The Foreigner Trap

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China Town in Yokohama 

These past few weeks have been overwhelming in terms of making new friends. It’s always funny how a quiet evening drinking at a cafe can quickly turn into an adventurous night on the town and an invite to the family BBQ (true story). While I was trying to pretend like I can keep up in conversation, I was vaguely aware that the conversation switched over to foreigners living in Japan and interacting with foreigners. They expressed how they want to interact with more foreigners (I’m assuming they mean more Americans and Europeans), but find that communicating with the one’s here to be a little daunting.

The most common issue was of course the language barrier, which I can understand. You can’t really communicate with someone if there isn’t a common language. The second problem was just stereotypes trying to avoid the otakus (anime nerds) and all the ones with yellow fever. Which I can understand I wouldn’t want to talk with anyone who thought rap and hip hop was the only aspect of black culture. However there was a third issue they brought up that seemed to be kind of ridiculous; foreigners that aren’t interested in talking to Japanese people or at least not in Japanese.

I was at a lost for words. I mean why would you travel thousands of miles away from home to not speak a word of Japanese to an actual Japanese person? But then it hit me, I think the foreigners they’re talking about are stuck in a trap. Something I call the “Gaijin Trap”.

 

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Enoshima Island Temple

 

 

 

This happens when you live in another country for a while but you don’t really make I think a connection with the host culture. This disconnect could happen for a number of reasons maybe you didn’t really want to live abroad and you’re only here because of work. Maybe you don’t find the culture as interesting as you thought you would. I think everybody has fallen victim to it or at least has the potential to. I know I have when I first studied abroad in Osaka. My main group of friends from that time were other English speakers and I felt comfortable that way. I had fun of course but not experiencing things the way I should’ve been. Which didn’t really make me feel the most confident in my skills when I returned home.

So what can someone do to prevent this from happening? How can you break loose from the perpetual cycle? This isn’t a step by step guide on how to make authentic Japanese friends but simply just a little bit of food for thought. Maybe the problem is just simply being to self-involved. Self-involved meaning always waiting for someone else to make a move or assuming that you inherently don’t fit into whatever image you’re currently looking at. Looking back on my experience from before and my experience now. Some of the best times I’ve had come from me simply making the first moves and letting go of that initial fear of not being good enough.

I have to remind myself just because I look different on the outside, doesn’t entitle me to any sort of special treatment. Especially in a place like Japan where being different isn’t necessarily a good thing (personal experience). I’ll be the first to admit that I fell victim to this way of thinking before. Always thinking of myself as the “other” when in reality that really wasn’t the case. As much as I’m intimidated about starting conversations with Japanese people I’ve come to find out they’re just as intimidated by me. And even if they don’t plan to visit the U.S. anytime soon, most people find the casual culture exchange to be just as interesting.

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BBQ’s during Golden Week

 

What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think the “Gaijin Trap” exists? I’d love to hear outside opinions.

 

Spring Time: New Beginnings and Endings

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Giant Buddha at Kotokuin Temple

 

Spring is hands down my favorite season. Maybe it’s just because I was born during this time of the year but, I always feel like this is the most perfect time. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold. The flowers are blooming and everyone’s taking their cute little dogs out for walks.

In Japan, I feel like spring is an especially beautiful season. Like how New Year’s is seen as a time for new beginnings in America, spring time is seen as a fresh start here in Japan. Many of my students though were a little sadden by the end of the school year, are now excited to start the new school year fresh and forget all their worries from last year. For me it feels a little strange to say next year since school in America finishes in May/June. But living here I can see why it makes sense to see the spring time as a new beginning.

In the spring time we celebrate Girl’s Day

It feels like a new beginning and an end because, during this time the teachers transfer to different schools. No one knows exactly why but most teachers don’t teach at one school for more than 4/5 years. This time of the year, more than any other part of the year is pretty nostalgic for Japanese people. You’re losing your friends/ co-workers to other schools. Kids are finishing/ starting school, there’s a lot more that changes during this time besides the weather.

At my school, there were a few teachers I knew that were leaving to other schools or retiring. I have mixed emotions about it, I’m sad that they’re leaving of course but also, I’m sad because I feel like it wasn’t enough time. I feel as though I didn’t spend enough time getting to know people. Maybe it’s impossible to be on good terms with everyone but I feel as though I didn’t put in more effort connecting with as many people as I could.

I’m going to make that a part of my spring resolution, trying to reach out more to people. My resolution isn’t to become everyone’s friend, but simply put more effort into the relationships I’ve made. Making the first move, inviting people out, or asking to be a part of the group.

I have to laugh at myself a little because it sounds like a very Japanese thing to think of, trying to have more of a group mentality. But I guess that’s what happens when you live here for a while.

My lovely spring pink mood board

Kairakuen: The Plum Blossom Festival of Ibaraki

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きれいですね~

“Spring begins with plum blossoms in Mito,” all the pamphlets read. Just before the Sakura (cherry) blossoms start to bloom, the plum blossoms are well fully blossomed. Although Sakura blossoms are known as the symbolic flower of Japan, plum blossoms are still a sight worth seeing.

Kairakuen garden was built during the Edo period  and has been a well known spot since then for plum blossom viewing. This festival is held every year from February 20th to March 31st and is completely free. More than 3,000 trees fill the park and, the colors range from snow white to a very vibrant pink.

Some views of the park.

Getting there is about a two hour train rid from Tochigi prrefecture. There are three seperate sections for the park. The main area is where the trees and festival food is located. Here many people eat bentos (Japanese lunch boxes) on the grass and watch some traditional kimono dance performances. You can walk through the house of Nariaki Tokugawa to see an imperial emperor style home, visit the spring water park, and walk through the beautiful Tokiwa shrine.  The park is pretty big but I do recommend walking the full length just to get a good view of the entire area.

Tokiwa shrine

It’s not the most famous festival in the Kanto area but it’s been gaining a lot of notoraiity over the past couple of years. It’s free and on a beautiful day, it’s the perfect setting for a lovely park stroll.

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A lovely couple taking wedding pictures

A Little Bit of Culture Shock

I have to laugh at myself a little bit, mainly because this is my second time coming to Japan. I’ve already lived through all of this for a short time before, so what else could I possibly find shocking? The truth is there’s still a lot that gets to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and other times I just have to roll with the punches. So I’ve complied a short list of things that I’ve found to be the most shocking since living here.

ATMs Close

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My ATM: I’m charged ¥ 108 after 6pm on weekdays and on the weekends.

Japan is still a heavily cash based society so it’s still uncommon to pay using credit card at most places especially in rural places where they might not even have card machines. So it’s very common for people to walk around with $500-$1000 in cash at any given time. The only place I can think to use a credit at around Sano would be at the Aeon Mall and Outlet stores. Even online, there’s often options to pay in cash at convenience stores or give the delivery man cash on arrival.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if dealing with the ATMs wasn’t so annoying. Unlike in America ATMs in Japan actually  close, usually around 6pm, on weekends,and on holidays. ATMs are also notorious for charging fees for withdrawing your OWN money from your OWN account. I was lucky enough to be with a bank that’s not so annoying but I know I do get charged to withdraw money if I do it after 6pm.  So this means I have to do some careful planning when it comes to my weekend adventures. Especially since my bank can’t be found outside of Tochigi so I try to make sure I withdraw enough money to get through the weekend.

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Just slide into the ATM, the machine writes all your transactions.

A good thing about them though is that you can update your bankbook automatically at the ATM so Japan got that part right.

 

 

 

 

 

No Returns

This one is still a little hard for me to understand, most stores will not allow you to do a return. If you are able to make a return, it’s usually an annoyingly long process.  It’s not that you can’t return things I’ve returned a couple things, you just have to have a good reason why you want to return it i.e. broken, wrong fit, etc. Even if you are able to make returns most places will want you to do an exchange instead of giving you back your money. It’s a hard concept to get used to,  especially coming from America I remember returning things that I bought months ago without any problem. Hell I’ll buy clothes to try on at home and then return them within the week if I don’t really like them. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to return things , I guess it’s just to make sure the stores aren’t being cheated out of money somehow. It’s not all that bad though I just have to really think about what I’m getting and weather or not it’ll be worth the purchase.

 

Technology

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Electronic Dictionary: the saving grace of English Education

Japan has a very love hate relationship when it comes to technology. On one hand they have electronic dictionaries, self opening car doors, and high tech Japanese phones, but on the other hand they still rely on kerosine heaters, fax machines, and chalk boards. I guess it’s the idea of if it’s not broken don’t fix it, because they will hold onto outdated technology until it dies. Maybe it’s a part of the energy conservation or just putting money into more viable infrastructure… I’m not really sure what it is. Most of my teachers aren’t really sure how to use certain technology like bluetooth speakers or creating power points it’s strange. I remember being at Kansai Gaidai and having to type my final reports on computers that  were still running windows 98. It’s crazy to even think that that program can still work on anything in 2017, but it still exists.

Delivery

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McDelivery is McGenius

This one I can’t experience too often because most places around me don’t deliver but it’s surprising how many restaurants actually offer delivery services. You can get not only get pizza but also McDonald’s, Moe’s Burgers, ramen, etc all delivered to your door step. The first time I had it in Osaka I was shocked, as lazy as Americans are why don’t we have delivery McDonalds?

 

 

 

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that throw me off every now and again but these are the few things that I experience everyday that really get to me.

 

Before becoming an ALT

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I think it’s funny that the natural response to “teaching English is hard” is, ” How can it be hard, don’t you know English? Just teach them English.” As if just because you know something means your a natural born teacher. Teaching in general is a pretty tough job, but teaching to people who don’t understand even half the words that come out your mouth is a whole other level of difficulty.

These past few years, Japan has made more efforts in improving its English programs. Many schools require students to learn English as a part of their core classes. Some schools have even hired permanent native English teachers in efforts to improve EFL education.

Before coming to Japan, I’ve done volunteer tutoring with ESL students so I have some experience in how to communicate but, unlike teaching in America, teaching English in another country is completely different. The national language in Japan is Japanese, so outside of music and movies the kids don’t have much exposure to English. Unless they plan on going abroad in the future, many kids just aren’t interested in learning it. Why should they if they’re not going to use it everyday.

I teach at three different high schools with over forty classes and each class has varying levels of English ability. Some students are pretty conversational while some students can barely form a sentence.Outside of JET it’s pretty easy to become an ALT but it’s not a job that’s right for everyone. Here’s a couple things I wish someone would’ve told me about teaching in Japan before I started.

Keep them Interested

This of course is easier said then done. Even Japanese kids find school to be boring most of the time. That being said I like to bring in things to help make the class more interesting i.e. pictures, fun activities, music, etc. to give them a reason to want to learn English. After all learning another language is about cultural exchange as well. Tell them things that they wouldn’t already know about your country. I love showing the kids old prom pictures or digging out the photos from my blonde days. I think one of the best lessons I’ve taught was actually on soul food where the students learned about some of the crazy deep fried treats you can find down South. I try my best to really find the quirky fun parts of the United States to share with them because that’s what will get them talking in English.

No Homework

Stated in a previous entry, Japanese kids don’t really have homework. At least not in the way that Americans think about homework. It’s treated as optional work, and it’s very possible to be at the top of your classes without doing any homework. Some ALTs use homework regularly, but personally I found it was just more work on my part with very little pay off. The kids didn’t take it seriously so I ended up grading work that they didn’t even try to do correctly. Instead I give a lot of handouts just to make sure they have something to refer back to when I’m gone.

Emphasize Talking

I’m not a very talkative person so I don’t like to lecture the students for more than 15 minutes. Outside of school the students don’t really have much exposure to English so I try to get them to talk as much as possible in English. This is also hard because many students will give you the age old excuses of I’m shy or I don’t understand to avoid being called on. I find a good way to relive this problem is getting your Japanese teacher more involved with the lessons. Having them do demonstrations and holding model conversations really helps students feel at ease because, when they see their teachers make mistakes they won’t feel as nervous making them themselves.

 

Limited Technology

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Most people really don’t understand that Japan is a pretty minimalistic country. Japanese students don’t grow up using computers for homework or really any type of classwork. So it’s pretty unrealistic to rely on technology when making your lessons. It was a real adjustment to come from having a SMARTboard in every class to relying solely on a chalk boards. I can’t look things up on the internet if something seems off, so I have to make sure my lessons are planned down to the T from all the things I want to explain to everything I might have to say in Japanese. And if I do plan on using any type of technology I always have to have a back up plan in case the computer/ internet decides not to work that day.

Be Patient

Finally, the last thing is just to be patient. I think teaching in general is very humbling, things that seem easy and obvious to me aren’t to my students. English as a second language is hard in a country where only 1% of the population speaks it fluently. So always be prepared for constant mistakes and questions from both students and teachers alike. Be patient when it comes to teaching, understand that not all students are going to take your lessons seriously. But those that do will be grateful for them and will make the effort to really improve their skills.

Looking back six months ago I never thought that I would enjoy teaching as much as I do now. I focused so much on preparing to live in Japan I never really spoke to anyone about the actual teaching part, so I wish I could’ve spent more time getting comfortable being front and center all the time. I’m not sure if teaching will be a permanent career path for me but I’m glad to know that it is a pretty fulfilling option.

Fiction vs. Reality: What’s it like being black in Japan?

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I was trying to be an egg

I always get a little sad when I look up blogs on wordpress, tumblr, or youtube and find very little information from bloggers of color in Japan. Not that I don’t find information from white bloggers useful but the way life is experienced, is always different for bloggers of color. Many white bloggers have no idea what it’s like to be a minority and usually don’t have to deal with issues of racism in their home countries. So they often don’t think or even consider that their darker colleagues might be facing some tougher times simply because of their skin color.

 

Even in Asia, western forms of beauty are still highly sought after. It’s inescapable, every where you go you see Japanese advertisements using white models. I’ve even heard of business companies that will hire white men just to go to business meetings with them because they think it makes them look good. I can’t say I’ve faced a lot of negativity here but, I’ll never forget how a Japanese man compared approaching black people to approaching dogs, “You want to come up to them because they look fun and friendly, but you’re still scared they might bite you.” It didn’t feel good to hear that but I’m sure he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

The reason why I started writing this blog was to share a little of what I’m going through with all the numerous black people that really want to come here, but are too scared to do it. When I first studied abroad I had all the same questions everybody else had; what will everyone think about skin color, what will they think about my hair, what will I do with my hair, what if they secretly call me racist names, what if I don’t make any friends… Just a lot of what ifs, and if I could go back in time and slap myself I would. I won’t lie and say that living in Japan is easy for me because it’s definitely not. There’s plenty of challenges that I face everyday from communicating at my job to just simply commuting. However living in Japan is not as scary as it seems. In fact I think most of my initial fears were over come by simply just being open and getting out of my own head.

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Endless nights in Roppongi

Fiction: Japanese people will find me intimidating.

Reality: This one I think, depends on where you live. Tochigi is fairly close to Tokyo where a lot of foreigners live. So I think most people here have come in contact with foreigners of all colors several times in their lives.  In small country towns this might be a little bit more challenging to foreigners of color. It’s hard to fathom but, there are probably plenty of Japanese people who have never talked to a foreigner, let alone a foreigner of color. As I’ve said foreigners only make up one percent of the population in Japan with the biggest number of minorities located closer to the bigger cities. While I have heard some bad stories, most Japanese people I’ve met have been pretty accepting about my skin color, some have even found me more interesting because of it. More than anything I think people find me intimidating because they’re scared to speak to me in English.

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This is actually the only selfie I have with my hair out.

 

Fiction: Japanese people will probably think my skin and hair texture is ugly.

Reality:Again, Japan is no stranger to Eurocentric styles of beauty. Both men and women spend thousands of dollars trying to achieve a more western look such as skin lightening, eye surgery, and extreme dieting to look more like the Taylor Swifts and Justin Beibers of the world. So I have no doubt that there are plenty of Japanese people that find African features conventionally unattractive. I think beauty standards are a little less unforgiving here in Japan because overall Japanese people don’t differ to much in terms of hair, skin and body type. Diversity is still a pretty fresh concept in Japan but it takes time for society to slowly accept what’s different. Coming here made me accept my outward appearance even more because I know no matter how hard I try I’ll never fit into conventional beauty here. I still make sure to look my best when going out but it’s on my own terms. And despite feeling self conscious I’ve had more than enough Japanese people tell me how beautiful I am whether I’m wearing a wig and make-up or just being my natural self.

 

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The famous Room 806

 

Fiction: I can’t buy my hair products/ there’s no where for me to get my hair done.

Reality: Unfortunately this is more fact than fiction because, there isn’t really a market for black hair care products in Japan. Foreigners make up only 1% of the population and I’m willing to bet less than half of that percentage is black. I know there are some salons like Room 806 in Tokyo that can do braids and sew ins but their prices are pretty high. To avoid paying those prices ($60/ hour) before coming here I started learning how to do my hair myself (youtube is my bestfriend now). I order most of my products offline and do a lot of DIY mixes. If you’re adventurous with your Japanese it doesn’t hurt to find good Japanese substitutes with hair products. I’ve found some lines of sulfate free shampoos and some people swear by Japanese deep conditioners. It is annoying that there’s not a beauty supply store that I can walk to find a good leave in or curl cream but that’s the sacrifice you make to live in Asia.

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Yohei Kamiya and Tara Kamiya

 

Fiction: Japanese people won’t want to date me

Reality: Due to the over consumption of media and general different dating practices, dating in Japan can be difficult. Many Japanese people are reluctant to date foreigners due to cultural differences and communication. It’s hard to date someone if you can’t communicate with them so many people just don’t try. Conversely many Japanese people might want to date foreigners because they think we fit some sort of stereotype. Foreigners are often seen as promiscuous and sleeping with one might be kind of as a status symbol. However the same can be said for foreigners that only want to “date” Japanese people because of an Asian fetish. Besides all of those short comings there are plenty of successful interracial relationships both in and outside of Japan. Like any relationship, it takes time and effort and if it’s meant to be, then it will happen.

 

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I really love the pig filter

Being in Japan as a black women is hard but, I find it’s only as hard as I make it out to be. Asia in general is still relatively closed off from the rest of the world so there’s still a lot of people who are just ignorant of what life is like outside of their region. I always have to think about that when I’m out because, most of my misunderstandings just come from simple miscommunication. No amount of complaining will make my time here easier but, I can just take things for what they are and continue to live in Japan as unapologeticaly black as possible.

 

Winter Vacation: Starting 2017 on a Good Note

The year 2016 will not only be known as my first winter vacation in Japan, but also my first paid winter vacation ever. It might sound a bit pretentious of me but, when I think about where I was last year this is a major improvement.This time last year I was so stressed out from working two jobs and applying for more jobs that led me nowhere. It’s sill to think about it now but I thought that part of my life would never end. Now here I am on a program that I never thought I would get into doing something that I like. I never saw myself feeling this good at 23 years old and I’m happy to say that I ended 2016 on a good note.

Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t make any big plans for the winter holidays for several reasons; 1. I wanted to save a little bit of money (bills are not fun) and 2. I really wanted to spend the holidays in Japan. Not that Japan does anything particularly special for Christmas and New Years, but when will I ever spend winter break in Japan ever again?

Finishing up work in school brought so much relief. I spent the last month teaching (fun) Christmas songs to my upper level students. They all thoroughly enjoy Jingle Bell Rock and continued to sing it well until the final day of classes. Two of my classes banded together to make me Christmas origami cards. They were super cute, sweet, and their English was impeccable. My Japanese has been steadily improving, things that didn’t make sense suddenly, are starting to make sense. Conversation in Japanese has become much easier (still pretty bad though).

I had several friends come and visit me during the month of December with long movie nights, frequent onsen visits (hotsprings), rocking the house at Karaoke night in the local bars and playing the new Final Fantasy on my new (used) PS4 and TV.

My Christmas Day Collection, peep me in the fuzzy sandals.

Christmas day I spent with two American friends from Yamanashi Prefecture in Sano. We all stayed in my cramped apartment for four days but it was still great, watching the new Yuri on Ice anime (highly recommended) and the somewhat new MARS ただ君を愛してる drama (not so recommended), and visiting the Ashikaga flower park for the Christmas Illumination (highly recommended). Unfortunately it’s hard to cook a good American Christmas dinner in Japan so I couldn’t enjoy the standard turkey with stuffing on the 25th, instead I indulged in some KFC for Christmas dinner. I think KFC for Christmas is strange to but the reason why Japanese people eat it is because KFC is the closest thing they have to cooked turkey… I don’t think so either.

A much deserved trip to Sendai City

December 30th I took a trip up to Sendai city all by myself just to get out of Sano and try something new. Which turned out to be a pretty amazing trip, I’m the first person to admit that I’m scared to travel alone especially to areas I’m not familiar with, but I’m glad I was able to conquer my fear of the unknown. I was able to navigate around the city on my own strike up good Japanese conversations and keep myself thoroughly entertained for the day. The shinkansen ticket was pretty pricey from Oyama but the journey was well worth it in the end. Highlights of my trip included the Daikannon temple, Nishi park and the Tanabata Museum.

 

Osechi and family time.

Finally I started the year off right eating Osechi with a Japanese friend Mutou-sensei and her family. Osechi is the new year cuisine that most Japanese people eat at the beginning of January. Apparently this meal used to be prepared as a way for Japanese families to survive the first couple of days of winter during the time when most stores in Japan would be closed. The food in Osechi can be set out in a cool area and eaten for many days without spoiling. Many of the items represent prosperity, good fortune, and health. The best part of the day was visiting the huge temple in Ashikaga and praying for good luck within the new year. I think my prayers were answered because my mikoji was the highest luck (daikichi omikuji) for the new year.

I’ve never felt this good about starting a new year before and I’m excited to see what the next 365 days have in store for me. Here’s to a lit 2017!!

Japanese High Schools

Japanese classroom.jpgThere was never a moment in my life where I thought I would be teaching in a high school. Not to say that teaching is bad, its a very respectable job that only certain people can do well. It just wasn’t something I saw myself doing. Yet here I am in Japan none the less, teaching high school students English.

Before coming here I knew working in a Japanese high school would be different compared to working in America, but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be from my perceptions.

Academically:

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From what I can tell going to school in Japan feels a lot more like going to college. Not in the sense that everyone is drinking, but in the sense of the way that school is taught. For instance homework isn’t all that important. As a matter of fact students aren’t required to do homework at all. Homework is just treated as extra practice, you should do it because it will help you but if you don’t no one is going to chase you down about it.

The only things students seem to be graded on is their midterm and final exams, otherwise than that they have nothing to worry about as far as grades. That’s not to say students don’t work hard. They are very studious and they do put a lot of effort into their school work. I’m pretty sure a majority of students do their homework daily but it’s just not something that they have to constantly stress about.

 

School Life:

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Life in school is much more community based. At one of my schools (I work at three) students don’t change classrooms, the teachers do. So the students spend all day with the same people.They learn together, eat lunch together, “clean” together, answer together, togetherness is a very important concept for Japan. I often get the best results from students when I allow them to work together in class.

Students also spend a lot of time at school. Some students show up early for club activities, stay late to study or do more club activities, and then some even come in on the weekends for club activities or for a quiet place to study. I was surprised to see students coming in during summer vacation for extra classes but that type of behavior is very normal.

Even as a teacher there is still a strong sense of community. As mentioned before I don’t have my own office instead I work in the teacher’s room with the English, math, Japanese department, and Vice Principal. Every morning we have a short meeting to announce changes to the schedules, absences, etc. All the departments communicate with each other about everything.

Discipline:

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This concept probably took me the longest to get used too. Discipline in Japan unless the problem is very extreme is very rarely discussed. Japanese people in general don’t really believe in discipline which was very frustrating at first. Behaviors that would seem unacceptable in America; talking in class, sleeping, being late are not really seen as problems. When these do happen teachers will kindly talk to the student and that’s about it.

That’s not to say that, they let the students get away with whatever they want but, overall Japanese students show a little more respect for their teachers than Americans do I think. I have plenty of loud and talkative students but as the year progressed the problems sort of resolved themselves. The reason for this seems that Japanese people in general don’t like to be singled out. So consistently calling attention to behavior issues eventually causes them to conform. If a student is to disruptive you can talk to the homeroom teacher or their sempai (upper class men) and they might give the student a good yelling but that’s about it. Again community is very important if your classmates, teachers, or principle find you to be a problem then its usually not good.

It’s different but I guess the system works. I haven’t seen any kids get violent or be outright disrespectful to their teachers. At the end of the day kids are all the same everywhere and they’re just looking for someone’s attention.

Energy Consumption:

This is more of a nationwide thing but since I spend most of time in a school I notice it most often here. All of my schools do their absolute best to be sure they’re using as little energy as possible. That means no AC or heat unless the weather is unbearable and all electronics are off (not standby) unless they’re being used.

It’s getting cooler outside but we can’t turn on the heat since it’s not winter yet.Instead everyone is just expected to dress warmly. They also do their best to keep off all the lights unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve been caught at all of my school several times having to walk through the hallways in the dark. It seems strange especially when you compare everything to home, but again its just one more thing to get used too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first home-stay Experience

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The first time I ever worn a Yukata

This past weekend I had the great pleasure participating in the homestay event through the JET program. The CIR organized families for the new incoming JETS of Tochigi-ken to spend one weekend with a Japanese family. Our families were picked completely at random so we had no choice in the matter but, we were able to specify what level of English proficiency we would like them to have. So the JETs that had no Japanese knowledge what so ever were able to have families that were fluent in English. Since I studied the language for four years I asked for a family with a very low level of English so I would be forced to talk mostly in Japanese with them.

I was always pretty regretful of the fact that I didn’t do home- stay while studying abroad. As much as I wanted to do it, I was really worried that I wouldn’t get along with my family, so I decided to stay in the dorms. Living in the dorms wasn’t a bad experience I still had fun and learned a lot while I was there but, I always felt like I missed out on an important opportunity. I traded in personal growth in order to keep my independence and if I could go back in time I would’ve at least given it a chance before completely writing it off.

This weekend was pretty great though, I did not expect to enjoy my host family as much as I did. We got a long very well and at the end I didn’t want to leave. They took me around Tochigi city to make traditional Japanese snacks and visited and Edo period and Doll museum. It was fun and stressful all at the same time because, there were plenty of times that we misunderstood each other. But after the two days I felt a lot more comfortable speaking in Japanese and expressing myself. My family was very patient with me, reading aloud brochures and doing their best to explain the meaning of things to me.

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Everyone thought those old people were real when we walked in.

 

My second day was fun as well. We went to a pottery barn  (mashikoyaki) where I was able to make three different pieces from clay. My pieces weren’t that great but the experience was pretty fun. If I didn’t need a car to reach the area I would do another pottery making class.

 

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Mine were the three on the left.

The last leg of my adventure ended with us visiting a sake brewery high up in the mountains of Tochigi ken. I wasn’t sure about the name but I believe it was somewhere in Oyama.

 

The first picture was an entrance to the cave and inside were different tunnels and racks that hold sake. The cave has been around for a while, and they’re responsible for producing the new years sake flavors in Tochigi every year.

 

I’m not sure if I can keep in touch with my family but I had a really great time spending the weekend with them. I’ve learned a lot about Japanese and also Tochigi-ken as well. This experience made me really regretful that I didn’t do it the first time, who knows I could’ve been fluent by now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obon Marks the End of Summer

Obon or just the Bon festival in Japanese is a Buddhist custom to honors one’s ancestors. It’s not an official national holiday but people still take this time out to be with their families, pay their respects to their ancestors, or just to relax.

The Obon festival in Sano was held at the Akiyamagawa river, a short ten minute walk from my apartment. It was pretty small compared to the Hidesato festival but I assume it’s because this is more of a spiritual affair. It was filled with your usual Japanese festive foods; Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Soba noodles, beer, etc. The monks set up their own tent for those who wanted (to pay) to send a special prayer to their ancestors. There was traditional Okinawan Oban dancing and singing, and at the end of it all there was thirty minute firework filled with smiley faces and strawberries.

 

This time officially marked the end of the summer holidays. All the teachers started showing up to work regularly giving supplemental summer lessons before the next semester starts. Which means that I’ll actually have to start working pretty soon *sad sigh*