Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As the Gods Disappear...

The traditional Japanese name for October is "Kannazuki" (神無月), which could be literally translated as either "The Godless Month" or "The Month When the Gods Go Away". My classical Japanese sources say that the name stems from the fact that it was once believed the gods all gathered during that period in what is now Izumo City in Shimane Prefecture, described in the old chronicles as having been a sort of capital of the earthly kingdom founded by the children of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. Doing so naturally left the rest of the country godless, for better or worse.

I guess the expression, "Where is your god now?" used to take on special significance in October in ancient times, but anyway...

Part One - Annivelsaly Cereblation
Most married couples celebrate their anniversaries by exchanging gifts or flowers, having a nice dinner, taking a trip, know. (Either that or they spend the day with the wife yelling and/or throwing things at the husband for having forgotten it, but whatever.) Eventually my wife and I did do some of the same things, but we acknowledged the date of our wedding by...

...teaching a class together?


My wife, who currently teaches a fifth grade class, is also in charge of the recently-developed (and still in its formative stages) English curriculum at her elementary school. She wound up getting stuck with yet another demonstration lesson for visiting members of the Board of Education, and it just happened to be on the day of our anniversary. The lesson she planned to do, which was based on their regular textbook, called for the presence of an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher, also sometimes known as either a "gaijin under glass" or a "human tape recorder"). However, since her school's usual ALT wasn't available on that day, and since I happened to have that day off, she roped me kicking and screaming into doing begged me to do the lesson with her.

My wife always spends a lot of time and effort preparing her lessons, but she really tore into this one. The language targets were "Do you have (a) ___?" and "What color do you like?" The idea was to have the students play a sort of shopping game. Therefore, we turned an extra classroom into a clothing store, and yours truly got to be the shopkeeper. We had a ball putting it all together.

The lesson basically started with my wife pretending to be a customer visiting my store. She was looking for a particular item of clothing of a particular color, so we went through it using props. At intervals we would pause for explanation and practice. We were well underway when the BoE people showed up and stood at the back of the room taking notes.

After a bit, my wife decided to demonstrate some practice questions for the students to try, and she used the model provided in the textbook. It was something we hadn't rehearsed, and, in retrospect, I should have been the one asking. Anyway, my wife beat me to the punch. The first question was, "Do you like T-shirts?" The model showed a circle under T-shirts, so I answered, "Yes, I do." Next was, "Do you like pants?" I glanced at the model again, and there was an "X" under pants, so I said, "No, I don't." That got the students going. Then my wife, whose eyes were starting to widen, asked, "Um, do you like...skirts?" As it happened, the model, which was supposed to involve a female character, did indeed have a circle under skirts, so I was obliged to say, "Yes, I do." I made sure and hammed it up a bit when I said it, but said it I did.

The kids erupted into laughter. The Board of Education people immediately walked out.

I was deathly afraid that I had just earned my poor wife damning marks from the bureaucrats if not an angry letter to my principal (who didn't even know I was doing this, let alone approve of it), but we went through the rest of the lesson as planned. It actually went very well. The kids were fully into it, and they looked like they were having a great time. When we did the shopping game at the end, though we'd expected only a few brave souls to try it, half the class were falling over themselves trying to get to my "register counter"! Not only was it a lot of fun, but the kids seemed to have the language target down, so we made their future junior high English teachers' jobs that much easier. In that respect, I'd say my wife and I made a great team.

Apparently others thought so, too. Far from damning, the report from the BoE people was extremely favorable. One minister even went so far as to write, "I don't know who that ALT was, but he was by far the best I've ever seen! His way of speaking was clear and easy to understand, he used clear facial expressions, he was as entertaining as a TV personality, and he kept the students engaged!" I guess those nineteen years of experience (twenty-two if you count the tutoring I did at Oregon State) mean something after all. I'd call that a shot in the arm...especially when looking at all those drowsy and disinterested faces in my lower-level 9th grade Oral Communication class...

So...was it a worthwhile way for my wife and I to spend our anniversary?

Part Two - The Influence of Influenza
We'd thought that H1N1 flu thing to be over and done with. A lot of students had been nailed with it back in early summer, but by the time summer vacation rolled by the wave had pretty much gwugged and gone. We thanked our lucky stars that it hadn't been worse and went on our way. Boy, oh boy, did we wind up with monumental egg on our faces! Right at the end of September two students wound up down with the bug. A week later a couple more were out. Then, right around the second weekend of October (i.e. just recently), we wound up with an explosion of flu infections on a thermonuclear scale. One 7th grade homeroom wound up passing the critical limit imposed by the government, and the whole class was shut down and ordered into quarantine for a week. A few days later (yesterday, to be exact) another 7th grade class was sent off with almost half its students down. We're seeing an unprecedented wave fanning through our students like a zombie epidemic. However, as it turns out, it's not without a very simple explanation.

The overwhelming majority of the recently flu-stricken students are in the junior high, specifically in grade 7. Almost all of them are in athletic clubs. As it turns out, there was a major combined sports meet involving all the junior high schools in our region last weekend. Almost all of the sickened students participated in that event. Moreover, it was announced recently that some students from other schools had participated in the event despite being members of classes that had been ordered into quarantine. Some of our coaches say that they saw kids there that were very obviously sick. Apparently some schools' coaches think the prospect of losing a competition is far worse than causing an epidemic of a potentially-deadly disease. Now we are paying the price for their dedication. At least no one has died so far.

At Ye Olde Academy, students are continuing to drop like flies, and now a couple of teachers are down. I'm doing my best to follow the safety procedures and avoid the danger spots, but I wonder if it's only a matter of time before I wind up taking a long and extremely painful vacation.


  • MM, you're a natural -- I loved the description of your class with your wife. And with the students fully engaged, they learned and had fun at the same time -- imagine that. Well done, both of you!

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 2:03 PM  

  • The class sounds great -I always thought that the language class in Good Morning Vietnam was good, but you sound better. I imagine the visitors left because you were clearly very good and didn't need further study!

    I actually think that doing this on your anniversary is rather cool - you must have a great relationship!

    We have a couple of students out with Swine Flu - just taking it as it comes right now, being a university we don't really have much control over things.

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 10:55 PM  

  • Skirts? I suppose it could have been far worse..."Do you like pantyhose?"

    Achoo. Where is common sense? Got sick? Stay home.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:33 AM  

  • What a nice way to cereblate your Annivelsaly. LOL! Congrats on a favorable assessment.

    Ooh, that sounds quite worrisome, isn't it? Over here, the government is still reminding the people to take necessary precautions. We haven't had any death in almost a month. I think we've just received the flu vaccines. Like PandaB would advise, Vit C, Vit C, Vit C.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 12:40 AM  

  • Pt I: Yay!

    Pt II: Boo!

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:21 AM  

  • Happy Annivelsaly! I think that's a great way to spend it, and what's not to like about praise from strangers? You're better than you think you are.

    K came home today and said tat 3 kids in one of her classes had gone home due to fever. I just keep taking my regimen of vitamins - especially C and D.

    Be well.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:14 PM  

  • Ack - update at K's school... 12 kids didn't show up for one class today, 3 more went home.

    I'll be in the Panda-bunker if you need me.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:57 PM  

  • Where have all the Gods gone?

    Hope they didn't bring the flowers but took the virus with them whe they go.

    By Blogger Robin, at 5:53 PM  

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