Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kosema...no wait, Toyota Yogo!

After some rather distressing confusion with my schedule (please contact me privately if you'd like the whole story), it turns out I was scheduled to go not to Kosema as I'd thought, but instead to Toyota Yogo.

Thankfully, the nice people at Kosema (where I'm working today/Wednesday) gave me a ride to Toyota Yogo. (I was driven by Kosema School's third in command, I forget the Japanese word for it though it was explained thoroughly to me) Toyota Yogo is the Special Needs school that I'm teaching at (apparently) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was super late of course, and dressed entirely inappropriately to work at a school with children with severe mental and physical handicaps. I was in a suit jacket, button down shirt, nice slacks, shoes, and inside slippers. We were told to dress well for the first week of work at our Orientation/Training and also to bring our own slippers. This held true for Monday at Higashi-yama, but sneakers and jogging suits are the norm at Toyota Yogo, as I was informed by the dismayed, harassed looking English teacher who took one look at me and asked if I had a change of clothes or sneakers. I doubt had I had the correct schedule that I'd have dressed much differently, as I did Aisatsu at so many schools, I'm not sure if I caught the dress code from this one (we met each other briefly for five minutes in the main hallway; the meeting was mostly in Japanese, so it's very likely I missed some fine points...my Japanese is not that good! I've only been here two weeks goshdarnit!) but I'd probably have worn more durable pants at least.

So onto my day, once I got to the correct school, it was clear that they didn't have a whole lot to do with me. My first two periods were free, which meant I sat at the staff desk and tried to look busy. After a while I just gave in and started to study Japanese. I also offered to help in as many ways as I could, but this school is like a combination school and hospital, and they really didn't need some random person screwing up their well oiled system. In fact, they really only needed me for the high school class at the end of the day, though I did get to participate and help out with two music classes as well as doing a brief self introduction lesson for the high schoolers.

All three of the classes I helped out with where really interesting and fun! As I said, this school is full of kids with varying levels of physical and mental disabilities. Most of these leaned towards the very serious in my estimation, and the school clearly served a large area. In general, interactions with students involved a lot of physical contact (wildly different from general Elementary Schools where physical contact (at least between ALTs like me and students) is discouraged; I did my best to follow along and do what I saw the other assistants doing. It seemed to work out okay, but you never know in Japan because people are always nice to you as a foreigner. (though this school seems a lot more direct, probably because if something is screwed up, things will go horribly wrong for some poor child.)

Also, as an aside, the simplicity of the songs and lessons and repetition make working here an ideal way to study Japanese! I learned new words (Hill, Valley, making Bento) etc, just from the first song. Also, in performing “head, shoulders knees and toes” in English, I was given the translation into Japanese, which is very cool! I also got to help out with lunch, which the kids were very active in preparing and helping clear plates. At lunch, I spent a great deal of time talking with Tommy (his name is Japanese but he asked to be called Tommy, which I truly appreciate: I'm having the hardest time remembering Japanese names!), a very bright high schooler who clearly loves studying English and could actually speak really well. He asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered...it was really cool, and later on he was in my class!

I think the thing that was most problematic at this school was the sheer amount of free time I had. I'm not one to complain, but after about 20 minutes I would have been happy to do ANYTHING but sit at the desk in the staff room. About halfway through the day, however, I was given my greatest gift in regards to Japanese study yet: the High School English textbooks! These are great because most of the phrases in the English dialogues are translated as footnotes into Japanese for the students! A huge win for me. Now I know how to say “thank you for doing X for me” and “best friend” and “goodnight kiss” and “not John's wedding but Bob's” etc. (the last one helped me nail down “janakute” which means “it's not X but...”) They let me take the books home, so I'm going to take these books with me to every school so when I've got one of these free periods, I can at least use it productively in learning some natural Japanese! My life would be complete if I could remember to look specifically for index cards the next time I go to the 100 yen store so I can make flashcards.

After the day ended, I had an excellent conversation with a couple of great people at the school. The first was another teacher who I had helped prepare lunch with. We had a great conversation about movies and American history (which he knows more about than me, it seems). Then I had a wonderful conversation with my desk neighbor who is studying English at an Eikaiwa. Things were going along well with that conversation until her grandmother died...can you believe it! And then she had to go. I felt so terrible for her!

Lastly, I spoke for a while with my Kyoto-sensei. I felt like in spite of being late and inappropriately dressed, I still made a good impression with him at least. He mentioned that the last ALT (from last year) had only spoken one word of Japanese, and that he was impressed (and seemingly happy) that I was able to do much more (though my Japanese has a ways to go). One of the other teachers asked me how many years I'd lived in Japan, and when I said two weeks, she appeared very surprised. Mie had had the same reaction. I feel, on the other hand, like I have a frak-ton of work to do before I can say I'm any good at speaking Japanese. But I'm working at it! Once he realized I was interested in Kanji, we also talked about the Kanji meanings of Toyota Yogo and the Kanji meanings for everyone's names (which does help).

After work, I wandered around Josui (Toyota Yogo is in Josui) for a little bit, and found a clothing store/grocery store. I was very happy to find a button down shirt at the clothing store that fit perfectly over my cleavage. It was only a large, which considering the pants that I bought were a 4L (that's 4X baby!) was pretty amazing! The grocery store had some great finds too, including Bok Choy for 98yen/two bunches, scallops, and a chocolate croissant. They were out of Koala Bear snacks though, which was very sad. I took the train home only to find out that my bike had a parking ticket for 100yen. It seems my bike (and about ten other ones, also ticketed) were parked in a motorcycle parking area. Can you believe it?! In Japan, bikes have designated parking areas! 100 yen is like a dollar, but damn if I know where to pay it. I asked a guy whose bike was also ticketed to explain the ticket to me, but he really wasn't much help, though he did say go to the police station. Again, damn if I know where that is. I'll ask at the Visitor's Center.

Now, to bed!