Time Heals

The earthquake and following tsunami that occurred on March 3rd, 2011 claimed the lives of almost 16,000 people. An additional 2500 are still missing today.

While the world watched the nuclear disaster unfold in neighboring Fukushima, the majority of the damage and death happened in Miyagi prefecture. So much washed away and pulled into the sea.

We tend to think about events most on their anniversaries. Certainly, an anniversary helps with context. In early March in Miyagi, there’s a cold wind blowing around the last remains of a winter snow. The week that many people had to go without food, heat, plumbing, and electricity happened not in the warmth of summer.

After the date comes and goes, most everyone puts the event behind them. The news on the TV changes. The moment of silence is just that.

The people here, though, have a harder time forgetting. They lost something tangible.

They drive past an elementary school where students holed up against the forces of nature. A number of children died. Nobody knew what to do with the ruined building, and so it sits, a landmark some see on their commute to work.

A barren patch of land sits next to a river. A house was once here. More than twenty years of trying to make this place into their dream home. Childhood memories of playing next to the water and then coming in to have dinner and reluctantly practice the piano. Visiting the neighbors house to help take care of them and their cats. The street is now empty, the kind elderly couple gone.

Even cleaned up, there is little point coming back to these places. Communities that formed here splintered. A bustling block might only have a single house left, a family too tied to location, hoping that their anchoring might pull others back.

And yet, there are moments of levity in relation to all this.

In the hospital I stood with a wheelchair, helping to bring my girlfriend’s grandmother to a room where she would be staying for a week. I was with my girlfriend’s father and hatoko (再従兄弟, my girlfriend’s mother’s cousin). The nurse asked how the father was related to the grandmother. Was he her son?

“No, I’m actually her daughter’s husband. But we all live together now. The tsunami washed us all the way from the coast to here.” Everyone laughs. I’ve heard the joke before. For some reason, it’s always effective.

People can laugh about it. Some wounds are healing over.

Goodbyes Galore and the Drinking Gauntlet

I said my goodbyes to the middle schoolers last week. I said my goodbyes to the elementary schoolers on Wednesday. I said my goodbyes to various people, including the owners of a restaurant I used to frequent. And, I’ve said goodbye to my daily life as I’ve known it.

These transition periods are totally, fundamentally different than any other time. I have to focus on goodbyes and giving things away rather than when I’m going to casually hang out with someone. Every meeting might be my last. While I say to myself that I’ll see everyone again someday, more so than any other time in my life, I’m not sure that that’s true. Even most of my college friends stayed in the same place. If I do see these people again, it will take an effort.

With goodbyes also comes drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Next Monday is a drinking party with my current teachers. Tuesday is a potential drinking / barbeque with friends. Thursday is a drinking party with a former group of English learners. Friday is with a bunch of parents of my now ex-students. Saturday is with a handful of ex-coworkers. The Monday after that is another party with people from the Board of Education.

My liver won’t thank me.

Less than two weeks and I’ll be back home in the states. Surreal. 寂しい。

とんとん! Let’s Try Entering the Staff Room!

Another mini-post today. This one about entering the staff room at the elementary school.

Unlike America, the staff room (職員室) is very accessible. Countless times throughout the day, students knock on the door, ask to see a teacher or do something, and then leave. And, like many Japanese things, there’s a process to it.

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The fabled door to the staff room. You can see the 職員室 sign to the top left.

On the door are two different papers, each letting people know how to use the door. They’re actually both the same message, but the one on the right is newer. Last year, because of the setup of the staff room, using the left door was more common. This year, with desks in slightly different places, the right door has gotten more use.

Let’s look at the left door.

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A translation:

WHEN ENTERING AND LEAVING THE TEACHER’S ROOM
[Entering]
*knock knock* “Excuse me.” (Bow)
“Grade __ , {your name}.”
“I’ve come looking for Mr./Mrs. {teacher’s name}.”
[Leaving]
“Excuse me.” (Bow)

The new and updated poster says much the same, but…

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It comes with a few more clarifications at the top. Specifically:

  • Put your backpack down.
  • Take off your hat, jacket*, scarf, and gloves.
  • Only the person looking for a teacher comes in.

It’s not too complicated. Most students understand within the first month of being a first grader. The most common mistake is actually saying the wrong grade when a new year starts.

And that’s it. I hope you’ve found this tiny look into Japanese school life valuable. 🙂

 

* = The word used for jacket here is ジャンバー, which is technically incorrect. The correct word is ジャンパー. It’s basically the Japanese equivalent of saying “nip it in the butt” instead of “nip it in the bud”, or “peak one’s interest” instead of “pique one’s interest”. It’s wrong, but so many people say it that you’re kind of a pompous dick for pointing it out.

Oh, is it Friday again?

Hey y’all. It’s Friday again. Did you notice? TGIF and all that!

Just had the graduation ceremony for the elementary school today. I gave a little speech in front of everyone like every teacher did, except this time I was able to say something completely coherent. My road to Japanese fluency is… well, I’m not sure. I’m standing in a field somewhere. There are many roads ahead of me. Language, certainly, isn’t conducive to learning in a straight line.

This Tuesday I came down with 胃腸炎, which dictionaries tell me means “gastroenteritis” and symptoms tell me means pain and a high fever and vomit and diarrhea. I took vacation time to go home early because it’s hard to use sick leave in Japan. But I did get better. Still taking medicine, but I feel right as rain.

Speaking of Tuesday, on Tuesday and Wednesday this week the 1st and 2nd years (U.S. 7th and 8th graders) at the Junior High School played Shichikashuku II. The reception was super warm in spite of playing in a cold room on slow computers. By the end of Wednesday (we only got two days to play the game this year), most of the kids were asking for a copy of the game. They only managed to reach the end of Chapter 2, so there’s still a lot of game in front of them (the game is 6 chapters long + post-game content). Either I need to figure out how to write the game to a CD, or buy a lot of USB drives. 😛

Game’s not done, but it’s really close. I have 25 more English Gates to put in the game (maybe a few more?), a few tiny areas to finish, flavor text to add, and… well, I’ll just show a cutout from my word document:

Remainder Work

This is it. Almost done with version 1.00.

Anywho, this weekend two friends are coming down from Kobe for skiing and snowboarding, and well, there’s no snow. Well, not around here. Actually, I can still find a tiny mound in my neighborhood, but that’s not enough. We will definitely be able to snowboard this weekend, but it’ll be a drive.

So, that’s the past week. Next week on Thursday the school year ends. On Friday and Monday and Tuesday are various parties to say goodbye and good luck to all the leaving teachers. It’ll be sad.

OK, it’s 4:15. I gotta go. Party tonight. Pick friend up from the airport tomorrow morning.

See y’all space cowboys and cowgirls on the flipside.