Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Tennouji in my hometown, Osaka! My very first sakura sighting,way ahead of schedule, thanks to last year's unusually warm weather. Posted by Hello

Crazy Takeshi

Thanks for always making me laugh! Posted by Hello

Higashi Chu grad girls, on their way to the world of cell phones, short skirts, and super huge socks. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 14, 2005

One of the coolest kids of all time, Mr. Yuki Nakabayashi...I'm definately gonna miss this one! Posted by Hello

Freedom inspired foolishness...the East side crew strikes a pose for the camera. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Graduation: Japanese Junior High Style

Kiritsu! 起立す!

Rei! 礼!

Shot like cold bullets from an assault riffle, the commands to 'Stand at attention' and 'Bow!' made my first Japanese Junior High Graduation Ceremony seem more like a trip to boot camp. Solmen and quiet (aside from the incessant shouting to stand, sit and bow), the chill of the unheated gym was intensified by the formal, militaristic overtones of the ceremony.

Cold and rainy, clouds clung to the mountainsides surrounding Ena as they slid down into the city, and seemed even to haunt the quiet halls of Higashi Chu. In America, graduation was always a joyous occassion, despite the fact that life long friends would be going their separate ways. Friends and family cheered as students entered the ceremony. They cheered throughout the ceremony. They cheered even when they weren't supposed to and the principal asked them not too! The point I am trying to make is that they cheered! There was no stopping the shouts of congratulations from the stands as each student made their way across the stage (sometimes with some sort of gymnastic feat (cartwheels come to mind) or joke), and many of the speeches, though moving, made us laugh. They inspired us. And when it was all over, we leapt for joy, threw our caps in the air and partied on! My graduation and senior year memories are some of the best of my life.

Well, this was the exact opposite of what I just described. Depressing. Dreary. Dull. Dead silence.

After arrving at school I slowly slid thru the door to the teachers room, where all the 3rd year teachers, wearing Hakama (formal kimono), were busy getting ready for the main event. Being very impressed by the Japanese-ness of it all, I turned around and saw the principal, dressed in a coat-tailed suit and wearing white gloves, and waddling around like a penguin. How can Hakama and coat-tailed suits coexist without anyone blinking an eye! What an interesting coincidence of opposites....

The rest of us filled the gym, waiting for the grand entrance of the third year classes, led by their homeroom teachers. In Japan, students do not change class rooms. They are with the same kids for every lesson, all year, as teachers move from room to room. It is the homeroom teacher, whom they see every morning before school and in their kaeri no kai (going home meeting) who becomes their advisor, mentor, and friend, competing in sports day with them, helping the students to fill out their high school applications, and even taking them to their tests. They are councilors and confidants, and know much more about these kids than their parents do.

As the teachers led them in, slowly walking down the aisle, my eyes filled with tears. My students looked so much more mature than when I arrived in September. They have grown up so much! Higashi was my first school, the one I spent the most time at, so I feel very attatched to the students here, especially the 3rd year students. All the good memories of Sports Festival and the Chorus Festival, of the boys shouting out 'I love you' and the girls screaming 'Kawaii!' in the middle of class, snowball fights at recess, and 'cleaning' time flashed before my blurry eyes.

Then the 'important people' started talking, and my blurry eyes were sucked dry! Who were those guys? They were all from the BOE of Ena or some prefectural education office. None of them had anything inspiring or useful to say. None of them even knew the students. It was such a waste. And it went on for what seemed like for-ev-er.

Finally it was time for the students to recieve their graduation certificates. As they shouted out each name the students stood up with a loud "Hai!" until the entire class was standing. But to my suprise, only the student leaders of each class were called up to acccept the certificates from the principal. It shouldn't have beens suprising at all. This is Japan! The group is always acknowledge before the individual. I guess I just cant shake my own cultural bearings. In America, we had no loyalty to any class group. I think we had homeroom but I dont remember anything about it. I do know that the most important part of graduation was making the trip across the stage, alone, being recognized as an individual for your individual accomplishment. Sure, it took some time, but it was much more meaningful than a bunch of political windbags talking about nothing and putting people to sleep!

Blah blah blah, more horribly boring sleep inducing speeches from God knows who (aforementioned important people, AKA political windbags)...

Until finally the 1st and 2nd grader students rose to their feet. The 3rd years turned back to face them, at the command of the MC ofcourse, and a 2grader wished them luck and thanked them for their friendship and guidance during the past 2 years. Then they began to sing a beautiful, moving song about all the memories they had made, and how hard it was to say goodbye. I've heard them practice singing it a million times, but without the voices of the 3rd years it sounded so .... different. Many of the 3rd years, who had been pretty strong about not crying up to this point, busted out into tears.

Then Misa Adachi, one of the most brilliant students in Ena and class president, stood up to give a speech. Misa was one of the first students I met. She came to the office during the summer with the other girls that had gone to Austraila, and made Colin and I peace cookies. She often told me that she wanted to be just like me when she grew up, teaching in foreign countries and having adventures. Just seeing her walk to the podium almost made me cry. Another one of my favorites, Yuki Nakabayashi, walked up with her, climbing a small podium to lead the 3rd years in song as a conductor.

Her speech was awesome, full of good memories, challenges , triumphs, and hope for the future. Everyone was crying: 3rd year boys, teachers, and parents. As the 3rd year student sang to the 1st and 2nd years, they too began to cry. It was the most moving part of the whole ceremony. It should have ended there. But ofcourse it was followed by more boring speeches and silent intervals before the 3rd year students were officially graduated and filed out, class by class, down the isle of weeping mothers and underclassmen.

Each class went back to their homerooms, where the teachers handed out their certificates and were presented with gifts and thank you cards made my their students. I went to Kojima's class, the best teacher at Higashi, not to mention one of the best English teachers in Ena. He prepared separate speeches for each of his students, so that as he gave them their certificate, both of he and the student would go from laughing to crying as he reminisced about their 3 years together. It was so real...Thats how the ceremony should have been. The teachers who actually know the students up there reminiscing, congratulating, challenging and inspiring their kids to move on to bigger and better things.
I got to hang out with the kids as they slowly made their way out of Higash Jr. High for the last time. Their tears had dried and they were shooting peace signs and taking pictures. What a great group of kids...I will never forget them! I wish I had more time to get to know them, but hopefully I will still get to see them walking around Ena in their cool new high school uniforms.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Kabuki Star is Born!

Osato-san...Thats me!
Posted by Hello

All the world is a stage... Posted by Hello

Monday, March 07, 2005

On stage, I cant help but smile as people shout out "KAWAII!" (You're so cute!) Posted by Hello

Kabuki ☆歌舞伎☆

Ena's Grand Kabuki Festival.
Posted by Hello

Sunday I made my grand debut as Osato-san in Ena's not-so-famous Kabuki Festival. For the past month I have been practicing how to walk, talk and swing the sleeves of my kimono, kabuki style, just for the chance to to get all done up in white make-up, Katsura (Japanese wig) and kimono. I was, however, slightly less enthused about getting up in front of a bunch of Japanese people and trying to speak Japanese. Especially after our on stage rehersal Saturday. It was the first time I had been in the theatre, and it was a lot bigger than I had imgined. When I asked how many people would come, the leader of the Kabuki club told me the theatre could seat 800, but not to worry, because people would be standing to watch as well.

Yeah. That made me feel a lot better, considering the fact that Japanese audiences are not exactly quiet observers. Infact they are the exact opposite, often shouting out in anticipation of the moment of highest tension to encourage their favorite actors. They also throw ohinari, gifts of money wrapped in tissue, in appreciation of an excellent performance. The idea of standing infront of a bunch of people yelling and throwing things at me was a little intimidating, but being hid behind a mask of makeup helped calm my fears!

It took about an hour to go from Melissa to Sato-san--kimono, katsura and all. First, my hair was pulled back and capped as the makeup assitant applied wax to my eyebrows and slathered oil all over my face and neck to help the make-up stick. Oshiroi, or white face cream, was painted onto my face, providing a fresh canvas for the artist to work with. The shade of white depends on the role to be played: young or old, princess or commoner. Osato-san is a young princess, so as the artist brushed layers over snow-white liquid over my face he told me "Now you really are a white person (in Japanese of course)" and chuckled to himself.

Mehari, red lines added to accent my eyes, brought a spash of color to to my ghostly pale face as my whited out eyebrows were drawn back in with a black oil crayon. Lipstick was added only to accent a small portion of my lips, and then I was rushed to the wordrobe, where I was bound in towels until the curves of my body had been transformed into a straight and shapless column. The long sleeved kimono was draped over my shoulders, heavy with thick silk. Tightly wound around where my waist should have been,two professional dressers pulled at the obi to tighten and tie it, throwning me off balance and almost bringing me down onto my bum, each time with a polite, ah, sumimasen (sorry)!

With my kimono and makeup done, all that was left was the katusra, a tradtional Japanese wig in the style characteristic of geisha and Maiko, complete with hanazashii, flowery hair ornaments. It clung tightly to my head like a suction cup, and was anchored down by a strap hidden beneath a mass of stark black hair. I stole a sideways glance into a mirror as they pushed me out toward the stage, and could barely recognize myself. Peaking out from below the gently rolling hills of hair that swam above my head, my snowy complection reflected light like the brightly shining moon, surrounded by a midnight sky on a starless night.

Before I knew it we were being rushed side stage to make our etrance on the hanamachi, or flower path, a kabuki stage convention that runs thru the audience, allowing for dramatic entrances and exits.

I was second to make my entrance, and as I pushed through the Noren (japanese curtain) the crowed gasped in an ooo and aaa fashion, and people began to shout out KAWAII! MECCHA KAWAII! MELISSA! It was nice to know that so many people had come to see me, and made me feel a little bit more at ease. When I actually got a chance to look out at the audience, I saw many familiar faces, friends and students, all smiling back at me! It was awesome!

But the hardest part was yet to come! Although I had to stand on stage and often strike a dramatic pose, my speaking part was next to last. I tried to listen to everyone before me, but I couldn't drown out the sound of my heart trying desperately to beat its way out of the layers of kimono, which may have been the only thing keeping it in!

Waxing elegent in Enaben....Asobomaika? Posted by Hello

As I stepped forward to speak I could see in the front row one of my junior high students, Tomoaki. He is such a cutie! Him and his mother had come, and they were both smiling at me, and cheering for me...Thanks to them I had the confidence to go on! Everyone laughed at my jokes and kept screaming out KAWAII! By the end of my performance it was raining ohinari! After the performance, my friend Jen, the ALT at Ena High, and a few students from Higashi Junior High came up on stage to give me beautiful boquets of flowers!

This was such an amazing experience, even though in the white makeup I look a bit more fit to play a role in Interview with a Vampire! Watch out! I'm going for the jugular!

Kimono without katsura is like an ice cream sunday without a cherry! Posted by Hello

Wearing kimono, like so much else in Japan, is a team effort! Posted by Hello