My life in Japan so far

So, with today being my last full day in work, I am forced to reflect upon my time here. Despite not regretting my choice to come to Japan, and being so thankful I am here, It has not been as easy and smooth as I had expected.

Work ethic in Japan is so shockingly different from back home that it was a little hard to swallow at first, and if it had not been for my part-time Job before JET, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep my head above water – most of the time- as I have been. Having four schools, is honestly a blessing, giving me time to bond with many of my students and teachers. My time as a teacher has been one big loopdy loop roller coaster, and only now am I realising how much I enjoy it. When I started teaching back In September, I was filled with adrenaline, my nerves shot as I stood before my classes for the first time, boring them with a terribly made presentation of me and Wales, and hoping that my too big smile would compensate for the lack of interesting comments and lame jokes. Time continued to pass and I found my confidence fading into nothing, getting lost behind insecurity and home-sickness. If it had not been for my third years at my Inaka school I would have caved, I’m sure. They are, without a doubt, the greatest bunch of kids anyone has ever met! And while I kind of hated the second years in that school, they are slowly becoming the second  best group of kids ever. The children at my base school are a little more tricky to win over, and I’m still doing my best, determined to make them love me and enjoy English, even if it’s just for the days when I am there. My teachers are all pretty great, and I’ve been lucky with all the teachers I get put to sit beside.

At my base school I sit next to a teacher were going to call V Sensei, for the fact that his voice is a little more attractive than it should be. That, and the fact that on my first day he commented on how low and husky my voice was, reassuring me that it was cool when I began to worry I sound like a male when speaking Japanese. I’ve since learned to embrace the huskiness and take it as a compliment after realising that he’s a pretty shy guy and our conversations are rare. That and he is as busy as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, constantly scurrying around and worrying about the time.

At my Inaka junior high, I sit next to the most wonderful JTE, a woman I have come to love dearly. She’s just so wonderful, and all I can say, is that if she leaves in the march shuffle, I am going to be deeply upset. She’s a great person, and a great person to teach with. I have been super lucky at my elementary schools too, even though I only spend half a day at each! I get to sit beside a funny 4th year teacher in one and a university student trainee-teacher in the other, of which I have become close friends with.

My personal life has not been so clearly mapped out, with bumps in more places than I would have liked. In the space of 5 months, I am facing my 3rd failed romantic relationship?? and It’s honestly destroying all confidence I had in my self. ( And I had very little to begin with). It’s the most romancing I’ve had in a LONG time, and yet, they may as well cease to be, perhaps then I would not be feeling so down.

I have, however, been more than lucky in the friend department. The other JETs of Nagasaki are wonderful, and I love spending my time with them! The people in Nagasaki are pretty friendly, with the Starbucks people always up for a chat, and the women in the niche little art cafe down the road from me knowing my name. Even the crazy-stylish man who works in this crazy-smooth bar near by house recognised me on instagram, and we now follow each-other. It’s something that may seem trivial, but when you are in a new place, miles away from home, even the little things make you feel more connected to everyday life.

That brings me to the topic of Japanese. In 5 months of being here, I have studied maybe twice? How awful is that? As a previous student of Japanese I am appalled with myself. However, as my fatalistic nature entails, I give up before I even begin, ruining any hopes I had at achieving anything out of a fear based on the foundations of years of being pushed aside by those who should have loved me most.

With the new year looming ever closer, and me being a 年女** , I am determined this year will be different. I’m going to look for the strength to make next year even more amazing than last. It will be hard to top getting JET and meeting all the amazing people who I have, But I’m determined to do it.

I can do this.

channeling this face for the new year

年女 (としおんな) Woman of the Year, referring to a woman born in a year with the same Chinese zodiac sign as the current year.

Ganbaranba! Part 2

So, as you all know, around two months ago, I went to watch a basketball match during Ganbaranba! It was amazing and I was SURE that the experience couldn’t be improved on. The high school kids were so talented and the buzz in the stadium was crazy!

I was lucky enough, one Sunday,  to get the opportunity to go for the second time, with both 1st and 2nd years this time! I ended up as part of the 2nd year group and slummed it with my, Ms T, Mr Yo, and Mrs K! Ms T and Mrs K are already teachers I really like, with Ms T being a JTE and Mrs K just being a babe, so it was already hitting off to a good start! So, I got to chat to my students, and go to see some more awesome sports; this time, it was wheelchair basketball.

Unlike the previous match, this would not be between young high school kids, but adults, and instead of using leg muscles they would be putting their arm muscles to the test. I was sooo excited to be able watch such an event. From the 56th tournament in 2001, the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities was held, so this is still a relatively new occurrence, in comparison to the total age of the tournament itself, with the origins dating back to 1924.

Nagasaki wheelchair basketball was to play the same time we were to be there, however, we were sadly the wrong side of the court, so our view wasn’t as great as it could have been! Like a basketball flying from one strong handed playing to the other, my attention was constantly tossed back and forth between the two ongoing games. It was simply amazing.

At first I would wince, nervous that when they got knocked over or tumbled, their seats coming with them, that they would hurt themselves. I soon realized quickly how wrong, and just simply disrespectful it was to have felt such a thing. These men ( and I’m sure a few women) were strong and quick, their arms propelling them forward, their bodies twisting any way they could to reach for the ball. I was mesmerized and found myself inspired by their sheer talent. I was glad my students got to see this. I was glad that my students got to witness first hand just how much someone can achieve if they work hard, regardless of whatever disability he or she may have.

Sadly, Nagasaki lost by a hairs breath, but it was a good game. Yes, it was a fantastic game, but more importantly, it was an even better experience.

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The infurating rigidity of the Japanese Education System

The rigidity to which JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) stick to their English textbooks is sometimes frightening. With the second years away on their annual trip to Kyoto – a trip which I really would have loved to go on- the school is quiet, and the desks around me empty. The JTE who sits to my right has left me to stew in silence, with no second years to teach, and no third year classes to speak of, I am left with the first years. Ah, darling middle school first years. Children who are trying so hard to fit into adult clothing and bearing the weight of a uniform for the first time. I find the attitude of the first years to have the largest variation, in this school anyway. Despite my initial fear of teaching them, I always feel happy after my classes, especially now that I can recall some of them by their faces, knowing who they outside of the classroom. With no classes yesterday afternoon and just two classes today in 5th and 6th period, I decided to plan a fun sort of game for them which practices ‘he/she/I/we/they’ etc. So the task goes like this; they all write their names on a scrap of paper, mix them together and then pull a name out of a hat, and by hat, I mean the tote bag I use to carry my lunch and files to school. Once they have a name of a classmate, they write three things about them; a descriptive fact, a like of theirs and a random fact to finish. When their name is called, the student will stand and present these facts while rest of the class do their best to guess who the person is describing. It’s a pretty simple task, exercising their writing, speaking and listening skills. I even put a cute little clip art on their worksheet. I always take their level into consideration, not wanting to stress them out by doing tasks  that are far so out of their reach they loose confidence. And so, considering they are already half way through their first year, I felt like this was a nice,easy task which I could help with if they hit a snag.

The JTE who teaches the first years, however, makes me nervous. During one of our recently classes together she would repeat words after me in a more american accent when we were going over vocabulary, like my accent wasn’t valid, before stopping me form participating in the task all together. I wanted to cry and leave the room I was so angry. Not only was she silently telling me that my accent was neither desirable nor correct, but it also made me look like an idiot in front of the students, and I’m worried its lowered their confidence in me as someone who can help them with English. I want to be seen as a strong role model, as someone who can travel to a new country and find a job, making them feel like its something they could do to. That, and it kicked me right in my Welsh pride, which is something I am not okay with. So undermining me in front of the students was not something I was happy about. Anyway, back to topic.

So, as we were printing out the worksheets out for the students, my teacher gave a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, this may be a little hard though, when using like.”

I blinked over at her “They can’t use like? I’m sure they’ve used it before?”.

“Oh yes, they know ‘I like’ but not ‘He likes.”

Now, for one, they don’t really need to use ‘He/She likes’ for this one, but the conversation was spinning me out.

“They don’t learn that until next week” she laughed lightly, but I could only stare.

If they are learning it next week, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to introduce this grammar point? Even if they don’t feel confident enough to use it, we could briefly explain that when ‘he’ or ‘she’ is used, then ‘like’ because ‘likes’. I watched her walk away with an expression that could only be described as befuddlement, my body racked with frustration. Following the textbook can be important, the chapters acting as a good checklist. However, within the chapters, the work is all interchangeable, so what difference would it make to introduce something a class earlier than its ‘scheduled’. I have a lot of good things to say about the Japanese education system, but also a lot of bad.

There’s a running ‘stubbornness’ in Japanese culture that I’ve seen not only within the education system, but in other areas of life too, such as Japanese transportation. For example, During the Christmas break when I was doing my year abroad in Japan, I booked my night bus for the wrong day, so when I turned up at 11pm with my friends to go to Osaka and the middle aged, stoic faces bus driver told me I had to wait until tomorrow, thus travelling the full nine hours alone, I was near tears. With the bus looking empty, I asked “Is there no way I could go today?” You know, since I’ve paid already and everything. He just shook his head regrettably. Even the young bus driver, clearly fairly new to his job,  looked at me with pity in his eyes, whispering something similar to his co-worker, saying there was room. “No, there is no room, you will have to come back tomorrow.” The night resulted in me dragging my suitcase back to my apartment and getting drunk on leftover Christmas wine, only to find out that my debit card had been blocked and watching half of atonement. My friends told me the next day that the bus had been practically empty the entire way from Kyushu to Osaka.

Now, I’m not a person who likes to judge or pass comments on the cultures of others, knowing I would not like others to do so to mine, but in these instances, the rigidity and lack of give that Japanese people oversize in certain situations really makes me want to punch a biscuit.