Third Time’s the Charm: An Iris Princess Again

The Itako Iris Festival is on from today (May 25th) to June 29th. I’m only there on Sundays, but I have the honor and pleasure of serving with 15 other Iris Princesses this year who will be there more often than me. The Iris Princesses are at the park on Saturdays and Sundays from 8-5.

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I am waaaaaaay in the back

Today was the perfect start to the festival. The weather was nice with the sun hitting the iris flowers just right, making them really vibrant. There are over one million of about 500 different kinds of purple, yellow, and white iris flowers at the park.

This festival has been around since 1952, when iris-lovers placed cut iris flowers in beer bottles as decorations in for the festival. Until 1955, the Itako area was built upon a system of canals. For that reason, when a new bride and/or her goods were to be transported to her new home (the husband’s family home) it was done using a Sappa boat. These traditional boats are still used in Itako as tourist attractions. People can ride in the boats and enjoy the beautiful scenery as they travel up and down the rivers.

And to this day, the Bridal Boat (Yome-iri Fune) wedding send of ceremony is performed with a bride at the Iris Park. After arriving at the ‘Itako Bride’ memorial, the bride will walk along the pathway to the boat with her matchmaker and the boatman, then the boat will set off. Often the groom will be waiting at the Wai-Wai Fantasy dock.

The other Iris Ladies and I spent all day posing for pictures and helping people find their way around our little town. I even helped out a few foreigners that came to the park, which has never happened on the first day before.

The park this year is selling some cute straps and plush goods, which they didn’t do last last year. I want them all!

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The mini Ayame-chan character strap

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The big plush Ayame-chan

On the weekends is the Iris Bride send off event. That’s at 11:00, 14:00, and 19:00 (but times are subject to change). There are several events during the festival, such as traditional Japanese dancing and mochi making. We’ve also got boat rides up and down the river that are quite fun.

 

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By the way, the park is (semi) famous! It was featured on a recent Japanese suspense/ thriller drama on Fuji TV. They actually came to the city and filmed parts of it right here in Itako. Isn’t that cool?! I got to watch it tonight. It was kind of awesome to watch it and go, “Oh my God! I’ve been there!” I thought it was particularly cool because someone was even murdered in a river that I’ve been to (television murder, not real life, obviously).

It’s easy to get to Itako via the Kashima-Orai Line from Mito or the Suigo-Itako Bus from Tokyo station. If you’ve got the time, please come on down!

The Hectic Days

I’m getting to that point in the year when I want to just come home and pass out after work. For the next two weeks, I’m looking at no days off and a whole lot of overtime. Interactive Forum requires that I train students until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Also, I went ahead and agreed to be an Iris Princess (Ayame Musume あやめ娘) to make this the third year I represent my Japan hometown. And lastly, I signed up for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N3 (a.k.a Conversational Level).

For Interactive Forum, I’m trying to increase the level of my students’ English abilities, but it can be difficult to do that and keep the training times fun. If the students aren’t having fun, the entire hour can become this awkward affair where no one wants to talk, and the whole point of it is to make students converse in English. As you can well imagine, it’s frustrating as all get out when they get into this strange funk.

Usually I can bring them out with what I like to call “Crazy English,” where I introduce myself as someone famous and pretend to be that person instead of myself. For example, “Hi! My name is Sailor Moon. I fight evil in my free time. I like sweets very much. Nice to meet you!” The students get a kick out of that. However, I’ve got to be careful to balance having fun and keeping them focused on the task at hand.

My third years, who are fourteen or fifteen years old, can really help me out with doing the harder parts. At both of my schools, I’ve designated a third year student as the sempai of the Interactive Forum group. If I’m not there for some reason then they’re in charge until I show up, and if I need a translation they will be the ones who do so to the other students. It’s actually very important, I think, for ALTs to utilize the sempai system set up in the Japanese classrooms. It can be a great tool to utilize when you want to get things done in class or clubs.

It is really rewarding to watch my students’ progress from simplistic sentences to having actual full conversations. To have a student go from answering “Do you like AKB48?” with just “Yes, I do.” to him/ her responding “Yes, I do! I like them very much. My favorite member is ______. Do you know her?” That’s just one of the most awesome experiences to have as an ALT, to know that you’ve been able to guide your students to that point where they can take what they’ve learned in class and actually use it.

Still, as rewarding as it is, I feel a little bit worn out from coaching sometimes. Last week turned out fine, but I can recall a few moments last year when I showed up and I knew from the get go the session was going to be a fight to speak. I’m anticipating that next week, when the Sports Day (undōkai 運動会) practices get rolling, the whole group will show up exhausted and not wanting to do anything. And it’s my job to make them, hooray!

That’s going to be a problem for me since I’ll probably be extremely tired as well. Last year, I worked for the Itako Iris Festival (Itako Ayame Matsuri 潮来市あやめ祭) on Saturdays and Sundays. I went with the wiser choice this year to work only on Sundays, since I know I’ll need one day devoted to planning on moving to Tokyo/ Chiba, depending upon where I’m placed for my new job. However, this weekend requires that I work both days since it’s the opening weekend. I’m glad to be doing it one last time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not looking forward to not one single day that I can recharge my batteries.

This year the city wasn’t able to find another foreigner to be an Iris Princess, so I’m the only foreign woman working this year. As such, I’m probably going to be featured a little more for campaigns than in the previous two years. I feel torn about this possibility, because on the one hand I’ll be kind of given special treatment, but on the other hand the expectations for me are higher than previous years. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. I’m nervous about it.

I’m not so nervous about the JLPT, though. Honestly, I meant to take the test back in December, but I missed the deadline for registration. This time I was on the ball and got my application in on time. I’ve already been studying for it since before December, so I’m confident that I’ll at least pass. I’ve bought all the books and test materials for it.

But on top of everything else, I wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun a little bit.Two years ago I tried for the N4 (Upper Basic Level) but I didn’t pass. I did the same kind of schedule I’m going to do soon, wherein I work six or seven days a week along with studying for a test everyday. Back then I actually hurt myself from the stress. I couldn’t study kanji for a good month afterwards. My brain actually flat out refused to process any new Japanese, so I took a break. I feel like this time will be different, since I started studying way back months ago and because I know I will get Saturdays off, eventually.

With the 31st being Sports Day, it looks like the rest of the month of May is just one big block of WORK. And then in “free time” it’s actually “study time.” Next month looks like work unless it’s Saturday, but even then I’d imagine the Saturdays will be devoted to the very long list of “Things Jessica Must Do Before She Moves.” I’m praying that when all is said and done my students will have better English speaking abilities than before we started practice, I get through the Iris Festival in one piece, and I pass the JLPT with flying colors.

The Iris Festival Beings with American Iris Princesses

茨城県潮来市の水郷潮来あやめ園で18日開幕する「水郷潮来あやめまつり」。50種100万株が咲き誇る園内で来園者をもてなす「あやめ娘」に外国 人を採用して今年度で6年目を迎える。今回も米国人女性2人がおもてなしする予定で、市は「海外に日本の良さを知ってもらうきっかけになれば」と話してい る。

The 18th kicks off the “Itako Iris Festival” in the riverside district of the Ibaraki Prefecture in the Itako Iris Garden. With over 50 different species of 100 million iris flowers, guests can come into the park to see the “Iris Princesses.” The year marks the sixth year for Itako to have foreign entertainers. Two American women plan to host this time, and Itako city has said that, “this becomes an opportunity to get to know the goodness of Japan abroad.”

今年度の外国人あやめ娘は、ニュージャージー州出身のサマンサ・エイミー・ダッカスさん(24)と、ケンタッキー州出身のジェシカ・ゴードンさん(23)。2人は6月23日までの期間中の土日に日本人6人のあやめ娘とともに来園者の対応や観光案内を行う。

Samantha Amiee Dutkus (24) from New Jersey and Jessica Gordon (23) from Kentucky are the foreign Ayame Daughters of this year. These 2 people give tourists information and support the other six Japanese Ayame Daughters on Saturday and Sunday until June 23rd.

今年で62回目となるあやめまつりは、園内のアヤメを楽しめるほか、花嫁が舟に乗って新郎のもとへ向かう「嫁入り舟」なども行われる。日本文化に触れることができると、外国人も多く訪れているという。

Guests can enjoy the iris garden and the “marriage boat.”  This Iris Festival is the 62nd this year. If foreign visitors come, they can get a touch of Japanese culture

市は、海外からの来園者対応のため、平成20年度から外国人のあやめ娘採用を開始。市教委などを通じ、小中学校の英語の授業で教師を補助する「外国語指導助手」として来日している外国人に照会し、これまでに7人を採用した。

The city started hiring foreign Iris Princesses in 2008 for people traveling from abroad and coming to the garden. The two Americans are hired through the Itako Board of Education. They are to assist the teachers in English classes of elementary and junior high schools as “Assistant Language Teachers.”

市観光商工課は「海外からきた観光客の対応がスムーズになった。日本人の来園者にも人気があり、広くかわいがられている」と手応えを感じている。

A representative of the City Tourism Commerce Division feels the response “is also popular in people coming to the garden. Correspondence from Japanese tourists who came from all around have said they are widely loved.”
なかには2年連続で務める人もいて、実はダッカスさんとゴードンさんも昨年度から務め、「お客さんと話すのが楽しかった」と今年度も希望した。
Some people serve for a second year in a row. Some of them, in fact, are Ms. Gordon and Ms. Dutkus. They also served last year, and hope for this year to be “fun to talk with the audience.”
2人は外国人への対応のほか、日本人との触れ合いも楽しんでおり、ゴードンさんは「去年は日本語が難しかったけど、今は自信があるので楽しみ」と日本語ですらすらと話した。

In addition to responding to foreigners, these two also enjoy interacting with the Japanese people. Mr. Gordon spoke fluently in Japanese as she said, “Japanese was difficult last year, but I have confidence now.” 
園内での活躍のほか、ブログやフェイスブックなどを通じて海外にあやめまつりの情報を発信も。ダッカスさんは「潮来の歴史や文化を海外に広く知ってもらい、あやめまつりにたくさんの外国人にきてもらいたい」と期待している。

In addition to the activity in the park, Ayame Princesses also give out information about the iris festival overseas, such as through Facebook and blog. Dutkus’s hopes “to let you know widely overseas history and culture of Itako, I want a lot of foreigners to come to the Ayame Festival.”

Original Japanese Article link here: http://sankei.jp.msn.com/region/news/130518/ibr13051802080000-n2.htm