Kobe JET Leavers Video 2014

image

It’s that time of year where our old JET’s are leaving our community to make way for the new arrivals coming in August.

Annually we hold a large event to farewell our friends prior to their departure and this year I was on the leavers party organizing committee. We decided upon a venue in Harborland called Cafe Fish, a wedding reception that could hold the 100 or so guests of the evening.

The party is always an emotional event, this year in particular it is with a heavy heart we are saying our farewells to many of the great pillars of our community. Although we encountered a few hiccups along the way, more or less I would consider the event a great success.

A tradition alongside the party is the screening of a farewell video during the midway point of the event, I took it upon myself to make the video this year. It was a labour of love taking months of effort accumulating over 1000 photos and editing them together. I am very proud of the results, and it was with great relief to see it well received on the evening.

Without further a due, please enjoy the 2014 Kobe JET Leavers Video.

If you’re interested the leavers videos from 2012 can be found HERE and and 2013 HERE 🙂

Enjoy

Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ

???????????????? Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ is a 5 week event that is run by the city of Iga 伊賀市 in Mie prefecture 三重県 from April 1 to May 6 each year. When the suggestion came about to hire a car with a couple friends and drive down for the weekend I was more than keen to get my ninja on!

337 Departing in the wee hours of the morning we made the trip from Kobe to Iga (around 130km) in about 3 hours taking the extremely expensive toll roads and at times thinking we were going to die due to the ‘skilful’ driving of ‘Lady Wei’. Generally its crazy to drive in Japan due to the cost, however with 4 people in the car the split cost was comparable to what the train fare would have been and far easier since Iga is fairly inaka. 332 Post arrival we were met up with another 20 or so JETs from across Kansai who had also been invited to participate in the days festivities, before being greeted by the Iga city JET who took us to the city hall where we would receive our ninja costumes for the day! 325 Now I assure you although the ninja garb appears to be quite simple, each outfit was made up of 9 separate parts that needed to me meticulously put on in just the right way, lets just say thank god they had helper ninjas to dress the clueless gaijin 😄 243 MokuMoku Farm& Ninja Museum 152 ninjamuseum2007lg After suiting up the city had organized a walking ninja tour for us, which included a stop at the Iga Ninja Museum 伊賀流忍者博物館. Dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu, it showcases a wide array of genuine ninja tools and weaponry, in addition it contains a model ninja village where we were lead around by female ninja who demonstrated all the secrets of the house that could be used in case of intruders, such as hidden weapons, secret doors and deadly traps! 253 258 After the tour of the village concluded, our next stop was a live ninja show! Hilariously cheesy it featured shuriken throwing demonstrations and a number of mock ninja battles demonstrating the various ninja fighting techniques and weaponry. The best part being that with each fictional kick, punch or sword slash there was an accompanying ninja battle sound effect and often smoke bombs! ALL THE WINNING!

The afternoon we occupied with heading up to Iga Ueno Castle 伊賀上野城, a cute little castle perched upon a hill, its elegent design resulted in it often being refered to as White Phoenix Castle however it is a reconstruction of the original that was destroyed by a storm in the 16th century. 280 313 319 273 Whilst up on the hill we decided to take some fun ninja battle photos 😄 379 380 To conclude the days festivities, we headed to the ninja café to sample some ‘ninja deserts’ with our fellow ALTs come ninja. The four of us decided upon the shinobi parfait 忍びパフェ, the café’s speciality which came with an edible shuriken 手裏剣 (throwing star). 352 348 We were also meccha lucky to run into the actors into the actors from the ninja show outside of the café who posed to take some photos with us *^^* 234 245 During the festival the entire city of Iga is filled with these ninja mannequins that are hidden everywhere you look. IMG_1842 Finally although it was very convenient for us to drive since we saved a huge amount of time and headaches with transfers, I would have liked to had had the chance to ride the ‘ninja train’ LOOK HOW KAWAII IT IS!!! (and free for ninja to ride during the festival. If your ever in Kansai around April head down to Iga, its certainly worth the trip to the countryside to get to be ninja for a day!

Nara 奈良市 Adventures!

This is going to be a post from the vaults, I in fact began writing this one about 6 months ago but never got around to posting it along with so many others. Anyhow without further a due….

Nara (奈良) is an ancient capital city in Nara Prefecture, Kansai region of Japan.

Along with the development of Heijōkyō 平城京, the capital of Japan between 710-784 AD, Nara flourished under the influence of Buddhism, leading to the creation of an enormous number of cultural assets, buildings and books, many of which are preserved today. Nara has the largest number of buildings designated National Treasures in Japan.

While the Heijōkyō Palace (平城宮) site turned into plain fields after the capital was moved to Kyoto, the shrines and temples were left on the east side of the palace (called Gekyo (外京)), and Buddhism remained influential throughout the following centuries. Another part of the area developed as a merchant town, notably in the Edo period, known as Naramachi (奈良町) today.

Now at the end of last year when my parents came up to Japan to visit me I took them to check out Nara, since its pretty much a staple when visiting the country and extremely tourist trappy.

I myself had visited Nara twice before on previous visits to Japan but it was nice to be able to share such am amazing place with my family.
I want to share some of the photos of the with you.

Arriving on a Sunday outside Nara station the was a large group of performers singing and dancing to Okinawan Taiko (Japanese drumming).

Most of Nara’s temples and shrines concentrated in Nara Kouen 奈良公園 (Nara Park) and are more of less entirely accessible by traveling on foot.

For anyone that’s been to Nara before, the truly special and stand out thing about it are definitely the deer, these guys just walk around the town as they please not bothering anyone. Long ago they were considered to be sacred however post WW2 were redesignated as national treasures, visitors can buy Shika-senbei 鹿煎餅 (deer cookies) to feed to them for about 150¥ from vendors in carts around the park.

We grabbed some Takoyaki たこ焼き for lunch.

This guy here is the Daibutsuden 大仏殿 (Great Buddha Hall) the most significant building in Naras Tōdai-ji 東大寺 complex. Inside it houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue which in Japanese is called the Daibutsu 大仏. Tōdai-ji has existed since the 7th century, yet has gone through several periods of decline, destruction rebuilding in the past 1300 years due to disease, war and politics.



For shits n giggles: In 855 the head of the Daibutsu actually fell off!

Life In Japan 日本での生活: 6 Months Down The Road

20121127-午後013921.jpg

Foreword: I don’t mean this to be a long rant, but rather an insight into my experiences and the difficulties I have faced thus far on one of the most amazing adventures one can embark on in life, JET.

So I’ve been on this crazy roller-coaster know as the JET Program for 6 months to the day and needless to say its been a journey of epic proportions!
Honestly reflecting on my development from a personal perspective, I’ve grown more in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years, the person I was the day I stepped off that plane half a year ago is dead and buried. This however in no way is a bad thing, if moving to the other side of the world to a country where you scarcely speak the language on your lonesome will teach you anything it’s self-reliance. My cooking skills have sky-rocketed for feeding myself is a necessity, furthermore I’m in better shape than I have been in my entire life. Back home life was all but convenience, here if I want something I must do it myself which has made me more or less self-reliant, a perk of being a city JET is I need to ride a bike everywhere I go as opposed to relying on driving, a task I despise.

20121130-午前090657.jpg

Anyhow I’m now on the path I have been searching for all my life. I’ve discussed this in past posts but I had many issues when I arrived, being an early arrival JET I had more or less no support network as I came at a difficult period when many old ALTs were leaving, most had no time for me, nor the KEC (the Kobe board of education) the resources to properly orientate me.

20121129-午前104836.jpg

Don’t get me wrong the first 2 months in Japan I had the time of my life, it’s a period i can now nostalgically reflect upon as being a magical twilight, I was high on life, the JET handbooks tell us this is called the honeymoon phase….. It was all that and so much more, gazing out through the at window at the chilly landscape from my desk I wonder if it was even real.

20121129-午前104858.jpg
But the day came when it all came crashing down around me, as with any high, nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain.

Between my 3rd and 4th months here I fell into a deep state of depression, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a change was in order. Suddenly all I could think about was the life and people I had left behind, constantly overwhelmed by a sense of longing to return home. Almost overnight I started to notice things that I had previously found endearing about Japan to be little more than annoying and foolish.

20121129-午後035748.jpg

This sudden bout of depression hit me like a ton of bricks and couldn’t have come at a worse time….. the arrival of the new 2012 JETs! All around me were dozens of new faces still in their honeymoon phase loving life, meanwhile I was miserable for no reason I could discern. I loved my life, my job, my friends, YET I constantly found myself having to drag myself out of bed in the morning to face the day. Being around people was enough to bring me to tears, the worst part was I had no reason to be depressed yet I felt broken inside.
This was all compound by the fact that during natsuyasumi 夏休 (summer holidays) the Kobe board of education sends its 120 or so ALTs off for mandatory summer school, skill development conferences and language school! Because of this I couldn’t simply lay low for a couple weeks whilst I felt my world crumpling around me, but rather I had to put on a brave face day after day whilst I was forced to associate with the rest of the Kobe JET community. Now I won’t lie this place is pretty much highschool, with there being so few foreigners in Kobe it’s almost like living in a small town, everyone knows everyone and gossip is the commodity that’s most revered.

Regardless somehow I pulled through, I took a good hard look at myself, the person I was becoming and decided a detox was in order, overnight I stopped drinking, started exercising (even more than I already did) and radically changed my diet. I’d love to admit that this is the secret for conquering cultural shock but I would be lying….. As nice as the though may be there is no quick fix, there’s only one cure for this kind of affliction….. Time.

Anyhow on a more positive note there certainly was a light at the end of the tunnel, when did I emerge for this state….. Well I’m not entirely sure, it was around the beginning of my fifth month, but I thank god I had the support of my friends here. This certainly won’t be the case for the vast majority of JET participants but I have around 60 other ALT’s living within a 5 minute walk of my apartment, a good 10 in the building itself!!

20120907-153105.jpg20120924-午前100922.jpg

It wasn’t until the hecticness of the summer died down that I truly found my friendship circle and the people who would be there to help me pull through. This was when things started to shape up, after a long hibernation I emerged from my apartment a new man, keen to resume exploring all this country has to offer. I am now well on track to becoming a prominent outspoken member of the JET community here in Kobe, am enjoying my job more and more by the day and have not let the onset of winter keep me down.

At the end of the day I have landed on my feel and am really in a great place and am more or less content with life, when my recontracting forms arrived on my desk I sent them back signing up for another 20 months or so here in Kobe without a second thought, I really hope that the decision is that easy when they come around again next year.

Studying Japanese

Anyhow on to a question I am very frequently asked, ‘so how is your Japanese coming along?’ well although its certainly far from amazing every day is getting easier and easier. Now I never really bothered formally studying as I really lacked the motivation for a really long time, that said I know what am amazing opportunity it is to be living here and have the chance to learn Japanese with the plethora of resources available. Its not only that though, Japan is really a country that isn’t exactly very accommodating to those who don’t speak Japanese, seriously even in a relatively large city like Kobe you either learn or will find life very very VERY difficult! Now I naturally have a certain interest in Kanji so when i learn new words I typically look up how to write them and continue to revise until they stick in my head. And so through my natural curiosity my vocabulay has grown to the point where i know perhaps 1000 words, a couple hundred kanji…….BUT NO GRAMMAR!

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

受け入れ挑戦 (Challenge Accepted)

Grammar was never my strong point in English so I have put of learning the Japanese equivalent like the plague, unfortunately with a less than basic knowledge of how to put together all the words I know I come off sounding retarded when I try to speak the language. In my mind I imagine that speaking Japanese is like building a house, although I have gathered many bricks I have no cement to bind them together and simply blurting out the (usually) appropriate words will only get you so far in conversation…….

3oi348

That all said I speak 10 times more Japanese than when I first arrived here, one thing I noticed about this years new Kobe JET’s is that I was one of 6 out of around 40 that didn’t have at least intermediary level Japanese. This often leaves me feeling very inadequate when compared to my peers, many who are Japanese majors, if anything though I have taken it as a source of motivation to step up my studying whilst I am here. In the least my goal by the end of my first year is to be able to have 80-90% fluent conversation with my shougakkou 小学校 (elementary) students, being children they can only put together more or less simple sentences so really make great conversation partners, more than that though, I have really formed a bond with many of my ES students and I hate myself when they ask me questions I cant quite grasp, since I really hate to surrender and tell them ごめんちょっとわからない ‘sorry I don’t understand’.

Work Life

Look I’m no teacher,I never was and I may very well never be. That said, I am expected to be one, as I have discussed in the past my predecessor was a woman who spoke fluent Japanese and in fact taught and developed the curriculum for the 2年生 (8th grade) JHS class without the Japanese teacher last year. What I’m getting at is I had ENORMOUS boots to fill, replacing this superstar ALT isn’t something I will be capable of any time in the near future……. but I’m getting there.

AzTnALMCMAA_ftE.jpg-large

In terms of preparing lessons they really threw me in the deep end with this one, for the first couple months I was all over the place and have no idea what I was doing, because of this my plans tended to be hit or miss. Unfortunately my chief OTE (Japanese teacher) is a first year sensei who speaks less than amazing English to the point where I’m often hesitant to speak to her without the other English teacher within earshot who can chip in to translate, as she misunderstands what I’m attempting to say most of the time which creates issues I would much rather avoid.

Generally though the English level of the teachers at the JHS level is not so bad, as I have been picking up Japanese here and there I can now even usually get my point across to the teachers who speak but a few words of it. One thing I try my best to do is help the English teachers improve on their English ability by actively trying my best to introduce new words to them on a daily basis, a favour I like them to return to me with my Japanese studies.

Now I teach at a JHS 3 days a week and 2 nearby ES on the remaining 2 days, luckily all 3 of them are within a half an hour bike ride from my house so if the weather is nice I often ride to school to get some bonus exercise in.

The only difficulties I have encountered at the elementary level would have to be in regard to the consumption of kyuushoku 給食 (school lunch) with I eat with the kids. See these meals are firstly usually disgusting (anyone who disagrees is admitting they enjoy consuming slops) but they also tend to contain 600-700 calories! That’s good and all for Japanese children with lightning fast metabolisms but 700 calories is almost as much as I eat in an entire day! Needless to say I quickly came up with techniques to subtly ‘avoid’ eating much of the food without the kids noticing but that’s a story for another post.

Otherwise I really love ES, the kids are usually still young enough to have an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, they listen attentively, rarely refuse to participate. Basically when I’m there I feel like I am a kid again, its fun, the kids playing with me and I with them (as long as they keep their fingers out of me), shougakko will always be where my heart is at!

textbook61

My thoughts on teaching English to the Japanese, one that most ALTs tend to share is that the system really prohibits 99% of them from ever achieving real fluent conversational English, this is why the fluency level in Japan is by far the worst in all of Asia. The textbooks tackle teaching a language completely wrong, the focus is solely on exam results rather than on learning the language, often I find the textbook using unnatural clunky English that although grammatically correct hardly makes sense. However the opinion of the ALT hardly holds any swing, in fact in one brutal conversation I once had with an OTE I pointed out an error in the book, rather than accepting my correction he opened the book to the last page with the publishers details and told me to write them a letter…….. Despite the foolishness of the approach to teaching foreign language in this country, otherwise I really am quite happy at school now, its been a bumpy road much like the rest of my experiences here thus far.

If you got this far i’ll applaud you for your perseverance anyhow in the past 6 months I truly felt happy for the first time in longer than I can remember and content with the path I am taking in life, taking in to consideration the work and social aspects as well as my personal development, never forget all you need is Kobe.

20120907-153318.jpg

If you would like to read about my thoughts 28 days into the program you will find them here, I wrote another on experiences after 100 days located here.

A Mochitsuki Present

2010 03 Mar 240

Today was mochitsuki (mochi making day) at my chuugakkou 中学校 (Junior High School). In what was literally the most touching thing that has happened to me since I arrived in Japan, a couple of my 2年生 (8th grade) students gave me some handmade mochi they made especially for me.
Apparently they had noticed how much my Japanese has improved since I arrived and they wanted to express their gratitude towards me for studying hard everyday so I could speak with them!

My Favorite Sausage Follows a Reason

20121129-午後123923.jpg

Oh god, Engrish lv 99!
One of my 6年生 (6th grade) students just asked me to correct his essay on Germany……. I couldn’t help but laugh.

My favorite sausage follows a reason very much and carries out it — going — therefore. Otherwise, it is a tablewa reset with a very sufficient handle.

Really……. this is what I imagine my Japanese looks like use google translate too ( ̄◇ ̄;)

Winter is Coming 冬が来てるよ

20121128-午後040326.jpg
WINTER IS COMING! Or as we say in Japanese 冬が来てるよ (fuyu ga kiteruyo).

So fuyu 冬 (winter) is almost upon us in the land of the riding sun….. that said recently there has been many days recently where the sun has barely peaked through the foreboding storm clouds!

Now I hail from a generally warm country with the seasons having a more or less mild temperament. Which is precisely why it has come as such a shock at just how cold it has become, today I have come to work with no less than 7 layers and even after covering myself in half a dozen kairo カイロ (chemical heat packs) I’m still shivering!

These bad boys are called カイロ (kairo), when exposed to air the iron inside them oxidises creating an exothermic reaction that heat up the pack to about 50-60 degrees Celsius for up to 24 hours depending on the brand and type.

I swear the Japanese do not feel the cold, for some reason the concept of heating a space as opposed to having a small stove producing radiant heat is incompatible with the Japanese brain! The only place your likely to find central heating in Japan is in large department stores, hotels and western style buildings.

Each day I pack on enough clothes to make it look as though I have gained 20kg or so overnight, the most remarkable thing is often I see my elementary students who are just fine wearing shorts and a light sweater whilst meanwhile the cold is bringing me to tears…… Lets just say if nuclear winter ever comes around and ‘The Free People’s of Danieltopia’ (my imaginary future civilization) are ever at ends with the Japanese, as their charismatic leader I’m going to surrender on the spot and save ourselves the frostbite.

20121128-午後035601.jpg Seriously though if buildings were heated in such a way back home teachers would be striking, parents suing the pants off the school for child abuse and negligence. Whilst the poor kids were having exam week they felt the need to keep all the windows open on the 4th floor while its only a few degrees outside! I presume much like myself the only way the students make it through the day is by keeping a couple kairo in their pockets.

The typical device for heating at the school called a sekiyu 石油 (kerosene) stove, insanely inefficient at heating any real space it does provide a nice moment of warmth when one crouches down next to it.

On the note of retarded Japanese rules, one that is followed here very strictly is that the heaters which are used to heat the classrooms and staffroom at school may not be turned on until winter……… no not when its freezing, but literally the 1st of December. When I have questioned why such a practice is carried out when it is clearly causing much distress amongst students and teachers alike the only response I ever seem to get is ‘This is Japanese Culture’……… um excuse me, how the fuck is being unnecessarily cold ‘culture’, seriously chadou 茶道 (tea ceremony) is culture, onsen 温泉 (hot spring bathing) is culture, matsuri 祭り (Japanese festivals) are culture, not turning the heating on until a certain date is madness!

I came across similar issues when I questioned why I couldn’t wear gloves at school, nor a beanie, nor a neck warmer…….. always the same ‘this is Japanese culture’, i really feel like Japanese people use this much to often as a scapegoat when asked a question they don’t want to answer to the point where it looses its meaning.

I really did attempt to explain the correlation between loss of productivity and being forced to work in an environment a few degrees above zero without much luck and also the fact that as I come from a warm country I am still going through a period of physical acclimatization to the weather here which is far colder and more humid than what I have ever experienced before.

Found unfortunately all but accurate yet humorous description of the workings of a sekiyu heater done by a fellow JET.

OK rant over, the moral of the story, you cant win them all……. however I must also end on a depressing note, being that……..

ITS NOT EVEN WINTER YET BECAUSE