Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hanadan Final Movie

I spent my free time this past week watching Hana Yori Dango 2 (Returns) so that I could go to watch the movie, Hana Yori Dango Final on the opening weekend-- i.e. this weekend. (By the by, I bought the DVD boxset within my first month here, but didn't watch more than 5 minutes of it until this week!)

Then today, after my first Japanese dance lesson (I'm really bad at it, by the way!), I made my way to the Shimoda Jusco to catch the 8pm show. (My first time watching a movie in a theatre on my own!) I was really looking forward to the movie.

Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment.

The basic plot was that Doumyouji and Makino have finally announced their wedding. As a wedding gift, Doumyouji's mother presents Makino with a tiara that has jewels from America, Hong Kong and some southern tropical island. Apparently there's some sort of story about the wearer's future happiness tied to the tiara, but I couldn't make out the specifics. Anyway, the tiara is stolen and Doumyouji and Makino must get it back before they can get married. But as they travel to America and Hong Kong in pursuit of the tiara, Makino begins to have doubts as to whether she and Doumyouji should really get married...

So yeah, it ended up being completely ridiculous. The plot just jumped from one far-fetched intrigue/mystery/peril to the next. What I've always liked about the series is the characters and their personal and emotional growth, but the tension between Doumyouji and Makino in this movie seemed to have been fabricated solely to drive the ridiculous action of the plot. There was no real heart in the movie.

I'll probably still buy the movie simply because it's Hanadan, but I'm going to wait until I find it at a good used price.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Don't Look Back

I was really stupid today, and even though I told myself I wouldn't do it after I purchased my tickets, I checked the prices for flights home again today.

The exact flight dates I wanted Aug 1-Aug 18 were available, direct both ways, for $200 less than I paid!!! For the flight I booked, I have to change at Vancouver, and I'm leaving Canada on the 19th (meaning I have to use one day of nenkyu more than I had originally planned)!! ;_;

Oh well. On the bright side, this means I have one more day to be at home and to hang out with people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Suprised my eyes aren't bleeding...

After trivia weekend (it was fun, but I'd forgotten how awkward I feel when surrounded by lots of people who are very drunk), I came home and decided I should start watching some of the DVDs I'd purchased but hadn't gotten around to watching.

I started with Always Zoku San Chome no Yuhi, the sequel to Always San Chome no Yuhi. ^_^ It was almost as great as the original--a high compliment for a sequel, indeed. I can't really say why it was "almost" rather than "as great as," but anyway, the point is I really enjoyed it.

After that, I watched Bambino!, a drama (adapted from the manga of the same name) starring Matsumoto Jun about a college student who wants to open his own Italian restaurant. And yes, I said I watched the series, and not started; I went through all eleven episodes in one sitting!

Obviously, I thought it was a pretty good series. The only frustrating thing was the English subtitles. Since I bought it in Malaysia (licensed, but still...) the English subtitles were pretty bad. For most of the series they were somewhat decent, but the last episode was terrible. Someone decided to translate the Ban's (the main character, i.e. Matsumoto Jun) name as A-han or something ridiculous, and a lot of the time it didn't make sense at all. I pretty much stopped reading the subtitles altogether, expect to look for key words when I really didn't understand what they were saying.

Come to think of it, if I was going to watch an entire series, I probably should've watched the second season of Hana Yori Dango, since the new movie (and series finale) will be coming out this Saturday!! Even though I won't be able to watch it this weekend (I invited some teachers from Kirita over to have a takoyaki party on Sat., and Sun. is my first Japanese dance lesson), I definitely want to watch it in theatres soon!

So with that, I think I'm off to watch Hanadan 2! =P

Friday, June 20, 2008

More Thoughts on Moving to Japan...

I think I covered most of the important (well, they were important to me, anyway!) points in my original post, but some other random things people moving to Japan might want to do before leaving have occurred to me, so here they are:

Teaching preparation:

- find out your blood type (if you don't already know) as chances are high a student will ask about it; there are varying explanations of the personality type associated with each blood type, so I'm still fuzzy on the personality theory, but my experience is that while all types have positive and negative traits, "O" and "A" are generally perceived more positively than "B" or "AB"

- get high resolution (for printing) image files or scans of holiday celebrations, travels in foreign countries, or anything unique to your area, since you may be asked to show pictures and talk about things (Christmas is an especially popular topic) for a class


- leave photocopies of any documents you bring with you to Japan somewhere safe at home (passport, driver's license, birth certificate, etc.).

- collect any tax-related materials you've accumulated throughout the year (charitable donation receipts, etc.) and a) leave them with a family member to file your taxes for you (you DO have to file taxes while you're in Japan!); or b) bring them with you and leave instructions for a family member to send anything that comes later to you


- it may sound mercenary, but it's a good idea to make friends (and exchange contact information!) with people from your embassy and/or whom you meet during Tokyo Orientation because you never know when you'll be visiting their area and need a place to crash or recommendations for things to do!


(OK, this isn't really too important to think about before you leave, but since I'm giving advice, I figured I'd write this down while I remember!)

- the end and/or beginning of each school term--end of Feb/start of Apr; end of July until mid-late August; late December to mid-January-- is the time when your taking vacation will be the least inconvenient for schools, since they will be probably be too busy to want you around anyway

- according to the JET diary, the only official holiday for New Year's is January first, but since New Year's celebrations traditionally last the first three days of the New Year (Jan. 1-3) chances are high you'll be given three days off--keep this in mind if you're thinking about heading home (or somewhere else) for the holidays! (Christmas Day is NOT a holiday here, by the way, so be prepared to use one of your vacation days if you don't want to be at the office on the 25th!)

- "Golden Week" is a super busy/crazy expensive time to travel within Japan, and I've heard August is another peak season (due to Obon), so you might to travel outside of Japan during these times

As always, keep in mind that every situation (really) is different (ESID).

(For example: My office is particularly busy (ALTs are over-requested, so we actually have to turn down visit requests from schools), so our office really prefers it if we only book vacations after our school visit schedules have been made--and this only happens just before the start of a new term (and sometimes it doesn't happen until after the term has already started)! On the other hand, I know some ALTs in neighbouring cities who can pretty much take their vacation whenever they want. )

I highly recommend that new ALTs get in touch with their predecessors as soon as possible because they are the best source of specific information. (Of course, I'm always willing to give my two cents or talk about my personal experiences.) And don't be afraid to ask lots of questions! We've all been new ALTs, so we can understand the need/desire to know things in the most minute detail!

Another piece of unsolicited advice is to spend the time you have remaining at home wisely, and to cherish it! As much as I enjoyed my work, I really wish I had taken the entire month before leaving off, instead of only taking two weeks.

Oh, and start packing early!! (I recommend suitcases with four wheels for ease of use!) You don't want to spend your last day at home frantically packing when you could be getting that last bit of quality time with friends and family!

And make sure you weigh your luggage. If there are a lot of fellow JETs on the same flight as you, chances are you're not going to be allowed to put overweight luggage on the plane, even if you're willing to pay the ridiculously expensive fees for overweight baggage! (Many a fellow JET did I see opening up luggage and re-packing at the airport check-in counter!) Put things you can live without in last so that if you need to remove something to reduce the weight, you can do so easily and quickly.

Well, that's it for now!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

JET Jackpot

I think (or hope) I've said it before, but I do believe I hit the JET jackpot with my placement.

When I first found out that I was: a) going to Towada, and b) teaching elementary/junior high, I was a little...worried, to say the least.

It didn't help when my dad did a little research and tried to reassure me with: "It's got an agricultural university, so it must be a pretty big city." (Actually, it's an animal husbandry university, but close enough.) If anything, that had me more convinced that I was going to the inaka (rural countryside)! But since a lot of the questions during my interview were about how I'd cope if I was sent to rural Japan, even though I wasn't thrilled, I figured I could deal with it.

What had me more worried, though, was that I was going to be teaching junior high and elementary school students. I believe I had specifically written (well, checked off) in my application that I did NOT want to teach at the elementary level. I mean, I don't like (little) kids, and I'm a certified high school English teacher, so I was convinced that I would be best utilized at the high school level.

As it's turned out, however, I now believe that I have the placement that is able to make me the happiest, most satisfied ALT I could possibly be.

Towada has really benefited from having one ALT who has stayed for five years. Andy has done an incredible amount of work to systematically improve English teaching in Towada: he has helped to put in place a quota system for school visits; to make it the standard for teachers to send lesson plans one week in advance; to start an elementary school English newsletter; to make soft copies of flash cards and other resource materials for easy sharing; and many other things!

Not only that, but he's been a rock of support for incoming ALTs. When Allie and I arrived, he met us at the airport, took us grocery shopping, helped us arrange for our internet connections and generally made it as easy as possible for us to settle in. And even now, whenever we have any problems or need help, he's there--moving furniture, explaining how to prevent insect infestations, demonstrating the weed whacker, etc. etc.

Another great thing about Towada is that it's conveniently situated next to Shichinohe, where there were (and still are) great second-year JETs who introduced themselves right away and have been great friends. They too were and have been very helpful in answering questions and assisting us whenever we need them.

We've also been extremely lucky in our office co-workers. Both our first and current supervisors have excellent English and have put a lot of thought and energy into making life and work in a foreign country go as smoothly as possible. Our other co-workers are also great about trying to talk to us (in English or simple Japanese) and have been very friendly and welcoming.

Personally, I also feel lucky to have come with Allie and Juliet. ^_^ We get along well, and they're both more social/outgoing than I am, which is great because if I wasn't going out and doing things with them every once in a while, I'd probably be a hermit.

Towada City itself is a great place to live. It's small enough to be friendly but large enough to provide some degree of anonymity. Plus it's got great scenery: Oirase Gorge, Lake Towada and Mount Hakoda (not to mention the ever-so picturesque rice fields). The city centre is also conveniently laid out in a grid pattern (owing to it's rice field origins) . There are lots of good restaurants and a decent-sized mall, and there are larger cities (Hachinohe, Aomori) within a reasonable driving distance.

As for the job, I love it. My base school only has 39 students in total and not a single one is a "bad." The previous kocho-sensei (just transferred to a different school this past April) really loved studying English, so we used to have English eikaiwa (conversation classes) with the teachers. As a result, all of the teachers can and do try to use at least a little English with me. Our new kocho-sensei doesn't have the same interest/facility in English, but he's also very nice and very relaxed. He's told me that if I'm late or sick it's OK if I just call the school directly (rather than calling my supervisor/the Board of Education first).

I've also had very good relationships with both of the Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) with whom I've worked. My current JTE and I get along particularly well. She's helped me to find a new apartment, to buy a washer/dryer (along with a fridge/TV), to inquire about various services by phone, and to do many other things. (I'm constantly asking her, and the kokugo--Japanese--teacher, about how to say things in Japanese or the meaning of various words/kanji.)

As a result of my good relationship with my JTE and the school in general (not to mention with my office), I've gotten permission to go on the school trip to Tokyo with the ninensei!! I have to use my vacation days and pay for the trip myself, of course, but I'm nonetheless thrilled to be able to go with them! It will be my first time going to Tokyo Disneyworld, Tokyo Tower, and the Canadian Embassy (hopefully the Embassy'll be at least somewhat interesting, since I think we're only going there because of me)! I really want to get to know the students better on this trip, and I hope too, that we will somehow be able to show them the practicality of learning English on the trip.

Really, if I could, the only thing I would change about my job is that I would be at Kirita full time rather than just 3 days a week. Even so, it's good for me to visit other schools (yes, even elementary schools) once in a while, particularly since those visiting days are usually the only days I have a chance to do any necessary in-person banking (banks close at 3pm!!!) .

The flipside (I don't really consider it a negative) of having a base school is that I have longer hours than Andy or Allie (but not as long as Juliet's), since my regular hours there are from 9am-5pm (but I often go earlier and/or stay later). I also do a lot of marking (pretty much everyday that I'm there) and lesson planning (particularly for the extra English classes I do on my own), but I don't really think of it as a hardship, since it makes me feel more like a regular teacher at the school. Then too, I think a lot of my good relationship with the other teachers comes from the fact that they see me putting in the extra time and effort.

So yeah, basically I feel like I've won the JET jackpot in terms of getting a placement that totally fits me. But I'd like to point out, that it's also a matter of perspective.

As much as I've been raving about how great being in Towada is, I could easily dwell on all the "negative" aspects of the placement:

- because Andy and other ALTs have built up the English program so much in Towada, there are very high teaching expectations placed on us, i.e. we need to maintain the standards already set

- again, because of the high level of the Towada English program, Towada ALTs are a heck of a lot busier than ALTs in many other cities (in the second term, I only had two scheduled office days--the rest of the time I had to go to the office after a school visit and/or after hours)

- Towada is incredibly inconvenient (not to mention expensive!) in terms of travel--there's no JR station, and it's far from both the international airport in Tokyo and Sapporo

- since it's a very spread out, rural city, it's hard to survive (although my predecessor did manage it) without a car--expensive considering the cost of gas nowadays, plus the Japanese system of road and car maintenance taxes

I'm sure if I thought a little longer/harder, I'd come up with more, but again, the point is, I choose to focus on all the great things about living in Towada.

The one thing I've really learned since coming to Japan is that in the classroom or in any given situation, the only thing I can fully control is my own attitude and (re)actions. And really, those are the only things I need to control to determine whether things will work out positively or negatively.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Future Goals?

On the bus ride back from Tohoku Machi (where the aforementioned Chuutairen was held) I was talking with Tomabechi-sensei about my plans for when I (eventually) return to Canada.

I think it's fairly safe to say that, unless something terrible happens this year (here or at home) I'll stay for at least 3 years (i.e. until August 2010). After that, though, it's really a big question mark.

In terms of the job, I think I'd be happy staying for the maximum five years, but there are lots of other considerations.

For one thing, I'd be 29 when I finally returned home, and 29 seems a little old to still be deciding what the heck I want to do with my life.

Then too, I really do miss everyone, especially from MCBC. I also miss having a church where I feel at home and part of the community.

Perhaps most importantly, I don't know if I'd still be growing and improving as a teacher at Kirita if I stayed for a fourth or fifth year. I definitely wouldn't stay if I felt like I was just going to be recycling lesson plans and sticking with the status quo. Plus I wonder if it might be better for the school to get a new ALT with fresh ideas after three years with the same person...

A new consideration (just came up today!) is that I've started thinking I might like to take a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course when I go back and go into immigration/settlement related work, or possibly head off to Korea or Hong Kong to teach English (probably at the secondary level)...

Of course, that wouldn't help with the "missing everyone" consideration, but at least it gives me some possibilities for future employment.

Mental Fortitude

I attended the Chuutairen (sports meet for junior high schools around this area--Towada, Misawa, Rokunohe, Tohoku Machi, etc.) for the past three days, and the amount of mental (not to mention emotional and physical) fortitude necessary for such competitions was really impressed on my mind.

Today was the finals. Out of about fifteen (a little more, I think) students who competed in table tennis, only four made it to today: three sannensei girls and one ninensei boy.

All three of the girls lost their first matches, but our ninensei won his first match. He started his second match off impressively, winning the first two sets. He started to have a little difficulty in the third, but it was still very close when things started to go downhill. He started missing some serves and shots and then, I suspect, he realized that his father was up in the stands cheering for him (at least, that's when I noticed his father!).

I'm not overly familiar with table tennis, so suffice to say that he lost the third set 11-8. After that it seemed like he lost his confidence/composure. (It probably didn't help that his father went down after he lost that third set to talk to him during the break between sets.) He then proceeded to lose the fourth and fifth set (and, consequently, the match) by successively larger margins.

Shortly after the loss, he had to play another match to determine whether he would be ranked among the top eight, but his opponent was very strong, and (again, this is my suspicion) he was probably still bummed out from the earlier loss and he lost in three straight sets. It was really heartbreaking (especially since he's one of my favourite students). When he came back, he covered his face with his towel and was (manfully) crying.

I read a lot of sports manga and have watched various sports matches (hockey, softball, etc.) but this is the first time I really felt like I "understood" (in the empathetic sense) just how much athletes put into sports and how much it takes to win and how tough it is to lose.

Anyway, on a more cheerful note, even though I'm pretty exhausted (Sat. got up before 5am, was with the students from 7am-3pm; Sun. got up around 5:15am, was with the students from 7am-4:30pm; Mon. got up around 5:30am, was with the students from 8:30am-1pm, then drove to the office and was there from 2pm-4:15pm), I wouldn't give up the experience for anything. It was great to see everyone earnestly cheering their fellow students on ("Nice shot!" "Don't mind!" "Ganbare!" "Fight!") and I felt that my coming to cheer was also appreciated.

Thankfully my office is very nice, and even though I couldn't get daikyu (substitute holiday for when people work on weekends--all the Kirita teachers and students have Tues. and Wed. off from school, but I'm still working!) for my participation, I got a call from my supervisor tonight saying that I could sleep in and just come in the afternoon. ^_^

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First Earthquake

So I felt my first earthquake today--not that this is the first earthquake to happen since I've been in Japan, but it's the first one I know that I felt.

We were all at the sports complex in Tohoku Machi for the junior high school sports meet (Towada, Misawa, Tohoku Machi and other nearby cities) watching the students practicing, when suddenly things started going "wobbly." It took about half a minute before I realized that it was an earthquake. By that time, one of the organizers had started making the announcement for all the students to stop practicing and to sit down to wait for the earthquake to stop.

After a minute or two, the tremors stopped and I didn't think anything of it until I got home and found an email from the Canadian Embassy in Japan, asking me to please reply and inform the embassy of my status.

Apparently it was a pretty big one (about 7.2 on the Richter scale), and it happened in Iwate, the prefecture immediately south (on the east side) of Aomori Prefecture. As I am writing this, the news is that 3 have died and between 65-100 people have been injured. There are also some guests at an onsen (hot spring) resort who have been trapped by a landslide.

You can read more about the earthquake here:

I guess this is a warning for me that I do actually need to prepare an earthquake kit (water, canned food, first aid supplies, photocopies of important documents, etc.).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So You're Moving to Japan....

I'm starting to get really excited about the new JETs coming to Towada (and Shichinohe)! (Thanks for the comments, Bryan. I've fixed the old photo links, by the way!) It's really too bad that I'm going to be gone for the first two and a half weeks of August, so I won't be able to help them as much as I'd like, but hopefully I'll be able to prepare things and/or answer questions for them beforehand.

Anyway, all the preparations for the incoming JETs made me think about my own experiences preparing for Japan and my first few days/weeks/months here. There's a lot of stuff that JET/CLAIR tells JET participants, but this is the stuff that I personally thought was important (or regretted not taking care of).

Pre-departure preparations:

Vaccinations: If you're thinking about traveling to Thailand, other Asian countries, or Indian from Japan, it's best if you get your hepatitis A/B and/or malaria shots before coming to Japan, as it can be rather expensive and troublesome to get it done here.

Documentation: If you're planning on driving in Japan, make sure you get an International Driver's Permit before you leave! Also, you should bring proof (old passports, original university transcripts, pay stubs, etc.) that you were in the country for at least three months after your driver's license was issued. If you stay a second year, you will need this in order to get a Japanese license.

Will/Power of Attorney: Just in case, get this done before you leave.

Credit Card/Banking Information: Make sure you inform your bank/credit card companies that you will be moving to Japan. Some companies may even mail your statements to you in Japan! Also make sure that you have the international contact information for your accounts, as well as your account information (especially if you want to transfer money home through a service like Go Lloyds).

Airline Rewards: Find out what airline you will be using to get to Japan. If you don't already have an airline reward card for that airline, inquire about getting one. For Canadians, you can get Aeroplan miles from Air Canada for your flight to Japan. You can also get Aeroplan miles from ANA and various other airlines that are part of the Star Alliance. (I flew to Singapore for free this May thanks to points accumulated from flying to and from Japan, plus a flight to Europe before I left for Japan.)

Join your local JET community (list serve, forum, MSN group, Facebook group, etc.; e.g. aomorilist): It's a good way to learn about what goes on in your local JET community, and you can find lots of stuff going on sale right now (cars, snowboards, etc.) from departing JETs.

In terms of packing, here's the short list (in no particular order) of what I'd bring, leave, limit and consider:

- laptop: you may or may not have a computer to use in your office/school
- sturdy backpack: you'll likely have lots of lesson materials to carry around; also good for trips
- cereal: Japanese cereal is too sweet for my tastes and North American brands are expensive (800 yen for a small box of Cheerios!)
- North American/ethnic spices (e.g. garlic powder)
- medication (e.g. cough syrup, Tylenol, Advil, Neo Citron, etc.) : you work with children, so there's a good chance you'll get sick, particularly in the winter, and if you get a local prescription, you will get five different types of medicines, most of which will be considerably less potent than North American non-prescription medicines
- toothpaste: Japanese toothpaste doesn't have fluoride and often doesn't foam in the same way North American toothpaste does; travel size ones are good to bring to school, since all students and teachers brush their teeth after lunch (up to junior high, at least)
- flat sheet: you never know what type of bedding your predecessor has left you
- battery-operated alarm clock: it'll take a bit of time before you get a cell, and plug in clocks will run slow due to the voltage difference; punctuality is important in Japan, so the alarm clock is vital!
- long underwear (top and bottom): winters are COLD, especially in old houses
- sports wear: all schools have sports days, so if you want to join in...
- indoor shoes (dress & sports): you *can* wear visitor slippers at your school(s), but I always feel like they'll slip off, especially on the stairs!
- ONE good black suit: for various school ceremonies and to make a good first impression with co-workers, city officials, etc. (for guys, I've heard it's hard to find dress shirts with the proper collar size and/or sleeve length, so you may want to make sure you bring a week's supply of dress shirts for work)
- lots of polo T-shirts: comfortable (especially in the summer) but (usually) formal enough for the office; can be layered with v-neck long-sleeved tees or sweaters in the winter
- mummy sleeping bag: use in the winter and save on heating costs!
- sanitary products (obviously, girls only): it's nice to not have to worry about such things; I brought a one-year supply and I don't regret it at all
- ONE towel: again, you don't know what your predecessor has left, but you can easily buy more in the 100 yen store, so just one is sufficient
- ONE bar of soap: North American brands are available in Japan (e.g. Dove), but it's good to have something to start with
- ONE toothbrush: you can always buy more at the 100 yen store!
- sunscreen: I know lots of ALTs who have gotten pretty bad sunburns (you also have to remember to apply it!)
- moisturizer: I've had allergic reactions (even in Canada), so it's a good idea to bring tried and tested skincare products
- USB key/external hard drive: good for printing things off a school/office computer and for sharing files with other ALTs
- 300,000 yen cash: I used the cash I brought to pay for my trip back to Canada (for a wedding) and most of my car in October
- layering pieces (v-neck long sleeve T’s/sweaters, etc.): outside, inside your home, and in school corridors it may be freezing, but in classrooms it may be boiling, so layering is the best way to ensure comfort in all situations!
- nice cardigan/blazer: again, layering is important, and a nice cardigan/blazer is good for dressing up a more casual sweater/shirt
- stickers (SpongeBob, Winnie the Pooh, Canadian/American, etc.): even up to third grade in junior high school, students love "seals"
- Japanese text/reference books: the first month--before school visits, before you have much real office work, before you have a car to get around with--is a great time to work on your Japanese!
- country/hometown specific food stuffs (for souvenirs: small bottles of wine/alcohol, local sweets, teas, etc.): the most appreciated omiyage for co-workers, and good for giving other nice/helpful people (English-speaking travel agent, eikaiwa students, etc.) you meet
- letter-size photo of your family: for your self introduction
- a few books you can read over and over and over again: English books are hard to come by in smaller cities/towns

- random souvenirs (pens, key chains, bookmarks, pins, etc.): I've got a bunch just taking up storage space
- Costco-sized shampoo: Japan has North American brands like Herbal Essences and Dove anyway
- bags that close with magnets: BEWARE! bank passbooks and some membership cards are easily de-magnetized
- stationary: Japan is the land of excellent stationary, and most of it can be found at the 100 yen store!

- T-shirts (five is plenty): unless you change everyday after coming home from school, you'll only really wear them on the weekends
- socks (a week’s supply is sufficient): Japanese washing machines are small, and few people have dryers, so you'll be doing laundry at least once every week, if not every couple of days (for girls, though, make sure you bring a pair or two of good pantyhose, since your office may not approve of bare legs!)
- jeans (two pairs are sufficient): again, you'll only really wear them on weekends

- English manga (if you’re a fan): students are always impressed to see manga in English; Bleach is still popular right now
- laptop backpack (I love the one I bought from Mec!)
- mittens: hard to find in Japan; gloves are not a problem, though
- reminders of home (favourite stuffed friend, a flag signed by your friends, etc.): comforting in your first few days/weeks
- favourite movies: it's fairly easy to find cheap DVD players that play North American DVDs
- baking supplies (vanilla, measuring spoons/cups): Japanese measurements of "cups" etc. are slightly less than North American ones (about 20mL off)
- swimsuit: especially for girls, you may find buying a bathing suit hard on your wallet and your self-esteem (Japanese sizing for swimsuits is a lot smaller than North American sizing!)
- hand-cranking emergency flashlight/radio (you can keep it as part of your earthquake preparation kit!)
- small first aid kit: maybe I just don't know where to look, but I haven't found an actual first aid kit (I'd like one for the car, and one for my earthquake preparation kit--because I'm cautious like that)

Other things you should know about packing:

When you arrive in Tokyo Airport, you will ship one piece of luggage to your contracting organization. You get the bill for the shipping fees later. What you should keep in mind when deciding which bag you'll send ahead and which you'll keep (assuming you bring as much luggage as you're allowed) is that you may be taking a plane from Tokyo to your city/town/village.

The domestic checked baggage allowance for JAL is 15kg per piece, with dimensions of 50 x 60 x 120 cm, up to a maximum of 3 pieces(?). The weight allowance for unchecked baggage (1 piece only) is 10kg. If you have heavier luggage, you will need to ship it the night before you leave Tokyo, and you will have to pay for the shipping costs on the spot. In order to receive your luggage the next day, you have to bring your luggage before 6pm (or thereabouts--make sure you listen to the time your Prefectural Advisor tells you!), otherwise it will take 2 days before it's delivered!!

Even if you're taking a train, you'll probably want to keep your Tokyo bag fairly small, since you'll have to put any large pieces of luggage in the racks by the exiting doors of the train (separated from the seating areas by doors). You may also have a fairly long walk to your train platform, so if you've got a massive bag, it could be quite difficult.

It starts to get cold in northern Japan (Aomori Prefecture, Hokkaido) in mid-September, so if you decide to send your winter clothes by seamail, you may want to bring at least one zip up hoody or something in case it gets cold before your package arrives.

When you're entering Japan, if you've sent things by seamail or you know that your parents or friends will be sending packages to you after your arrival, you should make sure to declare those items on the customs/immigration form to avoid having to pay duty on them later ("unaccompanied articles" or something like that on the form).

Anyway, if there are actually other incoming JETs reading this, please feel free to comment or ask a question!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lazy Days

I've been really lazy since moving into the apartment. I finally finished cleaning late on Thursday night, so Friday I spent pretty much the entire day (I got home from school around 4:30pm after hitting the bank and the 100 yen store) on the internet and reading scanlated manga. I was too lazy to even make pizza toast for dinner, so I had a bah hu (shredded pork floss) sandwich, plus Cadbury Mini Eggs.

I slept in until about 12pm today then hooked up the phone, did laundry, and looked up various Jane Austen spin-off books (sequels to her novels, completions of her fragments, etc.). I was so lazy I didn't even eat cereal (I think the milk expired yesterday anyway!), just the remainder of the Mini Eggs bag I opened yesterday. Luckily Allie sent me a message to invite to dinner with her, Juliet, Teresa, and Kelly and Ron or I probably would've skipped out on dinner too. ^^;;

Just before heading out for dinner, Crystal called to say that they were in the area, so she and Weldon and some other ALTs (they had gone out to Lake Towada) came by to pick up the intermediate Japanese course books (provided through the JET Programme) I had barely used and to view the apartment.

After dinner, everyone came over to hang out until about 11 something.

I really think that for the next couple of weeks I could be quite happy just staying at home reading manga and watching movies. (I also suspect I wouldn't eat much more than cereal and pizza, though, so it's good that I get school lunches!)

Even though I don't have the excuse of moving into/cleaning the apartment anymore, I don't think I'm going to go to church tomorrow.

It's sad to admit, but it's been over a month since I last went and I don't have any feelings of missing it at all. I do have the occasional pang of guilt for not calling and at least giving them my new contact info, but not strong enough that I'm actually planning on doing so in the near future.

Since I started thinking seriously about Christianity (i.e. junior high/high school), I've always believed in the importance of going to church, but I guess my conviction wasn't as strong as I thought it was. I hate to say it, but I'm really thinking that I prefer to not go to church rather than dragging myself to and through it every week. But since I've also been negligent in personal devos/Bible study, not going to church would probably turn me into a in-name-only Christian.

*sigh* I've always had problems with determining when the action is more important than the accompanying feelings/motivations and when the right motivations/feelings are more important than the action. Does God want me to go to church even when I'm unhappy being there, or do my negative feelings render the act (of going to church) meaningless?

It's harder than my university days because it's not simply a matter of laziness: I've tried churches here and am simply unsatisfied by them. But I don't know how much of it is real dissatisfaction and how much is me inflating the negative points to justify not going. @_@ It's all really a tangle.

But on a happier note, I finally got the official OK to go on the school trip with the ninensei in October!! I'll have to take nenkyuu (vacation) and pay for myself, and I won't be able to watch the Lion King with them (I've already seen it anyway), but I get to go!!! They were saying that it would probably be OK for a long time, but I was still a little worried that something would come up to prevent my going, so it's a relief to finally get things settled.

I am a little worried about being a burden on the teachers (they have a lot of work to do for the trip) but I really do want to do my best to be helpful and to find ways to get the students practicing their English on the trip. ^_____^

I'm also going to the big regional (?) JHS sports festival in Tohoku Machi next weekend!! It'll be a long weekend (starting at 6:50am on Saturday!), but if my students win on Sunday, I'll be able to go cheer for them on Monday (instead of going in for an office day). ^_^

One of the most meaningful compliments I've gotten from the other teachers at Kirita is that I'm like a regular teacher, and I really hope that this year I can continue improving as a teacher and increasing my role as a member of the staff at Kirita.

Admittedly, with all the moving stuff I've gotten a little lazy and less pro-active about lesson planning, but I did have some really good jishu gakushu (extra English) classes with every grade this week (everyone seemed to have fun and get the grammar points I was teaching/reviewing), so hopefully I'll be back on track next week.

So yeah, I guess that's it for today's rambling post. If you're interested, I posted five new photos of my now CLEAN apartment on Facebook here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Settling In

Moving is really tiring, not to mention expensive.

On top of the 100,000 yen I paid to cover the first month's rent, plus various fees (real estate agent fee, "key money", etc.) I've probably shelled out between 300,000 and 400,000 yen on appliances, furniture, cleaning supplies, dishes, etc. @_@

But I think it's worth it to have a place that truly feels like it's my own (even though at most I'll only be spending another 4 years here).

I didn't realize how much work packing and unpacking would be, however. Well, the packing wasn't so bad. I got all of the stuff from the old house moved into the apartment in about 6 car loads (remember, my car is very small!). The unpacking and organizing, however, is insane. I can see now that I was being hopelessly optimistic in thinking I'd get it done within the weekend.

And of course, the place is so small that as soon as I buy anything, it'll become messy again. ^^;;

Oh well. I'm teaching tomorrow, so it's time for me to go to bed!

Check out the pictures of my apartment (through various stages of moving in) on Facebook here.