First Week of School: Junior High & Taiikusai

On Mon and today (Thurs), I went to the junior high school. The students are practicing for the upcoming taiikusai, which is basically like a field day. The students are divided into two teams, red headbands vs. white headbands; there is an opening ceremony and short speeches, and then the games begin. It’s an all-day event that will take place on Sunday, and I’ll be going to it! It’ll be my first one, so I’m looking forward to it! I think I get to help hand out snacks and stuff, haha.

This was my lunch today! Whole milk, a croissant, pasta with beef in it, fruit, and tea! They give you a lot, so teachers at both schools have told me to let them know if it’s too much, haha. So far it’s been fine, I think!

The week before the taiikusai starts, the students and teachers are very busy preparing for the taiikusai, and so there’s not really any official work for me to do. Honestly speaking–this isn’t the teachers’ fault or anything, but it was a bit stressful for me not knowing what to do, because all the teachers seemed to be extremely busy preparing for this and I felt a little self-conscious of the fact that I didn’t have a clearly defined work schedule for this week while they were all working so hard. However, my supervisor at the Board of Education said not to worry about it, because it’s my first week, and that I’m doing fine. And the teacher whose desk is by mine at the middle school has been super nice, asking me lots of questions and making conversation, which helps me because I don’t always know what to talk about. I think that at this school, I need to just be “intentional” by being willing to ask questions in order to learn what’s going on (the day’s schedule is written on the board each day, so what I mean by that is, ask questions about what I can specifically help with or do).

The people in the office have been really nice to me, too! I ran into M-san when I was setting up my bank account, before I had even started work at the Jr. High yet, and she gave me advice on how to make okonomiyaki with fish, moyashi, and green onions, which I have for the past two nights, and it’s been really good! The office ladies even let me come in and watch the taiikusai practice on Monday from their air-conditioned office!^^ After the first day, I brought in my omiyage (gifts) which consisted of dried fruits for everyone to share and CA postcards, and after taiikusai practice was over, other teachers were coming up to me and asking about the pictures on them, haha. I’m glad I asked my mom to send more. Thanks, Mom! I handed my little box of wrapped gifts to the vice principal, and he took it somewhere and I didn’t see it after that and was a little concerned, but apparently the ladies at the office had taken it and sorted all the different kinds of fruits into separate bags for all the teachers! I couldn’t believe it! I was really glad, though. They passed out a postcard to each person along with a bag of (as)sorted fruits. At the end of the day, everyone at the office also got to take home a couple bottles of Aquarius sports drinks. I don’t really know why, but I’m cool with it! haha.

These are California postcards of NorCal things that work great to give as omiyage! I’m so glad we found these!

Anyway, I asked someone why the taiikusai was held so soon after school reconvened instead of waiting till later, like with the Culture Festival (Japanese schools begin in the spring, have summer break, and the second semester starts in September). I was told that it had to do with the start of the new semester–kind of like, “Let’s work hard together this semester, too!” And when I really stopped to think about it, it’s actually a great idea. I remember after Christmas break how I was always kind of depressed that I had to go back to school and sit in the class and get homework, with no holidays to look forward to anymore because Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, and even New Years’ were past^^; With the taiikusai, students get to prepare for a fun event with their classmates right when they get back–so even though it’s a lot of work for the teachers, I think it’s a really good idea. It’s also a good time to do it–it can get pretty cold in the winter, but right now fall weather is starting to set in and so it’s not scorching, and it’s getting a little cooler.

This next picture is not my middle school–it’s the front yard of an elementary school I visited in Hiroshima. However, the front of the elementary and middle schools are essentially the same–there’s a wide expanse where a lot of the activities take place. I usually use this as my answer to the “what shocked you the most about Japan” question I tend to get asked–I was surprised because my elementary school had grass and fairly big trees growing in and around it. What’s nice is that this yard works for anything–baseball, taiikusai, PE class. (By the way, that building in the back is not the school–I don’t know what it is.) I also think that, in the event of an earthquake, this kind of a schoolyard would be a safe bet for student evacuation. Small parks in Japan can be just sand and a jungle gym, too–I used to have one right outside my apartment in Tokyo, and when the big earthquake happened, that’s where I went.

Today during the first four periods, I went outside with the teachers and watched the students practicing. This practice included races; relays; capture-the-flag; a group race where 5 people are holding a bar and running with it at the same time; an obstacle-course type of race where you go under a net, over hurdles, and jump in potato sacks. The boys got into groups of 3-4 and hoisted their friends on their shoulders, and did all sorts of “group gymnastics”–I don’t know what it’s called, but they’d hold one guy up in the air with two people holding him up in different positions. Like, two standing guys would hold one guy in between them who was standing with one foot on each friends’ leg and stand at an angle while they held his legs…does this make sense? This video is not of my junior high school, but this is basically what I was watching them practice:

The girls did a cheerleading dance to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend.” I really enjoyed the music they played during the taiikusai (and also during lunch haha). My first day there, during lunch, they were playing Girls’ Generation; during the taiikusai practice, there was a rock version of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, Kara (Mister), Tohoshinki (Summer Dream, Share the World), Greeen (Kiseki), LMFAO (Party Rock), Big Bang (Fantastic Baby), Arashi (Happiness), and lots more. During the races, they played some really fast techno music song. It was fun to try and guess the songs, because while sometimes they were the originals and I recognized them, other times they were just background tracks or remixes and I couldn’t remember the artists. Tomorrow I might get to go outside with everyone and watch the practice. Maybe I can watch the cheer practice, too! (That’s also coordinated, and everyone practices for it.) More to come!

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