Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: On March 11th

Last Saturday was the anniversary of the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake. Due to a bunch of various circumstances, I couldn’t get this post out in time, and for that I apologize. March 11th remains a day of mourning, with people in Japan paying their respects to those lost.

I came to Japan a few months after the big quake, and I lived in a rural area highly affected by it. My students, teachers, neighbors, friends, they all remembered that day vividly and told me their stories. When I first came to Japan, I wrote some of them down.

My predecessor, L, told me she was playing outside when it hit, and that no one could move, the entire world was shaking too hard. She had to take a taxi back home, but the roads were cracked open in some areas or completely shifted off to one side, like some surreal dystopian painting come to life.

L went home to find many of her things knocked down, the water off, and electricity unavailable. Even up until the day I moved in, I wasn’t supposed to use the water from the tap to drink or cook with. Instead, I had to bike twenty minutes or so to the nearest grocery store to get a huge tub of water in a plastic container.

In this hard time, the neighbors helped her out, and her friend, A, let her stay for a bit since her house wasn’t as affected as the main area of Itako. People pulled resources together to have meals, shared water when others had none, and kept their sense of community throughout the chaos.

The people in Mito weren’t as lucky in terms of damage. The JETs there relayed tales of broken bridges and roads, completely unusable. Only one or two JETs in the area had running water and electricity. Thankfully, they opened their doors to others, so people crammed into those apartments to take showers and essentially live there until things got back up and running again. If not for them, family members wouldn’t have known they were alive, they might’ve not had meals.

For people with diabetes, it was a nightmare scenario, since insulin requires both a doctor and a pharmacy but neither were available (same went for allergy and asthma problems). Luckily, friends helped out, and sometimes also the supervisors and co-workers. Medicine was found and given to the people who needed it most, even if it took all day to bike to one side of a city and back, people were getting the resources where they needed to go.

But sometimes the supervisors were unsympathetic. One Mito JET spoke about his supervisor harassing him into coming to school. Even though the students didn’t come and many other teachers weren’t there, they expected him to show up (for reasons he never really understood). The issue with the demands wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to go to work (he actually did, his school had electricity and internet access) but he couldn’t get there.

“When the earthquake hit, you know how L showed you the roads? Yeah, imagine the same thing for the trains. My station was busted up real bad.” He told me and picked up his smartphone to show me pictures. On his screen were downed power lines, resting over railroad tracks split in half. “They kept trying to tell me ‘just take a taxi’ or something, but everyone was taking the taxi. It was an impossible thing to ask. They had family and friends, you know? But I just got here! I didn’t know anyone yet.”

japan-motorway-ear_1846733c.jpg
Via the Telegraph | This is the Joban Motorway near Mito, Ibaraki

About six months after living there 2011 rolled over into 2012. People gradually stopped telling the stories, not forgetting everything that happened of course, but everyone was healing. Schools were back in session, work was getting into a rhythm again, so life was getting normalized.

And that’s when I wrote the post below:


A NEW YEAR REFLECTION: 3/11 AND 9/11

It’s a test week, so I’ve been grading papers more than going to class.My students make the normal mistakes for kids their age, and I’ve got to admit I made the same kind of mistakes every so often back in the day.  When one of my Japanese English Teachers came over and gave me a stack of winter break assignments, I just assumed they’d be like all the rest. He told me, “Look for mistakes and correct. If they are right, circle. You know, yes?”

I smiled and nodded my head, “Hai. I know.” I took the papers from his hands. When I plopped them on the desk, they made a nice thunk! I got out my red pen and got comfortable on my rolling chair. As we would say back home, “This is gonna take awhile.”

I opened the stack and started reading. I paused when I realized these weren’t the normal variety of papers. They were essays, and the students were given different things to discuss over the year 2011. Of course, the Great East Japan Earthquake was a topic. Some students wrote about it. They said pretty much the same thing over and over again.

“The East Japan earthquake was on March 11th. I remember that day. I was in school when the earthquake happened. I was very fearful. Many people passed away and died. I will not forget that earthquake.”

I felt my heart break each time a student wrote about it. Some of them had family up near Fukushima and worried about them being so close to the radioactivity. More than one student mentioned the radiation levels getting high, and also about the earthquake damage in Itako. I wanted to find each and every one of them and hug them. Instead, I slash out grammar and spelling mistakes with a red pen. Beside an essay, I put a “Good job! :)” and possibly a comment.

Every time I saw the numbers 3/11, I couldn’t help but get flashbacks to 9/11. I remember that day very well. I could point out exactly where I was when the Twin Towers were attacked. I can remember how the hallways in middle school were full of people panicking. Teachers were talking to each other in hurried voices, trying to decide what to do I guess. I remember a friend running up to tell me, “Something really, really bad just happened. I don’t know what, but parents are coming to pick up their kids.” I remember turning to the science room and the TV was on. I saw something smoking and a tall building. At the time I had no idea, but it was the first tower struck by the airplane.

That memory remains like a deep scar. For the next week, kids at my school talked at the lunch table. Some were even talking about going away on vacation for a bit. We lived next to a uranium enrichment plant, and it was on the hit list of possible targets for terrorism. I remember wondering how long it would take to go up. The answer? I probably wouldn’t even had time to scream. I still have nightmares about that plant blowing up one day.

I remember where I was on 3/11, too. I woke up that night for some reason. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got on YouTube to watch some movies and relax. I saw the earthquake news an hour after it had happened. I was in denial about it, hoping against hope that the earthquake just did some damage and that was all. I found out at lunch about the tsunami. I cried when I saw the death toll numbers rising every ten minutes. I got on Facebook to message my friends and emailed my host families in Japan. When I left to go on Spring Break, I kept up with the news and watched the nuclear plant problems. When I got the news that everyone I knew was fine, I felt relieved, but the nuclear plant issues put a knot in my stomach. Thankfully, some very brave people saved Japan from yet another disaster.

The radiation remains an ongoing problem, but the recovery efforts will continue as well. Still, many people here won’t btuy foods or products if they have the Fukushima kanji on them. There’s a huge nuclear power distrust among my students. They say, “Abunai desu!” It’s dangerous. I don’t know what to tell them. I do understand how it feels to suddenly realize the danger of the world, that it can change so violently, and the paranoia that it could happen again. I wish I could find the right words to say, but I can’t.

At that moment when I sit at my desk I feel like I should do something. I don’t know what, but something. I feel like a failure, like I haven’t done enough to make things better.

But then I remember how after 9/11 my teachers did their best to keep things normal. We talked about what happened from time to time, but usually we just tried to move on. I can see my students and teachers are trying to move on, too. I can still see the fear students have when a bigger earthquake happens. One student held my hand tightly when a earthquake hit a few months or so ago. I squeezed her hand and said, “Daijoubu desu.” It’s alright. I want to keep doing that. I want to help make everything alright again.

My students are definitely strong and moving forward. They didn’t just reflect on the earthquake. They also talked about the Tokyo Motor Show, the Japan Women’s Soccer Team winning the World Cup, and Arashi winning its various awards (MatsuJun, I love you!). Because of the Japan Women’s Soccer Team, many of my students felt inspired and so proud. They all talked about how the win brought them such joy. Thanks to them, I’ve got quite a few girls talking about being soccer stars when they grow up. I gave them smiley faces on their papers and told them to keep their dreams.

They’re already talking about spring vacation even though that’s quite a ways away. Valentines Day is also just around the corner. A few of my students have asked me if I’m giving away chocolates to a boy. Maybe someday, but not this time.

I hope this next year brings a whole lot of good things. I’m no hero and I know I can’t take the memory of 3/11 away, but I can be here to support my kids. I can’t get it back to the way it was. That’s impossible. Still, I can try to make them feel secure again. The ground can shake all it wants.

I’m not going anywhere.


And I didn’t, for three years I stayed to see my first years turn into third years. I watched them grow until it was time for high school, and from there I could only hope for the best. I stayed long enough to know that I wasn’t needed anymore, and that was a good thing. Maybe a few of my Japanese English teachers would miss me, maybe my friends wouldn’t see me as often anymore, but the school and the students were right back on track.

When people come together-be they friends, teachers, students, co-workers, neighbors- that is how people can get through something devastating. If there is one lesson I can say Japan has taught me it’s that community is important, but then it becomes downright essential after a natural disaster. Being strong for each other, being there for each other, in both good times and bad, that is what makes a community.

As someone who wasn’t there, who only dealt with the aftermath, I can’t proclaim to understand  every single person’s feelings. I know the people of Fukushima still feel wronged by the government for not aiding them like it should, and those who lost people in Miyagi will still be mourning for years to come. Their sense of community might not yet be whole again. Nothing is perfect, but we’re all getting there, one day at a time.

Nowadays, March 11th is a day much like any other historically tragic day. It’s become a fixture of the past, with Japanese people taking a moment to remember, perhaps visit a shrine to pray for those lost, send donations to Fukushima, or simply bow heads in a moment of silence. The news will show pictures and videos, sometimes with a story of a hero/heroine who bravely saved lives or created a new foundation or etc. Schools may remind students what to do in the event of an earthquake. Japan remembers, and so do I.

We’re not going anywhere.


Photo Credit: Featured Image | Daily Mail

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Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: A Slice of Life Post

From July to December I traveled, but also in between those travels was of course the everyday life of Itako. It wasn’t until December that it occurred to me that I should talk about the actual, ya know, job I was doing and what it all entailed.And thus, I finally wrote about all that, and about other things.


MY SCHOOLS, STUDENT STORIES, AND ALT ISSUES

In Itako, I work at two junior high schools, Itako 2nd Junior High School and Hinode Junior High School. Right now I’m at Hinode JU, and next month I’ll rotate over to Itako 2nd. I love both my schools. Itako 2nd wasn’t damaged very much by the earthquake, so by the time I got there everything was fixed.

Hinode JU has construction going on right now. Basically, Hinode is rice fields all around. When the earthquake happened on March 11th, the ground actually collapsed downward. Poles are still drooping left and right all over the place. Some sidewalks are nearly vertical. The roads are a mess, with pot holes and gravel all over the place. I have to be careful when I drive, too, because sometimes the roads suddenly have huge bumps that could be mistaken for hills. I can go air born if I’m not paying attention.

Even My school is still undergoing reconstruction. When I first arrived here, the entrance had a space from the floor level to the ground. That’s been covered up with asphalt. There’s luckily no structural damage done to the building. The gymnasium was unusable for a little bit. The gym had a massive crack up the side, like it was torn in half (and I suppose it kind of was). That’s all fixed up now. Slowly but surely, Hinode is recovering.


Slowly, yeah, like a snail’s pace. Even as I left in my third year, they were paving and putting the roads back in the places they were supposed to be. The problem was that the area didn’t have enough money to fix everything, as in literally nothing much except to patch the most important things up (like the water lines) until money came in from tourism.

Oh, did I mention that the bulk of tourism was in summer? Yep, which meant we had to wait around for another year before things got back to a semblance of normal. It was no one’s fault, that’s just what happens when it comes to natural disasters. Stuff gets broken, stuff needs fixing, but the money has to come in later.


My kids are great. At Hinode JU I’ve got the more shy crowd than with Itako 2nd. Hinode students will take to me more often when I’m at the mall and at 7/11 than at school. I’ve started eating lunch with them so that they will speak more English.

Lunch at my school goes like so: Students don’t go to a cafeteria like in America. Instead, they eat in their classrooms. Some students in each class are selected to dish out the food. These students dress up in white uniforms that include hats, gloves, and face masks. They dish out the food onto other students’ trays. When that’s all done, the class says a big, “Itadakimasu!” (I humbly accept this meal!) And they eat. When they’re done, they say, “Gochisosama deshita!” (Thank you for the food!)


Those lunches were…decent. I see people sharing those viral videos about how “healthy” those school lunches are, and I guess in comparison to American lunches they definitely are. At the same time, most of the fish and meat parts are fried 9 times out of ten. The soups have veggies, but the salt content is high as hell. Most vegetables had obviously been frozen, reheated, soaked in salt and grease, and then put into a huge soup dispenser. Most of the other foods were processed like that.

However, there might be a few pieces of fresh fruit every now and then, like apples and grapes. I loved orange season, because we’d get oranges for days. Since the meal was regulated to one meat thing, one veggie thing, and rice, the calorie portions were well within dietary guidelines to stave off obesity. And like I said before, the taste was decent, as in not awful, but I wouldn’t say it was awesome either.

Most students weren’t fans of anything but Curry Day, which was like how students in America love Pizza Day. It’s not at all healthy, but it’s the one actually delicious meal of the month.The milk was my biggest problem. I’m lactose intolerant, so I would pretend to drink some of it, and then throw away the rest.


 If you read manga or seen a single episode of a anime series set in high school, it will come as no surprise to you that Japanese students have to clean their schools. At Itako 2nd, students usually clean the school after lunch. At Hinode, students usually clean the school after all six periods are done.

It’s fun to watch them do it. Teachers supervise the students, making sure that they actually clean instead of play. Students wipe down windows, sweep, mop, and so on. When they have to sweep the gym, they’ll race each other to finish. They also like to janken (play rock, paper, scissors) for the tasks they hate. Loser, of course, has to do it.

I walk around when they’re cleaning sometimes and talk to them in English. I’m encouraged to talk to them in as much English as possible at my schools. From these conversations, I’ve gotten some pretty interesting questions. For example, one student asked me for my bust size in perfect English. I rewarded her with the correct answer and giggled for the rest of the day. I have boys asking me if I like them, which is adorable. Other students want to know if I’m eating KFC for Christmas (insert raging expletives here). And so and so forth.


There is a slight misunderstanding about students cleaning schools. For some reason, people are under the impression that janitors don’t exist at the schools. That’s a lie, they have janitors, but the janitors aren’t called janitors. School assistants with part time jobs, whose exact title changes with each school, are basically janitors and then some. They come into the school and deep clean about once a month, but they also have other tasks like scheduling lunch food drop offs, cooking (as in reheating the frozen food) lunches, and etc. They’re behind the scenes, and are often unappreciated in my opinion, because they make sure the school looks good and gets all the random tasks taken care of so the school works like a semi-well oiled machine.

I was friends with one of them at Hinode JU, until she retired my second year. She was a sweet old lady with a heart of gold. I do not remember her name, but she was also our office lady and she sneaked me sweets because I sneaked her some. She was awesome, and I hope she’s doing well.


I try out my Japanese on them sometimes, which makes them all kinds of surprised. I don’t use it that much with them because I want them to talk in English, but sometimes I can’t help myself. One time, I used an expression my friend, Nobuko, taught me on a boy. He was not looking at my eyes, so I said, “Anata sukebe ne?” Which basically means, “Oh, you’re a perv, huh?” And he shook his head and said “No! No! No! I am good! I am good!” I rewarded him with a sticker for the English and for suffering the shock of a lifetime.


Apparently, I didn’t set up why I said this, which is odd. The full story, because for some reason I still remember this, the boy said, “You have a body I like!” which astounded me because he’d not spoken but all of two English sentences before. Instead of reprimanding him (as I probably should’ve?), I wanted him to keep speaking English, but also make sure he knew that wasn’t ok. Thus, I shocked him with my Japanese.

Weird, why didn’t I mention that? Was I worried people would think I was adding to the ‘pervy-Japanese’ stereotype? The fact is that high school boys, no matter where in the world, are all high school boys. Not all of them say outrageous stuff and act crazy, but you know more than a few do, and sometimes they say things about bodies and butts and stuff. If I got angry with every single weird comment, I’d have no energy for anything else. Instead, it’s always best to match them with the higher level wit given to me over years of teaching (and having far worse harassment before in life).


Right now, we’ve got testing going on, so my schedule’s a little erratic. I can have anywhere from one class a day to five. The five class days are killer. I don’t know why, but it’s so draining. Just one class right after the other and talking to students at lunch, there’s barely anytime to go to the bathroom. When I have just one class, I try to use the time wisely by studying Japanese, but I might meander onto Cracked.com or Facebook when I get bored.


Here we come across one of the other reasons I decided to quit JET. As much as I loved those schools and those students, five classes back to back with lunchtime basically another class, plus hours after school for Interactive Forum for half of the year, I got burnt out. I was trying to tell myself that I could do it for five years, but the truth was that already in the first year I could tell that I wasn’t going to make it the full five.

I knew that other teachers had harder schedules, working five classes everyday with no lunch break at all, and little to no prep time except on weekends. Then again, other teachers didn’t have to prep at all, and they’d only have four classes with no lunchtime with students. Regardless, for me, the work schedule at that time came with also the underlying (i.e. unspoken) agreement that I couldn’t complain, because I was paid so much to “just be an assistant,” which was a bit unfair.

I was an assistant teacher to two schools, with two different sets of teachers with different expectations for classroom English activities, and two different sets of students who I couldn’t remember all the names of until the very end of each year. It was hectic, and even when I got used to it and rolled well, I was still struggling because nothing was consistent. I was getting flopped around back and forth between these different working environments and expected to just enjoy the ride.

Not saying I didn’t most of the time, but it was exhausting in ways that are hard to explain. A foreigner with little to no grasp of the native language, no teaching experience, and learning everything on the fly in a foreign country was already hard enough. Having an inconsistent environment to work in every month just compounded those problems.


I’ve started staying after school to play some sports. I played volleyball yesterday, and tomorrow I’m going to play basketball. The students are happy to see me, and the coaches help to encourage them to do English when I’m there. I love sports, I really do, but I’m bad at them. My volleyball girls would giggle whenever I completely failed at a maneuver (which was often). One girl, Kanna, helped me out with the footwork by trying to tell me things in English. In the end, she would say the Japanese, and I would say the English, and then she would repeat the English. Close enough, right?

At one point yesterday, I had a ball just fly left and keep going. I said, “Sumimasen. Sorry.” And one girl smiled at me and said, “It’s ok! Ball likes to go!” I wish I could’ve given here like a thousand stickers in that moment, because that was awesome.


“OH?!” you say at the fact I stuck around after school to play sports, “If you were so tired then why were you playing around? HUH?! Liar!” Well, no, not really.

See, there was this unspoken thing about being on JET (although sometimes spoken outright as well) that since we’re paid “so much” to “just be assistants” then it only makes sense for us to stay after school and on weekends to speak English with the students. Also, JET meetings and seminars were very intense on getting students to “speak as much English as possible” because they didn’t meet the required 90% English requirements in classrooms. So it was up to us, the hero JETs, to save Japanese students and fill their lives with as much English as possible!

But of course, what the JET meetings and seminars don’t say is that Japan shouldn’t need “heroes” at all. If Japanese teachers spoke the required amount of English in English classrooms, we actually wouldn’t be necessary at all. Also, getting paid for a full time job and telling someone they shouldn’t be paid that much because their level is lower than that of others in the workplace is a bit harsh.

JETs need that money, because moving to another country isn’t cheap. We have to pay for all sorts of start up costs: cell phones, contracts for cars, if you don’t drive then bikes, TV, internet, etc. We’re not just assistants, we’re foreign workers, and that’s why JET pays well. It wants to give incentives for people to stick with the job and not quit, and hopefully bring more people over. Not everyone wants to go to Japan, despite the high number of JET applicants telling otherwise.

Anyways, yes, I at times overworked myself too hard. I wanted to be the best JET I possibly could, and I was. I just didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t have to be the very best.


When I leave Itako 2nd, I go home by taxi service. No, it’s not because I’m that important, but instead because of this safety clause in my contract that states I can’t drive myself during school hours. When I’m at Hinode, I walk to school because I live so close. When I went to the elementary school, I would walk there, too.

I’ve only been to the elementary school once, but I want to go again really bad. They’re so adorable! Oh my god, I want a Japanese child! They kept asking me questions in Japanese, so I had the greatest test of my Japanese skills with them. I managed to make it through pretty well. Luckily, elementary Japanese is around my level of equivalency.


Jesus Mother Mary and Joseph, there was a time I actually enjoyed elementary school classes.

Let’s just say I’ve discovered over the years that I love playing with kids, but I don’t love teaching children. Especially when two classes (or that one time THREE) get all shoved together into the same time slot and I have to teach about 80+ children a lesson while also making sure none of them kill each other. It was fine at first, when I was only going a total of two days once a month and doing proper 30-40+ kids. When the school I guess decided to cut the budget and English class hours, ughhhhhh.

That being said, I heard Itako finally got around to hiring proper elementary school JET, so yay you new person, enjoy.


I got a lot of, “Are you married?” and “Boyfriendo?” questions that made me sigh. That question will never die. Unlike my junior high school kids, my elementary school kids really couldn’t believe it. They were so confused. I tried my best to explain, but I think I failed that part of the interview. Instead, I moved onto talking about MatsuJun and Arashi.


Nowadays, I get the question in high school, “Husbando? Boyfriendo?” looks cautiously both ways, “Girlyfriendo?” And the answer to that, even if it’s a lie, will always and forever be, “I’m single.” If you answer yes to any of those questions, the students will badger you until the day you die about every single detail. Best to just cut off that insanity before it even starts.


Most of my students and I get along pretty well. I have a couple of disruptions every once and awhile, but I’ve been figuring out ways to solve them as I go. In class, one of the best ways is for me to just move and stand close to a students that’s misbehaving. Out of class, I yell out in Japanese and startle my kids to cut it out. It’s the power of being a foreigner. People pay attention when you do anything. It’s a little unnerving at first, but I’ve started using it to my advantage at school.


Shouting was basically the only form of discipline I could do at my old schools. Nowadays, I keep them in the afternoon for study time and cleaning time. Back then I had no power or authority to do anything, so I just did what I could with yelling and tattling to homeroom teachers about super obnoxious or dangerous behavior (fights and such) but honestly I didn’t have to do that much. Japanese students are generally more well behaved than American students.


I love my job. I love getting up and working everyday. However, there are a few issues. People who are interested in the JET program and teaching in Japan in general should know the job can be challenging. After all, even the best schools and best students won’t be perfect 100% of the time, so sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling like maybe you’re all alone with these problems, exacerbating the already kind of isolation you get by living abroad.

Some of the issues I’ve faced as an ALT in my schools include getting time to discuss future lessons with Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs).  I’m lucky with my placement. I can usually get time before class to discuss a lesson with the English teacher in charge. However, that’s not always the case, and many ALTs are not so lucky. It’s not unheard of for an ALT to get no information on a class at all before having to walk in and start teaching.

Sometimes I’ve just had to wing it because the teacher’s been too busy with his or her other responsibilities to tell me the plan. After all, the teachers have to do so much. They have to plan out lessons, grade everything, keep the grades straight in the grade book, and so on. Also, most teachers aren’t just teachers. They’re also coaches, supervisors over school projects, members the Parent Teachers Association, and so on.

For times when you can’t grab a teacher to find out the plan, just give it your best guess and plan accordingly. Make two lessons, one which is grammar point oriented and another that’s much less difficult to do, just in case the JTE says, “Oh no, that’s too hard!” and you’re not left in stunned silence with nothing to do for that class.

One of the things that will be a little frustrating at first is trying to figure out the students English level. Students will know some words but not those words, and they will know this basic bit of grammar but something very similar is too difficult, oh and this cannot be said the way you usually say it because students get confused…You get the idea.

It’ll be frustrating, but it’ll be alright. If you get a textbook and flip through it, you’ll get an idea of what the students know and don’t know. If all else fails, ask the JTE. They will probably tell you a lot at first, “Can you make it easier?” and you will probably think, “But it is easy…” but what they mean by “easier” is actually like shorter words and shorter sentences. Think less complex and more elementary school English.


Past me is right about everything here. Japanese English teachers are super busy, they rarely have time to sit down and help you plan things out. Make the worksheets simple and easy in accordance with the grammar lesson, and don’t be afraid to fail. Some classes aren’t going to go well, just do what you can with what you’re given.


Also, you will speak English too fast when you first get there. It’s just a fact. You will speak English too fast at first for students to understand. Your JTE will inform you that you have to slow down over and over again at the beginning, and you will think, “But I am talking slow.” Sorry, still too fast. Don’t worry though because after about a month you’ll develop Shatner-esque style of talking that will become your default mode for students. It’ll take a while before you can get it to feel a little less robotic, but you’ll make it work somehow.


Also, if you have an accent, it will mellow out as time goes on. My Kentucky accent was already barely there in the first place, but it’s all gone now.


In JET, there’s this saying that they use at orientation called E.S.I.D. (Every Situation is Different). Meaning every class is different and every student is different and every teacher is different. When it comes to conversing with Japanese Teachers of English and other Japanese co-workers, the task is daunting at first. At Hinode my teachers are a little more shy and nervous around me at first, but after while they’ve gotten used to me and ask me about my day. Itako 2nd embraced me wholeheartedly and it feels like they never stop talking to me. Since I’m shy around people at first and a natural introvert, I had to force myself to speak and interact, with can be terribly difficult with the language barriers.


Once again, I forgot to mention that students will be shy as hell around you at first too. It’ll take them about a couple of weeks to get used to you, and even then, there will always just be that one shy kid in class who won’t have the nerve to converse with you until the very end of a school year. Just be yourself, your teacher self anyway.


Miscommunications can and will happen. That’s just part of it, but they can be hard to work through. For me, the miscommunications I have the most pertain to class and how to teach during class. There are some fundamental cultural differences between the Japanese style and the Western style of teaching. In Japan, it’s usually lecture style, with the teacher at the front telling students what to learn and no interruptions allowed.

I tried when I first got here to ask questions when I was at the front to get a more discussion style class going, but that quickly died. Japanese students are really not trained like Western students to be active in class. It’s actually considered rude to interrupt or ask questions because that means the teacher didn’t do a “good enough” job teaching. My JTE at Itako 2nd actually sat me down to talk with me about it, and said even though the Japanese schools want a more Western classroom for English classes, it’s a going to be a while before it actually happens.


Oh yeah, this problem. I fixed that within the first year. The trick is to give out stickers every single time someone says something, even if it’s wrong. Ask the teachers if bonus points are allowed for speaking up. I did more games, allowing for more talking, and made most of them conversation style. It took like 9+ months, but eventually most students could answer questions.


At the end of the day, I do my best to say goodbye to as many students as I can before I go home. I love my job, but I will say it’s draining some days. I try to remember my trump card: “I’m tired, but I’m tired IN JAPAN!” It still manages to perk me up. Also, when my students are shouting, “Goodbye!” and “I love you!” I feel a little proud that I’ve got such great kids.

And now, I’m going to go dive under my kotatsu.

TTYL!


They were great kids, I’m still proud of them. I met one of my old students at Tokyo Station once by chance. We exchanged LINE Ids, but then I got a new phone and lost all my old contacts (iPhones suck). Before I lost her, I found out she went on to be a student at Yokohama University. She was still studying English, and she was doing well. I was so happy she remembered me when she saw me, and I remembered her. Even if I never see half my students again, every single second I spent with them I wouldn’t take back.

I also miss you, my dear kotatsu. I hope my successor is treating you well!

Alright, see you in two weeks for the next flashback!

Posted in cultural differences, flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Christmas LIES!!!

Before we go any further, I feel the need to explain that Christmas isn’t as near and dear to me as Halloween. That being said it’s definitely the second favorite, and for reasons that are quite beyond me, I always get irrational when people who aren’t from America try to tell me how Christmas in America “actually is.”

LISTEN HERE, I am American, I am a Kentuckian, so don’t try to spread these LIES on my watch you KENTUCKY FRIED LUNATICS!


MERRY KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS LIES!!! AND OTHER CULTURAL CHRISTMAS DIFFERENCES

Once upon a time, I’m innocently gallivanting through the Aeon Mall in Narita with my good friend, Ai. We’re checking out different stores, and I’m squealing like a ten year old at every little cute thing in the huge shopping area. Basically, I was squealing at everything. Japan is full of cuteness, that makes me happy.

Anyway, just as we’re swinging through the last bit of mall, I catch sight of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in a food court. I remembered that I promised someone I would look at the price of their Christmas bundle of grease, so I walked over there with Ai to find it.

You see, in Japan people can’t get turkey. Turkey is hard to find, and if you find the bird it is really expensive. Instead of turkey, Kentucky Fried Chicken is used as a replacement.

Most foreigners find this tradition a little baffling, since Christmas usually also implies all the food is cooked by a grandmother or mother. Why would you want to eat fast food for Christmas? Honestly, it’s just a cultural thing. Why do Americans blow stuff up to celebrate the birth of America? Because we’re Americans and that’s what we do.

Anyway, I found a sign that looks like this:

KFC Christmas LIES.png
Yes, I do kind of want it. 

I picked up a pamphlet and began to walk away.

But then, I discovered an atrocity.

There,  sitting on the table with all its disgusting merriness, was a Christmas plate. Did the plate say, “Merry Christmas!” No. No it didn’t. It said:

“Kentucky Christmas.”

Ai got to experience one of my rants that day. It’s been a long time since I just let one off out of blue, and I might have scared some poor Japanese people in my near vicinity.

I believe I said something along the lines of, “We don’t eat KFC for Christmas! For the thousandth time, we eat ham and turkey! HAM AND TURKEY! Not fried up  grease attached to dead poultry!”

Ai was laughing pretty hard, and she wished she had recorded it all to put up on YouTube. I’m really glad she didn’t. I do not want to be an overnight YouTube star.I do not want to go down in internet history as “The Kentucky Fried Lunatic.”


Hahaha, let’s all laugh together at past me who thinks she’ll never be on YouTube. Joke’s on you, past me!


The thing is I wouldn’t care so much if not for the unfortunate problem that some Japanese people do believe that folks in Kentucky eat KFC all the time and must eat it at Christmas (for the plates tell them so). It makes me want to beat the marketing people senseless.

I’m resigned to the fact that people will forever and always associate my state with a gross fast food chain. However, Christmas is a sacred time of family, presents, and real food. For someone to dare tarnish the reputation of my beloved commercial holiday memories throws me into an irrational fury.

As Christmas draws near, the number of people asking me questions pertaining to my Kentucky heritage and my version of Christmas has increased. There’s the common question of, “Do you eat KFC on Christmas?” I respond, “No. No I don’t. Most of the people I know eat ham and turkey.” With a hundred side items and desserts, but I never get to that part.

People usually then respond, “Oh, really?” (I’ve come to recognize this phrase as something thrown at Japanese in English class, and I know this information because I’ve been wincing every time my students have to use it in class.) I usually respond with a small sigh and say, “Yes, really. And we have fruit cake.”

“What’s a fruit cake?”

A gross concoction  that looks like food. I’ve had very few good experiences with fruit cake. However, my mom just gave me a recipe for chocolate rum fruit cake. I’m kind of excited about that one, but I’m not ever excited about the prospect of fruit cake otherwise.


Funny thing, I made two batches of that chocolate rum cake (after, of course, taste testing one batch for science purposes). I gave those to my two main junior high schools, and surprisingly they loved those cakes! I was so terribly pleased with myself.

You’ll be horrified to know that fruit cake is sold in grocery stores over here more and more. Pretty soon, the annual tradition of passing around a fruit cake until it ends up in someone’s garbage will soon be a thing in Japan, too.


Japan has a decidedly better improvement. It’s called a Christmas Cake, and it looks delicious.

christmas-cake
Yum, yum!

I want to get one, but they’re apparently in really high demand. I don’t know if I will, but I’m going to try!


As I recall, I bought one at my local liquor store. Apparently, that’s where all the single people went to celebrate Christmas, so they had mini-Christmas cakes there for the lonely types. It was freaking delicious, too, like super packed with strawberries.


The other questions pertain to what I do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I told my friends and JTEs about how Christmas Eve is usually reserved for getting together with family and friends. I have a family tradition with my Dad’s side of the family that involves invading my grandmother’s house so we can eat good food and open up presents together. Most families reserve the present opening until Christmas Day, and I open my presents from my mother and her side of the family on that day.

A couple of people have asked me if I’m going to spend Christmas with a boyfriend, to which I responded two different ways:

“Where’s this imaginary Japanese man that’s fallen madly in love with me and why haven’t I met him?”

and

“Why would I celebrate Christmas with a boyfriend?”

Apparently, Christmas time is couples’ time in Japan. Boyfriends apparently do romantic things for their sweethearts, like buy them a present or take them out somewhere nice. If they want to be really beloved by their girl, they will take her to Disney Land or Disney Sea (depending upon the age. Disney Sea has drinking.). I won’t lie, if I had a boyfriend, I would totally beg him to take me there. Do you know how cute that place is? Ridiculous I tell you!

Christmas at Disney Sea.png
Come on, you totally just went, “Awww!” 

I explained that it’s really a big family time of the year, so I would not celebrate with a boyfriend on Christmas. I would celebrate on Christmas Eve with him before my Dad’s family time, but I don’t think I could’ve done it on Christmas. Dedicating the whole day to a boyfriend would get me disowned.

I’ve also discovered that Japanese parents have it tougher than American parents when it comes to sneaking the presents. American parents just have to sneak into the living room and put the presents under the tree and fill up the stockings. Japanese parents have to put presents beside their children’s beds at night. I couldn’t do it. I would wake up my child instantly due to some klutzy error.


Japanese parents, though, don’t generally buy a lot of presents for their kids. It’s usually only one or two kind of nice toys and that’s it. See, kids generally get these money envelopes on New Years Day, so pretty soon after Christmas they’ll have more presents. So it’s not like they’re going in the room with like a whole Santa bag, mainly just one or two boxes, which does make a bit easier.

Still, ninja skills, man.


Apparently, Santa Claus is pretty much the same jolly man in red. I’ve been asked if Colonel Sanders in Kentucky dresses up for Christmas, and I had to really think about it. I couldn’t remember our KFC even having a Colonel Sanders statue. I said I think so, but I honestly don’t remember. I know for a fact that Colonel Sanders does dress up as Santa Claus in Japan. It actually looks pretty neat.

Colonel Sanders Santa.png
No thanks, Colonel Santa. 

Right now, I’m trying to avoid KFC, lest I fly off the handle again and cause an international incident. I’m sure I’ll eventually eat there (I do love the biscuits), but until the holidays are over it’s best to just stay clear.

I will say that some cultural things about Christmas are the same. It’s about being with the people you love and showing you care. Regardless of where the presents go or the thrice damned chicken, both Americans and Japanese jump through hoops to get those special gifts for their beloved people. Just as in America, parents have got it tough, and in the name of love for their children they will do anything to get that stupidly popular (insert item here).

Christmas cheer is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The Christmas music started earlier than America because there’s no Thanksgiving to hold it back, and oddly enough it’s mostly the same American choices for music. For example, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” plays all the time. I kind of like it, but I’ll be sick of it by the end of December.

There are Christmas trees, too. They’re a little smaller than the average American tree, but that’s to be expected since most Japanese homes are smaller than the average American home. I’m considering getting either a small tree or a poinsettia. I was surprised to find the poinsettias over here, but they’re apparently just as popular here as in America.

Alas, I will not be celebrating Christmas in Japan, however. I will be going back to Kentucky for Christmas, which means no KFC for me! Yay! Instead, I’ll be chowing down on ham and fudge and pie and burritos and tacos (because Mexican food is only found in all of two cities, and I live in neither of them) and more pie and cheeseburgers and…Well, you get the idea.

I’ll be back in Japan for New Years, so until then TTYL and Merry Christmas!

P.S. Here’s a link to Badger Girl and a recipe for fruit cake so you can make it for the unsuspecting person of your choosing:

http://learntocookbadgergirl.com/?p=1761


Alright, so I’ll be restarting flashback Friday, but I think I’m going to do it every other Friday instead of every week like I was doing before. See you all in two weeks then!

Posted in flashback friday, Jobs in Japan

Flashback Friday: When It’s All Mundane

As the months rolled on from summer into fall of 2011, I found myself unable to write about my life. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to, but I found that everything was becoming a new standard of “normal.” I wasn’t running off to go on adventures every weekend, I wasn’t living in an anime, I had a real life with a real job I needed to do. The days passed by with little to nothing noteworthy, so I ended up posting only two things the entire month of November.

I decided to stick with the old phrase, “Write about what you know.”


MY DAILY ROUTINE

People have asked me what I do during the day, so I’ll talk a little bit about that. It’s pretty simple. I arrive at 8:15 at my school and work until 4:00 in the afternoon. When I arrive I say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” My teachers will either say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” back or “Good morning!”I can have two to five class periods per day. During free periods, I try to work on worksheets, projects, Japanese (reading and writing), and I won’t lie sometimes I just go onto Facebook. Sometimes I eat with the students for lunch and speak in English to them. Other times, especially lately, I eat with the teachers and try out both my Japanese and English skills.


Each ALT will have a different opinion on whether or not they should or shouldn’t eat school lunches with the kids. Some people don’t get a choice and have to regardless, but for me I was given the option. Some days I could force myself to be genki and try to initiate broken conversations. Other times, I couldn’t bear the thought of forcing words out and making lunch into yet another class to teach.

The argument for them goes like so: Students need more conversation practice and more time with the foreign teacher(s). But the counter argument to that is some people would like to eat in privacy and not get stressed out over eating. I took it day by day.


My kids are great. I’ve got a couple of punks that are too cool for school, but that’s normal I think. Some kids are also really shy, but I’ll keep trying to get them to talk. They love to tell me about what they like and don’t like. The boys are hilarious. They’re not looking at my eyes, if you catch my drift, but they’re talking to me in English so it’s all good.


I felt really bad for most of my junior high school students, actually. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their English levels were perhaps American grade level forth graders, if that. It was around this time I realized that Itako was much like the decade ago version of Paducah: most of those kids would become farmers, they would drop out of high school, they’d get married, and they might never even leave Japan.

That’s not to say of course that many of them didn’t go into good high schools to eventually perform well at university (I actually met up with one or two recently in Yokohama!). At the same time, the majority were still just products of their upbringing and conservative environment. The schools are improving every year though, and I watched as our scores rose higher and higher while I was there. Yet I would also watch as the “punk” kids struggled to understand the basics of anything and wouldn’t even bother trying because they figured they knew exactly how their lives would turn out.


My Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs for short) are awesome. I love working with them. They are so accommodating with my crazy English. Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate some things, but I’m lucky to have them for JTEs. Some people have issues with their teachers and supervisors in ways that horrify me. I’m so glad my JTEs are nice, respectful, and willing to teach me.


While it’s true that my JTE’s were pretty great as people, I still couldn’t believe their English skills were so hit and miss.  Considering that most of them came from the era of Japanese education where English was only reading and writing? It was pretty good. In terms of fluency? High intermediate level on average. They could run circles around me on explaining grammar, but they’d get stumped over simple language conversation usage.

I will still remain forever grateful that most of most stayed with me for all three years. I got that stability of knowing what each of them wanted and not having to worry about brand new people every year. And yes, none of these people gave me horror stories.

Many ALT’s will have THAT ONE ASSHOLE. He/She is the JTE who didn’t bother to do anything ever, blamed the ALT if scores were low, made disparaging comments about foreigners/ALTs/racist other things, sabotages demo lessons in front of other teachers and parents, ruins perfectly good worksheets, behaves like a seudo-yankee and threatens the ALT for coming to class, the list goes on and on.

I only ever had a problem with Mr. Igime (name changed into a pun). He was with me for only six months, and he was just lazy. He’d go into class, use me as a tape recorder, and then just have the students read the books over and over again. He would attempt to bully me, but I’m one of those people who can dish it right back. He learned pretty quickly that I’m not his slave and I’m not going to call him senpai or whatever. The only time he caught me off guard was when he complained in front of the students in Japanese how it wasn’t fair I was making “so much more money” than him. Huge dick move, but jokes on him because I went straight to the Principal after class and filed a complaint. He didn’t come back the following year.


The only downside, I’ll be honest, is the textbooks. The textbooks are awful. Whenever my fellow JET Setters and I get together at a meeting, this topic will invariably come up. Immediately, everybody has something to say in terms of what it does wrong. It ranges from everything to bad grammar, misspellings, archaic language, and then (my biggest issue) the huge lack of English culture in the book.

new-horizon.jpg

I could cite the many pages throughout the New Horizon and Sunshine texts that use incorrect examples of grammar and what have you, but that would take up too much time and effort. Instead, I’ll just give a couple of examples and move on.

“My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.”

First off, it should be Kinkaku Temple, not Kinkaku-ji. Also, favorite what? Your favorite place? Your favorite sight?

“Where shall we meet?”and “Pardon?”

Shall? Really? The last time I used “shall” was a sarcastic response to my mother when she asked me, “Are you going to clean your room?” And I responded in my most obnoxiously polite voice, “Yes, mother, I shall.” Nobody uses shall. It’s polite, but it’s ridiculously polite. And the last person I hear use the word, “Pardon?” was an old lady. Nobody, that I know of, uses the word pardon in everyday language. Instead, I always hear, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Huh?” or “Wha?” or “What?” and on occasion “Darlin’, I didn’ah understand uh word ya jus said.” I miss Kentucky accents. Anyway, they’re teaching the kids these words and I have to stifle the urge to giggle every time.

“I got a letter from Canada. But I can’t read it.”

GAHHHHH! WHAT?! Every single American, British, and Australian will tell you that when writing sentences, you do not put conjugation at the beginning of a sentence if you can help it. The textbook could just as easy say, “I got a letter from Canada, but I can’t read it.” They have other sentences like that in the book. Why the wrong version?! It’s so confusing and inconsistent. Sometimes, I will correct a sentence and a JTE might say, “Oh, but that’s in the textbook!” I clench my fists while I smile and say, “Well, I’m afraid the textbook is wrong. I will let it count, but it’s not correct.” It makes me want to scream just a little bit.

Alright, so you get the idea. Now, it may seem nit picky with these examples, but they’re all over the textbooks. It would be a different story if there were only a few problems, but it doesn’t stop at just a sentence here or there.


Every single ALT I know agrees that the MEXT textbooks are garbage, but they’re government issued garbage so we have to just use them anyway. Three years down the road when I realized that I knew those textbooks inside and out, and I asked myself, “Can I really teach these same lessons for one more year?” I realized the answer was an emphatic NO, and decided it was time to go.

However, this is part of the reason why ALT’s exist. We come into the classroom with Native English (or equivalent) under our belt so that we can point out these mistakes and then teach the students the better way to do it. I spent a lot of classes explaining things like, “Well, even though the textbook says this is natural, we actually say _____ more often.” or “Sometimes it’s okay to do this when you’re writing, but when you’re speaking please be careful not to say it like that.” and visa versa.


I might have been able to let sleeping dogs lie if not for the fact that the textbook teaches little to nothing about foreign culture.

Very briefly at one point the textbook students visit Canada, but then they go back to Japan four pages or so later. So often, the textbooks talk about things in Japan, things the students already know. To me, the implied message is, “Hey, kids! English is awesome for vacations and for a homestay, but really you don’t need to know a single thing about a culture other than your own!” Way to teach a language in a vacuum, MEXT.


Here is another reason ALT’s are necessary, we have the cultural background and understanding of our respective countries that we can bring into the classroom. I talked about Kentucky’s cultural traditions around the holidays-the top three being Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In addition to that I would make English Boards, posters that would get placed on a wall that discussed other countries traditions.

While I still think the textbooks could try and teach a little more about other places, there is something to be said for taking the reigns and proving your worth as vital part of the school. If you notice something that you think is lacking, do something about it.


There is little to no hope for change in the system. The textbooks stay the same because of the standardized tests, and the standardized tests stay the same because of the textbooks. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get through these moments by telling myself that the activities will make up for the loss. However, it’s hard to build up from a poor foundation. It’s very easy for the students to get confused with one little change in the script. For example, I was doing a “Where is…?” assignment. When I asked the students, “Where is your pen?” they all just sat and stared at me in confusion. Eventually they figured it out, but the fact is they couldn’t grasp that “Where is…?” applied not just to, “Where is the store?” but also other things and places. The textbooks make it seem like the scripts are just that, scripts.


Because there is little to no hope for change in the system, it’s really important for teachers to take the initiative to fight for proper English and cultural exchange. Of course, you’ve always got to pick and choose your battles, but make an effort to show that there’s more than just some lines in a book or something to memorize for a test.

Then, what past me doesn’t know yet is that there are ways to make the scripts more memorable and flexible, such as layering. Whenever you move forward, try to bring a little bit back from the previous lesson and layer it on top of new material. Keep it fresh in the students’ minds. Also, bringing in pop culture can always help make it more memorable while being fun at the same time.


For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough when it comes to activities that I haven’t had to work from nothing at all. Lauren left me a huge amount of worksheets and activity books so that I could make my lessons without much hassle. Also, I use a website called Englipedia if I need help with a grammar point activity or if I need something right before class. I love using Englipedia because it’s got the lessons organized by textbook and even by each section. For me it’s one of the most convenient resources online for ALTs.

Usually, I spend at least one free hour planning out the lessons for the next day or next couple of days, depending on what the JTE wants. Sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of them to find out what exactly they want from me, so I leave notes on their desks or a Lesson Plan Form that I fill out for them to look over and return to me. I try to catch them to talk face to face as often as possible, but sometimes they’re just too busy.


I still can’t recommend Englipedia enough as an ALT site. It’s got everything you need to make your lessons great. That being said, sometimes my JTE’s would get so picky about they wanted and I’ve have to redo a worksheet five to ten times to make it look just so or include this vocab word, or something. After all that, I sometimes didn’t even get to use the activities because of some scheduling thing or another! So frustrating, but that’s a part of the job.


Everyday when I leave, I say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” and the teachers in the staff room will either say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” in return or “See you!” The English makes me smile every single time.


I think in my next Japanese Conversation Tip post I’m going to talk about all the different goodbyes that are possible in a Japanese workplace environment versus friends and such. When I first got there it was a bit confusing as to which one I was supposed to use, but nowadays I’m pretty confident on which I should and shouldn’t so I’ll pass that knowledge along.

The rest of the post is talking about my pet spider, which I’d actually like to save for next Friday. I’m going to take that opportunity to educate everyone on all the creepy crawlies that live in the inaka parts of Japan. You’d be surprised what you can find! Until then everyone, sayonara and see you later.

Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Halloween and Homesickness

I did a vlog about dealing with homesickness , and I honestly get so many questions about it that it’s probably in the “Top 5 Questions” I get since moving to Japan (Hmm, next post idea maybe? We’ll see!). I remember that I actually went back to this post two times to try and update it with pictures and more details, because I left out a few adventures that I did in August and September.

I wanted to also soften how homesick I was, because like I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t really want to worry my people back home in America.I deleted and re-wrote sections, so this post lacks smoothness and flow that I try my best nowadays to maintain.

Then again, I was trying to jam pack a lot of stuff into one post, which as any experienced blogger will tell you is a bad idea. Stick with one topic, one adventure, don’t try to cram. It’ll just come out a huge mess! Still, let’s see what past me was up to back around Halloween time five years ago.


THE LAND WITHOUT HALLOWEEN: GETTING HOMESICK

Although the title isn’t entirely accurate, the love that America holds for Halloween and the love that Japan has for the holiday just isn’t the same. Back in America, I would’ve seen people’s front lawns and porches decorated to the nines with skeletons, witches, bats, maybe a few fake rodents, and the occasional scarecrow. Here, nothing. Nada. For one thing, it’s rare for me to see someone with a lawn period, and even more rare to see someone put up decorations.

It sucks, because I’m coming down from my euphoric state and slipping downwards into homesickness. I’m dying for familiar things, and it doesn’t help that Halloween is my favorite holiday. No contest. Most people usually take issue with Christmas and feel utterly lonesome about missing their families. I intend to hop on a plane and get back to the states for Christmas. I can’t exactly do that for Halloween, and I don’t want to do it. I just got here!


Repeat after me: There is no set formula for living abroad! Some people may go through the stages of adaptation in different ways.

What are the Stages of Adaptation you ask?

  1. Preparation– You’re packing and getting ready for the big move to another country. Often this is the stage where people are feeling the nervousness and excitement the most.
  2. Honeymoon/Euphoria Stage– You have arrived! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! You will never be unimpressed by anything that’s happening around you ever!
  3. Culture Shock (Fatigue) / Homesickness– You are worn out from everything being so DIFFERENT, and you just want FAMILIAR things but you can’t.
  4. Adjustments/ Compromises– You’re getting the hang of things, you’re starting to adopt what you like from the new culture and what is just too big a part of your cultural identity to change.
  5. Isolation (Mentality)– You’re feeling like you’re the only you that’s ever existed and you’re so alone; Note that many people skip this step and I usually don’t hear many people complain about it, but here it is.
  6. Acceptance/ Integration– You’ve decided how you want to live your life abroad. Some of this culture, some of your own, and discovering your new identity as well as learning to love it.

Nobody goes through all of these in a set timetable, but at the JET Conferences they’ll give you an estimated time when you’ll go through “each phase.” Here’s the thing though, you might not go through these in phases, you might skip these steps, go back and experience them again, nothing about ex-pat life is one size fits all.

Don’t beat yourself up if you start feeling down! I was always hard on myself for feeling homesick when “I shouldn’t,” which is silly since that’s not how emotions work. Just take care of yourself!

Also, what I ended up doing was going to Tokyo Disney Land like a week after this post to do Disney Halloween!

Halloween Tokyo Disney 2.jpg

My friend Emily called me up out of the blue and basically asked me if I’d like to go. Long story short, that’s become my new annual Halloween tradition. I love dressing up and going there every year! It’s the whole month of October, and I definitely think that if you love Halloween like I do this is one the better places to celebrate, although lately Ageha has had some pretty epic Halloween events too.

Halloween Tokyo Disney.jpg

Past me of course didn’t know this was going to happen, so she decided to switch her tone from sad to happy without much of a transition.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun. I went off to Gunma for a vacation in August. That was awesome! I went canyoning and rafting with a bunch of other ALTs and we had a good ol’ time. I nearly died walking up the mountain, but going down by basically going down the best slip and slide ride ever made was well worth the effort (and the asthma attack).

First Year Gunma Trip 1.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hamashima (Inoue)

I highly recommend going to Gunma for canyoning and rafting in the summer. We went on a three day weekend so that even the desk warming high school teachers could come. On our first day, we went rafting down the river, and in the picture above you can see us holding the paddles. We took this right after and we were soaked! The hotel we stayed at had the buses to take you there, the equipment, everything.

First Year Gunma Trip 1 Raft.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

The next day we went up the damn mountain, and what I failed to mention in this post is that our guides were trying to kill us. They were hopping up from rock to rock like bunnies while the rest of us were huffing and puffing trying to keep up. And yes, for the first time in years, I had a stress induced asthma attack. I was so embarrassed, but the whole group assured me that I wasn’t the weakest link (one girl told me later she wanted to throw up).

First Year Gunma Trip 2.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

Still, the near death was worth it, because wow was going down the mountain a ton of fun. We slid between the crevices of rocks and jumped into deep pools. The whole thing was gorgeous! In one part, a natural slide down the rocks took us through different holes on the way down to a big pool. It was exhilarating and terrifying! I thought I’d surely hit my head or something, but nope. Just landed in the pool.

First Year Gunma Trip 2 canyoning.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

Sidenote: Midori, the photographer and friend on the trip, was the only one of us who was smart enough to bring with her a waterproof camera. She ended up taking all of the pictures. My advice is to get a waterproof case or something beforehand so you don’t end up missing out on capturing these amazing memories.


And in the evening we had a BBQ at the hotel.

BBQ picture Gunma Trip 2.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

For reasons that are quite beyond me, I failed to put in an actual picture of the BBQ in the original post so I’m changing to this picture. There were about 5 plates of meat we consumed, but there was only ONE GRILL, but the food came with our accommodations so I guess I couldn’t complain. Besides, the meat was juicy and delicious, so worth the wait.


I also went over to Tsukuba for a festival and got to see a giant, robot bug.

Tsukuba bug bot.jpg

By the way, the fact that Japan makes giant robots just for fun? Yeah, don’t %$#@ with Japan. Just. Don’t.


Tsukuba is a huge science and engineering city. Every year they have this annual science fair like festival showing off things like the bug and other robotic tech. It’s pretty cool!


Anyway, I also hit up the Space Museum and the Geological Museum while I was up there.

Tsukuba Space Shuttle.jpg

Tsukuba Space Museum

Next time, I’m going to take the park tours and go up Mt. Tsukuba (Tsukuba-san!) I also go up to Mito every other weekend. Sometimes it’s for business trips, and sometimes it’s for fun.


See what I mean by pick a topic and stay on topic? I was trying so hard to cover everything that I didn’t really give all these events the proper time they deserved to really discuss them at length.

Tsukuba’s Space Museum is a great tour that goes on a detailed timeline about Japan’s astronauts and the Japanese space aviation industry. If you’ve got kids who love space, take them here if at all possible. They will love it. If you love scientific things in general, the festival is full of cool things to check out.


A couple of weeks ago I did another homestay. I say another because I did two last year. So, this makes my third host family in Japan. I like them a lot! The mom and dad were so nice, and tried their best to speak English. The daughter is so cute! She spoke the most English, so she and I talked the most. I plan to go back up to Mito soon and visit them again. I’m bringing gifts because it’s my host sister’s birthday soon!

We went together to Hitachi Seaside Park for the flowers, but we kind of went during the off season so my pictures didn’t turn out as vibrant as the ones in the tourist brochures.

Hitachi Seaside Park 1.jpg

Still pretty neat though!

Hitachi Seaside Park 2

No, I don’t care how “cute” and “romantic” anime portrays these death wheels. Just no!

Hitachi Seaside Park 3.jpg

The bell people rang is for peace and serenity. 


Oh the Mito host family, uh…The parents were nice, but super awkward. The daughter was,well, she was a doll otaku. She collected dolls, spoke through them, and I just…I didn’t know how to describe that whole experience, so I chose to focus on the park. Sometimes that can happen with host families, and even though I tell everyone to try them out, I always forewarn that sometimes you might not mesh with the people. That’s okay, don’t worry, the experience can still be…noteworthy.


Alright, so I’m having fun and keeping myself busy (believe me), but I’m still feeling down. The thing is I think all the little things just keep piling up. It’s a chore to go shopping sometimes. I have to look up what sometimes looks like in Japanese before I buy it, and even then, sometimes the font is just so hard to read. I feel illiterate, and I suppose I am in a way. I can’t read so much of what’s around me. It’s frustrating and disheartening. Usually I can figure it out and move on, but sometimes I just have to sigh and give up. I hate giving up, but bashing my head against the language barrier won’t do me any good either.

That’s another thing. The barrier can sometimes be more of a Great Wall of Misunderstanding. Luckily, my Japanese English teachers and I can get our messages across, but then I’ll have the wonderful experience of flinging words at this invisible force field that’s suddenly flung between us by some bored deity with too much time on his or her hands. I’ll say something, and the teacher will just look at me like I’ve suddenly began dancing instead of talking. I go through different, simpler ways of saying what I said before, but somehow that only makes it worse. Add about ten minutes later, my very large vocabulary suddenly seems useless, a little bit of hair pulling later, and then the light bulb finally goes off. Or, it can happen the opposite way, wherein the teacher’s trying to convey something and I just don’t get it. When the light bulb goes off for me, I usually feel like an idiot for not getting it the first time.


The language barrier wasn’t actually the problem, but that’s what I was clinging to as the excuse for how I was feeling so frustrated. I was just exhausted with living in a completely different environment with completely different people. I went from being the senior in university that knew everyone and everything around me to being the youngest teacher in the school who didn’t know anyone or anything. It’s a lot to try and get used to, and it can take a toll.


I love my teachers, though. They’ve been good to me, and they’ve taken care of me whenever I’ve needed help. I’m very grateful to them. I’m good friends with some of them, and I hope that I can eventually communicate without being so ridiculously impaired by ignorance.

Well, this post is turning out a little more angsty than I’d like. The thing is, as much as I complain, I get to say I’m homesick…IN JAPAN! It’s the trump card. I use it for everything. For example, when I get lost, I just remind myself that I’m lost IN JAPAN! And it makes everything seem a little better. I still love this country, even if it’s lacking in the Halloween spirit to me, that’s because it’s just not a part of the culture. It’s a part of mine, and I intend to spread it’s gruesome awesome all over my classrooms. Mwahahahaha!!!

Okay, I’m determined to make it happen.

That’s my life right now. I’ll try to be better about posting, but as I mentioned before, I’m awful at journals and blogs. I’ll try my best to remember.

TTYL!


Actually, Halloween is now gaining more and more traction in Japan. People are doing more Halloween parties and such, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out as much.

So yeah, if you ever feel like starting up a blog, try to pick a topic and write about only that topic. Don’t think that you need to talk about everything all at once. Your audience will thank you for it.

See you next week on Friday for another flashback!

Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Why I Came to Japan

From August through September of 2011, I got swelled under the newness of everything. I started working at Itako Second Junior High School at the beginning of September, mainly doing introductions over and over again for about two weeks. It should’ve been only one week, but they were having a delayed Sports Festival Day that first weekend. Due to the big March earthquake, they couldn’t do the usual annual one in May.

And so for over a month I didn’t post on my blog, even though a lot of things happend in that interval. Most JET Program partipants come into Japan straight out of college or university or graduate school, so this job would be the first 9-5 gig they’d ever had. I was one such person, although I worked pretty hard at my part time job as a pizza delivery driver during summer and winter vacations all throughout my four year undergrad at Transylvania University (yes, really, and it’s my school’s name I’m not making that up). Still, I hadn’t really done a “proper” job before, and I had a lot to learn.

I didn’t want to post negative things, too, when I first started off. I felt like sharing those experiences would make my family and friends worry, and they were my only audience at that time. I was exhausted from the heat, because my school refused to use air conditioning, only opening the windows and blowing hot air uselessly around with fans. All the inaka (rural) Japanese schools do this, the reasons varying between something about keeping global warming at bay to it toughens kids up by exposing them to the heat. Regardless, I sweated through my shirts most days and went home to a nice shower and blasting the air con in my apartment.

There was also a steep learning curve that I had to get up and over in a very short amount of time. The JET Conferences and other preperation I did ended up getting me about 5% ready for teaching a full 40 student classroom. After my introductions, I was told to start making plans, get activities ready, start thinking about how to train for conversation competitions, and etc. Luckily, half of my first month ended up with me only doing a few bits of lesson one thanks to the Sports Festival.

But then I got switched to Hinode JHS and I felt like the carpet got ripped out from under me. Just as I got into a routine, I had to learn a whole new one! I got my schedule, and ended up doing all of those introductions all over again. Then, I moved into the lesson I just did, but the activities needed to be longer so I scraped them completely and changed to something else. Basically, I was frazzled, stressed, but doing strangely okay.

The postives outweighed the negatives by a mile. I put in a journal from that time, “No matter what, even if I’m having a bad day, I just remind myself I’m having a bad day IN JAPAN, and it turns everything around.” Every single day was a challenge, and thus I was not bored or somehow felt like I should’ve been anywhere else. I was exactly where I wanted to be as well as doing what I wanted to do. I felt really fulfilled getting to know my students, learning Japanese bit by bit at classes on Tuesdays, and just overall making a place for myself.

Throughout those two months, I kept getting asked one question over and over again. “Why did you come to Japan?” I got the question from co-workers, other JET members, new friends, random people, it was just a constant thing. I recognized that might be a fun topic to talk about, one that wouldn’t devolve into me “complaining” (I didn’t recognize at the time all my experiences were perfectly valid reactions to a new environment and was terribly hard on myself).

I titled the post simply:

THE REASON WHY

I get asked this question so many times! “Why did you come to Japan? Did you know about the earthquake and the radiation? Weren’t you afraid?”

Here are the answers to such questions and more!

To answer the first question, I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was eleven years old. Initially, my interest started by reading manga. My school’s social studies textbook really only discussed Japan when it came to World War II and that’s it. And so, I started reading about Japan’s history and culture on my own at the public library.  I became fascinated by a world that seemed so different from mine. It became my dream to go and learn about Japan first hand.


I remember as I wrote this post that I kept deleting things over and over again, trying to stay concise and to the point, but I feel like reading it now I left out so much of the backstory. First off, I’m going to embaress myself a bit and admit that my love for Japan started with Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha” and I’ll be even more honest with the admission I fell head over heels for the fictional Sesshomaru. Without that story, without that character, I never would’ve gone to my public library to grab books about Japan, get more manga, watch more anime, try to learn Japanese via Berlitz tapes (and FAIL), and in the end fall in love with the idea of Japan.

What I also didn’t mention was that although I loved Japan, I never really believed I’d go there. I wasn’t optimistic as a kid. I thought I’d be stuck forever where I was, in Paducah, maybe get married and have kids of my own. I didn’t want that, but that’s what everyone seemed to assume I’d do someday (except for my mother, she always believed that I’d do more). So by dream I was understating, it seemed like a PIPE dream.


In 2010, I studied abroad in Japan because a friend told me about the JET Program. She recommended that I study abroad first to see if I would like Japan as it really was and not as I imagined it to be. She warned me that I would be disillusioned and most likely would find that the country’s differences would be irreconcilable with my own Western ideology.

When I studied abroad, I fell in love with Japan all over again. I try to explain why, but it’s so difficult for me. I had a hard time speaking in Japanese (and still do) but I liked the sound of it. I also discovered things about my own language and culture that unless I studied Japanese I would’ve never even thought about.

For example, I realized that English is a fast paced language. I never really noticed it’s made for quick conversation until I spoke in Japanese. For Japanese, the conversations are meant to take their time. Words are, usually, really crisp and clear and people take their time to get the message across with the best clarity possible. I hated it sometimes because I just wanted to know where the damn restroom was and the person I asked would take forever to tell me where to go! But when I was at home with my host family, I loved it.


I would come to discover that I’d been around Japanese people who were used to being around foreigners, and that’s why everything I heard was “crisp and clear.” Ibaraki-ben (accent) is a whole other kettle of fish. It’s often garbled and sounds like someone is talking under water and/or drunk.

I still stand by English is a fast paced language, we Westerners are efficient and direct. Easterens are generally indirect in expressions and language, which still sometimes drives me crazy when I just need a yes or no. You think, “Oh how difficult than it be?” Let me explain something that happened the other day. I asked a co-worker (Japanese) if I needed to give him a copy of something or another. He said THIS, “Well, if you want to give it to me, that would be great, but I don’t really need it. It would be good to have it, though, but if it’s too much trouble I can be ok.” IT WAS A YES OR NO QUESTION DUDE! I just made the damn copy in triplicate and put it on his desk.


I also just got to see the religious aspects of Japan first hand. I took a Buddhism class before I went over there. I liked the ideas of Buddhism and Shinto. I really liked how Japan simply takes in both religions and makes them into one. When I performed a prayer in front of a Shinto shrine, I felt so peaceful. The open sky made me feel more connected with God than any church ever did. Hearing the wind blow amongst the trees, I could sigh and just release all of my burdens. It was a wonderful experience for me.


A bit dramatic in the execution, younger me, but not inaccurate. I love Shinto Shrines so much. They really do feel like more spiritual places that churches for me, but then again I got a bit traumatized by getting bullied at the old Lone Oak Southern Baptist Church. I was informed by both other kids and adults that my parents were going to hell for getting a divorce. I could deal with the other kids, I could get mean if I needed to, but the adults? I didn’t know what to do, because I thought it’d be rude to talk back to them. With Shinto Shrines, all I have to do is toss some money, ring a bell, and pray. No need for congregation, brimstone and hellfire, just peace.


I also liked the circular idea of time. Honestly, I never liked linear time. It made little sense to me when I knew that time worked in cycles. Eastern philosophy speaks to me. It basically just tells me things I believed in already but my Western world didn’t like. It was comforting. People would tell me that I was odd for thinking that way. I was glad to find a place that understood me in some small way.


I was that weird kid in class, what can I say. Seriously though, circular time makes more sense to me also when you think that the world is circular, the orbits are circular, we’re all just going around and around and around. There are no lines! It’s all circles! Cyclical time thinking was always how I thought and continue to think.


I visited schools, too. An elementary school filled with adorable children made me really want to teach. I felt that just by being there I was influencing the students. Whether for good or ill, I can’t say, but I’m hoping for good! I talked with teachers who already worked in Japan, and they were adamant about really thinking it through. They warned me that although the one class seemed wonderful, that the challenges of living abroad and working abroad can be too much for some people.

I did feel some doubts, I won’t lie. I wondered if I was cut out for completely leaving America and everything familiar to come back. By this point, I was aware that Japan had some, in my eyes, negative aspects. For example, Japanese people are friendly, even when they hated your freaking guts. I grew up in the South, so I’m used to people talking behind my back. However, if you make someone mad, you might never know. Imagine an invisible bomb getting passed around and you can’t even guess when and where it will blow up. It’s that kind of fear and frustration. I was told that “someone” (my teacher wouldn’t say who) didn’t like how I was holding my chopsticks at a meal and thought I was being rude on purpose.

I will never know who that person was, and I will never know what I did in the first place to offend. Never. That’s just one example. There are other cultural differences that I couldn’t quite reconcile with the way I knew the world to work, so I was worried.


I will have another very honest moment here: I have completely given up caring about whether someone is talking behind my back or not. If someone is mad at me, too bad, I’m not changing anything about what I’m doing until a higher up gets involved. I’ve been teaching for five years now, and I’ve been teaching at my current school for over a year. If someone doesn’t like what I’m doing, too bad, this is how I’m running my ship. Either get with it or GTFO, I’m not people pleasing anybody at work anymore.

I used to stress myself out something fierce the first year I was here because I kept thinking I must be doing everything wrong because I’d never done any of it before. However, as time went on and I gained more experience, I realized that for a successful lesson in a classroom it’s really all about consistency, control, and active learning. With those three elements, everything else is kind of surperfluous.


But then I visited Hiroshima. If you ever get the chance to visit the memorial, I highly recommend it. They’ve got English translations for everything. If you’re studying Japanese, like most of my study abroad group was, it’s a great opportunity to practice reading and listening skills. My heart broke from reading all the stories. I felt awful being an American at the sight of where my forefathers killed so many people. I’m well aware that Japan bombed Japan first, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are tragedies that must be prevented from happening again.

After that visit, I decided for sure that I wanted to come back and teach English. I wanted to be a part of an international community, a community I was already a part of but never bothered to participate. I wanted to actively engage in helping my country and Japan understand each other. It’s my hope that through understanding we lose fear of the unknown, and with that we can move one step closer to acceptance. Not tolerance, but full on acceptance of others different from us.

In the end, we’re all human.


I was quite proud this year when President Obama came to Hiroshima to talk about the same topic, of preventing another huge cataclysm of war like the A-bomb. I still remind myself some days when I think that I’m not doing so well, that it’s alright. Just by sharing stories about Japan, and in turn sharing stories about America to my students, there is cultural exchange. My students see me and they see a person, I see them and see…hellions, but also future adults that will one day be at the helm of Japan’s path towards the future. I want to help steer them in the right direction if I can.


Answering the second question, when the March 11th earthquake happened I wanted to go back. I felt that Japan was like a friend that had been hurt. I don’t abandon my friends when they need my help. I go and see what I can do to make them feel better. And so, I wanted to come back to Japan and help in any way I could. It was torture waiting to hear from JET. I was trying to think of ways to go back. I had applications for Fulbright and Red Cross at the ready if I didn’t get the job.

Luckily, I did get the ALT position. I felt so relieved that I was going back. My mom wasn’t worried. She saw where my city was on the map and basically said, “Oh, yeah, you’re fine.” My family’s been pretty supportive of the whole thing. I noticed that the radiation levels around my city were minimal, and even then, I would’ve gone had the nuclear incident spawned a massive Godzilla outbreak.

I wanted to help, no matter what I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be an ally in just name only. I want to be there for the country that stole my heart so long ago in good times and bad. I don’t want to just show up when it’s convenient. I want to be there for all of it. I want to be here when the earthquakes happen (and they do, almost every day or every other day, it’s no big deal). I want to be here when the typhoons hit (although the recent combination of typhoon and earthquake was terrifying, I wont lie). I want to be there when its boring, interesting, exciting, awful, miserable, great, amazing, just okay, and all the rest. I want to be there for Japan.


I really was torn up about March 11th. I was frantically contacting people I knew living abroad there, emailing my host families to make sure they were fine, and watching the news with horror as each development happened. I cried myself to sleep a few times because I just felt so useless and helpless.

Now that I’m here, I discovered that Japan can do just fine without me. The country has healed pretty well, most construction being done is more for the Olympics than for fixing earthquake damage, and people aren’t ducking under desks with every shake. We all just sit around and wait with annoyed sighs.

At the same time, I do still want to be here, just to help a bit. Here and there throughout the year, Fukushima has programs and charity drives to help the hardest hit regions to get some more books, school supplies, clothes, and such. I participate in a few, and I do the same for Kumamoto as it’s still having some problems.


Now, I am living the dream! I want to continue to be a friend to Japan and to the people of Japan. I want to help those who want to understand my culture, and I want to learn about Japanese culture very much. Although I am a teacher, I still want to learn. I take any opportunity I can to have a cultural exchange, even though the language issues still pop up.

I am afraid sometimes, but not of radiation or earthquakes. I’m afraid that I’ll mess up and get sent back home. I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and it had all just been some weird dream. Losing this job would be my worst nightmare. I was homesick for a moment, but I don’t want to go back. Not really, not when there’s still so much to do. I try not to let the fear control me, because I want to be strong.

TTYL!


And there it is again, what I thought would be my sign off phrase, TTYL. How silly! I thought I’d get fired? Jeeze, I never did anything ever against the rules and regulations, and I wasn’t a bad teacher just an inexperienced one.

Anyways, so this post was a bit long winded, sorry. I didn’t realize going into it that it’d end up being so long. See you next Friday for another Flashback, and have a great weekend!

 

Posted in flashback friday, Uncategorized

Flashback Friday: First Post In Japan!

When I first got to Japan, it took me over a month to actually get the courage to write a blog. Most people think it’s easy to just throw words out there and see what happens, but I was scaredWhat if nobody likes it?! What if I suck at this? Shoud I even bother?

But with the encouragement of my family and friends, I did in fact put it out there for the world to see. Honestly, it didn’t really go into a lot of details, because I was so scared of hurting someone’s feelings or making someone angry if I mentioned something about them in the post. Now that I know these people, I don’t think they’d be too upset about me telling a few additional things here.


WELCOME TO JAPAN!

Ibaraki Prefecture Group A.jpg
Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

I’ve heard it so many times and it never gets old. I’m still so excited to be here! Everyone in my city is so nice and helpful. I’m glad I ended up in a place that’s more rural than urban. I’m not a fan of big cities. I like looking out onto the rice fields and just feeling so relaxed. I couldn’t have ended up at a better place for me.


Oh boy, Itako-shi was a great city, don’t get me wrong but past me couldn’t have known that it would also begin to feel really isolated after about the fifth month mark. I didn’t really have a lot of people around me who I just, ya know, really clicked with. The few people I did lived far away, so I’d have to either go up to Mito to see them or Tsukuba or something. It wasn’t as perfect as I made it out to be, but I suppose I just didn’t really know anything else to compare it to.

To just add on a few things I failed to mention the first time around, Group A was a fantastic group. I’m still in contact with most of these people, even though many of them left Japan and returned to their homelands. We had a mixed bag of a photography major, a chemistry major (who I think was still getting her masters at that time?), philosophy, and so on. Two of my friends, I’ll call them J and C, still live in Japan and I meet up with them sometimes. You can really make long lasting and strong connections with your group, and then it got even better with the following groups B & C. Get to know them at the JET training conference, because you’ll be seeing them a lot and also because you’ll want to make an ex-pat social life circle starting from there.

There’s this rumor that circulates around about the JET Programme that you need Japanese to get a leg up on the competition, but that’s just not true. I hold these guys and gals don’t get angry with me for saying so, but only three people in that first picture could speak Japanese (at first, I mean). Later on we would all learn and study Japanese in Japan.


Lauren Parker
From left to right: Ikeda-san, me, and Lauren

And I couldn’t have lucked out with a better predecessor. Lauren Parker lived in Itako for three years before I came along, and she got the apartment all prepared for me. She even put up pictures and things so the walls didn’t seem so bare. Since she and the Board of Education furnished the apartment, I didn’t have to buy anything when I arrived. Many of the other ALTs did, poor things, but I didn’t!


Lauren was an amazing pred. She set up so much for me, took me to a bunch of social gatherings so I’d make connections, she introduced me to my schools. Yet, that whole experience was overwhelming. I was getting shuttled here, then there, getting this contract signed, and then having to go meet a whole bunch of new people every night, and I ended up having a huge migraine one day, and the night the picture below was taken I balled my eyes out in a mini-breakdown on the car ride home. It wasn’t her fault, not at all, just be aware that going abroad just on its own can be stressful and then all the prep work to live there will compound that stress. I survived, and looking back there really isn’t much I’d change, because all of that was imporant to do.

Also, I was really lucky with my apartment set-up. The city paid for the rent, so I just paid utilities. Many JETs got subsidized housing, but not completely paid for kind of places. It was a pretty spacious 2DK with a full kitchen, which meant having people over for dinner and spending the night was no big deal.

However, the place was old, as in it needed new tatami, it needed new work done on the walls, someone should’ve come in to insulate the windows better, it was just kind of always grungy no matter how much I cleaned and cleaned it. So I, honestly, gave up one year into it and started putting carpets over the floor and covered the walls with pictures and posters to just make it look less so.


 

Cultural Festival with Lauren
I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She’s between Lauren and me. 

The teachers I’ll be working with at Hinode and Itako 2nd Junior High School seem pretty cool. They’ve asked me to help out with activities during the summer, and I’m glad. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t help out. I find that I spend my free time just kind of being lonesome in my apartment, and that can’t be healthy. I’ve tried to be more outgoing after school, but it’s hard. I don’t know who to call, when it’s okay to call, or what the proper etiquette is over here. I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.


Just for future reference to future JET and incoming to Japan people, if you get a number and someone tells you to call them “anytime,” they generally mean it. Go ahead and call, the worst thing that can happen is they’ll say no. Making new friends in a new environment is important, and just getting to know the area is good too. If you’re finding yourself “lonesome,” then go take a walk. Get familiar with your surroundings. Be proactive when you’re abroad!


Settling in has been pretty easy, all things considered. My shipped box came in earlier than I thought it would with everything intact. The apartment’s really starting to feel more like home. I want to add more things, like more bookshelves, but I have to wait and get a car first. I need a car for where I live. It’s just too spread out for me to bike everywhere. I enjoy biking, but the convenience of a car is nice, not to mention safer than biking on these broken roads.

The area specifically where I live in Hinode got hit hard by the earthquake. Hinode Junior High School, one of the two junior high schools where I will work for Monday through Friday, actually had the ground around it drop a few feet. The roads used to be smooth and flat, but now they’re bumpy and out of alignment. When I bike I have to be careful of the cracks and crevices, and also spiders. There are lots of spiders here and they are not afraid of putting their webs right a human face distance from the ground, unfortunately.


My shipped box was basically a bunch of shoes and jeans that I’m ever so glad arrived when it did, because dear Jesus my shoe size doesn’t exist here. I’m a female with 10 and a half wide feet. Yeah, it’s a nightmare shopping for shoes in America, and hell in Japan with all the woman having the daintiest tiny feet!!!

Also, poor younger me, those jeans weren’t going to fit in only six months. I lost A LOT of weight shortly after those pictures were taken, and it wasn’t until I went back home in December that I got clothes that fit me again. This is a fairly common thing for ex-pats that come to Japan, they generally loose about 5 pounds in one year, but I lost about 9 in six months. I had to keep wearing them regardless because the clothing stores here aren’t kind to busty bodies.

I really confused as to why I didn’t put up a picture of the earthquake damage. I mean, I had pictures but I guess I must’ve just forgot to put them in, so here:

530225_10150689509463753_792682358_n

I also neglected to mention that when I first moved in, there was still a water advisory for the area to not drink the tap water. I would have to either buy water from a convenience store down the street or bike all the way to grocery store and back for free water. I asked my teachers if it was safe if I just boiled the tap water, but they shook their heads and told me no. For some reason, showering in it was fine? I don’t know. Long story short, I ended up biking at least once a week (if not two or three) which is probably the main reason I lost weight.

By the way, I ended up having a pet spider named Bob, but he’s in another post.


I’ve had communication issues. I came over with only the basic Japanese skills, enough to basically be an annoying tourist. When it comes to reading and writing, I know Hiragana and Katakana. It’s useful, but Kanji exists. Kanji and I are not friends. I want to learn all the characters so bad, but I can’t seem to keep anything in my head since I came over. I think I might just be out of practice, but it’s also probably got something to do with stress. I’m hoping that when I get more of a routine down things will start to stick.

Still, I think the language barrier is aptly named. Sometimes, not very often but often enough to make me feel dumb, this invisible wall comes up between me and other people. Nothing is getting through and I really need to say something important, but I can’t get the message sent out and then received. It sucks! I hate feeling helpless, and a language barrier can definitely make me feel very much so. It only lasts maybe about two minutes in a conversation, but it leaves a bad kind of aftertaste in my mouth, like the words I couldn’t say are bitter. I really hope that as my language skills increase, the barriers will decrease.


Oh my God, Kanji and I still aren’t friends! How little has changed in that regard. I, of course, can read and write a lot more now than then, but it’s not easier to study in the slightest for me. I have a tough time with it, which just makes me all the more determined to learn it, though.

Also, younger me won’t realize until later that the language barrier can be greatly overcome with gestures. I talk more with my hands now than ever before, because it really helps both me and the people I’m talking to understand what I’m saying. If all else fails, getting a picture of the thing I want on my phone is also fine, or drawing it when I’m desperate. It can feel really hard when people don’t understand you, but don’t be afraid to use something other than just words to get your point across.


I don’t think the small town celebrity status will ever change. It’s odd to walk around and feel trapped in my own skin. I mean, I don’t want to change or anything, it’s just I’m really aware of the fact now that I’m Caucasian. When I get on the train, I hear the whispers of, “Gaijin!” and I see people pointing and staring at me as if I really am an alien. Also, I’ve never been winked at by so many guys until I came over here. I swear! I’m not that attractive, but apparently that doesn’t matter. It’s kind of nice, I mean, I’m flattered. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m here to work, not date.


Hahahahahahaha! Alright, so if you’re not someone who lives in Japan, this might seem really arrogant and dumb. You might be thinking, “How can you know they were talking about you?!” And the answer to that is, I’d be the only foreigner in my shopping mall, on my street, on the trains, all the time! Eyes followed me everywhere! But then at some point my town did in fact kind of accept me as a strange part in their background and stopped commenting all the time. Every time I move, though, the same thing happens. I get “small celebrity” status for about six months, and then everyone doesn’t care so much anymore.

Younger me was also not aware that the guys were just excited to see one young and single woman in the area, because most of Itako is made for married people with kids. Singles aren’t numberous, and ironically enough, it’s one of the reasons I ended up leaving. When I finally wanted to date, I couldn’t, so I decided to move somewhere that I could.


Although, I’ve got to admit I love the Japanese business men. Not the shady ones, but you know the black suit with the black tie. I think it’s hot. I don’t know why, I just kind of do. Speaking of hot Japanese men, I’m apparently a fan of Jun Matsumoto. I really liked Shin Sawada in the drama Gokusen. For some reason, it never occurred to me that Matsumoto Jun is Matsu Jun from Arashi. I’ll go ahead and admit I’m not a huge Arashi fan or JPOP fan in general. Arashi is okay, but I really don’t love the music. I’ll listen to them, but they’re not my favorite. Still, I’ve got to admit I can see why girls just lose themselves over Jun-kun. He’s quite attractive (and a pretty good actor, in my opinion). So, yeah, something I discovered about myself I didn’t know. I’m apparently Team Jun.

Anyway, I think I’ve run out of steam. It’s my first blog post in a really long time. This time I hope I keep it up. I’m not very good at keeping blogs updated, so we’ll see how it goes. Hope you all enjoyed my ramblings!

TTYL!


I stand by all my words about the attractiveness of both men in business suits and MatsuJun. Don’t even play with me on the man, he’s my future fantasy husband.

Hold up, what game are you playing younger self? “My first blog post in a really long time?” I must’ve either meant my long defunct Live Journal or MySpace “blogs,” but either way, that’s hilarious. I also really, really thought TTYL was gonna be my like sign off catchphrase thing, but no just no.

This has been the first ever Flashback Friday article! I’ll be doing these every Friday until I run out of old posts from the old blog…although by then I might do flashbacks from this site instead, I don’t know we’ll see how this goes. Until next week!