Year in review (2014-15) Teaching

This is the real meat of the year I guess. Teaching is after all what I am here for.

I feel I have certainly come a LONG way in teaching since I started. Particularly with Elementary Schools. Junior High School, I must admit I struggle with a little more than I should, and never feel like I am improving. I suffer from trying to engage the students in anything more interesting than hi how are you, and even if I know they know the grammar, it takes so much work to get anything more from most students. This is only really a problem at one of my middle schools but it is frustrating.

However, I am a lot better at getting classes without much energy to have a little more, I make a lot of students smile during some of vocab repeat stuff using different pitches and tones which I enjoy, and many students seem to too. My activities, once people understand them, seem to go over well with teachers and students. Sometimes the nature of the specific grammar point means making a “fun” activity is a little more challenging or forced, but usually, despite feeling like a number of my Junior High students really don’t like me and are trying to put me off during classes (which is sadly effective) I am generally getting through and students talk about me fondly when I am not there supposedly. On the flip side though, I feel like I get along with most of my Junior High School teachers really well. Which helps me get through the classes.

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Year in Review (2014-15), Social/Community Involvement

Of course, one of the best things about going to a new place is meeting new people! … ish.

Personally, I have never really very good at making new friends. The combo of generally not following the same media as everyone else, having niche interests and a disinterest in drinking don’t help that much. However, so far I feel I have pretty well on the making friends front given my usual self. Karaoke is also a big help here, as while others might say you need alcohol to have it work, I just love singing!

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Year in review (2014-15) Pre departure.

A year in review oddly enough starts before the year is finished. That’s because I am actually arbitrarily deciding my JET experience really started in late June/early July. Basically once I bought the first clip on Koala for the trip, that was the starting point.  This is the first of a whole set of year in review articles which will be emerging over the next few days.

I found the lead up to getting to Japan incredibly stressful in many ways. I was concerned about money for starters. And while I had been to Japan 3 times before, and thus felt I knew what I needed… I haven’t been in Japan before as anything more than a student. So concerns over expectations as a teacher caused a lot of concern. Those who had me on close friends on facebook noticed a varied of colourful language quickly deleted, reposted, deleted, new foul language etc, but I feel I made no mistakes with what I packed and requested sent ultimately. Although perhaps I didn’t quite need to buy as many clothes in advance as I did? In the lead up I basically bought an entirely new wardrobe that could cope with some weight loss or gain. Which wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately, a number of cheap pants I bought developed holes too quickly. One of which had a seam just die in such a fashion I needed a fairly dramatic repair using safety pins to fix it.  It worked of course! But, it wasn’t something that thrilled me to say the least.

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The temporary life of a JET

Ok, so all life is temporary, but let’s not get on to that.

So, on JET, the Japanese Exchange Teaching Programme, there is a sense of temporary here. While all things have to end, and it’s hardly like I expected University to go on forever (although that consideration of doing more post grad stuff was REALLY tempting…) JET feels it much more so. This is partially because of the extreme of it ending. When your JET contract ends, so does your lease, and visa pretty much. Whereas when I ended university, I still frequent contact with many people I dealt with during uni. I still had the same house, and so on.

JET and the community that develops around/within it always comes with this clear idea that you’ll go. And not in a nebulous “I will move to Melbourne” but in a concrete sense. People you know are leaving on a regular basis. While many of the JETs I know are staying on, some are also leaving this year. The response of many Japanese people was similar. Most staff at my schools were deeply surprised when I said I didn’t go back to Australia for Christmas. When I talk on dating apps, there is always a clear assumption my being in Japan a limited time offer, and so any relationship being considered by them has that applied to it. (on a side note, I have been on way more dates in Japan than the entirety of the time I was in Australia, yay being a popular body type (not that that fixes health issues)

Maybe Japan is temporary, but maybe it isn’t. I haven’t decided that yet but this pervasive feeling that this isn’t going to be a home is hard to avoid. And that creeps into a lot of smaller choices…

Like, for 6 months nearly, I have been umming and arrring buying a 32 to 40 inch TV. I have been able to afford it consistently each and every time considered provided I shopped around, but I usually end on something like “Do I really need it? I am only going to get 2-4 years worth of use out of it and my monitor is more than enough” But since coming here I have bought a Tablet/laptop hybrid and a New 3DS without a lot of question because those could easily go beyond my Japan stay. (also because the latter would let me play Monster Hunter 4G with locals) Both of which, given that I have a PS3, Wii U, host people to watch things, and play games, makes a larger TV like that a no brainer.

But also buying things for the house is a very different equation now. (although that is partially because I am unused to buying furniture beforehand).

Anyway, yeah, there is a huge sense during all things JET and Japan that this whole situation is temporary, more than most other things we do in life. Which is sometimes frustrating.

Now to go back to cleaning the house which when confronted with a huge empty space in the first place that brought this up with me.

General Life update 2 – End of first JET Calendar thoughts

Ok, maybe it is a little early. But given the frequency of updating on the blog it is probably going to be the last major post anyway. Like a lot of blogs, I haven’t updated this as much as I would have liked, but these things happen. I think a lot of people get caught in a trap of not wanting to write bad or dull content, and so put off creating, and then rush to make something eventually, getting the worst of both worlds.

So last night I had a bonenkai (end of year party) with my base school, and have one more day of teaching for the year, which is what is making me think about how far I’ve come. So I arrived on July the 28th and it’s December 23 as I write this. So 148 days, or 4 months and 25 days. That is a long time when you say it as days, months doesn’t make it sound as impressive. So, like the general life update previously, I’ll divide this up a little

Local stuff!

I talked about Saijo Matsuri earlier so go back and read up on it. But it was still a pretty outstanding event I am already looking forward to again next year. Aside from that I haven’t really been too involved in local events which is a little unfortunate really. But I did get to help out with a Halloween party for kids. It was a lot of fun, I went as the pope, and won a lightsaber duel vs a Sith Lord, saw a legion of adorable young Elsa’s and a variety of adorable Yokai.

A Yokai from the impossible to avoid Yokai Watch

 

 

To some extent, I was a little worried that perhaps I am not involved enough, which is true… However, this being still the first few months and me not being the most out there person, I am willing to let this slide for now. But hopefully come the spring I will find myself a little more involved. Even if it is just with the arcade scene in Niihama.

However, local stuff isn’t just going to big things! It is the little things as well. I feel a lot better about the little than I do the bigger events. The local fruit shop in the shopping arcade now know I love their bananas, and that I usually buy 4 at a time. So when they see me they ask me if I want 4 bananas, not the Japanese equivalent of ‘can I help you.’ I have discovered the local pharmacist(s) are actually usually cheaper for confectionery of various kinds than the supermarkets, which is ironically very poor for my health. But at the main one I shop at, me and shop keeper occasionally talk about confectionery.

I have ran into the mothers for many of the students at the primary schools and kindergarten I work with, which pleasingly tell me their kids were very excited by me. (Also they are great for double checking I am buying what I think I am buying) My Japanese doesn’t let me get too far in these conversations, but it’s nice to hear. I haven’t done much travelling, but I have done a lot of non exciting walks around the town, so I feel I have a pretty good idea of where a lot of things in Saijo are and could get between most points without a map. Which, given my dependency on google maps when I first got here is pretty pleasing. I have have a lot to explore, and go to, but I am getting a pretty solid idea of where things are.

Overall on the getting used to and involved with Saijo, I am doing much better on the getting used to, less so with involved.

Language

There are some tough things about language learning in the country. For starters your basis of comparison changes suddenly when you are dealing with native speakers every day, and genuinely operating in the country. What was great in University is barely enough to get through a day at work. The biggest thing though is just trying. While I really struggled when I first got here (thanks to a lack of consistent study through and after honours in the language) I really have improved quite a bit. I can’t quite say everything I want to say, but I can say everything I pretty much need to say, and usually with a few explanations, teachers and staff can explain things to me. I can’t imagine how a JET would cope with anything less than my language skill. (well, I can, it would be a lot like my Toyama exchange)

It is hard incorporating new grammar often though. Recently I learned ~aれば~aほど~b   which makes a phrase meaning the more you do A, B. For example, the more you practice, the better you get. I have learned a lot of basic grammar points that get me through a lot of conversations I need to have… It is important to learn these expressions still, but it isn’t easy.

joshiraku

Social Life

Yeah, I knew this wasn’t going to be a strong point for me on JET before coming here. I spent most of my first year at University with very few friends, many of whom were people who also moved to the same city to study from my old school(s). As much, most of my socialization is really coming from other JETs. Which is fantastic! But I need to make more effort to really develop my friendships with local people and converse more. I have the language to get through work, but not really the language for friendship.It doesn’t help that foreign language conversing is tiring, and so can meeting new people, so often I end up gravitating to other JETs despite ultimately wanting to develop those Japanese friendships more. This is really a key point I want to improve next year for sure.

However, we have had some great potlucks, a wonderful thanksgiving plenty of wonderful Karaoke nights, and sadly some farewell events. All of whom are sorely missed.

Work

Ultimately… I am actually enjoying work. I have had a fairly long run of consistently good classes, teachers feel confident enough in me to manage more and more aspects of the class, and have been really helpful in weaning me in from the earliest classes. Which I appreciate. Two weeks ago I was given the honour of explaining a grammar point… Which I suspect was aided by the fact the teacher in question was losing her voice and trying to delegate as much of the vocal load onto me as possible without making me speak Japanese. To start with each class was kind of filled with dread, because after the self intro classes, I was quite unsure of what I was going to do really. But, by this point I have gotten into a bit of a groove with each class, and have a vague idea of which things each class needs over others. Sadly, I already had to deal with the fact some classes are not as well behaved and certainly you can try and make the lesson better for those students, but that only goes far. Of course I’ll keep trying to improve with those classes, but I feel I fall into a niche that for many students just isn’t appealing. However, for other classes, I feel that what might make me unappealing to some students, makes them want to talk with me. I don’t like to share specific stories, but I can tell you I have one student who is in love with all sorts of obscure horror games and wants to talk to me about them.

bakuman

Bakuman

Bakuman gets it’s own section?

Yes.

My god this is not only a good anime, but this appears to have cemented about 4 positive friendships between me and 2 staff members and two students. All of which took the same action when I said I like Bakuman, they shook my hand. I am slightly concerned this is secretly a cult, but currently I am reaping the benefits. Mind you, as far as manga about manga go, its anime adaption at least is pretty excellent. If you want to befriend Japanese Manga/Anime fans, this seems to be THE media to consume. I can recommend the anime, haven’t read the manga. But yeah, it’s my number 1 recommendation if you want to keep to your cool niche, and have something people actually know.

Travel

Yeah… about that….

I am not much of a traveler despite going to Japan 4 times in total. I am really all about just being peaceful, relaxed and quiet socialization. Which travel doesn’t lend itself well too. I think I do need to make more of an effort to do some travel though, having only been outside of Ehime once since arriving, to Osaka, which was pretty cool. (although going to Hiroshima soon). Still need to plot out my Yakitate Japan tour though…

 

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Gaming

Given the amount of money spent on games since arriving I have done remarkably little to be honest. And when I do I am playing various braindead games as opposed to all the classics I still have yet to play! And despite writing up about study and gaming, I have been slack in even using games to study with. However, I have recently started delving more into the depths of the braindead Hyrule Warriors. The Warriors games straddling this amazing line of being really complex and completely braindead.

I did however manage to finish off this year’s major gaming project, Umineko. Although, as a Kinetic novel, it is not so much an game as a novel. I have managed to get through a few other bits and pieces, but yeah, this has not been a good few months for games of any type. Although import games are getting the worst of it as it is tiring playing an import game, well, only if you are bothering to get the most out of the text.

I will say though that this year’s Bayonetta 2 and Persona Q are two of the biggest stand out games of the year, and if you have a vague interest in either both easily justify the purchase of their respective consoles. I have dabbled in a huge amount of fantastic stuff since coming to Japan; Danganronpa, Persona 4 Ultimax, Diablo 3, Suikoden, Rogue Legacy, Project Diva f2nd, and even some Super Robot Wars. Alongside a lot more, because I have gaming ADD which I really need to resolve a little at some point.

Overall

As the year draws to a close, I am certainly overall pretty happy with my life here in Japan, know what I want to change, and have a little bit of an idea how to do it. JET has been the plan for such a long time, 8 years, that I am glad to actually be enjoying it. A big concern when it drew closer was that I was woefully the wrong kind of person for the job. But as time goes by, I am increasingly confident I am in the right place.