This morning I was greeted with, "Excuse me, but the plans have changed." Instead of teaching math, I went on a walk down the bamboo slope to the first persimmon tree and back. All the nice spider-infested weeds that covered the sidewalks when we first arrived have been weed-whacked, apparently by that one guy we see toiling away every morning on our walks.
Camilla spent the day working on her college applications, so I did the crafts lesson for seven elementary school students alone. We started with an ESL lesson, where I gave people different colored yarns and asked them to pass them around. "Please give the yellow yarn to him," I'd say, and there'd be a long pause while everyone tried to figure out "yellow." Then, with a triumphant smile, the yellow yarn would go to its proper home. In the middle, two Japanese teachers showed up to watch, so I was relieved that the lesson went well. We learned "wrap around your hand" and "tie a knot," and then I showed them how to make Ojos de Dios, the Huichol Indian decorations.
Next, the 9th and 10th graders were to learn calligraphy. I wasn't sure where to go or whether I would be introduced or what, so there was a bit of a pause. Then I was motioned to begin, and had one of those hours that teachers hate. I said "Good morning," and bowed. Everyone said, "Good morning," bowed, and went back to chatting. I talked a little about the italic alphabet, asked people about Italy and alphabets, and got no takers. Okay. I wrote the alphabet on the board and talked about Japanese calligraphy, about art, about .... well, it was clear that I should stop talking and have them start. I showed them that c, a, d, e, and q are related, and asked them to practice. Somehow, the idea of calligraphy as a separate skill had not gotten across to everyone. These kids already know how to write the Roman alphabet, since it is one of the many scripts that the Japanese use in daily writing. So, about ten of the 40 didn't bother, another 10 scribbled single letters, and only about half the students "got it" and actually tried for careful, beautiful letters. Things finally gelled when I showed them "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs," probably because it was something new. Finally, another teacher arrived and I suggested we divide the class into those who wanted to continue and those who were better off studying other English work. So, that's what we did, and that was good.
After lunch, I had the little ones again. We made tassels for the Ojos de Dios, to much enthusiasm and Julie worship. A nice antidote.
Then we were whisked off by a shy, dapper teacher, whose name and specialty I never learned. He lives on about 15 acres of farmland in a picturesque farmhouse about 5 miles away. His wife is taking classes in fabric arts in Tokyo, and she showed us her cotton charkha, or spinning wheel. You turn the handle with your right hand and spin thread-thin yarn with the other. We discussed sheep wool, mugwort dyes, and weaving for a while. In the meantime, the teacher was walking around with their 6 month old baby. She was remarkable. She'd been sleeping under a bulky duvet in the middle of the floor when we arrived, and simply opened her eyes and watched us. After tea, the teacher picked her up and walked her around, and she just watched. My own babies were far noisier and more active. Could you have a cultural difference at such a young age?
We went outside to walk around. The farm is on a hill, and so every hundred feet or so there was a terrace and a new little patch of tilled ground. There was a daikon garden, a persimmon orchard, a rice paddy, another mixed persimmon and chestnut orchard, and then up at the top of the land, several unused rice paddies and a fern patch. He said his neighbors give him rice so, since he has a full-time job, he doesn't work those fields. A spring fed the top rice paddy, and there were little channels dug into the clay to feed the water through all the lower fields. The teacher said that there were mountain crabs in the runnel, but we squished through the mud a bit without finding any.
The highlight of the day was the English lesson with the teachers and the top English students, about 20 people in all. The whole school has been studying Ancient Egypt and watched a BBC documentary series on how scientists figured out that the fall of the Old Kingdom was caused by a 200 year drought. Yayoi and I had already transcribed the documentary, and we were going to discuss it. First, everyone watched the series again. Next, I was asked to rephrase the first few paragraphs of the transcription.
Now it got interesting. Instead of focusing on the topic at hand, people felt free to digress, sometimes wildly. I started by saying that I would read from the first column of the first page. Somebody asked what a column is as compared to a paragraph. We must have spent 20 minutes on newspaper columns, rows and columns, architectural columns, and the Japanese word karumu, which sounds like "column" to their ears, and means newspaper column. Somebody asked Camilla if her hair was real, and I pulled it to show that it was firmly attached. We talked about swearing and the difference between God, god, and gosh. We talked about omens and ominous. We talked about toppling governments, bringing them to their knees, and political upheavals. It was just like a dinner table conversation.