unallersimple: (hectopus)
Click on the links to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Kate's experiences of applying for the JET Programme.


Lizzie: What advice would you give to people wanting to apply to JET in the future?

Kate: The best piece of advice that I can offer is to research JET and make sure that this is something that you definitely want. JET is an amazing opportunity for you to get to experience but you need to be 100% committed to it. My sister and a friend of mine are both applying for the 2014 JET Programme and they have asked if I have any advice and I've told them both the same thing. Start immersing yourself in as much Japanese culture as possible. This will not only look good on an application, but it will also benefit you as you'll be introduced to a way of life that you could be experiencing very soon. Also be aware that the application and selection process can be daunting but do not let this put you off – the hard work you put in will be more than worth it in the end. :)

Lizzie: How did it feel to find out you'd been accepted?

Kate: I was in shock! I had been anticipating the day for so long that when I found out I couldn't really process it. I had imagined dramatically falling to my knees, screaming, jumping, dancing... but none of this happened. I was at home for Easter break and had woken up really early for some reason. I heard my mum and dad leave the house to go shopping and then later I heard the letter box clatter. As soon as I heard it I suddenly felt as if it was from the embassy. I didn't go downstairs to check as I was nervous, I suddenly felt like I didn't want to know. Later I heard my mum and dad come back in and exchange a few hushed words between them before coming up the stairs. Yep. It was definitely a letter from the embassy. My mum hovered in my doorway waiting for me to open it and my dad asked if I wanted him to read it for me... I asked them both if they wouldn't mind giving me a minute to prepare myself and I'd let them know as soon as I did. I sat looking at it for about five minutes – this was going to change my life either way. The most important envelope ever.

I eventually tore it open and couldn't get past the first sentence. I'd made it. I would be leaving for Japan in four months. At this point the shaking started. I couldn't believe that all of my hard work had finally paid off. I had never wanted something so much in my life and I had actually achieved it. I went downstairs and told my mum who let out a blood curdling scream before hugging me. This made my dad run into the house from the front garden, jump onto the hug and also let out a few blood curdling yells for good measure too. Then the tears started – they were both crying and I was still in shock. I couldn't smile, cry, laugh... all I could do was continue to shake. Then I had to phone my Grandad and sister and let them know, cue more tears and incoherent rambling on my behalf. Then I did the old Facebook status and received a flurry of likes, comments and smiley faces from people I haven't seen for about 15 years – the usual. To be very honest it didn't register with me for most of that day, even after all of the congratulations, champagne and celebrations. It didn't sink in until about three days later when I started frantically trying to gather all of the documentation needed to ensure my placement and organising medicals and chest x-rays. The fun and games of scrambling around for signatures, filling out forms and getting passport photographs had started all over again. At least this time I knew I was definitely going.

Lizzie's comment: Yep, a lot of people are shocked to realise that even after getting onto JET the hard work and stress still continues! You have to get a lot of documents such as the CRB check ready in a short amount of time. Do it as soon as possible and stay patient and positive!

How are you feeling about going to live in Japan?

Kate: I'm really excited. I can't describe the feeling very well, some mornings I wake up and feel nothing but excitement and then I'll get a sudden wave of fear. I know that the experience will be challenging as well as amazing all at once. I'm prepared for the culture shock and know that everything wont be perfect 100% of the time but I'm ready to face whatever comes my way. I found out my prefecture last week. I'm off to Hokkaido which I am absolutely thrilled about. I've yet to hear of my exact location but it hasn't stopped me from learning as much as I can about the island. At the moment I'm a font of information about general facts about Hokkaido that my friends and family have been driven insane with. I'll be sitting there and just flash some random picture of the lavender fields or Matsumae castle on my phone in the middle of conversation. I think they can't wait until August when they'll finally be rid of me. :)

Most of all, I realise how lucky I am. I know that this experience will change my life and I'm so grateful that I get to be a part of something so amazing.


I'd like to say a huge thank you to Kate for answering my questions despite being really busy with university and preparing for life in Japan. Good luck with everything!
unallersimple: (hectopus)
Click here for the first entry of this three part interview.

In this post Kate will talk about how she found the JET Programme interview at the Japanese embassy in London.

Lizzie: So how did it go?

Kate: I found out I had got through to the interview stage on the 9th January 2013. When I heard the news I couldn't stop shaking. After the initial excitement it dawned on me that it wasn't that far away. I had less than two weeks to prepare! I needed to get to London, buy a smart new suit for the interview and remember how to breathe! During January the UK was blanketed in snow making travelling around quite difficult which caused me to panic even more. I added Virgin trains to my Twitter account so I could stalk the notifications and cancellations. Fortunately my sister lives in West London so I had a place to stay for a few days beforehand and mentally prepare.

As the interview drew closer my nerves started to get the better of me. What if I messed it up? What would they make of my scouse accent? What if they asked me a question in Japanese?! The English grammar test – what the hell is grammar?! After seeing my near enough melt down my sister and her boyfriend intervened and took me to the nearest pub where they explained that I just needed to relax. I knew my own reasons why I wanted to go and everything that I had written in my personal statement was key, they would more than likely focus on that.

The next day I left for the Embassy about 2 and a half hours early just to be safe. (Pesky snow!) I made sure I knew exactly where the Embassy was. It looked beautiful in the snow. I remember feeling a bit awe struck as I stood outside it, but then after looking at my phone I realised it was an hour and a half too early. I settled in Costa went over some notes but I must admit it was quite difficult to focus on anything at that point. I had researched JET interview experiences online before I left and read/watched some amusing tales. (I think every interview candidate has some sort of trauma happen on the day of interview.) You need time to settle your nerves and collect your thoughts. You also have to take the five minute grammar test BEFORE your allotted interview so my advice is get there well within time.

After passing my interview invitation slip to the polite lady behind the reception desk at the embassy, I received my pass and was asked to take a seat. I waited quietly and tried to collect my thoughts. About 10 minutes passed before a boy and girl arrived together and sat opposite me, we exchanged friendly smiles and nods of encouragement but each chose to remain quiet. (I read online that you are watched throughout the ENTIRE time you spend inside the Embassy – how true this is I don't really know but I wasn't going to risk anything by appearing like a gossiping fishwife in the reception area.)

A few minutes later a girl arrived and escorted me and the girl who had just arrived upstairs. She explained that we must be escorted through the Embassy at all times. We were led into a room and handed our grammar test. I was convinced that I had destroyed all chances of ever becoming an ALT during those painful 5 minutes. I thought I knew the answers but then second guessed myself, refusing to trust in instinct. I still have no idea how it went. After that we were sat in front of a somewhat cheesy looking DVD and had the chance to ask the previous JET's any questions we may have. I think I asked something along the lines of if you are successful and are offered a place on JET, do you stay in the same prefecture for your entire placement if you want to renew your contract. The answer was yes by the way just in case you're wondering. (Lizzie: Though you can apply for a transfer under exceptional circumstances such as the JET Programme being cut in your area, which was what happened in Matsue the year after I left. There is sadly no guarantee you'll get a transfer though.)

FINALLY it was interview time. A Japanese lady came out of the interview room, smiled at me and called my name. I stood and followed her inside half expecting a steel faced panel of about 10 people facing my chair stranded in the middle of the room with a spotlight on it. But to my surprise (and relief!) the room was inviting, brightly lit and the panel desk only had two people behind it, the polite Japanese lady who had led me in and a friendly American man. They instantly put me at ease with their encouraging smiles and friendly handshakes. I was asked to take a seat and then it began.

As the interview progressed I grew more and more confident in my answers. I tried to keep referring back to the initial question and to make sure I answered as thoroughly as possible. 20 minutes went by in what felt like 2. I seriously couldn't believe it when the American man thanked me for my answers and asked if there was anything in particular that I thought they had missed out that I would like to discuss. I did add something that I had forgotten to mention in a previous answer and then that was it! I stood and shook hands with each of them and thanked them for their time. I was escorted down to the reception by the nice ex-JET girl once again and then made my way in a daze down to the tube station. It was kind of weird for me as it wasn't the feeling of relief that I had been expecting. To be very honest I felt a little bit sad. That was it. No more JET. I had done everything I could and now I just had to wait. Almost three years of preparation and excitement had suddenly come to a halt and I felt a little bit lost without it. The next three months was going to be absolute torture if this feeling persisted. After a flurry of phone calls from family and friends I felt better. They were right in saying that even if I didn't get accepted I had already come a long way. I felt proud that I had reached interview stage.

Lizzie's comments: Lots of great points raised in this description of her interview e.g. that you don't have long to prepare for the interview once you've been told you have one.

Kate also did the following which I recommend to future applicants:
*Research what questions they ask in advance and prepare answers.
*Prepare for travel disruptions.
*Arrive at the embassy early.
*Don't talk to other JET applicants at the embassy – they view this as potential cheating.
*Don't panic!

Work out how to sell yourself as the best candidate possible in the short amount of time provided. Remember that it's about why you would make a great teacher. Tell them why you will be able to adapt well to life in Japan. Show how dedicated and passionate you are about the goals of JET and explain how you want to be a source of grassroots internationalisation and culture exchange both in Japan and back in your home country after JET.

It's NOT about why YOU want to live in Japan. It's about what you can offer the JET Programme and what you will do for your future students and neighbours! If you keep that in mind when you interview you'll do well.


Read Part 3 here.

Read about my JET Programme interview here.

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: (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: (suitcase)
I was getting tired from having the decision of whether to stay or leave Japan weighing over me. It'd been there for months and I realized I'd been spending too long worrying about what to do. On the 18th there was an ALT opinion share event where we can share the good and bad things in our lives and share solutions for any problems we have. I got some good advice from our prefectural adviser about re-contracting. He said not to think about what you might do afterward, but just think about whether to stay or leave Japan. That really helped me focus and that night I had a mega think about life, the universe and re-contracting. After about two hours I had a list of reasons to stay, a list of reasons to go and a decision. It was really difficult dicision to make though.

I've decided to leave Japan after my contract runs out in August. I don't have anything else sorted out yet, though I'll hand the form for leaving in at the next meeting at the Board of Education. (We have to hand in the re-contracting paperwork by February 2nd.)

Some of the things on the list of reasons to stay were loving my students, the high salary, the holidays, the extremely comfortably lifestyle, loving Japan, the people, the food & the language and wanting to grow further as a teacher.

Some of the reasons to leave were feeling lonely, feeling burnt out after 2 years in 2 stressful school placements where I didn't feel supported professionally, frequently working 12 hour days or on weekends, the JET Program being phased out of Matsue so I wouldn't be able to stay in the city more than a year anyway, a lack of dating opportunities, wanting to work and travel in other countries and the fact that I'm forgetting English. I'm also tired of hiding my sexuality and pretending to be straight (I'm bisexual) and not having anywhere to meet other Japanese or foreign LGBT people.

I realised that what it comes down to is that the reasons to stay are all things I could find elsewhere. I love Japan so much, but I think it's better to risk losing a comfortable life in a country I adore to find a more satisfying one. I'd love to stay, but it just sadly comes at the expense of having to move to a new city once there are no more ALTs in Matsue. I don't want to start over in Japan again. I also feel tired of repressing my sexuality in Japan and being afraid of getting outed. I feel like even after 2 years, I'm still being made to feel like the outsider foreigner by Japanese people. It's also really hard to find local Japanese friends outside of school who want my friendship rather than the chance to use me a free English teacher.

So I'm leaving. It really saddens me 'cos I'm going to have to tear myself away from this country but I feel confident I'm doing the right thing.

I'm going to make the most of my remaining time in Japan though. My last 6 months will be AWESOME!

There are still some things that I really want to do before I leave. Here are some of them...
* Go to a baseball game. (Baseball is really popular here, and I've never seen a game as we don't play it in England.)
* Go to Okinawa and Hokkaido (so then I'll have been to the 5 main islands of Japan).
* Explore all the side streets and parks near my house.

I also read my Japan travel guide cover to cover to work out a list of places I want to travel to before going. It turned out to be a long list so I've started saving hard!

unallersimple: (stars)
After the drum festival the busy days didn't stop as I prepared for the annual school English camp which took place on Thursday and Friday. I was a little worried about it, as this year's class can be badly behaved at the best of times and impossible to teach at the worst. Many of them had to go even though they didn't want to, which is never a good way to start a camp. Today I found out one student's mother had called her form teacher to say that at first, she was nervous and wasn't looking forward to it. After the camp however, she came home saying how much of a good time she had and she now wants to go to the Shimane English camp next year. Yay! Just hearing that erased any annoyances I had about all the extra work preparing for it.

A few weeks ago I held some students from that class back at the end of the lesson. I scolded them and told them to stop talking in the future, which is the first time I've ever had to do that in Japan. The next week one of the teenagers I scolded was really quiet in class and kept fishing for the teacher's approval by asking things like "I'm being really good today aren't I?!" In my English camp workshop I said I really loved her glass jar painting as it was so cute. As we were about to leave on the last day she gave me her jar as a present. Such a turn around from someone who would refuse to speak to me before! Can't wait to see how she is in class tomorrow! Will there be any difference?

When I first started there was a girl who didn't study very much and spoke absolutely appalling English. She has a heart of gold and is really friendly, but she was more interesting in talking than doing any work. These past few months though she's really grown up. She's now a member of the student council, studies hard and has even taken part in several English speech competitions. The other day we got talking and she said that one reason her attitude to English changed was because she saw how much my Japanese had improved, and if I could do it, then she could learn to speak good English. I felt very moved and inspired.

Also some of my students have been accepted into the university they wanted.

These little things really mean a lot to me. Sometimes it's easy to feel down and that nothing you do is making a difference. You feel like giving up when things go wrong or lessons go badly. You wonder why you are bothering. These events showed me that while it's taken a lot of time, I'm starting to see all my hard work pay off. The crazy, weird and wonderful teenagers that I teach are growing up. They're turning into beautiful young adults, and it's amazing to see and play a little part in that.

unallersimple: (stars)
This is taken from our rehearsal last Tuesday. As it's only the second night of practice, things are still looking a little bare. There are no costumes or fancy floats in sight yet. Just a bunch of people drumming in a car park after work. We haven't started on the second drum rhythm either, so we're only playing one tune.

^Okay so I just looked at the video and the sound on this is terrible! Please know that it sounds 100 times better in real life! The flutes sound strange too because the tune is a traditional Japanese one, which sounds really out of tune to us at first. There's a guy in a black t-shirt with glasses, he's the strongest drummer I've met. The sound he whacks out is incredible! So loud!
I love this video though because you can see experienced drummers, little kids who need to stand on a bench to reach, newbies who are drumming with the wrong technique, old men sitting, drinking and watching, old men teaching younger men and a woman patting out the rhythm on her daughter's head.

At first I was really annoyed with myself for signing away lots of free time, but once I started drumming I was glad. Now it's not new, and I seem to have a better technique this year. I can drum for up to 20 minutes without collapsing from severe arm pain and muscle ache. Once you get into it and know the rhythm off by heart, it can feel similar to meditation. You just drum away and zone out and suddenly come round some time later realizing that you weren't thinking about anything, your mind was just drum. It's a nice feeling, and one that I didn't really have last year due to the constant arm pain. It's also been fun to teach some of the first timers the beat and technique. They generally look very shocked when a foreigner knows what to do better than they do hahaha. It's also good to watch the people who've been drumming for decades since they were wee beans. Their style and technique is amazing, so I've been trying to pick up some better practices from them this week too.

My first night of rehearsal was memorable. After a short practice of about half an hour, I was invited into a small community building room upstairs. I was shocked to find at least 50 people (mostly men) seated at a table while some women were serving the food and alcohol. I was beckoned by the drumming group chief to sit at the top of the table as the guest. Then he welcomed everyone and opened the celebrations for starting this year's drumming. After he had spoken, I had to stand up and introduce myself. I talked about how awesome the festival was last year, how kind and welcoming everyone had been and how excited I was to take part again.
For the next 20 minutes or so I was surrounded by no fewer than 20 old men who teased me and got me guess how old they are. (I'm telling you at 75, they look 10 years younger and can move faster than me!). This ended when the chief, who was thankfully wise enough to spot I was 50 years younger than everyone nearby, ordered a young man to come over. He noted our ages were only 6 years apart and announced he'd found me a husband! (If only it were really that simple!) He then ordered us both to the other end of the table where young people sit. Those kinds of people crack me up, I had a good giggle on the way home. At the young end of the table I talked with some of the women who were waiting on the men, and my future husband who looked thoroughly embarrassed by the whole thing.

I still can't get over how kind everyone was. I ate so much delicious food for free, and everyone tried talking with me at some point. The elderly folk try to improve my drumming technique, and when they see I have no clue what they are saying, they kindly gesture the correct way to move your arms to hit the drum.

I'm excited for the big day, though I don't know what my costume looks like yet (I'm in a different drumming group to last year). I hope it doesn't rain!

unallersimple: (hectopus)
Today ALTs had to spend the day at the Board of Education to officially re-contract. This involved a lot of sitting around as we were told the rules of our home and workplace. It also involved a lot more sitting around while we went over the details of our contract. Last year I was the one absolutely falling over myself desperate to make a good impression. This year I sat daydreaming and thinking about what I would pack for Tokyo when I got back to my apartment. How times have changed!

In the morning we had a ceremony to receive our letters of appointment which said that we will be employed by the BoE for another year (and worryingly that we have been adopted by them). In the afternoon we had a ceremony with the Mayor of Matsue. It's nice to be officially welcomed by the city, especially as I'm sure he has better things to do than talk to me. For some reason this occasion attracts a lot of media attention and we had several photographers and a cameraman there to record our 40 minute long meeting. I suspected they would be there, but it's still a really difficult and nerve wracking experience. You have to try and drink tea, answer questions in Japanese, smile and ignore the photographer pointing a camera only inches away from your face while you're being filmed from the other side of the room! It was embarrassing because this year, I'm now the JET with the worst Japanese and I couldn't always follow the conversation. I felt like the dumb idiot sat in the corner. After long sentences I didn't catch the meaning of, the mayor would suddenly swing the conversation my way by saying, "How about you Elizabeth?!". Shame. Lots of shame. Sadly all caught on camera.

Shame aside though, it was fun to see the media people running around the room again and today makes it the 5th or 6th time I've been on local TV!

After meeting the mayor the new JET was cornered for a TV interview. I'm so glad this didn't happen to me last year! He did a grand job despite his nerves. I snuck a photo using my mobile phone.

So now I'm contracted to stay until August 3rd, 2010 and I've finished packing my bags. I leave for Tokyo tomorrow morning. I can't think of a better way to spend the first few days of my second year.

unallersimple: (japan poster)
In Japan all schools have something called a "bunkasai" at the start of their second term. This is a huge affair, with planning for the event starting months before. All the forms are divided into teams. Each team with their own colour. My school is large enough for four teams.

The teams compete in various events throughout a three day period. "Bunkasai" translates into something like "culture festival" in English, though it still sounds baffling because we don't have anything like it in the UK. The first two days include a quiz, but most of the events are non-competitive. The dance club perform. So do the brass band with a couple of other teachers guest staring, much to the delight of the students. Last year Bryan sang a song with two other teachers and the students went wild. Everyone ran to the front to get a closer look. Other things include an artwork display. Clubs such as the tea ceremony club offer the chance to take part and be served tea.
The final day, unfortunately always on a Saturday (Why don't they just start the festival on the Wednesday and have Saturday off!?) is the sports day. It's more like the ones you had in primary school than secondary school. There's no sports like shot put or the high jump. Instead you have some track events combined with things like tug of war and the three-legged race.

Last week there was a lot of excitement during lunch time as each form was allocated a team and a colour for the festival.

It's custom to wear clothing in your team colour at the sports day. I was really hoping I'd be allocated to the yellow, green or blue team, as I already have blue and green t-shirts and last year I had to buy a yellow t-shirt for bunkasai. This week I found out I'm in the red team. Bof!



Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:15 pm
unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
A few weekends ago I went to see some of the Shimane ALTs compete in a jujitsu tournament.
Ju (idea or thought) jitsu (action, the way you fight) is a sport native to Japan and is hundreds of years old. I'd never seen a martial arts tournament before so it was really exciting for me. The men and women taking part were all excellent fighters, and I ended up taking a lot of photos and videos. The competitors also seemed to be amazingly flexible and could maneuver themselves and each other into the most amazing positions trying to pin each other down and get out of holds.

Here's two clips from the videos I took. When I was filming one pair the fight spilled out of the ring so I had to skidaddle pretty sharpish before two burly blokes landed on me. You can see how exhausted they are. At some points they can barely keep going. It's awesome stuff!

Sadly all the ALTs who took part lost their matches, but they all fought really well despite the heat.

unallersimple: (onsen)
...you get the chance to get loads of cool stuff on the cheap or for free!

Jason, a JET who lived in Shimane for 5 years, is going back to America. ALTs unfortunately can't stay on the program any longer than 5 years. I saw he had some magazines on his list of things to go so immediately emailed him to buy them off him. We agreed to meet at the ALT leavers' party last weekend. What I didn't know was that he had 110 magazines with him; many of which were Empire magazines! Those who know me know how much I worship that publication. As you can guess I'm a happy chappy. I haven't had much time this week, but I can't wait to devour them all. Looks like I'm set for reading material for a good year to come. Happy times!

unallersimple: (japan poster)
Friday 10th saw another enkai for the leaving ALTs. This time it was the Board of Education (who actually employs JET Programme ALTs and assigns them to the schools they work at) throwing the party. It was fun to dress up, eat, drink and play some games.

It was also really cool to see my previous supervisor at the BoE who had retired in April. I miss that guy! He's the ultimate dude in helping us out, and he's one of the few Japanese people who really understands what it feels like for foreigners living here. He really gets what problems we face and what things we really need to help us through. An example of his greatness comes from when I called him in a panic about needing to go to the doctors. I had only been in Japan a few weeks and had no idea what to do. I was really upset and scared. He drove me there the next morning, translated everything and was an absolute gentlemen during the awkward moments of medical check ups. He commented on how the hospital should provide forms and signs written in English. This was amazing for me as most of my conversations with Japanese people are still about whether I like sushi or saying random things like "England! Harry Potter!" at me. In the 9 years he worked as the ALT supervisor he has worked with around 70 different JETs. He's like my Japanese grandfather. Such a legend! I couldn't have asked for a better supervisor at my place of employment. Here his is with me and Bryan below.

At these kinds of events they also get the flags out for the photos. ALTs never miss a chance to prat around with them.

It was also my last night out and last bike ride home with Bryan. We cycled round the grounds of Matsue castle for a little bit, and when we reached our apartments he offered me more free things that he still hasn't managed to clear out of his place yet. I was still taking bags and bags of things to use at school the following week. Who knew a guy could have that much stationary?!

4 ALTs will be leaving this time, and one left earlier in the year. We'll get one newbie this summer so my city will now have 8 ALTs in all. When Bryan arrived there were 18, when I arrived there were 12. Our company is being phased out and slowly replaced with a cheaper one (Interac) and it's sad to see us JETs slowly heading towards extinction here. (Though of course I appreciate how lucky I am not to be in some small random town on my own!)

It's also sad to say goodbye to our friends from America, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Internationalization is great but I fear future re-unions will be a bit difficult! Best wishes to life after Japan, we'll miss you!

unallersimple: (Japan Flag)
Once a year the high school I work at has a volleyball and badminton tournament. On Tuesday everyone headed down to the city gym instead of school and got their sports kit on. After an opening ceremony the matches began, but not ones against other schools. All the classes played against all the other classes in the same grade. For example, the first year classes battled all the other first year classes for the prize.

Now I hate sports. The only exercise I ever do is fetching more junk food. In the worst case scenario I've already eaten it all and have to walk two minutes to the nearest convenience store to buy more. Little other movement is required. (Although I do get around Matsue by bike, so do a lot of cycling which I enjoy.) The second worse thing after being made to play sports for me is having to watch them. Anyway, hatred aside, I've never played Volleyball before. In the UK students play netball and hockey at school instead (on grass not ice!). Being a newbie to this game had me shockingly excited and I eagerly joined in the teams' warm ups. Not knowing what else to do my strategy was to copy what I saw on Baywatch as a child. I linked my fingers together and gave the ball a good whack with the wrists. I soon discovered how painful that is and that I was a pro at missing the pass or sending it flying across the room. The students were kind though and cheered me on patiently. Thankfully, I wasn't required to play in any matches.

The day was spent walking around talking to students and teachers I don't normally get a chance to. (I wasn't assigned any duties or responsibilities that day.) I cheered on the teams. I nearly passed out from the heat and humidity several times and some of the students nearly did too. Many were sat or lying around sleeping by the end of the day and everyone was absolutely exhausted. It was really fun to spend time with them outside of the classroom and outside of school.

It was also a sad day as it was part of Bryan's last week (he is the American ALT I've been working with at the high school all year). Watching him write his leaving speech was really moving. I tried to make the most of the few days I had left with him.

That evening we had a school enkai. (A work party with lots of food and drink, where teachers who act all serious and responsible during the day get completely wasted.) Bryan also gave a leaving speech and was presented with gifts. When it was time to go he experienced the enkai send off that he has done for so many others. The teachers lined up in pairs facing each other, raised their arms and joined hands to make an arch. Bryan walked through, and after many pats on the back and words of thanks and farewell we left the restaurant and cycled home. This unintentionally caused a lot of excitement among staff who saw us leaving together as confirmation of what they've suspected all year; that we are madly in love and maybe even have a secret relationship. Despite us constantly telling them this isn't the case, I was still being asked about it well into my second year long after Bryan had gone back to America!

unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
I have to admit, when I thought about what my duties at school would involve, weeding was not on the list. After a week of exams had finished, teachers and pupils changed into some outdoor clothes and spent 30 minutes pulling up weeds and grass in the school grounds.

As someone who comes from a country where students don't have to clean their own schools, my first thought of shock was; "Why don't they just pay someone to do this?!" Especially when very few students had trowels or any tools to do the job. I managed to get a pair of work gloves to protect my hands, but most teachers and students had to do it bare handed. This seemed a little pointless. You can't pull up many roots with your bare hands, so I'm sure all the plants that they're trying to get rid of will pop up again soon.

On the other hand though, I appreciate these moments in Japanese life. It's a time of working together, of being a group with your co-workers and classmates. I had the chance to visit different classes and help them weed. I had a few minutes to spend with students I wouldn't normally see.

The main point though, is that people are working together for the benefit of their community. Many schools for example, have days where they pick up litter in their area. This is one of the reasons why Japan is so clean. There is a greater consideration for others. (And possibly some less obvious but very gripping peer pressure to be the same and to abide by all the rules.) There is no litter or grafitti in any of the schools. How much nicer would schools be in the UK if the tables and walls were free from rude words and drawings. If you could play sports on the school field without having to spend ten minutes picking up rubbish first like I did sometimes. Weeding and other kinds of activities like these create a nicer environment to live and work in and despite my complaints about being made to weed, I do respect that. (Of course it also saves the school money, as they don't have to pay someone else to do it.)

Here's me hard at work. Check out my work gloves, sweat towel and some random straw hat some students found in the school and kept putting on the teachers' heads!

unallersimple: (hearts)
One afternoon an English teacher was walking down the street where she lived. Some children were playing on the road, and when a car was approaching she heard one say to another; “A car's coming, move out of the way.”. Shocked to hear Japanese children speaking native English, she assumed that her recent holiday to Australia left her imagining things. Later she found out that the children lived two doors down. The family are Japanese, but lived in the Philippines for a few years while the father worked there. As a result the children became pretty fluent in English and speak to each other in both languages.

Now they are back in Japan it would be really easy for the children to grow up and lose their English ability. The mother doesn't want this to happen so she asked around to see if she could find any foreigners to come and visit them. Word eventually made its way to me that a family were seeking a native speaker to play with the children once a week. Would I be interested?

Now, I'm generally quite good with people. I'm a friendly and approachable little thing. Where ever I go people flock towards me like moths towards light for conversation or information. Directions, platform numbers, the time, to tell me about their cats, anything. This is especially amusing to me because I rarely know the answer. People even ask me for directions when I'm abroad wearing my backpack. The one exception to this is with children. The elderly love me. Teenagers are no problem. It's just with children I never know what to say or what to do with them. After long periods of awkward silence I eventually creep them out and they run away. Knowing this, would it be a good idea for me to visit them? Could I do it without making them cry?

I decided to give it a go anyway. This year I'd been looking for something to do in the community outside of work and I thought that if it didn't go well, I could always feign busyness and never go back!

A few weeks ago I had my first visit. I shouldn't have been nervous. Once I overcame my shyness, the kids overcome theirs and stopped hiding under and behind the furniture. Hell we even started to have fun. The kids are a boy of 4 and two girls aged 6 and 9. (Let's call them 4, 6 and 9 for short.) 9 soon dragged me upstairs, sat me down and proceeded to give me an extremely detailed explanation of her Sylvanian Families doll house. Later 4 and 6 decided I would make a great trampoline and climbing frame. Soon we were all making a right noise having a paper and pillow fight. When the mum came up to see what all the noise was about we all hid our weapons and flashed our best "I'm innocent!" smiles. When we had thoroughly tired ourselves out it was time for tea. The family kindly offered me a place at the table to say thank you for visiting. I love getting free food!

I've been to visit a few times now and things are getting better as we're getting to know each other. I have discovered how nice it is to visit and play with the under 10s. We often play with other Japanese children in the street and it's so great that foreignness and language doesn't matter. They don't have stereotypes and hesitations about me at all because it has been socialised into them yet. At first they didn't know my name, age or country but I was invited to play immediately anyway. (Of course I'm always "it" when we play tig though 'cos I'm the biggest!) While all of them are cute, 6 is especially adorable when she keeps forgetting things. During my latest visit we'd played, eaten together then settled down to watch Snow White. 6 sat on me for the whole movie. Finally at the end she turns to me and asks, “What's your name?".

I can't wait for my next visit.

unallersimple: (boat)
Learning to Bow is Bruce Feiler's account of his time in Japan as a JET Program participant during the late 80s and early 90s. Though he spent time here about 18 years ago, many of the things he mentions are still relevant to life in Japan today. Many chapters feel so creepily familiar to me it's like reading a book about my daily life!
Sometimes the book gets a little boring and drags, but overall it's an informative and touching account about his experiences in school and out of it, also exploring Japan and Japanese society.

You can find it at Amazon here.

unallersimple: (lost)
While daily life at school is often frustrating, every once in a while something happens that's just downright ridiculous. This leaves you feeling like you're the only sane person in a world of crazy...but then if it's just you, maybe you're the only one with the problem? It also makes you want to have a temper tantrum so great you could outshine a two year old, but in Japan you have to keep face. Public displays of anger or upsetting the group harmony are not on. So after you politely point out something or make a suggestion on how to improve something, you're told that it won't change because "it's the Japanese way". (Hinting that as a foreigner and outsider, you couldn't possibly understand.) So you ignore it and push it away each time something like this happens...until one day it's been one time too many and you really do start to go crazy! Arghhhh!

For me that one time too many occurred at my junior high school the other day when the first graders were learning to write capital letters. The teacher asked me to write them one by one on the board so the students could copy and practice writing them. (Which again is not a great use of an assistant language teacher anyway.) So I wrote "A", the students copied. I wrote "B", the same way I've written it for well over a decade, and was stopped by the teacher. She told me I was writing it wrong. I was stunned. If anyone there knew how to write the alphabet it was me. She said it's because the line in the middle of my "B" has to touch the vertical line on the left and mine stopped half way. Aside from a little messiness with my handwriting in general, I can honestly say no one has ever had a problem with my "B". Seeing as we were in front of a class though, I could only smile, pretend I made a mistake and write the "B" as she requested. To do anything else at that point would be losing face and I would risk undermining her and us a team. As we progressed through the letters though, more problems arose. The middle of my "M" wasn't the same length as the two vertical lines. Neither was my "W". My C, R, P, N, G and a load of others were wrong too. So much so that she corrected them on the board afterward. She told me not to put a horizontal line on top on my "J". "J" usually has that horizontal line!

It was hard not to get so angry at the pettiness and pointlessness of it all. She could have simply pointed out that while my letters weren't exactly the same as the ones in the textbook, this simply showed variations in handwriting that exist. Nothing I did was incorrect. Besides, every single English speaker in the world doesn't write the same way. Neither does every Japanese person. The key thing is that the letter is recognisable. Learning to read the variations is a good skill to have. She could have also explained that she wanted the students to write the letters exactly the same as in the textbook for various reasons, so could I step to one side and let her do it instead? I would have understood and done what she asked no problem. Perhaps I should have offered to do that...but it's easier to think of solutions afterwards than at the time!

Why aren't Japanese schools more flexible? The other day I was told their way of writing was the best way because it had always been done that way (and of course it's the Japanese way). Well that's a lame attitude to have in my opinion. What's the point in having foreigners go into schools if everything they do that's different is said to be wrong and is not allowed? I can understand this happening in cases where there are huge differences in culture, but when it comes to writing a letter with a line that's a few millimetres different in length it's just absolutely ridiculous. I have adapted as much as possible to do things "the Japanese way", so it would be nice to have a little open-mindedness in return. Everything feels like such a fight sometimes.

I can only try to focus on the facts that can help me make sense of things (or have a temper-tantrum). Asking me to write letters on the board was probably a way of trying to include me in the class instead of having me just watching. A lot of teachers don't want someone else coming into their classes anyway. It makes life harder for them. They don't receive any training on how to work with an ALT so might not always know the best ways to incorporate them into the lesson in a useful and meaningful way. Things are made more difficult by the fact that it is a weekly visit. It takes more time to build up the working relationship and there is little chance to sit down and talk about what is and isn't working.

I can see how the teacher would be concerned that my slightly alternative way of writing letters would confuse the students, but I honestly think they would be ok. It was barely any different! I learned Arabic and Japanese at university so understand the importance of having a set standard to copy from when learning a new alphabet - but again my letters were hardly any different! I guess the Japanese culture also plays a part when it comes to learning to write. Every kanji has a set number of strokes and rules about which strokes come first and what direction they are drawn in, and I know it's important here for everyone to be exactly the same and this includes writing the same too. I understand and respect all of the above things. It just frustrates and upsets me no end when I'm constantly being told I'm wrong (especially when it's about something so petty like my 'B') rather than looking for a better way to work together and improve communication. I feel like I keep trying and trying and just hit a brick wall every time.

*steam releases from ears*

*and calm*

unallersimple: (lost)
To the new JET Programme participants,

It's an exciting time for you now, isn't it? After waiting 3 months to hear if you managed to get an interview, you'll now be in the middle of waiting 3 more to see if you'll go to Japan or not. After that life will get even better when you try to fill in all the paperwork on time.

To help you pass some of that time (and put off writing that essay due in soon) I thought I'd send some pictures of your new home.

It's called a rice field. Chances are, you'll be living in this area of Japan from August (especially if you requested Tokyo or Kyoto on your application form).

It might not look it, but it's actually a really convenient place to live. Food for example, can be found just a few minutes walk away. The vegetables are really fresh!

Okay...so I'm clearly exaggerating a lot here. Most people won't end up living somewhere quite so rural. But it gives you an idea of what sort of scenery to expect. These photos were taken in the tiny town I teach in one day a week.

unallersimple: (globe)
One of the unexpected advantages of being on the JET program is the culture exchange that occurs between people who speak English as a first language. I never really considered this before I left home. After all, I was going to Japan for a Japanese experience, but since arriving here I've realised how little I know about other English speaking countries. We share the same language, and some of the same culture but there is so much I'm completely unaware of. I realised for example that in my 21 years of life I'd only spoken to two New Zealanders, and one of those was via the Internet (hey Debzena *waves*). I was shocked to realise that I couldn't even say how many people lived there (4,280,000) let alone anything else. These days a meal with friends includes four or five different nationalities. It's awesome, and I'm learning so much.

Last night I celebrated Australia Day for the first time with a fine bunch of people in Matsue. (Although Australia Day is actually on the 26th.) Emily, a fellow JET in Matsue, went all out for the occasion. She baked Aussie food, ordered Aussie beer, put up flags and pictures and even made a quiz! I ate vegemite and fairy bread for the first time. Tasty. The only thing that was missing was the heat. Emily even brought an inflatable Kangaroo! Many parts of Australia are 40 degrees at the moment...compared to Matsue's minus three. Snow was falling all day yesterday.

Three of us arrived early to set up (and I won't lie, I wanted to get the food and beer before anyone else).

^ Emily (the blonde one) happened to be the only person from Australia at the party...but Marie celebrated the occasion with such enthusiasm many people believed she was too!

It was a great night.

So why is Australia Day on the 26th January? This is the day that the First Fleet, a bunch of British ships full of convicts, arrived in Australia in 1788. They were there to settle so it marks the start of British colonisation in Australia. For many people though, especially Indigenous Australians, it's controversial date. They feel that by having Australia Day on the 26th it's celebrating the destruction of Aboriginal culture as well as everything Aboriginals suffered as a result of colonialism.

I learned many other interesting things about Australia last night, such as the coat of arms has a kangaroo and an emu on because they are the only animals that can't go backwards. I think that's really neat. What a good symbol for progress and looking to the future.

After many hours of drinking it was eventually time to try and get home. While cycling to the bar had been ok, getting back was a little bit more tricky.

Now I know that trying to ride a bike home after midnight, in inches of snow, in temperatures of minus three degrees after consuming alcohol was not the best idea. A journey that normally takes 15-20 minutes took an hour. I had to push the bike home most of the way!

^Not quite sure why I felt the urge to capture some power cables on camera...but there you go. This was taken standing next to my front door.

I slept well last night, and well into this morning too. :)



unallersimple: (Default)

January 2016

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