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Stormy Weather

The past few days the weather has been somewhat unpredictable. It can’t decide if it wants to stay sunny and at five billion degrees, or try to drown us. Either way, walking to school has been a bit of a challenge. I’m counting down the days until cold weather arrives. The cold might suck as well, but at least I can bundle up more and hide behind scarves. It’s considered inappropriate to strip down in public to avoid sweating to death.

At least inside the school it’s bearable lately. I’ve just had to roll with the weather and take a washcloth to school with me. As soon as I arrive, I put my bento in the office fridge, dump my things at my desk, and head off to the bathroom to wash my face and try to look presentable again.

I never look my best in hot weather. My face doesn’t cool down as much as it should? Or as fast as it should? So it gets more and more red until, if I don’t watch out, the blood vessels burst. (When I was a kid and unaware of what was happening, I seemed to permanently have the two bright pink circles on my cheeks like you see on anime characters. The doctor said I needed laser surgery, but I healed on my own! I’M WOLVERINE.)

I was clearly not made to exist outdoors, though.

In student news, I had one 3rd year boy declare loudly that he was free when I said I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I had another serenade me with some pop song I’m unfamiliar with.

In another class, a girl who seems physically incapable of paying attention to the lesson rescued me from a string that was dangling from the back of my collar.

I’ve also gotten to know the three students in my assigned cleaning area. The boy wants to be a doctor, one girl a nurse, and the other girl a flight attendant. I told all three that English could be helpful in those careers and they seem somewhat willing to practice speaking while we clean.

I’m thinking… that I might like this school. The kids remind me of my favorite school. Lots of energy!

The only thing I dislike about the school so far is that the third years seem to know less English than the first and second years. It’s really unsettling. Hopefully when I go to the other third year classes tomorrow I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Summer Festivals

Narashino Dancing

Narashino Dancing

Lately has been kind of crazy for me, but over the weekend I was able to attend some festivals. Unfortunately, I showed up right as one was ending and I had to leave the other after only glancing around for a minute, but they were still fun to see!

My city’s festival was the one I was most looking forward to. I thought it would be interesting to see the sort of things my city would do during summer. I assumed my city was fairly small, so I thought the festival would be extremely small. Not so!

To start things off, they held a huge parade down the street. Many different clubs and organizations participated and walked through with their banners. You can view some of it here.

After the initial parade, there was another parade of dancers. I could stand at the top of the hill and see a line of dances down the road for as far as I could see.

In a large, open area the usual festival booths were set up. There were games to catch goldfish, a ring toss, prizes (I saw a lot of kids carrying newly won inflatable baseball bats and an inflatable Stitch from the Disney movie), and a lot of similar things to do. They sold a lot of typical festival foods as well. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to take more pictures.

Starting today, I’m taking a few days off work to pull myself back together and get everything about my life reorganized. My four day absence from sorting through my e-mail account seems to have already cost me the internship I was really excited about. I suppose I just need to accept what’s happened so far and try to keep going.

 

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.

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.

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? ❤

Cheap Flights, IRS Delays

Word to the wise, kids, always have savings put back for when job opportunities arise far away. Unforeseen circumstances drained my savings right before I applied to this job, which would have left me in a really tight spot if I didn’t have such amazing parents.

And on that note, we get to the important bits.

The flight to Japan.

I spent quite a while looking high and low for the best flight deals. Here’s what I found:

They’re a booking agency that caters specifically to young adults, teachers, and students for the cheapest flights to anywhere. I’d highly recommend at least giving them a look before shopping around anywhere else. Always shop around, though. It can be a difference of hundreds of dollars if you just buy the first ticket you find.

While getting your ticket is a big accomplishment, your visa is even more important.

Around July 17, 2012, I received my certificate of eligibility from the Narashino BoE along with general information about my new job and place of employment.

Once you get your certificate of eligibility, make certain not to waste any time sending it, your passport, and your visa application form in to your consulate/embassy’s visa department. The consulate in Atlanta usually has a very quick turn around time, but there’s always the chance of delays. I sent mine through the post office with next-day guaranteed delivery, a return envelope with postage and address filled out, and tracking for less than $25. You can find more information about work visa’s here (or at the appropriate consulate site for your area).

Those tax forms I mentioned in an earlier entry became the last, vital piece of information I was concerned with before my flight. I sent in my forms on May 30th of that year and didn’t get my return forms until July 30th (painfully close to me departure date). Be sure to get those sent in as early as possible. I cannot stress that enough when dealing with a government agency.

Delays, delays, delays. They’re the rule, not the exception.

Treat Others…

For the longest time, Japan wasn’t winning any awards with me as a nice place to live.

I’ve realized that the majority of my problems with living in Japan boiled down to one, pleasant-on-the-outside, devious?-on-the-inside elderly man. I keep encountering him! He has been my go-to for discovering blatant racism, back-handed comments, and general backwards thinking about women in the workforce.

Usually I want to illustrate my best impersonation of a future Mt. Fuji and explode with long-held-in rage, but I occasionally see glimpses that he might just be a lonely man who just really wants people to talk to. I am truly a sucker for lonely old people. I want to adopt all of them. So I’m constantly arguing with myself that I’m over-thinking and overreacting. The end result is a constant sense of stress and the idea that I have to carefully hide anything about myself from everyone in Japan, lest they think similarly to the elderly gentleman.

One person caused me a mountain of stress this year and subconsciously soured my view of an entire country. It really makes me consider about how careful we need to be in America. If someone is visiting from another country, it’s not enough to put our best foot forward. We need to tackle our versions of that old man before they can open their mouths. Things would be so much better if, instead of grumbling to themselves behind closed doors about the man, if other people had just come up to me and said to not worry — that’s not how everyone thinks. You don’t have to worry. He’s an exception, not a rule.

We should be brave!  We should protect each other from derogatory comments and we should let those around us know it’s not okay to say those sorts of things. I need to be brave, too. Maybe one day I can tell the man directly that I don’t feel comfortable with the things he says about people in other countries, and even if he doesn’t mean it to, it can come off as really rude and insensitive.

Colds and Omiyage

For once I’ve been really busy instead of really lazy at updating.

It’s gotten cold enough for consistently turning on the heater, but that doesn’t save you if you go to Disney.

All day long.

In the cold.

In my defense, I only planned to stay at Disney for the daylight hours since my coat wasn’t designed for more than looking classy in somewhat fall temperatures. The friend I went with wanted to enjoy Disney until it closed, however. So we stayed past nightfall and slowly I began to freeze to death while surrounded with small children.

Long story short, I caught a cold. Again. I had to take a day off work for the worst of it and now I’m just muddling through life while hearing everything at half volume and feeling like I’m breathing through a straw. :C

My cold aside, I wanted to make an interesting observation!

I had always been taught that “omiyage” (お土産) were presents that you brought for your superiors. Everyone I spoke to was always vague on what sort of presents might be expected, but finally I have learned the truth: omiyage are just snacks that particular places are famous for. You go to a place, you buy snacks and bring them back to give away. End of story, mystery solved.

You’re welcome.

Now to go and nap through the last two hours of work today with my eyes open.

Winter in Japan

Good morning!

Or more like cold morning as of late. I’m a bit of a cold weather wimp, so even though it’s 14C (roughly 57F), I’m still wrapped up in a scarf and I haven’t been brave enough yet to remove my heavy, ankle-length coat. Did I mention I’m indoors?

Apparently when you come to Japan, you had best be prepared to suffer the cold indoors until a temperature I have yet to experience sets in. The windows in the hallways are still wide open, and even though they’ve pulled the heaters out of storage… they have yet to turn them on. Yesterday was only a few degrees warmer (maybe 60F at best) and the classroom windows were all thrown open to let in the frigid cool afternoon breeze.

The students all have tracksuits on, but while I’m trying to look presentable in some business-casual wear, I’m slowly shivering to death.

In my last school, I regularly wore my heavy jacket to class. It was worth the students’ amusement to be warm, but at my new school I am endeavoring to be braver. I have also discovered heat-tech — glorious skin-tight undershirts and leggings that make it possible to be warm without imitating a caricature of an Eskimo.

While school can be a nightmare to stay warm in, my apartment is actually a little bit worse. My pathetic AC unit can barely keep the place livable. This weekend I’m planning to go out on an adventure to buy a space heater, but meanwhile I’m making due with the heated blanket my aunt sent me. I fell asleep under it last night super early and slept for twelve hours… and forgot to turn on my AC to keep the place from turning into an icebox. With the power of the heated blanket, I never got cold or woke up hunting for more blankets! It will keep me safe from turning into an icicle this winter!

Dentistry in Japan

Not too TMI, promise.

In the past month I have discovered more than I ever hoped to about dentistry around the Narashino area.

Overall, my experience has been good, though!

Before coming to Japan, I knew I needed to get some cavities taken care of and my wisdom teeth yanked. Unfortunately, I had little time and less cash for either of those things. When my insurance completely objected to covering any of the cost for getting my (impacted) wisdom teeth out surgically, the choice was made to have it done in Japan as soon as I was settled in.

I started out my foray into getting my teeth repaired by searching for dentists who spoke English, because, let’s face it, I am light-years away from ever memorizing enough teeth-specific vocabulary words to navigate the pitfalls of dental visits. And who wants to be 89% clueless about what’s going on when the person you’re talking to is armed with a drill?

The dentist I eventually chose had her office in nearby Mimomi and turned out to be possibly the best choice out there. Not only could she speak English, but she wants to be a translator for dentistry in the future and wanted to improve her English! In addition to that, she had a friend who recently moved his dental surgeon office into the hospital in my part of the city. She agreed to not only be my dentist, but to also translate for me when I went to get my wisdom teeth surgically removed.

I heard horror stories on the net about dentists in Japan not wearing gloves and other questionable practices, but I encountered none of that at my dentist’s office! Her equipment was more modern than my American dentist’s equipment and she was much more concerned with getting me through my visits pain-free than my American dentist ever was. Before cleaning my teeth, they even numbed my gums slightly! I have really sensitive gums, so I was shaking from anticipating the pain, but that saved me from feeling anything! It was amazing. I will never go back to my American dentist.

The only thing I had a problem with was arguing for a resin filling on a large cavity I’ve been fighting with for more than a year. My American dentist tried to fill it at least four times and screwed up every time. The last filling held until two months into my stay in Japan, then promptly fell out again. My dentist preferred ending that problem with a metal cap, but I was pretty stalwart about avoiding that. I’ve got a few metal allergies and I wasn’t about to deal with getting any metal permanently installed in my mouth. Eventually she gave in and did the filling amazingly.

And then she took pictures with her crazy mouth!camera to show me the results.

Sorry, American dentists, this lady has you outclassed at every turn.

Yesterday I at last went in for the big day! Getting my first wisdom tooth out! In Japan, it’s common to use local anesthetic instead of knocking you out completely. I was… leery about this. My surgery took about 1 hr 15 minutes because the surgeon was petrified of touching the nerve my wisdom tooth was sitting on. I experienced measurable pain maybe once. For an instant. And then they gave me another shot and all was well.

They put in stitches after all was said and done, gave me two different rounds of antibiotics, and a whopping four pain pills. When my American dentist removed a wisdom tooth, he packed me with gauze and an entire bottle of pain killers.

No such happening in Japan! Despite it being surgery and more intense than my last wisdom tooth, I had no ill effects until it hit 2AM (my pain pill wore off). After popping another one I slept fine and when that one wore off… no significant pain to speak of. My face didn’t even swell up until this morning and already it’s less severe than it was. I can eat fine and the only bleeding I experience was last night when I talked too much with my mom!

So far I rate dental work in Japan as amazing. It’s odd scheduling multiple appointments for different things, but my dentist and dental surgeon put those multiple visits to good use by being extra careful and paying special attention to what they were doing.