The Jonny Chronicles

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Hello from yet more wintery Joetsu! The weather has definitely hit harder recently, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting up to plenty of things, so here is the latest…

Firstly, and I guess most importantly, I have decided after much deliberation that I will indeed be staying for another year. I guess I just came to the conclusion that I hadn’t quite yet done everything I wanted to do and I really don’t want to leave before I feel I’m ready, as I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity that I don’t want to waste.

As I said, the winter has no doubt been harsher of late, but overall has been relatively mild (or so I’ve been told…) and so I have still been out doing plenty of snowboarding and climbing at the weekends and am enjoying both more than ever. Although this has been a supposedly light winter (tell that to the ice forming in my kitchen sink as we speak…) there has still been more than enough snow to mean that I have been able to see some pretty awesome things, the first of which was the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual event that has the major city of the northern island turned into a winter wonderland. There are hundreds of snow and ice sculptures; some of a size that beggars belief; snowboard and ski jumpers, numerous local food stalls and some wicked views to be seen from the top of the local TV tower. Sapporo was a really great city, and a definite change from Tokyo; it being the only other major city that I have seen properly since being in Japan. It is a much less manic place than Tokyo and felt like somewhere I would much more happily live as opposed to just visit. Well, if it didn’t get so much bloody snow perhaps…

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I also got to go out on a day trip to the nearby town of Otaru. This has to be my favourite place I’ve seen so far. It was a really beautiful seaside town with some fantastic architecture and a canal to boot. It was great wandering around the town and exploring all of the little craft shops, glass workshops and the best of all…..a Studio Ghibli souvenir shop! The whole place had been brilliantly covered in snow sculptures and lanterns so that walking down the canal and old railway line at night will be something I’ll never forget. All in all, I had the most fantastic weekend and have definitely had a bit of my heart stolen by Hokkaido. I can feel a return trip already…

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I have also been taking advantage of the wintery conditions to go the somewhat more local city of Nagano in order to visit the monkey park. This is a very famous attraction locally and consists of some onsens (natural hot baths) that are purely for use by the monkeys that reside in the surrounding mountains. We really hit the jackpot with the weather, as after having driven for over an hour through a blizzard, we arrived in Nagano at the monkey park to perfect sunshine. This made the 1.5km walk through the mountain forests an absolute joy and there were some truly epic views to be enjoyed. The actual onsen itself where the monkeys bathe is a somewhat muted affair, being perhaps only a few metres across, but it is FULL of monkeys. And not only that, these must have been the most relaxed and casual monkeys in the world. They took no objection whatsoever the the hordes of camera lenses being thrust in their faces as they lazed about in the hot water, seemingly entirely oblivious the eager tourists trying to get the cutest snap they could manage (the cutest definitely having been taken by myself as you can see).

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School has been continuing as per usual regardless of the weather and I am having more fun now than ever before thanks to feeling more and more settled with each day. I also feel like the kids have gotten more accustomed to me and that means that we get along better now than we did a few months ago. I also think that my slowly improving Japanese is making my time in school far more fruitful as at lunch times I can have a few extra sentences of conversation which seems to make all the difference to the kids. I’ve had great fun playing dodgeball, getting in snowball fights, seeing my kids out skiing and just teaching in general over the past couple of months. However, seeing as the Japanese school year runs differently to the UK, it has now come to the last couple of weeks of the final term. This has been a very bittersweet time for me, as although it will be great to welcome new kids and teachers to my schools, it is also really sad to say goodbye to some of my favourite students and teachers, who as I’ve said, are now closer to me than ever.
 I guess I just have to stay upbeat and think that the new ones will be just as good as the old!

Well that’s it, the end for this blog, and to be Japanese, I’ll see you out with their own unique take on a closing time song

Jan 9

The real life of an ALT...

Not more to say really.

Jan 7

I’ve decided that my life in Japan is clearly significantly less interesting than I originally hoped when I decided to start this blog. Although my intention to regularly write about my day to day life was genuine, it has become apparent that not enough actually happens in order to fulfill this wish! Even so, I am continuing to greatly enjoy my time working on the JET programme and instead will just update this blog less regularly to reflect my somewhat less exciting lifestyle… :P

One of the things that we as JETs are told to expect upon our arrival in Japan is to be called by your predecessors name for at least the first few months. I can only assume this is due to the fact that, without sounding racist, in many cases we foreigners look rather alike to the school children and teachers we work with, and thus confusion ensues. Not only this, but when we sometimes only visit a class once a month, it would seem rather silly to be offended by our names not being remembered, especially when I must confess to only knowing perhaps 5% of the names of the kids I work with and only one or two of the non-English teachers’ names! It’s also no surprise that our names get mixed up when one considers the relative rapidity with which the ALTs seem to swap out, often on a yearly basis. Even so, I was fairly surprised that after nearly five months of teaching in my schools, with not so much as one time being mistaken for the previous ALT, that in last month I must have been called by his name a good dozen or so times (sometimes by the whole class at once!). I guess that the children and teachers were winding down for the end of term and so brains were somewhat less switched on then usual!

However, even though nobody seems to know who I am anymore, the last couple of months have probably proved to be my most enjoyable as an ALT. I really feel that I have got to grips with working as part of the programme and that now I have a much better idea of what works with both the teachers and the children in the classroom. I find it amazing to think that I am effectively half way through my year’s contract and I very soon must decide if I am to add another one! This has definitely been a tricky decision for me and I’m still not sure about it, but feel that soon I will know for certain. Whatever the decision, I plan on continuing to enjoy Japan for as long as I am here.

Winter has now very much arrived in Joetsu, (as you can see from the video!) and I have to confess I have never seen so much snow in my life! Having lived the majority of my years on the Southern coast of England, acclimatising to life in snow country (the affectionate name for Niigata prefecture where I live) has been an interesting experience to say the least. The almost daily requirement to clear my drive and steps has already become a chore I loathe and I have only just become accustomed to the regular thump of snow falling from the roof! Thankfully, unlike I, Joetsu is very much used to dealing with such weather and so most things continue as normal. Probably the best example of such preparedness is in the fact that the roads remain clear due to an ingeniously simple sprinkler system, which does such a good job that on the first snow day I arrived at work a full hour early expecting conditions that even Scott of the Antarctic would have found frightening, whereas evidently that was not the case… But, even with the troubles the snow causes, I still love it for one reason alone. SKIING!!! I live no more than an hour and a half from some truly fantastic ski slopes and I can promise I will be frequenting them almost every weekend during the winter :D It’s so great to be able to ski so easily and cheaply as it has been something I enjoyed so much the few times I’ve been, but because of the cost normally associated with it, I have barely been able to enjoy it till now!

Winter in the classroom has also brought about some changes. No longer do I have to contend with the fear of leaving a sweat pool on the floor from the summer heat, but instead I must prevent myself from freezing solid in the cold! The school has also changed routine to deal with the climate change, with all students now eating lunch in separate classes rather than together in the food hall and the forced wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of flu. I rather feel like I’m stuck in the film ‘Contagion’… Classes have continued to be entertaining over the winter, with one of the stand out moments being a brilliant kids festival held at one my elementary schools, which was based around hand made carnival games run by the kids. Games included football-bowling, fishing, darts, coconut range and my personal favourite, a whack-a-mole game where one kid stays under the box and pokes up bottles for you to hit with plastic mallets! I was so impressed with the ingenious designs and the attitudes of all the kids taking part. The same elementary school students were also great when I got to teach a Christmas lesson dressed up as Santa Claus; although they did then spend most of the lesson trying to pull off my beard and at lunch chased me round the entire playground pelting me with snowballs - not so fun… My junior high students have also been doing some good stuff recently. One lesson in particular had them writing about their dream job to practise relative pronouns. The best of the lot had to be ‘I want to be a pilot who flies like a bird’. It certainly beat all of the textbook copied answers that most of the other sheets that I read consisted of!

Even with the winter period in Japan being just as rewarding as the summer and autumn, I was still very grateful when the time came to head home for Christmas and New Year! It was great to get back to the UK for a couple of weeks to catch up with friends and family and to enjoy some home treats :) Christmas and New Year was definitely a time that I wanted to spend at home, as although my Christmas tree in Japan was very festive, it was still nothing on being home for the holidays! Although being at home was fantastic, it is also good to now be back in Japan with everything that it has to offer. In fact, I have already had a very entertaining first day at work, with the staff school lunch including revealing your new year’s resolutions. I mention this because for some unknown reason the soundtrack to this lunch included Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne and Bonnie Tyler. I can say with confidence that seeing the principal reveal his resolution to a backdrop of ‘Don’t pretend I think you know I’m damn precious, And Hell Yeah, I’m the motherfucking princess’ is something I won’t forget in a hurry! Not only that, but the vice principal then managed to one up this by triggering the fire alarm and then in attempting to inform everyone that it was a false alarm, all he actually managed was to then make it louder by blasting it out over the PA system!

Sometimes I really do wonder if the other teachers are aware of what I take away from teaching in Japan…. :P

The last couple of months in pictures!

So, I may have left it a little while…

Erm, so yeah, I am actually still alive even if my abandonment of my blog would suggest otherwise! The lag since my last post is due to my own laziness combined with a fairly hectic schedule and of course, an easily sidetracked mind certainly doesn’t help the situation. I will now attempt to sum up the past two months in rapid fashion and then will endeavour to blog on a more regular basis!

I have now been to every single one of my visit schools here in Joetsu, however my first trip to my final school could have started better as initially there was nobody there to greet me! I was pretty sure I had the right place and thankfully after a few minutes passed with me looking rather bewildered, somebody did indeed come out of the school and usher me in after recognising me as the ALT, albeit that isn’t difficult in rural Japan… I did also get the joy of unexpected lessons being thrust upon me last minute, which is thankfully less daunting at Elementary School as lessons tend to be more about just being extra genki than actually covering a grammar point with the kids. My first day was overall pretty good, with the younger grade kids in particular being great fun to teach, with them managing to mob me for high fives during my introduction as well as having the entire class queue up for my signature like I was some celebrity! Lessons with the older kids proved to be a little less crazy but still amusing when it came to my 5th grade class covering ‘What food/animal/colour do you like?’ To start with I introduced all of these things individually; dog, cat, zebra etc., and that went fine. I didn’t however realise until it was too late that this meant that when it came to singing the ‘I like’ song, I ended up with the line ‘I like monkey. I like giraffe. I like monkey and giraffe. I like panda. I like rabbit. I like panda and rabbit.’ Not only did I end up laughing in the middle of the song at the ridiculousness of what I was saying but I can’t even claim to have eaten any of those things except rabbit, so I was clearly lying to these children… Talking about eating something new, I did however get the chance at lunch experience natto for the first time and I can’t say it’s something I want to repeat soon. The stuff truly is as disgusting as everyone I’ve spoken to before had said!

Teaching over the last couple of months has hit more of a rhythm now which is nice. I feel like I have a better grasp on what is expected of me in each lesson and also how best to prepare and deliver materials in the lessons. I’ve had plenty of great classes with the stand outs being my younger grades at my visit JHS (although I did get one third year bring me in anime themed presents too!) and my elementary classes (one of which involved the entire class dancing for me and then taking me to their secret base at lunch!), but alas also plenty of miserable classes, with those often coming from my base school younger grades. What a difference a few kilometres makes… Overall though, most of the kids are good and have been very welcoming of me and it’s really nice to start and leave work with plenty of hellos and goodbyes respectively, and I even get a kind reception if seen outside of school (although I don’t appreciate seeing my students in my free time quite so much….). I’ve also now come to appreciate how difficult certain things are in English. For one, I never realised how complex telling the time is! Do you use a.m. / p.m., in the morning / afternoon / evening, o’clock, fifteen / quarter past, forty-five / quarter to, thirty / half past – the list goes on! This has given me a greater respect for the kids in their attempts at learning this bloody difficult language!

Outside of the classroom, things have been just as fun over the last two months as they were over the first one and a half! I’ve visited loads of great places and had an awesome time. Some of the trips include going to Fuji-Q theme park just outside of Tokyo with other Joetsu ALTs, numerous trips into Tokyo itself (I think I’ve seen so much more of this awesome city than I ever thought I would!), epic welcome parties spent camping overnight at in handmade wood cabins, basketball tournaments (in which we came a hugely respectable fourth!) involving some pretty intense after parties, birthdays spent surrounded by some of the rowdiest Japanese people I’ve ever met and finally some beautiful trips into the nearby Myoko mountains (although we did nearly miss the last cable car and so were close to spending the night alone on the mountain!). Plenty of little things have also occurred and amused me recently such as stumbling upon mixed toilets (I think you can guess what awkward and embarrassing events unfolded…), discovering my toilet at home has a heated seat (very much necessary with the winter closing in), random use of English by my teachers such as ‘Thank you desu!’ and ‘I understand desu!’ (it grates my ears every time I hear it), the true beauty of this country now that the autumn colours are coming round and the fact that I have now kitted out my lounge with new speakers, a monitor and a PS3! Happy days :P

I’ll upload some pictures too of the last couple of months to go with this post so keep an eye out! I promise it won’t be so long till the next one :P

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Japan

Things I love:

  • Vending machines can be found everywhere
  • Pocari sweat
  • Edamame
  • Convenience stores are really very convenient
  • Kindness to strangers
  • Customer service
  • The kids I work with
  • Random use of nonsensical English on signs and clothing

Things I don’t love so much:

  • Japanese road sense, or more accurately, a lack of it
  • Unidentifiable seafood
  • Bureaucracy
  • Humidity
  • Things cost too much
  • Rubbish disposal
  • Being stared at for being foreign

I’m just gonna Nippon to give you an update…

Sorry about that…..

At the end of my last post I talked about the sports day at my base school, Kubiki, and how the afternoon events got postponed due to ‘weather complications’. This meant that on Tuesday we finally got around to finishing the sports day, although the weather still made every effort to scupper attempt number two and so the closing ceremony had to be finished indoors due to another overhead storm. The day was still a success though and the kids and staff all enjoyed themselves. During the closing ceremony, all of the students performed their cheer routines for the staff members of their team and the staff members did a mini performance of their own. I was not part of this due to my recent arrival, but I was totally shocked when at the end of all this the students on my team all got up together and shouted ‘JONNY SENSEI - THANK YOU!’ in front of the whole school! I was totally embarrassed and delighted all at once :P I even had one kid give me his headband on the way out of the hall and say another thank you! Later that afternoon, once the sun had managed to make a showing, all the students and staff went back outside for group photos. I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself into some adorable foreigner in the eyes of a group of third year girls by joining in with their poses for the photos, with the younger kids actually doing the reverse of that and shouting what I could only make out as ‘BEAMU’. This performance by myself was then followed by the now traditional screams of ‘CUTO!’ and ‘KAWAII!’. Oh how I am loved :P

This week also saw my first teaching days at my second Junior High and my first of two Elementary schools. My second junior high, Yoshikawa, is smaller than Kubiki but is a newer school. I had the usual joy of a speech in front of all the students at a welcome assembly and the principal also spoke about Southampton (my adopted hometown), which he had evidently researched about! After some less than fantastically enthusiastic self introduction lessons at Kubiki, I was a little apprehensive about how they might go down at Yoshikawa, but the kids were great and some of their reactions to the revelation that I wasn’t married were brilliant. Having thirty kids simultaneously performing a sharp intake breath in shock was highly entertaining. Some of the questions I’ve had during my self introductions have been unexpected too. More times than I’d care to remember I’ve been asked if I have a perm, wear coloured contacts and also for some reason how many CDs I own - weird…. I was sad to say goodbye to the kids at Yoshikawa after my first day as I felt like they were far more receptive than some of the kids at Kubiki. On my way home though, I realised that I needed to go back to Kubiki to pick up some school books and upon arriving there I was greeted by so many of my kids in such a warm way that I instantly scolded myself for thinking poorly of them. Bad Jonny sensei I thought!

Thursday was my first day at Yoshikawa Elementary, and what an awesome school it is. The teachers were as welcoming as ever, with signs on both my desk and shoe locker reading ‘Welcome Mr. Wheartcroft’. I shall now sign all my paperwork at this school with that name in order to avoid causing embarrassment following their kindness! That morning, my welcome speech was broadcast through the school instead of being done at assembly, which was perhaps a slightly less frightening way of doing it, but unfortunately I had to do it twice as the first time the kids were too noisy to hear it! My self introduction lessons went really well and the students were so positive and they even all had to do mini introductions of their own which was great when some of the more confident students came up and shook my hand properly and didn’t stare at the floor :P Unlike at my junior highs, the teachers at elementary speak far less English and so it was pretty pleasing when I felt like at times during the day, even my incredibly basic understanding of Japanese actually came in useful! Lunch time at ES saw me playing basketball with one of the classes I had taught in the morning and then loved it, when thanks to the lowered hoops, I was able to slam dunk :D

Thursday also saw my first private Japanese lesson. I was pretty apprehensive about this to begin with as I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I have to totally recommend such lessons to anyone learning a language. One on one tuition was a brilliant way to learn and I really felt hugely more confident about how much I can improve in my study of Japanese :)

Friday I was back at my base school, the day was fairly uneventful but I at last got the chance to stay behind after school and join in with some club activities. I was originally planning on joining Table Tennis as I had thought myself fairly good at it. Upon seeing the kids playing, I quickly reevaluated my level… Thankfully I didn’t have a bat with me and so I couldn’t play which meant I unexpectedly ended up joining in with the football club. What a great choice that was! The students were brilliant and I had so much fun that I have since gone out to buy proper boots as running shoes aren’t the best footwear! At half time two of the kids came up to me and asked with wide eyes ‘Can I be your friend?’ <3 I once again scolded myself for preferring the Yoshikawa kids and have endeavored to adore them all equally!

Saturday saw me back at Yoshikawa JHS for what was effectively my third sports day in a week thanks to the weather interrupting at Kubiki. This was a less military affair than at Kubiki but everything still went totally to plan and thankfully the weather was pretty much perfect all day! Many of the games were the same or variants of what I saw at Kubiki, with my conclusion of Japanese sports days being that they don’t understand what sports are, although one teacher did accurately describe it better as show time for the kids rather than being about sporting achievement! Here are some of the events I witnessed: Bo-Toashi, 40-legged race, something involving a giant ball, kids forming mini walking pyramids to remove headbands, a modified tug of war and countless other inexplicable events. My favourite that day though was probably one where each team had a box of paper slips, each piece listing a random item (or even person!) they had to fetch before the other team. This lead to some pretty mad running after teachers and spectators and even resulted in students being dragged along the ground by their faster peers! Mental. Photos followed along with some amazing cheer performances lasting upwards of ten minutes each! The students had evidently practised long and hard and the results were nothing short of brilliant :) Seeing one hundred and fifty children dance near perfectly in time was pretty darn epic!

That night I had my second school enkai and this was a step up from my previous one at Kubiki in terms of the drunken antics! My Kyoto sensei decided not only to climb the wall when I revealed I went rock climbing, but he also mimed any other sports I happened to mention as well as pocketing what was left of the sake at the end of the night! One teacher also kept asking questions in the fashion of an over excited school girl, which was great to watch! I also had to make another quick speech which led to my first ever attempt and success at humour in Japanese. I was so proud :P I can’t be bothered to explain it here, just know that it was really really funny and you should laugh just imagining it. Seriously. The enkai finished with a rendition of the school song, which I didn’t know and couldn’t read most of the words due to the evil indecipherable nature of Kanji, but I did manage to surprise the entire group when I could read and sing the schools name with everyone! The joy of being foreign in Japan XD

So, that was my last week and that was a longer post than I had intended! Sorry about that too…. ;)

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Sep 3

The end of month one…

So, I have now been in Japan for my first whole month! Hooray! My survival has almost certainly been due to a combination of luck along with the mass of help that I’ve been given by the other JETs locally and all of my various teachers and supervisors - so thank you to all those people :D The last two or three weeks since my previous update have been just as busy as my first two so plenty to share once again.

My official welcome to Joetsu

Even though at this point I’d already been working at school for a week, in the middle of August I got handed my letter of acceptance to work as an ALT is Joetsu. This involved a formal ceremony where all the new ALTs had to accept the letter from the superintendent at the Board of Education. For some unknown reason I volunteered to go up first and proceeded to make every effort to forcibly remove the acceptance letter from the superintendent’s hand before he had finished talking. Clearly this was a very smooth and an entirely auspicious start to my life working in Joetsu. Still, he apparently thought my eagerness to begin working was entertaining and so no lasting damage was done!

My more unofficial welcome

The remainder of the week at school went welland I felt like things were beginning to settle down into more of a rhythm. I was able to plan my self introduction lessons which I would be giving the following week (more on those later) as well as get to know the teachers and my working environment better. Most importantly of all that week though, was the ALT welcome party for those not only from Joetsu, but also from nearby Myoko and Itoigawa. The party was another all you can eat and drink affair held at a local beer garden called Yasune. The night was fantastic fun and I think I made the most of the ‘all you can’ element which meant that I was under the illusion at karaoke later that night that I could not only dance and sing (something that has always eluded me), but suddenly do both simultaneously. Even if that wasn’t the case, it wasn’t stopping me from busting my best moves, regardless of how appreciated they were or most likely weren’t! The next day I was a little on the rough side of life, but I still managed to get out to one of the nearby major cities Nagano, for some rock climbing. This was great as I really thought in coming to Japan I wouldn’t be able to carry on with this. I am however now somewhat irritated that I didn’t pack my climbing gear to take with me from the UK!

Self introductions and school life

The start of my next week heralded the beginning of classes at my base school as the students had now fully returned from their summer break. This did however mean I was now expected to introduce myself to the entire school at the start of term welcome assembly! I enlisted the help of my neighbour to write a short Japanese speech for the event. I think I managed to avoid any major stumbles when reading it out, but the blank faces that stared back at me weren’t giving anything away, so I can’t be sure! After my moment in the limelight, two female students came up on stage and greeted me in English which I thought was a really nice welcome :)

Classes for me during this first week of term revolved around my self introduction lesson that I had planned the previous week. I had brought in a number of pictures from home as well as props, such as my Southampton FC shirt and Totoro plush, that I thought the kids would like to see. Overall I think the classes went well, and I got some interesting questions asked at the end, some in surprisingly good English considering how unwilling they seem at times to say anything more than just ‘Hello’! These classes would take up my mornings, but for the first week, all afternoons were kept free for the students to prepare for the upcoming sports day on the Saturday. This meant I had plenty of opportunities to see the kids outside of class and I have so far been really pleased with how welcoming they have been. I get good mornings and afternoons whenever I walk past a group, and if they are girls, then upon returning their greeting, I often hear a chorus of ‘Jonny sensei CUTO!!’ as I walk past. Totally adorable :P

This was also my first week to eat lunch with the students. School lunches in Japan are totally different to what we have in the UK. Here, the students have lunch groups and serve each other the food - no dinner ladies! Possibly my favourite part is that any left over food get’s fought for using the Japanese equivalent of rock, paper, scissors, known as janken. This game is used all over Japan for any decision making process. I reckon wars have been decided upon using it….no joke. The other entertaining part of lunch has to be the choice of backing music. I have heard some pretty random classical music, although I think the strangest to eat food to had to be ‘A Night on Bald Mountain’, which could only remind me of this, which still scares me now!

Sports Day and enkai

As I mentioned, the students spent every afternoon, and in fact all day on Friday that week, preparing for this year’s sports day. I don’t think anyone can say they have experienced Japan until you have seen one of these events. Never before have I seen a sports day prepared for so much and taken so seriously. The opening ceremony reminded me of the Olympics, with renditions of the school and national anthems as well as the lighting of the cauldron. I also got my first taste of the radio broadcast morning warm up. I have never witnessed a mass exercise on this scale before and to see even the principal joining in was a somewhat unexpected sight!

Overall the sports day was a huge success and the kids did a fantastic job. I even got the honour of joining in with an activity with the third year students (side note - in Japan sports day doesn’t really involve sports as such, but events such as tug of war or three legged races). I really enjoyed spending the day with the students and they were hugely welcoming and kind. I even managed to have a couple of conversations with some of them which was a real bonus and has given me a lot more faith for my upcoming English lessons :D Unfortunately after lunch a large storm came over (the weather here is crazy….) and so the afternoon events had to be postponed until Tuesday as the whole outside field was entirely waterlogged. As a result, all the teachers, myself included of course, had the unenviable task of moving everything back inside during the downpour, and seeing as I had no coat on me, this meant wearing a makeshift kagool made from a bin liner…

Tradition in Japanese schools dictates that after a sports day, all of the teachers go out for a party to celebrate the hard days work and no exception was to be made at Kubiki Junior High School! So, that evening we went out to a really nice Japanese style restaurant/bath house and ate some fantastic food and I managed some surprisingly coherent conversations with staff members who I previously had no idea could speak any English! It was great to see the other teachers in a more relaxed atmosphere and they were all really kind and welcoming like the kids had been earlier in the day :)

Impressions so far

My first month has been jam packed and I’ve had barely a minute to myself but because of this I have had more fun than I thought I could fit into just a few weeks! Everyone has been great to me and I am now more excited than ever to get into school and work with the other teachers and students. Will update again when I next find myself with an hour spare!

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Now that I finally have an afternoon to myself, I feel that I can at last sit down and commit some time to my first proper blog update about life in Japan! I’ve been here now for three weeks and it’s been the most intense and enjoyable time so far :) Here is the lowdown on what I’ve been up to!

Touchdown in Tokyo:

We arrived at Narita Airport at about 9:30am on Sunday 29th July and after sorting out all of the necessities we got to the Keio Plaza hotel (probably the most extravagant hotel I’ll ever go to!) at about 11:30am. We then had the rest of the day to wander around Tokyo and recover from the jet lag… The Shinjuku area of Tokyo which the hotel was based in was a total assault on the senses - particularly the pachinko parlour! Going out at night in Shibuya was just as entertaining and the bar hoping led to meeting some great people as well as collecting some stories that I won’t soon forget!

Tokyo Orientation was a great chance to catch up with all the other UK JETs who I hadn’t seen since London as well as to meet a whole host of others from across the globe. The meetings themselves weren’t always the most interesting or useful but going out and exploring Tokyo, and Japan, for the very first time was an unforgettable experience.

Arrival in Joetsu

Wednesday afternoon I arrived in Nagaoko via the shinkansen (bullet train) which was yet another new experience :) The journey was a breeze with Japanese public transport truly being as good as everything I’ve ever heard about it! At Nagaoka station I was met by my supervisor as well as some other JETs who were already living in nearby Joetsu, which was soon to become my home :D In the first few days I had myself registered as a resident, got a bank account set up and even got a little Kei car to call my own! I got a chance to quickly get to know my new house (which is pretty massive!) as well as quickly explore the area before all the madness began!

Festival time

Arriving in Japan in August meant that I was suddenly in the middle of the matsuri (festival) season which are nothing less than fantastic. In just a few days I went to more events than I think I’ve been to in the past few years! First I got very merry at the Joetsu Oktoberfest and enjoyed copious amounts of high quality German beer whilst watching Japanese people dress up in lederhosen and yodel; a unique sight if ever there was one…. There was even time for some karaoke in our own private room - far more bearable than the public humiliation I associate with karaoke in the UK! Next came the famous Nagaoka hanabi (fireworks) which was undoubtedly the most impressive fireworks display I’ve ever seen and which lasted for two hours! I also managed to fit in trips to some smaller local festivals which were totally different but no less enjoyable and saw students from the nearby senior high schools performing some staggering dance routines considering the thirty-five degree heat!

World Camp and visiting school

My first taste of working with Japanese children came at a summer camp which was run during my first week in Joetsu. It was a great way to get to know some of the school children in the area outside of the school environment. The kids were really energetic and so by the end of the two days I felt totally run into the ground but I also loved the experience and everyone was so welcoming and they even all got together to sing me Happy Birthday at the end! That evening I went to my first Onsen and I’ve already decided there is no better way to relax and definitely the best way to end a birthday :P Later that week I got taken to my base school, Kubiki Junior High School, and got to meet the other English teachers as well as the principal and vice principal. It was nice to finally get to see where I’ll be spending most of my time here in Joetsu!

Niigata Prefectural Orientation

With barely more than a week gone in Joetsu I was again travelling out of town, this time to go to the capital of the prefecture, Niigata city, for the prefectural orientation. For me this felt like a repeat of Tokyo, but just on a smaller scale! Once again it was mainly getting to see the other JETs who lived further afield that was the main draw of the event :) After the day’s meetings a large group of us went out to a local bar called Shame for a nomihoudai, an all you can drink party that Japan is famous for. At these you pay a entry fee of usually around 4000 yen (£35) and for a set period of a couple of hours the bar is yours to use (or misuse…) as you wish! This made for a brilliant evening which later included karaoke and even a late night trip to the beach :D

Back in Joetsu

Finally I was to get to spend an entire week in Joetsu after all the travelling of recent weeks. It was really nice to be able to get to know the area a bit better and feel more settled. Plenty of events still took place with a great JET welcome barbeque as well as some awesome trips to watch the sunset at my local beach and also see the lillies open at dawn in Takada park!

Earth Celebration

My final big event to mention was the trip to Sado Island (about a two hour boat journey) for the annual Earth Celebration. This is a fantastic festival which centres on some outstanding Taiko drumming by the world famous group Kodo. The festival had a fantastic feel to it and the whole time everyone was really chilled out and enjoying the atmosphere. The main performance was outstanding and has really made me want to join my neighbour who takes part in taiko drumming classes locally! We spent the night sleeping on the nearby Sobama beach which was possibly the hottest place I’ve ever been to. The sand was literally burning our feet as we walked across it! We did however manage to make the most of the sea and took both evening and morning swims, even though the jellyfish were out in force and trying to get rid of us!

And to finish

These picturesand text show just some of the things I’ve been getting up to over the last few weeks since I arrived. Japan has already been the most incredible experience and I cannot wait to see what comes next!

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My first blog from Japan!

After all the months of build up it feels so great to finally be here in Japan and getting to experience first hand everything that people have been telling me about! So far I have to say that I’m loving this country and have enjoyed two great nights in Tokyo with some equally fantastic people :D Already I have some brilliant stories that I won’t soon forget and can tell that there are plenty more of those soon to come! Once I’m settled in Joetsu I can upload some of the pictures that I’ve taken so far during my time in Tokyo as well as my initial impressions of Niigata prefecture and will actually be able to sit down and blog properly :)

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