Apple Country

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


Strong and beautiful women are “heavy” women – for real! (Guest post)

I’ve been following this blog for a while and LOVE every post, but I felt I had to reblog this one. Although I always knew it but could never quite get myself to truly believe it, posts like this have made me realise that a person’s size and weight doesn’t define their health and happiness.
As a heavy gal, I’ve finally realised that this is just how I’m supposed to be. Although I’m not tall, I have big bones and a fair amount of muscle, which puts me on the line between normal and overweight if I look at my BMI. I realise that it’s all bullshit now and I haven’t weighed myself since last summer because a number can’t tell me how healthy I am, when the evidence lies in how I feel inside.


I’ve been inspired to write this post by two amazing feminist-forward events in the last seven days – one of them local, and one of them global.

LOCALLY – as in, right here on this blog – the smart and beautiful Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany, who is seven years old and also wise beyond her seven years, wrote a moving post about wanting to be “strong” rather than a pretty princess, because princesses NEVER get the chance to save themselves, and because strong is pretty freaking beautiful in a woman. I cannot tell you how much I loved this post, and how much I admired Sage for writing it. Please check it out if you missed it!

GLOBALLY, the (EXTREMELY STRONG AND THEREFORE VERY BEAUTIFUL) female rowers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities made history last Saturday when they competed in the first ever women’s Boat Race on the Thames Tideway, alongside their male counterparts…

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American English vs. All other English

This morning, I was called into the principal’s office at one of my schools.  I could just imagine all the teachers in the staffroom turning their heads and ooooh-ing at me as I walked out the door, but we are all adults here.  He’d come to watch my lesson earlier, so I had to assume it was something about that.  I brought my diary with me anyway just for something to hold on to.

We sat facing each other on the fancy brown leather sofas and he explained the situation: my British accent is confusing the students, who are learning from a curriculum based on American English, and therefore it would be better if I spoke with an American accent.  I expected they would be more familiar with American English as I only teach them once a week anyway, but this request took me by suprise.  He said he had spoken with the students about it and they agreed that my accent is indeed quite different when compared to the recordings they listen to during class.  I told him I understand and that I always make an effort to use American spellings and words during the lesson instead of British English (which already pains me to do), but it would be difficult for me to speak with an American accent.

“But don’t you have American friends?” he said.  Yes… but that doesn’t mean I can talk like them!  Your school’s English teachers are fluent (well… almost) in English but still retain their Japanese accents, so go figure.  And do you really think I’m going to be able to keep that accent up for a whole hour?!

I told him again that I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea.  “Just try,” he said.  I suggested that if they didn’t understand a word, then I could try saying it the American way.  He said that two different pronunciations would only confuse them more.  By this point I was completely flummoxed by the whole situation and said I would do my best, as it didn’t seem like I was going to get him to see it from my point of view and I wanted to go back to my coffee.

I posted what happened on Facebook to get some opinions from other ALTs.  As I was writing, I realised that it’s just another example of jumping through the hoops of the Japanese education system.  Asking me to speak with another accent not only completely misses the point of representing my cultural identity, but considerably limits students’ understanding of English as an international language.  American is not the only accent in the world.  In reality, you do occasionally meet English speakers from other countries.  What then?  “Sorry, I don’t understand you.  Please can you speak like an American?”  A friend suggested that I should start speaking in a Southern drawl and see how they like that accent.

I’ve witnessed many examples of the unwillingness to bend the rules in Japanese society, but this one caught me by surprise.  Exam results are important, but languages require a little more freedom.  A huge part of the JET Programme is about international culturalisation.  How can I do that when I can’t even represent m own country properly?  I would’ve explained this to him, but our whole conversation was in Japanese and these thoughts would’ve taken me a little longer to compose!  Going to see what my supervisor thinks about it.  What confuses me more is that my town actually asked for a British ALT…

Have any other ALTs out there had anything like this?


Sakura, Temples and Naughty Deer

That’s probably how I’d sum up the week with my sister when she came to see me in Japan.  We actually arranged her early April visit without knowing that cherry blossom season would be in full swing, so it was the perfect time for both of us to experience Japan during its prettiest time of year.

I headed to Tokyo by myself first to spend the weekend with some friends from university (I also got to fulfill my dream of going to the Ghibli museum!), then met up with Lindsey on Monday morning.  In my slightly hungover state and Lindsey in her jet-lagged daze, we weren’t feeling too fresh, but we somehow managed to fit eight hours of exploring into our day.

The first thing we did was get a panoramic view of Tokyo from the top of the Government Building.  This was the first thing I did when I arrived in Japan so it felt a bit weird and nostalgic.  Before Lindsey arrived, I’d discovered the huge supermarket/deli in the basement of Shinjuku station, so we got some sushi (including anago which is my FAVOURITE even though it’s eel) and fancy cakes which we ended up not really eating because omg so much chocolate.

We had our lunch underneath the cherry blossoms of Shinjuku Gyoen and wandered around the park just being amazed at how pretty it was, and ruining people’s selfies by standing right behind them.  We later walked to Harajuku and did purikura (I’ll post a photo later) but the road was so crowded we genuinely couldn’t move for about ten minutes, so we didn’t go THAT way again.

We met up with my friend in the evening and went to a yakitori place.  Despite not really liking it when I first came to Japan because I thought it was all chicken hearts and stuff, we’ve eaten it whenever we’ve met up so I get him to order everything and it turns out there’s a lot of variety!  It’s pretty much Japanese tapas but with an emphasis on chicken. I love tapas.  One of our favourites is just a bowl of raw cabbage, which we tear bits off and dip in the sauce… Japan knows how to make the simplest food taste good.

The next day was spent roaming around Asakusa, seeing Rev. Run (of Run-D.M.C.) and his family and camera crew which gave us a right giggle, and eating the best and biggest mango kakigouri (shaved ice with syrup) of my life.  We tried to go to the Imperial Gardens but dunno what happened because it seemed like there was nothing really to see and we couldn’t work out how to get to the actual gardens but nevermind.

We were heading to Osaka by shinkansen the next afternoon, but managed to fit in a trip to the Korakuen garden which was very pleasant.

Tokyo (click the photos to make them bigger)

I love Kyoto so seeing some of the same attractions I did with mum and dad didn’t bother me, as they are simply stunning.  Kinkakuji is probably one of my favourite buildings.  We also saw its silver sister Ginkakuji which I hadn’t been to before, although that one never actually got its coating done, so it should probably just be called Kakuji… (Just looked it up and it’s officially called Jishoji, “Temple of Shining Mercy”, so there you go.)  I preferred the gardens at this one, particularly for the view of Kyoto at the top and the sand garden.  We saw yet more temples in the afternoon, then evening came and we headed to the bustling alley of Pontocho near the geisha district to find somewhere to eat.

We bravely chose somewhere which was clearly not catered for tourists, hidden away down a side alley lined with softly glowing lanterns.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was ordering but we got some delicious mackerel with rice, tempura, tofu and sesame salad and THE BEST pork I’ve ever had.  So crisp and juicy.

The next day we were kinda beat from all the walking, so we set about Kyoto with a little less vigour than before.  Highlights were the orange gates of Inari shrine (which I forgot to take pictures of!) and Nishiki market.  We had dinner at an okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) restaurant which covered five floors of one building.  I love any meal where we get to cook it ourselves, so that was fun.

Kyoto and Osaka

We spent our last full day together in Nara, which I was really looking forward to because I’d never been and was desperate to go to its famous park and hang out with all the deer.  I was not prepared for how dauntless those deer would be.  I made the mistake of buying some crackers and within moments I’d been targeted.  They formed a circle and it wasn’t long before they started pushing me and biting me on the arse to get a cracker.  Meanwhile Lindsey was being terrorised on a whole other level and I would’ve taken a photo if my hands hadn’t been full of crackers and I wasn’t trying to avoid being chased across the park myself.  They were quite cute though when they weren’t being naughty, and they knew it.  They reminded me of a certain dog I have.

The temple itself was the largest wooden structure in the world until 1998, and even though it’s been rebuilt a few times like many historic buildings in Japan, it was still really impressive.  Original construction of the Buddha was completed in 751, but has been recast several times due to reasons such as earthquake damage.  The hands were my favourite part – the last time they were remade was in the 17th century.  The photo I got of the whole statue is a bit crap so you can’t really tell that the Daibutsu is the largest bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha in the world!

So yeah I enjoyed this temple a lot.  We finished up with a nice lunch, went back to Osaka and hung around the castle, then had our last dinner – yakitori!  It was fancy yakitori though.  I was so confused by the seating at first because it looked like we’d have to sit on the floor, but the room was actually built on a platform so you could put your legs in a sunken bit under the table.  I still have trouble sitting in seiza so this was a relief.


Going on holiday always amazes me because I do so much more in one day than I normally would.  It depresses me that it’s already past lunchtime and I could be walking around a city somewhere, but instead I’ve just studied Japanese and written this blog post.  The break was definitely needed though!  And now I’m counting down the days until my solo trip to Beijing…(20!!)