A new word

13 05 2010

I was driving to work today and I spotted the following kanji on a flag: 山火事注意

I knew all the kanji, but not what they meant together. The last two (注意 – Chuui) mean caution and are currently my favorite kanji because I can read them and find them everywhere*. The three before them mean: mountain (山), fire (火), and thing (事). So be cautious of mountain fire things?

While I liked that translation, I was quite sure it was wrong and very much wanted to know what they had paired with my favorite kanji.

Giving it my own translation seemed to work well because when I made it to the office and sat down at a computer, I was able to look it up. I typed in the readings for all of those things to get each kanji within the word (it’s like a compound word in English – textbook, crossroad, backpack, etc).

What did it say? According to jisho.org, it means brushfire. So be cautious of brushfires. Makes sense.

Today I learned a new word and all because I gave it some crazy translation to remember it long enough to get to a dictionary to find it. Both definitions are now stuck in my head.

Guess what happened on the way home from work this time? That’s right, I found it on several more signs, but I previously hadn’t known what it was.

I like learning new words.

*Everywhere in this case includes (but is not limited to): my shower door handle, my toilet seat, my microwave, my stove, train doors, road signs and warning labels. It’s fun because I see these two hard kanji that I’d probably make a mess of if I tried to write them and I can read them!





More English learning laughs!

9 03 2010

My first year high school students are currently working on skits. Today, they were working on them during class. I was helping a group of four girls. We were chatting a bit (with very limited Japanese/English). All of a sudden one of the girls reaches into her pocket (she’s wearing a skirt). I tell them I’ve never had a skirt with pockets (might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s been a VERY long time if I have). This is one of the reasons I hate dressing up, is the lack of pockets. The girls were amazed and one asked the others (in Japanese, so this is my understanding of the conversation – mostly from gestures) where you carry your handkerchief. She considers the pocket in their jacket, but can see that I’m obviously not wearing a jacket (and rarely do). Then they think of the bathrooms that have automatic hand dryers (not at school). They continue with this line of thinking to decide I must blow on my hands to dry them. When I showed them that I just dry my hands on my pants, they were utterly confused.

After school, I was invited to practice with the badminton club. When I arrived, they were stretching. One of the girls started pushing on her friend (apparently to help him stretch). He started screaming, “Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Scream! Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” I’m sure they thought I was the worst ALT ever, laughing while a kid is screaming, but I could tell he was not seriously hurting. He then wanted to know if he had used the wrong word and I had to explain that we don’t usually stop screaming to say “Scream.”





December Goals

1 12 2009

So this evening I was reflecting on how fast November went and how I didn’t feel near as homesick as I had in October. What changed? I added a blog a day as a challenge and tried to keep up with my Japanese during that month. Two very big goals.

Possibly a little too big. I had a really hard time keeping up with both. The Japanese book was above my head and sometimes took more time than I had available in my usually free days. I know I stayed up way to late often because of trying to do so. On the other hand, I also felt less homesick which is huge.

I realized I need some new goals for December. In part to keep me focused on what the Lord has before me and in part just to push myself to grow. In thinking about the coming month and what is coming I’ve decided to stick with two goals:

Study Japanese everyday. I’ve seen great improvements in the last month and I want to continue to improve in December. Also, I want to have book 2 finished before I go home (right now I have a test and one section of a lesson left to do. Is this do-able? I’m not entirely sure, but I really want to be able to take book 3 home with me and work on it super leisurely.

Sleep enough. I don’t want to arrive home burnt out and barely rested. That would likely mean I would get sick too, which would be a terrible way to spend the holiday.

Study Japanese everyday and sleep enough. Can I do it? I hope so.





Blessings today

22 11 2009

This morning I woke up about half an hour before my alarm went off (supposed to go off at 4:30 am). I had gone to bed late enough last night that even my alarm time was too early. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep and didn’t have a good attitude about the whole thing.

But the day turned out well. I was able to get ready early and talk to my dad on his lunch break. We had a really good conversation. My walk to the train station in the snow wasn’t terrible. I wasn’t freezing (I now have enough layers for being outside in the snow).

I made all my connecting trains in all the new cities and stations. The train ride was long, but I had some good time with the Lord and very much enjoyed looking out the window at the beautiful countryside. Snow was falling as we rode past and it just seemed magical.

The best part though, was when I was able to speak Japanese to the lady next to me on the train enough to ask where the bathroom was. She pointed me in the right direction and away I went. When I returned, she tried to share some snacks with me, but I already had the same thing in my bag. Instead I shared a random snack I found at the station with her. She smiled and talked to me more, which I didn’t quite understand, but she was so sweet!





English Class today

13 11 2009

Today I got to visit what is probably my favorite school, mostly because when I go, I get to spend the entire day at the school and really get to know the kids (which is incredible). The students are one sixth-grade boy, two third graders (girl and boy), three third graders (2 boys and one girl), two second grade girls, and two first-grade girls. They are an insanely fun group.

I was informed about the English lesson moments before going into the classroom. The teacher wanted me to pronounce the cards with the animals on them and then read the story. That got my brain going. If I was going to read this story, which the students weren’t likely to understand all the words to, how was I going to keep them engaged? (Keeping students engaged is always a big question for me, because it cuts down on management problems).

We got into the classroom and I asked, “How are you?”, “How’s the weather?”, “What’s the date today?” (the regular set of questions). As usual, most of the students do not know the month to be able to say the date. I have one third grader who seems to be particularly gifted in English who can almost always answer the question (maybe he studies at home?).

Then we pronounced the words, kids repeated (pretty standard way to start). After some questioning of students on the words, we moved on and played karuta. Karuta is a game I was introduced to in my high school Japanese class. The teacher calls a word and the first kid to slap the flash card wins it. The kid with the most cards at the end wins. We played a few rounds, with me being silly at the end and calling random non-animals (like carrot) when there was only one card left, to see if they were really listening.

After Karuta, came the story. It was about animal noises. To solve my earlier problem, I decided to pass out the cards with the animals. Each student was responsible to hold up her/his card when she/he heard the animal’s noise.

Please remember that as they were being asked to do this, most of the animal noises that we use in English are different than the ones that Japanese people use for animal noises. So as we went through the story, a few of the students held their animal up for every noise, until they got it right, and a few actually tried hard. They stayed engaged the whole time though. That was the best part; I didn’t lose any students while reading a story which most students didn’t understand.

Morning light
My view a couple of mornings ago.





Confessions of a Junken player

12 11 2009

“You’re a strong Junken player” is what one of my students said about me (as translated by the English teacher). The funny thing is I have learned how to win or lose at Junken in Japan on purpose.

Junken, for those of you not in Japan, is Rock, Paper Scissors. Japanese people have an incredible chant that goes with it, I don’t completely have it down and I’m pretty sure I’m mis-pronouncing the words when I do say them.

Different from home though, is the fact that EVERYTHING can be decided by Junken here. Which team are you on for a sports game? Junken. Who just won the card in the game we’re playing as a class? Junken. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s used in Japanese business meetings (obviously I’m not present, so I’m not so sure).

Anyways, I figured out that I can decide whether to win or lose when I was first playing with students shortly after arriving. It was about a week after school started and all the elementary students from my four small schools came together at Shimokanayama Elementary, for a grand total of 29 students.

On this day, we had a big tournament where each time you won, people hooked onto your back and you kept going with this train of people behind you. Well the first few times I didn’t really have the chant down and I didn’t know when to show my symbol. So somehow, I ended up with paper. Then I realized I was winning each time. My elementary students were always playing rock first.

I thought, there’s no way, someone has to play something different. But can I win the whole thing only playing paper? Sure enough, who was the winner? Me. So in a battle against teachers and students, the foreigner who was playing for the first time in Japan won. Awesome!

Today, we played a game that used it as well. It was a game where we had flash cards laid out and the two teams were starting at either end of the line, when they met they had to say “Dom!” then Junken (used as a verb here). The loser went back, their team started from the beginning, and the other team continued. The goal was to get to the other end.

I based what I played on where we were in the line. If I was less than half way through, I would play paper and win, if more than that, I would play scissors and lose, giving the students who aren’t native English speakers a fair chance. Most of the time this theory worked. My team never did get to the other end, but I did find a few students who played something else and won or lost when I wasn’t expecting to.

At the end of class, students share their impressions. One girl commented that I am a “strong Junken player.” I had to laugh on the inside because she must have just met me each time when I was “winning” rather than “losing.”





Should vs. Had Better

10 11 2009

Today, my JTE asked me the difference between these two ways to say the same thing. At first my response was they’re exactly the same. They do mean basically the same thing, but then I continued to ponder this. If they’re exactly the same, why does the students’ use of “had better” sometimes strike me as strange?

My thinking continued. Where do I hear “had better?” It seemed that I usually hear had better from older people. I was thinking like grandmother types. I continued to ponder. Does that mean it’s English that older people would use? Or does that make it English that you use to someone who is younger than you?

When do I use it? It seems like I would usually use it with someone if it were something that was super important for them to do or there would be bad consequences. For example, “you had better take your coat” (on a cold day). Except, I think I would still use should. Where would I use this phrase? In what contexts would I use this phrase? I’m still not even sure.

The eventual explanation I decided on, was that you’d use had better with people younger than you and should with your peers and for older people, I’d usually stick on an “I think” (i.e. I think you should . . .). Even that, seems a little funny, because I rarely choose to use “had better” and would use should almost across the board, with a few exceptions.

What do you think? Was my explanation right? Are my thoughts crazy? (probably!) Is there something I’m missing or an official explanation somewhere?