Halloween At Tokiwagi

It was Halloween yesterday :^) which means I must start taking down all the decorations in my classroom today :^( but before I do, I think I'll capture a few images for you to enjoy. Excuse me if my typing goes crazy every now and then- I'm on a sugar rush from consuming all the leftover candy corns that my students rejected (why don't people like candy corns?). Here we go...
There's my Jack-O-Lantern which doesn't look too bad for the short amount of time I had to spend on it. As you can see, all it takes to make me happy is to be up to my wrist in pumpkin brains. The fellow in the bottom right corner is a new addition to my display and is the grossest decoration I own, the severed arm in the panel to the left of him is a close second.
Those glasses in the top left panel are great for creeping people out. The Halloween tree and gravestone are also new arrivals from California sent by my awesome older sister- thanks Stacey. A couple of TGH witches are casting the peace sign spell in the top right.
There's the old Grim Reaper hiding behind some cobwebs, a trio of pumpkins decorating the piano keyboard  and some lovely wall art from Miyuki Sensei's sister. In the top right are some skeleton banners of Miyuki's which I thought were crazily overpriced but once I unravelled them I noticed they were handmade from Mexico and beautiful.
Some more lovely TGH witches from the Chinese conversation club. In the top right is our keyboard, adorned with eyeballs, severed fingers and assorted creepy crawlies. Another gravestone, a warning sign and mama spider- the biggest in the family likes to loom over the students' kanji results, perhaps threatening to leap on any girl who attempts to put a failing star up. 


Let the Games Begin!

Well, last week the first year International class competed in the ball games sports day at TGH  and were... less than awesome! Let's just say one of the important new English phrases I taught them which was used often that day was "straight sets".

We started out stretching to Radjio Taiso- a traditional, supererogatory stretching exercise that originated probably around the same time as radio itself. Our girls held their own in the stretching area and its unfortunate that prizes aren't awarded for it because I suspect we would have walked away with a bronze.
So, on to dodgeball, where we fought to a draw with our first opponents but lost out in the overtime clinching rock-paper-scissors battle (maybe they should practice that in their next PE class). We were relegated to the sidelines while our victorious opponents proceeded to beat up on other teams and claim glory.

Volleyball has changed this year from normal volleyballs to "soft" volleyballs as you can see from the opening picture; not that it helped us much. We went down in the first round before time ran out- I noticed that our strategy was basically "hope the ball they serve to us lands out of play" since this is how we accumulated the bulk of our points.

Finally, Basketball- my least favorite of the ball sports. Lots of clawing, scratching, screaming, biting, pulling of hair and crying- then my co-homeroom teacher Miyuki told me too chill out because the game hadn't even started yet. When it did, we lost. Then we played another game and we also lost that too... oh wait a second- we won! Yes, in our second (sympathy) round match we were getting knocked around and stomped over through the first three quarters. With about 3 minutes to go we were down 10-2 and then a miracle happened! Our best player Karen (she of the universal thumbs-up gesture in the picture) sprained her ankle! As she hobbled around the court I guess she must have inspired her teammates and maybe thrown our opponents off their game plan, because our Inter-One girls started dishing her the ball and she started finding the net. "Swish" 4, "Swish" 8, "Swish" 10 and then with about a dozen seconds to play "SWISH" 12! Storybook ending as our last game ends in our only victory.


A Mid-Summer Afternoon's Dreamy Digest...

Hey folks, things have been slow and lazy this summer, with only the more serious club-going girls wandering the hallways of TGH the past week (and next). I'm headed out the door for a week-long holiday soon (whoop!) but I thought I'd check in and cover some things that have gone down in the last couple of weeks.
The last weeks of school were crazybusy with a lot happening, and then when the bell rang to let us know that "School's Out For Summer!" the International 1st & 2nd year classes immediately began our Summer Camp Extravaganza-za-za... za ..za .. (echo) . .  .! We played games, had a barbecue, ate too much, set off fire works (Safety Ministry Approved of course), watched a scary movie (Cloverfield - mixed reactions) and late at night we Skyped with a school in the U.S. The Skyping went from 12 until 1:30 AM though, so I'm going to check if we can get that changed to a more reasonable time next year.
The second day of our camp we played some more games, including a closely contested soccer match, and I introduced everyone to the fine art of making peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. We kept things pretty chilled as many of the girls were groggy from the night before. All in all I think everyone had a pretty good time, but don't take my word for it, you can judge for yourself- cue the montage!
Two of our Second year girls- Mizuki and Sumire, have just headed off to the U.S. for a 1 year homestay (sniffle, sniffle. cry, cry) We'll miss you girls! Don't forget to come back when your year is finished! Sumire might be smart enough to take over the world someday and Mizuki will probably be in the next Olympics; bringing home a gold medal in speed-walking, which she'll win through her superior stamina, determination and steady diet of Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana sandwiches.  The next big event here at Tokiwagi will be the school festival at the end of this month. The first year international class is now intensively working on a performance that's going to blow the roof off the place (which will be really hard since the stage is outside). I can't let the cat out of the bag about it yet, as I've been sworn to secrecy, but let me just tell you the words 'EPIC!', 'AMAZINGLY-AWESOME!!!' and 'VERY INTERESTING!!!' will not do it's description justice. Stay cool and Stay tuned ;^)



Our good friends from Hornby High School in Christ Church New Zealand have been visiting Tokiwagi for the past week and taking in an overdose of Japanese culture. So far, everyone seems to be having a jolly old time with only some minor problems arising (lost socks and whatnot). Here's a montage of the Hornby High Schoolers getting their names adapted into kanji with the help of the 1st year Inter girls:

Yesterday I helped to chaperone the Hornby kids on an excursion to beautiful Matsushima. "ahh Matsushima" as a famous poet once said. But how exactly did he say it? What was the context? Was it "ahh Matsushima (your beauty is beyond words)!" or was it "ahh Matsushima (where my one true love broke my heart and stomped all over the pieces until it was pulp)!" or maybe it might have been "ahh Matsushima (where I narrowly avoided getting my brain eaten by a horde of zombies)!" Anyway, here's a rare non-montaged pic of the folks from New Zealand taking in this National treasure in all its splendor (also, they sell Coke in cartons there... weird).


Head For The Hills!

It's that time of year again, when the 1st year international class sets off for the wonder and splendor of British Hills in the mountains of Fukushima. We returned yesterday and the girls all get to chill out at home, along with the rest of the 1st year Tokiwagi students who went to the mountains of Oze. While they're busy chillin' I've put together a montage or two of images from the trip.

We had beautiful weather the entire time and I'm sporting a well-sunburned dome to prove it.

The trip went off without a hitch except for one missing shoe. So, if you happen to be in the neighborhood of British Hills and see a single shoe kicking around looking sad and ownerless, please mail it to Tokiwagi care of Kurumi, who will be hopping around on one foot in PE class for the next few weeks.
Thanks British Hills, same time next year?


The Wide, Wide World Of Sports

So, a few weeks ago we had our all-Miyagi intermural High School sports weekend, where students and teachers must go out and cheer on our TGH girls while aiming the occasional boo or raspberry at their opponents. Before that, there was a ceremony where all the sports girls introduced their club teams. Here's a montage I put together of that event. I'm not going to write out the title of each team, but if you're interested in them then we can play a little game where you message me your best guesses and I'll tell you how many you got correct. Sounds like fun, right?

As expected, we kicked butt in most events. Our soccer girls crushed their opponents in the final 9 to zip. There was also alot of noise buzzing about the success of our tennis team, which has greatly improved. I went to three events- Basketball on Saturday, Table Tennis on Sunday and Softball on Monday. Tokiwagi's basketball team is one of the best- guided by the steady coaching of Mr. Ushiwata (the King of Basketball!) and his assistant coaches- Iori and Nakama (the princes of Basketball!). But Saturday's game against a skillfull team from Shoukei almost ended in an upsetting shock, eh! TGH was leading fairly comfortably throughout the match but in the last quarter their opponents nailed a rapid succession of 3-pointers and pulled in front by about 5 points with a few minutes to go! Mr. Ushiwata brought out the big guns and they pulled the team's fat out of the fire by coming back with some huge blocks, interceptions and lay-ups in the last minute. The balcony full of the TGH player's mothers exhaled in relief.

Just so I can connect this post to the international class, there are three of our girls supporting the squad in the pic below. Also, four international girls actually play for the team so there's that too.

The next day I went to table tennis- many sweaty teenage boys taking ping pong very seriously- that is all.

On Monday, my co-homeroom teacher and I drove an hour to the outskirts of Nakanida for an event I was actually really psyched about watching. Only a few years ago TGH's softball team didn't have enough members to compete in an actual game, but then they got a new coach- Kana, who works in our office and is an ex-JSDF (Japan Self Defence Force) officer. She whipped the girls in to shape and the club's enrollment leapt. They may not be champions yet but I'd say they're the overall most-improved sports club at TGH in the last 5 years. Also, I've personally found them to be some of the politest, friendliest, funniest and most cheerful girls around school; which is what made watching what happened in the game that much tougher.
Tokiwagi was playing a seasoned and disciplined Rifu team that are annual favorites to win and were no doubt eager to put our upstart squad in its place. They even brought what appeared to be half the school, as well as their boy's team with horns and huge drums to bash away the school songs. Our supporting side consisted of the team's family members, 3 teachers, our school custodians and 1 student.
Unphased by the drums and chants, our girls got on base on the 1st swing and got a run in the 1st inning! The teams exchanged chances back and forth- singles, doubles, pop flys, grounders, walks, slides, strikes... out after out, inning after inning, eventually scoring one more run each before the final inning. This is where I wondered to myself if this might be the greatest game of softball ever played anywhere at any time, and yes- I undoubtedly believed it was.
It was 2-1 for us. Tokiwagi was up last, so Rifu was at bat. The first girl grounded out to first and we were two outs away from winning. The second girl popped up to shallow outfield and we were now one out away from Tokiwagi's greatest ever softball victory. The opposing army of supporters had fallen silent. What everyone believed to be the last opponent stepped up to bat. I'm not sure what the count was but she eventually hit it to the deep outfield, gaining a double. And that is when our pitching suddenly disappeared completely. Walk, Walk, Walk. 2-2 with the bases loaded. The pitcher was changed but to say our relief pitcher struggled to find the strike zone would be an understatement. After 4 or 5 more walks, a Rifu girl was eventually given a pitch good enough to hit. She grounded out and the agony stopped.
Then something happened that I would compare to the Grinch's revelation on Mount Crumpet when his heart grew 3 sizes in reaction to. Even though Tokiwagi had one more at bat, everyone watching knew the game was over: their families, the teary-eyed custodians, we three sunburned teachers and most certainly everyone on the opposition's side- who had gone from cricket-chirping silence to boisterous revelry in the past 20 minutes.
Everyone that is, except Tokiwagi's baseball team itself. As they ran in from the field I could not see one ounce of disappointment in their faces. They shouted encouragement to each other, made jokes and cheerfully warmed up for their final chance. Without a doubt, their hearts were breaking and everyone knew it, but they refused to crack. Anyone who happened to be dropping in on the game at that moment could be forgiven for thinking it was the top of the 1st inning, 0-0.
They didn't get any more runs, and lost, officially. They politely saluted the opposition and the officials, came over and bowed to us and thanked us for our support, and THEN, collapsed in a cloud of dirt and tears and bawling and wailing. I hate watching my students whimper and whine after a defeat at the hands of a better opponent. Almost every year I see it happen and I think to myself- "You were ranked 4th, you came in 4th- what's the deal?" But this time I wholeheartedly agreed with their reaction. They were the slighty better team through the course of the entire game and, aside from the pitchers, even as they were helplessly watching the game slowly melt away from them. But they played a great game. It was no longer the greatest game but IT WAS A GREAT GAME! So cry girls- its justified. But hold your heads high as well- and that's justified too.
Like I wrote before- they lost the game, officially...  officially.


A 2012 Student Odyssey!

Hi. I'll keep this intro short, as I'm trying to upload a video for the first time and doubt it will succeed, erasing anything I've written beforhand in the process (I type from experience). Anyways, here's (maybe) a video of our sister-school Odysseys' homestay with us last week (I hope).



Hello all. Hope everyone reading in Japan had a thoroughly relaxing Golden Week. Here in Sendai, TGH partook in our annual (except for last year) UnDoKai (sports competition) last Tuesday. It was wedged in between holidays so it gave everyone a lot of time to prepare and recover, but not quite enough time as I'm still recovering. There were a variety of different kinds of racing events- from the intensity of the baton relay and the skillful balancing of the racket relay to the ridiculous silliness of... err... I'm going to call it the Gripping-the-ball-between-your-legs-while-hopping race. Sure, why not.

As you can see in the top left corner, we won our first heat in the racket relay. In the final we came in third, and that was as close as we'd come to victory that day. In the group-skipping competition we were less than wonderful, maybe because of the high skip/giggle crossover ratio. In the Tug-of-War we won a few rounds but lost out narrowly to the music course, which was full of boys. Not exceptionally strong boys but boys with girth- advantageous girth!

Win, lose or draw, everyone seemed to have fun and there were no serious injuries, besides my pride when I put on a head-over-heels wipeout performance in attempting to avoid a runner in my path during the Grand Finale Teachers VS Music Boys VS Soccer Girls VS Basketball Girls relay race at the end. Sorry I don't have a picture of that, but I'm sure one will show up on the internets somewhere. Maybe google something like 'Tokiwagi English Teacher Hilarious Bail'.


Welcome! and welcome back!

Hello TGH International fans of all ages and shapes. It's another year of fun and frivolity with the students and teachers of Tokiwagi Gakuen's international class program. In this post, I'll introduce you to some of the fresh new faces in the first year- 19 of them!
This year's new girls have chosen the International course for a number of reasons. Many of them are interested in extended homestays overseas, while others have told us that they are excited about hosting students visiting from our sister schools this year. Some of them entered the course because of our focus on multi-cultural learning, while others joined because they hate math! (just kidding)
We have a lot of Brass band girls (clarinet, sax and trumpet), sporty girls (volleyball, badminton, basketball and a track & field star that is 2nd in Miyagi in the 100meter), and artistic girls (calligraphy and animation). Of course, our class wouldn't be complete without a prima-ballerina, so we've got one of those too- who I have already chained to her desk so she doesn't fly away to Europe and never come back (just joking again, I only handcuffed her).

Anyways, as you can see everyone had a blast at our annual Cherry Blossom Party, once we got over the unfortunate fact that there weren't any cherry blossoms. We ate dangos, which are mashed rice covered in Bean, Walnut, Sesame seed and some other flavours that were snatched up and engulfed by the 3rd years before I could check them out. Our girls introduced themselves and a few popular facts came to light- many of them are interested in Korea, many of them like animation, one of them hates eggplant and one of them loves eggplant, and I'm guessing all of them are wondering/worrying about when they'll be able to understand me; just like their predecessors did.

Don't worry girls- patience and time, patience and time.
By the way, our motto for this year is
“Our thoughts today will be our achievements tomorrow.”

Not bad eh? I sort of came up with that on my own after going through a bunch of inspirational quotes that I felt weren't satisfactorily inspirational. I'm looking forward to checking out this blog a year from now and seeing how many of these girls will have had their thoughts blossom like the cherry trees above have yet to do, into achievements. I'm hoping all of them. 


The 2012 Tokiwagi 1st Year Skit Festival!

Hi there good people of Internetland and fans of TGH international everywhere. It seems like this is awards season- where rich and famous people give each other gold statues, pat each other on the back and tell each other how awesome they are. Well, we here in the TGH English faculty didn't want to be left out of any silly traditions so we've designed the TGH 1st year skit festival to coincide with this, the schmarmiest (that's not really a word), shmoosiest (that sort of is) time of year. So without further ado, lets check out the SkitFest!
The competing groups in the first row, going over their lines one more time.
The hushed crowd behind them, warming up their eyes, ears and brains for the onslaught of English language that is about to befall them.
Our 3 MCs from the International course- Narumi, Mana & Maple. Thanks for volunteering girls!... after I strongly suggested you do. Narumi & Mana just passed the Eiken step test, and I'd like to think some of the Skitfest English on display was absorbed and utilized during their interviews.
Our first skit was from the International course. It wasn't in competition for the top prize since all three of the participants won't be in Japan this summer when the winning group goes on to represent TGH at the All-Miyagi High School Skit Contest. Sumire and Mizuki will be homestaying in the U.S. and Marine will return to France (C`est La Vie). Anyways, Mizuki did win the Individual Best Actress award for her performance as a jilted apparition and they also grabbed the group prize for Best Action Sequence. The skit's title was `Ghost Bad Romance`.
The next skit was from 1-4 class and it was titled `Yaah!` Two girls sang a silly song which gave instructions to two more girls that did a silly dance and then exclaimed something afterwards, such as "I want a big bust!". It was a big hit and is currently skyrocketing up the charts. Nene Sato took home the individual award for Loudest and they claimed the group award for Funniest skit.

Next came the SBC class girls, who really put a lot of work into it by perfecting the timing, choreography, lighting and a bunch of other dramatic details that I don't know much about. The story was also deep and meaningful, which is why they claimed the prize for Best Message. Yunna Ara was the main director and put her blood, sweat and tears into the performance, which is why she walked away with the Most Impressive Effort Individual award. The Title of their skit was `The World Is Money.`
Next came some lovely young ladies from 1-3 class with a skit called `Deserted Pets`; a sad story about a couple of... rabbits/bears/cats? that get thrown away. The story was poignant and touching but really everybody just remarked about how cute they were and that was hard to disagree with so we gave them the gongs for Best Costumes and Risa Ozawa & Nami Kikuchi shared the individual award for Most Glamorous
`An Idol's 365 days` was the title of 1-5's entry. They took home the Best Stage Props award and Natsuki Watanabe totally rolled over the competition for the Individual Most Enthusiastic award- remember that name as I'm sure superstardom is just around the corner waiting for her.
Next up was a crowd favorite from 1-1 class. The title was `Cafe` and the place went crazy when a straightlaced volleyball club girl came out dolled-up in a maid's costume. Kyoka Oyama won the award for Most Charismatic Aura and the girls took home the team prize of Cutest Skit.

Next came our Inter-1 entry from Rurika, Haruka and Minami. The title was `School Rules`- a morality tale about a bad girl and a good girl and where their attitudes lead them. Rurika Akagaki did a very good job in her role and won the individual prize for Best Pronunciation. Unfortunately they were plagued by giggle attacks and there were some wardrobe (and hair) malfunctions so the top prize elluded their grasp, but they did recieve the award for Easiest Skit To Understand.
Finally we come to the 1-2 class performance, with the title `Where Is The Thing That I Lost?`; a story about a strange creature that takes your valuables. It was the best all-round skit, with a little bit of everything, which is why we decided to give it 1st PLACE! Congratulations also go out to Rito Yagi, who claimed the Best Memorized Line Delivery Individual prize. Good Luck in the All-Miyagi Competition this summer girls! TGH will be cheering for you!


Remembering Yuka Nakazawa...

Yuka Nakazawa entered Tokiwagi Gakuen as a first year student in the International class of 2007. I and Miyuki Kudo were her co-homeroom teachers. Yuka followed in her older sister's footsteps, who had also gone through our International class program. She was quieter than most of the other students, but not out of shyness- she just chose her words carefully and knew when to express herself better than most. She had many qualities, but two that I remember quite well were that she was very down-to-earth and was also a good listener; these made her very approachable and resulted in her making friends quickly and easily.  

During Yuka's third year at Tokiwagi she participated in a one-year homestay in the United States. She was sent to Florida, and by all accounts had a wonderful time there. I remember upon her return to Japan she was asked to give a speech about her homestay experiences and she delivered one of the most positive ones I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot). The reason for this was being that Yuka was a girl who was extremely easy to get along with and she proved this everywhere she went. In her years at Tokiwagi I can't remember a single incident, or problem she might have been involved in. Her consistantly high grade levels further enforced her image as pretty much a model student in every way. 
One unique decision she made that stands out in my mind was to return to Tokiwagi's International course after her classmates had graduated in order to be qualified to enter University. Most International class girls returning from a homestay situation do not choose this path- it meant entering a tightly-bonded class of girls a year below her and midway through the semester. The transition was a little awkward- in the first class I taught them with Yuka added there was definitely a feeling of separation and distance between her and the others. But this was Yuka: by the end of the school year she'd won them over and they graduated together in the Spring of 2011 as close friends. It was 11 days before the Great East Japan earthquake.

I mention the earthquake because in the hours, days and weeks after it happened the primary efforts of the people here were to make sure everyone had survived and were safe. Some of the houses we've all seen floating away in the tsunami belonged to our staff, students, Yuka's classmates. I remember a horrible, anxious feeling in my stomach for weeks as I braced myself for the worst news. But all Tokiwagi students were eventually accounted for, and although we were shaken by the incident we were incredibly relieved that everyone had survived. We picked up the pieces and moved on, considering ourselves lucky.

Yuka had been accepted in the English program at Dokkyo University, Saitama.  Although I hadn't heard how she was getting along since graduation her facebook pictures suggest that she was continuing with her habits of traveling the world, having fun and winning new friends. Then last Friday just before I left school for the weekend I was given news about Yuka that at first I did not believe; it simply couldn't be true. It was true, and that terrible feeling in my stomach returned. 

On February 9th, 2012 Yuka went on a snowboarding trip with her friends. They had a really good time that day. Upon returning to the main lodge that night she was conscious and coherent but her condition suddenly deteriorated. The medical report said that Yuka passed away early Friday morning due to a stroke. She was twenty years old and planned on returning to the United States next month. 

"She loved Tokiwagi so much.
And we loved her." - Miyuki Kudo

Our deepest sympathy goes out to her family, friends and loved ones that are left behind.


Two More Out Into The World

Our small class of young ladies is getting smaller by the day. As posted before, Manami left in early January for a homestay in Fiji. Here's a shot of her goodbye party:

As you can see, our ballerina in London- Momoka, returned for the winter holidays and took part in the chorus competition (she sings almost as well as she dances). So they're both back abroad; dancing and levelling-up their English (...and Fijiian?).
Then, last Saturday two more of our girls hopped on a plane for a homestay. Nonoka & Nanako are now in New Zealand and have contacted me to tell me that they are doing fine and that their host families are very kind. Here's a montage of party games we played outside the classroom last week in a 'farewell girls' long homeroom:
...and here's our girls departing from Sendai Station. Destination: Christ Church, NewZiii!

Very fashionable clothes girls but I'm sure you've realized, not really practical for a long airplane ride (I dress in pajamas and a bib). Also, I think Nanako brought a suitcase full of rocks, judging by the weight when I tried to lift it. Now our Inter1 class sits at 9- with a candle in the window for their globetrotting sisters.


Swan Song...

So, our little class were heavily outnumbered during the 1st year chorus competition but we managed to come away with 3rd place- not bad! The girls made a pretty big noise that filled the hall and moved some to tears (mostly the girls performing the song). After we collected third we were happily surprised to hear that our tireless conductor Nanako was awarded the individual fighting spirit award for her dedication and effort; and rightly so!


Back Up and Running?

Hi folks. My computer and this blog have not been getting along so far in 2012 and 3 posts have not been able to go through. I'm trying again with this very short one and a picture and if I succeed you'll get updates aplenty. Yosh!

The picture seems to have been accepted- wahoo! It's of Manami & I. Our first year girl who left for a Fijian homestay in early January. Her facebook page says she's doing fine. Notice I went for the Noir Santa look- always bet on black!