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Published: March 5th 2019
Returning to Japan for the fourth year, and to Himeji for the second year is proving to be an excellent beginning to my retirement from teaching. Being greeted with hugs from Japanese women colleagues from 9 years ago was a most unexpected gift. I have been surprised and delighted with how easy these first two months have been.
The school year ends in Japan in late March and so I arrived in time to teach the last few classes and set exams for the Year 12’s (三年生). Yesterday was their graduation ceremony: a formal, solemn and moving end to their school days, followed by beaming faces, oodles of photos and a dance display at the school entrance. I was moved to tears by the rousing thanks each class gave their home room teacher.
Shogai Daigaku (university of the third age) classes were the best part of my teaching last time and continue to be again. I was lucky to teach the last four classes for the final year English students, who held a welcome party for me. My ongoing class of 22 interesting people, are lively and animated. I have begun monthly Zazen meditation sessions at the local Buddhist
temple with one of these students. I have also been doing weekly yoga classes (in Japanese) thanks to a friend and past Shogai student.
Excursions have always been my favorite part of teaching: going places to learn well and then teach the students wondrous new things. On our visit to Enzan Memorial Museum I discovered exactly where and why I fell in love with Japanese architecture. Sitting in the sublime courtyard, my host encouraged me to build such a house in Adelaide, as the technology is simple and ancient. A Noh master dressed my teaching partner Adam in a samurai costume and the master instructed me in how to play the hand drum. These are rare and precious opportunities, gifts to those who work in a country.
My first visit to Himeji Jo (the castle) was with my Year 11 (二年生) English class and our Phoenix visitors. Our students worked hard to learn the English required (history and architecture) to guide their guests around the castle. Their nervousness turned to joy when they discovered that the young Americans were genuinely interested. My second visit to the castle was on a snowy day, so every familiar feature was blanketed
in white. We visited the small towers and passages that were briefly opened to the public for the first time ever.
Studying crafts is becoming an integral part of this year. My Principal worked for Himeji City as the Director of History and is an expert on local artifacts. I was fortunate to join a workshop on local paper making and woodblock printing off 400 year old blocks from a local shrine that he ran for visitors. I was surprised that making prints requires great skill and finesse. Also, I have been accepted as a student of a local potter. I attend weekly classes, with new and challenging techniques. The classes require a whole new Japanese vocabulary. Fortunately my origami teacher speaks excellent English.
Making conversation is a wildly varied concept. I asked my Year 11 students to list 10 possible questions to ask the Arizonan visitors. The most unexpected question was “Which is your favorite Disney princess?” Even though I did not include it in the prompt sheet, the girls still asked and there followed a most animated discussion. There was no agreement, but Arial seemed to be the most favored.
Star Festival (Tanabata) was a
topic of study. One of my first year student wrote “I wanted to be a princess when I was a child. My dreams have not changed.” As I planned to return to Japan for one last year, I dreamed of an easy, enjoyable year. My dreams seem to be coming true.
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