Monday, March 31, 2014

A City Girl Learns About the Environment

         So since my last update, that didn't include me being in complete awe how much snow was dropped on this place, I was marking my first month here in Japan. Well when they tell you time flies, they are not kidding. My THREE month mark has come and gone. It is the weirdest feeling to talk to people and tell them I am here until January and they respond with "Oh so only for another nine months?" and I want to shake them and tell them "DON'T SAY THAT! I have so much time left!!!" But as they say, you blink and it's gone.

          As I said in the last blog post eons ago, I have been rotating around the different departments here at KEEP. The beginning of March brought my time with the Environmental Education department. This is the department I attended the event in Tokyo for back in January. Now that I celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, I was now going to see what they did on a day to day basis. The first day with them I was taken on one of the short nature tours they offer to guests coming to KEEP. The people that work for Environmental Education, or E.E., are very knowledgeable about what they are teaching. While there is that whole language barrier thing still, the hands on aspect of the program gave me an idea of what was being taught. There is a big trend right now in Japan, at least from what I can tell from the increasing amount of guests coming to KEEP, for "getting back to nature", so people come to learn about the trees, the animals, the plants and how they all interact and to basically become one with nature. After the first few days of learning about the E.E. department and exploring their awesome exhibit they have in their offices--seriously they have an area titled "Whose butt is this?" where you guess which animal rear end is sticking through the display, I was sent to work at Harris Hall.

One of the "nature interpreters", what they call a kind of nature guide, teaching a group that came in about the animals in the area.
Who's butt is this? Stick your head through and see!

More animals of the forest!
Identifying the different types of tree in the forest
     Harris Hall is the large conference hall in the woods amongst all the cabins. For the next three weeks I was going to be working with three different groups of college students coming to KEEP to learn about environmental education. Each session lasted three days and then we got a new crop of students in. The program was sponsored by the Tomodachi Initiative. Here is a description from their website

"In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, the United States military and Japan Self-Defense Forces worked together successfully in Operation Tomodachi to provide immediate humanitarian relief to the Tohoku region. Building upon this cooperation and spirit of friendship, the United States and Japan launched the TOMODACHI Initiative. TOMODACHI is led by the United States Government and the U.S.-Japan Council, a tax-exempt non-profit organization, and is supported by the Government of Japan, corporations, organizations and individuals from the United States and Japan."

     I got to participate and be "the American perspective". The students that were there were studying some environmental issue in school and had some project that they were working on or had been apart of. The KEEP staff taught for a day and then the students broke into groups to present their individual projects to each other. On the last day, using what they had learned and each other's current projects as inspiration, the groups were then supposed to create their own environmental education based program that they then presented to the whole group--at least that is what I gathered from the whole process. The students were all really nice. There were a few in each session that spoke really good English, one girl I was even convinced was actually from the US, but really had just gone to an international school in Tokyo. Everyone was really eager to talk to me and practice their English. A lot of people had questions about what the US was like because they were either traveling there soon or were going to be studying abroad there. At each session they had "Charlotte Time" where I had to stand up and talk about myself and where I am from and then everyone got to throw out questions--of course most were environment related. Everyone who knows me knows that I am more of an indoor creature, so the fact that I was able to answer some of their questions with certainty was pretty amazing to me. A lot of the questions were like "How does America recycle?", "Why are there so many national parks out West?", "What is the government trying to do to help cut down on pollution created by businesses?"---these kids were very well informed on US issues and I was impressed. I now know I can perform well under pressure when faced with things I THOUGHT I had no idea about.

Classroom learning--what is environmental education & why is it important to bring it into the future?
Now talking about what is happening in their area of Japan in relation to environmental education.
Out of the classroom--hands on learning.
Visit to the KEEP Dairy Barn.
More tree identification!
It was a little hard to learn when you were frozen--but the students were troopers!
Nature scavenger hunt.
During this session, we were split into groups to work together to create things from our environment--we made a snow samurai!
Snow angel time!
During another session--we created "artwork" from nature--I felt bad every time someone got paired up with me, but people were good sports.
After a morning of subzero outdoor classroom learning it was time to retreat to the "kotatsu" which is one of the greatest inventions ever--it is a table that has a heater underneath and blankets attached to the side to keep the heat in.
Each student presenting the work they have been doing with their  respective colleges or organizations. After, they combined their previous work and created a new environmental education program to present to the larger group.
Each small group presented their ideas to the larger group.
After the explanation of the programs, everyone went around and judged what they thought were strengths and weaknesses of everyone else's group ideas.
Blue--strengths, pink weaknesses
After everyone went through and dissected everyone else's idea, they judged whose program would theoretically be most successful. The winning group received a KEEP Environmental Education prize and a coupon for FREE SOFT CREAM! That was a huge hit. This was the winning group from the first session.
Winning group from the second session!
Winning group from the third session!
We ate all meals together which was a great time to get to know all the students. They loved asking questions about America and what American college students were like.
All of us practicing for our "night hike". We look these insulated yoga mat type things out to lay in the three feet of snow to look at the stars and "be one with nature"--still one of my favorite things I have done since being at KEEP.
My new friend Rika--she had great English. She had spent a semester in Australia. She thought it was so funny that I could detect an Australian accent in her English.

          On days I'm not working with these groups, I have been continuing my work at the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum, no longer Center. We had a name change at the beginning of the fiscal year on April 1. I am still working on archiving and creating the searchable database of the Paul Rusch letters. I just finished the Eli Lilly Fund folder and was interesting to see how the Lilly Endowment was broken down in his will and seeing names of places that I actually knew! KEEP was among some big Indy names like the IMA and Children's Museum that received money. The money KEEP received was in memory of his wife. Seeing all of that was a nice reminder of home.
          So now that catches us up to pretty much today. I now have a set schedule here at KEEP, Mondays and Thursdays are spent at the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum, and the weekends I am at the hotel here, Seisen-Ryo. Fridays I am working in the restaurant of the hotel and Saturdays and Sundays I am working in the front office and front desk area. I've only been here a few days, so I don't have much to report back yet or any pictures, but my main job here is going to be teaching about the American service industry and translating signs in to native English as well as learning the systems and how things are done here. I am already having so much fun being back in the hospitality field and now adding the international aspect into it is really exciting. I'll update when I have more information and pictures.

          So again I apologize for the delay in blog postings. Hopefully now that things here are picking up and I'm not snowed in anymore, I will have more to report on. Spring has finally started here in the mountains! The snow is (almost) completely gone and the flowers are blooming. Luckily I didn't miss the sakuras, or cherry blossoms, blooming up here in the mountains. They say Kiyosato sakura season is about a two or three weeks behind Tokyo, where the blossoms are said to have already fallen. I hope every has had a great Holy Week and a fantastic Easter this weekend. Thank you for sticking it out for another long post!

             Until next time,


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