Well, right after November comes the season I like to call "Insanely Crazy Busy Season." This is at least my excuse for not getting things done. I'm good at excuses.
Between all the Holiday's (American and Japanese) there's only a little time to actually do things like blog. I thought it would be easier since I wasn't working for a church anymore, but I was wrong. Things always pop up. Birthdays, friends moving, cleaning (actually managed a clean living room this year) parties, job interviews, preparing for a big move... There's a lot going on!
In the midst of all that, one of the English teachers I work with asked me prepare a special lesson for the 3 year students for the last day of class. She wanted a Christmas themed activity. I like it when the public school teachers give the former missionary a chance to teach about Christmas! When the 2nd year English teacher found out I was doing something special, she asked me to do it for her classes too. This gives me access to 6 classes of captive kids, each class having 35-38 students. Very nice.
Recently I have been improving in my guitar skills. You can actually tell I'm playing music now. So I decided to challenge some Christmas carols. I found some carols with chords I could play, and started practicing them. I decided I wanted to sing with the kids. I was originally going to play 3 or 4, but the teacher decided that might be a bit much, so we narrowed it down to one song and a game. In the end I chose "the Little Drummer Boy." (it's my favorite. The runner up was "Away in a Manger" because no one in Japan has heard this song!)
The idea of a song was nice for me, because we had to go over the English and I had a chance to explain it and the meaning of the song. At least one kid per class knew that Christmas was about Jesus' birth. Most knew that Mary was His mother. And now and again a kid would know that he was born in a stable. After that details get a little... interesting. I asked them where Jesus was born and the first answer was "England!" Not quite. I don't think anyone got that question right. The 3rd year teacher liked to try to help out with some of the story. She told the kids about the star and about the people who came to visit Jesus... Like Paul and Peter and the 12 disciples... I think the details were just a little off. But she tried.
After the song, I gave a short talk about the "real" Santa Claus, St. Nick. My friend sent me a nice simple story about the legend of St. Nick, and I was able to use very simple English to tell the story, and the teachers helped translate what the kids couldn't understand. I was really impressed, because even some of the kids who hate English class, were listening and really trying to understand the story. The point of the story was to let the kids know that Christmas is not about getting presents, but rather about giving to others. This is a new concept for Japanese.
It's really interesting seeing Christmas in Japan. In America, there is a big fight most years to keep Christ in Christmas. I mean Christmas is very secularized, but most people know what it is and what it's about. And people have the idea culturally that Christmas is about giving and helping others. Not so in Japan. Japan has this habit of importing things and loosing the meaning. Japan loves Christmas, but in Japan it's a day for lovers to go out, you eat cake (Christmas cake is huge in Japan) and fried chicken. I don't even know where they get some of these traditions.
Many teachers would have conversations about Christmas etc at the lunch table. It's interesting listening to them and what they think. Most people are like "it's a festival, it's just fun to celebrate, it doesn't really matter what it means." This is frustrating for me, but it's not surprising, because Japanese treat their own religions with the same kind of thinking. You just do it. It's not because you really believe it or that it has deep meaning. It's Japanese culture. It's a festival. That's it. It's all so amazingly empty.
We were talking in the 1st year class about Christmas and where it came from etc. The 1st year teacher actually went to Sunday School when he was young. But, it's all hollow. So one of the kids asked if it was ok for Japanese people to celebrate Christmas, since it was a Christian holiday. The teacher's response was "sure it's ok, after all it's just another festival." Then he looks at me for my approval. I of course couldn't give it to him and replied "well, actually it is a little strange." That wasn't the answer he was looking for and turned to the kid and said very firmly "it's fine, it's a festival."
Anyway, after the talk about St. Nick, we played a card game I "invented" for the activity, which was a kind of reverse Go Fish. You still wanted pairs, but the rule was that you could only give away cards. It was a little difficult at first for the kids to get the point, because it kinda looked like the Japanese version of Old Maid, and they had trouble keeping the pairs. But eventually we got things sorted out and they were able to play. The person with the most pairs in each group got a small present from me, mainly stuff from my house that I wanted to get rid of but didn't want to throw away.
I was really worried that the song and activity would be too stupid for Jr High kids to like, but they really got into it. Even the class that is hard to control was very well behaved and enjoyed it. I am always surprised at how even the simplest of ideas can work well. It kinda reminded me of when I worked in the church and had to do monthly events. This was a little shorter, so it was like a mini-event, only with 10 times as many students!!! (and I had to repeat it 6 times) (we actually played the card game with the first years too, which I thought was a little silly since I didn't have presents for them and it was supposed to re-enforce the St. Nick talk, but the kids still seemed to enjoy it. Or at least they enjoyed not having a regular English class.)
I mentioned that this was going to be my first time playing guitar in front of a lot of people, so the head teacher came to the first class and took pictures for me. He even put it up on the school web site and titled it "Anbaa Sensei no Hatsu Live" (aka Amber's First Concert)
It was a lot of fun to take my guitar to school and play. I did better than I thought I would, and it was apparently interesting enough for the kids too. It helps that they sing old English songs in class too (think the Carpenters, and the Beatles. Although I think Queen might have shown up once.) All in all it was a lot of fun, and a good chance to tell a little about Jesus to the kids. Not a lot and I'm not sure if they really get the meaning of anything, since meaning isn't so important here... But, they heard. That's my job. The rest is up to God and the Holy Spirit.
They are good kids. I really like them. Here's some pictures of the first performance: My Hatsu Live!