A Texas visual art teacher travels to Japan in June 2006 through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Program. Learn with the students of his advanced art class as Mr. Lowke experiences the culture of the East.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Longest Day - the sequel and Home!!!!

I have time traveled today. I began in Tokyo with breakfast and then an outing to Akasusa one last time. You know how you hear about the Japanese getting pushed and packed into subway cars? We thought it was just an urban myth until we experienced it this morning. During rush hour, everyone politely lines up in front of the subway car door, then the packed train rolls in and those that need to get off roll out in a sort of human wave. Those in line to get in, are then rolled in a new human wave in the door until no one else can possibly fit, then the train guy in white gloves comes and ever so gently pushes about two more people in and manually closes the door. Personal space has NO meaning and there is no need to hold a grip or rail because you are packed sooooo tight that you just sort of sway against the businessman, the grandmother out for shopping and the student going to class. I know because I experienced it first hand on my last day. In fact, our party of four got separated because two of us were the LAST two in one subway car and and the other two were mashed against the glass on the next incoming train. Definitely only a once in a life-time experience for me. We successfully ended up at the end of the Ginza line in Akasusa for shopping, one last temple hop and one last hundred yen store!
Off to the Narita airport - let's just say about a bazillion hours and two planes, two customs checks, two immigration checks and three airports, I was home! I arrived in Austin 25 minutes after I left Tokyo! Pretty neat huh?!?
Love to hear from all of you - thanks for following along with me. I will keep you posted on the next steps with my follow-on plan.
Timsan OUT!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sayonara and Arigato

Today is the last day I am in Japan. I am excited to come home, yet sad to leave Japan behind as there are still things unseen and undone. The past weeks have been packed with activities both planned and unplanned. I wouldn't change one thing about this trip and experience.
We have spent the day watching presentations by all the small groups, Meguro, Itabashi, Ito, Komatsu, Itoigawa, Omura, Aizuwakamatsu, Kennuma, Mutsu and Kushiro. Each group had a unique and rewarding experience. We all found similarities and differences in each Japanese community we visited, but the thread that we have all pulled is the kindness and sincerity of the Japanese people and the care they give to their children and families through education.
I spent the afternoon with Pam, Bob and maria walking around the Imperial Palace trying to get into the Imperial Gardens. Alas, that is something left undone. But I am good with that as I can't do it all and that leaves something to come back and see another day.
Tonight was the Sayonara Dinner. This was both celebration of all that we have experienced and sadness at leaving new found friends and a culture we have come to respect and enjoy. There were the traditional Japanese speeches til the end and food. What would JFMF be without the food? We have eaten our way from beginning to end. Additionally, there was video clips from all 10 group trips and our time together with the challenge to go out and teach and tell the world what we have learned about Japan. We ended with the JFMF theme song, Eagle Flies to the Rising Sun. Ask me about the lyrics when I get home.
Most of all, I want to say thank you and arigato to the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund and the government of Japan for providing this wonderful life experience for me and through me my students, family and community. I could not have done the past three weeks without the loving support of my wife, Lorna and my three kids, Lane, Maren and Reed. Daddy is coming home and I miss all of you so much! Also, thanks to my AWESOME mother and father who raised me to accept challenges and not to be afraid to experience life. My mom and dad have kept my kids these past three weeks and I love you both very much for helping make this trip possible. Finally thanks to my school community, students, faculty and church community. You have all supported me, read my blog, commented, translated business cards into Japanese and given me support and advice in so many ways, I cannot express my thanks enough.
Tomorrow is flight day and I will be traveling in the air for more than 13 hours. Please keep me in you thoughts and prayers that I return home safely.
Keep reading my blog occasionally as I update it with the most challenging part, my follow-on plan of sharing this life event with my community in a meaningful and relevant way.

Of Ryokan, Karaoke, and Happy Cats

Well, I write this sitting back at my desk in the Akasaka Prince Hotel on the 21 st floor looking over the Tokyo skyline at night. The last 48 hours have been both relaxing and fun as we have begun to wrap up our Japanese journey. Tomorrow we spend the day reporting to all the other groups about our incredible stay in Itabashi. We are going to a David Letterman-style presentation of the top 10 things that made Itabashi special to us all while wearing our yukata and jimbei outfits given to us by Katsue.
When last I left my faithful readers (I hope you have been faithful), we had gone to the city ward offices to an opening of a Mongolian exhibition of work as a Itabashi sister city project. We were recoginzed by the mayorsan for our presence at the opening. It was a wonderful experience and we got to meet the artist who recorded everyday images of Mongolia through the eyes of his camera. After hearing speeches and traditional Mongolian music and viewing the images, we were off to a PTA meeting.
Like all our other public events, it began with a welcome, followed by discussion. Several PTA members from the schools we visited were there for a panel discussion to help us better understand their role in the schools. We found many similarities and some differences. Membership in PTA is mandatory and they have high participation. Unlike American schools, their focus is not on raising extra funds for their campuses. That comes from dues charged to each family on a monthly basis throughout the school year. Interesting. The mayorsan came to say "goodbye" to us in the rain! He also wore a silver dove pin given to him by a JFMFer in our group that had come from Israel and was passed in peace from Israel, to America and now onto Japan. Toeshi, our interpreter is also telling us bye ---- we will truly miss Itabashi and Toeshi!
Back on the bus ---- goodbye to Itabashi------ and onto the Hakone valley and our ryokan! We were driven through the valley and up and down the mountains to see the scenery. This involved one stop at a Japanese truck stop, juice and sandwiches on the bus for lunch and a fog enclosed park where we literally could not see much of anything. No Mount Fuji views for us. Oh well, hopefully next time (Yes, I want to come back to Japan.)
Finally, we arrived at our ryokan (check the link on the sidebar for a glimpse!) It was beautiful! The rooms are traditional Japanese with several people staying in a room. The guys split up and Bobby and I ended up as roomies. Upon getting in our room, we were "sized" for yukata and green tea was made for us. Service with a smile! Ahhhhhhhhh! Next, three of us men, yukated up and headed out for the public baths. The outdoor baths were beautiful set amid small gardens. You can check out the link to the public bath houses in Japan for the other details and onsen rules. We did it just like the Japanese and experienced the onsen a total of four times during our stay. Ladies, I now know the attraction to a spa and you are SOOOOOOOOOOO right about pampering yourself. you have to fill in the blanks for the onsen episode. What happens in Japan, stays in Japan! Kidding.
Our last dinner as a small group was traditional Japanese style. We ate several things we had already experienced and some that were new including the tiny crab that was eaten shell and all. Bobby named him Sebastian (from The Little Mermaid). Yes, campers, you read right, shell and all. I did it and it wasn't bad. This meal lasted quite a while and then we went back to the onsen til late that night.
5:45 am and we were up and out to the onsen for one last soak before our traditional Japanese breakfast. Sweet eggs, miso soup, salad, tofu, etc... you know the rest. After a short walk in the garden and seeing the waterfalls, it was back on the bus to the Akasaka Prince Hotel and the reassemblage of the original 200 teachers. Mommasan, we're home!!!!!
Since we arrived very early due to the least distance traveled, we dropped our bags in the lobby and we back out for, you guessed it temple hopping and shopping. We went to one of the biggest temples in Tokyo proper, Zojoji Temple in Shibako-en. Behind this temple is the Tokyo Tower (Eiffel tower replica). Check it out. Then it was onto Meijijingumae for shopping. Got some great deals including (drum roll please), Happy Cats! These are a sign of good luck and fortune throughout Japan. Check my Happy Cat herd out. NIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCCCEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
We had to be back at the hotel by 4 pm to "practice" our group presentation for tomorrow and then there was some downtime. For our last night free, we went to dinner close to the hotel and went to karaoke! In Japan, this involves getting a small room for an hour. It comes with two mikes, tamborines, marachas and plenty of pre-programmed tunes. Our Happy Cats were optional, but they participated. We were AWESOME singers of course. No really. Quit laughing!!!!!! It wasn't that funny.
To round out our evening, Bobby (our Pachinko sinsay) took us around to corner to try Pachinko. OK, this is the loudest place in Japan hands down. You pay money to try and get some little metal balls which you have almost no control over, into a hole so the machine plays really loud music. I don't get the attraction, but folks, there are pachinko parlors on practically every street corner. I kid you not!
However, there was tragedy in our group tonight, Bobby killed his Happy Cat!!!! He ruthlessly fell to the floor saving his knees, legs, body etc... and sacrificing his Happy Cat that had participated in karaoke soooooo well. Poor Happy Cat ----- he is now sad, brainless cat. Here is grief stricken Bobby.
Well, all joking aside, we are getting down to the end. I am ready to go home and see my family, friends, church community etc....., but at the same time, I will really miss the Itabashi group, especially Bobby, Pam, Maria and Kent. We have had a exceptional life experience and I think going home is going to be a real readjustment for us. Being in Japan for so long, many things have taken on a normalcy that may make home odd for a while. But it is back to the real world of taking care of our houses, making our meals, cleaning dishes and being "regular' again. I will work hard not to be the annoying Japan crazy teacher freak. But know, this has been a life experience that has changed how I view the world and the people in it. It has opened my eyes to the wastefulness of our country and the squandering of its resources especially. Most of all it has widen my perspective of the world and had me form connections with another culture and society. That is what Senator Fulbright dreamed of so many years ago. Read my last few entries as things wind down and head towards America and Austin/Round Rock/Leander, Texas.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ryokan Introduction

It is raining this morning - big surprise. We are off to open an art exhibition, visit with the local PTA and then check out the Hakone valley and stay in a ryokan. Check out the ryokan. Check out my homestay entry below and comment. I love to hear from all of you.



When you just don't think a trip can get any better, then you go have a homestay. I left Saturday morning to go stay with the Wakabayashi family. Kiyoshi (father) came to pick me up at the Itabashi-ku city ward offices. We walked to the train station and went across Itabashi to his home that he shares with his wife Sachie. After introductions (not long because they only speak Japanese, Sachie made a wonderful lunch of tempura. I think her goal for the weeked was to keep the large American full of food. She did a GREAT job of that. Around lunch time, the rest of the family came by, Kumiko (daughter who speaks ENGLISH!!!!!!!), her kids Kensho (4 yrs.), Nanoko (8yrs.) and her husband Eisuke. We all had lunch together and then Kiyoshi, Kumiko and the kids took me out to a local temple to get my temple book signed. It was a small neighborhood temple and they really catered to us. It was also right next door to Kensho's kindergarten. That was fun to see. When we had seen the temple, we went by Kumiko's father-in-law's stationery store. Kensho is the only grandson out of six grandkids, so he is the apple of his grandparent's eye. He got some colored pencils to use later and we were off the the local mall.
Hadn't been to one of these yet. Quite a place. Five stories of shopping and LOTS of bicycles out front. We cruised the food aisles and ended up in housewares so they could buy a little something for my family. I managed to get them to let me buy ice cream. I am still not sure exactly what rapone cream is, but it was bright blue and tasted slightly of bubble gum.
Once back home, it was time for dress up. Sachie had eyed me at the reception evidently and had gotten me a yomata to wear (summer kimono). it fit great as you can see and she said and I quote "yomata looks better on man with extra tummy." Yeah. Unfortunately that is me. The big American guy. Embrace it and love it I guess. I LOVE my yomata and it was VERY Kind of them to think of me.
Next came Sachie preparing dinner. This woman is a serious cook and everything she made was wonderful. They had invited the rest of the family over for make yourself sushi (she saw I liked sushi at the reception) and birthday cake as it was Sachie's birthday. She got a bento box from Kiyoshi to eat for her birthday. It was a GREAT family party and reminded me of being home with my group. It was loud and fun and LOTS of food! We had a great time eating codfish, octopus, salmon etc... sushi. After dinner, we watched world cup soccer in Japanese along with the news. Then it was off to bed.
I slept in a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats and futon. It was a nice night and sleeping on a futon is not too bad. I get another chance we we visit the Hakone valley to stay in a roykan (traditional Japanese inn and hot springs).
Sunday morning was very quiet and we got up around 8 am. I took a shower which was an experience as a Japanese shower is out in the room. No stall or tub, the water just drains into the floor. You also rinse, turn off the water, soap and shave and then rinse again. Very economical and ecology minded. I didn't even have to wear different shoes like you do when you go to the toilet which is in a seperate place. Cleanliness big time folks!
Breakfast was traditional. Rice, miso soup with tofu, salmon, sweet Japanese egg, vegetable with fried fish flakes and seaweed with green tea. Once breakfast was over, Kiyoshi took me into the Western-style living room lined with book cases and reveal that they were filled with art books of Japanese and Western art! We listened to music and looked at art books until all the grandkids and Kumiko returned. Lunch was okonomi-yaki (favorite burned pancake) which was a Japanese-style pancake. The mixture had octopus or shrimp or korean hot pork, eggs, batter and other ingredients which was placed on a griddle in the middle of the table. Once it was done, you placed it on your small plate and brushed a sauce on it that tasted like barbecue. This was then topped with fried fish flakes, seaweed crushed and mayonaisse. YUMMY!!!!! We visited for a while after lunch and then it was time to come back the the Itabashi Center Hotel. The whole group brought me back to the hotel and said "goodbye." I had a FANTASTIC time with the Wakabayashi family and hope they will take my invitation to visit Texas and the Lowke's in America. They were warm, caring and accepting me into their home and I am very grateful for their kindness and hospitality.
Tomorrow we move on to the ryokan in the Hakone valley. I will be without internet access for a couple of days, so those of you in Leander, Flower Mound and Corpus, don't worry - no email, skype or blog for a couple of days til I return to Tokyo. Someone will call you if I drown in the hot springs or fall off Mount Fuji, I promise. My Japan adventure is drawing to a rapid close and while I am sad at that thought, I miss everyone in Texas and am about ready to come home. Fire up the fajitas Dad and let's tube the Frio!!!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Itabashi City Akatsuka the first Junior High School

Last school day again-----sort of------however, we are STARS again. Whole school assembly to meet us ---- my adoring fans!!!! We finished with school visitation today by going to junior high school. Itabashi City Akatsuka the first Junior High School is the oldest junior high in Itabashi. The building was very large, but it only had 587 kids. Far smaller than Chisholm Trail Middle School. These kids liked us and wanted to show off, talk at times and know more about us. In short, these kids are very much like the ones I teach everyday. They are funny, warm and very nervous at times about using their English. Girls are hung up on boys or not and boys are just really concerned about sports, the world cup in particular. No autographs today, but LOTS of interaction.
It is really funny to think of English as a foreign language, but that is what it is over here. These kids had the benefit of a native laguage instruction, John from New Zealand to help them with reading and conversation in English. John is part of a teaching team with a Japanese teacher that moves class to class each period working with students to improve their verbal skills in English. Remember kids don't change rooms, the teacher change each period.
In addition to English as a foreign language, students also take math, Japanese, social studies, integrated studies, physical education and depending on grade level, art and music. Ninth graders get to take an elective like dress-making, woodshop, metal smithing, art or music. It was fun to see them all working on VERY detailed and high-quality products during their elective time.
Lunch was served in the classroom by the students. Check out their great serving outfits. We had sobu noodles, squid and fish tempura, cherry tomatoes and milk. Very tasty. My class wanted to practice their English and hear about America and Texas. It was really fun!
At the end of the day, there is time to clean and then onto club activities much like the high school we visited yesterday. Students worked to clean the school building and then went to club activities or to study as they have a test next week. We experienced a tea ceremony again today along with kendo in looking at club activities. We also experienced the Tokyo newspapers sending a photographer to get candid pictures of all of us - maybe Mr. Demille really will give me a close-up? Think so? The day concluded with discussion with teachers on our thoughts about Japanese education and their school in particular.
Several of us went looking in a different part of Itabashi this evening and worked our way down a street we called Kabuki Street because of the Kabuki themed banners on the poles. Some bought storybooks in Japanese. Imagine Hansel and Gretel in Japanese. Looking for a place to eat was a fun because some in our little group want to see wax food before they order, some only want chicken and several don't want their food to look back at them. Picky, picky, picky. We finally settled on a place that was a cross between Denny's and ?????. Ordering madness ensued becuase one in our party wanted to substitute a baked potate for french fries. We found out tonight that substitution is evidently NOT part of Japanese culture. It was really funny to see us try and work this out and when the plate came, it really did have what she wanted!
Tomorrow I move onto my home visit. We meet our families at city hall and venture into the Japanese unknown. I will be without internet service for a couple of days, so check back on Sunday morning to see how my home stay went. I may have ALOT to tell.
Til Sunday.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kitazono High School / Itabashi-ku District

How fast your star rises and sets. Today we went to high school and guess what? Those kids were not enthralled with us. No autographs, no adoring crowds, just normal high school kids. Oh well, maybe the junior high kids will become an adoring public tomorrow.
We began the day with removing our shoes and doning slippers. Bob, our resident thespian was the official spokesperson of the day and he made his short speech in English over the announcements. No marching band and lights, it is hard to believe. The principal of Kitazono High School then greeted and briefed us on the school. Kitazono is made up of grades 1-3 (equlivent to our 10th-12th grades) and has a current enrollement of 960 students. Students can take a variety of subjects including Contemporay Japanese, English Reading, English Grammar, Home Economics, Mathematics, Art, Music and various Sciences to name a few. Students attend class for 50 minute periods with a homeroom time at the end of the day for cleaning the school. Yes, like the elementary school, there are no janitors to clean, the students do this every day. High school in Japan is NOT compulsatory, but 97% of students DO attend high school. Becuase it is not required, families pay tuition for school attendance even if the school is public and recieves some funding from the city ward. Such is the case with Kitazono.
Class visitation was next on the agenda. I visited Art, Contemporary Japanese, English Reading, Geology, and Information Technology. What I saw was mostly what I expected to find in Japan. The teacher at the front of the room lecturing and kids in rows taking notes and working from the text and the workbooks provided by the Ministry of Education. Even in the Information Technology class, it was mostly lecture with little hands-on instruction. Each class had between 37 to 40 students. Teachers taught from 8 am until 6 pm with only a lunch break. Very different from what we saw at elementary.
After observing second and third periods, we had lunch in the dining hall. Typical Japanese fare here, but much healthier than our school lunches and home cooked ---- Yummy! We also visited with students which was really fun even though many of them could only speak a little English. many of them were reserved until we got them talking, then they were very animated and wanted to be engaged in conversation.
After lunch, several of us were invited to an English Grammer class. We were asked to "help" but I think we confused students more than helped. Many of the text activities they were working on did not conform to our flow of English and the teacher only wanted to really hear the answer that came from the text. It was a good experience for us because it placed us in as close a role to the teacher and his mindset as possible for instructional delivery. I hope we didn't mess up 40 students in English too badly. Next, we met with teachers and the PTA for discussion which really involved us asking ALOT of questions for clarification. I think we walked away with a good understanding of a Japanese High School.
Then the end of the school day brought cleaning of the building and club activities. The impressive thing about both of these events was that there was little to no adult supervision. Students cleaned the building without direction and then broke up into their club groups and got started. Clubs ranged from Japanese Tea Ceremony Club to Kendo or Judo. Kendo is where students dress in uniform and basically beat each other with bamboo swords. There are many rules to the sport, but that is the basic picture. Students also worked in the art room, played instruments and street danced. The street dancing club was way cool as they were doing a mixture of contemporary dance and break dance combined. Many of the students did sports clubs and all this went on until 6 pm. And yes, there is a pool on the roof. We found out that this is pretty standard in Tokyo schools. I venture to say we will see one at the junior high tomorrow. All in all, it was a good day, but tiring.
Not to let a minute pass, once back at the hotel, several of us ventured onto a city bus bound for Tokyo Hands Department Store in another part of the city. After shopping ( I found nothing I wanted), we broke down and ate at McDonalds. It was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I don't really have any higher level thoughts for today. Much of Japan is becoming somewhat routine after almost two weeks. I still know what it feels like to be illiterate or dyslexic as we can read nothing where we currently are located. Everything is in Japanese. It makes you know what kids and adults with reading barriers feel like. Hope everyone is well. Til tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kanazawa Elementary School / Itabashi-ku District

Today we visited our first school, Kanazawa Elementary School. It is a public elementary school that serves grades 1-6. It currently has 640 students in 18 classes and 25 teachers. The name "Kanazawa" along with the school symbol originates from a large powerful clan, called the Kaga Clan, which existed during the Edo period (1603-1867). Kanazawa applies nature to their curriculum through the establishment of a school forest containing over 2000 trees. Each grade level is responsible for two species of trees and they not only nuture them, but they also make products in their home economics class from the fruit. Yes, you read right, home economics. Japanese elementary education challenges many American preconceptions of what they do in the classroom and the curriculum. What I experienced today was a loosely structured, nurturing environment that promotes exploration. Not what we think of as a typical Asian school model of instruction?
We got to school early enough to see the kids arrive. They were wonderful in their matching hats and various umbrellas. Remember, it is the rainy season. As students entered the school, they took off their shoes in the shoe area, very carefully made the transition to the "clean" area and put on their school slippers and went to class. Once the kids were in the building, we did the same and were given shoe cubbies for the day with our names on them see!
Next, we were welcomed by the principal in an all-school assembly in the gym. Speeches were made and the kids sang the school song. We also had to introduce ourselves -----"watashiwa Texas no Tim Lowke des." This translates to "I'm Tim Lowke from Texas." Finally the kids played instruments and marched out of the gym. Their music skills were awesome and I have not seen such an elementary performance in all my years of teaching. Students as young as third grade were playing bamboo flutes, drums, xylophone, and other intruments all under the direction of another student. Pretty remarkable stuff.
After the students went to class, we met with the principal and heard about the school and its programs along with our schedule for the day. We learned more indepth about their school forest program and how science is integrated into the curriculum. We got to see their extensive garden, small area of grass (they are one of three schools in the area with a lawn of which they are very proud,) and about their "green curtain" program. A green curtain is a vine system that is trained on nets, strung on the building over the windows, to naturally cool the building, give students nature to interact, and provide a visual barrier to the city. We noticed that the school had all the windows open and when asked about air conditioning, we were told that the faculty and staff voted to turn off the air conditioning in the spring and summer months to conserve energy and wear less formal clothing. Can we say "wow?"
After what they call school guidance, we were given total control to visit any class in school. Here is me experiencing calligraphy class. The teacher said I did pretty good. This would be like handwriting for us in the States except much more equipment. Japanese children spend the first six years of school learning the 18,000 characters that make up the written Japanese language. Speaking of which, where our students in America attend English class as part of their study, Japanese students attend Japanese to use those 18,000 characters in written form. They also take home economics, art, music, P.E., reading and integrated studies. I attended classes in all thse subjects through the course of the day and what I left with was the knowledge that we are closer in our educational methodology than we think. Kids are kids and teachers are teachers.
Now onto the best part ----- LUNCH! In Japan, there are no lunch rooms at the elementary level. Students go to an elevator and pick-up their moblie kitchen and bring it to the classroom. They then put on really CUTE food uniforms and serve the class cafeteria style. Once everyone has food, today we had a chicken stew, rice with a minnow like fish mixed in, boiled zuchinni with fish paste and milk. All served on real plate, with tiny glass milk bottles and of course chopsticks. I am happy to report that Lowkesan impressed his class with his chopstick skills. I also spent most of lunch signing autographs. Yes, you read right, AUTOGRAPHS. These kds were enthralled with us and each wanted our signature. What is a start to do? I ask you? Really!
When lunch is completed, the students clean all the plates off, sort the garbage for TOTAL recycling and return the mobile kitchen to the elevator to be washed down in the kitchen by the food staff. Now is classroom cleaning time. Japanese elementary schools do not have custodians, the children do all the cleaning. They scrub the bathrooms, clean the classrooms and sweep the floors. With this done, it is back to work. Except for my 5th grade class, they are going swimming in the pool on the roof of the school. They have yet to have lessons due to the rainy season, but the sun is out for a while, so off we go. They each change in the classroom into matching bathing suits and caps. everyone climbs the three flights of stairs to the roof and in a very organized lesson, they get into the pool. This is like water aerobics and the regular ed teachers teach the swimming lesson. In fact, with the exception of art, home economics and music, the regualr classroom teacher does everything including PE. I did not see one teacher who was not a master at doing all those parts. They all play the piano too as part of their education, so music is everywhere in the school
At the end of the day, I took pictures with my class ---- I am ready for my close-up Mr. Demille! Then it was off to a teacher's meeting where we shared preceptions, strategies and thoughts about American and Japanese education. Whew! Full day and I am tired. Dinner, laundry at the hotel and postcard writing round out my day. Hope all is well with each of you. Tomorrow we head to the local high school to see how the big kids learn. Keep reading and commenting. Lots of love to those in Flower Mound, Corpus and Leander. I am halfway done and will be home late next week.

Oyasuminasai (good night),

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Day the Earth Shook + Kindness

Well, it finally happened. I experienced a tremor today in Japan. Getting dressed this morning, the building began to shake slightly and the water on my desk moved back and forth in the bottle. When we went to breakfast at a fine Japanese eatery ----- Denny's----- everyone else in the group had felt it too. One of our members was giddy because she wanted to feel an earthquake while we were here. Go figure ---- I am fine with not feeling an earthquake.
We next went to pay a courtsey call on the Superintendent of Education / Itabashi-ku. We met with officials and after being addressed by his honorable Superintendent, we discussed educational issues on both side of the world from inclusion to class sizes and curricular focus. At the end, we were given a small gift to honor our visit. Tomorrow we visit the elementary school and we are all VERY excited to see kids and teachers in action.
After a quick change of clothes to some that were more comfortable, we were off on a city tour conducted by Mokosan (JMFM guide), Toshi (JMFM interpreter) and officials from the ward of Itabashi-ku. We began the tour at a local buddist temple that has the third largest budda in Japan. Little did Mokosan know we were going to slow the tour so we could get our temple books done. Temple hopping groupies now total about 10 of our group. Because we had so many books, the monks invited us to see the inside of the temple (no shoes please) and to tea and cookies while we waited. NO JOKE. This was an unscheduled event and one that Moko said was unusual. The lesson here folks is that good things come to temple hoppers! The temple was beautiful and they even let us take pictures which is unusual here. Check out the handsome guy next to the buddist monk. Huh, huhhh? The gardens were wonderful so Lorna, I'm getting out the hedge trimmers and my garden is going Japanese when I get home!!!
Next it was onto lunch. Check out the pics of me eating something called Devil's Tongue. It is a potatoe dish and well lets just say that I TRIED it and leave it at that. I think you can see how I feel by the thrill on my face.
With lunch over, we moved onto the Itabashi Art Museum where we were given a tour by one of the three curators. Austin Museum of Art staff, if you are reading, I asked LOTS of museum related questions and you will be fascinated by the answers. One answer I found interesting was visitors to the Museum count themselves with the clicker. Strictly the honor system sorted by adult, high schooler and children. What a country! We were also given a present of museum posters in Japanese of the current exhibit ---- Way cool!
Then we went onto a history museum where we saw traditional crafts of the area on display along with historic houses. We had tea on tatami mats in a 150 year-old, thatch roof Japanese house. Here is Bobby and Stacey having tea and listening to the curator.
Bonsai was the next event on the list. We visited a bonsai master's studio and saw an enormous collection of bonsai. Some were a 100 years old and they were just beautiful. Finally, our tour ended with----- yes------ you guessed it---------SHOPPING! We went to the Happy Road Shopping Arcade. This is basically a glass enclosed street that runs for blocks, lined with shops on either side. Several 100 yen stores were in the retail mix. We walked back to the hotel from there and were told to meet in the lobby at 6 pm for a special meeting.
So 6 pm rolls around and we all gather in the lobby for announcements for the next day. After a couple of announcements, Tania's friend she met on the plane over here shows up to greet us. Tania, a member of our group from Oklahoma struck up a conversation on the plane with this young lady, Katsue Maezama about passports. Come to find out she lives in Itabashi-ku. Tania went out with her all day last Saturday and she shows up tonight to give each person in the group yumata (summer kimono) with sandals for the women and jinbei (imagine pj's) with sandals for the men. 20 sets of clothes and shoes to us because of the kindness shown to her in America and her pride in us visiting Itabashi-ku. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!?!? After we all got instructions on how to wear our new outfits, we took pictures and then she presented each of us with bags of candies and toys like are given on children's day in Japan. The kindness and respect shown to us just keeps going and growing. It is really hard to process all that has happened in the past few days and how much the Japanese people appreciate the Fulbright program and our roles as teachers. Just when we think it cannot get better, something unexpected takes place. Our questions to each other right now have been, would they be treated the same way in America? Would our society step up and make the Japanese feel as welcome in our country as they have made us feel in their country. Ponder that today as you go about your business and think about do you practice random acts of kindness or a pay it forward philosophy in your life?
Tommorrow we get up early and go off to our elementary school assignement to see the kids walking to school. It sounds like it will be another incrediable day in Japan. Til tomorrow folks! Stay tuned!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Itabashi-ku Part Two

Thanks for tuning in to part two of the Itabashi-ku saga! When last you tuned in, your fearless American teachers were about to go to Itabashi-ku City Hall to pay a courtesy call on the mayor. Little did our heros and heroines know what awaited them. No less that 75 city employees lined main walk to city hall clapping and taking pictures of us! Can we say STARS? It was truly an AMAZING experience. We were escorted upstairs where we were greeted by the mayor and his staff. We each sat down behind a name plaque with one side in English and the other in Japanese. The mayor welcomed us, and told us about Itabashi. Then we were served tea and a question / answer session ensued. At the end of this, photographs were taken and each of us was given a beautiful plaque in calligraphy hand created by the mayor himself. It says, "When you learn, there is no end. Learning is a life-long process." We also received a Japanese photo album. Talk about a feel good moment. I have never experienced such a moment and probably won't again in my lifetime.
After a short rest at the hotel, it was off to the welcome reception and meeting our host families. After introductions, I met Kiyoshi Wakabayashi and his wife (see the picture above). They are very nice and very excited to play host to a teacher from Texas. I was quizzed about what I like to eat and drink. They have six grandchildren, some of whom speak English. Their son also was an exchange student who went to two years of high school in Anaheim, California. He is 43 and on a business trip to Singapore. Mr. Wakabayashi is in the printing industry which is one of the things that Itabashi is known for as a major industry.
So ends another amazing day in the land of the rising sun. I will be visiting schools all this week. Tomorrow we pay a courtesy call on the supertinendent of Itabashi schools in the morning and then move onto a tour of the city in the afternoon. Til the next post, stay tuned to the continuing adventures of 200 American teachers in Japan.
I wish all those in American education could feel the way I have felt these past few weeks. I am truly indebted to the Government of Japan and the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund for the life experience I am getting and will be able to share with my students. If you are reading my blog, please take a moment to comment. I love hearing from my students, friends, colleagues and community members in Texas while I am in Japan. Advance art students, you materials are in the mail. Be patient, international mail can take time. Special thanks to Bobby Clubbs, my new colleague and sometimes blog photographer.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Itabashi-ku Part One

Today started on a quick note. Several us went to a Shinto shrine right after breakfast to see if we could get a page in our temple books. We had to be at the hotel ready to board the bus at 8:10 am. Yea right. At 8:05 am, we were crossing the street coming back as our group was walking to the bus and we hadn't even gotten our bags from our rooms yet. Luckily, being the fast Temple hoppers that we are, we ran, got our stuff and made the bus. The Japanese are VERY exact about time and are VERY intolerant about tardiness holding up the group. I won't be Temple hopping before a departure again.
Next, we were onto Tokyo Gakugei University. This is a teacher training university. We were greeted by faculty and learned lots of information about teacher preparation in Japan. For example, pre-teachers have to do two, three week sessions of student teaching under the guidance of a faculty member. They also have to work in a nursing home facilty or with the aged as part of their certification process. Due to Japan's rapidly aging society, the Diet made this element of teaching training mandatory. After the lecture, we go to visit with a student. My student was Hiroto Araki and he was 19 years old. Best of all, he is an art education major working towards certification for elementary and high school. He currently works part-time and takes 10 classes at the University. he was very interested in the social aspects of teaching in America and we got a better understanding of teacher prep in Japan!
After the Univeristy visit, it was off to lunch in Itabashi-ku. We are now truly our group of 20 and out on our own. We have a guide (Mokosan) and an intrepreter. I am updating mid-day today, because we have about an hour before we make a courtesy call on the mayor of Itabashi-ku after checking inot our new hotel for the next several days, the Itabashi Center Hotel. Check out the businessman's room. It is very tight. I have had walk-in closets at home that are about this size. Remember, everything is on a tighter and smaller scale in Japan. it makes me realize just how much space Americans take up in this world and how wasteful we are about our resources. We got here and we were trying to figure out the lights (you put your key in the socket to turn the room on), the air (which is on your headboard and turns off when you leave the room) and internet connections (sad, but true, it isn't free and you have to set up the modem yourself). But all in all, it is good. Next, we go to a reception in our honor at the local cultural hall where we will meet our home stay families and the principals of all the schools we will visit in the next three days. Check back later for the griping tales in Itabashi-ku Part Two.


Moving Day

Well, it was bound to happen..... 200 American teachers in a REALLY nice hotel. It came to an end today. The staff was sooooo sad to see us leave, they all came out to wave "sayonora." They were sad to see us leave..... right? HA! We will be back to the Akasaka Prince as we leave this beautiful country. So today, it was uncircle the wagons, pack the bags and head out towards Itabashi-ku. Our 200 became small groups of 20 as we all loaded on different buses and headed out to multiple parts of Japan. Some flew north to fishing villages on other islands, others to the south. Then some of us aren't really leaving Tokyo. But watch out....... here we come.
After loading our stuff on the bus, we were taken with the Meguro group off to a "western buffet." No my little Texans, this lunch did not include a side of beef on the barbacue. It simple meant, food that looks like what we get at Golden Corral at home. Guess what though? No salmon.
After lunch, it was off to our new hotel for only tonight. We are staying at Hotel Mets in Musashi-sakai. This is close to the university we will visit tomorrow. The best thing we can say about this hotel for me is......... help me here campers......................FREE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET!!!!!! Too bad it is only one night. We all have business men rooms which shall we say are much more intimate than our posh digs at the Prince Akasaka. Pretty good none the less and after all, FREE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET!!!!!!!
Once we dropped our stuff in the rooms, we were done for the day with JFMF, so the troops (Bob, Pam, Tania, Maria and I), went to the National Museum in Ueno Park. We now know we moved out of tourist land, because the english has begun to disappear from signage at this station. We rallied and made it back into to city proper and found the Ueno district. The park was beautiful despite the rain. Oh yea, it rained all day today. Rainy season remember.
Pam and I took our Temple books and temple hopped before and after the Museum. We visited Rinnoji Temple, Kan-ei-ji Temple and Gokokuin Temple. Before leaving Rinnoji Temple , the monk taught Pam how to ring and respect the gods. At Kan-ei-ji Temple, we got to go back to where the monks work for them to sign our book. Very cool. However, at Gokokuin, nobody was home, so no page filled. Bummer.
Dinner was a fun experience. There is a department store across the street from our hotel. In the basement of department stores here is where the supermarkets are located. We went and bought bento boxes at the market. It was even more fun than last night as this was a full scale market. Very, very crowded. However, you will be relieved to know that there are sample ladies just like our local Sam's Club, HEB and Wal-Mart. These wear cuter uniforms. So as the crazy Americans, naturally we wandered around and yes, you guessed it, took pictures in the supermarket. Check out the $27 dollar watermelon or the nearly $8 canalope. Tokyo is very expensive to live. No wonder every available piece of dirt has a tomatoe plant in it. Oh, and I also found my microphone I have been looking for, so I can call using Skype and my FREE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET!!!!!!! Well, people are up at home, so I am going to go call home. Brooke Clubbs, thanks for your comments. Your hubby is very fun and we are going to try and keep him under control. No promises though. FREE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET!!!!! Woo Hoo!!!!!
Tim Lowke