Thursday, December 16, 2004

So some new pics. This first set is from the Junior High again. I'm always struck by how damned many plants and flowers and little pretty arrangements are thrown about here and there throughout the building. I swear I can open a broom closet and on the shelf in there with the window cleaner I will probably find a little vase with a flower in it, just "make things prettier, ne?" So I took some pictures of some mundanities around the school.

A nice little arrangement when you first come in, just to make things prettier!

If you notice, even the fish who live down the hall from the previous arrangement have their own vase with flower to gaze at too, just to make things prettier.

A little garden behind the teacher's office. That's somehow still in bloom in December.

The trophy case near the front entrance Lots of plants and flowers to fluff the whole area up just a little!

And let's not forget the bathroom. (Actually, children of America, begin appreciating central heating. It's not here in Japan. The individual classrooms are heated, but the hallways and bathrooms are ice cold.)

A plaque out near the front parking lot.

A nice shade of fall. This little island of foliage sits in the center of the front parking lot.

The wall of shoes. Where the kids store their outside shoes and get their inside shoes in the morning and before they leave.

A popular phrase here is "Gambatte!" (and its various congugations). It mainly means "Do your best!" "Try hard!" "Good luck!" "You can do it!" "Come on!". Sentiments like that. When I visited a shrine once, with these steep steps that led up to the entrance, a grandmother and mother were taking a small boy up to the shrine for his birthday. The grandmother held the boy's hand. He was very small and probably had just learned to walk a little while back, and now he was trying to climb. Everytime he'd go to take the next step, grandma would say, "Ganbare!" (another form of the word). And the little tyke would lift his leg and Heave himself up to the next level. Very cute. In any case, sometimes a little fist is made and thrown about when kids say this. When I went to one of the elementaries for the first time back in September, I was asked to go out into a dusty sports field while hundreds of kids looked on at me on a podium and I had to introduce myself in Japanese. Remember? I couldn't remember how to say, "it'll be fun", and just said "Tanoshi desho." Which it turns out means, "It'll probably be fun." Which some days I think was actually the very correct statement to make. And I couldn't think of how to end my introduction, so I just said, "Gambatte kudasai!" Do your best please! And all those hundreds of fists raised up and all the kids shouted, "Gambatte!" which was the point at which I felt like a communist.

Well here is a little statue at the entrance to the school that reaffirms that sentiment for the kids as they enter school each morning. So the whole "Try hard!" mentality is engrained all the time.

Now onto a few pictures from Takada Elementary school, where I taught today.

Remember those kids raising their fists like good little soldiers? Here are some in action, during a quiz, once they found out their answers were right. They're ichinensei (first graders).

Here are some ichinensei in the gym, awaiting wakuwakutaimu. The rokunensei (6th graders) put on a little show, where they acted out different things they did in their last year as elementary school kids. The rest of the school watched.

The rokunensei sweeping. I have news for you kids. You're gonna sweep at the junior high too.

The rokunensei again this time showing how they raised rabbits and chickens, and further on down the stage were three boys laying on their stomachs onstage who were sakana (fish) which they raised this year too.

One of the gonensei (fifth graders).

Some ichinensei girls and the same fifth grade boy.

And last but definitely not least: Hikari! Teaching is a draining job. Kids NEED you. And teaching them in another language is REALLY draining. But kids like Hikari, who are ready with faces like this one, always makes everything worthwhile at the end of a day.

Takada is one of my favorite elementary schools. It's unfortunate I rarely get to go there to teach because they have the smallest population of students, so they send me to the big elementary schools more often in the hopes of getting more English to more kids at one time. Luckily Takada has a first grade teacher who speaks some decent English and she's already got kids in first grade asking me what I like to eat and how old I am and where I live etc. This is stuff that they usually won't get for years in other elementaries if they don't have an inhouse teacher who knows English (which is most likely the case). Takada also has a sixth grade teacher who has got to be like the most amazing woman, tries so hard to get them ready for Junior High, and learns English with an excitement that carries over to her kids. So even though I rarely go to Takada, the kids are in good hands with learning English. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that some of the best English students in Junior High probably came from this elementary.

Also I love Takada because each time I go, a different class has prepared some sort of nice thing for me. The first time I went, the ichinensei gave me sweet potatoes they grew in their garden. This time, the yonensei (fourth graders) learned how to play John Denver's "Country Roads" on their recorders, and their teacher asked me to sit down in front of them before we began the English lesson, and all the kids took out their recorders and played along to a cd that had some other instruments to accompany them with. It sounds so dorky, but they really picked a song that plays tricks with my heart. I was a little choked up, thinking of home as the kids played, missing it, and also just really felt welcome here when they think to do stuff like this for me. Later, the sixth graders had learned to sing "Stand By Me" and performed it for me. The kids are really amazing. I wish American schools taught second languages before high school. I'm sure some private schools do, and maybe some public schools, though when I went to school they didn't. I just think it's a good thing to get kids out of their own language and culture at an early age and into another one. One of the things Japan aims at accomplishing by doing this is broadening international understanding among their population. That's something that Americans should learn to do too. Too often we're taught that America is the best place, the only place, and not often enough are we taught that we're just another place, and that we should look into the lives of the rest of the world to see other ways of doing things.


Blogger Joufy said...

Aww I wish I had gone to schools so cheerful and overdecorated like that. But the truth of the matter is, if a junoir high had flowers and plants everywhere in it they would all be broken or poisoned by the end of the week. At least where I went to school.

"I just think it's a good thing to get kids out of their own language and culture at an early age and into another one." That is so very true. It's also really fun and interesting for the kids. In Canada if you're English you start learning French in grade 4 so I suppose we're semi-immersed in another culture. I live in the maratimes where there's very few French people and little or no reason to speak French, so many of the kids loathe French class and think of it as a joke. I also think there's a lot of resentment at the fact that the French kids in French schools don't have to take English.

*sigh* Your post just makes me want to teach in Japan all the more. I wonder if there really is a different in the behavior and attitudes of the Japanese students compared to the west?

12:16 PM  
Blogger elad said...

cool pictures, Chris. the assorted plants and arrangments are incredible. plant life always livens up a room and to put so many of them in so many places must make going to the bathroom or walking through the halls a pleasent experience.

i'll also agree with your statement about learning another language in elementary school. it helps to give perspective to your little corner of the world. i went to jewish school and so i studied hebrew every day but along with it, in the higher classes, we had a special Yiddish teacher come in twice a week. it's pretty much a dead language but it is important to the jewish people and it was interesting to learn, especially with the hebrew studies, it wasn't that hard. unfortantely, i've forgotten all my yiddish, save a popular phrase or two, but it's in there (my brain) somewhere, if ever i might need it.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stand by Me? That is so freaking awesome, Chris.


1:56 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Yep, Stand By Me, zo. I was impressed. It's not an easy song to sing if English isn't your first language, and you've only had a visit from an English teacher every five or six weeks. They encourage teaching the kids to sing in English to help them get comfortable making the sounds of English, since it forces them to get loud and use all of their mouth. Otherwise the kids mumble, worried that they sound stupid. Sort of how I sometimes think I must sound. I download Japanese songs whose lyrics I can find online and practice singing in Japanese now too. Actually, I use Utada Hikaru's songs a lot, because they're ballads, which mean slower, easier to begin with, and she prounounces her words very clearly.

3:17 AM  

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