The jet lag is getting slightly better and it’s been unexpectedly cooler in the mornings. Also, it’s been sunny in the afternoons — during this “rainy season”. I lucked out!
My breakfasts consist of fish, like salmon, veggies, white rice, fruit and LOTS of coffee. (The coffee is really to help the jet lag). Of course, I’ve been eating from the hotel’s amazing buffet, so this is not necessarily what everyone eats.
Counter-clockwise: fried vegetables in the small bowl on the left, sweet potato, salmon, fermented beans, white rice, bread with chocolate filling,and seaweed. I LOVE the fried vegetables but the fermented beans are gooey and needs lots of soy sauce.
I went to an elementary school to both observe and teach classes. This is the main purpose of my visit. When we first arrived, I was struck by the combination of urban and nature areas. The school is across from a train station and large senior citizen apartments while it is also surrounded by beautiful old trees, fields and gardens.
I observed 1st through 6th grades and I can’t post the children‘s pictures for safety, but trust me when I say they were sweet, adorable and friendly. The same subjects were taught in the same grades. One class was learning to write Kanji. Another class was doing math. Another was doing history. One other was doing Japanese culture, including table manners. A 4th grade class was taking a swimming lesson in the outside pool. All the children wore swim caps and uniform bathing suits. The boys were on one side of the pool and the girls on the other. Overall, in every class that I observed, the children did not dilly dally or wander around the room or disrupt the teacher. These children did what they were told and were attentive to their teachers. WOW.
I taught my English lessons in the school’s second floor gymnasium. It was beautiful, with wood paneling and huge windows. First I I taught a 5th grade class and then 6th. Each class had about 35 students. The teachers stayed with me both times and those students lined up orderly without a fuss. When the teacher told them to do something — they actually did it. Again, wow.
I especially bonded with the 5th grade class. They were super excited to have me there and friendly. After the lesson, I went back with them to their class and they showed me their desks and one boy was a HUGE fan of “One Piece“. Since I plan to make a presentation about this experience (in October at the Japanese School of Detroit) I will go into more detail then.
See a familiar book? Yes — that’s The Hungry Caterpillar in Japanese. Also, these are their backpacks.
The backpacks are sturdy and last several years.
During recess, first graders fill up water bottles at an outdoor sink and then run to a garden to water the plants. They take pride in their work and the plants looked well loved. They wear a yellow hat so that they are easily distinguished as first graders.
One unique thing is that there is no cafeteria. The children eat their lunches in their classrooms with their teachers. They have assigned jobs for setting up and serving the food. They put on their protective clothing and hats and then proceed to serve lunch. No one eats until the last student is served. I was amazed at their efficiency and ability to work independently, without any reminders about what to do. Imagine that!
My lunch consisted of milk, kiwi, curry and rice and soup. It was DELICIOUS. Everyone ate the same thing. There was no long list of choices. What impressed me even more was after lunch when the children automatically clean up! Not only do they clean up lunch, but the entire school cleans the rooms, the hallways, the stairs, etc. Little children sweep the stairs with brooms and some even get on their knees to wipe the floors.
They worked well together and NO ONE complained or tried to get out of it. So cool, right?My experience at the school was excellent and I will go into more detail in my October presentation. I learned a lot about the Japanese educational system and the differences between our schools. The main thing that seems to work for them is the parental involvement. 100% of the parents, and the community at large, value the teachers and value education. The teachers and parents have an unbelievable partnership.
Later, we returned to the hotel and I was peetered out so I only ventured to the nearby food court . I decided to be daring and ordered the okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake – with veggies and not too sweet. YUM!
At first, however, I wasn’t too sure I’d eat it. You see, when I stepped away for a minute, my friend noticed something and when I returned, she said, “Your food is moving. I think it’s alive.”
I took a closer look and it really was moving. We thought it was some live fish on top and I am daring, but not THAT daring.
It turned out that the top layer was moving because it was an extremely thin slice of fish and the pancake part of the meal was hot. This “paper thin fish” was reacting to the heat from the food underneath and it was NOT alive. Phew!
Kimono day! We went to an amazing and elegant kimono store – Suzunoya. First, we were treated to a demonstration of how to properly put on a kimono. It is difficult and people go to school for this. It can take two years to learn how to do it, and about 20 to perfect it. It is a beautiful tradition that is unique to Japan.
We then tried on formal kimonos! The women dress you and there are layers and layers of material. They are exquisite!
It was an amazing kimono wearing experience!
After that, we ventured into the city of Ueno, where there were alleys and shops that looked a bit like from the movies. It was not a touristy area and we made our way around to the 100 Yen Store – the Dollar Store! It was pretty neat.
Stay tuned for Day 5 – taking the bullet train!