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

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!!

What it takes to get into JET

jetIt feels so strange to write about applying for JET because when I first applied, I didn’t really see it as a goal. I knew of JET through my language courses of course but I never really had any intentions of applying to the program until I realized I had nothing to do after graduating college. Most participants have been dreaming about JET since high school, others have applied to this program maybe two or three times before being accepted. While I am happy to be here now, I will admit that I wasn’t the most ideal candidate for being an ALT. To be honest when I left the interview I felt as if I didn’t make the cut and started looking for other jobs to apply to.

Probably not something you want to read if you’re really hopping on getting in but it’s the honest truth. My grades weren’t at the top of the class, my references were turned in at the very last minute, and I had very little work experience compared to some other more qualified applicants. Along with those things I was really worried that my ethnicity would hold me back from being accepted. Not to say that JET is racist in anyway but it’s not the most encouraging thing to notice that you’re the only black person sitting in a room full of white faces. But despite all of that I was picked and I’ll share what I think was most helpful in having the interviewers choose me.

Experience

Of course experience for any job is important, but what if you don’t have any formal teaching experience? Well you have to find some opportunities. For me this was the easiest to sell myself on because I have been tutoring and teaching grade school kids throughout college. You don’t have to have your own classroom, but tutoring, volunteering opportunities, anything like that would qualify as experience. For those wanting to be ALT’s there are plenty of foreigners that are looking to learn English online, at college campuses or even at local YMCAs. I would recommend getting as much experience as you can teaching, especially if you want to be a high school ALT, you’ll be expected to run your own class and make your own lessons.

Statement of Purpose

I will admit here that I’m a pretty good writer. When multiple people tell you they really enjoyed reading your SOP that statement really sticks with you. Even though it seems long at first there two double spaced pages really isn’t that much to write. Most people mess up by rambling about why they want to come to Japan and not necessarily why they should be chosen for JET. Coming onto JET is more than just living in Japan and everyone applying to JET wants to come to Japan, so you have to talk about how your experiences will help the program. Why are you a good fit for the JET program, not why Japan is a good fit for you.

 

Preparation

Of course you should prepare for any interview you have. For the JET interview there are plenty of sites dedicated to helping you pass. There’s even sample questions which are the same used in the interview floating around somewhere online so be sure to read those questions carefully and have a good answer for each one. Make sure to do a little research on Japan as a country, i.e. current issues, political leaders, famous artists, etc. Show that you are actually interested in Japan as a country and not just for the entertainment it produces.

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Flexibility

Finally Flexibility is really important, something they stress in JET is that you might not get exactly what you are looking for as far as placement. Many people want to go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc but the reality is that you might be placed somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, on an island, where you’re the only person who speaks any English. You could get placed at a really rigorous academic school or placed in a special needs school where the kids can’t even speak Japanese. Every situation is different, and an important part of the interview is understanding that you can deal with whatever you get. If there are some things you really can’t deal with such as health or living wise of course let it be known as early as possible. But you have to be okay with the fact that your Japan experience might not be everything you were hoping it to be.

 

So there it is, my four biggest tips on getting accepted into the JET program. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, there are plenty of people who got accepted who don’t know anything about Japan with no teaching experience. I understand that working in JET is a dream for a lot of people but understand it’s not the end all to everything. Even if you don’t get into JET there are other companies in Japan and around Asia that are offering the same job that are less rigorous. So if you’re end goal is just to live in Japan, know that there are other ways.

 

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.