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Sunday, April 29, 2012


Lately, my mind has been filled with anything to do with education. I prefer having these thoughts over anything to do with my other job. My last job was…work. Plain and simple…work. I never spoke of work during my time off except to complain about it. Erika often got an earful of complaints. No one wants to live with a complainer. I hated wasting my life complaining about things that I could do nothing about. Erika advised me on more than one occasion, “Take action. Do something instead of complaining.” I think this was what spurred all the changes that had been made over the past couple of years. The process of taking action has been a long and sometimes difficult road to travel, but the result has been phenomenal. Rather than instantly forgetting my day as soon as I punched the clock, I share with Erika the experiences of educating students each day. Education provides a lot to talk about. I talk about it as soon as I get home, while eating meals, and before going to bed. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’ll wake up and laugh out loud. I can picture their reactions to a particular English lesson and I laugh. It’s not that it’s so funny, but rather it’s the way the students react to my unorthodox way of teaching. The 5th and 6th graders are used to the regular and straightforward method of teaching…yawn…boring. Mr. Kimball likes to stir things up. I’ll play a song or two on the guitar. I’ll get the students moving around with icebreakers. I’ll change my voice from shouting to whispering. I’ll wave my arms, jump up and down…whatever, to get my lesson across. The students are amused by my silly performances, but they come alive. The students are not stupid. They know when a teacher is honest and cares about them. So much can be said for something as simple as a smile. I find that I’m constantly smiling and so are my students.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Ceremony...another one?

 I am learning that I should not put away my formal attire in Japan. As soon as I do, it’s time to go to another ceremony. I’m not a big fan of wearing suits and ties. Over the years, I’ve learned to associate wearing a suit with events that make me nervous/anxious. For example, I would wear a suit on a first date, to attend a wedding, to go to a funeral, or to go to a job interview. Wearing a suit meant that I would be experiencing stress. Up until recently, I had only one dress shirt and tie. Erika knew that I would need to dress up more frequently as soon as we moved to Japan. She was right. It’s a good thing that we purchased many of my formal clothes at a second hand shop in Federal Way. I purchased a fancy Italian suit for $25. I have a colorful collection of shirts and ties in the closet and many reasons to wear them.
Since I moved here, I have attended many meetings, ceremonies, and events that required a suit. Recently, I joined the entrance ceremony at Anan Elementary School in Shonai.  This ceremony welcomed the 1st graders to their new school. It was amusing to find that it took 5 minutes for the faculty to figure out where I would sit. I think it had something to do with ranking. I ended up in the middle of the front row. Looking out into the audience, I saw many serious looking people with neatly tailored suits. However, when I looked at their feet, I saw that they were wearing non-fashionable slippers. Some of these serious looking people were wearing red slippers, yellow flip flops, and white tennis shoes. I was hoping that I would see the principal wearing bunny slippers. It was funny to see the contrast, but I did my best to keep from laughing out loud. The good news was that I managed to stand and bow at the proper times unlike the graduation ceremony. The atmosphere was cheerful and the 1st graders didn’t have to endure a long line of boring speeches. The new students smiled which was a welcomed relief. I have no idea when the next ceremony will be, but I’m sure it won’t be too far into the future.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Argh! It's too nice outside...

…to be sitting in the teacher’s room. The temperature is slowly rising and everything is in bloom. Most of my classes are in the afternoon. I will have one class today, at 2pm. The rest of the time I will spend surfing the net, reading a book, writing blogs, processing astrophotos, or experiencing boredom. I have so much to do at home, but I must do my time here. Erika just called to inform me that on Friday I get to go on a fieldtrip…yeah!!! Minami Shonai Elementary School will be taking the kids on an all day hike. We will even have a picnic…cool! I know…it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

We picked up a few school items in Beppu this past weekend. The cherry blossoms were outstanding along Route 11 from Beppu to Yufuin. The blossoms are short lived which made viewing the elusive “sakura” a challenge. Timing was everything. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The blooms are late in Tsukahara because of the elevation. While most of Japan has finished with the cherry blossoms, Tsukahara was just getting started. The hillsides were dotted with wild mountain cherry trees in bloom. Here’s something that I learned about cherry blossoms: The mountain cherries (yama-sakura) produce their leaves before the blossoms. The domesticated cherries (yoshino-sakura) produce blossoms before the leaves.  This explains why the blooms are not as spectacular in the hills as they are in the parks with the domesticated trees. Okay, enough with the horticulture lesson.


Monday, April 16, 2012


Erika and I are faced with the overwhelming task of interior designing our school. It’s easy to throw a desk here and a chair there, but to make the whole thing work in a way that is functional and attractive is a challenge. We have two rooms that will be for teaching. One room will be for the very young students while the upstairs room will be for the older students. I think we have enough materials to cover the walls so that the students will feel like they are in an English environment. I want to do something unique by giving the classrooms a third dimension. That’s about all I can say about that topic until I can figure something out. I wish I had my woodworking shop up and running. I have some interesting ideas. I did manage to make a sign before I packed all of my tools in the U.S. What do you think? Oh, before I forget to mention it…the name of our schools is… (drum roll, please)… YES!

YES! stands for “Your English Station!” Why Station instead of School? I’m glad you asked. The word “school”, in Japan, invokes images of a dull, regimented and boring environment, void of creativity. A station (train, bus) in Japan is a place where people go to meet and travel to future destinations. The atmosphere is lively and positive. Our students have an opportunity to freely choose what their future goals and destinations will be. We encourage students to meet others and share experiences in an English environment. A station (radio, T.V.) broadcasts entertainment and information. Your English Station students will “tune-in” their English skills with our entertaining, informative, and positive techniques. Wow! I sound just like a business owner. Erika is the CEO and I’m the janitor. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eyes on the Prize

I’ve been thinking about what has happened to us over the past 6 months. Today, marks our anniversary date for starting a new life in Japan. “Jumping off the cliff” has been an exciting experience so far. Fate has allowed us a safe shelter so that we can catch our breath during the long fall. This is a good and a bad thing. It’s good for obvious reasons. I have a job that I enjoy and I’m beginning to feel comfortable about surviving in Japan. Living in Tsukahara has been fantastic and I have no regrets…except for one. Maybe regret is too harsh a term. When I first arrived in Japan, I was filled with enthusiasm and I was ready to try anything. As time has passed, my comfort level increased and my enthusiasm to try anything decreased. I was finding it hard to keep my eyes on the prize. What was the prize? Operating a successful business was the first thing that came to my mind. Erika was doing a great job of keeping the business going as I worked for the Yufuin Department of Education. Tiny steps had to be made in order to get the show on the road. Finding a suitable location for a dedicated English school was a big step. This step required a huge investment in time and money. The plans for opening a school in Nakatsu were cancelled before we ever opened our doors. At the time, we had too many things going on. We had heard only negative feedback about our plans.

Finding a location has been extremely difficult. It’s not like you can go out and find a building that allows for a school, pets, and provides ample parking. We needed to live there on the days that it was too late to commute home. Which city do we choose? How far away are we willing to travel? If we chose a city that was close by, then we would have a problem of having fierce competition among several English schools. Cost was also a prohibitive factor. We knew that choosing a location required a lot of research and networking. Making the time to do the research was an ongoing problem. Language was a huge obstacle to overcome. I was relying on Erika to find a place to open a business because of the language factor.

 A typical search went something like this: Find an area that had a cluster of public schools. Find out how many students attended the schools. Try to find out if any English schools existed in the area (That was very difficult because many of them do not advertise on the net). Then, we had to find out if a building was available that matched our criteria (That was not easy since many buildings are not advertised as being vacant even though they were). Once a building had been found, then it was up to the landlord to decide if they wanted to rent to someone who would be leaving if the school was not successful.  Most landlords didn’t allow for dogs or live music, both of which were very important to us.
As I mentioned in the last post, we did find a place to open our school. I spent the weekend moving furniture and assembling an ABC floor mat. I can hear the wise cracks as I write this post…”I had no idea you knew the alphabet.” Yes, believe it or not, I remembered all 26 letters. Getting them in the correct order was the challenge! We had purchased many educational materials in the U.S. and shipped them to Japan. We also purchased some items from an English school that was closing in Beppu. The school was very successful, but the landlord kicked them out of the building. The young couple who ran the school will be moving to Canada. They were only open for two years, but they had over 100 students. I know they will be a success wherever they go. Thanks to them, we purchased some comfortable chairs and desks at a fraction of the cost. We also picked up a projector/ screen so that we can have movie night with our students…more on that topic, later.  Erika will be delivering teaching materials to our school this week. Hopefully, we will be finished moving by the end of the week. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Quick Note

We have found a place to open our English school! More details and pictures coming soon. Erika and I would like to apologize for the long delay between our blog posts, but we have been very busy getting things organized. The keys to the business will be in our hands this weekend. Our goal is to be open for business before the end of April. Stay tuned...    George

BTW - I think it's only fitting to write that this is our 100th post. Thank you for the wonderful comments and interest. We love hearing from you!