Thursday, September 29, 2011

Long Weekend in Nagoya

In Japan, there are two national holidays that can land on the Monday of a week and then on Friday of the same week, meaning that you have a blissful three-day work week or even a proper 10 day vacay if you can get the days in between off. The dates of the holiday are fixed so when ever this happens, it's called Silver Week! Or as like to call it since it's rare, Silver Unicorn Week! (just a little fun reference there if you get it) The holidays are Respect for the Elder Day and the Autumnal Equinox if you were curious. I didn't take the three days in between off, so this post is only about the first three day weekend I had. I have most of my PTO planned out already so I knew I couldn't take the 10 day vacay route, but I do however have a number of places that I want to go to in Japan that require at least 3 days so it was alright by me.

First stop: Nagoya to visit an old college friend of ours.

Before getting on the train to Nagoya, a Linkin Park concert was going on in Osaka. I had gotten my bf tickets as a birthday present for him, but think I ended up having a better time, haha! We had been able to acquire these tickets in a very serendipitous manner, so we were absolutely stoked to be seeing our favorite band in our favorite place in the world. We arrived at the venue when we were supposed to, but were surprised to find huge lines in every direction. A friend of ours from Tamba had arrived before us but was equally as confused. Apparently there was a letter and a number on our tickets that would correspond to the line we were suppose to get in. Our friend was already in a random line, so when we did figure out what line we were suppose to be in, it had gotten even longer than ours! We looked at each other and the decision was unanimous - we had to play the baka gaijin card. This card should not be abused, but since Baka gaijin means 'stupid foreigner' it usually aids in the plight of a foreigners who are still trying to figure how things work in Japan. So when you make these kind of obvious mistakes, Japanese people assume you didn't know any better and let whatever indiscretion slide. We waited and were ushered slowly towards the front until it came time to rip the tickets aaaand success!! We got in ahead of easily about 600 other people who were in our proper line. Phew!

Lead singer, Chester Bennington doing his thing. 
On to the show! We had already booked our shinkansen in advanced so we were a bit nervous when the band hadn't started playing 10 minutes after they were supposed to with an opening act supposedly going on first. In America it would be silly to expect a concert to start on time but, this is Japan. People have places to go and train times to go with them! So my faith in Japanese punctuality wavered only briefly after 15 minutes, but then all of a sudden, Linkin Park came out guns (read instruments) a blaring!! no opening act, no nonsense, just right into their first song. It was amazing. Since it was standing room only, we pushed our way to the front and in a sea of moshing and jumping, we got to see the whole band up close, maybe 10-15 feet away. I made two novice mistakes though. I wore sandals and I took a shoulder purse - what is wrong with me?! My feet were not just being stepped on, but stomped on! My purse was in the way and rubbing up against sweaty gross (remember I'm a clean freak). It was all worth it though. I have great footage, even if I have less than great pictures. I couldn't really help that though since moshing is the opposite of standing still. The whole thing was an unforgettable experience. And my faith was restored in full as the show ended promptly and we caught our train to Nagoya.

We arrived in Nagoya and noticed we had inadvertently booked a hotel in the red-light district. Lots of host club guys were hanging around and posters displaying the faces of heavily made-up girls were in the windows. Unfazed, we headed up to our hotel, desperate to take a shower. What did faze us though was how hard the bed in this place was. No spring board, just a box. And this hotel wasn't cheap either. What the?

In the morning, we met up with our college friend and headed off to a bunny cafe called 'うさぎ と cafe' (Bunny with Cafe). I adore bunnies, always have. I had a bunny in fourth grade for a couple of years and as of late, have really wanted one again. Once we arrived we were told we had to wait 30-45 minutes. The mounting anticipation was too much. The bunny area is kept separate from the eating area, so when we finally sat down, all I could do was stare into the next room awaiting my turn. You pay by the half hour to play with the bunnies and order food separately. I placed my order for bunny curry and then proceeded to the next room. Kyaa!!! I almost died from the cuteness overload! The bunnies run free but you're not allowed to pick them up, only to pet and play with them. Floppy eared, straight eared, long hair, short hair, big, small, all kinds. One of them had the softest fur I had ever touched. I fed them hay and let them approach me for petting until my food came 10 minutes later. The curry was too cute (and not actually made out of rabbit, lol). I had a hot chocolate with vanilla ice cream floating inside for dessert. It was presented to me in an adorable bunny mug, so I had to buy that too. Afterwards, I went back in for more bunny time!

Softest fur ever!
Nagoya 'lovers' Tower
After we walked to Nagoya tower. Towers in big cities are a thing in Japan. Towers in general aren't something I'm interested in, but I do enjoy the art of collecting, so Nagoya tower was just next on the list. Part of this collecting process by the way, always includes some kind of cell phone charm from the tower (a Kitty-chan one is preferred). I've never been to a tower with a theme though. This one's seemed to be 'love.' There were four posts showing different ways to hug in each of the cardinal directions, there was a lover's sanctuary, and even a wall picturing couples that had gotten married at Nagoya tower. It was slightly odd, but I enjoyed it all.

Hugging in every way?
Next we ate a Coco Ichibans, a fantastic curry house chain. After that I wanted to ride a Ferris wheel that I had seen from my hotel window, but since I wanted to ride it at night we had time to kill so we went to happy hour! Yay! It was a cozy little British Pub that was showing the Rugby World Cup. I'm not into rugby but after watching a few minutes of it, I could be. Very thrilling sport where men are men and injuries are likely. In honor of this world cup, the menu featured drinks from around the world. Naturally, I tried what 'Japan' had to offer and then the blue color of 'Argentina' called me. Then, it was off to the Ferris wheel. I'm also not a huge lover of Ferris wheels back home, but they're everywhere in Japan, so why not? The ride was nice and we got some nice views of the city. All and all, a great day.

On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel and had a healthy breakfast of conbini food (chips and a sandwich) before meeting up with our other friend in the neighborhood. We were meeting her and her girlfriend at Nagoya Castle.
The castle, and its golden dragons
Nagoya Castle is known for the golden dragon fish that sit on top of the green roof. They don't look so big from a distance but they had some on display inside the castle that showed how big they really are and wow, they're huge. One fact I found interesting and sad was that the original castle was bombed during WWII only a month or so before Japan surrendered anyway. Such a shame.

We were starved soon after so we took a subway towards a street mall that promised food and fun. The food turned out to be an authentic Italian style pizza joint with some scrumptious coal-fired pizza. The fun came in the form of purikura which we nearly had to drag our friend to do. Purikura are sticker pictures that you can decorate to no end. These are popular with kids who are still in primary school but our friend didn't like them even back then. I however love them. The possibilities are endless when doing purikura and it's such a great way to make a life-long memory in a small way. These machines are usually located in an arcade so on the way out I passed a UFO machine that caught my eye. It was full of Hello Kittys in witch costumes holding a pumpkin. I was sold. I kind of suck at these machines so a little known fact to foreigners is that you can ask the attendants for 'tips' which essentially means they'll put the prize in a more accessible place. Even after all of that though, it still took me four tries to get my Kitty-chan prize. Totally worth it.
We had passed a temple on the way to the street mall, so we went back and just sat on the steps and talked. The temple was lit up rather nicely at night, making for a fond final memory of our time in Nagoya. It was my best weekend in Japan thus far.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gem Poems

Today is a good day because the kiddies were sent home due to a typhoon. Unfortunately I have to be here, but I am catching up with a few things while being asked to do random tasks by my JTEs. One JTE showed me that the next chapter is about gem poems. The structure is vaguely familiar to something I did in elementary school but I don't remember them being called gem poems. Anyway, she asked me to write a few examples for class so I thought I'd share them. Enjoy!

Gem Poems

Loving People
Caring, Sharing, Laughing
So many memories

Beautiful Country
With Kind People
Together with Nature

Many choices
Tuna, Salmon, Squid
Dip in Soy Sauce
Cell Phone
Loved ones
Calling, Texting, Emailing
Always with me

Vacation Break
Swimming, Traveling, Playing
Fun Times

[My] Jenny-sensei’s hometown
Beaches, Oranges, Disney World
Always sunny

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Teaching..Thus Far

Since my last post, I have officially started the job for which I was hired - to teach English. Once I actually got the job, this was easily the thing I was most intimidated by. No one I asked seemed to be able to explain the teaching experience in a way that made me feel like I could do it just as easily as they were doing it. I have a friend who is teaching junior high kids and is having a blast. This is also the same person who was a trembling mess while giving a presentation in class. I couldn't fathom it, but seeing this transformation made me feel like ''if he can do it, I can do it.''

The cover slide to my presentation
I was given a whole month (but it took me 2 days) to put together my first lesson - my self introduction. I researched some ideas on the internet and although mine was more informative than entertaining, it got the job done. I first went over some 'key words' that would help them understand the presentation. I would say the word in English and depending on the year of the students, I would either give them the definition in Japanese or ask if anyone knew the Japanese word. I always enjoyed the look of surprise on their faces when I would say a word and translate it into Japanese. (that's right kids, I'll know what you think you're saying behind my back!) I talked about my family, my hobbies, my pet and also about my hometown and state. To make the lesson interactive while checking for listening comprehension, I had a short true/false quiz at the end. That had varied results with it either being way too easy or too hard. Realizing that I had put together a lesson that encompassed new vocabulary, visual stimulation, use of both teaching parties, and checked for retention, I got the feeling that my JTE's were pleased with it. By the end of my first week of teaching though, I hated repeating my self introduction. In total I probably gave that lesson over twenty times. Especially bad was the last day because I had to do it with a sore throat. Ugh. 

Since my self introduction, I've mostly taught brief lessons related to the subject of the day. For example, today the textbook had a lesson about Picasso so the JTE asked if I had ever been to Spain. I have so talked about it for a bit. Afterwards he went around and asked questions about my brief story. It's just some listening comprehension but coming from a native speaker, it helps prepares them for real life situations. So mostly I just wing my lesson on the day and has been working out for me so far. As part of my own learning process, I'm becoming more mindful of using simpler words and big gestures to not lose the kids in translation. I also write out the words on the board since I heard the students know English better on paper than verbally. After I'm done with whatever I'm saying, I erase everything and then go back and ask questions ready to write their answers in the same spot that I had just erased. Having a photographic memory myself, I know that for some kids, this helps them relate what I'm saying to what I'm expecting as the answer. Most of the time they remember which makes me feel like they actually learned it. I'll also make handouts on occasion so that they can keep the lesson for the next time when I refer to something in a previous lesson.

Now, there's no reason for a teacher without students, so they are the end all be all when it comes to lesson planning. I've had all girl and all boy classes, each grade level, and each English level, I think. Because of this, it's hard to cater each lesson to what's going on until you form a routine and have a solid schedule. So far these kids have been noisy, rude, disruptive, disrespectful, uninterested, laughing the whole time, shy, quiet, nervous - Argh! Anything but attentive, actively (not forcibly) participating, and just good. I mostly just smile and try to stay on track. I'm certainly glad though that I'm not expected to administer any disciplinary action. I would bring back the ruler and allow teachers to smack the kids if that were the case. It's hard to explain, but in general I feel that these Japanese high school kids are more sheltered and less mature than their American counterparts. Maybe naive is a better word choice than mature actually. Imagine a class of third graders - they laugh at inappropriate words, act up in class, but you also have the ones that are well behaved and decorating their binders with stickers. Nothing wrong with being naive, but the acting up thing is just not okay when some of them 18 and taller than me. Annoying as that is, I'm also trying to remember the part of it is the fact that to them this is just another subject they have as part of their curriculum. That is to say, they're not especially interested in English or excited about learning it the way I was about learning Japanese. Getting them interested and excited is supposed to be part of my job too, but I didn't realize how taxing it is until I was in a classroom full of bored students. 

To finish, I'm going to try my best to make the lessons fun and interactive, but quite frankly, I'm not clown at a party. I will make sure that the ones who want to learn will get a quality lesson as best as I can provide among the other students. I'm a teacher, not a babysitter, so the other ones can regret it when they want to talk to a hot foreigner in a bar one day. Just as I suspected, teaching won't be my career in the future but for now I'll do my best.

I'll give another teaching update in the near future to show how things are progressing!

For now here is a link to a welcome bulletin about me posted by my visit school posted.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I Have Arrived.

Well, I'm about a month into this program and it has been one long month. It's hard to sum up everything but one word to describe this month would be: tough.

I had a lot of concerns before I left - the weight of my luggage's, the obligatory presents I have to bring my employers, my living situation, just to name a few. I traveled with a big group (about 18 of us) of other JETs from Florida that were leaving from Miami with me. With so many people around as I was leaving and boarding the plane, I didn't feel the urge to cry like I thought I would. The whole application, interview, and acceptance process had been so tedious and lengthy that I think I was just ready to do this already. My boyfriend coming with me has also been a great comfort. A lot of JETs I've talked to have had the added stress of leaving significant others behind, but like I told one girl, "I packed mine."

The plane ride was okay. I honestly can't think of a more descriptive word to describe it. I had a good movie selection but I was in a seat that had no leg room and in the middle of the aisle. I had cool people around me to talk to, but I got absolutely no sleep. Around half way through the flight, I got so restless I thought I was going to scream. Like the thought of being in the plane for another seven hours was too much to handle. Panic attack signs? I ate a cookie and got over it, so I guess not.

As soon as I landed my boyfriend was there waiting. He had arrived two hours before I did and connected our old prepaid phones. Then, I headed off on a bus to the Keio Plaza hotel in Shinjuku. Coincidentally, I had stayed at this hotel during my first trip to Japan so I knew we were in for the royal treatment. My three days there were great - ate some of my favorite Japanese food, bonded with my fellow JETs, hung out at night with friends from Tokyo, and the last day my roommate got sick (sorry girl!), so I was moved to my own room which had a wicked view of Tokyo. I definitely took advantage is all I'll say.
I skipped most of the afternoon orientation sessions on both days because of jet lag, but I should have just planned to skip these sessions ahead of time to hang out more in Tokyo with my friends. Oh well. I'll be back in Tokyo before heading home.

Kakigori! Why you so good?!
Next I was off to Tamba. They gathered all of the Hyogo Prefecture JETs together and took us to Tokyo Station to board Japan's famous shinkansen (bullet train). We bought some bento for the ride and settled in for the two and half hour ride. A fellow JET from Miami located some other Tamba JETs so we found a cozy 4-seater and talked the whole time. Once we arrived at Osaka station, we then split up by regions and took a bus the rest of the way. We stopped at a rest stop, so I took the opportunity to buy my first (of many) kakigori - a snow cone-like concoction with fruit syrup and condensed milk -delish! At this point I started getting nervous about the itinerary for the rest of the day which included meeting my supervisor and principals for the first time.

 We arrived at an official looking building where we went around the room and introduced ourselves to a sea of Japanese strangers dressed in business suits. Later, I would learn that this is where I'd also have my orientation for high school ALTs and is dubbed 'Yashiro Prison,' by my peers. So I kept waiting for one of the strangers to meet my eye, but it wasn't until it the introductions were over and everyone was being approached by their supervisors that was I suddenly approached and shaking hands with Taniguchi-san. He's very kind and outgoing but immediately gave me the impression of being a by-the-books kind of man (which he has since proven to be). Thankfully, his English is great so he immediately dove into telling me about Hikami High School. My only gripe with him was his lack of initiative concerning me. This school has had ALTs before so I felt that he should have been more responsible and offered to help me more with important things like getting a car, phone, and internet. But oh well..resourceful as I am, I managed.

After he dropped me off at my apartment and briefly gave me a tour, I found myself completely alone for the first time since I left Miami. My nerves started swelling up.  Although Taniguchi-san offered to take me somewhere for dinner, I politely refused and feigned jet lag fatigue to get him to finally leave before I started bawling. As soon as the door closed I had what was definitely closer to a panic attack than what had happened on the plane. I was completely overwhelmed. A combination of being alone in strange new place with nothing and no one familiar around, being told I had to report to work bright and early the next morning when I was exhausted with all my unpacked luggage around me, and most disconcerting - I was surrounded by filth! I am an insanely clean person but this place wasn't dirty by just my standards, oh no, by anyone's standards it was gross! Mold, spiders, dust, hair, rust - just disgusting! Despite an already 12-hour day, I unpacked my Lysol wipes (I packed my own, I'm that clean) and started cleaning between sobs. That first day here is not something I like to remember.

You're probably wondering where my boyfriend was during all of this. Well, we agreed that at first, my school and supervisors should only be presented with me. So, he was traveling with a friend of ours for a few days before heading to Tamba. But having the prepaid phones was truly a Godsend. Of course it had already super useful and the object of envy for some of my fellow JETs who couldn't believe I had a cell phone on the first day, but on this night I called my boyfriend and just sobbed. I found out later that this was the experience of many ALTs shortly after arriving. It was comforting to know it was normal and not just me being unable to hack it. I guess the change just hits you all at once.

Tamba...I think you get the idea?
The next couple of weeks were full of learning experiences. I was signing up for services, exploring the area, and getting used to being out of my element completely. Some might think that my previous experiences in Japan would mean that this would be a total cake walk, but that wasn't the case. Although my previous experiences in Japan made things easier in many aspects, I think I've also been hindered by it. For example, all my previous lodging in Japan (even as a study abroad student) have always been in new, clean, furnished settings - not this old, dirty apartment. My expectations of my surroundings were pretty high as well considering I've previously lived in the urban sprawls of Kyoto and Osaka. Tamba on the other hand is RURAL. Even Japanese people were saying, whoa that's inaka.  Also, in my previous experiences I've always been treated fairly by the program that I was a part of and took comfort in the fact that the terms and conditions were the same for everyone. But not in the JET Program. JET is basically just the middle man who finds a school for you to work at. A few things are stipulated as standard for all JETs, but these things can be counted on one hand. Without going into a rant, I'll just say that I've had the short-end of the stick in most cases. Even among JETs in my same town.

There were also added stress factors which, in the past, had enhanced my experience in Japan, but this time they were just a pain. However, once I installed the internet, purchased an iPhone, leased a car, bought a mattress, gutted the apartment, and found some me time, I started to see that the experience has been getting a little better each day. Also, as bad as it sounds, hearing about other people who are in the same boat or worse encourages me that I can stick it out too.

iPhone. You make my life complete. haha!
I'm going to do my best - that's the only way I do things - and enjoy this experience to the fullest. I've wanted to be a JET for such a long time and given that the program motto revolves around 'every situation is different,' I will make the best of mine.
Wish me luck!