Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bunny Cafe!

One of the many reasons I love living in Japan, places like this exist:

Now all I need is for them to make a guinea pig cafe, and I'll never have a reason to leave!

Jobs in Japan (non-JET)

JET isn't the only way to live and work in Japan. There are many other options out there and maybe one that's better for you than JET. I know a bit about these options because I looked into them a great deal before I was accepted into JET. I've also learned more about them simply by living here for a year.

The best way to find work in Japan is if you're willing to teach English. It's possible to find work that's not English teaching, but you'll need a very high level of Japanese. If you've passed 2 kyu or higher on the JLPT, then this may be an option for you. However, if your Japanese level is lower than that or you don't speak any Japanese at all, then teaching English is pretty much your only option.

There are two main options you'll be looking at are eikaiwas and dispatch companies.

An eikaiwa is an English school. They're located all throughout Japan, but the majority of them are found in the bigger cities. This is a good option for you if you...
-Prefer to teach adults (though there are some eikaiwas that specialize in teaching kids only)
-Prefer to live in a big city
-Like working later hours
-Work better by yourself rather than assisting someone else
-Like making your own lesson plans

A dispatch company works with schools and education boards in Japan. They will hire you to be an ALT. It's very similar to JET. The difference is that instead of being hired by the board of education, you are hired by the company that works with the board of education. This is a good option for you if you...
-Prefer to work within the school system
-Would rather assist someone instead of teaching by yourself
-Want a job that's similar to the JET Programme

One overall advantage to choosing a private company over JET is that the application process is much easier. You've already seen how crazy the JET application looks. Private companies in Japan will really only ask for a copy of your resume and maybe a paragraph about why you want to work in Japan.

Whatever you decide to go with, every company will have its share of upsides and downsides. I'm not going to get into that with this entry because I've never actually worked for these companies. Therefore, it would be unfair for me to have a strong opinion about it either way. I'll tell you what I know about each company and give you a link to their website. I recommend doing your own research on what it's like to work for these places:

AEON: - AEON is an eikaiwa. Out of all the eikaiwas in Japan, AEON seems to have the best reputation. They hire all year round, you can work there for as long as you want (as opposed to JET that has a 5 year limit), and they hook you up with an apartment. One thing to keep in mind is that AEON expects you to be a salesperson as well as a teacher. You will have to sell books, CD's, etc to your students. If you have no problem with this, then AEON might be a great option for you

Amity: This is AEON's branch of schools just for children. If you prefer to work with kids rather than adults, then check out Amity instead.

Geos for Kids: - This is another eikaiwa. It specializes in working with children. They provide you with the basic necessities when you get to Japan such as a furnished apartment. Their contract is for one year

ECC: - This is another eikaiwa, but I don't know much about them at all. I've really only seen their schools in Osaka. (A good option then if you want to live in Osaka).

Peppy Kids: - Another eikaiwa that works exclusively with children. I met someone who works for them, and he seemed to enjoy it.

Interac: - This is a dispatch company, and I believe it's the most well known one in Japan. It has a pretty decent reputation. They do one year contracts, but I'm not sure if there's a limit to how long you can re-contract with them. They help you out with the basic necessities when you get to Japan, and they find a place for you to live. I've met some Interac ALT's, and most of them seem pretty happy with the company.

Joytalk: I learned about them through a JET message board. They're another dispatch company like Interac. From what I've seen, they have a decent reputation. Apparently they do phone interviews. Pretty nice not having to go anywhere.

Those are all the ones I know of, but there are definitely more out there. If I learn of anymore, then I will update this entry and provide you with links. I'm also going to leave you with a couple sites that have many different job postings in Japan:

Gaijin Pot: - This site is FULL of job postings in Japan. Most of them are for teaching English but not all of them. You'll find posts from eikaiwas, dispatch companies, and other schools that need native English speakers. You can post your resume on there too. They also have a great mailing list that will send you any new job postings they have.

Dave's ESL Cafe: - This site is excellent. They have job postings for Japan just like Gaijin Pot does. They also have postings for every other non-English speaking country. If you're open to working in China or South Korea instead, this is a good site for you. This site is also a good resource for when you actually make it overseas to teach. It has forums that contain great ideas for lesson plans.

That's about all the information I have. I hope it has been helpful. Leave a comment if you have any more questions.

One more important note before ending this entry, if you see any job postings for a company called NOVA, just ignore it.

The JET Programme - What it is and how to apply

This is a blog post regarding The JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program). It's the reason I'm here today working in Japan. I’ll be writing a few entries like these related to JET and working in Japan. I apologize to those that read this blog that have no interest in applying for jobs in Japan. These will be pretty boring for you. I decided to start writing these because I have a few friends who are interested in applying for JET this year, and I want to give them all the info and advice I can. If you stumbled upon this blog because you’re interested in working in Japan, then I hope you find these blog entries helpful!

So first off, some basic info:

What is the JET Programme?
The JET Programme is a government funded program that brings native English speakers to Japan. The foreigners they bring in are hired by Japanese schools. There are a few different positions within the program:

ALT - Assistant Language Teacher (this is what I do): You work in the schools helping to teach English. Because this is the job I do, this is the position I'll discuss the most.

SEA - Sports Exchange Advisor: You help out with sports in the school system. (I know very little about this position, and I haven't met anyone that does this)

CIR - Coordinator for International Relations: You have the most responsibility of any of the 3 positions in the JET Programme. You're the one ALT's will call up when they need some help. This job requires a high level of Japanese ability. If you haven't passed 2 kyu or higher on the JLPT, then you should probably apply to be an ALT instead. If you have no idea what the JLPT is, then you definitely shouldn't apply to be a CIR.

What are the requirements for the JET Programme?
There are only a few: You must be a native English speaker, have a Bachelor's Degree or higher, and have an interest in Japan. That's it.

Really? What about being able to speak Japanese? What if I didn't major in Japanese?
It doesn't matter. Granted, being able to speak Japanese or having a degree in Japanese/East Asian studies does look good. Having that already proves that you're interested in Japan. However, it's definitely not required. I came in here with a BFA in studio art. I've met plenty of people that came in here not being able to speak more Japanese than "konichiwa." (However, if you're planning to move to Japan, whether it's through JET or something else, I highly recommend trying to learn some Japanese before you come over. It will make your life so much easier!)

What about a teaching certificate?
Also not required. However, if you have teaching experience, you should bring that up in your application (more on that later).

How long can you work while in the JET Programme?
Your contract will be for 1 year. After that, you can re-contract for 2 more years. If the school/board of education thinks you're really exceptional, then you can be asked to re-contract for 2 more years after that. So it's possible to be working in the JET Programme for up to 5 years, but no more than that.

What's the living situation like? Will I get an apartment? How big are the apartments? Do they come furnished? How much is rent? How do I get to my schools? Will my school buy me a car? How many classes will I teach a day?...
All questions like this are best answered with a phrase you will get to know very well when applying for JET: ESID. This is short for "Every Situation is Different." It's important to know that JET does not employ you. You are employed by the board of education wherever you are placed. Think of JET as like temp agency. The temp agency doesn't hire you, but they find a company that will hire you. JET is the same way. Therefore, your work and living situation will be different from other people you meet within JET. There are only 2 things that are consistent for every person in JET: Your flight to Japan is covered, and the pay is the same no matter where you are.

...oh. So how much does it pay?
¥3.6 million per year. You get paid ¥300,000 per month.

How do placements work? Can I choose where I live in Japan?
You can make requests for where you want to live in Japan (more on that later), but they are not always taken into account. In fact, I recommend not counting on getting the placement you request.

What if I don't like where they place me? Can I turn it down and get another one? Can I transfer to someplace else
If you don't like where you get placed, then tough luck. Sorry, but that's the way it works. If you turn down the placement, then you are out of the JET programme for that year. You can't apply again the next year.

Transfers are possible, but you need to have a very good reason. A good reason would be, "I need to be placed in (insert city here) because I need to be closer to the doctor." or "I recently got married, and I want to live in the same place as my spouse." These are the reasons they will actually listen to. Reasons like, "I need a transfer because I hate living in the country side of Japan" simply won't fly.

If being placed in a very specific location is extremely important to you, then I recommend trying to come to Japan through something other than JET.

For an extended FAQ on what JET is, please visit this page:

So those are some facts things about JET. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. Any questions regarding the interview process or preparing to leave for Japan, I will get to later when the time comes around. I find too many aspiring JETs put too much concentration on things like, "what should I pack for Japan?" when they haven't even sent in their application! Worry about the application first. Trust me, it's a stressful enough process on its own. You'll put yourself into a panic attack if you start thinking about what comes after. That's why in this post, I will only focus on the application.

How do I apply?
Half of the application work is done online, and the other half are materials you will need to send in.

When does the application process start?
The application process starts in the fall. You will be applying for the following year. So if you're applying for the JET Programme this year, if selected, you will start work in summer 2010. The actual date the application goes up online may vary by country. Please check the JET website for your country to find out when the application process starts for you.

What is the deadline for the application?
The deadline is usually late November. (However, the year I applied they delayed it until December.) Again, please check to find out when it is for your country

Where can I get an application?
You get the application online from the JET website for your country. The application will go up on the website sometime in the fall.

What materials do I need for the application?
- The application itself
- Medical forms (these are part of the application)
- Statement of purpose (more on that in a bit)
- College transcripts
- Proof of study abroad (if you've done study abroad)
- Proof of graduation / proof you will graduate on time
- Any teaching certificates (if you have them)
- Proof of citizenship
- 2 reference letters

Check your countries website for more details on these requirements.

The application itself
The JET application is many pages long. As soon as it goes up online, I recommend getting started on it ASAP. The application is similar to most other job applications. It will ask for general information about you, your past work experience, your education background, etc. Like other job applications, this is a good time to bring up things that will make you look qualified for this job. If you have any teaching experience, mention that. If you have experience working with kids (babysitting your little sister doesn't count), mention that. If you've taken some Japanese language/culture/history classes, mention that.

This is also the part where they will ask you if you have any placement requests. Many aspiring JET's stress about this part a lot. In that case, I recommend not putting any placement requests at all. Like I mentioned earlier, they don't always take requests into account anyway. However, if there is a place in Japan you're really interested in living in, it won't hurt to mention it. If you do this, just make sure you have a good reason for wanting to live in that place. "I want to live in Osaka because I have friends there" doesn't look good. I would recommend talking about some aspect of the culture that interests you in that place. And who knows, maybe that reason will be good enough to get you in the place you want.

After completing the form, I recommend looking it over a few times to make sure there are no mistakes. Once you email the application, that's it. You can't go back and correct anything after that. So make sure it's perfect! You will send the application through online, and then you will have to print out a copy to mail in.

The medical forms
Basically, they want to see if you're healthy and if you have any medical conditions they should be aware of. Don't let this scare you. Answer all of the questions honestly. For example, if you have asthma, don't leave it out of the form because you're afraid it will prevent you from being selected. It won't. What these forms are really important for is your school/board of education that employs you when you get to Japan. It's really important that you make them aware of certain things. For example, say you're deathly allergic to shellfish. Your school needs to know so that they don't serve you any at any of the enkais!

Statement of Purpose
This is the essay you have to write. Remember the essays you had to write when applying to college? It's pretty much like that.

I'm going to dedicate an entire post just for the statement of purpose. This post is getting long enough on its own, and I have a LOT to say about the statement of purpose. Check back for it later!

College transcripts
self explanatory I think. Contact any colleges you went to and find out how to get a copy of your transcript

Proof of study abroad
This is a letter you need to get proving you have done study abroad. (Of course, if you never did study abroad, you can skip this part). You can get the letter from the school you studied abroad at, or an official letter from your college's study abroad office will probably work too (that's what I ended up doing).

Proof of graduation
Send them a copy of your diploma. If you're still currently in school, then you'll need to get an official letter from the registrar's office of your college saying that you will graduate on time to be eligible for the JET Programme.

Any teaching certificates
If you have any, make a copy of them. If you don't have any, then skip this.

Proof of citizenship
This might be different in other countries, so check the website to find out what will work. I made copies of my driver’s license and passport for this part.

2 Reference letters
I recommend contacting the people you want as references ASAP, especially if any of them are college professors. The application will have special papers you can print out that have instructions for the people you want as references. Once you have these, immediately give them to the people who are writing you letters.
For references, I recommend any professional work references. Get your current boss/supervisor/manager to write you one (unless they don't like you). If you're currently in college, definitely get references from your professors. Even if you've already graduated, they can still make a great reference. (As long as you’ve kept in contact with them, it should be fine.) Like any other job application, make sure it's a professional reference.

Sending in the application
The JET website has VERY specific instructions for the application. You'll need a certain amount of copies for everything, you'll need everything in a certain order, you'll need everything stapled/paper clipped a certain way, and so on. Do NOT take these instructions lightly. One small mistake could get you disqualified.

When do the results come out?
You'll find out whether or not you got an interview around early January. This really depends on what country you're from, but January seems to be the time everyone finds out.

Will they call me/email me if I got an interview?
For the United Sates, no. When the embassy receives your application, they will send you a number in the mail. The application results will go up online. If you see your number, then congrats! You have an interview! If you don't see your number, then zanen :(

It's possible that the Japan embassies in other countries actually do contact their applicants. I don't know for sure though.

That's about all there is to it. My final piece of advice: start on all of this as early as possible!!! Do NOT wait until the last minute. As you can see, it's a lot to get done, and they don't give you very much time. If you're a college student, then you REALLY can't wait on this.

Good luck /Ganbarimasu, future applicants!! Check back for a post about the dreaded statement of purpose.
Again, if you have any questions regarding JET or the application process, just leave me a comment!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oendan - Japanese cheering

I referred to this in my blog yesterday about Undokai. During Undokai, my students performed some traditional Japanese cheering. After doing some research, I learned this is called "oendan". When I wrote my blog yesterday, I had a really difficult time trying to describe just what oendan is. Fortunitely, this is the internet. I found a short wiki article about it. The only thing I would add to this article is that the cheering is done as young as junior high school age. I also found this awesome video of some junior high school students doing oendan:

This is basically what I watched yesterday, only my kids didn't have to perform in the rain! (Kudos to the kids in this video!) I also like to think that when my students did it, it was even better than this ;).

The cheering is done during sports day, of course. It's also done pretty much anytime the students have a school ceremony. For example, if the basketball team has a big game the next day, the other students will perform oendan for the team. They also do it during graduation. The graduating class will perform oendan for the rest of the students, then the younger students will perform it back for the graduating class.

If you couldn't tell from the video, oendan is LOUD! I'm pretty sure the goal is to be as loud as possible. The students beat on taiko drums, then they shout from the top of their lungs.

I compare oendan to cheerleading back in the States. However, cheerleading is mostly a gendered sport. More men are joining it these days, but it's still really only done by women. Oendan is done by everyone. Yesterday, one of the teams oendan teams was lead by a boy, then the other team was lead by a girl. Every single student participated.

If you're interested, there are other youtube videos of oendan out there. If you type in "oendan" or "Japanese cheering" you should find a pretty good list of videos.

Undokai (Sports Day)

My junior high school students had their Undokai today. Undokai in English is "Sports Day Festival". Every school in Japan does this every year around the beginning of September.

When I was in elementary school, we had an event that was somewhat similar to Undokai. We called it "field day." I'm sure most Americans had something like this when they were kids. It was a whole day of school dedicated to games outside. We had games like 3-legged race, potato sack race, tug-of-war, etc. Undokai is basically that except it's much more of a spectacle. It's field day except all the parents come out to watch, the students actually care whether or not they win, and they rehearse everything for it. Field day was also only something I had in elementary school. Undokai is done from kindergarten all the way into high school. The older you get, the more it becomes a big deal.

This is my second year to observe undokai. Last year, my first year in Japan, I got to watch my elementary students have their undokai. This year, I got to watch my junior high school students.

If you ever decide to work in the JET programme, your work will start with your schools preparing for undokai. For the first few weeks of school, classes are shorter so the students can practice for undokai. All the teachers, even non-PE teachers, are allowed to dress down for school and wear sport's clothes. During practice, the students work on marching out onto the field, learning the different formations for when they're on the field, work on dances or cheers to perform during the festival, or they try out some of the crazy games.

The actual festival is an all day event, and it's held on the weekend. Like I said before, it's a really big deal. Everyone's mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa come out to watch and cheer on their kids. The students are separated into two teams. The students design a giant flag for their team. Check out my pictures from both teams. I think they both did an awesome job!

The day starts with the students marching out by their grade. The marching is, from a Western perspective, a little scary. They do a march that looks similar to something out of Nazi Germany. I know their mindset is much different though, so I don't judge. Still, as an American, it was strange for me at first.

After marching onto the field, they do the national anthem and raise the Japanese flag along with the school flag. They then sing the school song. After that, the principal comes out and announces that Undokai has started. Let the games begin!

Most of the games the students do are pretty hilarious. I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. I believe they're intentionally ridiculous. Like my comparison to field day, you have things like 3 legged races, which are always amusing. Then they have some crazy relay races. For example, my favorite one of the day: The students began the race by having to put on their pants. (They were wearing shorts, but they had to put on longer pants). After that, they had to run through a net. Then they had to walk across a balance beam. The craziest part was when they had to put a basket on their back and try to catch a ball they catapulted into the air. Can you understand what I mean now about the games being hilarious?

Other games included a massive jump rope game, tug-of-war, and pass the baton races. One relay race included a bit of a scavenger hunt. The students picked up cards that had things they had to find then bring to the finish line. They said things like: "find 3 soccer balls", or "find 4 friends", or "find the principal", etc. One of the cards had my name on it, so the student had to come and get me. Unfortunitely I couldn't run fast enough to help her win the race :(.

Besides the games, there were also some performances. All of the students did a traditional Japanese dance, which was really cool to watch. They also did the Japanese version of cheer leading. I'll need to find some video of this someday because it's really difficult for me to describe. They finished off the day by doing a folk dance where the boys and girls had to dance together. It was pretty adorable!

I have so many pictures and videos from the day, but I sadly can't share them with you. It's really frowned upon to post photos/videos of your students without their parent's permission. I'm going to respect my students' right to privacy. So I'm going to give you the few pictures I have that don't have any students in them. The first 2 pictures are of the giant flags my students made. The third picture is of the field they played on. It can give you somewhat of an idea of what it was like.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Innoshima Suigun Matsuri (Pirate Festival)

I love festivals in Japan. Every town, even very small ones, seem to have one. Each one has a unique theme. There are kite festivals, snow festivals, fire festivals, bull fighting festivals, doll festivals, festivals dedicated to genitalia or fertility, and there's even a festival where men strip down to their underwear and run around in the snow. The festival I went to last weekend was one of my favorites so far: The Innoshima Suigun Matsuri, or in English, Pirate Festival!

Innoshima is an island in Hiroshima prefecture. Hiroshima is just north of Ehime, where I live, so it's not too far away from me. Long ago, the island was pirate territory. There's even a pirate castle on the island (which I still need to visit sometime). Suigun Matsuri celebrates the pirates.

Now keep in mind, these are not the Western, Johnny Depp (*swoon!*) style pirates we're used to. (Though I did see some foreigners who showed up in Western-style pirate garb.) These are Japanese style pirates. This means they're pirates in samurai armor. As you can see from the photos, the festival had lots of people dressed in this armor.

Along with people dressed as pirates, there were tons of venders. This is pretty comon with every Japanese festival. You'll have no trouble finding over priced food and cheap toys for kids.

The entertainment in the festival started with lots of awesome taiko drumming. Here's a short video I took of it. Sorry it's not the best quality:

After that, a group of people dressed as pirates came out and shot some targets. Here's some videos. Again, sorry for the video quality:

Next, the schools on Innoshima did some dances to the town song. Here's a video of some of the elementary students dancing:

Then some of the junior high school students dancing:

The dancing got even cooler as the night went on, but I had to save my memory card for the fire tricks at night (more on that in a bit). After all the schools performed, every group came out and danced together:

Pirates, dancing, pirates, taiko drums, does it get better? Just add fire!

There was tons of fire at night. The best part was when they started doing tricks:

The night finished with some fireworks, which I ufortunitely missed. We were a slave to the ferry schedules that night, and the last boat left right when the fireworks started :(.
Oh well. More reason to check out this awesome festival again next year!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More "interesting" Japanese commercials

One of my friends on facebook posted this, and I had to share it. I don't think there's much I need to say. The video pretty much speaks for itself:

The comparison to the US commercial makes this even better!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WTF Japan?!

Oh Japan...I love you so much, even when you're a little bit weird. Today's example: Mameshiba.

Ever since I got to Japan, I've been wondering what the deal with these commercials were. In every commercial, a person goes to eat some beans, but then a little bean shaped puppy appears! The bean puppy speaks, then the person loses their appetite. I had always wondered exactly what they were saying in these commercials (my Japanese hasn't been good enough to pick it all up). But now youtube has picked up on these weird ad's, and they have given me an English translation! Yay! The thing is though, they're even weirder now that I know what they're saying. Here are some of my favorites:



Black Beans:

Adorable, aren't they? Maybe a little creepy too, which actually sums up a lot of advertisements I see in Japan. These Mameshiba things are quite popular here too. They have keychains, purses, stuffed animals, etc. of these bean puppies.

Even with the English translation, I'm still not sure what exactly these commercials are selling. Is it, "Don't eat beans. They may give you usless triva?"

Oh, and just in case you haven't had enough cute for the day, here's the Mameshiba theme song!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Students Say the Awesomest things: Part 3

During the summer festival, one of my 3rd year JHS students (9th grader) came up to Jonny and had a pretty funny conversation with him:

student: (in Japanese) Do you have a perm?

Jonny: (in English) No

student: (in Japanese) must have a perm!

Jonny: (not sure how to say it in Japanese, so he tries to say it in English) Natural style

student: Ohhh! *makes a gesture of a curling iron* style! *nods like she gets it now.*

After that she started touching his hair. She seemed very impressed.

If you ever come to the country side of Japan, you should expect questions like this from kids. "Your eyes are blue! Do you wear contacts?" or they might point at your freckles and go, "Whoa...what's that?!" If they're really young, they might ask you if you dye your hair since it's not black. Forgive them of these things though. They don't see many people like you.

My summer "vacation"

Sorry for the lack of updates! I've been meaning to write in here for some time, but I've actually been pretty busy this summer. If any other ALT's* read this blog, they probably will find that statement unbelievable.

During summer vacation, there are of course no classes. However, all teachers are still expected to go to work. ALT's, typically, are no exception. (That's all ESID** though. There are some ALT's that get summer vacation off.) Because there are no classes, there's usually very little or nothing to do. However, in my situation, my awesome supervisor found me plenty of things to do.

I've been visiting kindergartens in town and giving short English lessons. It's mostly just teaching them a few English songs then reading some children stories in English. They understand VERY little, but they still really enjoy it.

We've also been doing some lessons on team teaching to elementary school teachers. If you're not aware of this situation, I'll fill you in: The Japanese government recently decided that English must be taught in all elementary schools in Japan to 5th and 6th graders. It has to be taught once a week for one hour. The bad news about this is that English now has to be taught by the homeroom teacher. Most of the elementary school teachers speak little to no English. If that wasn't bad enough for them, the teachers are also forced to team teach with an ALT. Many ALT's speak little to no Japanese. You really have to sympathize for these teachers. But...shoganai***. So my supervisor has set up classes for these teachers. We give them tips on how to teach English to elementary students and how to work with an ALT. Hopefully the teachers are finding it helpful!

We also recently had a new ALT arrive in our town! We've spent a lot of time helping him adjust to his new life here.

There have been other fun going-ons as well. One day all of us ALT's in town got invited to participate in a rafting race. The race is held every year by one of the junior high schools in my town. (It's not a school I work at though.) The school is really small, and has only 40 students total. What made this race interesting was that the kids all built their own rafts. They used bamboo, wooden boards, and giant pieces of foam. I was actually quite impressed with how well they worked. The teachers handed us little plastic paddles and put us on one of the teams. We had to race out to a small island out in the middle of the sea. When I say small island, it was more like some large rocks sticking out of the water.

My team ended up winning the race! It was very close though. There was a tie, and my team won by Janken (rock, paper, scissors).

After the race, we hung out with the students for a while. We had lunch with them, and they made a special vegetarian yakisoba for me. After that, we participated in a very "interesting" Japanese tradition. I can't remember the name of it, but it's kind of like pinata. Except the pinata was a watermelon. We were given long plastic sticks rather than something more sturdy like a bat. When we asked why not something stronger, My supervisor explained, "But then there wouldn't be any watermelon to eat." OK, guess that makes sense. So they spun each of us around, then the kids tried to direct us (in English actually!) towards the watermelon. After it got smashed up really good, we ate it. This watermelon probably cost around 2000 yen ($20).

We also had the town's annual summer festival: the Teya Teya festival. The festival has a big parade, and many people in the town dance in it. I got to dance with my students in the festival. The only downside with me actually participating in this festival is that I have no pictures or videos to share. Shoganai :(. Hopefully next time!

That's about it. So to those I promised postcards to: they will come eventually! I didn't expect to actually be busy this summer. I thought I'd have nothing but free time at work, and I'd be bored out of my mind. I'm pretty glad I was wrong about that!

*ALT = Assistant Language Teacher, my job title
**ESID = "Every Situation is Different." If you have any interest in the JET program, this is a phrase you will hear quite frequently.
***Shoganai - Japanese word meaning, "nothing can be done" or "it can't be helped." We use it a lot here in Japan

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Gake no ue no Ponyo" - Japanese movie review

So I'm doing a movie post because as many who are close to me know, I'm a bit of a movie geek. Even more so, I'm an animation geek. (I'm actually considering starting a movie blog that focuses just on animation. I'm not sure if there's an audience for it though.) With that said, here's my review of "Ponyo".

If you live in Japan, then you already know about "Ponyo". If you came last summer, then you've also heard the adorable and infectious tune that goes with the movie. For any other readers out there, here is the song I'm referring to:

"Ponyo" is the latest creation by Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli. In my opinion, Studio Ghibli is one of the best animation studios in the world, right up there with Pixar. Every movie they put out is gold. Miyazaki is pretty much Japan's Walt Disney to give you an idea of just how famous and respected he is here. For good reason too because he is that brilliant. The most popular Miyazaki/Ghibli movie in the US, I'm pretty sure, is "Spirited Away". Other ones I highly recommend checking out (and you can find all of these in the US): "Princess Mononoke" (my personal favorite), "Castle in the Sky", "My Neighbor Totoro", and "Nausicaa: of the Valley of the Wind". This is only to name a few though. There are many others that are just as worth your time, and you may even enjoy more than these titles.

Here's the Japanese trailer for the movie:

So the movie came out on DVD just last month. I just rented it last weekend. It was WONDERFUL!! Very soon, it will be out in America, and I want all of you at home to see it.

Ponyo is a simple story. It's not on a high level of thinking like "Mononoke" or "Nausicaa". It's more geared for young kids in the same way "Totoro" is. Like "Totoro", don't write this movie off just because it's for kids. It's still a lovely story with gorgeous animation. It's one of those movies I don't think anyone could be too old for.

The story, in a way, is kind of like "The Little Mermaid". After meeting a human boy (Sosuke), a little fish (Ponyo) dreams of being human too. Except in this case, the boy and the fish are only 5 years old. Ponyo's father is an evil sorcerer, and he doesn't want her to leave the sea. I think it's best I don't give away anymore than that.

I found myself forming a special connection to this movie. It takes place in a small town right on the sea coast. The setting looks a LOT like where I live in Japan. Everything from the crazy winding roads and fisherman boats is spot on. I think Miyazaki must have spent a lot of time in Shikoku for many of his movies resemble the place I live.

Overall, I LOVED this movie. I'm not sure if it's coming out in theaters or straight to DVD at home. Either way, you guys need to see this movie.

If you can, I recommend watching this in its original Japanese dub with English subtitles. I haven't watched this with the English dub (the Japanese DVD didn't come with it. Thank goodness it at least had the subtitles!), but looking at the English voice cast has me a little worried...

I'm happy with some of the choices. Liam Neeson as Fujimoto is perfect! Great choice! Cate Blanchett as the Sea Goddess also pleases me.

The ones that worry me are the choices for Ponyo and Sosuke. Why oh why did they have to cast younger siblings of Disney chanel stars? Ponyo is played by Noah Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's little sister. Sosuke is played by Frankie Jonas, the youngest Jonas brother. Come on, really? I know exactly why they did it. As an animation fan, I always get annoyed when animated movies cast big names rather than people who actually fit the part. Like any other movie, they want to attach a big celebrity name in order to get a bigger auidence. I get it. For an animated movie, this can hurt a lot though. Especially with anime, you need voice actors that can not only act but know how to synch their voice correctly. Getting some celebrity who's not good at either can really ruin it. However, maybe Cyrus and Jonas are actually awesome in this. Maybe I'm judging them too quickly. Even if they are great in this, I know that's not the reason they were cast in this. animation rant aside, please see this movie. When/if you do see it, leave me a comment letting me know what you think. If watched it with the English dub, let me know what you thought of that too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Japan meets Harry Potter / Seeing movies in Japan

Last night I got to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Overall, I think it was a really good movie, but it was a poor adaptation of the book. I'm sure you guys aren't really interested in my review of the movie though, so I'll spare you that.

Going to the movies in Japan is an interesting experience. It's not something I get to do often though. The closest movie theater to us is a 10 minute (20 if we take non-express) train ride then a 880 yen taxi ride to get to. This is typical for Japan. Back at home, we have movie theaters in almost every town. Even really small towns will usually have a one screen theater. In Japan, this is not the case.

So along with the travel costs, the cost of a movie ticket here is ridiculously expensive. It's 1800 yen ($18) a ticket! Sometimes there are slight discounts, such as the last showing of a movie will be about 1200 yen. It's enough that I will NEVER complain about ticket prices at home again.

Concessions are about the same prices as they are back at home. You still pay too much for a small pop and popcorn.

Japan is also usually a few months behind when it comes to movie releases. For example, "X-Men Orgins: Woverine" FINALLY comes out here next month. This is very normal for Japan. However, sometimes we get lucky. Harry Potter came out at the exact same time here. (We were busy last weekend, so we had to wait a week to see it).

Seeing a movie here is almost a surreal experience. The Japanese politeness comes through even when watching a movie. Everyone is extremely quiet and attentive. No one laughs at funny parts, no one cries when it's sad, no one screams or yelps when something jumps out to scare you. There is no vocal reaction at all. There were plenty of funny parts in Harry Potter, and it felt odd to be in a crowded theater where Jonny and I were the ONLY people laughing. It's slightly uncomfortable.

However, there is very much a good side to this. Back at home, I can't stand when I'm in the theater and there's a group of chatty teenagers. They feel the need to talk and make obnoxious commentary during the film. I can't count how many times movies have been ruined for me because of this. In Japan, even the teenagers are overally polite during a movie. I love this.

Another interesting thing I noticed is how most of the people in the auidence stay in the theater until the movie is completely finished. This means sitting through the entire credits. Maybe they're waiting just in case something cool happens after the credits, like in "Iron Man"? I have no idea.

So because it's Harry Potter related, I want to share a couple videos. I posted one of these on Facebook, so you guys may have watched it already. There was a contest in Japan for the biggest Harry Potter fans to meet and interview people from the cast of the movie. Here are the videos from it. The two girls that won are adorablly awkward! Their reactions are priceless:

Dan Radcliff (Harry Potter):

Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley). This one includes some translation:

SOO cute!

To no one's suprise, Harry Potter is popular in Japan just like it is in the rest of the world. Many of my students are fans, which has been a great way to connect with them (because anyone that knows me knows that I'm a HUGE Potter geek). It makes it even better since I've been to Oxford and have seen places where the films were shot. I hope it gets many of them to travel or even study there someday.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I decided it was about time to start taking video of my adventures in Japan. I took some back in May, but then I forgot about them. (If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a very forgetful person!) So now, before I forget about them again, here are the videos I've taken:

This is some footage from the Ikazaki kite festival. This was during the "kite fights". Anyone is allowed to participate. The kites have razors attached to the strings. The object it to try to use the razors from your kite to cut the strings on the other kites. It's actually pretty entertaining.

More from the kite fights

This is from our trip to Beppu. We went for our anniversary. Beppu is famous for onsen (hot springs). It also has a REALLY nice aquarium and a monkey park (see the videos after this). Here's some of video of the aquarium. My favorite part: the dolphins

This is the monkey park we went to (it's right accross from the aquarium). This one was pretty crazy. There are over 1000 monkeys at this place, and they all roam freely throughout the park. This video gives you an idea of how close you can get to these guys.

More footage from the monkey park. This was during feeding time. They sent a cart around throwing food from it. Here you can see all the monkeys chasing it. It was a little scary.

That's all for now! I'll post more when I make them! (and I'll try not to forget next time!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Students Say the Awesome-est Things: part 2

My students are such little punks sometimes! Take today's class for example:

I was teaching my 2nd year (8th graders) junior high students. The kids were given a homework assignment they'll be expected to do over summer break. I went over to a few kids and expressed some sympathy. No one likes homework over break, especially summer break. The conversation went something like this:

me: aww...summer homework?

student 1: yes :(

student 2: yes :(

me: That's too bad

student 1: *points at the teacher and says a word in Japanese I don't recognize*

me: eh?

student 2: *says the word slower for me* sai - a - ku - da

student 1: (in Japanese) Go tell her she is "saiakuda"!

me: (in Japanese) I don't understand

student 1: *gets the "I'm up to no good" grin on his face* "saiakuda" mean...."good".

student 2: *also grinning* It mean "very good".

student 1: yes! "very good!"

me: *repeating the word to see if it helps me remember it*

student 1: (in Japanese) yes! Now go tell her she is "saiakuda!"

*Both of the kids pull the teacher over and say that I have something to tell her*

student 1 and 2: (in Japanese) say it! say it!

*the teacher looks at me waiting*

me: umm...they want me to say a Japanese word to you, but I don't know what it means

*the teacher rolls her eyes at the students then walks away*

Right after this, I grabbed my electronic dictionary to look up the word. Basically, the kids wanted me to tell the teacher she is "the worst". I'm actually surprised they didn't try something more insulting. Still, it would have gotten me in trouble had I been naive enough to follow them.

Little punks. I love them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

the interesting flavors of Japan

In Japan, you can find a lot of names you're familiar with: Coke, Pepsi, Pringles, Doritos, Kit Kat, etc.

However, Japan likes to add their own little twist to things. As the seasons change, they come up with new flavors of things we know and love. For example, the latest creation from Pepsi:

Pepsi Shiso!

Shiso is a kind of mint leaf. It's used mostly in Korean food. It's a very strong flavor and not something you'd think, "now that would make a refreshing drink!" However, this isn't too surprising that Pepsi went for it anyway. Apparently last summer, there was a cucumber flavor.

So I tried Pepsi Shiso a few weeks ago. In my opinion, it's really nasty. I didn't care for it at all. However, Jonny liked it and so did a few friends of mine. So maybe it's just me.

We're also seeing some new flavors of Kit Kat this summer. The latest is "Ramune" (a Japanese soda) and "lemon vineger". I've tried both of them recently. The lemon vineger wasn't as horrible as I expected. Still, chocolate and lemon aren't exactly flavors I'd put together. The Ramune flavor, on the other hand, was really disgusting. But again, Jonny liked it, and so did my friend Simon.

I'll post about new flavors and products when I find them!


It is hot in Japan right now.

The usual response I get to this is, "yeah, it's hot here in Michigan too!"

No. No, it's not.

Some parts of America are this hot. Ever been to Florida during the summer? That's about what it's like right now. It's nasty humid every day. The buildings have no insulation, so you can't escape the humidity. The air is so thick you're practically swimming in it.

I'm still working right now. In Japan, their summer break doesn't start until mid July. I don't have a car, so I have to walk or bike to all of my schools. By the time I make it to work, I'm drenched in sweat. To make things worse, none of my schools have air conditioning. At most, sometimes the staff room has air conditioning. Sadly, they almost never turn it on.

My poor students can't concentrate at all. They'll fan themselves with their books until they give up and pass out at their desks. No one should be expected to learn anything under these conditions. Let these kids go on break already!

When I'm not at work, I go into hibernation mode. Jonny and I mostly stay at home under the air conditioning. I've also grown a love for ice cold showers.

Next summer, Jonny and I are either taking a trip home or way up north in Hokkaido!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Japanese music

My current favorite song to sing at karaoke:

I usually get pretty fun reactions from the Japanese people around me when I choose this song. They're usually shocked that I know who this guy is. Sometimes they squeal because they're also big fans. ^_^

For my friends back at home that I sent CD's to: this is Gackt. Like I said, he's really pretty.

Happy (belated) Tanabata!

I just learned about this, but yesterday was "Tanabata" (star festival) in Japan. I tend to not realize there's a holiday if I don't get time off of work. But anyway, here's the story of Tanabata:

Orihime (Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa ( Milky Way, lit. "heavenly river"). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi ( Cow Herder Star) (also referred to as Kengyuu) ) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

On this day, people (mostly young children) write wishes on pieces of paper. They take the wishes and attach them to bamboo. It is said that when the two lovers meet, your wish will be granted.

I was told that they have a bigger festival for this next month. I'm not sure why, but at least I have another chance to make a wish!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Students say the Awesome-est things!

Recently, I did a few lessons about shopping. This was for 3rd years (9th graders) in Junior High School. For the lesson, we had the students make up skits. We taught them the standard phrases like, "how much is this?", "may I help you?", "that's too expensive", "it's a gift, can you wrap it for me?", etc. Here are some of my favorites that the kids came up with (I include spelling and grammar errors, but this time there weren't many):

Clerk: May I help you?
M Yes I'm looking for a jaket.
C: What size?
M Medium, please
C: How about this one?
M It looks good. How much is this jacket?
C: It's 300 dollars
M Oh, it's too cheap. Could you show me another one?
C: How about this one? It's 5000 dollars
M Very nice. I'll take it.
C: No no no no. It's mine

K: Excuse me. How much is this cap?
Clerk: It's 95000 dollars.
K: Oh, it's too cheap. Could you show me another one?
C: How about this one? It's a little expensive. 150000 dollars
K: Very nice. I'll take it. It's a gift. Could you wrap it, please.
C: It is no good. Go home, please.

-May I help you?
-How much is space?
-What? You are crazy
-So how much is rocket?
-It's 50000 dollars.
-Oh, it's too cheap. Could you show me more special one?
-How about this one? It's 100000 dollars.
-Very nice. I'll take it.

And my very favorite one...
Clerk: May I help you?
S: Yes. I'm looking for a windmill.
C: How about this one?
S: It looks too small. Do you have a larger one?
C: Well, how about this one?
S: It looks very good. How much is this windmill?
C: It's three million dollars.
S: Very nice. I'll take it. It's a gift. Could you wrap it, please?
C: Sure. Please wait a minute.

Blogging in Japan - important things to know

As I start this back up, I have to make readers aware of a few things.

Just like back in America, blogging in Japan is something you have to be careful about. Often, you won't be reading how I really feel about my work situation. Because this blog is public, any one of my co-workers can stumble upon it. Many foreigners coming over here to work have gotten in trouble for this. Maybe they thought they'd be safe since they write in English? I'm not sure. This is definitely a situation I want to avoid. Because of this, all my posts relating to work will probably all be positive or give you little information. If you wish to know more about my work situation, feel free to send me a private message sometime.

The other thing you won't see in here is pictures/videos of my schools and students. CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities and International Relations) makes it very clear that we are NEVER to do this. I get constant email reminders that I should never have photos of my students online, and I should never show the inside of the schools. (Of course, if I get permission from their parents, then it's OK). It makes me a little sad because I'd love to show you all how adorable these kids are how different the schools can look from American schools. However, these kids have a right to privacy, and I respect that.

If you're ever planning to start a public blog while working in Japan, be sure to keep these things in mind.

So now that we're clear on all of this, let's blogging!

Once more...with feeling!

I'm attempting to resurrect this blog. I'm going to give this one more try. If it doesn't work this time around, then I'll delete it and move on.

So here's why I've only posted in here once then abandoned it:

When we got here, it took us 3 months to get internet in our apartment! Normally, it doesn't take THIS long. I'm still not exactly sure what happened except that some information got lost in translation. By the time Novemeber hit (when we got our internet), I kind of forgot about this thing.

The other reason is that I currently have a private blog I post in (no, I'm not giving you the link to it). Because I post in that, I didn't really think about updating this blog at all.

But now I want to give this another shot. I really like the idea of friends, family, and even random people just interested in life in Japan being able to read what I'm up to. Maybe I can even get Jonny to write some thoughts as well.

I'll start off slow with maybe 1-2 posts a week. If I post more, then even better.

Also, feel free to leave some comments bugging me to update if I'm not. If I actually know people are reading this, it will give me more motivation to post more.