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Introduction to Silver Week

2009 September 23

Japan has a lot of National Holidays. A lot. Everything from Vernal Equinox Day to the Emperor’s Birthday to Marine Day is a day off school and off work for all public servants in the country. There’s actually a series of holidays in May – Constitutional Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day – that usually become a week-long holiday called Golden Week. Golden Week is prime traveling time in Japan – students don’t get very long winter or summer breaks (or spring breaks, since technically school ends in March and starts in April), so families usually take Golden Week to do some tourism around the country.

This year, we had a mini-Golden Week in September. Respect for the Aged Day fell on Monday the 21st, and Autumnal Equinox Day was on the 23rd,  so the government declared the Tuesday in-between a national holiday as well. Including Saturday and Sunday, this made for a nice five-day break that people have been calling Silver Week. Appropriate in two ways, isn’t it, considering Respect for the Aged Day fell right in the middle! Silver Week only occurs every six years or so, and everyone was eager to take advantage of the second travel opportunity.

Well, everyone but me (and several other ALTs/educational staff, to be fair). Friday and Saturday there was a conference on English education at the prefectural university that I attended. We learned about several interesting approaches to improving college students’ interest in English, including a great presentation from East Carolina University professors on their multinational videoconferencing project, but sadly not much of it was applicable to my schools.

Sunday was the last round of Sports Days for my schools, and not having my car available to me over the weekend, I attended the one that was most easily accessible by train. Sports Day is sort of like Field Day, except this being Japan, it’s a lot stricter. They see it more like an athletic meet within the school itself. Students march and dance and compete in events like relay races and tug of war and spirit contests. Watching some schools practice their opening ceremonies was like watching a junior army train, but I really enjoyed seeing the kids try their best (頑張って, “ganbatte”, is a very convenient phrase that doesn’t have a great direct translation into English) at all sorts of races. I didn’t take any photos out of privacy consideration for the school, but I’m very grateful for the kindness with which they treated me throughout the event. As a traveling teacher, I was sort of a guest of honor, and I didn’t even have to participate in any events! Take that, junior high school ALTs! 😉

After my Sports Day on Sunday, I ran home and packed a change of clothes before running back to the train station and catching a train to Gotsu, the next city east, where I transfered onto a smaller train bound to Kasubuchi in Misato-cho. I was headed to Tonbara, Iinan-cho, but Iinan is too small to have a train station of its own! But Tonbara is home to Jennifer, one of my new friends from Shimane ALT events, and she picked me up from Kasubuchi to spend the night at her house. The next day, we drove down to Hiroshima together, where we met another Shimane ALT and hit some of the major tourist destinations. The day was a little rushed by my having to catch the bus back to Hamada at 9 PM, but I got home about 11:30 and got some sleep before being picked up the next morning by ET, a translator from the BoE who’s been a wonderful friend to all the new ALTs. She and I traveled to Yamaguchi-ken, the prefecture at the end of the main island Honshu, to visit some famous caves and rock formations at Akiyoshi. We came back and had dinner together at a Chinese restaurant – thus my joyous tweet last night about delicious egg drop soup!

All in all, it was a busy few days, so I was very grateful for the extra holiday on Wednesday to sleep in and catch up. And re: working on the weekend, I expect I’ll get daikyu (flexible leave) for Saturday and Sunday, so I can put those toward a long summer vacation or something. 🙂

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