My Daily Routine…and Something about Bob

People have asked me what I do during the day, so I’ll talk a little bit about that. It’s pretty simple. I arrive at 8:15 at my school and work until 4:00 in the afternoon. When I arrive I say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” My teachers will either say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” back or “Good morning!”

I can have two to five class periods per day. During free periods, I try to work on worksheets, projects, Japanese (reading and writing), and I won’t lie sometimes I just go onto Facebook. Sometimes I eat with the students for lunch and speak in English to them. Other times, especially lately, I eat with the teachers and try out both my Japanese and English skills.

My kids are great. I’ve got a couple of punks that are too cool for school, but that’s normal I think. Some kids are also really shy, but I’ll keep trying to get them to talk. They love to tell me about what they like and don’t like. The boys are hilarious. They’re not looking at my eyes, if you catch my drift, but they’re talking to me in English so it’s all good.

My Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs for short) are awesome. I love working with them. They are so accommodating with my crazy English. Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate some things, but I’m lucky to have them for JTEs. Some people have issues with their teachers and supervisors in ways that horrify me. I’m so glad my JTEs are nice, respectful, and willing to teach me.

The only downside, I’ll be honest, is the textbooks. The textbooks are awful. Whenever my fellow JET Setters and I get together at a meeting, this topic will invariably come up. Immediately, everybody has something to say in terms of what it does wrong. It ranges from everything to bad grammar, misspellings, archaic language, and then (my biggest issue) the huge lack of English culture in the book.

The bane of my existence

The bane of my existence

I could cite the many pages throughout the New Horizon and Sunshine texts that use incorrect examples of grammar and what have you, but that would take up too much time and effort. Instead, I’ll just give a couple of examples and move on.

“My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.”

First off, it should be Kinkaku Temple, not Kinkaku-ji. Also, favorite what? Your favorite place? Your favorite sight?

“Where shall we meet?”and “Pardon?”

Shall? Really? The last time I used “shall” was a sarcastic response to my mother when she asked me, “Are you going to clean your room?” And I responded in my most obnoxiously polite voice, “Yes, mother, I shall.” Nobody uses shall. It’s polite, but it’s ridiculously polite. And the last person I hear use the word, “Pardon?” was an old lady. Nobody, that I know of, uses the word pardon in everyday language. Instead, I always hear, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Huh?” or “Wha?” or “What?” and on occasion “Darlin’, I didn’ah understand uh word ya jus said.” I miss Kentucky accents. Anyway, they’re teaching the kids these words and I have to stifle the urge to giggle every time.

“I got a letter from Canada. But I can’t read it.”

GAHHHHH! WHAT?! Every single American, British, and Australian will tell you that when writing sentences, you do not put conjugation at the beginning of a sentence if you can help it. The textbook could just as easy say, “I got a letter from Canada, but I can’t read it.” They have other sentences like that in the book. Why the wrong version?! It’s so confusing and inconsistent. Sometimes, I will correct a sentence and a JTE might say, “Oh, but that’s in the textbook!” I clench my fists while I smile and say, “Well, I’m afraid the textbook is wrong. I will let it count, but it’s not correct.” It makes me want to scream just a little bit.

Alright, so you get the idea. Now, it may seem nit picky with these examples, but they’re all over the textbooks. It would be a different story if there were only a few problems, but it doesn’t stop at just a sentence here or there. I might have been able to let sleeping dogs lie if not for the fact that the textbook teaches little to nothing about foreign culture.

Very briefly at one point the textbook students visit Canada, but then they go back to Japan four pages or so later. So often, the textbooks talk about things in Japan, things the students already know. To me, the implied message is, “Hey, kids! English is awesome for vacations and for a homestay, but really you don’t need to know a single thing about a culture other than your own!” Way to teach a language in a vacuum, MEXT.

There is little to no hope for change in the system. The textbooks stay the same because of the standardized tests, and the standardized tests stay the same because of the textbooks. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get through these moments by telling myself that the activities will make up for the loss. However, it’s hard to build up from a poor foundation. It’s very easy for the students to get confused with one little change in the script. For example, I was doing a “Where is…?” assignment. When I asked the students, “Where is your pen?” they all just sat and stared at me in confusion. Eventually they figured it out, but the fact is they couldn’t grasp that “Where is…?” applied not just to, “Where is the store?” but also other things and places. The textbooks make it seem like the scripts are just that, scripts.

For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough when it comes to activities that I haven’t had to work from nothing at all. Lauren left me a huge amount of worksheets and activity books so that I could make my lessons without much hassle. Also, I use a website called Englipedia if I need help with a grammar point activity or if I need something right before class. I love using Englipedia because it’s got the lessons organized by textbook and even by each section. For me it’s one of the most convenient resources online for ALTs.

Usually, I spend at least one free hour planning out the lessons for the next day or next couple of days, depending on what the JTE wants. Sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of them to find out what exactly they want from me, so I leave notes on their desks or a Lesson Plan Form that I fill out for them to look over and return to me. I try to catch them to talk face to face as often as possible, but sometimes they’re just too busy.

Everyday when I leave, I say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” and the teachers in the staff room will either say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” in return or “See you!” The English makes me smile every single time.

I love how people have gotten attached to Bob. It seems like everyone wants to know how he’s doing. “Wait, what about Bob? Your pet spider? How is he?” Seriously, guys? Bob? I go to Japan and you want to hear about a spider? Fine. I’ll talk a little bit about Bob again.

Well, he’s decided that the porch is his area and, by God, he will attempt to cover as much of it with his web as possible. I have arguments with him about it. The argument goes like so: I open my front door in the morning. I see Bob’s web in my way to the stairs. I glare at Bob. I get a big stick and destroy his web. Bob shimmies up onto the porch overhang and glares at me for destroying his fine work. I go off to teach.

When I get home at around 4:10, I look up to see if Bob is there. If I have to destroy his web again, I do. If not, I just say, “Hey, Bob.” and go into my apartment. I’ve been told it’s highly likely that Bob will disappear when the winter chill finally comes to stay. Apparently, yama onigumo like to go into trees because the trees can help keep them warm somehow (I’m assuming they nestle into the bark like I do with my kotatsu).

I have to wonder if Bob will go or not. The jerk seems determined to keep his spot. He even did an epic fight out with a few other spiders gettin’ in on his turf. He didn’t like that very much and put a stop to it.

Well, until it’s officially winter, I suppose our battle for the porch will continue.

TTYL!

 

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Itako

I guess it only makes since to talk about the city I’ve been living in for about four months. It’s a very nice little town, it’s a quiet village. Everyday like the one before. Ok, an ode to Disney said and done. Seriously, people here are very welcoming and nice (Granted, I’ve yet to meet an openly hostile person in Japan yet).

Itako is situated near Kashima and Kamisu in Ibaraki Prefecture. Here’s a map:

The city’s biggest tourist season is in the summer. In June, they have an iris festival called the “Itako Ayame Matsuri” in Japanese. The pictures are gorgeous! I’m really looking forward to being here when the flowers are in bloom. Some of them were when I arrived, but apparently the iris park is something amazing to see.

This picture is brought to you by Wikipedia! The college student life saver.

As in it’s so ridiculously gorgeous!

There’s also boat rides! They’re kind of like the Venice boat rides, wherein people sit in them and get rowed around while looking at all the pretty sights around Itako. Every year, Itako chooses some young maidens to play the Ayame-hime, or Iris “Princesses,” for a big iris festival play. Out of the “Princesses,” an iris bride is chosen to “marry” an iris “prince.” My predecessor, Lauren Parker, was one of the iris maidens. Perhaps I will be one, too!

In the fall, there are other festivals. One of them I went to was pretty special. It was a candlelight vigil for the people lost in the big earthquake in March at the Itako Shrine. People’s names were written alongside the paper cups, and the cups had candles in them. Visitors to the shrine lit the candles in remembrance of all that was lost. It was beautiful. The entire place was alight, and the candles were put into formations. One was a heart with the kanji for, “Ganbare!” which means “do your best” or “fight”  or “hang in there.”My friend Nobuko took me, and I’m forever grateful she did. It was a wonderful, sad, yet uplifting experience.

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

Nobuko and I at the Candlelight Festival

I’m not entirely sure what goes on in the winter. From what I understand so far it’s get under the kotatsu and wait until spring. A kotatsu is the best damn piece of furniture ever invented. I’ve been living under this thing whenever it gets to 10 degrees C or below (my apartment has the same temperature as the outside).  Basically, it’s a low table that heats up. You throw a blanket over the top of the table, put the cover on the blanket, and the heat is trapped. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve fallen asleep under that thing more than once, which is really dangerous and if you own one you should never do that! Do as I say, not as I do.

Other things to do involve going next door to Kashima and going to an Antlers soccer game. I would suppose the Antlers are to Kashima what the Wildcats are to Kentucky. In other words, everybody keeps track of the games, traffic in Kashima is hell when a game is about to start (I finally realized that the sense of deja vu I felt was from the same experience in Lexington whenever Rupp Arena had something going on), and people will suddenly yell in the middle of a game while you’re at the mall (scaring you half to death and making you scream a little).

Kashima Stadium is huge! As in massive!

As to why the team is called the Antlers, I can only surmise that it comes from the mascot for Kashima, which is deer. See, Kashima is one of the oldest cities in Japan, and it’s home to one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Kashima Shrine (Kashima-jinju) has deer, because they’re considered connected to the god that touched down at the shrine thousands of years ago. Neat fact: the Nara deer came from the Kashima Shrine.

For some reason I never entirely understood, there’s also a story involving a warrior fighting with an underground catfish (yes, underground, and yes, catfish) because apparently fish cause earthquakes. There’s a statue and everything at the shrine. It’s really cool, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Kashima Shrine is really something to see. It’s also a nature preserve and park. It’s beautiful in the summer time, and with the changing leaves right now it’s also really pretty. People come from all over to feed the deer and have a spiritual experience. I had fun going there with my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei, and her son, Aki. I really want to go back, but the kotatau beckons me!

I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring my town and nearby places. I’ve already found an awesome cafe thanks to Lauren. The chocolate croissants there are delicious! I showed the place to a few people. Samantha is one of them. She’s a new ALT in Kashima. She’s from New Jersey, and she’s a history buff. She and I have been hanging out and getting to know each other here lately. She’s got a sweet tooth and loves bunnies. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes, so as you can imagine, people stop and stare.

That is something to report, I guess. People in Itako don’t gape at me anymore. I’m just the English teacher now. Instead, I’ve been getting parents stopping to say hi, and more and more people want to try talking to me in English. No one’s really surprised to see me walking around. Although, sudden ambushes by middle school students have happened. That’s always fun! I love my kids. They’re so cute.

Anyway, I also hang out with Mish. She’s my block leader. She’s from Hawaii and she’s all about Totoro. I don’t know if it’s possible to love Totoro as much as she does. I try. I bought a Totoro and he’s quite fuzzy and soft. Mish and Sam can play volleyball. I can pretend to play volleyball and hurt myself.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to catch up on my bloggin’ as soon as I can. I had a free hour so I decided to crank this one out really fast. I hope you all enjoyed it!

TTYL!