Sunday, July 22, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Celestial Child: Gion Matsuri

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Each year, a young boy is chosen from among Kyoto's wealthiest merchant families to act as a sacred page, an intercessor between the gods and the priests presiding over one of Japan`s most famous festivals: Kyoto's Gion Matsuri. At the culmination of the month long event, the Chigo, or "celestial child", rides in the Naginata Hoko, the first float in a long procession of 32, dressed in ceremonial Shinto robes. In order for the procession to begin, the boy must cut through a "shimenawa" , or sacred rope, with a single stoke of a sword.

Here he leads a procession of omikoshi, or portable shrines, through the streets of Gion on horseback. As a god, he is not permitted to touch the ground. He is carried inside the teahouses to give his blessing.

Behind him, Japan's most famous teahouse, the Ichiriki.

Gion Matsuri is a traditional festival which has been held at Yasaka Shrine for over 1,100 years. The festival was first held in 869, when a plague swept the country. People believed it was a curse of the diety Gozu Tenno. Sixty-six pikes representing the provinces at that time were erected at Shinsen-en Garden. The gods of Gion were celebrated and portable shrines were paraded through the streets as the people prayed for an abatement of the pestilence. Then known as Gion Goryo, the festival actually began as a ceremonial rite for the dead killed by the plagues.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back in Kyoto

It's that time again...Gion Matsuri! I'll be in Kyoto until Wensday. This picture was taken during last year's festival when, by chance, I was invited to meet Mamechiho by a young American exchange student's host family (as his interpreter).

Let's hope the rain holds off for what could be my last Gion Matsuri for a long time... (ioi)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I ♥ Typhoon!

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Classes were cancelled Thursday due to heavy rain in the wake of Japan's first typhoon of the season. As soon as the public announcement sirens sounded, the second years students began to cheer, shouting "Yay! Lucky! I love typhoon! I love rainy!" as they jumped off their chairs and threw their pens and pencil cases into the air in celebration. A rumble of joy erupted throughout the school, echoing through the corridors and courtyard as students shouted similar sentiments from the balcony of their classrooms (except in Japanese). It was a wonderful way to begin 3rd period, and you can imagine how productive a period it was. The students had to stay in school until 1:30, wasting time in a special homeroom waiting for lunch. When the time finally came to send them home, the rain miraculously stopped, as it always does.

School is often called off in Japan for heavy rains associated with typhoons, even here in landlocked Ena, buffered by a barrier of mountains on all sides. Although students are often sent home after lunch or told not to come to school at all, teachers are required to report for duty and stay for the remainder of the day. This is especially fun for ALTs who have little or nothing to do to begin with, let alone when there are no students in the school to entertain. Luckily for me I was asked to give a "video letter" farewell speech to be broadcast on the school TV system during lunchtime next week. I only had about a half hour to pull it together, but as I sat there writing entirely in Japanese,without hesitation, complete with kanji, I realized how much I have learned just from being here for the past three years...

Friday, July 13, 2007

My Last Elementary Visit

A thousand tiny paper cranes and books full of letters from my Oi Elementary students. Usually students write short messages on shikishi, but my 5th and 6th grade classes insisted they needed more space. Instead they wrote me letters which the teacher bound up into little books.

After bursting the flood gates during my last day at the Beautiful Mountain School, I knew my last day at elemntary would be tough. When I first came to Ena as an ALT, I visited 16 different schools. Usually I went to a different school everyday, which made getting to know the teachers and students very difficult. I mostly visited elementary schools, which was fun at first, but soon became very taxing. Often the teachers at the school forgot to prepare for my visit, without asking me to prepare something, and I was thrown into classrooms of almost 40 students with minimal Japanese and no teaching ability. Many times the teachers walked out, sat down and read a book, or stood in the corner , completely detatched from the chaos that would ensue.

For the past year and a half, however, I have been assigned to 3 main schools, including one elementary: Oi Sho. I've always loved it there. The teachers are kind and cheerful, helpful during and interested in the lessons, and the students are genki and adorable. Before I began my lessons there, the students would see an ALT maybe 2 or 3 times a year. I was fortunate enough to begin teaching there once a week, and the incredible progress the students made before my eyes astounded and encouraged me. I learned a lot during my first year as an elementary ALT, and from the start at Oi I planned my own lessons and activities. I was always in charge of the class, and the students always participated and enjoyed the lessons. I really began looking forward to my visits, even though I would continually stress about the lessons and activities I planned. Students would often come talk to me during free time, recess and after school, trying to use the English they had learned. I realized that just having an ALT in the school on a regular basis makes a huge difference to the students, motivating them to speak in English and giving them a genuine chance to do so. The relationship the ALT has with the students is the biggest motivating factor of all. If the students like the ALT, and feel close to them, regardless of how little interest they have in English, they will try to learn and use it.

My experiences at Oi Elementary have been some of the most challenging, rewarding and fun of my JET career. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know the children there and to make so many beautiful little friends. I will never forget them.

The Oi's Outdoor Soji Crew, including the famous "Monkey Man" (front and center).

5th graders... 3rd graders...
2nd graders...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ayumi's Letter

Ayumi is one of the "bad girls" of the "ghetto" school. When I say "bad", I mean she never raises her hand or participates in class, carries on conversations with other classmates during lessons and basically ignores the teacher altogether, except for when she has something disrespectful to say. She's always been sweet to me, and I've often enjoyed talking to her and her friends during "silent" soji (cleaning time) or in between classes, which are basically the only chance I have to actually speak to the kids, since I do almost nothing in class. Be that as it may, I never thought she was even remotely interested in English, especially considering her behavior in class. You can imagine my suprise, then, when she handed me this letter after class on Monday. It almost makes all the time I've spent at the ghetto school, standing at the back of the classroom trying to keep myself awake, worth it.


Thank you, Ayumi!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I've Got Mail

From the first and sencond year students at my Beautiful Mountain School.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Puri ☆プリ☆ Explosion

I just finished a 3 1/2 hour Puri Marathon, beginning with 6 of my super-cute elementary school students (Special guest appearance by Abbey in Ena ) and ending with a chance reunion with aone of my favorite Beautiful Mountain School alumni. I think one of the things I'll miss most about teaching in Ena is knowing every child in the city between the ages of 3 and 17, and running into them everywhere I go. Then again, maybe not.

Shrine O' Love: Jishu Jinja

World reknown traveler Joseph (of Mary-and-Joseph-hand-puppet-theater acclaim) and I try our luck at Kiyomizudera's Jishu-jinja, decidated to Okuninushino-Mikoto, the god of love and "good matches". You can read more about Joseph's adventure in Kyoto here.

With less than a month left as a JET, I am: busy, sleep-deprived, and in denial. Ganbarimasu!