Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saying goodbye to Hiro (sob sob)

The office retirement party last Friday was okay but not nearly as much fun as the teachers parties. We went to the local hotel for the dinner and toasting but I felt really out of it since there were not many people there who spoke any English. One of the women at my table tried as much as she could to talk with me but I still felt awkward. I really need to work harder at the learning Japanese thing. I swear though, it goes in and then falls right out! Anyway, I was glad that I went because Kabara-san seemed happy to see me and the principal of the kindergarten was also retiring so I got to wish her well also. I was able to meet Takemura-san who will be replacing Kabara-san but I didn't get much of an idea of his personality or his English abilities. I took the early bus home rather than stay for Karaoke. Maybe next time!
The weekend was mostly the usual. Joisan had ballet on Saturday and we went into Date on Sunday to get some dance gear at a big sale that her ballet school had sponsored. Unfortunately, when we got to Date we found that the sale was actually being held in Muroran so we had to high-tail it so we could get still get everything done that we needed to do. I had never actually been to the Muroran studio so of course we got well and truly lost! It took about 45 minutes of driving around and asking for directions before we finally found the place! We found a pair of toe shoes at the sale and then on our way out we poked our heads in to the office to say goodbye to the dance teacher. She pulled us in and then proceeded to do an exchange of Joisan's old toe shoes for another pair of new ones. It was a bit weird since she took back the ones Joisan has been wearing for the last two months at full value and for that we got another new pair of toe shoes, a pair of toe guards and 270 Yen. I have no idea what she will do with the used shoes or how she can afford to give us all that stuff! She also gifted Joisan with a new pair of ballet slippers! Weird!
Anyway, we booted it back home as fast as we could because Ian had invited Joisan's friend Akari and her family for dinner. The dad was not able to come but the mum came and so did Akari's two sisters. I made a yummy tomato-clam sauce with fresh clams for our spaghetti while everyone else went out to play in the snow. We all enjoyed ourselves very much.
Monday and Tuesday for me were all about hanging out at the school and helping Hiro when I could. She had an awful lot of stuff to pack and organize. Yesterday she had a little work party help her to pack the stuff from her house into the rail container that is being sent with all her stuff in it.
Today we moved desks around in the office so I have a new home by Chinami (nurse), Yuki (dietitian) and Kayo (J's homeroom teacher). Hiro came in and dropped off her key and then headed out for some last minute stuff. Everyone gathered at her house around 2pm to see her off. She is now gone.
When we got back to the Chugakko I worked at my desk using Hiro's computer rather than having to come into the conference room. It's a total bummer that I don't get a computer at my desk. It means I spend a lot of time moving stuff back and forth from one computer to another. Ugh.
Ian and the kids had gone off to pick up Chinami's boys and go bowling in Muroran. Chinami took Naoko and I home with her after school and we all met at Chinami's house for Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. It was yummy and fun but unfortunately I had to leave to go back to Otaki for the adult class. Ian and Naoko and the kids weren't ready to go yet so I booted it back by myself - breaking some land-speed records I think - and did the adult classes and then went back to Date to pick them up. It was a long and emotional day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Two down, one to go!

It's Friday here (Thursday there) which means I've made it through two of the three farewell parties. The first two were difficult in some ways (because of who we are saying farewell to) and a ton of fun (because they were with the teachers). Tonights party, for Kabara-san, will be significantly different - there will be no teachers there and I don't think there will be anyone who speaks much in the way of English either. The office staff are very kind to me though and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to socialize with them.
Last weekend was fun. On Saturday Joisan and Taran and I hit a new arcade that was opening that day in Date. We had coupons from the day we went to the movies that gave us free tokens to play some of the games so we went to check it out. I would not be at all surprised to learn that the big casinos own the amusement places because they seem to just be training places for learning how to gamble! Joisan and I have both learned to only take the amount of cash into the building that we are willing to lose. It is just so difficult not to keep prying open the wallet when you're right in the heat of the moment!
On Sunday Ian and I and Joisan went to Muroran for the day. We did a bit of shopping - checked out the big second-hand store and the sporting goods store and then we had some lunch and went to the concert. It was the Muroran Wind Society with a special guest (Eric Miyashiro) and it was very impressive. Eric in particular was increadible and I've got a bit of video of him playing that I'm going to post on YouTube and link to so watch for that!
Monday night we had Naoko and Koshizaka-sensei (the Japanese teacher) over for dinner. It was the first time that Koshizaka-sensei had come for dinner and we enjoyed having her over. Tuesday was fairly low-key with wrapping stuff up at school and for the afterschool program. Wednesday was the closing ceremonies and the announcement to the students of which teachers are leaving. Of course I cried and cried at the closing ceremony. I have known since just after we decided to stay that Hiro is leaving. She has been secconded to another district far far away on Honshu (the big island). She will be gone for two years and I am a little devastated. She has been my friend and advisor and I'm not sure how I will manage without her - except that I've made some wonderful connections among the rest of the staff (Naoko in particular) so I'm sure it will be fine - just different. Koshizaka-sensei (Japanese teacher) and Kyoto-sensei (vice-principal) are also leaving to go to other schools but it was watching Hiro as she struggled not to cry that really made me feel lost.
Anyway, the teachers farewell party was Wednesday night. We all went to a hotel at Lake Toya where we feasted and talked and drank and played bingo to win our end of the year prizes! We spent a couple of hours in the very intimate (read tiny) bar visiting and drinking. Later on (after the VP had been poured into bed) we played pool and then some of us went for a bath at the onsen. Hiro had pretty much passed out by then and Naoko didn't want to bath with us so there were only five of us female teachers and it was very late so it was very empty! There was an outdoor bath and it seemed like paradise to be out there laughing and talking with everyone. I didn't sleep very well - strange futon, strange pillow and the room was too hot. When I got up I could still smell cigarette smoke on myself despite my bath the night before so I went and had another bath. We had a large traditional Japanese breakfast including raw egg and natto (fermented soybeans), salmon, miso soup, seaweed and rice, and then we were taken home. Oh yes - I forgot to mention that the hotels around here will pick you up and deliver you home! And for the evening-only events there is always a bus to transport everyone. No drinking and driving here!
All the teachers (eventually) dragged themselves in to the school yesterday. There was a fair amount of moaning and groaning going on but no one failed to show up at the next party! Last night was the PTA party so Ian came along too. We went to one of the local hotels and had amazing food and lots to drink. There was a Karaoke machine and despite the fact that Naoko said she would not sing, much sake helped her to get up with Ato-san and Ian to sing "Let It Be". Of course, Ato-san dropping his pants twice made her run away! At the end of the song, when he had been abandoned by Ato-san too Ian decided to start taking off his shirt! It was a little funny and a little embarassing. Anyway, there was more drinking, followed (inevitably) by more singing. Ian and Hiro and I sang "Eight Days A Week" and then it was time to go. We got all the way out to the last bus and Ian decided to go continue partying with Ato-san so I rode the bus home by myself. I left before he got up this morning so I'm still not sure what time he came home.
That catches us up to today. I'm on my way to the Chugakko now and then this evening I will be going out with the office staff to celebrate the retirement of Kabara-san. I really hope that his replacement is as nice as he is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Photos!

Check it out - there are two new photo shares and more to come!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

That was wishful thinking...

Let it never be said that I'm a 'glass half-empty' kind of girl but there are times... It is still snowing and life is still chaotic and I'm still trying to get everything accomplished that needs to be done.
Next Wednesday we have the closing ceremonies for the end of the school year and then there will be an almost two week break for the kids. I will be working at the school or at the office still but it's getting better. I will probably focus most of the time on making plans and resources for the next school year and I'm optimistic (there I go again!) that I will get lots accomplished and be a way better teacher because of it!
Last weekend Joisan had her long anticipated birthday party. All five girls in her class were invited but only four were able to come. The girls slept over and did some fun games (picking up tiny candy with chopsticks, eating jello with chopsticks, a snowball fight, a snow maze) and they also decorated cupcakes and broke a pinata. I made an amazing pinata for the party (photos to be posted I promise) and Ian and Joisan both helped to decorate it. It's of Kitti-chan (aka Hello Kitty) and it really was heartbreaking to have it get beaten up! There was more than 25 hours of labour that went into making and decorating it. Luckily they didn't do the pinata until Sunday when I was not there so I didn't have to weep over it!
On Sunday Taran had arranged a lunch and movie trip with his class. Unfortunately Kenta was sick so it was just Taran and the three girls. (He hated that - NOT!) We all met at our place and Hiro took her car with one of the other 3rd grade teachers and I took the boy and girls in our car. We met Naoko at the restaurant in Muroran. The kids were pretty fun in the car - Taran was forever trying to take pictures of the girls (one in particular) and the girls were always hiding behind their hands! I managed to get them on to trying to teach me some Japanese phrases which I promptly forgot! I am discovering that the language centre in my brain has atrophied and it's really hard to get it moving again! I can still come out with the phrases I want in French but the Japanese just won't stick.
Anyway, we had lunch at a western-themed chain called Donki where we ended up in the smoking section because that was all that was available. I really miss those BC smoking laws! After lunch we went to the movie theatre and bought our tickets for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and found that we had some time to kill. They gave us free bowling coupons when we bought our tickets so we went to bowl. Unfortunately there was too long a wait so we played in the arcade instead. The arcades here have some of the games we're used to but they also have a lot of those claw-type games where you try to win a prize by picking it up and dropping it down the chute. Taran won a little stuffed animal and gave it to one of the girls (Saya) and then he won another and gave it to Miyu. That of course meant that he had to win one for Ayano too. He had managed to get the first two on one try each but the last one took many many tries and much money to get! We went back to the theatre and when we went in I was surprised by how small the theatre and the screen was. I would be surprised if the theatre sat more than 100 people and the screen looked like about six or eight of the biggest tv's you see in Future Shop put together. It was great though - intimate but big enough to be impressive still. We all enjoyed the movie.
Taran has been in mourning since last Thursday because his 3rd grade class is finished but he still has to go to school and be with the next 3rd grade class (currently grade 2's). He is really missing his pals. He seems to be a bit more focused on schoolwork this week - I'm hoping it will stick! Joisan has begun her grade 8 courses and could reasonably be finished BC grade 8 by the end of the summer and start grade 9 work in September. We'll see. She's still dancing three classes a week and there's a possiblity of a fourth class too. Again, we'll see.
Both the grade 1's and the grade 2's performed this week for the Warashibe. They did two Robert Munsch plays - Pigs and Mortimer. I was a bit worried when we started the rehearsals but they all worked really hard and did a fantastic job! I was very proud!
We have next Monday off for some national holiday so it's a long weekend. We'll be doing our "Sunday dinner" on Monday night because Ian and I have been given tickets to a brass and woodwind concert in Muroran on Sunday. We're looking forward to it. I have to run off now to the elementary school graduation ceremony and then to the Chugakko. I will try and get some photos posted tonight!
Love to all...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chaos is drawing to an end... (for now!)

Well gentle readers, there have been many events in the last two weeks that have taken much time and energy from the assorted Fireballs. We are nearing the end of the school year in Japan and thus are dealing with the Grade 3 graduation and all the pomp and circumstance (Japanese style) of that. Because Chugakko 3 (our grade 9) is the end of compulsary schooling here it is a really big deal. Most students go on to high school and college or university so that they can get a good job but their regular public education only goes to the end of Junior High.
There has been much rehearsing and decorating leading up to yesterday - the actual graduation ceremony. We had a graduation party day on Tuesday that was lots of fun! The students spent the morning playing a basketball tournament (Taran's team won!) and then the afternoon was spent performing skits and songs that they'd been practicing for several weeks. Joisan's class did a game show with the grade 3's as contestants. Taran's class performed a very short version of Snow White and then they played Country Roads on their guitars. Hiro and I sang with them for that and we also performed a dance and another song with the rest of the teachers. I have a few photos I will post here and Taran has posted a video of Snow White on his facebook page if anyone is interested. I am hoping to get my hands on the dvd they made of the whole thing. The tv station films everything here!!
I know I've been promising photos for quite a while now and I went on to upload them to a photoshare this week and all my photos since Christmas morning are gone! I've lost my DisneyWorld photos, my ski marathon pictures, photos of the Yukigassen, pictures of Girls Day and the ice cave. Even the photos of Dave trying to deduce what the suspicious looking "thing" from Japan was! :( I cried and cried when I discovered the loss. I will endeavor to be more diligent about uploading pictures now so that this will not happen again.
The other thing I think I have not been totally clear on yet is that we are staying here for another year. We have made arrangements to rent our house to some fabulous people and I've received approval for another Leave of Absence from Cowichan. We will be here until August of 2011. Start planning your trips please! We want visitors!

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Just a quick note... we seem to have entered a lovely pattern of weather here where it is sunshiny and beautiful all day - warm enough that it is even melting some of the snow. Then at night the temperature is dropping and it is snowing just enough to dust the trees so that they look sparkly and beautiful with all the sunshine in the morning! I had my coat undone and the car windows open today! I am hopeful that this is a sign that we're almost finished with winter... I don't want to jinx it by saying the S word but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunshiny March!

Oh how I am welcoming the sunshine that has become the trend over the last week! Actually, I have to say that this winter has not been nearly as bad for light as I had feared. I think it may have something to do with the snow and the light that reflects off of it but I have not found myself lacking for light this winter at all. That said, I am still rejoicing at the longer days and the sunshine that is warming them up!

We had a very busy weekend - aside from keeping up with the Olympic Events and medal count - YAY CANADA!!! - we were experiencing all we could of the Japanese culture. On Friday afternoon I had a meeting with Kabara-san at the Ootaki office about staying for another year. There were a couple of details that needed to be addressed and he is contacting the Date Board of Education about it but it's looking more and more like we're here until the summer of 2011. I was a bit devastated to hear that Kabara-san is retiring this month as I've grown quite fond of him and it's totally fun to try my pathetic Japanese on him and make him laugh! I hope the new guy will be as kind and helpful.

On Saturday Ian and Joisan and I went to Sobetsu to watch some of the Yukigassen (literally: snow battle). There were many teams competing and although it was not exactly how Ian had pictured it, it was still fun to watch. It is quite a big deal here - many of the teams had special uniforms and everything! There were about 9 or 10 people to a team. They played on a fairly small field that had a few blocks of snow on each side to take cover behind. Each team had the same number of snow balls and if you get hit you're out. The games are timed and at the end the team with the most players still in the game is the winner. While we were there we went to visit Ato-san who had his deer burger booth set up. We had a quick visit and then left to get Joisan to her friends house for a lunch date. We still had to do the ballet-run after her visit at Akari's house and then after dinner Ato-san and his friend and his daughter came over to do some drinking. It was fun!

On Sunday Joisan and I went on a hike to Nyoro Nyoro. It is a cave here in Otaki that gets some amazing icicles growing up from the floor and down from the ceiling. It takes about an hour to hike to it - along a narrow, snow covered ridge. We managed to hold our place at the end of the line quite well! Ato-san's daughter Misuzu came with us - which was a little uncomfortable since there was another girl who came along with her parents and she is the target of a lot of bullying by Misuzu. Ugh. Thirteen year old girls are fun! Anyway, we have some photos which I will post today if possible!

When Joisan and I got home we found Ian and Taran watch tv and shivering under blankets. We had run out of oil :( I made a couple of calls and managed to get a plan in place to make it through the night. Naoko and I took a jerry can to Sobetsu where there was a fuel station open. We bought 18L of heating oil and we were optimistic once we got it in that things would be fine. Of course it wasn't that easy. We had to get Ato-san and one of his buddies to come and help us bleed the lines before it would work. Oh - heat is a wonderful thing!

School is going fine - we're in wrap-up mode for the end of the school year. Naoko and I have the grade 1's and 2's working on plays right now. I've done scripts of a couple of Robert Munsch books - Pigs and Mortimer - and we're working on understanding the words right now. We're going to perform it at the Warashibe in two weeks.

There's not much excitement planned for the next few weeks. Joisan will finally have her birthday party on the 13th. She'll be starting grade 8 in April with her class here and I've arranged for her to start the BC grade 8 core subjects at the same time. The kids are still not thrilled about the idea of staying for another year so I'm hoping that we'll get some visitors over the next year that will cheer them up. Hint hint!!!