Saturday, June 24, 2006

Apple Comes to Sapporo!

Apple Store Grand OpeningFinally we have an Apple store in Sapporo. It's especially great for those of us in the Sapporo Macintosh Users' Group, at least half a dozen of whom attended the Grand Opening.

Crowd at Sapporo Apple Grand OpeningSince I bought my new iBook G4 last September, I won't be in the market for a new computer for some time, but it'll be nice to have a chance to look in person at all the new Apple "toys," rather than just read about them. Some of the employees at the store speak fluent English, so all the better. There's also the possibility that we'll have some SMUG meetings at the store with free presentations on areas such as iPhoto and iPod.

I'm seriously thinking of getting an iPod. It's time to get all my music in one portable place. Gone will be the day of drawers and racks full of cassette tapes and CDs.

Another item on my shopping list will be Airport, allowing me to go wireless and access the Internet on my computer anywhere in my apartment, rather than staying stationery. I first got excited about that when I attended the national JALTCALL Conference in June, where the "computer labs" were just movable desks, on top of which everyone was opening up their laptops. When will the classrooms where I teach be like that? (sigh)

[Photos by Don Hinkelman]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I just discovered I've been using the wrong pronunciation for "trillirivos!" The word appears in one section of Carmina Burana, the piece we're doing for our concert on July 2nd. All along I've been singing "trillilivos," but it's actually "trillirivos." I didn't notice because most of the Sopranos make almost no differentiation between "L" and "R." Actually, I don't think the audience is going to notice, either. Since it's supposed to be a happy sound, I won't have any difficulty because I'll be enjoying my private little joke.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

What do you like sports?

Today's homework for my freshmen English conversation classes was to write 6 interesting questions for me to answer. Frankly, I get tired of answering the same questions over and over again, particularly about what kind of Japanese food I like and whether I like natto (fermented soybeans). I got a few of those and several that I call my FAQs, so I simply pass out handouts with CA's Favorites and FAQs for Foreigners in Japan and CA's Answers.

This time there were a number of questions that were more interesting (for me), so I've copied them with my replies.

Q: If you had the money to buy whatever you wanted, what would you buy?

A: Medicine and food for children all over the world.

Q: What is the strangest present that you [ever] gave [someone]?

A: I knit a sweater for my boyfriend that stretched until it was so large that both my mother and my sister fit inside it. They really laughed over that one. In fact, they took a photo of them in the sweater.

Q: How do you think about "teacher"?

A: It's really important for teachers to listen and to make space for students to be themselves. That's when magic happens.

Q: What do you think of Japanese education?

A: I think the emphasis is too much on so-called experts handing down "knowledge." It's very teacher-centered. It ends up making students totally passive. I think students learn better through interaction than just by listening. I also think exams are meaningless.

Q: How about the American class?

A: Students talk more and ask lots more questions.

Q: Did you belong to club when you were a student?

A: Several - drama, music (Madrigal singers), newspaper, yearbook (I was the editor in my junior year), poetry, women's speaking club (I was president), etc. In high school, I belonged to Thespians and the Latin club.

Q: Are you a magician?

A: A hypnotist - almost the same.

Q: What Beatles song do you like?

A: "Imagine"

Q: Do you like "Anne of Green Gables"?

A: I read every book in the series when I was a girl. I have also visited Anne's house on Prince Edward Island.

Q: What do you do when you feel sad?

A: Talk to a friend, listen to uplifting music, read an inspirational book, cuddle with my cats . . .

Q: What kind of scenery do you feel relax?

A: Any place with lots of trees. I also like water - waterfalls, the ocean . . .

Q: Where is your favorite spot in your house?

A: In front of my computer - and in my bed (futon).

Q: If you can back to the past, do you wan to to back how old and why is it?

A: I want to be the age I am now because I'm so much wiser - and calmer and have more patience. It's wonderful being me now!

Q: Who's your favorite historical person?

A: Gandhi. I believe in non-violence.

Q: What's your blood type?

A: Be positive!

Friday, June 16, 2006

7-Bar Audition

"Auditions for the small chorus will be held at Nagai-Sensei's house." That's what I could make out from the announcement in Japanese passed out at rehearsal Wednesday evening. Apparently, with the concert only about 2 weeks away, the maestro from Tokyo decided that he wants the small chorus (of women) in one part of "Carmina Burana" to be even smaller. [See previous entry entitled "A Peasant Concert."] I wanted to be part of the small chorus so decided to go audition, but the only time I could go was Friday evening after a full day of teaching (groan).

When I got there, 3 other Sopranos were already practicing. Then Nagai-Sensei, our conductor, had us audition one at a time in a separate room. (His wife is a piano teacher, so her studio has 2 baby grands, and he has another in his music room.) I was the last one to audition. The other 3 Sopranos seemed to audition for a relatively long time (more than 5 minutes) with both the CD and the piano. In fact, I heard them singing the whole piece ("Floret Silva").

When it came my turn, he had me sing only the parts where there would be a smaller chorus - a total of 7 bars in 2 places. That was it. I sensed that my "audition" was only a formality. I think it means that I'll be in the small chorus for sure, but I won't find out until he announces it. Since there are more auditions Saturday and Sunday, I don't know when I'll find out.

While the others were auditioning, I started to feel a bit nervous, but I did some deep breathing and somehow felt totally confident when I was actually auditioning. How I wish I had had the same confidence when I first started singing in church choirs and in the Madrigal singers in college!

[Postscript: I got into the small chorus.]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

550 Stalls

Summer in my area is ushered in by a large 3-day festival, the Hokkaido Shrine Festival. The Hokkaido Shrine is actually nowhere near my apartment, so it's somewhat baffling why the beautiful park that is practically my backyard ends up being the venue for part of the celebration.

For the thousands of young people and children who come, I suppose it's rather exciting. Other than a couple of "fun houses," the main activity is to walk around the park buying toys or junk food from the some 550 stalls that are put up the day before the festival and disappear that day after. The stalls are pretty much the same year after year, with cotton candy, "frank dogs," and "chocobananas." There are always stalls for catching goldfish with little nets; those who succeed take the fish home in little plastic bags filled with water.

For the people who live in the area, the festival means noise (especially loud speakers announcing lost children) and smells of greasy food, followed by the odor of rotting garbage and trash strewn all over. Moreover, all the crows in Sapporo seem to gather for the occasion, attracted by the mounds of leftovers.

As cynical as I may be, I have to admit that it's a colorful occasion. What's most fun is to watch all the people, ones like the young guy with shocks of white Einstein-like hair, but groomed with mousse, and the group of high school girls with their skirts hiked to the top of their thighs, grooming themselves in large hand mirrors. I especially noticed large numbers of young women in yukata. Of course, the children, in their brightly-colored clothes with cute designs such as Hello Kitty, are always delightful. If you have the chance, why don't you stop by any year on June 14th, 15th, and 16th?

Monday, June 12, 2006

If there's no sign . . .

At lunchtime, two of my colleagues were working at computers in the part-time teachers' room. They had their lunches with them, right next to the keyboards. I playfully scolded them, and they replied, "But there's no sign."

In Japan, one is bombarded with a sign or announcement for literally everything you must or mustn't do. For years, I've listened to repeated subway announcements, as we're waiting on the platform, to stand behind the white line (that keeps us from getting too close to the tracks). There's also a sign with little stick figures instructing us to do so. When riding on subways and buses, one is subjected to announcements about not using cell phones because they would bother the other passengers (when, for me, it's actually the announcements on the loudspeaker that bother me much more).

Recently, in downtown Sapporo, there have been signs painted on the sidewalks with the universal sign of a circle with a line through it depicting that cigarettes and trash are forbidden. Of course, before the signs appeared, throwing trash was permissible, I suppose.

For more signs in interesting English, see

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Active Voice Training

Picture Sopranos squatting like ducks during voice training. Actually, I wish I had taken a photo of our voice training session today because that's what we were doing!

Both our current and our former voice teachers believe that producing sound is not just a matter of using our voices but our whole bodies. The teacher has us doing a great deal of movement, for example, stomping our feet alternately, particularly if a piece has a syncopated rhythm, or moving as though we were gliding along like speed skaters. Sometimes such a movement feels awkward or foolish, but it invariably helps produce a better sound.

The images she has us visualize are also very helpful. My favorite is one from the former teacher who had us imagine being synchronized swimmers. While there is powerful, rapid movement underneath where no one can see, our upper bodies are thrusting upward and outward, producing a sound that carries to the top of the large concert hall in which we sing.

Another image that works especially well for me is when singing high notes, visualizing a string pulling from the back of my head to keep the note moving, not letting it fall in tone or pitch. Again, though, much like in my dancing classes, the lower body remains grounded while the upper body is lifted, keeping the spine erect.

After a voice training lesson, I feel as though I've gone through a 2-hour fitness session - which it truly is!

(For a photo of my chorus, see Sapporo Academy Chorus.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Emi in the Middle East

"There is no place on earth that compares to the Middle East for experiencing the fascinating and volatile mix of religions, cultures and historical movements that have shaped the world." That is the beginning of the description of the program taken by Emi, the daughter of one of the women in my international women's group in Hokkaido. She is attending Eastern Mennonite University. The Cross-Cultural Program includes extensive travel in Egypt, Jordan, Greece, and Rome, where participants are "immersed in the ancient/modern world of Jews, Christians and Muslims."

For two hours, we were entranced by the photographs and stories told by this young woman, who turned 20 in Nazareth, the same place where Mary, who by then had given birth to Jesus, turned 20. Hers was not the usual tour of the Middle East, particularly since it included living in with a Christian Palestinian family in The West Bank and working on an Israeli kibbutz.

I can't do justice to all that Emi shared with us, but want to give a few of my impressions. Her view of the West Bank was particularly distressing. It was difficult to hear about the huge concrete wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The barrier, covered with graffiti in many places, cuts off survival for so many Palestinians and is a constant reminder of their plight. The number of checkpoints Palestinians must go through makes travel next to impossible; they're not allowed to take their cars through, have to survive long waits, and may end up getting turned back at any point.

Water is rationed for the Palestinians who look up to the tops of hills and see those living in the Jewish settlements are splashing around in their swimming pools. The family Emi stayed with had its hotel destroyed by bombing, and their business has not been good in the rebuilt hotel, even though Emi witnessed a wedding held there with some 600 guests. For two years, the family went to live in Detroit, Michigan, where a large number of Palestinian emigrants choose to live. While there, they saw their home being shelled on TV. Even so, they chose to return to Palestine. It is their home.

For some startling statistics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see If Americans Knew. The latest news on the conflict is at the International Middle East Center.

Because of Emi's talk, I will be looking at the news from that area of the Middle East through new eyes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Letters from Pat

Just after World War II, there was an American soldier named Pat who was stationed in Sapporo for 5 months. He was in the Headquarters and Service Company of the 302 Combat Engineer Battalion, 77th Infantry Division (although I'm not completely sure what all that means). The headquarters building happened to be in Nakajima Park, near where I live.

Pat found my photos of Nakajima Park on my website and sent a photo of the headquarters building, asking if I knew what had happened to it. The building no longer exists, so I didn't know, but I took it to my advanced private English conversation class, in which 2 of the men are close to Pat's age (in their 70s). One of the recognized the building, said it had been torn down and replaced by a baseball stadium, and then that had been replaced by what is now a cultural museum.

Pat and I began corresponding fairly regularly, and he began sending more and more photos of Sapporo in the winter of 1945-46. My students were naturally interested, and two of them, Kaori and Haru, began to write to Pat as well. In fact, Pat and his photos were often the topic of our discussions in class. One of the most interesting was the Thanksgiving menu which, in addition to the traditional fare, included cigarettes!

Eventually, one of the students in the class, Noriko, who used to be an announcer with NHK and has connections with the broadcasting world contacted a TV station about Pat. They were very interested in the story and want to do an interview with Pat, coinciding with the end of World War II on August 15th. Of course, that would mean flying Pat (and his wife, I would hope) to Sapporo. When I emailed Pat about this, he said it had been a dream of his to return to Sapporo to visit some day.

What's more, there's a publishing company very interested in putting out a book of Pat's photos. It seems that there are numbers of photos of Sapporo during the "Frontier Era," over 100 years ago, when Japanese were moving into the area to settle. However, photos of Sapporo immediately after WWII are rare. The format of the book is not yet clear, but it would most likely have commentary by Pat and/or Haru, who was 15 years old at the time.

What was one email sent to my website has turned into a class project, and may result in a book and a TV program, as well as our meeting an American veteran from Connecticut in person! Keep tuned in!

A Peasant Concert?

We've been rehearsing for our upcoming concert (July 2nd) since last summer, nearly a year. This is going to be one of our "biggies," with the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, professional soloists, and a conductor from Tokyo. I had been feeling that perhaps we had already peaked, or at least I had. However, over the weekend, the conductor, Michiyoshi Inoue, came up to rehearse with us. Unfortunately, it was the same weekend as the CALL conference (see previous post), and I was terribly disappointed not to be able to rehearse with Maestro Inoue, whom I adore. (This will the 3rd concert I've been in that he's conducted.) However, I'll have other chances at the end of June and beginning of July.

At rehearsal yesterday evening, I noticed a big difference - not necessarily in the quality of the singing, although there was that as well, but a seriousness that had been missing before. Our regular conductor, Nagai-Sensei, had us practice certain sections over and over again until he was perfectly satisfied. Also, everyone was taking scrupulous notes, especially about some changes in pronunciation that Maestro Inoue had introduced. (Carmina Burana, the main piece, is in Latin and Old German.)

The big shocker for me is that we're not going to be wearing our usual concert dresses (for which we paid around $300). Apparently, because both Carmina Burana and the other piece we're doing, Missa Tango, are somewhat like folk pieces, we're supposed to dress like peasants. At least, that's what I gathered from talking with other Sopranos and seeing the display of acceptable blouses and skirts.

They're all BEIGE! Well, earth tones. I gave away all my clothes in those colors when my international women's group had its colors done a couple of years ago. I'm a Winter, as are most Japanese women. Those colors look good on Mediterranean women, who are Autumn. I tried explaining that to a couple of people but, other than blank stares, the reply was that it was what the conductor wants. Well, what does he know? He's a specialist in music, not colors!

When I got home, I scrounged through my closet, and I do have a couple of blouses left that are rather peasanty-looking. I hope they'll do. Keep posted for my peasant look! (And if you live in Sapporo, it's not too late to buy a ticket - but get one from me, since we have a quota!)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

No Ice Cream Dream

Before I relate my dream, I want to explain that I have foresworn sugar and sweets, especially in the form of ice cream and chocolate. In that I'm hypoglycemic, sugar is the worst thing I can put in my body, but I have an enormous sweet tooth. During the winter, when I was working on materials for To Kill a Mockingbird (see previous post), for nearly two months I had something sweet on a daily basis, usually in the form of chocolate, kind of as a reward for working so hard. One of the results was gaining 3 kilograms, which I certainly don't need on my small frame. I've gradually been adjusting to going without sweets, although I still get cravings from time to time. I was really pleased with what was revealed by my dream.

In the dream, I had met this new guy and we were strolling around in a place that looked like Hawaii or Thailand. We came across a wine and ice cream stand (!), and he said, "Let's have some ice cream," proceeding to order a chocolate cone. I stood back and said, "I don't eat ice cream." He was surprised and asked, "Are you sure?" And I really was!

Besides chocolate, the stand had several other flavors I love, such as pistachio. Another person came along and was going to order; the person behind the counter said you can have one of these free, except for the tax. (There were three orders of great-looking sundaes already made up, but the customers had left, so they were about to melt.) That customer took one, but I just looked on. Imagine - refusing free ice cream!

Oh, and the guy also had a glass of wine. I told him, "I can't have a glass of wine." He asked, "Why not?" I replied, "Because I wouldn't stop with one."

I haven't had wine or anything alcoholic for over 8 years now, so that's not new. However, the dream shows that I just might have succeeded in changing my attitude towards sweets, and especially ice cream.

TKAM at Sapporo University?

I'm elated! It's likely that next year I'll be able to teach the course on To Kill a Mockingbird that it's taken me literally months to develop.

For over a year I've been using the materials at Fuji Women's University, first on paper and then, towards the end of the year on computer. Over the year, I was able to hone the materials, particularly making the questions easier and more pertinent, and finding which websites were the most useful in exploring the novel. Finally, near the end of the year, I was able to put the course on Moodle, and this year I'm using Moodle extensively.

At the beginning of the year, I assign tasks: Economist, Historian, Geographer, Politician, and Sociologist. These people have to do research various aspects of American society that provide a background setting to the novel. What's great is that the students can go to websites that include photographs, interviews, and a plethora of materials related to the era.

Naturally, if I teach the class at Sapporo University, it will involve some changes. The students taking the class there would be English majors planning to study abroad. While the women at Fuji mainly read and write, I would have the students at SU do more formal presentations of their research, perhaps using PowerPoint, and include more discussion questions. That in addition to the extensive reading would give them a feel for what would be expected in an American university class. Also, by reading the novel and learning about all the related aspects, the students would gain a better understanding of American history, etc., that would be of enormous help in their studies in the U.S.

Oh, and of course we watch the film, starring Gregory Peck and a superb cast, as part of the class!

Monday, June 05, 2006


My head is spinning from two days of sessions on CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning). I thought I was doing a great deal with computers in my teaching, and this weekend I realized that, even though I'm far ahead of many of my colleagues, I'm behind at least 3 or 4 years.

I don't think I'm ready to go as far as having the students use their mobile phones in the classroom, but I certainly want to think of ways in which I can encourage more collaborative learning.

I also realized that what I'm doing is sooo Web 1, with me controlling the content to a great extent. Web 2 has students accessing websites on their own in order on material posted by others, whether it be written or visual. Also, by developing their own blogs and posting photos of their own to a site such as Flickr, they can interact with others from all over the world.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. At the moment, my mind is too boggled to write more, but I hope to begin some new experiments in the near future. In fact, the future is now because I've started my own blog for the first time.