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Marriage and Weddings in Japan

Early this year I attended a farewell party for one of my JTE’s. It was just an ordinary party; give a toast, eat food, and drink copious amounts of alcohol. After an hour of drinking my two co-workers that were sitting across from the rest of the group dropped big news. They had been dating for two years and were married the month prior. Of course no one had the slightest idea that this had happened or that either was interested in the other. The group thought it was a joke but then the rings were shown and it became evident, a Japanese wedding celebration was just around the corner.

When living in Japan, chances are likely that you will be invited to a friends or coworker’s Japanese wedding. Originally, all I knew was that Japanese weddings are notorious for being expensive(there is good reason for that.) Although it was expensive, I decided that was a unique opportunity.

If you have the opportunity to attend a wedding while in Japan, here are some tips and information to help you survive your first Japanese wedding.
*I cannot vouch for how all Japanese weddings run but here is my experience.*

*Guests enter the venue.
*Grand entrance of the wedding couple.
*Introduction of the bride and groom: Information about their birthday, the schools and clubs they attended, and so on.
*A toast followed by the cutting of the wedding cake.
*Meal- During this time you can wish the couple luck by pouring the couple beer.
*Speeches: If they work at a school there will be speeches by the Principal and Vice Principal.
*The Bride leaves to change outfits.
*The Groom talks with guests and then leaves to change outfits.
*The meal continues.
*The couple reenters wearing traditional kimono.
*The couple visits each table and takes pictures. After that they go back to the front and you can greet them there.
*Lighting of the marriage candle.
*The Bride addresses her family with a thank you letter and then she addresses the Groom’s family. After this the Groom’s father gives a short speech.
*Closing ceremony- After closing you can take the flowers home. (Note: the tin foil is not to take home food it is for the flowers.)
*Guests leave. On the way out you go and congratulate the couple and their family one last time. The couple gives the guests a small gift.

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jayne Jayne Arnold is a 3rd year ALT in Kagoshima City

My Wednesday at a Senior High School

With the influx of new JETs arriving, I thought it prudent to write my own “A Day in the Life” blog.

As a prefectural ALT, I was assigned to a senior high school a few weeks before I arrived. At first I was nervous. As a fresh college grad, the idea of teaching and working with a group of students so close to my own age was extremely daunting. But as anything in life goes, you have to grab the bull by the horns and just go.

After almost a year working here, I`ve grown to love not only the job but the staff and students as well. I`ve also developed a routine that may vary a bit depending on my class load, but only slightly. I chose a Wednesday to write about because that is usually the most eventful day.

8:30 – Morning Assembly

This happens every week. I get to school, drop my things off on my desk, and hustle down the hall to either the gym or the Kendo hall, where the entire school or separate grades meet respectively. They`ll talk about events, sports, awards, expectations, and do uniform checks. I observe quietly and bow when necessary, which is very often.

8:45- Homeroom, Prep Time

Everyone returns to their desks in the staff room, and the homeroom teachers go to their classes for a short meeting. If I don`t have a class first or second period, I will enjoy a cup of coffee and maybe an okashi that a teacher has brought back from a trip. When I finish, I will have a myriad of things to do. Usually this includes correcting papers for the JTEs, answering their questions, thinking extremely deeply about colloquial English as a result, and planning lessons. Depending on my schedule, I may have a lot of activities to plan.

10:55 Class Time

Usually I have 3rd period classes for some reason. Lately, I`m allowed to teach on my own for anywhere from 20 minutes to the full class period. It all depends on the JTE, the lesson, and even the time of the year. When I first started, I had 1-2 classes per week. Now I have upwards of 10-15.

11:45 Break

Class ends and I return to the staff room. Again, depending on if I have class or not, I will read or study Japanese. Sometimes I will have 10 minutes to get to my next class. It truly does depend. To note further, if it is exam time during that week, I will have the entire day free. I bring books and study materials. They`re essential, and you might as well spend your time productively.

12:45 Lunch. Omiyage Distribution.

Self explanatory. I eat. We all eat, assuming we have time. I have seen teachers go until after 4:30 before they can touch their lunch, though. This is also a popular time for teachers to give omiyage if they are providing for the whole staff. Those are my favorite days. This is also time that the travel agencies bring their pamphlets and business cards around, and when the Nissay lady comes by with snacks and advertisements. Furthermore, there is a little old woman that sells individual yogurts to our staff room.

1:30 Class Time, Probably

Self explanatory. If this is free time, sometimes I will ask a JTE if it is alright if I run to the bank or the post office.

2:20 Cleaning Time

Students and teachers will clean the school for 20 minutes. I am in charge of sweeping the English department and the Math department. 5 other students help me sweep, clear garbage, and clean the sinks. This is supposed to teach everyone discipline and cooperation and the value of caring for your surroundings. During special long cleaning time, students and teachers even change into their athletic clothes to do this (read: WINDBREAKERS and of course I own one). After this, I continue prep or go to class.

4:15 Leaving Time

I never leave at 4:15. Never. On the rare day that I absolutely MUST leave at my scheduled time in order to pick up something or travel, I feel guilty. The Japanese are known for their hard work, and that doesn’t end in the classroom. Teachers get out at 4:50 but many will stay well past 6 or 7. If I have English Club (Tuesday), I will end up leaving at 6:15. However, I usually end the day at 4:30 or 4:40. This week I had a lot of prep to do so I ended up staying till 5:15 for a few days.

Keep in mind that this is not required. There is an understanding that you`re a foreign member of the staff and you are absolutely not required to work overtime, especially since you are not paid for it. If you want to arrive at 8:30 exactly and leave at 4:15 every day, go for it. Just do not be late and do not leave early unless you get explicit permission or want to take nenkyu, or paid leave.

Every situation is different. This will not be your day to a T, as it is uniquely mine. However, I hope this gives you a rough idea of what to expect as a teacher at the senior high school. Good luck!

christine Christine Zawlocki is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima

The End of the School Year: My Experience

 

So, it’s getting to the end of the school year and I don’t know about you but this always throws me off mentally. Having been born in Canada, I’m used to the school year starting in September and so I’ve always had my mental ‘year’ start in September. “I did that last year.” (read: before September)
 
Japan, on the other hand, considers April a time of new beginnings. It’s when every company has its change-over of staff and when the fiscal year begins.
 
As the school year starts, the new ALTs will get to look forward to Soubetsukai Farewell Parties and Kangeikai Welcome Parties as teachers are shuffled between schools. I remember tearing up as my favourite teacher left, but I was most nervous about my first day of school after the new teachers arrived. I’m not a high school JET so I’m not stationed at the schools. As such, I arrive after all the formal introductions – full of ‘yoroshiku’s and bowing – have occurred. I wanted to make a good first impression on the new teachers. So, ….naturally, at my first school I completely forgot all about it and didn’t realize until I was leaving for the day.
 

*Looks at the Kyoto-sensei*

“Oh! That’s right! It’s my first time this school year!”

*Turn to the rest of the teachers, smile all embarrassed and bow* “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone.”

*Smile as everyone repeats it back, smiling kindly, then leave and close the door.*

*Facepalm* That could’ve gone better.
So, don’t be me. Remember to do your introductions when you first walk in to the staff room. A little ‘Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu’ goes a long way.
 
Another thing to look forward to is the switching of classes. For those who haven’t been in a teaching/classroom environment before, you’ll have to bear with some of the classes as the students and teachers get used to each other. Some of my better behaved classes were super boisterous at the start of the year. A perk of the job, however, is that you have likely taught these students in the previous grade so, for the first little while, you will know them better than their teachers. My teachers appreciate me giving them heads up about certain students, and it’s fun sharing inside jokes from last year.
 
For those teaching at elementary schools, you may encounter teachers who are teaching English – specifically Hi Friends! – for the first time. Be patient with them as they will likely be nervous and be leaning on you for guidance in how to teach the textbook. This is a great time to gently give them advice and tips based on what you’ve learned. For example, many teachers don’t realize all the features that are hidden in the digital Hi Friends textbook, or aren’t sure how to best teach the listening sections that throw new vocabulary at the students. A guiding hand can make all the difference for the impact of lessons when you’re not there.
 
Finally, junior high schools are getting new textbooks! The government has promised more internationalization and a focus on speaking. I got a glimpse of the New Horizon and I like it a lot more than the current edition of Sunshine that I’m using, but I’ll let you make your own judgments on whether it’s better or not. I’m personally looking forward to seeing if it has a positive impact on my students’ learning and figuring out how best to teach the material along with my JTE – who is also using it for the first time. It might be super fun!! … or we might go down in flames like the Lindenberg…Wish me luck!

Here’s hoping you have a great start to your new year!

Melissa Masson is an ALT in Izumi, Kagoshima.

Things to Consider When Recontracting: An Opinion Piece

Post by Aneika Angus, an ALT in Isa.

Reappointment Woes

Hey loves, don’t you just love this time of year, the birds a gearing up to head south for the winter, leaves are changing and temperatures have “shankle dipped” over night to new lows. Yup it’s the season, reappointment season that is. I’ve been talking to a few of you about this over the past few weeks and it seems for some the decision is almost equivalent to being asked to use a basket to carry water. It seems so daunting and you know in your heart,

“This ish aint gonna work.”

Lets first look at your progress thus far; I want you to ask yourself the following questions;

  • What were the expectations you had of being a JET participant prior to coming to Japan?
  • How do those expectations compare to your actual life in Japan?
  • Are you in a position where you are constantly learning something new, or are being challenged to learn and or grow as a person?
  • Will any of what you’ve learnt be usable or adaptable to your life outside of Japan?

We all had a preconceived notion of what life would be like in Japan, some of us even went as far as to set goals for yourself, these are all perfectly natural human reactions to making major changes. But we must evaluate ourselves and our achievements when it comes time to admit that many of the goals we had set have not been achieved.

Now the reality is that many of you may be worried about re-contracting due to various factors:

  • An additional year in Japan could mean a significant setback to jump starting your career, should you choose to forgo teaching when you leave Japan.
  • You’re all “Japan Out”, meaning you’ve been everywhere, seen everything and now are no longer impressed by what the country has to offer.
  • While the money is good, bills back home are being paid etc. You are no longer happy.

The above are just a few of the extensive list I have. But the fact still remains, reappointment is your decision to make, do not pressure yourself into staying in a situation that confines you and makes you unhappy. Remember my loves; you deserve all the happiness that life has to offer. I will not sit here and tell you that life will be better when you return to your country. Chances are you will have to sit on your derrière for 3-6months before you find a job but we’ll get into that aspect in my next blog to you, for now, I want you all to think carefully about this decision.

Here are some Realistic Reasons to Re-contract:

  • You are content with your placement and job requirements
  • You feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others.
  • You can identify personal and professional growth in yourself.

When considering your options for reappointment, be wary of deceptive rationalizations such as:

  • I’ll save money next year.
  • I’ll learn Japanese if I stay

Unless there is a radical change in your life, chances are your life in Japan will not change dramatically if you were to choose to re-constract, this is empirically proven for third and fourth year JETs.

Realistic Reasons NOT to RE-CONTRACT:

  • Procrastination – putting off a hard decision, such as going back to school, or going home to face unresolved issues with family etc.
  • Money – staying on JET for the sole purpose of collecting a cheque.
  • Obligations – Persons within your BOE or CO have become familiar with you and they may pressure you into staying.
  • Indifference – its neither here nor there to you at this point, plus you’re a foreigner and you love the attention you get.

Happy thinking loves and remember, sometimes we have to let go of the life we have planned to embrace the one that’s waiting for us.