Date: July 18th - July 31st
Wednesday the 21st July marked the beginning of 'summer vacation' at school. Summer vacation in Japan works slightly differently than in NZ. Instead of both students and teachers going home for a couple of months, the Japanese, instead, still continue with classes almost as if nothing has changed. There are classes from 8.10am until lunchtime and then its club activities until around 5pm. Once they have leave school many students then head off to cram schools for some extra study. Oh, and weekends, forget about it, you see kids in their uniform on both Saturdays and Sundays! Yeah so maybe 'slightly different' was the wrong term... Japanese vacation is very different to what I am used to. However, for me, as an ALT, it means turning up to school for the morning, having no classes to teach, and then going home about lunchtime. I could complain about the fact I have to go in every day with nothing to do, but that would be stupid. I'm going home at lunchtime everyday! Jobs don't get much sweeter than that my friends.
So while things on the school front have certainly slowed down a great deal there have still been some note worthy events in 'out of school' life.
Monday 24th officially marked me being in Japan for one year. While the year has flown by and has been an amazing journey so far the downside is that each day becomes the longest time I have been away from my family, ever. This is definitely not something I enjoy, but such is life I guess. At least Karen is here with me cure my homesickness.
Summer has certainly kicked in with great force and much haze and has led to Karen and I trying to be assertive and attempting to get out and about into the 'outdoor' Japan. We live in a very beautiful part of the country with hills/mountains all around us and tropical beaches only a short drive away. Living in the inaka (countryside) of Japan is definitely recommended over life in a big city.
On the weekend following my one-year-in-Japan-anniversary, Karen and I found ourselves getting up and ready, after a lazy morning in bed, and sun screening up before jumping in the car and heading off with the goal of hiking Mt Tenzan (the mountain we went snowboarding on in winter). Very quickly the goal changed from hiking Mt Tenzan to just finding the road up it! After realizing we were driving around the mountain with it to our left, and not the right like it should have been, we went with the old tactic of "lets take any road that seems to be heading towards the mountain..." This method worked for a little while, but before long the atlas was needed, as were a few "trial and error" attempts down various back roads. Eventually though I had us cruising along the road we had driven 5 months earlier for snowboarding. The only problem now was actually finding where the hiking took place as we had no concrete directions from anyone, we had merely been told "you hike near Tenzan, but not on the same bit as the snowboarding..." Helpful to a certain degree, but a bit more specific would have been great! I switched to using 'the force' and soon 'felt' my way up the mountain to a look out car park with a trail leading from it, much to the delight of Karen who had her concerns by this stage as the petrol light was glowing at us the whole way up.
Hiking in Japan is a bit different to NZ. Here, the idea is to drive 3/4 of the way up the mountain and hike the remainder. Still, though it wasn't the "hike" we were after it was a nice walk and even gave us a few good trails for a bit of a run. The trails themselves were lined in shrub, as one would expect, but the amount of noise and activity that came from the bushes was rather unsettling for us kiwi hikers who only have to fear weta's and not snakes, mountain bees or what ever else may be lurking from us in the Japanese flora. However, we quickly forgot our fears and just enjoyed the hike to the top of a couple of different peaks, each of which provided a view that was exceptionally beautiful. The views also offered a great opportunity to review our geography and layout of Saga-ken.
On the next day, Monday, we made our way to Saga City to support my school Brass Band club. They were competing in the Saga-ken competition with all the other Senior High Schools from the prefecture. The level these kids play at is quite astonishing and Karen and I were really blown away. Takeoseiryo, my school, performed admirably; however, they were awarded a silver medal (like getting a B grade) and just missed out on the Gold (A grade) they were aiming for. Still, they all seemed to be buzzing afterwards during "photo time", and were very happy to see Karen and I had been there to support them. They're really such a great bunch of kids.
After showing our support for all things musical, Karen and I found ourselves in Saga city with an afternoon free. We wasted little time in grabbing some Indian cuisine before hitting the mall and then the movies. It's strange how much of an "outing" the cinema has become for us. It's as though I'm 12 years old again, in Levin, and making a real event of going to see 'Hook' or whatever was playing. This time though, as a 25 year old, the pirate had a different name, this time it was Capt. Jack Sparrow and Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Oh, and what was my verdict of the movie you ask? Basically the longest trailer of all time for Pirates 3, but, even still I loved it.