Inward Bound, #amazingtoyama

12002037_10153459882596141_4164851305602341861_n

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.

Enjoy…

TOYAMA CITY

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! 
IMG_9031

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)?

shogawa-246

Credit: Ong Kai Ching

IMG_9004

IMG_9005

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.

P1050949

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

P1050988

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

YATSUO
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.

10606382_10152687214079808_605338108028378433_n

NAMERIKAWA
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.

12038871_10153459881726141_1038378874023189184_o

Credits: Airika Takeguchi

UOZU
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.
http://museums.toyamaken.jp/en_museum/e_uozu_buried_forest_museum/

12028790_10153459882041141_2841909194848957421_o

Credits: Airika Takeguchi

IMG_3735
Mirages
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
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/ 

P1030155

TATEYAMA
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:
http://www.alpen-route.com/ticket/en/index.html

  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!

P1100645

   Bijoudaira

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”.
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

10653620_10152731180709808_4699877369288501272_n

Model: My brother

   Midagahara

“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.”
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

10714500_10152797125428564_5264791616071432198_o

Credits: Ananthanarayanan Sankar (le bro)

   Murodo
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!

IMG_0271

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

10687987_10152797124343564_956768699146654034_o   

P1100595

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.

12141560_10153660184404808_5961055475649336922_n

Credits: Serena Toh

IMG_6785

TAKAOKA CITY
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!

P1190535

Kanayamachi
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.

P1190636

SHINMINATO
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.
-Brandon

 

00000098-001

Toyama Canal

m00087_main

 

NANTO-TOGA
Gokayama

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.
http://www.gokayama-info.jp/en/

 

10454931_10153278763034808_5824690074714552307_o

Shogawa

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…

IMG_8957
IMG_8973

shogawa-73


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.

IMG_5940


KAMIICHI
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.

IMG_9987_2

IMG_0050


HIMI
Amaharashi
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.
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/spot/?spot_id=48

P1100938

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

12031629_10153459882476141_8920978401700855439_o

Credits: Airika Takeguchi. Banana Bomb.

TONAMI
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.

IMG_9927

885733_10153278800004808_8295244507085949456_o

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.

LINKS:
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.
https://trinitraveller.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/10-must-do-things-in-toyama-japan/

 

I also found THIS website and it’s categorised really well!
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/

Advertisements

Potato Farming and the Art of Being a Shut-In Old Man.

芋くさい。
Imo kusai or Potato stink is a word I recently learnt from a friend.
I’d been joking about become a potato farming old lady some day when she said I was gonna stink of the countryside…or Imo Kusai. I’ve taken quite a liking to this word so much so that it’s gone and inspired me to post this.

Not sure if I’ve ever said this enough…but I love the countryside (or Inaka as they call it here). Back home, I’d call it ulu pandan. I love being stuck in the middle of nowhere…with nothing but fields, fields and fields as far as the eye can see or deeeeep into the boonies where the houses get more spread out and the magestic mountains appear to be your neighbors. Coming to Toyama, I discovered that these places actually exist.

Perhaps it’s a case of the city mouse/country mouse story…or seeing greener grass on the other side…but, everytime I venture out, I fall in love with Inaka a little bit more. It’s awefully peaceful…and the people seem to get a lot friendlier…mind, I generally find Toyama to be a LOT frindlier compared to Tokyo and Singapore which are huge metropolitan cities (or Tokai as they call it here). Despite living pretty much in the centre of Toyama City, it’s nowhere near as Tokai as home.

Recently, I came across an amazing rice harvesting event in Uozu (another city in Toyama). I signed up without much thought and even roped in my 2 visiting Singaporean ALT buddies…cuz RICE. The event turned out to be SO much fun. I cannot even begin to express how much fun it was.

Yoga in the muddy paddy field. Competing in groups of 4 to hang the rice out to dry. Learning how to cut rice manually and tie them into bunches. Doing a rice harvest dance. Riding on the back of a mini truck driven by an obaa-chan with fellow participants (both Japanese and foreign). Getting an amazing home-cooked lunch with a surprising amount of veggie options that filled me up real good. Listening to Shamisen, World and Minyo music and singing along. WINNING first place of the competition….cuz obaa-chan judges are the BEST. Getting 2kgs of rice as a prize. Immersing myself in nice quaint onsen. Getting some figs before leaving for Toyama.

I can promise you that this won’t be an experience you can get back home in Singapore. My friends who saw photos of me at the event informed me that I looked incredibly happy and the friend who taught me the word Imo Kusai said I just might be cut out for the Imo Kusai life afterall.

Planting rice is not fun. Bent from morn till set of sun. Cannot stand. Cannot sit. Cannot rest a little bit.
But, with friends, it’s heartwarming. The squelching mud under my feet was the most theraputic thing ever.

So, while it’s obvious that a 1 day event does not equate to a lifetime’s labour on the fields…I certainly am considering the field life a lot more than before.

 

Thanks for this one Dom!

                  Thanks for this one Dom!

 

This brings me to my next point that I might actually be a a Shut-In Old Man (or Hikikomori Ojisan as they say here). I was talking to my 2 Singaporean ALT friends from far-away prefectures when I came to this conclusion. We were discussing my tendencies to make middle-aged/old people friends more than young 20-something year old friends. It was odd, we decided for a normal (well as normal as a Vegetarian theatre-girl turned ALT can get i guess) 24 year old to be able to make friends with the old station master and the Matcha shop aunties and yet have issue with attending halloween parties like a normal person without being accused of being a kidnapper (this is a true story).

Odder yet were my tendencies to make terribly lame, freezing-cold, dad jokes and enjoy the comfort of my kotatsu while watching anime and avoiding parties like the plague. I survived on reheating frozen food from months ago and love nothing more than my track pants and t-shirts. It all pointed to one thing. That I was a Hikikomori Ojisan.

Somehow, it all made sense and my world view became a lot clearer.
I could make peace with myself, knowing that somewhere in my 24 year old body, there was a Hikikomori Ojisan who enjoyed farming potatoes and chatting up old ladies. Makes SO much sense doesn’t it? 

Peace out.

Ps: Please take this article with a pinch of salt. I’m quite obviously not a Hikikomori Ojisan and am not planning to become a farmer any time soon. That was a joke.

One Year On (and then some)

Somehow, I’ve survived an ENTIRE year of living alone without tripping over a stray wire and slamming my head into the corner of some random block of tofu lying around the kitchen and killing myself (this is an actual Japanese saying: go hit your head on the corner of a block of Tofu and die). I’m pretty proud. And to commemorate and celebrate the pride I have in myself, imma post about it! YEAH!!!

So here’s what I’m super happy to have done in this past year:

Taught at a high school and a special needs school.
I’d never done either prior to this. The experience has just been so rewarding and I’m infinately thankful to both my schools which have just been super supportive of me. I’ve never once felt like an idiot working here even though I’ve made numerous mistakes. Despite being the youngest in the English department in both schools, my suggestions and ideas are taken seriously and discussed. They don’t agree with me all the time and I don’t expect or want them to do so, but taking me seriously drives me to give more ideas and suggestions without the worry of failing/sounding like an idiot.

Also, my schools are super kind. When I embark on something outside the school, like the charity show I did, or when I go travelling…they always have something nice to say/ask about what I’m up to and I’m able to communicate how much I truly appreciate being in Japan. It’s super nice.

Met new people from all around the world who had done SO many different things.
Doing theatre in Singapore was great, and the people I met were also very very amazing people. However, I met very few people outside the theatre community and I rarely met people whose countries I couldn’t really place on a map. This sounds terrible, but what I mean to say is that while I DID meet a lot of foreigners, they were usually from very standard countries that I’d always heard/known about. People from other Asian countries, Australia, America, UK….a feeeew Europeans…and that was about it…

I relish meeting/seeing people that I don’t know much about. I enjoy this because, I find the size of the world I live in widening and getting bigger. I enjoy not knowing because this means there’s so much more to see and learn and ask.

Coming here, living in my “foreigner” apartment complex, I’ve learnt SO much and met SO many new people. It’s extremely humbling.

Travelled. This is such a huge thing for me.
1. Toyama:
Tateyama, Gokayama, Kamiichi, Takaoka, Ushidake, Toga Village, Etchuu-Yatsuo, Shogawa, Kureha, Kurobe, Amaharashi Beach, Ikuji, Iwakuraji, Tonami, Shin-Takaoka(AEON Mall), Nyuzen, Namerikawa, Uozu…still counting.

2. Nagano: Kamikochi

3. Ishikawa: Kanazawa

4. Kyoto: Kyoto city, Uji

5. Osaka: Ishinha show place, Osaka Aquarium, Dotonbori, Shitennouji, USJ

6. Tokyo: Ghibli…Akiba…Shibuya…Harajuku…Shinjuku…Shimokitazawa…Meiji Jingu…Asakusa…Nakano-Sakaue…Nerima-Kasugacho…Ikebukuro…Senkawa…Ueno…Ginza…Tokyo’s pretty difficult, cuz I’ve visited at least 5 times…So, I’ve seen quite a bit of it I guess?

7. Chiba: Fukuda Denshi Arena and Disney Land.

8. Nara: Unebigoryomae

9. Gifu: Hida-Takayama, Furukawa

10. Aichi: Nagoya City, Meiji Mura (Inuyama)

11. Mie: Ise City

12. Hokkaido:
Chitose, Sapporo, Furano Winery+Tomita Farm+Furano Cheese Factory (Furano), Biei, Akan (Kushiro City), Shiretoko, Shari, Lake Kussharo, Lake Mashu, Kami no Ko Pond

13. Niigata: Sado Island (this one’s a HUUUUUGE thing off my bucket list)

Along with visiting all these places, I’ve also taken care of booking my own lodging for the first time in my life. I’ve stayed in super cheap business hotels, hostels, spartan tents and even in a car. I’ve also had to arrange my own transportation at times, including busses, trains, flights and ferries. It’s super nerve-wrecking….like I keep panicking…WHAT IF I BOOK WRONGLY, IS THIS REALLY THE CHEAPEST DEAL, WILL MY LEAVE BE APPROVED, WHAT IF EVERYTHING’S BOOKED UP?!?!?!

Buuut, so far, I’ve been fine….in fact, I’ve learnt to go with the flow a lot! Flowing to the point of getting hitch hikes from old people and freinds I meet in carparks while feeling a little desperate to get somewhere.

Seen nature at it’s best and not so best.
Wanted to say worst, but that would definitely be a lie. Before coming here, I heard horror stories about the heavy snow and super hot summers. The winter IS cold…and the summer IS hot….but not unbearable.

Despite the difficulties, nature has shown me some beautiful beautiful sights that will be embedded in my memory. Never had I imagined the world to look so stunning…and every time, I can only think that all the money I spend on travelling is 100% worth it.

Gone for festivals
Many many matsuris and recently, I didn’t just watch one, I even participated in pulling a float at the Tatemon Matsuri.

Started taking photos
It’s not that I’ve never done this before…I was just never very conscious about taking a good one. Recently, after being around so many good photographers *coughKaicough*, it struck me that I wanted to understand framing better.

I’ve begun to experiment with trying to frame what my eyes see with my camera when something catches my eye. I’ve been trying to understand how light works and how the camera captures it…

Mind, I don’t do this professionally at all…It’s just a sort of hobby that I’ve picked up, hoping that it would improve my eye for things onstage.

Theatre.
I’m real glad that coming here wasn’t the end of my theatre work. I’ve managed to watch shows all over the place. I won’t say that I enjoyed EVERYTHING…but experience is always valuable. My year started with my trip to  Toga for the SCOT theatre festival and I’ll be heading there again today…and in between, I’ve directed a local charity show, watched a decent number of performances and attended a lot of festivals that have street performance as a huge element. Some of these street performances really inspire me. 

I’m still reflecting, and more things have started to click for me…So, for the year ahead, I aim to solidify my ideas and aesthetics based on what I’ve seen and learnt.

Improved my Japanese
The photocopying lady at school who I’m close to (and a couple of my students) said my Japanese had gotten a lot better. I cannot express how happy this comment made me.

It’s fairly common for people to tell me that my Japanese is good when they first meet me. While it’s nice to hear that, it’s a totally different thing to hear someone who’s known you for a while, tell you that your skills have improved.

It’s particularly nice to hear this from Photocopy-san who knows how serious Japanese learning is for me.

Hopefully, this is gonna help me in my N3 JLPT test in December. Ugh, the pressure. Stomach ache.

Finding myself and what I stand for.
Maybe living alone makes you stand up for what you believe in a lot more. You have less of a family to fall back to…and I guess my already thick skin grew a little thicker.

From my vegetarianism to my zero tolerance for racism to the way I handle a lot of bs that inevitably comes my way…I’ve learnt how to just be straight about it. I guess it won’t make me Miss Congeniality any time soon, but I get the immense satisfaction for standing my ground on these matters.

A part of me has also come to really really love home. I sometimes catch myself tearing up or outright crying when I think of home. Mind, I’m not a sentimental person who goes about missing laksa or prata on a daily basis…but sometimes, living away really makes me appreciate the small small things I always had at home and took for granted. Sometimes, I see Singapore from afar through a video and feel so proud of what it is and can be and how far it has come.

Simei to Toyama…it always wows me.

Living alone
Like I said at the start, I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself…considering how clumsy I am. I kid not…I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped my knife near my foot.

There’s also the fact that I’m paying for my own utilities and haven’t relied on mum’s driving services in over a year. I’ve also been cooking for myself…and cleaning (let’s use this word in it’s LOOSEST sense)…

Just 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have seen myself doing any of this. In the past, these felt like such ADULT responsibilities, but here I am.

I’v probably done a LOT more than this, but these are the big ones that stand out. Call it blowing my own horn or boasting or whatever. 😛 I just call it reflective documentation for future reference.

ja ne till next time.

Yaguzilla and Late realizations

So, this is gonna be a bit of a 2 in 1 post.
It’s a mix of a request from my brother and something that hit a nerve in me recently.

PART 1

Back in 2014, I watched and participated in Zeitgeber, which was a performance about caregiving for people with severe disabilities.
I was asked to play a woman who could only move her eyes. Throughout the play, the actor playing the caregiver would move me around the “house”. In one scene, he had to “change” my clothes and I remember being rolled to my side. Of course, this was just mimed onstage.
At that time, I had a lot of thoughts about the play. The way this caregiver spoke to the person…telling this person what he was doing at every point. “Tanaka-san, I’m changing your clothes”. “Tanaka-san, I’m lifting your leg a little”.
I wondered, why. This person would never respond. Could only move her eyes. What was the point?
.
.
.
Fastforward to the present.
As mentioned several times now, I work at a special needs school every Tuesday.
I particularly like the Elementary divison. So, even though I don’t get many classes with them, I try to pay them a visit and help out every now and then. The students in this particualar class need help with everyday activities and need wheelchair assistance.

And, this Tuesday, when I went for my weekly visit, the teacher was in the middle of helping one of the boys change into his gym clothes. And the teacher was informing the boy of whatever she was doing and I was struck by the action. I really wonder if the students understand us. And does whatever we inform them…register?

I don’t say this in any mocking sense.
I don’t look down on or pity these lovely children.
I’m not even agaisnt the action.
If anything, I feel like informing the student of what you’re doing for them, is profoundly respectful.

But I genuinely wonder…How is this perceived in thier minds?
What’s happening in their world?
What do they hear?
What do they see?

And I thought back to the performance. And back to the students.
I still don’t have answers and am in fact left with more questions.

So, I’m leaving this up here as a kind of reflection of mine.
Life really does seem to run in spirals though…and sometimes, something echoing your past experiences seems to pop-up out of nowhere like a weird deja vu.


PART 2
FOR CHACHI BOI:

Yaguzilla is probably how most of my students view me sometimes….
Some fire-breathing  English monster out to force everyone to speak English….
Yaguzilla gives weird class assignments and comes up with embaressing penalty games.
Yaguzilla tries to bribe kids with chocolates and hankos.

Sometimes students wonder if Yaguzilla has a social life.
Does Yaguzilla have any friends?
Yaguzilla has a family??!
What does Yaguzilla do for food?
Yaguzilla cooks??
What?? Yaguzilla is VEGETARIAN??? NO meat or fish???

And Yaguzilla has never seen snow??
Yaguzilla wears UNIQLO???
Yaguzilla also has a weird whale shark hanging off her bag and obsesses over Macha.
This odd creature tries to talk to everyone randomly with apparently no shame whatsoever.

So of course, the natural reaction for most students, when they see Yaguzilla is to run the other way.

But then, gradually, Yaguzilla is accepted by the general school community…
And students stop trying to run away.
Every now and then, Yaguzilla gets “hallo!” or “good morning!” on the way to school.
And, if Yaguzilla is lucky, her students have a chat with her.
This makes Yaguzilla’s day.

In the staffroom, Yaguzilla reads works by her students and laughs out loud.
But Yaguzilla isn’t mocking them.
Yaguzilla just loves reading the creative things that her students give her.
Although, by doing this, Yaguzilla is convinced that her collegues think she might be slightly crazy.

Yaguzilla is happy.

The End.

 

 

Being a Gaijin…not a big deal.

Alrighty, so this one I’ve heard a LOT of opinions on this matter…
Being a foreigner in Japan.
There are many many youtube videos and blogs out there talking about this.

There are people who say they attract a lot of attention,
There are people who say they blend in completely.
I’m just gonna add on to the pile…

There’s not much I can touch on if I don’t talk about race…
So who or what am I?
First off, I’m an Asian woman.
I’m Indian by race.
Singaporean by nationality.
I have brown skin.
I have black hair.

So when I meet people for the first time, I often get asked if I’m from India or Bangladesh or Pakistan.
People are quite surprised when I say I’m Singaporean.
And then, they apologise.
I sort of understand WHY they do it….but personally, I’ve never felt offended…
That’s just how my physical image is.

And then I’m asked if I’m a student…and once I was asked if I worked at a restaurant…
But no…I’m a teacher…
And that gets me some apologies too…
I think this one is mostly an age thing though…people say I look young…so yay! compliment!

Generally, I don’t turn any heads. Since day one, people have never really stared at me…and I feel quite comfortable.
It’s all very normal. I’m obviously a foreigner…but I also don’t stand out very much.

The thing that shocks most people here is the fact that I speak Japanese.
Sometimes, I just introduce myself…and I’m told that my Japanese is REALLY good.
Which it isn’t.
I won’t be overtly modest. I can speak and hold decent conversations.
But I still have a LOOOONG way to go with Kanji.
And, since I have quite a bit of interest in translation and interpretation, I have a lot more work to do before I can say my Japanese is good.

But really, everyday life…it’s very normal. I don’t get rude stares. I don’t get unwanted attention. Actually, I don’t get any attention.

Obviously I’m not Japanese…but until I open my mouth and speak Japanese, I don’t attract any attention.

People recognise me very easily though (Cuz duh…there are no other people in the area that look like me as far as I know). The station masters, matcha shop ladies, starbucks people, Okonomiyaki shop people, students I’ve taught at summer camps….after seeing me once, they recogise me. And they’re super super friendly and I’ve had lovely conversations with them.

I also get a number of questions about Singapore…where is it..is it safe…how big is the country…food…places to visit…
A Singapore ALT friend of mine just recently said that she feels like she only talks about the stereotypical things in Singapore..and it’s true, the number of times I’ve talked about the merlion and MBS….i would NEVER even think TWICE about them back home. I’m actually starting to hate them a little. hahaha.

Thing is….what else can I say about Singapore? Does anyone want to hear about how I shop for groceries? Or how I go to work? Or how I lead my EVERYDAY “Singaporean” life? Not really. People want to know what’s attractive about my country…so I tell them. Touristy…but it works.

I talk about the mix of race lang and religion…the importance of English in Spore….food…sometimes Singlish…places to see…its very repetitive…but every once in a while i meet people who know more about Singapore, and we have great conversations.

….To conclude…
Yes, I’m a foreigner. It’s doesn’t take a genious to figure that out. But for most part, my life here is…very normal…and everyday…futsuu.

I’m sure this goes into the ESID box…as do most other things…but hey, it’s perspective.

 

 

Iggy and Teaching…and what little I know.

 

So I was looking through my blog and realized I didn’t have much on my teaching methods here…so that’s my next post.

SPORTS SCHOOL (HIGH SCHOOL)
It took me a long time to get into the swing of teaching here…even now, I’m constantly searching for methods that will work out with this school.

Most of my students are in some type of sports club. They are happiest when they’re out doing thier club activities. In class, most of them aren’t the most willing learners of English because, they see English as a big scary topic with a ton of (as far as they are concerned) useless grammar points and vocabs that they’ll never use once they are out of this place. It took me almost 4 months to understand this with a LOT of trial and error.

I used to laugh at sports animes, when I saw characters failing miserably in their English test…Now I kinda feel grim about that.

That said, I’ve had BRILLIANT classes with these students…I’ve come to realise that challenging them with creative group activities gets them more motivated. That and a threat of penalty games urge them to be a bit more involved.

Some of my most sucessful activities have had little to no preperation work done…and it confuses me quite a bit…because I’ve spent hours coming up with some ideas which I personally think are amazing and brilliant, but the students look at me like I’ve lost it.

And then, I come in with activities that take me less than 20 minutes to prepare and I see the entire class hard at work. It shocked me.

Creative Writing:
My favourite exercise to date has worked across all high school levels. It’s a really simple creative writing exercise, and my students sit in pairs or groups of 4. Then, they are made to draw 1 Character, 1 Setting and 1 Object. (I write these into scraps of paper and keep them in separate folders)

Once they draw the 3 papers, I tell them, they can’t exchange what they’ve got, and they HAVE to include whatever they’ve drawn into the story. I also tell them that the best story will get a present while the laziest group will have to play my BATSU GAME (Gangnam Dance). Cue a loud “eeeeeh??????!!!!”

I then tell them that, “No, I’m not expecting perfect grammar or spelling” and that “the most CREATIVE story will win.” I go on to remind them that, it is still important to remember that this is English COMMUNICATION so while the grammar and spelling don’t have to be perfect, they still need to be understandable.

I’ve gotton some amazing results out of this activity. I’ve seen students who usully sleep in my class, wake up and come up with great stuff.

Here’s the rough template I use:

Object:________________________________
Place:_________________________________
Person:________________________________
STORY:
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________

 

Translating Anime and J-Drama!!!:
(I also submitted this to my local team teaching book)

Target audience: SHS students depending on ability.

Objective: To give students a fun (and practical) way to use English (and their dictionaries). Also, this gives them a great taste of how actual translators work.

Materials Computers USB with anime/movie clips A paper split in half for Japanese transcriptions and English translations

Procedure: Time: 3 Lessons (50mins/lesson) Location: Computer Lab Number of students I had for this activity: 22

Step 1: Try not to look too suspicious surfing YouTube at work. I asked teachers around me for suggestions so that they’d all know I was working. Find a range of anime/movie clips and rate them from level 1-over 9000. Make sure these clips don’t come with subtitles.

I used Anpanman, Kinkyori Renai, Kuroko no Basuke, Lupin the Third, Gokusen and Shingeki no Kyojin, Shingeki being the most difficult and Anpanman being the easiest. You can use whatever is considered kakkoii at your school to make yourself The Most Amazing Teacher Ever.

Step 2: Double check with your JTE if the Japanese used is clean/acceptable and void of f-bombs. You might also want them to check if you’ve labelled the difficulty level accurately.

Step 3: Get students into groups of 3/4 and allow them to choose the level of difficulty. Alternatively, you can assign the weaker groups to easier video clips…or you can get to them to pick lots/sticks…whatever floats your boat. USB transfer the videos to each group.

Step 4: Lesson 1: Transcribing the Japanese (Ensure your school coms have clear speakers) Lesson 2: Translating the Japanese  (Ensure that everyone is chipping in for this) Lesson 3: Correcting the translated English (Walk around checking their work)

Step 5: Collect work on day 3, and announce with a big smile that the best translation will win something from you in the next lesson, cuz you’re amazing that way (and the kids would have worked really hard on this anyhow)

Additional information: I didn’t allow the students to bring this back home or use the Internet for this activity. Just because subtitled versions DO exist out there. It saves the students from having to do homework and saves me from seeing copied/google translated English.

My 3rd Year class has a very very wide range of students. But the activity produced some really surprising results and some of the kids really challenged themselves (maybe not for the purest reasons…but still…)


SPECIAL NEEDS TEACHING
So this was one of my biggest worries before I came here…and I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve never really been trained in Special Needs Education…

But as it turns out, teaching here is a joy.

My school has Elementary, Middle AND Senior divisions and I see all types of students here. Some are completely wheelchair bound and are limited to blinking or small mouth movements…Some have some understanding of what is being taught if it is done at a much slower pace…and some are students with minor autism and just need to be in a class with fewer students…Also, I don’t always teach with a JTE (Japanese Teacher of English).

To date, I don’t know their exact medical conditions…and I don’t need to know. I just ask, “Can they__________?”  For example, I ask if they can write or move or walk or talk…etc. Once I understand what they are able to do, I design an activity for them.

My favourite classes are the Elementary classes. The students are SUPER adorable and seeing my face makes them happy. Who wouldn’t like that? A lot of times, my lessons with the Elementary students are about letting them hear English. My job is to just allow them to hear a foreign language being spoken.

I sing songs…make a lot of funny faces…bring soft toys…joke with the kids…make holiday cards…make slide shows of my trips and talk to them about it….play games like fruits basket…

It’s not really that difficult. Most of the time, the teachers are there to lend me a lot of support. In this case, I think my knowledge of Japanese has been really helpful. With this group of students, it’s always about being on the roll and  the ability to have fun WITH the students.

And that hasn’t been very hard for me…I’m aware that some of them have NO clue about what I’m saying…I think some people have a big problem with this…but somehow, I’m perfectly ok with not being understood all the time. That’s when I make full use of my facial expressions and I joke with the students in Japanese a little.


 

There’s a whole lot more for me to learn…And every idea I get, I cross my fingers before taking it to class.

Inspirational quote I read when I was super young:
A problem is not a problem as long as know that it’s a problem.
It’s only a challenge.
It’s when you don’t know there’s a problem.
That’s a real problem.

Next up: vegging.

Interview Questions

These were my questions and answers for the JET interview:

First 5/6 questions were there to test my Japanese proficiency.
 I stumbled. A LOT.
And I kept asking the interviewer to repeat himself, although he didn’t seem to mind.

First I was shown 2 papers with pictures on them. A man with a name card and an empty speech bubble facing another 2 people. I was asked: What is he saying? 

I said: Hajimemashite, kore wa watashi no meishi desu. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Second, I was shown a picture of a person saying a greeting in the night. What is he saying?
Konbanwa

Third, a lady accidentally bumps into another lady in the train. What does she say?
Sumimasen. Shitsureishimasu!

Then, he asked me “senshuu doyoubi nangatsu nan nichi desuka. Nani wo shimashitaka?”
I TOTALLY blanked out on the date thing cuz, on one hand, I had no idea what date Saturday had been and also cuz counting dates in Japanese under stress is not my forte…but I said I had been preparing for the interview all day. (they laughed at that.)

I was asked if I had any siblings
I said I had one younger brother who likes animals and works in the army now. I mentioned that he’s very annoying, but cute.

What sweet would you introduce to Japanese people?
I was like OMG!  Kueh Lapis! The interviewer had apparently never eaten Kueh and he asked me what it was, and I was like, “Jelly/mochi mitai na okashi desu!”

Srsly, Kueh lapis is amazing…..crap…I wanna eat Kueh now…. Q_Q

All this glorious Kueh.

Then he asked what flavour it had.
And I was like “Amai desu”.

The last question completely threw me off. It was something about children liking potato chips….and I was asked for a reason why…..
I stared blank at that one. TOTALLY didn’t know what to say about that one.


 

Then came the English section…this wasn’t TOO bad…

What do you know about the JET programme?
I’ve never been the best at memorising facts like that…but I said I knew it was under 3 Ministries, one of which was MEXT, and that I’d be a part of an international programme which people from around the world were in.

I think I tried to ham it up a little…but mostly it was me blurting whatever I could remember until the lady went, ok and asked me the next question.

What do you think it means to be an ALT?
Being an ALT means you’re an Assistant Language Teacher and it’s important to acknowledge that. I told them that I would work hard to support my Japanese Teacher of English with my talents and that I was very aware that I wasn’t the main teacher of the class.

What would you like to do Post-JET?
This was pretty simple, and I said I wanted to go into translation, Singapore-Japan ties in the arts, work with JCC/Japan Association. But I also said that I was keeping my options open based on what I experienced through the JET programme.

How would you incorporate drama into teaching English to the Students?
I talked about some drama games which would make learning English a more fun and relevant affair.

What if some of the students are uncooperative or don’t want to join in the games?
I mentioned that I’d had students in the past who were too shy or were un-cooperative, and I went on to say that I was perfectly fine with allowing students to sit out and just observe activities and take notes instead. The interviewers seemed a little surprised by my answer, but I went on to say how I’d had a girl in a primary school who at the start refused to say anything out loud. She’d only whisper to me, and even then, only if she had no choice. So I started with allowing her to write things down and then slowly built up her confidence.

I also told the teacher that I’d probably start off with simple pair exercised before asking students to stand up and present things by themselves, especially if I was given a class that was very shy. I also joked that I’d tell my students that I was hardly perfect with Japanese and that I too was learning together with them. 🙂

What if the teacher herself is resistant to some of your methods?

In the first place, I said I would like to discuss what expectations each teacher had of me before any work started. Having worked as an assistant director, I have the experience of working under various directors who all have different personalities and this applies for teachers as well. So I’d probably want to sort out all our expectations before plunging headfirst into the work itself.

Would you be open to organizing festivals?
YES! OF COURSE! ….but with the help and guidance of other teachers.

Would you be open to teaching fellow ALTs about drama games? How would you do that?
Cuz I generally like working with people and sharing skills and all that jazz, I said “Yes!”. I mentioned that I’d read the online copy of the activities compiled by JET participants over the years and stated that while I hadn’t memorised it, I’d love to read through it further and add on to it. And as for sharing this with fellow ALTs I said that I could always lead demonstrations with the help of other ALTs who might have similar set skills.

Your professor mentioned that you are “raised with sensitivities, politeness and elegance”. How would they help you in the job?
I’m hardly the most modest person, so on one hand I’m like, aww shucks. On the other hand I’m like…WHAT DO I SAY TO THAT???  So I thought for a while, and said that I was very aware of the fact that I’m going to another person’s home, so I’d do my very best to understand the customs/practices there and be a pleasant guest and not impose my views and thoughts on everyone around me. So by being such a person, I thought it would help me communicate better with my colleagues.

What is your impression of Japanese youngsters?
This was asked by the caucasian man, and it completely threw me off. I’d read articles about students and student life….but the only personal impression I had and still have of Japanese youngsters is those I met at Toho Gakuen.

At first, I said how I though the younger generation was more flexible that the older generation, but eventually went on to say that I felt like I was of the same generation as them and as such did not know if I could judge them.

I then told the man that I hoped I’d answered his question, but he didn’t reply.
O_O THAT was when the internal me was going…OH GOD…..HE HATES ME!!!

One thing you’d like to tell Japanese people about Singapore!
I truly do appreciate Singapore as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-everything country and I told them that I’d want to communicate this to my students. I said, I knew it sounded a little cheesy, but that it was one of the things I really loved about Singapore…other than the food!

The Japanese interviewer finally asked: you mentioned Sado Island in your application. Why Sado?
I’m not sure you want to read my answer to this question because I began fan-girling about the Island… :/
But in a nutshell I talked about the Noh theatre there, and Sado being an awesome place with lots of old culture…blah blah.

By the end of that, he was like…waw, you know more about Sado than most Japanese people and I was like…
ah haha….thanks!

He went on to ask: Sado is a small island and there may not be any openings there, would you be open to be posted to another part of Japan?
I was totally fine with this, and I said “It’s not that I don’t care about where I’m posted, and where I’m posted DOES matter to me. But I also think that no matter where I’m posted, there’ll be something different about the culture there. Cuz even within Tokyo there’s traditional Noh theatre on one hand and the Maid Cafes in Akihabara on the other hand…So I imagine that Japan must be a very culturally diverse country.”


And right after that, I wondered for a VERY long time if I’d said something stupid…if I shouldn’t have mentioned Maid Cafes of all things….If I’d sounded waaaaay too high on sugar…..

On hindsight, I’m really happy with the way I conducted myself at the interview. I didn’t lie about anything, I didn’t present myself as anyone other than myself and I managed to make them laugh and had some fun there myself. 😀

So yea, things turned out fine and I’m glad for it.