Archive

Personal Experiences

Sheridan Japanese School students meet with Takaoka Minami High School students at Great Buddha of Takaoka

Sheridan Japanese School students meet with Takaoka Minami High School students at Great Buddha of Takaoka

Originally written for the Vol.7-No.1 edition (April 4, 2013) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

On March 14, 21 students (8th-11th grade), 2 parents, and 3 teachers from Sheridan Japanese School spent a day in Toyama as part of a longer trip around Japan. At Sheridan Japanese School, a charter school located in Yamhill County, Oregon, all students study Japanese language and culture. However, this was the first trip of its kind for the school.

The eager group arrived from Osaka by train in the evening of March 13. The next morning, Japanese Program Director Andrew Scott and two students met with Toshiyuki Hiyoshi, Director-General of the Tourism and Region Promotion Bureau. They discussed active sister state activities, including the teacher exchange program that has Ms. Akiko Nakano from Toyama currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School. No one in the group had been to Toyama before, and the students also expressed their excitement at seeing tourism sights and of course, eating hard tofu. (Gokayama tofu is known for its extra firmness.)

Looking down at Ainokura Village, Gokayama

After this only “official business” of the day, the entire group was off to Ainokura, one of the villages of Gokayama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the snow was long gone down in the city, it still very much felt like winter in Gokayama. Since the valleys in western Oregon do not see a lot of snow, the students were delighted to see everything covered in white. Between learning from the volunteer guide about the history of this settlement hundreds of years old, with their buildings designed to withstand heavy snow, teenagers (and teachers!?) could also be seen throwing snowballs and sliding down snow-covered hills. This is certainly a side of Japan that many Western visitors never see.

Hiking down a snowy hill

Then, it was time to go to Gokayama Washi-no-Sato to experience traditional Japanese papermaking. At first they seemed a little confused at the idea of “making paper,” but everyone seemed to be having a fun time choosing decorative pieces for their handmade postcards and soaking their hands in the pulp! Hopefully, the students have a new appreciation for the process of making washi (traditional Japanese paper). While we unfortunately did not have a lot of time and had to move quickly through our activities of the day, it seemed that many students would have liked to spend more time in the gift store at Washi-no-Sato, which sells just about anything you could possibly want that is made out of washi, from stationary and home décor to business card holders and coasters!

We enjoyed lunch at the adjacent restaurant Furusato, with menu options that included soba, udon, fish, beef bowl, and tofu.

After lunch, we headed to Takaoka City to get a guided tour of Zuiryu-ji, a 350-year-old temple and a designated National Treasure of Japan. For many students, this was their first time at a Japanese temple, and they earnestly took in the historical wooden buildings with their detailed workmanship.

Next was a big highlight for the students: at the Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha), some students from Takaoka Minami High School were eagerly waiting for their American friends. Takaoka Minami is the former school of Ms. Nakano currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School, and the students had exchanged letters and handmade guidebooks. They had not expected to actually be able to meet in person, and they were thrilled to be conversing in both English and Japanese, each side trying out their second language skills.

We hope that all of our guests had a memorable time in Toyama, and enjoyed experiencing the varied landscapes and culture of Japan. We wish the students the best in their Japanese studies!

Advertisements

“Tatemon” at the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.4 edition (August 23, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

We are having a very hot summer here, and even overnight lows sometimes never reach below 80F/27C. But summer is a time for festivals and fireworks everywhere in Japan, with over a dozen within Toyama Prefecture. And in Japan, even average, small-city fireworks are spectacular displays. This summer, I went to the Furusato Ryugu Festival in Namerikawa City and the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City, which both had outstanding fireworks shows over the bay.

In sister state news, we have a major announcement: we are reinstating the exchange teacher program, which had been suspended for several years. Ms. Akiko Nakano of Toyama Prefecture will be spending the next year and a half in Oregon, teaching at Sheridan Japanese School! We are thrilled to have this development in sister state relations, and excited for Ms. Nakano and everyone at the school. We would like to thank Sheridan Japanese School and the Oregon Department of Education for all of their support.

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.3 edition (July 31, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

In Toyama Prefecture, we continue to be busy with international exchange endeavors! From July 9th to the 12th, we had the great privilege of hosting 13 American educators and 3 of their family members to Toyama as part of the U.S. Educators Program. This annual program is a major activity of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York (JCCI).

After visits to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto, the delegation came to Toyama Prefecture and experienced the history and culture here, including a visit to the historical village of Gokayama. I personally had the opportunity to visit Chuo Elementary School in Kurobe City with these American teachers and administrators, where we not only observed classes and met with the school principal but got to eat lunch with the students!

It was also an immense pleasure to be able to interpret for the delegation’s meeting with Governor Ishii, and also to simply spend time conversing with these amazing, dedicated educators. I have no doubt that this will remain one of the highlights of my time here as a CIR.

For more information about JCCI and the U.S. Educators Program, please visit their website.

School lunch room, which is unusual in Japan, since most schools have students eat in their classrooms

Looking out into the courtyard

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.6-No.1 edition (April 13, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

I apologize for the long absence! It has been very busy around here.

An event that may be of particular interest to you was the JET Festival on February 19th. This is an annual international event organized as a joint effort by all the CIRs of Toyama (ten of us this year) here as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program. Of course, many ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) on the JET Program helped out as volunteers, and also many others in the community lent a hand as well. There were stage performances, themed rooms, international treats, a kids’ corner, and booths – and we of course made sure to have a booth for Toyama’s sister state of Oregon! The Oregon booth was mostly staffed by my husband (raised in Oregon) and a local ALT from Ashland. We handed out many Oregon brochures and told attendees about the beautiful nature and rich culture in Oregon, and about the United States in general. It was all a very successful event.

Another thing I worked on that I wanted to share with all of you are the new “Toyama Brand” videos. They are short ninety-second segments about products that are endorsed by Toyama Prefecture, from firefly squid to Paro Therapeutic Robot. While I had nothing to do with making these professional videos, I did do the translations for the English subtitles. There are eleven videos, and they can all be viewed on YouTube.

We are finally getting cherry blossoms this week in Toyama, but this is an especially timely topic this year, as it is the 100-year anniversary of the 3,000 cherry blossom trees gifted to Washington D.C. from Tokyo.

Finally, we wanted to let you know that the 16th Annual Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest will be held in Portland this Sunday, April 15th. We wish all of the students the best of luck.

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.7 edition (September 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

One of the best things I discovered in my five and a half years living in Oregon was a love for running. And as any runner in Oregon can tell you, there is an excellent running community there and more race options than it is possible to keep up with. I found the Run Oregon blog to be an indispensable resource, and I loved it so much that I began to occasionally write race recaps for them.

I promised to continue running and writing in Japan, and I would like to share some of my relevant pieces with you.

Uozu Shinkirou Half Marathon (Uozu City, Toyama, April 24th, 2011):
This was my first race in Japan.

Kurobe Meisui Road Race (Kurobe City, Toyama, May 22, 2011):
This particular race has a special connection to Oregon and to the United States.

You might also be interested in my general observations about running in Japan.


The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.7 edition (September 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

One of the most significant natural features of Toyama Prefecture is the Tateyama Mountain Range. It is considered one of Japan’s three “Holy Mountains,” along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Haku (Hakusan). Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Oyama, a peak 3,003 meters (9,852 ft.) above sea level, with the newest of my fellow JET Program participants.

The roughly two-hour (each way) hike began at Murodo Station, at 2,450-meter (8,038 ft.) elevation. It was cloudy and very foggy with a chance of rain. We set out on the stone hiking path, through the plains surrounded by mountain slopes. Soon, we reached our first obstacle: snow. There was a large patch of snow covering the trail, and it took small steps and careful concentration to not fall over.

The stone path ended at a resting hut, and I looked up at the steep, rocky mass that was the way to the top. As someone who had been on countless hikes in California and Oregon and a runner in good shape, I had been absolutely confident about this hike, but I admit that suddenly looking up at a giant pile of rocks that faded up into the fog gave me some pause.

It turned out, though, that scrambling up the rocks was my favorite part! There was no real “trail” – just some occasional red arrows marking the best route – and it was great fun climbing from rock to rock. I felt excited, as if I were back in the playground on a jungle gym. Sometimes, the fog would momentarily clear, offering panoramic views of the valley and of the now-tiny buildings below. I also enjoyed the flowering alpine plants – little bright spots of color bursting out from the cracks between the rocks.

Perched at the top is Oyama Shrine. While the thick fog made it impossible to see anything below (I was told that you can even see Mt. Fuji on a clear day), I found myself not minding much. The torii (shrine gate) looked ghostly in the mist, which somehow felt like an iconic sight. As an actively functioning shrine, I went up and received a blessing (and a sip of sake) from the priest, before starting my way back down the mountain.

This Tateyama trip is part of the annual Toyama Prefecture Orientation for new JET Program participants here. I cannot think of a better way to be introduced to Toyama.

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.6 edition (August 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The summer continues to be busy! In the first week of July, I volunteered as an “English Support” interpreter at the 2011 JCI (Junior Chamber International) Academy in Toyama. Not only did I have an opportunity for interpretation practice, I had the privilege of meeting interesting people from all over the world. Furthermore, I was able to experience Japanese culture myself in ways I had not before, such as observing the Zen Buddhism practice of “Zazen” and seeing a Noh performance. You can read more about the 2011 JCI Academy in Toyama here.

It is also a hectic season for the foreign community here in Toyama. This is the time of year for most people on the JET Program (which brings me here as well) to begin or end our contracting periods, so it is a time to say “good-bye” to old friends while welcoming new ones. In Toyama, we are changing over for more than 30 JET positions. There are so many welcome events that I can hardly keep track of them all, but I look forward to getting to know all the new faces here!

Finally, summer is truly the season of fun in Japan. Summer festivals featuring spectacular fireworks are held all over the country, and people are encouraged to travel this time of year. There was a large fireworks show last night (August 1st) in Toyama City, but unfortunately, I was unable to go as I was still on the train back from a short vacation (and 15k race) in the neighboring prefecture of Nagano! There is much to explore in this too-often-skipped middle region of Japan.