Mrs. Kramer's Class Has Some Questions

(note: Sure it's been nearly 8 months since I returned from Japan, but this piece just seemed to trickle together very slowly.)

Being that my mother has been an elementary school teacher for over thirty years, my teaching in elementary and middle schools in Japan was ripe for experimental exchange between our students. My mother curated a set of questions from her students for me to ask mine. Some of these questions I was simply able to answer myself, while others are the result of my polling various different students and getting a feel for the best answer. My students really enjoyed knowing they were getting questions from Miami. After I returned to Miami from Fuji City, I came into my mother's class room and spent time with her students, presenting them with the answers from the Japanese students as well as fielding any new questions they may have had. It was great experience for both the students and myself.

1.  "How do you say Good morning in Japanese?" Ohayou gozaimasu, pronounced phonetically as “Ohio go-zai-mas” 2.  "What are the most important things that Mr. Kramer has taught you?" My students felt that "Hello" and "Thank you" were the most helpful. 3.  "What important celebrations are part of Japanese culture?  How do you celebrate them?" The most important holiday on the Japanese calendar is Shogatsu, which are New Years Day celebrations. New Years Eve is not a big party day as it is in much of the western world. Not long after the clock strikes midnight, the people of Japan go to sleep so they can rise early to go to the Shinto temple the next morning. Some of the more clever students responded with “My birthday!” 4.  How much time do you spend on homework after school, and on weekends? Japanese school usually runs from 7:30 AM until 3:20 PM, but more often than not, students come to school early and leave late to participate in club activities (sports, academics, competition practices) often not leaving until 6:00 PM. After that, most all students attend juku, which are cram schools tutoring students in various subjects such as English and math. Juku often goes on until 9:00 PM or even later. Some students will usually study or do homework upon returning home. So the answer to the question is “quite a lot.” 5.  How much do you read after school? Reading is hugely popular in Japan, in my junior high school there were always lines out the library door during recess of kids returning and checking out stacks of books, often 10 or 20 high. Many students will read recreationally between classes, comic books being especially popular, but novels of a wide range of genres are also read. So the answer to the question is, again, “quite a lot.” 6.  What do you like the most about your country? “Peace!” and “sushi” were  easily the most popular answers. 7.  Do you know enough English that you can flaunt it to other people? As an indication of the answer, only a select few of my students would even understand what this question means. 8.  If you could go anywhere in Japan, where would you go?  and why? Hokkaido and Okinawa are by far the most common answers to this question. These locations are much like Alaska and Hawaii of the US. Hokkaido is the northern most island of Japan, with abundant snowfall and distinct cuisine. The Sapporo Winter Festival is by far the most popular festival in Japan. Okinawa is the southernmost island group in Japan, actually being closer to Taiwan than to main land Japan, and is seen as a tropical paradise. 9.  How fast does the bullet train go? 240-300 km/h (149-186 mph)! 10.  What kind of sports do you like to play? Basketball and soccer are by far the most popular sports in my junior high school, with baseball close behind in third. We actually had the number one boys basketball team, number one softball team and number one boys soccer team in Fuji City for the 2010/2011 school year. 11.  What is the favorite food in Japan? As far as Japanese food goes, sushi and various types of fish were popular answers, but the winner, by far, was ramen noodles. Ramen is basically Japanese fast food; cheap, delicious and leagues better than the Cup Noodle we associate ramen with in the States. Outside of Japanese food, McDonald’s is also a big favorite. Some of my students have such an affinity for the Golden Arches that they thought it to be Japanese and called me a liar when I told them it was from America. 12.  What is the most popular sport that people like? Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Japan. Some of my students are under delusions that soccer or basketball are number one, but that’s usually because they play those sports for the school team. Soccer has definitely been gaining popularity in the nation and grows larger with each passing FIFA World Cup. 13.  What is the best part of living in Fuji City? I exclusively received two answers, “views of Mt. Fuji” and “my house.” A testament of the exciting metropolis that Fuji City is. 14.  Does Mr. Kramer speak Japanese very well? “Oh yes, very well, very good.” They are liars.

I'm okay.

There was an earthquake here in Japan today, I'm perfectly okay. It wasn't really that bad here in Fuji. Here's an e-mail I sent to my parents explaining what happened and how it was in Fuji.

I'm sure you've heard, there was an earthquake here in Japan. I'm perfectly ok. It was only a 4 here in Fuji. It was actually my very last day teaching at elementary school, I just finished my very last class and was walking around the halls when an announcement came on the P.A. and teachers started ushering kids into the classrooms to take cover under their desks, not saying anything to me. Then the building started swaying. Didn't really feel like more than the sway of a slow dance, only a little faster, not violent at all. For a moment, part of me even thought that it was some ridiculously high tech drill halfway through. The first tremor lasted about 2 minutes. After it stopped, we evacuated to the P.E. field where heads were counted and announcements were made by the vice principle, then announcements from city hall via the city-wide loudspeaker system. We went back inside so kids could gather their things and go home since school had officially been over for 10 minutes. As we did that another tremor hit, a little weaker and only lasting about 30 seconds. We regrouped again outside, some parents were showing up to pick their kids up, and shortly thereafter the teachers led all the kids back home.

Quite the eventful last day, huh?

Bicycle Life in Japan

Riding bike to work in the rain or severe cold will always be the worst day of your life. Bike riding is an essential way of getting around in Japan, and it's no different for me.  Since I don't have a car here, I have to bike anywhere I need to go; for work, shopping, going to a friends house, going to the post office, etc.  It's something I probably wasn't really prepared, I never so much as got out of the neighborhood back in elementary school.  I'm sure that by year's end, I'll have ridden further than I had in all my prior years combined.

Let's do the math.  I teach at two elementary schools and a junior high, the elementary schools I work at are 4.6 and 2.8 kilometer bike rides away from my apartment, while my junior high is 3.2.  Combining all of the roundtrip distances for the school year, I will travel 1,312km, or 815.24 miles, by March 2011.  That's more than the distance from Atlanta, Georgia to Dallas, Texas, and this is just to go to work, not including when I got anywhere else.

And I'm not the exception.  If you go to any train station in town, there are little to no parking spaces for cars, but ample space for bikes.  At the big one in town, Fuji Station, there's two-level bicycle parking as well as underground parking with an automatic conveyer belt for taking your bike up the stairs and 24 hour security, it's spectacular.

I'm sure that my commute is far huge compared to a lot of peoples' around the world, but it's part of good evidence on the differences between Miami's huge reliance on driving and Japan's on bicycles and public transportation.

6 Months of Growing Rice

Immediately outside my window is the view of a rice field and train station, and between when I first arrived and now I've seen the daily progression of the rice growing.  I tried to take pictures as often as I could remember and captured the growth stage by stage.  Here's rice growing from seed to harvest in 6 months.


Yoshiwara Gion Matsuri

Back in June I took a little bit of video at the local Yoshiwara Gion Festival.

Taking place during the second weekend of June, the Yoshiwara Gion Festival takes place on the main covered shopping street of the Yoshiwara neighborhood of Fuji City. These are pretty typical sites at Japanese festivals, add in a lot of food stands and you pretty much have the complete picture.

Summer Weather in Japan

Come Again...Never The entire of the month of June and the beginning of July is considered the rainy season here in Japan.  It rains at least two or three days out of the week, but when it rains it doesn't just go hard for about 3 hours then stop, most of the time it rains for the entire day, and often through to the next day.  Luckily though, it's rarely a heavy rain, medium strength compared to what I'm used to in Miami.  But a lot of the time when it isn't raining the skies are completely gray, as seen in the above photo I took last week.  And because of decreased visibility, I haven't seen Mt. Fuji in weeks.

The official climbing season for Mt. Fuji actually began this month, and ends on the last day of August, so I can't imagine all the people reaching the summit lately have been getting very good views.

Also, because of this wonderful rainy season, it makes doing laundry a huge pain.  As I've mentioned before dryers are extremely uncommon here, and because of the unpredictable weather I can't leave clothes out to dry while I'm at work (any time I think it's going to be sunny and try it out I come home in the rain to soaked clothes) and there's only a small window for me to get them hung out to dry while the sun is still out.  It's actually astounding that a country that prides itself on perfecting anything it can that they are terrible at laundry.

To the North Mt. Fuji, to the South...this

Scenic ocean view in Fuji Homeless people, litter, grey sand beaches, oddly shaped bushes scattered about, concrete jacks occupying most of the shoreline meant to impede possible tsunamis and a thirty foot tall sea wall at your back with the same purpose.

Even in Miami, I haven't lived this close to the ocean, but I'm sure you can see why I have no plans on coming back to this "beach" any time soon.  However, you can drive on the beach like all the cool kids over in Daytona, only here it's because no one is around and the few (homeless) that are, really don't care.