As I make my final preparations for my trip home for the holidays and look at wrapping up my nearly 5 month mark here in Japan I’m happy to say that I’m leaving on such a high note. Over the past few months it’s been easy to get caught up in the everyday grind, and forget to revel in the simple wonderful moments that make up this beautiful adventure I’m on. It’s been easy to feel that any time I’m not traveling or exploring that I don’t have much to report, but this week has been a reminder that every moment here is an adventure and that I should relish in all of them. (Post titled with the hopeful intention to reflect on the week more often!)
Monday and Tuesday were rough and boring days at work. I had no classes so I spent way too much time at my desk with little to do. Tuesday I was able to go to a class, not for English lesson, but to enjoy some freshly made mochi courtesy of the special ed class at my school. That evening, I went to my usual Tuesday night Japanese class where, instead of a lesson, we had an end of the year takoyaki party where I learned to make Japanese takoyaki (octopus balls). It was delicious and fun to learn, spending time with classmates outside of the usual setting. My friend and I then quickly darted off to a “Christmas Dinner” with our little group of friends that have become a sort of family here so far from our homes. We enjoyed some sukiyaki and shabu shabu, overeating due to the beauty that is tabemono.
Wednesday was fortunately more active at work, and I was able to lead a game with the sannensei (3rd years) that, while challenging, they seemed to enjoy. After work I headed straight to tea ceremony lessons, where for the first time since I started at the beginning of the month, I felt like I actually sort of knew what I was doing, and my legs didn’t take as long to recover from going numb from sitting Japanese style. To add to my delight, my supervisor who is also taking the class with me, sewed me a kimono for practices!! On top of the bag she had already made me for my tea ceremony tools. To say I was grateful is an understatement. I never ceased to be impressed by the kindness of some people here.
Thursday brought a full day of classes and some comical moments along with it. During the game I played with the sannensei for class I asked a student “Who is the big man in a red suit who brings presents on Christmas?” She responded after a short pause, “my boyfriend”. I gave it to her for the sheer comedy of it. Later that day, during cleaning time, which I do with one of the classes, a student who is known for being a bit of a smart mouth, said as I was leaving, “nice body!” I came back and just asked him with curiosity, “what?” He quickly began fumbling on his words, trying to blame his friend. I started to walk away again and he said something along the lines of “like” and “naked” so I came back to clarify. He then tried to say he and his 2 friends like naked, which, since it’s not correct English I again asked him to clarify. He then rerouted and said his friend liked…strawberries. I laughed, messed with them a little more and smuggly went on my way. I figure if they’re going to try to be profane they can at least use correct English while doing it. Also, they needed to know it was going to take more than that to get a rise out of me, which was the only thing they were really after.
After that interesting debacle, I went back to my desk and marked some papers for another class. I was interrupted by the sound of a smash and laughing outside, so I walked up the window overlooking the field to see students lined up on either side of marked lines, where a car had just driven through a stack of boxes about 6 feet tall, with a teacher and two students emerging from the car. I continued to watch, reveling in this moment that was so clearly a Japan moment. I stifled laughter as I stood next to my Kyoto-sensei (Vice Principal) who looked on seriously. (I was later able to find out that this activity was about road safety and the running into the boxes was meant to simulate the experience of being in a car accident- practical but still comical!) After school, I was alerted by my JTE that Kocho-sensei (Principal) wanted to meet with me and her in his office to ask about my first four months at the school. I had no idea this was happening until 10 minutes before hand and was nervous (do we ever stop being nervous about being called into the principal’s office??)! My experience at school has been up and down, and I’ve definitely have had many moments of feeling frustrated with my (lack of) work. However, Japanese style is indirect communication, and I also was going to be in there with a teacher who I work with regularly so I could only say so much. Fortunately, Kocho-sensei already had noticed the things I was struggling with- that I am often sitting at my desk not in class, and that many teachers who don’t know English just straight up avoid me. He asked me for names of teachers who were reaching out (which felt awkward but I was happy to sing the praises of those who’ve made efforts with me). He also asked what I might need to be more involved in classes, as far as planning time with JTEs. He also asked my JTE why I wasn’t in class more, which again, was awkward and I didn’t want to get her in trouble with her boss or anything but hopefully it will result in more of my utilization for next term. He also suggested the possibility of doing a weekly “Useful English Expression” for the staff which I enthusiastically agreed to do and he said he’d think about. (I’m sure the teachers will love that addition to the morning meeting…ha!)
Kocho-sensei also very nicely asked me if I was in good health and expressed concern about the fact that I had walked to school that day (is your bike ok?!) He has some English ability and seems pretty pro-English at school which is a real blessing because he’s been a strong ally for me and I know that’s not always the experience of an ALT. I left the meeting feeling really hopeful for next term and the rest of my time here (however long that may be).
Thursday is calligraphy night, and I found myself there without my semi-translator (another of my supervisors from the Board of Education does calligraphy with me and she doesn’t speak much English but can help with a word or two to get the point across). I still managed to successfully get through class, communicate a little, understand some and when all was said and done I am now finishing the year knowing how to write my full Japanese name in kanji!! An exciting accomplishment, I have to say.
Tomorrow will be my last day of work this year, and afterwards I will spend my last night in Japan at the bounenkai (end of the year staff drinking party). If it’s anything like the last one, I know it’ll be a great time. It’s really nice to be able to connect with the staff outside of work, and even better that alcohol seems to really improve everyone’s English abilities!! (Japanese people know WAY more English than they ever let on). Oh, and of course, Kocho-sensei asked me to make a speech at the enkai. Because apparently I always have to make a speech at the enkais >_<
In that spirit, here’s to the excitement of every day life, the happiness of the holidays, and counting your blessings every single day. Kanpai!