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Published: August 27th 2012
Most of the Irish Jets in after arriving in Tokyo
Nearly 10 months after handing in my application for the JET (Japanese Exchange and Training) program, here I am, finally in Japan. I knew I wanted to teach English abroad somewhere, and by far and away the JET program was the best of all the options I saw. It is the largest exchange and training program in the world! It differs from other TEFL jobs mainly because the Japanese government directly hires you through their embassy in your home country. The JET community is very large and useful, and I have contacts in every prefecture in Japan, so it is amazing for travelling in not just Fukui, but all of Japan! The other big difference is that half our job on JET is teaching English, the other half is teaching and learning culture or as they put it ‘grass roots internationalisation’. They want us to teach locals about our culture and us to learn about Japan. On a normal TEFL job you are primarily just teaching English. We get a chance to show them clips of our sports and lives back, and to get involved in their sports here in school.
The government, being responsible
Our helpers getting about Tokyo. Grace, Martin and Nick
for our well-being, is keen that we have a good experience over here, so we are looked after and paid quite well (more than primary teachers back home). We each have a supervisor in our school that is responsible for us and helps us do important things, like making sure we don't clean our dishes with toilet cleaner (nearly happened to me my first day). My first day with my supervisor at school was a blaze of stamping forms with my personal seal or Inkan
, which is my surname in Katakana oh ma ho ni i
. Quite a novelty having a little stamp with your name on it, I’m tempted to just go around stamping things and claiming them. The “I don’t see your name it” defense doesn’t work here.
However, the challenge of coming to Japan is that I went from being a normal, educated Irish citizen, to an illiterate, goofily-mannered, sweaty (its 38 degrees here) 6 foot tall stranger who has trouble writing his address in just 12 hours. The language is difficult and etiquette takes a bit of getting used to, such as bowing or belting out a hearty ohayou gozaimasu (good
The prefectural government buildings lye inside this bad ass fortification
morning) in the morning to all the teachers in the staff room. However, our colleagues know that we’re new to it and it’s all part of the fun. I’m already automatically taking off my shoes on entering my own house and slipping on my indoor slippers. I did however make a hash of making rice the first day…but I’ll get there! And the bins....I could write about that in a seperate blog! My placement
I was placed in Fukui prefecture, along with 23 other new ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) and my home is in a small little town called Mihama. Mihama means beautiful beach, so I’m in a pretty good location for hitting the beaches, which my pasty white skin badly needs. I’m without a car, phone and Internet until I get my residents card, so I’m quite dependent on local ALTs who have kindly brought me to festivals, beaches, pubs and restaurants. Thanks Holly and Mish!
We are pretty lucky in Fukui as normally new ALTs have to work during the holidays, but our awesome BOE (Board of Education) rationalizes us not working by saying that touring around in Fukui and Japan
Irish Ambassadors Residence
The whole gang of new Irish JETs at the ambassadors place for dinner and beers
is the other half of our job ie learning about Japanese culture. Brilliant logic there! And its true, I’ve been to three festivals already, and heading to one more this weekend! Tokyo Orientation
When we arrived in Japan, 700 new, wide-eyed JETs from all over the English-speaking world, we were put up in a fancy 5-star hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, for our first 3 nights. It went by in a jet-lagged blur, but essentially we were formally welcomed to Japan, given some workshops on being an ALT and team teaching, got to meet and register with our embassy, and got to know the other new JETs in our area. Mission accomplished! And of course there was time for some obligatory karaoke.
Also, an interesting fact we learned about Japan is that street drinking is legal, so the Irish newbies did a walking tour of Shibuya together, and further spread our culture to masses of bemused Japanese onlookers. Gatting on the steps outside our hotel probably helped to further Irish culture more than any PowerPoint presentation ever could. Fukui orientation
After a quick 8-hour bus ride to Fukui, we then
Fukui JETs organised a nice dinner for us on our first night
had another 2-day orientation at our prefectures capital city. We formally met our BOE, signed our contracts, met our supervisors and learned all about our new role. We went out for dinner the first night in a cool restaurant where we tried local delicacies like raw horsemeat! Not too bad, but not on my favourites list just yet!
During our formal orientation here with our bosses bosses, the BOE, two of our organisers demonstrated something to be very careful of..Kancho
! I thought it was serious, as they said 'Oh please be very careful when visiting elementary schools'. I thought it was going to be like don't do this or don't say that, but they did a little skit where one pretended to be a kid and told the other to look behind him and then prodded the distracted teacher up the bum! I nearly fell off my chair laughing as the BOE are normally pretty formal. I don't have elementary visits so I should be safe haha!
We had a tour of our local city the second day, and discovered that the cities emblem is of two phoenixes, to represent rising from the ashes.
My neighbours sick Integra type R parked out front
Bombing during WW2 flattened the city and, shortly after being rebuilt, it was flattened again by a huge earthquake in 1948! It’s basically 2 fingers and ‘bring the noise’ to the outside world haha! Also, the prefectural government buildings are located inside the grounds of the old city castle. It must be pretty bad ass walking across the bridge, passed the thick, stone outer walls to work every day I imagine! My gaf
My new abode is a modern one-person apartment, with wood flooring and all the mod cons. My main room is a large-ish living room and bedroom. In Japan its called an 8 tatami room, as it can fit about 8 tatami mats in it (about 8 single beds). I then have about the same area again split between my kitchen, bathroom, storage room, toilet and entranceway. It’s pretty clean at the moment, but surely that’s a temporary matter while I have free time to clean it. My school
I have been to my base school a few times. I met the principal and staff and gave my brief intro speech in Japanese or jikoshoukai,
which is a very common
practice of politely saying who you are, where you’re from and that your looking forward to working with everyone. My supervisor is an English teacher and a number of other teachers in the school have excellent English also, so I should have no problems in the school. The head of the English department was in Australia for 7 years, so she speaks with an Ozzy accent, which totally took me by surprise “how ya goin mate!”
Even though it's the summer holidays here, the teachers still normally come in to do work, attend meetings and help train their students in sports everyday. Every teacher seems to be involved in at least one sport, and it’s phenomenal how much effort they seem to put in! Even the students come in most days in the morning to train in baseball or tennis or whatever. A bit different to our lazy 3 months off back home!
The only real work I’ve had to do so far was a one-day English summer camp where I had to give a presentation on my country and myself. My skydiving pictures went down a treat. I don’t really start work until
of September, but I am getting paid. Woohoo! It’s festival time you know
This past week has been the Obon
festival or ‘festival of the dead’, which according to Buddhist beliefs is a time their our ancestors return to the earth. It also means there is a shed-load of local festivals and is a great time to experience Japanese culture. I went to two major fireworks festivals that were pretty spectacular and involved a fair bit drinking and eating local food like takoyaki
or octopus on a stick. Also, at the Tsuruga festival we saw lantern floating, where little paper lanterns were lit and floated on the sea to signify the return of the departed to the underworld. I couldn’t quite work out how they floated out to sea with the wind blowing towards the beach… kind of spooky if you ask me!
One of my favourite small festivals we went to was in my local town area by the beach, where the locals had built a boat for their recently deceased relatives. It was made out of bamboo and rice reeds, and they decked it out with flags,
the awesome colourful boat!
banners, paper cranes and ribbons. It was nice to see a small neighborhood build such a special, beautiful little craft for their loved ones. From what my friend Mish told me, when people die they believe their soul stays on earth and this boat is a way of releasing the souls from the world. The boat was pushed out to the water by the men of the village, and then was towed by a boat around a little circuit a few times before finally getting brought out to sea.
The men who have lost the most in recent times actually get in the handmade boat and go with it out to sea. Some locals told us that they used to release the boat out at sea, but in recent years the boat came back in land at a different port and they had to pay a huge fine to get it disposed of, so now they leave it at a distant coastline and burn it after a few days.
So I’ll leave you with my favourite and not so favourite list of things here. Next up Mount Fuji(I've done it already, but don't wanna
These are the job! And they're everywhere!!
write about it now)!
Miss you all back home! Thumbs up list
1. Street drinking: Its legal!
2. Vending machines: They’re everywhere!
3. Paper rock scissors: They don’t flip coins, good old paper rock scissors decides everything in schools.
4. Fukui prefectural government buildings: Located inside huge castle walls!
5. Fukui BOE: They rock for giving us the summer off!
6. Personal seal: I stamp it I own it!
7. 100 Yen store(like 2euro store): They have everything you need, even though you didn’t even know you need it! Its decent quality too, so I spent about 30 euros in here on my first visit..
8. Fireworks: Epic hour-long explosions!
9. Roadwork signs: Cute frogs apologising for delays!
10. Convenience stores: They have everything you need! No bank account, hey no worries! Pay your bills at your local conbini, and grab a few beers too while your at it! No address or credit card, no worries! Get your parcels delivered to your local conbini and pay for it there instead with cold, hard cash, while
you munching on a jumbo frank (frankfurter). Thumbs down list
1. Kanji: There’s millions of themmm!!
2. Sunburn: It hurts!
3. Humidity: It gives you SAS(Sweaty Ass Syndrome)
4. Residents card: I’m still waiting! I need this before I can get my phone and Internet.
5. ATMs in Kanji: Just show me the money!
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