Some random postives:
Last week a small group of teachers had a nomikai (two-hour drink + eat party) which I was very glad to be invited to. I was relaxed and chatty right off the bat, using whatever grammar forms I'd picked up most recently in Japanese class. I wasn't the centre of attention, nor was I just a novelty of foreigness (as I most definitely have been previously), but we did chat pleasantly. It was nice that they were comfortable to chat without worrying about me, but also happy to occasionally slow down to include me (with the help of the English teachers). By the end of the night (and the bottom of the keg) we were all joking and laughing together, and I only declind the nijikai (second party) because I had agreed to go meet friends. Basically, I think the Japanese have the right idea about drinking parties being an essential part of work-group cohesion, because so far that's when I've fit in most. Eating (and drinking) is one thing I do know how to do.
I had an awesome moment at work the other day. It was the end of the day and I had to take off to go to a meeting, but I was making my rounds of the hallway to say goodbye. I sat down with the boys' baseball club on the floor and chatted with a couple members. They do a workout in the hallway, so that was an easy conversation starter. We exchanged some vocab on push-ups and crunches and abs, etc (none of which I can remember), and then started talking about other random stuff - like the fact that snowmen here have only two sections, as opposed to the classic three-ball snow-man that I was familiar with. Suddenly I looked around and realised that the entire club was sitting in a circle around us, listening to the conversation and chipping in when possible. I tried to ignore the increased pressure to act up or clown around, and tried to just keep a conversation going. Although there was an arm wrestle or two, mostly we just sat on the cold floor of the hallway and talked - with no compulsion for any of them to listen, let alone all twenty or so. I'm not saying I take it as a compliment, or anything like that. I'm just saying it felt great to connect with them in such a relaxed and communicative way.
Due to a miscommuncation error, I am now spending the next four days at two elementary schools! I have wanted a change of pace, and I really wanted to see the crazy adorable kids that I've heard so much about. I am nervous, no question. I've realised I really don't have much to say about myself or my country, or many games to bring to the table myself - but that's a whole new line of thought I've yet to explore. I'm counting on my strangeness to generate their excitement which will keep the momentum of the class. Indeed, every friend who has gone to elementary school has assured me this is the case. I kinda banged my knee up skiing today, so I hope I can keep up with the little man-chickens!
Oh yeah, I went skiing again today!!! Man, oh man, was that snow amazing. There was about 115 centimetres of snow up the mountain, most of which felt like fresh powder. I actually couldn't control myself worth a damn in the bumps and crazy soft snow, but the feeling of flowing through that powder was still incredible, and I didn't mind the spectacular twisting and flailing crashes into the banks of cushioning snow. As I gained speed and lost control on a too-steep moderate run, I managed to get some air off two bumps, thus increasing my skill set to failing, falling, and occasional jumping.We went to Kiroro, the same place as last weekend, and so enjoyed another soothing onsen at the end of the day. The 1.5 hour bus ride out of the city provides a nice somniatic liminal transition to the fantasy world of snow and ski. It's only slightly hard to have to face reality again afterward.
Next Friday is my last scheduled day of work this term, though there will be some pseudo-work days the following week as well, and Christmas itself isn't actually a scheduled holiday. We're supposed to go into the office and sit and do nothing all day! The elementary schools should be incredibly entertaining and exhausting, so I should have a content conclusion to the school term, before shifting into holiday mode. Less than a week later, after all, we're off to Thailand for two weeks of sun and hopefully adventure.
I just found out a friend will be coming to stay and enjoy the Snow Festival in February. One more motivated JET actually secured us a spot in the festival, so a group of us ALT's will be part of the huge show, for better or worse sticking our names on a carving we have to somehow create. The festival draws tons of people from all over the country, all cramming into our little city (three cramming into my little apartment). Should be a good time.