Friday, December 30, 2011

One Month In JAPAN - Apartment and School

Wow!  This week marked my fourth week of living in Japan.  Time truly has flown!  I apologize for the lack of updates, but as you can imagine my schedule has been really crazy.  I've had to spend a lot of time doing various things to settle in to my apartment, in addition to all of the events for Christmas at the church.  I intend to update you on all of these things, but this will be a VERY long post.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I ended my last update telling you about my apartment and giving you a teaser for the next post.  Well, at that time I had NO IDEA that it would be so long between posts.  Never fear, you don't have to hold your breath any longer.  Here is some more about my apartment.

This is the shower room I showed you last time.  In Japan they have a big room for the shower and bath.  The shower head is on the wall.  They fill the bath, and shower to get clean and then soak in the bath.  The entire family will soak in the same bathwater and drain it at the end of the night, but it doesn't get dirty because everyone cleans before they get in.  I love it!

This is the other side of the bathtub.  On the wall is a control to turn on the hot water, choose the temperature, and to reheat the water in the bath.

This control is next to my sink upstairs in the kitchen.  The button on the right turns on the hot water, and the button in the middle fills the tub downstairs!  I can push the button, choose the temperature, and within five minutes when I go downstairs the bath will be ready to go.  It's great!

This sink / vanity area is next to the shower room

My washing machine.  Then I have to hang dry my clothes.
This is the inside of the door.  There is an area to take off your shoes because you can't wear shoes past the entryway.  This is the case virtually everywhere in Japan.

View through my apartment from the front door.  The vanity and shower room are to the immediate left, behind the first wall is the stairway, then the washing machine, and my bedroom in the back.

Stairs to the upstairs.  They're pretty steep, and curve once again like this.

This is my living room area.  I've since moved the table and added more furniture.  This room is to the left from the top of the stairs.

My kitchen.  This is to the right of the top of the stairs.

My stove and oven.  Yes, that small thing in the middle is my entire oven.  Japanese people don't bake much, except perhaps fish. 

The control to my heater, mounted on the wall.  I have two heaters in my house, one in my bedroom and one in my living room.  Central heat and air is uncommon in Japan.  I turn on the heater when I get cold and turn it off when I leave the house.  The remote is convenient, though -- I can keep it next to my bed in the night and turn the heater on before I get out of bed in the morning!

My entire upstairs.  I am standing against the wall in my living room.  The first door frame is my stairs, the door frame after the cabinet is my fridge, and then my kitchen.

The view outside of my back door.  I have no idea what this is, I don't think I've looked out there aside from when I took the picture.

A beautiful garden I walk past every day

Fun trinket.  Bonus points to whoever comments and knows what it is!

The week of December 5-10 I was in training for my job.  I shadowed a man from the company that hired me, so I wasn't actually at my school.  I observed his classes and did some other logistical things like completing my contract, applying for my foreign resident registration, and registering for the national health insurance.

I started work at my school, Lily Vale Primary School on Monday, December 12.  Lily Vale is a Japanese shogakko, or elementary school, but it is modeled after a British school.  The classrooms are in individual buildings, with courtyards in between.  The buildings and 'streets' have English names, such as Chelsea Lane and the Great Hall.

The school has students from grades 1-6, and three classes in each grade, for a total of 18 classes.  Each class has English twice a week.  There are two Japanese English teachers, Ms. A and Mr. M that split the classes.  There is also another AET, or Assistant English Teacher, at the school besides me, and he is from England.  He has been sick since I arrived, though, so I have not met him yet.  The past two weeks I worked with all ages of students and took over some of the other AET's classes since he was unable to attend.  It made for a really busy schedule, but I enjoyed it a lot.  I like to keep busy, and it helped me to be able to meet many students and get a feel for what the classes at different levels are like.

As an AET, I do not teach the classes, but work as an assistant to the Japanese English teacher.  I help a lot with examples and pronunciations, as well as teaching them about western culture.  There are so few foreigners in Japan (called gaijin) that non-Japanese people really stand out and are pretty uncommon in rural areas.  People, especially children are shocked to see gaijin, and it is not uncommon for them to stare.  The children are happy to get to know me, and are astonished by my height, my brown hair, and my green eyes.  They love to ask me how old I am, if I have a boyfriend, and to just interact with me in general.  This is a big part of  my job.  Between classes I go into the courtyard and interact with the students, engaging them as much as possible.  I am not allowed to use any Japanese at the school (even basic Japanese, such as good morning or excuse me), which encourages the students to practice their English.  Some times we have a difficult time communicating, but a smile and friendly demeanor truly do communicate across cultures.

In the morning, all of the teachers line up at the large wrought iron gates at the front of the school and welcome students as they come in.  The students say おはよございます!(ohayo gozaimasu - good morning) and bow to each teacher.  I great the students with a 'Good Morning', and they're expected to answer me back.  I get to school by school bus though, and it seems that my bus is always the last to arrive.  So, I get off the bus and say hello to the remaining students that come in, then go into the office, or to the weekly morning assembly, depending on the day of the week.

The schedule is divided into six periods, with home room in the morning and afternoon, and lunch after fourth period.  Since I don't have a homeroom, my break time is during the homeroom times, and I attend classes all six periods.  The teachers also eat lunch with the students.  I eat the school lunch, which includes rice and miso (soybean) soup every day, in addition to some cooked veggies and a main course.  We've had fish with some sort of fish gravy, curry, tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), and some sort of egg.  Everyone's surprised that I don't mind eating the school lunch.

Last week the students had a Christmas Assembly (recital) for the parents.  There were three different plays, one for the 1st and 3rd graders, one for the 2nd and 4th graders, and one for the 5th and 6th graders.  There were three performances, as well, because each play only consisted of two classes.  Kind of confusing, but all in all there were 9 plays.  We spent three days of the first week I worked rehearsing for the plays (one day for each performance), so those days we only had classes after lunch.  The recital was that Saturday, and it went very well.  The students did such a great job!  The plays were entirely in Japanese, but they were fully costumed and choreographed, with mics, sets, and scene changes - even for the 1st graders!  I was blown away. 

Because the play was on a Sunday (the only day most people have off in Japan), the school was closed the following Monday.  That Friday was a national holiday for the emperor's birthday, so my second week was only three days of classes.  I was supposed to work Saturday, as well, but I twisted my ankle and was unable to work (it's mostly better now).  Since then I've been on Christmas / New Years' vacation and will start back to school on January 10.

Hope this clarified some of your questions about my apartment and work!  I've also been very busy with some activities, travels to Tokyo, football games, and of course, Christmas.  I intend to fill you in on more of that soon.  Til then, I hope all is well.  Have a happy new year!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First Days in Japan

Konnichiwa!!  Watashi wa chou genki deshou!
Hello!  I am very good!!

I'm finally in Japan!!!!!!!!  Thank you for all the prayers, support, and well-wishes you have offered me over the past several months.  After much prayer, frustration, and lessons in patience it has finally come to pass.  My flights were all on time, all of my bags arrived, and the customs went relatively smoothly.

A gorgeous view as we approached the Seattle airport

All set and ready to go for the Tokyo flight!

The menu for the flight.  I had two meals and a snack

The first meal: shrimp, salad, stewed beef and fried rice, bread, and a brownie 

I was met at the airport by Jared, Yuuki, and Noriko, my little sisters in Pi when they visited OC.  It was so great to see them again!!!!  Afterwards, we went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for dinner.  I wasn't very hungry, but it was so good and a great welcome to Japan!

Yuuuuuuki and Norikokokoko!

Jared and me

On Wednesday, I had a very Japanese breakfast of biscuits and gravy, and then Jared and I left for Ibaraki Christian College.  The trip to the college took about an hour, consisting of a ten minute walk, two trains, and another ten minute walk.  We attended their chapel and ate curry afterwards.  I saw a few students I already knew and met some of Jared's students as well.  It was so incredible to be back where I had been three years ago.  I can't wait to continue getting to know the students better.  That afternoon we walked to the beach.  It's really amazing to be so close to the beach (even if it was really cold and the water rough).  Although where I will be isn't so close to the beach, I still hope to visit the ocean from time to time.

Waiting for the train to IC

Yummy curry

Arriving at the beach
Wednesday evening we met up with Jared's friend Allen and his wife, Laura.  Allen took us to an Indian food restaurant where we had.. more curry!  Indian curry is different from Japanese curry though, and I really enjoyed the food and fellowship.  After dinner we went to Allen and Laura's apartment and had tea and watched part of the movie The End of the Spear.  We weren't able to finish it, but we plan on having an encore soon.

Allen's North Face and Jared's South Butt
After dinner and the movie we went to Tomobe church (where Jared is a missionary) to meet a few of the students who were finishing class.  They were very excited to meet me.  So many people have been thinking and praying about me for so long.  It's incredible to me to hear of friends in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, and Japan who have all been thinking of me.  Leave it to God to bring all of us together!

Today I went to meet up with my contact at the school where I will be working.  We didn't go through a lot of contractual details, but he took me to see my apartment and I was so surprised!  Last week he gave me the option of three different apartments and I chose the largest of the three.  I'm very glad, because the apartment is new, relatively large, and high-tech.  It is about a 15 minute walk from the train station, near a grocery store, several restaurants, and other convenience stores.  The neighborhood seems nice as well.  Here's an overview of the apartment and I'll write more in detail about it soon!

Apartment building
Close up of the door and intercom system
The view when you first walk in.  The shower and bath are to the left, the stairs behind the first wall, and the bedroom straight ahead.


Techy toilet 
Shower room
TEASER:  Stay tuned for fun facts about this room!

I will meet with my employer again on Saturday to go over the contract and other details, and then start work on Monday.

After leaving the apartment, we went to Tomobe church where Jared had two classes.  The first was supposed to be two elementary students, but only one was able to come.  We studied english with her, focusing primarily on spelling, vocabulary, and word usage.  The second class was with a high school student who wants to be a preacher and hopes to attend OC next year to study ministry.  I helped him with an essay about why he wants to be a minister and the impact he hopes to make in Japan.  It was really nice to be able to meet him.

Tomorrow I will attend several classes with Jared, and then meet again with my employer on Saturday. I'll update when I can.  Hope all is well with you at home.  Feel free to comment or email me with any questions or anything else!  Thanks again for your prayers and support!

じゃねじゃね! (bye!!!)