Sunday, October 31, 2010

Snow!!! Halloween and stupid busy.

As promised, this week was nuts! Clearly, despite many attempts otherwise, we left all our planning and organizing much too late! Of course - that lead to an overwhelming feeling of crazyness and although I did start this on time - I was not able to finish it until now.
On Tuesday we got the snow that had been forcast. It seemed to have just started when I got up but it accumulated quickly and by the time I left for work it was a little scary! I was running late to get to Date but still took it slow because of the snow. I have to figure out what happens if the weather is too bad for driving on a Date day... I'm not excited about doing that drive this winter! The snow actually continued through Wednesday and by the time it quit for good it was up to my knees! Thankfully it is all but gone now and hopefully we won't see any more for several months (ha ha!)
On Wednesday I spoke to the English teachers in the area again. Personally, I thought it was a great talk - very interesting, a little entertaining, and informative too! I didn't feel very successful afterward though because all the feedback I got from the organizer was that I took too long! He hadn't told me there was a time limit and I thought I'd done well to keep it as short as I did! Grrr. I think I'll say no next time he asks me!
Seeing that it was the end of October, I kept all the lessons focused on Halloween. I played Halloween bingo, Halloween concentration and various other games to build vocabulary. We even made paper plate masks - totally fun!!!
While I was focused on making some truly fabulous cookies that looked like green witches fingers,
Ian and the kids decided that a haunted house was essential to this year's Halloween party. They planned and shopped and prepared diligently.
We determined that to be able to make it dark and scary enough we would need to do it in the garage. Consequently the car had to give up it's warm and frost-free resting place and the transformation began... In the end we had a gory, science lab gone awry theme going on with a display of a bloody cut up body, various creepy bits and pieces, a skeleton that swung down from the ceiling
and two dummies positioned to look scary. The second one was particularly scary as it involved a severed head and when you walked by it jumped up and tried to grab you... (it was Taran in disguise!) The whole thing finished off with a walk through a "graveyard" where the names of the families attending the party were written on the gravestones. We downloaded some spooky sound effects and of course there were cobwebs and spiders everywhere! It was pretty awesome!!! The Otaki cable TV came and filmed it and they promised me a copy of it on DVD. I'll be sure to post it as soon as I get it! The haunted house was really the highlight of Halloween for me.
I had four parties on Friday and it was more than a bit stressful! I started with the pumpkin carving party at the Chugakko during 6th period. Joisan and I beat it out of there as soon as the period ended so that we could make it to the kids party in Date that I was "helping" with. "Helping" is the new word for "running" or "doing" you know! I was really grateful that Joisan was willing to come and help as she was invaluable at the face painting station. There were far too many children there (about 30!) and the age gap was far too big (3 yr olds up to 12 year olds). I will recommend that they have two shorter parties next year instead of the big one. It was a bit chaotic but in the end everyone had a good time. I got out of cleaning up again because I had to boot it back to Otaki for the childrens party at the guest house. I was a bit frustrated with it because there were only six kids signed up for it (and most of them Jr. High kids) and we ended up with 14 kids! And only a few of them made any effort to dress up. I was really lucky that I had enough spare stuff to be able to give prizes to everyone. We played some fun games - including a "mummy wrap" but they really loved the haunted house - as did the adults at the next party. Unfortunately I couldn't run away from the clean up at the last two parties - since they were at our place. Although Ian has already done a lot of it, the rest is still waiting for me! It will feel good now to be able to pack everything up and put it away for someone else next year!
On Saturday I had to go to Noboribetsu for the district English recitation contest. Two of the girls entered were students that I coached at Date Chu so I wanted to be there to support them. Luckily there was no dance, so Joisan went with me and we made notes on all the contestants and tried to figure out who would win. Aparently our notes didn't match with those of the judges though since they totally messed up as far as we were concerned! One of the Date Chu girls did place third - although not the one who had done the best as far as we were concerned!
Anyway - I think it must be very difficult to judge these types of contests and I'm grateful that I won't have to be involved next year!
Taran had a bit of a cold this week and we are all out of Cold FX :( I did my best with some lemon/honey/ginger tea and he did catch up on some sleep on the weekend so it looks like we made it through without it this time!
When all was said and done, Joisan decided to carve the mini pumpkins...
Well, it's time to get this up - and almost time to get started on the next one!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Phew! A Quiet Week!

Despite it being a quiet week I still didn't get this finished on time. I'm trying - really I am!
I was back to Date Chu this week after three weeks off. I started working with the two speach contest participants again as they prepare for the next level of competition. I'll be attending the contest next Saturday in Noboribetsu. I'm looking forward to making a day of it as we haven't been to Noboribetsu before.
Taran and Ian played soft tennis on Thursday evening - I didn't go so I can't say exactly what the differences are but it is played indoors and I believe it is a different ball. I think it's a weekly thing for the time being so it will give Ian and the kids something to do.
Joisan went through a few costume options this week. There were fitting issues with a couple of them since her duet partner is a bit larger and difficult to fit. Unfortunately, the second costume - the one Joisan loved - did not fit either of them so she had to trade it in for one that she's not fond of. We did have it long enough to take a photo of it though...

On Friday night Joisan and I went to Date to have a karaoke girls night. I made Joisan promise that she would sing at least one song - since I was paying for her to be there. It's a pretty neat setup. You pay a flat fee and you get a choice of food and as much as you can drink! I was driving so Joisan and I were both drinking juice and pop but they have some pretty great options here. Joisan's a big fan of the melon soda so she enjoyed that in various forms! She even managed to work up her courage and she sang several songs! She's got some big plans for if one of her friends comes for a visit.
Saturday was a bit busy between Joisan's dance and shopping and organizing for the busy week ahead. I have to speak on Wednesday for the district teachers meeting so I have that to plan, on top of four Halloween parties to plan for! Next week is going to be pretty busy!
On Sunday I went for my swim (seven weeks in a row...) and then after lunch we all went to the big mall in Tomokomai. Aside from all the other stuff it's always worth it to go just for the amazing takoyaki! I promise to take anyone who comes to visit!
So - that's our quiet week... next week is going to be much busier - I'll work on getting that one done on time!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Love Hakodate!

Here we are - on Friday morning - and I'm blogging!! I'm right on schedule!!! So, this week was fun! We had a fairly slow start to our holiday but eventually (by noon) we headed out for the 3+ hour drive to Hakodate. It is an old city with a lot of mixed architecture, owing to its history as the first "international" port city in Japan. There were a lot of Europeans who settled there and, compared to the other Japanese cities I've seen, it has a very unique look and feeling. The majority of the city is quite flat with the exception being Mt. Hakodate at the end of a peninsula in the instep of the "boot" of Hokkaido. The night view of Hakodate from the lookout on the mountain is touted as one of the three best night views in the world. Ian had actually been up there before, when he was here 25 years ago and I'd seen pictures of it but I was excited to see it with my own eyes. With the help of their iPods and the Kindles and one stop for a leg stretch along a breakwater, the kids survived the drive. After a quick stop at the tourist information centre we made our way to the guest house we had made reservations at. I was not expecting a great deal of the place since we were able to book it for two nights for less than the cost of one night at any other place we could find. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised. It's actually a "rider house" - kind of a hostel for motorcyclists.
The building is over 120 years old and very typically Japanese with its narrow, steep stairs and clutter, but it was clean and Chica, the owner, was very nice. I would reccomend it to anyone looking for budget accomodations in Hakodate. After we got settled and sorted out we headed out for some food. On the reccomendations of several people we wound up at a place called Hamburger Luckey Pierrot. Luckily for Joisan they had more than just hamburgers. Ian went for their "Mt. Hakodate Mega Burger" which came with a special card to say that you ate this burger!
Once we finished dinner we decided to pick up a few supplies for breakfast and then head to one of the local public baths. Taran had done the communal bath thing once before in Otaki after our family swim but Joisan has steadfastly avoided the experience. She has recently realized that she has only a few months left to experience all she can of Japan though so she is trying to put herself out there and have every experience she can. When reminded of this resolution she was able to steel up her nerve and come for a bath with me. She did really well and (I think) somewhat enjoyed the experience. When we are all scrubbed clean and shiny we went for a drive up the mountain to check out the view.
It really is quite impressive! The pictures don't do it justice. We had arranged to rent bicycles from Chica so the next morning Ian and Joisan and I got up early and went to the famous Hakodate Morning Market. It's quite something!
Streets and streets of endless shops filled with seafood that is so fresh that much of it is still alive! We wandered around in and out of shops looking at everything before we stumbled onto a place where you could "fish" for a squid and then they would clean it and cut it up for you to eat.
Joisan caught us our breakfast - which squirted water at us!
They cleaned it and cut it up as promised... but when we were given out plateful of fresh, raw squid it was still moving!!! Here's a little video of what happened when we dunked the tenticles into the soya sauce...
then we had to eat it!!! That was quite the experience let me tell you! And Joisan joined in!!! We biked back to the guest house to connect with Taran before we took off exploring on the bikes again. Unfortunately, the weather turned for a bit so we had to bail on the bikes by the late afternoon. Taran wasn't much interested in seeing anything so we left him to read his book and Ian and Joisan and I took the tram up the mountain and had dinner in the restaurant with the million dollar view! It was a pretty magical evening. We also were able to see the first concrete utility pole in Japan!! I kept saying it was something to write home about so... here's a picture!
Afterward we picked up Taran and headed for a different public bath house. (Two nights in a row!! Way to go Joisan!!!)
The next day, before we headed home we went to check out a famous fort shaped like a pentagram. It was lovely - but you could see how it would be particularly beautiful during the spring when all the cherry trees are blossoming! There was a booth set up in the middle of the park - just in front of an impressive looking building - where they would let you dress up in Japanese outfits and then the man would use your camera to take photos. Josian and I were really excited to do it and in the end he pulled Ian in and put a costume on him too! (Taran had already taken himself back to the car - party pooper!)
We went the long way through Date on our way home because Joisan needed to get her wrist xrayed. She had smashed it when we stopped at the breakwater to stretch out legs on the way to Hakodate and she had suffered the whole time because she didn't want to ruin the holiday by making us go to the hospital. They couldn't see her on Thursday evening so Ian took her back on Friday morning and (surprise surprise) she has ANOTHER small fracture. I swear that kid is made of bone china!
Friday morning we had some excitement as we learned of our new nephew / cousin! My brother and his wife had a baby boy on Thursday October 14th! "He who has yet to be named" was 8lbs 14oz and 22 inches long! I've seen a few photos and he looks very much like Taran did as a newborn. I feel really sad that we weren't able to be there to support Wyatt and Danielle and share in the welcoming of our baby. I really wish that Star Trek type transporter technology would just hurry up and get developed!
The students and staff of Otaki Chu Gakko were back from Canada on Tuesday night but their first day back to school was Friday. It was fun to hear all about their trip - I haven't seen very many photos yet but I'm sure I will eventually. From what I heard so far they had an amazing time (of course - who wouldn't enjoy going to Cowichan!!)
We have been invaded again by the kame mushi (stink bugs) and it seems really out of control. I managed to get one of my bosses to bring over a machine to try and exterminate them. Ian did a big clearing up and covering of everything and we spent Friday evening next door while the poison did it's thing. Unfortunately the effects were not very long lasting and we are again waging war. Ugh!
The weather this weekend was mostly wonderful! Saturday was the elementary school festival and I really enjoyed it - even more than last years! I rode my bike and stopped at one of the farms on my way home for some fresh veggies! This really is a cool place to live! Joisan's dance schedule is all mixed up as she prepares for a performance at the beginning of November. She is doing a duet... on pointe!!! I'm so excited!! I think she is a little excited about it but she's really looking forward to the possibility of coming home in time to participate in the Steps Ahead dance show this year. I hope it works out for her.
So, I did start this on Friday morning but it's now it's late on Sunday night and I'm desperately trying to get this done and get off to bed before this day officially ends!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Been here - done that!

Now that we've been here over a year we are beginning to experience events for the second time around. Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about how I felt last year as we were taken around to the various harvest festivals and events.
On Saturday there was a matsuri (festival) at the rehabilitation centre in Kitayuzawa. It was the same festival that we went to last year when Joisan won the Hello Kitty towel in the Bingo and we tasted deer burgers and met Ato-san for the first time. Last year I remember feeling so overwhelmed and isolated by my inablility to communicate with anyone. Everything seemed so scary then! One year later and everything has changed...
This year Ian helped Ato-san at his booth making burgers and hot chocolate and yaki-soba. This year we all won something in the Bingo - some veggies, some stationary and a towel. It was fun to be part of it for the second time around. I enjoyed having friends who I could visit with there (my friend Natsumi had a booth selling her special organic baking) and I am enjoying having a knowledge and understanding that I didn't have last year.
On Sunday I went swimming (4th week in a row) and then we had a pretty lazy afternoon. Taran and Ian were supposed to go participate in an air-soft game but it was pretty rainy so it was called off. On Monday, while Joisan was at dance, Ian and I went for a long walk around the waterfront and breakwater in Date. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people out fishing.
That's all for this update but I will be posting on Friday all about our little holiday to Hakodate!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This'll do it!

Whew! This should finish the catch up and (hopefully) get me back on to a regular schedule... In the future I am planning to update once a week - probably on my Friday morning (Thursday evening in BC) but I will give myself until my Sunday evening before I feel wracked with guilt!
Around the end of September Ian and I remembered what we had forgotten to do while we were in Canada... renew our International Drivers Licenses. Of course by the time we remembered they had already expired and we were driving illegally :( (Shhh don't tell my sister the lawyer!) Through an accidental discovery while looking for information about where to go to renew the International License, I found that it was a good thing we didn't do it while we were in Canada. Japan will only honour the International License for one year. After that we are required to get our BC license changed to a Japanese license. Since our international licenses had already expired, we were in a bit of a panic to get it done. My boss, Omiya-san made the appointment and on Thursday the 30th we headed out at Oh-my-gawd-o-clock (aka 6am) to make it to the licensing office by 9. The good thing about travelling that early was that there was very little traffic so we made good time - but having given ourselves enough time to get there we were left with time to kill on the other end. There was a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on and when we were finally called back to the counter it was to be told that we could not get our licenses that day... One of the requirements for changing the existing license is that you have to have driven in Canada for a minimum of 3 months before coming to Japan. Unfortunately, Ian renewed his license when we were home at Christmas so his was clearly an issue. I had forgotten that I had renewed mine last summer just before we came to Japan so it turned out that mine was an issue too - when they added up all the days I spent in Canada after the license renewal I was three days short of the required 3 months!!! The Japanese being a rule following society, we drove away unlicensed. Ian was suitably cautious in his driving as we made the rounds from the chocolate factory (yum!) to the dance store (for new pointe shoes) to Costco and an international food store. We were pretty tired when we got home - and not a little discouraged.
The chocolate factory was pretty neat - it's not really old or anything (est 1994)but it had some cool displays and a garden with play houses and a fancy clock that does a show every hour.
We found a funny t-shirt at Costco... not in big enough sizes for Taran unfortunately but still fun!

With a little guidance from one of our neighbors back home (thank you Joanne!) I was able to get our drivers abstracts emailed to us to prove that we had, in fact, been driving for a collective 50 plus years. Armed with the paperwork, I had Omiya-san make another appointment for us for Tuesday - unfortunately at 9am again.

Our weekend was fairly low-key. I put together a couple of things to send back to my mum for her birthday and dropped them off with my friend Mayu who works at the city hall in Date. She is the official translator for pretty much everything and she was going to Cowichan with the delegation so she said she'd take stuff for me. If anyone sees any Japanese students in Duncan on Saturday - say hello! They are the kids from Otaki! They're actually in Cowichan now but their only free time when they can explore Duncan is Saturday.

On Tuesday we went back to Sapporo and got our Japanese drivers licenses! Yay! Afterward we (Ian and Joisan and I - Taran stayed home) went and explored a new outlet mall in Sapporo. The rest of the week has been fairly low-key. With all the students off to Canada it is very quiet at the Chugakko. I think the teachers who didn't go to Canada have all taken holidays. I'm going to take three days off next week and we're going to visit Hakkodate. It's supposed to have one of the three best night views in the world. I'm looking forward to doing a bit of exploring and it will give me something to write about next week!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

School Festival Week

Last year we arrived just after the Chu Gakko school festival so although we saw many photos we did not have a complete understanding or appreciation of the energy and effort that were involved in preparing for and producing the festival.
The school festival is clearly a much anticipated tradition and now that I have attended three of them I can say that there are clearly elements that must always be present...
The festival is actually a day (or in a large school 1 1/2 days) of performances by the students. There are songs, skits and a variety of presentations. The festival seems to be the focus of most of the fine art endeavors for the school year. It is always held on a weekend or holiday so that working parents can attend, and students and staff are given a day off in lieu.
Otaki currently has a vibrant drum program due to the skills and expertise of some of the current staff. As a result, there was a fantastic drum performance by all the students. Taran and Joisan looked really good and did their part very well.
There were two short plays (one that involved Taran in a box...),
several songs, some public speaking presentations, a couple of slideshows, a photo contest (in which Joisan won a prize!) and a band performance where Joisan played her flute.
The whole thing was organized and run by the students. Although it did not run as quickly as it could have - there was a lot of waiting around - it was a lot of fun and very well received. In the back of the gym there were displays of artwork, woodworking projects and writing samples.

Because the festival lasts all day, there was a lunch break. Everyone bought bento items from the concession and after we finished eating there were games in the library. Joisan was part of the group who organized the games and they were pretty fun - some great ideas to bring back to Canada for a fun fair or sports day!
The performances continued in the afternoon, with the people from the Warashibe (the handicapped adult care facility next door) joining in for a song or two! It was a very long day - particularly on top of the days and weeks of extra work leading up to it. But even still, the teachers went out afterworks to have a celebratory dinner. It was wonderful food (as usual!) and some of it even came with open flames on the plate!! Very impressive!

The Otaki school festival was held on the Autumnal Equinox - Thursday Sept. 23rd - (which is a day to remember and honour ones ancestors here in Japan) so the kids had the next day off. Unfortunately, I did not have the day off and after my office time and teaching at the kindergarten I went in to see the Date school festival. Joisan chose to come with me and she proved to be a very popular guest. She was a bit embarassed with all the attention she got as she was repeatedly told how pretty she is. It was a bit of a challenge to understand everything that was happening but it seems that each class (and there are sixteen classes at Date Chu) was given about five minutes to perform something - some were skits, some were dances - there was a drum performance too. Some of them were great and others were... not. We survived though and afterwards we went to have quick visit with my friend Mayu at the City Hall.
Saturday was the second day of the Date school festival but I opted out of most of it. I should have gone - that was the time for all the really good stuff - the band performed and there was a chorus contest - but I really wanted to go for my swim and spend some time together. Ian and the kids came with me for the swim - they played in the outside pool while I did my lengths. After the swim we took a quick drive out to Midori's farm and enjoyed some of her farm made soft ice cream. Then Joisan quickly got ready for dance and we headed into Date to catch the end of the festival. There was a beauty contest where the boys dressed up as girls, and a 1 minute improv contest. We were not able to stay for the closing ceremonies as Joisan had to get to dance. One thing I was really impressed with at the Date Chu festival was the banners that each class had made. They drew in pencil on white fabric and then painted them - very impressive!
The next day (Sunday) there was another school festival - this one in Tatsunan where I was teaching until I started at Date Chu. I only went for the opening ceremony and to see the grade one class perform their play in English. They did very well and it was great to see the students but there was another festival happening in Otaki so I had to high-tail it back to make my appearance at that! Ian and Joisan were helping Ato-san at his food booth. Ian is getting to be quite expert at making yakisoba on an outdoor grill!
Due to the festival on the weekend and an upcoming exam schedule I didn't have to go to Date Chu on Monday or Tuesday so I was able to spend both days at Otaki Chu helping with the preparations for their trip to Cowichan. I'll finish this up now and get the next update on asap...
Remember... if you see a crowd of Japanese kids in Cowichan next week please say hello and tell them you know us!