A very Australian Christmas (a 2013 retrospective)

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Where have I been you ask, did I drop off the face of the earth? Yes and no….. Over the Christmas and New Years period I returned home to the down under to spend the holidays with my family in Melbourne.

Now I did the same trip last year and expect I will do much the same this coming Christmas. However the relationship developed with a country left behind in lieu of another is a bittersweet one, the return to said country equally so.

Upon leaving Australia after my last trip I retained a residual distaste for the country, questioning whether I would ever want to return to live there in the future. Despite having spent a fantastic few weeks with my friends and family, I found myself longing to return to Japan. This year however I have returned to Kobe in quite the opposite headspace.

For so long firm in my mind was the firm belief that I was a black sheep, not only amongst my family and peers but also within my country of origin, that I was somehow different from everyone else’s.

If there is anything that can shatter long held beliefs and redefine a person it’s two things, time and distance. As the saying goes ‘you ain’t know what you got till it’s gone’.

I guess the major turning point for me was finding myself begin to contemplate my future, not in Japan but post-JET. I guess seeing my long term friends my age back home getting on with their lives caused me to reflect upon my own situation. What am I doing in Japan? What kind of career do I want in the future? Shall I return to university for further study? What will my life have shaped up to be by my later 20s?

Over the past few weeks I have sincerely had some of the greatest times of my life, simply enjoying the company of the family and friends I left behind half a world away. From this experience I experienced a major shift in my mindset of what exactly Japan and the JET program mean to me.

Having had aspired to reaching my alleged ‘ultimate goal’ of living in Japan for almost a decade. I can now see with definite clarity that I had put the country on a pedestal, the way one might put a pretty girl.

Now I’m not saying I thought the country was all Sushi, anime and geisha as many do who have never been fortunate enough to visit Japan. Nor would I want to downplay the profound respect I have developed for its people and culture. But instead I would like to put forth that yeah, if you get an awesome placement like Kobe on the JET program (or even if you don’t), Japan can be everything that you ever dreamed of and more. But at the end of the day the experience like anything in life is going to be what you make of it.

I know I have said this in past posts but you can grow up and discover where you want to go in life quite rapidly here, today is the 588th day of my journey here so I would hope to have made some progress. Whether that is the product of conquering the hardships of living alone in a foreign country for the first time or unique to JET I couldn’t say. However I am a firm believer that this experience has helped set me on the right track to becoming the man I always needed to become.

I arrived in Kobe coming up 2 years ago a person I can look back upon with distaste, self-righteous, unempathetic and stubborn as hell. I like to think I’ve made a little progress since then, yet I realize the road ahead is long but if I have gained any insight it’s this:

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance”
-Confucius

I don’t want to say that I have come to some great epiphany either, rather that I am just walking my own path one step at a time learning with each one.
What I have learnt is to truly appreciate and treasure those you who love you, whether they live next door or a world away. Rather than worrying about winning the affection of others and what they think of you, simply be the best you you can be. Show a sense of empathy, respect for others opinions and a sincere interest in what those around you say and you will never want for company.

I have met so many amazing people in Japan from all corners of the earth in the short part of my life that I have been here, but I will be sure never to forget those friends and family I had in Melbourne neither.

To all that I saw and spent time with during my visit home I thank you for making my trip amazing. Particularity the efforts of my parents who took every step imaginable to do anything and everything to make my visit home a memorable one.

Till next time,

-Dan

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I Still Call Australia Home

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I’m always travelin’
And I love bein’ free
So I keep leavin’ the sun and the sea
But my heart lies waiting over the foam
I still call Australia home.

Im currently sitting on the tarmac at Kansai Kokusai Kūkō 関西国際空港 (Kansai International Airport) in 10 minutes or so I shall be departing homebound for Australia for the Christmas and New Year period.

Honestly I’m met with a flux of emotion ranging from excitement to nostalgia, all in all I just want to be home and out of the cold landscape that Kobe rapidly degraded into.
In fact my biggest fear in leaving Japan is the possibility that my Japanese which is already less than stellar may degrade over the next 3 weeks as I fill my body with copious amounts of food n booze!

Anyhow rather than posting day by day as i usually do, I have prepared a ‘holiday schedule’ of posts I have been writing as a buffer in just in case, so (presumed) loyal readers can look forward to that.
Anyhow ill see you all on the otherside!
オーストラリア 行きで!

A Mochitsuki Present

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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!

What The Hell Is Thanksgiving?

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Ok so I’m an Australian, we don’t tend to really get into most European holidays let alone American ones.
So my knowlage of Thanksgiving is that it’s got something to do with Indians, turkey and maybe candy corn……
Now I’d heard that Japanese people tend to assume all gaijin are American but had yet to experience it before today.

Conversation 10 minutes before class with ES sensei who speaks very little English.
OTE: Daniel Sensei, today Thanksgiving yes.
Me: Yeah I guess, but…..
OTE: (cutting me off? Today class change Thanksgiving shoukai OK?
Me: But I’m Australian not American and I have a lesson planned based on this weeks grammar point.
OTE: Ahhhh sou desu, Australia Thanksgiving class ok. Byebye. (Runs out of the staff room)

FML (−_−;)

How Much You Can Expect To Be Paid On The JET Program(me)

Now particularly with all the changes to the JET program compensation and introduction of the sliding pay-scale which began this year. There were many very worried prospective applicants this time last year (myself included) who would have done anything to get their hands on some solid information regarding how much we could expect to take home.
These are my last couple pay slips, which accurately reflect exactly how much a Kobe JET participant can hope to take home a month. Those in other prefectures can end up with slightly more or less but 20万円 (200,000¥) a month is a good ballpark figure.

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Now since we are quite fortunate in Kobe and get a couple bonus perks with our income ill break it down.
So for our first year we earn 3.36百万円 (3,360,000¥) or 28万円 (280,000¥) on a monthly basis. From this the deductions include:
1.5万円 (15,000¥) mandatory heath insurance
2.5万円 (25,000¥) average social security
6千円 (6,000¥) income tax (note: Americans are not subject to this for the first 2 years on the program due to a tax treaty)
3.9万円 (39,000¥) apartment rent (originally around 8万円 but half is paid for by the Kobe Board of Education)

This usually leaves me with around 19万円 take home money. However one of our perks living in Kobe is that we are refunded our transportation expenses, this amount is dependent on the route you must take to work, mine is 15,640¥ a month. However to complicate things depending on the month sometimes we are paid out for a month transport pass at a time and once a year a 6 month pass (which is why the pay for October is so much higher than November).

Soon as my second year rolls around (6 more months wew!) my pay will go up to 3600000¥ a year, in my third year it will again rise to 3900000¥ and if I so choose to the pay in the 4-5th years is 3960000¥.
Although I earn significantly less than many if my friends I haven’t really noticed any difference in our lifestyles as most people save quite a lot of money whilst on JET (I have many temptations here in Kobe but I imagine saving in the inaka is even easier!). The first few months money was quite tight I will admit, however once your apartment is furnished money is not such a problem as Japan can be quite the affordable country if you live sensibly.

Anyhow I hope this breakdown was somewhat helpful, as always feel free to hitt me up if you have any questions.

Daniels Australian Cookbook

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This Saturday is the Bunkasai 文化祭 (Cultural Festival) at my Chuugakko 中学校 (Junior Highschool) and returning from a week of leave I found myself being asked to plan an Australian culture table with in my free time over the next few days.

Here is today’s creation, Australian cookbooks!!! Featuring the recipes to make Anzac Biscuits, Lamingtons, Sausage Rolls, Australian Toffee and Fairy Bread!
I have printed enough to make 300booklets……… Sigh 50 down, a plethora of folding to go.

Sometimes I have deeply regret seemingly ‘amazing ideas’ without considering the work required to bring them to fruition….
(−_−;)

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Aussie Orgy Party オージーパーティー

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Ain’t no party like a オージーパーティー (orgy party).

Found this gem on Imiwa this morning, was news to me that this is how Japanese think we party down under, pretty sure this is the perfect example of lost in translation.

……just dafuq (>人<;)

First Week In Kobe Wrap Up

So I have now been living in Kobe-shi for little over a week now and honestly I have been meccha busy ever since I stepped foot off the plane last Wednesday. Either I have been insanely busy setting up my new life here or socializing (read: getting drunk) at every opportunity.

So I guess I’ll start at the beginning, now my journey from Melbourne to Kobe was a tad less amazing than I had hoped, perhaps having something to do with the sheer amount of baggage I decided to lug half way across the world which amounted to over 2/3rds my body weight.

The story of the flights over make for less than interesting reading so I will skip straight to the arrival, now before I left I was given a schedule that had me spending a day in Tokyo after my arrival, soon as I passed through customs I discovered this was not the case and was quickly ushered by a CLAIR employee onto a train, only stoping briefly at a counter to have my baggage posted to me. This was my first experience with logic head-butting with Japanese rationale, basically it would take 36 hours or so for my baggage to reach me being couriered from Narita to Kobe and I would have to pay for the inconvenience. I left room in my bag to stuff a good 10kg of heavy stuff I had in my carry on so this ‘service’ would be little more than a grand inconvenience so I stuck to my guns and eventually she let me take my baggage with me, god I have no idea how I would have got through my first 2 days if I had let them take it……. Like sure I get why you post your baggage if you’re going to Tokyo Orientation but seriously I only had to lug it a couple hundred metres through Tokyo Station to the Shinkansen and that was pretty much it. At the end of the day I guess in Japan you pick your battles and 99% of the time the best course of action is to just smile, nod and accept things are just done here the way they are.

 

So after an enduring 20 hour or so trip (yeah I know I can’t bitch as it’s a slap on the wrist compared to a lot of the rest of ya) I was brought to the KIC where I spent 2 hours being orientated and signing documents before finally I was taken by one of my CIR’s to my apartment.

Although I think this really warrant its own post but upon stepping in my apartment for the first time I was very taken aback, impressed even! As I was expecting little more than a tiny 1DK and all I’d heard prior to arrival is that my particular building is renowned for being particularly small! This is of course not to say that it is huge but regardless its more than adequate and really already feels like home. As it came more or less bare I have tried my best to furnish it with what little funds I brought over, Daiso (my nearest 100 yen store) has really filled in the gaps as they sell pretty much most home wares one would need, hence why I have sunk in a good man (万) there in the past week XD.

Despite my urgent need for large purchases such as an air conditioner, microwave oven, washing machine, bike, cabinets and bed (yes the novelty of a futon has already worn off >_<) just to name a few I have decided to leave my apartment fairly Spartan for a couple more weeks. As I was a JET who arrived at a very unique time I am fortunate enough that about 20% of my peers will be departing in about 6 weeks’ time. What this means for me is that there are many opportunities to inherit much of the departing JET’s stuff at a fraction of what It would cost to buy it new and before the bulk of the new JET’s come in, as most are looking to pack away their lives whilst I am trying to set mine up, so it’s really a WIN-WIN situation ^_^

Everyone I have met in Gakuentoshi thus far has been amazingly hospitable and have really made the transition into an entirely new country as painless as possible. On my first night a couple of the girls from my building brought me a little welcoming kit with a couple things I might need in the immediate future then spent the evening taking me shopping and showing me round the neighbourhood, the next evening they all threw me a little potluck welcoming dinner where I got to meet a couple more of my new neighbours. Honestly though it all the little things like that that have made me really feel at home ^_^

The following two days prior to the weekend of insanity, were spent orientating me as fast as possible (I had 2 ½ days of this as opposed to the 7days plus Tokyo orientation most new JETS get), basically I had a plethora of information thrust into me quick and nasty, was taken to get my Alien Resident Card, had my gas water turned on, got my Keitei (iPhone 4s), had my bank account set up and was shown where my school was, needless to say it was hectic. I made the situation just that much worse by forgetting my passport when I was taken to the Prefectural Ward office to get my Alien Card (which was a good hour’s trip there and back which we then had to do twice), to be fair however it was only mentioned that I should bring it once the day before just after I had stepped off the Shinkansen from Tokyo.

However at the end all the chaos came the weekend!!! Friday night I was kidnaped and dragged to ‘The Hub’ which is the Friday night meet up spot for the ALT community here in Kobe. Where a little welcoming party was thrown for me and I met another plethora of new faces, the next 6-7 hours were spent hopping from one bar/combini to the next getting progressively drunker and drunker to the point where it all becomes a little hazy just how we missed the last train and ended up in a crazy pricy cab back to the burbs, needless to say I woke up Saturday morning feeling well orientated (read: so hungover I wanted to die). I dragged myself out of bed futon however as a city tour/mandate with the ever charismatic Jerome was awaiting me, I spent the day being shown the best Kobe has to offer before we decided to jump right into afternoon pre-drinks prior to a welcoming wine and cheese party he had organized for me at his apartment on Port Island that evening.

Awaking hating life for yet another morning after an evening of deliciousness I spent the day shopping in Sannomiya, before heading back to Gakuentoshi in the afternoon where I was taken to a newly opened Costco, which is only a 15 minute walk from my apartment.

The following are a couple photos from my Kobe adventures last Saturday.

Alas Monday morning came around with my first day of work, thankfully it was organized for me to spend a day shadowing a senior ALT at his school in Shin-Nagoya. Due to testing at his regular JHS unfortunately I was not able to visit so instead we went to a nearby Shougakko (Elementary School) where I spent the day playing with the kids, this was my first time exposed to the Japanese school system in almost a decade since I visited when I went on exchange in Highschool. Let’s just say it provided some interesting insight into the Japanese thought process. For example at lunch time suddenly all the children who were playing outside were suddenly ushered back into the building and the teachers were all crowded around right outside the staffroom door……. Now what was this grand threat, a sexual predator? a bomb threat? NOPE! It was 3 crows that were perched on some nearby streetlights, along with a couple of the male teachers, myself and the other ALT simply screamed at the birds and banged things until they flew away. Regardless this was reason enough to cancel PE classes for the next 3 periods. As I mentioned before, do I understand……. Well unless they have had situations before where a crow has swooped down and picked of an ichinensei (this is feasible I had one on my back like a koala for like 10 minutes and he was almost weightless) I don’t see what the commotion was about but the best course of action is to simply smile and nod regardless of how crazy things may seem using western rationale.

Once the threat of the evil Crows was deemed to be neutralized the sannensei were all gathered in the area to practice an Okinawan Taiko dance for the Bunka (Cultural Festival) I was invited to participate, although I really had little idea of what exactly I was doing it was insanely fun and the kids really looked like they enjoyed watching my less than accurate rendition of the dance.

The whole experience was really quite enriching for me and provided me with the confidence to jump right into team teaching when I headed to my own school but more on that later.

In short I have been nothing short of overwhelmed by the kindness and support I have received from the ALT community here in Kobe and am truly content with life at the moment, I really think I’m going to be happy here J

Next Time on Nihonomnom: The Annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (SCUNT)

Don’t Say Oh Well

Yeah, I step outta my little country
I traveled seasons, took a longboat
And now I find myself in a small town
It’s so remote, I couldn’t trawl
So I kissed my mommy, I wanna sweet cheeks
And I told my dad I’m real glad that we’re friends
Said to my brother I’ll surely miss him
I’m coming back just don’t know when
Waited enough to find the truth
The pain, again then say oh well
Don’t say oh well
Departing Australia for foreign shores has been the most difficult thing I have every brought myself to do, and to those I am leaving behind, know you will be in my mind and in my heart, always
-ダニエル

Sayonara Australia!!

Alas the moment of my departure is imminent, the road up to this point has certainly been long and arduous. I certainly wouldn’t be in this position if not for the support of my family and friends that helped me every step of the way.

My flight leaving Melbourne departs this evening at 6:30pm this evening, Sydney bound with a connection to Tokyo’s Kansai International Airport in which I will be arriving at 6:05am on Wednesday 30th May!

Honestly the last month has quite literally been the best of my entire life, never have I felt so loved and appreciated by those around me, which has made the decision to leave all that more difficult. I have been showered with gifts and good times by my friends, co-workers and especially my family, and have been thrown no less than four going away parties in the last week.

I would go so far to say I have lived more in these past few weeks than in the many months before, having being caught up in the daily grind these past few years. From the bottom of my heart I have been as truly happy and content with life, since I found out I was accepted into the 2012 JET Program and was heading to Kobe.

The packing up of everything I have ever owned and deciding what exactly makes the cut to be packed away to come along with me (made all the more-so difficult by the fact I have always been a compulsive hoarder) has been enduring process. Having been through the emotional roller-coaster that comes with leaving ones home that have ranged from joy to guilt to regret to contentment, one feeling that is prominent as ever, is that of being terminally Australian.

However reassuringly, unlike my grandparents that first came to these shores over half a century ago (a journey of which they have reminded me several times upon each of our meetings these past weeks) I leave knowing, that a home to be warmly welcomed back to will always be awaiting me in Melbourne, with my family and friends being little more than a Skype session away.

I would like to share a couple of the photos of the people and times that have made these last few weeks special.

So how long have I been waiting to do the cheesiest thing possible and play Big Jet Plane by Angus & Julia Stone upon my departure to Japan. About a year and a half or so, it pretty much clicked the first time I ever heard it that this was destined to be my JET song. If anything its an awesome replacement for the only other JET applicable departure song Leaving On A JET Plane.