Where have you been?

I’ve been pretty MIA recently, and I apologize. I’ve been super busy. The old school year has finished and another has begun, so I’ve been wrapped up in planning new lessons for new classes and getting used to all the teacher changes. Let me say that I am very excited to start the non-ALT part of my life, because dealing with some of the teachers at my elementary schools is a nightmare. All but maybe two or three of them speak zero English, and yet half of them insist on controlling the lesson (but not their students) and I frankly can’t take it anymore. My junior high remains a very exciting and interesting place, and some of the new teachers seem really cool as well…so no complaints there. BUT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! I love the kids though. In the next couple of days, I’ll definitely be posting about some of the crazy and cute things they say.

new school year opening ceremony

new school year opening ceremony

In addition to all that I’ve had a lot more social gatherings planned because of the beautiful change in weather. It’s like all the bears have come out of hibernation and are ready to go fishing. Everyone is doing something. I also can’t really complain about this; being busy with fun is never a bad thing. Although I wish I had a few more days to myself, it’s been great to see most of my local friends and catch up!

we wet to a rock festival at Sakurajima (volcano)

we went to a rock festival at Sakurajima (volcano)

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Tesla wa nakanai–pianist

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Tesla doesn't know how to cry's singer and the gang

Tesla doesn’t know how to cry’s singer and the gang

a little jazz concert in a temple

a little jazz concert in a temple

had an amazing friend date with one of my favorite people

had an amazing friend date with one of my favorite people

monthly international party in Shibushi

monthly international party in Shibushi

The biggest consumer of my time, though, has definitely been the band. We’ve been really focusing on polishing our original songs and getting ready for shows. We had one today at Kanoya Earth Day, and we should play at least one next month as well. I am so into this band, and I’m super excited to play live more. Creating music is definitely a challenge, especially when you’re writing personal lyrics and all that, but it is so rewarding when it all comes together. If we get some good videos or recordings done, I’ll be sure to share them on my other blog!

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the boys of Ashfall

the whole band and a friend

More adventures and pictures to come!

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Junior High School Stories: Kids are so Weird

I haven’t written about my students in a while, and I feel like they know it because they’ve been giving me a lot of great material lately. Cute, but mostly creepy material. (NOTE: some student comments are translated from Japanese.)

 

1.

My 8th graders have been studying infinitives and what expressions to use them with. Things like “I like to play soccer” or “I want to go to the movies.” So one day at lunch, I asked some students what they want to do in the future.

The young lady sitting across from me said, “I want to marry a rich, handsome man so I can sit on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips all day.”

To which I replied, “You want to do nothing but sit and eat? that’s not very healthy.”

And she said, “Oh we’ll have a pool. And three mini poodles. It’ll be fine!”

Okay sweetie, what a wonderful dream!

The boy next to her said the opposite. Apparently his dream is to marry an ugly, poor woman. I just don’t even know where they get this.

 

2.

Soon after that conversation, one of my most adoring students came over to poke me and ask me weird questions. I ignored her and asked her the same question as above instead. Her answer? To be my boyfriend. She meant boyfriend. When she was in 7th grade she wrote “I Love KORI!” on her arm and told everyone she was my boyfriend. Hmmm….::concerned face::

 

3.

That same day, during 5th period, I asked a young man where his workbook was, because he was supposed to be working in it.

He said, “It went home.”

“It went home? What?” Because I thought he meant it was at home.

“Oh, yea, it went home. By foot!”

 

4.

Another day, I was walking back to the 7th grade teachers’ room after a lesson. I walked by a group of three girls, and as I passed, I could feel them stop and face me. I turned to see one girl sniffing my shoulder.

“What are you doing!?”

“YOU SMELL GOOOOOD!”

 

5.

Almost everyday, someone (usually a boy) will scream, “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!” in English. Why?!

 

6.

One day I caught a boy copying the answers for the workbook page he was supposed to be doing from the answer book. I grabbed the answer book, playfully tapped his head with it, and then erased all of his answers. He laughed nervously, and then actually did the workbook page correctly. It was a rewarding day for us both.

 

7.

Recently the 9th grade upper level English students were writing group essays. Their teacher was absent this particular day, so I went to the lessons by myself and helped the kids with their grammar and word choice. Easy stuff, you know. I’m helping one group write something about kimono or something, when one boy starts yelling “BEE! BEE! A BIG BEE!”I freaked out, because for once the students knew the correct English word for such an animal and because our school had been having a problem with giant hornets that are apparently vicious and painful. I did not want to stick around to find out what it felt like to be stung by one, and with all the children flailing around like drunk donkeys, that bee was probably peeved enough to stick his little stinger right into my face. Before I could calm anyone down, or breathe for that matter, the tiniest girl in class had run to the teachers’ room, fetched a bug spray gun, and begun (trying) to kill the little insect. She was way too short to reach the bee, who was flying close to the ceiling like any smart bee would, so all she managed to do was douse the classroom in a very obnoxious fume cloud. We all had a good laugh at her futile attempt to murder the poor thing, and then a much taller boy yanked the canister from her hand. He gave that hornet the lethal dose every student was hoping for, and  the little bug buzzed his little way down to the floor where he perished in a puddle of poison.

I felt so weird. This little bug had the ability to scare 20 teenagers with just the flap of his wings, and yet he died so easily at a few breaths of poisonous air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made the kids have a little funeral for him. We all said “Sorry. Goodbye Mr. Bee.” and threw him into the “general waste” bag.

 

8.

Every Tuesday I help the 7th graders clean the teachers’ room, mostly because I like to look busy, but also because I like to make them speak English. A while back, I taught them the words “dustpan” and “broom.” Now, every week without fail, a boy who could easily pass as an American 3rd grader comes to my desk and exclaims, “Kori! Clean time!” It’s so cute, I have to clean. He is also “dustpan” boy, so whenever someone yells, “DUSTPAN!” he promptly scurries over to them, not unlike a mouse, and provides his dustpan-steadying skills. Tuesday is probably my favorite day of the week because of Dustpan (his loving new name).

 

9.

My favorite thing about my job, by far, is watching students’ faces when they randomly blurt out an answer and it’s right. They’ll say it happily, and if you don’t immediately congratulate them on their answer, they doubt it and try to retract it. That’s when you say, “THAT’S RIGHT!” and their faces light up like the sky on (American) New Year’s. It’s more beautiful than the most beautiful fireworks display, really, and it’s why I do what I do. Slowly, these kids are picking up English and enjoying it. And maybe English itself isn’t so important big picture-wise, but being bilingual is correlated with higher intelligence right? And it means they can talk to me more, because Kori-sensei does not speak Japanese at school without good reason. No sir.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you enjoy this kind of post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Until next time!

Third Year

My oh my! It has been over a month since I’ve last posted. I guess I’ve been a bit busy. Sorry >-<

 

I have started my third year as an ALT after all. The originally plan was to only stay in Kagoshima for 2 years and then try to get a different job or go back to school. Life has a funny way of hardly ever doing what you want it to. Oh well, it’s best not to dwell in the past I’ve been told. Actually, I’m not that upset I’m still here. I do occasionally wish I had moved on sooner and left, but there are some things to still be happy about.

Last summer I took the level 2 Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and passed! So I’m one step closer to being fluent (on paper)! My spoken Japanese is getting better too though. I’ve shed most of my fears of daily life in Japan, and because of this have been able to communicate with those around me better. Not only does this mean I get more stuff done and understand the world I live in better, I’ve also gotten pretty good at speaking Japanese. Not to toot my own horn or anything, it’s just Japanese is really hard, and it’s nice to be sort of good at something!

In addition to being able to serve my sass in a foreign tongue, I’ve also gotten a lot better at teaching. I think. I really get to shine at elementary schools where few other people speak English, and I can actually teach whole classes by myself. Not a huge accomplishment maybe, but getting 60 seven-year-old monsters to listen to you speak in their language is pretty big for me. Plus, the longer I’m around, the more my kids grow to like me (or put up with me…however you want to look at it). Well, I mean, kids tell me they love me, so I’m doing something right, right? I do love my students, and most of the teachers and staff I work with are lovely as well. In fact, the nurse at one of my elementary schools is so excited when I’m at the school that she pats my head and nearly hugs me every time. It’s a bit odd, I’ll admit, but I’ll take it.

Finally, I have friends. I know, crazy. Friends are hard, but somehow I’ve manage to make a few who really like me (or again, put up with me). Two of my friends recently got married, and I wish it wasn’t weird for me to hug them both for 5 minutes every time I see them. I just love their love that much.

Actually, that brings me to one major reason I wish I wasn’t living here anymore. Most of my friends, especially the ones who are physically close to me, are in relationships. Long-term, committed, beautiful relationships. I don’t wish anything else for them. In fact, I love talking about relationships and love and all that gross stuff. It just always makes me remember the main reason I am still living in Shibushi; at the time I decided to re-sign my contract, I had a future with someone else to look forward to. I do wish sometimes I could escape to a big city and never look back, but a big part of me knows that I needed this place. I needed that experience. I needed to know what it was like to part with someone. And I know there’s a reason I’m still living here. I’m not done with this place. Everyday I go to bed wishing that I could up and leave, but every morning I wake up alive and happy and ready for my next mini adventure in Kagoshima.

I also think I’m still here because I have no money, and it’s really hard to move to somewhere like Fukuoka or Tokyo without a little clank in your pocket. I do miss my friends and family back in the states, but I’m not ready to go back. I’ve come this far haven’t I? So next year, I’m planning to start my big city Japan life. If I can find someone who wants to hire me.

 

Until next time, take care!

Night at the Aquarium

Tokyo, naturally, is full of exciting things to do. I’m a little bit glad I don’t live there, though, because I’d never have any money. There’s just so much going on.

One night during the week, my friend and I decided to go to the Art Aquarium set up in the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall. We bought our tickets before at 7-11 and got a drink discount. The day event does not serve alcohol as far as I know, but in the evening, it turns into a “Night Aquarium” complete with adult beverages. On the weekends they also have live music!

I told a lot of people I was excited about the Art Aquarium, and they laughed at me. Maybe they just didn’t understand what it means. The exhibit, called Edo Eco, takes Edo era lantern shapes and designs to create artistic fish bowls. Then the bowls are filled with interesting goldfish and lit with colorful lights. Everything was so well thought out and very modern. Each of the aquariums had their own unique features; some distorted the fishes bodies, and others were simple, allowing the fish to shine. It was, for lack of better adjectives, so cool.

 

 

 

The Art and Night Aquariums run until September 23rd and the entrance fee is 1000 yen. Be sure to check out their website for more information!

Down to (Little) Texas

This summer, my best friend was kind enough to come to Japan and keep me company for 10 days. It was a much needed vacation and escape from Osumi, and we had so much fun.

We headed to Tokyo from Kagoshima on Friday, and that night we decided to check out Meguro’s Little Texas on a recommendation from some friends. I had heard it was a nice little place to grab some imported beer and chicken-fried steak and listen to country music, but I had no idea how much it would really look like a small-town Texas honky tonk. For those of you non-Texans out there, a honky tonk is a bar where one can two-step to local country music and do some beer-in-hand boot scootin’. That description didn’t help at all did it? No, why don’t I show you…Little Texas is surprisingly accurate, if not  little over the top.

 

 

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Barbed wire, road signs, and empty chewing tobacco cans? Check, check, and CHECK!

 

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The night we went was Bluegrass Night, and we were very lucky to hear the beautiful sounds of the talented musicians playing there. It was magical. We also had some nachos complete with jalepenos and a few frozen margaritas to wash it down. We later chatted a bit with the owner and he gave us onion rings free of charge. I definitely know where I’m going when I get homesick from now on!

 

If you’re ever in Tokyo and have a free night, check out Little Texas. Even if you aren’t from Texas. There is a music fee (I think it was about 2000 yen when we went), but the food and drinks are pretty standard. And the music is worth it.

 

To get to Little Texas and check it out for yourself, check out their webpage! The bar is about a five minute walk from Meguro Station.

Advice for Newbies: Culture Shock

Hundreds of new JET Program ALTs will soon be rolling into Japan, so I’ve decided to do a little mini advice series. For the first installment, the most important thing you will be faced with: culture shock. It is real, my friends.

Culture shock affects everyone in some way. Even people who have spent extended periods of time in Japan before experience it. Many ALTs are placed in very rural places, and there are many regional differences in Japan. All the new smells and strange insects and constant Japanese buzzing through your ears will make you want to throw up some times. Or punch something. Japan is probably nothing like your home country. That’s probably why you wanted to come here, but it also might be why you crash and burn here. This culture is quite shocking, I’ll tell you, but there are ways to make your transition go a little more smoothly.

 

1. Don’t overextend yourself. You’ll likely want to jump into Japan head first and immediately start exploring. Exploring is good, but don’t overdo it too early on. The majority of you will be coming in the heat of summer, and it’s so easy to get worn out fast. Take it easy. I’m not telling you to turn down all invitations and stay inside by any means. Everyone needs a breather is all! And a lot of times we ignore our own well-being when we are busy having fun. It helped me a lot in the beginning to stay home and relax when I was feeling tired. Which brings me to #2.

 

 2. Nest. Build your home. Decorate your apartment. Decided where you want your pictures, computer, books, etc. to go. Having a space that is your own makes you feel settled. And when you are having a hard time, retreating to your own cozy space helps calm you down!

 

 3. Make friends. This one was a little hard for me. I take my friendships very seriously and don’t lend out my affections to just anyone. It’s really easy to find English speakers around you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have anything else in common. You might not find your next best friend in Japan. But then again, you just might…and more. Putting yourself out there is extremely important. When you do feel comfortable being alone in Japan, become a “yes man” so to speak. If someone invites you out and you aren’t busy or too tired, go! Go diving with your office acquaintances, or go to the beach with the lady at the resale clothing store. Japan is pretty safe, so if you are smart and take a friend, nothing should happen on adventures with strangers new friends. You might not really get a long with those people on a deep level, but creating a network is so important. And sometimes we can’t be too picky in rural Japan. That being said, you DO NOT have to hang out with all the other ALTs in your area. Be nice, be open, but don’t feel like you have to hang out with everyone because you have the same job.

That being said, I have met some amazing people in Japan. ALTs and locals. This is in part because I’ve tried to be more forward than I was in America, but also because out of necessity, I’ve grown a great deal since coming here. I also find that when you don’t have a lot of superficial commonalities, you resort to talking about human issues, which just makes you realize how similar we really are.

 

4. Admit defeat and ask for help when you need it. Culture shock does crazy things to people. It changes their personalities, and sometimes you wonder how some people made it this far. But most of the time it’s just the ill effects of culture shock. Sometimes, you have to tell your circle you’re going through a hard time. The ALT community can be super supportive, but because us older kids are sometimes experiencing life ourselves, it’s not so easy to see when you need help. Ask…let your friends know you’re having a hard time or are being weird because you are scared or sad. It’s okay. We’ll get through it. It’s happened to all of us, so we do understand.

Talking to your teachers, boss, neighbors, dry-cleaners, etc. can also help you so much! They might not want to here you rant about weird culturally quirks like your ALT friends do, but they can help put some of your issues into perspective and give you a sense of belonging, both of which are invaluable!

 

 5. Try to keep a routine. Preferably the one you had before.

When I got to Japan I practically ate my weight in conveyer belt sushi and conbini food (read: cheap and not-healthy). Obviously, that’s a bad idea. I just wanted to experience Japan through my mouth and I was depressed apparently. But gaining even 5 kilos in a country where people will tell you you’ve gained 5 kilos is even more depressing. Now, this isn’t about weight. I also got so tired because it was hot and I was eating horrible food. All I’m telling you is to keep track of that. You’re going to be here for at least a year; you have plenty of time to try honey toast and all the many kinds of ramen. Again, take it easy. Your body and soul will thank you. (the converse of this is not eating enough because you’re depressed or too busy living. I would just suggest, again, taking it easy at first. Fortunately I’m back to my normal healthy self, but for a while I was miserable). Keeping a solid diet and exercise routine will keep you healthy and give you one less thing to worry about!

 

I know, this advice is not all Japan specific. But I know many people will not have experienced this before and it’s the most important thing to moving to a new country. Especially if that country speaks Japanese and eats all of the seafoods. Asking questions goes a long way. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Taking it Easy and Traveling Alone

The end of April/beginning of May is a wonderful time in Japan known as Golden Week, because of the many public holidays.  Half of the holidays are on weekends though, and there are working days in between holidays, so it’s only so exciting. I didn’t take any additional time off, but I did have a nice four day weekend to do whatever in Japan.  I decided to be completely uncharacteristic of my shy and needy self and went alone. Oh yes, I took a four day vacay all by my lonesome, and it was amazing.

 

Okay, so I did spend one night at a friends house watching trashy dating shows, but for the next three nights, it was just me, myself, and I…

I took a 4-hour bus ride to Fukuoka Prefecture and eventually made it all the way to Kitakyushu, a city in the northern tip of the island I live on. I didn’t have much planned, so I just wondered around the city for a few hours. If you’re going alone, slow walks through popular areas are actually really nice. When you’re alone and not in a rush, you notice so much more of what is going on around you. I did feel like people were judging me for aimlessly walking around alone, but after a while I JUST DID NOT CARE. I was on a date with myself and was completely absorbed in my own world.

 

 

Krispy Kreme!

 

One night I stayed in my hotel to watch a movie, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and have a bubble bath. I learned that I need more bubble baths, but I probably could do without Krispy Kreme.

 

 

I do think it’s a good idea to see the city and what other people do there and then pamper yourself. But it’s also nice to get away from it all.  I left Sunday morning for the Yahata district of Kitakyushu and later got on a bus leading to the Kawachi Fuji-en  (wisteria park) tucked into a mountain side. The bus stopped earlier than I thought it would, and long story short, I was left to walk 4 kilometers with a woman older than my grandmother. I asked if she was okay, but she kept her pace better than I did.

on the way...

on the way…

We talked a bit through our tired breathing, and once there, she offered me tea, food, and her photography skills. Her kindness nearly brought a tear to my eye, and I am still thankful that we could spend an hour or so together.

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We lost each other after a while, and I spent more time wondering through the wisteria taking tons of pictures (including shameless selfies) and smelling those sweet sweet flowers for quite a long time. The park is up a hill and from the edge you can see a lake. Despite the crying babies and giggling couples, it was totally peaceful. And stunningly beautiful. And none of the couples walking under the hanging flowers made me want to vomit. Instead I was happy, that in that moment, they all seemed happy. Maybe some of them would get what we’re promised: a life of eternal love and happiness. I was just happy thinking of that possibility. Which is sappy and dramatic, but I guess that’s who I am now. Oh, Japan, how you’ve changed me.

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After the marathon trek down the mountain and back to the train station, I headed back to the city and shopped. And then shopped some more. Boy, did I shop. I think I got all my therapy sessions in. Natural relaxation, retail, sugar…yup all there. How many times can I say amazing before it loses its emphasis?

mini treat-yo-self haul!

 

 

BUT you know me…I won’t lie to you. I did experience of few moments just short of existential meltdown. Being alone did make me realize that a lot of times I am alone in Japan, and though I do appreciate solitude, it is nice having someone you like around for the times you want to hear another person’s voice. I did experience moments of intolerable longing, moments where I thought I could collapse from all the injustice of the universe. But, I didn’t. If there was only one thing I could take away from that weekend it’s that I do like myself…I love myself, and though I wish there were times I didn’t have to be away from certain people, I know I can do it because I love and appreciate myself just as much as I love and appreciate them. Or more. I’m pretty alright, you know? I don’t think that’s conceited or narcissistic. I think it’s sort of necessary to being sane in a foreign country when you so often feel alone. Beyond that, it’s so so necessary for me right now. I’m glad I could spend a few days alone to help discover myself and notice all those things that have slipped by before. I highly recommend you do the same sometime. It’ll change your outlook. And, of course, it’s amazing.

 

Thanks for reading! Enjoy the warmer weather all you Northern-Hemispherians. That’s a word right? See you soon!