Thursday, November 26, 2009

the japanese way...

so i just got done grading my first set of high school english exams.  i must say i was a bit disheartened as i used my red pen more amply than i had imagined i would.  the students were being graded out of 70 possible points and many of their scores were coming back as 48/70, 45/70, 32/70 and even as low as 20/70.  i couldnt believe that these seeminlgy hardworking students were doing so horribly!  out of 26 students only 2 scored in the 90's and the average score ended up being right around 72%.  i pass these figures on to you because most of you remember high school and what was expected of you as far as test grades go and what it felt like to get one back with red marks all over it and a nice 65% grade.  it felt crappy.  you may have even hidden your score from your friends or your mom.  i know i would have.  but oooooohhhh friends, this is NOT the japanse way.

i handed the scores over to iriguchi sensei who had to enter them into the student database on his computer.  he asked me how i thought the kids did and i told him that i was disappointed.  to my great surprise when he was done filling the test scores out he responded back to me about them (both the response and the nature of the response were surprising).  he told me that the students had done very, very well.  in fact the students had done too well.  it is the goal of the japanese high school system to keep all student grades between 55-65%.  a lower average score is unacceptable and there will have to be something done about getting the students average grade up a few points, and a higher average score is also unacceptable and points will equally be taken from students so that their average falls within the given numbers.  WWWWWHHAT!?  he also told me that any student, on any test, at any time getting a grade of 100% is nearly impossible and perhaps will never happen in the high school career of any japanse student.  apparently the grades one needs to pass here are a mere 30% and then you can move on a grade or even graduate.  that's right, i triple checked and spoke way too loudly when i reponded to make sure he knew how crazy he sounded me to when he relayed this information.  earn yourself a 30% in most classes in high school and you've earned yourself graduation from the japanese public school system! 

here is where the discrepency lies; it is EXTREMELY hard to get into a japanese college and the students know this.  though many of my students here will try to get in, many more of them are not even attempting it and looking towards other careers that won't require any further schooling after the 12th grade.  while it is okay for students to do badly (at least by american standards) they must perform at a very high level to get into any school of recognition for post-secondary schooling.  this is why they labor long and hard at juku, or study classes many of them attend after they are done with their 10 or 12 hour school day.  they are not preparing for what is asked of them today or even next year, they are preparing for a test that they will have to take in many years.  it is so strange to me, but so are a lot of things here.  it is just the japanese way...

giving thanks

I turned to look back over the harbor, as I so often do this morning on my communte to work and noticed that the scene that spread before me could be anywhere in the world. The scene that I saw could be a view in Port Townsend, WA or Vancouver B.C. or Narujima, Japan… Boats dot the waterfront as a thick roll of fog rises from the water and creeps up the sides of houses and over ancient burial shrines. It weaves a soft blanket beneath the now colorful trees that grow as far as the eye can see up and over all of the ridges that rise to build a perfect pocket for this peaceful little community. It is something to behold, and it is an inspiring way to begin each day. To behold such beauty everyday makes me grateful to be alive and reminds me to breathe deep the energy and love of this earth and this life.

These thoughts and this moment is by no means unique to today. I have these emotions about being here so many days; some days they are easier to come by than others. Today it begin with walking out the door with a melancholy feeling. I got to Skype with my mom and my sister Abbie this morning. They are with the rest of my family in Miami, FL awaiting tomorrow’s (today for me) big turkey day and then Saturday my brother will be married. It is a sad thing to know that they are together and that I am not in their midst to enjoy these special and once in a lifetime moments with them. But stepping back I have to realize that they are not here either, for my once in a lifetime moments and that I weighed this decision long ago to be here alone and to be having these morning view moments as a solo explorer. I knew that I would only be able to relay them in story and picture (if I was lucky) and that I would have to be willing to do the same with their times in America together. I knew that I would only be able to really live by taking this action and that through action we really build character in life. If we never did anything, we would never really be anybody. I remind myself of this and the melancholy turns to joy as I know we are all happy to just be alive and to have the able bodies and minds that can share and enjoy these times.

Thanksgiving in America is my most favorite of all the holidays. It is a day that requires no gifts, no glitter and no great spectacles to take part in, unless you consider gathering in your pajamas on mom’s bed to watch the parade in NY as such. It is about giving thanks and being thankful, something we should each do everyday anyway but so often forget to do as life takes over and routine and the mundane settles in. I want to spend the next 48 hours doing little more than just being thankful. I’m taking two days to celebrate because it is Thanksgiving here for me already though the day has yet to reach anyone back home. I am thankful that I have two days in celebrate it in. I am thankful that I will have a solid two days of time to focus on being thankful because all Naru students are taking tests for the next two days. I am thankful that my days of taking tests are over. I am thankful that I live and work in a beautiful community of amazing people. I am thankful that I have a growing (in so many ways!) family who will be able to celebrate it together and who will give thanks for the simple and the complicated as well. I am thankful that they are all safe and healthy, that none of them will want for food or company today. I am thankful that I am here in the sunshine of Japan experiencing life as I never even knew it could exist. I am thankful that there are people across the world who love me and think about me, people who I can rejoice with when life is good and be still with when life is strange. I am thankful for hands that can write and a brain that can make feeble attempts at putting thoughts and words together. I am thankful for music, because it is always the answer (GDE). I am thankful for the chaos and craziness of never knowing what each day will bring for me here, because it makes life exciting and keeps my eyes and ears and heart open to the world. I am thankful for a heart that holds so much love.

So Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Enjoy the holiday and remember to hold it in your head and your heart all year long, not just for one day. It is my great desire to share the simplicity of this day with those I love back in the states again one day. Though this marks the second year that I won’t be stateside for the day (BC last year was amazing, eh Punchinello!?) I still regard it as a great day in where one should EAT, love, laugh and live life to the fullest. Salude, Kan-pai, Skol and Cheers!

*Extra love and laughter go out to my brother and my new sister Sophia as they marry this weekend. I am lucky to have such a wonderful brother who has shown me what a real man should and can be. I love you Jeremy and will be with you in spirit during your big day. I can’t wait to be with you again and you better believe that I am giving thanks in advance for the delicious beer I will drink when we are together again!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

sports day pictures...finally.

big thanks to all the patient readers out there (um, erin and moogie) for waiting so long for these promised pics. i know i said i would get you a video of the marching and the kids repeating the "eat sh*t" mantra, but i can't get it to upload right now.  i will keep trying, but for now i am going to just post what i have of pics with some explanations, or at least efforts at explanations of what is happening in them.  (and seriously, i know i am wayyyy behind.  this event was at the end of september and it is now november 10th.  wow.  sorry, time moves really fast here!)

here the students are beginning what they called some sort of simple exercise.  right. they made a human fan and that is seriously cool!  the seniors are pictured here and the age of the students decrease as you move back in the photo.  an impressive feat, but not the most impressive.  just wait.  oh, and do take note here how the adults are sitting under the nice shade tents while i kids sweat it out in the hot, hot, super hot and HUMID japanese sun.  jeez.

and now the students have moved on to something just a bit harder, (something i always attempted as a kid but never had the guts to get past two people high building...) the human pyramid five rows high!!!!  and they just climb right up there and know that the kid under them is going to hold them or that at least they will support their fall is they slip.  oh the trust they are forced to take here.  subarashi!  (great!)
this was my personal favorite of the building portion.  the kid standing on top just stands there for many moments motionless and you can almost feel the tension happening in that human building.  the guys on the bottom are all bent over and have no idea what is happening on top and the guy on top is a scaredy cat if he looks down.  oh to be a student in japan... i think instructions here were something like, "just put your butts together and then let someone stand on it after they climb over you to get up really high."  who knows, but the hits like this just kept coming all day...

this is by far the most popular and most anticipated event; tug of war!  this is a big deal in japanese culture and adults and children do this all over the country.  

here a few adults step in to help with the festivities and hold some of the flags to represent all of the kids neighborhoods that are present, which is yes, all of them in naru.  very colorful and fun.oh the caterpillar, how i loved watching this one all well.  these are small children (4th grade and below) getting into cardboard that has been smoothed out and they must roll it with a partner to their teammates waiting on the other side.  they in turn roll it back across to more teammates waiting and the game goes on until all have completed this task.  keep in mind they can't really see where they're going and they have no real sense of aim when they begin their rolling.  it got very funny and those poor kids were just so confused. 
okay, i know i keep saying it , but this was really something else.  you may have seen this awesome act performed on some blooper television show or on youtube late nights, but this is the real deal; students lining up and one brave student (with helmet!) gets to walk across the back of all of the other students and they must keep running and getting in line until the student has made it across their backs all the way to the finish line.  i laughed and laughed and laughed at this.  no one else was laughing.  apparently they've all done this at some point during their school big of the great things about sports day was that everyone was able to get involved.  they had a race for students and parents, a dress-up the teacher silliness and an elderly competition.  there was a fair amount of jogging happening from these old folks and i was aptly amused and impressed at their feats.  here one of the naru elders holds his prize for finishing the race.  yes, it is a box a saran-wrap.  they all got one.  it was pretty hilarious.  again, me only one laughing.
just a couple of the observers taking it all in, but when was the last time that you saw two rival tofu companies represented on the t-shirts of two people standing directly beside one another?  that's what i thought, never.  me too, that's why i took this photo.  i do love the little laughs that living here will give me, and i could never explain why it is funny to me in a million years to them. 
and the winning team celebrates!  it was short lived though i'm sure of it.  they probably had to go to a study session after the competition was done...such is the life of the japanse youth.

okay, so that pretty much sums up sports day.  i will give the videos another chance and see if i can work something out, if anyone has any ideas on how i can post them i would love your feedback!  hope you enjoyed and caught a bit of a glimpse into what fun and craziness this is all for me everyday. 

until then, namaste friends.