Noilly Prattle: November 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Self Confidence – 自信 (JISHIN)

     I've come increasingly to realize that teacher's don't really teach, good ones simply get out of the way of learning. The best ones are simply facilitators of self confidence building. This is especially true in the case of young learners who have poor self images that block their ability to learn because they compare themselves to the “smarter” kids and come up short in their own eyes.

a young reader (6-years-old)
      Unfortunately, in a classroom, it isn't possible to erase or hide the different levels of learning ability among a group of children from each other. The teacher can try to shoot for the “middle” but will soon find that that doesn't work. There really is no such thing as “the middle”. Each child has different degrees of ability and different learning styles. Every parent wants to think that his child is a genius. Every teacher knows that there are very few if any geniuses in any given population.

      Although retired, I do a little part time ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching to a couple of evening classes of primary school age children a week. They are boys and girls of 8 to 10-years of age in grades three and four. Their levels of achievement therefore are also related to age and experience as well as learning ability. Generally, an older child will be advanced over a younger one. Ideally, they should be separated by grade level, but scheduling circumstances often preclude that possibility. In which case a younger child might feel intimidated by an older one.

      Since the situation of mixing ages and grade levels can't be avoided I found it necessary to have reading groups—the more advanced learners of course reading more difficult material. The less advanced, be it due to age or some reading or emotional problem, are aware that their material is easier and can feel a little inadequate (they might say “stupid” to themselves), loose confidence and get stuck in a kind of negative self feedback loop and be reluctant to try more difficult material. I have two students, one boy in the third grade and a girl in the fourth who I would say are caught in a poor self image and confidence trap.

      The third grade boy recently came to my other class for a makeup lesson where the reading level is not as high as the two third grade girls in his regular class. One of the fourth grade girls in this makeup class is a lower reader than he is. I decided to push him a bit and offered him a choice of reading with the lower level girl or with the higher level others. He asked me to show him the material. When I did he immediately opted for the easier. I said no, insisted he try the other and told him I would help him if needed. He sighed and started reading along with the other two while I attended to the other girl.

      She surprised me. I had been in the habit of reading the material for her to boost her confidence. When she first joined the class she sat in as an observer during the reading lesson. When I asked her if she would like to join in and try a little reading she broke down into sobs and tears. I took quite a while for her to compose herself, but she joined the class. She had heard the exchange between myself and the third grade boy. Instead of waiting for me to read she started to read by herself. I asked her if she wanted me to read it first, but she indicated no and wanted to read on her own. I helped her with a couple of word stumbles but she managed the whole text and got 100% on the multiple choice comprehension quiz.

      When I returned to the other group, my reluctant reader was engrossed in the text. I asked him if he needed some help, but he indicated that he didn't. When they had all finished with their silent reading I read the text aloud to model pronunciation and then had them read aloud as I listened. As I had suspected, my reluctant reader read very well with only a little help from me. The reading is followed by a 10 sentence True/False quiz. I asked the group, as I usually do, if they wanted to do the quiz “together” (with me) or on their own. They all, including my reluctant reader, opted to go it alone. The “star”, a fourth grade girl, got, unsurprisingly 100%, but the two third grade boys both managed 90%.

      I tapped my reluctant reader on the hand and said: “See, you can do it. You just need self confidence.“ [自信が必要です.] Then he blurted out: “自信がない!” [“I don't have self confidence.” ]

     “Uh-huh,” I thought to myself, “we'll see about that!”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Temple that was thrown up to its cliffside location

Mount Mitoku area- location of
三徳山三佛寺 Mitokusan Sanbutsuji 
     After leaving 燕趙園 [Enchoen], the Chinese Garden, it was only a short drive into the mountains to the 三徳山三佛寺 [Mitokusan Sanbutsuji] temple and its famous (in Japan anyway) cliffside temple called, interestingly enough, 投入堂 [Nageiredo]. The Japanese language seems to be able to compress complex concepts into a few concise syllables. Na-ge-i-re-do, for example consists of five syllables for what I have to explain in English means: The Temple that was created below and thrown up to its cliffside location—19 syllables, count 'em. Let me bore you with another story. It's called how The Temple (that was created below and thrown up to its cliffside location) came into existence.

The Nageiredo (from the road through my zoom lens)
     Long, long ago in the Nara Period around the 8th Century when Buddhism was being introduced into Japan from China, there was a sort of magician monk who wanted to spread the teachings of Buddha around the country. This magician monk's name was Enno Gyoja. According to legend he threw three lotus petals into the sky intending to build a new temple in each area where they fell back to earth. One of the petals fell onto a cliffside cave on Mount Mitoku 三徳山 in present day Tottori Prefecture. When Enno Gyoja arrived at Mitokusan and saw the almost inaccessible location of the cave and the difficulty involved in building a temple there he decided to build it lower down the mountain slope. Being a magician monk he compressed the completed building into the palm of his hand and boldly threw it up to the cave where, magically, it stuck and has been there ever since. It's called the Nageiredo 投入堂 (I don't have the patience to translate the name again), and is thought to be the oldest surviving wooden structure in Japan.

old and new (junk drinks even here)
weathered gate to the guest house
       Even accessing the main parts of the 三佛寺 [Sanbutsuji] temple can be a bit of a challenge if you are on the shady side of 70 and living with a titanium pin in the hip. The temple seems to have foreseen the needs of mobility-on-steep-slopes challenged people. They graciously provided walking sticks fashioned from local tree limbs at the base of the first set of steps, one of which I grabbed to begin the climb. The temple is an old weatherbeaten affair where moss covered stone sculptures abound. One set of steps shows evidence of centuries of wear and tear. There is an interesting set of Buddhist style prayer beads in front of the gate to a wayfarers' guest house. Usually these beads are fingered much like a rosary while muttering prayers. This set, however, is huge and hung from a pulley that you pull slowly while the wooden beads drop down with a sharp click that can be mesmerizing if you do it long enough. I guess they are designed to put one in a meditative trance. 

prayer beads for giants
Statue of Zao Gongen, a mountain deity,
that used to be in the Nageiredo
(now in a museum at the temple)

staircase well worn by time and countless feet
sun filtered through cedar trees
produces cathedral-like effect

(in my imagination at least)

weather worn and moss covered sculptures of I have no idea what
the Nageiredo and the view for those
able to see it (not my photos) 
little green haired boy
     The Nageiredo, as I mentioned in the previous post, is notoriously difficult to climb up to and is, consequently used for training monks and challenging intrepid climbers. To this day experts can't deduce how the building was actually built in such a difficult location. Although the climber is rewarded with a breathtaking view and photo op, thanks to me bum leg I had to forego, although sorely tempted, the agony and the ecstasy.

if you look real close you will see the Nageiredo in a notch in the foliage in one of the sun's rays;
the little sparkles all over the photo are a swarm of lady bugs (many of which landed on our clothes)

Friday, November 13, 2015

in a Chinese Garden

     There is a replica of a Chinese Garden that was just a short walk from 養生館 [Yojokan]
our ryokan of the previous Enchanted Evening. The site for the garden, 燕趙園 [Enchoen], was chosen for its location, an ideal setting between a lake and three mountain peaks--this arrangement was aesthetically pleasing to ancient Chinese sensibilities.

Yojokan 養生館 (background)
燕趙園 from the ryokan garden
            Our ryokan was situated on the same Lake Togo as the Chinese Garden and was, in fact, visible from the ryokan garden and one of the open-air baths. Viewed from the ryokan we were looking forward to visiting the garden the following day. After checking out we drove (didn't actually walk) the short distance stopping by the garden and, later on, a mountain temple famous for its cliffside building that is notoriously difficult to climb up to and is, consequently used for training monks and intrepid climbers. Although the climber is rewarded with a breathtaking view and photo op, thanks to me bum leg I had to forego the agony and the ecstasy. 

      But, first, 燕趙園, the Chinese Garden . . . an absolute banquet of primary colors in a completely cloudless blue sky setting off the orange of the roof tiles and reflected in the water of the pond and lake. 

one of the three mountain peaks

detail of roof decoration

typical zig zag bridge
 (saw similar one in the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai
dried lotus leaves in man-made pond

covered walkway
moon bridge

 lattice work along the perimeter walls

rest pavilion with circular openings for viewing the garden

partial view from the pavilion
view of lake and undulating wall
from the head of the "DragonPavilion"

the "Dragon Pavilion",  the pavilion is the head and the walkway the tail of the dragon

Monday, November 9, 2015

Enchanted Evening

     After leaving Kurayoshi it was just a short drive to Lake Togo and 養生館 [Yojokan] the ryokan (Japanese inn) we stayed at. We arrived in mid-afternoon, time enough for a pleasant evening soak in the rotenburo 露天風呂 (open-air bath) and a sunset stroll through the garden. 

MAP: Tottori Getaway 

 Arrival at the Inn

Afternoon relaxation in the 露天風呂

露天風呂  [open-air bath] (on the right)

Evening stroll in the garden



colorful dessert

Night relaxation in another 露天風呂


morning routine - wake up coffee

Friday, November 6, 2015

San-in 山陰 (Shady Side of the Divide)

 at Ningyo Toge pass on the divide
     Japan, being an island nation, has something of a non-continental divide between the Pacific Ocean, the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan, especially on the main island of Honshu. There is a special designation for either side of this divide. Here in Okayama in the south, the region is called San-yo 山陽 (the sunny side); in our northern Prefectural neighbor, Tottori, it is called San-in (the shady side). To go from one side to the other you have to cross the divide through various mountain passes. The actual distance is not so long and you can traverse from coast to coast in two to three hours. In the winter, it can be sunny when you leave home in the southern coastal lowlands and after driving for an hour or so you can find yourself in need of tire chains (if you have them) to cross the mountain pass before descending to the northern coastal lowlands. In the fall, autumn color is more dramatic and comes earlier in the highlands and it is a great time for a little overnight getaway to the San-in region--and you don't yet need tire chains. So we decided to stay at an old hot spring ryokan in Tottori Prefecture not too far from the Sea of Japan.

programming the route with "Demi"
       The two-day road trip was our first excursion with our Mazda Demio (outside of the local area) since she was returned to us from an auto body shop in Hokkaido after being repaired from a collision. (I related that story in a recent post here on Noilly Prattle.) Demi, as we have nicknamed the car, performed beautifully and seemed to enjoy being on the road again as much as we did.

picnic lunch at Ningyo Toge
       There were a lot of clouds lingering around the high peaks of the divide when we stopped for a picnic lunch of chicken rolls, potato chips and tea at a small rest area just outside the Ningyo Toge (Doll Pass) tunnel that crosses the divide. There are a couple of legends about the strange name of the pass. My favorite one (because I could imagine the atmosphere) is a kaidan 怪談 (ghost story). It goes like this: Long, long ago a mother and her daughter were crossing the pass on a dark foggy night when they got separated. They could hear but not see each other. After a while the mother could no longer hear the girl so she backtracked to find her, but all she found was a doll lying on the ground.

typical road frontage...
... of merchant establishments
       After crossing the pass, the road descends quickly into the lowlands and our first stop was in Kurayoshi City, Tottori Prefecture, which has a preserved merchant area of town from the Edo and Meiji (17 to 19 Century) Period. The preservation area is not without interest, however the area is not aesthetically charming, not because of the old buildings, but of the modern, unsightly forest of utility poles and electrical wires that mar the overall effect of what you would like to imagine the town had looked like in the era in question.

unusual 3-story building with unsightly
utility poles and electrical wiring
typical red tile roofs of the old houses

long canal spanned by stone bridges
to rear entrance of shops 

beautiful woodwork ceilings inside

fire brigade display

       What would a preservation district be without beautiful Japanese paper kites?


Shichifukujin - the seven good luck gods

on a stone slab bridge
 in front of the main temple gate
       There was an unusual Buddhist temple on a little side street running along an irrigation canal. The gate to the temple was traditional, however, the main temple was unusual for a Japanese temple. It was painted a rather bright yellow color and had lines reminiscent of India, especially in the arches, quite in contrast to a typical Japanese main temple. It seemed appropriate in a way since Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama—in India. I found that there is great variety in the design of Buddhist temples, depending on the region and/or inspiration of the architectural designer.

traditional temple gate 

 unusual (in Japan) main temple

Buddhist temple in India
 (Google images)
very modern Buddhist temple in China
(Google images)