Sunday, July 26, 2009

5 years in a song....

I've been asked many times in recent days to sum up my 5 year experience here in rural Japan as an ALT. There are so many aspects, both personal and professional, that I would need to talk about that I can't adequately do the experience justice in a short blog post or casual conversation at karaoke or over dinner.

To put it very simply - I have enjoyed my time here in Shimane beyond words.

This experience has been transformative for me - a life altering experience that I don't think I'll ever fully recover from - and that's a good thing.

My life here has been filled with friends and fun times, and also frustrations and sadness. The overwhelming outpouring of well-wishes from my co-workers and students these past few weeks has been really touching, and I know that the hard work I put in over the years has been appreciated.

I went to a sayonara party last night with about 10 area shogakko teachers that wanted to say Thank You to me - some have been teaching with me for 5 years. They serenaded me with SMAP's "Arigatou" at karaoke and needled me about finding a nice wife when I return to America. It was a fun party!
And they talked about my relationship with the students like I was more than just an ALT - like I was a friend and they kept using the words "famous" and "popular" which made me a little embarrassed but also good inside.

Just the previous night I was invited to another sayonara karaoke party with about 20 former students, all now in HS, and the contrast was funny. The choice of songs with the slightly drunk teachers was Eagles and Bay City Rollers and Joe Cocker, while the kids were happy to sing the latest GReeeeN or HY song and had no interest in singing English songs.

I was asked once what song I would listen to as I flew away from Japan...
and again recently I was asked to "reflect" on my time here for a local JET publication and this is the song that I found that I think pretty well sums up my time as a rural ALT.

It's a Billy Joel song from early in his career, and it's among my Top 10 favorite songs of all time...

"Summer, Highland Falls"

They say that these are not the best of times
But they're the only times I've ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own
Now I've seen that sad surrender in my lover's eyes
And I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It's either sadness or euphoria

So we'll argue and we'll compromise
And realize that nothings ever changed
For all our mutual experience
Our separate conclusions are the same
Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason coexists with our insanity
So we choose between reality and madness
It's either sadness or euphoria

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies
So we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It's either sadness or euphoria

To Shimane: Sayonara - mata ne - see you again.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

My farewell speech at Taisha Jr High School

My last day of being an ALT happened on Friday, July 17th.

I spent the day at my main Jr High School - Taisha Chu, where I first started teaching in August of 2004.

I've spent the past two weeks saying goodbye at all my other schools - some were emotional farewells, others were less so, but I knew that Taisha JH would be the one that would be the hardest for me.
Luckily, I decided to do my entire speech in English. I could have struggled with some Japanese, but then the kids would have been distracted by my muddy pronunciation and the mere fact that I was speaking full sentences. :)
So I asked one my JTEs - Mr. Toma - to stand beside me on the stage and translate what I was saying into Japanese. This gave me time in between my paragraphs to collect myself and keep it together, and it even distracted me a bit - worrying about where I should pause for the translation - so I only cried a few times during the speech.

The opening line, where I mention how hot it is, became too prophetic, as it was sooooooo hot and humid in the gym - everyone was sweating and sticky.

I got a nice surprise at the start of my farewell ceremony, when the new Kocho sensei (School Principal) made his introduction speech entirely in English. And he speaks very well - it's a shame that I've only been able to work with him since this past April.

The whole day on Friday was a special day for me - one that I will never forget. I have lots of photos, mementos, thank you cards, and memories from that day.

Here is the text of my speech:

Farewell speech for Taisha JH
July 17, 2009

Good morning everyone.
I know it’s hot today, so I will try to keep this speech short, but I have a few things I want to say on my last day here at Taisha Jr. High School.

When I first came to Japan in 2004, I was very nervous about my new job as an ALT. I had never been to Japan before, I didn’t speak Japanese and I had never heard of Shimane before.
But on my very first day in Shimane I met Moriyama Kyoko sensei - and she has been my friend for 5 years now. Everywhere I went, people in Taisha were so nice to me and welcomed me to Shimane. I want to thank some of the teachers that have been here since I first arrived in 2004, like Akagi sensei, Kojima sensei, Maniwa sensei and especially Kyoto sensei. He has been so kind to me all these years and helped me very much. And I want to thank teachers no longer here, like Sakamoto sensei and Nishi sensei for all the wonderful concerts, Ishitobi sensei and Matsuo sensei for letting me play kendo, and of course all the great English teachers I’ve taught with - Hama sensei, Kada sensei, Honda sensei, Yamamoto sensei, Ninose sensei, Nariai sensei, and Nagami sensei.
I want to thank all the current teachers here today for being patient with my poor Japanese. Also, for letting me attend so many sports events and music concerts. I also want to thank the current English teachers for all their help and patience and fun lessons. To Iwanari sensei and Sano sensei - arigatou! I have to say a special “thank you” to Mr. Toma, who has been my friend for 4 years and helped me in many ways - honto ni arigatou gozaimasu! Last, but not least, I must thank Kyoko Moriyama sensei. I once read a book in her class about a “Giving Tree” that does all it can to help her friend. Ms. Moriyama has been my “giving tree” for 5 years - many, many, many times she has helped me and we’ve had so much fun in our English classes and at school events like Sports Day that working with her is a true joy.
To all the staff and teachers at Taisha Chu - I say “Thank You!” To the students I say - you are very lucky. I have taught at many schools with many teachers. The teachers here at Taisha Chu work very hard and care so much about their students. You are all very lucky to have such nice and thoughtful teachers and staff.

Being an ALT is not a difficult job. I enjoy teaching English, talking with students, participating in school events, and talking about America. But sometimes it can be difficult to live all alone and so far from home. Therefore, many people ask me - “Jason, why have you stayed in Taisha for 5 years?” And I have many answers - I like Japan, I like Shimane, I like living in a small, peaceful town, I like my job as an ALT.
But my real answer is “my students.” All of you have become my family and Taisha now feels like my home. All the 3nen sei here today were 4th graders at shogakko when I first came to Japan in 2004. The 1nen sei were shogakko 2nen sei. Perhaps more than any other teacher here in Taisha, I have watched you grow up. I have seen you become teenagers, and seen your personalities change and develop as you got older. I have also watched older students graduate from Taisha Chu, go on to High School and even on to University. I am very proud of all my students. You are all great people and I have enjoyed getting to know all of you.
I want to thank you - the students, for being such good students all these years. For being my friend, chatting with me in English and trying so hard in your English classes. I know you can achieve anything you set your mind and heart to - I believe in you.

And I want to take a moment to give you some advice. Travel! That is my advice. Japan is a wonderful place, full of great culture and traditions. I have enjoyed learning about the history of Izumo and Shimane and been lucky enough to travel to many other fascinating places in Japan.
Many young people all over the world are very interested in learning about Japan. Please tell them about your country. There are so many amazing things to see in this world - in Africa, in Australia, in Europe and in America, that I hope you get a chance to see some of them. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and leave the safety of Japan, where you know the language and the culture. Try new things and accept new challenges. I was a little scared when I first moved to Japan, but these past 5 years have been among the best in my life. I took a chance and I made many mistakes, but that’s ok. There is a saying - “Failure is the stepping stone to success.” (Shippai wa seikou no moto) I agree - learn from your mistakes and continue to to do the best you can.
When you travel to other countries, the language you can use almost anywhere is English. I know it’s hard now, at age 13 or 14, to see how important English can be, but if you study hard, English can be your ticket to the world.

Anywhere I go in the world after today, I will always carry in my heart many precious memories of my time here at Taisha Chu.
I have really enjoyed so many school events, like Sports Day, Culture Festival, your club competitions and concerts and graduation. My favorite activity has been the English Speech contests, where Taisha Chu has won many prizes.
I hope our classes together have been interesting and even fun sometimes. I will miss playing games and reading the book together and helping you study.
I have thousands of pictures in my computer of students and events at Taisha Chu. Smiling students, laughing students posing with the peace sign -students arm in arm - together as friends. I also have thousands more trapped in my mind - moments frozen in time that I will remember always.

I will never forget all the fun moments and smiling faces. I will never forget all the times we chatted in the halls between classes, all the lunch times we spent together, all the sports events where I cheered you on to victory, all the concerts where I heard wonderful music. I will never forget all the friends I have in Taisha.
Thank you so much for being my friend. I am very sad to leave, but I am happy to know that anytime I come back to Taisha, I will see so many of my friends again.

Please show the new ALT the same kindness you have shown me. Just like me when I first arrived, he will be very nervous. So please introduce yourself in English and welcome him to Taisha Jr. High School.

It’s very hard to leave, but I know I will see you again. So instead of saying Sayonara, I will simply say mata ne - see you again.

Thank you very much for listening.

And after that I had a great day - chatting with my kids, taking more pictures, playing kendo after school and then going to a really nice teacher party in the evening.

Lots more to do before I leave Japan, but I wanted to take a moment to remember this special day.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Preview of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya - 2009

For the next two weeks I'll be enjoying my last Sumo tournament for a while.

This is my rundown of where the wrestlers are in the rankings and what to expect during this basho.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Like bubblegum with a wafer in the middle

1. Products in Japan amuse me at times. Especially when they misuse English.

2. School farewells are tough - I have two more tomorrow and three next week. Gambarimasu!

3. Japan in the summer sucks! OK, ok - it doesn't suck, but damn it's hot!

4. I didn't mention it in this vlog - but I got to go swimming with about 12 of my students yesterday at the school pool. It was so refreshing and fun! 12 boys who are in the "Fun Sports Club" get to use the pool after school and I was asked to join them. We had a blast! I may be a fat old geezer, but I can swim like a fish. :D

5. I can't wait to be back in the States to drink regular Pepsi again. It's sad that I'm looking forward to cola... :P

6. This video is over 10 minutes long - if you watched all the way to the end I owe you a sticker! :D


PS - the really sad thing is I don't even chew gum.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Getting your hair cut in Japan

A skit and an interview - 8 minutes of pure goofiness. :)

My good friends at the local hair salon - Carriere - are fans of my blog and YouTube channel - so I asked them if they would like to be in a video with me. They said "mochiron."

The skit is meant to show that even with minimal Japanese you'll still be able to get by - use the Japanese you know and you'll be surprised how much English some shopkeepers and other folks know. Fumiko didn't really know what I was going to say/do in the skit, so she did a pretty good job of being a Japanese person. :D

I really have enjoyed each visit to the salon - I've come to think of it as my most pure Japanese language relationship. Fumiko and I chat about world events, sports (she likes sumo too), local gossip - all kinds of things - and we do it almost entirely in Japanese. She doesn't want to practice her English on me, like so many Japanese adults do when you meet them, and we don't have to talk about school, which is refreshing.
My Japanese was pretty bad when I first arrived in 2004, but she's been really patient and we've had a great time chatting along the way these past 5 years.

I hope you enjoy the vid!