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.