Scooter vs Japan

Webcomic coming (or Blog necromancy part 2)

January 26, 2017
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In the spirit of comics like Life after the BOE, and as a result of a Steam Sale to buy a comic making program, I’ve been making comics about life in Japan. I’ve made a few already for Facebook, but I’ve decided to upload them here as well.

I’ve been struggling for some time to figure out what to blog about that isn’t negative or focused on “herr herr look at Japan.” I also don’t want this to turn into just another travel blog or the like. While the comics do kind of poke fun at Japan, it does so in (I hope) an innocent way, rather than focusing on how being an ALT/expat can be frustrating.

The comics, which I’ve titled “Gaikoku,” poke fun at the idea that everywhere and everyone that isn’t Japan is called “gaikoku.” So far, the comics are about funny things that happen to me, and in one case is basically verbatim.

I’ll start uploading the already made comics over the next little bit, and post here when I have any new ones. In the mean time, hold onto your butts.


I know why I’m here

January 12, 2016
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Some friends came to visit me other the weekend, and one pointed out a blog post about the JET Programme while waiting for their train to arrive. The blog post, titled Why are we here?, shines a critical and rather embittered light on the JET Programme and makes several claims about why it is ineffective.

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To be perfectly clear, I do not view JET or the Japanese education system as magic and rainbows. I am also very critical of it, but for different reasons. While this author tells all foreigners to leave Japan because of these same issues, I instead only wish to highlight what pitfalls exist so that future job applicants, visitors, and policy makers can be more prepared to handle the country.

I came to Japan ultimately for two reasons. First of all, I have been emotionally and intellectually invested in Japan for half of my life. From watching anime to studying its imagery and themes, from thinking samurai are cool to researching the religious implications of their training and ideology, and from thinking about Neon Tokyo to seeing a country struggle to face issues common in the developed world, my interest in Japan has grown and evolved over this past decade and a half.

I came to Japan to continue my education and studies and to get a chance to see Japan as it lives and breathes, rather then view it through a textbook or from outdated statements. Working in Japan through the JET Programme allows me to see the country that I have spent so many years learning about and to practice the language I have struggled with for so long. It allows me a chance to continue to grow and evolve my interests.

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Only imagine those signs written in Japanese.

The second reason I’ve come to Japan is to establish a professional footing for career development. While the author in question berates foreigners and calls them all unqualified visitors who are taking jobs from trained local teachers, I instead approach this as a professional job which I hope to use to establish a brighter future for me and the family I hope to have one day.

Being an Assistant Language Teacher is the first real professional job I’ve had in my entire life. I’ve done some pretty interesting things and working in jobs that have shaped who I am now, but none have had any professional growth options. I worked for my Students’ Union in university and loved it, but it was an elected position with little direct growth. I’ve also worked in two museums and a library, a field which I keep in my back pocket and one which taught me a great many skills that I still use today. But there are few jobs in the museum world, limited growth, and significant budgetary and cultural struggles that leave the field balancing on a sword’s blade. And I have worked in a number of other positions where I have learned many things but always seemed to hit a sort of glass ceiling.

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But working as an ALT is different. There are real stakes in my job and visible goals and successes. The job matters, even if it isn’t handled as well as it could be on a national scale. And when I return to Canada, I will have a wealth of work experience and skills such that I should be able to finally establish a career, something that I struggled to do before JET. I came to Japan because it offered me professional growth that I could not find in Canada.

But coming here has given me another reason to stay. Living and working in Japan allows me to see Japan as it is on many different levels. Living in a small town with one other English-speaking foreigner is a stark contrast from my experience in Canada, and this helps me to understand that the rest of the world isn’t just North American in other places and with different looking people (see my last post for a little more on that topic). It helps me to understand the struggles and sorrows of a proud people who work hard to keep what they have. I get to see a community on the verge of dying do everything it can to make life better while they have the chance. I get to see aspects of Japan that most people simply don’t ever see.

Working in three different schools and visiting three others, I get to see a decent range of Japanese life and observe how people grow into adults. I get to see kids go through similar experiences that I and other Canadian children go through, yet failed to notice when I was in Canada. I get to see things that open my eyes to a greater world, despite being from such a multicultural country. I get to see the good and the bad, the big and the small, and I get to see and appreciate everything as it happens.

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Those are the reasons I am here. And while I implore all JET applicants and ALTs to look critically at the country and understand the troubles of this job before it destroys them, I also implore them to think about one thing. In our interviews, Consulate staff, professors, and alumni screened us to find the most flexible, most adaptable applicants for this job. When you come to Japan, you have to remain flexible. You have to learn to roll with the punches or this experience will destroy you. And you have to accept that this is a country that has to learn its own lessons in its own time. If you can’t do this, as I suspect the author of this embittered blog cannot, then this job will destroy you. If you can’t accept this job for what it is and this country for what it is, then you shouldn’t be here because it doesn’t benefit anyone.

The author does ask a valuable question, and one that I think all foreigners in Japan should think about – Why are you here? The answer may be the same or different for each of us, but it is a question that needs to be answered. I know why I am here, and someone else not knowing why they are here isn’t going to detract from my answer or my experiences.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare to do battle with the frost giant that sleeps in my yard, in hopes of reclaiming my lost shed and parking space.


Posted in JET, Living, Teaching

Living in a Foreign Country

January 12, 2016
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lost-in-city

This is something that’s been on my mind for several years. I’m a Canadian, which means (after I moved out of the boonies) I’ve met and worked with a lot of people from other countries. I am also an ex-patriot, someone living in another country, so I can see this from both sides.

Growing up and as an adult, I’m always hearing complaints about foreigners coming to Canada and then not being Canadian enough. They speak their own language, hang out with their own people, and practice their own culture. And man, do Canadians like to complain about this. Damn those foreign devils for coming into our country and not adjusting.

Except…

I’ve lived in Japan twice and do the exact same things.

And I call people out on this all the time.

Moving is hard

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A lot of us know how hard moving can be. You need to pack up everything you own, take care of a large number of annoying details, and perhaps even living in two places at once or nowhere at all. Moving can be really hard, even if you are prepared for it.

Now try moving to a new country, especially one which shares little in common with your home. Imagine for a moment that everything you know is now wrong. If you’ve moved to somewhere with a different climate, how you handle the seasons is now wrong. If you move somewhere that doesn’t have chain restaurants, you aren’t going to know where a good place to eat is. And now you need to relearn how to live all over again. Sure, you still know some things, but you will be faced with a situation where little of your prior experience is of much help.

This is what it’s like living in another country that is different from your own (heck, this is what it’s like traveling across Canada). The simplest things can be the hardest, like where can you buy milk or how do you pay your electrical bill. It’s like being a small child again, relying on others to help you and teach you everything, except you are old enough not to appreciate it. It can be so frustrating to not know what is happening around you and not know how to do the simplest things. And it’s made even worse if you don’t speak the language.

Languages are Hard

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This is the worst feeling ever. Trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language can be the most emotionally damaging thing you will ever have to do. Take all that stuff I said about not understanding simple things and multiply it by 10.

And no, I don’t mean how frustrating it is to speak to someone who doesn’t speak English. I mean how frustrating it is for that person who is trying to speak English. Trying to ask the simplest question or say the easiest words can be really upsetting if you aren’t familiar with the language you are trying to speak, but it’s even worse when you know the language and still can’t do it.

I really don’t think a lot of people move to another country without thinking about it. Most people coming to Canada by choice probably do actually know some English, but their skills and practice with it are often quite small. It can be really upsetting to be trying your hardest to speak in another language, only to be talked to like you are mentally retarded. It’s a huge demotivator to have spent time learning a language, only to be unable to use it. All the time, and maybe money, feels like it was for nothing.

Speaking another language all the time is also mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. Try running slowly in place right now, or holding your arm straight out. Easy enough. Now do that for 12 straight hours. Not so easy anymore. Worse, you can only understand this if you have studied a second language. Speaking another language requires your to be constantly on, listening and watching for every cue, constantly thinking in the second language to try and figure out what to say, and trying to figure out how to explain something or dodge a word you don’t understand. This is exhausting. And if someone catches you off guard or when you’re worn out already, it can make the whole process drag its feet. So you find people who speak your language so that you can be understood.

Finding a Community is Hard

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That’s why foreigners hang out with other foreigners. Having a shared experience, having a similar culture, sharing the same experience of being in a new country, and speaking the same language means you automatically can have a support network. These other people can empathize with you since they have been through what you are going through or will go through it.

It’s not that foreigners are hanging out with their own community because they refuse to adjust; it’s because they haven’t yet or can’t adjust. It’s not that they refuse to be Canadian, but rather that they don’t know how. But in a community with people of the same nationality or culture and with the same language, you can have an adult conversation with someone and get support from those who understand what you are going though.

This is What My Days are Like

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This is what every day is like for me living in Japan. I have spent half my life studying the language and have been here before, yet I still feel like I’m four years old. No matter how much I learn about Japan, there is always some other rules, some other expectation that I haven’t learned yet. And no matter how much Japanese I know, there is always something being said that I don’t understand.

Like I said, the simplest things can be the hardest. I don’t know for certain if I can buy deodorant in my town. I couldn’t figure out where to buy bed sheets. I drove several towns over once to buy hand soap, because I just couldn’t figure out where to buy it locally. I needed someone to show me how to turn my lights on in my apartment. I need someone with me almost every time I go to the bank. It’s awful, and that’s just the cultural upbringing part of things.

Linguistically, I barely get by sometimes. I still have trouble when I go to a fast food restaurant and they ask me if I am staying or going. I got into a car accident, and started texting my English speaking friends because I didn’t have the slightest idea how to explain anything that happened. Literally, any single word necessary to explain a car crash except for “police” and “driver’s licence;” I just didn’t know any of the vocabulary or grammar needed to explain this.

And since it is so hard to have anything more than a 2 minute conversation with someone, I spend a lot of time around other foreigners, doing foreign things and cooking foreign meals. I’m not hanging around with foreigners because I am withdrawing from Japan, but because I can’t function as a Japanese person 100% of the time and need the supports of those who share my experience.

Whenever I bring this up with people (usually those complaining about those damn stupid foreigners they have to deal with), they always try to backpedal, saying that it’s different with me because I was a student, or am working in a specific occupation. But it really isn’t different. Me speaking English, even to people who don’t speak it back, and hanging out with white people all the time is no different than a Chinese or Portuguese person speaking their native language and spending time with other Chinese or Portuguese friends. There’s a huge double standard that somehow makes it ok for me to do it, but not ok when someone does it in Canada. My situation is really no different than any expat, and I’m a government employee to boot.

Change is Hard

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Next time you meet someone from another country, don’t groan and get pissed off because their English sucks. And don’t speak loudly and slowly; none of that helps and it really just makes them feel like a piece of shit.

The next time your meet someone from another country, be calm and patient. You might need to explain things three or four times to get around missing grammar and vocabulary. You might need to say something wrong, more complex, or completely unintuitive to explain something, since they may not understand the word you think is simple. If they don’t know what something means, being an asshole about it isn’t going to help.

Try not to criticize people for spending time with their own community instead of your people. They’re probably doing it because they don’t know anyone else or know what to do. Instead, invite them to something you are doing. Even if they are quiet, they probably appreciate seeing something new or just being a part of a normal activity. Offer to help, offer to show them things and take them places, no matter how basic they are. Just like how you might tour around a visiting family member, someone from another country would appreciate knowing where things are and seeing new things.

Remember that everything you know about living in a particular area was probably learn since birth. I remember a story in university about someone who came to a western country and stood on top of the toilet instead of sitting, since that’s what was done in their country and they didn’t understand how to use it differently. Try and imagine how embarrassing it is to not even know how to use the bathroom. The simplest things you know may not be universal across the world, so you can’t take for granted that everyone is going to know how everything in your country works.

Remember that someone from a foreign country is in fact from a foreign country, and that you should be open-minded and helpful where possible. It can be an absolutely overwhelming experience, and they probably appreciate it. I know I do.


Posted in Living

Christmas Post

December 25, 2015
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Christmas Fireplace

I started writing an post on racism and the double standard for how we treat foreigners in Canada, but I thought that was depressing as fuck for Christmas day.

So let’s talk about mochi.

A lot of ALTs and other expats complain about having to work Christmas day, since it isn’t a holiday in Japan. What it is though (at least this year) is the last day of school before winter break and the New Year, the far more important holiday for Japanese people. So when I walked into work today, I was invited to visit the elementary school to make mochi.

Mochi is a kind of Japanese dessert that is made from pounding freshly cooked rice into a kind of dough. You then dress it with various seasonings and eat it. Mochi is often made towards the New Year (I think specifically on New Year’s Eve or Day). But since this was the last day of school, we did it there.

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That sort of gets the idea across.

The kids had a “half day” (if you can even call it that) of doing worksheets and other light classwork before heading to the big room we were making mochi in. Seniors from the community brought in stoves and pots and bags of rice and started getting things ready, making the first few batches of mochi before the kids would arrive around 10ish.

Holy shit, are these old people ripped. One guy, probably 10 years my dad’s senior, probably pounded half of the rice in a carved out tree stump using a giant wooden mallet. This guy could probably kick my ass, all of the teachers asses, and then go sumo wrestling. Meanwhile, someone else was splashing water into the stump so the rice/mochi didn’t stick and would reach in between blows to flip or fold the mochi.

Japan’s crazy.

What the Heck is Japanese Christmas?

I did do something for Christmas that was kind of Japanese. KFC is pretty big here, and people with reserve a bucket of chicken for Christmas to eat along side their special Christmas cake. And no, I don’t mean a fruit cake. Like, think a strawberry shortcake.

Again, Japan’s crazy.

I asked around, with C’s help, about where would be a good place to order such a cake, and I was pointed to a local bakery. I was told they use all local ingredients, so that’s about as small town of a cake as I’d be able to find. I then swung past Seicomart, a chain of convenience stores, and bought two little containers of fried chicken and the most expensive 500 yen bottle of wine they had.

There are many things wrong with that last statement, including 500 yen wine not being very good.

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My actual dinner.

After I got home, I waited a bit to eat, then warmed up my chicken, poured some cheap convenience store wine, and watched some YouTube. I then ate a quarter of the cake before playing a video game.

Christmas!

Is Japanese Christmas Depressing?

Not really. While a lot of people have trouble being away for the holidays, I don’t invest that much into them. Christmas for me is having supper with my family. But since they aren’t here, there really isn’t anything in the holiday for me to worry about.

The other part of the question is working on Christmas. Again, meaningless. I’m going to go home and Skype with my brother and his family, and later try to call my parents. But since it isn’t Christmas yet in Canada, the day has no meaning here. Sure, I could have taken the day off, but what would I have done? It’s not like I go to church, and there’s no one to celebrate with.

Do I hate that Christmas is Japan is this twisted abomination that borders on sacrilege? Nope. Actually, I think it’s pretty funny. Japan isn’t a Christian or a western country, so why should it celebrate Christmas? Today is just another day in the year, regardless of it’s meaning in my country. And even if it had a lot of meaning for me, it’s not like I could do much about it.

So instead, I ate chicken and cake, and watched unassumingly ripped old men pound the shit out of pot after pot of rice to make treats for the kids. How’s that for Christmas?


Posted in Living

Japan: This Shit’s Weird

December 16, 2015
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This is a follow-up to another post, What I could never get away with in Canada. In thinking of what to write there (oh so long ago), I found myself noting other rather strange things that take place elsewhere in Japan. Some are funny, some are annoying, some just are. I’ve had to actually split this, since the list was getting long and I’m still working on a few items.

So let’s get this ball rolling.

Obligatory Toilet Comment

This one’s pretty high up on the list of weird bullshit I keep having to deal with. Washiki toilets are a traditional style of toilet in Japan. Different from the poop analyzing robot toilets that we all know and love, which have heated seats, are self sanitizing, play music for discrete disposal, and clean you (I’m literally not making any of this this up), washiki toilets require the user to squat over top like some kind of animal.

Because it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have a comparison shot.

Ok. I should be fair, since I guess these kinds of toilets are pretty common around the world. But not in Canada! So every time I’m presented with one of these things, I kinda tilt my head in confusion, decide that I don’t need this in my life right now, and then look for a western style toilet.

Anyways, these are pretty common still, for god knows what reason. You’ll see them in malls and office buildings, and in many tourist areas like hiking rest stops and at temples and shrines. But often there will be a western toilet in the next stall over, so it’s not that big a deal.

When I started in the Junior High, where I teach three days out of the week, I was presented with a rather unpleasant shock; the staff bathroom only has washiki toilets and the student bathroom was under construction. I half joked, saying that I simply wouldn’t have to go that badly, noting that I pretty much refuse to cross that line unless I absolutely have to.

It’s not like I don’t understand how to use these kinds of toilets. They are pretty simple after all, and we did talk about them in my Japanese classes in high school. I just refuse to use one when at all possible. I live in the 21st century, where mind blowing advances in science and technology pretty much take place on a weekly basis. In this 21st century, I shouldn’t have to shit into a freaking hole in the ground.

Update (from when I started writing this): About a week ago, I finally broke down while at a bar. As I suspected, it wasn’t that awful. But as I suspected, I am not in love with these monsters and still refuse to use them where there is literally any option not to use one.

Japanese Tests

A stark contrast to the previous weird thing, Japan is known for the mad test-taking skills of their students. But there are a few funny things about the tests.

First off, multiple choice tests seem to be done primarily in katakana, one of the script writing systems in Japanese. Instead of choices being listed as A, B, C, D, and so on, I keep seeing Japanese tests list answers in katakana and according to Japanese writing mechanics. So instead of following the alphabet, answers are listed like this:

ア (a) イ (i) ウ (u) エ (e) オ (o) カ (ka) キ (ki)

And so on. I guess it’s not that surprising that another language has different ways of doing things. It’s just one of those head tilt moments while you process what’s happening. Although I do see alphabetic tests as well.

Something else with tests is the quality of production. In Canada, any time I had a test in school, it was always in black and white, probably photocopied a zillion times, and mostly plain text with minimal decoration. Maybe there was a table with simple black lines, maybe there was a little matching drawing, but everything was pretty ghetto. And if we had a short quiz or a listening test, it was usually done on on our own paper.

Nope. Japan. Clearly not to be outdone by the West, Japanese tests seem to be pretty all out. Full color pages, elaborate graphics, page dressings, the works. And good paper. Like, really high quality, fairly thick stock. Even the simplest worksheet or quiz (which is premade by the teacher and is far more than a simple lined table) is well made and printed on quality stock. Even the most simple, non-dressed up test is well made compared to some of the carp I saw in Canada at every level of education.

Oh Japan. You almost make test taking fun.

School Lunches

Another fun school topic is school lunches. In the West, this conjures up images of cafeteria line ups, a noisy room filled with screaming kids of really any age who are either fighting, smoking, gambling, or all three, and something like poutine or a cafeteria tray with a single fish stick and something resembling fruit.

America!

And as for teachers and school staff, perhaps they bring some lavish meal in and eat it in their office or teachers’ lounge, next to the bottle of desk bourbon they need to get through the day. Nope. Not in Japan. Well, I guess you could bring your own meal, but that’s not the point.

In Japan, there is this thing called kyushoko. This is a pre-prepared lunch that all students and teachers eat, perhaps prior to high school but including kindergartens and daycares. And I don’t mean just lunch. No. It’s far more complicated than that. Kyoshoku is a fixed activity in schools, carefully fashioned by a company in town to meet the dietary requirements of students. Certain mandates dictate the specific caloric intake of each meal and the kinds of foods to be made available, and this seems to be taken pretty seriously. But strap in. It gets weirder.

So kyushoku arrives some time in the mid-morning, freshly prepared at the kyushoku centre, the separate and dedicated building used for the administration, preparation, and distribution of these lunches to the surrounding schools. The food is transported in massive metal containers, which are all individually labeled and portioned for each class (or teachers’ office). The food is then brought to each class and portioned out by the students, where it is eaten in their classroom (more on that in a moment). Kyushoku is also delivered with the appropriate dishes, dense plastic trays and bowls which are quite hilarious and age inappropriate; ours have little pictures of balloons and flowers on them.

This one’s a bit more involved than my lunches (no tea), but you can get the idea. Also, bonus points for the giraffe milk that 50 year old men have to drink.

This is where it gets a little crazy. Don’t like something in your kyushoku? Too bad. Kids are encouraged to eat their entire meal, being taught from an early age not to be picky eaters. Want something more, like a snack or a something to drink besides the individual milk? Try again. As a toss up between food allergies and healthy eating, it is heavily discouraged that you ever bring other food with you. Think you’ll get a larger meal because you’re a full sized adult? Not so much. Teachers and staff eat the same portions as the kids, which can be as small as around 500 calories in elementary, though we sometimes have a little bit left over (emphasis on little).

Not my students, but this gives you a bit of an idea how this plays out.

Moving along, The kids dish up one another in this hive-mind fashion that could only take place in Japan or prison. Their teacher also dishes up, and everyone waits until everyone is seated and ready. One student will then call out each item (more at elementary than junior high) before calling out itadakimasu and everyone starts eating. If you’re not eating with the kids, you’ll be in the teachers’ office with a number of other staff, where things are a little less gonzo… like, no unison itadakimasu chant or calls to make sure everyone has every item.

Once done, regardless of where you ate, everyone fills up the containers with the used dishes, packs everything up, and, get this, washes and then flattens their milk carton. Seriously. This is crazy, even for a culture that is big on recycle. And no, I don’t mean flatten like crushed. I mean, half the time, milk cartons are literally opened up, pulled apart, and laid flat. Shit’s crazy, and surprisingly hard to do. Obviously, all Japanese people know how to actually unfold all the seams in some perfect reverse-origami fashion, not simple tear them open with my barbarian fists like I did for the first month. I kind of have the hang of this now, but I still end up tearing the thing open like a damn animal half the time.

Oh, remember how I said that kyushoku was a fixture in school? So important is it for the kids to eat together and fill their various roles, that when I asked about starting an English lunch group once a week or so, I was shot down. It is more important that these kids take part in the kyushoku performance than it is they receive extra help or recreation.

Anyways, bizarre as it may be, kyushoku is actually pretty cool. It means I don’t have to prepare a lunch everyday, and it gives people a chance to eat a variety of food. Especially for foreign teachers, this is great exposure to a variety of Japanese dishes and sides that you simply don’t get when eating out. Eating with the kids is also a good chance to spend time with them, while eating with the staff shows you a little of what Japanese office life is like.

Kyushoku Milk

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This one goes a little further, so I thought I would touch on it. Aside from the bizarrity and comedic value of this as a whole, something about this puzzles me. See, I was under them impression that Japanese people aren’t big dairy eaters. Most parts of Japan are quite small and thus there isn’t a lot of room for dairy cattle, so it’s just not a part of their lives. But I was also under the impression that Japanese people are a little lactose intolerant (like, more than normal). Aside from ice cream, there really isn’t any diary around, and it isn’t a part of daily cuisine. Yet every day, every kid and their teachers has a decent sized carton of milk.

Oh yeah. And there’s a special tab you have to open to push the elabprately collapsing straw into. Don’t bother trying to tear it open like we do in Canada and drink from the spout. Only failure lies that way.

The Classroom

Japanese classrooms, and schools, are pretty similar to the West, but also pretty different. The chalkboards can go up, down, and turn (they probably are heated and squirt water at you too). There are these chalk brush cleaners in every room, and all rooms at every level have coat racks and cubby holes for students to use. But those are only aesthetic differences. There is an entirely different culture surrounding the classroom that’s quite different than in the West.

Anyone moderately versed in Japanese culture probably knows that the kids stay in their homeroom and the teachers move around (whereas in my Canadian junior high and high schools, the students are the ones who move from class to class). And you probably heard that students clean the school themselves. But there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Da na na na, dee

See, Japanese students are the masters of their domain. The classroom is theirs, not the teacher’s. It is there home, their community, and their responsibility. This is why the kids eat lunch in the classroom. This is why the teachers are the ones who move. This is why students stand up during class to greet or dismiss the teachers every period. This is why the teacher doesn’t clean the chalkboard. This is why the students clean. When you walk into a Japanese classroom, it’s like walking into a kid’s bedroom, except with no rock posters, less clothing on the floor, and hopefully no porn hidden under the chairs. You are on their turf, and there is a whole culture and community at work.

That’s pretty weird and different from Canada. Sure, we had homeroom when I was a kid, and students made noise and hung out during class breaks. But it was never our space or our time. The classroom belonged to the school and the teachers, and desks and chairs were up for grabs by whoever sat in them or took them. Even if you have a seating plan, you could take any chair or desk and move it around. Oh yeah. Japanese students have their own desk and chair… like, their name is on it, making it theirs.

Teachers’ Office

Last one about school… I think.

So when you think of the teachers’ lounge/office/whatever you want to call it, you probably think of something like this:

You are probably thinking this is where the teachers go to blow off stream, have a stress smoke, or even get a swig of sweet office whiskey. You are probably also thinking that it’s this forbidden zone where no child shall enter.

Nope. You’d be wrong.

What you’ll find is this:

All the teachers and staff sit in a single room (usually) with their desks facing each other. Papers are strewn everywhere, CD players and extension cords thrown around the room like toilet paper rolls, and at least one teacher whose desk looks more like a box fort than a piece of office furniture (so I guess it is kind of what you’d expect). In fact, this is about what every Japanese office looks like.

Oh yeah, and the students come and go pretty regularly. They always wait by the door until invited in, but the fact that a child can come and go as they please is truly bizarre, given how off limits these places are in Canada.

Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of weirdness. It’s an office and people work there Of note though are the mancatchers. Yeah. Mancatcher. In ever school’s office, there is a steel pole with a curved ring on it, literally used to subdue a dangerous person (or play pranks on the other staff). There are also separate entrances for staff and students. The staff door is usually right next to the office, while the student’s entrance is a ways away. For those, there are even specific doors for specific grades. The grade 1 students at my elementary use a specific pair of doors, while the grade 2’s use a specific pair of doors that are right next to the grade 1’s, the grade 3’s… You get the idea. There are 6 sets of doors that are specific to the grades, and never shall a student use the wrong door.

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You shall not pass!

That’s about it for this installment. In the next post, I’ll hopefully talk about how lazy Japanese kids don’t get jobs, how everyone in Japan is a raging alcoholic and refuses to admit it, laugh at Japan thinking it’s in the centre of the world, and start foaming at the mouth when I talk about banking.


I’m not sick, and I’m not going home!

December 4, 2015
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I’m a bit under the weather right now. Literally. It’s been snowing again, and everything around me is covered in 3 feet of snow.

But I’m also feeling sick.

maskJapan. Even the face masks are robots.

Lately, I’ve been waking up with a really sore throat and having trouble breathing. I’ve also been getting migraines again (unrelated, but more proof that I am actually 100 years old). Before you lose your mind or tell me to consult a mortician, I should note that I’m asthmatic, so this is basically Wednesday for me. Not breathing is probably my most notable skill, beating out most of my hobbies and my mad karaoke skills.

Being sick in Japan

So there’s this hilarious past time in Japan, where sick people go to work anyways. Screw personal health. This bugs a lot of foreigners, who lash out at this Sniffling, Sneezing, Coughing, Aching, Stuffyhead, Fever, So-You-Can-Keep-Working attitude because they are infecting everyone around them.

But there are a few reasons for this. Aside from the whole “working yourself to death” thing that we all love about Japan, taking a sick day is a very strange thing in Japan. Between perhaps not actually having sick leave to the need to save face and champ through it, Japanese people can be pretty stubborn when it comes to this. It seems like it is more important to show up than it actually is to do something, so showing up to work with a broken femur and internal bleeding gets you some sick participation points.

Why is everything so damn bright?!

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A migraine, not my Professor Xavier impression.

Let’s start with the migraines. I had a string of migraines a few weeks ago (still do, but it’s manageable again). For those who haven’t experienced the joy and serenity a migraine, imagine a toddler doing a drum solo on your pots during a marathon race right outside your door with flood lights pouring in through your windows, all while nursing the worst hangover you’ve had since that party where tried to make love to the hallway plant (man, that plant was attractive). And my migraines aren’t even that bad; I hear some people even get nauseous and physically sick.

So anyways, I’m sitting my my office with the brightness of my laptop turned to “off,” able to hear the colors of the wallpaper, and trying not to die. But I only had an hour left, so hey, party on. One of the office staff told me, when I tried to explain to her what was happening, that I should immediately leave and go to the hospital.

You know, a full out nuclear strike being Japan’s first and only response to… anything. I’m like “no, it’s just a migraine. I’ll buy some ibuprofen after work.” But not. That’s not good enough. Word spreads, and I have about 6 people trying to shove me out the door, telling me I should go to the hospital. After getting the point across that I was not going to the hospital over a migraine, they shifted focus and just told me to go home.

This pretty much continued for the next hour, including a phone call to my predecessor, C, who then called me from his work and told me that I should go home (for fear that there was a language barrier here, and “go home” and “no” weren’t clear enough). Anyways, I dug in and refused to leave, since by this point, there was only about 15 minutes left anyways.

Following work, I drove to the drug store, bought some ibuprofen, hated life a little while as I drove home, then started eating the ibuprofen like candy. Oh yeah. Medicine in Japan is bullshit. I usually take 400mg once or twice a day for a migraine. Good ol’ Japan only seems to carry 100 or 150mg dosages, complete with the pharmacist telling me to only take 3 in one day.

My Probably Lung Infection

This time, I’ve had the foresight to not say anything, since normal people would in fact go to the hospital over respiratory problems. But not an asthmatic. Well, that’s not true. I actually did go to the hospital over this… in Canada. See, I’ve been having this kind of breathing problems for quite a while now. I was getting regular treatment and was seeing a lung specialist for over a year. Things stabilized to the point where I could put on pants without having to rest, and we all high-fived.

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Man, math is exhausting.

But then I came to Japan and fell off the wagon. Because screw oxygen. Who needs that anyways. As I usually do (much to the disapproval of my doctors), I hate taking a preventative inhaler every day, so I kinda sorta stopped. Not, like, kids hate having to eat there vegetables. I don’t like taking it because it’s a powerful steroid with a very high daily dosage. It’s also expensive as fuck, costing about $100 per month, based on my prescription.

So here I am, getting winded simply from waking up. And I’m like “screw this. Going to work.” I’ve started taking my inhaler again, hoping to try and get ahead of this, but I feel like crap in the meantime.

I think I’m turning Japanese

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I wanna believe that I’ve made this joke before.

So a logical human being would stay home, go to the hospital, or consider a last rite. But since I’m been fighting this particular dragon my whole life, not being able to breathe registers with some concern, but usually less concern than a tiny bird flying around the same room I’m in in a panic. Fuck that bird. That was terrifying. I think I peed myself.

No. I just keep trucking on, doubling over when no one’s looking like I have a 12 pack a day habit, and pretending that I’m not dying.

Why the hell am I doing this? Well, aside from not thinking it’s a big deal, I don’t particularly want this to be a big deal. To go to the hospital or take some sick time would mean that there is a serious problem. It would upset everyone at work, screw with everyone, and take the English speaker out of the classroom.

There’s also nothing to be gained from taking time off. Let’s say this were a lung infection (which it isn’t. It god damn isn’t). As an asthmatic, this isn’t something I’d be able to shake with just face mask and some rice porridge. Any illness this rotting bag of meat catches tends to stick around for ever, and taking time off for a lung infection would quickly amount to a month. Taking one day off really isn’t going to have any effect.

So just like a Japanese person, I’ve come to work with what other people would immediately identify as an illness and just kept working.

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Err… the other kind of… No. This is what Japanese salary men look like.

And you know what? I kind of get why they do it. It’s such a hassle to be such a selfish diva and take time off. The burden I’d place on everyone, the hassle I will get for it later, the approximately 3800 Japanese people stopping me in the grocery store every day to see if I’m feeling better. I don’t need that. It’s charming and sweet, but I really don’t need that in my life.

I mean, I wrapped my finger in tape because it hurts a little when I bend it (I’m just being a baby about that one), and I had about 8 students ask me first thing in the morning if I was ok. Imagine what would happen if I went to the hospital for breathing problems.

Nope. Not happening. Just gotta nut up and keep going, just like a Japanese person. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna lie down for a minute. Typing is surprisingly exhausting. I just need to catch my breath.


Posted in Living

What I could never get away with in Canada

November 18, 2015
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There’s no hiding that Japan is a different place. Being a country of historic isolation, Japan followed largely it’s own path when compared to the West. Having its own completely different history, language, and culture, it is no surprise that Japanese people do some things differently.

But man, oh man, are some things right out there. And that’s today’s topic.

As an aside, this post is a little photo light. This is one of those Big Bang Theory-like moments when you realize that Googling “how to excite 14 year old girls” is a terrible idea.

1. Telling your students where you live

To be clear, this is more that everyone already knows where I live than me telling students, but the effect is still the same. In the West, there is a separation between public and private times and spaces. For a teacher, they are a teacher at school and a person at home (lies, I know. We all grew up thinking they slept in the gym at night). But in Japan, I’m kind of a teacher all the time, and that’s not a stab at Japan’s office culture.

Now, there is a certain limit to how far personal information should and would go, but there is a stronger sense of familiarity and normality surrounding my job here. In Canada, I would probably take great effort to separate my work and home life, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue here. All the kids already know where I live, so there is little point in keeping that secret. But them knowing doesn’t seem to be an issue either.

2. Hang around with the student

This is where things start to become very clearly different. I’ve had a number of situations where you could say that I was spending time with my students.

The first was when one of my students saw me leave my apartment. I was heading downtown to catch the train, and we walked together and tried to talk to one another. Another time was when a bunch of my students saw me at a town festival and wanted to come over. Most were saying hi or asking what I’d done at the festival, but some stuck around for a half hour or longer. We talked, told jokes, and messed around in a normal and health way (I’m going to come back to this one a few times).

In Canada and probably most other parts of the world, this would be inappropriate for a number of reasons. Stranger danger aside, any parent would probably shoo their kids away, telling them not to bother me. Not in Japan (at least to an extent, they do shoo their kids away when I’m buying groceries). One of my co-workers invited me over to spend the day with his family, and most of that was spent with his kids. It was just a natural course of action that took place.

Another time was when a hurricane was rolling through… all of Japan. A bunch of the kids were inside for club activities, and they were kind of just hanging out in the halls. I think I spent a good half hour over there, telling jokes, issuing challenges like knuckle pushups, and otherwise messing with them. I didn’t have any work for the day and their club activities were kind of a wash, so we just spent some time together.

That, or I have a bunch of candy stuck to my ass, and the kids are chasing it.

3. Playing with the student

This is where the stranger danger starts to kick in, and a huge difference between Canada and Japan. Between classes, the students will mess around, wrestle, and get up to no good. And more often then not, I find myself right in the middle of it. Pretending to feed a kid punches while another is holding them down, tickling one another, teasing one of the kids who hurt his hand about how he should stop picking fights in school… I even flipped a girl upside down and held her there for a minute. This is all really normal behaviour I’ve heard and seen from other ALTs and keeps kind of getting thrust onto me.

In Canada, I’d probably be disciplined or told to back off, but in Japan, it’s just something that happens.

4. Affectionate or physical touching

The alarm bells are screaming on this one, and this is actually something I was quite unsure of when I started working here. My students will literally run towards me to give me a hug and hang off of me for lengths of time. Kids will hug me and call me their friend, tickle me, rub my stomach, but thankfully not koncho me. I can basically not go a day without some kid under the age of 14 or so giving me a hug.

While everything else would get a strange look in Canada, this would probably cost me my job, even though I’m not the one doing it. Because of that, I’ve been very uncertain about how to handle this. With the smaller kids, I’ll usually rest my arm on their head, and I’ll usually move and put my arm around the shoulder of the older kids. But still, this is really out there and could be a little uncomfortable if you weren’t used to it.

But… But why?

A lot of this behaviour can be really jarring, but it seems to come from cultural differences, the different roles of teachers, and differences in child rearing than in the West.

First, I am a magical wizard. As one of now two Caucasians in the town, something that most people here have literally never seen before, I am a glowing beacon of difference. Everyone wants to interact with me because it is such a rare treat. Never before have they seen two foreigners who know each other occupy the same space.

Second is the role of teachers in Japan. Teachers play a very different role in childhood development here, bordering on caregiver and guardian. If a kid misses school, their teacher will check up on them to make sure they’re ok. Teachers will also do home visits to get to know the student and their families, as well as their home life and environment. While I’m not expected to do these kind of things, it does highlight that knowledge and affection to and from a teacher aren’t that unusual here.

Third is the role of an ALT. I was basically hired to play games with kids and be white, so it’s a natural extension of my job to have a different and more casual relationship than the other teachers would. I’m supposed to bring excitement and humour into an otherwise dry and painful class, so telling the kids jokes and teasing them about things is kind of my job.

Fourth is something I wasn’t really aware of prior to returning to Japan again. When I asked my predecessor about the hugging, he told me that there are a lot of really bizarre things at odds here. He said that kids, especially males, don’t get a lot of physical affection at home, so it’s a really positive thing for the boys to run over, hug me, and tell everyone else that I’m their friend. But more important is the separation of safe and dangerous physical contact, a separation that doesn’t really exist in Canada anymore. Here, the students hugging me or me messing around with them is just normal. But in Canada or the US, that is deviant behaviour and automatically a signal of trouble, for some reason. Everyone is so afraid to have physical contact that any contact is deemed to be dangerous, but in Japan, they are just starved of it.

Big picture

I should note that there are still lines that separate behaviour. While I might tickle a boy that’s hanging off of me, I’ll give a girl a high five or fist bump. And while I might run over to a boy who’s having his arms held and pretend to punch him a few times, I’ll go over to one of the girl’s who’s drawing and tell her how good it looks, or join then in their game of “hold the door shut on the other girl.” I’m never the instigator of the physical contact, as I shouldn’t be. So there is definitely boundaries and appropriateness still in play here.

I guess the other thing to remember is that this is a very special kind of job and these things would only happen in Japan as an ALT. Everything would still hold true, but the relationships and the expression of them would take a different form. It is because I am an ALT that makes this ok. I’ve heard a few times that being an ALT means that you are a little outside of the system and have a chance to shake things up a little and go off script. Because I am not one of their Japanese teachers, it’s ok for the kids to hug me and rub my belly. And because I’m not one of their Japanese teachers, it’s ok for me to poke them back or hold the door shut on them.


Posted in Living, Teaching

My life with my predecessor

October 2, 2015
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Another article cross posted for JET Coaster, a user contributed blog for other JET Programme participants. Read the advice, tears, struggles, and joys of a network of ALTs over there.

It’s finally come. I am finally alone.

I should back up a moment to explain. My predecessor, C, is an old university friend of mine. We were in the same Japanese classes together and studied and worked together often. He was offered a job with the town, and is thus staying in town following the completion of his JET contract. He’s been working alongside me for the last two months until Oct 1, when he started his new job.

All you jealous JETs are probably thinking, “Wow! You’re so lucky! I wish I could have bee trained with my predecessor.” But that’s not really the case. I can only describe my feelings about this as a pleasant miasma of oppression. I’m friends with C, and it is really nice having another foreigner in town. And I loved having someone to train me and help me along while I got settled. But working along side him for the last two months has been both a blessing and a curse.

The Good

That young feller is so kind and helpful.

Working alongside your predecessor is really cool. Not only can they help you learn the lay of the land, but they can walk you through your job. I worked alongside C, bouncing ideas off of him, comparing lesson plans, and actually team teaching with him. C left me a wealth of knowledge in his old lesson plans, materials, and such, but was also able to explain what everything was.

The other day, he was going through the ALT’s desk at the elementary school, and he explained how a number of the flashcards were used and even who made them. Instead of just finding them after he was long gone, I know how I can use them, both following the plans of ALTs past as well as well as coming up with my own uses. It’s like sitting on a warm seat, provided that kind of thing doesn’t freak you out.

We also talked about the history of the town and it’s previous JETs. I feel like I’m part of a legacy while also being in touch with it. C succeeded his pred, W, who also stayed over to train him, and has been in loose contact with another previous local JET. Being the town’s JET is suddenly more real that I thought and I can appreciate the history a bit more.

Linguistically, C has been amazing. Since he’s been here for the last 5 years, his Japanese has improved greatly while mine atrophied in menial jobs in Canada. He has been by my side to help me open my bank account, help with the initial call from my internet provider, and translating during the process of buying my car. Since I live in such a small town, few people here know more than a trivial amount of English, so having him by my side has been a tremendous help in meeting people and getting things done.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, having someone else here has been great. I know someone if I’m feeling down who lives feet away from me. If I need help with my garbage sorting or recycling, help is just a text message away. I can talk with him about movies, dating, foreign residence, and other topics that might be too hard or awkward with a co-worker or other resident.

The Bad

8a1efae8db9d80545e56505dfb8eec41_iMe after a few weeks at work.

While a lot of good has come from my pred working with me, not everything was sunshine and rainbows. I left university with a complete breakdown, and spent years struggling to get back my independence, medically, emotionally, and psychologically. Having C around, telling me what to do, has been insanely frustrating. I finally go to a point where I was ready to be dependent again, only to have to surrender that at times.

I needed C there to help open my bank account. I needed him to translate the call from my internet provider. I needed him to translate the car buying process. I needed him to introduce me to people. It was maddening to have to rely on him for everything. But it didn’t just stop there.

At time, I came to rely on him for everything. I need groceries. Can you drive me there after work? I need something for my house. Can you drive me to the city? No? Well, I guess I’m staying home then. Stuff like that. It was so difficult getting settled that I started leaning heard on my pred for almost everything.

I think the worst was when I needed to buy some rubbing alcohol. One of my toes split along the bendy-fold and wasn’t healing over right. After a few days, I knew I needed to find a drug store so I could get some proper medical supplies. Not that there is anything embarrassing or concerning about, but I lied to him about needing to go anywhere after work just so I could go there myself and be alone. It seems so stupid now, but this was driving me mental. I didn’t want to talk to him about this. I didn’t want to tell him that I might have an infected or troublesome cut. And I didn’t want him to look after me. I wanted to buy the damn rubbing alcohol myself, and I wanted to do it on my own terms and at my own leisure.

Life problems aside, I also felt that my job growth was stunted. It was almost a battle to get him to start relinquishing control in my job over to me, and that control really didn’t fully pass until he started his new job. It was more like I was his assistant than his replacement. But it wasn’t just us. While one of the teachers at the main school started coming to me more and more, the other kept going to him first. He was still the ALT, and it was really confusing where I fit into all of this.

The Ugly

Where does this guy buy his pants?

This is where things get weird. I don’t mean to badmouth him, but I need to call this out. C was a shitty teacher.

Maybe this is a consequence of being a 5-year JET. Maybe it’s a consequence of our different backgrounds. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to be a teacher. I don’t know. But it meant the result was that he really wasn’t that good at his job. He didn’t innovate. He didn’t push for better lessons in the class. He picked favorites among the teachers and gave the cold shoulder to everyone else. He didn’t take on new teaching responsibilities (he did do other things for the town though).

And what’s worse? Everyone loves him. He’s the superstar of the town and he didn’t really do anything. He openly told me that he just gave up a few years ago and did little to push the job forwards. Yet everyone things he is amazing. And here I am, trying to put the students first and improve their language skills, trying to work with my JTEs and other teachers, and trying to build new bonds, and it’s not going well.

Another annoyance was over a semi-private lesson we were teaching in order to prep some students for a week long trip to our sister town. They were having trouble with a presentation they will be giving and the teacher asked if we could help out one more time to get them ready. When the time came, C tried to blow them. Like, literally blow them off. Something to the effect of saying “let them fend for themselves.” I insisted that I wanted to go and help them, because a few hours could really help these kids and change their experience. He agreed and it went well, but it was frustrating that he was ready to dump this the second his obligation was finished (but a few days before his ALT job ended).

Finally, there was a lot of passive aggression going on. He would baby me at times, doing things like telling me how to behave or how to dress (not that I was actually doing anything wrong). He even had the gull to ask me why I felt the need to use and ask people about Japanese sign language, something that is unique and rather important to me.

Moving forward

First thing was to take a deep breathe. I have to take the good with the bad. For some of the dickery, I know that he was just trying to help. For the poor performance, I get that he isn’t on a teaching track like I am and maybe just got tired of the job. Further what’s important now is that I’m here and I’m free to approach my job how I want. I’m free to make my own relationships with my teachers and free to try and build better lessons.

I started my approaching some of the classes differently. Instead of using flashcards to teach shapes, I also got the students to draw them. They were in kindergarten, so it was pretty brutal, but by varying the activities, I can better present the material and do so in my own way. I can build on this and try and bring new ideas into my other classes.

One thing I want to push for is more time in different classes, part of which is something C can actually help with. I teach more classes in high school than anywhere else, yet am only there once a week. In C’s new job, his first assignment was to brainstorm ideas on making the high school more prestigious and improving the English content. I suggested, in the future, hiring a second ALT, thus allowing one to work in the various high school classes while freeing up the other to work more closely with another seldom visited school. He completely agreed, and we might be able to work together on that and other proposals in the future.

I also want to start approaching my schools in different ways. One thing I’d like to do is sit in on a class for the entire day, aside from my teaching time. I’d like to know how a Japanese classroom ticks and what other teachers in other subjects do. I also want to see what life for a Japanese student is like and how I can use that to build new activities and opportunities for them.

On the heels of a JET survey about free time, I want to start exploring what else I can do between classes. I mentioned to one of the administrative staff about putting together super short English lessons that I can teach in the office between classes or as teacher have a few moments of free time. She liked it and wanted to know that that day’s lesson was.

Lastly, I want to push for a greater role in the classroom. One of the teachers already asks me to help mark for her (which is awesome). I want to find ways to build on that while also presenting new content in the classroom. I also want to meet some of the single-student classes and maybe visit them once every few weeks. They are learning English too, and being in a special needs class shouldn’t rob them of that experience.

In my predecessor’s absence, I am finally free to approach my job the way I want to, and that’s not a bad thing. He put in a lot of time and paid his dues, but now it’s my turn. Maybe I’ll do a good job, maybe I won’t. But now it’s my time to try.

What did you learn?

I’m not really sure why this picture is here.

So while the thought of having your predecessor working with you might sound kind of amazing, it comes with some strings attached. There are good and bad things that went with it, and I’m not sure which way I would have preferred. I definitely appreciate all the work he’s put in and help he’s given, but the experience wasn’t entirely positive. When my time comes, I’d certainly like to stay and help, but I’m not sure if I would do it for as long, or if my successor won’t end up having the same feelings. You’ll never run if someone is always holding your hand, regardless of how much you may want that.


My hanko has a first name, it’s O S C A R

August 13, 2015
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image

I’m a real boy!
I had this 80% written post about my apartment and some of the differences between Japanese and North American homes… and something happened and it was deleted. So today, you get rambling.

Adjusting
I’ve been in Kamikawa for about a week and a half now (Japan for almost two weeks). I’m adjusting pretty well. My shitty, atrophied Japanese is starting to cone back, but I’m going to need some hard studying to get back to where I was.

I’ve also started cooking and doing some normal things too. C, my pred, is staying for at least 2 more months to help transition me, but he’s been on “vacation,” so I’ve had a bit more time to myself which I’ve been using to explore a little and learn where things are.

My cell phone is set up, my bank account is open, and most of my apartment grown up-y stuff is done, save for my internet, which I hope to know more about today.

As mentioned in the titles, I have a registered hanko, which has made me unnecessarily happy. What is this, you say? Well, a hanko is a kind of stamp used for your signature in Japan. They are hand made so that the imprint is unique (except for super cheap ones used for play and informal uses). Anyways, you register the unique imprint of your hanko (also called an inkan) and get a little certificate directing parties to the imprint file so that you can start using it for official purposes. Essentially, my first name (in katakana) is my legal name in Japan, and I can properly sign for documents as a big person.

Work
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Random Japanese office, not where I work
Although I’ve been at work for almost a week and a half now, I’m at the Board if Education office until school starts again next week. Since I really don’t have any lesson planning to do or any other official business, I’m kind of just hanging out there and doing random slightly job related things.

Last week was almost entirely comprised of road trips, tours of town, and logistical info. But for the last few days, I’ve been doing things like reading JET articles, updating a wiki on the town, and reading/studying the kids’ story Momotaro. It’s pretty funny actually how I can fill my day and look busy while being surrounded by people probably doing real work. It’s like when you take your kid to work and they’re sitting next to you doing their homework or reading Harry Potter.

Things ramp up from here though. We have another day trip, this time to the mountain resort that the town owns. On Sunday, Buttons and I (you remember Buttons, right?) head to Sapporo for the JET Prefectural Orientation, after which I come back home and start in the classroom. I was also invited to a 2 day English camp a few towns over in October.

When going over my trip to Sapporo, I was told that the BoE would arrange my hotel for me and provide the funds upfront for my train tickets and a few other expenses. This was when the first crazy Japanese business thing happened; I was handed an envelope full of money. Seriously. That’s a thing here. So I have this envelope of cash sitting in my backpack to use for my travel expenses. Man, those gunshy JETs complaining in Facebook about carrying cash would have a meltdown.

C and I also talked about what the classroom looked like and what his role has been. In Tokyo, we were learning about some major shakeups in Japanese education, and it’s really interesting to see that at work here. I’m trying to figure out how much of it is my pred not remembering things, how much is him being complacent or lazy (since as a 5 year JET, that is a thing and he’s openly admitted it), and how much of it is me being a genki, wet behind the ears teacher about to have his soul crushed.

But again, I start teaching next week after I get back, so we’ll have to see.

YouTube
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So I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel. When I was out on Sunday, I decided to take some video of my walk around town while I talked about living on Japan and some differences with Canadian life.

But since I know nothing about film making, video production, or YouTube, it’s taking a bit longer than I thought. Not that being gone all day and randomly at night is helping.

Anyways, once that’s ready, I’ll try uploading it and I’ll make a commentary/behind the scenes post about it.

What’s next?
The Board told me that I can spend a bit of time in Sapporo and do some tourist stuff. The orientation starts too early Monday and ends too late on Tuesday for me to head in and out, so I’ll be spending about 4 days there.

In preparation, I’ve been looking up sone things to do, both normal and nerdy, and I’ve either been marking them on Google Maps or noting them on my phone. Such sites include the elusive Shingon Buddhist temple nearby and the Yellow Submarine gaming store close to the hotel I’m at.

But I’m also looking forward to seeing my crew from Tokyo (also all Canadian) and seeing hoe everyone is settling. I’ve learned that there are 3 JETs in nearby Asahikawa and knew at least one other who wasn’t a million miles away, so I’d like to get in touch with them and plan some outings. I’m also going to gaijin smash the hell out of my tattoo though and maybe switch my earrings for the trip. Get it all out while I’m out of town.


Posted in JET, Kamikawa-cho, Living

Landed and exhausted

August 5, 2015
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This’ll be pretty short, since I’m very, very tired. I’ve been in Japan for a few days now. Having finished our two day orientation and work seminar, I finally landed in Hokkaido. As expected, C and Mr. K were waiting at the airport. After super awesome Mr. K bought us lunch, we drove the 2.5 is hour drive home. We also stopped for ice cream (mmm… ice cream).

First Impressions

First off, C was crazy excited to see me, and Mr. K was pretty easy going and funny. C provided most of the translation, but we did talk a little bit as I tried to use me bruised, battered, and atrophied Japanese.

As for the drive through Hokkaido to reach Kamikawa-cho, the landscape reminds me a lot of Prince Edward Island. This was pretty funny, since I thought Tokyo seemed like Montreal. For Hokkaido, there were a lot of super small rural areas with houses loosely grouped together, not unlike the very small towns one might see in PEI. There was also a lot of liberties taken with house colors, so I saw bright blue, yellow, and other vibrant coloured houses.

Kamikawa-cho is crazy small. It was raining pretty hard when we pulled in, and we were rushing off for dinner, so I obviously didn’t see much (especially since I’d only just arrived).

Home Sweet Homu

We also went to my apartment for the quickest tour and move in ever. There is a lot of space for such a typically small place. C had left me a number of things and the BOE bought a bunch of furniture for me so I’d have somewhere to sleep and a place to sit down. I can’t wait to get settled and to start plugging some of the holes as far as possessions go.

Meeting

I  met a few of the BOE staff over dinner and drinks. It was really tough due to the massive dehydration I’ve been going through. See, we couldn’t have food or water anywhere in the hotel except the dining rooms and our own rooms. And the tight schedule kept us on our toes, leaving us little time to rest and recover. This meant that very few of us got all the water our bodies needed, meaning I had to be super careful tonight.

Anyways, every one was pretty welcoming and entertaining. C couldn’t remember the names of everyone (since he hasn’t worked too closely with many of them, and he told me that he didn’t know all of his students’ names. If a 5 year JET can’t do it, that takes the edge and expectations off.

Bed Time

I think that’s it for now. I’m about to pass out right here, so excuse me while I post and run. I’m going to be writing up a break down of orientation and tips about it. And obviously, I plan to say more about my town and job, but that’s going to take a little while.

So that’s all for now. I hope I can get something more meaningful up in the next few days, but now I’m still wiped right out. Till next time.


Posted in JET, Living
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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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