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 (^。^)

Advertisements

Life As a Kobe JET – One Year On

20130601-午前103334.jpg

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.

20130601-午前105353.jpg

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 ❤

20130601-午前105346.jpg

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!

20130601-午前103447.jpg

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.

20130601-午前105323.jpg

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’.

20130601-午前103609.jpg

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 ❤

20130601-午前103521.jpg

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.

20130601-午前103736.jpg

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!

20130601-午前103627.jpg

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.

20130531-午後124353.jpg

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.

973908_10151644855145272_1011479248_n

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!

20130601-午前103426.jpg

20130601-午前103453.jpg

20130601-午前103512.jpg

20130601-午前103527.jpg

20130601-午前103533.jpg

20130601-午前103541.jpg

20130601-午前103546.jpg

20130601-午前103552.jpg

20130601-午前103558.jpg

20130601-午前103604.jpg

20130601-午前103616.jpg

20130601-午前103621.jpg

20130601-午前103632.jpg

20130601-午前103637.jpg

20130601-午前103642.jpg

20130601-午前103648.jpg

20130601-午前103653.jpg

20130601-午前103658.jpg

20130601-午前103702.jpg

20130601-午前103707.jpg

20130601-午前103712.jpg

20130601-午前103717.jpg

20130601-午前103722.jpg

20130601-午前103726.jpg

20130601-午前103731.jpg

20130601-午前103740.jpg

20130601-午前103746.jpg

20130601-午前103755.jpg

20130601-午前105117.jpg

20130601-午前105130.jpg

20130601-午前105138.jpg

20130601-午前105144.jpg

20130601-午前105150.jpg

 

20130601-午前105215.jpg

20130601-午前105223.jpg

20130601-午前105230.jpg

20130601-午前105237.jpg

20130601-午前105242.jpg

20130601-午前105248.jpg

20130601-午前105256.jpg

20130601-午前105303.jpg

20130601-午前105308.jpg

20130601-午前105314.jpg

20130601-午前105328.jpg

20130601-午前105337.jpg

20130601-午前105400.jpg

20130601-午前105407.jpg

20130601-午前105412.jpg

20130601-午前105418.jpg

20130601-午前105425.jpg

20130601-午前105432.jpg

20130601-午前105442.jpg

20130601-午前105449.jpg

20130601-午前105453.jpg

20130601-午前105458.jpg

20130601-午前105505.jpg

20130601-午前105510.jpg

 

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!

Mintia ミンティア Reviews Part 2

20121016-午前084615.jpg

So there shall be a part 2 (and probably a part 3) to my Mintia ミンティア reviews, mostly as I’m completely addicted and there just seems to be a plethora of obscure flavours available if you keep an eye out for them!

20121016-午前084915.jpg
Mintia – Relax Shower

Honestly I’m really unsure as to what this flavour is supposed to be, they are certainly one of the mint based varieties of Mintia however the flavour is weak up forgettable.
Lets just say if Relax Shower was a going to a Mintia Hollywood party it would be the one to arrive after all the coke had been finished and their was already a dead stripper floating in the pool. Oddly enough it’s vaguely spicy at times but not in a good way.
To its credit the name Relax Shower did amuse the Daniel. Still Fail.
2/5

20121016-午前084823.jpg
Mintia – Miracle Cherry
ミラクルチェリ

Now these I had high hopes for based on the fact it has miracle in the title and the shininess of the packaging, donning holographic stickers, sparkles and the promise of rekindling the joyful memories of ones childhood.
Unfortunately the mints themselves tasted like something more akin to the cherry candies that kids tend not to like as they taste like something akin to cough syrup.
Also as a side note some of them have little Sakura shapes imprinted into them but for some reason oddly not all….
That said their not horrible, just kind of a meh and deflated weak artificial cherry taste. Whats worse their kinda gritty to the point it feels like your eating flour at times, needless to say they certainly don’t live up to their implied promises of unicorns and rainbows, leaving my childhood vigor unkindled.
3/5

20121016-午前084731.jpg
Mintia – Honey Ginger

I love EVERYTHING about the Honey Ginger Mintia! I truly believe these could possibly be my favourite, which makes me a little sad seeing as they are quite hard to come by!!
Anyhow to begin with the packing itself is a pleasant opaque mustard colour matching the feel of the flavour.
This is one Mintia that dominates in an area where most others fell short, it has the perfect balance of a subtle sweet honey flavour whilst occasionally a secondary ginger note finds its way through. Hardly seeming like a mint at all the experience is more akin to eating candy, and so I find myself vacuuming these delicious honey treats up!!!
If you come across these bad boys BUY BUY BUY!!!!
(Daniel hopes a Mintia marketing manager will come across this post and send him a crate of these)
4.75/5

20121016-午前084703.jpg
Mintia – Dry Hard

Now these fiery little balls of pain have got to be if not the strongest mints I’v ever tried then at least strongest Mintia flavour.
They also have this written on the front of the pack
カフェイン・カフセル配合
which translates to caffeine formulation, so the kick they give you is not just the insane amount if mint but also a Caffeine one also, just how many mg each brings to the table I can not tell you as it is not written on either the pack or the website. I often put a couple different flavored Mintia in my desk at work and chuck one of these in as a minty Russian roulette of sorts……. Yeah I get bored.
3.5/5

20121016-午前085035.jpg
Mintia – Cassis Orange
カシスオレンジ

Cassis Orange is one of the more pleasing Minta flavours, very sweet and addictive not entirely unlike the Aqua Sparkle ones and so often find myself devouring one after another!
Underneath the name on the front it reads オレンジ果汁+オレンジアロアビース配合
apparently this means blended orange juice and orange aroma beads were used in the ingredients.

The pills themselves have a nice pink colour fitting to the flavour, however although I enjoy them thoroughly and will certainly buy them again they are still nothing to write home about.
Just as a side note Cassis is the French word for black-current which the Japanese adopted, I only mention this as it was months before I worked what the hell cassis berry were myself XD
4/5

20121016-午前103948.jpg
Mintia – Lemon Ginger
レモンジンジャー

Unfortunately unlike its other Ginger cousin Honey Ginger these do not pack anywhere near the same punch.
I found the ginger to be all but a frail aftertaste and the body to be nothing more than a weak lemony taste.
Although not entirely unpleasant these wouldn’t even make it into my Top 10 Mintia flavours.
2.5/5

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 10 – Kaki Mochi 柿餅

20121030-午前092613.jpg

Welcome to Chapter 10 of the Mochi Diaries, Kaki Mochi 柿餅!

20121115-午後013053.jpg

During a recent trip to Nara I picked up one of these boxes, having quite the affinity for anything Kaki 柿 (Japanese Persimmon) related I was quite excited to have a nom these guys.

20121115-午後013123.jpg

Now firstly upon opening them I was completely taken aback at the intricate detail that went into producing every single mochi in the box!

20121115-午後013336.jpg

Made to resemble the fruit of which they are flavored the mochi consist of four separate ingredients.

20121115-午後014203.jpg
I translated the important bit of the diagram above that came in the box explaining what they are made of.

Essentially they are mostly kaki flavored mochi filled with a core of kaki an 柿あん (persimmon flavored red bean paste).
The leaves are made of dango 団子 held in place by a thin piece of konbu 昆布 (dried sea kelp), honestly the konbu is some what annoying since you must remove it before eating each mochi being inedible.

So you ask, ‘but Daniel what is the difference between mochi and dango?’
Well they are pretty much the same thing, the only difference being in the technique used to make them.

When making mochi, you begin by grinding glutinous rice to a paste which is then steamed and l finally pounded into a sticky dough.
Dango on the other hand is made from rice flour that has been mixed with hot water to make a dough, before being boiled in salted water.

Anyhow beyond the novelty of the mochi, the taste was just ok, that said it was more than made up for by the awesomeness of the presentation of the sweets!
3.75/5

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 9 – Mochitsuki Special Edition 餅搗き増刊

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 11 – Kagami Mochi 鏡餅

Next ———>

Handsome Daniel Drawing

20121129-午後015714.jpg

A good friend of mine and a Hyogo JET by the name of Pete surprised me the other day with this awesome sketch he did of me. I was fair impressed!

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.