Posted in Slice of Life, Uncategorized

Advice I Gave Today

Today at training I got asked a lot of questions, because I’ve lived in Japan for over six years (gonna be seven in July). The questions ranged from things that one could Google, but some weren’t so much. I wrote some down just for this particular post, mostly because I want to just be able to pull this post up when people ask in the future.

What do I do about (home country) taxes in Japan? 

For the first year, you’ll have to make sure you file for your home country’s taxes stuff. In America, I had to get a form from a rather surly I.R.S. employee lady that would be used as proof that I’m living abroad so don’t tax me twice, please and thanks.

Be sure to check with your embassy to see what exact rules and regulations there are, because each country is gonna be different. I discovered today that South Africa is awful and demands that people pay taxes in South Africa as well as Japanese taxes no matter what, which I think is robbery but whatever. For us Americans, so long as you don’t have any estate or investments back in the U.S.A., you file your income made in Japan and don’t pay taxes back in America. Once again though, do research and check on

Check your local Japan city hall or ward office if you’ve got Japanese tax questions in particular. Income taxes are deducted automatically from most salaries, you generally have to pay a city tax if you live in a city for over a year, and etc. Talk to people there for more information.

Can I leave my food or drink trash here at this *training center?

Not recommended, as it’s considered bad manners to leave trash in a place that you’re only using temporarily that doesn’t belong to you. Japanese people aren’t going to tell you not to do it, they’ll just not be happy about it and maybe won’t invite you back into the space next time. Also, odds are there will be complaints filed to supervisors about it, too. Not the best way to start off your job at the mere training stages by being known as the “rude” and “gross” employee. Kept a plastic bag on you and throw stuff away later.

*Note: Ignore if your training center is a huge public place with multiple trash cans, I’m talking about a small space with only one or two small bins.

Are Japanese students better than (British/American/ Western) students?

Japanese students aren’t really “better” in the sense of learning or studying than Westerners. They just learn differently. Japanese school systems are still very much lecture based, so it’s difficult to get them out of that format and into an active classroom.

A Japanese student will perhaps on average be more passive and disciplined, but not always. Also, for English language acquisition, both of those traits can be disadvantageous. If a student is passive, then they can’t actively communicate well. If they’re disciplined or really focused, then they are more likely to focus on the wrong aspects on language (i.e. grammar rules over actually trying to speak).

In other words, they have their own sets of challenges.

Where can I buy a (bicycle/electric bike/ kitchen appliances/etc)? 

Recycle shops would be the best place to buy necessary items like a bike or a microwave on a budget. In America we would call them “second hand stores” or “thrift shops,” but I want to emphasize that in Japan second hand items are so gently used they generally look brand new. Everything gets checked to make sure it works, so the odds of you going home with something broken is exceedingly rare. Hard Off and House Off are the two main chain stores with electronic and household things available, Book Off is more for used books and action figures store, and you can get clothes at Book Off Bazaar.

Is it really hard to find a new apartment? 

No, not really for urban areas. Back in the day foreigner friendly apartments were rare, but nowadays through websites and real estate agents you can find an apartment no problem. The real issue is can you afford the move in fees? Usually there’s a one month or two month deposit plus key money, and from there the fees could include cleaning fees, paper work fees, lock exchange fees, fire insurance, life support fees, and the list goes on. You generally need at least 200,000 yen in order to move into a new place in a city.

Now, in the countryside the rules are different. Foreign friendly apartments are harder to find, but the move in costs are usually much cheaper and you can get way more space for less rent money. In many cases, your apartment may even get paid for by a company or school just to have you close by.

But for Tokyo, yeah, save up before you decide you wanna move.

Where should I go to withdraw money? What’s the best bank to use?

Any Japan Post ATM will do foreign cards and most of the time a 7-11 ATM will work too.

If you’re using a domestic Japanese bank card, it’s either a convenience store or your chosen bank’s ATM from 9-5 on working day. I recommend you just simplify your life and get a Shinsei Bank account which is accepted by most convenience stores, Japan Post, and even outside the country. Also, you don’t get charged withdrawing fees from convenience stores with Shinsei and you can withdraw money 24/7.

How to a sort my trash at home? What are trash days?

Every city and even city district is different. Go to your city hall or ward office to get information on that.

And there’s that. I’m sure there are more but I’m exhausted. Tomorrow if I get more questions I’ll answer them here again. Might as well, I’m sure it’s helpful to other people out there too.

 

 

Posted in Jobs in Japan

Teaching Experience: Do you “need” it for the JET Program?

I get this question all the time. “Somebody said that they don’t accept people without teaching experience, is that true?” The long and short of that is no, otherwise I would’ve been rejected from JET. I had some tutoring and an observing education class in university (wherein I went to different schools to watch teachers in their classes), and that’s all I had. Before the JET Program, I had never taught in front of a classroom, so you don’t need to worry about it.

It doesn’t hurt your odds to get in if you’ve got teaching experience, so by all means if you do have it put that on your application and mention it in the interview. Be sure you can answer questions well, like “Why did you want to become a teacher? What kind of teacher do you want to be? How long have you been teaching?” Those kind of routine questions will be asked, and then they may go even harder on you. “What are some challenges you’ve faced in the classroom that you’ve overcome? How many students do you teach on average?” And so on.

Regardless of whether you do or don’t have experience, be sure you can answer the question, “Why do you want to teach in Japan?” My answer was along the lines of, “I want to be a good representative of my country in the classroom so students will have a good impression of foreigners, specifically American foreigners. I want Japan’s international relations to improve, even if it’s only in a small way.” It’s not a bad answer, I think, but there are better answers out there. For example, an art major I knew told her interviewers that she wanted to learn about East Asian art, and bring that experience back to America to influence her art. She hoped to be a part of the art after school programs in her school so she could teach them the Western styles of art and they could teach her the Eastern. It was a better answer in my opinion because it showed she’s future oriented, she’s thinking outside the box, not just the classroom but even after school activities.

Know this answer and memorize it. Practice saying and explaining your view before the big interview. I’ve talked about the JET program before, so be sure to take a look at both the video and the article to learn about what it takes to get in. Also, there’s a very nifty guide from Tofugu about the JET Interview. Read it to get prepared to give the best impression!

 

Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Talking About Neighbors

Meeting your neighbors can be an interesting experience. I’ve been lucky in that most of my fellow inhabitants of my apartment complexes are pretty nice, usually pretty quiet unless it’s the weekend, kind of people. When I lived in Itako, my neighbors close to me were very sweet, they brought me over to cook me dinner. The elderly couple spoke some English, and I exercised my basic Japanese with them.

The other neighbors across the way from me where a mother, father, and two sons. I taught the older boy at my junior high school, actually, and he was a good student. I spoke with the mother every once and a while, and she sometimes brought over some vegetables or some sweets if she had extra lying around. I always appreciated the little gestures.

I didn’t know it at the time, but in Japan new neighbors are supposed to give some small gifts to all their surrounding people. Usually it’s something useful, like tissues or say air fresheners, but I like to give snacks like miso crackers or something. Nobody expects you to break the bank, so cheap is fine. Usually, you have a note attached that introduces where you live in the apartment complex, who you are, and then you tag on a “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” at the end of your note.

Over the years, I’ve had other neighbors, and I’ve given them gifts. In Machida, I had an old gentlemen who would practice his broken English with me. He’d also bring me gifts on certain days, and I’d always give him fruit or something in return. We had a long gift exchange thing right up until the day I moved out. Where I live now, I see my neighbors, but none of them seem interested in really getting to know me. They say good morning and good evening, but they all work and we’re all different ages. I doubt we’ll be close.

But anyways, I remember back when I lived in Itako that I wrote a post about neighbors in a bit more detail, but I ended up deleting it because I thought it was too boring. I wrote it all out, agonized over how to make it more interesting, and just gave up. I also feared someone reading it, because I felt I was too whiny about not feeling included enough.

See, I knew they might chit chat with me, or invite me over once in a blue moon for dinner, but I couldn’t be friends with them in the way Americans are used to being friends with people. My American friends didn’t even knock on my door half the time before they’d just waltz on into my house or room or whatever. I couldn’t do that in Itako, and it made me feel really isolated, knowing there was no one around whose door I could knock on to just go talk to.

Because of that complaint, which was much longer in the deleted version, I opted not to post it. I waited around until something interesting happened to post about. Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess.


The Other Kind of Neighbor

Posted on October 22, 2011

Most of my Japanese neighbors are pretty swell. The few times there’s been big earthquakes since I been here (meaning, the ones that just either keep going and going or the ones that actually make my stuff move around) we all run out to make sure everyone’s okay. When we’re all sure everyone’s alive, we proceed to go back to the tasks we were doing. A couple of my neighbors even invited me over for dinner and I had a good time.

Then, there’s the other kind of neighbor.

Meet Bob, everybody.

Spiders. I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t hate them either. However, I’ve got one small problem by the name of Bob. Bob is a spider. He’s apparently a pretty common Japanese spider that just likes to hang around, making webs, and helping to keep the evil mosquito population down. In other words, they’re my friendly neighborhood vampire killers, and I’m okay with letting them live.

I catch most spiders in my house and throw them outside. Usually, it’s not such a big deal. Also, they’re usually small enough that I can just scoop them up with a tissue and shake them out of said tissue. It’s quick, painless for both of us, and I get karma points for not killing a helpless creature.

But then, Bob happened.

I was minding my own business one morning. Coffee in hand, I moved into the living room to open the curtain. I like natural lighting. I can stand fluorescent just fine, but I don’t like it. I slid back the curtain to find Bob. At first, I thought he was inside my house. One heart attack later, I figure out that he’s just outside the window. I breathed a sigh of relief and then glared at him.

He sits in his web and just dares me to do something. I sigh and just walk over to pick up a book. I think I was reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” at the time. I did my best to just ignore him and go on with life. After a few days, I kept opening the curtains to find him in the same place. I took pictures and then went to Google to find out if I should worry. Luckily, Bob proved to be a pretty boring find.

He’s just a common spider called Yama Onigumo, which translates to “barn spider.”  However, Bob’s big for his species. I measured him safely on the other side of the glass. He’s bigger than the average yama onigumo. I decided since he was sticking around and he wasn’t doing anything to bother me, I named him and started greeting him every morning.

We had a routine. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and then go open the curtains. He would scurry around on his web until he got to the middle. I would say, “Mornin’ Bob.” And then I’d either read a book or watch a movie. He wasn’t a bad cohabitant of the same approximate living space. He killed a good many bugs, and I saw that as keeping his keep. All was well.

One day I opened the curtain and Bob’s web was gone. I looked around for Bob, but he was nowhere to be seen. I surprised myself at how sad I felt. My eight legged little friend had gone and abandoned me. I continued on with my routine, but it didn’t feel right.

Later on that night, I saw Bob…in my apartment…making A GODDAMNED WEB OVER MY TV! I freaked out and screamed a little. I shouted, “Bob! You get down from there this instant!” Bob gave the equivalent of a spider giving me the finger. He proceeded to continue making his own mini-home in the corner where the walls meet the ceiling. I yelled out a few curses, felt violated beyond measure, and felt irrationally betrayed. At some point, I got around to grabbing a cup and a sheet of sketch paper.

The process of getting Bob down from the ceiling included me chasing the freaking spider along the walls. It would’ve been easier to kill him, but it felt wrong to kill him after I named him. I finally got him on the ceiling at a good place to slam the cup over him. I slid the paper, and Bob plopped into the glass.

I stared at him. He stared at me. I sighed. All the effort I’m going through to save him from a shoe and he just looked as content as ever. Jerk.

I walked over to the front door. Carefully, I set Bob near the stairs and said, “Okay, Bob. Stay out of my apartment.” I thought that was the end of it. Bob would scurry off into the night, and I’d never see him again.

The bastard made a web on my porch. He won’t leave. I’ve destroyed his webs several times, and even sprayed some bug spray around in the hopes of making him leave. All the other spiders got the hint and got the hell out of dodge. Bob just remade his webs and avoided the areas I’d sprayed.

After a certain point, I just gave up. I wasn’t going to kill him. I couldn’t do it. Stupid spider was determined to stay, and honestly he wasn’t inside my apartment. In my opinion, I have no right to kill him. He’s not bothering me. If his web strays just a little too much into the walk way, I just destroy it. Bob will have another one up before the sun rises.

I could complain, but oddly enough, Bob’s a part of my routine again. I find him comforting. The spider stands on constant guard for the other, more annoying, bugs. He even took down a cockroach once, which was pretty awesome. The cockroaches here are pretty big, and he made that one fly as far and fast as its wings could take it. I also take great pleasure in imagining a thief coming up the stairs, taking one look at Bob, and heading straight back down.

Every day, I walk up my steps and look up at Bob’s web. He’s usually just sitting in the middle, waiting for a meal. I nod my head and say, “Hey, Bob.” right before I enter my apartment. Bob doesn’t say anything back. I doubt he understands me, but I’m glad that he’s watching over me anyway. All in all, I guess Bob’s a pretty cool neighbor, even if he’s not human.

TTYL!


Yep, so that was the introduction of Bob the Spider. For weeks after that post, I can’t count how many times I got asked, “Is Bob still there? How’s he doing?” and such. People got just as attached to him as I did. I remember he stuck around way longer than most, he stayed on that porch right up until December, when it gets too cold for spiders to be out and about.

I wrote out that post and intended to get around to rewriting the neighbors one, but look how long that took! Five years later and I finally did it. I hope this one wasn’t too long with the story attached. See you all next Friday for another flashback!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Travels in Japan

When You Miss the Last Train

Despite the fact that Tokyo is a huge metropolis completely capable of 24 hour transportation, it chooses not to because reasons. Last trains are generally from 11:00 p.m.to 12:00 a.m. Most train lines start back up at around 5:00 a.m. In general, you’ll just need to stay somewhere for about 5 hours or so if you miss the last way back.

Still, where do you go? What are your options? Well, you’ve got plenty of them! But I’ve narrowed it down to the top five things you can do if you missed your last hope towards home.

#5: Internet Cafes

Manboo_(Internet_cafe)_japan_No2.jpg
Wikipedia Commons

In Kentucky, internet cafes weren’t exactly common, and what few there were didn’t have much besides computers with quarter slots. Japan’s internet cafes are a completely different thing, it’s not even an apples and oranges comparison.

Internet cafes will have large lounge chairs, small mat rooms, and other types of corner office spaces transformed into a cheap place to crash. For less than ¥2,000 you can sleep in that space for 8 hours, and it only gets cheaper if you want to stay for less time.

Of course, the main reason it’s so cheap is because it’s not like a hotel. Your small space will have very, very thin walls. No pajamas or amenities unless you want to pay (about ¥700 for a set). They will give a blanket for warmth, but that’s about it.

Manboo is my top pick, because 8 hours at Manboo you’ll pay ¥1,600 to stay. Also, in my experience every Manboo I’ve ever stayed at has showers that are nice. Other internet cafes will have showers too, but they’re not always as well maintained as Manboo’s. They even have ¥500 t-shirts available if you want to feel a little less grungy in the morning.

#4: Capsule Hotels 

Capsule Hotels
Wikipedia

Capsule hotels have an interesting reputation abroad, with many tourists wanting to stay in them for the sheer novelty. They are generally pretty cheap, running between ¥3,000 to ¥7,000 a night. Why are they more expensive than internet cafes? Well, you get more stuff usually.

Unlike an internet cafe, you’ll have a bed with sheets and blankets. You’ll be given a locker for your stuff, as well as pajamas to sleep in along with shower packs (razors may or may not be included though). The walls aren’t as thin as the internet cafes, so odds are your sleep will be more restful.

However, a big downside to capsule hotels is that so many of them are for men only. For whatever reason, all internet cafes are fine with men and women, but capsule hotels can be only men. There are some co-ed and a few only women capsules, but not all. Be sure to check out if you can get in before you check in!

#3: Business Hotels

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Japan-Guide.com– “Business Hotels”

Business hotels are intended for Japan’s salarymen, the business guys who travel a lot and want a no frills hotel room. You’ll get the basics here, a bed to sleep in with a bathroom. It’ll have towels and soap, but don’t expect anything 5 star. These rooms will range from ¥5,000-¥20,000 depending on what kind of place you’re going to stay in.

For example, I usually stay at the small ones about ten minutes walk away from the nearest train station. Those tend to not have as many people in them, and will welcome someone trudging in a midnight needing a room.

If you get one close to the station and has more than fifteen levels (and say possesses a bright neon sign that stays lit even in the darkest of nights) odds are it’s going to cost you much more.

And honestly, for the money you’re going to spend, there’s not much difference between a lower end business hotel and a higher end one. You’ll just be wasting money if you pay more than ¥5,000 for one night, since they all come with the same basic amenities (that aren’t very good). For Americans, if you know what a Holiday Inn Express is, you will be getting more or less the same thing with a Japanese business hotel.

#2: Love Hotels

18utyzi75dqwejpg.jpg
Kotaku– “Inside Japan’s Plasure Hotels”

For these, the price range can be super cheap from ¥3,000 to a whopping ¥50,000! So be careful and ask before you just sign up for a room. Usually with love hotels you need to have a partner with you, you can’t just sleep by yourself, but that’s fine! Grab your friend who no doubt stayed out late with you and make them experience this!

Love hotels generally on the outside look, well, ridiculous. They’ll have the oddest names like “Goddess” or “Passion” or something crazy like “Hotel Castle” and even be in the shape of a castle! Neon lights, signs with purple or pink colors, some kind of theme or statue to set it apart from everything else around it, they’re just amazing to see.

The reason some of them are so expensive is because some rooms have unique designs and themes, and along with them a bunch of adult toys to play with. They’re made for a night of love making, after all, but the big ones make an American honeymoon suite in Las Vegas look tame in comparison. Meanwhile, the cheaper ones fit with the hotel theme, but they’re smaller and just provide lube and condoms. Basically, you’ll be staying in a room with a friend (or special friend *wink,wink*) for cheap if you find the right place.

#1: McDonalds, Saizeriya, Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, etc.

nn20110125i1a.jpg
Satoko Kawasaki Photo featured in Japan Times

Let’s say you don’t want to stay at a hotel. The morning trains are coming soon enough, you don’t want to shell out your precious money for a room you’re only going to use for a few hours. Family restaurants are for you then!

Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, just to name a few, are all 24 hours. They will serve you food and get you sober for that first train back home. Those restaurants offer sit down meals that will fill you up, too. However, if you want to be super cheap, the golden arches are also 24 hours for your convenience. McDonalds will be the place to go for free WiFi too, so if you want to watch a movie on your smartphone, eat a greasy burger, and just chillax until the trains are running that’s where you want to go.

All in all, these are the options that I like the best. These are also, for me, the safest options as I’m a female who often travels alone. If you’re a male, you might be able to get away with just sleeping on the sidewalk. I’ve seen plenty of guys doing that after a night of hard drinking. But if you want a good place to stay, these are the best and cheapest options for you.


 If you liked this, please hit the like button. Share with someone you know who needs this info.  Do you have a topic you want me to write about? Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you. 

 

 

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 Japanese Langauge, Uncategorized

Conversation Tip: Be Careful with 気をつけて

Once upon a time, when I was back in Ibaraki-ken learning my way through Japanese the hard way, I discovered the common phrase お気をつけて (O-ki o tsukete). Usually, people drop the first part and just shout out, “気をつけて!” Often people said this to me as a general goodbye right after “さようなら(Sayonara)!”

So I started using it as another version of goodbye. For about two months I used it that way, but sometimes I’d get that face. If you’re an ex-pat, you know that face, the one where the Japanese person in front of you freezes to keep their facial features devoid of making themselves smile or giggle at your mistake because that would be extremely rude. I would try to ask what I did wrong, but I’d get waved away as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Finally, I said this one day after work, and my co-worker who was known for being a bit more direct than other teachers said outright in English, “Why are you saying 気をつけて? I’m not doing anything.”

“What?”

Turns out that 気をつけて isn’t exactly used as a goodbye. Instead, it’s a way of saying “Take care!” or the original meaning as “Be careful!” Mothers will often say this phrase to their children before they go off to school.

When people leave your house you should say something like, “気をつけて帰ってね。(Ki o tsukete kaette ne.) Be careful going home.” Often you’ll hear teachers shout out to students before a typhoon, “みんな,台風お気をつけて! (Mina(san), taifu o-ki o tsukete!) Everyone, be careful of the typhoon!

In other words, it’s more often used when people are leaving you to go somewhere or do something, such as driving, walking to/back home, etc. Often it’s implied that there might be danger or challenges ahead, so you’re wishing for someone to stay aware of their surroundings or what’s going on.

You shouldn’t use it when you are leaving someone, because you’re telling them “Be careful (here in this obviously safe place where you’re not doing anything, and that’s kind of weird).” If there are no dangers or challenges, then there’s no point in telling someone this phrase, because they’re going to be just fine sitting at a desk, staying at home, etc.

Now, to get a bit tricky, you can use it for certain other circumstances. For example, if you’re leaving someone’s house and you know they’re going to go on a trip, you can tell them, “フランス旅行, 気をつけて帰ってね! (Fransu ryoko, ki o tsukete ne!) Be careful on your trip to France!” Because here you know this person will encounter possible trouble on their journey in the near future, so you’re wanting them to have safe travels.

Basically, when someone is going away or leaving you, you should use this phrase. Otherwise, it’s fine to simply say “さようなら(Sayonara)! ” or the more informal
“じゃあね (jaa ne)!” as goodbyes.

Hopefully now you’ll know how to utilize this phrase effectively! If you want to learn more Japanese conversation tips, I’m going to start putting up some posts every Tuesday. Please follow to get more tips and tricks!


*It should be noted that misusing this phrase isn’t seen as a big deal for most Japanese people, they often appreciate the effort in trying to use it in the first place. First time learners are encouraged to use it often!