In Japanese High School

Giving Speeches

Through out my time in Japan, I've coached numerous students in giving speeches in English. As my time in Japan came to a close, I knew I would have to give a speech, in Japanese, to the entire student body in the pre-summer vacation closing ceremony. At first the thought of this terrified me, but as I had tons of time to prepare, I took it as one of the last challenges for me in Japan.

During my time in Japan, I haven't learned much Japanese. So this experience of giving a speech would be my opportunity to try and learn a bit, use it, and assimilate with my students.

Back in May, my friend Megumi helped me write my speech from notes I wrote her in English. I can't take any credit for writing it in Japanese, but she was able to translate the points I wanted to make. I had her make a voice recording of my speech, exactly the same as what my students ask me to do. This way I could hear the proper pronunciation of the words, the speed, and tone.

I wasn't out to memorize my speech, as my students do, but I wanted to know it well enough as to not have my eyes glued to my notes while giving it. After reading it aloud at least 50 times, I was feeling quite comfortable with it.

My last step was to practice for an audience. I thought of no one better than Maiki, the student who I had coached in speech to a 3rd place victory at a national speech competition. I spent a great amount of time listening to Maiki's speech and giving her pointers. The time was now for the tables to be turned. Though we only spent a few minutes together, my time practicing with Maiki helped me feel excited and confident. She felt honored that I had asked for her help.

Though this comes at the end of my time here, it was really useful being put in my students' shoes. Before, I thought giving a speech was not the most constructive way to learn a language. But, I have greatly changed my mind. In the short two minute long speech I learned good pronunciation, accent, and vocabulary.

You can watch my speech here.  Be sure to click the CC button, to turn on the subtitles that I added. Of course, I could have done better, but I was happy with the way I could easily and comfortably get through it. I felt pretty relaxed, despite the challenge at hand. I just wanted to appear happy and excited. I think I succeeded!  

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In Japan Self Reflections and Refinements

Living in the Moment

Just before moving to Japan I had a finely tuned sense of living in the moment. In my comfortable bubble of Jackson, I was easily able to relax into moments and grasp them for all they were worth in the time leading up to my departure. 

But, as much as I wanted to, during my first several weeks and months in Japan, I couldn't quite allow myself to just be in the moment very often. Not being able to do this devastated me.

Was my heart really that closed? Was I truly wishing I wasn't here? Was I losing my ability to live in the moment that I was so proud of?  

Then I realized that it takes a fair amount of comfort to be able to live in the moment. During my first weeks and months in Japan, I couldn't just walk to school on auto-pilot. Cars were driving on the opposite side of the road, bikes were wizing past without alerting of their presence, there were people with dogs, students, and street lights to look out for. All these things were foreign to me, and I had to pay attention as to not get run over! I couldn't relax into the moment, I was truly in survival mode. 

In the teachers office, tons of stimulation was going on around me. Conversations could be heard in each ear, students could pop up behind me at any moment. While teaching, I had to stay on top of the lesson. Had to constantly be thinking of what came next. As I wasn't super comfortable in my surroundings so I had to keep in control.

But after months and months to get acclimated, my last several weeks in Japan have been dedicated to living in the moment. As I know my experience is fleeting, I'v been able to stay fully alert and feel bliss in moments that had otherwise turned into routine. With my continued comfort in my city, this has become easier and easier to do. In my last week of teaching I captured all the genuine smiles on my students' faces as I told them how much I'd enjoyed teaching them. As I sit behind girls on the bus I appreciate the beauty of their long, smooth jet black hair. I smile to myself as I see groups of boys joke with each other while taking their break in the hallway. I observe with all my senses the downtown, full of life. In these final weeks, I'm collecting moments. And they are making me so rich.

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In Japanese culture

Noh Theater

I recently got to do something I've been wanting to do for a while. I went to a performance of Noh theater. 

Noh is the oldest surviving theatrical art in Japan today, dating back 600 years. It evolved some over time, but in has remained unchanged since Japan's Edo Period (1603-1867). 

Pretty much all I knew about Noh before I saw the show was that I loved the costuming and masks. I was struck by the beauty of the silken costumes and intrigued by the pure white mask that performers tie to their faces. 

Noh has some distinct characteristics that I learned by watching the performance and reading the material I got in English. 
  • In Noh, to move around the stage actors never fully lift their feet from the floor. Instead they slide their feet around, in a slow motion, and shuffle about when performing dances. 
  • Noh is performed only by men. Any women's roles are also played by men who are masked. 
  • The speaking in Noh is very distinctive, almost a sing-song manner with the actors sounding a bit like they are out of breath and stretching their voices in many directions. 
  • Noh is performed with very little sets or props. In fact there is no set at all. In the performance I saw there were also only one or two props. Most everything else is mimed or imagined. 
The play I watched was titled Atsumori. The packet I got in English gave a scene-by-scene summary of the play. I was told that most Japanese don't even understand the words the actors are saying, because it's an older version of the language. This turned out to be true as I observed many other people around me checking their packets, in Japanese, to see what was going on. 

This 80-minute play was about a warrior turned priest who is still dealing with the guilt of killing a young man in battle. The priest returns, years later to the site of the battle and hears flute music in the distance. He comes across some grass-cutters in the area and learns that the young man he killed in the past actually escaped battle and was about to depart on a ship, only to return to retrieve his treasured flute at the last minute. Upon his return, he was killed by the warrior. The priest realized that he is in fact talking with the ghost of the young man's spirit and the two, once enemies, make amends and depart as friends. 

Noh can be a little bit boring, yes, but I was really enjoying this moment of rich history and culture. In the final few scenes the ghost of Atsumori's spirit comes onto the stage. Pictured below is that figure. I was so memorized by this character's costume that I rarely took my eyes off him. This was truly the moment I had been waiting for and was so happy to have this experience. 

Image result for japanese noh atsumori ghost

No photography or videography was allowed so the photos here are not mine. If you are more interested in seeing more about Noh and watching a bit of the stage performance, check out this YouTube video here

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In Japan Self Reflections and Refinements

Give Up Something Extreme

The other day I opened up my life list document to add an item. Give up something extreme for a period of time. My ideas for this were: car, Internet, electricity...something like that. Then I realized I have already done this. It was just time I properly reflected. 

While living in Japan for the past year I have been living without a car. In this time I have gotten to: have a lesser impact on the environment, save money on a car payment, insurance and gas, and use my own energy to get me places I need to go and get the things I need. 

In the past year with my feet, bicycle, and the public bus I have gotten everywhere I need to go. This has been mostly a great experience. Mostly.

Times I've love it:
-Not having to sit in traffic
-Times I haven't had to circle an area looking for parking, plus paying for it
-Not having to invest in a vehicle her e in Japan
-Getting daily exercise just with my commute to work and running errands
-Not having to take on the extra stress and confusion of obtaining a Japanese drivers license or owning a car in Japan

Times it sucks:
-When it's pouring down rain and I really need to go get groceries
-Windy and cold days when I have to walk to work
-When I have wanted to travel up north in my prefecture, where there is no public transportation
-Times I've screwed up busing because had to rely on something that sometimes confused me
-When I wish I could shop at Costco more. (Nope you can't balance a 10 pound box of Oatmeal, five pound bag of brown rice, two large jars of peanut butter, and a box of 40 granola bars on a bicycle-I know my limitations)

In Kanazawa it's been easy to live without a car. The bus system has easily gotten me most places I need to go that are just a bit to far to travel on foot regularly. All necessities are within a 10-15 minute walk from my apartment: work, grocery stores, library, 100 yen shop, public hot spring. Grocery shopping in Japan means I'm buying small quantities that can easily be fit in a backpack for the bike ride home.

However, I'm still not satisfied in my idea of giving up something extreme. It has gotten me thinking about a future life project of completing a series of 30-day challenges in which I give up things for 30 days. I don't mean to deprive myself or inflict purposeful strife or harm. I just want to think about the things I use in my life and what it would be like to eliminate them. The ideas that I have in mind are things that people before this point in time have easily gotten by without. Stay tuned for this emerging idea.

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In Japan Japanese travel

Okinawa Island

In my short time in Japan I've been fortunate enough to travel to quite a few places. Once place I fantasized of traveling, but never thought I really would, is Okinawa Island.
For those of you who don't know Okinawa Island is a small island group located south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean. It is part of Japan, as one of its 47 prefectures, but it hasn't always been that way. It is home to 32 U.S. military bases which take up 20% of its land and can be remembered as an important battle ground in the conclusion of World War II. Also for you Karate Kid fans out there, it's home to Mr. Miyagi.
Before a Japanese take over Okinawa was known as Ryukyu. It is  located several hundred miles east of southern China; several hundred miles south of the main islands of Japan; and several hundred miles north of the island of Taiwan. Being very much between these few places each have tried to get it under their control at some point in time. Though Ryukyu was its own kingdom, mostly in name, it experienced much influence from China and was made to pay tribute to the Chinese Emperor. While on vacation there, I could clearly see influences of Chinese architecture, which I found different and refreshing. Finally in 1879 Okinawa was annexed to Japan and became a prefecture under its rule. This didn't go so well for the native Ryukyuan people as their culture and language slowly faded, 

When I told my Japanese friend, Megumi that I wanted to do something special for my birthday, she suggested we go to Okinawa together. She told me of a Japanese budget airline that could get us there for about $150 round trip. I had no idea it could be so affordable, so at this I jumped at the opportunity.
During our 2-day stay we lodged at a very nice, yet affordable hotel called Laguna Garden. The room and amenities were nice and it was just a short walk from a fairly private beach. Our hotel provided a dress up experience where we got to wear native Ryukyun formal wear and pose for this photo.

We visited the beach a couple of times, taking in the mild sun with the cool breeze.

I enjoyed seeing and meeting native Ryukyun people. They looked a bit different than mainland Japanese, with a bit darker skin which could clearly tan easier and they seemed to have a more laid back demeanor. The Ryukyun people are know to be some of the world's longest living people.

In addition to seeing the native people, I got to see typical Japanese families on relaxing vacations. It was a different way to see the people that I've lived among for almost a year. Typically Japanese are a hurried people, strictly on time. But in this environment time seemed to be less of an issue. Always polished and semi conservative in dress, I got to see people in tank tops and loud Hawaiian shirts.

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