Posted in Uncategorized

What to do after JET? | English Teaching Options

Within this video are options for getting an English teaching job! I go over my path that I took after JET and recommend what you should do to start a new career in Japan.

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Posted in Japanese Langauge

日本語 Conversation Tip: Saying the Right Goodbye

When it comes to parting ways, context is important in Japan. As I mentioned in my previous conversation tip, often the simple “Sayonara! (さようなら!) is good enough in most situations, and often expected to be the one standard farewell from foreigners. When your first starting out, no one will correct you from saying the standard phrase, because technically using it is never “wrong.”

However, depending on the context, you could be saying something that either a bit too formal or not formal enough. Whether you’re talking to friends or colleagues, specifically, is what this conversation tip will focus on. For the sake of brevity, we won’t be focusing on any high level politeness (a.k.a. keigo 敬語).

Friendly goodbyes are easy, and often short. A simple “Matta ne! (またね!)” is perfect for most friends, as you’re expecting to see each other again some time in the near future. When you’ve got plans to see each other again, say next Monday, then it might be nice to say something like, “Matta raishu (no) getsuyoobi! (また 来週 の 月曜日!)” Then, if you’re on really good terms with this person and don’t know when you’ll see each other again, a really simple “Ja ne! (じゃあね!)” is fine.

With colleagues and co-workers, usually they’re expecting more formal goodbyes. A nice way to say goodbye formally is “Otsukaresama-deshita! (おつかれさま でした!)” It can be a mouthful to try and say all at once, but it’s very useful nonetheless. Just try thinking about it like so: “Oats-car-eh-summa-deh-she-tah!” Practice saying that ten times fast and you’ll have the right idea. Usually, you can shout this over your shoulder to your office as you leave to go home.

If you want to say this to a single co-worker, you might simply say, “Ostukaresama-desu! ( おつかれさまです!)” or when you’re really close in age and experience a simple “Otsukare! (おつかれ!) is nice too.

You can sometimes use these phrases with friends. If you see someone after they’ve gotten off work, it’s nice to say these goodbyes as hellos instead.

What?! You say, confused. How does this work?

That’s because “Ostukaresama” means more along the lines of “Good job on all your work today!” It’s not a direct translation of goodbye. Often when you see an anime subtitled, you’ll see an “Otsukaresama-deshita” translated to something like “good work,” “good job,” or “goodbye.” However, that’s more of a cultural translation, as we don’t really have a word in English that’s used like “Ostukaresama-desu.”

I recommend that if you should meet up with a Japanese friend at a cafe on a workday in the evening, you may want to say, “Ostukaresama-desu! Genki desu ka?” as a greeting. You’re telling them you’re recognizing that they are making time to meet you after a long day, and you’re asking how they’re doing all at once. They’ll appreciate the kindness!

Now, there is another way to say goodbye to co-workers, but it’s a little high level and specific. At the same time, it’s usually appropriate for ALT’s and ELT’s, as usually the foreign teachers leave work earlier than all the others in the office.

When you’re the first to leave, or one of the first, then it’s very appropriate to say the following phrase: “Osaki-ni-shitsurei-shimasu! (お先に失礼します!)

The translations for this are also more cultural than direct for this type of goodbye. Basically, it means “Please forgive me for leaving!” or if you want to want to make it complicated “Forgive my rudeness for leaving before you!” Some of you more advanced learners might recognize “shitsurei-shimasu (失礼します)” as the more high level way of saying “excuse me” and you’re not wrong. You could also translate this goodbye phrase into “Excuse me for leaving you!”

Saying this before you leave is a really polite way to recognize that you’re going home while everyone else is working. As always, Japanese people won’t get upset if you don’t say it because they know you’re learning, and they don’t expect you to become fluent overnight. Still, saying this phrase is a nice way to say goodbye and show you’re a little more aware of their situation.

And so, those are the ways to say goodbye. Next week I’m going over how to do different versions of “Excuse me!” and “I’m sorry!”

See you next time! またね!


 

Posted in cultural differences

Dear Japan, I’m Not An Eikaiwa

Dear Japan,

I understand, I do. In Japan it’s difficult to find cheap English lessons that are convenient for a hectic schedule. Usually, real eikaiwa lessons run at about ¥20,000 per month on average. That’s one month where you might only get about three or four lessons because you need to cancel most of your lessons due to work, kids, hobbies, etc.

You also think perhaps, due to a very common misconception, that all foreigners don’t find random interruptions as rude. You see foreign people in movies and TV shows randomly finding each other and becoming friends, and your teachers may even encourage you to find a foreigner to strike up a conversation.

“Don’t be shy!” Your sensei might say, “Be brave and try it out!”

However, foreigners aren’t all the same. Some Americans are fun loving and extroverted people who love to make new friends, but then there are some Americans who don’t want to interact with new people, they like their own people and don’t really want to extend their social circle any further. Some Australians are adventurous and want to try everything, but then there are some who want to chill at cafes and never go out past city limits.

Basically every person, no matter their nationality, is different. Each person will have an introverted or extroverted personality, a good day or a bad day. I know you want to find people who will sit down with you to talk, because natural English can be hard to find at eikaiwas or school, but don’t expect every foreigner to be willing to talk with you.

I’m more of an introverted person at heart. I like to sit and talk for hours with my friends, but when it comes to meeting people for the first time I’m not very good at chatting. I like to meet new people through friends of friends, through commonalities, not randomly at cafes or on trains. It makes me nervous, anxious, and just all around uncomfortable.

I know many foreigners who aren’t like me, who come to Japan to teach English and feel it’s their obligation to teach English to everyone. Be they friend or stranger, some people take on this mantle of English teacher both inside and outside of the classroom, because they believe it’s so very important for Japanese people to learn English.

I applaud their enthusiasm and their commitment. Personally, I will gladly teach English in my classroom, I will talk with my Japanese English teachers, I will sometimes teach my Japanese friends new English words, but I don’t want to be an English teacher for every single member of Japan’s population.

Although, I wasn’t always in this mindset. I used to be the go-getter, the one who did free, random English lessons. But then I discovered there are people who can’t be trusted, and I shouldn’t be a free eikaiwa.

Usually, it was at cafes, and it was usually a man but sometimes a woman. They would say something like, “HELLO! My name is ______! Can I sit with you? I would like to practice my English.”

At first I just said, “Sure, no problem!” and I would have interesting conversations with new people.

Then many times, after I’ve allowed someone to use me as a free English lesson, I will get harassed again at the same coffee shop. They will come up to me the next time, and the next, and they will ask for my LINE or Facebook, or they might look me up on Facebook without my permission to add me. As a single woman living in Japan, this scared me, and I blocked these sorts of people, and then I would never go to that coffee shop again.

“But they’re Japanese!” You may say, “They can’t be dangerous!”

I disagree. Whether someone is Japanese or foreign, they can become stalkers. Perhaps they only wanted to be my English speaking friend, but I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to be used for my friendship, it just feels wrong to me. Also, I don’t want to risk my safety, just for a possible “friend.” I would rather be cautious.

Still, people would ask for English lessons, over and over again. I would get so frustrated, because I felt it was necessary to teach them, so I tried to keep it to simple and short chats. In the five years I’ve lived here, I can’t count how many times I’ve been approached to become, essentially, a free English teacher.

By year four, I was done. I couldn’t let my job become my life, and I couldn’t let strangers take away my coffee shops from me.

Nowadays, when I sit down at a cafe, I want to sit in peace. I want to browse the web on my iPad and sip on my coffee. If I’m approached by someone like you, who wants to practice English, I’m sorry, but my answer will be no. Well, I’m usually very polite in saying no, “I’m sorry, but I just want to have some coffee and relax, so no thank you.”

Sometimes people are kind, they smile and say, “Ok, I understand!” and they leave me alone. Sometimes people are a bit upset and ask, “Why?” and I have to say something like, “Because I’m busy.” and then ignore them. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to be a walking, talking eikaiwa anymore.

Sorry, but it’s just how I am. However, if you want to talk to people in English that’s more natural, here’s some advice:

1) Join an Language Exchange– There are many groups available on MeetUp. Search for one near your area with English and Japanese available. These are usually free or the price of a coffee, and they’re usually at cafes too!

2) Find a Teacher to Fit Your Needs- There are so many sites. My-Sensei or Hello-Sensei  are both great resources for finding a personal teacher for cheaper than the eikaiwa. Also, there aren’t any package deals, you just pay per lesson! No contract, just direct message and contact. You can choose between one on one or group, so you and your friends can learn English together.

3) Go to International Events– Unlike at cafes or restaurants, international events will have many foreigners who are talking and mingling, and it’s less rude to strike up a conversation with someone foreign here (it’s actually expected). Find out where your nearest International Association is and sign up for their event newsletters.

If you take my advice, you’ll find that these settings are better for learning English instead of finding random English speaking foreigners anyway. After all, not every foreigner comes to Japan to teach English, and some foreigners don’t even speak English. And as I said before, different personalities means there will be different reactions to asking for an English chat. Besides, women like me who are very cautious simply don’t want to take risks with strangers.

Please don’t give up trying to learn English, but please keep in mind that not all foreigners are free eikiawas.

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

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.

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Still pretty neat though!

Hitachi Seaside Park 2

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

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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 Japan News

Fukushima Exclusion Zone Photographer Under Fire

A group of semi-viral images has gained some negative attention in Japan. Photographer Keow Wee Loong claimed to illegally cross in the Red Zone of Fukushima, an evacuated area where radiation is still considered to be too high for human exposure.

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Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong

In the text following this photo he explains: “before i went there the authority told me that i need a special permit to visit this town and it take 3-4 weeks to get the approval from the local council,, well too much bureaucracy bullshit for me..so i just sneak in the forest to avoid cops on the road …AND IT WAS AMAZING !!!!!”

The “bureaucrazy bullshit” that he failed to do could land him in jail. Not only that, but the security around the area is tight. It is almost unbelievable that he managed to find a way through and inside that didn’t garner the attention of the guards stationed around the perimeter.

And yet, he apparently did: “There were too many cops on the main road, so we started our journey from Tomioka, then we went off the main road. We used Google Maps to navigate from one town to another.”

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Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong

 

As you can see in the above photo, the man who was apparently going through laundry left in the machines from March 11th 2011 and onward decided to where a gas mack as protection. As neary anyone with a bit of science under their belt will tell you, radiation can go through gas masks, clothing, and…sandals. Loong claimes he lost his bank cards and money, and so he couldn’t afford to buy any of the proper equipment. It’s also one of the reasons he couldn’t wait the 3-4 weeks for the local council, because he didn’t have enough money to survive that long.

All the same, people are enraged at this complete lack of self-care, with commentors pointing out that by doing what he did he put not only himself at risk but also other people he came into contact with.  As reported by Zafigo: “There is also concerns the photos are encouraging others to engage in the risky behaviour as people are seen tagging their friends in the photos and commenting that they too want to visit Fukushima. Some have gone to the extent of reporting his photo album to the authorities and Facebook. At publishing time, Keow is barred on Facebook for ‘inflicting violence’.”

Many citizens of Fukushima are furious: “For them, breaking into the site was a very insensitive and rude action. Explaining that the photos are a misrepresentation of the Fukushima community, they questioned how he could blatantly disrespect the Fukushima community and the lives and livelihoods that were lost. One angry commenter described his act as an ‘exploitation’ of the Fukushima prefecture and its people for his own agenda.”

His own agenda being that of anti-nuclear technology. Loong makes comments like there was “a chemical smell in the air” and that “the fukushima daichi power plant exploded that lead to harmful radiation leaked.” In actuality, the plant went into meltdown with a few chemical explosions within its walls (which is why the walls were built so thick as to handle that kind of pressure), but those chemicals are still contained within those walls. The radiation leaked, but humans can neither smell nor taste the radiation.

As a former JET, I’m a part of the Alumni group. Today someone posted this in reaction to this news:

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JET Alumni Facebook

What Loong probably doesn’t realize is that Fukushima is a prefecture that is still suffering. He might as well have stepped on graves and took pictures of tombstones, that is the kind of violation those citizens feel. And yes, “sensationalist” is a pretty apt word for his both his story and the reaction from the media. People are dying to interview him, they want to get all the juicy details, meanwhile the residents whose homes he just tresspassed all over are being pushed aside for a sweet headline.

Also, the citizens of Fukushima are still economically stigmatized due to misunderstandings about radiation. People are still, after five years, scared to purchase any kind of produce, milk, or other products with the sticker “Made in Fukushima.” With these photos to remind people once again about the incident, with “proof” of the rediation still going on, there will be negative consequences.

Essentially, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about documenting a place of national tragedy, and Loong went with the very wrong path. By taking pictures without permission, stepping onto property and therefore tresspassing, he is telling the victims of the Daiichi Disaster that his cause matters more than their grief and their pain.

The “beauracracy bullshit” is there to protect the Red Zone, because it’s not an abandoned town to some people, it’s still home.


If you’re looking for a real photographer who did his homework and treated the people of Fukushima with the respect they deserved, I recommend Arkadiusz Podniesinski. His photos are not only haunting, but he makes a very detailed account with people who lived in the area telling their story to him. He treats the subject with care, as I wish all photographers would.