We started our Fourth of July with a full practice run of our Oshibai performance. It allowed us to figure out how to improve the show and present guests with the best version possible. After our run through, we gathered together for a special surprise the staff had prepared for us. It was revealed to be a collection of foods that we were able to try to expand our Japanese taste pallets, including fresh しそ (shiso) that Rie Sensei had grown herself. After lunch, the staff had another surprise for us. They had invited special guest speakers Miki Sensei and Uchisawa Sensei to teach us about the 箏 (koto), a traditional Japanese instrument dating back to the 8th century. We followed that lecture up with another musical event, our second karaoke session of the academy. We had lots of fun singing and dancing our hearts out before heading off to dinner. We’re ending the night with another surprise that has yet to be revealed. We’ll be sure to update you next time!
Monday meant we were back to our normal schedule at the academy. We had our usual AM and PM classes accompanied with our usual meals. The beginners class studied the reading and writing of カタカナ (katakana), the writing system used for foreign words. The intermediate class learned how to say “I want…” phrases, and when to use them. The advanced class studied ninjas and enhanced their understanding of formal speech. In the evening, preparation for Oshibai, our big project, was done. We gathered into our seasons to recite, practice, and rehearse our lines and scenes.
Today was the day of the ultimate sporting extravaganza. On this sunny July day, the Japanese Academy had 運動会 (Undoukai), which is essentially Sports Day in Japan. With the day starting off with Sunday morning free time, the students were amped up for a day of friendly games.
The games were planned out by our lovely Undoukai Han. We played two rounds of Tug of War, Four Corners, two rounds of a Three Legged Race, a Relay, a modified basketball game, Red Light Green Light, and Musical Chairs. Aka (Red Team) was the winner of the games, and Shiro (White Team) was the winner of sportsmanship and chants.
We ended off the day with more planning for our special surprise of Oshibai.
We started off the day with a double block of classes. Between the two blocks, the intermediate class provided an enjoyable activity for all levels in the form of a market. Each intermediate student set up a shop with photos of items ranging from food and skincare products, to "plus health" and other potions. This activity was used to practice Japanese vocab necessary to navigate a store in Japan.
After lunch, we headed over to the church for our second cooking class with Rie sensei. This time we made sushi maki (寿司巻き) (sushi rolls). We took turns visiting each station, filling each roll with toppings of our choice, including carrot, cucumber, avocado, imitation crab, tuna, egg, and more. Once the rolls were filled to our liking, we rolled them ourselves, using small bamboo mats. After completing the roll, students had the option to eat them then, or enjoy them at dinner.
To round out the evening, students met with their Undoukai (sports day) teams, and finished up any remaining posters and chants, in preparation for the big day. Students were left with much excitement and anticipation regarding the following day, which was sure to be one for the books!
Our Friday started off as usual, with Radio Taiso before breakfast, followed by morning classes. The students learned a variety of things from casual negation for verbs to more complex kanji. We then headed over to the upstairs floor of the dining hall for a tea ceremony led by Rie Sensei. She first taught us ikebana, the art of arranging flowers. After Rie Sensei finished her lesson, we gathered in a perfectly recreated tea room filled with tatami mats, ikebana, and a wall scroll. We enjoyed matcha tea straight from Kyoto before going downstairs for lunch. We ended out the day by carving out our designs for our woodblock prints on the blocks we would use. The task proved to be more challenging than we had initially anticipated, but we were able to get the hang of it by the end.
Today we had more experience with animations, brought to us by our very own Anna Senpai. We were able to create some of our own animations through flip books. Students were rewarded with a nice hour and a half long break. Some opted to use the prestigious Randolph-Macon athletic facilities, while others studied, or got some rest. Today was also the first day some went and explored the library.
As many of you parents may be wondering, “What is my child doing at this strange place, far far away from home?” We are learning. The beginners have expanded their Japanese vocabulary to include articles of clothing. The intermediates learned how to order food, a vital skill for venturing to the rural parts of Japan, where less English is spoken. The advanced class is working on Keigo (the most formal speech in the Japanese language).
Soon after we finish this message, we will begin preparation for another big day. Think big, which, fun fact, was actually hosted in Japan in 2020. We miss you all, even if we haven’t written to you yet to wish you Happy Birthday, or to say anything. Your children love you lots. See you soon!
Wednesday, known as hump day, was anything but a slump for the Academy. Today was the day of the long awaited field trip. The trip started with a scenic adventure through Maymont Park. We promenaded through the Japanese Gardens and were able to interact with cute and cuddly animals like cows, goats, rams, and sheep. After the garden, we spent a big chunk of the money we were given prior to coming to the Academy at places such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Tokyo Market, World of Mirth, and various other stores that the groups visited. We were able to explore Richmond and see the influence of Japanese culture in the area.
The trip ended with a delicious dinner on Cary Street, at Sticky Rice. Many were sad to go, as the day had been so wonderful we didn’t want it to end. The bus ride home was filled with animal noises, camera flashes, and naps.
On this wonderful Tuesday, our Academy learned many things about symbolism in both movies and religion.
In the morning, we learned from the terrific Dr. Timothy Brown about religion in Japan. Our knowledge of culture and religion expanded to an understanding that is not solely Western-centric. To wind down for the night, we enjoyed our second Studio Ghibli movie, Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro). Kyle sensei provided insightful commentary throughout the movie which heightened the experience and gave a unique view of the planning that went into the movie.
After the completion of our first week, we have grown used to the schedule of the Japanese Academy. Many are beginning to reminisce about their time at home, but they have also found a new home among their peers and in the dorms. Every day is a new adventure here in Ashland, Virginia.
Today’s adventure was the first of the second week of this three week program. While most people dread Mondays, here at the academy we look forward to them. Today started off with our daily classes. We continued our Top Secret Oshibai Planning™. In the afternoon, we were fully immersed in the Japanese language. In addition to our core language classes, we were able to witness the creativity and true syntax of native speakers through the enjoyment of two popular Japanese television shows. After the viewing party, we completed our study of the Kanji from yesterday’s scavenger hunt. Like every day here at the Academy, today was fun and fulfilling, and we look forward to the rest of our time here!
To wrap up our first week of academy, we got some much needed free time. We had the opportunity to attend church, go to breakfast on our own time, and catch up on some much needed sleep. After lunch, we attended a lecture by Kyle Sensei. This lecture was on Yojijukugo; four character (kanji) phrases. Some, such as 一石二鳥（いっせきにちょう）(isseki nichou) (one stone, two birds), have English idiom equivalents. Others, like the theme for the academy, 桜梅桃李（おうばいとうり）(ou bai tou ri) (Cherry Blossom, Plum Blossom, Peach, Apricot), express ideas of uniting as one, even though we may have our differences. Following this lecture, we got practice with kanji in the form of a scavenger hunt. After being divided into groups of three or four, we scoured the campus in search of red rocks with kanji characters on them. We gained bonus points if we could combine our rocks into Yojijukugo phrases. Most groups ended up gathering between 8 and 15 rocks. Following dinner, Joey Sensei gave a lecture on a novel written in the early 11th century, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. As a story with many surprising twists and turns (and a strange plot) we were on the edge of our seats the whole time.
As our final week came to an end, students were left with mixed opinions. While some loved the jam packed schedule, others felt the need for more free time. Some students have enjoyed the food in the dining hall, and others not so much. Many have felt a newfound sense of independence that they plan to carry into their lives after the academy. One thing everyone could agree on, however, was the memories we will cherish with the new friends we have made at the academy.