Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tea Ceremony and Story Time at Seisen-Ryo

     So I know one of my main purposes here is to provide international exchange and share what I know and teach about my culture, but sometimes I am the one that gets to learn and those are some of my favorite days! Not only do I get to break the monotony of the work day, but I get to try something new.

     During the busy season at KEEP, Seisen-Ryo will cater to their guests by setting up a casual tea ceremony in the lobby. I say casual in the sense that guests can check-in and stop by for a quick cup of green tea before heading to their room. By no means is the setup itself casual. A few of the ladies that work in the different departments of KEEP are traditional tea masters and they so graciously showed me how to prepare a proper cup of green tea.  A lot more than you would think goes into this ritual which is best explained in pictures.
Sign inviting guests to come in an have a cup of tea.
It's all about the bamboo brush to get the tea nice and frothy.
First, I got to play the guest. You're first a served a sweet to coat your palate and prepare it for the bitterness of the tea to come.
Enjoying my cookie.
Receiving my cup of tea. Much different than a tea cup. The whole display of the tea ceremony coordinates with the season. The flowers there are to represent summer.
Now it is my turn to learn! The big ladle there is to scoop out the hot water into the tea bowl to wash it out, which you then pour into the decorative vase there. Then you use your special cloth to wipe out the bowl in a specific way, making the shape of one of the Japanese hiragana characters (like making the shape of an A). Next, you put two of the tiny spoonfuls there of the green tea into the bowl and then ladle more hot water in, then you mix it up with the bamboo brush there to make it all frothy. And voila! Proper green tea.
Frothing up the tea!
My first guests!
     Seisen-Ryo doesn't like to forget about the kids during the busy season! One of the women I work with, Hoshii-san, used to be a teacher before she came to Seisen Ryo. She has a whole stash of children's books under her desk and she puts on story time a few times a month during the summer. I got to be the special guest reader for this last time. The kids come after dinner, right before bed and we set up a story corner. This time Hoshii-san read from one of her HUGE Japanese books first.
Story time with special guest Charlotte File from America!
Large group this night.
     The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a very popular book here in Japan amongst children just like back in the States which was a nice surprise seeing as it was one of my favorite books growing up too! The kids were really excited when Hoshii-san got it out and then did the old bait and switch and got out the English version for me to read. Japanese kids are extremely interested in American culture so I was pleasantly surprised how well they listened. 

Special guest reader.

All the Eric Carle books are popular!
     At the end of story time, I get to interact with the kids. The parents like their kids to practice their English they have no doubt been paying out the eyes for. We give the kids some stickers, play some rock, paper, scissors with me (which is the go to way to settle anything in the kid world here) and just hang out. Then it's off to bed for the little ones and I go home and realize teaching will never and should never be in my future.

Rock, paper, scissors--or janken as it's called here.
Showing me his dormouse museum pin--you can see his extensive collection of pins on his shirt.
Family that comes to Seisen-Ryo every summer for vacation and know Hoshii-san well.

Until next time,

Friday, May 23, 2014

Actually Using that Degree I Earned

     I have to admit when I applied to be a missionary, I thought my degree in event management and hospitality would just sit there and look nice in its frame on the wall. When that degree actually played a part in why I was placed in Japan, I was excited to see how I could apply my (expensive--Sorry Dad) knowledge I had gained in Florida.

     Over the last few months I have spent three days a week working at Seisen-Ryo, KEEP's hotel side of the operation. Seisen-Ryo was originally built in the 1930s as a leadership camp for young Japanese Christians to come and relax in the mountains. Today, it has evolved into a relaxing resort retreat that is well-known around Japan--mainly because of its association with the infamous soft cream. The whole Seisen-Ryo property is made up of the "Original Lodge"--built in 1957 after the first building burned down, the "New Annex" which was constructed in 2009, and then the surrounding Cottages. Guests can enjoy the old world charm of the Western and Japanese style rooms in the Original Lodge, the new amenities offered in the New Lodge's Western or Japanese style suites or stay in the Cottages in the woods with their larger groups (as you can tell, one of my jobs was to work on the wording for translated marketing materials).

     GM--our name for our general manager of Seisen-Ryo and the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum--had tasked me with working at the hotel at both the front desk and in the kitchen of the restaurant. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to be doing at first, all he told me was I was to be there to speak English with everyone and to get them accustomed to working with foreigners.

     My first task working at the front desk was to collaborate with Hoshii-san, my manager while there, to translate signs around the hotel. She has really great English, so she would tell me what the Japanese sign said and then I would translate it into native and natural English. She told me it was a task that they had been slowly working on over the last few years, but would just fall to the wayside as more important tasks arose. We went around the entire property and translated anything and everything we could find. There were signs warning of the slippery bridge ahead, giving guests directions on how to rent items, where people that aren't guests should please refrain from entering, where to wait in line for check-in/check-out, etc. That was the easy part, wherever there was a Japanese sign, we put it into English. The harder part was going through and deciding what needed to be explained to foreigners that Japanese people don't even think twice about. Hoshii-san had me stay in the hotel as a guest in the Japanese style room and really analyze what, as a foreign guest, I didn't understand. Just as an example, the idea of bathing in the hot springs is second nature to the Japanese, but as a timid foreign guest, the proper procedures are something that needed to be explained.
Just one example of the MANY translated signs around the hotel.
Working with guests at the front desk.
     After that big project was done, we moved on to creating an English handbook for the staff. Seisen-Ryo frequently gets inquiries from English speaking guests and sometimes things can get lost in translation. I created templates of emails that staff can just plug in the necessary information for any situation that a guest may present--emails about available dates, room styles, menu options at the restaurant, room packages, etc. Hoshii-san was also very interested in knowing how best to interact with guests in English--key hospitality phrases. I created a list of easy phrases that any of the staff could practice in their free-time. Things such as formal greetings, formally welcoming guests, asking how their stay was and inviting them to stay with us again. She was very interested in knowing words that would really polish their service standards--four years of being ingrained with that at UCF? I think I know a few words to help. Also, there are a lot of documents, ie. local train schedules, that are all in Japanese and confusing even if you do know Japanese, so I compiled train schedules of the local lines into an easy read English document that staff could easily hand to guests without much explanation. All of these documents were put into a nice little handbook. Over the past few months during the morning staff meetings, I had been updating everyone about what I would be working on that day. Everyone seemed very excited about eventually having that resource, so it was awesome when I finally got to distribute them to all the staff--my first finished project here! The guest rooms also now have completely translated information books for guests as well! Something I know I miss when I'm staying in Japanese hotels. One of my proudest moments so far has been staff telling me about Mika, one of the girls I work with that has limited English, and how she worked with a foreign guest and how great she did!
Hoshii-san also translated everything for the table of contents so everything is easily found!
English is so complicated when you sit down and think about it!
     On Fridays, I worked in the kitchen of the restaurant of the hotel. I had so much fun down there! I didn't really have any tasks besides just to socialize with everyone, but I hated just standing around, so I would always find something to do. I would arrive at nine, put dishes from the guests' breakfast into the washer and then it would be the staff breakfast time. We would eat as a group and that time was spent throwing dictionaries back and forth, using translator apps, learning new words, and essentially playing charades to communicate. It was good practice for me as well because a lot of people's English was about the same level as my Japanese. We would work until lunch--me mainly doing kitchen tasks that I couldn't screw up, like peeling potatoes or washing lettuce. This was another great opportunity for us to practice our vocabulary with each other, they would hand me something and say the Japanese name and I would tell them the English word--eggplant was the most confusing and hilarious to them. Having worked in restaurants with big kitchens and having culinary labs in college, I have to say not much is different in kitchens in Japan. A lot of things are French words, just like in the US, but I will say the head chef is not a scary as the ones in the States can be.
Plating dessert.
They trusted me to work with scallops one day.
Watching Japanese chefs work with fish is mesmerizing.
Making a raspberry mouse--gelatin comes in sheet form in Japan, not powder.
Stirring up the mousse!
Kaori, the pastry chef, measuring out bacon for a savory creme-brulee.
     The most unique experience I had in the kitchen happened at breakfast one morning. I was sitting down and they placed a styrofoam box next to me and told me to open it. Inside was a turtle crawling around. By lunchtime I had seen said turtle beheaded, gutted and its shell boiled to make a soup. Fun fact--turtles' heads can continue to move around for at least twenty minutes after it's been cut off. THANKS FOR READING!

Until next time, 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Interns Have Arrived!

     KEEP is hosting a whole gang of interns this summer. Just recently, the first crop of them arrived. This group is from Berea College in Kentucky. They are four really incredible students if you think they picked up and moved to a strange country for two months of their summer holiday. Their tasks here at KEEP include working on the farm, two of the students are studying agricultural related subjects at school, and working at the camp with students that come to KEEP. If you want to see what they are up to, one of the students, Aja Crouteau, has been keeping a blog to keep everyone at home updated. It's a great read if you're interested in other on-goings at KEEP besides what I am involved in. Because they're only here for two months, they have been given the gift of bikes, which unfortunately will get them to the 7-11 down the hill, but that is about it and I feel like it is my duty, as the English speaker with a car, to take them to the grocery store or mall whenever the need. I know how awkward it can be to ask someone that is your superior to take you to get something that is totally American, like peanut butter, so I am constantly bugging them to see if they need anything. There is also another intern right now that is here from Brazil. Tomorrow, our intern Emily from Wellesley College arrives and will be living in the same dorm as me. Over the summer, we also will have interns from France, the Philippines and possibly Afghanistan coming here to KEEP. I like to think of myself as the intern Momma because I am going to see them all arrive and then leave and I'll still be here. It's a really weird way to think of it--I'm five months in and still have another seven, but these students are going to be spending their whole time here within my remaining time. Time seriously is flying.

     The other night, the international relations department had a night out at a local izakaya ("a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks. They are casual places for after-work drinking." --Wikipedia) called Zenzow. It was kind of an official "welcome dinner" for the Berea students and was a really enjoyable night and kind of the first night I had spent not hanging out in the dorm. I felt like a barrier between me and my coworkers has been broken and now they know they can invite me out. The next day my coworker at the hotel told me about their department dinner party this upcoming month. I feel like I have finally made progress! This is also the time right before the super busy season at KEEP and people are taking advantage of the calm before the storm.
Jaimah and Victoria trying umeboshi--or pickled plums--for the first time.
The Berea students' first full day in Japan--discussing what their jobs at KEEP will be.
Victoria, Zack and Aja at Zenzow
International Relations department outing.
Victoria trying something for the first time.
The damage at the end of the meal.
Aja, Victoria, Zack and Jaimah at the meeting for the Hokuto City student exchange to Canada. They will be helping me teach the English classes for the students that take place while they are still here.

Until next time,

Monday, May 12, 2014

American Football in Japan?

     That's right, you read that correctly...AMERICAN football in Japan. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Paul Rusch-the founder of KEEP-is called the 'Father of American Football in Japan'. It is only fitting that there is a Paul Rusch Memorial Game every year at KEEP. Each year a team will play the St. Paul's University, or Rikkyo Gakuin, Rushers. St. Paul's is considered the kind of the home team for KEEP because that was where Paul Rusch started as a professor. This is their Facebook page if you want to check them out. This year they happened to be playing another Anglican university, St. Andrew's, or Momoyama Gakuin, Thundering Legion Lions located in Osaka. As soon as I found out about the game, I asked my managers if I could take a long lunch break to go watch, which of course they obliged. I was introduced to one of their coaches who felt like he had to introduce me to everyone, which was a blessing because he introduced me to a very nice family whose son was playing for the Rushers. The husband was British and the wife Japanese and they told me the story of when their son came home and said he wanted to play American football of all things--why not cricket or rugby?!? Their son was a wide receiver and has played in camps in the US and really hopes to one day to go over and play at the college level. From what the family told me he's pretty dang good, but still a freshman so he has some time. Having someone to look for on the field and root for made it feel like I was back at home all over again, minus the fact that Mt. Fuji played the backdrop for the game. How often can you say you got your Sunday football fix in Japan?
Driving up to KEEP's American Football fields--not a bad view, eh?
Rushers vs. Thundering Legion Lions--there's a university in Japan whose mascot is a lie.
Noda-san from the head office announcing the game.
Both teams praying before the game.
The St. Paul's University Rushers.
The captains exchanging gifts before the game--a very Japanese tradition.
Kick off.
Fuji was actually the backdrop for this!
Wasn't the best field to play on, but they managed.
End of the game.
American Foootball in Japan!
Until next time,

Friday, May 9, 2014

English Class? But You Don't Even Speak Japanese?

     That is definitely one of the most common phrases I have said to me. How can you teach someone your language when you don't even speak theirs? I will admit it was pretty daunting at first, but I realized that most people here were as nervous to learn and speak English as I was to teach. I will say, everyone was very enthusiastic about the classes starting. Every time I was in the employee cafeteria, staff would come up to me and tell me how excited they were for the classes to begin, so that gave me the boost of confidence I needed.

     In Japan, you have to do a lot of preparation and research before you do a lot of things, so the classes started off with "orientation" classes. With Hata-san, my manager at the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum, and Urakabe-san, my manager in the international relations department, as my "teacher's aides" a.k.a. translators, we held three different informational classes to gauge people's interests, what they wanted to learn, what time and days worked best for them, and what they wanted to accomplish by the end of my time here. They were very informal gatherings, ones I always started off with "This is a safe environment, it's ok to make mistakes here. I'm not going to laugh at you for anything because I don't want you to make fun of me for my Japanese." Hata-san and Urakabe-san were there to interpret what people didn't understand. From all the information we gathered from people, we decided to have a beginner's English class every other Monday and an Intermediate class every Thursday. Many Japanese people have taken English during Junior High, but they have lost a lot of it and I have noticed some of the English is a little outdated. A question I had was about the proper time to use 'supper' vs when you would use the word 'dinner'...Those are my favorite conversations to have. Most people wanted to be able to think first in English by the time classes were over, which was an entirely new concept to me, but what I thought was the most interesting thing to me was that a lot of people wanted to learn how to speak like an American. Turns out Japanese people are interested in learning our mannerisms and how we talk with our hands and how we stand while we're speaking. You don't think about those things until someone points them out. Oh, and there was also an overwhelming request to learn about American Pop Culture, which I was happy to oblige. My favorite idea suggested was that we have a field trip to a karaoke bar and everyone is ONLY allowed to sing English songs.

List of questions to determine how to set up the formal English classes--and phrases that needed explanation.
Discussing class objectives
     So with one to two classes a week, I am pretty busy. People choose whichever level they want to join and I encourage them to come to both if they can. I am a pretty laid back teacher, not like some of the language drill sergeants you had back in high school. The format of class is usually the same, we have a topic we discuss with a worksheet to fill out and then usually we just kind of branch off from there. I use the topics as a kind of jumping off point. People are very interested in the terms I use that I don't even think twice about, phrases like "right off the bat", or "killing two birds with one stone", or trying to translate an English play on words that makes me laugh hysterically and it just doesn't translate to Japanese. The first week for both level classes was "Introductions and Greetings" where we discussed the most formal way to greet people all the way down the "Hey. What's Up?" Of course I don't encourage them to use this in their daily conversations, but they are always very curious about the funny things foreigners say. Other class topics have included 'Learning Small Talk'--telling them it's not usually proper form to ask someone their age in a first meeting setting, 'Talking about your Favorites'--the term 'favorite' is a term I have noticed that many Japanese don't know from their previous English classes, 'Telephone Etiquette'--people wanted to know how to speak to foreigners when they call, "Days of the Week and Months"--being able to tell people when their reservations are or tomorrow the shop is closed, and "Talking about your Family"--I have found that trying to describe my family and how people are related is difficult and the fact that we have about eight hundred different ways to call our "mother" and "father." I love when I teach something and they ask questions about a topic I didn't even think about teaching to them, but it really makes me so excited to see that they're thinking beyond just the information I am giving them.

Beginner English--that's the attendance sheet there. There will be awards at the end of the year for best attendance and most improved!
First formal Beginner English Class.
I always write the date the way Americans do--some people didn't know there was a difference, which can lead to confusion in the hotel.
First formal intermediate English class--that is GM in the suit. He is the general manager of Seisen-Ryo and the Paul Rusch Memorial Museum.
     My favorite class so far definitely has been teaching about the question words "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How". In my last care package my dad had sent all of my People magazines I had received up to that point, so I had about twelve issues or so just sitting in my room, so I decided to bring them to use as textbooks. It actually worked out perfectly because that night it was only women that came and they all were the ones I spend the majority of my time with, Hata-san, Urakabe-san, Hoshii-san--my manager at the hotel, and Kaori--the pastry chef I work with in the kitchen. I had them go through the magazines and come up with questions for each of the question words. It could be about anything they found in the magazine. Some of the questions were "What is a socialite?" "When did the Academy Awards start?" "Whose dress to the Oscar's did you like best?" "What is a 'bodice'?" (As you can tell these were all issues from Awards Season) It was neat to see how much of American culture they actually knew. I think America needs to be more aware of what we are putting out there because foreigners know more than we think. Class usually only runs about an hour, but we ended up being there for two and a half! I had a lot of fun because we all called it a girls' night. Some people may say that's a silly way to teach, but I am always trying to find new ways to explain American culture while still being fun.

Everyone said they love American magazines so much because they always smell nice--Japanese magazines don't have the perfume ads like we do
Devouring American culture
     My next English teaching project is to help another coworker, Murata-san, teach English to junior high students from Hokuto City that are going on an exchange trip to Canada in August. I told them I was more than happy to help, but I know nothing about Canada except their our non-confrontational neighbor to the North. We had our first meeting this past weekend and the kids all seem so young. There are eighteen students from nine different junior high schools in Hokuto City, ranging in age from 12-15. I am really looking forward to it because teaching the staff at KEEP has been one of my favorite jobs here and seeing the kids and how eager they are to learn English made me really excited!

Well until next time,