Touchaku shimashita!

 到着しました! That means I’ve finally arrived in Japan. I’ve been long overdue for a post, but this past week has been a blur. So I’ll try to give a recap of all that’s happened since I left North Carolina.

I think I am already starting to speak English like a Japanese person… so if I throw in phrases like “please enjoy”, “I look forward to XYZ”, and “let’s XYZ together” and in general the words “enjoy” and “OK”, please forgive me… Speaking English so that people understand me is pretty important and those phrases get thrown around a lot… so I am looking forward to enjoying. Let’s. Please. Okei? Okei. I think I’m turning Japanese.

Friday was Pre-Departure Orientation in Atlanta. I met a bunch of other new ALTs from Atlanta and basically was given all the details about the flight to Tokyo.

On Saturday I left for Japan. Packing was pretty stressful, somehow I managed to pack all my essentials and say goodbye to everyone. The flight was really long and I didn’t sleep at all.

Sunday we arrived at Narita. As soon as I got through customs, I went to the bathroom and peeled off my shirt and jeans and changed into gym shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt. When I walked into the stall, I almost fell into the Japanese toilet, because traditional Japanese toilets are little more than a hole in the ground. Really though.

 到着 し まし た! Esta frase japonesa significa que por fin he llegado al Japón. Sé que he tardado mucho en traducir mis mensajes al español pero esta primera semana ha sido una semana loca con un montón de actividades programadas. Así que intentaré dar un resumen de todo lo que ha pasado desde que me fui de Carolina del Norte.

El viernes había una orientación previa a la salida en un hotel en Atlanta. Allá en esa reunión nos enseñaron todos los detalles del vuelo a Tokyo y después en la cena conocí a muchos de los nuevos profesores de inglés que van a todos los rincones del Japón.

El sábado salí de EEUU. Empacar todo fue bastante estresante, pero de alguna manera logré empacar todo lo básico y luego me despedí de la familia y amigos. El vuelo fue súper largo y no pude dormir para nada.

El domingo llegamos a Narita. Tan pronto que salí de la aduana, me fui corriendo al baño para cambiarme de camisa y blue jeans a camiseta, shorts y chanclas. El verano japonés es supremamente caliente y húmedo. Cuando entré al baño, casi me caigo en el inodoro japonés, pues los inodoros tradicionales japoneses no se parecen a los inodoros occidentales, sino son poco más que un hueco en el piso. ¡De veras!

Literally a hole in the ground| Esencialmente un hueco en el piso

 I think it really hit me that I was in Japan when I saw one of the famous vending machines in the parking lot on the way to the buses to Tokyo. After about 2 hours, we got to the hotel. My first taste of Japanese food was in a Matsuya in Shibuya, the district near the hotel. I got a kimchi tofu bowl (with rice) and miso soup, which I ordered via vending machine. I found out later that Matsuya is considered fast food and not really good for you… but it’s cheap, filling, and delicious!

 Pienso que el momento cuando me di cuenta que estaba en el Japón fue cuando encontré a una de las maquinas expendedoras famosas en el parqueadero del aeropuerto cuando estábamos de camino a los autobuses. Después de aproximadamente 2 horas, llegamos al hotel en Tokyo. Mi primer contacto con la comida japonesa fue en un restaurante llamado Matsuya en el distrito de Shibuya que queda cerca del hotel. Comí un plato hondo lleno de arroz cubierto con tofu adobado con kimchi, acompañado por sopa de miso. Esta comida la pedí a través de una maquina expendedora. Después de haber comido allá en Matsuya me enteré que era comida rápida y no muy saludable… pero ¡por lo menos era bueno, bonito y barato!


So many choices! Out of the three times we’ve been to Matsuya, we’ve held up the line… good thing Japanese people are so patient!¡Tantas opciones! De las tres veces que hemos estado en Matsuya, cada vez hemos atrasado la línea… pero ¡tan de buenas que los japoneses tienen mucha paciencia!

 Monday and Tuesday were two days of orientation. It was all a blur since I was pretty jet-lagged – I woke up at 4:30am the first morning because that’s when the sun rises without daylight savings time. That night, I went out with some Atlanta JETs to an izakaya (Japanese bar) and had our own nomihodai (2 hours of all-you-can-drink beer, wine, sake, cocktails… everything). It was tons of fun. Japanese drinking culture is pretty important because it’s basically an outlet for you to speak your mind in a society where you’re expected to conform to the majority and put the needs of the “group” over the “individual.” I tried to go out for karaoke on Tuesday night, but that was a fail, so I got some much-needed sleep instead.

Wednesday we left for our prefectures! 1000 JETs left the hotel to go to every corner of Japan. After maneuvering crowds of uniformly-dressed salarymen, all the Shiga JETs got on the shinkansen (bullet train) and hung out for two hours. We all had to line up right before the train stopped in Kyoto, because you get exactly 30 seconds to haul all your stuff off the train before it zooms off to its next destination. And 2 hours later, I had to make a short welcome speech in Japanese in front of my future supervisor and vice-principal, as well as the supervisors and staff from almost all the schools in the prefecture! Being dressed in a suit in the extremely hot, extremely humid Japanese summer without air conditioning is not fun, but first impressions are VERY important in Japanese society so I just sucked it up and did what I had to do.

So far, I’ve opened up a bank account, obtained a hanko (personal seal, in Japan you stamp your name instead of signing your signature), bought some breakfast goodies, and invested in a really loud alarm clock – I’m pretty nervous about oversleeping since the Japanese are extremely punctual, and the clock I got definitely proved useful on my first real day of work!

In Japan, junior high/middle school students usually have to apply to get into the high school they want to, so right now students and parents are touring various high schools to see which one they want to attend. They had some demo classes and I went around helping the students with debates, correcting spelling and grammar errors. It was pretty fun, and I was able to motivate some of the shier students to at least try to write something on their worksheets! Middle school students are notorious for being really shy, but I was really glad that lots of the students were responsive to my efforts. I tried standing by the door and greeting the students as they came in, smiling a lot, and offering to help, so I really hope I made a good first impression on the potential students as well as the English department!

Meeting all my coworkers has been awesome. So far, I have been out to a Korean restaurant and a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant, and both have been amazing. This whole week has been really stressful and overwhelming, and I am still in the process of unpacking, but I think this upcoming year is going to be awesome. The new and current JETs in Shiga all seem like great people. Tomorrow is my survival orientation in the capital, and this weekend I’ll be able to rest more and get my body adjusted to life in Japan. The food is delicious, the scenery is beautiful, and the weather is disgustingly hot. Now I’ll have to hit the books hardcore, I’ve forgotten a lot of Japanese and I’m trying as hard as I can to remember all the etiquette rules… why can’t life in Japan just be a giant enkai (informal work drinking party with your coworkers)?

I was really hoping there would be Japanese-South Americans at school, and it looks like I got my wish! There are a few Japanese-Peruvians, Japanese-Brazilians, and Japanese-Chileans at school, as well as some students from Korea, China, and Spain. I’m pretty stoked about meeting the students, teaching them about English and American culture, and motivating them to learn about the outside world. My duties as an ALT fully start in a few short weeks, when the semester starts again! Until then, I’ll definitely gambarimasu (try my best – this phrase is extremely common haha)!

 El lunes y martes fueron dos días de orientación, con clases de métodos de enseñanza y de cómo actuar en el lugar de trabajo. Lo que recuerdo de los primeros días en Asia es un poco vago a causa de no dormir y padecer de la disritmia circadiana. El primer día me desperté a las 4:30 de la mañana porque en el Japón no hay horario de verano como en EEUU así que el sol sale antes de las 5 de la mañana cada día. La primera noche salí con otros profesores de Atlanta a un izakaya (combinación bar/restaurante japonés) y tuvimos nuestra propia nomihodai (2 horas de beber todo lo que puedas, cerveza, vino, sake, cocteles… todo). Fue muy divertido. La cultura de la bebida en el Japón ha desarrollado como una manera de liberarse del estrés en una cultura tan rígida y formal como la japonesa. La noche siguiente traté de salir para cantar karaoke, pero es difícil reunirse con amigos sin tener celular disponible, así que no los encontré y decidí acostarme temprano.

El miércoles salimos para nuestras prefecturas! Casi mil profesores salieron del hotel para ir a todos los rincones del país. Despues de navegar por multitudes de “asalariados” uniformemente vestidos, todos los que iban a Shiga se montaron en el shinkansen (tren bala) por 2 horas. Uno tiene que estar listo cuando el tren llegue a su parada, porque solo hay 30 segundos para bajar todas las maletas del tren antes de que cierren otra vez las puertas del shinkansen. Y meramente 2 horas después, me tocoo presentar un breve discurso de bienvenida en frente de mi jefe y el subdirector del colegio, además de casi todo el personal de casi todos los colegios de la prefectura. Estar vestido con traje en el extremadamente caluroso y humedo verano japones sin aire acondicionado fue super incomodo pero las primeras impresiones son muy importantes en la sociedad japonesa, asi que aguante el sudor y la incomodidad para hacer una buena impresión.

Hasta ahora, he abierto una cuenta bancaria, he obtenido un hanko (un sello personal, en Japón uno sella su nombre en lugar de firmarlo), he comprado algunas cosas para el desayuno, y he invertido en un reloj de alarma muy ruidoso – tengo miedo de quedarme dormido en la mañana ya que los japoneses son muy puntuales, y ¡el reloj me resultó muy útil en mi primer día de trabajo!

En Japón, los estudiantes de secundaria por lo general tienen que solicitar admisión en el bachillerato preferido,  así que ahora los estudiantes y sus padres están visitando varios colegios para ver cuál es la que desean asistir. Tenían algunas clases de demostración y ayudé a los estudiantes con unos debates breves, corrigiéndoles su ortografía y gramática. Fue muy divertido, y fui capaz de motivar a algunos de los estudiantes tímidos para intentar por lo menos a escribir algo en el papel. Los estudiantes de secundaria son conocidos por ser muy tímidos, pero estaba muy contento de que muchos de los estudiantes respondían a mis esfuerzos. Me paré al lado de la puerta para saludar a los estudiantes cuando entraban, sonreí mucho y les ofrecí ayuda, así que ¡espero que hice una buena primera impresión en los estudiantes potenciales!

Conocer todos mis compañeros de trabajo ha sido chévere. Hasta ahora, he estado a un restaurante coreano y un restaurante de tonkatsu (chuleta frita de cerdo), y ambos han sido muy ricos. Esta semana ha sido muy estresante y abrumador, y todavía estoy en el proceso de desempacar, pero creo que este próximo año va a ser muy chévere. Los profesores extranjeros en Shiga todos se parecen muy buena gente. Este fin de semana voy a poder descansar más y hacer que mi cuerpo se ajuste al horario japones. La comida es deliciosa, la naturaleza es impresionante, y el clima es supremamente caliente y humedo. Ahora voy a tener que empezar a estudiar japones de nuevo, porque me he olvidado un montón de frases y estoy tratando de recordar todas las reglas de etiqueta.

Tenía la esperanza de tener estudiantes de origen brasilero o peruano en mis clases, y parece que si van a haber algunos estudiantes suramericanos. Hay varios nipo-brasileros y nipo-peruanos en la escuela, y también hay estudiantes de origen coreano y chino. Las clases empiezan en unas semanas y ¡voy a hacer todo lo que puedo para prepararme para el inicio del nuevo semestre!


Crunch Time | Ya falta poco

Visited Chapel Hill for the last time on Monday. I’ll miss the feeling of driving down the highway with the windows down, listening to the radio and driving by endless trees. I definitely won’t have that in Japan, since I’m not allowed to drive a car for work purposes! So much for pretending to be back in London while driving around recklessly on the wrong side of the road…

It was great seeing friends for the last time! I went out of my way to drive slowly past the Old Well while leaving Chapel Hill. So sad… But with all the freshmen walking around aimlessly and clogging up the sidewalks, I was also glad to leave!

So sad 😦 #nostalgia

Having events like goodbye parties and goodbye dinners is definitely fun, don’t get me wrong, but they make the whole saying goodbye process longer than it needs to be, I think. I hate goodbyes! It really has been fun seeing friends and family for the last time, but it’s not like I’m going to China or anything! I’ll be back before you know it… I think.

And now, I’ve been stuffing all my new America-sized clothes and shoes into my suitcase since I’ll literally be “Big in Japan”. While I won’t has as much trouble as some of my larger coworkers (in terms of shirt and shoe sizes, thankfully my clothes sizes are somewhat readily available in Japan), I’d rather not worry about finding dress shirts and whatnot in Japan. It’s nice to be able to take one more suitcase than I could for study abroad, but one of those suitcases is probably going to be filled solely with NC stuff. Thankfully, I managed to get great items from tourist centers, universities and sports teams! Don’t think I should name any individual organizations, but they should be pretty obvious… I did manage to get a lot of baseball cards from local teams to hand out to my students!

I always feel like I’m forgetting something when I pack. Lately, I’ve been texting myself reminders so I don’t forget to pack certain things, like an external hard drive and wireless router, among other things. Surprisingly, it seems like certain electronic gadgets are more expensive in Japan than in the US, like cameras, for example. However, apparently Macbooks are about the same price in Japan… so as soon as my first paycheck arrives in the mail, best believe I’ll be on a train headed to the Kyoto or Osaka Apple Store. Maybe Southern Shiga has one! I’ll definitely have to check. What’s more, I get a teacher’s discount from Apple too! Score. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft 😛

I would post a picture of my suitcases to make this post more interesting, but just looking at them has literally given me a headache. So, instead here is a French pop song I found when I googled the phase “Big in Japan.” The singers are the same people who sing the song “Hello.” The video is kind of strange, but it reminded me a bit of the movie Lost in Translation, and it definitely showcases a wide range of things you would see only in Japan, like sumo wrestling, Shinto shrines, Japanese arcade games, crowded streets in Tokyo, etc.  I’ll be able to see all those things in real life starting on Sunday! I just have to survive a 14 hour flight from Atlanta to Tokyo… I might not make it. We’ll see.

Spanish coming soon

Welcome Letter | Carta de bienvenida

 The other day I received an official welcome letter from my base school. Now I know what subjects I’ll be teaching!

I’ll be helping with English I and some Oral Communication classes. In particular, I’m excited about the American Studies class, it has 40 students and is like an American social studies course. The class is taught entirely in English. There are also Independent Study students that need help with their final translation projects, so I’ll assist them with their work for one hour a week.

10 days left and I still have a long list of things I need to gather for my trip… ack! These past few days I’ve basically been running around town asking for free goodies from tourist offices and visitor centers and I’ve managed to collect a veritable treasure trove of pens, pamphlets, posters and postcards to give out to my new students. Hopefully that’ll get them excited about North Carolina… I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff?

 El otro día recibí una carta oficial de bienvenida de uno de los colegios donde voy a ensenar. Y ahorita ya sé qué materias voy a enseñar!

Ayudare con Ingles I y algunas clases de Comunicación oral. En particular espero ensenar la clase de Estudios americanos, tiene 40 estudiantes y se parece mucho a una clase de ciencias sociales estadounidense. La clase se imparte íntegramente en inglés. También hay estudiantes que realizan Estudios independientes y necesitan ayuda con sus proyectos finales de traducción, así que les ayudaré con sus trabajos por una hora a la semana.

Faltan 10 días para mi viaje y aún tengo una larga lista de cosas que tengo que conseguir… estos ultimos días he corrido la seca y la meca, o sea de aquí para allá y allá para acá, solicitando materiales turísticos como panfletos y postales para mostrar a mis estudiantes. Espero que estos materiales les motive a aprender sobre EE.UU.

Luck | Suerte

“In 2005, major business magazine publisher Toyo Keizai Inc. ranked Ritto as Japan’s No. 1 Livable City, noting the city’s safety, convenience, and pleasantness.”


“En 2005, el gran editor de revistas de negocios Toyo Keizai Inc. clasificó Ritto como la Ciudad Habitable Nº1 de Japón, teniendo en cuenta la seguridad, la comodidad y el agrado de la ciudad.”

Que suerte.

Alphabet Soup | Sopa de letras

This morning I got an email from my future supervisor at my main high school!  Ever since I found out I was going to Japan I’ve receiving information piecemeal about my situation next year. It probably won’t feel real until I get my contract in the mail… I looked up how long it takes for mail to arrive from Japan and it looks like a week is the average.

My supervisor apparently lived for a few years in NC! So crazy. Apparently I am the first ALT from NC to go to my high school, since Michigan and Shiga are sister states so they usually take people from Michigan. Although my predecessor is from the West coast so maybe they just take people from everywhere, I dunno.

The wait is almost over. In three weeks I’ll be on a plane to Japan… But before that, I just realized I’ve probably been throwing around a lot of JET acronyms without properly explaining what each one means. Perhaps after reading this you’ll understand better what my role in my community next year will be.

  • JET Programme – JET stands for Japan Exchange and Teaching. I think “Programme” is the British spelling since JET started in the UK in the 80’s, but “Program” is also acceptable. Participants are all called “JETs”.
  • CLAIR – Council of Local Authorities for International Relations. This Japanese government agency promotes international relations for cities and regions of Japan, and is the agency that oversees the JET Program.
  • ALT – Assistant Language Teacher. This is my position!
  • CIR – Coordinator for International Relations. With this position, you can work in offices of local governments or other organizations like universities or convention bureaus.
  • SEA – Sports Exchange Advisor, these guys promote international exchange through assistance in sports training. I think there’s like 6 of them in Japan right now, they aren’t that common anymore.
  • JTE – Japanese Teacher of English. I will be helping the JTEs at my high schools with their classes.
  • BOE – Board of Education. In my case, this is my employer.
  • TO – Tokyo Orientation, two days after arriving in Japan of information and presentations about adjusting to life in Japan.
  • ESID – Every Situation Is Different. I am really sick of hearing this one, but it really is true. JET experiences can be wildly different. For example, you could live in an urban setting, teach at elementary schools, live in a tiny apartment, and walk to work each day. Or, you could live in a rural setting, teach in high schools, live in your own house subsidized by your employer, but have to buy a car and drive 45 min. to work each day. So by hearing people’s experiences with JET, you can get a general idea of what to expect, but you also have to keep in mind that these experiences might not be applicable to every single area.

Spanish version coming soon! It is going to be interesting to try to translate these acronyms into Spanish.