The school festival is on Sunday. I am still not entirely sure what that entails. I know that students sing and perform, prepare skits and decorate their classrooms, there is a flea market, we eat noodles, and there is a big teacher enkai that night. The brass band has been practicing every day after school and I have been going. I still just pretend to play half the time. The one trumpet player is very serious about her role in the band and I feel like she is judging me whenever I don`t hit a note. I saw her getting reamed out by a teacher in the teacher`s room because she failed an exam. Apparently, there are serious consequences to failing an exam as a band member - i.e. your practice time is cut down because you are forced to study more. It was strange to me to be in the same room as a teacher yelling at a crying student. Like I was witnessing an emotional flogging.
But anyway, we are going to play five songs. The first song begins with all the brass band members in their seats in the audience and then standing up and playing their way to the front. I don`t play during that song so I will just stand there like an awkward panda. One song involves wearing anime masks and another song involves standing up and dancing. I am really only going to seriously play two of the songs. Otherwise, I am totally pretending and they are okay with that. There are about 12 members in the band but they make a pretty powerful noise. They are pretty accomplished musicians because that is their sport and hobby. Many of the students even play two instruments to make up for the lack of members in the band. The seniors in the band who aren`t going to college technically "retired" after the first trimester, so they don`t normally play with the band anymore, but they are allowed during the school festival.
I`m impressed because one of the boys in the senior class of students not going to university is going to hair design school. He plays in the band and I made a point of asking him about it and it turns out, his English is pretty good. The students are constantly surprising the Japanese English teachers when I ask them a question and they understand and respond without a problem. I told him that he has nice hair and he said "you too!" and then I said that he should cut my hair one day and he said "yes!" I only trust hair stylists with nice hair and he has the most stylish hair out of all the students, even the girls. I am getting nervous because I do need to get my hair trimmed eventually and I`m scared of the language barrier. Because maybe "please use scissors" will be mistakenly translated to "razor blade." "A light trim" to "give me your finest bowl cut."
But anyways, the seniors who are studying to take the university entrance exams don`t get to participate too much in the festival. It`s kind of sad because they are still teenagers but all they do is study. One student speaks amazing English, but she is very timid and too modest. If you compliment a lot of Japanese people, they will often say "oh no, no, no!" Good god, just accept my compliment! She was watching a video of herself speaking English and she was literally rocking back and forth in what looked like physical pain because she was embarassed to be watching herself on the television. She went to the elementary school yesterday and we taught the second grade students movements together, like jump, clap, nod, turn... We then played a game of Simon Says and teaching with her made me realize just how loud I am and how loud and outgoing you have to be in order to teach elementary school students. Maybe that`s why I am exhausted after three classes in the elementary school. I have no problem yelling/borderline screaming "okay! are you ready! simon says jump!..." When I handed the reins over to the high school student, her voice was so timid that I could barely hear her over the dull roar of the second graders. You could see all the second graders leaning forward to be able to hear her. Super cute.
I played badminton last night with an english and biology teacher in a tournament. There are about 15 badminton teams of three players each. Most of the teams consist of men but there are a few teams with women on them from the junior and senior highs. We won all three games. I would like to say that it was because we are good but it is really because the biology teacher is amazing. He is the head coach for the girls badminton team and he has been the coordinator for the prefectural high school badminton championships. This guy is like lightning on that court. You think he won`t make the shot but you are wrong about 90% of the time. It amazes me that someone can have that fast of reflexes. So the games mostly consist of me and the other English teacher hitting what we can and then just getting the hell out of the way to let him take care of the rest. I hear that he is the best badminton player on the island and there is an expectation that we will win. Maybe us English teachers were meant to be his handicap to bring him down to the level of fellow islanders. If so, I am okay with that. We have our last games tonight and then we are going out for dinner and drinks.
It is fun to see all the islanders get together for events though. There was the island sports festival, where all the neighborhoods competed against each other for beer. There are buddhist festivals. And there are small sports tournaments, like softball and badminton. It`s a pretty united little island, with events and celebrations all the time. And the teachers usually participate and have such a good vibe together. I am pretty lucky to be at this school because everyone likes each other and there are always teacher parties. I`m averaging about one dinner or party every week - which is great because that is how you get to know your co-workers and learn some Japanese. There are some ALTs (assistant language teachers) who have upwards of seven or eight schools to visit so they never really get to know their teachers and co-workers at their base schools because they aren`t there very often.
When we first got to Japan, we were fed the typical culture shock graph. We got the same thing when I studied abroad in Ireland and when I entered the Peace Corps. When you first get here, you are supposed to go through a "honeymoon" period, where everything is new and fresh and you love it. Then you are supposed to enter a stage where you absolutely hate it and are frustrated. And then you start to adjust and "integrate." I feel like I have gone from honeymoon straight into adjustment. Maybe after Mozambique, I see nothing to hate. Sure, there are some frustrating aspects of life but there are no overwhelming hardships that feel impossible to overcome. I definitely went through a bitter, annoyed period in Mozambique, but life was more stressful and it was my first time having a job in a foreign, underdeveloped country. I find myself comparing Japan to Mozambique and I need to stop because they are both so different and awesome in their own ways. It`s strange because I find myself comparing Mozambique with Japan more than I compare the U.S. with Japan. If I get frustrated now, I usually just go home, make dinner and watch Weeds or Dexter.
All right, I need to get some work and studying done. By study, I mean studying Japanese characters and phrases. I have managed to memorize all of the katakana symbols! That`s exciting. I have stayed fairly disciplined, studying by myself. Once in a while, I have a question and another English teacher helps me. I can now write my name in Katakana! Now I just have to memorize hiragana and about a billion Kanji symbols. One step at a time though. I was super excited on Tuesday because I recognized "Africa" in Katakana. A-fu-ri-ka! What a fitting first word!
Okay, I need to pick up the feathers from my orange and black boas from my elementary school Halloween parties off my desk and floor space. It looks like backstage in Vegas up in here. Everyone have a happy and safe Halloween! I won`t be wearing a costume but as usual, I will be enkai-ing it up that night. Kanpai to Halloween!