Saturday, October 11, 2008

ALT Stuff, Fireworks, and the Prolonged Summer

Can you believe the temperature is still above 20C these days? I can not. At nights it's cooler, and today, on my way to the convenience store at 10 PM to get some drink *coughIdidn'tbuysnackshonestcough* I was actually cold in a long-sleeve jacket thing, and was wishing I wore something warmer. During the day though I was walking around in my t-shirt and in a skirt, and it was like a nice early September day. So far I have to say that despite the 30+ heat through August I am very happy with the weather in Toyohashi. I guess because I am close to the ocean it doesn't get very cold. I heard that the leaves don't even change color, something very hard to believe... I am told that to see the beautiful autumn red maples I have to go all the way to Kyoto. Not that I am complaining of course, it's a wonderful excuse (haha, as long as I have money to go :D). Apparently the trees get all colorful in November, so I guess that's a bit later than in Toronto, although I can't really remember too well when autumn hits Toronto... I am starting to feel like I've lived here for a very long time. Today I went by my work because I forgot something at the school, and while walking back I was thinking how I've grown attached to my neighbourhood (except the immediate surroundings of my apartment building, I still think they are ghetto). The area is very quiet, with small streets, and grandmas planting flowers in their gardens, and kids riding bikes everywhere, and perhaps that's just like any other neighbourhood in Japan, but it became feeling like home. I am actually surprised, it took me a lot longer to start feeling at home in Mississauga and in Waterloo... maybe I got so used to living here because it is more like Ukraine... everything is smaller, but people still nod and say hi on the streets. For some reason I thought that Japan will be like downtown Toronto in terms of friendliness... In Mississauga older people walking on the streets say hi, but not downtown of course, and I thought Japan was not going to be too friendly either (Toyohashi is a relatively big city, that's why). It's not true though, people are friendly, at least the older people.

In general, I guess it's too early for me to say what I like or don't like about Japan, because I haven't been here all that long, but I am surprised how comfortable I feel here. Maybe it's because I am older now than I was when I moved to Canada, so I had very different expectations coming here, and was ready to accept a lot more and be more open-minded... I don't know, but in any case, for all of you out there wondering how I am adjusting: I didn't really need adjusting, it's a good place to live, no different from any other place.

Back to the stuff I wanted to blog about. Today I was working on some stuff at home when I heard loud noises outside, and what do you know, it's a festival day today and they had fireworks outside. It's so nice to see fireworks on a random day... I thought most of the festivals are over by now, but I guess not. The fireworks looked like they were very close by, and a building was blocking them from view when I tried to watch them from my balcony (being on the first floor doesn't help), so of course I got out of the house and biked towards the sounds. It turned out that the fireworks were in a near-by shrine (I posted pictures of it a few weeks ago), and the best part was that I got to watch the hand-held fireworks really close-up! I thought I blogged about these special Toyohashi fireworks before, but I guess I only wrote about them in an email to parents, but never posted anything here. Toyohashi is famous for special hand-held fireworks that are just that, fireworks that people hold up. Before you light them up they look like a giant cylinder (about 20 cm in diameter and about half a meter long), and there is a string wrapped around the cylinder. Firework-men light them up, and then hold them up against their hip, while the firework is firing. It's quite a sight, makes me scared a little when I try to imagine myself in place of the person holding the firework. Last time I was sitting very far so I didn't see too well what was going on, but today I was standing really close, and let me tell you, the view was really awe-inspiring. I think it's better if I show you pictures and videos, it's kind of hard to explain, but it's really a breathtaking experience.
First, here's a picture:

Please go here to see more pictures, they are quite something.
Here's a video of what Toyohashi fireworks look like. I recommend that you lower the volume before you play it, it's loud.

I rushed out of the house as soon as I heard fireworks, so I left my phone at home, and didn't take any pictures of my own.

In fact, this post won't have any pictures. Because it rained a bit this week, and because I was lazy, I think I took only one picture this week, of the tree with very sweet and kind of unpleasant smell, it's been bothering me for a week, so I felt like posting a picture of it. I am too lazy to get up and upload stuff right now though, so maybe next time. It's funny, this tree smells like some chemical thing dad used in his garage when I was a child. I can't remember what that thing was for, either something for his car, or to polish stuff... I wonder if I ask dad he'll know what I am talking about. I asked my brother when he was here if he recognized the smell, but he didn't, he said to him it smells like flowers.

Ah, and yes, that's the best part of the week: my brother stopped by! So there you go, this is the best week in Japan so far :D.

Hopefully by now everyone who reads this blog got used to the randomness of my posts, because I don't feel like separating everything into proper posts.

Last thing I wanted to blog about is my Junior High School (Otsuka JHS) where I go every week for ALT classes. I had the best week ever in that school so far, because the lesson plans that the teachers prepared this week were really fun. We got to talk to the kids about their favourite things like music, movies, etc., and all the hours I wasted on watching drama and anime (ha, especially Gintama) payed off. Apparently Gintama is a big hit among my students, and they were thoroughly impressed that I watch it too. In fact, I learned about this manga/anime from a student back in Canada, who, I guess, is about the same age as my students now. The girls were also impressed that I watched "Hana Yori Dango" (haha, but the English teacher was not so impressed, we laughed about it with her so much). In case anyone who just went to check out the link is wondering why it sounds like the "Meteor Garden" F4 story, yes, it's the same story, more or less. And yes, I actually watched the first 15 or 20 episodes of "Meteor Garden". And no, I am not posting a link, it's allready embarassing enough to admit that I watched the thing. Taiwanese dramas are really something... I am yet to see a serious one...
Anyways, back to the story about my students, some of the boys were also impressed that I am a Yoshiki fan. If you don't know who Yoshiki is, you really should watch the video below:

(I think I might have posted this before, but probably on my other blog, not on this one. The full version of the song can be found here, part 1 and part 2.)

Anyways, I was happy that I got the students excited enough that they were talking fast, mixing their English with Japanese, but talking. We laughed so much too. Man, it really is so much more interesting for me to talk to junior high school students. I have no idea what to talk to my younger students about. Questions like "what manga do you like" or "what music do you like" don't fly over too well with those who are not in their teens yet... and that's 95% of my students. I watch one of the other teachers fool around and play with the kids, and he does it so well, that I keep thinking I wish I could do that too... but I just get stiff when I try, because I don't know what to do with little kids... and somehow I don't feel like learning. I mean, I don't have too much interest in playing with 5-6 year olds... Playing with my older students, and talking, is fun though, but I don't have very many of older classes.
Anyways, back to the Otsuka Junior High School: not only are they great kids for the most part, but I also found something else interesting about them. Apparently, half of our salary (of the ALTs) is payed by the school board, but only half. The other half is payed by the school, and the students get the money by gathering recycling and stuff... That's so.. so.. I think that's so special. I don't know enough details to say much, I guess, but still that's pretty amazing.

This weekend, when I felt like procrastinating instead of filling the JET application, I thought about Otsuka students, and that made me get myself together and do the work.

There's one more great thing about this school. This week one of the English teachers, who is also the vice-principal, told us that he wants to split the first year (grade 7) English class into homerooms. Right now, of the 3 first year student classes, two are combined and the vice-principal teaches it, with me and another guy from my company helping out. The third homeroom class is taught by another ALT. From November or December the vice-principal wants to split the combined class, so each of us 3 ALTs will be teaching separately, and the vice-principal will go from class to class to make sure everything is going well. In preparation for that he got me and the other guy to teach separate parts of the lesson by ourselves. It was actually not bad at all. The lesson plan was already there, we just had to introduce vocabulary, and while it didn't go stellar, it was not so bad for the first-time classroom teaching experience. Short it may have been, but I enjoyed it. So really, if I had any doubts before about teaching high school, now I don't have doubts, now I know for sure I love classroom teaching. Of course, it was just a small taste of what's to come, but still.

Which reminds me, if I want to get into UBC at some point, I need to start taking the English literature courses that I am missing. If I save enough money, I think I will take a distance education course this winter, so once I send off the JET application, I need to look into deadlines, enrollment procedures, etc. I think I am short 3 senior English half-credits or so, hopefully they have good course selection for the winter... and hopefully I can get away with not taking any Canadian literature...

Ok, I think this is all I wanted to write about. Tomorrow I am going to Nagoya, so I need to finish up all of my work fast, talk to parents, then practice piano, and then go to sleep.

P.S. I just realized how I post every weekend now... I remember checking my brother's blog regularly when he was in Japan. So for those of you out there reading: I probably won't post too much during the weekdays like I did this week, but I will try to keep posting on Saturdays/Sundays.

Friday, October 10, 2008

First Private Lesson

I also had another first this week: a first private lesson. A friend's friend wanted to take private lessons with me, and today we had our first one. I prepared so much stuff, but we ended up talking a lot (she wants conversation practice), and didn't get to do any of the stuff I prepared (muahaha, less planning for me for the next few weeks, yay). It was really enjoyable though, and I think she learned quite a bit. I guess I like to have more structured lessons, but today was good, since I wanted to know her level, and what kind of stuff she wants to focus on, etc., and I accomplished well.

I am also very happy about the lessons because she is a nice person, so I enjoy her company, in addition to enjoying teaching. The only thing is that Thursdays are a long day for me, but then I can sleep in tomorrow, so it all works out.

All right, bed time!

Piano Class

I had my first piano lesson yesterday, and it went well. I was very nervous before because my teacher asked me during the trial lesson (a month ago) to practice at home so I can read sheet music, but I only practiced a little and didn't improve all that much. So I was worried she would be disappointed and would expect that I have done more, but she was really nice actually, and the class was ok in terms of pace. I had to do a lot, but while difficult, it wasn't impossible, it was just right I think—good practice and difficult, but I felt good at the end. Ha, kind of like a good kendo practice...

I like my teacher a lot. She made me sing the notes as I was playing, and it was great that she asked me, because I would have been too embarrassed to sing by myself without her asking, since I can't really sing too well. It was very good practice. I have a goal of how much practice I want to do every week, so I will try my best to keep it up.

While we are on the subject of playing the piano, check this out:

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I've been listening to this song by Sptiz:

I can't find a translation but it starts with "Let's go to the ocean tomorrow, on the first morning train."
So when deciding if I should go to Nagoya for the day, or to the ocean, it really wasn't a hard decision... Plus, since I bike to the ocean, it costs nothing (ok, it cost me $3 for not packing enough water bottles and having to buy juice on the way, and another $1.50 for forgetting my lunch, that I actually prepared). So really it was easy to pick the ocean over Nagoya. It rained on and off today, hence the gloomy pictures, but really, it was a beautiful day, and a great idea to choose the ocean. Nagoya I can see any day, but going swimming in October, now that's something :D. It's probably the last week I can go swimming too since the temperature is dropping, so I am glad I went today.

I should be filling out my JET application, so I won't write much, I'll just post pictures.

It was cloudy, and I don't have time to Photoshop the pictures, here's the ocean as it looked today.

There was some fog, but not much. Too bad it was overcast, I wish I went to the ocean yesterday instead since it was so sunny, but I still enjoyed it today, even though it rained in the end.

The waves were strong enough for surfing, but ok for swimming too, as long as I stayed close to the shore. I heard it's dangerous to swim out into the ocean because of the currents, but that it's ok along the shore, since the currents are in deeper waters. So that's what I did, I stayed close to shore, not going deeper than the shoulder level. It was fun, swiming along the shore, and the water was warm enough. Although, after about half an hour in the water I got cold and had to get out. I went walking along the beach as soon as I dried off, and I ended up bringing a whole bag of shells home. I think with yesterday's trip and today's I can fill half of a shoebox with shells... Why I need this many shells I have no idea... but I guess like I wrote before, I can always throw them out, but gathering them was a lot of fun. I am going to give two pretty ones to my managers tomorrow, as a souvineer. Some of these shells are actually quite pretty.

There is a cliff-looking thing in front of the beach, and even to get to the shore you have to bike down through the forest along this steep serpantine road, so the ocean is a lot lower than the land level in the area.

I have no zoom, so I couldn't get good pictures of the surfers, but watching them was so interesting. It looks really pretty when they catch the wave, but in general surfing looks really difficult. I really want to try it some day. The other day my friends took me to a Korean restauraunt, and the owner is a friend of my friend. So he (the owner) was joking how he'd take me surfing some day. That's probably not very likely, but it would have been cool though... So many people in Toyohashi surf, it's amazing.

Another attempt at taking surfing pictures:

In case you guys have forgotten what I look like, I took some self-portraits, hehe. Please note, I am wearing my UofT Kendo jacket ;). I have been wearing it all over Toyohashi. Actually, one of the girls in our building stopped me the other day because she saw "UofT" written on it, and she actually used to be a UofT student. She is a JET, and I haven't seen her since (our schedules differ a lot so we don't run into each other), but still.

This one is cut-off, I know, but the fishermen across the beach were giving me funny looks as I was taking self-pictures, so I figured this was good enough :D. Next time I'll go to the beach with my friends so I don't have to take self-portraits.

This is before leaving the beach. The people below were fishing. There were a lot of people fishing today, almost as many as people surfing.

This was an interesting shrine close to the beach. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looked like a Buddhist shrine to me. I still can't tell the difference too well though, so maybe I am wrong.

My room smells like the ocean now! I brought the smell with me :D. I hope it stays for a while!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First Week of October in Pictures

Crying Kids

This week was quite eventful: I made three kids cry, and one kid hate me. Oh well, "what to do, what to do". At least in one case it was the kid's fault, and as for the other cases, I learned a bit more about what 5 year olds can and can not developmentally handle in terms of competitive games. I am still not used to how young my students are, it's like they live in a completely different world. I wish I took developmental psychology...

Yesterday one of my students, an extremely smart girl who is really good at English, left my class smiling (she won in two games, and she is generally a happy kid), but then she came back to school crying her heart out. It turned out her mom didn't come to pick her up. Thankfully I had a break between classes, so we waited for her mom together with her and the manager, Natsue-san, both of us trying to cheer her up. I always thought of this girl as if she were older, a 9-year old or so, but this reminded me that she is only six. She cried for her mom so bitterly, I almost felt like crying myself, she was so sad. It's amazing how kids' emotions work. I bet once she was in the car with her mom (who was only 5-10 minutes late), she was laughing and smiling... Kids go from sad to happy so fast.

This is going to be a totally random post by the way, I just realized there is a lot I wanted to write about, so whoever reads this will have to bear with me.

Okonomiyaki and Monja

Yesterday I went to an okonomiyaki restauraunt with our two managers and the kids, and with one of the guys I work with. It was so fun! I wrote before that I love the kids a lot, and I love my managers too, they are such good people and so interesting to talk to.
Even though we were in an okonomiyaki restauraunt, I didn't have okonomiyaki, I had monja instead, because I decided to try something new, and because that's what the kids were getting :D. It's actually pretty interesting food, but difficult to describe. So instead of me explaining what it is, here's a video I found on youtube of what happens when you make monja:

Doesn't look very appetizing, but it tasted wonderful.
It has all sorts of stuff inside, the main ingredient being cabbage, but there is also seafood, and/or meat, and/or rice cakes, and cheese, and/or seaweed, and other things. It tasted very good.
I didn't take pictures because I was lazy and tired from work... Maybe next time.

Nagoya Concert
Now, skipping one week back, last weekend I went to Nagoya with my friend Eri. She invited me to a concert, and I think she told me what exactly this concert will be like, but I misunderstood, so the more exciting surprise it turned out to be. This concert turned out to be an orchestra that played music from Nodame Contabelle! I know, some of you must be pretty envious ;). MAAAAANNNNNN, it was good! They played my most favourite, Rachmaninov's second piano concert, and I have never heard it live before, so it was an unforgettable experience. It was so moving, I cried actually, because the music is just so beautiful. Here is a recording of Rachmaninov himself playing the piece:

Before the concert Eri took me to see her university, Nagoya University (or College?) of Music. It was so interesting to see where she goes to school. We had lunch close to campus, at a "Moss Burger" restauraunt. Apparently it's a big chain in Japan, and the food is really good, a lot better than North American burgers. Plus the portions are small, which is great, you don't end up overeating. I am not a big fan of burgers, but the one I had there was really really good. I didn't take a picture, but I found one on the internet, I think it's similar to what I ate:

Oh, and the drinks are really diverse here, not just the standard cola/sprite/root beer/orange juice/apple juice stuff. You can get ice coffee (that is actually good, not like the McDonalds nasty ice coffee in Toronto), different tea, and different kids of juice.

The performance was in Aichi Arts Centre, that has a beautiful concert hall. My pictures kind of suck, but oh well.

After the concert we went to have dinner at an Itallian restauraunt near the train station. I didn't get to see as much of the city this time, but I will definitely go back there again soon (maybe even tomorrow), because it's just so lively and the atmosphere is great there. I don't know if I will go tomorrow or not for sure, because I might go to the ocean, and I might also have to stay home to catch up on all the chores and such if I don't get everything done tonight, but we'll see I guess. Anyways, I didn't take pictures in the restauraunt, but it was fun. I met Eri's university friends and it was interesting to talk to them.

The Ocean Next to My School
During the week nothing much happened until Thursday. That day I had extra time before my lessons start, so I went exploring the city (Kosai). I saw on google maps (haha, on my iPhone :P) that the ocean is really close, so I went to take a look. It was even closer than I thought, it's literally a 5 minute walk from our school! It's not a beach or anything, but it was very nice to walk along the ocean and smell the salt in the air. The day was absolutely beautiful too, so I really enjoyed myself. Here are some pictures.

There was a little crab (maybe 5cm wide) walking along the road:

There was also a turle, sunbathing on the pier:

There were many fishermen's nets along the coast.

I liked how the corroded metal looked on this mirror. You have to click it to enlarge though if you want to see the details.

These flowers bloom all over Toyohashi and surrounding areas now, I wonder what they are called. I have never seen flowers like this before.

This was someone's abandoned bike. I wonder how many years ago it was abandoned.

Saturday Trip to Gamagori (Mikawa Otsuka)
Today (on Saturday) I went North-East (towards Nagoya), to the station called Mikawa Otsuka, where I get off every week to go to my junior high school classes in Otsuka Junior High School. Whenever I take the train there I keep wanting to explore, but of course there is never time during the week, because we get there at 9 AM, and after that we have to return to teach our afternoon classes (yes, I love my schedule, sigh).

On the way I saw some weird plants:

This is just a view of the area around the station:

Power station? It looked cool, but I couldn't get a good picture because I couldn't step far enough back to capture all of it.

There were these citrus gardens everywhere. I wonder what fruit these are... Oranges or tangerines, maybe.

There is also a Buddhist (I think) graveyard next to the train station. I always try to take a good picture while waiting for the train, but the angle is not right, and I am behind a fence (the station has a fence since you have to pay to get in). Today I was on the other side of the fence, outside of the station, so I managed to take a better picture:

Anyways, there are these torii gates that I always see from the train, so I wanted to know what was behind them, and that's the main reason I went there. The day was absolutely beautiful today, so warm and bright, so I enjoyed walking around the area. The gates led to a small shrine, in the middle of a pine-bamboo forest.

This is more or less what I see from the train:

This is the climb there:

These are the other set of gates, at the top:

These are the same gates, but I am looking down from the shrine on them (as opposed to looking up from the forest):

This is a fox guardian, I think. This reminds me, I still want to go back to Toyokawa Inari shrine and take a picture of the million foxes there.

This looked like the lantern, but I don't know. I need to read more about Shintoism to understand all the things I saw.

I initially planned on exploring the mountain too, but I guess I got a little bored with just pines and bamboo, and worried about getting lost (even though I had my GPS, which is really an amazing device to have—imagine carrying google maps with you everywhere). So instead I went to explore the coast. The station, as well as the school, are close to the ocean, and I could easily find my way there with the google maps on my phone. I can't get over how much I love my new phone by the way. Today it made my life so much more easy and so much more fun—I could find the train station easy, and I knew which way was the shortest to the ocean, and where parks and other attractions were.
On the way to the ocean I made a stop at "Laguna", a sort of mall/entertainment center. Apparently it's supposed to be a place for young people to hang out, but I wasn't too impressed (haha, maybe because I didn't feel like spending money, I don't know). Maybe I didn't see all of it, I don't know, but in any case, I had a lot more fun walking around the seashore. There were two guys flying some kite-looking things, I don't really know what those are called. One of them was trying to surf using the kite (Joanne, remember the ones we saw in San Francisco? It was the same thing), but the wind was blowing towards the shore, so he didn't have much luck. I stayed to watch for maybe half an hour, but then I got bored and decided to keep walking.

There were also people water-skiing, but I didn't manage to take a good picture.

The shore was littered with shells, some of them quite beautiful. I ended up picking a whole bunch... I don't know what I'll do with them, but they looked pretty. I guess I can always throw them away, but for now they will be good memories from today.

This is the view of the shore.

This is not a very good picture, but there is a Ferris wheel behind the palm trees. I wanted to ride it, but I didn't bring enough money and didn't want to risk not having enough to pay for the ticket back home, and there was no bank machine in sight. I actually don't know how much the ride costs, maybe I did have enough, but anyways I wasn't in the mood either. I think it's more fun to ride these things with friends anyway. Plus my phone was running low on batteries so I wouldn't have been able to take too many pictures. I can always go back there, it's so close to my home.

This is just the view of the ocean. I took off my shoes and walked in the water. It's already October, and we had a few cool days when I woke up in the morning and had to dash for the shower (it was too cold in the room), but today I think was about 25 outside, and the water is still warm enough to swim, I think. Maybe not warm enough for comfortable swimming, but definitely warm enough for a vigorous work-out-style power swimming... that's why I am not entirely convinced I should go to Nagoya tomorrow and pass up on probably my last chance to go swimming in the ocean this year. Ah, decisions, decisions... :D Well, I can always go to Nagoya, I think, but the ocean is getting cold, so I'll probably bike to the ocean. Plus I skipped kendo today because I had stuff to do, so I could use the exercise...

I am so happy that I live this close to the ocean. I missed it so much for these 8 years in Canada... I REALLY missed it, now I am realizing just how much.

Some Random Pictures from Today

I just went to the grocery store to get more tea, and I ended up buying a snack as well. The tea is mango orange (I didn't even realize it had orange in it until just now, and I've been drinking it for a week). It's really good actually, I love it a lot. The snack is coffee ice-cream. I love Japanese grocery stores for carrying everything in small portions. This was a 150 ml container. They gave me a wooden spoon-looking thing to eat it with, and they have chopsticks too if you ask, so basically you can just get all your cooked food in the grocery store, including cuttlery, if you wanted to (a nice back-up system for when you don't feel like cooking, and it doesn't cost that much more to buy pre-cooked stuff). Oh, I just noticed, the tea box says "Flavoury Tea". :D

The next random picture is of me editing this blog post :D.

Special Requests
The last two pictures I took because I was asked for more information on my super cool toilet :P. Here's also the URL to the website of the manufacturers of this wonder of technology.

"Time of Eve"

Thanks to Jenelle, who introduced me to an anonymous browsing software, I was able to watch crunchyroll again, and came across something very interesting. It is an anime about androids called "Time of Eve". Take a look here. Only two episodes have been out, so it's too early to say anything, I guess, but so far it's really interesting.

Generally I don't particularly enjoy science fiction, but from the first minutes this show raises some interesting questions, such as, "is it ok to treat those who are made to serve us as servants, without considering their own situation?" It reminds me a lot of "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro (a book I highly recommend). It also reminds me of what I am missing in my own writing—some fundamental moral questions. I am touching on some questions right now, but very superficially. Oh, and it also reminds me of "Nobuta o Produce" drama, which also brings up some very important questions (but I won't spoil it for you, go watch Nobuta yourself :D, you can find it here).

I am so nice, I put all the links in this post so everyone can join me in wasting their days away on Crunchyroll, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. *Cough* I mean, um, improve their Japanese listening comprehension... That's what Crunchyroll is for, of course ;).

If you are in Japan, you won't be able to view crunchyroll videos, unless you install some anonymous browsing software, like this one (thank you, Jenelle ^ ^).