Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.


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Christmas in Japan 日本のクリスマス

In an attempt to spice up my Japanese studying I’ve decided to write a short blog post in Japanese at least once a week, inspired by another blogger who does the same but with Korean.  Her blog is really interesting even though I can’t read Korean haha but you should check it out anyway even just for the posts in English.  (I hope she doesn’t mind me posting it here!)

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Christmas is only 3 days away but it reaaally doesn’t feel like it, even though all the shops have been extravagantly decorated with all things Christmassy in their own adorable Japanese way, and in every supermarket you are followed down the aisles by the hollow sound of Jingle Bells in MIDI-version.  Japan actually does Christmas glitz quite well seeing as it’s not even an official holiday here.  In a way this just makes it seem even more of a sham than it did back home (I really mean the buildup to Christmas – commercialism EVERYWHERE kinda ruins the notion that it’s a day to show some love and be with family and get drunk and collapse into a food coma).  As soon as the 25th comes around, all the decorations are stripped away to be replaced by ones for New Year, which is the REAL time to celebrate for Japanese people.

So why bother with all the effort just to spend the day eating ‘Christmas Cake’? (This is what my colleagues told me when I asked them what they do on Christmas Day.  It’s actually just a vanilla cream cake with strawberries.  When I showed my students a picture of real Christmas cake they didn’t know what to make of it!)

In a way I quite like the fact that Japan has embraced Christmas so much; if they hadn’t I’d definitely be feeling even less festive as I do now.  I miss spending the dark evenings by the fire drinking Baileys, sitting on the staircase and being mesmerised by the fairy lights dancing around the porch windows, watching cheesy Christmas films on TV, lying under the Christmas tree trying to guess who’s giving what to who… although I’d never guess my presents because that would ruin the surprise.

I made mince pies to bring into the BOE today – there are only four of us in the office at the moment so I warmed the pies up in the microwave, we sat at the table together with our cups of tea and had a nice chat about the history of mince pies!!  I was quite pleased with the result seeing as I made the mincemeat and pastry all from scratch… it was my first time making mincemeat and I can’t believe how easy it is; I’ll never buy another jar again!  They all went for seconds which must be a good sign, and I can thank food once again for making me feel less like the office’s extra and helping me feel the Christmas spirit a bit more!  I suppose not really having anyone to share it with makes it difficult to get excited about… but I’m spending Christmas Day with some other ALTs who are staying in Japan, so I’m looking forward to our own day of merrymaking, which will include Secret Santa and hopefully plenty of wine consumption.

For my Japanese sections, I’ll write it up on italki first for a native to correct, then post it here so you don’t get all my horrible mistakes.  This one actually only needed two corrections which made me very happy as my previous entries have all needed drastic changes.  Yay progress!

日本のクリスマス

今年は外国で初めてクリスマスを過ごします。今まで八月から日本にいるのに、時間が飛びました!
イギリスにはクリスマスのことは絶対どこでもあります。すべてのデパートはプレゼントを買っている人で混ん でいて、ずっと陽気なクリスマスの歌を聞こえます。実は、クリスマスに至るまでの日は私を少しストレスをさせますから、日本はイギリスのめまぐるしいほど ではなくて嬉しいです。しかし、クリスマスの日は私の家族なしで同じ経験ではないと思います。代わりに、他の本国に帰らない友達と西部のクリスマスパー ティに楽しみしています。

I just got handed a Christmas card… from my anaesthetist!!!  Christmas spirit has now reached 100% capacity.


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Reflections and resolutions

As far as milestones go, 2014 has been an eventful year for me:

I turned 21, graduated university, moved to another country, started my first full-time job, and rather less fortunately broke my arm.  This year has been full of changes, and I feel like I have also changed quite a bit as a result.  Even though I’m permanently 16 in my head and I still think the 90s were ten years ago, the responsibilities that come with being a fully-fledged adult (technically) have made me realise that I’m actually in control of my life now.  Sadly I’ve also realised that independence comes with all the boring bits like sorting out bills and insurance (doesn’t help when it’s in another language) and I no longer have loving parents to whom I can thrust such baffling articles, with the assurance that they’ll be taken care of.

Over the past year, in particular the months I’ve spent in Japan, I’ve noticed slight changes in my behaviour and personality, which is a good thing I think!  I like looking back on my life in phases: I remember the music I was into, the kind of clothes I wore, the people I hung out with, the way I did my hair… but I can never pinpoint when one phase became another.  It reminds me of one of my favourite seminars I had at university about the watershed between musical periods.  Even though they all have specific dates for when they occurred, it wasn’t as if 1821 rolled around and everyone was like “Okay guys, Classical is out and Romantic is IN!”  There has to be an overlap, where the features that stand out start paving the way for whatever new ideas are being formed over time.  I feel like I’m also leaving behind the old parts of me that aren’t really relevant anymore, and creating new parts which I can develop and benefit from.

I can look back at my phases and see which features carried over to the next, and I enjoy reflecting on the good choices I made, like leaving bad friendship groups and getting rid of my block fringe.  Naturally my more regretful incidents make frequent appearances in my mind, and I automatically shake my head when I think about them as if that will somehow release the unwelcome memory into the air. Some features have never changed even though I want them to, and this is something I’ve gradually noticed and am trying to improve.  One of the biggest changes started at the end of last year when I suddenly realised I was in my final year of university and hadn’t been as socially active as I would’ve liked.  So I joined a load of societies, said “yes” more and spent time with people as often as I could instead of hiding away in the comfort of my bedroom watching Netflix.  My final semester was by far the best, as I’d made an effort to meet new people and try things I normally wouldn’t have.  I took this little lesson with me to Japan and have already made some close friends that I know I won’t let go of, something I found way easier to do here than when I was at university for some reason.

There is one thing about me which I really want to change, and although I’m trying, I still find it hard to open up to people easily and it’s like I always have my guard up.  I don’t know why I do it but it really annoys me!!  So I suppose the first step is realising my problem…  I feel like a recovering alcoholic or something.

Anyway, here are my 2015 resolutions:

  • Be at JLPT N2 level of Japanese by the end of the year
  • Cook actual recipes rather than throw anything I have into a pan and hope it works
  • Make more of an effort at my schools outside class, like set up a pen-pal club and put an English board up
  • Do my washing up straight away (this is my least favourite resolution)
  • Go somewhere new at least once a month

Yesterday I signed the contract to stay on for another year in Japan, seeing as I made up my mind a month ago and hadn’t had any second thoughts.  While two years does seem like a long time to be away from home, there is still so much I want to do while I’m here and I don’t think another 6 or 7 months will give me enough time.  One of the biggest factors was the thought of having to leave as soon as I’ve settled down, and then having to start again with another job.  After a year I’ll know what I’m doing and I’ll know my students and colleagues better, so I’ll be able to get more out of my job and not just feel like I’m constantly on this learning curve.  It’s not like I have any commitments to go back to and I won’t get this opportunity again, so England will just have to wait for me for a bit longer.  I hope I don’t regret my decision after I’ve experienced my first winter here!!  My apartment is so cold in the morning I can see my breath, then I get to work and it’s like being in the depths of hell they have the heaters turned up so high.  Only another 4 months to go until Spring…


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Back to normal(ish)

Today is my first day at work since 12th November.  Even though I don’t have any lessons today, which I’m sad about because I brought my Christmas reindeer antlers to wear, I’m really glad to be back after nearly a month of dossing about.  I could’ve been more productive with my time if I’d tried harder, but when you only have use of your non-dominant hand, it makes being creative a bit difficult… Or maybe I was just taking advantage of my masses of free time to catch up on good TV and films, including my most recent obsession Homeland, which is AMAZING.

So now I can finally type easily with both hands, I thought it was time for an update!  I came out of hospital on 1st December and spent a week at my apartment learning to fend for myself.  I thought I would miss being looked after and fed 3 times a day (I also miss loitering in the corridors at night trying to see my nurse) but actually it’s quite nice not being rudely awoken every day at 6am and forced to go to sleep at 9pm.  I’ve been given a brace to wear rather than a plaster cast so I can get my arm moving normally again, which isn’t too comfortable but it seems to be working!  Went back to hospital on Friday for an X-ray and the doctor compared it with the one from the week before, and already we could see a blurry bit forming in the break, which he said is the new bone growing.  The human body is awesome.

My bionic arm

Considering I could barely move it at all when I left hospital last week, it’s improving every day and I should be able to drive again after New Year.  Although I wasn’t due to be released until the next day, the doctors kindly let me go to the Thanksgiving party for all the ALTs in the Tsugaru region.  I was really glad I could go after assuming I’d have to miss it, and it was  good to see everyone and eat all the amazing food people had brought for free as I didn’t have a chance to make anything… there was so much left over though so I didn’t feel bad.  This is a beautiful video of the afternoon made by a very talented ALT called Essa:

Even though breaking my arm has had mostly negative consequences (my supervisor keeps telling me it’s an “experience”), mainly not being able to drive or go snowboarding this year, it’s opened up another side of Japan to me that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  Even though I had to spend 2 weeks in hospital, I didn’t hate it because the staff were so amazingly kind, despite them speaking no English, and by the time I left they felt a bit like family!  The ladies in my ward were also lovely, and I think I learnt more Japanese in that time than I have since arriving here.  I also saw another side of Japan that I found slightly more unusual.  Initially I was shocked when I heard that my BOE wanted me to stay off work for 6 weeks as it was too difficult for me to get to work, and that they would take the days out of my holiday leave, then out of my wages.  I kept thinking, what did they expect me to do alone in my apartment for 6 weeks?!  But luckily the doctor gave me the all-clear to go back to work and it was decided that one of the BOE staff would take me to work until I could drive again.  Upon returning to the office, I had to make a formal statement that ran along the lines of “I’m deeply sorry for my carelessness and for causing everyone so much trouble.”  Of course I didn’t intend to fall over and break my arm, but statements like these seem to be a good way of resolving situations in Japan so I just went with it.  My superiors were really nice about it anyway so it was fine!

When I was in hospital I was also surprised to find that my schools had each sent me a sum of money.  People don’t really send cards or gifts very much on occasions like we would in the UK, so it’s more common just to send an envelope of money.  However the recipient is usually expected to buy something in return at about a third of the value they were given, which seems a bit strange to me (why not just spend two thirds of what they intended?) but I suppose it’s a way of showing appreciation for the gift.  I think I’m slowly getting the hang of Japan…

Before…

…and after!