Kobe JET Leavers Video 2014

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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

Mr. Taccone is a pervert!

wpid-20140702_144745Today my OTE had my 3年 write what they thought about me in English…… Some of the more interesting ones were: – Mr. Taccone is a pervert. – His body is very hairy. – His favorite food is his mother’s face. – He likes Japanese women. – If he could speak Japanese well, he would be cute. – He is like a cat. I don’t know how to feel about this ^^;imageimagewpid-20140702_152852wpid-20140702_152055

There and back again – Cycling across the Shimanami Kaidō 広島県しまなみ海道

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Last weekend a couple friends and myself headed down to Onomichi 尾道市 in Hiroshima Prefecture to do some serious cycling over the long weekend across the Shimanami Kaidō 広島県しまなみ海道 (an expressway located in the Seto Inland Sea).

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Also known as The Nishiseto Expressway 西瀬戸自動車道, The Shimanami Kaidō is made up of the longest series of interconnecting suspension bridges in the world, connecting the city of Onomichi尾道市 to Imabari 今治市. The series of bridges represent the only connection between Shikoku and Honshu that is traversable via bike (or on foot if that’s your thing), and since they were erected only 15 years ago they are in very good condition with many small roads purpose built for cyclists.

We headed down via a long string of JR trains (in an attempt to cut costs by avoiding the Shinkansen) on the Friday evening having reserved a room in a very cheap (and dodgy) for both the Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday morning we got up bright and early, geared up and walked a short distance to our nearest bicycles rental station to pick up our the bikes we had reserved for the day.

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There is a very convenient bicycle rental system that has been set up for those wishing to undertake just such a trip as we were embarking on, across each of the 6 islands as well as on the mainland over a dozen pit stops have been set up where bikes can either be rented or returned. There is quite a wide array of bikes on offer to hire including those for children, electric bikes and even tandems! For the modest fee of 500円 one can rent a standard bike for the day, children and students are 300円 and the electrical ones can only be hired for 4 hours (as that’s how long the batteries will last I presume) for 800円.

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But Daniel you ask “Isn’t the one and only skill you will ever admit to possessing, that you are a beast on two wheels? So why would you hire a dodgy rental bike?”. Well concerned citizen you see the thing is as much as I love both my bicycles, and consider them an extension of my own body when we fuse each and every day. Unfortunately taking such machines on trains in Japan is nothing short of a headache (one would need to disassemble the wheels and carry them in a ‘bike bag’) and Kobe is a long way away from Onomichi! In short its simply not worth it over 500円, although it did feel like cheating………

In addition to the nominal fee a 1000円 deposit is required to be paid which will be returned on the condition that the bike is returned to the same station in which it was rented from before 6pm (5pm in Imabari) the day in which it was rented.

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Anyhow I am just going to throw this out there as a warning to anyone who might be reading this with plans to undertake the trip, if all the members of your party have not decided the route they will take or if there is any chance of you splitting up, I would recommend asking for separate invoices for each bike rather than combining them. I will get into it later but half our group dropped off our bikes in Onomichi (where we would be entitled to a refund of the deposit), the other half in Imabari (where they chose to forfeit it) and it took us a good half an hour of arguing with the employees since they tried to cheat us out of our money thinking we were ignorant gaijin (not to worry we had secret weapons and prevailed). If you are looking for details regarding the hiring of bikes follow the link here.

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Shimanami Kaidō has a great range of places to see and thing to do along the way if that so takes your fancy, I however was in it heart and soul for the cycling. For the more touristy things check out the link here where you can find out a little more.

When undertaking a cycling adventure such as this with a group as large as 8 people, its is not at all uncommon that separate groups will form based upon the skill level of each rider. Whilst a couple of us were making great time, there were those who being beginner cyclists lagged behind and it wasn’t long before the constant stopping and waiting became frustrating for those who wish to push ahead.

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I wouldn’t say I am anything close to a pro cyclist but I am definitely what you may call a great ‘cycling enthusiast’, always looking (often to my own demise) to push my body to the limit. For such ambitions however the Shimanami Kaidō is a less than ideal route, being in general very flat, scenic and leisurely.

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I would think that most intermediate cyclist could easily do the 70km it comprises of in a day with little more than a little bit of a sore buttocks to show for it. To my loyal readers you may recall my last big cycling trip last year in which I undertook the ‘Awaji 150’ from my home in Kobe, that route was a good 168km in total and there is a great deal of elevation along the cycling route around the island of Awaji, by comparison Shimanami Kaidō is child’s play.

That said we were not as nearly as prepared for this trip as the last (since we left much later in the morning on less than amazing bikes), because of this I was hesitant to attempt cycling all the way to Imabari and then returning in the same day but still wanted to do more than the 76km the one way trip comprised of. Instead half of our group cycled all the way to the 50km pit stop at Oshima before and turning back headed towards Onomichi, whilst the girls cycled all the way to Imabari.

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Quite comically in retrospect (but perhaps not so much at the time) they became stranded on the other side unable to find a bus, ultimately resorting to hitchhiking back to Onomichi that night, their sign says 美女3尾道 (3 beautiful women, headed towards Onomichi) which apparently a convenience store attendant wrote for them on a piece of cardboard!

Another reason why cycling back to our starting point seemed a little more attractive was one can save a little bit of money and a long bus trip doing so, the bus back along the bridges takes 90 minutes and costs the quite steep price of 2200円 for the trip, here is a link to the schedule if you find it useful in addition there is also the 1000円 deposit that is refundable for the bicycles return.

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I must add that there are some small fees for traversing each of the bridges with little collection terminals set up at the beginning of each bridge, although they are quite cheap (adding up to only 500円 for the entire way) you must have the change to pay for them so a pocket full of 50円 coins may prove useful, the list of bridge tolls can be found here. The final fee one encounters along the way is the 110円 for the ferry connecting Onomichi to the first island Mukaishima.

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I am certainly very keen to return to do the trip once again in the future as it really is an amazing ride, one of the things I found really amazing about the entire route was this magical blue line! At times you find yourself passing forks in the road and traversing winding roads through little towns but matter where you are ridding getting lost is something pretty difficult to achieve. One has to simply look down and check if there is a blue line painted alongside the regular road markings, if so you’re on the right track, if not turn around the way you came and find out just where that blue line turned off into!

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Being very very familiar with the perils of becoming lost and frustrated when cycling unknown roads this feature of the trip is a lifesaver.

In addition there are markers every KM you ride telling you just how far you till your destination, finally when exiting each of the bridges there are large blue signs pointing the directions to head if you would like to explore the sights that particular island has to offer (in both Japanese and English)!

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By 7pm on the Saturday night we had all reunited at our ever so dodgy hotel and set out in search of an izakaya for some well deserved drinks, but as we were all quite weary we took it pretty easy.

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Before heading back to Kobe on Sunday however we decided to explore a little of the town of Onomichi since it really is quite a quaint and charming corner of Japan.

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Characterized by a plethora of outstretching narrow laneways and staircases along the文学のこみち(Path of Literature) which head up to千光寺 Senkōji Temple and the adjoining千光寺公園 Senkōji Park in which brilliant views of Onomichi can be seen.

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If hiking isn’t your thing (would not recommend the walk is beautiful) another way to reach the temple is via the Senkoji Ropeway which runs from 9AM-5:15PM, 270円 one way /430円 return.

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When I reached the summit I kind of nostalgia washed over me, which was really odd since this was my first time visiting Onomichi, Suddenly a thought came into my mind ‘huh this city really looks like an aweful like the setting of one of my favorite anime I had watched years prior called かみちゅ! Kamichu! A super cute anime very similar to something Studio Ghibli might make about a middle school girl who suddenly discovers that, overnight, she has become a kami 神(literally a Shinto god). I gave it a quick Google and seems I was right on the money, the series was indeed set in Onomichi over in the Spring of 1983 and many of the temples and landmarks featured in the anime are real locations and faithfully depicted.

kamichuTo anyone who likes a little slice of life anime, I couldn’t recommend it enough; in my opinion it bares a strong similarity to Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi 千と千尋の神隠し (Spirited Away) so if you liked that go for it!!2014-03-26 10.45.01

Our trip back to Kobe turned out to be very long and uneventful, instead of paying the 20,000円 or so that the Shinkansen新幹線(Bullet Train) would usually cost for the return journey we instead managed to find a string of 6 local trains on the JR line that got us back in around 4 hours (and cost us only 4650円 return), my time isn’t worth that much that I am above spending a Sunday train hopping with my buddies so for me it was time well spent ^^

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On that note I’ma go give Kamichu a re-watch for nostalgias sake.

-Dan (and here is a kancho for good luck)

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Natsuyasumi 夏休み The Happiest Time Of The Year!

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Last Monday marked the beginning of natsuyasumi 夏休み (summer vacation) here in Japan, however compared to what those back home might think of it to mean, summer vacation in Kobe is a whole different kettle of fish!

It’s a well established fact that generally compared to their western counterparts, the Japanese like to work A LOT! Most people work huge amounts of unpaid overtime (teachers especially) every week without a peep of complaint, as that just how the world turns in the Japanese corner of it!
As a Kobe JET we have no obligation to work past our contracted hours, I rarely stay back unless I have more work than I can manage to complete during the day and so I am usually the first one out of the office at 4:15pm.

Now what does this have to do with summer vacation, to quote the words of my mate Matt whilst reflecting on summer in Japan:
It’s called natsuyasumi 夏休み yet both teachers and students must still go to school. I wonder what part exactly is yasumi 休み (vacation).

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That said I ain’t complaining, even though we have to come into school everyday it’s a pretty sweet deal. I spend my mornings training with my students, popping in and out of the various clubs checking out what they up to. The vibe this time of year is amazing, life is heaps chill, no classes, no obligation. Having planned all my classes for the foreseeable future I literally have nothing to do but enjoy life and do whatever takes my fancy.

I know my OTE is a busy woman and this time if year I do my best to help her out with creating materials and correcting stuff that aren’t really my job since I like to keep busy. However even after doing all of that I still find myself with a plethora of time on my hands. Now post lunchtime all the kids have usually gone home, what would I recommend to fellow ALTs to do in this time when you feel like you have nothing to do.

I personally work on myself, read, run, learn, study, write, relax. Natsuyasumi is a great time to reflect on improving yourself mentally and physically. The club activity training the students do is intense, no wonder they are all so skinny! Participating alongside them has done wonders for my relationships with my students, sure my Japanese still isn’t fantastic but when you have just run 5km alongside someone, sometimes that’s all the communication you need to solidify companionship.

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Also a word of advice, buy one of these for school, it will change your life!

Now outside of work this is a very exiting time of year for JETs, we have just said our goodbyes to the leavers and in the next 2 weeks the new kids will be arriving! In Kobe over the summer we have job training and run a week long summer school!

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In addition to all this we also have quite a bit of tokkyu 特休 (summer leave) which are extra free days off that we can use any time during the summer break.
I will be spending mine in a couple weeks time, heading down to Okinawa to get some relaxing, exploring and summer fun in with a couple of my good friends!

Last weekend I headed up to this little inaka town called Takeno with the krew, we hired a car since it was about 3 hours north of Kobe, around HERE

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Got some camping, BBQing, swimming and bonfire action in! My mate Pete and I took a heap of stupid photos along the way XD

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There is a certain magic and electricity on the air this time if year, life is good, the future is bright, THIS MOMENT, THIS TIME is exactly what I live about Japan and my life here as a Kobe JET!

tl;dr Summer in Japan is bangin’!

Wizard Pug!!

Wizard Pug!!

Meet Wizard Pug!! My new mascot I am slapping all over every worksheet that I have been making at my JHS as of late (^。^)

One Piece Lesson

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Today I taught a 1年生 (first grade) One Piece themed lesson that I had been working on all week and needless to say the kids went crazy for it, BIG SUCCESS!

After class one of my students came up to me and was like ‘This is Tako-Sensei. He is my hero’ (Today’s grammar point). If you are an ALT and would like to check it out or use it I have uploaded it in the link below.

He/She is ~ ONE PIECE EDITION

#meltedhearts #clichéilovemykidspost

Life As a Kobe JET – One Year On

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Preface: This is going to be a long and honest post about life as a Kobe-JET one year down the road, it ain’t gona sugar coat it but I hope I can accurately portray where I’m at in life.

Although I can hardly believe it myself it today marks a year since I set foot in this great city of Kobe for the first time. In fact this week the new guy arrived who is my shoes this year, as the strangely timed May arrival!

As many may well know, moving to the other side of the world presents its own unique set of hurdles to overcome. That said, since arriving I have truly had the most amazing year of my life, exploring and learning about Japan it’s culture and language.

I know in my heart, I have met some of the most phenomenal individuals the world has to offer here. And it’s as true now as the first day I ever said it, ‘in Kobe strangers are your friends and your friends, are family’.

This days coming has been something I have thought upon greatly as of late, in a sense I feel like I have finally come full circle. But let me elaborate…..

After having to say goodbye to a very dear friend of mine who broke contract last week, it really hit home for me that everyone I know here is going to leave one day. Really no matter how deep and profound the relationships we form here, they are essentially all to a large degree, temporary (-。-;

Anyhow much unlike my previous milestone wrap up posts, this one I am writing with a new found level head, hopefully this one will be a tad more objective.

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Personal Development

So I have been through a roller-coaster of emotions and phases since arriving in Japan, I guess the one biggest mistake I ever made in this place was trying to recreate myself into someone who I wasn’t, when moving to a new place it can be tempting to be someone new. However I now know that such a course of action is simply foolish and in the words of Oscar Wilde,

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Anyhow towards the beginning of the year I fell into a deep hole, in retrospect I went a little paranoid and crazy, convinced everyone was out to get me. It wasn’t until a my buddies helped me recognize the errors in my ways, that suddenly everything really turned around for me. Now I definitely see myself on the right path, just trying to be the best me I can be, basically the kind of person who exhibits the kind of genuine traits I find endearing in others ❤

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I’ve had my fair share of difficulties in discovering where I belong in our amazing community here, always branding myself as a square in a round hole. A year on  I truly feel as if I have come full circle in discovering who I am and who I want to be, what I know about this place is that it will make you a better version of yourself if you let it.

Perhaps just growing up in general and developing a much deeper sense of empathy for others is something that just comes naturally when you live all on your own for the first time in your life, that said you’re never truly alone here. I have the support of my family back home and the plethora of amazing fellow ALTs that live and work alongside me.

At the end of the day being a JET placed in Kobe is pretty much the equivalent if winning the placement lottery, there is just no where else like it in Japan and a year down the road it is very clear just why we have the highest JET retention rate throughout the entire program.
I like to believe that by now I have become a seasoned ALT, no longer naive and starry eyed. I certainly don’t know what the future has in store, or how I just might be feeling this time next year. However if the next 4 years are even remotely similar to the one I have just been through, I think I may be one of those people who just won’t go home and end up staying the entire 5 years!

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When I think back to my life pre-JET, I wasn’t a happy person, mostly discontent with my  situation in general. I can honestly say that the person I was a year ago is dead an buried, it’s almost like I had to leave my home to finally see what I had and appreciate all the support my family had always given me.
If asked if I am ever homesick, my answer is always a very firm no, the only thing I miss about my country is my family, I believe if they weren’t there I would surely never return. I certainly don’t want to imply that Japan is magical and perfect in any way, however Australia is simply not a place I can ever remember fondly, if anything the places in my mind that I nostalgically look back at are in South East Asia XD

And no it’s not that I am some Japan fanboy (in fact anyone who has ever actually live here will learn 95% of what the outside world thinks Japan is, is wrong XD). The main thing I love about my life here is that it supports me in my thirst for knowledge, being the kind of person who can’t stand sitting idle I felt completely lost after finishing university and suddenly finding myself with no outlet to direct my quizzical nature.

Back home I felt like my progress had come to a standstill but since coming to Japan every day here I learn at least a dozen new things, whether it be Japanese language/cultural knowledge, perusing hobbies or even to discovering things about myself.

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Social Life

After having talked up the profound influence the people here have had on my life, I thought I would go into the kind of stuff we get up to. So what makes up a normal week as a Kobe JET, we generally all work Monday to Friday so generally nothing crazyyyyyy happens on school nights. However that not to say that you have to just go home after work, this year especially I have found myself so busy with events on school nights that I hardly even get enough me time! During the winter its so cold that we might to things like get together for oden or nabe parties a couple days a week, movie nights, group study sessions or just hanging out together.

People do tend to become hermits during the colder months to a degree though (myself included) only because its kinda hard to be genki when your apartment is perpetually under 10 degrees! Once it warms up people tend to be more enthusiastic about doing stuff after school, even looking at the last couple weeks for example, I have been shopping in Sannomiya a couple times after school, gone out for dinner with friends and even gotten really on occasion at house parties and bars!

The weekends are where the magic happens though, it is extremely rare for one to come around where we don’t have plans before hand, whether they be little weekend holidays, drinking parties, nights out on the town or days out adventuring! We can generally travel quite cheaply in Japan and one thing I really have noticed that when I tell Japanese people to even a hand-full of the places I have been to in Japan they are always like ‘wow you have been more places that Japanese’.

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Quite often we will pack overnight bags, just jump on a train and spend the entire of the weekend somewhere, particularly if we have a long weekend, naming all the things I have done in the past year would be extremely difficult so I’ll list a couple normalish kinda trips that come to mind.  So in the past year I have partied in Fukuoka, stayed in a ryokan at Koya-san, participated in the Iga Ueno Ninja Festival, explored abandoned train tunnels, watched autumn leaves in Kyoto, cycled around Awaji island, swam in Nunobiki waterfall and spent all night in Osaka dressed in a ‘sushi costume’ for Halloween.

Those are all examples of some of the more unique kinda stuff we get up to, generally a more normal weekend would consist of all the social kids getting together at the HUB on Friday night for happy hour. If there is nothing special planned that particular evening, we will break up into our respective groups and head off to maybe get dinner/do karaoke/do a nomihoudai. Saturday nights are generally a greater affair, I would say more often than not if there is nothing else on I can easily throw together a group of people to come to Osaka for a drinking party.

There is a company called WhyNot that have ‘international parties’ across Kansai, there will always be one on every Saturday night at a nightclub somewhere around the Nanba/Shinsaibasi area of Osaka. Basically Japanese people go to these things to meet foreigners, we go there because we can get wasted with a 3 hour all you can drink party that only costs us 2000円!

So one thing about being a Kobe JET is that we really live in a gaijin bubble of sorts. There are so many of us in the community that if you want to hardly associate with any Japanese people, you really don’t have to. Regardless of how much I love my friends here, it really seems quite arrogant and a complete waste to live in a country and not get to know its people. By simply taking a look at a couple of the photos in this post one thing is certain, we are never alone ❤

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The Workplace & Teaching

It’s been a long road to becoming the teacher I am today, I came here as a business graduate with zero knowledge of teaching and even without a like of children in general.
Oh how far I have come, I teach at one JHS and 2 nearby ES of whom’s students feed into my base school.
When I arrived I was paired with a first year OTE who spoke very poor English. For the most part of last year, due to both my and her inexperience with the job, in retrospect I feel that a lot of the time we deliver less than stellar lessons. One of the major points was that I felt the students never respected her, many boys often straight up refused to work and instead would spend half the class yelling out sexual things to her. It was quite sad when I conducted standardized testing across the year level, as her class’s average scores were on average 30% lower than the others which the other English teacher taught.
Now I don’t like playing the bad guy, I much prefer building genuine relationships with my students. Having them want to learn rather than me constantly struggling just to keep them quiet and on topic is all I ever wanted.

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Anyhow with the new school year came the ‘great teacher shuffle’, my terrible OTE was replaced with an extremely headstrong well seasoned one, who was specifically head-hunted by my former principal to work at my school and fix up our English program.
This woman is amazing, all of the worst students I had last year, under her iron fist are now engaged and enthusiastic.
I guess in a word I would say she is an enabler, always pushing the students and myself to put in 110%. Honestly this year I feel like I do 3x more work than I was doing last year, I hardly have a spare moment to myself as I’m always either teaching or planning awesome engaging lessons. I knew she was a keeper from the moment I planned my first lesson with her. Having grown accustomed to dumbing down every activity I continued to do so, as anything slightly challenging my old OTE would shoot down saying ‘that’s too hard for the students’.
I would always try to rationalize that the students are clever, and we should should always push them to do the best they can by using one of my favourite  analogy’s to no avail “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.”.

Now when I noticed new amazing OTE constantly telling me ‘re-write  worksheet/grammar point and make them harder’ as the students can do it, my heart turned to putty.
Basically she motivates me to be the epic teacher I know I can be, although I work much harder now, I love everything about my job. My previously unmotivated students are now some of my best, when I ask a question I see every hand raise every time, now that is the difference a good teacher can make!

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Outside of the classroom, developing rapport with my coworkers has been a gradual thing, several of them speak very good English (yet are often hesitant to speak it) and some virtually none at all. Over the past year I have felt most generally warming up-to me, particularly since the new school year began and I gained the 2nd year sempai status. This year we also gained a new Kouchou Sensei 校長先生 (principal) who is a very eccentric and energy filled man. Although he speaks no English, I constantly make a great effort to communicate with him in Japanese as he has taken a liking to me, we are in fact engaged in an eternal gift off constantly showering each other in snacks XD

All in all I love my job, I feel like I get better and better at it every day, I was born for this!

Studying Japanese

Now actually getting round to formally studying was something I procrastinated about for many months after arriving, in fact it wasn’t until around December when the JET Programme Japanese Language Course books from CLAIR arrived on my desk that I even had a crack at it.

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Now I started with the beginner course since I really had very little previous knowledge of Japanese at all, these books do get quite a lot of flack for being completely in romanji at the beginner level (which honestly is wayyyyyy too long), what I feel they did do however is teach the basics of Japanese grammar.

Previously I was pretty much just slapping the words together in any order that ‘felt’ right which left me sounding a little ‘special’. Now I would highly recommend this CLAIR series to beginners for one solid reason, each day you must complete 4 pages, each month you must complete one book as there is a test at the end of the month, for those without a teacher this is really the kick up the ass you need to get your study on.

Now unless your only want to learn how to pronounce Japanese and not read and write at all I suggest the ‘Tako technique’, basically what I did to supplement my study is rewrite every single sentence in all 6 books line by line from romanji to hirigana/katakana/kanji. Yes this will make each chapter take 2-3 times as long as it should, but lets just say that before I started these books I had a great deal of trouble reading the simplest of lines in kana, 6 months later I could read more or less at half the speed I can in English.

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I have since moved onto a series called 日本語チャレンジ (Nihongo Challenge) at the N4 level as I have applied for the JLPT N4 exam which is being held in a months time (just quietly I don’t have high hopes for a passing grade but I’m going to give it my best regardless). There are 3 separate textbooks available at each level of the series, I purchased all 3 かんじ(Kanji), ことば(Vocabulary) and Grammar(文法).

It’s been a gradual process but each and every day I am learning so much just from being immersed in the language. In my mind when I arrived I felt my my comprehension was foggy, each day that fog clears a little as I slowly slowly can understand more about the world and happenings around me. I have come a long way, but there’s a long way to go! 頑張ります!!!

TL;DR
– A year on I could not be any happier with my life.
– I have amazing friends from all over the world.
– Teaching has become one of my passions and feel I get better at it every day.
– Learning Japanese has been a progressive journey, but I’m getting there ^^

As a final note, to my loyal readers (you must be if you got this far).
Truly, Gratitude, Always.

The following is a picture year in review!

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