Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Crime, Safety and the Law in Japan

Foreigners Vs The Law of Japan

A couple of weeks ago, I met a friend at the train station with the intention of going for food. As she was tired and I had my bike, we thought that it would be harmless enough if she popped onto the back (there’s plenty of room) and held on tight for the two minutes that it would take to whizz around the corner. After all, we had done it a few times before, and seen countless pairs of giggling Japanese teenagers do the same.

Barely had we moved two feet, when two apparent Japanese civilians stopped us. I thought “ohh, they might be crazy people… or Mormons!” as they started talking to us. I had my foot on the pedal, ready to make my escape, when they flashed two police badges. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Parrots, Flamingos and the Owl of the Abyss - Kakegawa Bird Park

So, a couple of weeks ago (October 30th, to be precise) a few of us decided to check out Kakegawa Bird Park. Kakegawa is a town just 25 minutes from Hamamatsu (on the JR train it costs 480円) where a couple of my friends live. It has some fun things to do there - a castle, shopping, food, the usual. The bird park gives you the opportunity to do what you always dreamed of doing - run away from flamingos, have parrot sit on your head and stare into the terrifying eyes of an owl. There's a map here - I'm not totally sure how to get there, as we just got into Saba's car! Entry for adults is around 1000円.

How freaky is this owl? As you walk in, there are a lot of owls looming behind glass panels. Owls have always held a strange fascination for me - they are beautiful and incredibly creepy at the same time. Some rotate their heads, while some fly angrily towards the glass. Others, however... they take your soul.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Adventures in Kyoto

Do you want to know what foreigners would look like in geisha make-up? Are you interested in autumn leaves and temples? How about playing Street Fighter II in a downtown bar? Then, please read on. I have now visited Kyoto three times. I'm sure there will be many more visits to come, as I am now dating an amazing person who happens to live 20 minutes from there... yes, that is pretty far from Hamamatsu. On the shinkansen (bullet train) I can get to him in about 90 minutes, but it will cost me between 6000-7000円 each way. For the slightly cheaper price of 4000円, it takes nearly 4 hours. Still, when you're here to travel and you really want something to work, you don't mind making these trips sometimes.

On my first trip to Kyoto, we visited Nijo Jo (二条城), the samurai castle.

If you are interested in its history, please refer to the Wikipedia article! You take the train to Nijo - behold, a map! It was very pretty, but the main thing that caught me off-guard was the lake and the garden.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Shopping for Food in Japan

So - what can you buy from a Japanese supermarket?

This is a question that you may have asked. You may never have realised that you wanted to know. Well, I'm going to show you, anyway. I took my camera to Seiyu (owned by Walmart... so basically the Japanese Asda) a couple of weeks ago and photographed a few things..

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Make Your Own Monster!

So, Halloween was last week, and I decided to get my first year JHS stud
ents (aged 12-13) to exercise some English grammar by creating, and writing about, their own monsters. Admittedly I was inspired by my friend Jenny's Pokémon battles, the results of which were being put on Facebook, and the "make your own monster" idea was borrowed from various ESL websites. Still, I thought that it would be fun to see what my students had to offer in the way of creativity. I was not disappointed!

Here are some of their creations:

"This is Dream Eater. He is white. He eats bad dreams. He doesn't eat good dreams. He speaks English. He likes children. His favorite children are small children. He lives in a box."

Monday, 25 October 2010

Pulling Lesson Plans Out Of Your.... Mind

Hey there, campers.

So I was thinking today about what you can do, as an ALT, when a lesson is sprung on you last-minute. On Tuesday mornings, I meet with one of the JTEs at the school I don't like so much to "make an arrangement for lessons", as he likes to call it. While sometimes I have a week, even two, to plan lesson activities and games, sometimes he says to me "well, we need to do this topic in the next lesson (IN TEN MINUTES), can you come up with something?"

I know that other ALTs have been thrown into a room of students, like a terrified Christian into the lion's den, and asked to do something. While planning activities is all well and good when you have time (and the internet) at your disposal, what do you do when a last-minute lesson is sprung upon you? Flounder around like a fish out of water... or whip out something from your bag of tricks?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Teaching in Dreamland

"You can't be 45 and still working as an ALT, that's just sad..."

"I don't want to still be doing this job at 30. I need to go back home and get a real job."

"I feel like being in Japan is just delaying the real world for as long as possible."

These are a small selection of paraphrased things that I have heard from fellow ALTs over the past few months. It seems to be the general consensus that being an ALT is in many ways akin to being a student - it's fun, and it's fine for now, but to do nothing else for the rest of your life would be rather sad, if not a sign of refusal to grow up.

Now, this is an attitude that I can understand. I've done my degree, I've conducted quantitative research, analysed and written up the results, passed countless exams and written in-depth essays on a variety of topics. And here I am, with my Bachelor of Science from the University of Manchester, reading out "Do you like sushi? Yes, I do!" to a group of slightly bored twelve year olds. I can't help but feel, sometimes, that the massive tuition fee debts - which I will be paying off for most of my life - were unnecessary expenses. Years of knowledge and intelligence - the mind that I have spent over two decades carefully cultivating - seems doomed to disintegrate and regress to the level of a four-year-old who is just learning her ABC.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Other Side of the Coin (and How to Deal with it)

So far my entries have been mostly happy and positive, showing Japan as a magical wonderland and depicting teaching as non-stop fun. Well, in many ways, this is true. But I wouldn't be the objective person that I try to be without telling you about the negatives, too. After all, if you're thinking about coming here, it's only fair that you have all the available knowledge at your fingertips, not just a rose-tinted dream. The higher your expectations, the harsher you may feel the realities. Therefore, I will try to highlight some of the low points - not necessarily about Japan as a country, but about the lifestyle of living here as a foreigner and working as an ALT. If you read it and you still want to come here, then I'm guessing you're tough enough to handle it. However, if it completely changes your mind, then I'm sorry to have burst your bubble. But life is life, and nothing is truly perfect, although I believe that the majority of your experience comes down to your way of perceiving things and of dealing with situations. Anyway...

1) Culture Shock!

Even if you've never been to Japan before, or even travelled to Asia, you're probably aware that it is a very different place from what you're used to. The food is different. The people are different - in dress, manners, language and values.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Tokyo Adventures

Ever wanted to know what your dog is saying to you? Well, now you can - as long as you can speak Japanese, instead!

This is just one of many interesting things that I found in Tokyo last weekend. Given Thursday or Friday off, I had a four day weekend in which to go and play.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Atsui, ne? Surviving Summer in Japan

If you've been in Japan for longer than a couple of weeks, you surely can't have helped but pick up at least one word. ATSUI!!! This multipurpose word has not one, not two but THREE different kanji*. This particular kind of atsui, though, means hot. Common (and by common I mean every couple of breaths) utterances from the Japanese during the summer include "Atsui, desu ne?" or the slightly more casual "atsui, ne?" ("Hot, isn't it?") to the exclamation of "ATSU!". While you may think that this particular expression is reserved for those hot days, outdoors, with the sweat slowly trickling down your back, you would be wrong - I most frequently hear it in cool, air-conditioned rooms. Still, the fact remains that summer in Japan is, indeed, atsui.

*If you are interested: 暑い= hot weather, 熱い=hot (temperate of things or people?) 厚い = thick, kind, cordial or deep!

So, I thought I'd give those of you thinking of coming to Japan a heads-up and let you know what summer is like here. Of course, this only really counts for Hamamatsu area. Hokkaido's summers are apparently quite cool, while the further south you head, towards Hiroshima and Fukuoka, the hotter it gets, of course.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Nagashima Spaland and Universal Studios Japan - a crazy weekend!

After five weeks of summer holiday, you'd think I'd have spent enough money and done enough travelling. One week back at work and one paycheck later, however, I was already in the mood for some fun.

During the summer, you can buy a train ticket called the "せいしゅん十八切符"(18 ticket) - 11500円 for five days of unlimited travelling on the JR trains. The five days don't have to be consecutive, and multiple days can be used by different people. So, long story short, Jenny and I each had one day left that we wanted to use before the expiry date. Not wanting to travel too far from home on a weekend, we decided to try out Nagashima Spaland, a theme park in Nagoya.

A Day in my Elementary School

I realised that I have talked a lot about my Junior High Schools, but not mentioned my Elementary School, which is in fact my favourite place to go. Once every two weeks, I am summoned to the elementary school down the road from my favourite JHS. Some of my TJHS students used to go there, so we had some fun today talking about the teachers.

So, KES is a 20 minute walk from TJHS. I will arrive at TJHS in the morning, and kill time until 8.40. Then, I start my walk over to the Elementary School. I've only been there four times, but 3 out of those 4 times, it has been raining heavily, which of course makes the walk extra fun. When I arrive, I am greeted by a cute, happy sign that says "Welcome Gwyneth Jones! Please come to staff room and enjoy with us". This brightens my day, so I put my umbrella in the stand, change my shoes and make my way upstairs to the teacher's room.

Monday, 6 September 2010

10 Differences Between Japanese and British Schools

Well, many have asked me, and the rest of you may have wondered. While anime and comics have romanticised the Japanese high school (and I'm sure I don't need to say anything about the schoolgirl uniforms), many of us are aware that fiction does not always mirror reality. So, I thought that I would let you in on a few differences that you may not have been aware of. Now, considering that the secondary school that I attended in North Wales may be completely different from most British schools, this may not be a fair comparison. Also, I only teach at two Junior High Schools here in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture. At one, I was a student, at the other I am a teacher.. but this is not a scientific analysis....

Here are 10 differences between Japanese Junior Highs and British secondary schools!

1) In Japan, each class has their own home room. They have almost all their classes in that room, with the teachers coming to them. Consequently, the teachers do not have their own room. All they have is a desk in the teacher's room. They carry all their books and classroom props around in cute little plastic baskets. In the UK - or my school, at least - each teacher had their own room, and when it was time for a lesson, the students would walk to the classroom. There is no cafeteria, either. Children eat lunch in their homerooms.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Surviving your first week in a Japanese Junior High School

After meeting new trainees and already feeling like an old hand, giving advice on teaching and living in Japan as if I'd been here for... y'know, more than five months... I thought I'd prepare a little guide for surviving your first week in a Japanese Junior High School. This may come a few days too late for the latest Interac batch, but I'm sure someone will find it useful, if not amusing...

1) The Checklist...

OK, so you've got your suit ready, ironed and pressed, right? Good. That won't last long. I give it two weeks before you forget that you bought an iron. Still, first impressions are everything. Some other things that you will need: a bag, for carrying around all those lovely books and pieces of paper you will soon acquire; loads of stationary, for making notes, planning lessons and storing all those lovely pieces of paper that I just mentioned; extra, indoor shoes*; your own chopsticks - they do not come with lunch, everyone brings their own!; whatever props and pictures you intend to use for your self-introduction lesson; a book, because there is a high chance that you will spend your first few days stranded at a desk, doing nothing; oh, and money, just in case. Anything else? Remember to set two alarms - you do not want to be late on the first day!
*If you didn't know, in Japan it is PURE CRAZINESS to wear the same shoes that you had on outside, inside. In some places (on tatami mats and apparently on Leopalace linoleum floors) you only wear your socks. Every teacher will have their own shoe locker at the entrance of the school, where they change from outside into inside shoes. If you have multiple schools you will usually end up carrying a pair of shoes wherever you go.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Silver-haired angels of the night

By now, cycling home from a bar at 4 or 5am is no rare occurrence (and I would like to point out that I often go out and don't have any alcohol, even if nobody believes that I am sober). And a few times, I have encountered some of Japan's oldest people. Tiny and permanently bent at 90 degree angles from years of torturous tea-picking, these little old people float around the streets, their silver hair agleam in the moonlight, picking up rubbish. As I make my way home to catch some sleep, they greet me with "ohayo gozaimasu!" and I think "it is NOT morning until I have slept".

But what are they doing? Do these people wake up at 3 or 4am and start their day with a stroll through the streets, picking up the droppings of a lazy younger generation? Does this happen every day? Is it a collective effort to keep the streets clean? These gentle geriatrics, perhaps vampires who feast on garbage rather than blood, seemingly swoop out of their homes as dawn breaks, silently making the world that little bit cleaner.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hachijojima and Disneyland!

Hey people!

So, it's been a long time since I wrote, and I apologise. It's currently summer holidays (or "vacation" as I have taken to saying. Being around people from all over the world really makes you aware of your own dialect, and also makes you unwittingly pick up American words very quickly) - and we Interac employees get five weeks off! This is more than any other person in Japan, including other English teachers. JET employees have to go in through the summer, even though there are no classes, which sounds wonderfully boring, while private language teachers still work right through, with perhaps a week to 10 days off at most. So, everybody hates me for the crazy amount of free time I have.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Love Letter to Japan

Dear Japan,

I know that we haven't been together for very long, but I can no longer keep myself from saying these words. I think I love you.

At first, I thought that this would be no more than a fling. We would have some laughs together, I assumed, and then I would go back to what I knew. But now that we are together, I can't bear the thought of leaving you. Perhaps it is too soon; I know that we are still in the honeymoon phase, but sometimes I dream that we are seperated, and I can't bear it.

Things have not always been easy between us, I know. Sometimes it is as if we don't speak the same language, but we always get by somehow. As time goes by, I feel that I understand you more and more, although I know you will never truly reveal your secrets to me. That is, after all, a part of your charm, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Friday, 2 July 2010

"Pardon?" - How Well Do Language Courses Equip Us For Real Conversation?

When you learn a new language, where do you begin? Some people half-jokingly tell me that you have to learn the vulgar words first. Others would begin from the bottom up with "My name is.." and "how are you?", which seems the most logical step, and the one that most language courses take. However, it seems to me that language lessons do not equip people to have an effective conversation in their chosen new language.

Take, for example, my students. While their textbooks try to build a foundation for their English-speaking abilities (starting from "this is____" and, by third grade, going up to simple stories), I see tasks being set that stretch their English beyond its natural capacities, and it is of little wonder to me that many children have no enthusiasm for learning English. At one of my schools at the moment, third graders are translating a Disney storybook (Snow White) from English to Japanese. This is a painfully slow process, as the story uses storybook language and expressions that they would never have encountered before. So, they can translate "a handsome prince came and fell in love with Snow White" into Japanese, while my other third graders are performing their speeches - "Hamamatsu is a big industrial city", "my school has an abudnace of nature" - wow, what? That's great! But you ask them "what music do you like?" and you get a blank stare, an "eeeeeee?", a lot of "nan dake??" and a general sense of confusion.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

10 things I love about Japan

So, I saw a thread on a forum titled "Positive Things About Japan", and thought I would comprise a little list of things that I love about Japan, so far. Here goes!

1) The politeness
If you ask where something is, chances are you will be walked to your destination, or if it is too far, people will run around to find a pen and paper and draw you a map. If they don't know, they might ask somebody else. I'm not saying this doesn't happen anywhere else, but try it in Egypt - you will probably find yourself lured down a dark alleyway into an obscure shop and asked to buy overpriced souveneirs. How often in the UK do you enter a shop and hear "Can I help you?" or "Welcome!". Here, whenever you enter a shop (or walk past a stand) you will hear "irasshaimase!"... it does get annoying, sometimes, but you are made to feel welcome when you enter a shop, rather than feeling like a total nuisance (as you may do back home sometimes). People will go out of their way to help you, even if you can barely speak the same language.

Friday, 11 June 2010

How buses attract strange people

So, Manchester has the famous (and lovely) "Crazy Bus Lady"; but it definitely isn't the only place with strange bus travellers. It may come as no surprise to you to hear that public transport attracts weirdos... after all, the truly crazy probably aren't allowed to drive. Just type "crazy bus" into a search engine and you will see what I mean.. when originally searching for CBL-related internet goodness, I discovered that many other cities have their own crazy bus ladies.

Friday, 28 May 2010

My Schools - 私の学校!

I thought it was time that I told you about my schools, without giving away any identifying details of course...

So, I have TJHS on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. From the central bus station in Hamamatsu, it takes 15 minutes to get there. As you walk down by the river and the often-flooded fields, the school comes into view. Now, I always thought that my secondary school in Wales was small, with its 450-odd students, but these schools are TINY...
One reason for this is that Junior High schools in Japan only accomodate three grades (the equivalent of year 8, 9 and 10 in the UK, ages 12-15). Another is that each class (each year is divided into 3 groups) has their own room, in which they have all their lessons. Consequently, there are only 9 necessary classrooms, with a few extra rooms for art, science and perhaps music, a gym, a dojo... and no cafeteria, as they also eat lunch in their homerooms. As I walk past the gym and tennis court into the hallway, where each member of staff has an individual locker for keeping their shoes*, I am greeted by students shouting "Hello!" and "Good morning!", which wakes me up on those slow mornings.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Golden Week - part 2 - Hamamatsuri!

Hamamatsu Matsuri = Hamamatsuri... it's one of those wonderful combined words that I'm hoping will catch on!

So, I'm FINALLY updating this...

After Tokyo, I spent three days enjoying Hamamatsu Matsuri (festival!) with some of the lovely friends that I've made here in Japan.

Day 1: After returning from Tokyo relatively early the previous night, I organised a meet-up for Monday morning. A bunch of us made our way down to Nakatajima sand dunes, where the kites were being flown. It took slightly longer than anticipated to get there, seeing as there was a MASSIVE queue for the special shuttle bus. We managed to squeeze onto the regular service bus in the end, but it was reminiscent of Tokyo's sweaty sardine feeling. When we got there, we had to walk a fair way before any actual kites were in sight - however, we were at first greeted with food stalls and taiko drums! We were allowed to try beating the drum, so to speak...

Yeah, apparently I'm a pro, but I bet they say that to all the girls...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Golden Week - part 1 - Tokyo!

What is Golden Week, I hear you cry? Yes, yes I do. Of course, if you're one of my fellow gaijin in Japan, you will know - but for everyone back home, I shall tell you. Golden Week comes but once a year in Japan... when three national holidays happen to fall on three consecutive days (3rd, 4th and 5th of May) which just so happen to be after the weekend... the 28th is also a national holiday, so we had last Thursday off, worked one day on Friday, and then had 5 days off! Of course, this is a good time to do something interesting like travel or drink a lot.

I had heard that travelling during Golden Week was pure madness, so had decided to stay in Hamamatsu for the festival that happens here every Golden Week. However, on the Thursday, I met Jessica (a fellow ALT) who told me that she and some girls from training were going to Tokyo on Saturday morning. Deciding to be a little bit spontaneous, I decided to go with her to the station to buy a ticket! We would have to take the slow train, which would take nearly 5 hours... but it was half the price of the shinkansen. The night before, I booked a room at the hostel that the girls had booked in at - it cost 4200 for a "luxury bed", which was all they had left.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


So, it's been a long time since I posted anything here.

I've been teaching for two or three weeks, now! I say "teaching"... what I mean is doing my Self Introduction Quiz for 15 minutes or so, taking questions of varying strangeness from the class and then letting the main teacher take over while I read out some passages, perhaps choose children to answer a question or set a question.

The self introduction goes something like this....

Good morning, everyone! My name is Gwyneth Jones... you can call me Gwynnie! OK, we're going to play the Gwynnie... Quiz!... So, first question, where am I from? Hmmm... am I from - America? Am I from.. Britain? Or am I from... Japan?
This is of course accompanied by a lot of smiling, acting like an idiot and holding up colourful cards with pictures of the options. I then tell them... Britain! - and get them to clap themselves if they got it right. I then tell them about Britain... including getting out a world map and getting them to guess where it is... then asking - "so - who likes soccer? Do you know... Manchester United?" - showing them a picture of Old Trafford stadium and pretending that my house is right next to it. Well, technically I lived in Old Trafford for a while, but the picture I use is of my house in Wales....

Friday, 9 April 2010

Update! - Starting Schools!


I realise I haven't updated this for a while, I'm sorry. Sooooo..... since the last time I wrote, I actually left Hamamatsu - to visit Fukuroi, a whole 15 minutes away on the train, with Saba. We strolled around, got bored and then took a bus to a place called Hatta-san temple. We walked up a delightful path littered with restaurants and market stalls, and tried the local delicacy - dumplingy bean paste things on sticks! Yum.

Eventually, following a group of giggling Japanese schoolgirls (calm down, boys) who seemed almost as confused as we were, we reached a million stairs. There were little shrine stop-offs everywhere, where people prayed and gave donations.

At the top of the stairs was a big temple, which I failed to take a photo of because I decided it would be disrespectful. We walked around for a bit, cleansed our hands and wafted incense towards our faces (basically copied whatever the other people were doing...) and hoped that we didn't look TOO much like tourists!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ham sweet Ham

Here is a picture of Hamamatsu taken from the top of ACT city tower... where I went with Andy and Jenny, after buying some beautifully cheap alcohol (chuhai) from BIC Camera (yes... an electronics store).... it was very high up, and a lot of school children shouted "HELLO!" at us...

That circular thing is the bus station. It looks a lot prettier at night, I'm told. But there we go.

Below, you can see the Denny's which is very near my apartment.

And here is my block of flats. Very modern-looking, eh?

Sunday, 28 March 2010


So here is a video I made of my LeoPalace. I forgot to include the toilet... but, there is one, and it has shiny shiny buttons... and the water flowing into the tank goes via a small tap-like thing at the top, so you can wash your hands in the clean water entering the toilet... very "green"!! It's cosy, here, although the only places I can go are chairs at a desk and my futon/bed.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Sakura begins!

Day 3! Attempted the Japanese breakfast.

So, I never thought fish, rice, tofu, egg and miso soup for breakfast would be a good idea, but it was all nice! We did have some problems though... what's the acceptable way to cut the fish using o-hasi (chopsticks)? How do you eat the egg and the tofu? What are the vegetables/fruit on the right? We didn't know. We still don't. But in a week or two I will laugh at myself.

We found Tiffani at breakfast, and went out to explore some more. We went to ACT city, a large orange building (for large read "the tallest building in sight") full of shops and restaurants. In there, we bumped into Dan! Everybody recognised each other from the Facebook group, which is pretty magical. I'm also becoming convinced that we gaijin send out some kind of telepathic signal or scent, which is masked in our usual societies - because we were later approached by another Interac girl, and then they just all appeared at once, from everywhere!

Day 2

So, I began the day with the "European Breakfast":

From top left, clockwise: Salad (mmmm), orange, yogurt (well, flavoured milk to be precise), water, (the good bit) bacon with scrambled eggs and CARROT, and beautifully thick toast. The most exciting thing about this to me was the blueberry jam, which I used to smother my doorstop bread... yes, so they didn't quite get the Western breakfast right, but it was still nice!

I had been talking to Saba over the Facebook group (Interac 2010), who told me that she was arriving in the morning. By my estimations, she would be at the train station by 10.07 - Japanese trains are never late! I wandered around the 7-11 and Family Mart for a while. They are convenience stores, which sell not only food and snacks but a range of useful items (I saw make-up, stationary, hot food) and have ATMs and photocopiers.... I waited for Saba for a long time but didn't see her, so decided to make my way back to the hotel. When I entered the lobby, someone shouted "Gwyn!" and there she was! Turns out the train arrived at 10am, and she'd had to find her own way to the hotel with two massive suitcases in the wind. Damn... if I'd been there 2 minutes earlier I would have caught her!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

I AM HERE!!!!!

Well. Wow. I finally get round to writing this.
So. At 9am on Friday (19th), after a saddening goodbye with some of the most important people in my life, I boarded the plane. To London. The flight took a whopping 40 minutes. I then spent the next 2 or 3 hours in Heathrow, eating and staring at the departure board.

Eventually, I boarded the big plane. It was Virgin Atlantic, who I've heard look after their customers well. Economy meant that my seat was not overly comfortable, but it wasn't the usual plastic squeeze that I'm accustomed to. I sat next to a friendly Japanese man, who talked to me for a while (mostly telling me about how slow Japanese drivers were). The seats came with a pillow and a blanket, and we were later given a goodie bag (socks, a blindfold - for sleeping! - and a toothbrush and toothpaste) and headphones for using the individual entertainment systems.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

One day more....

So. I go to sleep. I wake up, my parents come here, we go for a final meal. The last supper - my boyfriend, my best friend, my parents and I. I saw a friend today who told me never to say goodbye - just to do as the French do, and say "au revoir" - until we meet again. While I hope that is the case, nothing is certain in this life, and so this week I feel as if I am saying goodbye to people forever. It will be a year - but being apart from some people is going to feel like forever.

I can't believe I only have one more day. At 8.55am on Friday morning, I will fly out of Manchester. I will arrive Narita Airport, Japan, at 10am (local time) the next day.
I am a bundle of nerves. Sad, excited, terrified.... into the unknown I go.

Friday, 12 March 2010

My very own LeoPalace!

So, my apartment is confirmed!!

It is, as I had hoped/expected, a LeoPalace. This means that it comes furnished and internet-ready. This particular one is 18 minutes walk from the train station and comes with high-security prison style locking gates (which I guarantee I will somehow find myself locked outside at some point). It is located in Naka-ku, the most densely populated district in Hamamatsu - the one with the castle!

I have been adjusting to the realisation that I will be living in Hamamatsu city, and have found a lot of beautiful links, which I thought I would share with you.


http://wikitravel.org/en/Hamamatsu - have a look at the amount of parks, shrines, things to do.... there's a theme park!


That is all for now. Very exciting - I fly a week tomorrow!!!!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Placement change - 10 days before I leave!!!! + Visa

Well! Talk about last minute... although, to be fair, I have heard of people being told they have new positions at training. I just received an email from Aaron to tell me that I will not be in Fuji City, as I had thought, but instead in Hamamatsu City!

Well! I'll be a bit further than I thought I would from Tokyo and some other friends... I won't have those stunning views of Mount Fuji when I wake up... but I will be in a city that I have already researched a fair bit (as my training will be there anyway), where I know a few people who are going to be there already, and which was originally one of my top choices anyway. Wow. I've spent so long telling everybody about Fuji City, and suddenly it isn't anymore. It shows you how well organised these guys are... heh. Now, while I have always mocked my mother's need to plan what we are going to eat for dinner for the entirety of the next week, I generally like to know exactly where I am going, at what time, and what I am doing. For Interac, I have had to suspend this need quite considerably, and really go with the flow. I could get to training and be told that I am actually being shipped to Okinawa or Hokkaido, who knows!? For now... at least I have been replaced within the same branch, and somewhere that sounds awesome.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The "Things I'll Miss" post...

Well, here it goes. It seems to be a popular trend on our blogroll (which I am loving a lot, by the way) at the moment to discuss the things we'll miss about home once we're in Japan.

There are many things I will miss, of course, but I'll try narrowing it down!

1) My friends and family - of course. Here are some photos that I'm sure I will be blu-tacking to my walls at some point.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Visa forms submitted

Well, I'm in London right now, and have returned back to my friends' house after taking my CoE to the Japanese Embassy. I had heard from other Interac-ers that they asked you to come back in about 5 days, so I decided that it would be easier to turn up armed with a pre-paid envelope. This process was traumatic enough on its own - nobody around Green Park seemed to have any idea where the nearest Post Office way. In the end I resorted to texting 63336 to ask (ahh, the primitive methods that we must employ when we don't have an iPhone). Turns out that it was about a minute's walk away from where I was standing when an official city guard told me to walk to Holborn. Luckily I hadn't taken his advice, and I merely turned left and walked 100 yards.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The flight is booked...

I will be leaving Manchester on the 19th of March, 8.55am. I will then fly to London, which will take a whopping one hour, and await my DIRECT flight to Narita Airport which will leave at 13:00. I will arrive at 10am the next day (in Japanese time), so around 2am for you guys in the U.K. I think that's right, anyway...

Organising life is quite a task! I successfully obtained my International Driving License today. It's very easy, as I live near one of the big Post Office branches. I took my UK license (paper and card), as well as another form of ID (passport) and a passport photo. It cost £5.50 and took all of five minutes (well, after the half hour wait to get to the desk, but they have a number-calling system which is nice!). So that's one thing done. Two, with the flights.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


That is the date that I have to arrive in Hamamatsu. Yes, the training will take place there, not Tokyo. On the negative side, this means it will cost me at least £40 to get from the airport to Hamamatsu station (depending on the airport that I fly to)... on the plus side, when my friend asked me a few weeks ago where in Japan I hoped to go, I said "Hamamatsu". I don't really know much about the place, but I had researched it once after hearing somebody else who lived there talk about it, and decided that it was a beautiful place! And out of all the places in Japan, there I will be!

Now, this is more for my own benefit rather than yours, but here are ALL the things I have to do in the next 6 weeks...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fuji City!!!

So, fifteen minutes into my shift at work, whilst telling my colleague about how I was waiting for a call from Interac... when my phone rang!! David's dulcet Scottish tones informed me that the placement that they were offering me was in Fuji City, in the Shizuoka prefecture (Hamamatsu branch). I would be teaching Elementary AND Junior High in anything from 2 to 6 schools, and driving (eeek!).
So, Fuji City is (as you might guess) near Mount Fuji - you can see it looming in the background :) ... it's an 80 minute train ride from Tokyo... one of the warmer places too. I can't find too much information about it yet, but from what I can glean so far here we go:

Friday, 5 February 2010



Well, I have to start somewhere. My name is Gwynnie and I am 23 years old. I graduated from the University of Manchester back in July with a BSc in Psychology, and as of March I will be living in Japan and working as an Assistant Language Teacher! This exciting move is something that I am terrified about as well, but as I hold my breath and await my placement offer, I thought that I would start to write what will hopefully be an educational, entertaining and enlightening blog (I can't always promise that level of alliteration, but I will try). I will be leaving many loved ones behind in the U.K. for the year, and so my hope is that they can read this to see what I am up to... other ALTs in Japan can laugh and relate to my stories... and those of you who are thinking about doing the same can learn a little about what it's actually like to live and work in the Land of the Rising Sun.