Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year!

Kids: This is kind of weird…

Maki-san: It’s not weird! It’s traditional!

Me: Covering a bare tree branch with styrofoam balls, plastic fish and dice is traditional?

Apparently so. The decorations used to be mochi (squishy, chewy rice cakes), but apparently styrofoam isn’t as messy. There was an impromptu decorating session in the lobby this afternoon, including a bunch of fifth graders who had come in from sledding to warm up in the library. Then we tied the poor branch to the ceiling.

Of course, no sooner was it up then were people wondering if we had hung it upside down – branches down, rather than up. There was a brief, fierce debate, including Googling and wondering if we should hang one branch one way and the other the other way. Finally, someone determined that it was traditional locally to hang it branches up, so we began the long process of flipping it over.


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A Walk Through Town

It’s been snowing here on and off for awhile, but we got our first real blizzard this weekend. Apparently it only amounted to about 5-7cm, but the wind had its way and the town looks coated.

I decided to tromp around and take a few pictures. Originally, I was only going to go down to the river so I could get some open shots, then head over to one of the shrines, but the frozen river made me interested in exploring a bit more.

After seeing that, I decided that I really needed to see where it joined up with the ocean.

On the way, I ran into something I’d promised to show – one of the ways Japan deals with the weather. Right now, the wind coming off the Japan Sea is wicked strong – one has to actively stand against it. It’s especially strong coming over open ground, near the rivers for example. Now, the last thing you want when you’re driving along in winter is to be shoved unexpectedly into oncoming traffic, so there are these special fences erected along coastal roads. They’re typical, knee-high barriers most of the year, and then they unfold accordion-style in late-fall to high fences.

From there, I decided to check out the port and maybe get some pictures of the beach. The snow along the path there was almost undisturbed, with these neat scale patterns.

However, I was sick of sinking in up to my ankles and decided to switch to the other side of the road, where the snow looked shallower…

…right. This is me sunk in up to my thighs. Shortly after taking the picture, I sank in up to my waist and shortly after that some wiggling helped me become a head and pairs of arms (one holding the camera out of harm’s way) flailing above the snow. I had stepped into a snow-filled ditch.

I admit the only PG thing running through my head at that point was ‘Darwin Award’.

I wrapped the camera in my hat, set it aside, and then flopped as hard as I could toward the road. From there, all I had to do was worm my way on my belly out of the hole. After that, I walked in the street.

I decided I wasn’t up to going to the port at that point and wandered back into town. A lot of people had set up structures over their plants back in October, to protect them from heavy snowfall.

The plows were out…finally.

Here’s one of the shrine’s in Otobe:

Pretty much no one is around unless there’s a festival. With New Year’s coming up, every will be hanging around until midnight, ready to ring in the new year with the shrine’s bell.

I stopped on the way home to get bread from the bakery and some hot cocoa from a vending machine. We often carry around the hot cans to keeps our hands warm, but I must have looked a little odd holding mine against the tip of my nose.

One last picture, of the Otobe cliffs in their winter finery:


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So how was your day?

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my littlest elementary school (18 students, grades 1-6) for an afternoon class. This is rather unusual, since I usually end up at this school early, early in the morning. I actually prefer that – it took me until sophomore year of college to realize that ‘Early Bird’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word (phrase?), but I have embraced it fully.

The Japanese school day, through junior high, has six class periods (45 minutes each in elementary, 50 in junior high). I was actually surprised to learn this because starting in fifth grade, I had seven periods a day. School went until 3PM as a matter of course, 2:30PM on Fridays. In Otobe, only the junior high school goes for six periods every day (usually). The sixth graders are out after fifth period at least once per week, it seems, and the first graders never have sixth period. This makes the small elementary schools interesting in the afternoons, since the class are combined 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, and 5th/6th – I’m used to small classes, but it’s odd when one half of the class goes home early and you happen upon a teacher going over a new math lesson with his two second graders.

Anyway, after I finished up this fifth period class, the fifth and sixth graders all immediately started putting on aprons and masks, like they do before serving lunch in the classroom. I was actually deeply confused about the time for a moment, before they marched out of the classroom and into the home ec room.

Which was full of buckets of dead fish.

Probably not something you’d see in America everyday.

The kids were pretty game to try cutting up the fish properly, though they all went pale when the man who had come to teach them explained that the best way to get a grip on the slippery fish was to grasp the head with their left hand and punch their thumb through the eye socket.

Y(fifth-grade girl): Teacher, do we really…?

Teacher: Would you rather slice open your hand?

They started off pretty well, considering that the fisherman who had showed them how to cut them open did it in about 45 seconds and only vaguely differentiated between what fish innards should be saved and which should be discarded. This is why I don’t eat protein prepared by anyone under the age of 14.

The biggest complaint I heard was about how cold the fish were. Okay, and about sticking thumbs into eye sockets. I snapped a few pictures and left before anyone lost any fingers.


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