Four days since I finished my last update, and I've started to get my sea legs-(Kenny sat in the back of class today while I taught an entire lesson by myself days ahead of schedule),while in the interim, we've spent days at Oga Kita ("North ") JHS and Katanishi ("West of the Lagoon") JHS, two of the other area middle schools. I haven't had quite enough time to take their full measure, but each seems to have a slightly different character student wise--boisterous baseball club boys and studious, shy girls at Katanishi, and a weirdly "un-Japanese" class arrangement at Kita (1) where under population has shrunk the enrollment of a school that could have accommodated 500 students to 35 (2)--and hence, with room to spread out, the students have been allowed the unusual privilege of moving between specialized classrooms (rather than waiting all day in a homeroom for succession of teachers). The first impressions I'm making on students and teachers seems, so far, to be good-a true relief, as I thought I'd be forever in my predecessors' shadow.
As I start to get used to Japan, Japan has, at least officially, gotten used to me- at long-lasting certified letter arrived this evening, bringing me my new residence card (3), which means that I'll soon be able to purchase a cell phone-and in turn, start sending emails and not international faxes home. Internet is the kind that allows for blogging will have to wait, as the Planet of Robot Cats seems to have produced a bureaucratic tie up with such unbelievable inscrutability that BOE personnel trying to untie the knots on my behalf came away defeated and confused.(4) where money is concerned, at least the utilities here are easy to navigate-I just stopped by the nearest Lawson convenience store to pay off my gas and sewer bill this evening, scaring the trainee clerk with my foreign face to such an extent that she mistook the next customer's request for an extra sauce packet as <Could I have another wet towel please?> .
And in my first act of adoption into the wider Oga community, my participation in Oga Higashi's School Festival has been officially requested (5) by the by the PTA. My task-to join a choir of local moms, dads, and to lower ranking teaching staff in a performance of Michael Jackson and friends' utterly forgettable 1984 for-charity single "We Are The World" on Sunday. It seems I've been given a solo-but while the first (and final) 3 1/2 hour practice I attended on Wednesday told me more than I ever wanted to know about how the Parent Teacher Association would like me to make my entrance and hold my score folder, I have neither been given sheet music or much more than three complete run-throughs of the song. It's going to be a cultural experience for sure!
1 Also the most inaccessible and the prettiest of all the schools, set on a high bluff overlooking the Sea of Japan. The constant seabreeze comes in awful handy.
2 This low figure actually represents the combined former enrollments of at least two other area schools that have since been closed-I pass their empty buildings on the way into work. The trend holds true across all of North Japan, where, "fortune in misfortune", as they say, all the empty gyms and cafeterias made excellent shelters for earthquake victims. Once the authorities inevitably close Kita, I suspect that Katanishi, whose total enrollment is just over 100, will be next on the block.
3 Looks almost the same as a Japanese citizen's ID, which means that there are way fewer anti-forgery holograms than the former gaikokujin toroku meisho. Darn.
4 But apparently voice dictation on iPhones works-- if not exactly well-- then at least well enough to slooowly blog.
5 This is understood to be a command performance. The PTA has ways of making you do what they say.
6 I've been hearing a lot about the song lately, as for some reason, it is also the subject of one of this short speeches chosen for the local middle schools' public speaking contest. So I can tell you not only that the project benefited from the combined talents of Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Harry Belafonte, and that it was recorded (with a cast of thousands) in an all night recording session, but that "Harry Belafonte" has got to be one of the most difficult phrases you can ask a Japanese middle schooler to pronounce in front of an audience. Indeed, the speech seems suspiciously to revolve around Mr. Belafonte, almost as if its entire raison d'être was to force fledgling English speakers to pronounce his name in as many contexts as possible. Likewise, I strongly suspect that a first-year skit about London exists solely to require students to repeatedly pronounce "Sherlock Holmes". The Ministry of Education is cleverer than I initially gave them credit for…