This Tuesday was the Autumnal Equinox, marking a national holiday. I had the day off of work, and i had taken 1 day of paid vacation on Monday (I have no classes on Mondays) to extend it into a nice 4-day weekend. I decided not to travel or do anything excessively busy, but instead to hang out with friends downtown and relax. It was a good call. This week I am feeling refreshed and am not constantly running around. This has come at the expense of going out to dinner with someone almost every night, and going to Judo practice less often, but my slower heartrate is worth it, i think.
On tuesday, for the holiday, i went on a trip with Matsuo sensei, my friend who teaches in the night school. If i haven't explained this before, the night school operates between 4 and 9 PM rather than during regular school hours. It serves students who cannot attend regular high school for one reason or another, be it academic or family related. These students range in age from 18 to 70 and many of them will not go on to college, according to Matsuo sensei and he expresses the difficulty of working with students with such widely varying ability and motivation levels. A few of his students are really motivated to learn English, while some of the others refuse to pay attention. Others still dont even know the ABC's. It sounds like a very hard job. Matsuo sensei said he used to teach at the regular academic school, but switched. He describes himself as a "black sheep" among the daytime staff. He is a lot like what an American (I.e. me) would think of as a "good" teacher. He is committed to making sure the students learn the material in a real and lasting way that extends beyond passing the tests. Unfortunately, the emphasis is the other way around in Japan. Every student, especially at a high level academic high school like Asakura, has the priority of scoring well on entrance exams so s/he can go to the best colleges. Teachers are expected to lecture and students are expected to listen. While this is an effective teaching strategy for many areas of Math science, history, and maybe even literature, it falls short in the foreign language department, where students will not learn to understand the linguistic ideas unless they at least attempt to use them. This means speaking up, discussing, asking questions, and shamelessly making mistakes. These habits to sit well with Japanese teachers or students, so English instruction is, admittedly broken in Japan. Matsuo sensei, therefore, being the kind of guy he is, was often behind in his lessons compared to other teachers who went along by the book at a pace too fast for students to actually understand (this is how i have to teach). This caused problems for Matsuo sensei and though he wasnt asked to leave, he voluntarily transferred to the night school where he has more freedom to teach how he wants (but more challenges to get students to actually work)
Anyway, Matsuo and I get along, and occasionally chat for a few minutes at work. He took me out to dinner a few weeks ago and we talked about Japanese vs. American education, and our respective interpretations of WWII. He's really a cool guy. A big part of it is definitely that he likes hanging out with ALTs and foreigners because he wants the english practice, but i have come to accept that this is simply a desirable part of my personality here in Japan, rather than be offended that my new friends are not exclusively interested in me for my dynamite persona. Furthermore, i tend to appreciate the people who are excited about learning and practicing english practice anyway. they tend to be the cooler ones.
At any rate, on Tueday, we took a trip to Akizuki a lovely scenic area of Amagi that is and beautiful. There are castle ruins, ancient buildings, rivers, falls, and hordes of cherry blossom trees not yet in bloom. In the spring it is supposed to be one of the best places in Kyushu for viewing the sakura. He picked me up in his wife's van at my apartment, and we headed into the mountains. We walked around the town of Akizuki for a while, stopping for lunch in a soba shop, and eventually hiked into the mountains. I was floored by how gloriously pretty this place is. It was hot. and raining. but it didnt matter. the rain actually lended to the aesthetic of old moss-covered rocks, tall shady trees and trickling rivers.
Some beautiful images were captured. they will be in the post above.