First off, I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my first post (and for sharing it!). I did not expect so many views. That was AWESOME! Today’s tale is a lot less horrific (from my perspective at least). Today, I want to talk about my experiences at one of the Elementary schools I’m teaching at and how insanely different it is at times from school in America.
When I came to Japan to teach, I fully expected there to be significant differences in their school systems. I knew I would take my shoes off 97183408134 times in a day and that constant bowing would have a positive effect on my waist line. I knew that school lunches would consist of awesome things like Onigiri (Japanese rice balls that usually have some kind of flavor. Salmon seems to be the flavor of choice where I’m at.) and cooked Unagi (eel). Hell, I even knew there was a significant chance that at some point I would be the unexpecting victim of Kochou, a (surprisingly) Japanese children’s game in which the goal is to surprise the victim by poking them on the butthole (If you’ve ever read Gaijin Smash you know what I’m talking about. If not, kids make their hands into a “gun” like they are playing James Bond. Then, they sneak up on their friends and do their best to take their “gun barrel fingers” and poke their friend on the butthole. I think the goal is to get as much finger in the crack as possible through whichever pants their friend is wearing. I haven’t been a victim yet but I’ve seen this happen a couple times. Kochou falls under the “WTF SRSLY” category along with people reading porn mags on trains and giant mutant spiders.). What caught me off guard was the field trip.
Last Friday, I was told to dress casually for work on Monday and Tuesday because I would be spending time with the children from one of my elementary schools. There would also be neighboring schools visiting from two other cities. I was excited because I have a strong preference for jeans and also because I’ve spent a substantial time in the office making, re-making, and re-re-making various lists and lesson plans as I wait for the school year to start (Oh, by the way, kids go to school in the summer here too. Instead of classes they have learning activities and game days and things. It’s awesome.). I was told that Monday was fieldtrip day and that Tuesday was crafts day (I’ll save that for a different post).
Now, I’m going to back up for just a moment so that when I reveal what exactly we did it’s a lot more dramatic. I grew up in the DFW area of Texas (for those non-Texans, DFW stands for Dallas- Ft. Worth area. There is a super big airport between the two cities.) Parents were pretty overprotective of their kids and had enough money to file ridiculous lawsuits if little Jimmy fell and scraped his knee, so our excursions were confined to safe places like the park across the street or the kids section of a museum. We had an athletic field day one time a year and there were no contact sports. You could also be put in time out for hitting the tetherball too hard at recess. I think the craziest thing we ever did was go to the Zoo, where we were forced to wear neon, burn-your-eyes-out yellow shirts and hold hands with another person at all times.
Now, FASTFORWARD to field trip day in Japan. I was told that we were going to a limestone cave. I was pretty stoked because the cave was on my bucket list of “Things to Do While I’m in Japan.” (Did I mention that I’ve been making a bunch of lists lately?) That being said, I knew I would want to return to the cave so I could take the fuller, more dangerous tour. The first sign that this wasn’t the basic cave tour was that upon my arrival I was immediately handed thick, calf high rubber boots and a hard hat with a headlamp. I ignorantly assumed this was a gag for the kids. That being said, I felt quite spiffy in my caving gear. Then, the cave leader got up to speak at a million miles per hour. This is what I was able to make out: “…… light….. bats….. mukade [giant, poisonous Japanese centipede]…. Be careful….. don’t fall….. fast water….. don’t fall…. Light on….. emergency …… don’t fall…” This was one of the moments in my life where a translator would have been really, really handy. He finished and we entered the cave.
The entrance to the cave had a bunch of bats painted on it and a long tunnel that gradually led downhill. It was well lit. This seemed normal. When the tunnel ended, we turned a corner and were in a cave – human additive free (I’ve only been in one other cave and they had carved walkways and things for people). The space gradually narrowed and there were lightbulbs on strings every 20 meters or so. On uneven sections, there were board or metal walkways placed for us to walk on (but save a poll every 50m or so these were unconnected to the cave itself.) They were very thin and tiny and creaked when large groups walked on them. The ceiling gradually become shorter and we had to duck to walk. I was VERY glad I was given a helmet because I hit my head so much. There were places that we had to crawl through - very unexpected for this trip!
We walked around for about 30 minutes – up and down thin, uneven mostly natural paths to look at the limestone and the occasional stalagmite or stalactite. We eventually went in a circle and came back to a place on the path where the path split off. One of my co-workers turned to me, pointed, and said fun. We followed the other sign, crawled a bit, and eventually came to an attendant standing by a ladder. He specified that it could only hold two people at a time so we slowly waited. The ladder dropped at least 10m for every meter it went out. We probably climbed down 20m on the thing too. This was also crazy because the ladder seemingly extended into blackness. Also, remember, there are 1st-6th graders on this trip. We all descend the ladder and are told to go left. We walk for a while and come to another ladder. We repeat this process. There are two directions and we are told to go left first. There is a rickety, human made bridge to the left that goes across very, very fast rushing water. We walk across this. We get to a part where the cave is too uneven for artificial anything, so we balance on rocks and lean against the wall and try not to fall into the water which, from what I understood was “deep and strong.” We walk along the wall for a couple hundred feet. Then, we have to cross the underground river by stepping (or in the case of some of the smaller kids) by jumping across rocks. At the end of this journey we found this beautiful collection of stalagmites and stalactites: [I will upload once I find the cord that will connect my phone to my computer]
We returned, and to the right of that ladder was a waterfall that powered the underground river. It was beautiful. We returned and exited the cave, crossed the street and began part two of our field trip adventure.
Across the street there was a cliff. We rode down the cliff on these chairs, that sort of resembled ski lifts but without the bar to hold onto and without a back. Jimmy’s parents would have hemorrhaged. At the bottom actually the middle) of the cliff, we walked down a path and to a bridge that went across the river. The bridge did have fencing but that didn’t change the fact that it was at least 100ft over the river. We crossed, and walked down to the water where we examined the little pools that formed when the water lowered (I think we were looking at the bugs?). After the kids took the notes that they needed to and we re-crossed the bridge, rode back up the cliff, and returned to school. BEST FIELD TRIP EVER. I really, really wish that I could have done those kinds of things as a kid in the US. I totally would have gone to school in the summer for that.