Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy New Year!

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(From someplace warm! Go on! Have a guess!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gion Odori 2006: Acts Two and Three

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Act Two: Okome. Okome is the Japanese word for rice (before it is cooked). The geiko Mariko, dancing as a Shinto priestess for a plentiful harvest of rice in early spring. In January, maiko wear a stalk of rice in their hair to celebrate the new year.

Act Three: Shidarezakura. Shidare zakura (from sakura), or weeping cherry. Before the famous weeping cherries of Maruyama Koen, near Yasaka Shrine, an elder geiko awaits her true love until she is discovered by her younger sister .

Uh oh! She recollectin' ya'll! Reading an unusually long rabureta (love letter) in the absence of her beloved.

I know that correspondence is often recommended to encourage affection, but this is ridiculous sis!

Don't make me...

I love the beautiful bend of their hands, so limber and graceful. It reminds me of the Apsara dance of Cambodia...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gion Odori 2006: Maneki

Masayo and Miharu.

The theme of this year's Gion Odori, the fall dance performed by the maiko and geiko of Gion Higashi, was "Seasonal Glories of the Maiko's Hanakanzashi," or flowered hair ornaments.

Masayo and Fumiki.

In December, maiko wear the maneki hanakanzashi. This dance depicted the maiko attending the year-end debut of Kabuki actors at the Minamiza theater. A young maiko overcomes her shyness to ask her favorite actor for his signature "with her big courage".

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Masayo, the highest ranking maiko in Gion Higashi, dancing during the opening act of this year's Gion Odori: Maneki. This years theme was hanakanzashi, the flowered hair ornaments worn by the maiko. Each dance reflected the meaning and seasons in which each hanakanzashi is worn.

During Kaomise (from about Nov.30- Dec. 26) , the names of the performing Kabuki actors are written on long, wooden boards called maneki kanban, and hung outside the theater. Maiko attend the Kaomise (face showing) Kabuki performances, wearing these Maneki hanakanzashi. Two small, blank tags are attatched, and maiko ask their favorite Kabuki actors to sign them afterwards.

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Fukimi and Miharu strike a Maneki Neko, or beckoning cat, pose.

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Fumiki and Umeha.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Ghetto School: On Ice!

***The Higashi Chu Crew Proudly Presents***

The Ghetto School: On ICE!

They are so freakin` cute! Hugging....

Holding hands...

Gion and Guacamole

Geiko and maiko of Gion Higashi performing the Gion Higashi Kouta during the finale of the fall dance.

This is just one of the many images from my trip to Kyoto over a month ago that I still haven't managed to upload. More will be coming soon, assuming blogger will eventually allow me to add images to the blog again post haste. Come to think of it, I never even finished writing about my latest adventures in Cambodia, not to mention my trip to Vietnam almost a year ago! I'm working on it... In the mean time, feast your eyes on this: My third year elective English class' Guacamole extravaganza. Ole!

Etsuki, Nao, Chikako, Ami, and Shin diggin' in to the guacamole.

I have often expounded upon the virtues of guacamole to Kachi sensei, English teacher extrodinare of the Beautiful Mountain School and friend to many an ALT. During our humble Thanksgiving Fiesta, she experienced it's deliciousness for herself, promptly declaring it our sacred duty to share the gospel of guacamole among the Japanese people, begining with the youth. Thus, the concept of Guacamole 101 was concieved and carried out with great success.

No tortillia chips? No problem! Ole!

All of the students had eaten avacado before, but only in sushi form, with mayonaise and soy sauce (>.<)As they say, 'Soy sauce, seaweed and mayonaise do not guacamole make."

Not only were the students impressed with its deliciousness, but with the ease with which it is prepared. They all vowed to make guacamole again for their families. We made an extra batch for the teachers room, which, at first sight, seemed to scared many a sensei. It was, however, quickly gobbled up with shouts of "Umai!" and "Oishii ne!" immediately followed by "Wow. This would be perfect with beer or sake!" Even Kocho sensei (principal), staunch supporter of the superiority of all things Japanese, declared it to be delicious, followed by a rather spirited rendition of "La Cucaracha". The guacamole revolution has begun! Ole!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ice Skating Super Stars

BMC (Beautiful Mountain Crew) representing Kita Chu at the 2nd annual ice skating lesson. #7 Shin, #17 Takayo, #2 Yuya, #13 Shu.

Autumn has officially ended, and winter is in full swing. That means two things: Being able to see your breath indoors (especially at school), and ice skating! After dazzling both sensei and student alike last year with my mediocre skating skills, I was invited once again to join my most beloved sannenseis (third years) for the 2nd annual, educational trip to Ena`s nearly brandspanking new ice skating rink: Crystal Park.

Ganbatteiru ne! Giving it all they got, Japan's future speed skating dream team: Shu, Naonori, Kento, Ryo.

For many of my students, this was only the second time in their entire lives being out on the ice. The girls were all given figure skates, of course, while the boys had to struggle with speed skates that many of them had trouble even standing in (note Kento in the picture above). After a 30 minute "lesson" in which the instructor skated around the students in circles telling them to do the same, few were brave or able enough to stray too far from the bars. After a few basic explanations by yours truely, kids skating frontwards, backwards, and trying to spin!

Ami and Mio...

All in all it was an incredibly fun adventure. I felt so blessed to be able to spend this time with my students, and the best part about it is that they were sincerlely happy to be with me, too. When they started getting the hang skating or spinning, they'd call me over excited. "Melissa! Watashi wo Mitte ne! Mitte! (look at me! look at me, Ok?)" or skate up behind me an take my hand. Even the boys would be like "oh! Melissa! Look! Wonderful!" or "Watch us! Who`s faster?" When I assumed they were getting sick of indulging me, I`d skate off on my own, but they`d always call me back (^-^) What am I going to do when they graduate? (i0i)

The Amazing Amis collide.

"It's cool. We meant to do that!"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Picture of the Day and a Letter from the Edge....

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The stunningly beautiful Kikutsuryu of Miyagawa-cho, greeting customers before the autumn dance recital.

And in totally unrelated news....
I love my students!

Have I mentioned that lately? (^-^) This is from an first year student at my Ghetto school (9th grade). Lately the ichinensei have been writing me all kinds of letters, probably because they're still excited about learning and being able to write in English, unlike most of their jaded, juken-obsessed sempai (upper classmen. Juken is the life-altering high school exam the entire Japanese junior high education system is built around. Note: These letters are not assignments, the students choose to write to me on their own). God bless them, every one!

We now returned to the regularly scheduled programming...

Breath-taking beauty...

Fukunao laughs as she gives a thumbs up to her big sister, Mioharu. You can see the subtle difference in their regalia that allude to their rank. , as a senior maiko, Mioharu wears a pure white collar, while Fukunao's is still predominantly red. Their kanazashi, or flowered hair ornaments, also reveal their rank: Mioharu wears a single, mono-colored Chrysanthemum blossom, while Fukunao wears a cluster of small, multi-colored blossoms.

Fukuyoshi, Kikutsuryu and Fukunao hanging out before the autumn dance recital. Notice Fukuyoshi's hairstyle (left edge).The red, triangular shaped cloth in her hair is called a Chirimen Tegarami, and is the sign that she has had her mizuage. In the modern day hanamachi, mizuage now happens around her 18th birthday, or three years after the start of her training and is simply a coming of age ceremony in which her hairstyle, and certain details of her ensemble, change. Mizuage, as it is described in "Memoirs of a Geisha", no longer takes place.

Young Miehina, a maiko from Miyagawcho, looks at pictures of herself and her friends that photographers have brought for them before the final performance of the autumn dance. Her Okaasan, in the black kimono, is not only the mother of her Okiya, but her maternal mother as well (This is quite rare). Patrons begin to arrive at the theater, as passers-by stop to gaze at the exotic scene of maiko and geiko greeting customers in the street. Note: No gaijin. Just me (^-^)/

And a special thank you to Yukio Katsumi, a wonderful woman I've had the pleasure of bumping into on more than one occasion in Kyoto. Her husband and her are geiko afficionados as well, and have taught me a lot about Kyoto and the 'Flower and Willow World'. They also snapped this picture of me...taking pictures! Ookini Yukio!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Autumn in Ena  恵那の秋

Fallen leaves
Come flying from elsewhere
Autumn is ending.
~Matsuo Basho

Along this road
Goes no one,
This autumn eve.


The road to my beautiful mountain school.

The view from the Beautiful Mountain school (^-^)/

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mountains Make Me Happy...

And Ena has plenty of Mountains!

The beautiful view just up the road from my apartment. The impressive, snow covered peak of Ontake-san, rising 10,049 feet (3,063 m) over the borders of Gifu and neighboring Nagano, is the first thing I see every morning as I walk out my door. Ontake is an active volcano (erupting last in 1980) and one of Japan's holy mountains. The humid haze of summer makes the peak almost invisible. I know that when I stumble out of my door to be greeted by it's graceful, Fuji-esque slopes covered in snow, autumn has arrived.

Whiter than the rocks
Of Stone Mountain
Autumn wind

The Southern Japanese Alps. Just a few of the many reasons I'm thankful to be in Ena (^-^)/

Monday, November 27, 2006


Things I'm thankful for...

My elementary school students. Love them! Kawaii-sugiru (too Cute), and so much fun!