Friday, October 22, 2010


Nagasaki ALTs put out a bimonthly magazine for the English speaking community in Nagasaki prefecture- JET and not JET. I wrote an article about the prime ministers in Japan for the most recent issue. The link below is an electronic version of the magazine.

A little on Japanese schools

I figured I'd tell you a little bit about the Japanese school system. Not so much philosophies of teaching, but more daily life in the school.

First of all, general structure. Kindergarten is separate, kids will stay there from 1-3 years, it's kind of a mix between kindergarten and pre-school. Most, if not all of them are right next to an elementary school, but technically they're separate, as far as I can tell. Next comes elementary school (grades 1-6). Pretty much like the ones in the US, one main teacher per class. Everyone, even teachers, have to eat kyushoku (school lunch) everyday, with milk. The kids serve it in each classroom with aprons and facemasks on.
After elementary school, they head to junior high (grades 7-9). The main difference between Japanese and American middle schools is that here, the kids stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotate out. The students of each "kumi" or class, are in that kumi for all three years. So if they start in 1-1 (1 year, 1 class) then they will be 2-1 and 3-1. So by their third year, the kids know each other really well. Through middle school school is a right for the students, therefore they can't be suspended or expelled. Even if they beat up a teacher or another student, they can still come to school if they want to. Another interesting thing about lower schools in Japan, is that they don't separate special needs students from the rest of the kids. They have most of their classes in regular classes and might have one or two periods in a separate room. At first this surprised me, but I think it's very good. The other kids treat the special ed kids with respect and help them in and out of class as much as possible.

School is only required through middle school. Kids have to test into the private high schools or if they want, they don't go at all. Each high school varies in academic and athletic ability, depending on their focus. Omura currently has a very good academic school, an agriculture school, a technical school and an all-girls school (I don't know much about it, there are no ALTs there). There is also a special ed school and a deaf school.

Now some quick facts/observations:
-No shoes in school, everyone wheres indoor shoes. There are big shelves for shoes at every entrance.
-Different shoes are worn in the gym
-The kids in all grades do all the cleaning. Most days there is a 15 minute period after lunch when the kids clean their assigned location (bathroom, teachers room, shoe shelves). When there is a special event (sports day, fall break, teacher conference), they'll spend a whole 50 minute class period cleaning.
-Textbooks often come in sets of two- one explanation and text, and one is a workbook.
-All schools have Sports Day in the early fall, which consists of running races, relays, other wacky games as competitions. The kumis compete with each other, so 1-1 vs. 1-2 vs. 1-3 etc. The practice before and after school, and one or two class periods in school for a few weeks. Then there will be a day with no class where they just practice ALL day.

That's all for now, I'm sure I'll think of more to share with you later.

Mt. Aso

Last weekend I took a trip out to Kumamoto prefecture. Among other things, Kumamoto is known for it’s beef and dairy products, as there are many cows, basashi (or horse sashimi), and Mt. Aso, one of the largest active volcanic craters in the world. It should go without saying that basashi wasn’t my main reason for going (having Festus in mind), but it didn’t stop me from trying it. In my opinion, there was little difference between it and fish sashimi. It had a slightly different flavor, but the texture was more or less the same. I would assume raw beef would taste similarly. I think I would enjoy a seared basashi better. I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not about to think about eating it every time I see a horse, unlike one of my junior high students that blurted out ‘おいしいそう‘ (looks yummy) when I showed the class a picture of Festus.

At the same restaurant we ate basashi, we had some of the most delicious beef I have ever had. Among the five of us we tried the 3 different beef options they had: yakiniku (grilled), hamburger (Japanese kind, the meat patty comes on a hot plate covered in sauce), and steak (also slightly different, served on a hot plate cut into little pieces). It was all so delicious! I couldn’t believe how good it was.

But of course the main attraction was the volcano! While I really wanted to see a boiling vat of red lava, I had to settle for the still very cool lake of light green aqueous sulfur. It was awesome. The first day we weren’t able to ascend to the crater lip because of the high concentration of noxious fumes, but the second day we saw it. Sure enough, it smelled like sulfur and was pretty powerful. Right as we were about to leave, they started kicking people out because of the fumes. Near the lake there was also this vast plain that pretty much looked like Mars. It was covered in ash/black sand and some rocks scattered here and there. Although there wasn't lava, I’m satisfied with Mt. Aso.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pies in Japan

I had a day off from school on Monday, so I decided to try to make a pie. Seeing that household baking is not common practice in Japan (the closest thing to an oven most houses have is a microwave/toaster combo), I was worried I would not find the necessary cookware and ingredients to make pie. Luckily, I managed to find mini, glass pie dishes, just the right size to fit inside my toaster oven. Each dish was roughly half the size of a normal pie dish, so I made two mini-pies.

Before I left, I looked up the Japanese words for the ingredients I needed and set out. Luckily there was a small baking section in the store where I found shortening (comes in a squeezable tube, kind of like a big toothpaste tube) and "bread flour" which I bought hesitantly, worried it was "bread mix" which has yeast in it, which they also sell. Apparently, it was just regular old flour (phew!).

Apples are really expensive, and buying yellow apples (because you need variety!) was even more, so I spent about $10 on 6 apples.

The pies turned out great! While they weren't my best work in my opinion, my friends and supervisor were thoroughly satisfied.


Last weekend I participated in the Hasami walk, which was a 12 kilometer walk around a city a little north of Omura. The city is world renowned in the pottery world for its beautiful craftsmanship of dishes and the worlds largest and second largest noborigama (built into a clay hillside) kilns (so said a guide, but upon research this may be inaccurate.)

Other attractions of the walk include the beautiful scenery and the scarecrows. It's just about rice harvesting time, so the terraced rice fields were especially pretty.

Every year the residents of the city put up a row of ever-creative scarecrows. The highlight last year was Michael Jackson, while this year there was everything from peeing obaasans (grandmas) to Naoto Kan, the current Prime Minister and the soccer player Keisuke Honda.
Even Tiger Woods made an appearance.

It was a perfect Autumn day and we even got some free soup and goya (bitter squash). Overall, it was a great time and I look forward to the pottery festival in the spring.