2 Months in Review

Today marks the beginning of the end for the crazy busy time that is the autumn season in a high level high school in Japan. I feel overworked, exhausted and in great need of a vacation, but at the same time I’m happy to feel like I’m a part of something and have done well for the most part. When I graduated from my masters program in May, I remember thinking that even though I got an advanced degree that I’ve lost my Midwest work ethic and my independence, and that I might have trouble adjusting to working at my next job. Thanks to the fall season, both have come back to me in some way or another and while improvements could still be made I feel like I’m back at a comfortable level and that I’m becoming more flexible and tolerant of this sometimes strange country that I’m currently living in. Anyways, let me give you an overview of what’s been going on.

Long Walk/Run Marathon

Although this is my third year as an ALT this was my first marathon to participate in. The first year I forgot/no one pushed the ALTs to join, the second year I used this time to visit Himeji and a friend’s elementary school, so this year it was important for me to join. It was a beautiful day to walk 24 kilometers. The weather was nice, the kids were all in high spirits, and the half way point was a beautiful natural-looking temple in the mountains with very intricate woodwork that I couldn’t help admiring for a while as I caught my breath. It was exhausting beyond description, I felt sore for days afterwards and it was a little lonely not having anyone to really talk with for an extended period of time, though I talked with some kids sporadically here and there, but in the end it was a great memory to cherish. I was really able to see some aspects of Japanese culture that escaped me before; some kids did not quit until they were physically unable to while others lagged behind, listening to music and making the teachers prod them along. This level of perseverance among some was admirable but scary at the same time, just as the lazy kids were annoying but fun to be around.

Debate

This year’s debate topic was “Japan Should Significantly Relax its Immigration Policies.” This topic was good for the kids as they delved into the social, political and cultural reasons Japan should or should not allow a drastic increase in the number of foreigners, including unskilled workers and refugees. (Right now unless you’re married to a Japanese person you basically must be “skilled” in some way to get a workers visa.) We spent so much time researching and preparing, from about the end of September until the day of the regional debate, and then up until the prefectural debate, but after it was all said and done, I felt that we only scratched the surface of this subject. Most of the teams argued about language and cultural differences, crowding, overpopulation, intolerance, internationalization, the declining birthrate, the ever increasing elderly population, the need or lack of need for more workers, the trainee system that already exists for bringing in unskilled workers, and so on, each side bringing up important points, but no one talked about how the immigration populations who have lived here for generations are still considered outsiders (aka Koreans), or how Japan has handled other changes in policies. (aka discussion but not making changes)

One of the ALTs told me about a memoir the former direct of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau wrote that discusses in detail different options Japan has concerning this issue. No one has translated it yet and there’s only a summary in English http://www.japanfocus.org/-Sakanaka-Hidenori/2396 but I’m almost interested enough to try to read the book in Japanese. We’ll see. It almost seems safe to say that a drastic increase in foreigners will not happen. In this case, Japan will have to accept the reality that under the present situation their population is going to shrink drastically and that with that, Japan will become less influential in the world, but could still have a high quality of life, though maybe less glamorous than currently. It’s hard to imagine a Japan with only 80 million people or less. Some ALTs mentioned that no matter what happens our role in Japan will be important, to help newcomers, to help Japan become more internationalized, and to help keep Japan strong. I can’t help but agree but at the same time I wonder if I’m not in the wrong country. Ha ha!

 Daikyu/Nenkyu

I learned that after being here over two years that I had been taking my supplementary time off incorrectly and that I had a lot less time off remaining than I had thought. When you work on a weekend (for example for Debate), you only have one calendar month to use that time and that certain time restrictions apply as far as how and how long you can use those hours, which is a lot different from nenkyu or your official paid time off. A lot of times, Japanese teachers are too busy to be able to take their well earned supplementary time off at all, and I thought if you could not use it right away you could save it and use it for going home for the holidays. I’m disappointed no one told me that my calculations were wrong all this time, but what’s done is done. I’ve been so busy lately that I don’t think I’ll be able to use all the time off I earned. At the same time, if this happens I’ll be ok about it. I was proud to be able to work with my students on the weekends, I got to take a good amount of it off, and I’ve seen that if you make too big a deal about time off it will only make me look lazy. Moral of the story: keep asking questions until you understand the system, as well as what people commonly do.

Sick

We had about a week where things calmed down a bit but of course I caught a cold at this time, but was able to stay home and just watch movies and play video games with Ryan, and was able to mostly get over it for the next event:

Cooking Event/Apple Picking

Last Saturday a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) held a Japanese cooking event where his local English class, which was mostly made up of Japanese moms and grandmas, taught us ALTs and friends how to cook various Japanese dishes in a mix of English, Japanese and gestures. Ryan was welcome to come so in only a few hours each of our groups made several dishes with the moms. It was so much fun and after everything was finished we all sat down to a huge feast – all of this for only 800 yen. (a little more than $8) Afterwards the ALTs went apple picking in Matsukawa, a nearby town that is famous for its fruit. While apple picking it was all you can eat plus we were able to take two apples home for only 500 yen. Ryan especially loves the region’s apples and developed a knack for picking the juiciest ones, that when cut, look like they have honey inside. We’re already out of apples again so we’re thinking about going back for more.

 Eiken Test

Throughout the year students have the EIKEN test which consists of a written test and an oral one that students take once passing the written test. Unfortunately one of the EIKEN tests occurs right after debate and during speech contest preparations so there seems to be little time between the two events. A passing grade can help students get into a college and it’s nice to help student practice speaking English. Unlike other tests, you really need to be able to speak a certain amount of English to be able to answer the questions so I think it great and wish more tests would have a spoken portion like this.

The Upcoming Speech Contest and MYC

This weekend we will have our own in-house English speech contest. There is a contest for reciting premade speeches, which I helped edit, and a contest for student-created speeches. I’m helping a bit with the logistics, communicating with the ALT judges who are coming, as well as being an MC for the event. Last but not least we have the 2 day ALT Mid Year Conference in Shiojiri. I will be presenting an English leanring game this year, which is exciting yet a little overwhelming because of everything else going on. I really wanted to volunteer and do something during this conference and they needed more “Game Bazaar” presenters so let the games begin.

 More on life in Japan later and sorry for the long delay~ Jeanne

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