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 (^。^)

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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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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 14 – Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋

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Bringing you yet another yatsuhashi instalment of The Mochi Diaries, this is Chapter 14: Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋.

The Mochi Diaries are now a monthly feature in the ‘Hyogo Times’, you can find this article published on their website HEREPhoto 2013-04-16 午前7 25 42

Although the sakura have come and gone, spring is certainly in the air and all over Japan at the moment (my hayfever can attest to that) and so during a recent trip to Osaka I decided to pick up a box of the spring themed variety of yatsuhashi (speciality mochi of Kyoto, see chapter 2). The box contained two separate and unique sakura flavoured variations alongside the more traditional cinnamon and matcha flavours.

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Sakura Mochi Fuumi Yatsuhashi – 桜餅風味八つ橋 (cherry blossom yatsuhashi)

Now these guys are basically a yatsuhashi themed take on ‘sakura mochi’, a popular spring time sweet. Pink in colour and containing a sweet red bean filling, sakura mochi come wrapped in an edible salted sakura leaf. Being quite a fan of said seasonal mochi offerings (they come with my highest recommendation) how were the yatsuhashi going to stack up in comparison?? Unfortunately I’m going to have to admit not particularly well. Aesthetically they are quite attractive, the usual yatsuhashi fair, less than opaque mochi with a pale pink sakura flavoured centre peeking through. The taste, however, was less than amazing. Although remaining faithful to the delicate texture that makes yatsuhashi what it is, I really found the ‘sakura’ aspect to be much too subtle and entirely underwhelming. If anything the entire time I was eating them I felt like I was chewing a slightly sweetened pillow that by all rights should have been amazing! A nice yet insufficient addition was the inclusion of a couple of sakuradzuke 桜漬け (pickled cherry blossoms) which added a nice, salty contrast. Regardless, next spring I’ll pass.

2/5

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Sakura Koshian 桜こしあん(cherry blossom with sweet red bean paste)

 

As opposed to the sakura centre of the version above, these ones instead had a sakura inspired mochi coating around a more or less kosher red bean filling. Once again though, I found the sakura to be too underwhelming, leaving them more or less indistinguishable from their cinnamon counterparts. They were rather pretty (again) from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, sporting an appealing pale pink colouring which was rather fitting for the season. At the end of the day however, I was far from impressed. I had thought it was pretty hard to screw up the winning formula that makes yatsuhashi what it is, apparently I was mistaken. That aside, they are still perfectly edible, I just personally wouldn’t be giving these ones in particular as an omiyage to anyone I really liked!All said and done, I still ate them all hungrily, but in the future I’ll stick with the ever-reliable cinnamon variety.

Italian Mintia イタリアンミンティア Reviews

For the spring season of 2013 Mintia released two Italian inspired flavors. Being quite the advocate of anything Mintia I purchased both the moment I saw them.
In terms of packaging both feature their respective fruit flavors depicted in the style of stained glass, which I presume is a play on the windows which commonly ordain gothic cathedrals.

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Mintia – Italian Lemon
ミンティア – イタリアンレモン

This flavor I find reminiscent of the lemon Ice Breaker equivalent, however where their competitors punch a tasty sour kick these seem to fizzle in comparison. That said, although I find the taste to be a little underwhelming for my liking, they are still not bad at all.
I also am quite fond of the packaging as well as the lemon yellow color of the candy themselves.
Perhaps I just purchased then for the novelty of a new mintia flavor as I typically do but I think they are worth a couple repeat purchases before they are phased out.
A subtle lemony offering from mintia this spring. 3.5/5

If you were interested in what the writing on the packaging says it as follows:

100%レモン果汁入りアロマビーズ + レモンフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% lemon juice + lemon flavored chips.

The little red box says
シチリア産レモン果汁配合
Blended with Sicilian lemon juice

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Mintia – Italian Grape
ミンティア – イタリアングレープ

Grape flavor is not something particularly groundbreaking for mintia and I have already sampled 2 other grape offerings from them. The packaging on these guys however seemed to be a little preachy as to how authentic and fruit filled these are. Honestly I think they might be compensating a little, that said they are not at all bad. The white colored candy are filled with tiny little specks that aparwntly are a mix of grape ‘chips’ and ‘grape juice aroma beads’. Much like the lemon ones I was left wishing for a slightly more pronounced upfront flavor, however in comparison to the regular grape mintia I think these come out on top. For a tasty ‘allegedly’ Cabernet Italian grape experience they get my recommendation! 4/5

Again the translation for the grape flavors packaging:

100%カベルネ果汁入りアロマビーズ + グレプフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% cabernet grape juice + grape flavored chips.

The little red box on this one says
イタリア産カベルネ果汁配合
Blended with Italian cabernet grape juice

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 13 – Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) Namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋

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Welcome to Chapter 13 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記), in this post I shall be introducing Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋!

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It’s almost as if I never run out of yatsuhashi to review, there are just so many varieties and I how I love them so ( ^ω^ )
So every time I head up to Kyoto I always end up coming home with a box! Last year I took a to trip to Arashiyama 嵐山 a rather pretty district of western Kyoto for a day of momijigari 紅葉狩り(Autumn leaves viewing) with some friends. On the way home I picked up this box of Honeyapple yatsuhashi as I had yet to give the flavour a try.

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A note in regards to the packaging, breaking away from the norm the box was squarish with 2 layers of yatsuhashi as opposed to the usual long rectangular box, not that that stopped me opening the second packet soon as I finished the first one however (≧∇≦)

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Now these look more or less identical to the Kuri yatsuhashi 栗八つ橋 (chestnut) that I reviewed a couple weeks ago here.
That said the filling was radically different from any yatsuhashi I have ever tried before, I would consider these Japanese inspired mochi rather than anything traditional to say the least. Most Japanese sweets tend to go easy on the sweetness front most of the time, these however were very sweet and appley, the taste was quite reminiscent of apple pie filling, whilst maintaining the regular yatsuhashi texture and all in all incredibly delicious to the point where I ate the entire box in one sitting!!

058_1200x800They make for a tasty Aki 秋 (Autumn) treat and im’a give them 4.25/5.

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

Mochi Diaries: Chapter 12 – Ichigo Daifuku苺大福

<———– Last

 The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 14 – Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋

Next ———>

Mintia Tokyo Skytree Limited Edition

During my visit to Tokyo Skytree a while back I was delighted to spot these limited edition Skytree Mintia flavours on offer in the gift shop as I’m quite the advocate of all things Mintia!
I purchased each if the 3 flavours on offer, Peach, Green Tea Mint and Grape. Oddly as opposed to the regular packaging, all 3 had their names boldly written in English with a small furigana translation underneath. I suppose this is to cater to the large amount of foreign tourists that would be visiting the tower.
The peach and green tea mint flavours are new and although there is regular grape flavored Mintia I was interested to see how the Skytree variation would compare.

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Mintia – Peach
もも

Ok seriously these thing are fucking amazing!! In fact it pains me to know that I can’t obtain any more of them without returning to Tokyo!! Honestly from the moment you pop one in your mouth it feels like you have just taken a bite of a tasty ripe peach! I can not sing these things high enough praise, my only complaint is that compared to other Mintia I felt these dissolved a lot faster. Perfect!!!!
5/5

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Mintia – Green Tea Mint
グリーンティーミント

From the moment I opened these I was impressed simply by by their colour, giving me very authentic matcha 抹茶 (powdered Japanese green tea) vibe from the get go.
Much more subtle in flavour than the peach ones and mildly minty, being a huge matcha fan it’s hard to disappoint with such a flavour. That said I usually shy away from anything minty but these really hit the spot, if more mints tasted like this I’d be sure to invest in them more often!!
Tasty, minty with hints of matcha, a winner in my books.
4/5

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Mintia – Grape
ぶどう

Honestly save for being a slight shade of yellow as opposed the white of the regular grape flavoured Mintia, I really could not discern any notable difference between the two which I tried one after the other. Perhaps the Skytree variant tasted a tad more authentic grapey and less artificial but that could have just been my imagination. Regardless I thoroughly enjoyed the originals and these just as much so. 4/5

All in all I get the feeling that the Skytree Mintia flavours are a higher quality than the regular kind. Although slightly more expensive (131円) they are well worth the price, I only regret I didn’t purchase more!!!!

Toy Making Class! おもちゃランドを作ろう

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So today at my crazy tiny elementary school, I was invited to attend ‘toy making class’ with my favourite 3年生 (third grade). I’ve done this once before a couple months ago when we make aki 秋 (autumn) themed toys out of the seasonal fair (think acorns and leaves), however today’s subject was rika 理解 (science class) and since the children were learning about じしゃく (magnets) their toys were themed accordingly.

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Here are a couple of the meccha kawaii games and toys they put together, the ones above were all filled with magnets which could be manipulated by other magnets on sticks (in this case the cat chases the giant mouse)

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This guy was a lil race track, the kid made a dozen of these little cars to choose from and gave them all crazy names like ロケットカー(rocket car), スズメバチカー (wasp car) and 宇宙カー (space car), unfortunately I didn’t get a shot of it but he later made a giant paper toilet so store them in XD

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The photo above features a paper fishing game, a couple of the girls made lil fishing rods out of hashi 箸 (chopsticks) with magnets tied at the end of a piece of string, the various sea fauna had paper-clips to attract them!

20130226-午後030217.jpgAt lunch time they set up a spare room with all the games and had a little carnival for the students in the other year levels to come play. Needless to say today was a good day!

かわいいいいいいいいいいいい!!!!