Plodding along

Band practice on the banks of the Banjyo
Band practice on the banks of the Banjyo

Fall and the smell of recently harvested fields permeates the air all over this end of town. The deer are crying at night and persimmons are in season.  On a recent bike ride I passed a group of hgh school students practicing a band routine on the riverside. Wearing straw hats, they were playing the theme song from Totoro. I stopped to watch for about 30 minutes.

Waiting to perform at the Food Festival in Oita
Waiting to perform at the Food Festival in Oita

So many times in the past couple of weeks, I’ve sat down with the intent to write a blog entry, but life seems so much more mundane these days and I get sidetracked reading news and feeds, organizing photos, or picking up a book to read (now reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore -in translation). The novelty of our life here in Saiki is now just life. Perhaps I need to transition to writing more frequent, short posts. Not to say that nothing is going on, it just doesn’t seem blog-worthy. So now a post about what’s been going on.

I finally gave notice at my job. It took me a long time to get up the nerve to let them know, but I’ve given them almost 6 months advance notice. The school year ends in March, so I will continue to be an itinerant Assistant Language Teacher at all 32 Saiki elementary schools until then. I really enjoy the teaching part of my job, especially without the responsibilities of grading, parent conferences or evaluations. However, there is no opportunity to restructure or advance, nor any hope of a pay increase. Noone checks in with us and there is no acknowledgement of extra effort or achievement.  I’ve never felt so detached from a job that I show up for every day.

Kids are responssible for recording attendance in the teacher's office-here an older student watches a first grader
Kids are responssible for recording attendance in the teacher's office-here an older student watches a first grader

If we were not so tied to the clock and I could leave when I had finished all work for the day, it would be okay, but sitting at a desk for up to 7 hours a day with nothing to do and limited internet access (many English language sites are now blocked) is soul-sucking. So I now have six months to plan what I will do next.

I will teach some English and my goal is to limit that type of work to 3 days a week. The job of supporting Jiro’s mom takes increasingly more time as time passes and to have a an extra hour or two each day to keep up with the small messes may alleviate the pressure I feel on the weekends to put her home back in order. I want to do more gardening and cooking. I am also planning on working on building my translation skills and hope to finally have some sustained time to work on longterm projects. I am starting to think about workshops that I could organize and teach.

Since my last post I have been concentrating on kanji and working back  up to where I left off in July. I reviewed every single flashcard, reviewed all the “primitives” and am now at about 90% accuracy for the 990 kanji I’ve covered. It really gets hard to review as the overall number increases. I have separated them into the “know for sure”, “mostly know”, “I think I know”, and “tenuous” categories. I only had to move a few from the “mostly know” to the “I think I know” pile and it does seem to be getting easier overall.

Untitled 2009 -piece on exhibit at the 竹の世界 show
Untitled 2009 - Jiro's piece on exhibit at the 竹の世界 show

I have also been working on reading in Japanese. Last Saturday I went up to Oita with Jiro to attend a reception at the bamboo art exhibition (竹の世界)and had several hours on my own while he went to meetings. My original plan to meet up with a friend fell through and I wandered around downtown. I ended up going to three bookstores, bought a few manga and a novel and then spent a long time in a coffee shop reading. Reading is now enjoyable!

I haven’t ever enjoyed reading manga, but I found several about eating and food and chose 玄米先生の弁当箱(Genmai “brownrice”-sensei’s lunchbox) about an eccentric professor at an agricultural university who teaches about traditional foods and farming practices. The first chapter includes a recipe for ぬか床 (rice bran pickles), but I was hoping for a few more recipes. I don’t plan on reading the next volume, but I plan on looking for some more manga that include recipes.

ブッタとシッタブッタ book cover
ブッタとシッタブッタ book cover

I also bought ブッタとシッタカブッタ こたえはぼくにある(Butta and Sittaka Butta-Kotae wa Boku ni Aru Buddha and the Enlightened Pig-the answer lies within). The title and name of the main character of this manga is a word play of the word for pig in Japanese “buta” and the “Buddha”. I first saw this manga when I was in library school. One of my classmates had a copy that he picked up at a used bookstore in Oregon and asked me to help him translate it. The illustrations are really amusing and the manga follows the 4-koma (four panel) style, so it is pretty easy reading. The comical adventures of Butta in love and life exemplify some of the teachings of Buddha.

I recently purchased a used nintendo DS lite and a Japanese dictionary software, 漢字そのままDS楽引き辞典(Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten) that has really helped me be able to read much more efficiently. Using a touchscreen writing surface, I can quickly look any character or word I don’t recognize and get the reading, meaning and example sentences.

Shangri-La  recieved award at the Prefectural Show
Shangri-La recieved award at the Prefectural Show

Even though the menu is all in Japanese, I think that people (i.e. librarians) that need to look up single words or descriptions could use this tool if they were provided with some good instructions or some training. I’ve used the online Handwritten kanji recognition site that is connected to the WWWDIC: Online Japanese Dictionary Service (btw- this site is one of the blocked sites at work), but it is not as easy to use and I frequently can’t enter the character correctly. Besides, now that I own a DS lite, I have an excuse to check out some of the cooking software and …..

The bamboo exhibition in Oita was very successful and a piece that Jiro received an award for his piece, Shangri-La, that was entered in the Oita Prefectural Art Exhibition. Tomorrow we will go to a reception and then the piece will be on a traveling exhibit around the prefecture for the next couple of months. Things are going well for him.

On a sad note, our dear friend Junko Kawada Brackin was killed in a tragic car accident in Colorado last week. We really will miss her.

Junko (photo: M. Kudo)
Junko (photo: M. Kudo)

She was a talented artist and one of the warmest people I have ever met. She stayed with us for a week last April and we were so looking forward to seeing her again next fall.

Well, I’ve got a lot to get done today and this weekend -hopefully a bike ride tomorrow morning, too.

Kai turns 26 today- wish we were there to celebrate with him.

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