I think the last thing I wrote here about it was when I got my alien registration card. Since then, I went and got my work permit from the immigration authority, and answered 5 or 6 ads that were posted in the International Students building on campus. I got an interview with one--a mother looking for a tutor for her 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son. The little girl had been taking English lessons at a private school for 4 years already! That was before we went to Tokyo. Since we got back, I posted an ad at the International Center Building (a skyscraper downtown where the U.S. Consulate is and also an international library with a Jobs Bulletin Board). I've gotten a bunch of calls from the ad this weekend, only one from an individual and the rest from various language schools in need of English teachers.

One of the language schools said they needed a full-time teacher. I arranged an interview with them and gave it some thought (and did some math). I began to realize that there is really no way I could arrange enough private lessons to add up to the same amount of work as I could get at this one language school--so I accepted the job this morning! It is every evening (5 days) from 2 until 9. I felt pretty bad about canceling on the two student I had already accepted (the times overlap), and was saying so to Caitlin (who believes Japanese kids to be among the cutest on the planet) when she said, "I could go teach them--it's only one hour a week, right?" So I suggested that when I called the mother to cancel and she said okay. So Caitlin's going there this Friday while I'm at the other school. This is a good example of another reason why I think it will be better for me to work at a school--I don't have to handle all the interpersonal stuff involved. I'm too much of a softie to be all business when I have to.

So the guy who runs the school seems really nice. He said he's been running it for 8 years and it is just him and one native speaker teaching (me!)--so it is a really small school. It's about 1/3 children and 2/3 adults--mainly conversation practice. There is no set curriculum, so the teachers can decide how and what they want to teach, depending on individual students' needs. He said it varies as to how many students we have, and the pay corresponds to the number of students. It's a sliding scale from 1850 Y/hr for a single student up to 3900 Y/hr for a group of 4 (which is actually about what I'd make at private lessons if you factor in travel time). There can be some hours when there are cancellations and there is no class--other days we might work the 7 hours straight through. He said that I should be making between 235,000 Y and 250,000 Y a month, though (about $2,350-2,500) which is more than I made at the library! Also, he pays my subway fare (about $100 a month). So it seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. The main thing is I really liked the guy and got a good feeling from him--he seems to be running a good operation. I'll keep you posted as to how it goes!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tokyo Day 5: Chiba's Nichiren Temples

On Saturday (our 5th and final day in the Tokyo area), Shinya's folks took us on a beautiful scenic drive through the wooded hills of Chiba prefecture to see two temples that are associated with Nichiren Shonin, the founder of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism (another area I know next to nothing about!) I thought about getting one of these dried fugu (Japanese pufferfish) to send home to Dad.
Tanjo-ji is a temple built on the birthplace of Nichiren. He was born in 1222, and the temple was originally built in 1276--though it was destroyed and moved a couple of times before it was built in this location in the early 1700s.

Some of the intricate carvings on the temple.
Seichoji was the temple that Nichiren went to train at when he was 15. It is also where he first started preaching his own brand of Buddhism.
A view out to the Pacific Ocean.

Here's a shot of the GPS (?) system in Shinya's folks' car. I hadn't seen one before and thought it was pretty cool. It has a computerized satellite map in it that shows you where you are and where you're going. It tells you out-loud in a little voice each turn you have to make as it comes up. I wish I had one of those for the Tokyo subway stations! (You actually can get something similar to work on a cell phone).

Tokyo Day 4: Japanese Bar-B-Q

From Kamakura we went back to Shinya's parents house in Toke, a nice little town in Chiba prefecture outside of Tokyo. Shinya's parents were both extremely nice--we had a fun time practicing our Japanese with them as we enjoyed some stupendously delicious home-cooked Japanese meals like the one pictured.
Shinya had planned a big BBQ and invited some friends of his from elementary school who were also back in town for the holidays. We went to the local grocery store for supplies. I couldn't not get a shot of this half-a-tuna fish that was setting out. We went back later and a guy with a huge sword-like knife was whacking it up very skillfully into uniform slabs while shouting out a steady banter to the crowd to come and get some.
Here's Caitlin and company in the driveway of Shinya's house. The paper cups were half-full of a soy-sauce based dipping-sauce. Everybody grabbed the small cutlets of different meats that were cooking on the grill with their own chop-sticks, dipped them in the sauce and ate them down. It was really delicious!
Bar-B-Que-O-Rama. That's Shinya, in his master chef's apron, on the far right.

Later that night, we all ended up at the neighborhood bowling alley. That's one of Shinya's buddies watching his ball go down the lane. I had to get this shot of the decorative English on the bowling alley wall. It says, "How are you doing? I've got the pleasure zone where makes you comfortable. Just come over here, and feel it. Are you ready for life in the fast lane?"

Tokyo Day 3: Engaku-ji

We went back to Kamakura the next morning to see Engaku-ji. It's San-mon or inner gate is pictured above. It is the head temple (honzan) of the Engaku-ji school of Rinzai Zen. It has a very interesting history--it was built in 1282 one year after an attempted invasion by the Mongols under Khubilai Khan (grandson of Ghengis Khan) was reverted. Part of the purpose of the new temple was to honor the war dead--of both the Mongols and the Japanese. For more on the history of Engakuji click here.
It was also the temple that Soen Shaku trained at. He became one of the first people to introduce Zen Buddhism to the west when he attended a world religious convention held in Chicago in 1893.
Intricately carved woodwork on one of the gates.
A misty shot of the Buddha in the main hall, taken from outside the front door.
Some orchids growing on a very old tree whose branches were being held up by posts that were lashed to them with rope.
The great bell (O-gane) of Engakuji, which is a national treasure of Japan.
A tea-house on the temple grounds. Here you can see the half door entry way. They were made this way so that everyone had to stoop down and crawl to enter them in the same way, regardless of their rank in the outside world.
Stairs leading up into a graveyard behind a smaller temple that was across the railroad tracks from Engakuji. I don't remember the name of it--only that it was established as a nunnery but wasn't active anymore.
Another Buddha statue up in the graveyard.
This is a shot up into the roof of the gate to the small temple with the graveyard steps shown above. It was a newly built gate, but it's really rare to see thatched roofs anymore--here you can sort of see how they're made.
Another thatched roof on that temple's grounds. This one is covering their great bell.

Tokyo Day 2: Hasedera Temple

After the Daibutsu we visited Hasedera Temple, built in 686, which belongs to the Jodo Buddhism sect (I'm pretty sure). This is the entry gate. The pitched roofs of the temple.
These three long bamboo pipes poured water down onto stones in one of the garden ponds.
Here's Caitlin sitting under the hanging wisteria, which were in full bloom and smelled great.
This isn't the best picture, but just before I took it there was about a 3 year old little boy looking at these koi. As he walked away he said, "O-sakana-san, bye bye!" (bye bye mister fish).
This is an area of Hasedera devoted to Jizo Bodhisattva--the Buddhist patron saint of women, children and travelers. The hundreds of tiny Jizo statues memorialize and watch over unborn children.
This is a Jizo statue standing in a stream with a bamboo dipper next to it. It is wet because everyone takes a dipper of water and pours it over the Jizo's head.
A small bamboo grove on the Hasedera temple grounds.
A panorama view of the sea from Hasedera.
This is not Hasedera--this is a Shinto temple that we went to afterwards, also in Kamakura, but I don't remember the name of it.
The giant tree at the Shinto temple with it's huge twisted straw rope and paper streamers. Here is a link to another blog I found that also has lots of cool pictures of the places we went in Kamakura, and some places we didn't go to.