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“Home” At last…

The following  post was actually written a little over a week ago and not posted immediately…. But  first let me share a quote with you all. One that is ringing very true to me right now.

“Experience, travel- these are as education in themselves.” – Euripides

I have learned a great deal about myself in the past four months. Some of it not so nice and a lot of it rather reassuring.  I am very happy with my decision to come to Japan; if I hadn’t,  it probably would have taken me many more years before I allowed myself to really get a good look at who I am. And like I said, though not perfect by any means (because who is??), I spend most of my time smiling.  ^-^ And that can’t be a bad thing!

On with the entry….

 

I’ve done it again…Waited a ridiculous amount of time before updating! Gomen! (Sorry!)

Well, let me just start off by saying that things are going well. ^-^ I am very happy here in Japan and I think it is safe to say that I will be living here for yet another year. I know I mentioned it before, but I want to say it again.Trying to break it to you guys nice and easy!  ^-^ (Pending they ask me to re-contract of course!) I am getting the hang of teaching and my lessons plans are actually working!! That feels good! The kids like me and they seem to be really warming up to me. I mean, they always seemed to like me, but I guess in the beginning I was more of an attraction. Like the bearded lady at a freak show… Minus the beard. (Because unlike her, I do try to shave every morning!! =P) Now they talk to me about music and my weekend and they ask me for help with things.  Not only that, they try to joke around with me and I try to do the same with them in Japanese.

(* As a bit of an update-  I was told by one of my Principals to help this student because she was applying to a University that was out of her league, that she probably wouldn’t get in, but help her anyway and give her confidence. When he said that, I wanted to tell him, nothing is impossible! How could you even say that! So I met up with that student after school a few times for a few hours- unpaid of course- and taught her to write American style essays and collect her ideas and also did mock-interviews with her… And last week she came over to me- excitement on her face- and told me the news of her acceptance with an ear-to-ear grin. I jumped up and we embraced, both ridiculously happy- her for her future, me for her future as well, but more out of pride in her. She worked hard and studied hard and gave it her all! She gave me some chocolates and said “It’s because of you” and I said “No. It’s because of YOU. I didn’t take the test. I didn’t write the essay or even do the interview. You did it because you are smart and you worked hard for your dream!” So she hugged me again and left to go study. (of course) But that day when I walked home, I felt light on my feet and for the first time…like a teacher…like I contributed something special to this world, to someone….and as one of my friends here once said – “though what you did is essentially over for you, it’s gonna follow that girl for a long time.” Yeah, it probably will, but I think it will also follow ME for some time too. And that’s a great thing!)

My work relationships are also flourishing. I get along with all my fellow teachers, principals, and vice-principals. And I try hard to speak to them in Japanese and find some common ground with them. They seem to like me too. And I make them laugh. Silliness knows no language barriers! (The only person I don’t talk to is my supervisor. I really don’t like him and I speak to him only when absolutely necessary!! )

My Japanese is actually coming along…slowly of course, but definitely getting better. And the best part is that my ears are finally open to the language. So I can almost always understand the context of what is being said to me- which is the key to learning any language.  When I build up a strong enough vocabulary I think the process is going to be even speedier! And I am really looking forward to that moment! And, I also noticed that my Japanese improves significantly when I am drinking. Haha… I guess it’s because I am not inhibited and I just say whatever I want to Japanese people. I either go up to them and engage them in discussion or get involved in a discussion that is going on around me. It’s quite a nice feeling though.

I also feel comfortable being alone nowadays. Sometimes I almost cherish my solitude. I come home and just sit and relax by myself. But at the same time, I enjoy having people around that I like and can talk to. But as one of you advised me, I have removed myself from any people I feel “suck the life out of me” or make me feel unlike myself.  After all, there is no need to force relationships with people I either don’t want to talk to, or have nothing to say to.  And it makes a big difference. I feel happier and freer and closer to whoever the heck I really am! And it’s not like I hate anyone…People are quick to say that word.  It’s just a personality incompatibility and I can be totally civil. I do have my moments people!

On Halloween, I went to a party and it was a lot of fun!! (Thanks Cindy for the costume hook-up!!)  But I realized that on days like Halloween I really miss home. Not because I want to go to Knight Club and be the oldest person there dressed up and trying to hang out with the young folk, but because there really is no Halloween here in Japan! It wasn’t news to me, but it still felt so odd! So I wore costumes to school and taught fun Halloween lessons! (And yes, they involved watching Thriller! haha) 

 

Hime and Shin-chan

Hime and Shin-chan

See! Spongebob loves me so much he moved to Japan!

See! Spongebob loves me so much he moved to Japan!

My "costume" for school

My "costume" for school

 Yesterday was Thanksgiving and that one hurt a little more. Because at least the kids KNOW about Halloween.  NO ONE knew about Thanksgiving! And it’s a huge family day. So I felt sad when I was playing a Thanksgiving game and giving the students “Turkey dollars” that I made for the lesson. BUT I wasn’t as down as some of you might think. And the reason for that was….

Momma Martinez herself was here in Japan with me!! (As a matter of fact she technically still is, but by the time you read this, she will be back in America… )

My mother arrived in Japan on November 12th.  I took 3 days off from school to pick her up at Narita Airport in Tokyo and do some quick sightseeing with her.  I was really happy that she was coming to visit, but I was also really stressed because I had not left Akita since I arrived here!!  And I was going to Tokyo alone and I was going to have to rely on my own Japanese skills to get around and find the places we needed to go and the places we wanted to go…  It all worked out fine, but it was definitely a hilarious misadventure. And it was very stressful for me. But at the same time, it was a learning experience, and it made me more confident, since I was not only translator, but guide as well. And I did it!!! Yatta! (Yay!)

She and I traveled (by train) from Narita to Ikebukuro (in Tokyo) where our hotel was.  (Our tiny, hard to get to hotel!) And the people in Ikebukuro were very nice. Many would volunteer help and others went above and beyond what anyone would do for you in America. For example, when we could not find our hotel, one guy told us to wait 5 minutes and he literally ran off in search of it. He came back exactly 5 minutes later, panting, and led us to the door. Really nice guy! That same night we got on the JR line and subway and went to Kamiya-cho (or something like that) and went to see Tokyo Tower. It was beautiful! The next day we checked out and hopped on the JR line gain and went to Asakusa. There we saw the Senso-ji Shrine and walked around a bit. Then we took another train to Ueno, and we also went to Harajuku.  We want to see the Meiji-shrine there, but of course, with my luck it had a sign on it saying “Closed Today”. So we just went shopping in Harajuku.  Then we headed to Shinjuku where we had a misadventure looking for a bus. We were headed to Kyoto on a night bus and we needed to find it ASAP! After MUCH investigation on my part (and with the ever handy text message) we found it and headed to Kyoto.  Once there the next day there was a mishap with trying to find the hotel, but it worked out and we went (by bus this time) to two famous temples. Kinkaku-ji and Kiyumizu dera.  They were both absolutely breathtaking.  The only problem I had with Kyoto, aside from it being crowded as heck, was this one old lady who like shoved me off the bus! It was my stop and I was waiting for the bus to stop moving, because there were too many people and she was REALLY pushing me. It was her stop too, but she was like in a panic or something. She was like half my height, honestly, but she was the strongest little old lady ever!! I want to elbow her in the face. My mom was  watching the whole thing and laughing. After we got off the bus, I marched after the old lady with my hands in claw form and pretended I was going to grab her… She didn’t see me or anything, but I was frustrated with her and amused at the same time, so that was my stress reliever attempt , but I forgot about onlookers and the kids on the bus were looking at me like I was crazy. They probably thought that the crazy foreigner with the big hair was going to eat the little old lady. Little did they know that this lady was probably some kind of superhuman grandma who could (and probably would!) chew me up and spit me out! Anyway… The next day we went shopping around Kyoto and my mom bought some neat souvenirs.  And then that night we headed on the night train from Kyoto to Honjo (which is in Akita and where I live) We did a lot and saw a lot I think for about 4 days and for being two lost foreigners- one with NO Japanese skills, and one with VERY LITTLE Japanese skill.

 

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

 

Senso-ji in Asakusa

Senso-ji in Asakusa

Momma

Momma

 

Mother/Daughter

Mother/Daughter

Knkaku-ji in Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto
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Kiyumizu-dera

Kiyumizu-dera

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So the next several days pretty much involved my mom meeting my friends here in Japan and going to dinner each night. (Though she ate only the most American things on the menu! Haha BUT, she DID use chopsticks and she did try a few things like katsudon, yakitori, udon, gyoza, curry….) And there were two days last week where she actually went to school with me. J At my main school, Yuri H.S. she and I taught a special class on Puerto Rico and after school taught some Spanish to my English club kids. (yeah, doesn’t make sense but it was awesome and they were great!!) My favorite moment of teaching with my mom was the very end of class. She was shy and didn’t speak much while I was teaching, but at the end I played some Spanish music and of course, like clockwork she was dancing. She grabbed the Japanese English Language Teacher and the later a student and she was tearing up the floor with them. And the kids loved that. We also had an opportunity to team teach with my friend Sophie at her elementary school.  So my mom participated in lessons for fourth graders and she was able to interact with all the kiddies. I think she loved that best! They are so cute!

Last weekend, I took Friday off and she and I went shopping in Akita City. Saturday, we, along with two of my friends- Phil and James- went to Oga in Akita. We went to an aquarium and then drove around and found the Godzilla Rock! (Haha….crazy right? We can actually say we saw Godzilla! ) We tried to find the Namahage museum but we couldn’t! (Namahage are like ogre gods that are only in Akita.  The legend is that they come down from the mountains on New Year’s and pretty much determine whether you were a hard-worker or lazy and they REALLY scare the hell out of kids. As a matter fact, I think they take away people that are lazy to the mountains with them…So kind of like Santa… but EVIL! ) That night we went to dinner with a bunch of my ALT friends and got nomi-hodai (all you can drink- happy hour type thing) and proceeded to get wasted. My mom even competed in a janken match (rock, paper, scissors) with the bijin (beautiful woman) who always plays against customers! But seeing as how my mom doesn’t really know how to play, she lost. Then again, no one ever wins against that lady! After that, we went and did karaoke!! And my mom was loving it! EXCEPT she eventually started picking songs she liked the beat to. So she would make ME sing and she would just dance! Haha… The following day we (mom, James, and I ) made a HUGE breakfast for my friends (bacon, pancakes, eggs, toast….) and we played Jeopardy! for the PS2. Then we went to the giant Buddha and saw the 1000 little statues. And went shopping. The following day we went to Oga once more, in search of the Namahage museum. This time we went with David and Matthew.  We stopped at an observation tower in Akita City first, but we DID find the museum! We watched a Namahage show, explored the museum, took pictures, bought souvenirs, and even got to dress up as Namahage!!  After that we went back to Akita City and did Purikura! So it was a busy weekend, but GREAT!

 

 

Namahage Statues
Namahage Statues
Godzilla?! AHHHH!

Godzilla?! AHHHH!

No...really! It's Godzilla Rock!

No...really! It's Godzilla Rock!

See?

See?

Namahage Museum

Namahage Museum

More Namahage

More Namahage

Me dressing as Namahage

Me dressing as Namahage

Me and Matthew as Namahage

Me and Matthew as Namahage

Mom and David as Namahage

Mom and David as Namahage

Mama-hage (corny, but it made ME laugh!)

Mama-hage (corny, but it made ME laugh!)

She and I have just been lying low this week. But she has been cooking for me, winter-proofing my house, cleaning and doing all these mom things for me.  She says she likes to stay busy, but I can’t help but feel bad. (Still, it’s nice to have home-cooked meals and have someone to come home and talk to again. And it’s also great to have a much warmer house!)

 

 

Our little tree

Our little tree

Last Photo Together in Japan =(

Last Photo Together in Japan =(

 

But I do have to say this for my mom. She adapted quickly to life in Japan. She shops by herself, so she has mastered the money here. And she watches Japanese dramas and always knows what is going on. She has even learned a few expressions! And how to take her shoes off properly! AND she has also attended my ikebana classes with me! I think she has gotten a well-rounded Japanese experience.  And I am happy for that because I know it has been her long time dream to come to Japan. And she was able to see more than what the average tourist gets to see and experience. So I am very happy about that…But…

Now, I feel a little down thinking that she is going to be gone by this time tomorrow.  When I left America I was in a bit of shock/denial, so it didn’t affect me that much. Plus, I have technically been all alone in Japan since I got here. Or on my own I should say. Now, I got used to having her around all the time and seeing her, so I think it is going to hurt a lot more to say goodbye this time around.  My house is going to feel so empty without her… Ahhh… And Christmas time is going to be so difficult for me… Especially when I look at the little Christmas tree(s) we decorated together last night… AHH!! I don’t want to dwell on that right now…

 

 

So yeah, Japan is great and I am loving it but….

 

 

Samuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!

That’s what I have to say to anyone who wants to know how the weather in Japan is right now.  (And for those of you who don’t know the word samui, it means f-in cold!!!  And it is only going to get colder from here on out! Luckily Momma Martinez has insulated my apartment for me and I did buy a heated blanket and new heater for my room. So I am hoping I will be ok this winter!

There is so much more to say, but I should probably get to work on some stuff for school. But this is more or less an update on my life. I hope you are all okay! Thanks for all the goodies! And thanks  for all the love!! And Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!!!  Love you guys!!

-Jez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m Still Alive!

It’s been a long time!! Or as they here in Japan, O hisashiburi  desu ne!!

 

I am really sorry for not having written anything in so long!! It’s been a really busy two months!!

Can you believe that?! Two months!! I have been in Japan for two months already! Time is really flying by!!

I like to think that I am adapting nicely to living here. In the beginning, it was a little difficult adjusting.  (And I would like to say sorry to anyone who I called crying about it. But thank you for being there for me. It was really reassuring and comforting to hear some of your voices. It really helped remind me of why I was doing this and how I didn’t really lose anyone or anything by coming here.  You are all waiting anxiously for my return (or should be!!! ) and I have much to gain by being here! Sometimes I just need people to help me put things in perspective. So again, thanks for being there! )

What were my initial problems? Well, firstly, I don’t speak fluent Japanese. It’s hard moving to a country where you can’t understand ANYTHING! And it’s really stressful trying to practice speaking. In Japanese class in America  it was totally different. No one was Japanese and we were all trying to learn together. And there really isn’t much opportunity to speak Japanese in America. So even though my pronunciation and ability was not bad for a first time Japanese student, here, I am a complete idiot. (Now I understand and appreciate the courage it takes people to leave everything behind and start a new life in a foreign country. I am not that courageous. Although it was a big decision, we are very well taken care of- for the most part anyway.  And we have a big enough network here, which is what helped me in making the move. But I digress… )So yes, coming here made me feel  stupid. I am illiterate (lots of the time) and I can’t express some really simple thoughts! My vocabulary was/still is super limited! And my listening skills were super non-existent.  I didn’t know what anyone was saying! It’s one thing to have a sensei speak slowly and then explain in English what you are doing, but speaking to Japanese people in Japan can just throw you for a loop! “What the hell are you saying??” was my number 1 thought for the first month probably.  Not to mention that the book stuff you learn is totally different from the –ben of each area. -Ben is a dialect. So in Akita, they speak Akita-ben. And it is unique to this place. Kind of Puerto Rican Spanish is different from Dominican Spanish.  Puerto Rico ben and Domincan Republic ben.  (Dabe. Un da Examples of Akita ben)

The next problem was feeling lonely. I missed you all way more than I thought I would! (=P  j/k! I knew I was going to be so lost with you guys!) I was just thrust into this world of foreigners and strangers and I had to make friends because I would be totally alone. And it’s really stressful.  Obviously people make new friends all the time.  It’s the natural way of life. But most times a lot of your friends have been your friends since very early on in your life. I mean, I am still friends with someone I was in fourth grade with. And most of you reading this have probably known me since I was at the very least 14 or 15 years old. That’s a long time!! (It’s  a sad moment, when I  have to reflect on my age…Ugh! ) Anyway, I have those safety blanket friends and if a new person doesn’t like me, or I don’t like them, what does it matter? I still have friends. I can still have a life. But not here!! It’s super hard to be all alone all the time. (Especially if you can’t communicate properly enough to make Japanese friends!) And sometimes it feels like there are these expectations that everyone has to be friends with everyone else simply because we are all JETs.  Which sucks because you sometimes just don’t mesh well with other people.  It’s almost like here, you associate with anyone/everyone. Because you kind of have to. But back home, you probably would never speak to some of these people willingly. (Though I do have to say that I have met some pretty great people so far. And had we all been in America, I probably would have wanted to be friends with some of them anyway! )

I also had a bit of an identity crisis. Back home, I was me (whoever that is) and I fit in. A Puerto-Rican girl, in Jersey City, is not an uncommon thing. A Puerto Rican PERSON in Japan is quite uncommon. I don’t always feel this super connection to my Puerto Rican side, but NOW, I feel really lost without my fellow Hispanics. There are so many little things that other people, no matter how cool or awesome can’t understand… Or appreciate.  First, there’s no party without music AND dancing! I haven’t really danced at all since I got here. (Yes , ME!!!) Sometimes, I have to like bug out in my apartment just so I can feel okay! People here are not really loud. AG…come on, you especially know how abnormal this is!! There is no real embracing going on or affectionate displays. (Though sometimes, when I drink- which at this point is way too often- I do like to do my “I’m fond of you” speeches and pseudo embraces. Though nothing like what I used to do to Amy in college, or what I have done to Sarah’s goober and ginger….or my running leaps into Jose’s arms) I NEED hugs and kisses!! (Sharon when are you coming!!!!) I find it hard to just be me. Be that loud and silly, sometimes over the top and touchy-feely person who loves to dance and be with her friends and make inappropriate comments!! I am in no way saying it’s boring here, or that the people I hang out with are not great… It’s just.. different. 

Also, as far as feeling odd…. I feel like people don’t realize how different the food I am used to is from what I have here. Don’t misunderstand. I do enjoy Japanese food. And I am trying things I never had before which is nice. But  I have not had a single bean is over 2 months! (Hispanics, just pause and think about this for a moment….) YES, OVER TWO MONTHS!!!! As Giselle said to me, “What’s life without beans??” To which I can only say, an empty existence. I don’t even think I remember the taste of them! And the rice, though rampant here is different! Not to mention I don’t have sazon, or recao, or sofrito, or adobo!!! I mean, I can’t get even a little TASTE of home!! The only good thing is that I can eat SPAM here. (Cindy and Roxanne know what I am talking about!) So at least I have that!  I need that poor man’s meat simply because it’s so much like home to me! The closest thing I have come to eating a tasty Spanish meal was when my friend Michael came over and we made tacos. Tacos aren’t even Caribbean, but damn that day I almost cried. And the only way I was even able to make any tacos was because I found some ingredients in a foreign food section of a supermarket in the capital city of Akita! Ok, sorry….I went on a rant here about food. But I really really really miss my Spanish spices and tastes… ::sigh::

And you know what else, I miss…SPANSISH! Man, I never thought I would miss it so much. I guess I didn’t realize how often I heard it, but now I never ever hear it. I feel like I am forgetting it. Sometimes, I just want someone to speak Spanish to me. Thank goodness Mio and Karina (and obviously my family) still do. I have downloaded so much Spanish music since I got here….haha…Weird right?? But it’s my favorite thing to listen to. Sometimes, I even try to get my kids to speak it!! (imagine how hard that is when they don’t even understand my English!! Haha)

And since I mentioned them, let me talk about my kids… Yes, my kids. It’s weird how quickly you develop this parental attachment to them. But it happens! They are my kids! They are all different and I love them all in their own way. J  

So I teach at 3 high schools. Yuri High School, Honjo High School, and Yashima High School.  Each school’s level of English is different. I would say Honjo has the highest level. Yuri would come in second and Yashima would be last. (Unfortunately Yashima I believe ranks pretty low as far as a lot of high schools are concerned. L) Anyway, Yuri High School is my base school and I am there usually Mon-Wed. Honjo H.S. is on Thursday and Fridays I go to Yashima.  I really enjoy all of my schools. The kids at Yuri are very friendly. There are more girls than boys here and they are the ones  saying “kawaii” or cute like a million times a day. I wonder when they will finally tire of it…if ever! But I have lunch with these students sometimes and I enjoy listening to them and speaking to them. One of my favorite students (ack! I shouldn’t admit to favorites, but I do have one!!)  goes to this school. Her English is AMAZING and she is such a sweet and bright girl. I really enjoy talking to her. And when I see her outside of school, she like runs into my arms and hugs me. I think the girl is Puerto Rican deep inside!  (Well she isn’t even Japanese. She is Chinese. AND she learned Japanese in one year! Man, I am so proud of her!!) Anyway… Honjo High School is mostly boys I’d say. And athletes at that! (They made it to the National baseball championship games! But they lost.  Anyway, second best in all of Japan… That’s pretty damn impressive!!) Their English understanding and speaking is great. Sometimes, I make comments to myself, and imagine my surprise when one day I heard this boy respond accordingly to my comment.  It went something like this:

A boy in class was flipping out because he had done poorly on an exam after studying hard. He looked ready to kill someone. He even punched a wall at one point!! Scared me slightly! But I kind of kept my eye on him, lest I needed to make a run for it. (Akita is very safe! I think it ranks like 43 or 46 out of 47 prefectures as far as crime. But you can’t take away my JC instincts!) Anyway… I was just kind of talking to myself…

Me: Man, he looks way too angry…

Ss: Yeah he does.

Me: (nodding) It’s almost scary.

Ss: Yeah, it really is.

Me: (nodding again, then abruptly stopping and whipping my neck to the side. A student is looking expectantly at me.) Um… did you…understand me??

Ss: Yes…

Me: Oh my god!! Wow!!! I am so happy!! (I was really impressed by him! BUT I was also thinking, Thank God, I didn’t say anything worse!)

At Honjo High School, I have been proposed to by my students, and asked about my feelings for them. (“Do you like me?” ) I have also been asked about my love life status, and one boy even said “Shall we dance?” He really just wanted me to dance. Because when I explained that “shall we” implies doing something together he backed out. Haha… Though I DID dance some salsa with one of the other boys… Actually, I met a boy there (ick, it sounds nasty when I say boy….but I am not doing anything wrong with them! They come to me!! And I just chat with them!) But one boy started speaking this AMAZING English to me after school one day. Then he proceeded to walk me “home”. I didn’t tell him where I live-live, but he lives in the same general direction. He explained to me his dreams and ambitions and even taught me some Japanese slang. He thought I was 18 or something. Maybe he thought I was an international student instead of a teacher. Because he told me when he turns 18 (haha…sounds shady! But it’s okay!) and I told him how old I would be on March 7th (like how I didn’t admit to the age here though?? Haha)  Anyway, he said “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee???” Which sounds like “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh?!” And that translates into a “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTT?!” haha…  Very flattering indeed. Anyway, I fled once some high school friends of his, from different schools went by on their bikes and asked if I was his girlfriend! Way too weird for me! So I had to peace out of there! Hahah..But oh if I was a high school girl again!!  (ok, I better stop. I know some of you worry that I will do bad things to my students….but I would never!!!!! Really!! haha)

At Yashima High School, it’s REALLY laidback. The teachers are kind of like, “Whatever, these kids aren’t going to college” And don’t get me wrong,  I like the laidback attitude but I don’t like that they think that these kids aren’t smart or that they lack the potential. Call me an idealist but these kids are not hopeless. They need to stop with the self-fulfilling prophecies!!  And the kids need to just try harder! They are pretty genki.  (lively, energetic) But they are also kind of badass. By Japanese standards, not American. I just think they remind me of cartoon characters. And I love them all the more for it. But these kids are the freshest! A girl once said to me “Nice body!”  And another boy once said to me “Sex?” (to which I said “No!”) And another boy said “My home. Come” (To which I also said “No!”) Last week, a boy said “What are your 3 sizes?” and I went over and hit him. And I did that thing mom’s do where they hit you while they speak and they hit you after every syllable… “that (slap) is (slap) not(slap) a (slap) nice(slap) question!! (slap slap slap!) And he was laughing and saying sorry in Japanese. Ahhh, but I was laughing as I hit him… These kids really do say the darnedest things…

I taught at an elementary school a few weeks ago. (An activity done with my HS and another ALT’s elementary school) Totally different from high school. They are more willing to try and make mistakes. But they are wild and often run rampant! I don’t think I would have the energy to teach at elementary schools every day. But damn those kids are KAWAII!!!! J But they might be the freshest because they have yet to learn shame! My one day there , the kids had to draw their families and one drew breasts on everyone. And when I asked what things were he motioned to boobs and did like a lift-squeeze motion. Geez Louise!!

So those are my kiddies… J

Now what have I been doing aside from teaching?

Exploring! Well kind of! I hope to do more of it. And since I don’t drive or cycle it’s a bit of a problem!! I wish I was not so scared of the bike! (Ugh!! I know, I am such a whiner!! ) I have been hiking. (Unheard of ) And camping (unheard of!) I have seen many waterfalls. I have seen Buddhas and Shrines and so many festivals…  I have been to a samurai town… paddle boating…

Hours into hiking Chokai and so much to go!!

Hours into hiking Chokai and so much to go!!

Climbing Mt. Chokai with Yashima H.S.
Climbing Mt. Chokai with Yashima H.S.

 

The biggest fireworks show in Japan...But the weather was terrible this day! Rainy and COLD!!

The biggest fireworks show in Japan...But the weather was terrible this day! Rainy and COLD!!

Posing with the Akita super athlete, Sugichi at a Karate Tournament in Kisakata

Posing with the Akita super athlete, Sugichi at a Karate Tournament in Kisakata

Supporting the only foreigner in the tournament. (A fellow ALT)

Supporting the only foreigner in the tournament. (A fellow ALT)

Namahage run rampant on the streets!!

Namahage run rampant on the streets!!

No school!! And I went to Akita City.

No school!! And I went to Akita City.

With the wonderful Sophie- whose blog I used to stalk!!

With the wonderful Sophie- whose blog I used to stalk!!

The deepest lake in Japan. This lake never freezes!!

The deepest lake in Japan. This lake never freezes!!

Paddle Boating on Tazawa-ko

Paddle Boating on Tazawa-ko

Samurai Home in Kakunodate

Samurai Home in Kakunodate

Sitting under the Cherry Blossom Trees! Can't wait to see them bloom!

Sitting under the Cherry Blossom Trees! Can

Another waterfall... Beautiful!

Another waterfall... Beautiful!

Practicing Archery (sorry but the pics won't rotate here!! Grrr!!)

Practicing Kyudo (sorry it won't rotate!)

 

(I’ve done so many things and have yet to scratch the surface of all Japan has to offer! My mom is coming to visit me next month (God-willing) and she and I will probably explore Tokyo, Kyoto and take a trip to Korea. So I am really looking forward to that!)

Judging– I was a judge at two speech contests! One was for Junior High Schools in my city. And the other was for the high schools in Akita prefecture. Man, it was such a weird feeling being so important! Haha (though not really important. But it was still an honor!!  I felt like VIP!)

Sports! I am going to start learning Japanese archery- Kyudo. I will start practicing with my students tomorrow! They are really excited about it, which makes me happy! And I found out today, if my understanding was correct, that I will be given a kyudo uniform tomorrow!! (Ahhhh! How cool is that?!) And in November I believe I will start a class with a friend.  I am on a cricket team (kind of, lol) Yesterday was my first day and we have a game next week against a neighboring  prefecture (Sendai). I am not very good, but I improved a lot from the beginning of the practice to the end. And I had never seen or played cricket before. But it is actually very fun! Though I still have baseball tendencies and I dropped the cricket bat a few times after hitting the ball when I should be running with it..haha… 

Feminine stuff! Next week I will start ikebana. Which is Japanese flower arranging. That’s going to be fun!! And today I went to the Japanese tea ceremony club. They were so happy to see me at their club it was ridiculous. They served me tea and biscuits (cookies to us Americans) and then they showed me the proper way to make the tea. The best part was that after it was done this girl like REQUESTED to drink my tea. Like it was some kind of holy beverage… Of course I let her, because how does one say no to that?  But I was thinking, “are you really sure about that??” But she said it was really good. Too bad I’ll never know the truth! Japanese people are so polite!!  (Btw, these girls also were smelling me because apparently I smell really good.  It was funny but a little weird to have about 8 girls encircle you and start sniffing. And as one of my friends here told me today when I told him, because apparently they smell him too,  “This ain’t a petting zoo! “  But of course he kids, and we love the flattery!)

Trying to learn Japanese! But it’s hard. I went to a class a few times, but I don’t like the way it’s run. I am NOT LEARNING ANYTHING!  Plus I feel awkward because some people don’t know how to behave and how to speak to other people. But I won’t get into that right now…But I am looking into other options and I will start teaching myself this week.

DRINKING! Man, you come to Japan and you drink allllll the time! They really are such a drinking society!!! And those of you who know me really well, know that I have the lowest tolerance ever for liquor! Now I think I can drink about 5 or 6 tall glasses of beer and be okay. (Though I have had around 8 before, but it nearly kills me when I do!! And I don’t want to make THAT a habit. That was just a rare moment. A rare moment probably destined to repeat itself more often than not. But yeah, be ready for a leveled-up drinker when I return!!

And on that note I will say that I think I will be living here for at least 2 years. I really like where I am and I think I can learn so much living here. My Japanese is naturally improving, though it’s still sucky since I don’t sit and renshu (practice) but I will start benkyoushimasu (studying) soon! And I want to travel and become truly comfortable in my own skin and being on my own. Living here really forces a person to take a look at himself/herself and evaluate what they want and where they are going and what kind of person they really are. And since I am my own mortal enemy, this is a great opportunity for me to battle it out and come to terms with myself. I am not perfect. No one is. I am uncertain about the future, but many, many people are.  I feel lonely sometimes, but that’s actually a universal feeling. Maybe I can reach enlightenment here! Haha…

But I am well and I am happy. I am learning and having a great time. And even though I miss many things from home and obviously all of you, I know that you’ll be there when I get back. And so will all the food! And there are always care packages!! Haha (or internet shopping! Though I wonder if amazon sells beans or sour cream!)

I miss you guys and think of you all often! And thanks for thinking of me too! (Edwin thanks for the card I am not sure if you ever got my email!! And Mimi, thanks for the package. Cindy, thanks in advance! Hahah) And everyone thanks for the emails and messages… It’s nice to know that I am missed! J 

I hope you are all well and I promise that I will write more meaningful posts and more often so they are not this stupidly long!!  Thanks for reading! (If you made it this far, SUGOI!!!!)

Two Weeks?! Really??

Well, I have been in Japan for 2 weeks now. I can’t believe it really… Not the fact that I am in Japan. That fact still hasn’t sunken in yet. But rather the fact that I have only been here two weeks. It feels like MONTHS! And it’s not even because I know so much about where I am, because I really don’t! But I’ve been so super busy since I got here that I haven’t had a true moment’s rest.  And even though it’s been fun, it was a little hectic trying to do so much at first. But this weekend, I finally truly settled in- suitcase put away, pictures out. I’ve even started buying little things for the apartment. Now it’s starting to feel like my own place… Soon I am sure it will feel like home…

So let me tell you a bit about my first couple of weeks…

JET orientatation was interesting. There were SO MANY people!!

Even though you hear about the vast number of participants you don’t really know what that number feels like until you’re really lost in a sea of people!! It was very overwhelming! They had some good panel discussions that I really enjoyed. And of course there were several workshops that I could have done without. I wish I had gone exploring in Tokyo instead!! Or SLEPT!! Damn my goody-two-shoes genes!! haha…

Oh, but I did get to ride the Japanese rail to Harajuku. The outfits there were a bit crazy! And I saw men in drag. I kept thinking, “what?!” haha… It was a pretty cool place and I hope I can get to explore it a bit more next time around!

Cosplay Girls

Cosplay Girls

 I had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people at the Tokyo Orientation and I really hope that friendships will be formed from that. (especially since it makes traveling around Japan a lot easier! And cheaper!)

The group of JETs going to Akita are really nice and I can’t wait to hang out with them/see them again. Our Prefectural Advisor, Dan, is also pretty awesome. He took us out to Karaoke in Tokyo and I had a lot of fun that night.

Doing the Marty McFly

Doing the Marty McFly

Well the third day after arrival in Japan, I found myself at the airport again. This time en route to my new home in Akita. I was nervous as hell!!

Aerial view of Akita taken on the plane

Aerial view of Akita taken on the plane

I was picked up at the airport by my Supervisor Masaki-sensei, another Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) Yoko-sensei, and another ALT Cathy. They were very nice and I felt more comfortable than I thought I would. I went straight to City Hall to apply for my Alien residency card. And I was taken to my base school, to meet and greet the staff. Everyone was pretty nice. I introduced myself in Japanese and they were impressed. It was so odd to get so much acclaim simply for saying, “My name is Jezabel. I am American. I am from New Jersey. Nice to meet you.” But I must say, it felt nice!!

I also went out to eat that first night at an izakaya with Cathy, and two other ALTs Jeff and Sophie, whos is my sempai. (Sophie is the girl whose blog I stalked when I was back home and starving for info on Honjo! And Jeff is an ALT who will be heading back home to Canada shortly.)

Posing with Cathy

Posing with Cathy

 

With Sophie and Jeff.. And I seem to have an extra set of ears!

With Sophie and Jeff.. And I seem to have an extra set of ears!

 I also met my other sempai Amelie, and her friend Julie, and we walked to my base school, Yuri high school, so I would know how to get there the next day for work.Sure enough though, I got lost on my way to school the next day and the mornings are SO HOT that I arrived there looking like some kind of slimey monster!! NOT cute!! And of course, that day my picture was taken for the school newsletter and I had to answer some questions about myself-like hobbies and travel experience, etc. 

Yuri High School- My base school

Yuri High School- My base school

The office atmosphere seems pretty relaxed, but that’s because the kids are on summer vacation at the moment. (BUT- they still go to school to do club activities and study!! You would never see kids in America at school during summer!! Unless they had summer school, and that’s not voluntary!!!) The students are shy but so far, I think they seem friendly enough. The girls say I am kawaii (cute), and the boys don’t really make any effort to speak to me!!

I’ve been helping two students work on speeches for a speech contest in September. They needed to write a speech in English and then memorize it and of course perform. They are really nice. One girl is named Shii-chan. She is from Shanghai and is a brilliant girl. She learned Japanese in about a year and her English is excellent. The other girl is named Maki-chan and she is very amazing and accomplished. She has cerebral palsy and she does not let that hold her back! But they are the only two students that I have really worked with thus far.

My first weekend here was very busy. That first Friday I went to a dance festival in Honjo and I was able to meet more JETs. Then we went to do Karaoke at this place called Castaways. It was fun.

At the Dance Festival

At the Dance Festival

 

The next day, Sophie’s friends Dan and Chris were visiting and she took me and them sightseeing. I went see what seemd like the biggest buddha on the planet- Akata daibutsu. 

 

Akata Daibutsu

Akata Daibutsu

After that we went to a waterfall- I forget the name of it. That was pretty awesome. But I swear I thought I was going to die trying to cross the little stream to it. Really!! Meanwhile Sophie was all waiting for like ages for us to get across. Expert frontierswoman I tell you!! I never realized how much of a city girl I was till that moment! But I plan to get more outdoorsy soon!!
Waterfall

Waterfall

With Sophie
With Sophie

Anyway, after that we went to take a break and get some ice cream. Apparently different areas of Japan are known for different flavors of ice cream, so the place we went to was known for blueberry  ice cream.  And it was the most delcious thing ever!

Then we went to see these little statues that looked like they were out of some kind of horror game. I was afraid they would come to life when the sun set!! They’re called Sentai Jizo. There are 1000 of them and basically each statue has a kanji representing a family name, and you go and look for your family name and you go there and pray for your family. But I also heard that they might have to do with children who die at a young age. And in Japanese mythology, it’s said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. So Jizō saves these souls by hiding them from demons in his robe. And parents sometimes leave pebbles, or stones (I saw flowers), so that Jizō can protect their loved ones, and sometimes to thank him for saving their children from illness. Anyway, didn’t mean to write so much about this, but it was interesting to me and I thought I would share.

Sentai Jizo

Sentai Jizo

More Sentai Jizo
More Sentai Jizo
Didn't rotate it, but this one has an offering...

Didn't rotate it, but this one has an offering...

That night I went to the Honjo Fireworks festival and I got to wear a yukuta that Amelie lent me. I was so excited to wear it and I had a blast at the festival.
Hanabi Matsuri (Firework Festival)

Hanabi Matsuri (Firework Festival)

When that wrapped up, most other ALTs came by my apartment building and we all sat on the roof with these random Japanese people and had discussions on music, sports, schools, etc in English and Japanese. It was such a LONG day, but so much fun!!

The following day we all drove to Akita City and went to check out Kanto Festival. Basically people balance lanterns (a lot of lanterns!!) on their hands, foreheads, heads, chins, ANYWHERE! And it’s a crazy-cool sight! It’s purpose is to pray for an abundant harvest of rice and is one of the most famous festivals in Akita. (A kanto is a bamboo pole eight meters high with a number of cross poles attached which have 46 paper lanterns shaped like rice bales hanging from them, and is decorated at the very top with thin shreds of paper between wooden sticks. Kanto are in the shape of Akita cedar or of the ears of rice plants.They act to drive away evil spirits through prayers offered to Shinto and Buddhist gods. ) My favorite was seeing the little kids balance these little lanterns. But those things are heavy! I tried to hold one and could barely do it! And they were balancing theirs!! So cute!

Kanto Matsuri

Kanto Matsuri

Balancing the Kanto
Balancing the Kanto
One of the Kanto Matsuri participants!

One of the Kanto Matsuri participants!

The school week was kind of long and boring. My favorite times are when I am helping Shii-chan and Maki-chan with their speeches. Because at least I am doing something.  But when I get fed up with sitting and doing NOTHING, I tend to go for strolls around the school. I have seen the girls practice traditional Japanese dance, as well as the table teniis team, basketball team, archery team, and of course the one team I wanted to stalk- the kendo club. I was allowed to sit in the dojo and watch them practice. It really is such a cool site to see. Really. I think I am a bit of a kendo groupie! I also kicked off my shoes and tried to play basketball with the ichinense (first year) boys basketball team. But they were scared of me. They didn’t really want to talk to me and they seemed to want to be as far away from me as possible. But I’m going to get them to open up! Wait and see!!

I also went to my other high school on Friday. It’s in the woods, kind of. And I was told that there was a bear sighting recently and that I should be careful. WHAT?! haha… But the teacher there assured me that it was only word of mouth as no one could prove that the bear was really lurking. But she said, to watch out for snakes, because there are a lot of those. Lol…as if that’s any better!! Anyway, Honjo high school, made it to the national championship tournament for baseball! They lost, but damn if that isn’t impressive!! Second best in all of Japan!! Wooo!!

I have yet to visit my 3rd school. I have to go by train, but I don’t know when I’ll be doing that…

This week has been less hectic and I only really went out anywhere on Wednesday. (Karaoke again) I was singing some Spanish song with another girl and the Japanese people were soooo impressed. But it was nothing compared to how they reacted while I was dancing around doing my Shakira impersonation. I got a lot of “Wow! Sugoi!!” And I even had some trying to learn how to move their hips like me. That was pretty cool!

The only other thing that I have been doing is trying to learn to ride a bike!! SOOO hard!! I mean, I have made it to the train station and around, but I swerve a lot, and sometimes I feel like I lose my balance, but I am improving. Yesterday was my second day and I did pretty good. I will be venturing out shortly to give it another go. Hopefully I fair better!

 Very busy two weeks right?? Maybe you can see why I feel like I have been here so long!! Still, it has been a good experience thus far. I think I will learn a lot about myself on this trip.

And girls, Japanese men are sooooo pretty! But I find them to be very nervous and shy. Maybe I’ll get my hands on one in time. But for right now, no romantic prospects. There IS a dude at work I fancy, but he’s married. Dang!! He’s sexy! haha…

This weekend I was pretty homesick, and I’ll admit it…I cried!  I miss everyone. I am fine in Japan, but it’s a little daunting not really knowing anyone and trying to make friends all over again. I feel awkward sometimes, but I’ll be ok….I have pictures of everyone, so that’s comforting at least. And I love hearing from everyone!!

ANYWAY… that’s my long update. Thanks for reading!!

Mata ne!

Wearing the hotel Yukata

Wearing the hotel Yukata

 

Forward March…

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowliness. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~Mark Twain

The quote that changed my life forever.

A very dear friend of mine shared this quote with me a few months ago. I had reached a fork in the road of my life and was uncertain about which road I should travel. Ultimately, the quote inspired me and helped my mind come to terms with the decision that my heart had long ago made.

With this being said, I am moving to Japan in less than 2 weeks! I have been offered a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), through the JET program. 

I fly out on the 26th of July, via JAL, to Narita Airport in Tokyo.  I have an orientation to attend in Tokyo until the 30- after which I proceed to Akita.

This map here highlights the prefecture of Akita.

My new home

My new home

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I have a 1 year contract to teach high school students in Honjo City, in the Akita Prefecture of Japan. Akita is known for a few things: Akita dog, rice, sake, and bijin (beautiful women). The winters in Akita are long and cold. But I hear the people are warm and friendly. And it’s scenic and beautiful! I could not ask for more! 

The JET program has a great reputation and its teachers are very well taken care of from what I can tell. They help you with any and everything and answer all the questions one can have.  Not to mention all the networking one can do. I have already been in contact with a few people that I will be seeing in Akita, as well as a few others that will be placed elsewhere. And my predecessor, Edel, has been AMAZING! She has answered every one of my questions and has made me supremely comfortable and pleased with my decision.

I am very excited to begin this new life and I am very eager to learn more about the culture, the people, but most importanly myself. It’s very difficult to leave everyone, but this has been a long-time coming and I am ready to embark on this new adventure!!

 がんばります!!I’ll do my best!!