Long post warning!
I’ve always felt that September is the time of year when things begin- no doubt the result of growing up in the US as a daughter of teachers and then a teacher myself…I still feel the cycle of the US school year and about now my brain is telling me it’s the final stretch before summer.
But all around me things are just gearing up. Graduations took place a couple weeks ago and the stores are featuring school backpacks(randoseru), calendars, student desks, and bicycles. The sun wakes me up earlier every day, the uguisu (jpn bush warbler) are singing, and the cherry blossoms are blooming. Winter was long and cold this year and all of a sudden it’s spring. It does feel like a beginning.
I’m finally getting over a cold that lasted over a week. Lots of early nights and low energy days. This week I started my new job at Nippon Bunri University teaching English to freshmen and sophomores. I only had one class this week and will meet the rest of the classes next week. I am really looking forward to meeting my students and starting a regular job again. It’s only four mornings two preps a week, so I should still have plenty of flexible time. I’ll keep my conversation classes here in Saiki. The best part of the job are the two long breaks (not paid, of course)- 2 months in the late summer and 2 months in late winter. This will allow me to get to the US every year and maybe Jiro and I can actually travel next winter.
In the class I met last week there are about 20 students, about half the students are Japanese, the rest are Chinese and Korean- everyone speaks Japanese and some English. Because the classes are organized by year in school rather than by ability or previous experience, the range of proficiency is significant. My goal is to provide enough practice for everyone to develop their communication skills- would be easier if the classes met more than once a week. I set up a website and blog, so hopefully they’ll explore and practice outside of class.
Last weekend I participated in the Spring Festival parade- it’s the third year I’ve joined a local merchants’ group and danced. The only downside to participating in the parade is that I never get to see all the other groups. Our group is pretty eclectic- musicians include shamisen, djembe drums, bass guitar, and electric guitar; dancers include African -style dancers, Japanese folk dancers, and the rest of us-including several elementary school kids and a group of adults with disabilities. The musicians perform on the back of a flatbed truck and we follow behind and dance every couple of blocks. Pretty crazy fun. The sun was out, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and crowds of families enjoying the festival food and music.
Last year I set two goals for myself: to get fit and to improve my Japanese literacy. I had three things to accomplish, pass the JLPT Level 2, participate in a 5K and pass the 3rd level in Tai Chi. At the end of February I finally finished all 3!
I took the JLPT in December and in February I received the surprising news that I passed- it was really tough and I felt pretty discouraged after I took the test, but I must be pretty good at guessing on multiple choice. I think I’ll wait until 2013 to take the next level. The test was a good way for me to focus on learning more kanji which has boosted my literacy. Eventually I want to do freelance translating (perfect portable job).
In early February I ran my first ever 5K- it was held in Ume, the mountain town we lived in 25 years ago. Luckily the course was pretty flat so it wasn’t too strenuous. I do my regular runs along the riverbank with no elevation change, so I was worried I might not be able to run uphill for an extended stretch. I finished in 32 minutes + and received a 2Kg bag of rice for participating and a bento lunch. I’m now signed up for another run here in Saiki on the 22nd. I think I’ll try to participate in all the local runs- there are 4 or 5 a year.
I’ve been practicing tai chi for about 3 years now. Physical coordination is not something that comes easy to me so it’s taken me a long time to learn the basics. The three basic forms taught at our class are nyuumon (introductory form), shokyuu (first level) and the 24-step form. After three years I decided to attempt the test to pass the first three levels (5, 4 & 3). One of the other students worked one-on-one with me for about 4 lessons and on the last Sunday in February I went up to Oita and took the tests. Another first-ever experience, performing a routine in front of a panel of judges- I passed and succeeded at the third goal of 2011- a little late, but satisfying nonetheless.
This year I started a drawing class- it’s actually just a drawing studio with time and space available. I’ve never spent any time drawing, and I’ve always felt a little embarrassed by my inability to render anything recognizable on paper. I’m attending a colored pencil drawing class and have been sketching tools and fruit. Last year I took a lot of photos(Flickr photo a day project) and by the end of the year I started feeling bored with photos and realized that my photographs don’t convey any sense of me. I am not into post-processing and although I enjoy looking at beautiful photographs and want to have photos to document some experiences, I really am not interested as I thought I was in using a camera to interpret my personal experience. I feel inspired when I look at illustrated handwritten travel journals and want to create my own. A friend in Corvallis who passed away a year ago talked a lot about “taking visual notes” and her work and words continue to be an inspiration to me. Again my lack of physical coordination and underdeveloped fine motor skills will ensure that progress is slow.
Ba-chan is doing better. She recovered from pneumonia but since then she has only been allowed to eat pureed foods. She finally received the okay from her doctor to start eating finely chopped food starting next Monday- I think she’ll be much happier eating recognizable food rather than small bowls of colored goop. A couple weeks ago I picked her up and took her to Jiro’s niece’s 6th grade graduation. It was a beautiful day and Ba-chan was really happy- she couldn’t stop smiling. Mio (Jiro’s niece) has been a leader of her class and we are really proud of her. She starts junior high next week- school gets serious in junior high- most teaching is to tests and there are lots of rules, regulations and inflexibility.
Last week we met a couple of Jiro’s friends from Hawaii, Hiroki and Setsuko Morinoue of the Donkey Mill Art Center in Kona. They came with a landscape architect from Kumamoto and another friend from Hawaii and we all stayed at an inn in Beppu.
We visited the home of Shono Tokuzo- sensei, the son of Shono Shounsai who was the first bamboo artist to receive the Japanese Living National Treasure designation. The home was built on a terraced hillside after World War II and it may be one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen in Japan. The buildings are set on the periphery of a large pond and the magnolia, cherry, and digwood were all blooming. Shono-sensei and his wife maintain the grounds themselves. Shono-sensei harvests all the bamboo he uses in his work and doesn’t use any dyes or lacquer- exquisite work!
My work with Kojiya continues to keep me busy and I am learning a lot. I started an English blog for the shop and we are hoping to increase their international presence. We’ll be in the US in August to do some workshops- in New York and on the West Coast.
Jiro leaves for a weeklong trip to Oregon tomorrow. This is the first time he is going away and I don’t have ba-chan duty. I’ll be busy with work- he’ll see both Kai and Nina. Nina just finished three months at the Kushi Institute– we are eager to see what direction she is headed now.