10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 3)

By Ben Mirin, CIR

3. Photographs of my family and of Concord, MA

Recently, I prepared a PowerPoint presentation about myself for all of the English classes I will start teaching in the coming months. The presentation is framed almost entirely around the most common questions I’ve received from locals during my first week in Nanae.  They are, in no particular order:

  • Who is in your family? How old are they and what are their names?
  • Where does your last name come from?  (I half-expected this question because of my name’s convenient overlap with a popular Japanese cooking wine, but in reality, it has more to do with my distinct position as a foreigner in Nanae.)
  • Do you have friends back home?  What are they like?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What is your favorite food? (Best to pick a Japanese dish, and doing so isn’t hard.  Japanese food is generally delicious.)
  • Where have you traveled?
  • Where did you go to university?  What did you study?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • Have you ever studied Japanese? (This one’s easy: Hai demo sukosidakedesu.  Mada jozuja arimasenn.)

Obviously the content of my slides will change somewhat depending on my audience, but the basic idea will be the same.  These are some sample slides from my first presentation at Nanae High School:
CIR Presentation Continue reading “10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 3)”

10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 2)

By Ben Mirin, CIR

2. A fly rod

I did not expect to see salmon jumping in the Europe River at this time of year.

A week ago, I was awake at a time I only reserve for two activities: bird watching and fishing.  The former was on my agenda, and I had leapt out of bed after a long night of karaoke to meet my friend Tanaka-san for an expedition to find White-tailed and Stellar’s Sea Eagles near Yakumo, a coastal town roughly 1 hour from Nanae by car.

Together with Tanaka-san’s daughter, Miu, we spent the morning cramped in the car, driving among different lookout points that Tanaka-san had memorized.  At each stop, we lowered our windows and peered through the freezing rain to scan treetops and shorelines for birds.  The name Yakumo has a meaning: 1 week and 8 days of rain.  I wondered what could attract eagles to such a place.

The answer became clear when the rain let up.  Stepping outside momentarily, I walked to the edge of a nearby bridge and looked out over the river.  Hundreds of spawning salmon were tailing and splashing all along the shore.

Almost on cue, eagles began to cry in the cold morning air.  Looking up I saw dozens of them circling over the water in search of the fish. Dozens more were clearly visible in clouds of black and white plumage that peppered the surrounding hillsides.  I had never seen so many of these huge raptors in one place.

A White-tailed Eagle in flight

Continue reading “10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 2)”

10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 1)

By Ben Mirin, CIR

1. A guitar

I was sad to leave my guitars behind when I left the States, but I did not think that my work for Nanae would require the use of an instrument.

I attended my first meeting of the Nanae High School English Club on Tuesday.  At the last minute the Club’s faculty adviser had to take off to attend to one of her children, who had developed a fever at school that day.  With 30 minutes before the Club meeting, I needed to make a new lesson plan.  Somehow, I was able to borrow an acoustic guitar from my boss’s brother.  The instrument hadn’t been tuned in a while, and the high E string was missing, but that was enough; I know a few songs that only use the bottom 5 strings.  Scrambling, I printed out 5 copies of the lyrics to “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, cut them into strips of individual lines, and stuffed them into 5 envelopes.  I figured I could play the song while teams of students listened and raced to piece together the lyrics.  With help from several staff, I turned my section of the Town Office from International Relations into Arts and Crafts, and managed to make it to the high school with a few minutes to spare.

In the car I wondered, should I have picked a simpler song?  Are Green Day’s metaphors about life’s mysteries and the inevitable passage of time comprehensible in translation when they’re coming from a guy who hasn’t even sung their tune in 5 years?

Apparently, yes.  The students had little difficulty piecing the lyrics together, and with one and a half run-throughs of the song we had a winning team.  The victors got first pick from the Concord-themed gifts I had brought as prizes, but eventually all 17 girls had their choice among an array of Paul Revere and Minuteman key chains, Concord militia ribbons, and Walden Pond magnets.

I’m not sure if I’ll need a guitar again for English Club, but I wouldn’t be surprised.   Even if I cannot play one in my apartment for fear of offending my neighbors, I expect it will come in handy for future events at the high school, in my community English classes at the Onuma Seminar House, or in my classes at various nursery and elementary schools that start in January.

…To be continued…

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