The Hectic Days

I’m getting to that point in the year when I want to just come home and pass out after work. For the next two weeks, I’m looking at no days off and a whole lot of overtime. Interactive Forum requires that I train students until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Also, I went ahead and agreed to be an Iris Princess (Ayame Musume あやめ娘) to make this the third year I represent my Japan hometown. And lastly, I signed up for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N3 (a.k.a Conversational Level).

For Interactive Forum, I’m trying to increase the level of my students’ English abilities, but it can be difficult to do that and keep the training times fun. If the students aren’t having fun, the entire hour can become this awkward affair where no one wants to talk, and the whole point of it is to make students converse in English. As you can well imagine, it’s frustrating as all get out when they get into this strange funk.

Usually I can bring them out with what I like to call “Crazy English,” where I introduce myself as someone famous and pretend to be that person instead of myself. For example, “Hi! My name is Sailor Moon. I fight evil in my free time. I like sweets very much. Nice to meet you!” The students get a kick out of that. However, I’ve got to be careful to balance having fun and keeping them focused on the task at hand.

My third years, who are fourteen or fifteen years old, can really help me out with doing the harder parts. At both of my schools, I’ve designated a third year student as the sempai of the Interactive Forum group. If I’m not there for some reason then they’re in charge until I show up, and if I need a translation they will be the ones who do so to the other students. It’s actually very important, I think, for ALTs to utilize the sempai system set up in the Japanese classrooms. It can be a great tool to utilize when you want to get things done in class or clubs.

It is really rewarding to watch my students’ progress from simplistic sentences to having actual full conversations. To have a student go from answering “Do you like AKB48?” with just “Yes, I do.” to him/ her responding “Yes, I do! I like them very much. My favorite member is ______. Do you know her?” That’s just one of the most awesome experiences to have as an ALT, to know that you’ve been able to guide your students to that point where they can take what they’ve learned in class and actually use it.

Still, as rewarding as it is, I feel a little bit worn out from coaching sometimes. Last week turned out fine, but I can recall a few moments last year when I showed up and I knew from the get go the session was going to be a fight to speak. I’m anticipating that next week, when the Sports Day (undōkai 運動会) practices get rolling, the whole group will show up exhausted and not wanting to do anything. And it’s my job to make them, hooray!

That’s going to be a problem for me since I’ll probably be extremely tired as well. Last year, I worked for the Itako Iris Festival (Itako Ayame Matsuri 潮来市あやめ祭) on Saturdays and Sundays. I went with the wiser choice this year to work only on Sundays, since I know I’ll need one day devoted to planning on moving to Tokyo/ Chiba, depending upon where I’m placed for my new job. However, this weekend requires that I work both days since it’s the opening weekend. I’m glad to be doing it one last time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not looking forward to not one single day that I can recharge my batteries.

This year the city wasn’t able to find another foreigner to be an Iris Princess, so I’m the only foreign woman working this year. As such, I’m probably going to be featured a little more for campaigns than in the previous two years. I feel torn about this possibility, because on the one hand I’ll be kind of given special treatment, but on the other hand the expectations for me are higher than previous years. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. I’m nervous about it.

I’m not so nervous about the JLPT, though. Honestly, I meant to take the test back in December, but I missed the deadline for registration. This time I was on the ball and got my application in on time. I’ve already been studying for it since before December, so I’m confident that I’ll at least pass. I’ve bought all the books and test materials for it.

But on top of everything else, I wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun a little bit.Two years ago I tried for the N4 (Upper Basic Level) but I didn’t pass. I did the same kind of schedule I’m going to do soon, wherein I work six or seven days a week along with studying for a test everyday. Back then I actually hurt myself from the stress. I couldn’t study kanji for a good month afterwards. My brain actually flat out refused to process any new Japanese, so I took a break. I feel like this time will be different, since I started studying way back months ago and because I know I will get Saturdays off, eventually.

With the 31st being Sports Day, it looks like the rest of the month of May is just one big block of WORK. And then in “free time” it’s actually “study time.” Next month looks like work unless it’s Saturday, but even then I’d imagine the Saturdays will be devoted to the very long list of “Things Jessica Must Do Before She Moves.” I’m praying that when all is said and done my students will have better English speaking abilities than before we started practice, I get through the Iris Festival in one piece, and I pass the JLPT with flying colors.

Best Ways to Aid in Tohoku Relief Efforts

Tokyo Desu

In recognition of the third anniversary of the devastating March 11, 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster, we’ve decided to take a break from our usual knob gags and dangerous shenanigans to tell you how you can help those that were most deeply affected by the tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis in Tohoku:

(Photo Via: Wikimedia Commons) (Photo Via: Wikimedia Commons)

Japan Volunteers

Japan Volunteers is a blog with a huge list of ways to help out, including account numbers for depositing donations and a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities.

Second Harvest Japan

If you’re too broke, lazy or busy to leave the Tokyo area, you might consider volunteering with Second Harvest Japan. Last we checked, the organization is still putting together weekly care packages for people displaced by the disaster. Their headquarters and kitchen is located just a short walk from Akihabara Station.

It’s Not Just Mud

This is a…

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When It’s Time to Move On

February is the annual JET contract renewal decision month. My supervisor asked me with a hopeful smile on her face that I would stay another year. Actually, if I wouldn’t mind, they would allow me to stay the full possible five. She’s been telling me this since November, and since November I wrangled with my heart and mind over what to do.

Many former JETs told me when I got here, “Don’t wait too long to leave. If you feel it’s time to go, then go. Don’t stay where you are just because it’s comfortable. You will regret it.”

I always hated the vagueness of these words of wisdom. What does the feeling entail? What does too long even mean? How is comfort a negative thing? I asked these questions and more, but none of them could accurately tell me.

They just said, “You’ll know.”

From experience now I understand what they meant. The feeling isn’t just one feeling, it’s an accumulation of different feelings attached to certain things associated with working and living in one area.

I’ve lived in Itako for two and a half years now. If I let it sink in, that fact astounds me. Didn’t I just arrive yesterday? Where did the time go? Unbelievable, and yet true. I made a home in my 2DK apartment, putting up pictures of friends and family. I rearranged the entire place ten different times, added my own little touches here and there, tried to put my identity in a cozy space. I went on several amazing adventures with countless inspirational, caring, and beloved people. My Japanese skills improved with time, to the point I no longer need aid when it comes to complicated tasks like getting a new phone. I owe all of this happiness and warm memories to Itako.

What I didn’t expect was that the feeling can be a misnomer, because for me the big part of my decision came from a lack of feeling. I realized in December that the thought of not renewing my contract didn’t inspire feelings of panic or sadness at all. I felt excited at the prospect, and even started looking online at jobs in other areas. I knew on a cold December evening a few days before Christmas that I wanted to move to Tokyo.

Nostalgia goggles are tricky. I knew that come next year things that bothered me in the past wouldn’t change. On the weekends I’ll probably be left with few options for entertainment, probably opting to leave town to go to Kashima, Kamisu, Mito, or Tokyo to meet up with friends. Most likely, I’ll be watched, talked about, and monitored by everyone in my community. For dating, the options are limited in a country side area where there isn’t much dating material, and dating means “with intent to marry” and I don’t want to get married.

I now understand that staying too long means deciding to put your mental well being at risk of stagnancy instead of pushing for growth. I heard from many an ex-JET and ex-Interac how easy it can be to “get stuck” in the same place every year until it’s time to go. A routine is vital when living abroad. It gives stability when in all other situations we ex-pats feel out of control or lost. Going to work, teaching the same textbook year after year, I felt like I wasn’t in a routine anymore but instead getting into a rut. I tried to mix up the lesson plans, but even that didn’t make me feel like I was actually pushing my limits. I realized when I came back from winter break that staying and doing the same thing every single day for two more years could do more harm than good for me.

And that’s how I discovered how comfort can be a trap. The comfort of a routine, of daily activities and habits, means I can feel safe in the knowledge that I know what to expect. I see the same people every day, and I can usually predict how they’re going to behave. When I first arrived in Japan, I felt extremely unbalanced because I didn’t know what to expect for the first few months. The idea of starting all over again is scary, and that fear can be paralyzing. What if it doesn’t work out? What if my new situation is worse? What if I mess it all up? A thousand doubts pop up, but it’s easy for me now to say, “I did it once. I can do it again. I’ll make it work.”

I felt no urge to return to the United States. Even though I missed many people I love dearly, I couldn’t imagine going back home. Honestly, I can’t imagine leaving Japan for another couple of years at least, because in my heart still resides in Japan. I might return someday in the far future, but for now I’m not ready.

When I told my supervisor, she seemed disappointed, but she understood. Three years was a good run, after all, and she wished me luck. After she left, I felt guilty for leaving her with the chore of finding my replacement, but I knew I couldn’t say yes. I went back to work, determined to get things done.

In July, I will move on to a new life.

Update: Garin Dart Found

About a year ago, I reblogged a missing person’s post for Garin Dart but it turned out I needn’t have bothered. Garin Dart is alive and well and currently residing in the UK. To make a long story short, Dart supposedly got into some yakuza trouble and ran away from it, leaving his pregnant wife and child behind in Japan. Many, many people doubt his story, but whether or not it’s true, I am glad at least he’s alive and not in a ditch somewhere.




China’s Horcrux: Tibet

Reuters (Beijing) recently reported about possibly the most hilarious use of a fictional character used as an insult in the political arena, with China and Japan calling each other Voldemort. China specifically referred to Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine as “a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest part of the nation’s soul.” While I commend Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming for his extensive knowledge of the Potter-verse, I would like to counter argue that if the Yasukuni Shrine is Japan’s horcrux, then Tibet is China’s.

Free Tibet

China committed mass genocide in the Cultural Revolution that killed over a million of the Tibetan people. Also, where Japan had comfort women, China had Thamzing, which was the torture and/or killing of any “political dissenters” (i.e. anybody who the Red Guards didn’t like). There were labor camps, executions, and numerous human rights violations.

Yes, the Yasukuni Shrine visits are a very hot topic, but Abe basically gets little to no choice in the matter. He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. While their are war criminals at the shrine, there are also war heroes there as well. Would it be fair to neglect the people at that shrine who died to defend their country from the American invasion and subsequent occupation? How could Abe defend his stance not to go when the daughters and sons of those brave soldiers beg him to not punish the memory of their family’s noble deeds because they share the same space with dishonored men?

China hounds Japan for an apology for all the horror it inflicted in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, but how about China apologizes for the 2008 crackdown against Tibetan protestors? How about China apologizes to Tibet for still occupying it long after it’s been made abundantly clear that Tibet doesn’t want to be a part of China? How about apologizing to the Dalai Lama for trying to kill him more than a few times?

Now, Abe talking about revising the Japanese constitution to allow for militarization and the recent Senkaku Islands debacle looks suspicious. Abe wants the U.S. out of Okinawa to make way for Japan’s new military base, and that definitely makes China uncomfortable , too. China has every right to point out there’s some shady goings on over here in Japan. I would be suspicious too if my neighbor and I were having a land owners dispute and then suddenly my neighbor came back with a license to carry and a gun.

However, it’s not a black and white picture that China, as well as Korea, try to paint it to be. Both China and Japan are complex countries with complex cultural views, and each considers their part in World War II with different sets of eyes. What’s obvious is that both China wants the world to view Japan in a negative light, and Japan wants the same for China.

At the end of the day, neither China nor Japan are Voldemort, but each definitely have the characteristics that reflect an alignment with Slytherin house. Yet, as many fans on Pottermore will attest, Slytherin doesn’t equal evil. Wanting to attain power isn’t a bad thing, because power can give a country the ability to take care of its people. Both China and Japan are ambitious countries that want to be taken seriously on the international front, but unfortunately this recent news makes them both look a little ridiculous.

And it’s a rotten shame, because the issues are far from trivial.