Monday, May 25, 2009

Sports Day at Isurugi Elementary, Oyabe City

Last week was sports day (undo kai) at Isurgi Elementary. If I recall correctly our sports day was on the back lawn of Brampton Abbotts village hall, about 60 kids in total, all lining up to compete in egg & spoon, three legged and the sack race. Mum?

Boy, this couldn’t be more different. Parents, grandparents , aunties & uncles arrive in hoards armed with picnic hampers, blankets, umbrellas for the shade and their professional Nikon D60’s (come on, they’re Japanese!)

The day (yes an entire day devoted to the event) kicks off at 9am with 500 kids in total dancing with military precision to a welcome tune on the gigantic sand racing track in front of the school. This is followed by singing the school anthem whilst flags representing Japan, Oyabe City and the school logo are hoisted up. The important people of Oyabe (I’m presuming) all line up and a lot of bowing goes on. All so formal! See piccie above.

Races ranged from the run of the mill 100m, tug of war (Japan name), obstacle courses to this battle game (Japanese name) where 3 pupils carry a 4th pupil (I’ll call him the king) on their shoulders.

The aim of the battle was to knock the cap off the opponent king and cross the line. It was hilarious to watch and by far the most exciting thing I watched all day.

Pupils' pre-exercise warm up video

The whole day was orchestrated to perfection. How? Because they’ve been rehearsing the songs, marches, races, flag hoisting for weeks on end. When I was arriving at school at 8am, they’re already all out there on the track. Poor little mites!! It seems to be the done thing here in Japan. At 6.30am when I’m walking to the train station I pass little elementary kids on their way to school, yes THAT early. No wonder all the high school kids fall asleep on the train and in the classroom. Their schedules are intensive, early starts, after school clubs or juku (cram schools to learn English) and more clubs at the weekend. Hard, long days.

Anyway, I’m digressing. Great day out. I was even involved in one of the obstacle races, having to play janken (scissors, paper, stone) with the 2nd graders. Fun, fun, fun and took me back..!
Me playing Janken in video below (with my really poor "Saisho wa guu jankenpon" Japanese lingo)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

ALT Teaching: My first lesson

OK here I am in my first lesson to my cute little 2nd graders at Isurugi Elementary. I'd done this lesson so many times that I asked my assistant to film it. The other adult in the room is the homeroom teacher.
I start off with a drill of Hello/Goodbye, Yes/No and High/Low. I split the class up, one half had to stand up and say hello, the other half had to say goodbye with gestures. We then did it to the Beatles song “Hello” (with a lot of help from me!) The kids seemed to enjoy it. Good bit of exercise for Jessie too!

After passing a beach ball about the class asking “what’s your name” and the catcher responding “My name is”… I put the class into teams. The first person in each line had to run up to me and say their name, run back to their line and the next person did the same thing until everyone in the line had introduced themselves. You can see some of the game in the video below. Tip: you might want to wash your hands after shaking 40 very sweaty, snotty fingered ones...

They are really genki (upbeat, fun) at this age and seem to soak up the language better than my 6th graders!
I have done this class to 1st-6th graders making small adjustments (i.e making it easier for the younger ones) In one 4th grade class, I was demonstrating the game with one of the lines. One little girl comes up to me and I say “Hello, what’s your name?” She didn’t really answer back so I said again (and a bit louder) to her and gesturing to the class “What’s your name?” Again she didn’t respond. I then said “I can’t hear you” with a hand to my ear gesture. At this point the teacher runs over and says no shaking her head, she’s deaf, she can’t speak. As you can imagine I was mortified!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ALT Lesson Plans: Lesson 4, Human Alphabet

For anyone who is following the EIGO note curriculum you will, like me, have realised that 8 hours spent on upper and lowercase alphabet is overkill for the little mites so one of the lessons I decided to have a bit of fun in the gym with the pupils.

We kicked off the game playing the Harry Potter game suggested on Genki English for practicing our “How are you’s” which the kids absolutely loved. (of course they all wanted to be Voldemorts) My co-ordinator at school is keen for me to drill them practice dates, weather and how are yous as well as Eigo Note so sometimes a lot to cram into a 45 min lesson!
I then put them into groups with both upper and lowercase alphabet cards mixed up. The first group to finish putting them in order won. They seemed to do this with ease.

I then had them in groups of 4 to do the Human Alphabet. Ahh so much fun! And easy for me, I just shouted out a letter and they had to get into the shape of that letter. I actually had them spell out HELLO so I can print the pictures and stick them on our English board.

Here's our first attempt at a HELLO message:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bianco: Gyōza (Chinese Dumplings) Restaurant in Kanazawa

Last night I met Kari for a good old Friday night "bitch and moan about work" catch up. We plumped for a cute looking gyōza restaurant behind Kohrinbo 109, exact location is here.

The restaurant is more like a cafe; bar stools for diners on their own and an informal seating area, only two tables as far as I can remember. The restaurant was run by a mother and daughter team who were both absolutely lovely. Faced with yet another daunting no picture, all Hiragana/Kanji menu the daughter came over and kindly translated the entire menu (and specials board) for us. The main menu gyoza, Chinese dumplings which you could have either fried or steamed with a choice of fillings including cheese, spinach, veggies and meat. A small plate of about 6 dumplings was around Y400. A slightly schizophrenic menu, other dishes including potato gratin, Chawanmushi (a steamed egg custard), stir fried veggies and an array of salads.

We opted for fried cheese dumplings, steamed meat dumplings, a garlic stir fry broccoli and chawanmushi (which despite looking pretty grim actually tasted great).
Everything was cooked by the mum behind the bar so all freshly cooked and delicious.

Guzzling some fantastic Italian red wine (ok yes I know I should be on the sake!) we lost track of time and didn't realise that the poor owners were itching to lock up (10:30 is closing time and it was past then) Of course in true politeness customary in Japan they didn't tell us but had just been waiting for us to finish our yapping.

Despite the no picture menu, I'd definitely recommend Bianco for the extremely welcoming and helpful (oh and patient!) mother/daughter team.

Bianco, Kanazawa exact location:

View Bianco: Gyōza (Chinese Dumplings) Restaurant in Kanazawa in a larger map

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ichiban: Yakitori Restaurant in Kanazawa

Thanks to Dustin and the rest of my Japanese class I’m now sampling the delightful (and somewhat hidden) izakayas (small cheap Japanese eatieries) near Rifare and Kanazawa train station. After Japanese class last night we all ventured off to another izikaya in the area, the place is called Ichiban (meaning: first) For exact location see below. This place has a fantastic atmosphere, tiny inside (aren't they all?!), low lighting and an open kitchen where the sizzling cooking of meat on the charcoal grill just draws you in.
Yakitori, for those not sure, is basically bite sized pieces of meat skewered on a bamboo skewer and barbecued. The food is usually cheap and cheerful.

At Ichiban the yakitori sticks ranged from Y150 to Y350 (around £1 to £2.50). The menu was certainly interesting serving chicken instestines on a stick to sparrow, yes SPARROW the bird, chicken cartlige and chicken heart.

I played safe and chose a steak and a chicken skewer which were oishie desu (meaning delicious, that's all the Japanese seem to sy over meal times, oishie desu!)

Some of my Japanese class below at Ichiban.

Location of Ichiban is here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ALT Lesson Plans: Lesson 1, 6th grade (elementary) Self Introduction

OK here is my first lesson which I'm actually still now using for my 1st-4th graders with a little adapatation (I'm not making the younger ones say "Nice to meet you, nice to meet you too" since it's a bit difficult for them) The shaking hands game works well.

View ALT lesson plan 1, 6th grade here

In terms of the self introduction flashcards I used England/Japan comparisons. (images found on google images)
  • Japan flag/British flag
  • Japanese chopsticks in a bowl/Knife and fork on a plate
  • Japanese green tea/British cup of tea with a biscuit being dunked
  • Japanese breakfast/English breakfast
  • Japanese sumo wrestler (funny picture of a Japanese sumo table which made them all laugh)/David Beckam football
  • Japanese imperial royal family/Queen Elizabeth
  • 1000 yen Japanese note/£10 English pound note (which they were fascinated by)

Good luck! Let me know how it goes if you try it out.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nyumba Bar's 4th Anniversary: Hip little bar, Kanazawa

Last night I ended up meeting Dustin, Ayako and friends at their local hangout, Nyumba for an "all you can drink for 200 yen" night. Poor sods, they don't know I'm British.. Tucked away on a small street behind the Rifare building, Nyumba is a great little spot and a place you wouldn't stumble upon easily (which makes it all the more exciting to find!)

The interior decor is uber cool and brings instant relief to those struggling with the towering, souless buildings surrounding the area. I honestly didn't think there were any hip bars in the area. What makes it even more unique is the resident dog, its the size of my fist, the smallest dog I've ever seen thats for sure. Maybe a chihuahua?

Back to the bar. I've just to savour the delights of their food menu, only bar snacks, but from what I've seen it looks fantastic (if you can get your head around the katakana menu, no pictures sorry folks) The fried lotus chips are great as well as the beers naturally...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Buono Buono! Italian Dining in Kanazawa

I must admit as a newbie in Kanazawa I have yet to feel the massive urge to eat anything non-Japanese however tonight I was out with seasoned ALT Kari and thought I'd do the right thing and not deny her some Italian din dins.

Considering Kanazawa's size, the fact it's not on the Shinkansen line and that we're in actually in Japan you'd be surprised to find out there are MULTIPLE Italian restaurants here! The Cottage and Aglio Olio (both look gorgeous) are located near the canal between Katamachi and the Nagamachi Samurai District, I'll write about these as soon as I've checked them out! We decided in the end on Buono Buono (exact location here), a little Italian tucked away in the quieter cobbled streets of Katamatchi (in the direction of the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art) The place is pretty small and cosy, I'd put in the category of relaxed dining. Not to take someone for a romantic anniversary but better for a catch up with friends. Has a fantastic wine menu (the only part of the night I could understand) but most of the Italian wine gone, we ended up with a bottle of French, a sacrilege! Ah well at least we're in Japan....they'll never find out : )

Ok to the menu. I suggest you come armed with a native Japanese buddy or a seasoned ALT. Myself and Raquel would have been pot lucking it again without Kari there and even she struggled. To ease our egos a bit Kari reassured us that she thought the guy who wrote the menu was semi illiterate, and there are no pictures to help you out this time. However, we did manage to order the following: salmon sashimi plate to share, crab and fresh seafood spaghetti and a sweet potato type of spaghetti.
I have to say the sashimi, served the sashimi with shavings of daikon radish, was just a melt in the mouth combination. The crab spaghetti arrived complete with claws! Unlike the ones in Boston these little mites weren't too hard to break open. The sweet spaghetti was also a little on the spicy side so be warned but was soo tasty. The portions all in all were pretty substantial and I'd definitely return one day if not just to sample the Italian wine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tubo Cafe: Perfect Saturday lunch spot in Kanazawa

Met the girls for lunch today. Tammy is a veggie so they decided on a place they'd been to before & knew did great food. It didn't disappoint. The Tubo Cafe is another trendy hangout this time in the pedstrianised shopping area in Katamachi (main shopping district of Kanazawa). Go past the 100 yen shop on the left walking away from Mcdonalds and its there on the right.

Tubo does a lunchtime set menu costing 780 yen which includes miso soup (naturally), main dish and a drink. Bargain! The choices aren't massive, its tomato curry and rice (which looks and tastes a lot better than it sounds), mexican tortillas and rice (which I had. It comes with the token raw egg on top, not very Mexican but still lovely) and a ham sandwich and chips. Yes quite random choices but still good food.

Tubo is a deceptively spacious bar with a huge upstairs area (see picture) offering comfy sofas and free newspapers & mags if you fancy. I loved their style; wooden floor boards, exposed brick and soft lighting this is a great place for a lunch, a coffee, a few drinks with friends or just to oggle at the lovely barman!

Very cool, although everything I see in Kanazawa seems to be so nothing new there!

Uchinada Kite Festival, Nr Kanazawa

So having not yet been to the nearest beach to Kanazawa (Uchinada) I jumped at the chance of making a trip there during Golden Week for the world famous (apparently..) kite festival. The trip to Uchinada Town is really easy, just hop on the Hokutetsu train (note that the platform is down those huge escalators at Kanazawa station- we ended up walking around KZ station for half an hour looking for the platform) The ride takes about 20 mins and you can't go wrong as Uchinada is the last stop. When you get to Uchinada, come out of the station, hook a left and walk straight (up hill) for about 15 mins and you'll end up at the beach. Easy!

Lots of people had pre-warned me not to get too excited about the beach at Uchinada, mentions of rubbish being washed up to shore from South Korea so my expectations weren't high however it came as a nice suprise, I didn't see one bit of rubbish. the beach is a really nice clean sandy beach, ok we're not talking Florida white sands and unspoilt beauty of the Cornish coast BUT I could definately see me sunning myself there in the summer. I was told yesterday that they're actually building the shinkansen line right next to the beach which explains the rather ugly bridge that you see on your walk down to the beach, so that may spoil the peace slightly having a bullet train shoot past every hour...hmm. Not until 2014 anyway..

The kite festival is pretty small but there's a great atmosphere; an area with food and drink stalls, a mini stage for live music performances (I only heard a girl singing Enka which gave me a right headache) and of course the stunt kite flying and contests.
We saw a few red arrows type synchronised peformances, I've uploaded a video below. Pretty impressive stuff. You can also see some monster kites there and have a go with these gigantic streamer ribbon sticks.

I didn't really follow the contest mainly as commentary was in Japanese, shame as some of the kite stuntmen looked really hardcore! Enjoyed a great picnic in the (sort of..) sunshine though, great day at Uchinada beach all round.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Heartbreak Bar- Strictly No Boys (apart from owners best mates)

Ladies night? Sick of the sight of Sake and gagging for a good cocktail? Look no further. I absolutely love the Heartbreak bar in Kanazawa. Kari and UGee introduced me to it a few weeks ago and I seriously have dreams about the cocktail owner (whose name I've forgotten) makes up.

OK firstly, the "rule" is no boys (tee hee) We're not sure of the origins, he's not gay and it's certainly not a host bar but boys just aren't allowed. Except for the owner's closest male friends of course which consists of 10 blokes, almost enough to fill the entire bar!

Secondly back to the cocktails. Seriously some of the best I've tasted (although I'm not the cocktail expert) My fave is a vodka based cocktail with a Yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) jam at the bottom so you end up sucking the yuzu through your straw. Delicious refresher after a big meal I say!

If you're walking past Kohrinbo 109 on the right towards the turquoise Katamatchi bridge, hook an immediate right straight after Kohrinbo. Heartbreak Bar is located just on the corner. Exact location is here

You'll see these posters outside (that owner designed himself- hes a former graphic artist....) and you'll need to go up one flight of stairs.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Takenoko (Bamboo Shoot) Picking, Tsubata

Some JET's I met a week or so ago told me about a bamboo shoot picking event that was being organised by another JET in Tsubata (about 15 mins north of Kanazawa, location link here) and asked whether I'd be interested in joining. Well why not! I'd seen Takenoko sold in the supermarkets and since April is takenoko season why not see how & where its grown as well as pick some for myself!
So Saturday morning we met at the Tsubata community centre and met about 20 other community members. Our 77 year old co-ordinator (who looked no older than 55, see picture) then split us into picking groups mixing us gaijins with the locals and gave us the lowdown on how to spot a takenoko. Look for a dark brown pointed furry potato looking thing with shoots sprouting out of the top and that's a takenoko (see my pic) Apparently the best takenoko are the ones that are barely visible and the ones sticking out of the ground are probably over-ripe and too hard.

He then warned us to stay with people just in case bears appeared in the forest. Bears?! eek, I didn't know bears roamed Japanese forests!

We then met the cameraman and his journalist sidekick who had shown up to film the event, I'm presuming for a local news channel.

We drove up in convoy to the forest, were given a pick axe cross hoe and trekked up a steep hill into the depths of the forest. Well I think they reccied the site the day before or we just got lucky but there was so much takenoko. Naturally I went for the biggest I could find and over exerted myself trying to chop off these gigantic roots, its actually really hard work! The camera crew decided they were onto a good one and ran over filming me panting and sweating (not quite how I imagined my first TV appaearance to be..) and then turned onto Mike, an American guy who managed to cut his in half in mid chop.
Really satisfying though and within an hour we'd managed to fill our sacks with fresh takenoko. we then went back to the Community centre and were served a gorgeous lunch of takenoko (prepared yesterday) with the usual rice, miso combination and mingled with the locals.
If you get the opportunity of takenoko picking whilst in Japan give it a go, its satisfying work and you can then go and make a gorgeous (and cheap) takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice) dish. What are you waiting for, get in that forest!

Yamaya: Japanese Liquor & International Food Store

One of the popular questions I get asked by other westerners here is whereabouts in Kanazawa I live. When I tell them I live near LeParc (a big superstore whose real name I think is Nagasakiya) in Nishi Izumi the response I get 90% of the time is "oooh that's really near to Yamaya," (pron. yam-ay-ya) a supermarket that sells tortilla chips, french cheese, italian food, salami and other international culinary delights.

So for ages I didn't visit Yamaya. I hadn't got to the point of being sick of Japanese food, I mean I'd only been here for a few weeks. Then someone mentioned you could buy really cheap there and I was offski! It didn't disappoint. One bottle of red Paul Masson Californian red was a shocking 450 Yen (about £3). I was made!
But that wasn't the only shocker in the store. Yamaya sells booze in 5 litre bottles that defies everything about teeny Japan and outsizes anything I've seen sold in the US.
Check out these bottles of sake next to my measily bottle of red : )

The store is mostly full of booze and has a few aisles of international food but the

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Japanese Confectionary Shop

Yesterday I popped into my local superstore (Nagasakiya) to buy something for Dad's birthday and was drawn straight to the confectionary shop. It reminds me of a French bakery in that they take great pride in individually wrapping and boxing up the sweets that it makes a great present for someone.
Wagashi (和菓子) and Mochigashi are two traditional Japanese sweets made of Mochi. They usually have a gooey and soft, marshmallow type texture on the outside (this is the mochi, basically rice pounded into a paste and moulded into shape) with a filling which you usually expect to be sweet but is savoury (this is the azuki bean paste)

At the moment, I'm finding it very hard to tell exactly what types of wagashi they have in the confectionary shops (theres around 30 different types and I can't read most of the Kanji!) so it all boils down to a bit of random selection. Hope you enjoy them Dad!

ALT Lesson plans with Eigo note

During Interac training we were briefly introduced to Eigo Note. Eigo Note (literal translation "English Notebook") is basically a curriculum in the form of a text book aimed at elementary pupils (grade-5th and 6th graders only) and produced by the Ministry of Education in Japan (MEXT).
There are 2 Eigo Note text books, one for grade 5 and another for grade 6. They made a positive first impression, nice and colourful, a range of exercises and games included. They come with a guide for ALT's and homeroom teachers (known to us Brits as form room teacher) which is unfortunately in Japanese. Useful! It also comes with 2 audio CD's with English clips to play (only if an ALT isn't present) and a very flash interactive DVD.

Interac managed to get us a translated version of the guide which does include lesson plans. On closer inspection there are some flaws (in my humble opinion) I think generally due to the fact it hs been translated by a Japanese native which has created some cultural misunderstandings. For example, Eigo note grade 5 has a section on name cards and introductions but the names (and listening exercise) are put into the Japanese name format of family name first "Hi, my name is Suzuki Ken, nice to meet you!" (instead of Ken Suzuki) Ah..

The lessons in Eigo Note are also split into 4 parts (or hours) per lesson so you end up teaching ABC or "How are yous?" for 4 lessons each on the trot which can get a bit dull for the kids unless you really work hard to spice it up and introduce new vocab. I mean do you really need 4 hours to teach I'm happy, I'm hungry, I'm sleepy, I'm fine?

I'm no expert but the different lessons don't really seem to flow naturally into each other, in fact they're totally sporadic. In the middle of the "How many?" lessons they suddenly introduce the "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" song. Uh? Where's the logic?

So my approach is to follow the overall Eigo Note curriculum guidelines (i.e the target language and topics) but to add my own games and ideas to spice it up. I do agree with Richard's comments from Genki English on Eigo Note and love his ideas for games so have used some of these ideas in my lesson plans as well as incorporating Eigo Note where I can (to keep the homeroom teachers happy)

I will start posting my lesson plans on the blog. Feel free to download and use. They're a bit detailed but as a newbie ALT I'm not quite at that comfort level of playing ad libbing in my lessons!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Isurugi Hikiyama Festival, Oyabe City, Wed 29th April

Well I would have missed this festival if it hadn't been for a quick conversation with my Kancho Sensei at Isurugi Elementary. He showed me one of the posters in the corridor all in kanji which I had walked past so many times and didn't really pay attention to as I didn't understand the Kanji. It was advertising the Hikiyama festival, held each year on Showa Day a public holiday to celebrate the birthday of former Emporer Showa. Forgive my ignorance but right now I'm not sure who he is.

I trugged over to Oyabe City and found a good viewing spot on the side of the main street in Oyabe. The residents has certainly come out of the woodwork for this one, I'd never seen so many people in Oyabe!

The main part of the festival was a procession of these gigantic wooden and eloborately carved floats (11 to be precise) called hikayama dating back to the Momoyama period being pulled through the streets of Oyabe by local residents in traditional dress (including my kancho sensei!) to the beat of beat of drums and screeching of wheels.

The weight of one float is apparently 3t to 6t. At the T-junctions the floats are lifted by then men to turn right/left, wow did I witness a lot of sweat and even more Sake! Every float is about 200 years old, the oldest about 250 yrs. As I stood and admired these giant beasts rolling through the streets some locals came up to me and gave me some handmade biscuits with a picture of the hikayama on the front. I was so touched, well I did stand out being almost the only gaijin in town
Video below is the 3 point turn Momoyama style....
In the main street a small shrine was set up to which the hikayama carriers charged their way forward. Can't explain that one but it was really dramatic to watch! All in all a great day and of course I bumped into some of my pupils who were as sweet as ever (picture of them in red costumes)