就職活動: almost-post-JET anxiety meltdown doom feel, REFLECTIONS

WAW, an entire YEAR since my last post… dayum the procrastination…..
Here goes:

就職活動 (しゅうしょくかつどう) aka job-hunting.
That was my  biggest worry by the time I’d hit the November of my final year on JET.

It all began when I finally signed to not re-contract with the JET programme. I’d had my fill, done all I could do here and would be going home w/o ill feelings (not much anyway). The time was right.

Right after signing though, the reality of having to search for my next form of sustainance set it. Cue sweaty palms and breathing difficulties. I’m writing this article, well after having left Japan and I realized that my final months on JET were very crucial to document, because I’d seen a lot of blogs writing about the IN JET experience, but very little material was available to me when it was time for me to leave.

This is in no way blaming anyone…but as my blog description might suggest, I’m a theatre-maker at heart. So, having been away from the theatre world for 3 years, I did worry about going back to it.

JET does arrange for job fairs, but these fairs hardly hire anyone in the theatre/creative industry like me. So, those were never really an option.

So, I began talking to people, and thinking about what options I had before me. My only issue with this is, I wished I could be doing this more actively. This is as opposed to curling into myself like a pangolin under attack.

The panic was real and I think a lot of my energy went into worrying about post-JET employment and how I didn’t want to be a NEET or a Hikikomori or a Himo-Onna. You know, one of those people who ends up living off their parent’s money. And, panic rarely helps anyone move forward, so as I might have mentioned this in a previous post, I’d freeze in on myself every time I thought about The Job Hunt.

I think as one of my sempais said though (Thanks Patrick!!!), I was essentially leaving a country, job AND people that I’d known for 3 years of my life. I was going to be taking myself out of a familiar and consistent environment that I’d worked/developed on for 3 whole years.

Now, 3 years doesn’t sound like a very long time in the grand scheme of things. BUT, as someone who’d primarily freelanced for 2 years after graduating from university, that was the longest I’d stuck to one single job. It really WAS a big thing to be walking out of.

At that time though, I didn’t see that at all, and I was just really relieved that about a month or 2 before leaving, I’d gotten an offer and I grabbed it. I’d done a Skype interview, and a few weeks after that I got an email.

Hindsight really is an amazing thing. The gig, really didn’t work out for me, and although I think that programme is an amazing opportunity for people who DO manage to go through with it, it wasn’t a fit for me…So I left…and that’s ok.

What wasn’t ok, I think, was to rush into this so soon. Mind, I don’t regret having said yes, I think it was a good life lesson for myself. But, I think it’s important to check in on yourself, especially when you’re making a major shift in life.

So, currently, I’m doing what I do best, moving at my own pace, talking to people, coming up with ideas, writing proposals, talking to more people and studying my Japanese (I WILL cry if I lose this language). It’s great. Employment as an artist will always be a concern for me. What do I do about my retirement plans? How do I deal with insurance? How can I manage my savings? So many adulating worries which I realize JET took care for me through its program….BUT, I think this is the life I’m also best suited for. Somehow  skipping one rock to another, slowly but surely.

I’m still getting used to being back in Singapore. I never had any major culture shock moving to Japan, but coming back, I feel like I got hit on the head by a bus, a train, a plane, AND  Superman. Singapore is just SO much faster, and I’ve just had to speed up in so many ways.

I miss seeing the open skies, and visiting old people randomly, and getting fresh vegetables and fruits from friends. And the MOUNTAINS. Damn, I miss my mountains…

BUT theatre is great. Every new idea is an adrenaline rush. Meeting people, pursuing my ideas, and FIGHTING for them… I feel like I’m slowing realizing how much I want this to happen and how I’m the only person who can make it happen for myself. There’s no boss/employer/company I can run to, to just “give me” a magical directing job that lets me  do whatever I want to do for a standard 4k a month with pension/CPF contributions and insurance. If I want to do a play, I’ve got to go talk to actors, playwrights, mentors, etc myself. I need to go hunt for the sponsorships and side/part-time jobs.

It’s daunting. But, really, the worst I could get at the moment, is a “No”. More often than not, a SURPRISING number of people have given me “Yes”es or “Let’s talk more”s.

That’s my creative life. It’s the choice I’m making and I have no idea how things are going to pan out next month, 1 year, 5 years or 10 years from now. What JET HAS given me though, is invaluable. There are days when things are NOT ok, but, I’m able to look back (albeit objectively) and think, hey, I can’t be completely incompetent and unemployable because I managed myself well enough in a foreign land for 3 years in a job I WASN’T really trained for.

It’s a nice thought and it helps me pick myself up from whatever shit hole I’m digging for myself to cry myself to sleep it. And I kick myself a little and begin setting myself small goals to move forward.
…………………………….. TLDR…………………………………..
GOING BACK to the whole 就職活動 (しゅうしょくかつどう) aka job-hunting thing though. The point that I guess I’m trying to make after that long self-reflecting monologue verbatim vomit thing is, YOU WILL BE 大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)aka A-OK.

Jobs will always be there. Even at the worst possible scenario, I can wait a table or two if I need something to tide me over for a bit. It will never be the end of the world, unless I let it be….so I guess, remember to look up at the sky (no matter how small it might be in this city state :/ ) and BREATHE.



Nagasaki, Okinawa, Fukushima, Yasukuni Shrine and Hiroshima: Reflections

Disclaimer: I’m going to try and be as sensitive as possible in this entry…because the topics discussed could be a bit sensitive. This time, I’ll be talking about the March 11 disaster in Fukushima and also about WWII. As much as possible, I hope to keep this post/discussion non-agressive even as I share my opinions (and these are mine alone).
Still, if I step on any toes, I ask for forgiveness and I’m more than happy to engage in respectful debates/discussions.

As a student, learning about Singapore’s history in class, one of the things we learn is how Japan invaded Singapore and how the British surrendered us to the Japanese. The years that followed under Japanese rule, weren’t pleasant according to the books.

This ended when Fat Boy and Little Man were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This led to the end of the war in Asia and this was one of the factors that led to Singapore’s eventual independence. So the bombs were good in my young mind’s eye. I really didn’t think of them as any more than bombs that were “bigger than usual”. Good bombs that helped end the war.

I thought nothing more about this topic and to this day, I don’t hold any major grudge against modern day Japan. Over the years, I read news about the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s tensions with China and Korea and a little more about the Atomic Bombs.

Then just before my final year in college, when my college and I were in talks about allowing me to go on an exchange cum “internship” at Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music, March 11th happened. March 11th 2011 was the date of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Soon after, the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Power plants had meltdowns. Many lost their lives or were reported missing. Others had to be evacuated.

That was probably when I first started reading articles condemning the usage of nuclear power. Some of these articles described how it was absurd that Japan used nuclear power when it was the first and only country to experience the horrors of it being used in war. It made me stop…and maybe realize that the bomb could have been a sad thing. I read things online. Somewhere in my mind, I might have realized “Ah, how sad…” but that was it.

Then I went to Tokyo for my exchange between June and July 2011.

I remember watching a protest march against nuclear power plants. There was also a curious incident when I was walking back to my place from Shinjuku station when a lady sitting under a flight of stairs, called out to me. She asked me to fold paper cranes with her, telling me she was from a group that was from Hiroshima. She told me that, she too, like many people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki were against the Nuclear Power Stations and that she was folding paper cranes in protest. She told me that the group believed that all victims of the atomic bombs had become cranes and even invited me to a gathering.

At that time, I was more scared of what she said to me…but her words stuck in my mind. Prior to this, I never even thought much of nuclear power or weapons. Singapore has none of that, so I never had reason to think about it or care about it. Now, I started to have some form of an opinion…still nothing solid took form; just the idea that nuclear power must be scary. I also slowly developed a vague idea that the dropping of the atom bombs had caused a great deal of devastation by reading articles and watching shows about it. It shocked me a little.

Coming back to Japan on JET, I flippantly thought of visiting the historical landmarks from World War II and Fukushima. I wanted to see things with my own eyes. I really didn’t expect what ended up actually seeing.

The first place I visited was Nagasaki. The silver week break was upon us, and the weather was projected to be fantastic. One of the ALTs wanted to visit, and I grabbed at the opportunity. “Great, the first one off my check list”, I thought to myself. Nagasaki shocked me in a way that I’d never been shocked before. I’d never seen that extent of damage and destruction anywhere. I walked through the Peace museum, my heart getting heavier by the second. Things affected by the blast, bottles melted and molded into something alien and grotesque, personal artifacts burnt beyond recognition, descriptions of the after effects of the blast that carried on far beyond the war itself. Learning about victims suffering days, months and years later, learning about children being born with defects or deformities as a result of the bomb, all this was completely beyond me. It was beyond what I had expected.

I visited the Urakami Cathedral. It had been incredibly close to the epicenter and since Mother Mary’s birthday was around the corner, the mass that morning had been in full attendance. Everybody died and of the few things that survived the blast was the head of a Mother Mary statue with its eyes hallowed out by the blast. Visiting the Cathedral, I was shown into a small room where the original head was kept. I’m not Catholic or even very religious, but that moment of being alone in the room with the blank eyes of Mother Mary on me gave me the chills. I couldn’t stay in the room for long and felt I didn’t deserve to be in her presence. I later read an article of how the atomic bombs and their crew had actually been blessed by a priest prior to their launch. It’s a shock to the senses.

Nagasaki 2

Nagasaki had had the largest Christian population in Asia at that time and many of these Christians had survived incredible amounts of persecution over the years when Christianity had been considered illegal in Japan. The atom bomb did something in a moment that even Japan hadn’t managed over hundreds of years. Those implications were completely and totally horrifying. Walking through Nagasaki seeing areas affected by the war, was a punch in the gut. Still a part of me felt, “But they did something to deserve this. They attacked countries, killed people. A part of this is on them.” I want to be clear that this was something that I THOUGHT at that time and not my current opinion. However, I want to try as much as possible to document my thought process through this.

It was around that time that I also started talking to an artist friend of mine. She’d been doing some works about Hiroshima and Fukushima. Originating from Niigata prefecture, her family home is incredibly close to the Kashiwazaki Nuclear Power Plant. She told me about her experiences in interviewing Hibakusha (atomic bomb victims) and her anti-nuclear power stance which she decried as nonsensical. She related to me the political motivations behind building the power plants in Japan and showed me pictures and articles that detailed accidents and fatalities caused by nuclear power plants even before the infamous meltdown at Fukushima. She showed me a photo book the documented cases of nuclear power plant worker who had developed various lethal diseases like cancer as a result of mistakes made at the nuclear power plants. She questioned at the manner in which the nation was remembering the atomic bombs and Fukushima.

At the same time, a colleague at work mentioned the Himeyuri Peace Museaum when I mentioned wanted to visit Okinawa. She told me how Okinawa had been one of the few parts of Japan that had engaged in land battle and that the Himeyuri Peace Museum would surely interest me if I wanted to learn about the war history.

So in the January of 2016, when I went on a trip to Okinawa, I decided to visit the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and the Himeyuri Museum. Both museums were located quite out of the way and I needed a cab to reach there. The experience I had there was yet again, completely devastating. Okinawa is a lot more vocal about the war that most other prefectures, they were a lot more open about admitting Japan’s participation in the war and were also very descriptive about the atrocities commited by and against them.

I visited the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum first. Something that surprised me was a display of history textbooks teaching the pacific theatre section of WWII. Singapore’s textbook was there too. I’d never seen anything like it and for the first time, I physically saw how the same story could be told from multiple perspectives. Something in me clicked.

Later I went to the Himeyuri Museum. The Himeyuri Museum is dedicated mainly to the female students of the girl schools who had to become nurses when Okinawa was under attack. The museum itself is built over one of the Gamas or caves that wounded soldiers and the student nurses often hid in to stay safe. These girls were mostly high school students, who were one day told that they had to pause to education to serve the country. The girls believed they would be “helping” for a couple of weeks before the country won and they would return to their normal lives. That’s what they were taught to believe.

Most of them died. Due to enemy fire, due to diseases, due to starvation…due to multiple reasons, many of these girls died.


For me, that was unbelievable. I teach high schoolers. I was a high schooler myself, not too long ago. It’s impossible to imagine my girls doing anything described in the museum. I cannot imagine something like that becoming my reality and although I’ve said this multiple times now, it made me feel sick.

Why didn’t I know of this? Why had I only known about the a-bombs that “saved” Singapore? Why had I been so happy for it to have happened? These thoughts ran through my mind.

In the summer of 2016, another friend told me she wanted to visit Fukushima and so, naturally, I had to go with her. When she asked me what I wanted to see there, I really had nothing in mind other than wanting to understand more about the March 11th Earthquake/Tsunami and the nuclear disaster that happened after.

I was on the internet reading for a long time. I wasn’t interested to be a tourist or visit places that I wasn’t supposed to. I wasn’t interested in disrespecting the lives of people who had been affected. But, how do you get any information online without searching incredibly invasive sounding search phrases like “How to go into Fukushima danger zone”?

We were already in Fukushima, and I still hadn’t gotten any information and I found a keyword that people use here to describe visiting places struck by disaster/war/death. They call it “Black Tourism” (terrible term). There are licensed companies that organize tours into the exclusion zone to educate people…I honestly don’t know what or how to think about this. In any case, I discovered that another option was to just take the regular train out to Tatsuta station (the last stop before the exclusion zone) and then take a bus through to Haranomachi. There are only 2 buses that run to Haranomachi from Tatsuta and 2 that go back every day.

So I did that. Reaching Tatsuta, the sky was grey. The station had device to display the radiation levels in the area. Nobody was really there. The Tatsuta neighborhood looked deserted. Suddenly, the radio calisthenics music began playing on the speakers. The cheerful music clashed with the lack of people around. I had no idea what was going on.

Fukushima 5

On the way to Tatsuta, I’d seen the ocean. This side of Japan faced the Pacific Ocean. Toyama faces the Sea of Japan which is a MUCH smaller body of water. The Pacific Ocean, on this cloudy day, looked kind of angry. I walked around Tatsuta for about an hour.

Then the bus arrived. Reading things on the newspaper and going through the place yourself is always different. Passing through the exclusion zone reminded me of disaster/end of the world/zombie movie sets. Except it was real. Everywhere, there were rice fields over grown with weeds. Homes, 100 yen shops, pachinko parlors, eateries, all kind of fenced off. I saw a boat in the middle of an over grown field. It looked like a dime a dozen neighborhood in rural Japan, except things had gone so very wrong. It scared me because, that’s the kind of neighborhood I live in in Toyama.

Fukushima 3

Fukushima 4


It shocked me at how close the nuclear plants were to the people’s homes. It hit me that more than 5 years had passed since then…and life was still not “back to normal”. Some people would never regain their “normal” back.

Fukushima 2

As I sat in a library in Haranomachi, reading about the disaster, the thought that ran through my mind in the moment was how fragile “normal” was and how quickly it could be destroyed. I was confused at this horribly ironic situation that Japan was in and its confusing relationship to nuclear power. I left with no answers and just more questions and thoughts and maybe a strong dislike for nuclear power plants.

Shortly after my trip to Fukushima, I joined my school on its school trip to Tokyo. We had a lot of fun, but on one of the days when I had time to myself, I visited the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum. As mentioned before, history has many points of view. I’d heard of the numerous controversies surrounding this building and decided to go take a look for myself. I’d heard that Class A War criminals had been enshrined and the Abe and many other former prime ministers had visited this shrine. It’s also incredibly close to the Imperial Palace, although the imperial family has stopped supporting it. I had a feeling of dread. I was worried because, I didn’t know what to expect but surely it couldn’t be THAT bad or it would be censored/disallowed.


The shrine itself was less offensive to me in comparison to the museum. And while I couldn’t bring myself to bow down before the main shrine, it really wasn’t all that bad in comparison to the museum.

The museum made statements about its attack on Asia like it was attempting to save us from our colonial masters. The military strength of the war-time military is presented as awe inspiring and powerful. China is insulted. I couldn’t stomach the museum.  I literally got a headache about half-way though because I honestly couldn’t believe people bought into this. Again, these are my opinions and if people want to disagree or if you have different views on this, I’m happy to engange with you.

Yasukuni 3

The worst part was watching a teacher bring a group of students through the exhibitions of planes while talking about the strength of Japan and then walking to the final segment where the guest books are. A man had written in it that he’d served Hitler and that he regretted nothing and that this museum was a great example for people to follow. It made me sick.

Yasukuni 2

I walked out with a massive headache and a craving for something sweet and some therapeutic rides at Disney Sea.

My trips to these spots stopped for a while until spring 2017. I finally got a chance to visit Hiroshima, my last stop. I was already exhausted by this point. Obviously, I’ve never experienced this level of violence or death in my life, but going to these places left me feeling very drained. So, by the time I reached Hiroshima, I really wasn’t all that shocked anymore. I’d seen similar things in Nagasaki. Hiroshima seemed louder about its opinions of the war though. There was evidence everywhere of the blast. And people were not happy at all about the nuclear power plants.


It was a vocal city, a contrast to the quiet tranquility that I experienced in Nagasaki.  I visited the bomb dome…and walked along the river through memorial after memorial till I reached the one where Obama had given his iconic speech of “71 years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed…” Again, I’d really run out of things to FEEL at this point. I was just walking around, kind of on auto-piolet.

I walked through the peace museum. There’s a big exhibit on JHS students who’d perished because of the work they had to do outside on that day. There are left over finger nails and skin. A young boy’s tricycle. Hair. The paper cranes folded by Sadako, the girl who developed cancer well after the bomb had been dropped. Shadows of people left over on stone steps as a result of the radiation. A lunchbox with its charred, uneaten contents.  “What’s there to say anymore?”, I thought as I snapped pictures. It was really crowded and I had to stand in line to see each exhibit. What’s there to think anymore? Hiroshima was stark. Ugly.

Hiroshima 2

I talked to some people at a mini lecture and it was then I came to a sort of answer for my conflict. Yes, what Japan had done to SO many countries, was very very wrong. There’s no excuse for the lives that had been lost. But that didn’t mean the country deserved the a-bombs. That was not the answer.

This still happens. Syria is being bombed for ISIS. People, who once had their normal, don’t have it anymore. It happens in a flash. I obviously don’t have any peace-keeping solutions or suggestions on me or I’d be working for UN, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, feel that the a-bombs were justified after all that.

The other question that ran through my mind was what I thought of nuclear power and it being harnessed as a form of clean energy. I’m still in conflict. On one hand, I wonder if things would have worked out better without human error. On the other hand, human error will never truly cease to exist. I remembered passing the Kashiwazaki power plant, the closest one to Toyama. People played on the beach nearby. I recalled hearing the words of Oppenheimer in a play I’d worked on as a subtitle operator a few years back. It too had been about the war. Oppenheimer had said, after the bombs had been dropped:

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

I leave you with that thought.



What do you say?

2016 was difficult.

It probably began on 18th Feb when one of my elderly students at an English chat group that I volunteer at, collapsed before me. She passed on the next day.

One moment laughing, the next moment gone. That was it.

Over the course of one year, I think I dealt more with death than I ever have. It was extremely emotionally draining mostly because of the shock…both mentally and physically.

2 students died at my spcial needs school.
Ninagwa Yukio, a director I’d written my thesis on, and even had the luck to meet at an after party, passed away.
My cousin’s grandfather.
Yet another director.

Then, during the spring  break this year, meeting with a teacher from my special school, I was told that Fav-kun might not make it to high school as his condition attacks his muscles and would eventually reach his heart and internal organs.

At age 9, Fav-kun, is my favoritest student of all times. There’s a reason he’s my favorite, and I know what people say about teachers having favorites, but he has so much life, spark and wit in him, it’s hard NOT to like him. It helps that he has an extremely high level of interest in English.

If I’m not mistaken, he has a form of muscular dystrophy. I’d been told before that I was seeing him at his healthiest. I even did my research on his condition and reading the stuff that I did, I had my suspicions. But, being told directly that him dying was a real possibility, gutted me.

I went home and broke down.

A part of this feels selfish. There are people who must be feeling so much more pain. The individuals themselves, the parents, the siblings, the family, his friends, his teachers who see him every single day…in comparison, I myself, am honestly, nothing. And no matter what people might tell me about how it’s ok for me to feel this way, I still struggle with what to feel or do.

Some time ago, Fav-kun started making mentions of death. His face wouldn’t reveal anything and neither would he talk about himself. He’d make mentions of death in English. Grammatically broken, but he wanted to communicate it to me any way.

This year however, it seems he’d begun talking about this more often. Yesterday, during lunch time, we were talking about how I couldn’t eat meat and fish. He seemed really interested to know if I could be hospitalised if I accidentally ate it. I reassured him that I’d feel a little ill, but nothing too extreme.

He then began asking when he could start eating (he has a feeding tube at the moment). The teachers said the request was being considered, but couldn’t give him an answer. It was an uncomfortable conversation for everyone, because EVERYONE in that room wanted nothing more than  for Fav-kun to eat whatever he wanted without thinking twice. At this point though, there are safety concerns and even if he did eat, it would have to be stuff put through the food processor.

He then looks at the teachers who’re eating their lunch with him and asks, “Does your fish taste good?” Felt like a punch in the gut. Really, what do you say?

Some time later, I showed him a video from the Pixar movie, UP, because he’d done a grand job during my English lesson and because he kept bugging me about “Carl Ojii-san”. The video showed perhaps the most emotional scene of why Carl did what he did. It showed the scene where him and his wife couldn’t have a child and how his wife died just as he got them tickets for their trip.

After we watched the video, I was explaining to him that Carl set out on his crazy journey to fulfill the dream that him and his wife had. But, Fav-kun seemed fixated on the death of Carl’s wife. He asked me why she died, and how she died and suddenly had a dizzy spell. We got a little worried for him and while his homeroom teacher went to get a wheelchair.

So while she was gone, I talked to the boy. Asked him what was on his mind. He asked me why the lady had died, and I replied that she’d died because it was her time to go. He asked if she was sick and I replied, “maybe a little.” He asked me what happened to Carl, and I said, “well, he went on his journey didn’t he?” but he pressed on, wanting to know if Carl had also died. I told him, “Well, we all die, no one goes on forever… Carl probably died eventually. I mean, if you try living forever, you’ll become like the bad guy from Harry Potter! You don’t want that do you?” He seemed to perk up a little. “You mean the one with the turban?”, he asked. “Yea, a person who tries living forever won’t be human anymore!”, I replied.

The teacher came back and we helped him onto his wheelchair.

He had my hand in a tight grip as his teacher wheeled him to his homeroom. “Why couldn’t they have children?”, he asked as we were leaving the room. “Well, she had some medical complications. Some people can’t have children.”, I explained. “She died first. Carl Ojii-san must be sad.”, he said.

At this point, I really had NO clue what to say to make anything  better. “mmm, death is sad isn’t it? But you know, we all have bad things that happen to us throughout our lives. We just need to stay positive or our entire lives will be sad! I have sad things happen to me ALL the time!”

“Oh, what kind of sad things happen to you?”, he pressed.

“Well, just this month, I was sick, my laptop broke down and my iPhone was stolen!”, I went on telling him some shitty stuff that had happened in my life and was telling him how I felt devastated when MY grandpa had passed away.

“Oh, you have your grandma?”, he asked.

“mmhmm” I replied, as we entered his homeroom.

A nurse was waiting for him to clear out the phlegm in his throat/lungs. As she did whatever she had to do, I quietly apologised to his homeroom teacher for triggering this reaction in him, but she whispered that it wasn’t my fault and that this was somewhat a daily occurance these days and that he had just reached a stage where the concept of death was setting in.

When the nurse fisnished helping him, we lifted him off his wheelchair to get him to lie down and rest. For the HUGE personality he supports, his frame really looked small and fragile in that moment, leaning heavily on me and his homeroom teacher.

He continued asking me more questions and even as I told him I needed to go to my next class, he asked “what class do you need to be at?” I always have a feeling that he knows  full and well that asking questions keeps people with him. Leaving him is always so difficult because I feel like I have to cut him off and physically remove myself.
By the end of the day, he seemed to have cheered up just a little although he still looked extremely tired. We took him to his day service van and chatted for a while. I even managed to tease him about being a “smelly pineapple” to bait him into squaking “NO!!!!” at me.

Before he was driven off to the day service, he said his signature line “I’ll be back!”

His homeroom teacher and I chatted after he’d left for the day. She’s glad I’m there to talk to him and said that I’m a big help. It’s a little heart warming, and for just a bit, I felt that my presense in the school was worth it. I’m extremely grateful that my special school doesn’t stop me from talking to this boy or think of me as intrusive. In fact, they’ve done nothing but encourage and support me whenever I try to teach new things to the children.

I can’t help feel anxious though. I visit this school once a week. I’m an obvious outsider. I know NOTHING about the kind of troubles these teachers must go through on a daily basis both physically and emotionally to help these amazing children. I worry about overr-stepping bounderies and saying the wrong thing.

At the same time, I’ll do pretty much anything for these people if it means I can help them even a little.

So here I am. This unplesant feeling sits in my chest and I don’t really know what I’m doing. The teachers at my special school always comment on how much energy I have, but the truth is, I get it all from the amazing children. I can smile and do crazy things because I’m met with equal enthusiam and response from my students. And, that’s the least I can give if it makes at least one person’s day better.

Did I think teaching at a special school would come to this? Not at all. But, these children really have taught me to chrish life a lot more than I would have thought possible. And, there’s no way teaching can happen if we look at the students like they’ve got the Reaper standing over them. So, when Tuesday comes around again, I’ll go back in there with all the smiles in the world and give it my 1million percent.



“Can you cook curry?” and other stories.

It would really be an understatement to say that I originate from a foodie’s paradise. You want it, we got it.

So, when the Singapore JETs were leaving for Japan, many were exchanging recipies and carrying a whole lot of ingredients and spices and lamenting how much they’d be missing the Chicken Rice and Mee Goreng.

For me though, I felt a huge disconnect. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home food just as much as the next person…but I’m a lot less sentimental. As I left Singapore, I never once thought “Damn I’m gonna miss the food”. At most it was a “Damn, I’m gonna have to cook for myself!” I occasionally wonder if there are people who can relate with this (I’m sure there are…I mean, the world is huge).

I came to accept very early on that I was far from being the cook that my mom and grandmother are. So I’d make pasta or bake or find stuff online and try it out…or on some occasions, improvise stuff up. And it’s not like I make BAD food…but I’m far from knowing complicated recipies that take 2 days to prepare, at the tip of my fingers. I’m even further from being able to host parties and prepare everything from scratch. That’s the kind of mom and grandmother I grew up with and I have a HUGE amount of love and respect for these 2 women…but what they do requires SO much time, patience, energy and practice.

The summer before I first arrived in Japan, I actually visited India for a bit and tried to learn how to make some decent Indian food…and I did! I could make Chappatis and a decent Channa Masala (I actually talked about this in a previous post somewhere)…and then I forgot how to make it. :/  I know how this makes me sound like a terrible representative of my own culture, etc…I’ve been chastised enough (being a woman has NOT been helpful in this case)…but just hear me out on this.

Can you make curry?
I’ve lost count the number of times people ask me if I can make curry. What curry? Cuz if you mean the Japanese type that requires me to plop the roux on my veggies, I’m amazing at it. Indian curry tho…I can MAAAYBE manage 2 or 3 out of the HUNDREDS that exist. Indian food is complicated. Till maybe last month, I had no idea you could add cashewnuts into curry and blend it all into a smooth paste. I’d watched mom do it…vaguely…but never really registered it.

There’s a whole world of spices and curry powders. Depending on what is added and when it’s added and the amount added, the resulting curry would be completely different. So can you really blame me for forgetting? I’ve made enough bad curries to be weary of curry making. I miss one step, and suddenly I’m stuck with a watery, overly-spicy, meh-looking…mix of things in a pot. And while I’m all for learning from my failures, it’s also incredibly draining and time-consuming.

Mind: All that cooking’s fine and well, till the cleaning part happens.

If you read my other posts, you’d know that my schedule is just insane. This means, any kind of cooking leads to piled up pots and pans in the sink for a WEEK. Indian cooking requires a lot more than one pot. So the washing and smells add up. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

What Singaporean food do you miss?
And don’t get me started on what I miss about Singaporean food. Because, honestly, the thing I miss the most is the availability of GOOD vegetarian salads, sandwich, wraps and soups. A good salad, sandwich, wrap or soup should be a filling and satisfying meal. A good mix of fresh crunchy vegetables with some tofu or veg patty, topped off with a good dressing….mmm. That or a hot bowl of soup with some bread on the side on a rainy day.  Being vegetarian in Japan isn’t impossible, but it definately decreases all my sammich-on-the-go options.

I’m unsure about the rest of Japan, but where I’ve been posted, there are no vegetarian sandwich options in the conveniences stores  and Starbucks is a hit or miss thing depending on the seasonal offerings. We have Doutor which makes fresh sandwiches but I need to tell them not to put in the non-veg stuff and still pay the same price with no extra veggies to compensate the lack of non-veg.

I want to make it very clear that I’m not complaining when I say all this. I knew what I was getting myself into when I came to Japan. But the point I’m trying to make (long winded as it may be) is that I miss my sandwiches more than any particular Singaporean food and I have problems articulating that to people (both Singaporean and non-Singaporean) because of the reactions I get to that statement. It makes me look like a terrible cultural embassador of both my country AND my culture.




What should I eat in Singapore?
And then the famous: What should I eat if I go to Singapore?
I really struggle on this one because truth be told, it’s everything. You can’t possibly understand Singaporean food culture by eating JUST roti prata or laksa. Singapore is complex because of it’s roots in trade and it’s diverse population of about 5.5million people.

How to answer liddat?
(Singaporean English for: How am I to answer in a situation like that?)
I’ve dealt with this by telling people to visit food courts or hawker centers in Singapore. That’s where they’re going to find all that diversity at very cheap prices. I try to explain why it’s not as easy as telling a foreigner in Japan to eat Sushi. So far, the response to that answer has been good.

But, I mean, I TRY…

I can’t however be accused of not trying. I have a lot of love for a South-East Asian flavoring called Pandan. It’s a type of leaf that’s boiled for its’ essence and the essence/extract is added to cakes, jellies, jams, etc. The taste is really unique and whenever people ask me if I want/need anything from Singapore, I usually ask for Pandan essence.

So, recently, when my school asked me to appear on a TV programme in collaboration with the broadcasting club, I was all for it. They asked me if I could do anything “Singaporean”…so I offered to show them how to make Pandan Agar Agar Jelly. Litterally, it’s the ONLY Singaporean dish I can make with confidence because of how easy it is…and it has Pandan.

I’ll add the link in here so you can take a look, but it’s all in Japanese and you’ll have to skip a bunch of other stuff to see me make the jelly (or you could just watch the whole thing!):

There’s so much pressure to live up to your culture or country’s image…people always want to know about Singapore and Indian food culture. But, as harsh as this sounds, it feels very performative for me. Performative because, in that instant, I’m being expected to be a role-model Singaporean-Indian. In that instant, I’m being expected to be a cultural showcase of food even if there’s no ill-intention behind the questions.

I stand on a fine balance. I don’t want to be rude and tell people that all I need/want in life is some good tea and some sandwich/salad/soup/thing. At the same time, I don’t want to be the Singapore Tourism Board. I don’t enjoy giving model answers that I don’t believe in. So I give lengthy answers that satisfy both parties. I talk about the culture behind the diverse food culture I come from and explain why it’s so hard for me to give travel guide answers to them.

For most part, it’s been good.


In Death.

Obon. Hungry Ghost Festival. Pitru Paksha.

Summer happened and Autumn in right around the corner. This time forms a melancholic, yet beatiful transition for me. At the peak of summer, fireworks take to the skies with an air of festivities as people walk about in Yukatas. Then, just as it gets a little too hot, the skies begin to darken rain greets the overheated pavments. The trees begin to yellow. Slowly but surely, Autum arrives like a regal creature with its yellow, red and orange shades. The air, no longer muggy hot, is crisp with a slight smokey smell.

At the peak of it’s blistering heat, Japan remembers it’s dead through Obon. During a 3 day period (13 July to 15 August), people go back to their hometowns and visit thier family graves. Summer is also considered to be a great time to tell ghost stories because as one friend told me, ghost stories make a person shiver (with fear) helping to beat the summer heat. I can’t vouch for the legitimacy of that statement, but it sounded interesting.

Here’s a short write up about Obon:

In China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, during the 7th Month of the Lunar calander (this year it was from 03 Aug 2016 to 31 Aug 2016), there’s the Hungry Ghost Festival when Buddhist or Taoist people of Chinese descent would try to appease “Hungry Ghosts” that have left the realm of the dead to visit the world of the living. You can see people buring offerings for thier ancestors (including paper ferraris and Iphones), Getai and Chinese Opera. There are also a list of dos and don’ts during this period, to avoid offending the ghosts. Not surprisingly, there are links between Hungry Ghost and Obon.

Here’s a nice reliable website on how we do this back home in Singapore:

In my own Hindu belief, we have Pitru Paksha. A series of rituals are to be followed over a 15 day period following the lunar calender ( this year it was from 16 September 2016 to 30 September 2016) to honor our ancestors every year. The eldest son of the family is usually responsible for doing the prayers.

Here’s good old wiki if you wanna read more on that:


So why talk about this?
Personally, I’m really interested in finding similarities between different cultures and my own. Often times, I’m enthralled to find how intertwined Asian cultures are despite the differences. The more I read, the more I find the influences and connections. It’s fascinating.

So, recently, I went to Mount Koya in Wakayama  with my mom and stayed in a Shingon Buddhist temple called Fudoin. For anyone interested, this is an actual thing in Japan where you can stay at some Buddhist temple. It’s called Shukubo! You can even choose to have temple cuisine which are strictly vegetarian!

For more info on Shukubo:

Anyway, I stayed at this temple and I found out they did prayers every morning for the deceased. So, I asked my mom if she wanted to do any prayers for my paternal grandfather. Co-incidentally, our travel dates were during Pitru Praksha and the prayer date would also be the date designated specifically for my grandfather’s prayers. It was very emotional for mom.

So we submitted my grandfather’s name, his date of passing and my father’s name (he’s the firstborn son).

The next morning, we reported to the prayer room at 7am.

The head priest was already there. Once everyone was gathered, the prayers started. What followed, I find it hard to put it into words because of how mesmerising it was.

The morning prayers sounded like this:

I really could have gone on and on listening to this. It really was an experience that left me much calmer and relaxed. Then they said a prayer in our name and as a group we read a part of the Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra).  Lastly, the head priest said some words about the temple and Mount Koya’s history.

It all lasted for about 50 minutes.

After breakfast, we visited Okunoin where the founder of Mount Koya, Kobo Daishi is enshrined. The lead up to the main shrine houses Japan’s biggest cemetery (More than 200,000 graves!). When we reached the main shrine, morning prayers were underway. We were really lucky because the priests were performing a Goma (fire ritual, Homa, Yajna) in addition to the prayers…which was particularly touching to watch, because that’s what my name, Yagnya, means.

To watch the meaning of a Sanskrit name of a Singaporean Indian Girl being performed in a Shingon Buddhist temple in the mountains of Wakayama. I don’t know if I can ever put that into words for anyone.

We couldn’t take pictures inside, but here’s a video of a Goma being performed at another temple in Mount Koya:

And here’s a wiki article about Yajnas and their significance in Hinduism:

I find myself floundering for last  words here. I could say something like “we’re all equal in death…” but that would cheapen this entire experience.

So instead, I encourage you too to embark on your own journey in Japan to find something here that connects to you across borders and religion…that despite it all you find it sacred. It doesn’t mean you change your religion or become suddenly religious for this, just something that you find something that inexplicably connects to you on a deep personal level even if you are far far from home.

Diversity: 心の扉をひらきましょう!


Singapore does not equal Merlion. A stereotype I shall fight to death.


So on June 17th, I was given the honour of giving an hour-long speech to the students on the school’s library board. They told me I could make the speech in English or Japanese on pretty much any topic I wanted.

Given my experiences within the past few years and the chain of incidents that have been happening in recent times, I decided to speak about diversity and the importance of accepting and appreciating it.

Over a couple of months, I crafted this baby with the help of my amazing Japanese tutor, my super lovely teachers at my school and friends. They dedicated a lot of time and energy to help me and for that I’m so very grateful.

I was dead nervous and I still think it was far from perfect, but I truly learnt a lot through this challenging experience. Now, I have an hour-long Japanese speech/lecture under my belt! Yus!

One thing I feared was that I’d come across as an outsider criticizing Japan, which isn’t the aim of this speech at all. However, reading through the feedback slips the students wrote, that doesn’t seem be be a problem and they got the main message I was trying to communicate to them.

In fact, it seems I had quite the positive impact and several of them have said they would rethink their view of the world. Can’t express how happy this makes me, because I honestly expected some kind of angry response to my speech.

Here’s the script I crafted (with all the help). I used this structure to help me in case I got lost in my speech or forgot what I was talking about. Enjoy.



Hi Everyone! Today, before I start my lecture, there’s something I want you all to do. On the sheet of paper I’ve given you all, I’ve written down the name of some countries.

今日のレクチャーを始める前に、ちょっとやってもらいたいことがあります。 みなさんにくばってある紙にいろんな国の名前が書いてあります。


South Africa








I want you to write down the stereotypes you have of all of them. What comes to your mind when you see the names of these countries?

この国々のこと、皆さんが持っているステレオタイプ(こていかんねん)をかみに書いてほしいです。この国々の名前を見る時、パッと出てくるイメージはなんですか? それを、書いてください。

Ok thank you!! I’ll come back to this at the end of this lecture.

はい、ありがとうございます! このレクチャーの終わりごろまたこのステリオタイプを見ましょう。

So I’m sure all of you are wondering what today’s lecture is about.
The topic I shall touch on is “Tayousei”
Eh, what’s “Tayousei”?
“Tayousei” is Diversity.
Let me explain

多様性is Diversity.

As humans, no two of us are the same. We’re all different. And by different, I don’t just mean our faces and our skin tones. We also differ in the way we think and talk. So, no two of us can be absolute carbon copies of each other. Not  even twins.


That is “Diversity”.
So, if you really think about it, everyone is diverse.
However, people who stand out aren’t really liked.
As a result, things like bullying or suicides happen on an everyday basis.

That is Diversity.
だから、よく考えたら、everyone is diverse.

Whether it be a child who’s big sized,
Whether it be a child whose skin tone differs from the rest,
Whether it be that child with a slightly louder voice ,
Or the child whose way of thinking is different from the rest…


Aren’t they quickly labelled as the “weirdo”?
Therein lies the problem.
The line, “That person is weird!” is used so easily on a daily basis…
But I think those words posses a meaning that isn’t so light.
* The Japanese word “Kawatteiru” literally means “different from others” but in my translation, I’ve used “weird” as the casually used equivalent.


To explain why these words aren’t as light as we imagine them to be, I’ve got 3 videos for you to watch.


(Play Astalift White CM)

So recently, I’ve been seeing this Astalift White CM on Youtube a lot.
What do you all think?
I’m pretty sure you’ve all seen commercials like this right?


(Show video of Trump talking)
All of you might probably know who this person is.
He’s the man running to be the president of the United States of America. Trump.


(Show video of Hitler talking)
And, this person too, you know him right?
It’s Hitler.


I’m sure you’d all be a bit taken aback if I were to compare Trump and Hitler’s videos to the skin whitening commercial. Let me explain more.


If you listen to Hitler and Trump’s speeches, you’ll realise that they’re doing the same thing. One talks about Jewish people stealing the jobs of German people. The other talks of Mexicans being murderers. In both cases, you have 2 individuals who’re rejecting groups of people who are different to them. This way of talking is extremely dangerous.


This is why I don’t take too kindly to the Astalift commercial (skin whitening commercial).  Sunburns are never pleasant. They hurt and aren’t really good for your dermatological health.


However, the message that you get from commercials like Astalift is not one about skin health or anything of that sort. It basically says “You’re gonna turn black”. White skin is good. Black/Dark skin is bad. When darker skin is portrayed in a negative light in commercials like this, how do you think people like me or sporty high schooler feel?

黒色の肌にたいして悪いイメージがあるのではないですか? そういうメッセージをCMの中に入れる時、私やスポーツをよくやる高校生のような肌が白くない人がどう感じると思いますか?

How do you think the Jewish people in Germany felt about Hitler’s speeches?


How do you think Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in America, feel about Trump’s speeches?


Alriiiight, break time! Turn to the person beside you and discuss the opinions you have regarding white skin and darker skin tones.

はい!じゃーきゅうけいTIME! となりに座っている人と、白肌、黒い肌にたいして持っている意見を話してみてください。


So, what exactly does it mean to be a “Japanese person”?


Diversity within Japan Even within Japan, there is a lot of diversity. The Ainu, the Ryuukyu, the Chinese and Koreans…but I always hear a lot of you say “Japanese culture this, or Japanese culture that.” What is this generalized “Japanese Culture”?

実は、日本にも多様性があります。 アイヌ、琉球、中国系、韓国系、ハーフの人。。。などが住んでいます。 しかし、日本に来てよく聞くのは「これはJapanese Culture, それはJapanese Culture」。このJapanese Cultureはいったい何ですか?

The truth is, even Toyama has it’s own culture. It’s so different compared to Tokyo or Kyoto and I love it.


What defines a Japanese person?
What is Japanese culture?
What is Japan?


On one hand, you have a Yamato Nadeshiko, good wife and mother, type of person. On the other hand, you have a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu type of person. You have men who look like they work at host clubs. And then, you have men who’re total geeks.

Of course you have your office workers.

They’re all Japanese people!




Even if I were to talk about Japan, on one hand, you have high end, fast fashion Tokyo.
On the other you have gorgeously, traditional Kyoto.
And you still have Osaka, Okinawa …
If we went on about how each and every prefecture is different, this conversation wouldn’t end.


If all of Japan were the SAME, I don’t think I’d have travelled to all the places. But, wherever I went in Japan, I felt like I was in a different world. It’s immensely touching. Talking to different people, living in different prefecture, you get to see so many different Japanese faces. It’s AMAZING.

日本全国全く同じだったら、私は今までこんなにいっぱいトラベルしてないと思います。どこいっても、別世界みたい。すごくすごく感動するんですよ。いろんな場所に住んでいるいろんな人に話しかけたら、日本のいちめんを見ることができます。It’s AMAZING.

My question to all of you is, why not embrace it and celebrate these differences?


“I wanna live in Toyama all my life,
I don’t really want to go anywhere else.
I don’t want to get out of Toyama.
I’m scared of going overseas, it’s dangerous.”

I hear these lines SO many times.



To tell you the truth, with that thinking, you can’t go anywhere. You can sit in your house and be a hikikomori…but even then, you can’t be 100% safe. I mean, Japan’s literally on the fault line …so IF something happened…there really is nothing much you could do.

そういう考えを持っていては、本当にどこでもいけないですよ。家の中に座っていて、ひきこもっても。。。 そうしても、100%安全と言えないでしょう? だって、日本全体は完全にプレートの上に乗っているでしょう? This is 地震国でしょう? だから、本当に何かあったら、どうしようもないでしょう?

It’s not just you.


I really want you to understand that I’m not blaming you or telling you that you’re horrible people. In fact, this way of talking or thinking is not unique to Japan. I know many Singaporeans who think like that. They hate foreigners. We call this Xenophobia. A fear of foreigners.

わかってもらいたいのは、今私はみんなをこうげきして、あなたたちはひどい人と言っているわけではないんです。実は、これは日本だけに当てはまる話ではありません。私は外国人がきらいというシンガポール人を何人か知っています。こういう人のことを、Xenophobia と呼びます。外国人きょうふしょう

So a little bit about Singapore, we are TINY. We’re just 1/2 the size of Toyama prefecture. Imagine that! SO small.


On this tiny island, we have about 6million people.


74.1% are Chinese.
13.4% are Malay.
9.2% are Indian.
3.3% are “Others”.
*I have issues with the use of “Others” in Singapore but in the Japanese translation, it translated pretty well into “People of other racial groups”.


So I don’t look like most other people in Singapore


I’m a minority.
To put it nicely, I’m a rare species.
*Wanted to say Unicorn, but whatever.


There is so much inter-race unity and I have learnt SO much about other races and cultures and languages just by being Singaporean. Singapore is just so multi-cultural and multi-ethnic and multi-lingual that until very recently, I took this for granted. My friends are so different from each other. I eat different foods from across the world, and hear a multitude of languages on daily basis. Muslim Mosques and Indian Temples stand side by side.

This is the beauty of my country.

I couldn’t explain this to you in just one lecture.




Yet, there is ugliness too.


From my Primary school days, I’ve faced racism. There have been cases when I’ve gotten into a taxi and the taxi driver asks “Oi, where are you from? Are you from India?” When I reply that I’m Singaporean, some people ask “You were born in Singapore or you just come here and get passport?” Then they say horrible things about India and Indian people to me.

小学校の時から私は人種差別を何回か受けたことがあります。 「おい、お前、どこから?インド?」とシンガポールのタクシー運転手さんに聞かれたことがあります。私はシンガポール人ですと答えても、「ここで生まれたシンガポール人か、ここに入ってきてパスポートをもらった人ですか?」と聞かれたことがあります。インド人の悪口を言います。

Let me tell you this.
My Mother is Indian.
My ancestors are Indian.
How am I to respond to harsh words like these?


Being asked where I’m from, in my own country is very sad for me.
Why must people ask me such a question?
If I am a good person, does it matter where I’m from?
Even if I’m a BAD person, does it matter where I come from?
One person does NOT equal an entire nation.


Alriiiight, break time! Living in Japan, have you witnessed any discrimination? Have you faced discrimination? Have you discriminated? You don’t have to just talk about racial discrimination. It can be any form of discrimination. Talk with your partner!



One Person does NOT equal an entire nation.
Huh? What does that mean?
(Take a deep breath)
The issue I want to talk about from now…is a little difficult.
But, I’d like for all of you to keep an open mind/heart and listen.




(Show picture of Chinese tourists climbing Sakura tree)
For example, the Chinese tourists who travel to Japan are often highlighted for their bad manners and it’s a small problem here isn’t it? As a result, hasn’t it become a sort of bad image for them that Chinese tourists as a whole have bad manners? Not to worry, even in Singapore and pretty much all over the world, many people have such an image of Chinese tourists. So I’m not just talking about you.

例えば、中国からの観光客のマナーの悪さが日本でたびたび問題になっていますね? そのせいで、中国人はみんなマナーが悪いというイメージになっていませんか?心配しないでください、シンガポールや、世界中でも、同じようなイメージがあります。

The difficult part starts here. I want to say that these Chinese tourists don’t represent ALL Chinese people.

難しい部分はここから始まります。 この中国人の観光客イコール中国の国民みんなにはならないのです。


Let me explain. Firstly, the entire Chinese population is about 1.375 BILLION. Number 1 in the entire world. And what percentage of this 1.375 BILLION people, do you think are coming to Japan to travel? According to the Foreign Ministry, it gave about 3.78 million visas to Chinese tourists (coming to Japan) in 2015. It’s a REALLY small percent. About 0.274%!!!


And even within that percentage you’re seeing only a certain group of people act that way. If you think about it, to go on holidays or trips you need money and time. Even if you aren’t filthy rich, you probably aren’t struggling to make ends meet if you are able to travel. I would go so far as to say that we are looking at all the bad habits of small, highly mediatized group of people who belong to a much huger community.

Please don’t stigmatize an entire population of a country based on the actions of a few.



Even as I say that, I want to point out that it’s not like I’m perfect. I’m not always so kind with my feelings and way of thinking. Last year when I went to the Tateyama snow walls, I encountered some Chinese tourists who spoke with loud voices and were quite a nuisance to the people around them.


At that time, I got really irritated and annoyed and would even tut at them. I’d get angry, thinking “What the hell, annoying Chinese!” This has happened several times. But, when I cool down, I always feel like I can’t group them all into one lump. Because, if I were to start thinking like that, how then am I any different from Hitler or Trump? That thought is scarier than anything else.

『なんじゃそりゃ、迷惑な中国人だ』とおこっていました。このようなことは、何回もありました。 でも、そのあと、れいせいになった時、いつも思うのは、その人たちイコール中国人と思ってはいけいけない。もし、そんな風に思ってしまったら、私とヒトラーや、トランプと同じになってしまうでしょう?前、私を差別した人と同じになってしまうでしょう?その考えは何よりも怖いです。

OKAAAAAY, break time again! I’d like for you to discuss with your partner, what do you think about Chinese people? What image do you have of them and why?

はい!またきゅうけい! 皆さんは、中国人のこと、どう思いますか?なんのイメージを持ていますか?なんで、そういうイメージを持っていますか?となりの人に話しかけてください!


The next thing I want to talk about is ROMNATICISM. It’s sort of the opposite of what we just talked about. Previously, we talked about the dangers of stereotyping an entire race of people based on the wrong doings of ONE. Next, I would like to talk about how even the “positive” stereotypes are bad.


“Half-babies are SO cute!!”
“I want to marry a GAIJIN!”
“Foreign men are such gentlemen!”
“Foreign women are super pretty!!”
“Singapore is SUPER rich isn’t it? Yagnya, are you rich??”
Nope. I’m broke.


違います。I am ビンボーです。

(Show photo of Angelina and Brad Pitt)
When you think of a foreigner, I know many people who think of someone like this! HOWEVER!
(Show my face)
A person like THIS is ALSO a foreigner.
Not every foreigner is a small faced, high-nosed, long legged white person.


(Show picture of Arianna Miyamoto)

When you say the mixed-race children are cute, what SORT of mixed-race kids are you talking about? Even though Arianna Miyamoto became Miss Universe Japan last year, many people don’t accept her as a Japanese person. As a young girl too, she was never seen as a “Cute mixed-race kid.”

ハーフの子供は可愛いというけど、どのようなハーフの子をみんな思っていますか?アリアナ宮本は去年のMiss Universe Japanになったんだけど、彼女を日本人と認めてない人は多い。若い頃も「可愛いハーフの子」と呼ばれなかった。

Overseas, there are people who see Japan as the land for Geisha, Ninjas and Samurais. “Asians are obedient and quiet”
“Oriental people are so exotic!”
“I LOVE the Japanese Geisha costume! I’m gonna be a sexy Geisha for Halloween”
There really are sexy geisha costumes like this.

海外では、日本イコールGeisha, Ninja and Samurai と思う人もいます!

It’s really strange and weird right?
I mean, you guys aren’t Geishas and Samurais who walk around in Kimonos eating Sushi all day right?


These are shallow statements that people sometimes make when they don’t understand the world deeply enough. And, inadvertently, what may seem like praise, may come across as an insult.


Alright! Discussion time! What kind of Romanticized images have you had of foreign countries?

OK, 話しましょう!今まで、海外のこと、どういうロマンチックなイメージを持っていたことがあるんですか?


So what CAN we do?

I don’t look like you. This is a fact.

No matter how much I play the Koto, or dance Nihon Buyo or do Tea Ceremony, I’m not going to become a Japanese citizen unless I get a passport change. Even then, my experiences and culture will be different to yours.



As humans, we all look different and behave different  I would never want these differences to be ignored.  Instead I wish to propose that we acknowledge and appreciate differences.


Before we start deciding that overseas in “this” kind of place or “that” kind of place, I really suggest you step outside with an open mind and heart. And, when you DO step out, the great thing is you don’t just learn about the outside world. You start learning more and more about your own identity too!


When I talk to you about Vegetarianism, when I talk to you about my culture and my country, don’t say things like “I’m so happy I’m Japanese!” When you say this to me, I feel hurt.


Just like all of you, I like my own country and I love my culture. I also like your country and your culture. However, when you say things like that, you make it sound like Japan is the best country in the world, and other countries are bad. Instead, why not open your hearts?

みんなと一緒で、私は自分の国と自分の文化も大好きです。もちろん、このすてきな日本と日本の文化も大好きです。じゃないと、たぶん2年間もここで住んでないと思うんです! でも、日本だけすごいみたいな話をすると。。。あー残念だな。。。と私が思う。 そうではなくて、みんなが、自分の心を開きませんか?

Ask questions. Ask me questions like “What kind of culture my country has or what fashion trends are like or what Japan-Singapore relations are like or what Singapore law is like.”

I’d be the happiest person to answer those questions.



Read as much as you can about the world!


Look at the paper I gave you at the start of this lecture. Look at the stereotypes that you’ve listed. I would like us all to think again about these stereotypes we have of the world around us. It’s just so easy to put things into labeled boxes.

Female. Male. Black person. White person. Asian. European. Gay. Teacher. Muslim.

But, a human being is so much more than a label.




There’s a huge danger in putting people in boxes and labeling them. I was actually writing my speech when a horrible thing happened in Orlando, America on Saturday night. A man walked into a gay club and shot about 50 people dead. He said he was an ISIS supporter. People like Trump are saying this is the reason why Muslims should not enter America.


This is exactly what happens when you reject diversity.


Many people, like the man who shot the people, cannot accept LGBT people.
They want to take away these people’s rights. People like Trump cannot accept religious diversity.
They don’t understand that Islam and religious extremists are two very different things. The world isn’t as simple as that.

しゅうきょうかげきはのひとは全然違うとわかってない。 この世界はそんなに簡単じゃないんです。

Appreciate differences and diversity.

The world is so big and colourful, don’t you think you make your lives boring by rejecting differences?



Thank you. 🙂



Inward Bound, #amazingtoyama


Credits: Airika Takeguchi, Amaharashi Beach

So, with ALT placements coming out, I thought a Toyama post would be good!
Japan’s an amazing place. Everywhere, there’s something. Well almost everywhere…

If you read some of my earliest blogs, you’d know that I was COMPLETELY clueless when I was first placed in Toyama. One of the first things I reacall reading was of how Toyama was the home to YKK, the zipper company. At that time, zippers did not sound all that exciting to me, and I WAS quite nervous as to what Toyama would have for me. As it turns out YKK is the world’s LARGEST zipper manufacturer! I’m really looking forward to visiting their factory one day.

Luckily, Toyama also has a lot more than just great zippers and I’ll be compiling a non-exhaustive list of things to see and do around Toyama. Even as I publish this, I know there’re a lot of spots that I’ve missed…but I’ll keep updating this one.

I cannot express in words, the wonder I felt when I first came to Toyama. The towering mountains. The vast blue sky. The train tracks that wound on endlessly like a Ghibli movie. Toyama is truly a blessing.



Toyama Castle Park
Castles are EVERYWHERE in Japan…and by castle standards, the Toyama one is pretty modest. But hey, you can never really complain about a castle that’s this accessible, can you? Just pop-by when you’re in the city 😀 It’s also good to visit during the Sakura season when all the road-side vendors are out selling street food! 

Kansui Park, Home to The Most Beautiful Starbucks (of 2008)

Every time someone visits me, I bring them to this place. I mean, who DOESN’T wanna see the MOST BEAUTIFUL Starbucks (of 2008)?


Credit: Ong Kai Ching



Suh Romantix

Kureha Hills: Gohyaku Rakan (the 5 hundred buddhas)
From atop Kureha hills, you can see an amazing view of the Tateyama range on a good clear weathered day. Not THAT often, but when it happens, its SO amazing.


As much as I love this photo, I’d be a liar if I said Toyama looked like this everyday.


Matsugawa (River in Toyama)
I’m in love with the Sakuras that bloom along this river. The reflection of the trees really made me doubt reality…I’m not even that big a Sakura or flower nut…but this sight is just so dreamy. IMG_2885

Owara Kaze no Bon
Go down to Yatsuo between 1st and 3rd September to catch a glimpse of the Owara festival! It’s so hypnotising to watch, I could have just watched them forever. Yatsuo itself, is just a hidden gem that you’ve GOT to explore.


Firefly squid museum
I’m not the biggest fan of this place to be frank. I went in expecting to see the Firefly squids or Hotaru ika as they call them here. Unfortunately, I don’t think they deal with the squids kindly…there are mini shows where they pull them out of water, just to show you how they glow.

All that said, if you REALLY really HAVE to see Hotaru ikas…they’re here.


Credits: Airika Takeguchi

Buried Forest Museum
My friend was visiting me when I went to this museum. It’s so so worth it and under-rated. It’s not at all crowded and the trees form amazing sculptures that look so otherworldly.

This museum preserves and displays Uozu buried forest designated as a national monument. Uozu buried forest is the ruin of the virgin cedar forests buried from about 1500 to 2000 years ago.


Credits: Airika Takeguchi

I’ve never seen any mirages personally, but if you go to the Buried Forest Museum and you happen to be lucky, you could see a Mirage!

Kurobe George(ous)
Take a Torroko, open-air train through the Kurobe George. It’s Japan’s No.1 V-shaped George. I didn’t make it up, it’s on the website and all. It’s breath-taking especially in Autumn when you see the amazing red-orange-golden colours surrounding you and the blue blue blue water below.

Sometimes, AJET excursions book trips in autumn, but if it doesn’t happen, you can always make a booking for yourself! Website to book your tickets, especially if you wanna catch the autumn leaves: http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/en/ 


The Tateyama Mountain Range
Tateyama has a lot to offer and you should definitely visit this beauty more than once. My recommendation is to check it out in all its seasonal glory (although, you might also want to check how the weather’s gonna be up there).

When I first climbed it as part of the Toyama Orientation (Yes, you get to climb it), I cried because, I’d never felt so humbled and overwhelmingly happy to be somewhere in such a long time.

If you want to book your tickets (especially for the autumn leaves and the snow walls), you wanna book them through this website:

  Oyama Shrine : there are 3 of them in Toyama, one near the mountain peak, one in
Tateyama town and one more in Iwakuraji. They’re said to be power spots!



Legend of the Beautiful Woman Cedar

1,300 years ago the man who opened up Mt. Tateyama was betrothed to a beautiful princess. However women were forbidden from entering Mt. Tateyama. The princess, sad at being separated from her love, climbed up to Bijodaira and told her sad tale to a beautiful cedar tree. She beseeched the tree “If you have a heart, please listen to my wish”. Later her wish was granted and the couple were happily married. From that day this tree has been called “Bijosugi” or “Beautiful Woman Cedar” and this area has been known as “Bijodaira”.


Model: My brother


“Midagahara lies at an altitude of 1900 m and is one of the largest alpine wetlands in Japan. The hiking course is surrounded by a variety of alpine plants. In July 2012, this area was also registered in the Ramsar convention as one of the world’s most valuable wetlands.”


Credits: Ananthanarayanan Sankar (le bro)

Murodo is the place you want to explore if you want to see the famous, yet elusive Raichou or Rock Ptarmigan. It’s the Toyama bird and its tricky to spot due to its camoflage. Murodo is also the place to be if want to see the snow walls in Spring.

Be sure to drink some of the Oishii Mizu or Delicious Water, straight from the source.
It’s laced with crack by all the terrifyingly fast climbing old ladies who want to ensure you stay in Toyama forever. *this is a joke.

From Murodo, you can either climb the mountain OR you can take a cable car and head towards Kurobe Dam!


This was the first time I cried since coming to Japan. It was stunning.



All those WALLS!

Kurobe Dam
Did I hear you say “DAYUM!!”? Suh Punny.
But really, Kurobe Dam is a sight to behold. The power of the water gushing out and the Natural beauty surrounding it is really something.


Credits: Serena Toh


Takaoka Daibutsu (Big Buddha)
This guy is one of the top 3 in Japan! I only visited him very recently and boy am I glad I did! He’s a real looker and I can see why people wld go Buddhist for him. 😉 Totally my type.

IMG_9738_2 Zuiryuji Temple
Don’t miss out on this National Treasure if you’re in Takaoka. This Buddhist temple is really close to the Takaoka station too, so it’s really quite convenient!


Fancy walking down a traditional shopping street? Well then, Kanayamachi, in Takaoka is just the thing for you. I admit, I haven’t been here much, but the 2 times I visited, it’s really photogenic with some traditional craft stores and even a mini exhibit to explain what Takaoka was like in the past.


Special thanks to Brandon Bewza for this info! I’ve never visited Shinminato, but the photos look SO good, I’ll update this page with photos of my own once I visit!

Kaiwomaru Park

There’s Kaiwomaru Park down in Shinminato. Big bridge, big ship, and a cool seafood market. In October, there’s the best festival in Shinminato and in August an awesome fireworks display.



Toyama Canal




Gokayama is a lovely village nestled within the mountains of the Nanto area. The roofing is very unique and you’ll be very charmed by all the mountain food and culture! Access to this area though….I’d suggest getting a ride if you don’t drive. It’s realllllly OUT THERE.

Since the village was registered as a World Heritage site in 1995, the village house’s unique architectural style called Gassho-zukuri has attracted much attention for its appearance and structure. The natural beauty surrounding the villages is also very impressive.

Attraction of Gassho-zukuri, however, does not lie only in its unique appearance. You will be more interested in Gassho-zukuri if you learn about Gokayama more, including climate, people’s life and wisdom, the tradition and culture which people have passed down from generation to generation by their efforts.




Travel down Shogawa on a Pleasure Boat. No really, that’s what they’re called. See nature surround you as you boat down for about 30 minutes…



Toga Village (Suzuki Company of Toga)

Annual summer theatre festival (with free tickets!)
That’s right, every summer, Toga village is the host to quite an internally famous theatre festival! The Suzuki method has be taught around the world, including my school, and to be able to watch these shows free of charge while camping out in a tent in the mountains where Toga is nestled in…So worth it. Also, the people who attend! They’re so different from the people I usually meet.


Oiwa-san, Nisseki-ji
Ever wanted to see the figure of the guardian deity , Fudō-myōō (Acala), carved into a mountain and then proceed to meditate under a waterfall (without dying)? This place is JUST the thing for you then. This one is also quite out there in the boonies, so I recommend hitching a ride or you’ll have to get there from Kamiichi station by bus.



Know what’s amazing about AMAZING TOYAMA? We got lucky with nature. We have the mountains, we have the gorges, we have the waterfalls, we have the great blue sky, we have the sea of Japan…boom di yada boom di yada.

The majestic view of the Tateyama mountains range looming 3,000m above Toyama Bay changes with each season and is breathtakingly beautiful. This view was much loved by the Manyo poet Otomo No Yakamochi, who wrote many poems about it. The area stretching from the Amarashi coast to Matsudae-no-Nagahama in Himi has been designated as “One of Japan’s Best 100 White-sand and Green-pine Beaches” and “One of Japan’s Best 100 Beaches”. There still exists the Yoshitsune rock, where Minamoto no Yoshitsune waited for a shower to clear up on his way to Oshu. This is also where the name Amaharashi (lit. “rain clearing”) came from.


The train running by the sea…it’s gorgeous.


Credits: Airika Takeguchi. Banana Bomb.

Tonami Tulip Fair
Sick of all the Sakura hype? Probably not…buuut, here in Toyama, we have another amazing flower. Every year, Tonami hosts the biggest tulip fair in Japan! My suggestion is to ask a friend in Tonami for tickets to this fair. Tonami locals get free tickets every year and they actually throw them away.

If you can’t get your hands on the free tickets, you can always buy them at the gate.



Model: My mum. She’s got her flower appreciation thing going well.

I truly hope you enjoy #amazingtoyama as much as I have, if not more.

I stumbled on this great website one day, when the weather was amazing outside and I wanted to do something. It was written by an former Toyama ALT.


I also found THIS website and it’s categorised really well!

When everything froze.

DISCLAIMER (man I love these): This is not in any way a professional article on dealing with clinical anxiety or anything of that sort. If you’re facing that and reading this….I hope this serves as some kind of reflection…but definitely not any sort of solution.

In the months following my move to Japan, a lot of people told me I looked happier.
I looked happier in Facebook photos and sounded more positive on Skype
And, I  really am.
But, I recently started to wonder WHY this was the case.

Even before I left for JET, I knew I wanted to get over some of the issues I had with myself in Singapore. I’d been under my parent’s care for too long. Independence was foreign to me. Responsibility scared the crap out of me despite training to be a director and I was constantly seeking validation or acceptance of some sort.

There was also a lot of unhappiness and dissatisfaction that I had begun to harbour. I had a lot of days when I’d go home after doing theatre and just not feel the happiness I’d felt in the past. That was the scariest part because, falling out of love with theatre felt like a part of me had just gone hollow.

There was a huge part of me that was just an anxious, nervous mess about 80% of the time. I still tend to have a horrible paranoia that I’m doing something wrong. Or that I ought to be doing something more, something better, something more important. I fear that someone with more authority than me is going to swoop down on me and tell me that I’m worthless or that I’m wasting my time.

It was only very recently that I started to see that this way of thinking was not only ridiculously toxic, but also completely unhelpful in accomplising anything. If anything, it prevents a person from moving forward at all.

I got some insight on my trip back home from 31st October- 7th November 2015.

Going back home, I was faced with the question: Have I overstayed in Japan? Will I lose a place to return to? Am I gonna be jobless when I come back?

My imagination runs wild a lot… and it creates the worst situations in my mind. My breathing gets kinda shallow and for a while, I my brain just zeros in on the “problem”. I get a kind of depressing black-hole-esque tunnel vision and I start tuning out the rest of the world. I still harbor a lot of this anxiety.

However, one good thing came out of my trip home. I ended up meeting a lot of my friends and collegues and mentors. As much as possible, I stayed away from the toxic. Again, many were talking about how much less stressed out I looked and how much more carefree and happy I came across. Everything from my attire to my attitude to life came across as positive and I can hazard a guess why.

Recently, I’ve become more aware of what is toxic (to me at least). People, characters, places, topics…all kinds of things that were once faceless demons that weighed me down…I’ve started identifying them.

At the heart of it all, I’m working on not allowing myself to be bullied into things and to relax.

It really takes a lot of work though, coming from a place that values perfection, employment, money and sucess. Despite my firm belief that failures are a great learning platform, I’m so resistant and the world just freezes.

A problem is not a problem once you know it’s a problem.
It’s only a challenge.
It’s when you don’t know that there’s a problem.
That’s a real problem.
-this was on one of those cheezy motivational poster cards my dad gave me years ago.

I wish to make a note that, while I’ve enlarged and zoomed into some of the challenges I face, it’s not like I’ve stopped living. I’m moving forward and I’ve got a generally positive personality that doesn’t allow me to wallow. However, these tiny blips cause unnecessary panic which I would love to be rid of.

End note: As humans, we’re all works-in-progess. Getting over this issue doesn’t mean I become perfect…Just a software update.



Picking up new skills

2015 was filled with travels and adventures.
I’m immensely glad I did those trips, but I’ve got a goal for 2016.
My aim is to pick up some new art forms for myself.

Picking up new skills, however, can be a little  expensive.
If I do a little math, I spend about 23,000yen-25,000yen a month on learning what I do.
It takes a chunk out of my wallet.

So what have I picked up?
Mondays, I do Nihon Buyo (Traditional Japanese Dance).
Tuesdays, I do Koto (a Japanese string instrument).
Thursdays, I learn Japanese for N2 level.
Fridays, I do Sado (Japanese Tea Ceremony).

Nihon Buyo
This one has been on my mind for a while. I actually picked up a little bit of Nihon Buyo from the Fujima-ryu while on exchange at Toho Gakuen in 2011. So, this year, when I decided to cut down on travelling like a maniac, I chose to learn Nihon Buyo again.

Nihon Buyo has a very beautiful way of story telling through dance and movement using minimal props. It was one of those things that really spoke to me on a personal level despite my complete lack of hand-eye coordination. (I swear I have issues).

The class, this time Hanayagi-ryu, was located very conveniently in Toyama city at the Kitanihonshinbun Building and costs about 16,000yen for 3 months. Pretty damn worth it.

I suppose the only downside in this is that the lessons are conducted completely in Japanese. As is the case for everything else. So without Japanese knowledge, these classes would be tedious…but hey, they really help in getting my Japanese level up!

This class has been so fun. It’s mostly filled with middle aged ladies and one high school girl. When I entered, I only had a few yukata on me and it wasnt very suitable for Nihon Buyo. The people in the class just started to give me stuff. I got 2 sets of Kimonos, the Kimono inner wear, the Obi, the fan…I’m overwhelmed. One of the teachers at my school heard about me learning Nihon Buyo and gave me another Obi (a different styled one) and tied it for me at school.

The high school girl also helps out with translating any difficult Japanese that’s being used in the lessons. It’s a great environment.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a complete music noob.
To this day, I  haven’t been able to read (western) music scores despite learning them in Primary and secondary school. I never really got around to even playing the school recorder properly.

So, I’m not entirely sure what possesed me to start learning to play the Koto.

Initially, I’d wanted to learn the Shamisen…cuz it was kinda guitar/violin sized and seemed cool. Then I realised…it was made of cat hide…and the strum was made of tortoise shell…and apparently, the cat hide needs to be replaced regularly…so being quite staunchly vegetarian, that just made me go “nope nope nope” real fast.

So then, I was asked if I’d prefer Koto instead…which was made of wood and had synthetic strings. That made me breathe a lot easier. It also seemed a lot easier to play.

…unfortunately, I made one oversight. I didn’t realise that the finger picks used were made of ivory. I was really angry at myself for a long time because I’d assumed they’d be synthetic. I HAD seen sythetic picks sold online…so I hadn’t checked with my teacher in advance until I’d gotten them already. 😦  God damnit.

So people, please please double triple check all the materiels when buying tradtitional instruments. It really sucks to find out the way I did. I figure that all I can do now is speak out about this and move on.

Playing the Koto though has been an amazing experience. The one on one classes are a little pricy at 9,000yen for 4 classes a month but my teacher, Ishida-sensei, is incredibly patient with me. Considering how little I know about music (let alone in Japanese), my teacher has been great at explaining things to me. I’ve already picked up about 3 songs in less than 2 months and I’m enjoying studying music for the first time in forever.

Special mentions to the Eikaiwa I volunteer at every Wedenesday. I first brought up my desire to study a traditional instrument sometime in December. 2 of my students went out of their way to find this teacher for me and one of them also lent me her Koto, so I could practice with it at home.

Japanese Class
Studying for N2 level Japanese felt (and still feels) like a daunting task.

I don’t know if I’ll be ready to take the test at the end of the year.

Previously when I was doing N3, Saeko-sensei had been great with making me do drills and she prepped me really well for the test, so I passed pretty well.

However, she moved to America recently so I had to search for another teacher…and I found Komatsu-sensei!

She’s relatively newer at teaching Japanese and we’ve only used Japanese in all our lessons. At 2000yen per lesson, I’ve begun to enjoy learning the Kanji I once hated and I’m starting to develop my own study method with the help of my teacher.

We address each area of language learning one by one, Kanji, grammar, reading, vocab and listening. I studied about how a Kanji can be identified based on the “root” kanji. Grammar too, has gotter easier to digest…and the ones I have troubles with, Komatsu-sensei breaks it down.

Recently, I also discovered that I’m able to read simple paragraphs in magazines and brochures. So, that was a huge motivator to continue working on Japanese and Kanji in particular.

So, am I ready to go to the next level of Japanese?
Nope. It’s still a long way away…and a steep uphill climb.

Do I think I can achieve it eventually?
It’s most definitely possible with consistant work.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Club (Sado-bu)
I joined this quite early on into my JET stint and I haven’t looked back.

I love maccha.
I love eating wagashi.
I love learning about Japanse culture and I love seiza-ing (lies).

It’s also extremely affordable at about 300yen a month for the wagashi.

When I first joined, I found the teacher, Tsubota-sensei terrifying. He’d say pretty snarky things in extremely formal Japanese or Super-Toyama-dialect. He’s huff and roll his eyes. I had no idea what I was doing wrong and was scared of making mistakes. I also didn’t understand about 70% of what he said.

A lot hasn’t changed, except I’m not so terrified of him anymore. I slowly came to realise that even the Japanese students didn’t understand what he was saying sometimes…so I was completely excused. Now, I seem him as a snarky diva who has started snapping words like “back!” “left!” “right!” and “stand up!” in English. It’s hilarious even as I flubber around.

Teacher aside, Sado-bu has also got me closer to students in the club. When we’re not practising, we talk and chat and poke at each other. The 3rd year students also explain the rules to me very patiently. It’s fun and now that I’ve been at it for a year and a half-ish, I’m starting to understand the rules and reasons a lot more. It’s becoming a lot easier to appreciate the form once it’s mastered and understood.

Final thoughts

Doing all this takes time. I don’t socialise much in terms of partying or drinking (not that I did any prior to this anyway). By the time the weekend rolls around, I want nothing more than to collapse on my bed.

Somehow though, despite all this, I still find time to meet up with friends, and attend festivals and bake as a hobby. I still travel on the weekends or during the holiday periods…a lot less than before, but enough to re-charge.

All in all, it’s been a great experience so far and I’m glad I stepped out of the ALT bubble which is so easy and comfortable for me. I wouldn’t even say that the ALT bubble is a bad place to be, but it would be huge pity if I came all the way here and fail to engage with the local community.

English and Special Needs Education

Recently, I had the privilege of being allowed to teach phonics to some of my students at my special needs school. I can’t express how elated I am now.

One of my students has started reading some of his very first words. ALL BY HIMSELF. Not perfect, but OH GOD does it feel like a miracle.

I also use phonics as a way of oral therapy. Some of my students can’t really speak much, so using phonics is a great way to introduced new sounds to them even if they may be incapable of producing some of the sounds I teach.

Teaching phonics has been so enlightening. I now know how difficult it is to create sounds. I don’t take it for granted anymore and had to go allll the way back to the start and relearn the phonics for myself so that I could teach the material in Japanese.

And then, there are the confusing sounds that I’d long taken for granted. E makes a kind of “eh” sound but at the end of Snake you dont say Snak”eh”. It’s silent. Or the “OO” sound. Moon and book. So different.

How do I teach it to students who study English long after getting used to Japanese which has very standard pronunciations?

I’m coming to terms with all this while teaching at sepcial needs while questioning all I ever learnt as a child. The more I teach, the more I’m in awe of children.

So, at this point, the teachers and I have come up with a phonics dvd. Hardly professional, but better than Katakana English anyday. Honestly, I wish I were more qualified for this… so I try to do research on my end. We’ve called it “Phonics for Life” and it’s meant to have 7 parts to it…with each level teaching a different set of phonics. In between though, we create some “Let’s Read” episodes where I piece together the phonics they’ve learnt, to create words. This way, we feel, the students will start seeing that they have the ability to read more things once they start using phonics!

Slooow and steady.
The risk, at this point, is my desire to teach as much as possible to these students who don’t get much time with me. It’s a risk because, if rushed, students tend to forget the sounds they learnt earlier. So, often times, I have to slow myself down to make sure the basics aren’t forgotten.

All this is increadibly scary. We’re making these 1-take videos filled with my improvisations.  In one “episode” I dropped my pointer and did a little hum to myself. Apparently, this set off a huge outburst of laughter in one of my students who wouldn’t stop trying to imitate it for a LONG time. He asked me about it, the next time he saw me.

“What was THAT all about???” he asked me.
“What was WHAT all about???” I asked, confused.
“That hum thing you did when you dropped the pointer!” he said, accusingly.
“Oh, that! That was all improvised! I mean, come on, give me a break!” I replied to my dissatisfied client.

Sometimes, I try to make-up some funny explanations for the pronunciations. For example, NG. I’ve gone done the unspeakable by introducing toilet humor into pronunciation work with Elementry students. NG, I’ve explained, is the sound one makes when they’re constipated and want to take a dump. Not sure I wanna know how they’ll react after watching it. Apparently, though, some of my students enjoy repeating what I teach them throughout the hallways for an entire week. ._. sorry…it just HAD to be done.

Soon after staging the charity play last year, one of the JTEs at my school approched me and suggested that we could try doing them with some of the Junior High students. The first play we did was fairly simple. The students (2 of them) requested me to write about arm-wrestling and I created a 3 or 4 page drama. Rehearsing it though, took a long time.

Taking things for granted has become a bit of a running theme in my life, these days.

Saying a line should be a quick 5 second job, right?
One of my students battles extreme tiredness in class and has speech difficulties (A-kun) while the other can’t talk verbally and doesn’t have full control of her hands (B-san). Both are also wheelchair users.

So, everything that might take 2 minutes in a professional rehearsal space takes an entire lesson here.

How we tackle this is taking things step by step.
First, we explain the story to the students, line by line.
Then we record my voice and B-san practices selecting the lines on cue.
With A-kun, we practice and try to film him before he sleeps.
Finally, I take the video clips and try to piece them together as nicely as possible. TRY.

With the high school devision, we began a new ‘business’ English plan. I was talking to my JTE one day and was asking him about possibly teaching English that was more practical for them. Most will go on to work in factories, convenience stores or small shops.

He seemed to be really interested in this idea, so we embarked on our project to teach students shop/customer service lingo.

Is it a more stressfull lesson for students? Yes.

Is it also more practical? Most definitely.

I see them push themselves a lot more now and in return my JTE and I try to take the lessons slow.

We show them practical usage of what we teach by doing mock-up shop playacting. The JTE and I are customers and the students take on the role of shop staff.

We’re currently in the process of teaching them how to identify ingredients or what a  product is made of. It’s incredibly satisfying.

Special Needs is not easy. My energy levels shift throughout the day…some Tuesdays are a million times better (or worse) than other Tuesdays. Teaching here however has been most educational and eye-opening and I count myself extremely lucky.

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