Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Bee Good

Last week's starter class included making these pipe cleaner bees. I had to pick up the pipe cleaners in America, because they are too expensive here. So I guess they are imported bees, and you know the havoc they can wreck on the sensitive ecology. I just wasn't thinking. Although, most of the ones created here were of the inferior type. Let's face it, 4 year olds dexterity isn't the best. Most of the kids needed some help. But there were several kids who wouldn't even try. I worked with the kids who tried and needed the least amount of help first. But eventually there were a dozen little kids flitting around the room, stinging each other and me with their mutant bees. It was terribly cute.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Changing View

This is what my view looked like a two weeks ago.

This is what my view looked like one week ago.

This is what my view looked like 3 days ago.

This is what my view looked like 2 days ago.

This is what my view looked like yesterday.

And this is what my view looks like today.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Omedeto is Japanese for "congratulations". Kayo, one of my students from Skyland, got married yesterday. And I was invited to the night party. I was told I should dress up. So I scrambled to find something dressy, and put together something that in the end looked goofy. But when I got to the party most of the other guests were in jeans. What? Apparently there was some sort of fee, but I think Mr. K from Skyland took care of it for me. I was really in the dark about this whole thing, but was told when and where to show I did. After a short while the adorable couple showed up and were greeted with much applause. As they made their official promenade through the cheering guests they would stop and say hello to many of them. When they stopped at our table I spluttered out "Omedeto" and everyone cheered. The Japanese are easily amazed. The night mainly consisted of eating, drinking and silly games to embarrass the newlyweds (nothing raunchy). It was cute and cheesy, and I had a lovely time.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Japan and America Drop the Ball

I woke up this morning, and the first thing I did was check the internet for World Cup scores. My friend Junko set her alarm clock for 4 am to watch the Japanese Team. And the Americans played at 11:30 the night before, which means they were both past my bedtime. And both teams had only one tie, and need to win their games to move on to the next round. But poor Japan was up against Brazil. I kept teasing everyone here that there was "No Hope". Not that I thought that the Americans would win. Very sad showing indeed, even if they were in a hellishly tough group. Tonight when I was at the mall, all the tvs in the electronics department were showing the replay of the game. Normally on a Friday night there would be lots of men standing around the tvs killing time. But not tonight. Guess they couldn't bear to watch it. Last week in BabyKids class we went over shapes, with the focus on circle. And what better, easier way to teach them about circles then to play with a ball. After teaching them to roll and throw the ball (ironically with a globe pattern on it) we worked on kick. And then I would encourage a little Pre-School soccer. Just imagine it. Too funny, really.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thanks for Solving the Mystery

There is a conbini chain in Japan that confused me for the longest time. There name is Sunkus. But the K in the middle is kinda strange. I couldn't figure out even how to pronounce it. Is it Sunk-Us, or Sun-K-Us, or what? Then when I was talking to a student of mine about conbinis I asked what it meant. And they said "Sunks". Okay, now I can pronounce it, but what does it mean. It means "Sunks". Huh? You know, short for Thank You. Oh, My, God. It's the Japanese pronunciation of "Thanks". This was just so hideously terrible that it sent me into a fit of laughter. I would have never figured that out without help. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Temple Addiction

I visited 3 more temples today. Actually, I think it was two temples and one shrine. I think. I kept passing them while I was driving about, but always when I had no time to spare. So today I made a special trip by bicycle. I just can't seem to get enough. But now, a little one isn't enough. I need big ones. And one doesn't seem to do it. I swear, it's an addition. See the Exploring photo album for the evidence.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Metropolitan Hosoe

I took the self guided tour of the mega-complex that is Hosoe (pop. 21,000). I chose this town because my map (that I am hounding all my friends to help me translate) said that there was a bicycle road in Hosoe. I wanted to check this out. They also have a couple of temples and shrines and a Tokaido gate. The Tokaido is/was the main road that connected Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto for centuries. Turns out the gate is a reconstruction, like most every historical thing I've seen in Japan. But I quite enjoyed my visit there. They actually had an English brochure for me. And when I entered they turned on a recording in hilariously bad English. I thought it was terribly sweet, of course I was the only visitor. The gate has two buildings attached with several rooms: administrative, noble's lounge, jail and the penis verification room. Yep, you read that right. From what I understand, the Shogun made all his nobles live in his city. But they had to return to their own places frequently. The nobles' wives and children had to stay behind, as insurance. But some of the wives weren't thrilled with being a hostage and would try to sneak away by dressing like a man. So all the male travelers had to prove they were male. Hah! After the gate I toured a shrine and a temple and then found the park and ate my lunch. Then I hiked to the top of the hill and checked out the view. Finally I got on my bike and went in search of the Bicycle Road. I found it, and it's great. Apparently they are in the process of putting together a 48 kilometer bicycle road around Hamanako Lake. It has it's own highway number and everything. I only went a few kilometers, as it was late and hot. But this will be a great trek to do with Mark when he arrives in about a month. Yipee!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hat Trick

It's not much of a trick, but to 4 year olds it's practically magic. In my Starter class, we were learning H this week. H is for horse, house and hat. So I showed them the my magically abilities of folding a piece of paper into a hat. Ooohs and Aaahs came from the amazed audience. Then I whip out a bunch of pre-folded hats and let them decorate them. I'm constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge I use from the education I got in elementary school, and how little of the knowledge I got from college. Who knew?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Yukia Saw Gay People!

My private student, Yukia, just got back from a trip to San Francisco. And the most exiciting part of the trip for her was to see gay people. She asked me if I knew any gay people. Well, I have lived in New Orleans, Seattle and Athens, GA. I know so many gay people I couldn't count them all. She said she had never seen any gay people before. I told her she probably had, you just can't tell them from regular people when you walk by them on the streets. The only reason she could spot the gay people in San Fran was because they held hands or kissed. The Japanese don't do that. This blew her mind, that there could be gay people everywhere and you wouldn't know it. Wow, this whole discussion blew my mind.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What Color Are Your Eyes?

What color are your eyes? Seems like a simple enough question, doesn't it? But ask that to a Japanese person and they get the deer in the headlights look on their faces. I have asked this in several classes amongst other "What color is....?" questions. And they look confused, and realize they can't see their eyes so they would have to pull this from memory. And then they all answer "black". I have tried to teach them that in America we would say they were brown. But, as kids have never filled out any sort of identification forms, I thought I would ask an adult. So tonight I asked my private student Yukia. She, too, looked confused and then answered black. She said she had never thought about it. She knew many Westerners had different colored eyes, but never thought what color her own eyes were. My eye color is a big part of my identity. Just another cultural difference.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Japanese Catcalls

Lately, as I ride my bike, I seem to be attracting a little more attention. When I ride past a certain park on my way to work, there is usually this old guy with a pony tail there. And if he notices me riding by he screems "Hello....Hello....Hello" and I respond with "Ohayo Gozaimas". But once he said his usual Hellos and an Halleluah! Well, I certainly don't here that everyday. Whatever! And today, as I was riding by a bunch of construction sites, one of the guys yelled out Hello. And then after a second "I love you". Well, not exactly the catcalls of NY construction workers in the 80's, but I guess it was the only thing he could think of. But, I had no reply. The things that ran through my head were all way to complicated, and would probably not work in this culture even if he did understand the words. So I just shook my head and kept peddling.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Team Otsukare

I call these guys Team Otsukare. The are the CC employees who come in after my classes to change the rooms around for the next class. They roll up the carpet, move tables in and out, etc. They also deal with traffic in the parking lots during very busy times. They always walk into the rooms with big cheerful smiles and bellow "Otsukare sama deshta", or some shortened version of that. We smile and make jokes about how exhausting working with kids can be, or how crazy teenagers are. Or they tease me if it's raining outside and I have ridden my bicycle. Now they don't speak much English, and I don't speak much Japanese, but that in no way impedes the comaradarie. They are a hoot, and life would be a lot more boring without them.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fairy Tale Madness

I get these crazy ideas in my head, and I just stick with it. I had decided to do a finger-puppet show of the 3 Little Pigs for my Let's Go Starter classes. Good idea, right? Well, yeah. And the kids loved the puppet show. One little girl even knew the phrase "He huffed, and he puffed and he blew the house down". And the kids loved blowing down the houses. So it was worth it. Or was it. The problem is how much time I spent making the dang puppets and houses. Between research on the internet for patterns, shopping for supplies and actually making the blasted things I figure I put in 10 hours. All for a 7 minute puppet show I did twice. I'm not quite sure what the right word is to describe this. Crazy, illogical or down-right stupid.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Brown Bears Everywhere

This weeks BK lesson comes from the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See". I read them the book and then we make our own brown bears. To do this I paint the palm of their hand brown. Then they mash their hand down on a piece of origami paper (good size and I have tons of it). Then I paint their thumb brown and we add thumb ears to the palm face. I do this student by student. When I'm done with the last student, I go back to the first student, hoping the palm print has dried. I then draw a teddy bear face on the page and everybody yells "kawaii" (cute). But so far it's been a big success.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Irate Undecided Swamp Monster

This is a sign along the river. I cycle past it when I go to work. This Swamp Monster is obviously protesting the unfairness of something. He just doesn't know what to protest against...nothingness, perhaps. But at least he's staying politically active.

We're Famous

Suzy Small wrote an article about foreign women bloggers in Japan. And it has quotes from most of my circle of bloggers. You can read it at Weekender. Wow, were famous.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Froggy Goes to Sony

I started a new class at Sony today. This is with another department, so I don't get to see any of my old favorite students. There are 11 students signed up for this class with wide ranging ablilities. And that makes it really hard to teach. But having no voice makes it nearly impossible. I lost my voice today, and I don't know why? Today's Sony class was just a "Get to know each other" session. Lots of question asking. But it was so hard for them. It takes awhile for them to get used to a new teacher, a new voice, new phrasing and accents. But trying to get through all that while I'm croaking and squeaking was just really unfair. Sorry Sony, hopefully by next week my voice will be back to normal.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Another Relaxing Day

I spent another relaxing day with the Suzukis. This time they took me to the town of Okazaki. According to them there is only one reason to go to Okazaki and that is to the the castle where Tokugawa Ieyasu was born. Of course the castle is a recreation built in the 1950's. The Japanese castles I have seen have all been fairly small and very sparse and it doesn't take long to see them. But they are lovely from the outside, and are usually surrounded by a nice park. So after the brief look around inside we walked around the park and browsed through the nearby museum. Afterwards we went to another park to have a picnic. This park was filled with much less historically significant items. It had a small amusement park and go-cart racetrack. Yuma tried every single ride. It was very relaxing chatting with Mikio and Yoko and watching Yuma dart around. A nice relaxing day, with good weather and good friends. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday in June.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Coals to Newcastle

Today's assignment for the LG3 class was to teach them the words for square, circle, rectangle, triangle and corner. And the book uses a basic origami project to illustrate it. Yeah, let's teach Japanese 6th graders how to fold the simplest origami ever. It's kinda like taking coals to Newcastle, giving ice to Eskimos (Inuit if you want to be correct) or saying "hot ain't it" in Georgia in August. But I did anyway. And they drew the cutest faces on them (not part of the book assignment). And then I handed out another piece of paper and let them make whatever they wanted. The boys all made cootie-catchers. But the girls made other things, all from memory. Such as cranes (of course), and beds, and chairs, balloons and a rabbit. It was a pretty fun lesson after all.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wheels on the Bus

My Friday 4 and 5 year olds class is the best. Just brings me so much joy. Today I read them Wheels on the Bus...again. And then afterwards we cut out little yellow busses with separate wheels that can be attached by a little doo-bobber that allows the wheels to actually turn (I can't for the life of me remember the name of those doo-dads). My Wednesday class had so much trouble with this activity. But these guys did great. And even had time to draw people inside their busses. I wish you could see Kimika's. Her people are so cute! The rest of the day was really quite a downer, but ending with these guys is such a delight.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mumsy on the Mend

I just got an email from my dear Mumsy. So that means she's at home and has been released from the hospital. She still has to take it very slow. But Yipee!!! She's home.