Wednesday, 11 September 2013

miyakonojo shenanigans and my school festival

As I settle down here in the 'jo, things have been getting more and more busy - just the way I like it! However, after my school's cultural and sports festival effectively wiped out the weekend I had two days off and the time to catch up with myself. 

Last Friday was the new JETs' official Miyakonojo welcome party. Naturally, we started with an all-you-can-drink-and-drink meat buffet. One might view this as a somewhat risky business, given that you barbecue your own food, and shochu breeds impatience. Luckily we all avoided food poisoning this time. The only evidence that survives is this compilation of the life cycle of a tequila shot...

Some recovery time was much needed.. cue bento, green tea and Lost in Translation

In between all the preparations for the festival, I made many more self introductions to the classes. I had some awesome pictures with the students, but I can't post them here - so here I am, introducing good old H.e.Riots (also sporting the kilt of course). 

Most times, this picture induced incredulous sounds from the students (I soon realised that the cartoons I was raised on were based in fact - people here really do go 'Ohhhhh' 'Ehhhhh' whenever you say something vaguely interesting!) I'm finding the classes very varied in terms of understanding and responses - what one class finds hilarious, another stares blankly at. And, while some are very well behaved and cute, others are a little more rowdy and just talk through the class- I guess it's a blessing not to know Japanese sometimes as you can't understand what they're whispering about you. In any case, giving a speech to comprehending adults in English suddenly seems like a welcome prospect. 

God bless ye ma'am. 

Some more questions from students. Demanding bunch, aren't they? 

The rest of the week was taken up with festival rehearsals and preparations. We spent one morning stranded in the stadium as a storm raged.

I still found time for a little Wednesday bike ride with some other JETs. These fields are about 10 minutes from my house. Below you can see a cheeky wee volcano. 

And I also had time to join a taiko drumming class! The venue (below) was a little wooden building in the middle of the pitch black woods, next to a shrine. I'm hoping to go every week, although it's surprisingly hard work - even the technique of the simplest drum beat is pretty difficult to get the hang of, and the stance is a deep lunge. After ballet and fencing I assumed this would be no problem, but our instructor held his lunge so well (his leg was practically touching the ground) I was forced to reassess. Hello, gym.

I spent Friday in a massive modern theatre building, performing in and watching the cultural festival. We teachers danced to this - cue J-pop playing on a loop in my head.I was seriously impressed with the talent of the students. Each class took part in a choir competition, and each one was accompanied by a different student playing crazy-good piano. Herioters, remember Rahul at house music? They were all like that!! The dancers were equally good - I watched in shock as shy, round-shouldered teenage girls transformed into apparent-professionals, fusing traditional Japanese dance, hip-hop and gymnastics in their routines. I resolved to stop telling everyone I like dancing in case they expect me to be that good... 

Afterwards I stumbled upon another gorgeous park while cycling home. 

The pond was absolutely bursting with carp. An old woman came up to me to chat for a good ten minutes. The conversation consisted of her talking and me smiling, nodding and saying 'Wakarimasen, sumimasen' ( 'I don't understand, I'm sorry') repeatedly, but she seemed happy. 

Working on Saturday morning was livened up with a little facetime with my bestie and my boyfriend at his flat warming party! We toasted each other with wine and OJ respectively. Miss you guys :( 

This part of the festival was a lot of fun. The school basically had an open day, with activities and exhibitions going on in every classroom. Christine and I started with tea ceremony (sado) - I wish I could show you the students in their gorgeous yukata! 

This is what traditional green tea is like - frothy and bitter.

We proceeded past a poetry slam (I WISH I could understand them!) to see our own rather basic calligraphy featured alongside the students'. Spot the Scottish mountains! 

We saw ikebana (flower arranging)... 
And also sat in a 15-person astronomy demonstration pod that the students just casually built themselves out of cardboard boxes. 

Next we toured the classrooms, which the students had transformed into, variously, haunted houses, painted world tours, observation tunnels, circuses, and carnivals. It was absolutely awesome.

Gotta say I'm not sure what they were going for here. 

Posing in the Miyazaki tour room... and in Paris. 

No idea who this is either ^^ but we rolled with it. 

The last and final element was the school sports day on Sunday. This differed most from similar events in the UK, mainly in the sheer energy and organisation that went into it. It closed and opened with fireworks and flags, and just about every student and teacher participated. As I may have mentioned before, it's all about the group in Japan, even in athletics. Hence, in the entire programme there was not one individual event, but rather dozens and dozens of relays, interspersed with cheerleading, mass dances performed by hundreds of students, tug of war, and somewhat violent events involving piggyback fighting, climbing bamboo poles, and running races across lined-up students backs. I took numerous videos, which hopefully I'll share soon via vimeo or something.

Chris and I spent the day sitting and cheering with each of the three teams. Each team was led in competing and cheering by four senior students. I was immensely impressed with how self-sufficient all the students were at running the day smoothly andin supporting each other untiringly in the intense heat. 

This event was comprised of many mini tugs of war, with female students basically dragging each other across the grass with rope. 

This is one of the many perfectly-synchronised dances, once again led and organised by students. 

At lunch time my fashion sense took a turn for the worse and I finally succumbed to the socks and sandals combo. Pray for me. 

At the end of the day, the students collected their trophies and medals (student-announced), practically all sobbing as the band (student-conducted) played 'Thine be the Glory' (here a sporting victory song!) Then, after 8 hours cheering and running in crazy humidity, the students dismantled every tent, and swept every step of the stadium. I asked a bunch what they would do to relax that night. They looked at me in confusion and told me they were going on to 3 hours of badminton practice. The mind boggles.

There is a common term - 'gaman' - in Japan, meaning 'endure', and its importance here was so apparent on Sunday. I think that every teenager needs idle time to think, collect their own ideas and creativity and develop new forms of play as they transition from childhood to adulthood. And yet, the students here achieve so much with their hard work and patience. It did make me think about the way we do things in schools back home. Even in schools with fantastic extra-curriculars, the majority of things are run and organised by teachers. I think there's a lot to be said for students taking responsibility for their own activities and assuming real leadership roles. 

This has been a looong post so thank you for reading if you made it thus far! Next time I'll keep it a little more bite sized :) 

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine ever voluntarily setting foot in school on a weekend when I was a kid. Your students are really amazing. Loving your stories and photos! Please keep 'em coming.