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?!





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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.)

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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unallersimple: (rainbow walking)
My first week back at school this year has been a weird, wonderful one full of ups and downs.

Monday was a sleeping day (and day off work as it was a national holiday) as jet lag had hit me hard. I managed a little lesson preparation and managed to go for a meal with Shane and Jason (two other Matsue JETs). I couldn't do anything more than sit and listen to the conversation while I tried to stay sitting upright though!

Tuesday was a beast of a day. I had three lessons one after the other in the morning. I had to get up at 6 to walk to school in the snow and get the lessons ready. Two of the classes bombed badly. The afternoon was spent planning more lessons and the evening was spent teaching my adult conversation class. I hate losing entire days to work, especially when I need to clean, do laundry, unpack, eat etc.

My students cheered me up as they always do. Several of them squealed in happiness and excitement to see me again which made my day. (I felt the same, it'd been 3-4 weeks.) They were also really interested to see my Christmas photos. They thought the sheep looked really cute and were shocked when I told them they're tasty and we eat them in England. (Which I knew they would be and that was the reaction I was aiming for. Hehe.)

Wednesday, well I've ranted enough about my Wednesdays for you all to know how much I hate them! In winter, that school is so cold! :S Brrr. I clocked 6 degrees in the corridor this week.

Thursday looked to be a terrible, stressful day at first. One teacher I work with was sick, one was taking her son to hospital and two others were very late because of the snow. One poor soul was driving for 2 1/2 hours just to get in! I was sure I was going to end up teaching alone. Thankfully though, things worked out and kept falling nicely into place.
I had my last class with the third grade class who finished their last full week of lessons this week. They will graduate in March and start work or university in April. Many are taking their university entrance exams as I type. They are a special bunch. A rare class made up of only 7 students. I gave them a set of photos each of us from school trips and the like. We spent the class talking about their time at the school. Some of the things they were saying were so funny me and the Japanese teacher of English, let's call her Ms. Subarashi (not real name), were in giggles and wiping away tears of laughter. At the end of the class I was struggling to say my final words without shedding real tears. I'll really miss them.

There is an English teacher, let's call her Ms Sugoi (again, not real name), who sits on the other side of the staffroom. I've started going over to sit at the desk next to hers when that teacher is in class. Ms. Sugoi is one of the few Japanese people who loves foreign chocolate and can eat loads of it, so I go over with my stash from England and we have a good gossip. We always lose track of the time and I always end up appologising to the teacher whose desk I'm sat at when that class has finished. This, and many things like it, is why I'm a lot happier at work these days. My relationships with the other teachers has really improved recently. :D

Thursday was also mum's birthday. Had she still been alive she would have been 50 this year. She was in my thoughts a lot this week, but it didn't really upset me until Friday afternoon when I snuck off for a cry in an empty meeting room.

By the time Friday afternoon rolled around I was well and truly shattered and the last class of the week was a struggle. I was teaching with Ms. Subarashi and we both still had the giggles from the day before. I kept doing silly things like saying "Good morning!" instead of "Good Afternoon" and erasing things I needed from the board by accident. During a word game one student wrote "hot milk" but I thought she wrote "not milk" which caused Ms. Suberashi to giggle even more. The best bit came when we were pretending to be a waiter and customer for a listening practice. She sat on a chair as the customer but unfortunately it had a broken leg. The look on her face as the chair wobbled was hilarious and all 30 students were laughing. I got the giggles so bad I had to face the board while I was shaking with laughter. All the students thought this was really cute and funny, which made them laugh even more. Every time I tried to control myself and read from the handout my voice would crack and I would start laughing again - making everyone else laugh again too. I dug my nails into my palm and finally made it to the end of class. Once me and Ms. Subarsahi had walked out, we stumbled back to the staffroom crying with laughter again. Funny times, I haven't laughed so much in class since a student shouted out "cock" instead of "cook"!

Life at school in Japan is amazing. I'm always in awe of how I can feel so sad and happy at the same time sometimes. Just one day or one week has so many new challenges, random events and ups and downs. Even when you think you know how the day will be, you'll suddenly find yourself watching a concert with German opera singers (this happened this week in school too!) or there'll be an incident with a broken chair...

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unallersimple: (hectopus)
As it's Halloween on Saturday I ran a little Halloween event for my eikaiwa (adult conversation class) last night. Sadly you can't cut a face into a Japanese pumpkin because they are tiddly and tougher than the Terminator, but this year I managed to import some foreign pumpkins so I could teach the group about the tradition of carving them. I've never stayed in on a Saturday waiting for pumpkins to be delivered before. I've never tried to cycle with a box of them on my bike either! Thankfully I live near the community center.

The first awesome moment of the evening came when I lit the candles inside and turned off the lights. To my joy all the adults went "Ooooo!" and "Wow!". I felt that they passed the test of making a scary face when one person's two year old started crying. We had to turn the lights back on straight away bless.

The second awesome moment was when I found out no one had a carved a pumpkin before.

My class always clean up, take the rubbish home for me and give me all the extra food and drink from events like this. Last night was no exception. I am so lucky to have an eikaiwa full of such kind and generous people. I'm more than happy to teach them for free.


^One way to make small children cry.


^ Eikaiwa members rush in to take a photo!

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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.

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unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
On Monday the 24th I started back at school for the second term, though I didn't have any classes as the culture festival and sports day preparations were well under way. It was an exciting first day back as the roof of the gym was falling in so we couldn't hold the opening ceremony in there as usual. This meant all the students had to stay in their classrooms while the principal and vice principal broadcast their speeches over the speaker system. One of teachers asked me to check his English translation for his work about Japanese food. The poor guy was asking me about his grammar (which was great), but unfortunately didn't realise he'd written "bum" instead of "bun" on all the pages.

That evening I went to the welcome dinner for the new Shimane JETs. They are such a great bunch of people. I can't wait to hang out with them and get to know them better. After the all you can eat and drink meal we headed out to one of the nightclubs in Matsue. There even more alcohol was consumed which led to a lot of interesting moments. I myself went a little bit crazy. After spending a lot of the past two months alone there was suddenly so many cool new people and I was a very giddy kiddy running round talking to and dancing with everyone. Good times...

...until Tuesday morning. At school we had a whopping hour and fifteen minutes of weeding from 9am to clear up the sports ground ready for sports day on Saturday. Sun + hang over + feeling sick + grass allergies + a hour of crouching on the ground picking up weeds left me feeling very ill indeed! :S

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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!


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unallersimple: (boat)
Recently I accidentally stumbled upon an amazing website. LJ Book allows you to save your entire LiveJournal blog into a PDF format for free in just a few minutes. I was so relieved I found this and saved both my blogs immediately. I'd always been concerned about what would happen if this site goes down or my account gets hacked. I've put so much love and effort into this for years and I would be gutted to see it all go. After I copied my blog, I copied my copies just to be sure! If you have a LiveJournal I really recommend you do this.

In saving my work I re-discovered my long lost and neglected blog from 2004 to 2006 under the username of Okimasu. It was a moving trip down memory lane. One of the main reasons I created it was to talk about losing mum and how life was as a grieving teen. It was eventually replaced with this blog, and I was shocked to see the old one hadn't been updated in 177 weeks!

I got to have a good laugh at my old writings full of cheesy teenage angst. Many rambles were about things like driving lessons, school, coursework and exams. I was also able to re-live a lot happy moments too.

Recently there have been some really long and difficult days at work. Life in Japan is ups and downs, just as daily life is everywhere. It's weirder here though being one of the few foreigners in town. Living in a little bubble of your own tiny subgroup in society. Outside your own country. Always aware that you're not fully a part of this one.

This week has been especially difficult and sad. Living without Bryan (my best friend and co-worker) is hard. Life isn't as fun without him. I'm also finding that it's harder to deal with all the shit at school when you don't have that best friend sat at the desk next to you. I miss him so much. I won't be able to see him for years at least.

A lot of the writing in my old journal included some painful updates about grieving. I was reminded of how far I've come and how much I've achieved since then. I also found something that I'd written; "Life is tough but I'm tougher. I haven't come this far to give up now." That sentence has given me a lot of strength and a lot to think about this week. It's amazing what finding one website can do.


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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!

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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!



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unallersimple: (hectopus)
One of the classes in school somehow ended up with a pet turtle in their classroom. I remember the shock I felt when I first saw it in a tank at the back. Mainly because few high schools and teachers would ever let their classes have a pet let alone a turtle. Also because I'd been teaching in that room for months before I even noticed it! How did I not see it in the room?!

Yesterday I happened to walk out of school at the same time as some of the students from this class. I asked them what they would be doing that evening, and they showed me the turtle and told me they were going to put it in the river. The science teacher had told them it would die soon unless it was set free. I joined them to see the release into the wild. We couldn't find a suitable place in that part of the river by the school, so me and two other students ended up cycling across town to Matsue castle. The moat there has a whole bunch of turtles in, so we thought that it would (hopefully!) be the best place.

While we were cycling the turtle came out of its shell and tried to climb out the basket, causing one girl to scream and wobble on her bike into the road. The look on her face was priceless!

I managed to get a quick photo on my cellphone when we stopped at some traffic lights.



When we arrived at the moat of the castle we put the turtle down near the water and waited. It was a tense moment. Would it be ok? Would it crawl in? Could it still swim after a year of living in a tank in a school? The students were so cute when they said their goodbyes in English. ("Turtle... sorry. Very sorry turtle. We not...we didn't not care for you. Goodbye. Sorry turtle. See you! I love you. I love you forever!")
Thankfully it seemed to be ok, and after a couple of seconds it quickly waddled into the water and swam away. I hope it's doing good. I hope I didn't put it in a dangerous place or endager the turtles already living in the moat by releasing the one from the school in there!

It was awesome to see it finally going back into the wild and not sit neglected in a tank in the school any more. Watching it waddle towards the water was surprisingly moving. I swear I saw one of the students wipe a tear when she thought I wasn't looking.


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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*

x
unallersimple: (onsen)


Yesterday I arrived at my junior high school and had the following surprise:




JTE: We only have two lessons today.
Moi: Oh, really?
JTE: Yes. The first grade students...their English lesson is canceled today.
Moi: Why?
JTE: They will plant rice in the afternoon.
Moi: Ah, I see. Erm, plant rice?!
JTE: Yes.
Moi: At school?
JTE: No, they will plant the rice at about one or two hundred meters along the road.
Moi: Well...should I go too?
JTE: Maybe.
Moi: Maybe?
JTE: If you want to watch, you can watch the students.
Moi: I'd like to, if that's ok?
JTE: Yes.
...
Moi: So when do we leave?
JTE: We will go in the afternoon.
Moi: After lunch?
JTE: No, after soji (school cleaning).
Moi: I see, thank you. Do I need to bring anything?
JTE: I think it's ok.
Moi: Ok.
...
Moi: So...do the students plant rice every year?
JTE: Yes.
Moi: All the students?
JTE: No, only first grade students.
Moi: I see.

Sometimes it's difficult not to get really frustrated. It can feel like some Japanese teachers of English strive to answer questions with as few words and as little information as possible sometimes. And why didn't anyone tell me the week before? If they had I could have joined in with them. As I had no clue until that day, I didn't have a towel or any appropriate clothing. I couldn't help feel a little sad; this chance probably won't happen again.

Communication frustrations aside though it was a jolly good afternoon. I'd never seen rice planting before. I had no idea how to do it and was able to learn not just from one person, but from 30 twelve year olds!

After cleaning time the students got changed and grabbed their towels and bottles of water. We walked a short way through the tiny village the school is in. It was a lovely chance to chat with the students. Topics such as gardening and our favorite Harry Potter characters were discussed. The students practised the phrases they had recently learned from the textbook.

Genki students: Are you from Americaaa?!
Moi (playing along): No, I'm not!
Genki students: Are you from Igirisu?! (They forgot how to say England, bless.)
Moi: Yes, I am! Are you from Japan?
Genki students: Yes!
Moi: Really?! No way! Oh my God! (For some reason all students, no matter how old or young, know "Oh my God!".)
Cute Little Genki students: *giggle for about 5 minutes*

We arrived at the rice field and were greeted by the local farmers. They had ploughed the field ready for the students to plant the rice. I saw that the field consisted of thick, squelchy mud about 30cm deep. I looked over at the students, then back at the mud, then back at the students. I had a feeling none of them would be clean for very long!

Thankfully I'd remembered to bring my mobile so I could grab a few snaps.


^As Bryan once said "You know it's spring when you see old ladies wearing bonnets!"

Before every one joined in, one of the students was able to try ploughing the field with a hand pulled wooden plough. This is done to make patterns of small squares in the mud to mark where each bit of rice should be placed in the soil. It's important that they're all evenly spaced from each other.


^ Rice before planting. The students had to tear off little stands of it to put in the mud.

After ploughing we watched the expert farmers at work. They told us what to do and gave a quick demonstration. They must have been doing this their whole lives. I think this is how the elderly here end up with backs so crooked they're permanently bent double.

It was hilarious to see the boys jump right in while the girls screamed and shrieked with every toe dipped in the mud. The boys were soon flinging mud at each other and then chucking it at the girls they fancied too. The girls were soon clinging on to each other and shrieking every time some mud was flung their way. By the end a lot of students were covered head to toe in mud, some had it all over their faces and hair too!

In the autumn the students will go back to harvest what they planted. It's a great way to reap the rewards of their hard work. It's also a great way to contribute to their own community. (And give the adults a chance to rest while they do some of the work!)

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unallersimple: (japan poster)
These past few weeks I've had some really beautiful/hilarious moments. I made sure to note them down in my diary so I wouldn't forget them.

* During school cleaning time I was wiping the chalk board with two students when one told her friend my hair smelled nice. Soon both of them were leaning in for a sniff. I could do little else but stand still while they leaned in on both sides!

* At my junior high school the students are all eager to try reading out words now that they've learned the alphabet. We were doing a worksheet which included various professions. "Driver" and "dancer" were fine. "Teacher" didn't cause any problems. Next thing I know one 12 year old shouts "Cock!" really loudly. I was in fits of giggles and my JTE had no idea why. I finally managed to correct his pronunciation. He was trying to say cook.

* One day I went to the classroom a few minutes early. A few minutes later the bell rang. I was ready to start except that none of the students were there. Neither was the other teacher! Suddenly the door was flung open and the JTE arrived out of breath. “I'm sorry I'm late...er where are the students!?”. It's always fun when your entire class go missing.

* Today I was coaching a student for a speech contest. I was in the middle on explaining something when she started stroking my arm...
(It feels really nice and soft to them because I don't shave my arms. The students do to get rid of their dark arm hair.)

* Recently in one class we played a word game on the board. At the end I went through what they had written. One of the lists went something like; happy, flower, sun, dog...kill! Amused by this randomly thrown in word of violence I read the list again, starting in a happy, smiley way and finishing with a dramatic, loud voice to say "KILL!". The JTE and all the students laughed. It feels *SO* good when you get the whole class laughing.

* Me and Bryan were leaving school during cleaning time and were called over by some students. Feeling silly we skipped and danced over to the music. Soon one student was playing air guitar on the broom, I was singing my heart out and the others were dancing. It was really funny. Students were watching us from the second and third floor windows. We were having so much fun...until we got told off by another teacher. Ahem.
When he wasn't looking we started up again. Hahaha.
Then he came back and we got told off a second time.


x
unallersimple: (hectopus)
I forget exactly when, but some time in the final half of 2008 something happened in Japan. Three words from America took the country by storm, and soon everyone from the youngest to the oldest began to say “Yes, we can!” You'll recognise these words from Obama's election campaign, which became even more prominent after the speech Obama gave when he won the election. I can see why it became so popular here. It's a short, cool and catchy phrase. It's really simple and easy both to understand and to say. The chance to use it comes up a lot in daily conversation.

I think ALTs really noticed the Obama effect. For example at an English festival one of the Japanese speakers introducing the event stuck his thumb out and said “Yes, we can!” at the end of his speech. At school my classes would erupt into giggles every time somebody said “I can” or something similar. Even my most unmotivated classes would suddenly shout it out whenever I asked a “Can you . . ?” type question. Students would stick their thumbs out in the corridors at me and say those three words.


^ A sign board in the main corridor of my school during exams.

Thankfully the “Yes, we can!” fever has died down now, although I noticed that a lot of Japanese people still say Obama when they talk black person.

As a person who is familiar with Bob the Builder, I always end up with the show's theme tune in my head. I also didn't realise how well and truly it was ingrained in me until I was looking back through my high school's graduation photos from March. I found a picture of me sticking my thumb up instead of doing the usual peace sign! Arghhhh!


^Yes, we can!



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