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Showing posts with label Teaching English on the JET Programme. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teaching English on the JET Programme. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

First Day On The Job

This past Monday, I started work at a new job, as the so-called Editor-in-Chief at a national magazine celebrating its 80th anniversary with the very next issue going out in one week's time.

What, me worry?

Actually... no.

Before any new or somewhat traumatic event, the evening before is such a stressful time that I break out in acne, have a twitchy stomach or fail to go to sleep.

But last night... much like the night before I had my first team-teaching event on the JET Programme in Japan at Ohtawara Junior High School in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back in September of 1990... I was actually kindda calm.

Back then, I had just reinvented myself a couple of years previous upon entering the journalism program at Humber College in Toronto... becoming more outgoing... less shy, and infinitely more talkative.

I know, I know... you can't believe I was shy or not talkative, but I was. Painfully so. I was still afraid to talk to women, but I did - and even had a few dates... and by the second year, I was dating three women at once. A blond, a brunette and a redhead. Really.

I wasn't sleeping with them, and if you asked any of them they would have said we had gone out on dates (plural), but we weren't dating. Pa-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe. What's important is how I interpreted it in my head... part of the reinvention process.

I learned I really could control how I felt. If I felt like it.

As such... the night before my first class, I wasn't nervous at all.

What's the worse that could happen? I had finally unleashed the gift of gab I had always possessed amongst my small cadre of nerdy friends (I'm a nerd), so having stage fright talking wasn't going to happen.

And besides... my first class... and all of the first time appearances in front of other classes... and at six other junior high schools... that was to be my self-introduction.

That's where I talk about me to others. Tell them about myself... who I am... who and what I have done in the past... tell them about others in my life...

It was the forerunner to my blog. In an oral tradition rather than written down.

And... while all I did was talk in English while the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) translated my ramblings into Japanese, I realized for perhaps the first time, that MY story wasn't as dull as I thought it was when I was living it.

They really loved that Neapolitan ice cream joke regarding those three different hair colored women.

And here's why... the young guys in the class all thought I was a pervert for dating these women at once - which was both an insult and a compliment by them, I soon realized... as after class they gathered around to ask me more questions in English (!!!)... and the young dudettes... they were trying to figure out just why this nerd was able to get three women to go out with him...

News of that triple-dating scenario actually made the rounds outside of the school, as older brothers and sisters were told... and later when I finally broke up with Ashley (or she with me, depending on how revisionist we want to be today), I suddenly had all of these single, young Japanese women - the older sisters of my students, it would appear - wanting to date me.

I've already written about that in other blogs...

The point? Confidence begets more confidence. Or something like that. Hmmm... I thought I had a better point to make. Oh well.

As for my first day at my new job yesterday? Well... I managed to spill hot coffee down the front of my shirt. Comedy gold.

Still... it didn't bother me, or I didn't let it bother me, and had a really fun time.

Somewhere with a drinking problem,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 16, 2015

Home Depot and Rona: Tales of Japan

Okay, I'll come clean right at the beginning. This story is NOT about big box hardware stores Home Depot or Rona, but despite that, the headline is appropriate. 

Let's pretend it's 1993 again.

For the nearly three years now, I've been living and growing up to teenagerhood as a now 28-year-old in the rural city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

That is to say I'm an assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme and I'm preparing to go back to Canada after being anything from mature to intellectually simplistic during my stay - specifically where women are concerned.

Anyhow, while I am in the process of having to leave my own Tokyo Disneyland with no job prospects back in Toronto, no place of my own to live (I have my parent's), and no Noboko.

Noboko is my Japanese girlfriend and the love of my brief life and while I would give all those great expectations of Toronto up for the chance to live my life with her in Japan, her unhappy father (unhappy with her dating a foreigner or dating me) has caused me to not know exactly what Noboko's plans for the future are... which, of course, means I have no idea what my plans for the future are.

Sounds like a plan. I just don't want that to be something that hangs like a dark non-silver-lined-cloud over me the rest of my life.

So... in the meantime I am making plans as though I am indeed exiting Japan per the terms of my third one year contract on JET.

At work - any of the seven junior high schools I taught at in Ohtawara-shi - there was resolution, as I said good bye to students, many of whom I had seen grow up these past three years, to be fine youngsters, all of whom by 2015 probably have kids of their own who are the same age as their parents were in 1993.

By April of 1993, I was already aware that despite the glowing performance of myself as a JET participant these past three years, OBOE was not continuing its affiliation with the Programme.

Rather than pointing fingers, it was pointed out to me that the OBOE's decision was a political one.

Ohtawara's esteemed mayor Sembo (who was there in 1990 and is still there in 2015), had decided Ohtawara should utilize its sister-city status with St. Andrews, Scotland and hire an assistant English teacher from there.

So, they opted out of JET and hired a Scotch lass named Rona MacKenzie.

I laughed when I found out, as I pictured my students learning to roll their "R's" like a Scotsman.

I had already communicated a few letters to her, regarding the ins and outs and what to bring to Japan and to the OBOE people, but other than that, I was purposely vague - not wanting to build up or spoil any of the surprise 

I'm was sure she'd have a good time in Ohtawara and Japan.

Years later - I have no idea if she did.

Regardless... I broke JET in Ohtawara-shi.

Andrew Joseph 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Teaching In Japan - To Boldly Go

Despite my claims to have been a junior high school AET (assistant English teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, my writing in these blogs doesn't really back it up.

But it's true.

Working with and for the Ohtawara-shi Board of Education office (OBOE), I spent four days a week (Monday through Thursday) at one of the seven middle schools in the city (I think there are more schools as the city has expanded since I left).

I would spend Friday at the OBOE catching up on paperwork (20 minutes of report writing on my past work week) and then writing letters to home on my computer (this WAS all before e-mail and the Internet as we know it) and composing either comedic or dramatic short stories or It's A Wonderful Rife (as it was originally called - even for the first couple of years in this blog) true stories for various JET publications in different prefectures or for an English-language weekly newspaper or two (getting a few yen on the side for each of those - so even 22 years ago, I was a professional writer for my Rife tales).

But teaching… ah, teaching… I did do that sometimes.

The majority of the people who were on the JET Programme took their AET duties very seriously.

They wanted nothing more to have everyone in their classes (in those days there were NO elementary school or university AETs) to be able to spew out English as the native speaker team-teaching them.

But not me.

There's great expectations and then there's a dickens of reality. Believe it or not, I am a realist. A dreamer, yes, but still a realist. It makes for many a moral dilemma internally.

When I was hired to go teach in Japan, everyone involved knew I was not a teacher - at least not of English. I was a newspaper reporter with the then-top newspaper in Canada. I was a piano and clarinet teacher making a few bucks on the side. And in my free-time, I coached women's soccer at various levels. I was reasonably smart, funny, easy to talk to and damn, could I communicate.

Actually, there should have been a question mark there. Could I communicate with the Japanese?

Hell yeah. That photo at the top is me with a class of students at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School) in Tochigi-ken. I'm the tall guy in the ever out-of-date sweater and tie. Check it out. The students are paying attention and appear to be having a good time. How the hell is that possible? How did they even understand me if I couldn't speak their language? 

Pantomime was one way. A few choppy words in Japanese and in English - everyone understood me as long as a long conversation was not required. Then again, there was always someone there who could speak English better than the others, or a friendly neighborhood gaijin (foreigner) who could wakata (savvy) the Japanese lingo better than anyone else had a right to savvy.

Those latter people were always my friends and always close at hand.

While Japanese schools do five full days of learning' plus a short day until around Noon on Saturday, I did four days… and they sure weren't full.

Now… I am talking about those days - a long time ago - back in 1990-1993. Holy schmengies, grandpa! Yeah, yeah. Bite me. Age brings wisdom. Plus senility. But I wouldn't know about that. I hope. Maybe I've forgotten.

JET, back in those days - well, I was part of the second wave of international gaijin in Japan on the still new JET… back when JET was so new they were still trying to quantify if having gaijin come over to teach English to Japanese kids was valuable... unlike nowadays when they are trying to quantify if having gaijin come over to teach English to Japanese kids was STILL valuable.

We must have proved it was, but I'm betting it was because of a different reason than what exists now.

You'll see… because my role as an AET may seem quite lame and ineffectual… except that maybe it wasn't.

I was a human tape-recorder set to "repeat after me".

My pronunciation was and is pretty damn good. I can enunciate to ensure people can hear all of the letters to pronounce a word the correct way.Plus I have a deep voice and when necessary a very loud one - and I'm not afraid to show it off in a loud arena or stadium.

Ashley (my ex-girlfriend), though she was from Georgia and did say "y'all" a lot after a few beers, could and did say "you all" where applicable to the Japanese. Her pronunciation was pretty damn good, as well.

What is interesting to note, is that Ashley was teaching at the Ohtawara Boys High School, and as such, the older students were ONLY five years younger than she was when she first arrived.

Me? I taught grades 7-9 - so 12-15 year-olds… so despite a 10 to 13 year disparity in physical age, there was none in mental age.

We could have fun.

Over those four days when I had to go to a school, out of the five periods of classes in a typical day, being busy meant I would have to go to three of them.

Most of the time I would do either two or three classes a day… sometimes one.

I believe I did four once. I was not happy, as it cut into my free time to do the Daily Yomiuri newspaper crossword puzzle, or to write letters home or to write a story or even do a bit of studying of Japanese… something I did fairly often for at least the first 18 months of my stay in Japan.

So… I worked maybe three hours a day.

Yeah, I stood around a lot, but I was used only when reading was involved - NOT when the JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) were teaching grammar - which they did in classes I was not asked to visit.

Thank god. I may know how to read, write and speak English at a higher level than most people on the planet, but I sure as hell don't know the complexities of grammar rules. I just automatically know what words work well together and in what order. Don't ask me to find the gerund or anything related to split infinitives. Sure I know the famous Star Trek one (the blog title, baby… I know it should be "to go boldly"), but I don't know why.

It's my lack of English grammar skills which precludes me from learning a foreign language… you kindda have to know the rules of your native tongue first. Swell. LOL.

Swollen tongue aside, a typical class revolves around me reading a story or a passage from an English book. Slowly and clearly.

The students will follow in their books, but can hear MY pronunciation of English words and can, hopefully, vocalize it when it comes time for them to read for themselves in front of the class.

Now… despite the high level of English language skills and rules mastered by the JTEs, what is lacking is their pronunciation of many English words… even of certain alphabet letters.

You learn pronunciation from hearing… and if no one can pronounce things as they should, the errors, if you will, will continue.

That's where JET and the AET come in. We are there to teach pronunciation... at least that's how I was utilized. It certainly was necessary, in my opinion.

So… I have no problem in being a human tape recorder. I never had any grand allusions or delusions about being an English teacher. I never was back in Toronto.

I once had an intimate conversation with Mister Inoue... the head of English at the Ohtawara Junior High School. He had been a teacher for 20 years at that time, was involved in student discipline, was well-liked and well-respected by the student and teachers alike.

We discussed salaries - something that JET warned us gaijin to never do. So I did it. My rule is that if any Japanese person dares to ask me a question in English, I dare to give them an honest answer. That's part of 'internationalization', and something I felt better qualified to achieve on behalf of the JET Programme than merely teaching English to Japanese kids who probably knew more about English grammar than I did.

Anyhow... Inoue-sensei asked, and I told him I made 3.6-million yen (US $36,000 in 1990) a year... he told me he made $24,000.

For 20 years of teaching? I immediately felt ashamed, but he noticed my discomfort and said I deserved it because I am leaving the comforts of my home to come to a foreign place - I deserve to be paid 'hazard' pay.

Maybe... but I hardly did anything compared to his responsibilities and work load. And 20 bloody years??!!

No... Japanese teachers used to earn respect more than money - and that meant something... but even by 1990 that respect aspect was eroding.

I was making $36,000 (prorated over a year) as a summer intern at the Toronto Star newspaper... my first 'full-time' job after graduating school... and that was pretty good. It was certainly better than the $17,000 others in my graduating class were making at the small town newspapers.

I'm pretty sure that teachers in Canada - even starting - make more than $24,000.

I love it, though... this man learns that some punk gaijin 'teacher' who isn't a teacher makes 50 per cent more than him... and he's trying to make feel feel good. Inoue-sensei was one of the very best people I met in Japan, as he always went out of hiss way to look after me. He was younger then than I am now.

School teaching skills aside, I did have other teaching skills (music and sports) and could communicate.

It took a couple of months, but I quickly realized that Japanese kids are pretty much just like the kids in Canada. I have no idea what they are like relative to any other country as I only have Canada as a reference, but I assume it is fairly similar.

Kids is kids.

There are the ones that love to learn. The ones who are bored. Sleepy. ADHD. Counting the minutes to lunch. Trying to hide a boner. Wishing they were in ANY other class other than the one teaching a foreign language.

Yeah… that's right. Learning a foreign language is tough and it can be boring. I hated being in French class back in Toronto.

How do you get people to like or want to study English?

By making the classes more fun? Well… sure… the JTEs and I would play hang-man or would play act with the students the stories - first with the book and then without, using props.

It was fun - and I think they looked forward to seeing me in class because they also knew it meant NO grammar. Yes, grammar is necessary (I s'pose), but I'm unsure if anyone has come up with a fun way to teach it. If so, teach me. Really. I'll tell you if it's fun or not.

But… was that all enough to get people to like English a little more? I mean, yes, students became more adept at pronouncing English words - words that their teachers might often have difficulty with—and to their credit would show their weakness and allow me to help them get better… that's the real accomplishment…

But… the only way I could get the students to want to learn more English was to have them want to talk to me outside of class, which would make them want to learn more IN class.

I was - relative to a Japanese teacher of any subject - an ass clown. I probably might be considered that here in Canada, but maybe that's because I like a nice ass and crack people up with a witty bon mot. Look - I can speak the French just swell.

I was smiling all day long in school - heck in Japan. First because I can't believe they pay me to do this, but also because I can't believe I'm in Japan and they are paying me to do this, but also because I'm a friendly guy.Smiling instantly can put a person at ease. Smiling and staring does not. Staring is anything longer than a glace lasting more than three seconds. Maybe even less.

Even though I hated school as a student and forgot to prove as much when I did 14 years of school (Ontario used to have grade 13, and I did grade 12 twice after flunking out and needing to be with kids my own age) plus five years of university (political science) and another two years of community college (journalism) - damn, boyeee - that's 21 years in school. Not including kindergarten mostly because I never went. I was two years ahead in school until that infamous repeating of the 12th grade.

Did I say I hated school? And now I'm in Japan for an additional three years of school? It's why I don't write about it as much. And maybe because it's not as interesting as me talking to the people.

I was and am, a nerd. But not a complete nerd. I can relate to the Japanese jocks because I played and coached sports. I can relate to the artsy types because I played and taught music. I like cartoons. I love comic books.

Respect was earned when I went to every single school club and participated in judo, kendo and baseball for the boys, but also played softball and tennis with the girls, and played clarinet in the music club and even watched and helped the English club.

Friendships were forged - during a lunch break - when I was walking around the school looking like I owned the place and was accosted by a group of six kids - all maybe 14 years of age.

They did the usual game of penis… pointing to each other's penis and saying 'small-small', and then pointing at me. I'm not stupid, but it's all relative, and I was sure I was bigger than the average Japanese, so I said (in Japanese) oki-sai (large size) - howls of laughter from all.If I could answer in Japanese, I would - hell, I was there on an EXCHANGE.

And then one kid points to another kid and says to me in pretty damn clear English: "Mistah Asai hab a berry big penis."

Now... being the adult, I should have put a stop to all this, but dammit, that was pretty damn fine English! So I laughed. And so did all the other kids - except Asai.

Asai - he sheepishly grinned and shrugged his shoulders like he was embarrassed by the attention.

So I changed the topic and asked it they wanted to learn some English.

I taught them every naughty English word you know and a few you don't. They taught me the Japanese equivalent. And… best of all, it was all slang. And no one abused the information to the best of my knowledge. I did tell them not use it in school and to never say these things around the girls.

They told their friends that An-do-ryu-sensei was cool.

All you need is one cool kid to think you are cool and the rest fall in like sheeple.

If that wasn't enough, I was set for life, let me tell you, when it was revealed that one of my favorite kiddie programs growing up in England was The Thunderbirds, which was just then on Japanese television - some 20+ years later after I first saw it. I had named my dog Tin-Tin after the girlfriend of one of the main characters.

We had a common bond, as every type of kid in Japan watched this show done with marionettes. I was in, baby.

Of course, the Japanese Thunderbirds version did NOT call the female character Tin-Tin. It seems that the 'Ti' sound is replaced with a 'chi' sound in the Japanese alphabet. So the name would have been pronounced 'Chin-Chin'.

After an unfortunate toast made by myself at an OBOE office enkai (party) when asked what ways one could say kanpai (cheers), I blurted out several, including the Italian 'chin-chin'.

'Chin-chin' is a Japanese slang phrase for 'penis'.

Needless to say, while all the men at the enkai were holding their heads in their hand and shaking it in shame, the women were all jumping up and hooting and hollering yelling "Chin-Chin!"

I had taught the women a naughty cheer when drinking, and they were proud to use it. I was in, baby.

Because I could out drink a fish, it was easy enough to out drink the Japanese men, as long as we stuck to the basics of beer and or sake rice wine. Because I was a heby durinkah (heavy drinker) and never had a hangover (never have - really), I earned their respect a morning later. Plus I had confided in them that Ashley was indeed my garufriendo (girlfriend) and asked them to honor that secret… a fact that Ashley never heard, so I assume that excluding her, everyone in my city knew she and I were boinking.

As well… because I can out drink a sailor or a Catholic nun, I followed the family of OBOE to the second party and to the third party locations… and I ate every single bit of Japanese food placed in front of me and enjoyed it.

You want to impress the Japanese? Llike their stuff. The Japanese are proud of being Japanese as much as you are proud to be Canadian, American, French, Swedish or whatever. They might be a little more proud than they should, but it really helps them relax when they know that you like Japan and all she has to offer.

They don't have to worry as much about you because as long as you are in Japan - and you have proved you like Japan, they will look after you.

There are so many of you people who go to Japan and refuse to try new things or foods. While I respect your right to do so, I wonder why the hell you wanted to go to Japan.

You don't just absorb the culture by working and visiting a few temples. You became a part of it by being a part of it. You'll never be Japanese - but as long as you make the effort you will be considered 'just like the Japanese'… and trust me… when the Japanese say that, they are paying you a bloody compliment.

One of my better foreigner friends in Japan would NOT eat Japanese food. Not even sushi. He brought his own sandwiches to school everyday and would eat at Dunkin Donut - in my town there was no Dunkin Donut nor did I ever see any place selling luncheon meats, and I sure as hell wasn't eating tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.I ate the school lunches everyday and bought prepared Japanese meals at the local grocery store every day I wasn't making my famous chili or lasagne for my foreigner buds. So I ate Japanese food maybe 4 or 5 times a week for dinner and at least 5 times a week for lunch. I never ate breakfast unless I had female company spend the night, which in hind sight was actually fairly often - especially on weekends.

That gaijin friend, by the way, married a Japanese woman and is still there 25 years after he first arrived. I can only hope for his wife's sake that by now he will eat Japanese.

Me? I wanted to eat whatever the Japanese ate. I ate every single school lunch with the students. I learned to use chopsticks as well or better than themselves, even if my grip was slightly… gaijin. Kids expecting to see me drop food on myself were disappointed after one month into my stay. I was taught by the Japanese, and I learned.

And this is all from a guy who had never researched Japan prior to arriving; had only ever lived at home; had no clue how to do anything for himself and, of course; was a virgin. Two months in, I was just 'like' the Japanese. In a good way.

Teaching in Japan - on JET or privately - its different, but it's exactly the same.

No matter how you slice the sashimi (that's simply slices of raw fish or meat), it still boils down to relationships and how you can make your time in Japan fun for everyone you meet.

Lastly... though an unofficial designation, the Tochigi-ken prefectural board of education seemed to know all about me and how popular I was with the students, calling me 'their best teacher'. Heady praise indeed, I must admit, and one I am quite proud off.

It's also why I know Noboko's father knew all about long before I ever went to his house as a dinner guest two-plus years later. He was the so-called boss of all the Japanese junior high school teachers in the northern part of Tochigi-ken where his darling daughter lived and taught and where I also happened to lived and teach.

Given my reputation with the students, and more than likely with all the amoral scuttlebutt floating around with my dalliances with the adult female population of Ohtawara-shi that most of the city either admired, was shocked by or wanted a piece of, he must have known that if I was 'friends' with his beautiful daughter, my friendly intentions must have been more than what was seen on the surface.

We'll see about that later.  

Andrew Joseph

Monday, April 21, 2014

Beginner JETs - Bring Money

I must apologize.

I made a mistake in assuming that things on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme were the same now as they were when it first began back in 1987. 

It's not. And not for the better, either.

I arrived in Japan in 1990, as part of the second-tier of fresh-faced foreigners looking to impart the awesomeness that is internationalization upon the rosy-cheeked youth of Japan. I stayed for three years, and I think I did a pretty decent job of telling them all about the world outside of Japan.

Back then, Board of Educations (BOE)/Cities participating on the JET Programme wanted to make an excellent impression. They knew you were coming to Japan from a foreign country... no friends... alien work environment... and as such, they paid a wage greater than what they paid their own teachers (oh yes, indeed), set you up in housing... essentially took care of you... protected you... made sure you lived to tell the world about how cool Japan was/is.

That was the plan - at least back then.

My mistake, it seems, is telling you fresh-faced young adults of 2014 that things are going to be rosy for you upon setting foot in your well-to-do clothing in what I know will be a hot and humid day in Japan.

Yes... you may or may not have a wonderful rife in Japan.

First... in a pair of blogs I wrote first for women and then men going to Japan on JET, I meekly suggested you bring about ¥50,000, which is about Cdn/US $500. That's a fair chunk of change. But... I was wrong.

I suggested you bring that amount because although you will be set up in your new city, town, village or hamlet with a subsidized apartment (or if lucky, a house), furnishings and food--that since pay day is a month away and you have a week or three off until school starts for you, that you might want to have some reserve cash for some sightseeing or sampling local cuisine... whatever.

For many of you, this is the case.

Still... for many others, you are going to need a butt load more money to survive that first month. Somewhere in the neighborhood of  ¥250,000 ($2,500)... and this is the actual amount recommended by JET.

Apparently not every place that accepts a JET participant (you) is as thoughtful as others are.

1) Housing: You may have to pay your rent up front. Key money, could also be requested, which is a pseudo-legal 'gift' of money you give to your landlord, consisting of anywhere from two to six months of actual rent... and please note that since it is a 'gift', it doesn't actually count as rent paid. Really.
Truthfully, initial rent and key monies if 'requested' or 'suggested', it's my opinion that this type of standard Japanese rental behavior should be undertaken by your Board of Education.It is not. Not always. YOU may have to pay it.
2) Furnishings: I had a massive three-bedroom family apartment with two balconies, L-D-K (Living room, dining and kitchen), a western style toilet and a shower. I also had a washer/dryer... and a clothes line on a balcony... though with the huge spiders always frequenting my northern view, I ended up purchasing a spider-armed laundry hanger for inside and kept my clothes to dry in the room I never went into. I had a nice, wood dining room table with a pair of chairs, a couch, a kotatsu (heater/coffer table), carpeting in every room except the bedroom which was done in standard tatami mats. I eventually ditched the futon for a Queen-sized bed and furnishings. I had book cases, a standard Japanese unilingual TV on a TV stand, an alarm clock, another long coffee table. I had a dish cabinet for all the dishes and glasses that were provided. I had all the cooking implements and eating utensils I would need, I had a stove (but no oven), sink, fridge (it's small - think hotel bar fridge--in Japan you go shopping every day or two), but I had a convention microwave oven that I could use to bake or nuke or warm my sake rice wine in the winter. I had kitchen cupboard space. I had a writing desk and chair - a large wooden table - by the western balcony. In my third bedroom, I had a huge clothes drawer - six drawers... a huge liquor cabinet (empty - for the first few weeks), and a sliding set of doors to hide my closet where I could hang my fancy clothes and coats. The weirdest thing for me was the gas water heater that I had to turn to get hot water for doing the dishes or for a shower.
I had every single creature comfort of home basically, except that I was in Japan.
Back in 1990-1993, although I had more and perhaps better quality stuff than some other AETs in Tochigi-ken... in fact better than most people on JET in Japan... I know that damn near everyone who arrived in Japan got the basics of living furnishings. You had a fridge, stove, bathroom, some sort of tub or shower, cooking utensils, bed/futon and bedding... whatever... stuff that would enable one to survive.
BUT... in reading various blogs and books by former JETs, I have found that some had to purchase a water heater... or a futon... or bedding... a TV... forks and knives... stuff that was once freely given to the humble guest to the country is now not.
Personally, I think it's because there are new towns and cities becoming involved in JET and rather than being told what they had to do for JET participants, they are offered suggestions. They are supposed to provide lodgings for participants, but in their mind that means that they have FOUND lodgings, but it is up to the participant (you) to cover all costs such as initial rent or key monies.
It sucks. I know and you know that JET just might be your first ever job... and that money is tight... and how the hell will you survive. I don't know. Apparently the official JET handbook recommends you take with you some ¥250,000. That's $2,500!
That's nuts... but it has become the grim reality in JET.
With my cash in hand converted to Yen, and my empty credit card, I suppose I had that and more... I just didn't need that much.
3) Transportation: Depending on your situation, you may need to utilize a train to get where you are going, and are expected to pay for such transportation out of your own pocket.

I was lucky enough to be able to receive rides (in a car) from various school teachers or could ride my bicycle to the closer schools.
My Ohtawara-shi (in Tochigi-ken) Board of Education had a bike for me to use... but it was made for a very small person... and while I'm not huge, I'm bigger than the average Japanese. So... upon noticing that my red girls bicycle was unseemly for a larger than average male foreigner, they had one of the hundreds of bicycle repair shops in my small city of 50,000 people construct a bicycle for me from various machines... and lo... I had an 18-speed bicycle (with a basket and a bell - a necessity, trust me) that was freshly painted metallic blue... plus I received a bicycle chain and lock.
Apparently some people nowadays do NOT even get a bike, let alone have one made for them.

It's not discussed - not ever, but at least when I was in Japan, the BOE was supposed to set aside around  ¥100,000 ($1,000) every year to be spent on the AET assistant English teacher) any way they saw fit. It was supposed to be on things they absolutely required to make their stay in Japan more enjoyable.  

Things I did not pay for:

1) Tatami mats. I had to pay for new tatami mats after I wrecked mine. I didn't dry my futon out enough and the dampness caused mold and mildew and mushrooms to grow under it. I paid for the new mats... well... actually... I was supposed to have paid for it, but my bosses said 'never mind' and covered it for me... that came out of the stipend the Board of Education had allotted to spend on me. I included this just to show you that my BOE was pretty damn nice.
2) JET-sponsored events: For major conferences and such, the BOE would allow you to pay for your travel to an event, could actually purchase the travel tickets for you, or might forward money to you to ensure you got were you were going. Your hotel was paid for by them... even the food at the events was covered. Phone calls from the hotel, drinks and foods outside the conference, dance clubs... that was on you... but really, the entire JET conference was covered.
3) Bicycle. This was how I got around town... they paid for a bicycle to be built for me. I thought the basket on the front was gay... but I quickly learned how practical it was to have.
4) Air-Conditioning. After nearly killing myself by using a kerosene heater with the doors and windows closed - it was effing freezing! Why stay warm by letting in the cold... my bosses realized it would not look good on them if I was to die while under their care. They spent some of my set-aside money on a AC/Heating unit, as well as the installation of it... that enabled me to stop shivering or sweating.
5) Bedding. Ooh yeah... that tatami mat accident... I also ruined my futon... so apparently the city got someone to donate a queen-sized bed for me, but the BOE did pay for all the new queen-sized sheets. All my girlfriends and partners for the evening were very thrilled with never having to endure tatami mat burns on their knees or backside as long as they were with me.
6) Key Money. We were told right from the get go before we left for Japan to NOT pay any key money. That option may not exist anymore, as some of you may have to pay it. It is a gift of money to the landlord.
7) Advance Rent. Some places want you to pay rent six months in advance. I pity you.
8) Basic Furniture. See above.
9) Initial stocking of the Fridge. It's a small fridge, but I had milk, and orange juice and bread... and hell, they took me shopping to buy what I wanted... but I did pay for that. That's more than fair. 
10) Hanko - for all official signings... my first hanko was paid for by the BOE.
11) Banking. The BOE took me to the Ashikaga Ginko (Ashikaga Bank) in downtown Ohtawara, set up an account for me for my direct deposit paycheck... and got me a bank card... just like I had/have back in Toronto. I could take money out from the bank machines anytime I needed it up to ¥50,000 ($500) on any given day... but not on national holidays. Everything would be closed. Be warned. This was a bank card - NOT a debit card. I'm sure you can get one of those now, though.
12) Airfare. This was paid for by the BOE for me to come to Japan... and for me to leave Japan when my contract was up.

Things I paid for:

1) television cable and telephone, local and long-distance.
2) daily English newspaper
3) apartment rent - though it was also partially paid for by my board of education... I paid the equivalent of $327 a month for my huge place. The full monthly price must have been over $1,000 a month. Keep in mind that if I was in Tokyo, a place like mine would have been over $3500 a month. Come on... I had two balconies. But then again... I was in a city whose name translates into Big-Rice Field-Field (Oh-ta-wara).
4) food and drinks and toiletries
5) clothing
6) bilingual television and bilingual VCR.
7) stereo system with shortwave... I never picked up anything except women and a heavy bar tab.
8) personal sight-seeing trips
9) booze and nights-on-the-town (see item #7)
10) school lunches. I was apparently offered the opportunity to eat lunch with the students at my schools, but, like the students, I had to pay into it. I have no idea what the cost was - probably something like  ¥3,000 ($30) a month... so no big deal. I also paid into my Friday office day lunches, which I gladly did, because he had decent bento lunches.
11) Business cards (meishi)... a Japanese tradition of self-introduction. I created my own when I got back to Canada and, of course, use them regularly as a writer when I go out to interview people for my work magazine. Back then, it cost about ¥4,500 ($45) for 500 cards... and I ran through them twice in three years. Everyone wants something from you, and a meishi is pretty personal to the average Japanese person.
12) Hanko: This is a ink stamp set that has your name (written backwards in katakana) that you use to 'sign' official documents. It's all stupid to me... forge a signature? All you need to do is create a hanko with the appropriate letters on it... ink it and stamp it. Legally binding. Give me a signature any day. Still... I eventually had a hanko maker create a new hanko for me for ¥45,000... a beautiful stone one with a carving of a komaiinu (lion dog) on top, with a one-inch (25mm) x one-inch base stamp of my name - first and last - in kanji I found to best describe myself phonetically. Yes... I paid $450 for it. I'm unsure if the bosses were impressed that I loved Japanese culture so much or if I was stupid or if they were paying me too damn much money and if so, why weren't they getting any omiyage (see below) after my vacation trips around Japan.
13) Bicycle repair. Yeah... My bicycle... I got a flat, I had it fixed. It cost ¥250 ($2.50). No big whoop. You look after things that are being loaned to you - even the tatami mats.
14) Collectibles: I collect sports cards here in Canada, so when Japan issued its first ever set of baseball cards in 1992 and 1993, I was all over it. The same for the inaugural set of J-League soccer cards. By the way... I have a Suzuki Ichiro rookie card... a real rookie card from Japan when he was with the Orix Blue Wave. I also bought a lot of original Japanese ukiyo-e art prints from 1867 and earlier. And a couple of netsuke carvings, one made of ivory and one of whale bone. I also bought coins and stamps as I collect those, too. I probably spent several thousands of dollars on the art. More even.
15) Mail. Yeah... I mailed a lot of letters in the days before the Internet. I'm sure most of you will be using e-mail, though.
16) Shipment of Items Back Home: I came with a lot of stuff, including a set of keyboards and a clarinet and I left with two keyboards, a clarinet, samurai swords, ninja stars... well... you get the idea... I accumulated a lot of stuff in three years... as such, aside from a small sampling of clothing I packed for my flight home, I shipped everything else back home via ship... I paid for a guy to come over and pack everything and ship it out for me. It was arranged by my BOE, but I paid for it. It arrived about 45 days later. I'm still unpacking it today, 21 years later.
17) Taxes... yes, I paid some city taxes.. fine. No big whoop. I even paid the NHK television station tax... but after the first year, they went to the BOE and collected it from them. It sucks because I never watched the NHK shows except for sumo wrestling and baseball games because every program was in Japanese. But whatever... It was ¥3,000 ($30).
18) Personal Travel... I paid for my train tickets, bus tickets, subway ticket for all personal travel in and around Japan. Food and hotels, too.
19) Office and School Parties. Known as enkai (party), these get-togethers are a way for people to let down their hair and bond with each other. Do NOT skip out on these. Ever. You will be requested to contribute some amount to the party... truthfully... I never had to pay for a school party, but I did contribute to the twice a year BOE parties. Lots of fun. I paid around  ¥8,000 ($80) each time, but I suspect that was because I was a hebbi durinkah (heavy drinker) and drank more than my fair share of booze. I also ate a hell of a lot beforehand to soak up the booze. 

Things I should have paid for:
1) thank-you gifts to the people who gave me rides in to the schools. Never even thought about it until just now... like I assumed my profound thanks were enough.
2) omiyage (presents) every time I went on vacation for my office co-workers... a Japanese tradition, and I didn't do it (enough).
3) New Year's cards... I received, but never sent out. I never knew what year it was half the time anyways.

That's pretty much it.

Nowadays, you will also probably pay for an Internet connection... and through this, you can watch television on your laptop or phone or whatever the hell you do with it. I still don't have a cell phone or smart phone. I'm one of seven people in Canada who lack one. I don't feel left out.

So... your experience will differ from mine... I'm telling you what I paid for and what I didn't pay for... I really hope you don't have to pay for such basics as key money or rent advances or furniture, or like some... for a water heater or a bicycle. That's just ridiculous.

I assume that the BOE's still have monies in their coffers to pay for a lot of AET necessities... but Japan... well, not every BOE is as generous as some... I was treated very well by my Ohtawara Board of Education office. My buddies were, too. We all had a great time, and few if any complained miserably about the cheapness of their BOE. Some did after seeing how Matthew and I were set up, but they weren't hard done by.

I obviously spent more money than I earned on the JET Programme... mostly because I earned extra money from teaching an English language class once a week for the Ohtawara International Friendship Society... my BOE didn't mind. As well, in my third year I taught lots of English conversation classes and somehow saved $8,000 in a six month span... and that's after I spent around $1,500 shipping my goodies home by shipping container and paying the taxes on it.

I hope you have a great experience in Japan... but be forewarned that it will differ from everyone else's.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

So, Now You Are Teacher - Now What? Part 1

Let's take a look at what it means to be accepted in the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, focusing on the "T" - the teaching aspect.

I had previously discussed my thought regarding the "E" - exchange, part, so let's look at what your day job will entail.

Okay... this isn't so much as about 'teaching' as it is about that first time you walk into a classroom.

Congratulations, by the way, while foreign teachers of English in Japan may be plentiful, getting accepted into the JET Programme is sure a hell of a lot harder than showing up in Japan to find a job.

That doesn't mean that your job is more difficult than non-JET English teachers, just that you underwent a larger screening process and were deemed acceptable.

First of, some back ground information on myself. My parents are from India. I was born in England. I was raised and educated in Canada. I'm tall, broad, brown, have an English-sounding name and speak English without a discernible accent.

In fact, my accent is considered 'neutral'. I'm sure I have one relative to anyone from Newfoundland, Louisiana, Illinois, Boston, Long Island New York, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia et al - not to mention the U.K., Australia, New Zealand or another country where English is a first language.

I have a political science degree from university and a journalism diploma from a community college. I am not a teacher or a specialist in English. I can read, write and speak better than most though not as well as some. I speak swell. That's grammar joke.

I am a communicator with a big, loud, clear voice that can make women swoon over the telephone - I have that radio-voice, whatever that means. Probably a polite way of saying I'm ugly, but whatever.

I briefly worked as a newspaper reporter for Canada's top newspaper. I taught piano and clarinet. Coached women's soccer. Played third-base in a men's league for a couple of years -awesome with the leather and bat, but not so good at making the crisp throw to first.

I like comic books (now I write them), comedy TV, mystery books, cop shows, damn near all sports though I admit I didn't watch any NFL football this year, and perhaps because I played and played well, I have a difficult time watching professional soccer because, although I am 48, I still think I could have been a professional if given half a chance.

So... I am deluded.

Why am I telling you all this? Well... I may have taught piano and clarinet and some soccer, but I have never been trained to be an English teacher.

And so, like many of you, when I was selected to be a junior high school teacher in Japan, I was scared to death, because I knew I didn't know what I was doing. By the way, my girlfriend Ashley was 22 when she arrived, and was teaching at the boy's high school in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken... she was five years older than some of her students. Now that must have been daunting!

So... I'm not a teacher, but everyone was calling me An-do-ryu-sensei (Andrew-teacher). This will happen to you, though I suspect that for most of you, they will use your first name rather than mine. Any Andrew's out there, feel free to use my name and title.

The Point Of This Blog - The Self Introduction

The first time I visited any class, I would do a self-introduction.

If your class is 40 minutes long, be prepared to talk for 30 with 10 minutes for questions, invariably delivered by the female students to both the male and female foreigner.

If no questions arise - be prepared to talk an additional 10 minutes, but for goodness sake, make it interesting...

I brought along photographs of all my friends. Guys and gals. Pictures of my family. My pets. My car. My house. The backyard of my house. Trust me, this is stuff that is just not seen in Japan - the houses et al.

I also took along a photo of my comic book collection, and one of my room - complete with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calender hanging in plain sight, which got the boys interested, as they could also see the model kits of cars I had built in the background. Okay, maybe they didn't see the model kits - just the models.

Do not be afraid to share your life with the students. This is your one and only chance to connect with them - to make them think you are worth listening to because you are interesting.

Yes, you can be boring - but then you are just like all of their Japanese teachers. You are the special one. The foreigner (gaijin). Most will have seen a foreigner before, but few will have ever talked to one.

Make yourself interesting. Tell them what sports you like, what music you listen to, what musical instruments you play. Tell them you were once an extra in a real movie (I was).

Tell them what you know about Japan. Ask them if they know anything about your country. Most won't have a clue - so tell them about the weather, the population, the sports teams - whatever.

If you are teaching kids - tell them what video games you like(d), and what system you have. Tell them what Japanese anime (animated cartoons) you have enjoyed, or what manga (comic books) you read.

If you don't have anything in common, you are losing a valuable chance to connect with the kids on their own level.

Don't worry - they aren't stupid, these kids will still respect you because you are a teacher. Granted the 'teacher' is NOT as well-respected as it was say 40 years ago, but it still carries some cache in Japan.

These initial self-introductions are given by you English, with the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) you are team-teaching with translating for you into Japanese. Talk slowly and, above-all, clearly. Look around at the students and at your teacher. If you are shy, look to the back of the class a couple of inches above their head. Don't be shy. This is not the time to be shy. Be proud and loud. Be a JET!

I did over 78 introductions at my schools over the three years I stayed there. After the first five or six, you need to mix it up, because the kids will hear the boredom in your voice. If you are bored, you know they will be, too.

Describe the school system - pass and fail. Tell them your height and weight (if you like) and your shoe size - but do it in centimeters (not inches or in whatever sizing your country uses for shoes!).

Do not tell them how large your penis is (except to say 'bigger than yours') or what your three sizes are (Bust-Waist-Hips), if you are female. None of their damn business. Besides, they use the metric system, and their way of measuring a cup size is askew, as a B-cup in Canada, would be a D-Cup in Japan.  

Tell them what your favorite foods are - I told them I never ate Japanese food until two days before I arrived in Japan. That's true.

Tell them if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Provide photos if you want.  However, I will warn you, if you are gay, lesbian or transgender - be proud, but just know that Japan is even less accepting than the folks in your home country.

Regarding the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I told my students that fellow JET Ashley was my girlfriend, and she, to look proper, told them she didn't have a boyfriend. They knew who was telling the truth, but never busted Ashley on it. 

Clothes Make The Man Or Woman

By the way... how to dress? That's up to you, of course. During the winter, I wore dress pants, shirt, tie and a sweater, with dress shoes. When it was warmer, I wore a suit and tie. Always.

To me, I was on the JET Programme as a representative of my country. The actions of a foreigner often reflect upon whatever country you are from. in fact, it doesn't matter where you are from - you are a gaijin, an outsider, your actions reflect back on all other foreigners. It's not fair, but it's true.

You do not have to wear a suit and tie, or your best dress - but you should look neat and tidy.

Got a beard or mustache? Keep it neat. Got long hair and you're a guy? Keep it neat. Women - at school you don;t need to look like a school marm from the 1880s, but do not dress - how to say it without sounding sexist? - too sexily. Junior high and High school boys are in hormone overdrive, as are Japanese men. You also don't want to show up the female teachers.

Now, it is true that in my suit and tie, I was better dressed than every teacher (male or female) at any school. The principal and vice-principal may have worn a suit, but mine were better. I got away with it because my actions made me less a snobby clothes horse and more a regular guy with a better than average sense of humor.

The End, For Now
I'll go into this in more detail shortly, but bring a lunch for the first day - just in case. Chances are better than 99% that you will be eating a school-prepared lunch with a class of your students, or in the teacher's lounge with teachers who do not have a home room to look after. Just know that the topic of school lunch is a topic unto itself.

And that's basically what you need to know for your first day. You still haven't taught a wit of English, but that will come (in another article). But, after your first day at a school - you are now a professional teacher.

Granted, your experience will vary, but it will be awesome for you. Your JTE who will marvel at how exciting you are (but do so in subdued tones, because they don't know YOU as a person yet).

Note that these self-introductions do tend to turn you into a side-show act, but trust me - that's the excitement of them meeting you.

Oh... and that first class you meet... they will tell everyone else all about you. So be prepared to have some new information to tell them - just pretend you are The Grateful Dead, and perform a different playlist every night.

Andrew Joseph