Monday, June 22, 2009

Nakawarashina Elementary

Right now, during the peak of the school term, I am going on elementary school visits about once a week. I show up at a school, have a brief meeting with a teacher, and we go over the lesson plan that they have, hopefully, prepared. In a typical lesson I give a shortened version of my self introduction, they ask a ton of questions, we practice simple vocabulary/alphabet/numbers, and then we play a couple games where I stand back and let them scream.

Last Friday I went to Nakawarashina Elementary School. Getting there required a 30 minute bus ride, and a 15 minute car ride from the vice-principal. The school is out in the mountains. It is small. There are two students. The 5th and the 6th grader are taught together. At their disposal are a principal, vice-principal, and I think two teachers.

We had a lesson where we worked on numbers 1-30, then we went on a hike to a nearby overlook. I watched as the two boys gave a serious beating to a tree stump with some sticks. We got back and it was not yet lunch time, so they opened up a shed and brought out a set of wooden clubs for some form of golf game. The students, the teachers, and I all played the four-hole course. I took second place to one of the students.

Lunch was delivered and ready to eat. It was a sunny day so we sat outside at a table beneath an awning. They pretty much eat out there everyday. As per usual, my peanut butter & jelly sandwich and carrot were quite amusing to everyone. After a break I gave another lesson. This time their mothers came to watch and participate. We all worked on pronouncing numbers together. A lot of time spent on 13 and 30, a lot. After class the students went off to play and I gave my self introduction again. This time for the vice-principal, the teacher, and the mothers.

I then had a little time to hang out before it was time to go. I was reading a book when the vice-principal came to give me a tour of the school. He showed me the science room with a kiln, so it also doubled as a clay-firing art room. There was a home ec. room, and a technology room with some pricey items. The mountain schools always get the nicest stuff.

The last stop was the history room. Along the four walls were pictures detailing the history of the school. The school has been there since 1890. The buildings have changed, but there was always a school. The older pictures showed much more traditional architecture. Moving across the timeline, one could see all the typical transitions of time. Uniforms disappeared, bodies became less posed and more active, and even some smiles began to show up in the seventies.

Another thing that the images captured was the shrinking numbers. The vice-principal showed me a long vertical chart printed off a computer. It had a line for each year of the school from 1890-2010. When the school began its numbers were around 60 students. That climbed a little bit into the next century, but has since dropped. Especially in the last couple decades have the numbers been decreasing.

Next year one of the students will be graduating and moving on to junior high. It is likely that Nakawarashina Elementary School, for the first time in 120 years of operation, will be closing its doors. When asked, the vice-principal was not sure of what would happen. He seemed mostly concerned that his student would have a playing companion. It has been the opinion of everyone I have spoken to, including my own, that a school for two students seems a bit ridiculous and probably should not exist. The vice-principal did not seem to take any issue with his 40 minute commute to a rural mountain placement overseeing two students. That math did not disturb him. It is the thought of one kid and no friend to play with that seems to justify closing the book on over a century of history.

I can not argue with that.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

That's a Wrap.

On Friday night, my buddy Jackson celebrated his 30th birthday by throwing a YouTube party. After going out to dinner, about ten folks gathered at my apartment to watch a selection of YouTube videos projected on the wall. Everyone in attendance had previously submitted their choice for screening.

Once we were half way through the video list, I added another selection:

I have been absent from video editing for too long, and so about a month ago I started a project. These days I do not have a video camera, so I must settle for what I do have. And that is a pretty good digital still camera. Digging through my archive of Japan photos, I settled on an album from Halloween. I previously blogged about dressing up and doing the Thriller Dance for Halloween, but a week earlier we had gone to a costume party on the other side of Mt. Fuji.

I took a ton of pictures that night, but my favorite series was Jackson covered in bubble wrap. I chose to ignore almost every other person at the party, and make Jackson the focus. In doing so, I removed the suggestions of Halloween and created a bizarre bubble-wrapped character. Making the video has owned the last month of my life. I took about two dozen images and made a three minute video. It was a good learning (and re-learning) experience, as well as a pain in the ass.

The video was well received by the birthday boy and everyone else. I am hoping that I can retain this momentum, and kick out a few more productions soon.