Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Hiatus

Kind of late for this, but I won't be updating anything until after Halloween (or at least after Friday). I might be overdoing it, but I'm preparing some stuff to do for my last pre-Halloween day of work.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Class Observation

I'm sure many people remember a time when their teacher told the class that a visitor was coming to the classroom (and therefore everyone should be on their best behavior).

At Kishi on Wednesday, my class with the 5th graders was rescheduled for later that day because of an exhibition that was happening during their regular English class time. It was during 2nd period that I was told to visit one of the two 4th grade classes, whose teacher was doing a math activity with the students.

When I was in school, having someone observe the class meant that one person was going to observe, and it was usually not a teacher but a person from outside of school.

I was expecting to be one of perhaps two or three teachers visiting this 4th grade class, but it turned out that ALL of the teachers were there. The class activity was to figure out and explain multiple ways to find the area of an abnormal shape, similar to this:

The measurements of all sides were given, so it was possible to find the area using several methods. The students had 20 minutes to figure out as many ways as possible to find the area.

A number of things crossed my mind while I was observing the class. First, I was wondering if any of the students felt pressured that nearly the entire school staff was watching over their shoulders while they worked. I also noticed that the students' progress varied. One student had practically breezed through 4 different worksheets and was working on a 5th way to calculate the polygon's area. Meanwhile, some students were still struggling with the first method. I actually don't even remember what grade I learned how to do the work they were doing, but I'm sure there are probably people my age who probably wouldn't be able to figure out anything like that. It's amazing to see what you've forgotten after having not seen it for a long time.

In other news, I will have some pictures of some recent items I bought coming this weekend. Lately I've been really busy so I haven't had time to blog a lot.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Natto: I'd Rather Eat Raw Chicken.

I checked today's school lunch menu to see what I should be looking forward to later in the day. Going down the list, I came across one dreaded item: なっとう (natto).

I had to read it over again to make sure I had gotten it right. Natto? THAT natto? Maybe they mean something else? Is it really written on here? Are kids actually going to eat it? How can I avoid eating it?

In case you don't know what natto is, let me give you a description: It's a disgusting brown mess of expired baked beans mixed with snot that's been sitting next to a garbage dumpster for a week. At least that's what it looks, smells, and tastes like. You know the phrase, "Never judge a book by its cover"? Well, natto tastes just as bad as it looks.

Now let me tell you what natto actually is: Fermented soybeans. It's notorious for its terrible smell, as well as the extremely sticky, slimy residue that resembles a mixture of glue and mucus, and when stretched it leaves these spider-web like strands that stick to anything they touch. Don't think that this is some weird thing that only Japanese people eat; there are even Japanese people who hate natto, and there are foreigners who like it.

The first time I tried natto was five years ago, when I was staying with a host family for a week and they took me to a kaiten zushi (the place that serves sushi on conveyor belts). One of the things they had me try was a roll with a little bit of natto in it. I put it in my mouth and started chewing, thinking, "Well, this isn't bad--" and then the taste came. It was so strong and gross that I vowed never to eat natto again. If it was THAT bad with rice, how bad could it be without it?

I know people who hated natto at first and then became used to it. It's an acquired taste, though I'm not sure why anyone would willingly acquire it, besides the fact that it's healthy. Guess what else is healthy? Edamame, tofu, lima beans, eggplant, carrots...

I saw that the paper cup the natto came in said "においひかえめ," or that the smell was removed. Well, that makes it a little more tolerable, I thought. I was originally planning to not eat it at all, but since the smell was taken out I decided I could focus more on the taste and decide once and for all if I could eat it.

Inside the paper cup, there was a mound of natto covered by a plastic film, and on top of that were packets of soy sauce and mustard. I put the soy sauce in it and started mixing with my chopsticks, and cringed at the sight of the slime activating. After I finished I took my chopsticks out and the slime stretched and clung to my chopsticks, leaving strands of sticky grossness that I had to clean off with a tissue.

I was eating with the 3rd grade class, and one of the boys asked if I liked natto. "I hate it," I answered. "Me too," he said. The girl sitting next to me said she liked it. When the teacher heard, she told me that it was absolutely fine if I don't eat it. Still, I tried a single fermented bean and kept it at the tip of my tongue as I chewed. It wasn't as bad as I remembered, but it was still a very strong flavor. I think the soy sauce made it more tolerable. Nonetheless, I gave up on it and threw it away.

As much as I hate natto, if you haven't tried it, I recommend that you do, just as an experience. It's one of those foods that most people either love or hate. Try looking for a kind of natto that has the smell removed from it, to make it easier.

If you have tried natto and you think I'm some immature little child for saying how gross it is, I really don't care. I also don't like sashimi (sliced raw fish), root beer, or cheesecake. But I do love Spanish olives straight from the jar, as well as cauliflower and tofu that ISN'T transformed into some kind of false meat. To each his own...and you can't deny that natto slime DOES look like mucus.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rest in Peace, Shota Tsutsumi

After work and some cold remedy shopping yesterday, I came home and turned on the TV to a heartbreaking news story. Shota Tsutsumi, a 16-year old high school student, was stabbed to death just two days ago on October 4th.

To summarize, Shota and his 15-year old girlfriend were standing by a couple of vending machines and talking, when a man in his 20s to 30s approached them with a knife in his hand. Shota told the girl to run, and as the girl fled he was approached by the man and stabbed. Shota died just after midnight on October 5th.

While the crime rate in the U.S. is pretty high, I've noticed that these heinous crimes are occurring more often in Japan, specifically in the Kansai area. Months ago a single mother left her two small children to die in her abandoned apartment, citing that she wanted time to herself. On October 3rd, a 9-year old boy in Osaka called an ambulance to report that his 3-year old sister was stabbed to death by their mother, a divorced 41-year old woman with three kids.

I don't understand what it is that drives people to kill children. It's really heartbreaking and it makes me so angry. After Shota died, the grandmother of his girlfriend visited the site where he was last standing and thanked him for saving her life. Why Shota didn't run away right after the girl is unknown to me, but if I could guess I'd say that he stayed put to serve as a distraction so that she could flee unharmed. It was a brave act that cost him his life. I hope they catch this coward of a murderer soon.