All Singing, All Dancing.

The Miki twins pictured above (with the kind permission of their mum) are a couple of my youngest students, they are two and a bit. “What can you really teach a two year old!?” I hear. It’s proven that two year olds can learn two new words an hour, it’s also the time when their brains are firing off like crazy – now that they’ve made connections for walking and grasping objects. Two year olds are fantastic. These girls, of course with some prompting, can count and say their alphabet, they recognise colours and shapes. Their pronunciation is adorable and imperfect (just like their Japanese), every new word they learn and repeat turns my brain into mush because of how cute they are.

Actually, two year olds aren’t the youngest students I teach. My youngest official student has been about six months old – I’ve got no doubt that his mum enjoyed meeting other parents, she wasn’t from Kyoto so it was a fab opportunity to have fun with other parents and little kids. The benefit to her little boy would have been more about a socialising element and absorption by exposure to English. If one is not exposed to sounds when they are very small then they’ll not be able to reproduce them later on; like L and R – to name just one well known issue. I only taught this sixth month old baby for one lesson, he was the youngest of about 6 students in my baby class that day. Most are 2/3 years old, and I definitely see month to month progress which is not just about learning linguistically but evolving socially. One of our little girls used to be so shy she’d sit in mums lap and avoid eye contact for the whole hour – now she’s always the first to volunteer for games. We teach the baby classes once a month per group, there are two groups.

Teaching tiny tots is not for everyone, lessons must follow a formula of repetition, singing, and dancing. Kids adore familiarity and it gives them the confidence boost they need to try out that new word or even something that seems tiny like catching a ball thrown to them. Sometimes there are lessons where the kids are tired or the weather is off so they run a bit wilder, and sometimes kids get very competitive and there are tears. From my conversations with other teachers from all over the world I know that not everyone enjoys teaching the wee ones but I certainly have fun teaching them, nobody has wiped bogeys on me yet though… It’s absolutely not all about learning English, these kids are learning to socialise and play. They are developing cognitive skills and testing the boundaries of independence. Another important aspect is the ability to communicate with a ‘gaijin’ or foreigner, parents are thrilled to see that their little one isn’t afraid to talk to us – if you’ve grown up surrounded by people with dark hair and eyes then it can be a bit daunting to be faced with someone blonde who’s speaking in a completely new language. I’ve only had one child point at me and yell “GAIJIN!” which isn’t too bad now is it.

So, there, a snippet of my teaching life. I also teach all ages between 2 and 80 and each group are enjoyable or challenging for many reasons, but all are good fun. I’m only glad I didn’t have to teach me when I was 11….

In other news I’ve had a haircut, whoop whoo! I managed to give my hairdresser pictures of what I wanted and tell her in Japanese what I liked about each style – huge confidence boost for me. I also went to the cinema here for the second time, but this time I saw a Japanese film called ‘Kuro shizuji’ which means black butler and featured a handsome Japanese man with lethal butter knives and a soft spot for cats. I went with a fantastic group of Japanese, Scottish, and American ladies. I think I managed to grasp most of the plot even though most of the words went over my head, nobody needs to translate a fighting scene right? Here’s a photo of my new do…

20140128-162758.jpg

It was great fun to play with brand new band ‘The Meadowlarks’ a couple of weeks ago and we’re looking forward to playing AGAIN at Tadg’s bar this Friday night. Bob Dylan was good start I think and we appear to be enjoying folk and bluegrass. It’s not dead easy to find the time or space to practise because you’re not meant to practise instruments in your apartment due to paper thin walls, but I’m lucky that the browns English classrooms are available to me.

Talking about the Browns…. CONGRATULATIONS MITSUMI AND TOM! Who have just brought home their latest family member, a teeny weeny brand new boy, awww. I’m very much looking forward to meeting him, I believe there’s a couple of potential names flying around still so I shan’t introduce him by name. Mitsumi is absolutely super human and was still texting me details about work while she was in labor, what a woman. Here’s to a new generation of students!

I hope everyone’s ready for the mushy valentines day post I’m preparing for next month ❤ get your 'obligation chocolates' out!

Lots o love,

Rach xoxox

Horses and Monkeys and Bears (oh my!). 13.01.2014

I began 2014 having been awake until wholly inappropriate hours on New Year’s Eve. I woke up early(ish) to meet Chisato and her family at the Kamigamo Shrine. Praying may not seem like the best hangover cure to you but it seemed to do the trick, or maybe it was the scrumptious treats that Chisato had prepared us for lunch. At the Kamigamo shrine we fed a horse (being the year of the horse), wrote prayers on wooden boards to be burned, and Chisato got her fortune – she’s very lucky this year and almost got the best one. The fortunes come in different levels from great luck to awful and they set a forecast for the whole year – I wasn’t brave enough to get one – what if I got told I was going to have an awful year?? I was entrusted to tie the fortune up with other peoples as you can see below. They look a bit like Christmas trees don’t they.

20140113-155425.jpg

At the shrine you can also purchase mini bows and arrows which are symbolic of the new year, and you can also buy charms and get some calligraphy done. Next stop was a temple which is important to Chisato and Hiro’s ancestors, we spoke with the head monk for a time and drank matcha tea. He asked if I was one of those crazy people he’s seen on tv who are obsessed with Japan, funny guy. Anyway I guess I convinced him I was ok because I was invited to return whenever I like. This particular temple isn’t open to tourists which is a shame in one way because it’s such a treasure but I understand and respect their reasons for doing so – it’s not Disneyland it’s a spiritual place where people reflect and pray and pay respects to their deceased.

On that note; one of the stereotypes re Japan is the uniformity and ceremonial traditions, everyone following the same line. Yes it does happen, there are traditions and ways of doing things that people follow unquestioningly but I believe it’s a misunderstood concept. Personally when faced with some public situations I can feel awkward and I don’t know the right things to say etc, many people feel uneasy with death for example. Think then how reassuring it is to be told that there’s a way of dealing with it, one way that is acceptable and solves awkwardness. You deal with x by doing y – everyone does it that way. Of course it might not leave room for individuality in a historic sense but I’ve seen little evidence of people being unwilling to accept individuality in today’s Japan. I’ve seen tonnes of personality and creativity here, and I’ve also seen any ways that people rely on a ‘way of doing things’ that follows rules. It’s ok not to follow the traditional way, and it’s ok to do so.

A huge thank you goes out to Chisato and Hiro for showing me a beautifully traditional New Year’s Day.

20140113-171608.jpg

Couchsurfing.com has given me lots of opportunities for me to see new things in Kyoto with other travellers, I like showing people this city that I love and it gives me time to be a proper tourist. Last week I went to Arashiyama with an Australian and adopted a Belgian who we’d happened upon up in the monkey park. At the beginning I found the monkey park quite scary, I’d heard personal accounts of the intimidation and violence of the monkeys that live in the mountains around us. It’s a shortish fifteen minute hike up a mountain, and in the last stretch I heard screeches and braced myself. As soon as I saw the first monkey my excitement (and “awwww” factor) took over, they are pretty adorable wee things. From there we were steps away from the park where lots of monkeys were hanging around for treats (don’t take food up there, duh). There’s a warm hut with plenty of seating and large windows of wire mesh that prevent accidents but maintain a friendly contact between sapiens and simia, we fed the fuzzy cute things for a while and admired the view.

Next was a walk through Arashiyama’s bamboo cove. With a sure breeze the bamboo tap against one another creating this sort of rain like sound. With no pandas around to gobble it up the bamboo grows thick and ever so tall. There are apparently bears that live in Kyoto and Tom tells me they’ve been spotted in Arashiyama! I do plan to adventure into the mountains at some point but maybe not before finding someone with a map and bear wrestling qualities.

20140113-173526.jpg

Phew, this is a long one isn’t it!! Finally two more things, yesterday we went to Sanjusangen-do temple to watch the annual Toh-Shiya which is an archery competition. This is a tradition which goes waaaay back to the 12th century during the Edo period. Part of the tradition is a coming of age right of passage for girls, and they are absolutely astoundingly beautiful to watch – all in their best kimonos demonstrating impressive strength. It’s not just girls though, we watched older men and women plus some very impressive young lads who I’d say provoked the most reaction from us – in the crowds watching from an unsafe distance. I took some snaps but they’re not so good, my camera broke and my ipad lacks a good zoom.

20140113-175118.jpg

20140113-175139.jpg

Today I made the expensive decision to buy a violin. I couldn’t bring mine with me to Japan in fear of it getting smashed up on the journey so apart from the short time when someone very kindly lent me one I’ve been without a violin. It may not seem like a pain to you, but playing music with people transcends all kinds of language barriers and lets me communicate on a whole different level. I don’t mean to sound so profound about the whole thing, it just comes down to wanting to have fun playing music with people. So I found a great violin shop near Demachiyanagi station and managed to tell the shop keeper that all the violins I’d seen were too expensive and I needed a cheap one – in Japanese no less. Of course he replied in wonderful English clearly recognising my struggle, and guided me to my final choice: a second hand Suzuki violin made in Nagoya. Great shop, wonderful guy, happy Rachel. I was also given a free case, quids in!

20140113-180148.jpg

If you’ve made it this far well done. I think that’ll be it for today.

Thanks for reading, all the best.

Rach xoxox

Ps I lied, there’s MORE. I ate a sweet pancake type treat called Taiyaki which is shaped like a fish, squid balls called Takoyaki, and drank a slightly alcoholic rice drink called Amazake which is also sweet, yum yum in my tum.

20140113-182059.jpg