About Me

maker, creative, living lightly, local, craft, minimalism, and taking joy in the small things

Thursday, 28 February 2008


The activity in the 8th grade class was to make a dialogue, based on one from the book.

The dialogue from the book:
Clerk: May I help you?
Judy: Yes please, I'm looking for a sweater
C: What kind of sweater are you looking for?
J: Something green
C: How about this one?
J: I like it, but it's too small
C: Shall I show you a bigger one?
J: Yes please. Oh! This is nice. How much is it?
C: It's 5000 yen
J: Ok, I'll take it.

The English teacher made up one as an example:
Board of Education Supervisor: May I help you?
Teacher: Yes, I'm looking for a JET
BOE: What kind of JET are you looking for?
T: A cheerful one
BOE: How about Kate?
T: I like it, but is there a quieter one?

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ikebana - the withered parts

So usually at Ikebana we just play with pretty flowers and it's lots of fun. Kiyoko-san doesn't speak English, but we gesture and get by. She owns an electronic dictionary that can speak - so when we are desperate we turn to that!

Today she wanted to teach us the 'father' and 'mother' parts of the peach blossom flower. The mother part is the flowers, while the father part is the withered old growth... charming!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Valentine's Day

Oh Valentine's Day in Japan... Well for one the girls are meant to give the boys presents ONLY!

I, however, was lucky enough to receive 2 cards! Actually, the cards weren't given voluntarily. The English teacher asked the students to write cards - and that the cards had to be written to the teacher whose name the student drew out of the hat.

One card was quite simple: "Dear Kate, Thank you for your kindness. From...."

The second (pictured) was a lot more interesting. To begin with I'm not sure if "your glass is kind of nice" refers to my classes, or my glasses. Also "Your voice is a gift from God, and also your father" was a bit of a surprise! But then the English teacher explained that it comes from the textbook story of an opera singer. I don't know if I would claim that my voice was akin to an opera singer's.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

6 months more

I have been in Japan now for more than 6 months. I had hoped that 6 months would be a big milestone, but really it means nothing more than half of my time here is done. I suppose I have realized a few things. Teaching is not for me – I don’t really enjoy doing the classes, though I do like preparing for them and making the materials. That’s not to say I don’t like the students or teachers, but I am getting a bit tired of being a performing monkey/human tape recorder. Too often my job involves me saying English words or phrases, and having the students repeat them. At some other schools a visit from the ALT (me) just means fun and games – the students don’t actually expect to learn anything while I am in the classroom. It is becoming obvious that the teachers don’t expect me to teach either – my visits are cancelled when the students need to study. I have been told that classes are more efficient without me. Obviously I took it personally in the beginning, but now I don’t care. They have a lot of material to get through in each textbook so the students can pass the tests, and get into high school. So it’s not that I am a terrible teacher, but my visits are meant to be about spoken activities, and the students aren’t ever tested on their speaking abilities. I must say though, it does make me wonder why they bother to organize this JET program… However, some of my friends in other places work quite hard – often at school until after 5pm (when I go home at lunchtime) and involved in the lesson planning and marking. I suppose it’s because I go to so many schools that I am usually only asked to prepare a warm up game. Sometimes I get asked to make a worksheet, but then inevitably the school changes the plan and the worksheet I’ve made is useless!

I don’t want this to sound like I am having a terrible time. I am cold – as most of you know. It’s not colder than Canberra (though it is colder than Melbourne), but the heating here is terrible, so it’s that I am always cold which is the problem. I am beginning to feel like winter is never going to end. A week ago February was really nice and sunny, but over the last few days the weather has worsened, to the point of snow all day yesterday (Feb 13). I am struggling because I am not used to being cold all the time. Riding my bike everywhere means that I can’t wear my super heavy winter coat because it’s too restrictive. I wish I had thought about that when I was packing!

I do like Hagi – I sort of have a routine now, though there is no routine with my school visiting schedule. I have Japanese and Ikebana classes, and I have made some foreign and Japanese friends. My Japanese is very slowly progressing. I spend a lot of time asking people to repeat themselves, and speak more slowly! I maybe understand 5-10% of what’s going on around me! It’s quite frustrating only understanding words here and there – though it does motivate me to learn more!

I am glad I came – I have definitely used this break well. And it really is a break for me – given my work hours! Our contract has our working hours as 8.30-4.15 but I am usually home by 2pm! I am definitely going back to Canberra to do legal workshop so I can be admitted as a lawyer. I think I will do it part time over 12 months so I can get a decent, and relevant, job at the same time. I also think I will continue to work on my Japanese when I get back – I feel like I have made a lot of effort so far, so intend to keep studying when I am back in Australia and take a proficiency test next December. I hopefully don’t see myself in Canberra after I have done workshop – so September 2009 should be the end of my time there! Not that I know where I am going, but I think that it will be time to leave ‘Canboring’.

About half of the group I started with are leaving Japan at the end of the contract – the other half are re-contracting for a 2nd year. It’s been great to make friends with people from all over the world. I have also used Japan as a good travel base – though I have only been to Singapore for Christmas so far I have a few more trips planned – Bangladesh, a trip around Japan and then to Korea. Me being here has also meant a few of my friends have/will do trips to Japan! Geoff will have been here twice, and a few others will get a different experience by visiting Hagi than just visiting the big cities in Japan.

Of course I’ve missed people back home. It’s been strange living by myself – not that many others would fit in my apartment for more than a night or too!

I am glad I came, but I am looking forward to starting the next phase of my life in September!

Let it snow!

Yesterday morning (feb 13) I woke up to this!

I went outside and my little bike hut had protected my bike!

And can you think of anything more normal than handing the 6th graders some rakes and telling them to clean the snow off the plants???

This is what I looked like after riding my bike to school!

Apparently last year there was also a freaky February snow storm too! It really snowed all day, however it didn't really stick to the ground, and what had been deposited there overnight melted pretty quickly when we had short bursts of sunshine!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Dear Sweet Dot's sister or brother

Dear me, the Engrish around here just gets better and better!

Latest Ikebana sensation

My latest ikebana creation! Also, as today is Geoff's birthday, after class we ate doughtnuts and did "kampai" with hot mik tea!

Actually, class today was quite long - and Kiyoko-san tried to teach us so much kanji! Aaah, got quite tricky.

Friday, 8 February 2008

How I entertain myself...

This week I have taught for a grand total of 8 periods - and this included 1 period of breadmaking and eating (see the previous post) and 1 period of playing Japanese card games with the 1st and 2nd graders at an Elementary school. Actually, I managed to win one of the card games, even though I had, and still have, no idea of how to play the game. In fact, on Friday I had no classes. There was 1 English class scheduled, but the Japanese teachers decided it would be more efficient to have those classes without me. So instead today I made a poster about English proverbs. Given I had HOURS to spend on it, I got a little too creative with coloured paper!

Actually, I often have a lot of spare time at most schools, but especially at Hagi Nishi! So over my time I have been known to go a little wild with coloured paper a few times... here are some of my creations!

Left is my Australia Day Special

For Halloween I attempted to introduce Hamlet's 3 Witches to the school (right)

Christmas Confession - I only made the tree, and all the students had to make decorations in class.

Eating in Class! Practically illegal in Japan!

On my lesson plan on Wednesday just gone it had "bake bread" as the theme. Firstly, I wasn't sure if we were actually going to bake bread, or just talk about it. Secondly, I was worried that I would have to explain how to do it! Thankfully they employ home making teachers in Japan! So I went to the Special Ed class, and watched them make the bread (they had already mixed and kneaded etc in first period so all they had to do was roll up the dough with chocolate or sausage and put it in the oven. So while the bread was baking I was actually expected to teach some English - easy though, the relationship of hour, minute and second... then the bread was done! Now I remember back in high school we would just take home whatever disgusting mess we had created in home ec but here it is much more civilised. The home making teacher made tea for everyone (proper black tea) and we sat down and at the bread... best English class ever.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Nothing says I love you like Hello Kitty!

Every week in my supermarket there is a different 'stall' - crockery, kitchenware, furniture, clothes, seasonal food - and of course, who could forget the delightful laundry supplies as Christmas presents stall! Mostly, these stalls are up for 1 week then the next one comes in - and there is not an everlasting supply of different ones. Now I have been here 6 months I think I have seen most of them twice. At Christmas the laundry supplies were available for about 2 weeks, and it looks like the Valentine's Day products will be out for the next couple of weeks. Of course, there are the standard boxed chocolates selection, but this being Japan there are also some delightful other options. Most of your favourite cartoon characters can be found adorning a chocolate box - Kitty chan, Doraemon, Pokemon, the Dragon Ball Z characters and Snoopy. Of course, there is also some great engrish - my sweet happy heart (trans: i love you?), dear hold me (presumably "hold me dear" the wrong way around). Also, there is a surprisingly large collection of 'adult' candy on the open shelves (very rare in Japan, given that kind of stuff is usually only available in vending machines) - the best thing about the adult candy is that all the packaging is covered in photos of gaijin (foreigners) - seeming to say, there is no way a real japanese person would want this stuff!

Another temperature related post

Every school possesses a red flag, and the Vice Principal controls it. If the flag is hanging outside the teachers room it means that the heaters can be used in the classrooms. If it's not hanging then all the kids will be cold all day.

So as you can imagine I look for the red flag when I arrive at the schools. And all the schools have different rules - some schools hang the flag if the temperature is less than 8, and other schools wait until it is less than 6 degrees (no prizes for guessing which schools I prefer). One of the English teachers and I amused ourself yesterday thinking of ways to distract the Vice Principal to steal the flag and hang it out. Of course, heaters in the teachers room can be used regardless!