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Greetings minna-san! I have been back in Tucson for a couple days, and I am still jet lagged. This may help explain why I am up blogging at 1:46 AM! I am still getting all of my photos organized. I have a stunning 17 GIGs of data! This includes all of my photos as well as some of Allison’s videos. Thanks Allison!!! Can you believe I have that many photos!? WOWSERS! It will take me some time to get through everything. I promise you, however, that I will continue updating the blog with more photos and content as I get through everything. There is so much more to tell about my adventures in Japan than I was able to convey during the brief moments of blog time that I stole from my sleep. The good news is that I did finally transfer all of the photos to one location on my network. This took most of my jetlag middle of the night time yesterday, so now all I have to do is organize and go through it all! Easier said than done I suspect. 🙂

It was amazing seeing Matt on Thursday. I couldn’t stop hugging him. I really missed him a LOT! I also missed my doggies… but for good or bad I am now missing Japan! I have to say I experienced culture shock upon re-entry to the US, as so many of the Americans on the plane and at the airport restaurants, convenience stores etc were SO RUDE compared to their Japanese counterparts. I really miss the friendliness and warmth I experienced within in Japan. I cannot wait to go back with Matt. I think he will love it! I have found that my stomach is also missing Japan. I did not have any stomach problems of any kind while I was in Japan, and let me tell you… I ate some very unusual foods. Since I have been back in the US I have been plagued with stomach issues after every meal. Isn’t that odd? I think my body is not used to the heavy foods we eat here. Though perhaps some of my food choices didn’t help…?

I told many of you that all I wanted when I got back from Japan was a greasy Upper Crust Pizza… and thanks to Matt I got it! Matt picked me up at the airport and Upper Crust was our first stop! With luggage still in the trunk, we feasted! Though surprisingly, I was only able to eat two pieces. Perhaps I asked for the above mentioned stomach problems with my food choices?

Enough about food! Once we got home I started to unpack all my goodies and I gave Matt his gifties. Unfortunately I could not get through my final suitcase as I was EXHAUSTED from being up for over 24 hours. I fell asleep at approximately 7:30 PM. I really did try to stay up until 9 PM. No really! I did! I ended up waking up in the middle of the night and then fell back asleep after reading for a while. I ended up spending most of my day on Friday in bed… I finally got up for good around 3 PM. I think I was making up for all my lost sleep in Japan.

This morning Matt and I slept in until nearly 11. It was wonderful! I have to admit, however, I woke up at 3 AM and got up and puttered with photos etc until about 6 AM, when I crawled back into bed. I was craving a delicious Japanese breakfast. Miso soup… oh how I miss your smile early in the morning! Matt and I went to Shogun for a Japanese lunch (breakfast for me since I got up at 11!). I have to say that it did not compare to the delicious Japanese food we had in Japan, and it upset my stomach a little. *sniff* I’m still on again about food, aren’t I?

After that I went to my camera shop where I exchanged my broken point and shoot (still under warrenty) for a new one. w00t! Matt and I then headed to my school where I fed my fish, watered my plants and hugged my classroom. I am really getting excited for my classes this fall. I cannot wait to share all I have learned with my new students! I am also hoping that all of my former students pop in so that I can share everything with them! I am happy to see how many of them have been reading this blog and commenting. It really means the world to me that my students travelled with me. It is my dream to one day return to Japan with a group of students for a study tour. Sugoi!!!

By the way… to those of you not in Tucson. It is in the 100s here. I heard on the news today that it is expected to reach at least 113 F on the 4th of July!! I would kill for Tokyo weather :p And please don’t tell me, “But it’s a dry heat!“. Dry or not 113 is enough to kill me :p You can literally cook an egg on the sidewalk here. I would love to return to 85 degress with 80% humidity. Bring me my sweater 😉 *grin*

A final note, as I am sure you are all getting tired of my blog now that I am in not so exotic Tucson… I find myself really missing my group of JFMF friends. I especially miss everyone in the Aomori group. When we were first told we would be spending most of our time in a cohort I was truly not excited about it. As most of you know, who know me well, I am not terribly social, in spite of being outgoing. I generally prefer to be alone 95% of the time. So… I was really not eagerly anticipating being in a cohort setting for three weeks. I have to say that the JFMF people were truly amazing. While it is true that some personalities clashed here and there (as is to be expected in any group setting), overall everyone got along very well, and I think that some long lasting friendships have been made. I know that I will treasure the relationships I made with my JFMF friends and I hope we maintain our growing friendships for many years to come. I know this sounds cheesy, but I really can think of no other way to express how much these people have come to mean to me.

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Leaving…

Good morning all! It is now Thursday morning at 8:14 AM. I will be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours and will be back in Tucson on Thursday afternoon (it is currently Wednesday afternoon in Tucson).

We all gave our presentations yesterday. We had a few technical problems at the start, but otherwise it went well! I will be getting a DVD of all the presentations so I will show them to you when I return.

Last night we had a sayonara banquet and then those of us from the Aomori group met for dessert / coffee afterwards. I have very mixed feelings about leaving today. On one hand I cannot wait to get home. I really, REALLY miss my friends and family, especially Matt! On the other hand, I feel like there is so much more I want to do in Japan. I really hope Matt and I can go back next year.

I am sorry to cut this short. I will post more after I am back in the states. Please continue to visit this blog as I will be posting a LOT more pictures and video!!

Back in Tokyo!!

Hello everyone!!! It is now Tuesday night and I have been back in Tokyo for one day. I am sorry I did not blog much recently, but I was without internet access until yesterday, and yesterday I was simply too tired!

Friday June 22nd – Before leaving for my weekend with my host family and ryokan evening we spent a day visiting Aomori Prefectural Chuo Senior High School. The school was really amazing. The students were busy preparing for their college entrance exams, so we were not able to have as much free movement as in the other schools, but we saw some great things. I will post more about the experience when I get my pictures sorted. After visiting the high school some of my JFMF friends took some of the Aomori officials out for Karaoke. We had a BLAST! In Japan karaoke is a different experience than in the states. Instead of singing in front of a room of people you can rent a private little karaoke room by the hour so that you can just sing with friends. It was so fun! What they say about Japanese people not being totally themselves at work is definately true. We got to see a very different side of the officials we took out. I will also post some pictures of karaoke.

Saturday June 23 – My homestay was amazing and my host family was terrific! My only regret is that there was not more down time just to relax with the family and play with the kids. They were so concerned with making sure that I got to experience Japan that we were constantly going places, but please know I am not complaining! I had a GREAT time with them.

The homestay began with my host “father”, Godai, picking me up at my hotel. We drove back to the house where I met the rest of the family, a wife (Makiko) and three boys (ages 3 (Kaoru), 5 (Michael) & 7) (Nao). The kids were adorable and the parents were both very nice. Both parents spoke fairly decent English, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because we could really talk about things in depth, but a curse in so far as it did not really force me to speak in Japanese. The kids did not really know any English, however, the cutest thing was that all of them, even the three year old, introduced themselves to me in English when we met. I could tell they had been practicing.

After I arrived at the house I got to play a game of chess with Nao, who had only been playing a week. I think Godai wanted me to beat him very badly to help teach him, but I felt bad about this and kiend of let him win. I would have liked to have played Godai seriously, but there was no time. I would have also loved to have played Nao again. After chess we went for a little hike. Unfortunately Michael, the middle son, ended up taking off so we spent much of the hike at top speed going up steep hills looking for him. This was exhausing, especially in light of the long evening the night before and a lack of water. We found him safe and sound later on in the trail and all was good. I took some pictures of the view, though not as many as I might have liked. I felt bad taking pictures when we were looking for Michael.

After we returned from the hike we had a little picnic. My host “mom”, Makiko, picked up sanwiches and fries to eat. I think they were afraid I would not like Japanese food. After the picnic we went back to the house where we made some plans for the next day. After making plans Makiko took me to her family’s Japanese style inn (ryokan). It was really beautiful.

After the visit we quickly headed off to our next event… a summer soltice celebration. On our way we picked up dinner to eat there… McDonalds! I REALLY think they thought I would hate Japanese food. :p I let them know that I love it and that I almost never eat McDonalds. It WAS interesting to compare it to American McDonalds. I had a Teriyaki burger :p I will post pictures later.

The celebration consisted of live jazz music and a candle celebration. It was really fun! We got to make our own candles. I will post some photos of this as well.

After we got back Makiko took me to her family’s ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), where we took a bath in the hot springs. It was soooooooooooo relaxing!!

Sunday 24th 2007 – The next day we got up early and Godai, the boys and I went to see the giant buddha, after eating a delicious Japanese breakfast prepared by Makiko. I would love to be able to cook like her!! It was AMAZING!

The temple was also amazing. I cannot really describe it well with words alone. I will fill in this post later with pictures.

After we visiting the temple, Makiko brought me to her family ryokan where she performed tea ceremony. She was so graceful and beautiful.

After tea ceremony we reconnected with Godai at the houst and did some shopping and then our visit came to an end. I wish we had, had more time together. I really miss them!

After I was dropped off we all piled into a bus and the Aomori group was off to a ryokan. The ryokan was also amazing!

Monday June 25 2007 – Yesterday we spent much of the day travelling and ended up back in Tokyo around 2:30 PM. After I got into my room I ended up going to Harajuku for some shopping with some of the JFMF girls, and then I connected with another group of JFMFers and headed to Shibuya and then to Shinjuku for dinner.

Tuesday June 26 2007 – Today we went to our final seminars. I went to the Japan-US collaborative environmental education seminar in the morning. It really was not what I expected, as it lacked a science focus, but it had some beneficial parts. I am hoping I made some solid connections to do something between Japanese students and my classes next year. *crosses fingers*. After the morning seminar I met my Aomori group so that we could practice our presentation tomorrow. All groups have to give a presentation on their prefecture. After our working lunch we had a wrap up lecture by the head of the program about Japanese education.

After the lecture I met up with my friend Misato in Harajuku. We ended up doing more shopping. I am so sick of shopping LOL. I really enjoyed seeing her. I am hoping we can connect again tomorrow. The visit was far too brief!

After seeing Misa I went back to Shinjuku via train – I am getting really good with the trains! I adventured to a few places and even ordered a name stamp in katakana at a store called Tokyo Hands. I cannot wait to see it tomorrow!

On that note I am going to leave you as I need to work on my part of our presentation. I am sorry again for the lack of eloquence and the lack of photos. Please forgive me! I will do my best to post once more tomorrow – our final day in Japan. I cannot believe I fly back on Thursday! Where has the time gone???

Good morning everyone. I apologize for lack of post last night, but I went out for a little while with some JFMFers and I was simply too tired when I got back.

Yesterday we spent the day at Aomori City Furukawa Junior High. In Japan junior high runs from 7th grade (1st year) to 9th grade (3rd year). High school is not mandatory in Japan, though well over 90% of Japanese students attend high school. I think the statistic is something like 98%. I will verify today. A lot of people in the united states are shocked by a lack of mandatory high school here, however, when you think about it, this system is not so different from ours which allows students to drop out when they are 16 (10th grade). Since high school here begins at 10th grade this is really not terribly different in my opinion.

Like the elementary school, we started off the day with a meeting with the school administration and then an assembly with the entire student body took place. Two students welcomed us initially and then the student body sang to us (their school song I think) and we had to get up on stage and introduce ourselves in Japanese to the entire student body. Ian made a speech on our behalf to the student body. One thing I noticed about the students here, even before I sat down, was that they were all incredibly tall! They made me feel very short :p We found out later that kids in Aomori City are among the tallest in Japan. I cannot wait to see how large they are at the high school!

The students at the middle school, like the elementary school, were VERY interested in meeting us! Many of them would run up and say, “hello” in English. Throughout the day some would ask us to sign paper for them. After the assembly was over we went back and met with administration and then went to visit classes. The classes were not all as dynamic as yesterday’s but it was a real pleasure to see how interested in learning the students were. We walked into one math class at first and the students stayed VERY focused on math. I think this teacher had incredible classroom management, as in later classes the kids were so excited to see us they were all over the place!

Some classes had direct instruction, such as the math course, and then others had kids working in groups. We went into a Japanese (?) class where kids were working with Japanese poetry (similar to haiku but 5-7-5-7-7). They were playing some sort of game. It looked really interesting.

We then went into a calligraphy class, where I got to try my hand at calligraphy again. I am so bad at it!!! After calligraphy we visited several more classes, including an English class a music class, a way too brief visit to a science and a PE class.

After visiting classes we were divided into groups of one or two to eat with kids. I may not have mentioned this in my earlier post, but in Japan students eat in their classroom, NOT in a cafeteria. The meals are brought in and served by students. Lunch was FANTASTIC! We had udon noodles as well as some type of fried vegetarian patty with duck sauce. I wish we ate like this at IRHS!

The class I ate with had very limited English, but we managed to communicate just fine with my limited Japanese and my dictionary. I was also able to share a lot about my life here with a scrapbook I made before I left. I was able to show them pictures of each of my classes and they were quite interested in my students. A bunch of girls were also enamored by my pets and were saying, “kawaiiiiiiiiiiiii”, repeatedly (kawaii = cute). They also found Matt intriguing! So Matt… I think it is fair to say you are loved in Japan :p

After lunch we visited more classes, where I got to try calligraphy again. Alas, I am still terrible at it :p We went to several more classrooms including a room where students learn traditional Japanese music and later learn tea ceremony (in a club).

Like the elementary school, students take time every day to clean the school. There are no janitors. It is very refreshing to see students take part in keeping their school nice. I think this method allows them to maintain a lot more pride in their building. There was not quite as much enthusiasm for cleaning as in the elementary school (some students were goofing off a bit), but for the most part all students were involved.

There was an assembly today where all of the sports clubs reported their results to the school. Unlike the United States, all sports are played through clubs. The assembly was fun though we were a bit lost a times as to what was being said. Luckily Miki (our translator) went around and translated bits and pieces for us individually.

After the assembly we got to visit a number of clubs. My favorites were when we got to visit the tea ceremony club, where we were served tea and the kendo club! I will post some photos of both later once I get my space issue resolved.

After we left the school we went to a place where they build the floats for the Nebuta Festival. It was really interesting to see the floats in progress.  We also got to take a little time to stroll by the ocean. It is amazingly beautiful here.

Many of the JFMFers took the bus back to the hotel, we (Allison, Cassie, Debbie and I) opted to stay where we were to investigate a Japanese thrift store. They had a TON of American clothing there. I think if we took all of our old clothes and sold them in Japan we would make a fortune :p After shopping Debbie and I went back to the hotel to change into comfy clothes and then we ventured back out. Before we got back to the hotel we found an incredibly cool Buddhist shrine. It was closing when we arrived, so we intend to visit again later today. We found an amazing traditional Japanese restaurant where we had a great tempura dinner. mmmMMmmm! After dinner we ran into Sandy, Ian and Randy. We went out with them to a local club and then went home, where I proceeded to fall right asleep!

This morning we are headed over to the local high school, and then all of us are planning a big night out for our last night together in Aomori. Tomorrow we head out individually to our host family’s houses for two days and one night. On Sunday evening we will be heading over to a ryokan, which is a traditional  Japanese inn. I suspect you will not hear from me for a few days while I am doing these things. I DO expect I will post once more before I leave to see my host family.

I hope you guys are still enjoying this blog. I will attempt to get more photos up as soon as time and hard drive space allow.

As the title of my post might suggest we visted Aomori City Namiuchi Elementary School today. I must apologize for another post without photos (I added some this morning will add more later). It is not for lack of photos (I HAVE added a few this morning but I am still lacking access to most), but rather for lack of hard drive space! I am currently trying to ftp some of my older photos so that I can download some new ones to my hard drive tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience with this.

As I have already said, we visited a Japanese elementary school today (grades 1-6). The visit was nothing less than amazing. The studentse were VERY interested in us, and many of them learned enough English to come say hello. I took many photos of the students throughout the day.

Here is a photo of two first graders on their way to school. You can identify the first graders by their yellow hats. If you look at the student on the left you will notice a bag dangling from his backpack. This is his lunch. Additionally if you look closely at the student on the left yeou will notice a gray device hanging on his right side (near the white and yellow nametag). This item is a GPS so that parents can monuitor where they are. Additionally the student can press a button on it if a stranger approaches etc.

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 Here is a better photos where you can see the tracking devices on the students. If you look at the student on the right, you can see it hanging clearly on the left side.

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Here is a photo of me with some kids of mixed ages:

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One really cool thing I saw was that as each child got to school they went an excercised. Here are a few kids excercising:

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When students get to school they have to change out of their street shoes into slippers. We also had to do this. Here is a picture of where they store their shoes/slippers:

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After an initial debriefing meeting we went to the gym where the entire school greeted us. We got greeted by the principal and then the students sang a song for us. Some students even played the recorder while others sang for part of the song. It was a very touching moment.

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We were all brought to the front of the stage where we introduced ourselves in Japanese. “Watashi wa Arizona no Cris Robson desu.” This translates loosely to, “I am Cris Robson from Arizona.” Debbie gave a speech to the entire school as well!

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After the song the students marched out in unison.The principal later reassured us that this was not meant to be a military march, but rather a way of having all of the students work together. Indeed they marched in unison!

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We spent the first part of the day visiting various classes. The classes were all very dynamic. Kids were never give entirely direct instruction and were kept stimulated at all times. There was a true zest and love of learning in every room we visited. We visted a music class, a social studies class, a science class, a special education course, an English course, a Japanese course, a speech course (for those with speech impairements – some students came from other locations with parents in the room), a calligraphy course, a PE course and more!

After visiting classes we were invited to have lunch in a classroom with the students. Randy and I were selected for class 3-1. This was a third grade classroom. The kids were a bit shy, but all in all it was really fun! We got to show them where we travelled from on a map and explain how many hours it took. The kids were amazed!

After lunch EVERY student in the class participated in cleaning the ENTIRE school.  There were no janitors. It was amazing! The kids were smiling, laughing and having a great time. I cannot wait for you to see photos!

After the cleaning session we visted more classes and then had a meeting with some parents. After the parent meeting we got to visit some after school club activities. There were a few we could choose from, and once I saw ping pong on the list I knew where I had to go! It was a BLAST! I got to play ping pong with students 🙂 After a while we were called back to a final meeting with the principal for a Q & A session. She was very open and I felt like she really ran her school well.

Tomorrow we are going to visit a middle school. I am really excited about this!!

This evening Debbie, Shelly, Cassie, Allison and I went for a little shopping. We were heading to a thift shop (we never made it there), but instead we went to a great book store. I found a copy of gothic & lolita magazine (it contains many of the fashions I photographed in Harajuku & patterns!), so of course I bought it. I also bought a few Shinjo Mayu mangas… guilty pleasures I know! Can you believe I have only bought TWO mangas? I know… it is a miracle. In additional I also got an autobiography on geisha as well as a book on yukata. I don’t know how I will get all of this stuff home :p

To end the day Allison and I went to dinner at this INCREDIBLE scallop restaurant. Apparently Aomori is well known for its scallops and now I can see why. It was AMAZING!!! mmmMMmmm

Some good news… aside from an annoying cough I feel a LOT better. YAY! Hopefully all the walking in the rain tonight (yes it was raining like crazy by the end of the night) won’t make me relapse :p

Anyhow… I am going to veg for a few minutes and then get some rest. It is 10PM and I need to be up by 6 (going to sleep in!).

Sayonara!!!

That’s Aomori!

(I’m sorry there are no pictures in today’s post. Unfortunately I am out of hard drive space and cannot download my new pictures. I promise I will get some up soon.Until them, I posted some back photos in a previous blog. Please let me know what you think!)

Today we had another amazing day in Aomori! Before the official events started Stefanie and I headed out to visit some Buddhist temples. We visited two, though both appeared closed. I really want to visit more and get my book stamped! 🙂

We spent the day doing guided sightseeing. Our first stop was the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre. This art center was unlike any I have ever seen. It was an amazing blend of nature and art. I wish we had something like it in Tucson. There were a number of elementary students enthere. They were very interested in us. Some even tried to speak some English to us. They were adorable!

After we finished touring the art center we had lunch at the Aomori public college cafeteria. We had bentos, which were fantastic! The college kids seemed very interested in us as well. I got a funny photo of a group of them posing for me.

When we finished lunch we headed off to the Sannai-Maruyama Site. This site really allowed us a glimpse of Japan’s early history. Please visit the link for more information.

After leaving the Sannai-Maruyama ruins we went our industry tour, which was a visit to the Aomori Indigo Dyeing Atelier. As many of you alrcoeady know, beautiful indigo dye comes from the indigo plant. On our tour of the facility we got to practice dyeing by creating our own indigo dyed piece of fabric. It was so cool!

After we returned to the hotel heI met up with some friends and we went to a festival that Keiko-san told us about. The festival was at the Hirota Shrine. We met the leader of the shrine, and we found out that it is 1010 years old! They Japanese men who explained it to us were laughing that this was older than our country. It really does make you appreciate the longevity of the Japanese culture.

Unfortunately, throughout all of this I was sick. I cannot seem to shake this cold, in fact I was running a fever earlier. I decided to try wearing on of the cold masks that the Japanese people wear to be considerate of others. I found the mask very constraining and it even made my asthma a bit bad. I don’t know how asthmatics in Japan wear them!

Tadaima! Aomori City

I am currently writing to you from the Aomori City hotel. Today was an incredibly busy day and I am exhausted! It is 8:32 PM and I can barely keep my eyes open (even before I took Nyquil!).

I woke up this morning at 6AM. I had set my alarm at 5 AM, but with such a late night last night I really needed to get at least 5.5 hours of sleep. Allison and I met up at 7 AM to drop off some food for the wonderful people at the shrine. We did not see the people from last night, but left the gift with a woman who seemed to know who we were.

After dropping off the giftie we went to a nice Japanese style breakfast at the hotel. We were on the road to Hirasaki University by 8:40 AM. Our visit to Hirasaki University was wonderful. We not only met with some college students, but we got to meet and interact with some special needs students at a school that specialized in preparing special needs students for independant living.

Here is a photo of me with one of the college students I met:

college student

Here are a couple of photos from the school for students with special needs. This school was really incredible. We all played a really fun game in the gym! 🙂

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After we finished at the schools we hopped back on the bus for a one hour trip to Aomori City. The very first thing we did there was to meet the mayor of Aomori City. He was very gracious and made us all feel very welcome. How often do you get greeted and welcomed by the mayor when you visit a city? It was a very special experience.

mayor 

After meeting the mayor we then had a meeting with the superintendent of the Aomori City Board of Education as well as some of the board members. The meeting was very educational. After they spoke we had an informative Q & A session.

Stefanie, Joya and I went out for dinner at a Japanese ramen house. It was amazing! Here is one final picture from my hotel room in Aomori City where I will be drifting off to sleep momentarily.aomori.jpg

I am hoping to wake up early enough tomorrow to get a good walk in by the water. Doesn’t it look amazing?