Ms Baker

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Location: Long Beach, California, United States

I was born with my feet backwards. I grew up in Northern California.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tajimi High School

Well I'm finally back in Tokyo and need to catch you up on what I've been up to. On Friday, my time, I went to a high school. Wow what a difference from all the other schools I visited! Here the students need to take an exam to get into high and the competition is very fierce. If they don't get into the right high school then they don't get into the right university. That will impact their career for the rest of their life. Differently from the US, Japanese compulsory education ends at 9th grade. After that parents have to pay to send their child to school. The students go the high school during the day where they sit in a class of 40 students. They stay in the same class all day, the teachers rotate in and out all day. I was VERY surprised by the number of students sleeping in class. If they weren't sleeping, they were talking to their friends or on the cell phones. The teachers just kept right on lecturing, not bothering to wake anyone up or deal with the discipline issues. Teachers I talked to said that since they were paying for it, it didn't matter if they paid attention or not. What I thought was interesting, though, was that the students left school at 3:30 and went to a Cram School. This is an intensive learning facility. The students ususally go to cram school for another 6 hours a day sometimes getting home as late as 9 or 10 pm. They do this because of the university entrance exams. If they don't take extra classes they won't pass the exams. After hearing that, I understood why they were sleeping in class.

They also had a cleaning period to clean the school, but they didn't take it as seriously as the younger ones did. They did not make lunch for the group, instead they ate from bento boxes. These are flat lunch boxes with lots of little things in side them like sushi. Mostly their moms made their bento boxes, but a couple said they made it themself.

I have to say after seeing such powerful instruction in the lower grades, I feel that the japanese high school students are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to their education.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Koyei Elementary School

Today I went to Koyei Elementary school. We got up early so we could see the kids arrive at the school. I was surprised by what I saw. Unlike middle schoolers and high schoolers who have to wear a uniform, elementary students do not. They are only required to have a certain type of back pack and a colored cap. The back pack is purchased when the students enter 1st grade, which is the first year of school for them, and is used until 6th grade, the last year of elementary school. Most were a beautiful red leather, but some were pink or blue. The back packs cost 50,000 yen. I am going to let you figure out how many US dollars that is, but it is 110 yen to the dollar.

The classrooms are very small, and there are many children in each class. I counted 36 students in each class. There are 2 classes per grade level. Each classroom had a school garden and they also kept different animals. I saw a chicken coop, and one of the classes had praying mantis and different types of lizards there. Each room has a vase of fresh flowers in it that the children bring from home for the teacher - What a great idea!!!!

The school had made a special program for us, so we went to the gym. The 6th grade students created centers around the gym to teach us about their games and some of their writing. I think we will learn these games too and create a museum for the school like Mr. Bittner's shark museum. I am acquiring games and art materials for us to practice with in my after school club.

Just like middle school we had lunch with the students. They prepared it in class and then served it in the room. We had raisin bread, cabbage soup, a small omelet and gobo root (burdock). It was nutritious. When I asked the students if they liked the food, most said no. They would rather eat ramen noodles - just like you and your Cup'O Noodles. After eating, we sorted all our trash from our lunch into 4 different categories, put our dishes away to be washed, and moved all the desks to one side of the room for cleaning. The students had 45 minutes for lunch and another 40 minutes for recess. Most stayed in the room and did watercolor painting or they played with tops. Some went into the gym to play volleyball and basketball. No one was on the playground.

After recess the students cleaned the school. Even the 1st graders cleaned their room. Older students came down to help them, and teachers showed them the right way to sweep or wash the floor. It was just like the movie Spirited Away. It took about 20 minutes to clean the school.

Then we went to watch PE. The 3rd grade students had just finished a performance for the national sports day in which all children perform for their city in a daylong ceremony. They showed us a traditional fishing dance. Then they brought us out to do it with them. I had so much fun learning that dance. I am sure they had fun watching me make a fool out of myself as well. In return we taught them the Hokey Pokey. We were all laughing throughout the whole PE class.

At the end of the day we watched them leave. Because of a prevalence of kidnapping the students walk home in organized groups. Some groups walk more than an hour every day. I bet you feel lucky!

I will probably not be able to post tomorrow, as I am going to stay with a Japanese family in a homestay and then I am going to a Japanese Inn. I will be back in Tokyo on Tuesday (my time) and I will post then.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tatoh Junior High and a Zen Temple

Yesterday I went to a zen temple. They have the most bea I hope when I get back that we can make a small garden near the 8th grade wing. We met a monk there who showed us around and took us into areas that normally people could not go into. We were allowed to go into the shrine and see . Beautiful garden. is the goddess of mercy in the Buddhist religion. Women who are pregnant pray to her for a good delivery and a healthy baby. It is autumn here so the leaves are changing color. I took many pictures of the beautiful change of the season.

Today I went to a middle school. We got there at 8:00 and we were there until 5:30 at night. The students had class until 4:30. I am very surprised by what they do in their school compared to ours. They start every morning in a homeroom. There they all sing. There is a student playing the piano and a student who is conducting their singing. The teacher is in the corner of the class doing other things. Then there are morning announcements. After that they have their first period. The class stays in their room all day. The teachers rotate in and out of the rooms all day. The students have 10 different subjects that they study and their schedule is different every day. Today my homeroom class had english, math, social studies, science and morality class. Everyday after those classes they go to electives for 1 hour. After 3rd period the students get ready for lunch. Lunch is served in the room and the students prepared lunch for their own class. Meals are made and given to each student in the class. When all are served, a student will announce to the class that they can begin. They are expected to eat everything on their plate. If they don't they can give it to someone else to eat. Today we had cabbage soup, potato salad, teriyaki chicken (3 bites) and 2 pieces of bread, milk and frozen pear sorbet. It was nutritious. The students, when asked, said they don't like it.

After lunch they go to 4th period. Then the whole school puts on cleaning clothes and they clean the school. They sweep, mop, dust and wash everything. The teachers help. There is no talking during this time. It is a school rule that there is no talking.

For the last period they meet again with their homeroom teacher and discuss what the schedule will be for the next day and what they need to bring. Students write it all down on the board.

I was very surprised by how much the students have to do for the class. Every student has a job. They do much more to manage the class than students do in the US. Hmmm... I think I will try to implement that in my classes ----- look out here I come!!!!

Sorry about no post yesterday. I am in the countryside and internet is spotty. Tomorrow I am going to an elementary. I hear they also make their own lunch and clean their own classes. What do you think about that?

Ms. Baker

Monday, October 17, 2005


This weekend my best friend (who flew in from San Francisco) and I went to Hakone (pronounced Hah koh nay). It is a little town up in the mountains with views of Mt. Fuji. It It is famous for its Open Air modern art sculpture garden.

Just getting there was exciting. We had to take the Tokyo metro subway to the JR train station and take the bullet train out. It is very difficult to find your way around a subway station when everything is written in letters you can not decipher. We were literally running ( yes running) across the station and got on the train just as the door was closing. It is difficult to describe how congested the station was, but you could imagine it like your bloodcells crowding in your veins, all trying to go somewhere. It was very compact and everyone was streaming out of areas into other areas. The bullet train was delightful. Very comfortable!! I was able to see Mt. Fuji from the train.

We arrived without problem and took a taxi to the hotel. We stayed at a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn). We put on Yukata (cotton robe) and the hotel owner laid out dinner for us in our room. There must have been 25 different dishes on the table for each of us. Yum!!! on the table for each of us. Yum!!! Everything was made of fish. After that we went down to the onsen (hot tub) and took a soak. There are 2 rooms, one for ladies and one for men. In Japan you wash first and then soak in the tub, so that is what I did. When we returned to our room the table had been cleared and they had but futons (flat beds) on the floor where the table had been. That is where we slept.

The next day we went to the Open Air museum. It was the most spectacular museum I have been to. It was all giant statues. There was also a Picasso exhibit there. Unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries after the first statue so you can only see what I saw when I walked in. The coolest thing was a 2 story tower with a spiral staircase going up the inside. The whole tower was made of stained glass. It was like being in the center of a jewel. I was surrounded by color.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fish,Diet and plastic food

Yesterday morning I got up at 4:00 and went to the fish market for the fish auction. It is the largest fish market in the world with most of the world's fish going through it. I had wanted to see them auctioning off all the giant tuna, but I had trouble getting there and was too late to see it. I did, however, get to see the market itself . It was very pungent. I didn't mind the smell, but teachers I was with had trouble. It just made me hungry for sushi. The market itself was incredibly busy. I was always on the look out for small (really small) trucks that were buzzing along the narrow paths loaded with fish because I didn't want to get run over. There must have been 5000 fish vendors each with 20 different kinds of fish to sell, laid out in styrophom ice chests. The tuna were still whole and tagged for delivery. It was cool!

I also enjoyed my subway ride. They are CLEAN and super efficient. It takes some getting used to,though because it is difficult to read the subway map. That was why I was late.

In the afternoon we met with 2 high ranking politicians - one from each house of their congress, called the Diet. There was a very lively dialog about changing their postal system. I have found the Japanese as a group to have an amazing sense of humor and you could see this in their opposing views. Again i am amazed by how we are treated. Never have I met a politician in the US and yet here I sat in a room with only 200 people asking questions for an hour to these Japanese officials.

In the evening we went to a Buddist temple. Here we went up the steps and inside the dark room. Asakasa is a very big temple . We could not go all the way inside because they had it blocked off. At the entrance they did have an interesting fortune telling station. For 100 yen you could shake a metal cyclinder and pull out a stick that had writing on it. You then found the corresponding drawer and took out your fortune. If it is good you keep it, if not, you tie it to a special wall to break the luck. I got one that was "half good luck". It told me I need to have more patience. Funny - I already knew that.

Lastly we went out to eat. We had Tempura which is vegetables and shrimp fried in batter. It was very good. Better, though, was the plastic food that all the restaurants display outside their establishment to show patrons what they have. It is truly an art form. The food looks totally real. I especially liked the lettuce. It looked good enough to eat.

I just thought I would include this hello kitty picture. It was in the subway.
I am travelling away from Tokyo for the next 10 days so I am unsure how this blog will go.I don't know what technology is like out in the countryside.

Ms. Baker

long day

I got up at 4 this morning to go to the fish market. Due to travel problems I didn't arrive on time for the auction.

I am so exhausted that I am going to sleep now and finish the day's escapades when I awake which will probably be around 2 in the afternoon for you. I'm sorry for not writing more, but I can barely keep my eyes open.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kabuki, Kyogen and Karoke

After a morning learning about the problems with the education system here, we were treated to performances in Kabuki and Kyogen. Kyogen is an old theater form that dates back to 600 AD and originated as street performance. It tells human stories with humor. It is done without makeup and there is only 5 masks that the performers can wear.

Kabuki also descends from street performance, but it is much more refined and serious. It involves dance, singing and acting. Historically it is performed by men but more recently women have been allowed to participate. The performance included a step by step of the dancer putting on her costume and makeup. I will show the slide show when I return. It was amazing!

At dinner we were introduced to someone from our Embassy and many speeches were made congratulating us for being here. It was a great dinner, but frankly I haven't been out of the hotel all day and just wanted to get outside. At 8:30 we arranged to go do Karaoke.

17 of us walked down the street to the Karoke building. We were given our own room with our own laser light show. It was great fun singing songs like I will Survive and Summer Lovin from Grease. I sang Copacobana by Barry Manilow and Last Dance by Donna Summer. What a hoot!

Tomorrow I go to the fish market at 4:50 am. It is the biggest fish market in the world. More, later.

Ms Baker

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I'm here!

After a very long plane flight I have finally arrived. It took 11 hours to reach Tokyo and another 2 hours to get from the airport to our hotel. We arrived right at 3:30 in the afternoon and it was dark by the time we entered our hotel. The ride into town was more rural than I would have thought. There were lots of rice fields (paddy) and golf courses. As we started to enter town, the tour guide pointed out Disneyland Tokyo. From the bus I could see their Space Mountain and Matterhorn. Driving further along there were 2 giant Ferris Wheels, one is the 2nd tallest in the world. I also saw the Tokyo tower, which was very beautiful. The Tokyo skyline is very impressive. You can see that space is very precious here. They have MANY skyscrapers.

After we arrived from the airport and got our rooms they paired us up with a Japanese college student and we went out to dinner. I had dinner with Hiromi. Last year she studied in Wisconsin so her English was very good. I am always amazed at how many people know English. She took us out for Soba noodles and Sake. I think I monopolized her while we were out. I wanted to know about Hello Kitty and other Japanese Anime. The other teachers had very little knowledge of Japanese culture or food. One didn't even know how to use chopsticks!

Today (Wednesday, we're a day ahead here) we are going to watch Kabuki! I can't wait to see it!

Ms. Baker

Monday, October 10, 2005

Leaving SF

Good morning everyone.

It is 6:00 am and I am getting ready to leave. Just wanted to say one last goodbye before getting on the plane. I will blog again when I get into Tokyo.

Here is the link to my hotel if you would like to see what it looks like:

Ms Baker

Sunday, October 09, 2005


That is hello in Japanese.

I am writing you from San Francisco. I tried to post a picture of the beautiful San Francisco Bay but I am having technology problems. I will be leaving tomorrow morning (Monday) for Narita airport which is 2 hours from Tokyo. It is a 9 hour flight. I hope I brought enough to do for the flight there ;) I have loaded my laptop with cds and have brought a couple of movies (Lost in Translation and Last Samurai) to watch on the flight over. With the time change we will be arriving on Tuesday, Japan time. Japan is 15 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

There are 200 teachers here at the Sheraton Hotel. I am impressed by the company I am keeping. Several teachers I have spoken to are Teacher of the Year for their district. The organization has stressed to us that this year was particularly competitive and that we should be very proud of ourselves for making it in this round. We have spent the day learning what to expect and disspelling anxieties about Japanese culture. We have lots of dos and don'ts that I'll get into later - lots of discussion about having on the right kind of shoes. They say we will be treated like royalty, that we can expect to be in the newspaper and will be signing autographs. I guess I should have practiced my signature before I left. Mine is unreadable.

I will write more from Tokyo
Ms. Baker

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ms Baker goes to Japan!

hokusaiThursday. I am getting ready for my trip to Japan. So much to do.... packing, making lesson plans, finalizing my project for the trip! Getting ready to leave Long Beach and venture out. I'll be posting here about my trip and my experiences with hopefully some photos! Be sure to come back daily for Ms. Baker in Japan!

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