Good Days

There are some days when teaching elementary here is a struggle, like most jobs really. It can be hard to be motivated for the day, students can be difficult, lunch can sometimes be superbly unappealing…the list goes on. There are so many factors making the difference between a bad, mediocre or good day.

Today was a good day.

My sixth grade students did great presentations, didn’t act up (much), and asked good questions after class (which isn’t very common); I managed to avoid having to eat what appeared to be a veritable slab of konnyaku at lunch, the rest of which was delicious; and even though I was pulled out of my free period, it was into a first grade class to help with making pop-up Christmas cards and act as a human Christmas jukebox – which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s hard to not have a good time when you’re surrounded by tiny humans that go ape shit over a little paper-cube present and act like you are the best thing since PPAP.
I found myself easily happy, with a lot of things giving me reasons to smile.

Often, small as it sounds, just having a student call out to me is spirit-lifting. There is something about having “Megan-sensei!!” invariably shouted enthusiastically at me that makes me feel kind of glowy (even if I know I’m not quite a real sensei).

This is a fairly self-indulgent post, but it’s not often that I catch myself in the moment when I’m happy amidst busy-ness and consciously stop to appreciate it.

Walking out of school today into winter cold air and bright sunshine, I was able to wrap that happiness around me and enjoy it. To top it off I got out of school bang on time and managed to catch the express home. With extra time in the evening I’m on course for an intensive gyoza-making session. The blog is named this way for a reason!

((P.S. Look at this, a post about a day on the day itself *gasp*! Watch this space, I’m improving! ))


T-Shirt Tuesday

The strange messages that manage to find their way onto the kids’ T-shirts bring me no end of entertainment. Most lessons involve trying not to laugh at, or trying to work out what the person who chose the weird combination of words was aiming for. Most of them look like a dictionary has been sick on them.

So to share this confusing brilliance with you all, I am introducing T-shirt Tuesday!

To kick this off, here are some of my favourites so far:

Listen To The Music At A Comfortable Volume 

Sensible advice really.

Flush Glitter / Hear The Hope Rendezvous Songs / And I Love You / Skipping Everywhere / Poetry Mind 

You’d be shocked at how much incomprehensible writing they manage to fit onto one T-shirt.

To Affect You Message

I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a butchered version of ‘-insert touching message here-‘. Lazy.

I will keep my eye out for some more good ones for you all!

Non-Apology of a Terrible Role Model

I’ve apologised a few times for not updating regularly, so I’ve found a solution. I’m going to try and do more regular little snippet posts in-between my longer ones from now on. So, to start:

MS2: The other day I was assigned to eat lunch with the 1st graders. We were given sweet potato mochi (pictured) for dessert (a strange combo, but surprisingly not unpleasant). The thing about mochi is that you have to chew it for ages before you can swallow it, it’s a bit like some chewy sweets that you aren’t quite sure if they’re sweets or gum.

And so…I convinced the kid sat opposite me to eat the whole thing in one. She did.

It was way too much for her tiny face and she looked like an upset hamster for a concerning amount of time while she attempted to chew it.

I felt bad, but was also really proud that she accepted the challenge. I am a terrible adult.

“The Brexit Blues” or “V for Vendetta: Origins”

It was part way through the first day at my last school (MS3) that I heard about the likelihood of Brexit. I didn’t have a phone yet, so it wasn’t until I was on the way home and bumped into Nelson that he confirmed it had happened. Everything that can be said about it has been said by now, although its hard to believe it’s been so long already (again, I apologise for being so terribly behind). Like many, I was shocked by the result and extremely concerned by what I saw in the following weeks about the increased intolerance from those who felt their racist views had been vindicated by the result.
I was however, not shocked by the immediate withdrawal of the Leave campaign’s promises in regards to the NHS. Quelle surprise.

I have left this so long in fact, that it has now been followed by the equally shocking turn of events in the American presidential election. I was glued to my phone for the day, and my students became just as invested as I was as we checked the polls every few minutes during lunchtime.
As it became more and more likely that Trump would win, I began to think about how to talk about it with my students. I felt like it was something that I should do as someone that is representing the Western world to them.

It was not easy with the language barrier, but at least some of the message got through. What I wanted them to understand was: the fact that these were the presidential options for this election is horrific; that they should go home and talk to their parents about it and watch the news so that they can understand the worldwide fallout better; and most of all to be kind to one another because the hatred that has been stirred up in the US and the UK is terrifying, and while I can’t do anything about it over there, I can at least try and address forms of it here.

Now, on this worldwide platform, I want to make this point in more depth.
With all of the prejudice and hatred surrounding these events, those of us that want to make a change need to be ready to counter barriers to that change in the most effective way. Which is not to fight hatred with hatred. Not to pigeonhole or put down people who express views we don’t agree with. We need to first find out what has caused those views, and find a way to calmly discuss these issues. Most of the time people believe things not because they are bad people, but because they are ignorant or set in familiar ways that they are afraid to break away from for various reasons. Sometimes we are wrong, and we have to always keep that in mind. We need to actually listen, and get to the bottom of a viewpoint, before jumping in with accusations or acting with misplaced moral superiority.

And this: If you are going to discuss an issue with someone that doesn’t share your view, you have to know your shit. If you haven’t researched your opinion well enough, then the likelihood that you will be able to explain yourself clearly and convincingly is not high, and it could actually be more detrimental than helpful.
So if you are invested, try not to jump on social media bandwagons; do your research, then have discussions with people that have opposing opinions. If you don’t want to put the time into research, perhaps don’t engage in discussions where you are not fully equipped. This is especially important for Allies standing up for a minority that they are not personally a part of. Check your privilege. Research what you can do as an Ally that is most helpful, otherwise it could actually be damaging.

I am still working on all these things too, because I know that I easily get carried away by an idea or impatient in a discussion, and sometimes lose sight of how what I say will be taken. So I am trying to be more conscious of this now.

The last point I made to my students is the last I’ll repeat here: be kind. Try to understand those who are different from you. As the saying goes: try to treat people as you would wish to be treated.

An Ode To How Much I Dislike Being Cooked Alive In My Own Clothes

For my first few weeks of teaching the very last of the spring weather held fair, but as the summer holidays (natsuyasumi) drew near, the summer heat hit with a fury. Even during my 7am commute the temperature was borderline unbearable, just getting to the station made me feel like I’d wandered into a sauna fully clothed.

The cicadas woke, and everywhere I was followed by their insistent “min min” from trees and telephone poles. I was lucky enough not to have any singing too close to my apartment, so I could actually enjoy the unfamiliar sound without being driven mad by it.

Luckily SA is the only school I have to walk to and from, and the walk isn’t long. However, although I get the bus on the way to SB, I have to walk back. SB is also my hardest school in terms of workload – I barely pause for breath the whole day. To finish that with a 25 min walk in the afternoon heat was not my idea of a good time.

The heat and humidity had the added effect of sucking out all of my students souls and replacing them with syrup. The kids were totally wiped out, especially after running around during their breaks or swimming for Phys.Ed. It took every scrap of energy in my reserve (also drained by the temperature) to get them into the lessons.
Late June to August is also the rainy season here, and the heat cranked up yet another notch in August before winding down into blissful autumn.

Every moment I spent being cooked alive in my work clothes, I dreamed of the reasonable temperature to come in the autumn. It is nice to post this now that I have passed through the summer heat and the autumn, and now I can start complaining about the cold.

This post perfectly sums up my feelings about this:

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Karaoke Dreams

If you hadn’t heard (the name sort of gives it away) karaoke is sort of a big deal here. In Britain, where karaoke is mostly the province of the very bold and/or inebriated, it might be surprising to hear how common it is. Going out after school with friends? Karaoke. Work party? Karaoke. Missed the last train home? Ka-ra-oke.

The system is pretty straight forward. You get your room and call down to order food and drinks – there are often all-you-can-drink (nomihodai) offers – or extend your time. Just don’t plan on speaking much the next day if you really make the most of it!

Karaoke is by no means something that only the young enjoy. It definitely took me by surprise, seeing groups of suited-up business people ordering their karaoke room. Thinking about it though, there is so much more here for the older generations to do in terms of social activities. The feeling I get is that there is less pressure for adults here to take themselves so seriously (outside of work), unlike in the U.K. – especially for women. In a culture where self-expression is very different to that of western countries, there seems to be much less judgement when it comes to participation and silliness.

The way Japan caters to the older generation is perhaps to be expected with such a drastically ageing population. On top of this, the lingering expectations for women here mean that there are lots of activities geared towards attracting housewives.

Anyway, our karaoke trip consisted of: an accidental order of all the fries ever, a lot of Jamaican and Disney songs, as well as some karaoke classics from Ricky Martin, Vanessa Carlton, and The Killers. Needless to say, after a night of karaoke and a week of voice projecting in a summer-heat-sleepy class, by the next weekend I sounded like the local frogs.

Tales of the Otori

As we climbed the last stretch to Gifu castle at the other end of the funicular, Mai and I discovered a shared love of the Tales of the Otori trilogy, by Lian Hearn. We were sort of both spontaneously reminded of the story by the settings of the castle and surrounding area.

The first book, Across the Nightingale Floor, opens with a partial and (from what I can work out) paraphrased poem from the Manyōshū, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry in existence, and I love it:

The deer that weds
The autumn bush-clover
They say
Sires a single fawn
And this fawn of mine
This lone boy
Sets off on a journey
Grass for his pillow

Hearn hides the title of each book within the text of the previous book. In this case, the poem contains the title of the sequel: Grass for his Pillow. She has also brought out a fourth book set later in the original timeline, as well as a prequel (which is beautiful).

I can’t recommend these books enough! Also while checking info for this I found out Hearn has new books out. I will perhaps do a review when I can get round to reading them!