Posts tagged ‘japan’

October 3, 2013

JET-ting Off: The Epic Conclusion to My 2 Years in Japan

Note 1: Maybe it’s not actually epic, but it was pretty momentous to me.

Note 2: I have been meaning to write this post for months, so I am aware it is very very very late! Sorry about that!

In February 2013 I made the choice NOT to re-new my contract (which ended in July). I was loved at my job and in my little circle of friends, but I also felt homesick. The long winters and short summers of Aomori had worn on me. I missed family and friends back home in Texas. I also felt the need to get back on some sort of a career path, because teaching English/ESL was never my true career goal. Two years on the JET Program felt right. I signed the paperwork with my intent not to re-contract and that was that. Another chapter of my life had been signed and closed. All I had to do was enjoy the last five months in Japan.

The actual leaving preparations and goodbyes took about a month. Slow at first, and then fast & furious at the end. It’s enough to make your head spin and I don’t think I will be doing another international move for a very long time.

I thought I’d write about some of the things I did before leaving Japan.

 

I started teaching an English conversation class in the evenings. Three elementary school teachers came up to me and asked if we could have "English Conversation Time" together at a local coffeeshop. Of course I said yes. I liked all of the ladies a lot. We met three or four times and had a lot of fun together, talking about different subjects. One teacher bought me my first soy latte, which tasted pretty disgusting. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, although I tried to drink as much as possible to be polite. :P They gave me a really nice send-off when I left.

 

Nishimeya Sports Festival [Sunday, May 26]

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I attended my first and last Sports Festival at my favorite junior high school. This is significant because of my position as a one-shot ALT with 12 different schools. When you have so many schools, you don’t have a "home base" and often don’t receive invitations to special school events like culture and sports festivals. I’d never been to one of my schools’ sports festivals in the two years I’d been there. I rode with a Japanese teacher (JTE) and watched my kids run relay races, do tug-o-war, and other events. I loved that day’s weather. I still remember it clearly because the weather was amazing. It was almost warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt (for me).

 

Lecture at the Office [Monday, June 27]
For an entire year and a half my co-workers have been saying that they want me to give them a lecture on something/teach them something. They were just so busy or something that it never got scheduled… It’s true, everyone was so busy and stretched so thin with school visits that it was rare that everyone was in the office at the same time. Well, finally… at the 11th hour… they scheduled me to teach them… something. I decided to make 45 minutes of the 1-hour lecture about conversational English. The last 15 minutes would be a slideshow of my 2 years in Hirosaki, the highlights. I figured they would be pretty interested about how foreigners live in their little city. The turnout for my lecture was pretty awesome. Almost everyone squeezed into the director’s office to hear me speak and I held their interest for an entire hour.

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June 12, 2013

Japanese Car Names: The Sequel

It’s been over a year since my last post about Japanese car names.

I’d say it’s about time for another post!

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of cars with Spanish-sounding names. Is this a trend in Japan, I wonder? Or a worldwide trend? It made me think. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Kia Rio, the Nissan Maxima, and the Chevy El Camino in the states. You’ll see what I found in Japan.

Another thing I wanted to mention… In Japan, they definitely market certain cars to women. See here:

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But what makes a car a “feminine” car? So-called feminine colors like pink and light blue? Room for kids and shopping bags in the back? A storage box under the seat for baby/kid toys and food? The way they market this car is like… You will become a stylish super-mom if you buy it. If I was a man and saw this advertisement, I would definitely not feel like this car was being marketed to me.

I have to wonder how many guys have bought themselves a pink Honda Life Diva?

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May 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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March 28, 2013

Thank You Always

March 8th was a special day for me because I was invited to my favorite junior high school’s graduation ceremony. I went last year, but at that time I had only known the graduating class for a little over 7 months. This year was a little more special because I have been with these kids for two years (since they were 2nd-year students). There were only 9 students in the graduating class (5 girls and 4 boys). One of them I was especially close with because I coached her for the English Speech contest in 2011 and 2012. But really, I have grown quite close to all of them. It was awesome to see them graduate. I almost cried.

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I arrived at the school at 12pm (my supervisor let me spend the morning at home, thank goodness). I ate lunch with the 1st and 2nd-year students and then waited for the 3rd-years to arrive. The ceremony began at 2pm. There were a lot of speeches, as usual, and I could understand a lot more of their speeches this year. I especially loved the 2nd-year kid’s speech and the graduating class representative’s speech. By the end of her speech, many were in tears. And then they had to sing their farewell song. Half the girls couldn’t sing because they were crying.

My favorite part is always at the end where all the teachers stand in a line at the front of the gym and the students all come up and say their thank-you’s with a bow. It was a loud, heartfelt, teary “Thank you.” Then they turned, wiping their tears, and marched out of the gym to end the ceremony.

 

「ありがとうございます」

 

The words “Thank you” are especially meaningful in Japan, I feel. For graduating 3rd-year students, that “Thank you” encapsulates the students’ feelings of gratitude toward their teachers for helping them through three years of junior high school. For helping them learn, have fun, and prepare for the dreaded high school entrance exams. Teachers hold a position of respect and honor in Japan, so graduation is a time to recognize the students’ accomplishments and also the teachers who helped them through it all.

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February 25, 2013

Greetings

This post started out as something else and turned into something completely different. But I guess that’s what happens sometimes when you just sit down to write! Sorry if this is kind of all over the place. My brain cannot think linearly today.

Yesterday I was visiting one of the inner-city elementary schools and had a strange feeling. At some schools, they don’t have a desk for me in the teacher’s room (where all of the teachers have their desks), so they either tell me to sit in the area for guests or put me in a different room entirely. Sometimes I sit in the principal’s office. At this school they had another little room next to the principal’s office with a table, chairs, and heater. I guess it was just a general tiny multipurpose room. I couldn’t see through to the principal’s office (the glass on those doors were frosted), but the doors to the hallway also had glass panels that you could see out of. And people could see in.

I sat next to the heater trying to thaw from this morning’s commute. During the breaks between classes and afternoon recess, the students would run and play in the hallways. It’s winter, so they tend to stay inside. These children would press their faces and hands up to the glass, stare at me, and yell, “HELLO!” over and over again because it’s the only English they know. Some of the older kids will say “NICE TO MEET YOU!” if they remember. I guess it was the combination of being in a small room and being yelled at from behind glass, but I kind of felt like an animal in a zoo. “Look at the foreigner! Look at the English teacher! Do you think she heard me?!” I could almost feel my ears ringing at one point.

After the bazillionth “HELLO!!” I decided to leave the room and see if that was any better. The kids still shouted HELLO at me, but they also stood back and stared at me with wide eyes. They made sure to let me know that I was very big and tall. “Yes, I know,” I say in Japanese. “But I’m pretty normal in America.” To that they just stare in disbelief and scamper away. Every school is different, for sure. The young kids are either extremely friendly or extremely shy. But I can’t blame them for trying to greet me in the only way they know how.

One thing I learned upon coming to Japan is that students are required to greet their teachers. And it’s not just a “Good morning” when you walk into class first thing in the morning. You are supposed to say the appropriate “good morning”, “hello”, or “good afternoon” every time you pass a teacher in the hallway as well.

I’ve even had junior high school teachers stop a student and ask them where their greeting was. Some students are shy towards me, so they will forget to say it to me or just get nervous. If I happen to be walking with a JTE (Japanese English Teacher), they will stop the students and make them say “Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon” to me.

At elementary school the kids are encouraged to greet me in English, but sometimes it comes out in Japanese. When a small child comes up to me or passes me in the hallway and says “Hello!” they are rewarded with a “Good job!” by their homeroom teacher. Sometimes applause, even.

I think Japanese teachers and students might be really shocked by the way American students don’t greet their teachers religiously. I think back to all the times I just entered a classroom, sat down at my desk, and quietly waited for class to start. Then the teacher would say hello to everyone and start the class. A response from all the students wasn’t really required. It’s pretty different from Japan, where students are assigned on rotation to be “on-duty” to lead the class in their greetings. The student group greeting vary from school to school, but they are usually a variation of “Good morning/Good afternoon” and “Now begins/concludes 4th period”. Sometimes it reminds me of a military call-and-response.

With all these greetings going on around me, I’ve gotten pretty used to using the ones that are required of me too. I’ve gotten pretty used to the myriad of greetings that I use in the office and at schools. For example, you are required to greet the entire office when you enter for the first time that day. It’s usually “Good Morning” for me, but sometimes I have a school visit in the morning and come back to the office in the afternoon. Then I say, “Good afternoon, I’ve returned from ________ School.”

And at one school I visit there is a vice principal who loves to practice his greetings in English with me, even though he says the same exact thing every time I come. It goes like this:

Me: Good morning, how are you?
Him: I’m fine, thank you. And you?
Me: I’m good, thanks.

Sometimes I try to switch it up with a “How’s it going?” but that seems to catch him off his guard.

But okay. What I’m really trying to say is…

Greetings are a really interesting part of their culture. An essential part of it, too. Without greetings… things don’t start. Communication is not smooth.

Many times in my life I have spoken with a Japanese person and have used a Japanese greeting like “こんにちは | Konnichiwa”. The Japanese person immediately said, “Oh, your Japanese is so good!” or “You speak Japanese very well!”

I only said one word. How is this in any way indicative of my ability of speak the language?

Well, thinking about it now… Greetings in Japanese are basically half the battle. If you know how to greet well, you will be praised by Japanese for knowing their language and culture. Pretty sweet!

February 10, 2013

Year-in-Review: 2012

I’m a little late with this post this year, many apologies!

On the whole, 2012 was not an easy year. I learned a lot and experienced a lot. There were highs and there were lows; and I am ever-so-grateful for the people who were there to share in the highs and catch me in the lows. I couldn’t have done it without you.

I am proud of what I have achieved last year and am very much looking forward to what 2013 has in store.

And now without further ado, I bring you… 2012:

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December 17, 2012

Working, working, working…

It’s been far too long between updates… I keep meaning to write, but things just kept piling up. Two months, though? I am ashamed!

This post is mostly about my job lately and daily things that have happened.

Me in Pictures:

Here is a picture that my student drew of me. Don’t ask me why I am blonde…

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A Weird Conversation

The principal of one of my schools asked me why Americans were so against eating whale meat. That was an interesting conversation. I told him it was because they are endangered and we want to protect the whales we have right now on our planet so that they do not go extinct. He told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of whale, just a bit. I countered with: if everyone ate a little bit, wouldn’t that amount to a lot in the end?

Angels and Demons

It really surprises me how some 3rd graders can be sweet little cherubs who hang on my every word and look up at me in awe… and then some 4th graders can be screaming monkeys who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what I say. It’s crazy. Needless to say, I prefer the younger ones.

Commuting

The snow came early this December and I had to put up my bike in my storage shed. My only methods of transportation were buses, trains, and my own two feet. Last Thursday I walked 4.6 miles to work and back in the ice and snow. By the time I got home, it was very dark and I honestly cannot say I have ever been as happy to see my couch. But this week the snow has melted a bit and it has been raining… I have been able to use my bike a few times. Carefully, mind you! It only takes me 10 minutes by bike to get to work from my house.

Coloring

I have recently learned that coloring is a godsend. A simple coloring and listening exercise can get even the worse-behaved boys to be quiet and concentrate. The teacher came up to me after class and basically said, “Thank goodness you brought that coloring activity… It would have been bad if we didn’t have that.”

This came to mind… Here, have a meme:

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Mistakes, Attitude, and Discipline

A few weeks ago I was at an elementary school, teaching those little 5th graders. I was telling them how the Japanese language even has some loan words from Spanish (or words that sound like Spanish). I thought I wrote “Spanish Language” on the board in Japanese, but instead I had written “Spine Language.” The kids cracked up and started laughing and kind of mocking my Japanese mistake. Last year I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I have a bit more of a backbone this year. I spoke up and said, “Hey. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still learning Japanese and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re learning English too, aren’t you? It’s better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all.”

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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September 28, 2012

Mutsu Fun in the Sun

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Tori texted me back in July about going to Mutsu with some of her Japanese friends and Kimberly on the weekend of August 17th. They had already gone once, but that was when I was in Texas and couldn’t go. I had never been to that part of the prefecture and wanted to see what it was all about, so I said yes!

When Friday, August 17th came around, both Tori and Kimberly were sick! I wondered if we were going to call off the trip, but we did not. It was still on!

I rushed home after work and threw my stuff in a bag, grabbed my futon pad and pillow, and went down to Tori’s car. We needed to get food before the long drive, so we went to Cocoichiban-ya for some Japanese curry. There we met Mari and Ryota, who were our travel companions (but in a separate car). I had met Mari at a function before, but I hadn’t met her boyfriend Ryota. They are such a fun couple!

After our early dinner, we got on the road. We stopped at Namioka’s Apple Hill rest/shopping area along the way to get some souvenirs and ice cream. It was dark by the time we drove through Aomori City.

We drove like the wind and encountered a snag when the town we were driving through had some roads blocked for a summer evening festival. That was a bit of a hassle, but we eventually got around it.

I can’t recall what time we got in to the little town of Kawauchi, but it was pretty late. Maybe around 10pm. Tori’s friend Kyle (not her husband Kyle, another Kyle who is also awesome) lives there and we stayed at his little cedar house by the beach. Literally, by the beach. It was about a 1-minute walk to the beach from his front door.

Since Tori was sick, Kyle had made some food-for-the-soul miso soup. I also partook of this soup and it was excellent! I love miso soup. I was about ready to go to bed when they roused me from my position curled up on the floor of Kyle’s room. What for? To see the glowing sparkly phosphorescent plankton.

Turns out that when you go in the water at night, even just your feet, and move your feet or hands around, these little dots will start to glow. Kyle explained that they were plankton and the glow is some sort of defense mechanism. It was like seeing little fireflies in the water.

After that, we went back to the house and I unfolded my futon pad to go to sleep in the living room. I was out like a light in no time at all. I didn’t even hear everyone else playing XBox Kinect games right next to me. They played these games well into the night… I am such a good sleeper.

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August 20, 2012

Sendai, The City of Trees

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On my way home from the States, I had planned to stop over in Sendai for a couple days to see my friend Ayumi and break up my trip a little bit. I was really looking forward to seeing a new city!

So this was the plan: I would leave Austin on Thursday the 26th, arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, take a bus from Tokyo to Sendai (about 5.5 hours), and arrive at 10pm on Thursday night. I would spend Friday and Saturday in Sendai before bussing back to Hirosaki on Sunday morning. Before I left for Texas on July 11th, I bought both bus tickets and squared everything away. I was ready.

Anyone catch the huge glaring mistake in my plan?

Yeah, it was a pretty stupid one. I should have known better.

When you travel from Japan to the U.S., you are essentially “going back in time”. You arrive on the same day that you leave because the U.S. is behind Japan in time zones.

But when you go to Japan from the U.S., you lose a day traveling and arrive on the next day. So if I left Austin on Thursday, I would arrive on Friday in Japan.

I was still in Austin when the bus for Sendai left without me.

This meant that I was without a ride to Sendai on Friday night and that I had lost one of my days in Sendai. I was already  pretty stressed out at that point, so I kind of just threw my hands up in the air and decided to take the bullet train. Expensive, but it was the fastest way there. (And I don’t like buses anyways.)

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