Saturday, July 28, 2012

Videos of my Last Day

As promised in my last blog, here are the videos from my last day in Japan. 

2:03 - See if you can spot the student sleeping standing up
2:25 - Listen to my principal read the certificate in English
4:45 - Failed attempt to get the students to say something
4:54 - Start of my speech in Japanese

Compare the atmosphere of this speech to the one I made a few weeks earlier at the school festival where I first told most students that I was leaving:

Last Day of Work

There was a while when I thought my time in Japan would never end.  However, the day has come and past, and I am officially no longer a Sensei. On July 20th, I had my last day of work at my base school.  It started off as a fairly typical day where I somehow - again - managed to arrive to work just after the start of the staff meeting (ever since they changed the start of the meeting from 8:10 to 8:05 I've struggled to be on time - those five minutes made a huge difference...seriously!). However, arriving late wasn't all that great for me this time, because I was told that I would have to give a farewell speech to the staff in Japanese.  Although I've been giving farewell speeches for a while now, I used the speech I wrote for this school with most of the staff at my farewell party the week before and hadn't prepared a second one, and obviously I did not want to repeat the same speech again. Instead, I did a basic "thank you for everything" and "you were all so kind" sort of speech that probably was among the shortest goodbye speeches ever. 

Throughout the day, the scheduled was shorted by 5 minutes for each class to accommodate an assembly at the end of the day to say goodbye to me. Between teaching 2nd and 6th periods, I spent the rest of the time using the printer (last time for me to have access to it), finalizing my plans for Japan and after, practicing my student speech, and organizing the desk for the next ALT. 

 Look how clean it is! 

After 6th period, all the students assembled into the gym and stood for the approx. 15 minute ceremony where the principal spoke first about how great it's been to have me, and then I spoke for a few minutes about how great it's been to be here, and then a student spoke for a little bit to say how much they've learned from me.  I do believe that most of it is true...I'm only a little doubtful about the principal's words. I think we spoke four time in the past two years. Here are some pictures from the ceremony:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What Did I Just Witness?

On the last day of the school festival, three of the 3rd year homeroom classes held their hour long "show" (for a lack of a better term).  These shows usually include some class dance where everyone does a choreographed dance to a song, plus something else such as skits, talent competitions, or short comedies. 

Let me describe one short comedy sketch that I witnessed, and feel free to let me know what would explain these actions.

Three baseball players were on stage in spandex - only spandex. One student had a large protrusion emphasized by the fact that he was wearing white spandex shorts while everyone else wore black. They did some sort of choreographed actions and shouting that involved a lot of pointing to their bulges (and each others', and at the crowd, and so on). This went on for a while to loud cheering. Then they called some name, and another baseball player came out from behind the curtains. The one player with the large protrusion said some things as he pulled out a  protective cup from his pants - held it to the sky as if in victory as he yelled, and then shoved it down the student's pants who had just appeared from behind the curtain.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Let the Goodbyes Begin

There is certainly something to be said for having an official goodbye speech or party.  As I've prepared to go home, I've noticed that it makes a huge difference for how I feel when I leave a school for the last time if I'm able to feel as if I did a proper farewell. 

The first example is a school that I always loved going to, but where I had my last day in May before my family visited. I wasn't even thinking about leaving and no one else realized it was my last day so it was just another workday to me and everyone else.  For the students there, and for myself, I just kind of "disappeared" from their lives with no end, no last chance for a picture or to say goodbye.  It's a book with a cliffhanger and no sequel. 

The other example is at a smaller school near Kitami.  There are about 120 students, and I taught all of them almost every time I visited.  On this particular day, I visited each class, took a class photo, enjoyed one last game, said some goodbye speeches, and enjoyed the English Conversation class party they threw for me (1 student + all the English teachers = great fun).  I was asked to wait 30 minutes after school, and then I was presented with a wonderful homemade yearbook:

Every student is pictured in the yearbook, and everyone wrote wonderful little notes to me.  It's a full book of student photos, pictures of me teaching, and class photos.  Here's a few samples of the inside of the book: 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Look: Short 'n Curly Hair

I can't believe that it's been over a year since I had the chance to do a little hair modeling for World Love Hair Salon (as I wrote about in this past Post).  When I went in for a haircut a few months ago, and mentioned that I was going home for good this summer, the stylists thought it'd be a good idea to have one last photo shoot. 

Naturally, I have long, very straight hair.  Last year, Maico (the stylist) used my real hair.  Although she ended up winning - eventually curling my hair and getting volume for last year's shoot - she decided to go a different route this year: short and curly. 

She was aware that I did not want to cut my hair and get a perm, so the solution was to fit me for a wig.  This shoot was a first for several things: first wig, first time with short hair, first time with curly hair, first time with false eyelashes (just on the outside of the upper lids), and the first time with gold flakes on my ear. It took about 2.5 hours for preparation, and I discovered just how hard it is for me to sit still for so long!  And then the actual photo shoot took about thirty minutes on top of that. In all, not that long.  But the sitting still for so long, and wearing a tight wig, was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  I'm willing to give a little more credit to professional models now. 

Without further ado, here's a few (pre-editing) photos: 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Going to the Doctor in Kitami

Lazy or Incompetent? 

I am referring to doctors in Japan.  If you are a frequent reader of my blog (hi, Mom!), you have noticed that I’ve been quite busy recently.  Within two months I’ve had two international trips, and hosted my family as they were on an international vacation.  I’ve also attended a wedding and gone on a girl’s weekend trip to Lake Toya about six hours away from Kitami.  Right in the middle of this, I caught a nasty cold.

I thought I was recovering while my family was here, but even the week after my family left, I continued to have an irritating cough.  Normally I’d ask my dad to check it out, he’d sigh and check my throat just so I’d believe him when he’d tell me that it’s nothing and I’ll get better soon without medicine. 

However, living in Japan has made me a bit of a hypochondriac. After my horrid experience at the eye doctor’s (which I don’t think I blogged about because it was that awful), and another experience getting told that I was fat by a different doctor, I’ve been trying to avoid going to a clinic no matter what.  My hyper-vigilance has made me aware of every little thing that might be a sign of something bad to come and has increased the amount of time I spend worrying about my health.

I should say, this is not entirely out of paranoia.  Last year, a non-JET foreign English teacher got the MUMPS!  Yes, my kerosene heater isn’t the only old-fashioned thing about Japan.  Another JET out in eastern Hokkaido got a nasty bacterial infection from tonsillitis which resulted in a week-long hospital stay and a loss of about 15 pounds in two weeks.  A different JET started to get such chronic sinus infections that he needed surgery to breathe through his nose again.  These are just people that I know personally.   Rare instances?  Logically, maybe, but I sometimes feel like I’m not so sure…

Monday, June 4, 2012

Johnsons in Japan

A few weeks ago I was exceptionally fortunate to have my entire family visit me in Hokkaido.  My mom, dad, and three younger sisters made the 24+ hour trek to Hokkaido to see what my world has been like for the past two years.

I have been planning this trip since February.  I organized every last detail, and although I knew I took care of things, I was still surprised that there was not a single problem the entire trip.  Every reservation was there, no surprise fees were added, and the timing was just right.  All the hard work paid off when I was able to host my family on our first family vacation outside of the USA.

They only stayed for about a week, but we made the most of that week.  Highlights included taking a ropeway to the top of Asahidake Mountain, visiting classes at my school, watching my little sister Katelyn practice basketball with the Ryokuryo girls’ basketball team, going to the outdoor onsens at Lake Kussharo, doing a Japanese-style hotel bath, mountain biking in Daisetsuzan National Park next to an active volcano, and seeing a baseball game between the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and the Nagoya Dragons in the Sapporo Dome.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Gaffe Awards

Recently, I was asked to contribute another article for the HAJET magazine, Polestar, regarding political misquotes or gaffes.  It was among the most fun I've had writing in a long time, because it was an excuse to wade through all of the ridiculous things politicians have said that are now caught on video and put on YouTube.  I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did! 

The Gaffe Awards
The campaign cycle in the U.S. has exploded in scope in recent decades to the point that the end of one election cycle simply means that we’re already three months into the next series of elections.  As the amount of money and time devoted to elections increases, the candidates’ risk of making serious gaffes also increases. 

Although there are technically two Republican candidates still in the race to challenge President Obama in November – Mitt Romney and Ron Paul – Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee.  Now that it’s essentially a two-person race, President Obama vs. Former Governor Romney, the time is fitting to review some of their more famous gaffes to date and recognize the best thus far.  Current Vice-President Joe Biden, who has a reputation for speaking before thinking, also provides plenty of quality gaffes to chose from, and some of his better ones are included.  

1. Most Likely to Haunt their Campaign:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Taipei, Hualien, and Kenting, Taiwan

In Japan at the beginning of May, a series of national holidays align to create two really long weekends.  It's called "Golden Week" because for those who can take paid leave, taking two days off during the week can create a 9-10 day vacation.  Perfect for traveling!

Last year, I used Golden Week to go home and visit my family.  This year - being that it is my last year in Japan - I wanted to use this time to visit a different Asian country while I have the convenience of being in Asia.  I want to visit so many different countries that I had a hard time deciding where to go.  So, I visited SkyScanner and looked for the cheapest direct flights from Sapporo-Chitose to any other country in the world.  Predictably, South Korea and Taiwan came up.  South Korea became my spring break trip, and Taiwan became my Golden Week vacation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Do Advertisers Think Creepy is Couture?

For the last month or so, the huge mall area called Stellar Place (attached to Sapporo Station) has has some advertisements that make me think of creepy movies, like The Ring.  Maybe I still have an overactive imagination, but let me share what I think when I see the pictures that haunt me whenever I walk by.  I took a fashion brochure this past weekend when I was in Sapporo, and the photos in the brochure only reinforced my image that the people behind this attempt at couture fashion are weird at best, creepy at worst. 

I took the liberty of uploading a few of the photos from the brochure, and I included the narrative that first came to mind as I saw these strange advertisements. I did not edit anything into or out of the photos.  I did not crop any of the photos. Someone, somewhere, actually thought that these photos were a good idea and a great way to sell clothes.  

Decide for yourself. 

Once upon a time, there were two frumpy child-women,

who liked to time travel,

Student Shenanigans

Today my night school students were making name cards.  I've started doing this in an attempt to remember my students better.  Basically, I ask for their name and two facts about themselves.  Being this school is a part-time school where students usually go if they've dropped out of the normal school system for one reason or another, I rarely expect anyone to go above and beyond.  I do have a few fans at this school, though.  I just didn't realize how much I was liked: 

She likes me! She really likes me! 

South Korea...and a Quick Trip North

At the end of March, the students had a 2-week spring break.  Being that this is my last few months in Japan, I thought that I'd take the opportunity to travel.  That led me to Japan's closest neighbor, South Korea.  I met up with two friends who are teachers in south-central Honshu (a few hours west of Tokyo by the Shinkansen), and we spent just over five days exploring the Seoul area. 

While we were in Korea, so was President Obama! He was there for the Nuclear Security Summit, as were dozens and dozens of other heads of state and important world leaders.  I was so excited! We took one morning to go to a local university where Pres. Obama gave a speech on nuclear security.  We weren't able to get in, but it was still fun.  I just like things like this. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed the food.  Typical meals tended to be served with one main dish to split among those dining together, and several side dishes.  The restaurant where we got the first dish below only had menus completely written in Korean, so I don't really know what we ordered.  The second dish is duck, but for the most part, I really don't know what the names of the different side dishes were either.  Although one or two of the side dishes weren't my favorite, the main dishes were generally excellent. 

HAJET Article

The Hokkaido Association of Japanese Exchange Teaching (HAJET) organization is a social group that hosts events, training programs, and works to create a better working and social environment of the JETs (and non-JET English teachers) in Hokkaido.  For members, there's a monthly magazine about life in Hokkaido and Japan, teaching issues, and other articles.  It's a volunteer magazine with low circulation numbers, but I've recently been writing a little bit and thought I'd share the article I wrote for the March magazine.  I've done a few entries on the Drift Ice already, but the article is a little more thorough.  Enjoy!

Intro written by the editor:

The Hokkaido winter presents numerous opportunities for the adventurous JET. Intense and persistent, the prevailing Siberian weather patterns give rise to a number of fascinating phenomenon. Kitami ALT Kimberly Johnson details one of the more unique winter experiences, a boat trip over the famed Abashiri Drift Ice. 

My little article:

Every winter something happens in the Okhotsk Sea that draws thousands of people out from under their kotatsu and into the coldest weather Eastern Hokkaido has to offer.  A unique combination of Siberian winter temperatures and an influx of freshwater from the Amur River allow the top layer of the Okhotsk Sea to freeze. For several weeks every winter, white drift ice flows from the Chinese river down through the Okhotsk Sea until it reaches the edge of northeastern Japan.  Although much of Eastern Hokkaido sees this phenomenon at some point during the winter, one place in particular has done a good job of promoting it as a tourist destination—Abashiri.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Abashiri Drift Ice (流氷, Ryūhyō)

Every winter, the Sea of Okhotsk is painted white because of the drift ice.  Hokkaido is the southernmost region in the northern hemisphere to experience this phenomenon. It's a testament to the coldness of the Siberian winters that the ocean essentially freezes over, and partially due to the freshwater that flows from the Russian and Chinese rivers into the ocean that lowers the salt water content enough to allow a layer of water to freeze.  

Here are a few pictures from the drift ice cruise my friends and I took this year in Abashiri.  The drift ice is totally hit or miss, and with the average temperatures rising global the seasons have become a bit shorter and more unpredictable.  However, this year the ice was fantastic and much more extensive than I remember from last year.  


Valentine's Day in Japan

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day.  It has little to do with the romance associated with the day, and more with the fact that my birthday is in August.  Those who also have summer birthdays can perhaps understand my feelings about my birthday.  When you're young, birthdays are your special day.  Summer birthday parties, especially those toward the end of summer, usually have a low record of attendance when you're an elementary school student because your friends are gone for sports tournaments or on vacation.   Birthdays that happen during the school year might include special perks in your elementary school class such as being line leader, getting to choose the story to read during reading time, being able to invite your entire class to your birthday party, or having a few moments of attention while you hand out cupcakes.  People with summer birthdays don't get that.  

However, most teachers during my elementary school days let children with summer birthdays celebrate their half birthday during the school year.  Being that my birthday is August 14th, my half birthday is February 14th - Valentine's Day.  I could never compete with the candy and cards that flowed into the school that day.  To have my real birthday fade into the background of summer vacation and then to also have my half birthday in the shadow of all the Valentine's Day festivities just wasn't fair.  Thus, from a young age, I always felt a bit jipped because of Valentine's Day. 

I'm not sure if the above explanation really has anything to do with Valentine's Day in Japan.  I think I just wanted a reason to finally explain why I never have really appreciated Valentine's Day.  Also, if at any point something I may write or say about Valentine's Day comes across as bitterness...please understand that it stems from unresolved childhood issues. 

Valentine's Day (バレンタインデ-barentain-dei) is a little different in Japan than in the States.  As with any other holiday or ceremony in Japan, there are very standard norms to be followed. The four important things you need to be aware of about Valentine's Day in Japan are:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bad English or Zen?

"It is closed if it is opened."

This is on the front door of my friend's apartment building in Sapporo.  At first, I laughed at the terrible Engrish and the humor from this sign really put me in a good mood.   But then, I realized that every time I saw this sign I wondered about the idea that something is closed if it is opened.  Is it possible for something to appear closed, but really be open, or to seem open when in fact it is closed? Could it be a Zen meditation?  Is this something that one should contemplate? What does the "it" refer to? Could it possibly refer to more than just the door and the landlord's desire to keep the cold winter air out of his building?  And why would the sign be in English when there are just two native English speakers out of dozens of tenets? 

The more I see this sign, the more I want it to have been written this way on purpose.  But of course, what one wants and what is reality often differ, and chances are good that this is indeed, disappointingly, just bad English. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hisashiburi ~ How to Survive Hokkaido Winters

Hisashiburi is the set phrase the Japanese use when they haven't seen someone for a long time.  It's like the less old-fashioned version of "long time, no see!" - liberally used by my students as the translation for hisashiburi

I know this post is a long time coming.  I really meant to post more often!  It's one of my New Year's Resolutions, after all.  Maybe I can still average two a month for the rest of the year if I pick up the pace a bit. 

I thought I'd do a post giving homage to winter.  I would like to link to a really well-written article about surviving winter in Japan here that is completely true. Well, except for the communal sewer cleaning - I've never heard of that happening in Hokkaido. 

In some ways, I'm lucky to experience winter in Hokkaido.  Winter is much longer here, but places like Tokyo and Kyoto much further south get temperatures almost as cold as Hokkaido and yet their homes are much more poorly built for the cold.  As the article above mentions, they only really do "spot" heating which is extremely inefficient and wasteful in all but the newest and most expensive homes in Hokkaido.  It's truly an atrocity for a country that wants so desperately to be energy independent that they waste so much energy on inefficiencies.  Imagine how much less they would rely on nuclear energy if they used the energy they have more efficiency? 

Here are my top tips for surviving the winter in Hokkaido: