unallersimple: (hectopus)
The JET Programme has become well known for having a long and arduous application progress, one that could take up to a whopping 10 months of your life. So if you decide that this is something you want to do you really need to start preparing early and make sure you're giving yourself the best chance of getting in.

One of the things you have to do as part of the application process is write a personal statement between 800-1000 words long. For the past four years I've been approached by people asking me to read through their statements. Last year I worked with someone called Kate who found out she was accepted onto JET this April. (I wasn't kidding about that 10 months!) She'll fly out to live in Hokkaido in July. I asked her a few questions about the application process so I could share her experiences here and give some advice to future applicants.


Lizzie: What made you want to apply for the JET Programme?

Kate: This is the easiest but hardest question to answer all at once because, well it's Japan! I cannot explain my love or fascination for all things Japanese. I've been smitten with the culture for as long as I can remember. I found out about the JET Programme in a kind of haphazard manner – it was actually from a Facebook comment a complete stranger had written on one of the “likes” pages you can follow. This girl had written something along the lines of “I've just found out that I'm going to live and work in Japan as part of the JET Programme.” and went into detail about how excited she was. My initial thought was, what is this JET Programme and how do I do it! I soon came across the official website and set about deciphering whether or not I was eligible and could afford it.

During my second year I started to take evening classes in Japanese and it was there that the spark really was ignited – our teacher championed Japanese events and programs and JET was one of the things mentioned. Since then I have been fortunate enough to meet up with previous JET participants. Everyone helped support and shape my own distant dream into something very real and within my reach.

Lizzie's comments: Kate's answer is the kind of answer the JET Programme want to see reflected in your application form and statement. Her main reason for wanting to to Japan is just because...it's Japan! She loves the country, the language and the culture and wants to be there to be immersed in it and experience daily life there. Her main reason isn't because she wants the opportunity to travel, she thinks JET is an easy ride (it isn't) or she wants the high salary. These are of course all reasons why people want to go, but they shouldn't be the main reason. You also need to make it clear that reasons like having a love of anime are paths leading to the chance to experience a larger, more diverse culture rather than reasons in themselves. Candidates with the strongest chance of being accepted echo these kinds of sentiments about Japan.

Lizzie: How have you found the application process?

Kate: In one word: daunting. I had known about and wanted to do JET long before I started applying, so I did everything as early as possible in terms of collecting all of the extra documentation like references. (For me this was important as I had to contact ex-employers who live in Ireland so I didn't want to spring a request out of the blue and simply hope for the best.) I asked my chosen referees before applications had even opened just so I could rest assured that I had them and wouldn't be left waiting for a last minute reference that could potentially hold up the rest of my application. I was extremely nervous about the documents that were out of my control such as waiting for my new passport and my references.

One of the most important aspects of the entire process is the personal statement. This is what will get you noticed and make you stand out from the crowd. I was fortunate enough to have contacts who are ex-ALT's and they offered me the most invaluable and inspiring help. I honestly don't think I would have been successful without their guidance and support – especially Lizzie who runs this blog. (Lizzie: Thanks Kate!) She read, re-read, suggested, advised and helped me so much with my personal statement. Looking back at my first draft compared to the statement that I eventually sent in – you can see there is a whole world of difference between them!

You need to be positive and determined throughout the application process but most importantly you need to believe that you're good enough and are exactly the kind of person who will thrive out there. You WILL be a good ALT. You WILL absorb and appreciate the culture. You WILL take this once in a lifetime chance to help change your life for the better. I must have read through my entire application about 10 times making sure everything was accounted for, filled in correctly and gathered neatly into little bunches. I remember how happy and relieved I was when I finally posted it – a huge weight had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders and I kind of relaxed for a while. I felt stupidly excited when I received my stamp addressed envelope back from the Embassy with the JET stamp on the back. The Embassy definitely had my application – it was all up to fate now!

Lizzie's comments: Kate was definitely wise with her preparation for applying to JET, starting it long before applications opened. She took Japanese courses during her second year at university and later on took a 140 hour TEFL course which showed her commitment and dedication to living and teaching in a foreign country. She also sourced her referees early and gave them lots of advance notice. Finally she did her research and consulted with ex-JETs to get the best advice possible. The key thing here is that the statements and forms take a lot of time and hard work so you have to prepare as much as possible in advance. Her answer also shows how many highs and lows you will experience before you even get accepted on the JET Programme so as Kate mentions, lots of patience and positivity is needed!


Click on the links for Part 2 and Part 3.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
This is an absolutely monster sized post so to keep things tidy I've hidden it all behind something called an lj cut.

Simply click here and all will be revealed! )
unallersimple: (japan poster)
I'd like to introduce you to someone called Adam Hacker who contibutes to a site called JapanTourist. We were both ALTs in Shimane and whilst we don't know each other well, we have vaguely kept in touch with each other via Facebook and Twitter since then. I have long admired the photos he uploads, especially his ones of Martha's Vineyard. I only found out he writes for JapanTourist this week but really enjoyed looking through his articles. If you are interested in reading about Shimane and other less well known aspects of Japan then I recommend his stuff. His profile on the site can be found here.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Vogel Park again because I really, really love that place and its super cute penguins.
Never one to miss an opportunity to post a penguin photo, I immediately spammed Adam with one I'd taken the last time I was there. On a similar note, one can never watch this video too many times!
unallersimple: (hectopus)

Don't run for the train!

I find it really interesting that embarrassment can make it onto a safety poster but I think it also reveals a lot about Japanese culture. In the UK any warning poster would be really serious in tone. It would probably have a horrific photo of someone being squashed or the injuries sustained from train doors. It would be very authoritative too rather than phrasing things as a polite and cheerful request.

I like the Japanese ones. :)

unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
At my school the nurse would distribute leaflets to the students and staff with health advice and information on. This would include anything from how to protect yourself from heat stroke to eating well. I'm not sure who drew the little illustrations but they were so cute! Take a look at these. Even if you can't read a word of Japanese, you can still understand that guy (middle left) has it so bad his snot is spiky and little rocks fly out of his ears when he sneezes. Ouch! If I suffered from that I'm sure my eyebrows would turn upside down too!

So yes, me and Bryan always had fun re-interpreting the meaning of these, but you can still easily figure out what's being said. Did I mention how cute they are?!

unallersimple: (onsen)
I visited the city of Matsuyama on Shikoku island in Spring 2009. It's about six and a half hours by train, with one change in Okayama. One of the sights I saw there was Dōgo Onsen, a famous hot spring & home to a public bath house that the bath house in Spirited Away is said to have been based on. (Different websites claim different places.)

It's a beautiful, traditional, wooden building that dates back to 1894, making it one of the oldest bath houses in Japan.

What's nice about Dōgo Onsen is that depending on how much you want to spend you can opt for the basic bath or something a little more luxurious. For a few hundred yen more you can rent a yukata, get some green tea to drink in a relaxation room and access a less crowded bath.

Having had enough green tea to last a life time I opted for the cheapest option and was happy to use my own soap and towel. Unfortunately I forgot that the busiest time is around 4-7pm as everyone wants a pre-evening meal soak. It wasn't the end of the world, but it meant doing that awkward naked shuffling around other people in the locker room and sitting with a lot of other people in the water.

Unlike most of Japan, this is a site that gets so many foreigners the staff speak perfect English before you even open your mouth and the signs come in four different languages. After a long time in Shimane I was shocked to see so many white people and hear so much French and German eing spoken.

After paying a staff member led me through some stunningly decorated hallways to the locker room. I got undressed and went through to the baths. It was time to have a major chill out. The woman's bath was quite small but the atmosphere still made you feel like royalty. It was a few years ago now, but I think the walls were covered in a dark marble on the lower half and with some light colored mosaic tiles above. Also on the walls were some scenes of Japanese landscapes and wildlife made of blue and white ceramic tiles. In the bath you could sit on a step and lean your back against the side. At various points hot water is piped in along bamboo tubes and left to fall in from a small height so you can always hear the sound of water trickling. Heaven.

If you sit and take a look at the scene you can see people washing around the outside of the room (you have to wash before you get in the water), people coming in and out and dozens of old ladies having a natter in the pool. There's a great atmosphere and sounds of people talking and water being splashed on the tiled floor.

I was enjoying a moment in a happier, more relaxed place without marking or lesson plans when I heard some splashing close to me and felt the water get disturbed a little bit. I opened my eyes and saw a very enthusiastic little Japanese woman staring excitedly at me.
"Oh herro! Excuse me."
"Excuse me, do you speak Engrish?"

Now please don't get me wrong, I'm a kind, patient ALT who is always up for helping the over 50s practice their language skills or tell them about me and my country but there are limits people. Appraching me then felt very inappropriate. She could have waited until I had my eyes open or was making eye contact with people or something. Sitting and relaxing with your eyes closed is surely a sign not to disturb someone right?
I know going to the onsen is a social experience. If you go on your own (doing things alone is quite shocking to Japanese people) then people assume you need and want some company. Plus they will be really curious about you as a foreigner. But still...of all the times! At that point I really wanted a break from the constant questioning and attention for a while, but at least she was nice and polite and didn't stay too long.

After leaving the onsen I felt so clean and refreshed. Darkness had fallen and while the onsen didn't have the air of Spirited Away so much in daylight, it definitely did after sunset. It stood out majestically against the dark blue sky and light shone out invitingly from all the little windows. Lanterns were placed around the building and some instrumental music was played quietely from speakers hidden in the entrance. I half expected to turn around and see No Face or Chihiro.

The onsen is very famous in Japan, so the street was lined with tourists and human rickshaws. Coaches kept winding their way up roads nearby, but it never felt tacky or annoying. Somehow the busy touristy stuff felt warming. Exciting. I made my way down one of the main streets at a snail's pace, stopping in shops to buy omiyage and ending up in a noodle shop to eat my first "niku udon" (thick noodles with meat which Matsuyama is famous for). After I bought a can of beer and some ice cream and walked back up the hill to the hostel. It had a tree house in the grounds so I snuck on to one of the platforms, sat on a swing and took a hearty swig. It felt great. I felt great. The view was great. Everything was great! That night is one of my happiest memories of traveling in Japan.

You can read more about Dōgo Onsen here or learn how to use a public bath or hot spring in Japan by clicking here.

unallersimple: (stars)
We've all been quizzed about or love life or what our favourite Japanese food is but what's the best question you've ever been asked by a student?

I have two favourites. Both came from a junior high school I was visiting for a few days during an ALT exchange week.

The first was asked after a self-introduction lesson with a class of 12-13 year olds. After the usual questions one boy asked me (in Japanese), "In book 6 Dumbledore dies. How do you feel about that?". This was especially amazing because while I had shown a picture of Harry Potter during the famous people section I hadn't mentioned my obsession with the books. As they were first grade students I had to keep my answer simple. So I mimed reading a book, gasped out loud, said "Nooooo!" and pretended to burst into tears. The class laughed. Being an ALT is so much fun sometimes.

The other was asked by a student who had clearly been having private English classes after school. At 12 years old she asked me in perfect English; "Have you ever heard of Jack the Ripper?". I have never known a Japanese person to have heard of him, so I was absolutely astonished to be asked about him one lunchtime. (It turned out that her English tutor was British and she'd told her about him.)

unallersimple: (boat)
Well I'm sure you've all seen the devastation on TV by now. Scary times. I can't imagine what it's like to be there. It's horrific to lose loved ones and/or your home. It's horrific to lose everything. We can't even imagine what it would be like.

Everyone I know is fine, though one of my friends can't get in touch with her mum who lives in Sendai. It's just wait and see at the moment. Hopefully she's just in a place without communication.

I spoke to my friend Yoriko in Tokyo today and she said that everyone is really moved by how much support they are getting from the rest of the world. Even in countries like Russia, who are normally fighting with Japan over islands in the north, people are laying flowers at the Japanese embassy there. New Zealand are sending so much help despite recovering from their own earthquake.

In Japan people are working together to help in any way they can by giving blood, food and money and saving as much electricity as they can. (The country doesn't have enough power for the whole country right now.)

I know Japan will get through this. It will just take time and a lot of heartache.



Mar. 11th, 2011 11:33 am
unallersimple: (hectopus)
A huge earthquake hit Japan today at 2:46pm (5:46am UK time). Different sites are reporting different statistics, but it measured around 8.9 on the scale, which my friend in Tokyo says is the strongest earthquake measured since records began. It struck off the north/eastern coast of Japan near to the city Sendai. Where I lived in Shimane, people wouldn't have felt the earthquake. Being on the opposite coast it's safe from the tsunami too. Everyone who's in Shimane will be fine. My friends and their families in Tokyo are ok too, just very scared and shaken up right now. Yoriko was still at work when I was talking with her about an hour ago, and she said there were around 30 aftershocks in the 5 or so hours after the earthquake. She also said the buildings up in Miyagi prefecture (where the city of Sendai is) were well fortified after a bad quake there 10 years ago...but a huge 10 meter tsunami struck the coast there.

I just saw this terrifying video of it here .

It's one thing to see pictures of a disaster in the news, and quite another when it's a place you've been to or people you care about are living there. (A lot of friends or their families were in Christchurch when the quake hit there the other day.) I went to Sendai last August and one of my friends has family there. I really hope they're all ok. More tsunami waves are still hitting the coast.

BA and Vigin Atlantic have cancelled flights to Tokyo today. Many buildings have collapsed and millions are without power. There are a lot of fires burning in the affected areas too. Thousands of people must have died. This is so sad and so tragic I'm in tears.

I experienced an earthquake when I was in Yokohama (nr Tokyo) in 2009, but it was only a size 3 and was nothing like this one.

I'll let you know when I find out any more.

unallersimple: (boat)
The graduation ceremony at my school was this weekend. I felt ok about deciding not to fly out there for it, as I think I kept telling myself that I could always change my mind and go to the airport any time I felt like it. Then it got to Thursday, and around 2pm I felt a sudden jolt of realisation and horror that unless I left for the airport right that second, I wouldn't make it in time! I felt sad, but as if she could read my mind, one of my ex-students happened to log into the book of face and we ended up chatting for about an hour. She did really well, replying quickly to everything in English. I still remember the day we met when we couldn't even say each others' names! She is one of the students graduating, so she asked me for a message to put in a card for the class, not knowing I'd already sent a card to the other ALT at Joshiko to give to them. Mwahaha!

Read my 2009 post about graduation here.

Last year graduation fell in one of my "journal death" periods so I never updated about apart from a brief mention in a mega catch up post 3 months later.

So "Let's celebrating!" with some photos and bits of random information from 2010.

^During special ceremonies like graduation, if students did not have perfectly black hair (be it dyed or naturally different) then the teachers busted out the spray. The first time I saw this I was so shocked. Can you imagine your school teachers marching you into the staff room and spraying your hair black!? Despite constant reminders of the rules there was always one or two people who got sprayed. The girl in the middle was usually one of them! Once I was talking about this with my Japanese friend from Tokyo and I asked her if she ever experienced this. She looked at me like I had three heads and said it was just my area of Japan where this happens. Curious, I asked other teachers and ALTs in Shimane about it. Turns out it's just my school that does this!

^ I was listed as one of the teachers in the yearbook. I felt like a real teacher when I saw that, and not just the clumsy ignorant foreigner. The photos of us all were taken when we first arrived, so we all look ridiculously young and new in them.

^ The gymnasium ready for graduation. The wooden floor is covered with strips of long, green plastic sheets to protect it from the chairs. You can see the flag of Japan on the stage, everyone stands up to sing the national anthem during the ceremony. If it all looks very perfectly straight, that's because the chairs were set out in lines using a tape measure!

So how do you survive a graduation ceremony?

* Bring your copy of the lyrics for the school song and national anthem.
Note how to pronounce any kanji you don't know.

* Get your students to help you practice the words beforehand.
It makes for great bonding time and they find your attempts to sing in Japanese very funny.

* Wear as many layers and kairo (little heat pads that you stick to your clothes) as you can.
That gym is COLD and the ceremony is LONG.

* By all means daydream through those everlasting speeches you can't understand, but always pay attention to the person calling orders through the mic. You will have to stand up, bow and sit down a lot on their command. Everyone will do this at the exact same time so don't be 5 seconds too slow because you weren't paying attention. Everyone will notice. Learn the key Japanese phrases and listen out for them. E.g rei = bow.

*Don't forget to run and help everyone once the ceremony is over.
All the decorations need taking down and all those chairs need putting away under the stage.

Finally drink well at the teacher's party afterward. You've earned it!

unallersimple: (japan poster)
sakura = cherry blossom
hanami = "flower viewing"
having a picnic under blossom filled trees whilst appreciating and admiring their beauty

Normally at this time of year Spring and cherry blossom would be starting to creep out round about now, but Shimane has had one of the worst winters in 50 years and it's still snowing over there! As graduation time approaches though, I still have a bit of that "sakura season" feeling. Even if nature is a little whited out, I know cherry blossom flavoured food and drink are available to buy and that shops are stacked with plastic sheeting and disposable plates and chopsticks ready for when those picnics start.

Last year I enjoyed hanami at Matsue castle for the first time (my plans to picnic there were rained off in 2009). Throughout Japan castle grounds and parks are surrounded by cherry blossom trees, and when the blossom is fully open and at its best, food stalls and decorations are set up which creates such a wonderful atmosphere. You can reserve a place to sit, get there really early or be disappointed, the free space goes fast! It's great to sit out in the sun all afternoon, eating and drinking whilst petals fall all around you. As the light fades, lanterns get turned on, blankets are wrapped round and more drinks are cracked open. It's a good party, and a really nice way for people who normally work all the time to spend some together. Often the other spaces are occupied by people you know, and friends or co-workers wonder round from picnic to picnic saying hi to everyone and pinching a bit of their food. It may be crowded, but whether you know them or not everyone is enjoying it and experiencing it together.

^Matsue castle and the lanterns put up for hanami.

^Trees seen by the side of the lake.

For me the blossom is really meaningful in a way that is tied in with the school year. You have a few weeks of this beautiful blossom, then it falls away and you're really sad it's gone, but then Spring comes in and all this new life appears. It's like having the graduation ceremony where you appreciate how far the students have come and how much they've grown, followed by the sadness of saying goodbye to them all. After, the cycle begins again and all this new life appears in the form of 100 or so terrified first years!


I've just had one of those "I think like a Japanese person more that I realised" moments. I just re-read 2009's cherry blossom related post and it was nowhere near as lovey-dovey as this one. Staying a second year must make a huge difference! It's really interesting and weird to see how my thoughts and feelings have changed over time.

There's more info, pics and a video of cherry blossom rain in the 2009 post here.

unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
A friend posted this on the book of face the other day and I'd like to share it with you all. Shimane has been using a funny and interesting advertising campaign lately, mocking it's obscurity and poking fun at the misconceptions many Japanese people have about it. My favourite one is its joke (or fact?!) that it's the 47th most famous prefecture. (Out of the 47 in Japan.)

I wonder whether it's enough to get the city dwellers over there?

I find this especially interesting because as a foreigner living in Shimane, my thoughts and opinions about tourism were often asked. Over the two years I was there ALTs had various questionnaires to fill in and various meetings with city councils members and people who worked in tourism. Sometimes we even had to fill in the same form as the year before. People usually asked the same token questions, very little changed. The ALTs always gave the same answers, that the tourist information office is great, the city signs are bi-lingual and really useful etc... The problem is no one outside of Shimane knows where it is, and there is no advertising in other regions of Japan. ALTs would always urge them to make leaflets and get them displayed in travel agents' offices, hotels and hostels, as Shimane does genuinely have a lot of nice things to offer. Matsue is worth a visit for Lake Shinji alone, the views are amazing.

Before I left Japan, I went to a little ceremony and was made an ambassador to the city. We met the vice-mayor too (the real one was busy that day). The usual question about tourism popped up and because the vice-mayor was a lovely gentleman with a good sense of humour, we joked and lamented about Shimane's unknown status. I suggested the tag line of "Shimane, next to Hiroshima!" to capitalize on Hiroshima's fame. After all, we're just above it, and loads of people go there! (For Miyajima and to see where the atomic bomb was dropped.) Now of course I can't say my jokes had anything to do with it. I'm 99.9% sure they didn't, but I like to pretend that just for once, my comments and questionnaire filling in wasn't in vein! ;)

unallersimple: (hectopus)
I have a free day today, and have spent it listening to Four Tet whilst making congratulation cards for my 3rd grade students at senior and junior high schools. The 3rd grade/18 year old senior high school students will graduate next week. (The school year is April-March in Japan.) I wish I could be there. It's so tempting to just go to the airport and jump on a plane! I'm really close to one of the classes that are graduating. We spent a lot of time together in and out of school and they make me smile so much. I learned so much Japanese and Japanese culture from them, and they really changed me for the better by showing me how to smile and be positive about life and embrace everything you experience. For example, on a school trip to a theme park once it rained all day. Other students sat inside sulking and complaining. This class brought ponchos and had so much fun on the rides not caring how wet they got. I was so negative before I met them, now I feel like a better person for having known them.

What's extra nice is that from me they learned about England and foreign people. Their English got better during the two years I was at the school, and a little bit of that is because some of them spoke English with me every day. One student told me she is studying English at university thanks to meeting me. That she wrote in her application essay about the influence I'd had on her life and how she wanted to meet people, travel around the world and teach Japanese to foreigners. It was so moving to hear that.

Sometimes me and some of the students in that class hung out and chatted for hours. We always had a laugh, for example taking photos with the trophies during a break in a speech contest and pretending that we were the winners, or singing the "Hokey Cokey" in the corridors. Before I went back to England we watched the Matsue fireworks festival together. They came to wave me off at the station when I left. I told them a fake leaving date and came back to the school one month later and surprised the hell out of them to see their last cultural festival and sports day. When it really was the last goodbye we couldn't say anything for crying. It was so sad knowing that we were hardly going to see each other again.

I managed to call some of them to say congrats in person this week. The day after I got a message from one of them saying "Hey! Thank u for calling me! i was so excited,so i couldnt sleep early that night. lol" I love how she knows "lol"!
After messaging another student with the news that I wouldn't be flying back to Japan, she replied back and the last line of the message said "Wherever you are, I love you."

They still manage to make my day and I'm not even teaching them any more!
I miss them so much!

unallersimple: (Japan Flag)
In the UK children are socialised to look behind themselves while walking through a door. This is so that if anyone is walking the same way, and is standing next to them or up a few meters away, they will hold the door open for that person. If you do not do this, people will think you are rude, will silently curse you and may even feel offended.
While this door holding is a must, you can stretch the rules a little bit. If someone is just a little too far away, or you're in a hurry or just being lazy, you can push the door open behind you without waiting and do that little "Look I'm trying to show some kindness towards you!" nod. If you are being really polite, you can even hold the door open and let all the people coming the opposide way through before walking through yourself. However if those people don't express their eternal gratitude (expecially the last few people), you will believe that they epitomise all evil.

I never realised that there were so many social rules and feelings about door holding until I went to Japan. In our Tokyo orientations I remember one guy telling us not to hold doors open for people because it's just not the culture there. I laughed at this and was like, "Whatever! No one will ever have a problem with me holding the door open for them. Phfft!"

I soon learned.

It's not that anyone is being rude at all, it's just not Japanese culture to do the "over the shoulder check" before going through a door. For someone who has done this their whole life, it was one thing I could never experience without feeling a little shocked or hurt. Time and time again if I was behind a student or staff member, the door would be left to slam shut right in my face. Even if I was right behind them!! I found it hard sometimes not to heave it open dramatically in that British display of passive aggressiveness to make the point (which Japanese people wouldn't be able to interpret anyway).
When you hold the door for Japanese people who don't know this about foreigners, they look a little alarmed, upset, confused and feel obligied to hurry though so as not to inconvenience you any longer. I was always doing this by accident, it's just so hard to stop! It made me feel like I was being rude for inconveniencing them!

So when you're in Japan be patient when you have to open all those doors other people didn't hold for you and remember it's ok not to hold the door. No really, it's ok. Just let the door close. Just keep walking and let it go.

It's funny what you miss about your culture when living abroad.
I was so excited about holding doors open for people when I got back.

unallersimple: (boat)
July passed in a blur of leaving parties and events. After days and days of cleaning the apartment, packing and lugging boxes to the post office on my bike (not fun in the heat & humidity) it was finally time to leave.
I think the main difficulty was that for years other ALTs lived in the same apartment and left whatever they wanted for the next person. Well no ALT will live there after me so everything except things like the TV that the B.O.E. owned had to go. ArghhH! I did my best to give away or sell as much as I could. By the end though I was forcing people to take items like rolls of toilet paper because it's just such a waste to throw them away but nobody wanted them!

I managed to get the place empty 3 hours before leaving time. Phew! Before giving back the key, I sat on the floor writing the last few goodbye letters in the dark because it was cloudy and the electricity had just been stopped. Any sounds I made echoed in the room. I couldn't believe I'd spent two years in there and that they had finished already. I wanted to hug someone hard and I wanted to put all my friends in boxes to England so they will be there when I arrive. I miss everyone so much, even though it's only been about two weeks since I left! (3rd August)

I took the 7:01pm train to Kyoto. I chose an evening train because I knew I'd need a day to get everything wrapped up, but also so that friends could come and see me off at the station after work. I was a little early, so I sat in a Mister Donut reading a book until it was time to meet people. I was really surprised when 5 of my 17/18 year old students walked in. I asked them if they had come to buy doughnuts before going home. (Even though it's summer holidays, they still go to school almost every day.) They said they hadn't, they had come to meet me at the station to say goodbye. I was so moved I had to do the fastest blinking ever to avoid crying. Even though we were all really sad, it was a great chance to spend time with them and answer their questions. At 6pm we went to the waiting area. By this time I was well and truly surprised because more and more people kept arriving. Loads of them gave me leaving presents or cards, even though many of them had given me a gift already. The people ranged from students to co-workers who brought their families to non-work friends, from 2 to over 70 years old. It was amazing. I have never felt so loved!

About half of those bought a platform only ticket to wave me off as I got on the train. I made sure I got on last so I could wave to them from the door and I took a picture of them taking a picture of me hahaha. As the train left Matsue I took one last look at my school in the distance.

After that I slept my way to Kyoto because by that point I was absolutely cream crackered.

I got to the hostel around 11pm, made the bed, pulled on the pjs and crashed with my clothes strewn around me. Ahhhh it was a good sleep. It was a good sleep and an amazing goodbye from everyone. Thank you. I love you.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
Well I've had a really long break from blogging for the past few months. What got me started again? I've been getting messages from new people to the blog asking about Japan and JET which inspired me to write. Thank you new people! (Well not that new, I'm about 6 weeks late in replying to their messages, sorry!)

It's interesting to imagine all the 2010 ALTs around the world who are researching their placements and preparing to move to Japan soon. I remember how exciting and scary it was.

I'm in the opposite situation right now, as I'll leave school in about 6 weeks and leave Japan in about 2-3 months.

It's been an amazing year so far.

Skip back to March and I ended up being right bang in the middle of the poster for the St Patrick's Day parade in Matsue. A little worrying as that poster was everywhere and I looked really silly on it. The photo was a shot of the crowd watching last year's parade. I was clapping with my mouth open in it, looking a bit like a seal! This year the parade was really fun again. It was great to see everyone dressed up and meet lots of people. That evening me and another ALT managed to get trapped in a shopping mall car park at 11pm which is a really random but funny memory!

At school the academic year ended and graduation ceremonies were held. At my base school, the class of seven 18 year olds were among those leaving. They were a special bunch and I really miss teaching them. They made me smile so much. After graduation they invited me to their final homeroom class. No one else has ever done that and I was so moved.

In the Spring vacation I treated myself to a trip to Okinawa (Japanese islands in the Pacific) and had a great beach holiday in the sun.

The new school year started in April and the new students are sooo cute! They looked all shiny and new and nervous to be starting a new school in a new place with lots of people they don't know. I've really enjoyed teaching them and getting to know them. I've also been determined to give them the best start I can with my classes. It's been going well so far.

Some victories:
* After requesting that ALTs join the English teachers meeting, communication has improved a lot and teachers are listening and supporting the ALTs a lot more.
* Lesson quality is better than ever.
* More students are taking part in the speaking and writing schemes run by ALTs.
* One Japanese teacher who had little confidence last year has really improved and is really rocking these days. (One of my missions before I left was to give her more confidence to teach and speak English.
I wonder how much of her change has been because of me?)
* Friendships with the other teachers have strengthened.

Some not so good things:
* More work than I have time for and some schedule changes means I'm doing a lot more work at home. D'oh.
* Still have problems at one of my schools in particular. (Regular readers will know which one!) I cried on the bus on the way home again today. I don't feel like I have anyone to talk to or any way of improving the situation, but I'm fighting not to give up.

At the end of April I celebrated my birthday by going to Kyushu (one of Japan's islands) and visiting my friend Saki. Had a great time going on loads of day trips and catching up with her. Hadn't seen her in 5 months and I'd really missed her.

Can't remember when, but at one point I had a gorgeous day out with a friend from work who took me out to a spa on the coast. One part of the pool had sun loungers in it facing the window. Such a wonderful view of the beach and the sea in the sun. Bliss. Wish I could go every weekend!

This month I managed to cross two things off on my "Things to do before I leave Japan list". One was going to see a baseball game which I did at an event in Hiroshima with loads of JETs from 5 different prefectures. It was so great to meet new ALTS and make friends. I met some really cool people and thankfully they knew about baseball and explained what was going on to me. Coming from England I didn't have a clue about the game. (Though baseball will always be an American version of Rounders to me!)

= = = Oh my good God I have just seen a huge and horrible insect scuttle right next to me!! Arghh!!! Blurghhh! Help! I squashed it with my mug. Yuck! :S I never get bugs like that in my apartment. Why now?! Why do they appear right before bedtime? Now I have to go to sleep wondering if any more are lurking in the dark about to crawl on my face. :S :S :S :S !! = = =

This year we've also had school trips, sports competitions, a drill to practice what to do if armed violent men break into school, two weeks of picnics under the beautiful cherry blossom and a trip to Nara!

Now we're in June and the rainy season has started, as has the humidity which results in an explosion of mold everywhere in the apartment again. Lovely! It's also fun at this time of year to compare the color differences of your skin. Compare say, your forearm and your stomach and see how one is now brown and the other is bright white.

Coming soon I have the end of term tests and a whole bunch of leaving parties and goodbye meals. Last night I had a goodbye party with my adult conversation class which was really fun and really moving. They bought me a yukata (a cheaper, more common version of a kimono) and gave me a lovely card. I'm happy to be going home for sure, but I'll miss so many of the people I've spent time with here.

My last day at school is the 30th July and I'll leave Matsue on the 3rd August. Before coming home I'll travel around Japan. My first port of call is Kyoto and the surrounding area before moving on to the Summer Sonic music festival. (This year I'll be at the Osaka site.) Am so excited about this I have to have calm down moments every once in while when I get too giddy.

More posts to come with photos at some point in the future but here is one to get you started.

^ Me and Emily cheering on the Hiroshima Carps during the baseball game.
They went on to lose badly to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks!

unallersimple: (hectopus)
In Japan Valentine's Day exists but it's done a little differently to how we do it in the UK.

The focus is on the women giving something to the men. Gifts are usually chocolate, and the best thing to give is something that you baked yourself. Homemade cookies and cakes are also ideal edible items to please your man. Just make sure it's beautifully wrapped and presented before handing it over. If cooking isn't your thing, pop to the shops to buy some cute chocolate made specially for the occasion. Before you start getting your gifts ready though, be aware that you might have to prepare gifts for more than one person.
More than one person?

If you've been following this blog for a while you'll know that gift giving is very important in Japan. Especially as a way of showing loyalty and devotion to your superiors and your company. You may have heard that every time I go away on vacation I'm obliged to bring back little cakes or cookies for my co-workers and a small gift for my supervisor, deputy head and headteacher. As Valentine's Day has been imported into Japanese culture it has of course been adapted to fit Japanese society. Gone are the cards, flowers, love letters and dates. During my previous adult conversation class my students briefed me about some of the different types of chocolate giving that exist instead.

1 - Chocolate for the man you're serious about, your true love. ("honmei choko")
2 - Chocolate for your friends. ("tomo choko" - tomodachi means friend in Japanese)
3 - Obligatory Chocolate for your male superiors and co-workers. ("giri choko") If you're not fond of them you can always buy super cheap chocolates!

After when I was asked who I would buy chocolate for, I joked that I would buy for myself. (Adding that I do this every day, not just Valentine's Day!) We agreed that we need a 4th category for this, so we added "jibun choko", or chocolate for yourself.

As Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year, a lot of the gift giving happened today at school. It's always funny to watch a group of girls giggle their way round the teacher's room handing out food. This is especially true when they're giving something to one of the good looking young male teachers. Some of my students kindly gave me tomo choko and hand baked cookies. One girl had even baked Russian Roulette chocolate. Some of the sweets had honey and other tasty treats inside, others contained wasabi and ketchup! (I got ginger and Emily ketchup!)

If you're thinking this all seems a bit unfair for the ladies don't worry. In March there is a day called "White Day" where men give gifts of chocolate back to those they received Valentines Day gifts from. The general rule is that it should be more expensive than the gift they received. I can't wait until March though. I'm off to buy some more jibun choko.

unallersimple: (boat)
My headteacher from my base school was kind enough to take me and Emily on a day trip around Shimane today. We were picked up by him and his daughter Kumiko (who I've become friends with recently) in the morning, then drove for about an hour to the Oku-Izumo winery. When you think about Japan you don't really think of wine and grapes but there are some good quality wineries here. We picked a great day to go on a day trip as the weather was so warm and sunny for January.

^Here's a view of the fields though sadly it's the wrong season to see any grapes.

^For some reason the winery was also home to some donkeys. I was surprised at how happy I was to see them as I haven't seen a donkey in years!

After eating lunch at the winery we drove over to an onsen (a natural hot spring) which was on the side of a river in a really remote location. Unfortunately I forgot the name of where we went! I saw some of the most beautiful scenerey I've ever seen in Shimane there. Before going in we took a quick walk around the banks of the river.

The building that housed the onsen was a tiny little place made of wood. I couldn't take any photos inside (unless I wanted old Japanese women chasing after me for taking photos of them in the baths) but I did take a photo of the foot spring outside.

Inside we did the usual onsen routine. Men and women are in separate changing rooms and hot springs. First we took off all our clothes, then washed thoroughly to ensure that we were squeaky clean before going in. That way the water in the hot spring is clean for everyone to use. The changing rooms were so cosy, beautiful and warm with wooden walls, floors and benches. It had real character and charm. The onsen itself was split into two parts, one pool inside and one out. Don't worry though, the outside one had wooden screens so nobody could see in! The hot spring had stone floors and steps into the water which really added to the natural feel of the place. The water itself is completely untreated and contains a lot of minerals that are beneficial for your health. I love onsen as they're really good for my scabby skin. (I have eczema.) I wish I had one next door so I could use them all the time!

On the drive home my headteacher was even kind enough to let us nap while he drove. I guess us girls were sleepy and relaxed after all the eating and bathing! I'm so grateful to our headteacher. Unlike many Japanese people he's comfortable and relaxed around foreigners and doesn't mind listening to and trying to speak English. He has had me, Emily and Bryan around to his house many times now and this is the second day trip he's taken me on. (Remember last year he took me and Bryan cross-country skiing?) I'll miss him and his family so much when I leave.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
In my first year in Japan I remember feeling puzzled by a sign in a rental store which read "Pops". I wondered why people didn't get the English checked before having anything printed. A while later though I realized that music may indeed have more than one pop. As with many Asian countries the number of foreign music imports from America and Europe is high, but barely a trickle in the other direction. It's a lot easier to find Pixie Lott in Japan than it is to find Arashi in England for example. So to distinguish between western pop music and pop music from Asia people started adding the letter of the country to the genre. Japanese pop becomes J-Pop. In Korea it's K-Pop and in China it's...oh you get the idea!

Before I came to Japan the only Japanese music artist I could name was Yoko Ono. Actually she was the only famous Japanese person I could name! Do you know any more?

I realized that even after a year of life over here, I still know very little J-Pop. To rectify that I've been renting out about 3-5 CDs at random every week. The results are really funny. Sometimes I'm listening to absolute rubbish, others I've stumbled upon something really cool. The fun part is walking around picking things off the shelves and wondering what I'll end up with. When I'm not feeling so random, I try to pick up CDs by the bands my students always talk about.

You can check out Wikipedia's pages on J-Pop and their list of J-Pop artists. From there you can search the Internet further once you have a rough idea of where to start. Good old YouTube will have clips of any bands or singers you want to see.

The bands Arashi, Exile, Ellegarden, SMAP, KAT-TUN (the name was formed by taking a letter from each of the member's names), GReeeeN and HY are ones my students always talk about. If any of their songs are played during cleaning time they run around shrieking with excitement.

Perfume and Aqua Timez get played a lot during cleaning time too, but my students don't seem to go as crazy over them.

Superfly, The B'z, Mr Children and Kobukuro are also bands that I hear a lot of.

That's as far as I've got with J-pop music really.

Have fun watching some of these:

* Yui - song "Help" - I think it's famous for being in an anime called Air. As with many songs that have some English lyrics it's interesting to hear them pronounced. E.g. "lucky girl" becomes "rucky garu" and "chance" becomes "chansu".

* Perfume, song polyrhythm - Three Japanese women sound like chipmonks that have taken too many E-numbers. Played a lot during cleaning time at my school. I actually quite like this song. Very catchy.

*Aqua Timez, song "" (niji, means rainbow) - This song is really catchy and I can't stop humming the tune. The lyrics are really positive and upbeat too.

*Superfly, song "バンクーバー" (Bankūbā, or Vancouver in English.) - Very cool and chilled out. Often listen to this on my mp3 player.

The scariest song I've found is by Aya Hirano for her high pitched squealing in "MonStar" - try watching the chorus from 1.28 and squeal along to "daiiijoubu!" Ouch! Glass broke! She's great at pouting while wearing hats though.

Well as you can see this is far from a comprehensive guide, just some of the things I've come across really. Did you like any of them? Did you ears bleed?

If you know any Japanese music, please give me some recommendations!

unallersimple: (onsen)
At my junior high school, the one I go to only on Wednesdays, I have a scheme to encourage the students to speak English with me. Each student was given a sheet with a table on. The table has 50 small boxes, and when a students speaks English with me, I stamp a box on their sheet. A certain number of boxes earns them a prize. Sadly most students either lost their sheet, forgot all about it or couldn't be encouraged to say any English at all. (They're shy, and it's really embarrassing for them to make mistakes in English in front of a native speaker. Others are just not interested in talking to me.) Fortunately though some of the first grade saved the day and cheer me up every week by running to get their sheet and demanding a stamp when they see me at lunchtime. Many of them try to get 5 stamps by saying hello 5 times in a row, but I pretend to stamp their forehead if they do this.

I brought back some little knickknacks from England to hand out as prizes. On Wednesday I checked their sheets to see who had earned a postcard. (The more stamps, the bigger the prize. 10 gets a postcard.) One student who loves gardening and Harry Potter (especially McGonagall) saw the postcards and really wanted one. I checked her sheet, but she only had 2 stamps. She and her friend then set out to say 8 things in English so she could get a postcard of the Houses of Parliament. She is a low level student, so this was an enormous challenge for her.

The first few went well though. "I like dogs." earned 1, so did "How about you?". By 9 stamps she was really struggling and her and her friend were trying to make a question. "Can you Harry Potter?" she asked. I shook my head sadly. "Do you have any Harry Potter?" she tried. I shook my head again. I gave her a hint and suddenly her friend shouted "I've got it!" in Japanese. She whispered it to the girl who wanted the postcard who repeated it to me. "Do you have any Harry Potter DVDs? She cheered as I stamped box number 10. I wrote her a well done message and signed my name on the back of the card. She looked so happy bless. I told her that I only have 1 Harry Potter DVD as I like the books more. I learned she has all 6, and she ordered me to buy the rest.



unallersimple: (Default)

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