childhood elementary English Saroma

English Swim Lessons 2.0


Last June in Murakami, I had the privilege to do some really fun English lessons in the swimming pool at Senami Elementary.  My supervising teacher at that school, Mrs. Hiki, was really, really, into English and integrating it into her classroom.  A few months ago, up here in Saroma, I gave a presentation about my experiences as an ALT in Niigata Prefecture to the teachers at Hamasaroma Elementary.  They were impressed with many of the special lessons that we had done in class, so I suggested trying to recreate the swimming activity, since it didn’t require as much preparation or special in-class study time as some of the other lessons I presented about.

Last year, Mrs. Hiki and I hurriedly made a bunch of fish shapes on copy paper and laminated them.  Half were totally waterlogged and destroyed after two periods of munchkin-munching.  This time, I tried to come up with a better way of making toy fish that would be much more durable and less wasteful.  So, using 25 boards of A4-sized EVA polyethylene foam, I drew and cut about 100 salmon, whales, octopi, squid, crabs, dolphins, starfish, sharks, turtles and scallops.  Then, using an oil-based marker, I drew faces and outlines on all of the shapes.  After they had dried for a few days, I coated them in waterproofing spray and let them sit for another day.


Japanese Elections

August 30th is a general election in Japan, for all 480 seats in the lower House of Representatives.  It’s receiving more attention, domestically and abroad, than elections in Japan normally do.  The nearly-unbroken 54-year reign of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to finally be broken with a majority win by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).  The LDP leader and current Prime Minister, Taro Aso, is even less popular in office (11% approval) than even President Bush and Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski ever were (25% and 21%, respectively). Starting a few years ago, parties have released clear ‘manifestos’ outlining their election platform.  The LDP is essentially running on a “don’t change horses in midstream” platform, trying to instill a fear of change in order to maintain control.  The DPJ has some very popular policy proposals, such as a $280 per month per child supplement for families.  Both parties are running on promises of decreased taxes, increases in social welfare, particularly child rearing in order to slow Japan’s low birth rate.  The DPJ even promises elimination of road tolls on expressways across Japan (tolls can reach into the hundreds of dollars) and an elimination of the current 5% consumption tax once the economy recovers.

What I find interesting about this election is that the proportional election system and Parliamentary Democracy allow many third (and fourth and fifth) parties to exist and operate at a much higher level of notariety than third parties in America.  Sure, we have the Greens and the Libertarians, the Constitution Party, the Reform Party, the Communist Party, the Prohibition Party (thanks, Jacob).  But other than the Green Party in 2000 and Perot’s Reform Party in 1992, these parties have had little publicity and almost no effect on election results.  Even those that have been moderately successful, like Perot, win no role in governing because of the winner-take-all system of American Politics.  In Japan, though you have some weird ones that have commercials on TV and put flyers in my door.  I got a flyer from the Japanese Communist Party today, and one from the almost-a-cult Happiness Realization Party last week.   Here’s a list of all of the parties fielding candidates in the election, along with a list of the total number of fielded candidates (both regional and proportional).

1allied with LDP
2allied with DPJ (two sources for this: wikipedia, 2.)
3party of the nutty “Happy Science” religion – deserves an entire post.

If none of this makes sense, this article in the Yomiuri Shimbun gives a good explanation on exactly how these parties are working together towards forming coalitions in the new government.  The Economist also takes a nicely critical view of the whole affair.

Here’s a little slideshow of the campaign signs for four of the major parties running in the election, taken this afternoon on Saroma’s main street:

dpjDPJ, Yukio Hatoyama pictured. Slogan: seiken koutai (regime change).

ldp LDP.  It says ima, gambaranaide dou suru? (If we don’t persist now, what will we do?)  What’s up with the cartoon character?

sdp Social Democratic Party. Slogan: seikatsu saiken (rebuilding livelihood)

jcp Japanese Communist Party.  Slogan: ima koso (now more than ever). Their party leader has to be the dorkiest looking leader of any party since Ralph Nader.  The only significant minority opposition party that is not part of the DPJ coalition.


Flamingos from Long Ago

And perhaps Far Away as well.  This short film was featured on Long Ago & Far Away, a children’s program on PBS hosted by James Earl Jones.  I am pretty sure it blew my 6-year old mind.  It left such an impression on me that a few years back I got to thinking about it, and bothered to track down and buy British PAL-formatted VHS copy and convert and digitize it to DVD.  Lo and Behold, someone else has bothered to upload it to Google Video YouTube. Watch it.

(Updated November 6th, 2013 with a higher quality upload of the video)

bike Hokkaido travel

Eastern Cycling Trip


Yoshie and I took a four day bicycle trip around eastern Hokkaido last week.  On two folding bikes, we covered over 200 kilometers, went through two national parks, rode along two oceans, conquered two 2000-foot mountain passes.  We saw five foxes and dozens of deer, bathed in four different hot springs, and saw the Russian-controlled island of Kunashiri.  We managed to avoid rain during our ride, but got only one sunny day.  We skipped Notsuke Peninsula because of driving rain, but caught the local festival in Shibetsu that night instead.  We climbed Shiretoko Pass on Saturday in spectacular weather, with lovely ocean views, and Kiyosato Pass on Monday through a pine forest of dense fog, made spookier by the unnatural man-made rows of trees.

It was a leap of faith for Yoshie, who had never done anything like this before.  To convince her, I insisted I would carry all of our supplies myself, in my bike trailer.  I also consented to staying in a bungalow on the second night, and a youth hostel on the third, instead of camping the entire trip.  Anyway, it was great fun, and I think by the third day, after a small amount of strife, we worked out a good travelling relationship.  For me, I worked at staying close together on downhills and climbs, making sure to signal turns and moves on and off of the main road, as well as hollering the number of rear-approaching trucks and buses on narrow sections in Shari and Nakashibetsu.  Yoshie did a good job of letting me know when she needed to stop, when her rear brakes weren’t working at all (!), or simply putting up with a boyfriend who is used to riding alone and making stupid turns, quick decisions, and completely random stops for dumb photos.

Here’s a rough map of the route:

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