Tonight I experienced probably my favorite festival so far, mostly because it was a small festival just for my cho (neighborhood). It was an intimate celebration at the nearby Hachiman shrine and it felt really special to take part in it. Kids were playing taiko drums skillfully and everyone was in good spirits. My landlord and landlady were there, as well as a handful of neighbors that I had been passing by every day on my way to the station. I tried my best to talk with everyone- they were all so friendly and seemed happy to meet me! I also introduced them to my husband whom they promptly nicknamed JJ (Josh J.). I paid respects at the shrine and I was gifted with a HUGE bag of fruits and other treats. That wasn’t the only thing I was given. Several people were handing us homemade mitarashi dango (sweet and savory rice dumplings) and warm, soft sweet potatoes. My favorite moment was what I took to be a holy ceremony of sorts. One of the shrine maidens (miko) boiled a pot of water over fire and seemed to burn something like white sage over it, letting the ashes fall in. Everyone gathered around and bowed, and then the miko served the hot water to the festival guests. It tasted slightly herbal and bitter, but mostly had no flavor. The only I could gather is that we were drinking something like a holy water. Perhaps someone could fill me in more on the background of this custom since I wasn’t able to find much in my research. It was really interesting to take part in this aspect of Japanese culture! It was a wonderful feeling to be so connected with my new community.
Today Josh and I set out to meet our friends for a picnic at Kashihara Shrine. I brought a kabocha pie as well as a few other goodies to share. However, we came upon a surprise festival once we got there! The entire park was filled with tents, food stalls, and performance stages. I had never seen so many people at the shrine before and it was great fun just to walk around and listen to the music. Speaking of music, there was a Japanese band called “Deep South” performing country and bluegrass on the stage. They were great! I managed to meet one of the performers afterwards and I told him I was from Tennessee and that their music was wonderful. Meanwhile, there was a professional wrestling ring going on next to our picnic spot! Apparently while Josh and I went to get ice cream one of the wrestlers grabbed my empty drink can and crushed it against the other wrestler!
Tomorrow will be the end of my next two-week set of team teaching! I initially made this plan for 2nd years, and then modified it to work for 1st years the week after. This time around I really wanted to try something that would get the whole class talking and thinking critically. I came up with the idea for an interactive art critique because the students are currently learning about the painter/sculptor Okamoto Taro and the public’s opinions of his work in their English books (Perspective II Lesson 4).
For the warm-up I talked a bit about sharing opinions and art criticism as it related to their lesson. I gave them a sample sentence: “I like/don’t like this piece because __________” and then displayed a painting by Okamoto Taro. The teacher and I gave a few example opinions about the painting and then we brainstormed more ideas and adjectives together with the class. I talked about how we share opinions every day in places like Twitter (showing the logo on the screen) and handed out small notecards to each student. I explained that I brought some paintings to show them and that each card was a Twitter comment or “tweet” that they could use to write a short (no more than 140 character) opinion on.
I then displayed each painting for about 3 minutes or until the students were finished writing. I tried to choose some paintings that the students would definitely like, and some they probably wouldn’t like.
After they finished writing their comments, I let them break into groups of four and discuss their opinions with each other, starting with the first painting, “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. They were a little too shy to start talking so I gave them a conversation example and modeled it with the teacher: “What did you think about the painting?” “I liked it?” “Why?” “Because I like the colors, etc.” After this I was happy to hear everyone actively discussing their opinions in English, even in my notoriously quiet classes.
Then came the fun part. After a few minutes I told the students that they would have a chance to talk about their opinions with the artist himself- Van Gogh. I said he was coming to this classroom today so I had to go. They looked really confused as I walked out saying goodbye. I waited a few seconds and came back into the class and shouted “Hello! I am Van Gogh! What do you think about my painting?” to lots of laughter. I chose a few students to present their opinion and then challenged them to explain themselves further (for example, if they said the painting was beautiful or ugly, I asked why.) I was surprised and impressed by some of the answers! I did the same thing with the next two artists, but I really hammed it up on the Picasso one especially if I noticed the kids getting tired. I jumped and shouted that my painting was the best in the world. Some of the students seemed especially eager to tell me they didn’t like the painting after that! Haha
In the last five minutes of class “Megan-sensei” returned to class. I asked them to discuss which painting was their favorite (and why) and then we voted on which painting was the best. Van Gogh won in each class, and Picasso was the least favorite.
I chose paintings for this lesson since it tied in to the book, but I think this format (writing, speaking, and sharing opinions) would work great with a variety of media.
Some of my favorite comments:
Me (as Van Gogh): Why did you not like my painting?
Student: It is ominous (good word!)
Me: Why is it ominous?
Student: Something may be hiding behind that tree.
Me (as Van Gogh): Why do you like my painting?
Student: Because I love you!
(It turns out that he was a big fan of Van Gogh’s work.)
Me (as Magritte): Why do you like my painting?
Student: Because it is scary!
Me: You like it because it’s scary?
Student: I like the face.
Other kids said “Because apples are so delicious.” which I couldn’t help but laugh at even if they were trying to act up.
Me (as Picasso): Why do you not like my painting?
Student: Because it is strange.
Me: Why do you think it’s strange?
Student: (thinking) Because…I don’t like you, Picasso.
(needless to say a lot of people found Picasso to be unpleasant, but a few kids really liked the piece and had interesting reasons why!)
Since my last post I attended an English speech contest for local schools in Kashihara. One of my students was participating, so I along with another JTE and the whole English club came out to support her. I had been coaching her for the past few weeks so I almost felt as nervous as she was! I joked with her that we would make t-shirts and flags with her name on it, haha.
I thought her pronunciation and gestures were really good. She froze up for a moment during her speech ( I was holding my breath!), but continued right along where she left off. I was so proud of her. Afterwards I led a learning activity alongside another ALT named Peter. He was a great guy and I’m glad that he was there to help me out! We played a gesture guessing game and then created a silly story in English using Story Cubes.
During Silver Week, I entered a t-shirt contest for the Nara Prefecture Association of JETs. I was so nervous during the voting period. I had tried my best so I really hoped that I would win. It was a close vote but my design was chosen for this year’s shirt! I can’t wait to see it printed. 😀
My 25th birthday arrived on September 29th but I was so busy I nearly forgot that it was happening. I woke up to a “live birthday card” from my mom and her art students! I got a sweet card in the mail from my mother-in-law and my grandmother sent me a care package in the mail including some pumpkin spice extract!! My friend Amanda also made a sweet instagram post of our old childhood moments and it hit me in the feels so I had to share it. My co-worker had just given me some kabocha from his garden so I used it to make a delicious kabocha spice pie. I also made an extra one to put in the freezer for next week’s picnic at Kashihara Shrine. Somewhere in the midst of this Josh and I also had a moonlight picnic to see the supermoon. The moon was reflecting so brightly off of the lake! Suddenly three black cats appeared before us and we offered them food before heading home. It felt oddly symbolic to me, but I’m not sure how.
The following Thursday was my school’s Sports Festival, or as we called it back home, Field Day. I got to don some active wear, much to the amusement of my students. I wore the red and black shirt from the Basara Festival along with black pants and red shoes and everyone kept saying how cool I looked- I’m guessing it was a good fashion choice, haha! I had lots of fun with my students playing Mukade and then running in the relay race with the other teachers. I was sore the next day but I wasn’t about to let anyone else know that! Haha.
That Friday I finally got a chance to celebrate my birthday with a great group of folks. We ate at the “Green Curry Place” (Boocoo Dining) which was absolutely fantastic, then we all went out to sing karaoke. I had such a great time with everyone- I can’t wait for us to all hang out again.