Noilly Prattle: November 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting Reacquainted

Korakuen -- one of Japan's Three Great Gardens

autumn chrysanthemums
     Road Buddy and I have been, for the past several years, globetrotting; that is to say we have been traveling away from where we live—Japan. Although Japan is a “foreign” country to me, it is the country of her origin, yet we both had developed a kind of been-there-done-that attitude towards traveling around Japan.

our municipal auditorium
near Korakuen Garden
           It was all new to me some 30 years ago and I used to travel around on my motorcycle visiting castles, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, to be joined, after we met, by Road Buddy when we traveled around together on the bike. But, little by little, ordinary life intervened and the goings and comings dwindled as the demands of child and family and making a living grew in importance and priorities. And, so, the beauty and culture of Japan faded in the white noise of daily living and soon got forgotten as a place worthy of our attention.

cake shop along our
walking tour
           Things are different this year. Our focus on international travel is undergoing a metamorphosis dictated by new priorities such as aging and physical injuries—I broke my leg and she has eye concerns involving the retina. We traveled to Europe this past autumn and decided not to go to Europe again for the winter opera season this year, opting to stay home instead.

Asahi River and autumn pampas grass
crow sitting on the
roof of Ujo (Crow Castle)
           There happens to be a well-known garden 後楽園 [Korakuen] right here in our town where we sometimes like to walk around for exercise. It sits on an island in the Asahi River across from Okayama Castle, known as the Crow Castle 烏城 [U-jo] because of it's black exterior. The construction of the garden was begun in 1700 during the Edo Period by the local Daimyo of the Ikeda family as a place of serenity and quiet and to entertain important guests. The garden, however, was open to the public on certain days. Korakuen was designed in the Kaiyu ("scenic promenade") style which presents the visitor with a new view at every turn of the path which connects the lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses, and streams. The garden with its man-made pond is said to be a miniature replica of the Setonaikai 瀬戸内海,--Japan's Inland Sea. 

teahouse garden
           Recently, it being fall and the leaves are colorful, I decided to take my camera with me on one of our walking tours of the area. It was a beautiful sunny day around the magical hour of late afternoon when the low angle of the sun filtered through a thicker layer of the atmosphere renders a soft golden tone to the out of doors. It's a wonderful time for landscape photography.

main gate of Okayama Castle
secondary gate
           As a result of that experience I suggested to Road Buddy that, since we weren't traveling to Europe this winter, we should take advantage of the time to get reacquainted with Japan. She readily agreed and soon came up with the suggestion of visiting Miyajima near Hiroshima city of atom-bomb fame. That trip will be the subject of a future post. But, first, a few new impressions of our own old home town.

a poem by the Emperor on a visit to the Ujo --
the Kanji 烏城  can be seen at the top of the
3rd column from the right

the castle view from the Main Gate area

Okayama Castle 岡山城 aka Ujo    烏城   on the Asahi River

Monday, November 18, 2013


The magnificent 5-step pagoda at Kokubunji Buddhist Temple near our home.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Did somebody put sugar in their milk?

   The dust from our road trip has settled and the routines of life on the home front have returned. Preliminary ideas for hitting the road again are beginning to creep into the conversation from time and are beginning to take some amorphous shape and assuming a life of their own. But that's another story for another time.

     When here at home I like to keep my hand in the education game part time by teaching an English class to young primary school kids at a school with an impressive sounding name--International School of English--run by a former colleague and friend of mine.

     There is a what I call an "English fetish" in Japan. A good part of my adult life has been spent massaging that fetish by teaching "English conversation" classes to people who are attracted to native English speakers and seek us out for lessons whether or not we are qualified to teach them. Consequently there are many 英会話 [EIKAIWA--English Conversation] schools in Japan; from large chains to small store front schools. 

     I first came to Japan in 1980 as a teacher for one of these large chains that had Time-Life in its name (I don't know if it was actually related to the magazine.). I then freelanced for several years teaching private classes. After a 5-year hiatus in the United States as an elementary school Special Needs teacher, I took a position at a private elementary school in Japan, where I was employed as an Art and English teacher for 20 years (which I described earlier in the Call be Mr. B series on this blog) I also taught a conversation class to adult PTA members and a Saturday English Club to the children who were interested in joining it.

preparation time at home
     Although I was 70 when I retired from full time teaching, my health was good and with my experience my colleague invited me teach a class in the evening at his school. I accepted and I have a class of about seven or eight mostly 6 and 7-year old boys and girls. Experience has taught me that you have to keep children this age partly entertained while sneaking in the heavy stuff on them--taking the medicine with a spoonful of sugar so to speak.

warm up activities
My name is Rio.
I'm six years old.
     I usually do a routine of warm up TPR [total physical response] activities and Q&A routines to help them throw their language "switch" from Japanese to English. TPR simply means "do what I tell you", such as "open your mouth", "stand up and jump", "make a peace sign", "say, 'monkey'", etc. Q&A means answer simple questions, such as, "How are you?", Are you a boy?", "Can pigs fly?", "Do you study Math in school?", etc. Following the warm-up exercises we usually play a game of BINGO using vocabulary, short phrases, numbers, etc. Then comes Reading. I break the class into two groups: one can work on their own while the other needs my modeling, support and help. After snack and break we do textbook and related activities work for building structure and new vocabulary followed by a closing activity, usually a game or drawing activity to reinforce material covered in the lesson or just general overall reinforcement and practical language usage for simple communication. 

adjectival phrases BINGO
reading time
     Normally, this goes reasonably smoothly along with the expected over activity of the less able to sit for a longer period of time kids, usually one or two. However, things got off to an atypical start recently when the classroom was being used for a teacher conference when I arrived and I didn't have enough time to set up before the kids arrived. These children have already been in school all day before they come for an evening class at 4:30 p.m. and are often tired. Our warm up activities usually calm them down and get them focused on the new task. Unwisely, I tried some new questions that they weren't used to and that set the fuse. There followed several interruptions to take promotional photos and other things, so that the children got less and less settled and more and more over active as the fuse shortened (coming dangerously close to out-of control) until the bell when I could finally let go of the reins and turn the sugar-high kids over to their mummies.

kids are in reasonable control holding it together with me firmly holding the reins
     We got a few cute pictures though.