A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Silver Week (Part 3)

Nagoya, Meeting Hanako

Last time I wrote about my trip to Osaka and this next trip happened the day after that - I got up, went to the train station and went directly from Osaka to Nagoya without going home first (which is why I'm wearing the same suit still!)

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This was the last of my Silver week trips and one I'd been planning for a while. My main reason for going to Nagoya was to finally meet with my Japanese penfriend who I was writing with from Slovakia. We'd been writing on and off for more than a year, but I'd only ever seen one photo of her and briefly spoken to her on the phone (Very nice telephone voice, all Japanese people have a special telephone voice they use!) Not knowing me that well she had arranged for us to meet along with some of her Japanese friends - so this was going to be my first trip where I was the only 'foriegner' with a group of Japanese people; which was exciting.

When I arrived I went directly to the りょかん (Japanese Inn) where I'd booked a room, but nobody was there. So I just explored the local area - which turned out quite well...

At first I just saw some quite typical big glass towers and malls.

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But then behind the mall there was some big event going on -

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At first I had no idea what it was, but I asked one of the security guys and found out it was a 'fan meet' - all these people where there waiting in line with tickets they'd bought to meet and shake hands with the members of a popular Japanese girl group.

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You might notice there are alot of them - yes, all those girls in red are part of the band; called AKB48. I think there are about 12 of them in this band. Manufactured pop bands tend to have more members in Japan, and the numbers can change a lot in one band too. The ideal is to try and have something for everybody.

I didn't get to meet them as I didn't have a ticket - but I took some nice pictures and got to listen to a lot of screaming fan girls. Now I know you must be crious about their 'talent' - so here are a couple of their videos.

In the second one they are all dressed in High School uniforms :-) And if you're thinking - look at how sexy they've made those uniforms look! - I have to tell you they are pretty much just normal Japanese High School Uniforms - eveyday at about 8.05am I get all the High School students going from the train station to school directly past my flat, so I see this almost everyday. (Actually I've just watched a few more and they're dressed in school uniforms in most of their videos - no wonder Japan has a Lolita complex!)

Anyway - after that all finished I went back to the りょかん and there was somebody there finally, so I got into my room. As the place was quite empty I got the biggest tatami room that opened onto a small Japanese garden for a really good price :-) Very happy.

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Showered, changed and went out again to meet Hanako - who turned out to be really nice! (Though that wasn't a surprise, she was always very nice in her E-mails too!)

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures that evening - but she introduced me to two of her work friend and had dinner together in a really lively Japanese grill bar (You cook a lot of the food at you table yourself!). It was also probably the most Japanes I've had to speak here yet - 60 or 70% of the conversation was Japanese, which was good practice and very challenging.

Next day I met Hanako again but this time with different friends. They had prepared a full sightseeing plan of places to show me in Nagoya, with each of them planning on taking turns as tour guide; it was all so thoughtful and sweet! I'd loved them - they were so nice to me :-)

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So (from left to right) we have - Chikae, Hanako, me!, Chikako, Kanako ... I think, I'm sorry if I mixed your names ladies, ちょっとむずかしいですね。

The plan included several famous sites and interesting areas of the city - Including; Nagoya castle (with an interesting exhibit inside including old Samurai armour)

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and Osu town - a lively shopping district that kind of feels like a mini-Tokyo, Akihabara. It also has that strange feature where there are small shrines placed between the shops in a busy shopping arcade - for soime reason I really like that.

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Then we kind of forgot the plan - I was telling them about the Goth Club in Osaka and trying to explain Gothic fashion to them and they began talking in Japanese - and then they took me to a Maid Cafe in Osu (A cafe where all the waitress wear sexy, frilly maids outfits, which wasn't on the plan!) Actually we missed the Maid Cafe and went to the Cosplay Cafe next door by accident (Similar thing, but different costumes) - but the ladies were really amazed anyway. I think they felt like naughty school girls doing something they shouldn't do, it was very funny - and I'm, really glad they felt comfortable enough with me to do something out of the ordinary for them :-) Yes, I soon corrupt the local ladies wherever I go, it's the English gentleman's way :-) Unfortunately no photos allowed in Cos-play cafes without paying for them!

Soon after that it began to get dark so we headed back to the city centre. Going a lot of the way through a HUGE underground shopping complex. Japanese cities when all lit up at night are so - Neo sci-fi and quite beautiful.

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We finished the evening off at a cafe on the top floor of one of the highest buildings in the centre, more group photos, strange desserts made to look like cloudy mountains and great views of the city.

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It was a really nice way to end a really nice visit. Then it was off to the train station, and back home to Imazu - the end of Silver Week.

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BUT.... later I got a really nice surprise in my E-Mail... mine is not the only blog about my visit to Nagoya. Kanako wrote her own as well -

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Thank you very much for that - I love it :-)

Full album - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2021887&id=1122485897&l=32c30be39e

Posted by DKJM74 02:18 Comments (0)

Silver Week (Part 2)

(Clubbing in Osaka)

Before Silver Week Leila had told me about a Goth club in Osaka she had heard about, not really a regular club - but once a month or so there is a Goth event at one club - and having not had access to anything like a decent club for a long time I was very interested.

So Leila and I headed off to Osaka on July 20th.

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While Kyoto is a city it mostly promotes itself on the basis of it's historical and cultural significance - Osaka on the otherhand is more of an urban playground, a full on bright lights, big city kind of place where it does seem there's a lot going on (A varied live music and club scene, a Universal Studios theme park, a massive aquarium with a whale shark in one tank apparently; I can't wait to see that, and I should see it next week with a really nice girl I met last week. Hi, Harumi if you're reading this!). Osaka really feels like a proper metropolitian city, and another world after all the ricefields of Imazu.

The morning was spent just checking out the Namba district shops (lots of alternative, retro and really cool stuff!) As I was only wearing a batman T-shirt I just *had* to go shopping for clubbing clothes :-) So this is me doing my best girly shopping pose -

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What I actually bought was a nice new suit and a pair of Docs

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The result was quite good though as by evening I was 'transformed' to this -

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Leila also bought a new outfit - but more of a cosplay style thing

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So in tip-top clubbing mood we went out onto the streets again

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We just wandered for a while taking it in, people in Osaka love to eat and there are so many resturants of so many kinds - there are some great places selling octopus with funky big octopus signs, and we saw the famous posionous fish that they serve here; every year in Japan several people die of poisoning because this fish hasn't been prepared correctly.

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- Osaka also has groovy people shaped street lights and the happiest police men ever! -

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This was all still too early to go to the Goth Club - so Leila showed me a 'Live House'; basically a small venue for live music from local bands. You pay one price and get to see three bands.

The first band was already playing when we arrived and was so-so, the second band was pretty good they had a kind of retro lead singer with 50's hair and they had a kind of punk roc'n'roll vibe that really worked (Plus then they finished one member of the band had to be taken away in an ambulance to hospital with bleeding head - but he finished the set first! Not quite sure how it happened, but very rock'n'rolla) the third band was just plain bad - they looked bad, they sounded bad, they were bad!

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Then Leila met a Tazmanian friend of hers and I went straight ahead to the Goth Club accross the road - The music was a mix of goth, electronic and industrial as opposed to the classic goth music I prefer; but I liked what what they played and it was danceable - which is all that really matters to me in a club. It wasn't too busy, and I get the feeling Goth is a bit of a small but devoted community - some of the clothes were fantastic. Look closely one girl has got a BOAT in her hair!!! (I've put most of these pictures into B&W or sepia as it just suits them better!)

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The guy with all the facial metal was the DJ. I had a really good time, I haven't danced so much for ages. The next Goth night is Halloween and I'm planning to go again - maybe invest in a good frilly Gothic shirt and some fake blood to dribble from the corner of my mouth Vampire style (and a single black rose of course!).

Still I did look worse for wear the next morning - even without drinking!

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Well - it's 1am here and I'm not clubbing tonight - so I'm going to go to bed now; actually I've got my friend, Murosensei, staying over in my other room tonight as he was drinking at a work party and didn't want to drive home to the otherside of the lake. That's got nothing to do with anything else in this entry, but it is a current fact - as opposed to writing about what happened 3 weeks ago (like I always seem to be doing!)

I really don't have time to be writing to everybody personally, but I'd love to hear from some of you from (ex)Berlitz and beyond - if you don't have much time either just drop a quick comment on the blog sometime; it'd be nice to know who's reading it!! I get a lot of views recorded, but no comments.

Anyway, here's the Osaka album
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020712&id=1122485897&l=a4324f6692

Posted by DKJM74 08:25 Comments (2)

Silver Week (Part 1)

(Sept 19th, Kyoto, Kiyomizu Dera)

Silver week doesn’t happen every year. It’s a little bit like Christmas in England, sometimes it falls on a weekend and you only get one extra day off work, but some nice years you get five days holiday in a row. Silver Week is what they call it here when that happens with a few holidays in September; and this year it fell just right giving a clear five days off work. So it was time to get out of the countryside and check out a few of the local bigger cities.

The nearest big place is Kyoto (40 mins away on the local train). I’ve been to Kyoto before; during my holiday in Japan I spent 2 or 3 days there. It is the historical capital of Japan and has more ancient temples, shrines and festivals than any other place in Japan. One of the local ALTs, Peter, is visiting Kyoto every weekend to see a different site each time; there is so much to see.

The point is you don’t really visit Kyoto – you visit a specific place in Kyoto. So this time I visited Kiyomizu Dera.

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The most striking thing about this temple is its location. It has been built into the mountain site on the outskirts of Kyoto with terraced viewing platforms above the tree tops on the slope belows all held up by huge wooden supports.

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There are two routes up to the temple one following a street lined wthe little shops in old style buildings.

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This way also seems to attract a lot of 'Pillgrims' - who come to pray at the Kannon in the temple and drink from the sacred spring. Though how genuine these pilgrims are seems very questionable, I can't help but feel there may be a few professional 'pilgrims' who are always around that area begging.

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This is clearly the main way to the temple, but I actually approached it by a differnt way - starting in another temple complex at the foot of the mountain and climbing up through a big cemetary along a path dotted with smaller shrines along the way.

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I skiped most of the smaller shrines as I was goingto see a big temple anyway - but I did stop off at one of them at a whim and I'm glad I did because I got into a brief (eg - all Japanese) conversation with a nice monk who introduced me to the two cats that lived there - mother and daughter apparently despite looking nothing alike.

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Once you get to Kiyomizu Dera itself it is really pretty - I'd like to go back in a few weeks once all the leaves have turned red, it'll be gorgeous - however most of the arcitecture is still pretty much red and pointy :-) So now I'm restricting myself a bit to only taking photos of interesting angles or really unique features of these shrines and temples.

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The sacred spring at the base of the temple has been channeled to flow over a little covered walkway into a pool, and for a price you can go along that walkway and catch the falling water with special long handled ladles - drink this and it's good luck, health, wealth and all the usual magical goodness - just once it'd be nice to see a sacred spring, or magic stone, or whatever, that promised something like 10% better vision in your right eye on Tuesdays or something a bit more original.

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One nice thing here was meeting a group of school kids from Tokyo who were on an assignment where they had it interview non-Japanese people, in English, about why they were in Japan; they were really happy to talk to me because I used simple, clear English and slipped in Japanese hints if they didn't understand, plus they were very surprised that I wasn't a tourist on holiday. Their teacher took several photos of them 'interacting' with me so I guess I'm in some Tokyo school website or newsletter now.

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After leaving the temple and making my way past the pilgrims I decided to hit the centre of Kyoto as I've only ever been around the edges (because that's where all the beautiful buildings are). So I strolled around the long covered shopping arcades for a while then went back to the station - which I realised is a pretty impressive piece or arcitecture itself. A huge glass and steel place, with 9 floors inside and a big observation garden at the very top with views of th city and Kyoto tower. So I ended up spending quite a bit of time just going around the station building.

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And that's Kyoto (or part of it), my local city - it's hard to believe I live so close to such an iconic, historical place now; during my holiday Nik and I planned a couple of nights in Kyoto as a real high point in our trip. Last week I was doing washing and cleaning all moring and at about 3pm I just though 'I need to go out, let's go to Kyoto' and an hour later I was there. I don't kow how much longer it'll last, but up to now almost everyday at some point I get a little thought in my head that just says 'You're living in Japan!' and I just start grinning :-)

As usual there's a full photo gallery from the day here -
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020711&id=1122485897&l=3bad2667f4

Posted by DKJM74 05:01 Comments (0)

September Scrapbook (Part 2)

Scool life

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I’ve been taking photos around the school since I arrived, but so far (except for the Kayak trip) I haven’t posted anything work related. So today I want to take my time and explain a bit about the school and my work; and post a lot of School pictures!

So the basics first - the school is a bit away from my flat and there's no bus service so I cycle to work on the rental bike provided by the board of education- which is quite nice now, but I'm dreading worse weather (narrowly missed being in the centre of a typoon a couple of days ago!)

My regular hours are 8.30 to 4.30 and teach about four 50min lessons everyday, the rest of the time I'm talking to the teacher I work in the classroom with, lesson planning or free to just read or study Japanese etc. By the time I arrive the students and other teachers are already there as I'm not required to attend the morning staff meetings. About 90% students cycle too and from the school, so there's always a mass of kids on bikes in the morning - a lot of the older highschool students cylce past my flat every morning.

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Once I'm there I have about 20mins to have a drink and look over the days lessons that start at 8.50. In the class my role varies from lesson to lesson - sometimes I just have to help with pronunciation of new words (like a living CD player) or wander around and check students writing work, other times it's more active as me and the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) act out (really overact that is!) model dialogues or scenes together or I run some special activity I planned (now I'm putting together Halloween worksheets for next weeks classes - a Halloween picture crossword where each student only has one vocabulary item so they have to work together to complete the puzzle).

Here some students are doing my self introducton lesson activity (Questions on puzzle pieces that they had to put together and then ask to find out about me.)

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The classes have about 30 - 36 students in them, but in the second and third years they often have divided classes so you only get half of the students at a time. Some of the classes are very げんき (lively) others are less so -

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More げんき

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Not so げんき

I sometimes also help with a small group of slow learners, or special needs students - which is actually really fun to do -

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At lunch time students eat in their home class and a small table to serve the food is set up outside each room - I sometimes eat with the students or sometimes in the staff room with the other teachers - it's a set menu everyday; so far there hasn't been anything inedible, though there have been a couple of meals that I'd not personally have chosen....

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If there is some nice food left over students will play a version of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets it - they call it 'Jun, Ken, Po' and you can seem to do it with a massive number of people though I'm not sure how that works.

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In fact 'Jun, Ken, Po' is used for making many choices - who will 'volunteer' in class, who has to clean the blackboard, etc etc. Very popular here!

I have my own desk in the teachers room where I can plan lessons and people can leave things for me, and I also have an English board just outside the teacher's room where I post things for the students and display things students make for me. Two of the best things I've had were this letter -

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The two Japanese words are Unique (ユニーク) and insects (むし) - I have a reputation for liking insects in the school, which I'm kind of playing up to; I give bug stickers out as prizes to good students in class now!This is also probably why I got the second cool thing when someone brought me a dragonfly and left it on my desk (it wasn't harmed and I let it go out of the window soon after this picture was taken!)

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After school there is a short cleaning period where all the students have to clean the halls and classrooms - while a looped cheerful tune is played over the school PA system.

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The coolest part is when they run along cleaning the floor (which I'd seen in the Ghibli movie Spirited Away - but it was fun to see it in real life!) The clip is only about 5 seconds long as I almost fell over :-)

Then after cleaning time instead of going home almost all of the students stay at school for longer to participate in club activites. There are many clubs for various sports as well as a few clubs for music, martial arts and cultural things like tea ceremony.

Here are just a couple of examples - students from the brass band club in the school, and students by the boat house for the school rowing club.

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I really like all these things as it really does create a community atmosphere that I really don't recall from my school days; I sometimes play with the table tennis club after school myself and I did have a go at rowing too, but I'll post pictures of that later when I write about my fishing trip!

So there you go a bit of an insight into Imazu Junior High school life - if you want to see more please check out the gallery here - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020707&id=1122485897&l=6b6b8e91c4

Posted by DKJM74 21:55 Comments (0)

September Scrapbook (Part 1)

JDF Concert, Katata and a tour of my flat :-)

This ‘scrapbook’ is just a loose collection of things from the weekend of the 12th and 13th – The Saturday was really rainy, but I’d been invited to a concert in Imazu’s concert hall. This was another case of doing something I’d never have gone to normally – but now I’m trying to follow a policy of not turning down any invitations (from Japanese people at least). So, I went to a concert of music from the Japanese Defence Force Brass Band.

Until this point I didn’t even know about the JDF. I just assumed that Japan had an army like other countries, but no they only have this ‘Defence Force’. They are actually forbidden from having an army, due to too much military aggression in their past (makes me wonder why Germany can still have an army?). The JDF is all they are permitted, and as the name says they are only trained and equipped for domestic defence.

The concert itself was divided into three parts. The military stage, which was pure JDF propaganda (military anthems played to film of tanks rolling across wastelands – Gavin would have loved it!).

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Next the ‘fun’ stage, with upbeat big band music.

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Then, the part that made it interesting, the Japanese stage, which was Taiko Drumming (which is very cool indeed).
There were two groups playing – the first was more Korean style apparently, and I only thought about taking a video when they were slowing down and finishing their set.

The second group was pure Japanese Taiko – and I got a better video. Enjoy!

I know one of the other ALTs does Taiko, and I’m seriously thinking about giving it a try; though Kendo is higher on my list of things to try here (and I have a kendo training sword now)!

The day after that I went down to Katata with Connie. When you are on the train it looks like the first real town you go past as you head south towards Otsu and Kyoto – but it isn’t, it’s just a slightly bigger dead end nowhere place that has three things going for it.

1. A foreign food store with a good range of curry sauces (in a shopping centre where I got to have my photo taken with a monkey and a bear).

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2. A restaurant with a huge mechanical crab outside it.

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3. An old abandoned big wheel that’s pretty damn cool.

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That is all there is in Katatka, however when I got back to Imazu it was a wonderful sunny day so I decided to do the video tour of my flat that I’d promised to do. For some reason the sound is missing at the very beginning of the video – but it soon kicks in. So, welcome to my new home.

And here are two comparative photos of the bedroom with and without the futon laid out.

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If you’d like to see more pictures from The JDF concert or Katata’s abandoned big wheel (some quite nice ones!); look here - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020150&id=1122485897&l=b4126617c3

Posted by DKJM74 06:36 Comments (0)

Speech Contest Round 1

Otsu

Firstly a quick note on this blog itself – so far it hasn’t been as regularly updated or as detailed as I’d originally intended it to be. This is because it’s all had to be put together on Connie’s computer in brief visits to her flat where I couldn’t really take my time and get it how I really wanted it to be.

However, sometime during the next week I’m finally going to have an internet connection hooked up in my flat; I cannot believe it’s taken so long!! After that I‘ll be able to update more often and more fully; with more pictures actually on the page and videos too! I’ll also be able to be in more personal contact – so please leave some comments, questions and/or suggestions – I’ll get back to you soon.

OK – and now today’s exciting update.

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Since I arrived I’ve been helping Hoki Sensai to coach four 3rd year students who decided to enter the Speech contest. Their names are (from left to right) Mae, Sayaka, Kurumi and Sayuri.

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And this is Hoki Sensai (Sensai being the title for a teacher; students call me Damon Sensai!)

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The first two girls were doing recitals from fairytales (Puss in boots and Goldilocks) while the others were doing original speeches about important points in their lives. Mainly I had to work on pronunciation, tone and body language (mostly making eye contact and using gesture while speaking). We also had to work on timing as the speech shouldn’t go over 5 mins.

They all worked very hard and I was very pleased with their progress. On September 10th it was time for the first round of the competition; basically all the schools from the west side of the lake. So off we went to Otsu in a mini bus full of other ALTs, Japanese teachers and speech contest students.

It was an all day event, starting with the original speeches and, after lunch, the recitals. In the breaks all the students rushed outside to practice with their teachers. So now I know the stories of Puss in Boots and Goldilocks well enough to do a recital myself!

It was a beautiful day, and from where we were we had a really nice view across Otsu bay and the huge water fountains built into the bay.

Despite nerves all my students made a good effort and Sayaka (doing Goldilocks) actually won the 3rd place from the recitals – so team Imazu was very happy! So well done Sayaka, she did do a really good recital with all the gestures we practiced; and the fact that she is as cute as a button probably helped too :-)

This also means she is through to the next round of the competition – the whole prefecture round in October, which means more training and another ‘business’ trip to the other side of the lake. So expect an update soon. Meanwhile, here are the round one pictures.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2019916&id=1122485897&l=e0d07bc37a

Posted by DKJM74 05:26 Comments (0)

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