Here is a collection of various stories.
Japan is known for earthquakes and earthquakes are known for being scary. However, it seems that a room full of 12-year-olds does not necessarily agree with the later half of that statement. One Friday morning I was standing in the back of a classroom as the teacher explained some new vocabulary to the students. Through the relatively peaceful hum of collective English mispronunciations, the windows began to rattle. It was an old building and a rather windy day so we thought nothing of it. However, they kept rattling. Suddenly, a booming voice from an outdoor loudspeaker informs us (well, really it informed everyone but me given my lack of Japanese) that an earthquake was taking place. The students all go under their desks. I am thinking, “oh sh*t.”
I, however, was alone in this sentiment. Not even 20 seconds before the initial window-shake the students had learned the phrase “this is exciting!” As such, being the ever studious children that they are with their willingness to utilize new vocabulary (this is all heavily sarcastic) they began whispering to one another “this is exciting!” as the building shook. Luckily, two weeks prior we had had an earthquake evacuation drill at this school so I knew what was happening next. We lined up in single-file and jogged out of the building. It was in this moment, a slightly panicked and tense atmosphere, that this one boy decided it would be a good time to show me the rash on his torso and ask me about it.
Perhaps he knows of my infamous history with epidermal distress and wanted some experienced eyes to assess his situation. Regardless, we were evacuating a building during an earthquake and it wasn’t necessarily the best time for a consultation.
The earthquake ended up being a minor one and very far away and the students rash cleared up within a week or so. All is well.
Every day after school lunch there is an hour of free time. Sometimes I will go outside and jump in on various soccer or volleyball games, other times I just wander the halls while periodically getting involved in students conversation. Always good for.a quick laugh and rapport building. I have mentioned previously (I think?) how at one school I will often hang out with the percussion students and play marimba and drums during this time. I still do that, it is still delightful. But now there is a new addition to my resume; guitar teacher. At one of my schools there are two students who told me how they also play the guitar. A few months ago I had fixed up a few of the school’s guitars so I can play them when I am free. During free time we now have guitar lessons together, me and these two students. It was incredibly fun as I have never really taught guitar before and it is a bit of a challenge using language to describe certain things. They are of comparable skill level so it is nice be teaching the concurrently. Occasionally, their friends or other students will stop by to ogle at how cool they think their guitar-wielding classmates are. They seem to really want to learn so it makes teaching them that much more fun.
Occasionally I am asked to teacher a special needs class. I really enjoy these classes as they allow me to have more freedom with what type of activities we do. The classes are also much smaller, usually 4-7 students. The teacher asked me to bring a guitar one day. We then spent the class making up songs in English such as Anpanman (a famous mascot here in Japan who is a superhero made of bread) and Pikachu (come on, you know who that is) being best friends. It is the cutest thing having a group of students singing silly songs in chorus which we had just created together.
I went to Tokyo for a few days. It was fun. Too busy, though. I won a Pokemon doll from a claw machine.
That’s about that.
We have passed through cherry blossom season and the rainy season is looming in the distance just before us. Seeing the river near my house lined with beautiful cherry blossoms and being able to ride my bike through their shade was an incredibly special thing. Now, things are fully green and it is getting umconforpably warm. I went to Kirishima, a town about an hour north of Kagoshima City. It’s name translates literally to Fog Island. It was a nice escape from the city and I was able to do some casual hiking in a bamboo forest. The whole time I was there…it rained. But that gave the mountains and the forest a really unique quality. I visited a few shrines that we set into the forest. I felt as though I were surrounded by ghosts. I also visited an onsen (hot spring) and had it to myself for a while. I hope to have more peaceful and quiet escapes similar to this in the future.
Sakurajima, the Volcano near to which I live, has many lovely beaches. One of these beaches has black sand which is composed of mostly ash. If you dig you feet down a few inches you will create a natural hot-spring foot-bath. It is incredible. I recently participated in an event to help collect litter that has gathered there over time. It was like a treasure hunt of sorts but the prize is garbage. We got to spend sometime afterwards wading through the water and relaxing in natural foot-baths all while looking out over the bay. We then gathered to a BBQ at an old hotel on the island. The hotel itself is located next to a burned-out and since abandoned hotel. The skeletal structure has been reclaimed by nature in the most beautiful and haunting way. The hotel at which we had our BBQ was a functioning establishment but still maintained an air that time had forgotten it. We grilled throughout the evening and there was even a small pizza oven made from magma. There were many kids running around and me and another ALT made up songs for them on guitar and with our best attempt at Japanese. One of my friends who was helping organize the event ran into her friend from elementary school who she has not seen in 20 years. Everyone was full of life, just like the volcano looming above us.
The weather has become very nice, albeit a bit humid during the day. The evenings have been warm with soft breezes here and there. It is perfect nighttime biking weather. I have been exploring parts of the city never knew existed, turning down roads with no real reason, trying to get lost and then finding my way back using landmarks (if I can). In one very eventful bike ride, far away from both my apartment and my school, I saw not only a badger but one of my teachers, too. I was holding the door open at a Lawson (one of the “big three” convenient stores) when one of my teachers walked out. It was such a surprising occurrence for both of us. “Do you live around here?”
“No, I actually live very far from here. I am just riding my bike aimlessly.”
“oh…see you on Friday!”
The badger, however, was not so keen to chat.
I had another day at an elementary school recently. Exhausting as it is to spend a full day essentially performing for a bunch of children who can barely understand you, those days are always the cutest. One specific highlight was during recess as I was getting a bit too sweaty and winded while playing tag with some 5th graders, a little 2nd grade girl walks by. In her hands holding a plastic habitat, the kind you keep bugs in or a hamster in when you want to bring them to school, which was about the same size as her torso. Trailing behind this seemingly impossibly small human was another human of comparable size. They looked up at me with an expression of both fear, confusion, and sheer curiosity. I spoke and walked with them for a bit and realized that they had a plastic bag with a very large grass hopper in it. The girl began setting up the inside of the terrarium with dirt and some grass. I asked her if she liked bugs and she vehemently expressed that she does not like them. I asked her why she was helping the bug then. She said it is just fun. I told her she was very kind and she jumped up and giggled. They later found me again before recess was over to show me their bugs new home. The look of pride on their faces won’t fade from my memory any time soon.
I left school that day with many hand-drawn notes from students and my hand slightly red from high fives.