Sunday, October 25, 2009

English camp and Iga festival!

Wow, what a week! Tuesday I worked at an English camp in Watarai, a tiny town near Ise. It was about an hour north of Nabari by train, but it was well worth the trek. We were up in the cold, brisk mountains surrounded by green tea farms, and the kids were just phenomenal. There were seven assistant language teachers and about fifty kids, so we each had a group of about seven students. My group was the best. You think I`m kidding? Just wait and see.

We started off with an interview game. Each ALT went around to different groups and the kids interviewed us using set questions. Basic stuff like, “what`s your name, what`s your favorite color, how old are you?” Then the regular ALT in charge, Dan, made statements about us like “Laura`s favorite color is red.” Students stood to the right or left of a true/false line. If they were wrong, they were eliminated. After about five questions, they counted up the students from each team, and the teams got a point per student. Most people had none, but mine had two.

The second game was pictionary. Even though I wasn`t allowed to give the students any hints, I sorted the cards from easiest to hardest, so we could get as many points as possible. They didn`t say we couldn`t do that, so it wasn`t cheating. And we won both rounds. Then we played telephone. Kids had to whisper a sentence in English down the line of seven team mates and see how garbled it got at the end. Again, the ALTs weren`t allowed to whisper anything, but I stayed near the kids and listened as each one spoke. If they got it wrong, I just shook my head, and they would try again. We didn`t get the highest score, but we were close. (I think other teams had a similar strategy.)

Then there was a relay game. Kids ran to me, I asked them a question, and when they answered, they ran back and passed the baton to the next person. Other teams made the mistake of speaking very slowly so the kids would understand every word, but I`ve learned that the fastest way to learn and understand a new language is to listen for keywords, and this is a good skill to teach the kids. So I spoke the questions rapidly, and simply shouted the most important words. “WHEN is your BIRTHDAY?” From the average of the two rounds, we got the most points.

For the last game, students wrote a word, and then the next student had to write another word starting with the last letter of the former word. It looks like this: are, ever, return, nice, etc. We only got points for correct spelling. I wasn`t allowed to say anything or write a new word, but as the students went down the list, I corrected all the bad spelling so we got a point for each one.

At the end of the day, my team won! The kids got a very nice prize of snacks and cookies. What did I get? Other than the very nice selection of candy given to all the ALTs and a very generous stipend which was nearly double the amount of my travel costs, I got this really awesome victory photo:

The camp ended around 4:20, and I was planning to go to the huge shrine in Iga, but the local ALTs advised me it wouldn`t be worth it since everything closed at 5:00. That saved me a good deal of disappointment and some money. The shrine isn`t going anywhere. All things considered, I`d say it was a good day.

For the rest of the week I taught a Halloween lesson at my school. I printed off the lyrics for the Ghostbusters theme song and blanked out some of the words, then had them fill in the words while listening to it play twice and me speak the words once. They really liked that. Then I talked about the history of Halloween and had the students practice a fun Halloween dialogue. As they left the room, if they told me “trick or treat” they got candy!

All but one class was really good and had a lot of fun, and that bad class belonged to the one teacher I have to work with who dosn`t speak very good English. She is also timid and dosn`t know how to control the class. I must have said, “sit down, be quiet, please listen,” about a hundred times before I finally lost my temper and shouted, “kiite kudasai!” (please listen) in Japanese. Nakayama sensei heard me in the next room and asked me later if everything was okay. It`s just this one corner of three boys, the same group that likes to curse me out in the halls. Ug. All it takes is a few to ruin the whole class.

On Saturday I went to the Tenjin Festival in Iga, which is their danjiri, or harvest festival to pray for good crops. Iga`s is particularly special because it is over four hundred years old, has some beautiful floats, and includes the oni, or demon parade. I went with my friends Fabio and Kayoko, and if you ever get a chance to go, it`s really something to see! The floats are also over four hundred years old, each one representing a different machi or town in Iga-Ueno. Here`s some pictures of the floats. This is the sun goddess float:

And this is the emperor float:

The tapestries on the floats were really ornate.
Here`s a creepy-looking “deer dragon.” I have no idea what it`s actually supposed to be:

All along the road there were stalls selling games and food. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday I had the grilled corn with soy sauce, a crape, chicken gyro (which was better than American gyros but too small to be worth the price), a strawberry candied apple, fried chicken, and an okinawan donut. Pretty tasty. Fabio insisted that all the people working the stalls had to make deals with the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. All of them? I doubt it. Only the ones with the “good spots” maybe, and I didn`t buy from them because they were the most expensive. These sorts of stalls are set up at every festival in Japan. A word to the wise: examine the majority of stalls before you buy anything. You can easily get swindled into paying 400 yen for a corn cob when someone else is selling it for 300. Or an even smarter idea, (what I did last time), pack a lunch and if you`re really bent on buying fare food, just get one thing. You`ll save a lot of money.

Anyway, this is a stall selling baby turtles from Mississippi of all places!

I was really tempted to buy one, but I thought, “what happens when I go home to America?” That little guy might be hard pressed to find a new home, as most of the other JETs don`t share my obsession with cute little animals. I`m sure I could find someone, but more importantly, long trips would become impossible. They have to eat twice a day!

The whole festival was supposedly centered around the city`s local Shinto shrine, but I only saw a few folks there. This is a typical “cleansing area” before you enter. They drink the water to purify themselves, then give some to the dragon (pour it into his mouth) for good luck. Here`s a picture of the fountain:

In the evening, they decorated a large float with dozens of beautiful red lanterns. Here`s two pictures of that.

Notice the guy on top of the float in the second picture? Can you imagine standing on a four-hundred-year-old wooden contraption like that, surrounded by dozens of tiny flames in paper containers?

On Sunday, Kayoko went to church with me and we had a nice turn out, meaning ten, not including the two pastors. She really enjoyed it. Kayoko and I actually met through this blog, and she said she was looking for a home church. I feel bad about only one thing. We had communion, and the pastor said, in Japanese, “Anyone who has been baptized please stand up.” Everyone stood up except Kayoko. Then, seeing that everyone else was standing, she looked around uncomfortably and stood as well on slightly shaky knees. I shouldn`t have said anything, but knowing this particular church`s policy and not wanting to put her on the spot later when the pastor asked her “have you been baptized?” I told her she could sit down. Kae, the lady who gives me a ride every week, told me this was good, but I felt a little guilty about it. Growing up, our church practiced open communion, meaning anyone who professed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, regardless of denomination or anything else, was welcome to the communion table. I felt as if I myself had barred her from the sacrament, that maybe if I`d said nothing she could have taken it.

This plays a big role in the research I`ve been doing lately for an American historical novel I`m writing. It takes place during the Great Awakening around 1740. During that time there are two “communion camps.” There`s what I call the “Jonathan Edwards camp” that is very strict about communion and who can take it. After all, it is in some symbolic fashion the blood and body of Christ and should not be taken lightly. The second camp, the “Solomon Stoddard camp,” (Jonathan Edward`s grandfather and predecessor), is very liberal about the sacrament, seeing it is a gift given freely by God that can actually lead the partaker to repent and believe in Christ. There is biblical evidence to give warning against both extremes, so as with most matters concerning my faith, I tend to take a middle, moderate route.

One time a Jewish friend of our family came to church and took communion. I don`t think that`s right. First of all, he wasn`t aware of what he was doing; he was unwittingly committing blasphemy against his own personal faith and while I don`t know if he felt guilty or not later, the possibility exists that he might or that his parents might. Secondly, it`s just disrespectful. It would be like a Christian dressing up as a Buddhist monk and chanting words they don`t understand while haphazardly flailing incense. That`s one reason why I refrain from participating in any Shinto and Buddhist rituals unless I know what they mean and am certain they don`t conflict with my Christian beliefs.

At the same time, the Jonathan Edwards camp took it way out of proportion. While I normally agree with his theology, come on, communion tokens? You have to have a special little piece of metal that says you can take it, after passing a lengthy test that proves you`re in agreement with the doctrines of that particular church? The disciples didn`t even have to do that! Besides, there`s nothing wrong with learning and experiencing new cultures, and Christ instructed us to share communion whenever believers gather together. Therefore I think it`s wrong to expect, as some churches do, for non-believers to leave the room during communion, or for folks to have to be a member of that church or denomination or whatever. As far as the baptism requirement…that makes sense, yet at the same time, if the person intends to get baptized, who`s to stop them from partaking in the sacrament? The disciples weren`t baptized when they took their first communion, or at least not all of them.

Anyway, we got it all straightened out in the end and Kayoko isn`t mad at me. She wants to keep coming, which is a good sign.

After church and the rice pudding I brought, Kayoko and I went back to the festival to see the oni, or demon parade. It`s basically the Japanese equivalent of Halloween; Japanese people used to dress up as demons to “scare away the evil spirits.” Today it`s just for fun, though they do say if the oni make a baby cry they will give that child good luck. Here`s a video of the beginning of the parade:

And this is the oni and a passing Samauri with his...umbrella bearer. It has something to do with a big battle that was won in Iga during feudal times.

And my personal favorite, a really cool dragon float. You can see the musicians on top:

Very repetitive, atonal music, but then check out some of the European folk music from the same time period, especially in Eastern Europe, and you`ll have a similar impression.

I had a lot more pictures and videos, but they`re not downloading for some reason. Oh, well. Next week I`m going to Toba for two days. I`m really excited!

Prayer requests for this week: I`m having some guy trouble. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Just pray for guidance and that I don`t do anything naïve and stupid. Also, there`s a little snag in setting up my English/Bible class for non-Christians on Thursday nights. There`s been some issues with other JETs teaching outside the schools and also preaching the gospel. So I`m having to get written permission from my supervisor and principal. If this is God`s will, pray that they agree and that there will be no more delays! And the teacher at our school with cancer is getting better! That`s a definite praise.

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,

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