Thursday, March 18, 2010

Japanese wedding

To be honest I am not a huge fan of weddings. I think that often the huge amount of money spent could be used to help start a really wonderful life rather than on just a few hours... but I won't get into that! On Saturday I went to a friend's wedding and actually enjoyed it. It was a couple who had met through an outdoor education training program that I ran a long time ago and there were enough people there that I knew to keep me entertained during all the dress changes etc.
For anyone not familiar with Japanese wedding ceremonies they all generally proceed in the same way - first they have a ceremony in a chapel - in a traditional white wedding dress. These friends included their families in the ceremony by getting the two fathers to get up early in the morning to go to a sacred place, get bottles of water which they brought back and combined in the ceremony and then the couple drank to symbolise the joining of the two families.
After the chapel comes the reception where food, drink and speeches start the ceremony. In general there are usually only a few friends and mainly only relatives and work related people at the reception, but it was great to see lots and lots of friends at this one. The bride usually changes at least twice during the two hour
reception and therefore has very little time to sit down and actually enjoy it, but at this wedding she only changed once and therefore could at least sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the speeches, videos and skits by friends.
The highlight for me was definitely the cake. As you can see they chose a climbing wall with the bride belaying the groom up the wall!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shopping mistakes

I have to go to a wedding tomorrow, so I decided to bite the bullet and go and buy some new clothes to wear to it this morning. For anyone who doesn't know me... I love trackpants. I love to wear the same clothes day after day and don't care if anyone notices. I have no interest in fashion and am somewhat happy that the standard dress code to anything here is black...
But today I was determined to be brave and go and buy something a little more appropriate than trackpants for the wedding. My first mistake was to get to the shopping center at 9:55am. Of course... still closed! So I lined up with the other 20 or so people waiting and made my second mistake of the day... going in to the shopping center at 10am as the doors opened for the day. I have to be in the right mood for shopping and entering a mall at 10am to be greeted by every shop assistant standing outside their shop bowing at you and saying "welcome" just doesn't put me in the right mood. In fact it makes me self conscious and I tend to avoid going into the shops until the shop assistants have gone back safely behind their counters and have stopped bowing.
Mistake number three - trying to find a skirt. I don't know about other countries, but Japan seems to be overrun with tops, dresses and a few pairs of trousers thrown in for good luck, but very few skirts - and even fewer skirts which go below the knee! So I gave up on the skirt and tried to find a top that would go with one of my skirts..... found one that looked really great in the shop... brought it home and I think they must have had one of those trick mirrors in the changing room! It is absolutely disgusting and will probably be used as a cleaning rag!
Mistake number ... I've already lost count...... trying yet again to buy a pair of shoes. I finally found the "big shoe" section where they had a total of 4 pairs of shoes that would have fit me - just. In the end I bought a pair that had no backs on them so I could fit them.... only to get them home and realise that they are absolutely disgusting! Unfortunately they are also very uncomfortable so I can't even use them as gardening shoes.
All in all a terrible day at the shops! I came home, tried on the clothes I already have and figured they will be perfect - wouldn't want to take the spotlight away from the bride! My only successful shopping item of the day was my new sparkly reversible bag - which I think will be claimed by my bag-crazy daughter before I get to take it out the door tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


March is the "end of the year" here in Japan and as such all of my kindergarten and after school classes are coming to an end and it is time to start revising everything we have done all year. This year I decided to put all the books I have read to the classes during the year into a basket and get 2 students to choose which books they enjoyed the most and re-read them to the class each week. It has been a great reinforcement time for me in terms of the importance of books in classes.
I try to read at least one picture each week to all the classes I teach. Usually the books will coincide with the "theme" for that lesson, but as the year progresses often they are just books that I enjoy and have no particular relevance to anything that we are doing. It helps having a huge bookshelf full of books that my children enjoy to choose from! I am guessing that the children I am reading them to probably understand less than 10% of what I am saying. Do I care that they don't understand? Not in the least. Do they care that they don't understand? Not in the least!
I find that one of the huge problems in classes of all ages here is the lack of concentration skills. I also find that most Japanese people don't even try to understand what anyone is saying to them in English - regardless of their age. They tune out right from the beginning. I believe that the huge difference between being a great English speaker is not how well you can pronounce things, but how willing you are to give things a try and giving things a try also means at least attempting to listen to what people are saying to you and taking cues such as body language, tone of voice etc. to fill in the gaps between what you understand and what you don't. I have no formal training in teaching English, but I do know that reading books to young classes is the best thing I have discovered. Of course there are ways to read books and ways to read books, but my way of doing it seems to work and if I forget to read a book each class I always get complaints at the end. My class of 32 five year olds today sat through a story that lasted more than 5 minutes. - interacting with me as I was reading it, but most of all "listening" The changes in the class have been considerable in other areas ... I think as a result of the book reading time.
If anyone is interested in reading books to younger classes (I read them right up till at least 6th grade) I have compiled a list of all the books I read this year to my youngest classes(up to grade 2). I have uploaded it onto Amazon - but of course you can get the books in other places too. If you do order them through Amazon just make sure you check which edition you are buying - some are much smaller or more expensive than others! Of course there are many other books I use, but these are the ones I used this year in 2 particular classes. Click on the links below if you are interested.

Books for teaching in Japan 1
Books for teaching in Japan 2

If I had to pick my favorite 10 books for teaching .... I would have to choose these ones... this week anyway! I would love to hear what books other people really like using. Also if anyone is having trouble with reading books to classes let me know - there are some great ways to make books more interesting to Japanese classes and also bring in important daily language.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Thank you!

I'm sure I have written about this before, but just in case I haven't... When I first got married I was a little shocked by the attitude of some of my female adult English conversation students. I used to teach them at our house and the minute my husband got home from work they would start to get nervous and kept looking at me and asking if I needed to rush off and get his dinner. I would laugh and point out that if he was hungry he knew where the fridge was. My Japanese sister-in-law works at the bank and often doesn't get home till after 10pm. Her husband gets home at about 5:30pm but is still waiting when she gets home for her to cook him his dinner. If I am home all day and my husband is working then I think it is my job to cook dinner. If we are both working or both at home all day and I think it should be a joint effort or that perhaps he should take a turn. As a result Saturdays in our house are my day off from cooking. My husband makes both lunch and dinner (most weeks...) and I love having the break. The meals are not always well balanced and not always the most delicious meals in the world. Curry and fried rice (not together!) are continuing themes. But I don't have to think about what to make, I don't have to stand in the kitchen (apart from to show him where things are) and the children get to see and help their father in the kitchen.
There has been a programme on TV lately about "kiwi husbands" and how wonderful they are. I say it is all in the husband helps with the dishes, irons his own shirts, looks after the children whenever I am away, cooks on Saturdays and any other days I am home late etc. Perhaps I really am a good teacher!

Friday, March 05, 2010


Firstly - Anchan you made me laugh with your comment about the rat on the stairs. I also looked at the photo when I uploaded it and immediately raced to the stairs to check whether the rat was still there. It turned out to be a ball of wool....
I have decided that short daffodils are definitely the way to go... about 5 years ago I bought 15 small daffodil bulbs. Over the years I have divided them occasionally and last year I remembered to take photos of where the main ones were clustered and really spread them out... or at least I thought I did! They just keep multiplying and multiplying and multiplying! It is a bit hard to see in the photos, but they are now dotted all around the garden which is great at this time of the year when the spring colours are only really just beginning to appear. The chickens are doing a great job of weeding and fertilising the garden in the evenings which may be helping their productivity.
My seed planting is also well underway this year - now all I need is for the rain to stop so I can prepare the ground to actually plant them in.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Anyone who has been to Japan knows that it is a country of stairs. To get to most temples, shrines, parks etc. there are usually a huge number of stairs involved. Because it is a country of lots of people in a small area they also tend to have 2 storied houses rather than the one storied houses that are the normal in New Zealand. Even here in the countryside they generally have 2 storied houses. Unfortunately the builders haven't worked out that it is better to have wider and less steep stairs if you are going to actually use the stairs.... especially if you main storage area of all the seasonal essentials in Japan is upstairs!
Today I decided that I just couldn't face carting the big boxes of Hina dolls upstairs so I decided to reclaim the cupboard in our tatami room that had been turned into a toy cupboard. It took me all morning, but I pulled everything out and everything that wouldn't fit into the smaller hall cupboard was put in a huge pile for the kids to go through when they got home. I have trouble throwing away toys etc., but they play with them so little now that it is really not worth keeping them all. The new rule is that anything that doesn't fit into the toy cupboard that they want must be kept in their bedrooms. The result... a more orderly toy cupboard, a cupboard to store all our cushions, seasonal dolls etc. and a pile of toys which will sit in the corner for 2 weeks and if not claimed by any visitors will be dealt with as seen fit at that time... and when the kids aren't watching! Katy - we will probably be home by 1:30pm on Sunday if you are needing an outing and a few extra bribes to keep the kids in order for the next few weeks!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Over reacting

Yesterday I got a phone call from the school principal at about 1:30pm to tell me that my son had hit his head earlier in the day and that if I was free I should probably come to school to get him and take him to the hospital to get it checked out. So of course having nothing better to do I rushed to school and heard the full story... He had hit his head quite lightly on a locker when he was playing with a paper plane at about 10:30am. He continued on with classes, ate all his lunch, did the school cleaning, then complained that he had a headache - hence my emergency call out. When I arrived he had an icepack on it and was looking a bit glum, but not actually in any pain. There was no physical bump on his head and there was no bruising from the incident which had happened 3 hours ago..... I was sure that he was just tired, but was encouraged strongly to take him to the hospital just to be sure. The doctor looked at him, looked at me and we laughed together. My son smiled, we walked out having paid 800 yen (the bill has to be over 1,000 yen for the school insurance to cover it) and decided to fill in the time between then and when it was time to pick up my daughter by looking at the hina dolls that his class had made and that were on display at a local hall. I have no idea what happens at other schools or in other countries, but I do find that the school nurse at our school combined with the principal tend to overreact to injuries here where I would just tell them to suck it up! I guess if it had turned out to be an actual head injury I might feel differently, but... By the way - for anyone who doesn't know every school in Japan no matter how big or small seems to have a school nurse - even the tiny school closest to us with only 13 students!
On the overreacting theme I think I might have got some of my overreacting under control lately. In the past I have been very "independent" and got frustrated when my parents-in-law tried to do anything around the garden etc., but this last week I have just stood back and said "thank you". For some reason my father-in-law decided he would chop most of next year's wood supply - something I would have complained about in the past as I would think that he thought we weren't capable of doing it. I must be getting old because when I discovered him doing it the other day I just hid inside and thanked him later.... It has been raining a lot lately so my mother-in-law hasn't been able to get into her garden so has spent most of her days weeding our large lawn - a job I see as pointless and which drives me crazy. So when I discovered her doing it the other day I hid inside and said thank you later...... I may even let her loose on the vegetable garden sometime, but probably not this year - she would never realise that there are actually many edible things in amongst the knee-high weeds! I discovered a whole strawberry patch today that I had forgotten that I had planted!

For anyone not familiar with the Hina dolls above - March 3rd is the "Dolls Festival" in Japan and most families with girls will display their dolls for about a month prior to the festival and eat sushi etc. on this day. Our town has some amazing displays of very old dolls as well as some more modern ones. I think I need to put our dolls away tomorrow if I want my daughter to get married early. After her behaviour today I think I might actually put them away tonight in the hope that some prince swoops in and takes her away next month - nothing like living with a teenage 9 year old! If you want to read about the history etc. behind this festival the wikipedia site has a good explanation: Hinamatsuri