Sunday, September 19, 2010


From when I first signed up to do JET, and they explained to us this Japanese tradition, I was excited about my first enkai! An enkai (en-kai) is a literal drinking party that is organized usually after some big event. For instance after sports day.

Here are the enkai rules. From what I can gather, it is office members only, it is a time to let loose and say how you really feel, something NOT done at the office. The office, in my case, partied harder than I did, and the biggest rule of them all. When you go back to work on Monday, you are not to speak about it. You take whatever you saw, be it the principal throwing up in the alley (which didn't happen at mine, but at a friend's) and you put it in your mental waste basket. End of story.

Namiko and I, one of my JTEs. She is probably my favorite person in the office,
pretty much me but Japanese.
On the right is one of the math teachers, across from me is Ysu, a PE teacher
and next to me is the office manager. 

During the evening, Namiko leaned over and told me that this is also serving as a semi-welcome party for me and would I mind saying something. I said sure, so I finished a beer and asked her to translate. I stood up and they all cheered, haha oh god. Then they started shouting "Hero! Fast! Cute!" My run in the relay has now been added to list of compliments I now receive, I NEED AN EGO CHECK!!!

I started off in Japanese with "Good Evening!" and they all roared with applause, and when Namiko translated that just for the hell of it, they pretty much fell off their chairs with laughter. God they're presh. I went on to thank them so much for being so kind to me and being so patient with me as I learn Japanese, and I finally congratulated them on a successful sports day! And after every phrase they roared with applause. Too cute.

That's pretty much all the detail I can give, but I seriously had SOOOO much fun! It was great to see a fun, lose side to everyone, I LOVE the people I work with, they are such a good time! And with great food and drinks we couldn't lose. I can't wait for the next one! Supposedly there is chorus festival in October and I'm hoping they're thinking that could be round two.


Sports Day…80% of this wouldn’t fly in America

Sports day, as I believe I mentioned before, is a festival that spreads Japan-wide and is held at the beginning of the spring term as a back to school kick off. The entire school is splits up to be either on the red or white team, I was on the white team! and then they compete in various events. Among other things, some of the immediate qualities that I saw that made it unique were the events themselves, we’ll get to that, and the precision in which everything was done. Like everything else in Japan there is a right and wrong way to do something, and during sports day precision counts. From the marching to the cheering, the kids were quite in sync considering there were a little over 500 of them. Impressive for both the students and teachers. Well done Gochuu!! 

So, after 4 days of practice, Sunday finally arrived and it was time for the students and teachers to show proud parents and other local onlookers what we’ve worked so hard on. And by ‘so hard’ I mean hours of repetitive practices in the 90 plus degree weather. Those little kiddos worked their butts off.

The events…
Every time the students began practicing a new event my jaw dropped. NO WAY this would go down in the US without a lawsuit from some angle. And with every event the VP would come over to me and say, “They don’t do this in the states?” and I would say with a chuckle, “No, No I don’t think parents would allow it.”

So here we go, let’s start out easy shall we.

Opening Ceremony!
Sooooo cool!! This was one of my favorite parts by far, well this and the closing ceremony which was pretty much exactly the same. I LOVE taiko drums, tell me you don’t wanna go to battle after you see this.

Tug of War.
Exactly what it sounds like, though looks a lot cooler with hundreds of girls!

Human Bridge.
Definitely just made up that title. Can’t remember what they called it, but I thought that pretty much summed it up. This is for both boys and girls. Students were divided in to 4 groups of 60 (not everyone participated in every event) and the smallest student was selected to literally run atop their backs. As soon as he touched you, you were to run around to the other end to keep the bridge going. As the bridge, the best technique, I learned, was to grab your ankles, which helped lock your knees and strengthen your back. The students had to go down and around a cone. Side note: students were barefoot and the ground had to be 100 plus degrees, I touched it with my hand and quickly pulled it back. Poor guys.

I know I got that one right. A girls only event. The large group of girls was lined up in rows of 4. The front row would take this large pole and run down and around a cone, then around another cone from the opposite angle and back to their team. When they got back to the group the 4 girls who were holding it, split, leaving 2 and those 2 run the pole under all the girls feet. They have to jump up then duck real fast as the pole come back toward the front from behind. It is on you to make sure you don’t get hit!

Prepared to go! I had a video for this but it wouldn't load, sorry.

Boys Performance.
The boys did a performance that was basically a “look how strong we are” performance consisting of various difficult poses to show their strength, and man was I impressed. I think the pictures tell it all. My jaw was dropped for the majority of their performance.

A few kids fell, and I know we had 2 fractured wrists, but other than that no real casualties. Pretty impressive.

Girls Performance.
Some of the 3rd year girls choreographed a dance over the summer and taught it to the rest of the girls. Everyone wore HUGE Minnie mouse type bows in their hair, bright blue, pink and yellow. I am the world’s worst dancer. Yes, I danced. The girls loved that I did. That is the end of this discussion.

Yes, think the chicken game we play in a pool. You know where you’re on someone’s shoulders trying to knock off the other person. Now add two more people to make it more of a throne and have the boys battle against each other. I literally couldn’t watch this, after I saw a few boys bend in some odd angles I couldn’t bare to open my eyes.

The captain of the red/white teams saying hi! then calling
for a response from the rest of their teammates. 

Throughout the day there were various running competitions and relays. The day prior to sports day, I stayed 15 min after school and decided to run around the track, I was all dressed to work out and I was already there so I figured why not. The teachers jokingly cheered me on, shouting from the teacher’s lounge balcony as I ran, it was cute.

The next morning I arrived at school and a female teacher came up to me and asked me to join the women teacher relay team. They had seen me run and decided that I could handle it. They also wanted me to be anchor, which was evidently quite an honor by the way they said it. I thanked them and said I’d loved too!

So now it was time, I was where I needed to be and we were racing against students in kind of a fun race. The kids were dressed up in their various club activity outfits, for instance the baseball team was dressed in their uniform using a bat as a baton. It was really cute! We just used a regular baton and wore short and a t-shirt, not quite as exciting ha, but still fun.

We got in our various places around the track and it began. I had already decided that I was not losing. Here’s why…a) I don’t like to lose, especially at running. b) This isn’t like I blended in by any means so I knew every kid/parent was watching and I wanted to do well. c) My teacher teammates really wanted to win, so I wanted to do well for them!

Finally, it was my turn, my teammates had put us in 1st/2nd ish so we had a shot, I got the baton and took off. I may or may not have cut off a 1st year as I made my way to the inside of the track, oops, but I was in first. I don’t know the last time you ran against 14 and 15 year old but they are quick! I was giving it 150%, everything I had and finally reached the finish line, I WON! We got first! As I came off the track I found the ladies, they were soooo excited!!! It was so fun!!

As sports day came to a close, the sun stayed strong. We actually had a brief teacher’s meeting to acknowledge the fact that at one of the other middle schools, the one where Kim works, they had sent over 30 kids to the hospital due to heat stroke. The paramedics finally told them they had to stop their sports day and continue it on the following Wed., which unbeknownst to them would be a day when the first typhoon hit. They just couldn’t win. We, on the other hand, didn’t have any heat stokers that I saw, but after that meeting we made sure to give the students even more breaks and made sure they drank all kinds of water.

After sports day was my first enkai and I couldn’t wait!

More to come!

Mata ne!

Keito Sensei

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Keito Sensei...HAI!!!

First day of school! Keito Sensi is here!

Went to bed last night on the earlier side, or at least tried. After a few complete rolls as I tried to get comfortable, and a few rounds of, “If I fall asleep now I’ll get this many hours of sleep,” I decided to give in and read. Something I was trying to avoid, knowing I would get sucked into my book. Fifty-five pages later I rolled over and fell asleep.

I woke up at 6:30 to get ready for school! Ate breakfast and checked I had everything. I needed…
-my lunch, which was my self made bento box
-my Japanese self-intros, one for students and one for teachers
-pictures of home, people and my pets
-a change of play clothes
Kim Sensei!
-indoor school shoes; every kid at every Japanese school has indoor and outdoor shoes. They need to be shoes that have never been worn inside, I got myself some flats in the states but being that it’s so hot here I just couldn’t do it and decided to save them for winter. So instead I bought myself some crocs! They are so cute, not the traditional looking ones, and were so comfy today! Plus, they’re anti-“some word I don’t know” meaning they don’t grow bacteria. I’ll need to take them with me to every school I visit and put them in my assigned locker.

My shoe locker, check out that bow!
Then I hoped on my bike and headed to school! Down the road, right at the train tracks, left at the bike shop, straight till the road ends then left and if you ever come to visit my school those will be the exact directions you will receive as well. I arrived at school with a big smile and said ‘good morning’ in any and all languages to just about anyone who crossed my path. I was shown my desk and escorted to the principal’s office where I sat and talked with him, the VP and secretary. They asked a little bit about me, where I was from, why I was here and the VP, who spoke perfect English said that the principal is going to introduce me to the staff and I will translate my self-intro in English. As we walked out of the room I was about to ask when this was to happen, when he turned and told me to stand here…apparently now. The principal got everyone’s attention and they all stood and rose to face us, arms straight at their side, eyes forward. Mr. Principal told them all about me and I came up and said the rest. When I was done, Hawaii Boy came forward with flowers and explained in English to me that they were all excited to have me and that neither party should be nervous though he’s sure we both were. I smiled, then he went into, “And sometimes we like to drink, and have drinking parties.” God I love this country. I smiled and said I’d be ready.
My desk. Welcome flowers and note and a treat! My fan,
sweat dabber (seriously) and the days agenda. 

Then it was time for the morning meeting, I have no idea what was said, but I was present. Then it was off to the gym for that opening ceremony. Japan, I’ve come to find, has ceremonies for everything. We went to the gym where all 500 plus students gathered and was told it was time for my self-intro in Japanese. I was excited by my heart was pounding. The VP told me that the principal was going to introduce me, and I was to go sit on stage, the student body president came up and gave me a welcome speech in both languages, he was shaking, so cute. Then it was my turn. First English then Japanese. I spoke slowly, a struggle for me, then Japanese. I had practiced my pronunciation before hand and when I was done I thought that I did better than I had before. I went back to my seat relieved it was over. The VP and Namiko told me I did a great job, the VP said that all the students and teachers understood me and I had good pronunciation. He may have been over complementary, but I’ll take what I can get. Way to go Kate!

As I sat back down, we were about half an hour into the ceremony and it occurred to me that the students had been standing the entire time. It was 95ish degrees outside and I was really starting to feel for them when BAMB! A student I couldn’t see fainted. Teachers rushed over to help him and carry him to the back. No one even turned around. The students then sat down, unrelated to his fainting, and as they did a boy near me put up his hand. Two teachers rushed over and helped him to his feet and walked him, as he swayed, to the back of the gym leaning him against the wall near the other boy. Again no one turned and I started to wonder just how common this was.

Students during the opening ceremony.
Feet together in front, arms on knees,
face the speaker.
When the 1.5 hour ceremony was over, I asked Namiko and she said pretty common. I wondered if the kids had eaten breakfast or how much water they have consumed. I then wondered if they were taught about this kind of stuff in school?

In the 5 minute walk back to the school, I was called cute, beautiful, cute, pretty, cute, great Japanese speaker, and cute a few more times, evidently it’s a very popular word for them. It occurred to me that I was going to have to check my ego before leaving this country. Now it was time to get into our play clothes and have sports day practice. While this is day one back at school, the students are not moving up a grade. The new school year officially starts in April, in sync with the cherry blossoms blooming so I hear. Today just marked the being of 2nd semester starting, as the 6 week summer break comes to a close.

It is a Japan-wide tradition to have sports day. The literal translation, I learned today, is P.E. festival. This P.E. festival takes place Sunday, we have practice everyday this week, Saturday included, though we have off Monday and Tuesday to compensate. Sports day consists of the school being split up into two teams, red and white in my case, and duke-ing it out in various sports. There is a track competition, something akin to the ‘chicken’ game we play in pools and a relay of some sort. The ceremony itself, like everything else I’ve seen thus far is extremely precise; the kids looked like little soldiers.

But before practice could begin, we had to prepare the field, which meant weeding. Ego officially checked. Let’s just say it shall we, weeding blows. It is by far my least favorite choir, right up there with vacuuming. Despite the blazing heat, dirt blowing everywhere and the fact that I was weeding, I was able to get to know a few students. I talked to a few girls who were clearly daring each other to come say hi to me. I learned some colors from them, and answered all their questions. No, I don’t have a boyfriend, I am 23 and my favorite Disney character is Ariel. It’s a safe bet to say that we’re BFFs now.

I was careful not to get too chummy with them, it’s just too easy and especially since I don’t know the language I didn’t want it to seem as though I couldn’t hold my own. One of the girls, whose name I can’t remember though I know her favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh, took a pile of her weeds and tried to blend it into the ground, allowing her to skip the walk to the trash. She was far from subtle, she made eye contact with me the moment she was done and smiled as though she knew what she did. I smiled and pointed at it and said in Japanese, “No, No, No” told her to come with me and pointed to the bag and said, “Here.” She threw it away and as she turned, I gave her a look and a smile and shook my head. She looked down, smiled and walked away. Too cute.

Then the practice began. Already there were 5 kids sitting in the shade, unable to handle the heat. It seemed every 20 minutes another kid was staggering over with the help of two teachers to sit in the shade hydrate as the mother type teachers moistened their neck with water. Namiko was right, this was common. Wow. Two hours in the 95 degree weather finally ended and it was lunch time.

I ate at my desk and talked a bit with the teachers around me. I had filled up my water canteen before coming to school but downed it the minute I walked in the door, the heat bike ride combo was a killer. I asked Namiko where I could get more and she said for 500 yen, 5 bucks, a month, I could have unlimited cold barley tea (my latest fave) or this popular sports drink this I don’t like. They keep a fridge stocked and just need us to chip in. Sold. And I have to say, best decision I made all day.

After lunch, girls and boys were split up. Boys out on the field, poor guys though I did see that they were shirtless if that helps any, and girls in the gym. Namiko and I had agreed to participate in the dance the girls were doing, so it was dance practice time! A few of the 3rd years, middle school seniors if you will, had choreographed this dance during the summer and it was their job to teach it to the rest of the girls. First they performed it for us. The girls wore huge pink polk-a-dotted Minnie mouse type bows, a very in thing here, though I have yet to figure out why. The bows doubled with a “sexy” type move they busted out had Namiko and I on the floor. Too funny!

We practiced for the next two hours, and in between tries, I said hello to many of the other girls which generally sent them blushing and giggling. Precious. I kinda got the hang of the dance, then school was over. It was back to the teacher’s lounge. I had no tasks and was trying to make myself look busy to fit in but was failing. I basically begged Namiko for something to do as I had to stay till 4 and was told to help a kid with his English speech. So we read and practiced his pronunciation, he did great and I will most likely be attending the speech contest to watch.

All in all the day was fabulous! During my bike ride home I got a couple of “OOOHHHH Keito Sensei!!!!” Yup, here I am!

I got home sweatier than I have ever been in my life. Within 30 minutes of being home I had showered, cold water only, downed a water bottle and eaten an ice cream cone. Plopped myself in front of my fan and started writing this…

Just got myself a McFlurry...choice (for all my NZ friends out there:) 

Mata ne till next time! 

It's Time...

Shibya during my walking tour via my travel book. 

The past few days I have had zero obligations and being that I have no internet, no real comprehendible television shows to watch, and no substantial amount of money as we have yet to get paid, I have had a ton of down time. I did by best to keep busy and enjoy the rest of this summer vacation. I fully unpacked and decorated, watched a few movies I’ve been meaning to, completed 3 books, cooked every meal, lesson planned a bit, beat a video game, took a walking tour of part of Tokyo, even did all the things we always say we’re gonna do but never actually get to. I cleaned out my fridge, updated my address book, printed pictures, hand wrote letters and rode my bike to the schools I am going to be working at so I will know how to get there. Let’s just say I was ready to get busy. So when it came time to meet the teachers I was going to be working with I was overjoyed, not only to meet them, but to have something to do! I met with a school a day from Tuesday thru Friday.

Tobu: I will be working at 1 middle school and 4 elementary schools. First school on the list was Tobu Shogakko, ‘gakko’ meaning school, ‘sho’ meaning elementary. I will be at this school every Friday afternoon teaching 4 classes of 6th graders. Kim and I actually share this school, she will be there every Wednesday afternoon working with 3rd graders.

We left a half hour before our meeting giving us amble time to get there, thank god we did as we inevitably got lost. There are no street names on the maps, or on any streets for that matter, making the roads that much more tough to figure. Eventually we made it, parked our bikes and headed in to find out just where we needed to go. We were greeted and taken to a room where we sat and looked at the textbooks and had our classes explained to us. They showed us how far the students had gotten and asked us to make a game for the first day along with a self introduction. We met the teachers who we were going to be working with, saw the classrooms and a few of the kids who were hanging around.  It was good Kim was there for this meeting as this school spoke the least amount of English by far and as we all know, my Japanese is still quite limited, but all went well and everyone was very nice.

Chubu: Meeting number 2, and my first by myself. Snapz had showed me where it was and where to park my bike the previous day, which was comforting to know at least I had that down. Of course when I went that gate was closed and I saw no other entrance. Great. After circling a few time I followed a kid in, and as soon as an adult saw me in all my non Japanese glory she recognized just who I was. I was ushered in and went to a meeting room, busting out all my hello’s, thank you’s and nice to meet you’s along the way. This meeting contained Ms. Tanaka a fluent English speaker who lived in Australia for a year. Aside from her, the other teachers spoke enough to get by and between us we could have gotten things accomplished, though it was definitely nice to have Ms. Tanaka there.

I will be at this school every Wednesday afternoon teaching 5 classes of 5th graders, with roughly 30 kids per class. Not a big deal until they told me that day one they want to have 2 assemblies as an intro opportunity for the kids to meet me. One assembly will have 2 classes, so 60 some kids and the second will have the remaining 90 plus, but here is the kicker, I have to come up with a game to play with these students who know little to no English. That’s a lot of kids to be playing a game with! I have some ideas now as this meeting was about a week ago, though if anyone has any suggestions please let me know! After practicing my self-introduction with them, which they loved, they get pretty excited every time I say anything in Japanese, I left with Ms. Tanaka’s information and lessons to plan for.

Gohon-Matsu: The third and final elementary school meeting. I had directions and had a vague idea of where it was, I had been there before, but by car so really that helped me in no way. I headed the way I was told, but this no street sign thing came back to bite me again. I was lost. I pulled into some store and went inside with my map, sweating from every inch of my body and trying to hurry as I was now bordering on being late. I walked in and in my limited Japanese literally said, “Where, here?” The women chuckled and made fun of the rhyming words, the Japanese words rhyme also. They showed me where I was and where to go. I arrived 5 minutes late, in the Japanese culture 10 min early is on time so I was exceptionally late, and apologized profusely, the teachers were so kind and said really it was fine. I sat down with 2 of them. One of them spoke great English, and when I commented she said her boyfriend was from Canada and we chuckled about that. The other teacher spoke no English and confessed she was nervous about communicating with me. I said I know what she means, but it will be ok, I need to learn Japanese anyway. Communicating with her isn’t going to any different than what I face on a daily basis anyway, I’m not too concerned about it. I got a tour of the school and a few maps to take with me to show me how to get home as they were all concerned for me, haha, but I made it no prob! I will be at Gohon all day Thursdays starting next week!

Go Chuugakko: Friday was the last and final day of meeting. The other ALTs and I all had a meeting at the public library where we were to meet the middle school teachers we would be team teaching with. We all said our self introduction in English which was a nice treat, and then listened as our JTEs said their intros in English as well.

My JTE is a lady named Namiko and when she stood up and started speaking I knew we were going to be fast friends. She’s tall, thin and very stylish, something that is rare to see here in this little town. She said she has 2 kids and called them her ‘monkeys’. I loved her already. During our one on one meeting she busted out her iphone the deal was sealed. She said she was relieved that I was so nice and I said the same, she is so sweet and down to earth. She drove me to the school to show me around and introduce me to people, we chatted the entire way as if we had know each other for years. I taught her the word ‘hip’ and she taught me the months, not quite as exciting but still handy. She asked who I had meet when I was here last, and I described the other English teacher, the 25 year old guy who I thought looked like he just surfed in from Hawaii’s north shore. She told be his name and I told her that I really thought he could have been from Hawaii, since then his official name is now “Hawaii Boy”. She will just slip it in sentences when she is telling me about the other English teachers, and she will laugh and I will laugh and exclaim, “You can’t do that, I’ll never learn his name!” which just sends her laughing harder. To date I still don’t know his name.
School starts next Wednesday and I am so excited! I will be at the middle school all day and will start at the elementary school the following week. Yay!

Gaijin Card

Gaijin, short for Gaikokujin, which literally translates to “oversea country person” in other words, foreigner, THAT’S ME! I applied for the card the minute I got to Kamagaya and it has taken 3 weeks to be processed, but I have it! Having it in my little hand now opens up a whole new world.

I went to the BOE to get my card Thursday morning and was then escorted by Kurita-san to run the rest of my, now doable errands. Kurita-san is pretty much my favorite person at the BOE, he’s quite precious, he also happen to be hung over that morning allowing me to add a new word to my vocab. We first went to the bank where I opened up a bank account and got a cash card. Then took the proof that I had a bank account to SoftBank, a cell phone company, to get me…wait for it…an iphone 4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have wanted one for sooooooooo long, pretty much since the day they surfaced, the phone itself is actually free here and the plan isn’t that much more than any other flip phone, I was sold. It takes two weeks to arrive as they had to have it shipped from somewhere else and are calling Kurita-san when it arrives. Once it does, I’ll pay for it (obviously) then making me an official SoftBank customer which will THEN unlock the door to internet. All is very official and rule oriented over here in J town. It’s been a week since I applied and I am literally counting down the days. I wish there was an advent calendar for this kind of thing.

Latest Accomplishment: Made a self-intro in Japanese, adding what schools I was going to be working at after trying to copy what my fellow JETs said during theirs, and was complemented immensely when Toki-sensei then told the room that I said I couldn’t speak Japanese, but look what I just did. I could have cried I was so touched. I was really trying and it felt nice to be recognized for it. J

Also, I learned how to write my full name in Katakana! After going to the bank, I hated being asked to write my name and having to hand it over to someone else who could. So I decided to remedy that. I can now write Kate and Kathryn Bohan. I’ve written it on pretty much every piece of paper that has crossed my path and every card I’ve sent. J


Headed to make my lunch and shower.

Lunch Day 1. My homemade bento box. 



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...