Sunday, 18 March 2018

On the work front... last report from my time at BSCIS

As we are slowly inching towards spring for our third year here in Tokyo several events mark this time of year. 

The arrival of the spring cherry blossoms is a hotly anticipated event here with web-sites to track the exact time and people planning their "Hanami" parties already. We have enjoyed being out on long city walks between the bouts of rain to discover and appreciate the arrival of the plum blossoms. 


Shelley has decorated her helmet for the occasion to totally blend in with the background... flower "camo" as it were. 

The parks are full of people out enjoying the blossoms, striking the "kawai" (cute) poses with close-ups of blossoms. 

Of course this is also the opportunity to bring the prized dogs out for a walk in their spring finery; note that those are not baby strollers but dog strollers just in case "Little Fluffy" gets tired from excessive walking. 

Some of the Jizos at the temple to honour aborted and deceased babies have their winter jackets and hats on. 

though the days are warming up. 

At school this is also grad season for our grade 12 students and exam season for our grade 11 and 10 students. 

This is my third end of year season, but the first time that we have had graduates from the BSCIS school; VERY exciting!

As Shelley and I have decided to return home to BC at the end of this school year, March 30th, this is also a time for reflection and mixed emotions as we wrap up this stage of our lives.

After three years of hard work, the students start their grad events with a special class called "Manners class" taught and prepared by the staff at the Regency Hyatt Tokyo (wow!). We were all seated around tables set beautifully in the "Western" style, prepared for a 2 hour lecture on all the subtleties of manners at a sumptuous banquet in the West.

Just in case we had any questions, each setting had a "Manners" book so you could read up on the finer points of manners.

Our grade 12 students waiting for the banquet to begin.

Our Japanese principal and myself... also waiting for instructions. 

This video gives a feel for the event; check out the student behaviour as the camera scans...

We learned about the origins of the fork, the direction to move your spoon, which knife is used when, all of the important things necessary to function in the West. 😊😊 And then, of course, we enjoyed a fabulous 4 course lunch!

Returning to the school site I pause to remember how specially I am treated here in so many ways. When I enter the front entrance and change my shoes... I have the "corner office" of the shoe boxes; the top left corner closest to the school; high prestige!

Graduation is an exciting time especially for the homeroom teacher who has been with the class since grade 10. Atsushi was the first homeroom teacher in BSCIS... a brave pioneer.

The main gym is always an impressive site as it is set to sit the 1000 plus high-school students and their parents. 

The main Japanese ceremony is a very formal, quiet and thoughtful event with beautiful songs sung by the grade 11 as a good-bye to the grade 12 and vice versa. There are also many speeches by the various dignitaries and students receiving awards. Students and audience are very quiet during the whole ceremony. I had the opportunity to hand out the first BSCIS diplomas at the main Japanese grad.

From the very formal Japanese graduation ceremony with the help of the DD teachers and the students we organized a full-on BC style graduation. First and most importantly, the students were thrilled to receive an actual graduation hat with a tassle (a must for a BC grad! 😊). They marched to their seats with "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and with the audience standing, cheering and hooting. 

We appreciated the remarks from the Japanese Principal as well as remarks from our Offshore School Representative. I also had an opportunity to talk to the students and parents about how brave they have been starting out this school. 

Students gave thanks to the parents and to the teachers...

while teachers thanked the students. All of the speeches had a nice blend of humour and emotion.

As the certificates were handed out and students flipped their tassels carefully, people enjoyed the laughter, appreciation and clapping (mixed in with a few hoots) as they tossed their caps into the air. 

The event finished with an emotional slide show reviewing 3 years of study, hard work, humour, expeditions and fun times. There were lots of tears and laughter as the slides were called up. 

It was very meaningful to me to have a whole variety of parents come up to express their appreciation for the work I had done over these years. 

These students have been accepted to amazing universities all over the world. 70% of them were accepted to the top tier Japanese universities here in Tokyo. 30% have been accepted or are close to being accepted to universities around the world: Maastricht, Prague, Vancouver, Whitehorse. 

These excellent results have really caught the attention of the public in Tokyo. We received a beautiful bouquet from the British Columbia Office here in Tokyo. 

From an original field of 17 applicants (we accepted 15) this year we had 84 (!!) applicants and accepted 45 bright, thoughtful, passionate boys and girls for next year. On an almost daily basis we hear from parents wanting to find out how to enroll their child for the coming year. 

I leave this school feeling excited about its' possibilities. The blend of two cultures, of students learning the best of each world (Japanese and BC education) have created a powerful opportunity for the vibrant students to pursue their dreams both in Japan and around the world. 

It has been a professional thrill for me to facilitate and encourage the student-centered approach linked to "active learning" that we do in BC through field trips, debates, presentations and other approaches to creative thinking. 

With their strong study skills, their intense drive and their curiosity these wonderful Japanese students have really taken the opportunities provided by the BC curriculum and taken off to pursue their dreams. 

I am truly grateful for  this opportunity to work and live in Tokyo, to start this new BC Offshore school and to see it blossom into maturity. I am grateful for the kind administrative team, my Japanese colleagues, who have worked so closely with me over these three years as we created this school and set precedents for the coming years. I feel honoured to have been the first principal here at BSCIS Tokyo and I wish the whole team success in the coming years.

As a parting image of my time here our English 11 teacher had students created visual depictions of what they needed to remember as they entered this season of intense exams and pressure. I leave these three years of intensity and pressure (and fun and celebration!) with this message for myself. 


Stay posted for new adventures in the next phase of our lives. 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

What is “old“?

In Japan we are constantly bumping into the question: What does "old" mean when you are talking about culture, buildings and historic places?

To illustrate the conversation/dilemma, lets start with our trip last weekend to Kyoto. Travel by Shinkansen always starts at Tokyo Station, the heart of Tokyo, built right next to the Imperial Palace in 1914.

 It stands today looking exactly as it did in 1914, right down to every detail of the turrets and the copper decorations....

But when you do a little research (click here for a fascinating video) it turns out that the building was badly damaged during the Great Kanto Earthquake, had the second roof and towers burned off by the Allied fire-bombing, and was "modernized" before being "historified" for the new grand opening in 2013. Is this an old building???

Zipped down to Kyoto via the bullet train, this being our third visit we have gotten to know our way around some of the interesting old neighborhoods that are tucked in behind the huge modern buildings and the big tourist sites. We enjoyed with our friend visiting from New Zealand browsing through some of the old stores and seeing how life has been lived for many years in "old" Kyoto. 


These were truly old neighborhoods not destroyed by bombings or earthquakes. 

Kyoto is known for its stunning old temples in every sense of what I consider old. This wall was originally built in 1450. 

This temple, Rengeo-in, was built in 1266 ...

to house a stunning display of 1000 armed Kannon statues (see here for more). 

This was an "old" temple with "old" statues!!

This temple was founded in 888, destroyed in 1467, rebuilt 150 years later, with dry gardens raked every day since 1500s as the monk's meditation; every day!... yes; this was old. (See here for the history of Ninna-ji)

There are the old temples re-done with new renovations.... done with the old techniques... with young craft people... who come from old temple repair families...using old techniques. Check out this family business repairing and re-building temples for the last 1400 years!!! (Click here)

Within the renovations the paintings on the fusuma doors are "old" and not redone.

While here, at Renge-ji temple the guardians at the gate are nestled in re-built gates they have their original peeling paint cover.

We had the chance to re-visit one of the most visited temples in Kyoto, the Golden Temple (and yes, it was very cold and beginning to have some snow blusters.) This stunning temple was originally built in 1397, then destroyed during the Onin war in the 1400s, then re-built only to be burnt down by a deranged monk in 1955. The temple and all of the treasures were lost (click here for more) ... only to be re-built exactly as is was in the 1600s, with all of the statuary reproduced exactly as it was. The craft people were from one of the families that have been building temples for over a 1000 years. 

This is a beautiful (and crowded) temple. Is it "old" or is it "new"?

Behind this highly touristic and beautifully redone temple, there is a less well-known temple walk that has 88 mini-temples tucked in the woods as a mini-pilgrimage equivalent of the Shikoku pilgrimage. Most of these mini-temples and shrines were evidently built within the last 100 years, and they are slowly decaying back into the underbrush. Some of the shrines have been topled by earthquakes. Vines and shrubs are slowly covering the path and the buildings.

Are these sites "old" or "new"?

We finished off our visit to Kyoto with a wonderful discovery of an Ikebana (flower arranging) exhibit. This is one of the classic Edo-period traditional arts in Japan (see here for more details). Ikebana is highly structured, with very rigid rules of aesthetics that have evolved over hundreds of years.

We found this exhibition quite exhilarating because it was a complete modern take-off on the art of Ikebana. Using some of the old techniques they created a new vision of flower arranging; quite fascinating.

Is this "old" or "new" Ikebana?

And then of course there is the amazing 80 year artist Yayoi Kusama, who lives in a mental institution and has some of the other patients help with her work. Her work is vibrant, flamboyant and eye-catching. It is definitely "new" as this piece is front of the Kyoto Art Museum. 

We got back on the train and continue to have this discussion about the meaning of "old' or "historic" in Japan.

What do you think?