Monday, 20 February 2012

Tigers, Mermaids, & ELCC

Their hand prints...sort of
On Tuesdays I work at the Ecumenical Learning Center for Children, ELCC. The center is a school for Filipino children. For some of the children the school is preparing them to go to Japanese school. For others it is preparing them to go back to the Philippines. They take music, Japanese, Tagalog, English, history, math, science, home economics, art and PE classes. I teach English and art to the 4-5 years old. I teach English and PE the two 12 year olds. 

I am never fully prepared for what Tuesdays will bring. I never know what is going to happen. The moment I walk into the building I am surrounded by the noises of very energetic children. My first class of the day is the English class for the four and five year olds. The children speak Japanese and Tagalog. With my little Japanese and their short attention spans, it is always an experience. They love singing so I try to use songs often. One day we sang the song Old McDonald Has a Farm. We had the usual animals you know cows, ducks, tigers and pigs…what you didn’t know that Old McDonald’s farm had tigers? Well it does now. This is what happens when you let the kids pick the animals. 

The next class I have is with the two very bright middle school girls. They are a blast! The three of us are very talkative girls so we get off topic a lot. But in the end the point is they are talking in English. In the beginning one of the girls was a bit shy and relied on the other one to communicate. Luckily she has grown more confident or maybe just more comfortable with me. She now will speak English with very little assistance from her friend. Both of these girls will be graduating from ELCC in March. They will go on to Japanese school. It's going to be so strange without them. I am not looking forward to it but I know that this will be a great thing for them.

What they want to be when they grow up

When I was first asked to help with the elementary art class, I was hesitant. I am not a crafty person and felt very much out of my element. But now I look forward to those classes. I love seeing what their imaginations come up with. One of the projects was to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grow up. I kid you not, one of the girls wants to be a mermaid. In her picture the only beings that could talk to the mermaids were the aliens that visited earth… it was glorious. I would have loved to frame that picture. Among the crafts we have made adventure hats, multi-colored elephants, paper chains, colored dragons, multi-colored snowflakes, and an attempt at God Eyes. I love seeing their personalities come out in these projects.

Being with these kids is a highlight of my week. Since the children are so lively and always want to play between classes I tend to become a human jungle gym. Also I fear for my hearing. These tiny kids have some very powerful lungs and they love to use them any chance they get. Tuesdays on long days but well worth the exhaustion. 

God's Peace,

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Mallets, Soybeans, & Tears

Mitsuba, the pre-k class, teaches children all sorts of things including customs of Japan. Over the past couple of months they had two special events. 

Making mochi
In January it is a custom to make mochi, which is rice cake. Mochi is used in so many meals especially during the winter. Basically you beat the rice with a giant wooden mallet, adding warm water ever so often. In the end you have a every mushi blob. Each kid got the chance to pound the mochi. It was a very entertaining site watching these tiny children trying to hit the mochi with a mallet that was the size of them. After we finished making the mochi we feasted. We ate mochi in about four different ways. As with all Japanese food it was delicious!

Some of the masks the kids made
In February they have a custom where they throw soybeans at an evil creature, Oni, who is considered to be bad luck. By throwing the soybeans they are banishing the bad luck out and welcoming the good spirits in. To prepare for this custom the children made masks of Oni. Being the 2 and 3 years that they are, they came up with some very creative faces. Once all of the masks were made we prepared for Oni to come. The kids sat in two rows with their masks on their heads and peanuts (soybeans are too small for these children) in their hands. When the Oni came into the room about five of the children burst into tears. It was quite a site. Luckily the other children were up to the task and threw those peanuts at the Oni as if their life depended on it. 

Going to Mitsuba twice a week I get an insight into Japanese culture, language and traditions. When I think about it, my understanding of the culture is at the same level as the two year olds. But they have a better handle on the language, well for now anyway.

God’s Peace,

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Daibokin (the Great Adventure)

For winter break a couple of my wonderful friends in the Young Adult Service Corp and I went on a crazy trip. Nicole and Kathleen made it safely to Nagoya on the 30th with only a few little hiccups. Little did we know that these hiccups would set the pace for the rest of the trip. Here is a little summary of the adventure.

Things that we did:

Osu Kannon Temple just minutes into 2012
We were among the first people to pray in a temple in 2012. We also got our Omikuji, which is basically a fortune for the upcoming year. According to mine, this year will be one for the books! On New Year’s Day we were invited to one of my fellow teacher’s houses to eat delicious traditional food. Later on that day we helped out a bit at Takidashi (which is the soup kitchen that I work at). During the week leading up to and the week of New Year’s they put on special events. Every day one of the organizations (that usually helps out on Tuesdays or Fridays) prepares entertainment during the day and food for the evening. It’s a great organization. Even though it is in Japanese please check out the link to their website

Memorial to the children victims of the Atomic bomb
The next day we woke up really early to get on an eight hour train to Hiroshima. The train ride was exhausting but we got a lot of time to talk and see more of the country. That night Nicole and I wandered around the beautiful illumination in the city. The next morning we headed out to the Peace Memorial Museum. For us, the Peace museum was a must see. It was overwhelming but well worth it. We learned a lot more about WWII and the events leading up to it. The museum did a great job of showing every side of the war. While I have conflicting opinions about that piece of history, I now feel as though I have a better understanding.

The gates of  Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima
After the museum we went Miyajima. We were told it was one of the best views of Japan. Itsukushima Shrine is on the Miyajima island just outside of Hiroshima. The gates to this temple are in the water and when tide is high it appears as though they are floating. After all the pictures were taken and lunch was finished we headed out to Kyoto.

In Kyoto we saw Rokuon-ji Temple and Ryoanji Temple. Also my friends Makiko and Mitsuru showed us around Gion, the Geisha district. We saw a woman dressed as a Geisha which fulfilled my friend Kathleen’s lifelong dream. Although it was debated whether or not she was a real one. For the sake of my friend we are counting it as an official Geisha sighting. After we said our goodbyes to Nicole, Makiko and Mitsuru so kindly drove us back to Nagoya.
Rokuon-ji Temple

Things that some might say went wrong on the great trip…

The very helpful Station master that helped find my luggage.
While on this great adventure we missed subways by mere minutes. We had found out the day of our journey that the cheap tickets we originally wanted were no longer available for purchase. I also left my bag of clothes on a train. This led to us sitting in a very cold train station for two hours while they called all the stations in search of the backpack. Luckily I got it back two days after the trip thanks to my friends Makiko and Mitsuru and the wonderful train station masters. At one point I put us on a train that took us 30 minutes in the wrong direction. Nicole’s bag broke which caused her to stuff all of the contents of her backpack into an already overstuffed suitcase. We got caught in a snow storm on the way back to Nagoya. So a drive that would have taken two and half hours normally, took us six hours.

With all of that being said every time something went wrong on the trip something good would happen. We met many people and had many conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. In the end the trip was a success. I am more than grateful for the time that I shared with Nicole and Kathleen. We brought the New Year in with great stories that we shall never forget. 

Rock garden at Ryoan-ji Temple

Atomic Bomb Dome
Iluminiation in Hiroshima
Deer in Miyajima

God's Peace