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Summer, 2005, Week 5 - Dazaifu
Week Five – Dazaifu, Fukuoka

Sunday, July 10, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 23 - Adventures with a Volcano

Sunday morning, and I'm ready for a trip to Mount Aso, an active volcano near the center of Kyushu Island. The weather looks fairly good here; hopefully that will hold for the day.

Ishii-san picks me up and we head over to school to meet Nakagawa-san. His car is bigger, and he has his two older children with him as well, so we will drive south in his vehicle today. We head out for the expressway, and enjoy the scenery as we drive.

A full day of activities has been planned, and Ishii and Nakagawa confer on which is the best road to take once we get close to the area. Mount Aso is actually a series of 5 high mountain peaks, one of which is in an active erupting stage, and a huge caldera (the largest in the world) that is full of lush green fields of rice and vegetables and fruit. There are several points of interest in the area, and my partners have chosen some that should intrigue both me and the children.

As we get closer to our highway exit, the rain starts, and it gets much heavier as we follow a winding road that climbs the southeastern wall of the caldera. The children squeal whenever we hit a large puddle in the road, and we comment on the amount of water standing not only in the rice fields but in parking lots, and on the road itself. It would appear that the lack of rainfall earlier in the season is rapidly being rectified. (So much for good weather holding through the day.....)

We finally arrive at our lunch destination - it is a place that specializes in soba (buckwheat) noodles, only here you get to make your own! One of the ladies shows us where to wash our hands and don aprons, and then we gather around a table with a large cutting board and rolling bar, and a giant wooden bowl. A tray appears, with buckwheat and white flours, water and measuring utensils. The buckwheat flour is dumped into the wooden bowl, then the water is added a little at a time, and we are instructed to work the flour and water between our hands, keeping the forming dough from getting lumps. As more water is added, it's time to knead the dough - much like bread dough, one must work it until it is smooth and not sticky, ready to be rolled out and cut into noodles.

The rolling process is a bit different from what I expect - I am used to a short wooden rolling pin with handles that are held during the entire process. This uses a long wooden cylinder; your hands are placed in the middle and pushed out to the ends as you roll. There is a rhythm that works with this method; after a few false starts, I begin to get the basic idea.

Then the thin dough is folded into several layers and a large chopping block is set in place. A heavy knife is brought out, and we are shown how to cut the dough into thin strips using the knife and a knuckled fist to hold the dough safely. Even the 6-year-old is allowed to cut some strips (with careful supervision by his father, of course), and the older daughter does a very good job of making thin evenly-sized noodles. (Mine vary in thickness, but then I've never been known for adroit handling of anything with a sharp blade.......)

As we finish cutting our noodles, the lady asks if we would prefer warm or cold soba; I ask for warm. Our tray is taken back to the kitchen, and we head back to the front, where we clean our hands and put away our dirty aprons. Very shortly, our group's name is called, and we have trays with noodles, rice balls in seaweed, and pickles in small dishes waiting for us. Tea and water are available at a side service area.

These are our noodles, all right; there's the strange wide ones. And they are 'Oshi' (delicious)! We're all hungry and finish off every bite.

The rains have stopped and started while we were in the restaurant, but the clouds have also lifted a bit so I can get a better view. We are near the edge of the volcano caldera; the five peaks are directly opposite, but their tops are obscured in heavy clouds. Ishii explains that we will drive to the peaks and attempt to go up to the summit road, where the active volcano is.

As we drive higher, the rains come down harder, and the clouds descend. This is a rather narrow road that winds, hairpin-style, up the mountain, and it's an exciting drive, to say the least. It culminates in a long uphill tunnel that is full of fog! (Fortunately, there are reflective lane and wall markers the entire length.)

There are very few cars up here, and we soon find out why; the last portion of the road has a large gate on it and it is closed and locked. A neon sign announces that the road is closed due to heavy fog. Well, we got as close as we could....

The gate and sign are obviously well-used; Ishii tells me that, in addition to weather-related problems, the road will also be closed whenever the prevailing winds are from the north. This drives a high concentration of sulfurous gases from the active eruption into the road area, which makes for hazardous breathing conditions (ever tried to breath sulfuric acid?).

We head down the other side of the mountain peaks, another interesting drive. Even with the heavy cloud cover and fog, there is still a lot of scenery to view; heavy forest of mostly cedars and pines, and areas of thick grass that wave in the wind.

Our next stop is an area on the outside of the caldera known for its many hot springs. This part, on the northeastern edge of the caldera has a great many spas and baths, and we will pay a visit to one of the oldest ones. These spas are built along a river; many of the buildings cling to the valley walls, and most of the bathing pools are built of the same stones that line the riverbanks and valley.

Japan is noted for its many hot springs and baths, but in the larger cities, many of the public baths used water that is piped in from springs located far away or deep underground. Not here, though - these springs bubble up all over the area, and the pools are built right on the spot. They are also rich in minerals (considered to be healthy) and vary in temperature from nicely warm to "Oh, my!" In the spa, each bathing area (men or women) usually has several pools available, with varying temperatures, so you can find one that is comfortable for you.

After a relaxing soak, we regroup and drive further down the valley. The river is wild; they've made up their rainfall shortage in a very short period of time and the river is overly full, with foaming muddy water. As we get to the junction, we discover a problem - the direct route back to the west is closed, and it's obvious that this is a recent problem. The sign says only that the road is not passable. (Later news reports tell the full story - a mudslide that not only blocked the road but swept away part of it.)

A consultation with a map takes us east and then north, following the river which eventually empties into a larger one that culminates in a huge reservoir - and I recognize this one from pictures on the news. It has been very low in recent weeks because the start of the rainy season had been delayed, but its water levels are improving. Right now, though there is so much water coming through that the floodgates are open to prevent too much back pressure from building up. As we drive down the valley away from the reservoir dam, we notice that there are flashing red lights and signs at intervals along both sides of the river. I recognize these - they are similar to the warning system used farther north, where river flow changes dramatically whenever the turbines are fired up at the hydroelectric plant. The main purpose of the warning system is to alert anyone downstream who might be along the banks or on a low-water bridge that a big surge of water is coming and that they should move to higher ground. This time, though, they warn that the river is high because of too much rainfall. It's going to take a little time for this to subside.

We finally come to a large town north of the Aso area and get on an expressway which will take us back to Dazaifu - but it's still raining, and it looks like we are bringing it back north with us (we do). There are a couple of incidents of note along the expressway; while Japanese drivers tend to be a fairly cautious set (with narrow roads and high insurance rates, this is to be expected), they do like to 'open it up' when they get on the expressways (which are built much like the train routes, lots of straight and open stretches with very few curves).

The first accident appears just beyond a long tunnel with a curve; a car has exited the tunnel, caught some water under his wheels and managed to run it up the side of the mountain and then roll it over to the guardrail. The police are already there and flashing lights alert oncoming traffic; the driver is standing outside on the side of the road, so he is safe, but looking disheartened at the mess that was once a fast roadster.

A few miles farther, there is another one - this one has spun several times and again hit the guardrail As we pass that one, I comment that they must have hydroplaned; Ishii understands me perfectly and agrees. Fortunately, we have no problems, and we arrive in Chikushino where we wait for Sasaki-san to meet us at a local convenience store. We have all been invited to a dinner party at the Nakagawa's house.

Dinner is wonderful - lots of good things to eat in the setting of an older Japanese home that is well lived in. Nakagawa explains that the house was built in stages; the oldest and most central part is about 55 years old. Because of the multiple constructions, there are rooms that connect in unusual ways; Nakagawa has previously told me that his family believes that the house is inhabited by friendly spirits, and I see nothing to disprove that.

Regardless, it's a beautiful example of a country house in Japan, and I am grateful for the opportunity to get to visit there. While I am there, my partners have gifts for me - interesting drinking cups with a history or a story to tell, a set of carving tools for my artist husband (my partner, Nakagawa, is also an artist and art teacher; he and my husband seemed to enjoy comparing notes about wood and carving), some gifts for my children. I will remember this evening with pleasure.

Monday, July 11, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 24 - Last week begins

It is the beginning of my last week here at Gakugyoin, and I have a lot of things to accomplish this week. I need to start packing items to ship home and things that will go back in my suitcase; while I have given the things that are gifts to my partners and the school, I have a whole host of other items that must be taken home with me - gifts from my partners and other staff here at the school, items I have purchased for myself and family, lots of papers accumulated from classes and sightseeing.

I'll have to stop at the post office this afternoon and pick up a couple of shipping boxes - no way is all of that going to fit back in my bags.

My first chore today is to begin to assemble my summer report on the trip. Since I use this blog to maintain a more-or-less daily record of events, I will copy sections from it into a weekly journal that will be posted on XOOPS and also (eventually) submitted as a full report of the time here when I return to Tokyo.

Gathering the text is relatively easy; I just have to 'reverse' the order to create a chronological record. (Blogs, by their nature, are 'last in, first out', but a written report needs to be done in a timeline fashion.)

However, I also need to gather (and resize, in some cases) pictures that go with the text. Those of you who have been following this account and checking the pictures link know that I have a lot of pictures; I tend to 'point-and-shoot', hoping to get plenty of different angles so that I can find the best shots for my formal reports. Now it's time to go through them and pick out the best ones. I've only got about half a gig of photos to look at... shouldn't take more than a few hours...days...weeks..... :-)

Okay, the text is done, and I have a start on photos - what's next?

Well, there's lunch - always a good thing. After that, one of the English teachers asks me to listen to a student as she reads a short essay that she has written; she will be reading it aloud at a special event. We head for a meeting room where I listen and offer suggestions on pronunciation and voice inflection. At the teacher's request, I read the lines aloud, and the student marks inflection points as she listens. I point out that, in English, punctuation marks offer guides to out-loud reading as well as organization during silent reading (something that many native-language speakers often forget as well). By the time we finish, the student's reading is clear and fluent - no hesitation, no pronunciation problems. She will now work on memorizing it so that she can speak clearly when she is in front of the group.

At the beginning of the day, I had noticed a small brochure sitting on my desk, showing a picture of the broken dome that is part of the Hiroshima Peace Park and an apparent list of activities. A teacher a few desks down from me stops to ask if I have seen it, and I hold it up as a response. He asks that I come to the gym at 3:00 PM with the students and other teachers for a presentation.

When I arrive, Sasaki-san joins me and explains that this will be a special event - a dramatic reading with pictures and sounds - performed by members of the Drama Club. This is both a memorial to the victims of the bombings (this year marks the 60th anniversary of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs), and a reminder of the "Never again" philosophy espoused by those who are active in the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons throughout the world.

One student serves as a narrator, giving a timeline of the events, while other students provide sounds and voices of those who were victims. While the language was Japanese, the message was still crystal-clear; the pictures (pencil and ink drawings of people and places and images) and the cries of those who suffered told the complete story.

I am struck by the careful attention paid by the other students; as one of the teachers reminded them at the beginning, Japan is unique in being the only country in which an atomic weapon was used on citizens during warfare. These students' grandparents lived through that time; the students themselves must carry forward a legacy of peace for the future to ensure that such a weapon will 'never again' be used in such a manner.

Our last weekly video conference takes place - we are all fine, and we are all having no problems (definitely a refreshing change from two years ago). Most of us note that we are looking forward to seeing each other again in Tokyo but that leaving our host schools will be difficult; we've made friends and gotten to know the students and staff fairly well.

Then it's home, to eat, pack and prepare for another day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 25 - Finishing up the school term

I have a package ready to ship, so that comes with me this morning along with the computer and camera. Mid-morning, I take it over to the post office about half a block away. Instead of just looking up the price and weighing it, I notice that the postal workers are scrutinizing the paperwork and checking several notices in their books.

The mystery is soon explained - there is a new directive out for air mail items to the U.S., asking for verification of what is shipped, and also a caution; the mail may be delayed by as much as a week, because the security alert level in the U.S. has been raised due to recent increases in terrorist activity.

Again, a senseless act of violence has an unexpected effect on my personal life. I am...not stunned, but more than a little surprised (though, in retrospect, I shouldn't have been).

Once we establish that the items are for non-commercial use and are gifts for my family, everything proceeds normally. Hopefully the package will get back home without any problems; I have at least one more box to send (or else I will have an overly full suitcase to deal with).

When I get back to school, I suddenly realize that, as things stand now, I will be returning to the U.S. under the elevated security levels. That means I need to be prepared to have everything checked and double-checked (much as it was in 2003, when alert levels were raised because of the start of the Iraqi war). Wonderful.....

Ah well, I survived that - I should be able to weather this as well.

During an IM chat with my family, I notice that there are familiar sounds coming from the trees just outside the teachers' room. Eventually, I grab the camera and head outside, looking for the source of the sounds and soon find it - cicadas! This must be a good year for them; they are very noisy as they climb into the treetops, and I find several of their spent shells on the trunks of the trees.

Lunch is with Sasaki-san's class today, one of the first classes I met. These students are very comfortable with me now, willing to introduce themselves and talk a little about their favorite activities. What a difference 4 weeks makes!

In the afternoon, I join Ishii-san and many of the other teachers as we head for an 8th grade classroom. Japanese teachers traditionally evaluate each other's performance during the school year, and this is part of that evaluation process. This time, the class itself will also be evaluated because it is an accelerated math class, with only 19 students, all chosen because of previous test scores and performance in the classroom.

The lesson is an Algebra lesson using word problems; students have each made up a problem and will have a couple of minutes to explain their problem to the others in their group, who will then solve it and grade the presenter. With teachers standing around taking notes and two video cameras recording the period, I am surprised at the calm that prevails; the teacher explains the procedures and checks on each group as they listen intently to the 'teaching' student. (I do most of my observations from the back of the room, rather than looking over the shoulders of the students - that would pushing the limits of their ability to handle things, I think.)

At the end of the day, Nakagawa tells me that he will take me home. I ask him how long it takes to walk from school to Dazaifu Tenmangu; I am thinking about going there the next morning to visit the used kimono shop. When he realizes what I have in mind, he suggests that we check to see if it is still open now. It is, and I buy two silk kimonos and a beautiful obi. These are for my sister and me, for display, so I am very happy that we were able to go there.

Back at the apartment, I begin the process of trying to pack. Most of the extra clothes fit nicely into one suitcase, leaving me with space in the other for gifts and accumulated other items. I will send my two large suitcases to Tokyo via delivery van; there is a limit on the size of luggage that can be taken on the trains, and both of my suitcases are much too big. Instead, I will carry a couple of backpacks - the computer in one, and my clothes and toiletries in another. A hip pouch and the camera bag will complete the picture; it's a bit bulky but not too heavy and I can easily get from one train to another with that load, rather than trying to drag two giant suitcases around (they don't do well on stairs and escalators anyway).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 26 - Work, work, work...

I still have a boatload of paperwork to finish, so I dig in.

My BUGS report has been posted, with the pictures, and I have the first four weeks of summer journaling ready to upload, but I need to get the pictures posted to the XOOPS server. That is a long, slow process - at this time, there is no facility available to FTP the image files directly to the server, so each one has to be selected, named and uploaded individually, using an internal process in the XOOPS software. XOOPS is a giant step in the right direction, as web posting goes for this program, but there are still a lot of working issues to be dealt with.

(The real issues are both financial and technical in nature; it takes bandwidth to run a multi-user server, which costs money. The more bandwidth needed (which is the case if you are using FTP or other batch file transfer systems in multi-user mode), the more money is required to pay for that bandwidth.)

My pictures for Week 1 are finally uploaded, and I create a new post in the Jefferson subforum, entering my text (cut and paste work quite well), and adding the pictures at appropriate intervals. Once that's done, I view the results and close the posting. Now, I just have to do Weeks 2, 3, 4,.....

It was raining rather heavily when we came to school today, but stopped for a bit during mid morning. I decide to head for the post office to mail another package; with luck, this and the package to my sister will finish most of my shipping. I grab the umbrella, just in case. (Good thing, too - by the time I finish there, it's raining again, although not as heavily as before.)

Ishii is making a copy of a tape that showed the entire welcome ceremony for me, and that reminds me that I need to make copies of my pictures for him and Nakagawa. I've got the CDs - I just need to get them burned and labeled. I will work on those during odd intervals throughout the day.

Lunch is with one of the 9th grade classes; a couple of the boys are interested in telling me about their sports activities (judo and baseball), then one of them asks me if I have ever seen "Star Wars". ;-) I tell him that, while I have not seen the latest installment, I have seen most of the others and, in fact, watched the original on Japanese TV a couple of weeks ago. I then ask him which is his favorite character. He likes the Jedi knights in general.

He also wants to know if I know about Harry Potter (since the next book is due out next week, that's an understandable question). I tell him, yes, I have seen all of the movies and in fact bought my copy of "Order of the Phoenix" when I was in Japan two years ago. He seems impressed by this.

The afternoon is spent visiting classes and finishing the CD copies. I get to watch the taiko drummers as they practice again; Nakagawa-sensei asks if I would like to try drumming again, but I decline, preferring to get more pictures and video (besides, I know that they are practicing for Friday's farewell ceremony, and I don't want to disrupt that practice).

Around 4:30 PM, Matsumoto-sensei comes over to ask if I am ready to leave. I pack up quickly and we head for Fukuoka. Matsumoto has arranged for us to visit a shop famous for its Hakata dolls, and we will get to try our hand at painting our own.

Hakata dolls are a very well-known specialty of this region; they are porcelain slip dolls that are hand-painted and portray traditional and modern Japanese characters and scenes. There are a number of artisans that do this work; this shop is in the heart of Fukuoka and is well-known for its fine painters and doll designers. Most of its doll patterns are unique to that shop.

We are each given a doll depicting a lady in a kimono. The paints are acrylic water colors, much like the ones I used in Nakagawa's class last week. The kimono is painted first, then the obi and other accessories. Finally the hair and some facial features are painted. I'm not the greatest painter in the world, but I manage a credible job, and my doll looks very nice when I have finished.

Then I walk around looking at the professional works of art. I had already decided that I wanted to buy at least one to take home; because of packing issues, I think that a small one would be best. I find a small one (a little samurai)...then a pair of kendo fighters...and a tiny set depicting a Nara-era court scene, but in cats! Okay, they're all little; I buy them all......

The shop owner takes care to pack everything in extra padding; she understands that I must carry them home in a suitcase. At least this way, everyone gets something special. (Let's see if they can figure out who gets which dolls.......)

As we leave the shop, we spot another Yamakasa float and go to take some pictures of it. Then we head back for Chikushino; Matsumoto has made reservations at a restaurant there. The food is delicious - a mix of several of my favorite kinds of Japanese cooking using plenty of locally available fish.

This has been a great day. I head back for the apartment, ready to get some sleep.

Thursday, July 14, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 27 - Some new experiences

My first chore this morning is to try to get as much stuff in my suitcases as possible. I will need to bring them to school tomorrow so that they can be shipped to Tokyo over the weekend, and I need to be sure that everything will (more or less) fit. Most of the stuff does go into the two bags, but one of them is quite a bit heavier than the other.

Hmmm...I will have to rearrange some things tonight, and I also have to do a last load of laundry so that I have mostly clean clothes when I get to Tokyo. But at least I've proved that I can make it all fix, so that's okay.

(UPDATE: Make that just barely - I've definitely got to repack when I get to Tokyo, and check the weight as well, or I will be paying overweight charges - yuck!)

I have one last package to ship today - a kimono for one of my sisters. After I bought the kimonos earlier in the week, I took pictures of each of them and sent them to her, asking her to choose a favorite. I've got her choice sealed in a mailing envelope and will take it to the post office mid-morning. (At least now they've gotten to know who I am, so the ritual questions are easier for both of us to handle.)

A few more pictures to take - the cicadas are very noisy this morning (it's a bit cooler than in previous days and it's not raining, so they've started early), but every time I try to find one for a close-up shot, the leaves get in the way. Maybe I'll go up the front stairs and try some pictures from the second-floor landing......

Lunch is with a 7th grade class, then during the free time after lunch, I join the music teacher in one of the meeting rooms. He asked me yesterday if I played recorder and I told him yes, both soprano and alto. So today he would like to play some duets.

Our first choice is actually one that I've played on soprano recorder in the past - a Morley canzoneta. I'm playing alto this time, so I have to rethink my fingering for a minute, but I get comfortable very quickly. Then we try some other well-known pieces - "Edelweiss" (which is a favorite of Japanese students; they usually learn it during 4th grade and then work on ensemble parts in 5th and 6th grades), recorder arrangements of the opening theme from Vivaldi's "Spring" concerto and Smetana's "The Moldeau", and finally finish with some popular Japanese pieces.

Ishii-sensei has been running a video camera for the entire time, so he has a complete record, messed-up fingerings and all. But it was still a lot of fun, and I was glad to get to try something special with the school's music teacher.

I've got MTP reports to work on during the afternoon, and I find out in a side conversation that Ishii has reports to type up as well. (Glad to know I'm not the only procrastinator in the crowd.....) However, he has to finish his grades first; the first term (semester) ends next Wednesday, and report cards will be given out then. Since he will be joining me in Tokyo for the last of the joint MTP meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, he must get his paperwork finished by tomorrow night..

The evening finds a group of us at a great restaurant - it's a farewell party in my honor, and I appreciate both the sentiment and the wonderful food and drink. I am always intrigued by the creative ways Japanese chefs find to serve what Americans consider to be mundane or 'home garden' foods such as pumpkin (which is a favorite summer vegetable here, picked while still green and served steamed) or okra (tiny pods, thinly sliced and tossed in a lettuce salad with sesame dressing). And they have zucchini - done up tempura-style, and it's delicious!

It's a great end to the day.

Friday, July 15, 2005: Dazaifu, Day 28 - Last Day

My last day.....

The morning news has pictures of the Yamakasa race held in Fukuoka early this morning (like 4:00 AM!) Last night's news had lots of pictures of the floats and their runners, and I tried to get some still shots off the TV - we'll see how they turn out. There was also a childrens' version (actually more of a march than a race) held early last evening, not only in Fukuoka, but also right here in Chikushino/Dazaifu as well. That one, I watched from the back balcony of my apartment; the children have small floats that they carried up and down the street beside the apartment, then they took them into the temple grounds about half a block away from my building. I had a great view; sometimes there are advantages to being on the 8th floor.

(An interesting side note - much as American cities do when major parades are held, the local news last night was reporting street closings and available train service for people wishing to see the race this morning. Even with a language barrier, I understood "JR" and "3:50 AM" - and no, I did not go view the race - that's too early!)

The heavy suitcases are loaded into Ishii's borrowed van (his car is DOA and is in the repair shop for an extended rehab). I'm intrigued by his loaner - it's one of those 'box vans' that have been popular for a couple of years in Japan, and are just now becoming generally available in the U.S. The best-known versions for Americans are early versions of the Honda Element, but in Japan, many car manufacturers make a model of this type because they have a lot of storage space but are very narrow and easy to maneuver in tiny Japanese streets. This one is a Nissan and very utilitarian; think English panel van with straighter sides, and you'll get the idea.

I have to make a very short speech at the morning teachers' meeting, and shed a couple of tears during it (I told them I probably would). I hope that I manage to get through the longer speech at the afternoon farewell without too many tears.....

Lunch today is with Ishii's class - appropriate because he is my partner in this endeavor. The students have written farewell messages on the chalkboard and are very ready to talk a bit today. Hopefully I will get to see a few of them again in the fall on our video conferences.

The afternoon farewell ceremony actually goes very well. It is a measure of how much I have been accepted as a member of the staff that Principal Yagi and I come into the gym while the students are still assembling. (What a change from four weeks ago, when we waited in the office until everyone was exactly in place...)

A speech is made by the principal, and I make a speech. Then the president of the student body comes to the stage to make a farewell speech. At its close, I make my final presentation - I have business cards from me for each student (counted into small bundles, one for each class). The student accepts the cards and takes them to each home room teacher for distribution in the classes. Business cards are an important part of the communication process in Japan, and presentation of a card is considered to be a mark of courtesy or respect. It is my hope that my cards (which are bilingual, English on one side and Japanese on the other) will encourage these students to continue to work on their bilingual capabilities as well.

After the gathering, I join the principal and members of the PTA in his office. They have gifts to present, for me and for my school. My gift is a wonderful surprise - a pair of handmade wooden getas, and they actually fit me! With a little help I put them on and prove that I can walk in heels, even those that are made of wood. They are surprisingly comfortable - the thong strap is made of heavily padded jute and doesn't cut into my foot as I expected it might. Perhaps that's the trick - get a carefully made pair that is big enough for my larger than average foot size.

Principal Yagi surprises me with an announcement that he has asked students to consider what animal might make a good mascot for Gakugyoin JHS. Apparently he was very intrigued with the jaguar that I presented to the school on my first day there (and my explanation that most American middle and senior high schools have mascots of one sort or another to encourage school spirit), and decided that a mascot might be a very good thing for his school as well.

Students are to think about possibilities during their summer vacation break in August, and come back in September with drawings of their favorites. When he comes to visit in mid-October, Principal Yagi hopes to have a mascot to present to Jefferson Middle School.

The PTA group and I spend quite a bit of time talking about many subjects, including one dear to the hearts of all of us females - shopping! Other topics are covered as well - differences in school structure and funding, classes available at different levels in each country's schools, political structure (states' rights vs. national government, a necessary offshoot of our education policy and funding discussion - not all Americans realize that our way of organizing public education is rather different than that of many other countries, with far more local control than Japanese schools, for example.)

It's a wide-ranging conversation, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed as a finish to my stay in Dazaifu.

Then it's time to say goodbye, and that's when the tears come again. We all promise to stay in touch via e-mail; the English teachers are especially interested in more chances to 'talk' and hope that we will be able to foster some student-to-student messaging as well. I will get to see most of these teachers on the video conferences, but it's still hard to leave after having worked together for these past four weeks. Even they are blinking back a few tears.

Home to the apartment with Ishii, where he joins me at the front desk to settle the final bill (he has money from MTP to cover the utilities' cost, the only part of my stay that was a variable). He tells me that he will meet me at the train station tomorrow morning and ride with me as far as Hakata, where I will catch a shinkansen to Nagoya. I suspect that some of the others will be there as well.

Another adventure awaits......
Posted on: 2005/7/21 0:08
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