Archive for the ‘kurionekamakura’ category

Kurione in the Kamakura

September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: May 16, 2009: Flashback 27 months: Last weekend Emily and I had three wonderful days of travel over a wide swathe of Hokkaido from the Nihon Kai (Sea of Japan) to the Ohotsuku Kai (Sea of Okhotsk: warning my Romaji rendering of the Japanese pronunciation may be a little off). We spent time with great people, ate good food, and enjoyed beautiful scenery. The weekend also inspired the title of my Weblog: KurioneKamakura. Read on and these possibly mysterious words shall be explained.

February 17, 2006: Joyfully, today is a Friday, but we will not be going to work. Today is a yasumi (holiday) for us. We have taken nenkyu (paid vacation) from work, and instead will by plying the roadways of Hokkaido by bus to Lake Saroma on the Sea of Okhotsk. We are up before the crack of dawn. After cursing the alarm clock and gouging the legonias from the corners of my eyes, I am drawn to pull back the curtains and look out the window by the sound of howling wind. I am confronted with a fubuki (blizzard.) The wind is raging, and the snow is flying vertically and horizontally. I wonder what this bodes for the bus trip, and attempt to rouse Emily from her comfortable slumber.

Our tour bus is scheduled to pull out of the Chuo Bus Terminal in downtown Sapporo at 9:20am. We need to give ourselves ample time to get down there. From our house in the eastern Sapporo hinterlands of Higashi Yonesato, it takes about 35 minutes to get to Odori Park at the heart of downtown via bus and subway. But that is in the best of weather. In the midst of a fubuki in a fuyu (winter) chock full of fubuki, that time will be doubled, at least, due to the fact that entire lanes of roads have been abandoned under mountains of snow until the spring melt frees them. We aim for a 7:22am local bus departure from our house at Hakuryo Koko to Kikusui subway station on the Tozai Line.

After making our way through a foot of fresh and blowing yuki to the bus stop, we climb aboard the 7:22 am JR Bus No. 5. in the midst of the now slighly abating blizzard. Being the end and the beginning of the line, we get our choice of seats for a short nap on the ride to Kikusui. As expected, the 25 minute trip takes over an hour, setting the tone early for the day, and the bus is chock full of people by the time we roll into Kikusui. It truly is amazing, mind boggling, and scary how many people can fit onto a bus. As Sting once sang: “Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.” Being a weekday, the rush hour is full on and today we are going with the predominant flow of people downtown.

We make our way into the underground bowels of the Sapporo subway system, where the mass of humanity can often be overwhelming, at Kikusui Eki (Station). Masses of tightly packed rushing humanity can be especially overwhelming to someone who spent the last 11 years living in Yellowstone National Park and Moscow, Idaho. But I have forced myself to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of city life. The Rat Race exists here in Japan in a big way, and I feel like one of those rats as I head for the chikatetsu (subway). But at least this rat will be taking a well deserved yasumi today. Kyo, shigoto o shimasen!!!! (No work today!!!!)

The Rat Race takes on epic proportions as I stare directly in its bewildering face. Two tries to jump on a subway car fail because the lemmings are packed so tightly that two big ole gaikokujins just ain’t gonna fit. Finally, we SQUEEZE on to a third train, and luckily we only have two stops to Odori, where half of the lemmings get off with us. Odori is the one place where the three subway lines of Sapporo: Tozai, Nanboku, and Toho intersect and people can transfer from one line to another. It is the Grand Central Station for the underground labyrinth of below surface Sapporo. Several underground malls extend below the streets at Odori. A winter shoppers paradise. And for one who hates shopping, like me, a mammoth spectacle of obsessed mass consumerism gone mad. CHUD is less scary than the armies of mass shoppers with purses and bags dangling from the crooks of arms as they push and shove their way onward to the next purchase.

We emerge into the world of above ground Sapporo, and the fubuki has subsided. The sun is now shining as we make our way to the Chuo Bus Terminal. We arrive at 9 am, 20 minutes early for departure. We are immediately recognized by the tour director because we stick out like sore thumbs pretty much anywhere we go. He tells us that the bus will be late coming in from Otaru because the fubuki has closed down the expressway forcing the bus to ply the local city streets. To be continued…



September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: November 21, 2008: In October, Em and I took a 4 week intensive CELTA course, a Cambridge University ESOL Teaching Certification. Cambridge authorizes language centers and instructors around the world as CELTA centers. There are presently seven CELTA centers in the US, two of them in Houston. Luckily, one of them is located twenty minutes from my parent’s house, the perfect home base for our CELTA experience. We did our CELTA at Lone Star College CyFair under the wonderful tutelage of Jeff Mohamed, Carolyn Ho, and Macarena Aguilar. After our 3 years on the JET Programme, Em and I both wanted to cement, expand, and refine our English teaching skills and repertoire. I am glad we did it with CELTA at Lone Star College CyFair.

CELTA is a very practical course, filled with applying what you learn with a lot of teaching practice. Our CELTA day was split into three parts: 9am – 12pm was input from our instructors (grammar, language skills, teaching methods, etc…), 12:00pm – 1:30 lunch break (usually filled with finishing up class work, lesson plans, and final classroom preparation), and 1:30pm – 4:30pm teaching practice and lesson feedback session. We usually headed home between 4:30pm – 5pm for a homework and lesson planning filled evening. For the most part, for four weeks our life was CELTA. Intensive course lived up to its name, and was well worth the effort.

There were seven of us taking the course in October. At Lone Star College CyFair, they limit the number to 10. There were 10 people signed up until Hurricane Ike swooped in and changed some plans, so we ended up with seven, which was a perfect number. It was a mixed crew with good chemistry: Kristen, Sarah, Kim, Kathy, Bill, Em, and I. Our mornings would start off with Jeff, and finish up with Carolyn or Macarena (alternating days). Then we would teach our classes in the afternoon. We were split into two groups, one of 4 and one of 3. I was in the group of 3. For the first two weeks, I taught the Intermediate Class, and taught the Elementary Class the last two weeks. Depending on the day, we had 10 to 20 adult learners in our classes. The majority of our students were Spanish speakers from all over Latin America, but Vietnam, Taiwan, Ukraine, Cameroon, and Brazil were also represented. It was a great mix of extremely interesting and highly motivated adult learners. After teaching high school in Japan for 3 years, it was a nice change of pace to work with highly motivated adults bursting with the chance to communicate in English. A totally different and refreshing classroom atmosphere was wonderful to be a part of. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching adults.

Most of the grading for the course is based on 4 written assignments and the instructor evaluations of our teaching practice. During the course, you have to observe 6 hours of experienced ESOL teachers in action in the classroom, and have 6 hours of observed and evaluated teaching by your CELTA instructors. We also taught unobserved and unevaluated lessons to help us get our groove on without being under the microscope. Lots of lesson planning and teaching practice! Grades for the course are broken down into Pass A, Pass B, Pass, and Fail. I ended up with a Pass B for the course. I have my temporary certificate, but am anxiously awaiting my official certificate from Cambridge to come in the mail and take around the world.

CELTA is all about communication: start with listening, then speaking, then reading, then writing. Students should listen and speak before reading and writing, just like kids first learning a language do. Japanese high school curriculum is the opposite: not focused on communication. Focused on non-communicative college entrance exams to the detriment of everything else. Reading, writing, listening, and maybe speaking if they bother to get to it. I wish all Japanese English teachers were required to take CELTA. Transformation of the English classroom in Japan is long overdue. Currently, with some notable exceptions, the English classroom in Japan is utterly backwards in methods leading to real and lasting language acquisition. CELTA melds all kinds of different aspects from language learning theories and methods into a communicative whole. It is high time that this kind of wide ranging communicative approach is implemented in Japan`s junior high schools and high schools. Now, I will get off my soapbox, stop preaching to the choir, and sip my drink instead.

P.S. There are two CELTA Centers in Japan for interested ALTs and JTEs: one in Kobe and one in Tokyo. Obviously CELTA experiences will differ depending on the center, but judging by my Lone Star College CyFair CELTA experience, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in starting or continuing a career in teaching English.

TFA できない

September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: November 20, 2008:

Hoping to ride the wave of our JET Programme experience, Em and I applied to Teach For America in September. Apparently, they weren’t impressed. Em got rejected in the initial stage. I made it through to the personal interview stage before being shot down in flames. On October 28th, in Houston I-59 and 610, I was Quantified and Calculated into less than pleasing. Notes were taken. Actions and words were dissected in a four ring fishbowl with 9 others. I was Old Boy. Rubrics soon had spoken. Accountability was held. Profiles were not fit accordingly. Three weeks later Word came down by form email. Robo email signed by human hand? Thanks for the memories Robo.

Dear Jeffrey,

Thank you very much for your interest in Teach For America and for the time and effort you invested in interviewing with us. I am very sorry to inform you that, after careful consideration of your candidacy, we will not be extending you an offer to join the 2009 corps.

Your initiative in applying to Teach For America demonstrates your commitment to expanding opportunities for children and effecting social change. While we would like to offer all candidates a path to realizing these aims, we know that Teach For America is not a fit for everyone. Over time we have developed a set of selection criteria that helps us select those most likely to be successful in our particular program. We use the written application, transcripts, online recommendation forms, phone interview, and all parts of the interview day as lenses through which to view evidence of this criteria.

We know that you have the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting our country’s pressing social needs, and we encourage you to pursue other ways to make a difference. To assist you in your pursuit, we have posted on our website a list of recommended resources. If you also are interested in being contacted by other education and service-oriented organizations that may wish to recruit Teach For America applicants for similar opportunities, you can complete a short form here.

Although this e-mail may bring disappointment, I hope that your experience with Teach For America thus far has been positive. If you would like to share any anonymous feedback on our admissions process, we welcome your reflections and suggestions here.

Lastly, I am sorry that we are not able to provide individual feedback on admissions decisions, given that we do not have the resources to handle the volume of potential requests. We attempt to minimize the disappointment we know this can cause by being upfront about this policy in our application.

Again, thank you for the energy you invested in our admissions process. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.


Joshua Griggs HAL
Vice President, Admissions

Hurricane Ike and CELTA

September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: October 17, 2008: 7 weeks and counting since landing in the States. Since boarding the plane in Sapporo on August 20, lots has happened. Landed at George Bush Intercontinental Houston. Picked up by Mom and Dad. Readjusted. Saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers outside under the Texas sky at Cynthia Woods Pavillion in the Woodlands. Sold the Trooper. Hung out with the Coats famly. Got a Darth Vader mask wrestled off my head by Jack and Will, the nephews. Had an extended weekend at casa de la Greg on the shores of Lake Travis, swimming, kayaking, and boating. I Rode out Hurricane Ike, sidesaddle on the Golden Calf, at my parent’s house in Tomball, northwest Houston. Wild ride but came through unscathed besides downed fence and 2 weeks without electricity. Luckily, post Ike, it was relatively cool for Houston in September. For two weeks my world was Ike. Post Hurricane trip to B’ham, Bama via the dirty dawg’. Rollin’ on Greyhound for 15 hours across hurricane ravaged netherworlds. Eastern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Bama rolled on as the usual crew did their thing on the open road of a confined bus. Pillboy roamed in New Orleans only to forget in Slidell.

Met up with Em in Montgomery for a 2am ride to Birmingham. Hung out with Gilda, Lydia, Elizabeth, Dave, Nat, and Matty. Got caught up on some reading. Played disc golf. Saw the Vulcan’s ass. On to Mobile to hang out with big bro Pat, Dan, and Harley before 6 days road trippin on the Gulf Coast. Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida and Mississippi. Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island, Alabama. New Orleans onto Houston. Took in an Astros game pre-Hurricane Ike. Post Hurricane, a Texans game: a historic implosion loss to the Colts 31-27 after being up 27-10 with five minutes left. Helicopters helicoptered. Boos reigned down. Then CELTA began. We are presently immersed in the month long at Lone Star College – Cy Fair under the tutelage of Jeff, Carolyn, and Macarena. Learning a lot. Busy as hell. Lots of studying and teaching practice with great, talkative students from around the world. 2 weeks in. 2 weeks left. keep on chooglin.


September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: September 25, 2008:

(Hiking Date: August 15, 2008) I was up early and walked from the Akan Kohan campground to the bus terminal. At the terminal, I jumped the 7:35am bus to Kushiro, which stops at the Oakan-dake trailhead (Oakan Tozan Guchi) on the way. The Oakan Tozan Guchi sits about ten minutes down the road from the Akan Kohan bus terminal, on an arm of Akan-ko. Oakan-dake is a dormant volcano, unlike its taller, and active nearby neighbor Meakan-dake. I was hiking solo again as Em was still nursing her swollen bug-bit foot. She was going to hang in town again while I hiked. I hit the trail at 8:00am. The trail begins along Akan-ko and soon passes the smaller lakes of Jiro-ko and Taro-ko. The dank woods were moist, and the fog thickened as I climbed, hoping I would climb through it to a clear top. Luckily, that was the case. I climbed through the fog and into some blue skies and views lurking above. The trailhead sits around 550 meters, the same elevation as Akan-ko. I reached the 1,371 meter top around 11am, sharing it with a family for a half hour before they moseyed on leaving me alone on top. Oakan-dake is not one of the Hyakumeizan, so it does not get nearly as much foot traffic as the nearby Meakan-dake. But there was a fair number of hikers out. An elderly gentlemen soon joined me on top, and we had a fun conversation. He was one of the Hyakumeizan faithful, but he took a day off to hike one of Hokkaido’s mountains not on the list.

After our chat, I started down around noon, landing back at the trailhead around 2pm, missing a bus back into town by about 3 minutes. The next bus was an hour off. So I roamed down the road a bit doing some sightseeing and clambering down to the river that flows out of Akan-ko to relax and soak my feet as I waited. After the foot soak, I walked back to the bus stop and hobknobbed with my friend from the peak, who was waiting for the bus going in the opposite direction to Kushiro. My chariot arrived, and I climbed on bidding a fond farewell to my mountain friend. Back in town, I roamed back to the campground and reunited with Em. We headed for the onsen for a soak as heavy rain began. After our soak, we enjoyed beers in the hotel bar as we stared outside at the pouring rain dotting the darkened lake. Fortified with some beer and snacks, we headed out with our umbrella to roam the town’s omiyage lined streets before retiring to our tent for the night. As the rain poured, we passed the time playing Magic into the night.

Meakan-dake and Akan Fuji

September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: September 13, 2008:

(Hiking Date: August 14, 2008) I was up early on the 14th to hike Meakan-dake, another Hyakumeizan. Gregory was kind enough to drop me off at the Meakan Onsen trailhead on his way home to Shihoro. Em was going to take it easy in Akan Kohan, nursing her swollen bug bit foot. So, I was hiking solo. Gregory dropped me off at the trailhead around 7:30am, then headed to Shihoro. I started up the trail through the the red pine woods of Meakan-dake, an active volcano armed with a siren alert system on its slopes. The volcanic soil of the mountain accounts for its red pine woods with a distinct lack of undergrowth compared to most of Hokkaido’s dense sasa carpeted woods. The Meakan Onsen trailhead sits around 700 meters. Meakan-dake tops out at 1499 meters. Like many Japanese mountains, Meakan-dake is divided into 10 stages (gome). Around the 4th Gome, you pop out of the forest and the views start to open up. Lake Onneto sits below. Volcanic steam tops the ridge above.

I reached the top around 9:30am. It was cloudy, but there were views to be had of the crater, Akan-ko, and some of the surrounding mountains. The crater is a vigorously steaming one and houses two small thermal lakes, Aonuma (Blue Lake) and Akanuma (Red Lake). I plopped down on the peak and took in the volcanic scenes for 45 minutes before continuing on my 13km loop. My next destination was the top of Akan Fuji, Meakan-dake’s friend and neighbor. Akan Fuji, 1477 meters, was shrouded in a sea of moving clouds being funneled over its cone. Upon reaching the saddle between the two mountains, I climbed into the mist. After hitting the peak, the fog did clear for a couple minutes as I chatted with a fellow hiker. This gave us some brief but beautiful views of the neighboring Meakan-dake. After the side trip up Akan Fuji, I headed down to the saddle to eat lunch out of the clouds on some big rocks, staring back up at the clouded Akan Fuji. After lunch, I dropped down the trail back into the woods to the Lake Onneto Ao Nen no Uchi trailhead. From there, I roamed back to Meakan Onsen along the Lake Onneto shore road. The hike was topped off with a 300 yen soak in the very laid back and deliciously sulphurous Onneto Onsen, before hopping the 4:20pm bus back to Emily at the Akan Kohan Campground.


September 9, 2010

kurionekamakura Date: September 5, 2008:

(August 13-16, 2008) Akan National Park is filled with forests, mountains, and lakes. Akan-ko is one of the lakes that sits within the park’s border. The onsen resort town of Akan Kohan sits on the southern shore of the lake. It is filled with an Ainu Kotan, lavish onsen hotels, and lots of omiyage shops. We set up a base camp at the campground on the edge of town, where we spent three nights. Unfortunately, in Shiretoko, Em got bit by something on her right foot, probably a spider, and it swelled up like a melon. She could not comfortably wear her hiking boot when we got to Akan, so she was out of commission for hiking. Gregory split off from us in Akan-ko, heading home to Shihoro. So, I was left to do two solo day hikes: Meakan-dake and Oakan-dake (blogs coming soon: stay tuned). Em roamed the town exploring nooks and crannies and onsening when I hiked. On a rain soaked night, we returned to a lavish onsen scouted by Em, masquerading as hotel guests, and basked in the luxury. We also roamed the town scoping omiyage and took in the Ainu/Ryukyu fusion show over the fence.

On our final day at Akan-ko, we got up early and walked the town and some of the surrounding woodland, lakeshore trails. Then, inspired by Marimokkori and Marimo Monroe, we went in search of the elusive marimo. We hopped a tour boat and took to Akan-ko’s calm waters. The tour included a stop at the Marimo Center located on one of the lake’s islands. We feasted our eyes on loads of marimos (green algae balls) in tanks. Akan-ko is most famous for being the home of the marimo, a cute and beloved national treasure. The conditions of Akan-ko are one of the few places in the world where everything converges for marimo formation. They are adorable and the inspiration for Hokkaido’s most beloved mascot, Marimokkori and his offshoots. Marimokkori sports a codpiece like marimo bulge. Always ones for puns, mokkori is slang for having an erection. Marimo and mokkori compounded together into Marimokkori and a phenomenon was born to fill omiyage shops with all sorts of mutations and evolutions. A big hit with kids and adults alike. We topped off our Akan-ko stay by dining on ezoshikadon (Hokkaido deer rice bowl) before packing up and hitting the road via bus to Kushiro.