Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad. The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…

1. WE DO NOT QUIT!!!

“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous 😉

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though 😀

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Happy 2016 And The Great Disappearance Act

Spent a blissful two and a half weeks with my family in California and close friend in Texas (shout out to Kimmy dearest for taking me to NASA and feeding me brisket!) for the first time since moving to Japan. In the spirit of the holidays, my technology was turned off in order to properly revel in family and friend time. Needless to say, I ate EVERYTHING (the trespass of which I was already admonished for during Wednesday’s ballet class #YOLO #ITWASWORTHEVERYCALORIE #MYTUTUSTILLFITSIFISUCKITIN), but even better than food was the quality time I spent among the people who love and support me most in the world: my parents.

My dad took a significant amount of time off of work to take me to all manner of doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, drive me around, play games well past both our bedtimes, and watch all the movies and TV shows that we needed to catch up on. Mum’s schedule, being what it was, allowed for mostly afternoon jaunts but I’m grateful for every precious second I spent in their company. Oh, yes, and my sister 😉 She and I put up with each other marvelously well, all things considered.

So that brings me to the month before I was in the States, when the internet pulled a great disappearing act. What happens when you’ve been paying your bills on time, when your router set isn’t broken, and the only problem showing up is “Check with your provider”?

Something I learned about Japanese internet: you will be dealing with three separate companies (Finance, Internet Provider’s Provider, and said Internet Provider) none of which have any helpful English lines in place (NTT claims it does; does not; and only NTT Finance had anyone remotely fluent enough to provide the assistance I needed via the Finance side).

I dedicate this post to Mari from NTT Finance, who not only bullied NTT into releasing my information to me (thus saving me an extra seven business days per interaction, a total of 21 once totaled), but generally got S*** done. I have never met anyone with such a go-getter attitude this side of the Pacific. Where everyone else was like, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that and I’m not going to ask my superior because this is the one way things have always been done”, Mari’s response was very Disney “Let’s see what we CAN do about this problem”. Sadly this only got me as far as: Well, it’s not NTT’s fault. It’s your provider’s.

To which my brilliant response was: I thought NTT was my provider.

And a witty repartee ensued.

NTT: No. We take care of the finance side and NTT East provides the service to a provider who then has you pay for the glory of signing a contract with them.

ME: So you haven’t choked my internet and it’s not a financial issue?

NTT: That’s about right, Ms. Customer.

ME: So who’s my provider?! I only ever received information from NTT!

NTT: Uh, we can’t disclose that information.

ME: Whaaaaa…. How am I supposed to solve anything?

NTT: …

So while I keep receiving bills for internet I’m theoretically supposed to be able to use… I don’t actually have internet and I am now currently leaching off my workplace.

I hope to update with all manner of Foreign Film Friday posts that never got published and photos from the holidays and travel information I amassed over said holidays… all of which are stuck on my American phone, but I can’t until my WIFI is back. Work doesn’t have WIFI, we just have the LAN connection chord of doom.

Hopefully this is resolved. Soon. >.>”

Resolved as of 11:40 am. Three cheers for being taught how to hack into your router and resetting the damn thing. YAY! \O/

The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

theenglishmenu

“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.

Life In Japan When You Can’t Eat The Rice

So I’ve been living in Japan for almost a year and if there is one thing that I absolutely have not eaten in the past eight months it’s…

ricefail

Yep. Rice. The main product of the Land of the Rising Sun and the literal word for meal in the Japanese phrase for ‘Have you eaten, yet?’ is, to put it mildly, my mortal enemy. To make matters even more complicated, the frequency and subsequent severity of the symptoms only started four years ago. It has since become crippling in a country where rice is eaten on the regular, three times a day, every day.

This post is for the rice allergic/intolerant people of the world, we (seemingly) few who must live out our days scourging the aisles of the Lawson’s for bread that does not contain rice flour and who must inform all well-meaning hosts that we cannot in fact attend the dinner in our honor if rice is on our plate (everyone else should be fine).

“But you’re, like, (insert mixed ancestry here). Every time I go over to my Mexican friends’ houses they always seem to have Mexican rice for dinner.” -Friend A

Mexican culture has sadly been reduced to Taco Bell and whatever happens to be on the home menu depending on when guests come over (rice is cheap and filling… and deadly to my internal organs, sadly). Also, just because something happens to be ethnic food or commonly eaten in a given culture, doesn’t mean that people born and raised in said culture can’t be allergic to that food. Rice, admittedly, has a very low allergen report rate compared to peanuts and other well-documented food allergies.

“Here, just try a little bit. This onigiri was made using only the best of premium Japanese rice, the kind that only rich people can afford and that poor folk dream about; organically grown and straight from my wife’s family’s farm from the one prefecture in this entire country where it is said the rice is the most delicious. Oh and they only use fresh mountain river water to flood the fields. You can’t be allergic to this.” -Coworker B

I can and I am. Okay so maybe I took some creative liberty with the wording about the mountain river water (although according to my super, whom I asked, it was true about the rich people can only afford thing and that there is a designated prefecture that can claim to have the best rice. Congrats to Niigata).

But in all in all I only try to highlight a handful of experiences that I’ve had. But trust me it’s not going to get any easier explaining time and again that yes, your lunch sans rice is more than filling enough, and that, no, you’re really quite very much sure at this point that premium rice from Niigata will cause you the same reactions as rice from Hokkaido.

What does rice allergy/intolerance look like? Everyone, of course, is different. For example, I know of people who can eat rice just fine but as soon as summer rolls around they must resort to wearing masks for fear of rice pollen entering their nostrils and thus bringing about a very near death sentence. Or maybe eating the rice and inhaling the rice pollen are just fine but harvest season is a veritable inferno because you’re allergic to the rice stalks that are burned throughout October and November.

I’m of the ‘pollen and burning stalks are fine but I can’t eat it’ variety. If you, like me, experience stomach pains, loss of digestive capabilities, and/or throw up the contents of your stomach with each bowl of rice… then congratulations, you may have rice allergy/intolerance! Now on to the stuff that will help save your life and/or cope with not being able to eat 90% of what is produced in Japan.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LIVING IN JAPAN WITH A RICE ALLERGY

1. Rice flour can be in anything. They put it in bread and other things that you wouldn’t traditionally think of as having rice. You’ll have to learn the kanji for rice and its onyomi and kunyomi derivatives just to be on the safe side: kome, ine, meshi, gohan, and mama (this last one is in Nanbu-ben).

2. Senbei is rice. It’s puffed rice that doesn’t look like rice but it’s still rice. And it shows up at drinking parties 100% of the time. Dango is rice. Mochi is also rice. Manju is rice.

3. Rice is rice. You may not need reminding but your coworkers will try to helpfully point out that maybe if only you cooked oats with your rice that your stomach will start to digest it properly or that maybe you just need to eat the higher grade stuff. Nope.

4. School lunch will always have rice. If you can get by on eating kyushoku with just the side dishes then you’re golden. I formally withdrew from the school lunch system eight months ago and it has made life easier but there are other options.

5. Restaurants price food rigidly. You will not be paying less or getting more of something else to compensate for the fact that you’ll be orderimg the tempura without the rice. Makes for interesting meal combinations, though.

6. There is no whole wheat bread. If your body can’t handle white bread either then you’re running on slim options. Bread making is quite the industry in Japan and a slew of electronic companies have impressive lines of bread making machines on the market. If you can find a reliable purveyor of whole wheat flour (expensive, but not unbudgetable) then that will create more variety in your diet.

7. Learn your symptoms, if you don’t know them already. Some allergies manifest later in life or suddenly worsen.

8. You’ll have to get used to smiling and pointing out in a soft and unobtrusive voice that you’re really, really sorry but you can’t eat what’s on your plate because you may possibly die and/or suffer physical pain.

9. Make sure your allergy is known early on. I was in denial at first. Lessons were learned the hard way.

10. Make everyone else feel comfortable eating rice and remind coworkers that you don’t really need omiyage or that you’re more than happy to hear their travel stories in lieu of a gift. More on omiyage later, but for now let’s just call them souvenirs. One colleague surprised the office with funny and interesting postcards from Niigata because apparently Niigata = Rice Eaters Only and he didn’t want me to feel left out. I’m forever grateful to him and for his thoughtfulness (cries tears of gratitude)

11. Compile a list of doctors and hospitals, their phone numbers, and have all this information stored on your phone for easy access. Keep in mind that inaka clinic hours are different than city hours and English speakers are RARE here. The hospital in my town can only afford to keep its clinic running in the morning and does not admit anyone in the afternoon unless it’s quite clear that said person is dying on them. And even then…

12. Make sure you have emergency contacts and their information on hand. Basics but worth mentioning especially if it’s your first time experiencing a late onset allergy/intolerance as an adult.

You may even find yourself loving rice but being unable to eat it. I love dango. And mochi. And senbei. I think they taste amazing and what wouldn’t I give to be able to eat them like everyone else. Best thing is not to be in denial, get the tests, make the changes, and just look back fondly on your days with rice as enka worthy bittersweet memories.

Hallway Inspiration?

“It’s when you find yourself thinking that you’re doing well that the end is near.”  

I’m trying to figure out if this means something along the lines of “It’s once you’ve reached your peak and you’re at your best the decline is near” or a little bit more of what my kendo instructor likes to call encouragement: “If you think you’re at your best and you get too cocky, you’ll lose”. 

Thoughts? Comments? Translation advice?

When Will I Ever Use English? (Lesson Plan Included)

We’ve all been there before, from grade school to high school, and sometimes even I’m sad to admit, in college. We question the reason why anyone would want us to learn a certain subject that will most likely never be of use to us after the final exam. The fact that we spend so much time learning and so little on application is, perhaps, one of the greatest problems faced by all education systems around the world. And here in the inaka of Japan, where the majority of my kids will most likely go into their parents’ professions, it can be heartbreaking to come across gifted and talented kids who can’t be bothered to take an interest because they have little perceived use for English after graduating high school.

Though my kids have yet to blatantly ask me the “When will I ever use this?” question, it’s pretty clear from their eyes and ‘tudes that it’s a low priority subject for them. Oh, they humor me. Humor me, they do. But humoring isn’t quite the same as exploring/discovering. Recently a fellow JET colleague gave me the brilliant idea to use the website SendKidstheWorld.com to give my own kids a reason to care about using English and to see their own life in perspective.

Send Kids the World is a great website to connect terminally ill children with people from around the world via postcards. I selected Ashlynn from the many wonderful kids because she was roughly the same age as my junior high students and she had many of the same interests. Basically, when I arrived this morning my kids had no idea what I had in mind for them today. Let’s practice some grammar, she said last week. It’ll be fun, she said… last week.

*Insert victorious-you-shall-now-use-English-for-the-power-of-good-and-you-won’t-be-able-to-pretend-to-be-too-cool-for-school-after-today laugh* Teens around the world, eh?

Start with a warm up to get the brain cells going. Make the rows or columns (depending on your style and mood) play a quick round of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot. The winners will answer the following questions: 1. What is your favorite (insert person/place/thing/hobby) in (insert prefecture or town)? But for the more advanced classes, I used natural speech: What is your favorite thing about your town? I also explained at the end of the warm up the reason why I asked them those particular questions. The grand reveal: dun-dun-dun!

After giving them as simple and brief of a description of Ashlynn’s life as I could, complete with a photograph that I placed on the backboard, I lectured a bit on writing letters and postcards. It helps to give the kids blank white sheets of paper where they can practice what they want to say. Though I did put up a template of what an average postcard may look like, I do advice allowing your kids to run wild. I let them tell Ashlynn whatever they wanted about Aomori and Japan, even if it meant that they just wanted to share about their life at school or home.

A couple of them were naturally skeptical, the didn’t believe that I would really send anything at all and that this was just one long exercise in grammatical theory, blah, blah, blah. And then I whipped out thirty-one post cards and spread them out on the teacher’s desk in the room. That’s when things got real. Post cards cost 150 yen a pop here. Thirty-one of them plus tax came to a round total of 5,022 yen. Or the equivalent of $50.22; trust me it’s worth it.

Suddenly, when they realized that this was happening for real, they were rushing to the blackboard, wanting to find out more about what her likes and dislikes were, about her birthday, and what she looked like. A lot of my kids took it to heart, their beautifully written postcards (which are now safely tucked away in my desk). We’re sending them out next week since only half the class was able to finish.

But for the tender-hearted teacher, beware: there’s always going to be a few who don’t really care one way or another. Best thing is to be patient with them and hope that years down the road they will remember this and look back on it as the one time they used English for a good purpose.

::BASIC POSTCARD TEMPLATE::

Hello (insert name of child), my name is (student’s name). I am from (country/prefecture). (Country) is famous for (insert famous item). (insert free style sentences on whatever kids want to write about). I believe in you!

Sincerely, (student’s name).

Depending on the level of the students’ English you can do any variation to reflect grammar being learned that day/week or to include higher level words. But more importantly, they’re doing a great thing for a kid in need. Emphasize the fact that it’s not about getting the grammar right or the words perfectly spelled. It’s about connecting with another human being, someone whom you may never have connected with before now. Because at the end of the day, that’s what English should be about: it should be about humanity, about meaningful connections, about using what is learned to do a good deed.

Cheers.

The Japanese School System from an American Perspective

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. -Daniel J. Boorstin

Today marks the official end of the third semester. Yes, it’s the final end to the strange, strange practice of attending school for 8 weeks just so that the third years can study their brains out for the high school entrance exam. Saying good-bye to my beloved third years was quite painful. As one of them summarized it for me: ‘Goodbye for forever!’

*insert sad face*

From April on wards, we begin the whole ritual of entrance ceremonies and school life all over again. As an educator of seven months and a few odd days, it’s difficult to have an unbiased perspective because I’m still figuring out what my role in the school system is and how to best utilize to teach language and culture sensitively but it seemed like a good starting point nonetheless. I might update this piece again in another couple of months for the one year anniversary of my arrival in Japan. In the meantime…

School life. Otherwise known as, the never-ending compulsory thirteen years of general education specialization of doom. And then some, because let’s be honest, all the good jobs require at least a baccalaureate degree in Something (in America, it rarely matters what… unless, you know, you want to be doctor or a nurse).

So what do you kids learn in school these days, eh? I think it was quite funny that the principle at one of my junior highs really drove this point home:

Principal: ‘So third years, what do you use (insert ridiculous equation here) for?’

Third years: *BLANK STARES*

Principal: Step it up. High school’s much harder than what you’re doing here.

Anyway, here’s the basic breakdown of what the education system looks like (for the most part) in the United States…

‘MERICA

Teachers: the institution you entered is the institution from which they will drag your cold, hard body off the desk. Tenure is practically guaranteed at the ten year mark. Also, you do not transfer from school to school within the district. If you are a middle school teacher, you do not walk from class to class, rather you have your own classroom and the students are expected to walk from class to class. You emphasize the importance of critical thinking over rote memorization. You don’t end work just because you’ve clocked out. If anything you’re grading papers while attending your daughter’s science fair or your son’s piano recital. When invited to a dinner party, you’re grading papers from appetizers to dessert and have subsequently lost all rights to being invited anywhere by your other friends.

Preschool (optional): finger painting, ABCs, 1-2-3s, and other exciting adventures in the realm of learning how to use the toilet properly.

Elementary School (Kindergarten to 6th grade): the seven single most fun years of education, replete with projects, interactive reports, and learning how to negotiate a fare trade from chocolate pudding to Hot Cheetoes during lunch. This was the life. Sadly, we didn’t know it until much later. Subjects learned: Math, Science, History, Physical Education, Social Studies, Music, Computers, English/Cursive (I’m probably dating myself here since cursive is no longer taught).

Middle School (7th and 8th grade): Suddenly, nothing was ever simple again. Raging hormones, blasting Lincoln Park through the house, and school dances. You learn to hide what you’re really feeling because the animals will tear apart the weakest link in any group. Also, group work sucks. Subjects learned: Math, Science, World History, American History, English, Physical Education, Drama/Home Economics/Band/Wood Shop/Etc., Home Room. Life is about attitude. It’s about being you in the face of a world that’s trying to socialize you to look like the previous generation. *insert Lincoln Park lyrics: I tried so hard and got so far but in the end it doesn’t even matter…*

High School (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade): Suddenly there are all of these REQUIREMENTS to graduate and tests. All the tests in world: AP tests, SAT tests, high school exit exams, and then just your average test of the month/semester/year. The there is finding out your sexuality and where you fit in the grander scheme of things and finding a way to leave your hometown forever because you know, living and dying in the same house is too Emily Dickinson to be cool anymore (I joke), and then there was finding someone to attend the dance with you… High school was that strange period in life where you’re rushing to find things out before you leave for college, vocational school, and/or settling down with a job. Subjects learned: Maths, Sciences, English, Foreign Language, American History, World History, Electives, Physical Education, Economics, Law, etc. Depending on what state you went to and what requirements were in place, your high school education could have looked like anything. Also after school clubs and sports went a long way for your social life. This is also the age where you suddenly realize you have three apples and Mary Jane Vanderbilt/Onassis/insert-rich-family-name-here has twenty-five billion apples… the difference in life advantages between three and twenty-five billion are insurmountable… unless of course you’re intellectually one of the top 1% of your class and can afford to apply anywhere you want. But really, most of us were in the other 99% anyway >.>

 JAPAN

Teachers: You are mother/father/nutritional counselor/sports coach/friend/cheerleader/moral instructor/teacher to your students. You emphasize rote memorization over critical thinking. Every three years or so, you face the risk of being uprooted from the institution where you teach and forced to relocate within the span of two weeks. As a new teacher you start at level 0 (no trust, no real responsibilities, and your presented ideas will not be seriously considered by any of your coworkers). The more years you’ve put into your institution, the more seriously you will be taken and the more responsibilities you will be given. You start work at dawn and at 10pm you’re still at your desk pulling overtime to be amazing. If your students get into trouble, the first person the police will contact is you and not the parents.

Preschool & Kindergarten (optional): The focal point of your education revolves around learning your shapes from your colors and how to use the toilet properly. Basically, whatever your American counterparts are learning but in Japanese. Also, moral education is considered the responsibility of the school. I can’t tell the difference from preschool or kindergarten in Japan. Preschool might have more of a day care vibe but I’m sure they have an educational curriculum as well. Children at this age are being prepped to be miniature adults in the subtler arts of politeness and etiquette. I’ve been faced with children as young as 3 who can sit still for a whole five minutes in seiza (which is quite the accomplishment if you knew how painful it normally is… that and they’re three years old… what three year old can stay still for five whole minutes?!).

Elementary school (1st grade to 6th grade): Compulsory. This is the first time you will have been separated from your parents if you didn’t attend either preschool or kindergarten. You have an entire classroom full of friends, with whom you are socially obligated to be friendly and kind. Yes. You are obligated to get along with EVERYONE. If you do not play by the invisible social rules that you soak up through careful watching and listening, you will be ostracized in the worst possible way to shame you into reforming your conduct (I wish I were joking). Because everyone is required to eat the same school lunch (delivered by the local food packing center), you learn the ninja ways of secretly stashing food until the teacher looks the other way and you can pass it to your friend who will eat it for you. In turn, you will eat food that your friend hates when the time comes to return the favor. Subjects learned: Math, Science, Japanese, English (grades 5 and 6, 1st through 4th receiving occasional instruction), Calligraphy, Arts and Crafts, Home Economics, Physical Education, Social Studies, Music.

Middle School (7th to 9th grade): Compulsory. If you were bubbly, full of life, and generally the happiest person that ever walked the planet at age 11… middle school is about to change all that. You start wearing a uniform, you’re worked to the bone in rigorous school subject, and are expected to conform to institutional standards of conduct. You memorize the book and regurgitate it for the test. Clubs and after school activities are one of the few times you actually have fun in school. Hormones run rampant. You look forward to lunchtime every day because by the end of the first four school periods, whatever you had for breakfast was just enough to get you through to third period but not fourth. Around this time you’re becoming more and more aware that being an adult is over-rated. You’ve been entrusted with responsibility since you could walk. Your excitement levels peak at school festival season and vacation time. To Americans, you appear like soulless zombies, but in reality you’re just trying to survive the battlefield that is intensive rote memorization learning to pass the high school entrance exam. Subjects learned: Math, science, Japanese, Home Economics, Music, History, Social Studies, Art, and after school clubs are mandatory. You will attend high school even if it’s not mandatory because life without a high school degree is too hard to live…. even if it means putting up with English for another THREE WHOLE years.

High School (10th to 12th grade): Not compulsory. I have no idea what you’re like by the time you’re fifteen but I can only imagine, given that middle school is so rough to survive. You had to pass the high school entrance exam. The bane of your life (aka English) is one massive pain in the patootty. Unless of course you’re one of the 1% who actually enjoy and can keep up with all the arbitrary non-rules of a western foreign language.

If dreams and wishes were streams and fishes…

The kids (ages 10-14) are learning how to express what they want to be in the future. I’ve gotten some very interesting and specific occupations that probably would take their American peers by surprise:

OCCUPATIONS BY POPLUARITY

Soccer/baseball player

Pastry chef

Geriatric nurse

Carpenter

Nursery school teacher

Farmer

Gasoline stand attendant

Pianist

Teacher

Refinery worker

Dancer

Needless to say, their reasoning for choosing those jobs is above and beyond funny. It’s a real joy getting to know them week by week, assignment by assignment.

 

 

 

The Prefectures Bucket List

japaneseprefectures

I’m on a mission to visit every one of Japan’s 47 prefectures and its main islands. I have three years to complete my goal. I’m here already so I may as well make the most of my stay as a contributing-to-society adult with no permanent ties or responsibilities (apart from work, of course). It’s finally occurred to me that keeping track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done is of strategic, statistical, and demographic importance (silly me).

.:PREFECTURES VISITED:.

Hokkaido (Sapporo/Otaru, February 2015)

Miyagi (Sendai, December 2014)

Akita (Oga Peninsula, October 2014)

Aomori (August 2014-present)**

Tokyo (Tokyo City, September 2011 – July 2012 & July 2014)*

Kanagawa (Hakone, May 2012)

Kyoto (Kyoto City, March-April 2012)

Nara (Nara City, March-April 2012)

Hiroshima (Hiroshima City/Miyajima, March-April 2012)

Okinawa (February 2012)

Yamagata (Yamagata City, February 2012)

Okayama (New Year’s 2012)

Chiba (Disneyland, December 2011)

Tochigi (Nikkou, November 2011)

Nagano (Matsumoto Castle, September 2011)

😀

NEXT TRAVEL PLANS ON THE LIST

Aomori’s Greatest Hits and the Great Tokyo Escape (Kouchan visits Tohoku + Reunion with Waseda friends in Tokyo)

The Tohoku Triangle: Aomori-Akita-Iwate (Golden Week with the girls)

Osaka (sometime, maybe soon, maybe in another year)

Legend: (*) – lived and studied there; (**) – lived and worked there

Emergency Preparedness Day

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Today was Emergency Preparedness Day at one of my elementary schools. As far as cultural exchanges go some things are exactly the same no matter where you go in the world… And other things will throw you for a loop.

Lock the kids and pregnant teachers in the gym? Check. Have the two tallest, strongest looking male teachers guard the gym with “weapons”? Check. Kill the lights and cover the windows? Check and check. Send administrative staff to pitchfork the intruder…? Check…

Let’s just say I was not very prepared about the Japanese version of Emergency Preparedness Day.

If you have seen the picture up above and are a) not terribly surprised to imagine your coworkers pitch forking a local police officer as part of training and b) not taking copious amounts of photos as they proceed to quite literally drag said police officer to the genkan with full force… then you are most likely Japanese or have been to a Renaissance fair as a pitchfork wielding peasant.

In any case, let us say that as far as ordinary days goes this one included pitch forking along with the banal lesson planning and coffee runs to keep awake.

Since they forgot to warn me about the fire drill two months ago (which wouldn’t have needed explaining anyhow because blaring lights and sirens are international lingo for GTFO), my coworkers were more than excited to constantly remind me about the “Intruder Drill” (insert knowing smiley face and wink). Are you familiar with those, they ask, do you know intruder drills?

The great nation of ‘Merica in all her infinite wisdom has allowed some outrageous guns and weapons to be sold across Walmart/sports supply stores nationwide and the right of ‘Merican citizens to own said weapons of self destruction are enshrined as natural rights in the Second Amendment. I grew up in Chino (home to the men’s state prison) and have also attended school during my formative years in LA county. Do I know emergency and intruder drills? Pshaw. We can do them in our sleep, I thought to myself. I got this, I said.

And then they bring out the pitchforks. And that’s when I realized I wasn’t in SoCal anymore.

Let me tell you, they really put up a fight. The police officers did not go easy on anyone and there were a couple times I thought the “intruder” was going to win. Literally, it could not have been more appropriate to start chanting “Fight, fight, fight” at work. Watching my shy, reserved coworkers break out into survival samurai mode was also quite the experience. But at least I now know that quite luckily I’ve got some pretty fit coworkers who can handle intense situations.

So. Moral of the story: never be without your pitchfork and expect anything to happen on Emergency Preparedness Day.

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