Thursday, October 30, 2008

合気道 Aikido Demonstration

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that uses the force of the opponent to overpower him or her. We were really "wow-ed" by this demonstration! Check out these two videos:

By the way, this girl is also a Shinto priestess!

We all knew that Dr. Ichiburo was pretty tough -- especially on us teachers! After this, I know I wouldn't EVER want to make him mad!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Home, Tomigusuku Style

How would you like to live with another family? What if you didn't speak the language and ate completely different food?? As a way to get to know the culture, it can't be beat!
This is my homestay family in Tomigusuku City, Okinawa. Even though their English was limited, (and my Japanese is even worse!), we were able to communicate and have a great time together!

I brought them some gifts from home, including a Horace Mann T-shirt, Phillies sweatbands, a Flyers cap, some American candy, and a picture book of Philadelphia. They really liked them!

My "host dad", Takashi, is a pilot, and flies all over Japan. The mom, Mayumi, manages a company. They were so kind and generous. Their house had a great view of the city.

We prepared a Japanese dinner together. They taught me how to shop for and prepare sushi, and how to make tempura. Their children and 2 baby grandchildren came to meet me and have dinner with us!

Mmm... Here's the feast I helped to prepare. See the tempura I fried? I learned to roll sushi right at the table, and what ingredients are combined together when you combine different kinds of raw fish, rice, seaweed, and sauces. By the way, I'm getting pretty good at using chopsticks for everything! And their baby grandson is learning to use them too!

My room: I had a great night's sleep on this tatami mat.
Most Japanese houses have a tatami room, and some families sleep here every night! The futon is kept behind shoji screens in the room - like a giant closet on the whole wall.

My family and I visited some famous places in town, including this huge underground cave. Okinawa also has a lot of caves that were used as hiding places during World War II. Some of the history was very sad. We visited one, and then also went to the Peace Memorial Museum.

Their grandson Kesuke came with us. We visited, played and sang songs together.

Our stay with our host families was short, but we had a wonderful time and learned a lot from one another. It was hard to say goodbye! But I hope to show Takashi & Mayumi around when they visit New York next year!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Junior High & High School Visits

Junior High School students sit in rows at the Welcoming Assembly
Here in Okinawa, we also visited a junior high and a high school. The students wear uniforms here. All students in Japan have to complete up to Junior High, which is 3 years (like our 6th - 9th grade). In their last year, they study hard to pass an entrance exam for high school. Most students plan to go to high school, which is also 3 years. The school day can be long - most students stay for after-school clubs which begin at 4:30 or 5:00!

Kids clean their classrooms twice a day. These junior high girls are sweeping after lunch. Other kids wash desks, scrub the balcony, mop the floors or empty trash.

Kids study a lot of the same subjects that we do... (except calligraphy, of course!) All students in junior high and high school have English class. The classes are big. My favorite classes to observe were the English, music and art classes. Art and music are universal languages!
Boys and girls in this high school wear white shirts as uniforms (it's hot in Okinawa!) I love the big 2-part chalkboards in the classrooms. Teachers slide them up and down and write on the lower part.
Look closely... I guess some students weren't too interested in their science class!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Visit to Iraha Elementary School

Today was the most wonderful day! We visited an elementary school in Tomigusuku City. Here are some highlights:

"Ohayu gozaimasu!" That means "Good morning!" The principal and student greeters (5 boys and 5 girls) greet every student with this greeting as they walk in. (No one comes by bus or car.)

Look at this beautiful courtyard! The students work to take care of it.

The students were very excited to see us! They even asked for our autograph!!

We walked around and visited classes. The students all wanted their picture taken, but they had to listen to their teachers!

Students call their teacher "Sensei." They don't use their names. This is a math class.

In English class, students played a vocabulary game in a circle. They took their slippers off before coming into this carpeted room. It was so much fun!!!

The library looks a lot like ours, except without computers. Kids have a special bag to carry their library books.

I had lunch in the classroom with a second grade. I gave them some awesome Horace Mann pencils -- thanks PTA!!!

After lunch, it's time to clean up! Kids move the desks and grab brooms.

Some students sweep, clean desks, wash floors, empty trash, or rake outside. Everyone has a job to do!Some students sweep, clean desks, wash floors, empty trash, or rake outside. Everyone has a job to do!

After clean-up, I read the class a Halloween story. It was a rhyme and riddle book in English -- they knew all the answers!
Recess time - some kids ride unicycles! These unicycles belong to the school.

We participated in an assembly of Eisa traditional dance. We learned to play drums while we learned the dance moves.

Monday, October 20, 2008

On to Okinawa 沖縄

Greeting the Mayor of Tomigusuku City
Yesterday, my group of 15 teachers arrived on the southern island of Okinawa. Okinawa is a prefecture - what the Japanese call their states. We will visit the schools here.

Okinawa is part of Japan, but it also has its own culture. Look at the shirt the mayor is wearing above. All the city officials wear this shirt - it's a special fabric made in Okinawa. The mayor doesn't wear a suit here! We also visited a teachers' college and talked with the university students planning to become English teachers. Many of them want to become teachers because of a special teacher that they had!

We had a great time talking with these future teachers!

Something Fishy

If you're going to visit Japan, it helps to like fish. Japanese people eat a lot of it. Ever wonder how it gets from the ocean to your table?

The Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest fish market in the world. Over $15.5 million worth of seafood is sold here every day! And it all happens before the sun even comes up.

You already read about jet-lag: that's when you wake up (or fall asleep) at crazy hours from being in a new time zone. Since I was already awake really early on my first morning in Tokyo, I went for a visit. It was something!! Electric carts zooming in all directions, all kinds of sea creatures (some still alive) for sale, restaurant owners making deals for the best catch! Finally we went to the tuna auction. The video is posted above. This tuna doesn't come in a can --- some fish are worth over 20 million yen! (How much is that in dollars??) Now, if you're not too squeamish, you can click above for more photos. Sushi anyone?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

東京メトロ The Tokyo Metro

I love subways! Not the sandwich shop, the train!!!

I've been taking the Metro a lot here in Tokyo. It's the way to get around this huge city.

I've ridden subways in London, New York, Paris, Mexico City, Madrid, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Montreal... and I have to say Tokyo is among my favorites! Why? It's easy, clean, quiet, fast, and cheap! An average ride costs under $2. It's very easy - signs and station names are posted in English and Japanese. (I think that's very considerate.)

Everyone rides the subways in Tokyo - in fact, it's the most-used subway system in the world -- almost 3 billion train rides a year!!! (That's a lot of cars that are not on the road! Less traffic, less pollution.) With all those riders, you wouldn't believe that it's so clean. No litter or dirt. None. And it's so quiet, you need to whisper when you're talking to your friends. (Really!) Finally, the Tokyo Metro is also very safe. Riders stow their bags on overhead racks, then take a nap. Look closely at the top photo - what do you see? I'm told nothing is stolen, and lost items are turned in. And riders are courteous - they actually stand in line waiting to get on. Definitely, Metro is THE way to go!

Friday, October 17, 2008

First Impressions

Do you know what the capital of Japan is?

Tokyo is a huge, amazing city. It's a mix of old and new; of traditional and ultra-modern. The streets are full of people -- everyone is going somewhere, day and night. On our first full day, we had a bus tour; we visited the National Diet (not food -- it's the Parliament House!) and had some time in the Asakusa neighborhood. I had already been out to visit the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market (more on that later) before dawn! It's still dark, but the hustle and bustle is like rush hour. I've also been out to see neon Tokyo by night. The lights are so bright, it feels like daylight! Here are a few pictures of my first days:

The Asakusa Temple

School kids in uniform

Shinjuku district by night

Vending machines sell everything!

Typical street scene

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crossing the Line

October 13 2008, 11:42 am, Tokyo time. We needed to sleep, but most of us on the plane were awake, our eyes glued to the map on the screen as we watched the plane icon inch westward across the Pacific. The flight attendant came by and told us, "We will be crossing the International Date Line in about three minutes." Wow - three minutes till tomorrow - and it's not even midnight. Our cameras were ready - "There it goes!" At 11:45 am, we crossed the International Date Line, and officially jumped forward a day. It was no longer October 13, but October 14, 2008. Who says you can't time travel??
New Jersey is 13 hours earlier than Tokyo. That means that I'm wide awake when I should be sleeping (like now!), and I'm ready to sleep when I should be awake (like earlier today). My computer doesn't know what time it is either... the clock says one time but the Blogger posts another. So even computers can get jet lag!

Monday, October 13, 2008

San Francisco - The Journey Begins

Problem of the day: A plane leaves Philadelphia at 6:45 am. It arrives in San Francisco at 9:45 am. How many hours is the plane ride? (Hint: Click on World Time Zones to check time difference!)

Today, we arrived in San Francisco, CA for our orientation. I met with 158 other teachers from all over the US who are also traveling to Japan. Everyone has a story to tell...

The highlight of the day was dinner at Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine's home. We ate my favorite foods -- sushi and flan! It was a tremendous honor to be a guest of the Japanese Consulate. Do you know what a consulate is? The consulate had views of the Golden Gate bridge and San Franciso Bay.