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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

目標1

日本に移住して英会話教室を開こうという意気込みが、多くの反対にあって断念。すぐにジョージが学校で働くことが決まってしまい、ついついそれに甘んじて、教室を開こうという活動もそれほどせず、既に数ヶ月が経ってしまった。
皆が言うように、確かに塚原で教室を開くのは不可能に近い。アメリカに比べて、距離的には大したことはないけど、住んでみたら、同じ1キロでも、時間的なことや便利性を考慮すると、塚原はホントにとおい。大分や別府に家を借りて。。。と努力はしているが、犬たちが一緒に住め、教室に適した場所と環境というとこれまた非常に難しい。それでも、今年はもう少し行動範囲を広げて頑張ろうと思う。

日本に来て、唯一の生徒たちである由布川保育園の園児たちがもうすぐ卒業。4ヶ月足らずで、ずいぶん英語に慣れ親しんでくれた。多くの園児たちは、「会話」がしっかりできる。英会話を教えるに当たって、「何を勉強しましたか」と聞かれて、「ABC…」とか、「動物の名前」を応えるようなことだけは嫌だなと思っていたから、きちんと「英会話」ができる園児たちの成長は本当に嬉しい。フォニックスを教えたら、これまた、それを活用して知らない単語を発音できる子供たちもいる。これでさよならするのは悲しい。でも、こういうのって、これからの励みになる。がんばらないと。。。今年は、英会話の教室を持つぞ!分かってる、もう2ヶ月が終わった。でも、まだ後10ヶ月あるから。Be positive!



えりか

Monday, February 27, 2012

Learning Process

Can you imagine how complicated it is to live in Japan? I have been struggling with a few things. “No” doesn’t really mean “no.” If I’m invited to someone’s house, they automatically bring tea or coffee without asking me. They sometimes ask me if I want to drink coffee or tea. I usually say, “No, thank you. Don’t worry about me.” They bring something anyway. I have to drink it because I don’t like to waste anything.

We had a couple of guests last weekend. I offered them something to drink several times. They said, “No, thanks.” So, I didn’t prepare anything. I didn’t want to force them to drink anything. George returned and told me to offer them something. I said, “I did.” He said, “You really need to offer them something.” So, I told the guests that George insisted. Then, they accepted my offer. They ended up loving the tea I gave them…or were they just being polite??? I often end up throwing some refreshments away because they don’t finish them. This encouraged me to use Japanese size cups…small and tiny.

Another one… My neighbor always reminds me of trash day. Tomorrow is for plastic. Tuesday is for burnable trash which requires a specific bag that’s approved by the city. The second Monday of the month is for cardboard which is picked up at a different location than the regular garbage(whatever that is). The confusion continues with broken china, water bottles, and so on. Everything has its own place and time for pick up. It’s too complicated. I finally picked up a booklet about trash which contains 7 pages. Being housewife in Japan is harder than I ever experienced in the U.S.



You may think, who cares??? Since people in the community are watching me and any rumors spread like wildfire, it’s impossible not to care. Building a good reputation is difficult, but creating a bad reputation is simple.

Did I tell you that I truly miss living in the U.S., but my husband is extremely happy in Japan. My dogs are also very happy, too. What can I say? It’s three against one.
Erika

Friday, February 17, 2012

Your Attention, Please

On a more serious note…let’s discuss Japanese toilets. I’ve seen one at a rest area. Some of the older restaurants and businesses have them. Some of the older homes still use them. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because many of the schools have them. Four of the six schools I teach at have them. I have to admit…I’m terrified of using one. What if I miss? I had to ask Erika for advice on using one. Which way do you face when you sit down? Fortunately, I found instructions on how to use a “floor model” at one of the schools. I know that one of these days I will have to give it a go. I’m hoping that I don’t fall down or worse…I can’t stand up! Anyway, I included some photos so that you can have some idea of what I’m talking about. Please don’t laugh…it really is a serious matter.



George




Monday, February 13, 2012

Priceless

Teaching kids to speak English is fun! Sometimes, I can’t believe that I get paid to do it. A few days ago, a child from the second grade came into the teacher’s room. The child introduced herself and I said, “Hello, I’m Mr. Kimball,” as I shook her tiny hand. This was the first time I met a second grader from this school. The child’s face blushed with excitement and she quickly turned around and made a dash for the door. A few moments later, the same child entered the room along with two other children. My guess was that they were all close friends. After some intense whispering and nudging, the other two children told me their names. I greeted them with a huge smile and shook their hands and said, “Nice to meet you.” They looked at each other and covered their mouths that had opened in astonishment. The three children quickly disappeared, only to return with three more children. The teacher’s room at this school was tiny. There was barely enough room for the teachers. I was laughing hysterically to myself as I watched what was transpiring. The six children managed to wedge themselves between the desks and chairs so that they could partake in the introductions. I shook everyone’s tiny hands and spoke in a deep voice, “Nice to meet you!” Up until this moment, I had been introduced only to the girls from the class. A boy stepped forward and said in a confident, tiny voice, “Nice to meet you!” I gave him an extra firm handshake. The six children quickly disappeared.
The interesting thing about all of this was that their teacher had no idea that the students were going to do this. The second grade teacher sat at her desk in the teacher’s room soaking up all of the entertainment. Several minutes had passed. Sure enough…the entire second grade class (15 students) squeezed into the teacher’s room. The only boy in the class handed me a piece of paper. It was a song that I had given to the fifth grade teacher earlier. He asked softly, “Could you play this?” I looked down at my watch. It was Friday and almost time to go home. I looked at all of those beautiful children. Somehow, the children had managed to get all of the teachers to stand up and to make room for them to be near me. I answered the boy’s question with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” It’s not easy to get 15 second grader’s to be quiet at the same time. They were silenced with expectation as I picked up the guitar and started to play. The song was, “It’s a Small World.” The children and teachers clapped and sang (as best as they could). The spontaneous reactions from the students and faculty made the whole experience magical. I’m still new at teaching, but I believe that this is why teachers do what they do…the rewards are priceless.  
George

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lunch Time!

I have enjoyed eating school lunches. They are well balanced and nutritious. Today, I had some kind of tiny, sweet fish with nuts, chicken with veggies in a cream sauce and milk. Lunch is a daily ritual shared by all. Each student has the responsibility of handing out trays, dishing out food, and cleaning up. Even the teachers get involved with the lunchtime activities. For example, I was responsible for handing out trays to the faculty and dishing out food. I learned that the chop sticks must be placed on the tray in a certain way. The milk must be placed on the far corner of the tray. It’s amusing to be corrected by the teachers when I improperly place a dish on a tray. Serving a meal is like taking a driver’s test. There are so many silly rules for doing something simple. I’m not sure why it’s that way. I once placed the milk on the top right corner of everyone’s tray. A teacher promptly relocated the milk to its proper place on every tray. Good grief! I purposely placed the chop sticks to point to the right (they should be pointed to the left) just to see if I would be corrected. Sure enough…someone turned those sticks in the other direction. I wonder what would have happened if my tragic mistake was overlooked? I think that such a violation of cultural practices would have made the headline news on NHK. I could have been deported for exposing kids to misaligned chop sticks. My eyes are twitching just thinking about it.




How much does a school lunch cost? I’m glad that you asked. A one month subscription cost 4100 yen. That’s a heck of a deal! Each day, a student visits the teacher’s room and invites me to have lunch with their class. The students enjoy eating lunch with me and I get a kick out of answering their questions in English.
George

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simple and Complicated

Working in Japan has opened my eyes towards how I feel about work. I think I’m a happy person. As I sat in the teacher’s office, I saw many serious faces. It was usually quiet, but I assumed that was because that was how white collar people acted. I have been fortunate to have a job that has required my ability to play the guitar. This meant that I had permission to practice songs as I needed. I often practiced in the teacher’s room. Actually, I made it a point to practice there. The old timers had grumpy and serious looks as could be expected. The younger teachers looked down at their computer screens with no expressions on their faces. I thought that it was taboo if they started to sing or clap to a song that I played. To my surprise, I found that the teachers were not made of ice. Their faces showed no emotion, but I could see that they were quietly tapping their feet to the music. Yesterday, I made a breakthrough. One of the Vice Principals asked if I would play a song. She was fond of the Carpenter’s, so I played, “On Top of the World”. Smiles and laughter broke out in the room. After a brief round of applause, the mood quickly changed back to serious. I continued practicing, and many of the teacher’s feet quietly tapped to the music.

What has made this an interesting experience was the fact that I’m American. Most of these schools had no idea how to treat me. I come to school and sit around playing guitar. I smile a lot and laugh with the kids and at the teacher’s seriousness. I’m sure they are wondering why I gave up my country and career to come to Japan. The Japanese are not accustomed to radical changes. My guess is that they think I lost everything when the housing bubble burst in the U.S. and I escaped to Japan. The thought of giving up a life of luxury to teach kids in Japan must have seemed absurd to them. Indeed, it would seem crazy to most people. I have been giving this a lot of thought, lately. Why am I here? The answer is simple and complicated. I wanted to do something else with my life. I was tired of “stuff” and I wanted something more valuable…happiness. I tried for many years to find happiness. This is where it gets complicated. The happiness I was looking for did not involve money or things. I craved a happiness that had a real substance to it. I wanted to wake up each day to feel…happy…grateful to be alive. I recently read a book about finding happiness. I can’t remember the title, but it was featured on an Oprah show. The book stated that the number one factor that affected happiness was…guess what? Health? Wealth? Status? Family? Nope. The number one factor was where you lived. I found that this idea rang true for my life. When I lived in California, I complained about the neighbor on an hourly basis. I moved across town. I complained about the long commute. I moved to Seattle and I had a short ten minute commute. I complained about the traffic near the house, the backyard neighbor, and the weather from hell. The place that I called, “Home” affected how I looked at each day from when I got up until I went to bed. Home was a constant reminder of how I was living.
Welcome to Tsukahara! I must be happy because I don’t have any neighbors or traffic to complain about. My commute isn’t too far and my work has been rewarding. Hey, nothing’s perfect. I wish I could work where I live, but I’ll have to work hard and be patient for that.
George