Monday, 3 March 2014

graduation musings and a mammoth photo diary

This Saturday morning saw me up a 6.30, primped and prepared and cycling to school as normal, but this time for my third graders’ graduation ceremony. I don’t get to teach third year high school classes (much to my dismay, since they’re great kids), but I do get to see them in cleaning time, at English club, practicing for English proficiency exams and interviews, and just general lunchtime and after-school chat. This week I received cookies, letters, and gifts from various students: all extremely hard-working, focused and mature young people. It’s been my privilege to help them even a little towards confidence with English speaking and with foreigners, and I mean that in the least cheesy possible way!

The ceremony was quite different to the prize giving I was used to as a senior school pupil in Scotland. I stood and bowed 12 times over the course of the event, not counting mini-bows, and most other people did a whole lot more. First we clapped for about 10 minutes as the third graders slowly trooped in by homeroom class, the brass band music stopping abruptly once they were all in. We sang the national anthem conducted by the singing master, on the flag and flower-bedecked podium.

Then each student shouted “Hai” as their name was called, and, accompanied by soft bittersweet music, their class representatives accepted some kind of certificate from the principal, sporting white gloves and a morning suit. A home economics teacher dressed in a beautiful hakama and flowers helped him. Speeches, punctuated by a lot of standing, sitting, and bowing, were given by guests and a valedictorian who cried from start to finish (the progressively sadder music really didn’t help!) We sang the school song, and Auld Lang Syne with Japanese words (of course I sang the Scots and just about started myself crying). Before being clapped out of the hall, the students stood by class and shouted their thanks to the teachers, bowing, giving thumbs up and punching the air respectively and very sweetly.

To an unsympathetic eye the ceremony may have seemed a little restrained – sterile or joyless, even. When I first saw the conclusion of a speech contest I was bewildered that the winning students didn’t look at all happy, that everything was so serious. I was trying to compare it to my own experience of funny speeches and asides by the headmasters, prize-receiving students taking selfies with the governor’s wife who gave them out in her pastel suit and wedding hat, impromptu standing ovations for the dux, etc. But I’m realising that the formality is just the way here, and that the ceremony is just one way of expressing the respect and gravity of the rite of passage. Of course everyone is feeling the same joy, sadness, and humanity that these occasions provoke. But, culturally, restraint and silence are seen as more profound than words and outpourings, which is reflected in the pageantry.

It was my first time not being the one graduating, taking a new step, transitioning, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was surprised by the strength of my own hopes and happiness for these teenagers whom I barely know and may never see again, but I do know I feel very lucky for the time I’ve had with them. 

Aside from that, today I'm just posting a bunch of random snaps taken since January - things I want to remember. 

Lakshmi guarding my spices

Back in January I went to a surprise birthday party that involved lots of babies and lots of dogs. Heaven is numerous cuddling options. 

Topher turned out to be a dog  whisperer. 

Also in January I took a little weekend road trip with some girlfriends up to Yufuin in Oita - a snowy little onsen town in the mountains. It got off to an excellent start with a gift from Alissa - one of the best Christmas presents ever!!  

We spent the weekend chatting in boiling water as snow settled on our hair, browsing in gift shops, and watching kagura. It was in a little town hall and all performed by high school boys. Before it started the organisers did an adorable dance. Twenty-something guys in the audience shouted out things that 70-something guys chuckled at. The crowd went crazy for a tiny elementary school kid playing taiko like a demon. 

The boy inside this huge costume somehow managed to move with the grace and power of a dragon... very impressive.

At the end they raffled off postcards and bags of rice, and by the time we left the snow had settled. It was really lovely to be a part of the small-town vibe for an evening. 

Onsening ^^ 

The view from our tatami room at the hostel

Winter wonderland! 

When we checked out, the super cute owners of the hostel called us back and sang "Country Roads" for us, with neither an explanation nor a hint of irony or cynicism. 

My alpaca headgear came in handy when I caught a fever! 

And the emojis continue to astound and appall me.  

A bit later in the month there was a mid-year conference, and an era party. 
...Which necessitated a lot of matcha-based foodstuffs the next morning. 

 Interesting interpretations of 'The Notebook" in my kids' textbook. 

This is what strawberries look like in Japan. Juicy, perfect, expensive. You can also buy them separately. As in, one, individually wrapped strawberry. I hate to think what's actually in them...

A typical school bento lunch. 

In February came the World Festa, an international exchange day that many of us ALTs volunteered at, and which involved silly wigs and, inexplicably, a bazooka. ^^ 
I'm not sure we brought enough Union Jacks.


You in the wrong hood fool. 

It was a great day of face painting, tea making, dancing, lip-synching, peace signs, and glitter glue. 

Feeling rebellious. 

Jo and I got the following Monday off, so we spent it in nearby Kagoshima sipping tea and shopping to our hearts' content. 

These bad bitches were the result of our British craft table and are now adorning my walls. God bless you ma'am. 

I went for a mid-week tomato ramen dinner with the lovely ladies of the English department. 

The usual strange sights from around Miyakonojo ^^

A few weekends ago I spent a Sunday at a cooking class and a flea market in the park - and reverting to childhood. 

And we found a cool new shop!  

I did some more decorating... 

 And made a Valentine. Bloody coastlines! 

And spend some quiet time at school making new information boards! 

The view from the afternoon.

And from my Saturday run

On this occasion said run involved a running, barking dog and a very hurried google search "how to survive dog attack." Luckily it didn't quite come to that. 

Then last weekend a bunch of us went skating in some other snowy onsen-y mountains! 

But we stuck to feet-only this time. 

Our subsequent trip to Fukuoka is singularly undocumented photographically speaking, which is kind of nice in a way. We ate Mexican, found an amazing old bar, shopped and saw kabuki theatre. In the atriums outside vendors sold omiyage and trinkets. People were dressed up in kimono and fancy clothes, or in the case of one old man, in an Hermes suit and tie with a fur wrap around his shoulders. He and other experts shouted out words in the theatre when the actors struck certain picturesque poses. I found out later they were calling the actor's name to show respect and encouragement, or to be even more respectful, the actor's father's name. 

Most stationary here seems to feature a cajoling, pleasant exhortation. 

Last week I strayed deeeep into the manga section of the bookstore in search of gifts. One is about all the powers from WWII characterised as boys. The other is about a girl who has to pretend to be a boy in a host club in a very posh high school. Both are pretty fascinating! 

This is just a magazine. I have no idea what it's about. 

A gift and a letter from graduation day. I exchanged emails with a lot of my students and I really hope they keep in touch! I'm going to miss them being around!! :( :( :( 

Yesterday I went to a pizza party with my taiko group at our sensei's house! He has a huge oven in his back garden/ ume orchard: great way to deal with a shochu hangover. I met a woman who gestured to her daughter and said "Do you know who she is?" I did but couldn't place her for sure. "She's in your class. I heard you were coming here so we came to see you!" It was actually really nice to chill with them both, but I'll never get used to strangers knowing the ins and outs of my social schedule. 

Those women are so relaxed and friendly, rolling dough and clearing up the little wooden cooking hut almost reminded my of Sunday dinners at my Gran's back home, when all the women would wash dishes after a 4.30pm roast. I felt really lucky to be allowed into their group for the year. 

 Sensei chillin. 

Treated myself to more gorgeous, cheap fresh flowers. 

Anyone know their name?

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