Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WTF Japan?!

Oh Japan...I love you so much, even when you're a little bit weird. Today's example: Mameshiba.

Ever since I got to Japan, I've been wondering what the deal with these commercials were. In every commercial, a person goes to eat some beans, but then a little bean shaped puppy appears! The bean puppy speaks, then the person loses their appetite. I had always wondered exactly what they were saying in these commercials (my Japanese hasn't been good enough to pick it all up). But now youtube has picked up on these weird ad's, and they have given me an English translation! Yay! The thing is though, they're even weirder now that I know what they're saying. Here are some of my favorites:



Black Beans:

Adorable, aren't they? Maybe a little creepy too, which actually sums up a lot of advertisements I see in Japan. These Mameshiba things are quite popular here too. They have keychains, purses, stuffed animals, etc. of these bean puppies.

Even with the English translation, I'm still not sure what exactly these commercials are selling. Is it, "Don't eat beans. They may give you usless triva?"

Oh, and just in case you haven't had enough cute for the day, here's the Mameshiba theme song!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Students Say the Awesomest things: Part 3

During the summer festival, one of my 3rd year JHS students (9th grader) came up to Jonny and had a pretty funny conversation with him:

student: (in Japanese) Do you have a perm?

Jonny: (in English) No

student: (in Japanese) No...you must have a perm!

Jonny: (not sure how to say it in Japanese, so he tries to say it in English) Natural style

student: Ohhh! *makes a gesture of a curling iron* style! *nods like she gets it now.*

After that she started touching his hair. She seemed very impressed.

If you ever come to the country side of Japan, you should expect questions like this from kids. "Your eyes are blue! Do you wear contacts?" or they might point at your freckles and go, "Whoa...what's that?!" If they're really young, they might ask you if you dye your hair since it's not black. Forgive them of these things though. They don't see many people like you.

My summer "vacation"

Sorry for the lack of updates! I've been meaning to write in here for some time, but I've actually been pretty busy this summer. If any other ALT's* read this blog, they probably will find that statement unbelievable.

During summer vacation, there are of course no classes. However, all teachers are still expected to go to work. ALT's, typically, are no exception. (That's all ESID** though. There are some ALT's that get summer vacation off.) Because there are no classes, there's usually very little or nothing to do. However, in my situation, my awesome supervisor found me plenty of things to do.

I've been visiting kindergartens in town and giving short English lessons. It's mostly just teaching them a few English songs then reading some children stories in English. They understand VERY little, but they still really enjoy it.

We've also been doing some lessons on team teaching to elementary school teachers. If you're not aware of this situation, I'll fill you in: The Japanese government recently decided that English must be taught in all elementary schools in Japan to 5th and 6th graders. It has to be taught once a week for one hour. The bad news about this is that English now has to be taught by the homeroom teacher. Most of the elementary school teachers speak little to no English. If that wasn't bad enough for them, the teachers are also forced to team teach with an ALT. Many ALT's speak little to no Japanese. You really have to sympathize for these teachers. But...shoganai***. So my supervisor has set up classes for these teachers. We give them tips on how to teach English to elementary students and how to work with an ALT. Hopefully the teachers are finding it helpful!

We also recently had a new ALT arrive in our town! We've spent a lot of time helping him adjust to his new life here.

There have been other fun going-ons as well. One day all of us ALT's in town got invited to participate in a rafting race. The race is held every year by one of the junior high schools in my town. (It's not a school I work at though.) The school is really small, and has only 40 students total. What made this race interesting was that the kids all built their own rafts. They used bamboo, wooden boards, and giant pieces of foam. I was actually quite impressed with how well they worked. The teachers handed us little plastic paddles and put us on one of the teams. We had to race out to a small island out in the middle of the sea. When I say small island, it was more like some large rocks sticking out of the water.

My team ended up winning the race! It was very close though. There was a tie, and my team won by Janken (rock, paper, scissors).

After the race, we hung out with the students for a while. We had lunch with them, and they made a special vegetarian yakisoba for me. After that, we participated in a very "interesting" Japanese tradition. I can't remember the name of it, but it's kind of like pinata. Except the pinata was a watermelon. We were given long plastic sticks rather than something more sturdy like a bat. When we asked why not something stronger, My supervisor explained, "But then there wouldn't be any watermelon to eat." OK, guess that makes sense. So they spun each of us around, then the kids tried to direct us (in English actually!) towards the watermelon. After it got smashed up really good, we ate it. This watermelon probably cost around 2000 yen ($20).

We also had the town's annual summer festival: the Teya Teya festival. The festival has a big parade, and many people in the town dance in it. I got to dance with my students in the festival. The only downside with me actually participating in this festival is that I have no pictures or videos to share. Shoganai :(. Hopefully next time!

That's about it. So to those I promised postcards to: they will come eventually! I didn't expect to actually be busy this summer. I thought I'd have nothing but free time at work, and I'd be bored out of my mind. I'm pretty glad I was wrong about that!

*ALT = Assistant Language Teacher, my job title
**ESID = "Every Situation is Different." If you have any interest in the JET program, this is a phrase you will hear quite frequently.
***Shoganai - Japanese word meaning, "nothing can be done" or "it can't be helped." We use it a lot here in Japan

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Gake no ue no Ponyo" - Japanese movie review

So I'm doing a movie post because as many who are close to me know, I'm a bit of a movie geek. Even more so, I'm an animation geek. (I'm actually considering starting a movie blog that focuses just on animation. I'm not sure if there's an audience for it though.) With that said, here's my review of "Ponyo".

If you live in Japan, then you already know about "Ponyo". If you came last summer, then you've also heard the adorable and infectious tune that goes with the movie. For any other readers out there, here is the song I'm referring to:

"Ponyo" is the latest creation by Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli. In my opinion, Studio Ghibli is one of the best animation studios in the world, right up there with Pixar. Every movie they put out is gold. Miyazaki is pretty much Japan's Walt Disney to give you an idea of just how famous and respected he is here. For good reason too because he is that brilliant. The most popular Miyazaki/Ghibli movie in the US, I'm pretty sure, is "Spirited Away". Other ones I highly recommend checking out (and you can find all of these in the US): "Princess Mononoke" (my personal favorite), "Castle in the Sky", "My Neighbor Totoro", and "Nausicaa: of the Valley of the Wind". This is only to name a few though. There are many others that are just as worth your time, and you may even enjoy more than these titles.

Here's the Japanese trailer for the movie:

So the movie came out on DVD just last month. I just rented it last weekend. It was WONDERFUL!! Very soon, it will be out in America, and I want all of you at home to see it.

Ponyo is a simple story. It's not on a high level of thinking like "Mononoke" or "Nausicaa". It's more geared for young kids in the same way "Totoro" is. Like "Totoro", don't write this movie off just because it's for kids. It's still a lovely story with gorgeous animation. It's one of those movies I don't think anyone could be too old for.

The story, in a way, is kind of like "The Little Mermaid". After meeting a human boy (Sosuke), a little fish (Ponyo) dreams of being human too. Except in this case, the boy and the fish are only 5 years old. Ponyo's father is an evil sorcerer, and he doesn't want her to leave the sea. I think it's best I don't give away anymore than that.

I found myself forming a special connection to this movie. It takes place in a small town right on the sea coast. The setting looks a LOT like where I live in Japan. Everything from the crazy winding roads and fisherman boats is spot on. I think Miyazaki must have spent a lot of time in Shikoku for many of his movies resemble the place I live.

Overall, I LOVED this movie. I'm not sure if it's coming out in theaters or straight to DVD at home. Either way, you guys need to see this movie.

If you can, I recommend watching this in its original Japanese dub with English subtitles. I haven't watched this with the English dub (the Japanese DVD didn't come with it. Thank goodness it at least had the subtitles!), but looking at the English voice cast has me a little worried...

I'm happy with some of the choices. Liam Neeson as Fujimoto is perfect! Great choice! Cate Blanchett as the Sea Goddess also pleases me.

The ones that worry me are the choices for Ponyo and Sosuke. Why oh why did they have to cast younger siblings of Disney chanel stars? Ponyo is played by Noah Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's little sister. Sosuke is played by Frankie Jonas, the youngest Jonas brother. Come on, really? I know exactly why they did it. As an animation fan, I always get annoyed when animated movies cast big names rather than people who actually fit the part. Like any other movie, they want to attach a big celebrity name in order to get a bigger auidence. I get it. For an animated movie, this can hurt a lot though. Especially with anime, you need voice actors that can not only act but know how to synch their voice correctly. Getting some celebrity who's not good at either can really ruin it. However, maybe Cyrus and Jonas are actually awesome in this. Maybe I'm judging them too quickly. Even if they are great in this, I know that's not the reason they were cast in this.

OK...so animation rant aside, please see this movie. When/if you do see it, leave me a comment letting me know what you think. If watched it with the English dub, let me know what you thought of that too.