Apple Country

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

Wrapping up my first year in Japan

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I looked at my blog history the other day and realised I posted at least once a week when I first starting living in Japan.  Now it’s more like once a fortnight, and just because things have stopped being new and shiny doesn’t mean I don’t have stuff to say!  I’m just lazy.  I’m thinking about making this blog less focused on my personal experiences (I’ll still post them though) and more about general life and my thoughts on living in Japan.  I also want to start making comics about little things that happen here or that make me laugh.

I can’t really believe I’ve nearly been here a year already.  I’ve made so many great friends and it saddens me that some of them are getting ready to go back to their home countries in August.  I’m so glad I decided to recontract after all, as I would probably have gone into a deep depression if I had to leave in 6 weeks!!  I can honestly say this year has been the best of my life.  I have never had so many moments where I’ve just been walking down the street, or had someone smile at me for no reason, or been driving along the coast in the sunshine and getting this overwhelming feeling of happiness.  I know that some people on JET think that a lot of other JETs sugarcoat their experiences and just brush all the crap that happens under the carpet, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here.  Everyone glamorises their lives a little bit (some more than others, thanks to social media and overuse of #blessed) and it’s hard not to compare lifestyles with other people who won’t shut up about how great theirs is.  I could write a whole post about that but I might save it for another time as I can feel a ramble coming on.  I genuinely love my life here, and yes living in Japan and being on JET definitely has its flaws, but I have found ways to either confront them and improve the situation, accepted that that’s just the way it is and move on, or learn to cope with them differently. Some examples would be:

  • Having too much time at the BOE.  Two full days a week was unnecessary and taking its toll on my sanity, so I finally managed to get my supervisor to change it after asking him five or six times.  He said the two ALTs before me didn’t seem to mind (not true, Bridget told me they both hated it) but they didn’t do anything about it.  However if I’m going to be here another year, I’d rather not be wasting my time in a dreary office when I could be chatting to my teachers and students at school.  So now instead of going to the BOE every Monday and Thursday, I get to go to my favourite school on two Thursdays a month, an elementary school one Thursday, and only on the fourth Thursday do I have to go to the BOE again. Persistence pays off!
  • Living far away from society has its disadvantages, but I actually think it’s made me more adventurous.  I’ve got used to driving long distances and no longer mind spending two or three hours travelling to social events.  The roads here are beautifully easy to drive which is a plus, and with all that nature thrown in for me to look at, it’s not too bad really.
  • Dealing with new JTEs is always a bit awkward as you have to learn how they work and what they expect from you, and in my experience all my JTEs work differently.  When I first arrived, one of my JTEs acted cold towards me and didn’t want me to do anything in the lesson.  I was nice to her though even though we didn’t like each other, then one day I found that my desk had been moved opposite hers and she was super friendly from then on.  I spent ages making a Mario Kart game for another school and brought it every week JUST IN CASE she asked me to do something.  One day she said she had no idea what to do for the third years, and bam, I whipped out my awesome little Mario Kart characters and whiteboards and she was sold.  I also had a new JTE this year who was kinda distant with me, but last week I tried out some new ideas in my lessons which got rave reviews from the students and my JTE.  I brought in real British money, some hats, scarves and sunglasses to set up a ‘shop’ for a shopping dialogue lesson.  The students were in hysterics as one of the boys posed in my woolly bobble hat and asked the class how it looked.  Relationship with JTE (and students) magically improved!

I know other JETs have had way worse experiences, like not being used at all in school, having to find an apartment and furnish it from scratch by themselves, having a useless supervisor etc.  I’m certain your future on JET is half due to luck and half what you make of it.  I’m lucky that I live in a beautiful prefecture with an awesome JET community.  I’m lucky that my apartment is in good condition and my shower doesn’t have pipes that are prone to bursting in the winter.  I’m also very lucky that I get a free car and gas.  Being closer to Tokyo would be great just for the convenience of travelling to other places, but I honestly don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else, given the chance.  I’m so excited to begin my second year in Japan.  I don’t feel like I really made any lasting friendships at university, and the experience didn’t live up to the “this will be the best time of your life” expectations that I had when I went.  I came to Japan with fewer expectations as I knew the JET experience was very hit or miss, so I knew I had to make it work for myself.  So far I think I’ve done okay, but could do more while I’m here.  If I left now, I’d feel like I’d only done half the things I wanted to do.  I really want to make more friends in the Japanese community, but it’s hard when 80% of my town’s population is over the age of 50 and spend their days working in the rice fields.  I want to learn the koto, so I’m going to find myself a teacher.  I want to travel around Japan more.  I want to speak more Japanese to my teachers instead of relying on their English.  I want to get my language skills to a point where it would be possible to get a Japanese-speaking job.  I’m taking the JLPT N3 in two weeks so if that goes well, I’ll know I’m on my way!

Oh and… 45 days until I go home for summer 😀

8 thoughts on “Wrapping up my first year in Japan

  1. I’m glad you were able to negotiate changing your BOE arrangements, 2 days a week there sounded excessive. I was lucky, I never had to go to my BOE, I guess they knew they’d make better use of me by sending me to four schools every week.

  2. Well done! You always did make a good badger! Up looking at the poppies in the field this morning and remembering Corsica- nearly a year ago. Your yoga must have made you quite bendy by now. Glad you are enjoying sunny Fukaura. X mum

  3. Loved the photo corner btw, specially the bloke on horseback.

  4. Good read – keep them coming!

  5. How do you get driving license there?

    • Sorry I did reply to this but for some reason it ended up as a new post D;
      You have to bring your international driving license with you, then within a year of you being in Japan you have to get a Japanese license. If you’re American you have to take a practical test, but I think most other countries don’t have to do that.

  6. We look forward to seeing you in August and lovely to hear your enjoyment and love of Japan growing. See you soon ! Sheila and Mike xx

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