Chi-chan

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This is Chi! He’s probably only a few weeks old in this picture. I found him on my way to school in May. He was several yards from the school gate, leading me to wonder if he was abandoned there purposefully. I’m not sure what his story is, but it’s possible he’s a product of Japan’s stray cat problem.  When I found him, he was too weak (and way too young) to run away, his eyes were badly infected, and he had an upper respiratory infection.

With some convincing and several of the female teachers banding together with me, I was able to bring him temporarily into school. After that, I took a trip to my BoE to get their advice on what to do next. I was referred on my insistence to a nearby vet, but I was warned that I couldn’t keep the cat and that the price for his vet visit would be extremely high.

I expected upwards of $100 US dollars, but the final price was under $70. My vet trimmed all of Chi’s claws, gave him an injection for his nasty cold, and administered the first application of the salve for his eyes.

 It took the better part of a month, but eventually Chi became healthy. When I first brought him home, he wasn’t able to eat solid food and needed to be fed every few hours. 

No such luck now. He loudly lets everyone know if his food dish empties out. 

Chi recently had his first round of shots for his first year of being alive and he’ll get the rest next month. He’s extremely friendly when he wants to be, but has a tendency of trying to maul people when he gets bored and wants to play.

His current talent is playing fetch with bottle caps. If you throw one, he chases it down, bats it around, then picks it up in his mouth and returns it to you for round two.

I’ve met quite a few people who love cats in Japan, but there are a lot of people who don’t look so kindly on them — especially the strays. This article is a few years old, but just a glance at the comments will let you know quickly how a lot of people feel about them. Many of my acquaintances here in Japan were shocked that I went out of my way to rescue Chi and pay for his vet costs. They insist again and again that I’m extremely kind when such a thing is just a matter of course for me.

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Look how cute Chi is at 3 and 1/2 months! He plays with any running water.

Because of Chi, I’ve started researching the stray animal problem in Japan. It’s really alarming, but I’ll update on that when I am more informed on the topic.

For now, Chi is hanging out and waiting for his next round of shots and for his rabies vaccination. The vet won’t give him the rabies shot until a month before I need to move him to America (Chi won’t be ditched in Japan — he’ll come home with me either in February or next August to meet my fat, America!cats). Fun fact: rabies isn’t a problem in Japan, so it’s uncommon for the pets to receive the vaccination against it unless requested. My vet is also suggesting I consider having him neutered, so I need to work out when is best to have that done.

Maybe once my life settles down a little. Things have been in turmoil recently.

And if anyone from my BoE reads this: Chi lives with my friend.

Problems in Common

I’m clearing out my notebook so that I don’t lose relevant information amidst a ton of already passed events.

One thing I scribbled a note about that I thought was interesting:

American children sometimes have problems with “b” and “d” and tend to flip one or the other backwards when they write. Japanese JHS kids have much the same problem.

Additionally, Japanese children are notorious for writing the hiragana character “く” (ku) backwards.

A small tidbit of interesting food for thought!

Disruptive Students

Disruptive students are always interesting to tackle. I’ve read various stories with how other teachers deal with them, but I’m slowly developing my own method to the madness. So far I haven’t dealt with too much, but I will share one of my experiences.

One of my more disruptive students talked during my speech, talked over other students, and generally gave off the vibe of, “Hey! Look at me! Look how cool I am!’ He was a third year JHS student, so he had the added punch of actually being decent enough at English that he thought he could pull trying to embarrass me and further disrupting class. Luckily, my disruptive students have all been very arrogant. They brag to their friends about what they’re going to try to pull later on, and if you listen, you’ll be prepped when the time comes.

After my self-intro speech, I have a question and answer period where the students can ask about anything I didn’t talk about. When I got to the kid, our conversation went something like this:

Kid: 😀 HELLO. My name is ~~~~. Do you have a boyfriend? >:D

Me: Yes, I do! :3 Do you have a girlfriend?

Kid: YES. 😀

Me: Great! BUT. That was a very first year question. You are a third year! You should ask a better question. Please try again.

Kid: >:D Do you like me?

Me: Do I like you? Hmm. I don’t know. You ask very first year questions, so maybe I don’t know yet. You should study harder.

The kid was perplexed and turned to his friends for help with the translation, but it was too late for him to recover. The rest of the class who caught it on the first go were already giggling and his only escape was to go, “Oh! …okay! Thank you.’ and bow out of our verbal battle.

The English teacher had been worried about how I would handle him, but she said that my attitude with him had been very good! I ignored him when he was just trying to get attention, and when I had to deal with him one-on-one for the question and answer period, I turned the situation around so that he didn’t get the upper hand like he planned.

That’s been my plan of attack for any awkward questions I get. I try to answer smoothly, then reflect the intended effect back at the student in a good-natured way. So far it seems to be working out well with the particular JHS I’m at. The trick seems to be rolling with the punches and dealing back as good as I get, but always in a positive way.

…and that’s my long-winded sharing story for the day!

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll talk a little bit about the vet in Japan? Or maybe just about my cat. Perhaps you should ignore me tomorrow.

The Self Introduction

Self introductions are a big part of teaching as an ALT in Japan. Usually (but not always) there’s a Q&A section after your self into, or 自己紹介 (jikoshoukai). Here’s some of the more common questions I get at the JHS level:

  • What sports do you like?
  • What color do you like?
  • Do you like/can you eat Japanese food?
  • Where do you want to go in Japan?
  • Which do you like better: America or Japan?
  • Do you like [insert animal here]?
  • What sports do you play?
  • What is your favorite subject?
  • Do you have a boyfriend? (These kids think they’re a riot… right up until I shoot back, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Parry and riposte, good sirs!)
  • What famous Japanese person do you like?
  • Do you like music/what kind of music do you like?
  • Sensei, why are you so pretty? Like a doll… (What?! I’m totally not. But you, kid, are now on my good side for life. Maybe that was her intention!)

…and many more!

My introduction is generally fairly simple. I talk about my family, what my city is famous for, what I am surprised about in Japan (no A/C in the classrooms, cars on the opposite side of the road, bicycles everywhere, etc.), my hobbies, my dreams, and so on. In my home state, everyone drives a car. We don’t have trains or use buses that often, so I tell the kids about that. I try to be as 元気 (genki/energetic) as possible and speak loudly in a clear, slow voice.

This is my father. His hobby is sailing!

This is my father. His hobby is sailing!

Overall I’m fairly pleased with how my self-introductions go. I use a ton of picture with magnets on the back to slap up on the chalkboard. They usually last between 15-20 minutes and with the Japanese English teacher’s help, I have the more difficult ideas walked through so that the students understand as much as possible. To give them a hand while I’m talking, I scribble out illustrations on the chalkboard as I go and repeat key information in different contexts. I’ve also found it really helpful at the end to ask questions about what I have just talked about, or have the Japanese teacher ask. When asked the questions, a lot of ideas and topics click for the kids.

For anyone following me who’s worked as an ALT, what do you do for your self introduction that works really well? I change mine up depending on the season or mood of the class.

Things I’ve Learned

Things I’ve learned about Japanese Junior High School:

  • In Japan, lunch time in JHS operates on an, “On your mark, get set, inhale!” mentality. I should inform them that eating such a large meal in ten minutes or less is going to makes us all die choking on tofu.
  • School lunches are generally around 800-900 calories
  • Japanese kids pass their classes no matter what. Not because they’re smarter than American kids, but because it’s considered important that they remain with their age-group.
  • Carry your own chopsticks.
  • It’s not uncommon to walk into a room and find the boys all piling up on one unfortunate friend at the bottom.
  • There’s always that one kid that’s secretly in charge of the classroom. Usually the problem child.
  • Direct-hire ALTs do not get summer vacation. Unless you use up your allotted yearly holiday, you must be at school or the BoE every weekday.

Recently I entertained an adult English class with some common misconceptions in America (like shaving affecting hair growth, touching a baby bird putting your smell on it and making the mother abandon it) and they in turn shared with me some interesting beliefs they held or had heard of, such as:

– Punching your pillow the number of times as the hour you want to wake up at in the morning. For 6:30 you punch the pillow 6 times, then punch it once softly for the half hour mark.

– Don’t sleep in the bed with your head facing North. It’s how people are buried, so it’s something to avoid. Alternatively, a Japanese friend who wasn’t in the class was told by her aunt that sleeping with her head to the North would make her smarter.

– Spread salt and put salt on yourself after a funeral as part of purification and to ward off evil.

We also discussed America’s divorce rate and I mentioned that I thought money was one of the biggest causes of stress in new and old marriages. One gentleman shared with me the saying, “Money nothing, connection nothing.”

Thinking Ahead

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

Before everyone becomes too accustomed to my Japan-oriented posts, I wanted to take a moment to update with something a little different. Still somewhat related, though, and if you’re considering coming to Japan as an ALT, it’s something you might want to keep in mind.

Since coming to Japan, I’ve received two different pieces of advice that have steered me toward my current life plan.

The first piece of advice was given to me in the form of a question. While in Japan, what is it that I hope to accomplish? What do I eventually want to do with my life?

For the longest time, my ten-year plan led up to an ALT position in Japan. It seemed such a big, faraway dream until suddenly… it happened.

I scrambled for an answer to the question, but I only had vague notions of what I wanted to do next: translation work (a little  ambitious when I still couldn’t read or speak Japanese fluently), writing, something related to writing (publishing?)…

I was told to think about the question and use my time in Japan to plan ahead to make my goals happen — to not wait until the end of my time here to suddenly wonder what happens next.

The next piece of “advice” came from a therapist. In Japan, therapy isn’t covered by the national health insurance program. I paid out of pocket. The man I hoped would help me with a really difficult situation instead took it upon himself to make everything worse. He said a lot of biased, hurtful things to me during my one visit, but the comment that stuck the most was that working as an ALT is like a black hole — it won’t go anywhere.

As awful as he chose to be, there was a little truth to what he said.

ALT work doesn’t lead directly to a new job, but the experience you gain from working abroad can do wonders for your resume. Just so long as you know how to apply it.

I’ve been struggling for months, wrestling with the question of what to do with my life after this. Finally, I’ve decided I want to eventually go into publishing — potentially in the editing side of things. I’ve lined up a potential internship for next year that will give me some experience editing a project. Meanwhile, I’ve applied to a few things online that will give me relevant experience in the field. I have at least two potential jobs in writing lined up. I landed a small job writing travel guides for an app and another job working with a book review website. I’m in a really good position with my job as an ALT supporting me. I can afford to work for free on some things just to gain the experience and resume gloss I’ll need to get my foot in the door when I return to the US.

A plus side to these extracurricular activities is that I’ll be honing my writing skills. Maybe I can tack on finishing and publishing my novel to that ten-year plan.

More on that later, though. Tomorrow returns you to your regularly scheduled Japan updates, but expect the occasional dash of book/writing/publishing talk from time to time.

My Apartment

I got really lucky with such a large place! The only problem is that the AC is located in one room and I have to get creative with spreading the cool air around. The best strategy is a fan in doorways. You can also see my balcony (and my laundry — oops!) in this photo.

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Next up is a better picture of my sitting room. I’ve kept it fairly open, but back in winter I finally broke down and bought a couch (not shown). Sitting on the floor or on my bed got old really, really quickly.

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For the longest time I kept my bed just like this, using the winter comforter even in summer as some extra padding. Japanese beds are firm. Later I bought a futon and threw it on top of my bed. I sleep much better now.

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The nice thing about the closet space in my room is that it is fairly gigantic. I can store any number of things without filling it up. I’ve contemplated another futon in there for a reading nook, but my current bed works just as well.

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My kitchen is super cute and fairly easy to cook in. I miss owning a real oven every day I’m here, but my microwave has a fairly decent oven setting. One thing I’d recommend is buying footies for your chairs if you have this type of floor. They tend to stick in the summer otherwise.

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Take your shoes off in the entryway. Most homes provide slippers for guests, but I haven’t gotten that accommodating yet.

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Here’s my washer. You’ll note the lack of dryer. It’s very, very rare to have a dryer in Japan. Almost everyone does their laundry outside. This can be a real problem when winter hits. Or when it rains. Plan accordingly.

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Your eyes do not deceive! That is indeed a sink built into the toilet. I happen to have a sink in my little laundry area shone previously, but if you lack that, you can wash your hands here. Water automatically comes out whenever you flush, saving you time and energy. 😀

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Last, here’s my washroom. In Japan, it’s proper to clean yourself first, get in the tub second. My water temperature is all operated digitally. There’s even a button on the panel (not shown) that will reheat the water. It’s a godsend in winter!

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The First Weekend and the NHK

One of the biggest shocks once I reached Japan was starting work on Monday. Until the moment I stepped into the BoE for the first time, I was under the impression that I’d just be kind of hanging out in Japan and acclimating to life here until the 27th of August. The BoE had no such plans, though, and intended to have me and Adrian well trained before we set foot in our schools.

That first weekend, however, we were helped along a lot in adjusting. The older ALT (now known as our fearless leader) was out of town for a small vacation, but our direct supervisor took it upon herself to show us around Narashino and make sure we bought everything we needed.

We had already vaguely realized it the previous night, but going out shopping we found out just how many shops were a quick ten minute walk away.

Once we had groceries and our essentials (plus new alarm clocks that she kindly bought for us), we were returned to our apartments and told that Sunday would be a completely free day.

As it turns out, Sunday was a costly day.

They had visited Adrian previously, so I knew what to expect when a little, old woman rang my doorbell. She was there to collect my credit card information to pay for NHK television. In 2012 they made it a law to pay to support NHK. So. Be prepared for this minor inconvenience and, if you don’t have your Japanese bank account yet, avoid going to the door. Once I answered the door, she was determined not to leave until she’d at least gotten my American card information, which caused a huge headache for me later to get it transferred over. I spent many months with double bills before everything was straightened out. To make matters worse, the old owner of my apartment didn’t properly cancel her NHK subscription and I was forced to pay her bill as well. In the end I was refunded, but it was really trying to get that money back.

Cosplay

There’s always been the stigma for me in the US when I’ve explained some of my less mainstream hobbies. Novel writing?   That’ll get a quirked eyebrow, but it’s not so weird. Drawing? As long as I’m drawing something traditional or they’re looking at

318205_10100910939122765_2088813721_none of the portraits hanging in my parents’ home, that one gets a pass as well. Cosplay, though. That one I need to justify. Usually I can sooth my way into a pass, though. I usually break out the Kami-Con justification.

Kami-Con i s an event I’ve helped build from the ground up since the beginning of college. Thousands of people go to it annually and it’s becoming (become?) fairly successful. My hobby is a part of that hobby. I mention numbers and dollars, then I can come out of the conversation without seeming like a total weirdo. Usually.

Japan, though, is an entirely different ballgame. When I first arrived, I wanted to   include cosplay in my self-introduction to the JHS kids. I’ve been in two of the    main-event stage plays for Kami-Con, so I wanted to tell the kids about how I love acting and making costumes. I was cautioned by the other ALT to leave it out, though. That it was too much. I can talk to other extremely nerdy foreigners and get similar reactions. D&D? Sweet! Cosplay? Whoa, take a step back! Slowly I’m trying to come up with a way that explains it to Japanese friends so that it won’t make them immediately turn their noses up. It’s fun trying to explain the differences in American anime cons and their Japanese counterpart, though.

Really, though. People need to be a touch more open-minded. Cosplay is an art to a lot of people — myself included! It’s a way to put those sewing talents to a creative and fun use. I used it as a way to connect more with my grandmother. We made my first cosplay together — her coaching on sewing techniques, me trying to make those techniques mesh with my grand vision of how the finished project should come together.

I use cosplay and cons as creative outlets and ways to connect with other creative people. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? ❤

Day One in Japan

My first day in Japan was an adventure, so I’m pulling over my entry on that day from my old blog!

The flight over to Japan was an overall pleasant experience. There were very few passengers on the plane, so I was able to stretch out as much as I wanted. I had the brilliant Idea to nap during Japan’s night time and wake up at the appropriate morning hour to avoid jet lag and assumed I had pulled it off flawlessly.

When Adrian (my fellow ALT) and I hit Narita airport, we spent the first half of our journey to immigrations helping a mom carry her car seat and half-leading another woman in the right direction. When we finally arrived at immigration, we were met with an impressive line of people. It took us a while to get through it, but in the end the paperwork wasn’t very difficult. We had our passports and visas at the ready, so once we got to the end of the line it took no time at all.

A quick digital fingerprint, a glance at a camera, and we had our gaikokujin cards! 外国人登録 gaikokujin tōroku, or alien registration cards were part of the old system. A new system is being rolled out now. I recently received some paperwork pertaining to that which I’ll address another time.

It had taken us so long to get through immigration that our luggage was already waiting for us beside the conveyer belt downstairs. ^^; Several members from the Board of Education including our direct supervisor and the senior ALT were also waiting for us once we made it out of the airport (rumor has it he was extremely excited to meet us, but by the time we got there he was just kind of tired).

Packing our bags into their van was a bit of a chore, but somehow we all squeezed in and were whisked away to the Board of Education. Once there, we were introduced to the office and, against everything I was expecting, actually sat at the BoE for a while. Kind of… not doing anything. It was very awkward and I felt extremely underdressed in a white t-shirt and a black skirt that I kept wishing went a little more past my knees. I’d dressed for travel, not work.

The worst part was that the thought had crossed my mind that I should dress for work, but in the end I decided against it to avoid rumpling my work clothes on a 12 hr flight.

Once the awkwardness of sitting at the BoE ended, I finally got to go see my apartment! I was impressed and really thankful to the ALT before me for leaving the place so well furnished. I’ll do a separate update telling more about the apartment in general. I was given maybe… half an hour? to rest and get ready to go to dinner with the other ALTs (who promptly trooped up to my apartment to hang out after the BoE members left). During that time, however, the BoE members that picked us up originally also decided to join in for dinner.

Then ended up taking us to a place that served more traditional Japanese dishes. All of it was delicious and I had no idea what half of it was. My Japanese still hadn’t kicked in at all, so I was sort of helplessly along for the ride.

Around 8PM, jet lag hit hard and we finally wrapped up an amazing night to head back to our apartments.