Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hockey Finals

It's shaping up to be a busy week here for me. On Thursday a group of government types are touring three of my schools, focusing on the English program. I will admit to being a bit nervous; there is a lot at stake in regards to the future of Shikaoi's English program. However, I don't let it get to me. I have never really minded being at the front of a crowd and I rather not get the students worked else everyone could just melt down. Plus, all the teachers are wound up enough for the both of us. Tomorrow at Shikaoi Sho Gakko parents will be touring the school. My classes of older students are starting large end-of-the-year projects like English skits.

I was glad to have watched the final gold metal game with friends (and good food) at the Pure Malt Center because without Canada playing there was barely a reason to pay attention. I have included a picture of Natsue and me in front of the big screen. Also coming up this weekend is a meeting in Shikaoi of about twenty Tokachi English teachers. I will most likely post again before then but I just wanted to pass on the information. Tokachi International English Circle (TIEC) is a group of teachers that tries to get together a couple of times a year to make local contacts and share classroom ideas, which sometimes can be invaluable. A really nice bunch of people.

Lots more to say but I want to get some emails off before I go to bed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


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As mentioned earlier, this weekend was busy. However, I wanted to post the pictures I took yesterday at Kamihoronai's mini-snow festival organized by the school's parent-teacher association (oddly named the PTA). The aim of the festival was not attendance, but rather an event for the visiting participants in Jica (the organization is an agricultural exchanged program with advanced students staying in a residence in Obihiro). Starting with lunch, until about 3:00 P.M., Kamihoronai organized a series of events like tubing, snowmobiles, building traditional Japanese snow structures and Hot Chocolate. Many of the parents and students of Kamihoronai attended and about twenty guests with Jica participated. I was there, as a representative of Canada, but also to help. I was very surprised with the mature behaviour of my grade five and six girls, of which there are only five students, with their limited English (and debilitating shyness) they were a great asset to have, always helping with the guests, making sure everyone felt welcomed. This left me free to keep the younger kids occupied and help them communicate with the guests. On Friday afternoon, after I left, they kids headed outside to make some amazing snow sculptures outside like Goofy, a red convertible and an elephant slide.

The twenty guests were from all over the world: Indonesia, Vietnam, Senegal, India, Thailand, etc. The general theme should quickly stick out - they all came from basically sub-tropical areas. I do wonder what snowy Tokachi could offer these visitors about agriculture, but they all seemed to hold the organization in high regard. It was very exciting to be part of these visitor's first chance at discovering snow. They were all really bundled up and loved the snowmobiles. The women pictured on the snowmobile was from Yemen and had only arrived two days ago for a two month program in agriculture. (She actually has distant relatives living in Calgary at the moment and dreams of visiting Vancouver; and Howard, pictured pushing me off the edge in the tube, was from Haiti, but got his masters from McGill.) She was a real trooper and I think she looks like a natural on the snowmobile. I felt bad because within five minutes of being outside she stepped in a deep snow bank filling her boots with snow and thus freezing her feet. Our Japanese hosts, always going far beyond the call of duty, quickly produced a new dry pair of boots and more warm socks. I talked for a long time with the man from Jordan, who was well traveled in the Mediterranean area, but was loving his Japanese experience and even the snow.

It had been years since I have been tubing but I must admit it was a lot of fun. Nothing like moving to Japan to feel popular. When it was my turn to ride the tube all my students wanted to ride with me, sadly, in the end, some were disappointed. As can be seen from the pictures, the weather was perfect, almost no wind and the temperature hovering just above zero. A perfect day to play in the snow.

Kevin was having a very thought provoking day through all this because it was his thirty-second birthday. He commented several times that he never thought that on his thirty-second birthday he would be tubing with people form all over the world in a small town in Japan. That evening, after warming up, Kevin, Jessica, Yuki and several others headed out to Torisei for dinner and then down the street for drinks. The bar was full and it seemed like all the young adults in Shikaoi was there. Very fun.

Soon I will be going to the Pure Malt Center to watch the Men's Hockey Final. It was snowing all afternoon but I just realized it has turned to rain. I'm not sure what it's going to look like tomorrow.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

What the Heck Happened Team Canada?

I recently got back to the office from Kamihoronai Sho Gakko. I had been studying Japanese but got bored and switched to posting. I have been closely watching the weather this week because tomorrow I plan to spend a good part of the afternoon outside. So far so good. Since Wednesday it has been really sunny, and if I had not looked at the calendar, I would have believed it was Spring. Tomorrow afternoon there is a small snow festival out at Kamihoronai to which many visitors with the Jiga organization will be coming out, probably around twenty, from all over Tokachi (I discussed this organization in a previous post). Kevin, Yuki, myself and three other English teachers will be heading out before lunch to help with the guests, all of which speak only the most basic Japanese. I often get very frustrated because I feel as if I can't communicate and don't know any Japanese what-so-ever, but here is a situation where even my limited grasp of the language will be helpful. Kamihoronai was a bee hive of activity today getting ready while I was there. There are all these giant piles of snow out from that look very inviting. I will most likely see many of my students from the school tomorrow and Kevin will some of his students too which are my student's older brothers and sisters. I will of course bring a camera to record the festivities. And luck-boy Kevin has a birthday on a Saturday so we are planning something. But it is a surprise so I can't go into too much detail in case he reads today's update.

Congrats to Japan's first medal of the Torino Olympic games: A gold metal by Shizuka Arakawa in figure skaiting. I am still dealing with Team Canada's loss in Mens Hockey. Kevin's is taking America's departure from finals much better. He is always happy while I am trying to fight off depression and deep probing questions about my national idenity. I think we must look at the players we selected for the Men's hockey team. Why on earth wasn't Crosby on the team? But I will admit that the Canadian Men's team was already stacked with amazing goal scorers. I'm not going to blame the goalie, Martin Brodeur, that guy's a wall. Probably just teamwork - not putting the finishing touches on plays, or else, maybe, the other team just wanted it more. The same old questions. These comments won't be the last on hockey because I still plan to watch the gold metal game at the Pure Malt Center. Although I am not the biggest hockey fan ever, I will admit to enjoying the odd game watched with friends and family. I had been desprestly looking forward to watching some good hockey, wanting to watch Team Canada in the gold-metal game on Sunday night (our time) with friends at the Pure Malt center. Now I am questioning going at all (along with my own existance). I am completely conflicted about who to cheer for. I may just follow the crowd on this one.

I would like to mention that my blog is slowly increasing its market share in Alberta's excellent neighbor province of Saskatchewan. If the weather stays nice, I think tomorrow afternoon is going to be really fun.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Content Creation

Today my blog fully realizes its destiny - the goal of any blog - the creation of pointless information to fill the void. The way I see it, I have this blog, which must constantly be fed. Nothing of any substance is really going on. Describing my day in detail is out of the question. It's tedious. Bordering on painful. Describing my day in the broadest terms - I taught English, I made children laugh - seems kind of aloof to me. I looked at reviewing a good website or book but I don't have the energy. I could talk about politics but it still seems too soon after the federal election. I also looked at doing some kind of humorous questionary seen on other blogs - that would satify the pointlessness - but I couldn't find anything I thought was funny enough. I could talk about my feelings but I much rather just bottle them up.

I opened the blogger window and didn't know what to write. So I took a short break and went to Chomin Hall (in the same building as the Board of Education where I work) and found my students practicing for a band performance. Well, not much practicing was going on, so I visited for a while. I know you may think this I is where I found my inspiration to write. But that's not true. However, it did get me writing, which in the end is good.

One interesting metric I have noticed recently with the page stats is that a particular search engine (MSN.com) constantly sends people to my "Tokyu Hands" blog from January. This is happening because I wrote the post in Japanese and the words "Tokyu Hands" in katakana (トウキュウハンズ). For whatever reason - certainly not for reasons of objectivity - the Microsoft search engine ranks my blog as second only after the official website. It doesn't a generate significant amount of traffic, but at least one lost Japanese person a day wonders in looking for information about Tokyu Hands' Shibaya store, only to find this blog. Also - in regards to the stats - a shout out to a reader from North Dakota State University. I don't know who who are, but "Hey! Welcome. Enjoy." Actually, I don't think I know anyone from North Dakota. I am also looking to hear from Margret H. from Calgary if you read this blog (probably at work).

From here I am going to study Japanese and afterwork I am going to go for a run at the Sports Center. Tomorrow night I am playing badminton.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Weekend...

...was slow. What else can I say? I really didn't do anything, so I didn't have much motivation to post. There was a trip to Obihiro, two runs, laundry... Also worth mentioning was that Monday was about the same. Just a normal day. I should probably look at the situation as half full because, really - as far as Mondays go - nothing dastardly happened; no roofs caved in; no one was injured; no loud scary noises; not even an incident with spaghetti. So heck yeah - it was a good Monday. I can feel blue sometimes dealing with the daily bureaucracy of any job, but whenever I see my kids everything feels right again. How long has it been since I woke up every morning in a great mood, happy to be alive, engaged, excited, amazed at everything and ready for anything? My kids are always happy to see me and I think they are very kind.

Following from my teaching phosophy that I should be learning with the kids, many interesting things (to me) about human nature that can be gleaned from watching them. You can see how violent small children are (without intenion or knowing), how they justify bad behaviour, and how possessive a child can be (say of a toy), but all of this is overshadowed by how kind they are; how when differences fall aside how giving children can be. It's a very humbling experience to work with children. I don't want to focus on the unusualness of the topic because this is the kind of enviroment I work in everyday.

What else? To completely change the subject, I have become increasingly fustraded with my spelling skills (or lack thereof). I've always been a bad speller. And I realize the irony of beginning an English teacher and not being able to spell. It's absolutely maddening that sometimes I mange to stump the spellchecker, the Mac OS X dictorary and google's dictorary. I think what I find most depressing about the whole situation is that it is the simplest of word. I mean, sure, they are along, but there not way-out there, rarely used words. I don't have a clue what to do but I think my brain is seriously busted.

I have also made some conclusions about my hobby of running. Oddly enough, I have been enjoying spinting more and more recently. For the last three years I have had goals of long distance running. And overall I have loved it. It's great for the heart and lungs and is the best stress relief ever. But I have been stuck on the forty minute barrier for a long time. I have run for an hour in the past, but I find that: 1) I get bored after around 30 minutes, 2) I don't have the time to put in a solid hour (or more) of running everytime I run. I'm too busy. So for the past month I have been putting in a good forty-five minutes at a quicker pace. I have been surprised how much I like it. It feels good to get the whole body moving fast and I hope to work on my pace over the next couple of years. I still plan to do plus one-hour runs every once in the future when time permits. I guess some context is in order about my philosophy of running to make it clear what I am trying to say but it's time for me to start dinner: I'm making Yaki Soba tonight! I also plan to write a bit and read, of course.

Next weekend is going to be very very full, with several commitments Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So the two weekends compliment each other nicely.

Thursday, February 16, 2006



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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yesterday's Small Snow Festival

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This blog's long tradition of not knowing what's going on continues with Shikaoi Elementary School's snow festival yesterday. (The pattern continues today, discovering only fifteen minutes before work ended yesterday that my classes for today were cancelled.) Yesterday morning, after two classes, I noticed all my students putting on all their winter gear and going outside. The reason this did not strike me as odd at the time was because it was morning recess. However, soon the teachers were putting on mitts and scarfs too. Now I knew something was afoot!

Before lunch, Shikaoi Sho Gakko held a small snow festival completely organized by a group of grade five and sixes. It was not a very serious event, and seems to have been more aimed at getting the students outside and running around on a beautiful day, filling their lungs with the Shikaoi's fresh air. (The only thing I would change, and that the images can't represent, it the cold wind.) The snow was melting and perfect for snowballs, which automatically made me a large target (so I stood by the principal and vice-principal - good idea). The small pictures are of some of the students that organized the event.

The students were split evenly into seven teams so that each team had a mix of grade sixes to grade ones. There were two events; one, a sled relay, where the grade four-five-and-sixes pulled the one-twos-and-threes and a second race to build the highest pile of snow in ten minutes. The tallest snow mountain was impressively tall. I think the event was very fun because everyone was in high spirits. I'm glad I always keep my small Sony camera in my backpack. Seeing kids having that much fun together - that much joy - keeps the heart warm and fuzz. The students had all the teachers smiling with their antics. Again, there is a way to expand every image on here so click away.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006


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Monday, February 13, 2006

What I did Yesterday

Though I risk falling behind on my updating schedule I think readers will find interest in what I did yesterday. As I mentioned before, we had two guests visit Shikaoi Elementary School. A lady each from the Philippines and Sri Lanka. They were studying with an extended group of six other foreigners with Jika (pronounced "Gaika", and standing for what in Japanese I have no idea), a program run by the Japanese government to assist agricultural and agricultural research in developing countries. I don't actually know much about the program except that both ladies were working in the agricultural departments of their respective governments doing research and organizing. It's a worthy program, the Japanese pretty much just handing over cutting edge agricultural research, hoping to give a helping hand up sustainable themselves. The program on a whole is rather politically neutral (unless one mentions free trade agreements and agricultural subsidies). It was never made clear to me why they were visiting the school but they both looked daze at the pace of the schedule and weight of Japanese culture, something that Kevin and I by now have completely absorbed and expect.

We used the morning to make some traditional Filipino and Sri Lankan food (the potato curry was particularity good) with the two grade six classes and in the afternoon we had a short cultural exchange presentation with the grade fives. Games were a constant theme through out the day. I was especially proud of my grade fives who sat quietly and attentively while the two ladies used English in their presentations that was far too diffucult. Also, I was very surprised when one of my favorite grade five students pulled out of nowhere, in prefect English, "So... How long have you studied Japanese?" That's cracked me up with shock: Where does he pick up such language?

Today it has started to snow again but it's staying warm. Tomorrow it's back to Shikaoi Sho Gakko. I am going to go for a long run tonight.

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Extra Pictures of the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

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I had a very interesting Monday because we had two international guests visit Shikaoi Elementary School. As you can imagine, being such a small town, guests are always a cause for more fussing and planning that usual. But that will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to make room for the last of my Sapporo Snow Festival images. Again, a great thanks to the Suginomes!

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sapporo Snow Festival

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I am back in Shikaoi in one piece from a great weekend in Sapporo. The Sapporo Snow Festival was definitely worth the time and effort and it was nice to have the opportunity to see the Suginome's again (with whom I stayed). To the right is an image of me in front of the Suginome's house. I have commented in this space before about the amount of snow we get in Shikaoi (although lately it's been the wind we have been talking about) but nothing prepared me for the amount of snow they are getting this year in Sapporo. How appropriated they host a Snow festival! Some overseas may have heard about the amazing amount of snow Western Japan is has. Most of the focus has been farther south. Most of the areas get snow every year because they are up in the mountains. But the scale is really something. Many, many all time records have been broken further south, topping four meters of snow in some places with nearly two months left in the season. Less emphasis has been put on the amount of snow Sapporo has had (because they get snow every year), even though the situation is certainly not unknown to us in Tokachi. Every road has become a lane narrower and the ruts in the road are like something out of muddy Africa. Piles higher than cars are removed at night by an army of city workers. They are slowly working their way through every street and avenue in Sapporo. A never ending job (complicated by the fact there is no where to put the removed snow). It is sometimes hard to explain that although Alberta is indeed northerly and colder, it does not have nearly the amount of precipitation as a Sapporo. The storm systems that have moved over Japan this year often dump all their moisture on the West coast before passing over Shikaoi, making for a very average winter.

So what about the Festival? There is not too much to explain where one has pictures, but some context may prove useful. I saw the festival several times as it is hard to miss being so centrally placed in Odori Park in downtown Sapporo. Everything lit up at night was beautiful but the hustle and bustle of daytime is an important cultural experience. The entire scale of the event is definitely of an international caliber and is executed with typical Japanese attention to detail and efficiency that makes the whole experience enjoyable. The whole thing is set up to be very family friendly and so besides lots of cute snow creatures there were many families (from all over the world) enjoying the event. It was obvious that many Japanese and foreigners were foreign to snow itself (the big hint was that they were more often that not bundled up like spacemen) and many stumbled around in a state of shock at all the white stuff lying around, picking it up and studying it intensetly.

There were many elements to the event. Always present was the cacophony of Japanese companies trying to out-do each other. The "Citizen Snowman" festival was really impressive. This is where citizens of Sapporo can have at their own 3mx3mx3m block of snow to carve what ever they want. Also mind-bendingly good was the "International Snow Sculpting Competition" which made everyone walk away wondering "how on earth they made snow do that?" Also (held off the main site) is another mini-festival within the main festival which is the "International Snowmen Festival" which I did not see.

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The biggest draw takes the form of large snow structures placed along the length of the park. Pictures can't do justice to the size of the structures, I don't feel I can explain either so this is why you should come and see for yourself. The examples above are meant to show the detail and scale of the main snow structures. Each structure has often several corporate sponsors that run cultural (both pop and traditional) events during the week. I have included a picture of some girls lip-synching on the Okinawa stage (I don't know which J-pop band). Also included below is an image of a statue of some Japanese celebrity. And while I have no idea who he is everyone was taking his picture.

When you see the stage structures it really takes your breath away. The detail and the size is staggering. Everyone walking past the shear vertical sides of the stages just has test the wall of snow. Sapporo, with a population of around two million, is well situated to host a winter festival because it gets a lot of snow every year. It is very rare in the world in this respect. The entire downtown site was raised maybe one or two feet above the pavement because of the snow pack. Quite a staggering amount of snow. Over all I was very impressed. It's really world class stuff. All right out of your imagination.

Some Quick Facts:
- The reason the Sapporo snow festival only last one week is because that's how long the structures can last and still look clean and free of smog.
- The Japanese military must be very creative because they help organize, create and remove all snow structures.
- This post was written while listening to Seu Jorge's excellent Portuguese David Bowie covers on found on the "The Life Aquatic" soundtrack I bought at Sapporo's Tower Rocords.

You can probably look forward to some more photos from the festival tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday's Post - はじゅくだいがっこう

Update: This post is being affected by server problems. Bloody blogspot. Sorry.

The snow is now falling heavily and it seems very peaceful outside. It is the first heavy snow in weeks. It is suppose to stop snowing, according to Kevin, in the next couple of hours. I love looking out the big windows in the office and watching the big fluffy snowflakes fall lazily to the ground. I am looking forward to updating all readers about my week, a lot has past and my weekend is full too.

The big crunch at work this week was a radical departure from my normal routine to run an English class for seniors (run through the town). We focused on doing introductions in English. A very functional lesson and I think I was able to pass on an understanding of doing an introduction in English. English classes are rolled into programs under the Board of Education (in the same office as me) as part of a commitment to life-long learning. A very admirable goal, even if the heavy snow kept some people away. In the end I had twenty-one students (we were planning for thirty) but after assessing the level of the class I was glad for the smaller number. I knew this was going to be very different from my normal elementary school workload. But reflecting on the experience after-the-fact I concluded it was far more different than I had expected. The reason I say this is because all week I had made an effort to create a lesson plan that was extremely flexible, planning for every possibility. In the end however, while not failing (as I will get to in a moment), I still felt my lesson plan was week and not well suited to type of class presented.

There were two factors that made it almost impossible to plan for the class. First, I had never done this before and no one else offered any experience or direction. I’m use to teaching young kids, which in most ways is about as far away as one can get from teaching seniors. However, I feel nearly fearless these days in this type of circumstance; I am creative and find many ways to cope. Two; there was an extremely wide range of English skills presented to me to work with in the class. This type of circumstance is dreaded among teachers (the wider the worst). I knew this was going to be the case while planning the class, but the gap between skill levels, and the different skills present, was wider than I had anticipated. For example, some could read English but not speak it while other’s could speak it but not read it. Some had no English skills, only an interest in learning English. Presumably, all students were quite keen if they felt brave enough to face the snow.

At the end of the two hours, everybody went home very happy. The ladies are very sweet, kind and also interested in Stony Plain. Others in the class showed many signs being shy - refusing to speak English - but I try to make everyone feel welcomed and work hard to find some connection. And, inevitably everyone left happy. I felt happy to have made new friends. Some people had visited Stony Plain before and it is to these few that I turned for help with some of the older seniors that had very little English comprehension. I heard just now that talked about me all lunch; every was just "Blair, Blair, Blair."

I started the class with a self-introduction about myself. I did a presentation about Stony Plain and my life in Shikaoi thus far which was followed by a question and answer period. After a short break we did a quick introduction game, then practiced, and lastly worked on getting some rudimentary information about themselves to be presented in a formal introduction. A couple of students more comfortable with English did a short introduction with the information.

I feel I came away with lots learned. It was a good experience and while if I was in the same position, without the foreknowledge I have now, there is very little I could change. Nothing about the experience should be wasted and I will be better prepared for what to expect next time and be able to apply what I learned. (For the record; lesson plan wise, one could not have been much more prepared.)

To change the topic slightly; people’s reaction to my Japanese always surprises me. My class of seniors, while very rural, is probably more use to seeing foreigners than other seniors in other areas in Japan. There is always a very large reaction to my Japanese (always encouragement). My surprise stems from how shy they are to speak English. I understand all the cultural factors why. I am in a position where I simply cannot be shy about speaking Japanese. If I was shy about my Japanese ability, I would never leave the house, make the good friends, or do anything really. Instead I get up in front of people, with what I admit is horrible Japanese, struggle through, and every time, because both parties try, a connection is made. I stress to all my students, again and again, don’t be shy about your English! I am fighting against a lot of cultural taboos when I say this, but I know I’m right, you’ll get more practical practice if you have courage. Every once in a while, never in Shikaoi, I will be somewhere and say something in Japanese and people will laugh in my face. Not because it’s funny, but because they are shocked - really shocked. And it hurts. I make a huge effort to learn the language, I don’t feel I need that type of reaction. Today, however, went much smoother, I was even able to crack a couple of jokes - in Japanese - in my presentation; I consider that a big step forward.

With absolutely nothing on my plate this afternoon, it should be relaxing. And I expect time to only slowly pass. Why is that? That seems counter- intuitive? Relaxing free-time too often rushes by. As mentioned in my last post, directly after work today I am off - by train - to Sapporo. All week the nightly news has been covering the Sapporo Snow Festival. I even heard a live concert from Sapporo on the radio last night. Sapporo is normally a bustling metropolis, but it sounds as though it is bursting at the seams this week. I am very excited to be going. So, again, please don’t expect updates until Sunday night my time. I plan to post lots of pictures.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Extra Grade Six'ers

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It's always nice to have a small change in the schedule to break up the day to day monotony. To the change was teaching a lot more kids than usual. I taught grades one, three, five and six in four very big classes. I'll detail the extreme end of the day to keep things interesting. The grade six English class totaled fifty-eight students. The number of students meant that the way teachers normally approach class had to be modified. (Also limited was the use of tranquilizer drugs.) Thus we planned alphabet games in the gym. Big success! Just feed off the children's natural competitiveness. The reason for the increased class size was due to visiting grade five and six students from Kamihoronai and Sasagawa schools (at which I teach). Joined classes is meant to ease the transition into Junior High School. Grades one and three are always tiring, being around thirty-five students each, and they seemed especially worked up today coming off weekend-mode. Besides today's grueling schedule, I actually feel quite good right now and would go for a run if the Sport Center was not closed today.

I found the group from Kamihoronai particularly amusing. Being from very small schools, the split five/six class at Kamihoronai lacks any boys. Thus the girls seemed especially awkward dealing with many other boys their own age today. But I only kept half an eye on them, knowing full well they would more likely be the handful for any cootie-carrying boy.

Heads up. This week is looking to become very busy (until I get back from Sapporo) and updating may become intermittent.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Busy Saturday Update

I have lots of pictures to post today from yesterday. In the morning I was out at Urimaku to see the Skating Taikai. Speed skating has its own little winter culture here in Tokachi (someone from the local area is even in the upcoming Olympics) and the event brought many teachers and parents out to watch to the students. There were twenty-seven heats in all; from kindergarten to adults. Most were a short 500 meters, but more professionally inclined participated in longer distances later in the morning. All my students got a chance to skate and - to be certain - they were fast. This is especially true around the corners which I found nail-bitingly tense. All the kindergartens received a prize, but the rest of the heats were quite competitive. The weather couldn't haven't been better, very sunny and warm, except when the wind crept up. Fires had been built so people could huddle around and keep warm. The general good mood was increased with free hot-sweet-milk-coffee (I would have personally preferred just hot chocolate myself) and piping hot Udon-noodle soup. In the afternoon I went to Shikaoi High School's brass band's first concert - ever (so there were no grade twelve's in the band) - and they were fantastic. On to the pictures! Please be patient, they have been resized and will eventually load and, with some fidgeting, you should be able to expand them.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006


Today is slowly winding toward the weekend. I'm relaxing - or as I like to think of it, recuperating - from this week's activities. I have my can of ice coffee beside me and life is good. The highlight of the day was "Setsubun", a cultural experience very esoteric to an outsider but perfectly normal for generations upon generations of Japanese kids. The goal of the ritual is to cleanse all buildings of demons. With the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy fresh on our minds, one might consider this a major - almost heroic - task. But alas, demons the world over are puny and all it took was some kids armed with peanuts and dried soy beans. There are many ways to celebrate "Setsubun"; each area long ago developing their own traditions surrounding the day. The common link between them being peanuts.

In Fukushima I experienced "Setsubun" quiet by accident: Today was not an exception. After lunch the students and staff met in the gym. Certain groups of children were selected (probably for their speed) to act as demons and we basically played variations on tag. Quiet fun and thankfully no injuries. (It seemed until that point I had been comforting kids all day. In that vein, today we had our second Canada Studies' injury, when a child put his chair down on his friend's foot. Fear not; kids are tough, and besides some tears, there were no lasting effects.) A careful reader must now be wondering how soy and peanuts get worked into the story. Well, after the games, the students were released to find personalized packages of soybeans hide somewhere the school. I, fortunately, was forgotten - probably just an oversight - in the distribution of soybeans, and for which I was thankful. However, much to the kindness of the students, and later, the chagrin, students offered their packages of dried soy beans to me, which I politely declined (or, later, strongly refused).

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Please follow the directions below to enjoy your own version of "Setsubun".

1. Ready your pre-bought supply of peanuts and dried soy beans (umame).
2. Open all the windows in your house.
3. Throw said peanuts around the house, while ringing a bell, and yelling, "Good luck inside! Devil outside!"
4. Eat nori-maki.*

* This step is optional.