Week One of Teaching: the highlights.

11 04 2009

The starts can be a little early – on the bus by 7.10 to be at school by 7.25am with the first lesson at 7.30am. At least it only takes around 10 minutes on the bus and the bus stop is 2 minutes walk away.

On days when I don’t have the first lesson (which is 3 days out of 6) I can catch the later bus at 8.05am which is a bus for elementary school students. The first time I caught the bus the little kids looked so cute with their berets, blazers and socks pulled high. The seats still had plastic covering on them so the kids were sliding around everywhere when the bus stopped. The elementary teacher quickly helped the students to put their seatbelts on so they didn’t fly out the window.

The work load is fairly easy – 20 lessons a week with 3-4 lessons to teach in a day. I only have 2 homeroom duties filling in for other teachers. So, that leaves a lot of preparation time. Also, the class sizes are 6, 9, 6 and 8 (for J-1, J-2, J-3 and H-1 respectively – equivalent to years 7, 8, 9  and 10)

During some of my lessons the principal or vice principal walked in and looked around – checking up on the new teacher I guess. That was a little intimidating but since they don’t speak English it probably didn’t matter what I said.

Benno made hot cross buns for Easter – not that we have any holidays for Good Friday or Easter Monday. In Japan Easter is not celebrated – we’ll have to wait until May 2-6 for Golden Week holidays.

Benno’s handmade hot cross buns.

On Friday after school Toshy came and we went to a local doctor for a pre-employment compulsory medical. The three new Inter teachers pee-ed in cups, had heart scans (involving about 12 sticky electrodes), had x-rays of our lungs, the doctor listened to our heart and took our blood pressure. My health was perfect (of course) so the school is happy to employ me. I have to pay compulsory health insurance anyway so I’m not sure what the big deal is. Every year teachers and students sit compulsory health checks, but I’m not sure if there are any consequences if you fail.

Working on a Saturday:

The first time I’ve had to work on a Saturday (apart from detention supervision, but that’s not actually teaching lessons). The school bus had me home by 2pm to enjoy the sunshine and be lazy for the rest of the day…we had roast vegetables and gravy for dinner followed by a strange not-dessert – black sesame and tofu japanese-pudding (that was fine on its own) with miso topping (bad addition – next time we’ll throw out the miso dressing and use straight sugar).


Starting school

6 04 2009

First teachers’ day at Gyosei. I had an introductory walk around the school before being introduced to all the other International faculty staff members. We sat in the staff room for over a hour listening to random Japanese from old men teachers (saying such things as ‘let’s keep the corridors clean’ and ‘our college admission numbers are dropping’). I got my timetable, keys, codes, textbooks, instructions etc before heading off to the whole staff lunch. I had to say an introductory statement for the third time, introducing myself to different gatherings of staff. The rest of the day was spent in preparation and international staff meetings. The 6 others seem to be a co-operative, collaborative bunch that work together to ensure the smooth running of the inter division. There are 3 females in total on the entire high school staff (with a few more in the elementary school) and very few young staff. The school includes such features as: only using chalk and blackboards, having labs that are basic with no lab techs, and a small cupboard of chemicals (apparently the labs are not used much- textbook science only!), the classrooms are unadorned rooms with individual wooden desks and chairs and there are 5 mops in each classroom for daily after school cleaning duties.

Dinner was spaghetti with a tomato sauce and adzuki icecreams for dessert.

Tokyo Excursion

5 04 2009

Shinjuku Gyoen

TOKYO here we come! We got up early to be on the 8.06am express bus from Apita to Tokyo train station. It took about an hour to travel through Kisarazu, along the Tokyo Wan bridge to Umi Hotataru, under the tunnel to Kawasaki and up the expressway into Tokyo. We took the train for a short hop to Shinjuku (the train station is huge – easy to get lost if you don’t know what coloured line you want to travel on). We walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building(s) and travelled up the elevator to the 45th floor where there is an observation deck. We looked at the sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers stretching across into the fog/smog horizon. Back on the first floor we stopped off at the Tourist Information Centre to pick up some maps and a guide to veg* & macrobiotic restaurants in Tokyo.

tokyo_skyline_2View of Tokyo

tmgTokyo Metro Building


Lara & Benno by the cherry blossoms (sakura)

We wandered across to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where the line up was huge…flocks of people were converging at lunchtime to enter the gardens for hanami (picnic under cherry blossoms). The cherry blossoms were indeed beautiful – mass plantings of massive cherry blossoms all in bloom with pale pink petals floating in clouds whenever the wind blew. We sat down in the Japaneses-style garden section and enjoyed the sakura (cherry blossoms). By 12.30pm the garden was packed – not a single area of lawn was free of a blue tarp picnic rug with millions of Japanese enjoying hanami with their friends and family.

crowds_hanamiThis was the garden when we first arrived – you couldn’t see any of the lawn by the time we left.

sakura_treeBeautiful Sakura

It was time for our lunch so we followed the advice of the T.I.C. brochure and ate at a macrobiotic restaurant called de Chaya in Isetan on the 7th floor, behind the Shinjuku 3-chome subway station. We ate delicious meals – worth waiting for since there was a line up of about 10 people when we got there. We had a tempeh salad with steamed potatoes and tofu tartare sauce and tofu and pea fried dumplings with salad. We also had desserts of strawberry cheesecake and toffee and nut slice. Delicious!

Lunch: tempeh salad above, strawberry pie and nut slice below.


We caught the train to Harajuku, the hub of trendy high-school aged kids and one of the busiest shopping districts. We saw crazy teenagers dressed up in costumes (who stood around on the station corner for hours).

harajuku_stationHarajuku station – so many people and most of them under 30.


Some of the crazy dressups outside Harajuku Station on the way into the Meiji Jingu Shrine complex.

We joined all the other tourists in ‘paying our respects’ at Meiji Jingu Shrine, where there were just as many people as in Shinjuku Gyoen but the ratio was now 1:1 foreigner to Japanese. The Shinto Shrine was built in 1920 by/for Emperor Meiji and is surrounded by around 100,000 trees in a huge garden, making it an ‘enviro-hotspot’, apparently.

meiji_shrine_buildingThe main entrance building to the shrine complex.

meiji_gatesHuge Torii made from massive big trees – entrance to the shrine.


The wall of prayer tokens.


A Shinto wedding occuring at the time – they paraded through the complex a few times and then sat down for wedding photos.

Then we wandered past the fashionable shops (all the big names in fashion have stores along with many small boutiques) and through the narrow backstreets filled with more shops to the Organic Bakery der Akkord. We treated ourselves to a vegan apple pie, adzuki pie, rock-cookies and basil pate/spread. Dinner was at Brown Rice Organic Macrobiotic Cafe. We had another totally delicious meal that included a vegie-burger with fries and salad, bean curry with brown rice and salad, soy chai and a hot sweet drink made from fermented rice called amazake. We had little muffins with struesel toppings for dessert – quite interesting considering the macrobiotic philosophy is no sugar, but the fruit sugar is sufficient.

vegie_burgerBenno’s vegie burger dinner

dinner_curryLara’s brown rice bean curry dinner.

dinner_muffinFruit Struesel Muffin for dessert.

By this stage we were stuffed to the brim with good food so we caught the train back to Tokyo station and took the express bus home. But we caught the wrong bus back to Kisarazu and instead of stopping at Apita near our house it stopped at the train station, about an hour’s walk from our house. All of the local buses had finished so we had to catch a taxi back home. Oops. We’ll remember that for next time.

tokyo_lights_from_bridgeTokyo by night from the bumpy bus going over the Tokyo Bay bridge.

We’ve Survived One Week in Japan.

3 04 2009

Toshy picked us up at 10am. I opened a bank account and filled in the forms for direct debit of the rent, gas and water (but not electricity yet). After endless red tape, paperwork and random forms, 90 minutes later I walked away with a Disney passbook/card and a Pooh face towel (a present for opening the account).

After lunch we went shopping for mobile phones. The bilingual phones that we got have internet and e-mail so we were able to check our e-mail when we arrived home…at a cost (Benno has already exceeded the internet limit but fortunately it is a capped cost). But it’s better than nothing especially when we will be without home internet for another couple of weeks at best…some things in Japan are so streamlined, and some things are like the dark-ages of red tape. I have a bright pink new model slide phone, and Benno has the same in black.

Toshy translated some of the school year calendar. My first lot of holidays is Golden Week from May 2 – 6 which is less than a month after I start. Then in June there are a few days holiday (12-16) and the main summer holidays July 24-September 1. Then October 3-7 followed by November 12-16. Not sure if there’s a real break for Christmas (students get 20th Dec to Jan 6th, but I have a feeling that teachers are required to stay behind longer), but February 10-14 is a holiday and the school year breaks up on March 20th (teachers probably finish 25th March and the new academic year starts 8th April 2010). So 6 short holidays and one long holiday. Time to start planning travel!

Roast vegetable (pumpkin, potato and steamed broccoli) pasta for dinner and chocolate pudding for dessert.

Please don’t make us leave the country to change our visa status

2 04 2009

Toshy had arranged to pick us up at 9am to go to Chiba. But she slept in and we only made it to the train station at about 10.30. We bought train tickets (650 yen) to Chiba and got on for our 45-55 minute journey. It took longer than normal because of strong winds that were slowing the train down. Once we arrived at Chiba station we had to get on the Chiba city Monorail (190 yen) and go one stop to the City Community Centre that houses the immigration office.

The immigration office was very busy – western gaijin, koreans – and we were told it would be an hour to hour and a half wait. So we took a number and went to lunch. Lunch was tomato pasta at itarian pasta marine. The change of visa cost us 4000 yen each but there were no issues (and no deportation required) with gaining a 3 year visa in our passports (instructor visa for me, dependent visa for Benno) although the man did make a mistake in putting Benno’s sticker in my passport so he had to make a new sticker for Benno and VOID the wrong sticker in mine- I now have 3 stickers on one page (Landing Permission cancelled, Visa Dependent VOID and Visa Instructor).

We headed back on the train, arriving just in time for the bank’s closing time at 3pm so we couldn’t open bank accounts. But we did go to the Land Agent to talk about Internet (looks like it may take a month…) and to the City Hall in Kisarazu with Scott and Matthew (other new teachers to Gyosei) to get our alien cards (foreigners cards that must be carried at all times). We have filled out the forms but will have to collect our actual cards later in the month.

Toshy shouted us all a Starbucks coffee while us gaijin talked about how strange and wonderful Japan is. The first rule of Japan Club is ask no questions.


First Official Duties

1 04 2009

Toshy picked me up and we went to Gyosei wearing our “suits”. All the new teachers were invited to a little ceremony and a “party”. There were 2 new international staff – myself and a scottish primary teacher – and 6 new Japanese staff (a nurse, a senior maths teacher, some sports teachers/coaches and some elementary teachers). We had a cup of coffee in the waiting room (what’s with all the cups of coffee? I don’t like drinking the stuff). Then we went upstairs (changing into inside slippers) to a meeting hall/lounge where Father Tagawa and all the deputies met us. Our names were called and certificates given out, then we all had to say some words of introduction about ourselves. Toshy acted as my translator. Lots of “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” all round with lots of bowing and clapping.

Then we had our “party” which meant sitting at a long table with little cups of Japanese wine and having lunch of salad and rice brought out on ‘cafeteria trays’.

Toshy was busy for the rest of the day so the vice principal (of the elementary?) dropped me home. Benno stayed at home during the morning and awaited our fridge delivery. The delivery man got lost, came late, then left again (saying he needed a blanket so the floor didn’t get dirty) but came back instead with another man and together they lifted the fridge into the apartment.

It was raining a little today, but we can tell that the weather is generally warming up for spring…maybe…there was lightning and thunder in the evening along with more rain overnight.

We enjoyed a 4 course dinner (cooked by Benno) which included salty edamame (steamed green soy beans), udon stirfry with bean sprouts and aubergine, oven baked chips with heinz tomato sauce and adzuki bean ice creams. We found cheap broccoli, tofu and garlic (about $1 each) and strawberries were reasonable too (maybe $8 for 2 punnets). However the myth of the $100 rockmelon is true – perfectly round rockmelons are about $75 or over 4500 yen.