Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Japanese Culture & Education

I have visited amazing places , met wonderful people from Japan and the U.S., and have had an intense experience of the rich and complex Japanese culture and education. I have so many experiences and vast amounts of information and photos ( more than a thousand photos!) still to add and share here.

Here's a little bit about one of the schools I visited:

Below are a few snapshots from Kunimi Junior High School in Unzen. The soccer team there is one of the best in Japan and known nationwide, leading some families to even to move there so their sons can compete for Unzen. The other photos show students in a calligraphy class and a Japanese class. Kids are under a lot of pressure to do well on high school entrance exams so many attend "cram schools" after school. Classrooms are very quiet and focused with as many as 4o students in one class. When students change classes, the hallways are pandemonium and teachers don't mind. It seems they recognize that kids need the time in between classes to relax, talk and kid around in order to handle to focused serious classroom environment. At the beginning of each class, students stand, bow and formally greet their teachers (sensei). During lessons, students do not often raise their hands to ask questions and the classroom is very quiet. Students listen intently and without interruption.

This is just one short snippet of the many insights I gained on Japanese schools and education system. More to come when I come home. I am leaving soon and will see everyone in no time at all. I miss Japan already!

Japanese Schools: Unzen City in Nagasaki Prefecture

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More from Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Unzen to Come Later

I have so much to share about the past week and the week ahead, but no Internet access until next Monday. I traveled in beautiful Kamakura outside Tokyo on Saturday. Sunday we traveled to Nagasaki and visited the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park. Today I am visiting Nagasaki University and traveling on to Unzen city to visit schools for the remainder of the week. Unzen is a rural area of about 50,000 people in the mountains outside Nagasaki where we will get to visit several different schools. Our hotel has no Internet access in Unzen, so I will catch up later on all this and and the events and experiences of the week ahead. I am learning so much and having an amazing time here in Japan!

I have noticed that the popular things in Tokyo are argyle sweaters, anime comic books, long knee socks that go just above girls' knees worn with boots, and converse high top sneakers just like the ones American kids wear. Most of these photos were taken in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.

Hiroshima Survivor and Peace Education

Mr. Keijiro Matsushima was a young boy when the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. He survived the blast on August 6, 1945 and shared his experiences with us. He is such a funny and charming man.

Japan is the only country to experience atomic weapons at a time of war. 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima from the explosion, and he described the sad and horrifying effects on the Japanese people just after the bomb exploded and in the years afterward. He was just 14 years old and remembers sitting in his classroom when he felt the explosion, light, and powerful heat. "Everything was decided for us in a moment. I am one of the fortunate survivors."

He said that this is a time to cooperate and to stop the use of atomic weapons in the world again. " We want you to know what a thing this was. Once we learned what a thing this is, we must never use it again."

More from the Fish Market

Here are some more of the many kinds of seafood I saw at the fish market--seaweed, scallops and squid. Amazingly enough, the market didn't even smell "fishy" which is because the fish are so incredibly fresh!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market

We visited the Tokyo Fish Market at 4:30 in the morning. It is HUGE and so busy! There are workers zipping around on trucks and scooters as they bring in the fresh fish and seafood. Buyers and sellers are everywhere. One even gave us a ride on the back of his truck. So many kinds, and many I did not recognize. It is one of the world's largest fish market and handles over 2000 tons of fish a day.
We also observed an auction of some huge tuna fish and many customers choosing the best for their purchases.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We visited a immense Buddhist temple today called Asakusa Kannon. It is Tokyo's largest Buddhist temple and was built in 1649. It was very moving to witness Buddhist rituals as people made offerings, cleansed and drank from fountains, and lit incense.

"According to a 1996 report, about 194,000,000 Japanese are members of both religions, about 54% more than the total population of Japan. Apparent by these numbers, Shinto and Buddhism are not in conflict with each other but exist peacefully together."

From: "Japan's Religions and Philosphy."10.14.2008

The distance between Houston and San Francisco is 1608 miles. From San Francisco to Tokyo, Japan, the distance is 5134 miles. How many miles from Houston have I traveled?

We flew over the Pacific Ocean and crossed the International Date Line, which is 180 degrees longitude. Crossing the International Date line traveling east results in a day or 24 hours being subtracted, and crossing west results in a day being added.

Tokyo, Japan is 14 hours ahead in time from Houston, Texas. It is night time in Tokyo when it is daytime in Houston. If it is 11:00pm in Tokyo, what time is it in Houston?

The photos above were on the movie screen on the airplane seatback in front of me!

Monday, October 13, 2008

San Francisco

We spent our first day in San Francisco at orientation meetings before we leave Monday for Tokyo. The Consul General of Japan hosted a welcome reception at his beautiful home overlooking the San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island.

This is the 12th JFMF cohort and sadly, the last one the Japanese government will fund because of budgetary concerns. The program was only intended to last 5 years, and was extended to 12 years. I feel especially privileged to be one of the select few to make this last JFMF journey!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program

I am THRILLED to be visiting Japan--I will arrive in Tokyo very late Monday October 13th after a long 10 hour flight. I plan to post photos and information throughout my travels so stay tuned!

Here's a little information about the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program:

"The Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program (JFMF) provides U.S. primary and secondary school teachers and administrators with the opportunity to participate in three-week study visits to Japan and to return home with a follow-on plan designed to introduce Japanese culture to American students. The JFMF Program features an orientation to Japan followed by visits to primary and secondary schools, teacher training colleges, cultural sites, and industrial facilities. Meetings with Japanese teachers and students and a home stay with a Japanese family are also key components of the program. Participants return home to share their new knowledge with students, colleagues, and the local community. "