Wednesday, 25 April 2007

School in Japan

April 2007

Well I have finally got around to writing about school in Japan! A typical week for me is Monday to Wednesday and Friday at my junior high school (grades 7-9).
The schedule is –
8:20-8:40 teachers meeting
8:40-8:50 homeroom
8:50-9:40 lesson 1
9:50-10:40 lesson 2
10:50-11:40 lesson 3
11:50-12:40 lesson 4
12:40-1:20 lunch
1:25-2:15 lesson 5
2:25-3:15 lesson 6
Homeroom and cleaning 30 minutes.

We don’t have 6 lessons every day but there is no recess and no yard duty as students aren’t allowed outside. Students are left alone for 10minutes between lessons as teachers come to their homeroom. It is amazing how they are unsupervised so often and I have only seen one student who hurt himself. At the end of the day students clean their room and the hallways! No need to pay cleaners! Don’t think that would work in Australia!

My Junior High School.

Shoe lockers to leave your outside shoes in before changing into “slippers”. (Not everyone wears slippers but as long as your shoes have never been worn outside they are ok.)

Once I get to the train station near school I get on another bike that one of the teachers has kindly lent me for 7 months! I ride through narrow streets (almost footpaths) passing many market gardens along the way – it is cabbage country! As I ride to school I pass many students on the way and say “Good Morning” to them. I often get a surprised look and once I have riden past I hear “Good Morningu!”(so cute!)

The gardens on the way to school.

The teachers at the junior high school are really friendly and most enjoy practicing their English with me. The students are well behaved and are eager to speak to me and ask questions about everything! School is very strict here and students have to wear a uniform but it must be worn exactly. They also cannot dye their hair, have pierced ears, long fingernails or trim/shape their eyebrows! In Japan it is popular (with boys and girls) to trim your eyebrow hairs so they are short and then also shape them. The first time I saw an “eyebrow check” I was amazed! Can you imagine this in Australia?!! Also if a student has dyed their hair (usually red/brown) a teacher will remove them and spray their hair black! Teachers in Japan have more control over students and there doesn’t seem to be any regulations about physical contact as some teachers will adjust the student’s uniform or “knock” them into line! Very different from Australia!! Any assembly here is a formal occasion and teachers are expected to wear a suit but as you must wear inside shoes so it is never totally formal! I love wearing slippers at work!

Third graders graduation (year 9’s).

Bento – lunch given to all teachers at the junior high school on special occasions. This was for the 3rd year (year 9) graduation.

On Thursdays I go to one of three primary schools. I rotate through 3 primary schools and each time I teach a variety of grades. I really enjoy the primary school although it is a lot harder as many primary school teachers don’t speak English and the students have not been exposed to a lot of English as they don’t have regular lessons. However at the primary school I get given lunch each week. The students are very responsible and they have monitors who put on a white coat, chef hat and face mask! Some students clean the tables while others go and collect the lunch from the canteen. Students then serve all the meals and you always get a small milk with lunch. Before we start eating we say “ittadakimasu” together and after the meal “gochi so samadeshita” which is thanks for the meal. I get to sit with the students when I eat lunch. It is great as they all janken (rock, paper, scissors) to see which table I get to sit at! One class did this and many students were upset so the teacher rearranged the class so the students could all sit in rows facing me while they ate! Some classes all want you to sign your “autograph” when you have finished and shake your hand – makes you feel like a celebrity!

Students serving lunch

Students lined up for lunch

Student making me origami – I have such a collection- I have made a paper crane mobile!

Yum Primary school food!

Students all facing me when they couldn’t let janken decide!(mine is the empty seat)

School is really great here and there are many funny stories to tell whether it has been lost in translation or students/teachers trying out their English. I think the best one is when I taught the special class (4 students) how to make a snapping crocodile and one student who loves reptiles told the Japanese teacher he thought I was marvellous and that I must be the best teacher in Australia and that is why they have sent me to Japan although in the same class one student thought that I wasn’t very smart as I can’t speak Japanese! He thought that everyone knows Japanese! And he still talks to me in Japanese thinking I know it! There are so many stories to tell so I will try to add a few each time!

Monday, 16 April 2007

Sakura 桜

April 2007

The weather has been getting warmer, if only slightly and everything is getting a little greener. Lately there have been more and more blossoms appearing around Himeji. To begin with it was pink blossoms which are “only” plum blossoms not the much talked about sakura – cherry blossoms!

Plum blossoms.

In Japan sakura are loved – it's the only word to describe it. People are talking about them, have parties under them, make cakes and sweets with them in it and talk in percentages about how much they are in bloom!

Cherry blossoms - Sakura 桜

This week is one of the main weeks for cherry blossom viewing (the first two weeks of April.) There are 1000 cherry blossom trees around the castle, so it’s the best place for viewing the cherry blossoms. The other night I went to my first hanami party! (cherry blossom viewing) We met at the castle gate at 6pm and were prepared with rugs, tarps, food and of course drinks (a hanami party requires drinks)! We met up with some Japanese friends and found a spot under the cherry blossoms. There were some very prepared parties there – all business men in suits with their dinner set out with a beer all in a circle. As it got dark the lanterns around the park lit up and it was just so pretty. During this week only you are able to go in the castle grounds at night. We went and looked around and it was just beautiful. More cherry blossoms with coloured lights – it was amazing!

First Hanami party!

Day time Hanami parties.

On Saturday it was the Kan-o-kai festival which is held annually at the castle. During the day 100 women in kimono play the koto (traditional Japanese instrument), there is a lion dance performed on a wooden A-frame and taiko drumming. This is all on a stage with the castle in the background and cherry blossom trees surrounding the park. We sat in front of the stage with our tarps, rugs, food and drinks. We even had a visit from the mayor of Himeji and he sat down with us for a bit and we gave him some Australian chocolate and the Americans gave him some brownies! It was just an amazing day! Special sake was being sold in square lacquer cups which I just had to have and the sake was quite good too! I may be getting a taste for it!

Koto players in Kimono - what a background!

Koto players with Sakura!

All of us with the Mayor of Himeji and the Mayor of Tottori!(and some random guy!)

Lion dance.


Most days on my way home I have to stop to take more photos of sakura as it is just so beautiful and they only last for 7-10 days. We have been to the castle 3 times now at night to take photos too. This is definitely the best time to visit Japan and its official I love sakura too!

These are my two favourite photos!(P.S. I took them too! and if you click on them they will enlarge!)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Food!! Glorious Food!! March

Thanks to Mum and Kate for a survival pack from home! It even had Easter eggs in it!

It is the season for cherry blossoms as you can tell by the following!
Cherry blossom cake!

Cherry blossom pudding!

Cherry blossom sweet - looks pretty but had beans in it!

Beautiful Himeji sweets made here with a Dutch receipe.

This fish was served at the party I went to with teachers from school! I just couldn't do it even though it was obviously fresh!

White fish again! The tuna was really nice though!

This was the lunch set for the last day of school. I ate the raw prawns and everything but just not the white fish!

My favourite strawberries - this time covered in toffee! Amazing!!!!


March 2007

Renee and I went to Kyoto for 2 days in the spring break. We went to Kitano Tenman-gu shrine to start with where there was a huge flea market. It is only held on the 25th of each month so we were lucky to be there on the right day.

There was so much to look at from kimonos to plates to food! I bought a second hand kimono for 1000 Yen (about $10) – it needs a few stitches and a good wash but it will be good to wear in summer as PJ’s. I saw an amazing kimono for 20000 Yen (about $200) which I would love to have – I might have to save for that one! I also bought a bamboo whisk that is used to make green tea. Renee and I then went to my favourite place in Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji – the golden pavilion.

We then made our way to Yoshi-ima ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Renee had booked the ryokan as a thankyou present for staying with me. She didn’t have to but it was such a great experience I am glad she did! We were greeted by women in kimonos and taken through a beautiful garden, almost a bamboo forest to our room. Getting there required a few slipper changes!

A lady in kimono then came and served us Japanese tea and a Japanese sweet. She came back at 7pm to serve dinner (we ate in our room). Dinner was a huge variety of traditional Japanese food, all tasted wonderful apart from the white fish! (I just can’t do it!)

She then cleared away our dishes, moved the table and set up our futons. We then went wandering in the Gion district and were lucky enough to see a Maiko (apprentice Geisha) dashing off somewhere and beautiful sakura (cherry blossoms)!

Breakfast was served at 8 am in our room and the same lady in kimono came back to pack away our beds and set the table with breakfast. I wasn’t sure about fish for breakfast but it was quite good!

We then headed off for Kiyomizu-dera. Kiyomizu-dera features in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. There are many parts to it – the main temple which is 1000 years old, a pagoda and other shrines. There is a love shrine and you can buy charms there – I bought Shoji and I the one for long distance love to bind our love!

The Love Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera means pure water. There are 3 streams of water sprouting from the rock wall and it is very good if you catch it and drink it.

There is a winding road lined with pottery shops and souvenirs leading down from Kiyomizu-dera. While walking down this road we saw two Maiko girls. We then went to Ryoan-ji temple which has an amazing rock garden. Although I had already visited nearly all of these places before it was still a great experience. I love Kyoto!!!!

Thursday, 5 April 2007


March 2007
We visited Okayama as we had a mid week public holiday. This was my second time to Okayama as Shoji and I had gone last time we came to Japan. We went to Koraku-en Garden which was very beautiful and we were lucky enough to see a Japanese couple having their wedding photos taken. We then walked across the bridge and went to Okayama castle. Okayama castle was rebuilt in 1966 and is a beautiful castle but it just doesn’t compare to Himeji castle.

Koraku-en Garden

Okayama Castle