Tag Archives: JET

About the JET Programme Interview!

3 Feb

It’s been two years since my JET interview, so I honestly can’t say that I remember it perfectly.  But I do have a lot of friends who interviewed for JET from a variety of backgrounds, so I’ve tried to compile everything I’ve heard into this little summary.  It’s a bit long, but I hope it’s helpful!  A lot of the reasoning I give for things here is my own hypothesis or else things I’ve heard for others, and I absolutely don’t mean to say that if someone got a certain type of question, it necessarily reflects one way or another on them.  I just want to help out anyone looking for a sort-of walkthrough of the JET interview. I can only speak from my own experience, which I know doesn’t necessarily match up with the experiences of others based on their consulate, home country, or even just the people interviewing them, but I hope that this is helpful nonetheless to a variety of aspiring JETs preparing for their interviews!

First, about a month beforehand, you’ll either receive or make an appointment with the consulate by email.  I know in past years some consulates have let you choose, but I didn’t have that choice in New York since it’s one of the two busiest in the country.  I was assigned my time and told I had to be there at that time, so I needed to make arrangements with professors and stuff.  I stayed with a friend in New York; if you’re doing your interview more than a few hours’ car ride, I’d advise staying overnight.  It takes a lot of stress out of making sure you get there on time and looking nice.  I’ve heard so many horror stories about not having time to change or inclement weather making people late, and I’m definitely glad I stayed over.

Most people will tell you to wear a black or dark grey or navy suit, but I wore a grey skirt and a muted green jacket (from the same line of separates, so they matched but weren’t the same colour) because my body is a weird shape (petit but curvy) and finding a nice suit that would fit me well would have been difficult, time consuming, and pricy, so I had to shop the sale racks.  But in the long run, I actually got complimented by the consulate staff and the JET alumni who were there on having a “bit of colour” despite still looking business-ready, so I don’t think you need to be panicking if your suit is a little outside the black/grey/navy range.  I wouldn’t, however, wear anything that’s too bright, or a suit that’s too light (like khaki) because that will really be completely different from everyone else.  I would advise that you wear a button up shirt rather than a regular blouse or high-cut cami, because despite the fact that those are 100% okay as a part of your suit for basically everything else (including orientations and graduation and stuff once you’re on JET), if I recall correctly, almost everyone was wearing collared button ups at the interview.  Obviously this goes without saying, but no cleavage and no short skirts. I wore stilettos because they were the only black pumps I had and I was fine, but I wouldn’t wear anything outside of black, brown, navy, or beige shoes.  People will try to tell you that you should wear a skirt, but I think pants suits are 100% fine.  In my experience, the embassy staff wear an embassy uniform (similar to desk attendants in Japanese businesses, with a vest, a hat, and a cutesy tie), the professors/otherwise established Japanese community members wore suits, and the JET alums tended to have the least formal dress, wearing upscale business casual (a blazer and slacks and a colourful blouse for the girls, a blazer and slacks and a light coloured shirt with a colourful tie for the guys).  The atmosphere won’t be so stifling that you’ll stand out if you’re even wearing one speck of colour.  I borrowed a professional-looking handbag from a friend; some people carried briefcases.  As long as your bag is a muted tone and looks business-like, don’t worry about it.  At the New York consulate, I could leave it in the lobby and the JET alums there will watch it.

I know it’s obvious to get there early, but you can arrive seriously early and it will be fine; don’t worry about it being awkward.  There’s a place to wait, so even if you show up more than an hour in advance, they’ll accommodate you and you can sit in the waiting room and chat with the JET alums and ask them any questions. Getting into the consulate might be a bit terrifying, but they’re pretty good about placing guides along the way to get you to the right place.

They’ll call you back to your interview room when it’s time.  Your interview panel will very likely consist of three people: a JET alum, a Japanese college professor or some other esteemed member of the community, and a consulate employee.  I’ve heard people have had various good cop/bad cop experiences, but for me, the JET alum and the professor were both very friendly, while the consulate employee was more strictly professional.

The interviewers will all have your application and statement of purpose in front of them.  The questions they ask you will be based on how high your application scored in the original screening process, as well as what they felt was strong and/or weak about your application.  I’ve heard that people who scored lower on the application step will be asked harder questions (if they’re nervous about how you’ll handle the pressure of standing in front of a classroom or if they think you might be a flight risk or something) while people who scored higher are asked more general questions.  There are a few categories of questions that they’ll ask from, and most people get at least one question out of most of these categories.

Category One: About your application
(I’m sure everyone gets these)

They asked me:
✓ “You have here that you’d like to be placed in a city.  How would you feel if you were places in a small town, instead?”

✓ “You lived in Tokyo for a semester during study abroad, is that correct?  What would you say your biggest challenge was in Japan?”

✓ “I see you’ve had teaching experience teaching ballet to children.  How do you think this will help you on JET? How do you think your JET experience will differ, and what will you do to make up for that difference?”

Question my friends got:
✓ “I see you requested the Kanto region.  Why was that your top choice?” 

✓ “I see you don’t have any teaching experience.  How to you plan to handle standing in front of a class of kids?”

Category Two: Why?
(I don’t recall getting these but I know lots of people get them)

✓ “Why did you choose the JET programme?”

✓ “Why do you want to live in Japan?”

✓ “I see here your major in college was Japanese language. Why did you choose to study Japanese?”

※ People always say you shouldn’t talk about anime, dramas, pop culture, j-pop, etc here, but I think it’s really fine as long as you make it clear that you care more about the job itself than going to Japan to meet Kyari Pamyu Pamyu or something. What I think is really important here is that your interest in Japan and JET is more than just esoteric interest or blind fascination in Japanese culture.  I find more often that the hole academics from good universities who studied Japanese in college fall into is trying to seem too ~academically interested in Japan.  What the program people obviously care about is that you’re interested in working with kids and that you’re adaptable to anything– being in the middle of a metropolitan area in Osaka or being in the tiniest village in the northernmost point of Hokkaido.  If you give them the impression that you have interest and a passion for teaching/education/cultural exchange without seeming like you have huge expectations of Japan, I think that would be your best bet.  I’m not saying that I think people go in trying to seem inflexible, but rather that I feel like people often make the mistake of trying to seem cultured and educated and end up seeming like they missed the point

Category 3: The Mock Lesson 
(There’s almost no chance that you won’t get a question from this category)

They asked me:
✓ “Please do an example of a short self introduction you could give a class when you taught them for the first time.”

Questions my friends got:
✓ “Please give an example lesson showcasing a holiday in your country.”

✓ “I see you’re a _______ major.  Please give an example of how you’d try to explain a _______ concept to your students.”

✓ “Please give us an example of how you’re explain a grammar point in simple English to your students.”

※ This section seems to be primarily to see two things: 1) how fast you act on your feet, 2) how you present to a room of people.  I’ve heard that the panel will give you various degrees of trouble pretending to be kids in the class if they’re unsure about how you’ll work under pressure.  For example, during my friend’s interview, someone on the panel raised her hand and asked (completely unrelated to the lesson) if all Americans have guns.  They do seem to shape their question based on what they want to see from you; for example, my friends who got asked to explain their major, the focus seemed more to get them to project/present to the class and see their teaching style and how they would explain more than to catch them off guard since it was a topic they knew well.  The grammar lesson or holiday lesson seem to be aimed more at people who they want to see both how they work under pressure and how they explain things.  I really have no idea what the point of my question was.  All I can guess is that they wanted to see if I could be animated and make something mundane seem interesting to the kids?  I offered to do a ballet dance for them since I studied ballet for 18 years, and managed to do it in a pencil skirt and 4-inch heels, and that seems to have won me some points.

Category 4: The Big Overarching Questions
(I imagine everyone gets these in some way or another.)

They asked me:
✓ “We can see that you love living in Japan and are anxious to work there.  But what will you give back to the community?”

Questions my friends got:
✓ “What do you hope to get from your experience in Japan? What do you hope to give back?”

✓ “What goals do you have for your time in Japan?”

✓ “How do you hope to promote cultural exchange while in Japan?”

Category 5: The Hypothetical Situations and Trick Questions 
(I didn’t get any of these, but I’ve heard that they can be anywhere from simple questions about potential situations in Japan to what seems like a trick question with no answer.)

✓ “What would you do if you were walking down the street and an elderly Japanese person started yelling racial slurs at you?

✓ “What would you answer if an elementary school student asked you what the Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

✓ “What would you do if your principal started making sexual comments to you or touching you inappropriately at a work drinking party?”

✓ “How would you react if you were told as a female teacher that you were expected to serve tea to the male teachers?”

✓ “How would you handle being sexually harassed in a public place, like on a train?”

✓ “What would you do in a situation where the Japanese English Teacher doesn’t show up for class and you’re alone in the classroom?”

✓ “What would you do if a student suddenly had a violent outburst?”

✓ “What would you do if the Japanese English Teacher started criticizing your English in front of the class?”

Category 6: The Quiz Questions
(I didn’t get any of these either, but I’ve heard that people who scored lower on their paper application or who seem like good teaching candidates but the interviewers are worried they don’t know anything about Japan get asked these questions.  Alternately, they might ask questions about the culture of your home country if they’re afraid you’re not on the right page about cultural exchange.) 

✓ “Name three important Japanese historical figures and explain briefly why they’re important.”

✓ “Name five Japanese prefectures.”

✓ “Who is the current Prime Minister of Japan, and what party is he from?”

✓ “What do you know about the Japanese education system?”

✓ “Please name three important Japanese historical events.”

✓ “Please explain the government system in your home country.”

✓ “Please explain the three most important historical events in your home country.”

✓ “Please tell us about your favourite famous person/music artist/movie/TV series/aspect of your home country’s pop culture.”

✓ “Please tell us about your favourite American president/British king or queen/historical figure, etc.

Category 7: The Japanese Portion

※ The Japanese portion is possibly the most unpredictable portion of the whole interview.  Because there’s no Japanese language requirement for the programme, this section only serves to 1) make sure you didn’t lie or misrepresent yourself on your paper application and 2) check your level so that you can be placed accordingly.  Many placements request specific Japanese levels (my city requests people with intermediate to advanced Japanese, for example) and different schools require different Japanese abilities (with elementary school requiring the most and high school requiring the least usually), so they try to gauge your level.  Sometimes, they ask questions that are actually involved in the content of the interview, like “what do you hope to give back to the community?”  Sometimes they ask random questions.  Sometimes they ask you to give a self introduction or talk about yourself freely.  I don’t really know much about what they might ask, so I’ll just summarize my experience below.

✓ “I see here your major in college was East Asian Studies.  What, specifically, did you study?”

(I responded that I studied Japanese art and literary history for the most part, and that my area of interest was art and literary history in the Edo Period.  I mentioned that I was currently writing my thesis on “The Great Mirror of Male Love” by Ihara Saikaku, and was finding it very interesting.)

✓ “Wow, that’s interesting.  How did you get interested in Ihara Saikaku?”

(I responded that I studied samurai fiction during my time abroad and that his works, and in general, the topic of pop culture and popular fiction in the Edo period had caught my interest.

✓ “I see on your application that you’re interested in graduate work in this area of study.  How do you plan to continue your research?”

(I responded that I was interested in comparing current Japanese popular literature and pop culture with Edo period popular culture and literature, for example, the idea of fan goods, doujinshi, and BL being comparable to a lot of Edo pop culture surrounding kabuki.  The interviewer laughed at my mention of BL, but seemed interested.  I mentioned I’d read an article in Japanese class about how anime fan culture mimics Edo period artisan culture, and thought that there was some merit in pursuing the idea.  At this point, it seemed like the interviewer, a Japanese professor from Columbia University, wanted to keep chatting, but the consulate employee said that we were almost out of time and needed to move on.)

Category 8: Miscellaneous
(I don’t know what categories these go in, but they’re things I’ve heard of/experienced coming up in the interview)

They asked me:
✓ “How do you feel about moving to Japan after the earthquake in Fukushima?  How does your family feel?  Are they against your decision, or worried about your safety?”

✓ “What do you plan to do next year should you not be accepted into the JET programme?”

Questions I’ve heard being asked:
✓ “I see you have a tattoo.  Are you aware of the social implications of tattoos in Japan?  How do you plan to explain it to your coworkers and students?  What would you do if you were required to keep it covered at all times?”

✓ “I see from your transcript that you’ve failed some classes/gotten some poor grades/did poorly in school.  Do you want to say a few words about that?”

Lastly, they’ll ask you if you have any questions for your interviewers.  You probably won’t have too much time, but try to think of one or two questions beforehand so that you have something to say to show you’re giving the job significant thought.

After the interview, they’ll shake your hand and let you back out to the waiting room.  In my experience, the JET alums there will probably ask you how it was and tell you good job and otsukare and stuff like that.  And then you’re done!

My advice would be to not fixate on the interview or get too stressed.  I wouldn’t think of it as something you have to “study” for or anything like that.  As long as you know your own application and yourself and have thought through why you want to do JET, you should be fine.  I think that I benefitted from doing a mock interview with a friend specifically for JET and also a mock job interview with my college’s career center.  I got really helpful feedback from the interviewer (who did interviews for an extracurricular leadership program for kids from lower socio-economic level areas, so it wasn’t 100% irrelevant), and I got a feel of how I could best express myself doing the JET-specific questions with a friend.

There’s really no way to know exactly what sort of thinking goes into what questions someone gets asked in the interview, but what I have here is based on what I’ve gathered from friends and JET coworkers.  I think, generally, the interview does reflect what they thought of the applicant’s paper application and statement of purpose, and they definitely will refer to them while interviewing, but as long as you stay calm and know what you wrote, you should be fine.

Good luck!

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Gunma Orientation, round two!

18 Aug

ImageLast year, I was a first-year JET participant, and as a result, was required to go to the prefectural orientation at Gunma’s prefectural office in the capital city, Maebashi.  This year, however, I went back again as a volunteer, helping to organize the orientation as a member of the Gunma Orientation Committee.  This means I helped to organize the schedule, give informational presentations, answer any questions the new JETs had, generally show them around, set up, and clean up the orientation.  It was a lot of work and was absolutely exhausting, but it was also a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed helping the new people and trying to make the orientation as useful and not-overwhelming as possible… and hey, I got to see Gunma’s prefectural mascot, Gunma-chan, too!

ImageBasically, the orientation was a series of presentations
on the first day, followed by Q&A from an anonymous box and then a “party” in the evening in the prefectural office basement cafeteria hosted by the education division.  There was food and drinks, as well as a few speeches and an opportunity to sign up for Gunma tourism emails and talk to various Japanese workers in the prefectural education division.  Afterwards, the JET association hosted karaoke parties, but I was far too exhausted after a day of moving things, running around the prefectural office building, and giving presentations.

ImageThe second day was a few more presentations, followed by a series of workshops.  The new JETs could be pick two between options like “Fun in Gunma” and “Special Dietary Needs.”  I presented on “Modern Pop Culture” and while sadly, there wasn’t a large turnout, I had a really good time talking about the things that I enjoy!  I hope that maybe I can be involved in the committee again next year, and that I can do a better job advertising it so that more people will choose to come.

ImageAfter the workshops was lunch, and then after that, there were cultural workshops! I was an assistant for the karate workshop, so I got to watch the karate classes, as well as the demonstrations that the teachers did.  They broke a lot of boards, which was really impressive, and did some sets of karate movements, as well.  To me, that was almost more impressive, because you could see how much technique and practice was involved in their precise movements.  They also taught the JETs to punch a hole in a newspaper, among other things, and it was fun to watch them learn and succeed.

ImageAfter the cultural workshops, there were some meetings between regional
representatives and the new JETs living in those areas, and then more Q&A from the box.  And then that was the end! We sent the new JETs on their way before cleaning up all the posters and decorations.  I was exhausted by the time we were done, but it was a really rewarding experience, and I hope that I can be involved again next year!

The dangers of bogarts (or culture shock)

1 Nov

Trigger Warning: the topic of this entry is culture shock.  If this is upsetting to you, please proceed with caution. 

When you move (short term or long term) to a new country, the first thing everyone tells you is that you will get culture shock.  Or at least, this is my experience– both when I first came to Japan a little more than two years ago for study abroad and this time, it was beaten into my head time and time again that I would get culture shock and that it would be incredibly unpleasant.

The first time, I never experienced it.  My four months in Japan while studying abroad went by in the blink of an eye, and since the academic program in which I was enrolled was far less rigorous than that of my home college, I spent much of my time on fun things like seeing friends, exploring Tokyo, and going to plays.  Because I was under a lot less stress than normal, I never felt depressed or alone while I was in Japan, and actually experienced reverse culture shock a lot harder than I ever felt culture shock.  Going back to America was rough for me, but I only ever had positive experiences in Japan.

So, with that experience under my belt, I was confident that this time in Japan would be much the same.  My job, while sometimes time consuming, isn’t particularly stressful (not when compared to taking 5 or 6 classes at an academically rigorous college), and I’m used to Japanese lifestyle.  I speak enough Japanese that I don’t have to worry about not being able to catch trains or buy groceries, and there are a bunch of other factors in my life besides that lend themselves to adaptability (being half-Chinese and having experienced Chinese culture alongside American culture growing up, attending public school for all of my pre-college schooling and therefore experiencing a wide variety of cultures, socio-economic classes, and other types in the families of my grade school friends, taking enough dance classes that I had to be responsible for getting my work done in high school, balancing two majors in college, to name a few).  I just wasn’t concerned that the pressures of a new setting were going to be enough to push me over the emotional edge when they weren’t as new as the first time, and I hadn’t had a problem then.

But what I’ve learned now is that culture shock isn’t really necessarily at all like what they describe at study abroad or new job orientations.  You hear countless stories of people not being able to read kanji in grocery stores and breaking down in tears, but I have to imagine that those people didn’t know much kanji and had never shopped in a country where they didn’t read the language before.  That was culture shock to them.  But culture shock seems to be a lot like a bogart in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books– it changes into whatever a person is most susceptible to; it finds one’s vulnerable points and sneaks in between the cracks.  It’s not something you notice at first, because it’s already what makes you uncomfortable or worried.  Or at least, that’s my experience.

As I mentioned, I was going about my life being completely unconcerned about culture shock when, little by little, I started having bad days.  I felt as if I’d messed up in a class, I got a lot of criticism from my JTE.  I arrived late one day, I accidentally did something that I didn’t know was against the rules another.  All of these things that were making my days “bad” are little things, but it’s the little things that always get to me, and soon, I was beginning to worry that everyone at my schools hated me.

I don’t think my worries weren’t 100% unfounded; at JET orientation, they make a decent point of trying to illustrate all the ways you might accidentally offend a Japanese person or break tons of rules without realizing.  People tell stories of being scolded after a full year for wearing a wristwatch when they didn’t know it was against the rules, of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time that just so happened to be completely against Japanese etiquette.  I assume these foreboding anecdotes were meant to warn reckless JETs to be careful, but they left me with a lingering concern that played into a personal fear of mine: that despite how hard I was trying, I was doomed to, for some reason or another, make everyone hate me.

I realize, of course, that this is a silly concern.  I tell myself that it’s highly unlikely that everyone hates me when, by and large, I think I’m a tolerable person who works hard and is considerate whenever possible, but it’s not exactly the sort of thing of which I can easily dissuade myself.  And being in another country with another culture with which I’m not completely familiar and a different set of etiquette that I might accidentally break and where everyone talks around me in a language I only understand maybe 40% of the time depending on how fast and at what level it’s being spoken, there are a lot of grey areas, areas of uncertainty where my mind can easily fill in the blank and make a mountain out of a molehill.

Over two weeks or so, I became more and more concerned about how others at my work were feeling about me that when I arrived at my elementary school on Friday, I was nervous and upset.  The atmosphere was tense when I arrived for reasons completely unrelated to me, but in the end, it was too much.  I broke down in tears after lunch, much to my dismay, thinking this was just another thing to make my coworkers think I was crazy…

…But much to my surprise, exactly the opposite happened.  Many of the teachers with whom I often speak or eat lunch came to see what was wrong, brought me tissues, and assured me that no one hated me.  I tearily and in grammatically awful Japanese explained that I was just worried about offending people and didn’t want everyone to hate me, and they informed me that I hadn’t done one rude thing since I came and that everyone loved me.  Then, as I was wiping my eyes and most of the teachers began to scatter, getting back to work when it was clear that I wasn’t dying, the two teachers with whom I’m closest hung around, telling jokes and asking about my life to make me smile.  It was a really great feeling, and I think I’ve been doing a lot better since.

So… I guess I learned two things out of this whole experience.  One is that it’s highly unlikely that everyone around me hates me, and that I should continue to work on having a more optimistic view of the people around me’s opinions of me.

Two is that culture shock is like a bogart.

I’m a cool person, orientations are annoying, the sky is blue.

11 Oct

In my current pattern of starting with a non sequitur, I’m still sick, BUT a few days ago I decorated my phone!  Decorating things excessively, especially with stickers, is a common practice among Japanese girls and young women (and sometimes others!) and since I’d never had the chance to do something like during my lifetime, I decided to go for it.  I ordered a clear phone case and bought a ton of stickers to make it embarrassingly sparkly and girly, and… well, at least I accomplished the embarrassing!  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of stickers that have come in idol magazines, and so I decided to make my phone case (like everything else in my life) idol themed.  Just to clarify, Yuri is the name of the guy whose face is now on my phone, and JUMP stands for his group, Hey! Say! JUMP.  Essentially, from this, you can deduce just how cool of a kid I am.

Completely unrelatedly, last Thursday, the new Kiryu ALTs were required to go to an ALT seminar in Isesaki, a few train stops west from Kiryu.  Thus far, JET lectures, seminars, and orientations have been far from my favourite part of the JET experience, but since I didn’t really have a choice, I bucked up and hopped on the 8:05 train from Kiryu to Isesaki and got a cab with my fellow new ALTs to Isesaki.  This seminar was apparently not something that all new JETs were required to attend; unlike the previous JET functions that I had been to, there were only about half the new JETs and a few old JETs from Gunma that I recognized there, and there were a few ALTs from private companies, as well.  Since this was a change from the past, I was hoping that this would be slightly more enjoyable than past experiences… but I was wrong.

The morning proved to be mostly boring– luckily, all the presentations were shorter than they were supposed to be, so as a result, we got quite a bit of break time.  The highlight of the morning was a patronizing presenter who spent his time telling us, essentially, that we were young and naive and that we didn’t know how to engage our students.  His message– that we shouldn’t come in with unreal expectations– was valuable, but he managed to present it in the most offensive and patronizing way possible, including asking people what their previous expectations of Japan were and how they were disproved, all the while still spouting stereotypes about Japan.  Cool.

The afternoon was a bit more interesting, with current ALTs giving examples of their lessons and how they engaged their classes and worked with different sorts of kids with different ability levels.  They taught some new games and activities, and then put us in small groups to share one of our lessons or methods with the class.  I hate being asked to do that sort of thing on the spot, but it turned out fine, and I definitely learned some new things. However, as with any large group of new people, there was a lot of posturing and some people who definitely grated on my nerves.  But at least I was paired with a good group and we managed to put together a good presentation.

And hey, since we were out of Kiryu, I managed to have Coco Ichibanya curry for lunch.  And that pretty much makes up for everything.

The start of something new

28 Aug

Yesterday was the shigyoshiki at my school, or “start of the new semester ceremony.”  While I have to assume ti varies from school to school, at my school, new teachers and school workers are introduced and asked to give a speech, the principal says a few words, winners of sports competitions are honored, and the school song is sung.  All of these things were all fine and well in my book… except the part where new school employees had to give a speech.  I was less thrilled about that aspect.

Luckily for me, I was asked to give a simple self-introduction, somethings that any new employee in a Japanese workplace will probably have to perfect.  In the elongated shigyoshiki version, I told the students my name, that I was from America, my college major, that I studied abroad in Tokyo for four months, and that I was excited to work at this school this year.  That seemed to go over fairly well, and the other ALT at my school did similarly.  Still, standing up on a stage in front of 300 middle schoolers was a bit terrifying… but also somehow, it was a motivating feeling.  I’m looking forward to getting to teach them all… even if down the line I change my opinion of some of them!

The ceremony is conducted in the gymnasium, which has a stage built in on one end to make a sort of gym-atorium (my elementary school had one of these… pretty classy, let me tell you).  The gym was fairly nice, but it was distinctly not air conditioned, and so while I had worn a full suit to impress the crowd while giving my speech, I began to regret that directly afterwards when I sweated through the rest of the ceremony.

ImageHowever, the very end of the ceremony distinctly made up for all of my sweat and discomfort: after honoring the school teams and athletes who had won at sports competitions over the summer, the principal said he had one more honor to give out… to the girls who were a part of Mixed Juice, the team that won the VS Arashi Rolling Coin Tower competition!  He asked them to say a few words (which caused the girls to erupt into giggle and eventually turn to the crowd and say “Arashi are really really cool!”) before giving them the medals and trophy that they had received on the show.  The audience, for the most part, seemed just as tickled as I was by this, and it was a very amusing wrap-up to what I thought was going to be a fairly boring ceremony!

8:10 to Maebashi

20 Aug

ImageLike American states, Japanese prefectures (or todofuken; for some reason, Tokyo is designated by the ending “to,” Kyoto and Osaka by the ending “fu,” and to “do” in Hokkaido is technically its suffix designating it as a prefecture, while all other prefectures are “ken,” as in “Gunma-ken”) have capital cities.  Some, like in America, follow the ever-so-clever model of same naming; the capital of Kyoto Prefecture is, as you might have guessed, Kyoto City.  However, the capital of Gunma is a city called Maebashi, and it is here that the prefectural office buildings are.  Therefore, it was Maebashi that hosted the 2012 Gunma JET’s prefectural orientation.

ImageOrientation started at 9 am, and it’s about a 20-30 minute train ride from Kiryu to Maebashi, so as a result, my fellow Kiryu-ites and I were forced to get up quite early to catch a train there to make it in time.  Luckily, all of the new Kiryu ALTs are quite friendly, and so it was a generally enjoyable ride for one at 8 am.  We caught a cab to the prefectural office or kencho and were ushered to the 29th floor where orientation was to be held.  Unfortunately, since Japan is still in energy-saving mode after the earthquake and tsunami disaster last March, there was no air conditioning in the halls and very little in the meeting rooms, and so it was a very hot time on the 29th floor.  However, since we were so high up, the view of Maebashi was really amazing.  Despite being a bit obscure and out of the way, Gunma really is a beautiful place.

Once orientation had started, some of the chairs from the prefectural education office spoke, and then we had a special visit… from Gunma-chan, the 7-year-old pony mascot of Gunma!  Gunma-chan is basically the most adorable thing ever (Hello Kitty has nothing on Gunma-chan), and we all got to take a photo with him if we wanted.  The crowd was huge (there were about 40 new Gunma JETs) so our little group of five took a photo together.  Seeing as we were all sleep-deprived and tired, we don’t exactly look amazing, but Gunma-chan is a work of art!

As to be expected of an orientation, Gunma orientation was long and filled with a lot of information and handout papers, but I managed to stay awake and alert for the first day and the reception that followed.  We stayed the night in a hotel in Maebashi, and S and I caught a variety show featuring Arashi, a band under Johnny’s Entertainment that we like a lot.  However, because we’re really cool kids (or perhaps because we were exhausted), we went to bed at 11 pm, and even my chronic insomniac self was able to sleep right away.

ImageThe next day was day two of orientation, and after a few more panels, we got to do culture workshops!  I discovered that I’m bad at the shamisen, a Japanese instrument usually described as a 3-stringed fretless guitar, and the koto, another stringed instrument with 13 strings that’s quite long and played laying in front of the player, but the last workshop I went to was for shodo, or Japanese calligraphy.  They gave us a demonstration, some time to practice, and an uchiwa and some paper, and then let us make our own fan.  Mine came out… artistically different… but it was a fun thing to do after a lot of serious panels warning us against the dangers of cockroaches and incorrect tax filing.  The kanji written on it is matsu, Japanese for pine tree, and is signed at the bottom with the kanji for my last name (since I’m half-Chinese, I happen to be lucky enough to have a kanji for my name, despite it not being a common Japanese kanji).  Despite all the uchiwa-making I’ve been doing in the past few weeks, this was a new experience, and I really enjoyed it!  Even if my calligraphy skills leave some room for improvement…
ImageFinally, at the end of the day, there was a raffle for Gunma-chan goods!  Everyone was asked to fill out a survey about orientation, and as a reward, we got a Gunma-chan clear file folder and a raffle ticket to win one of 10 fabulous Gunma-chan prizes!  I usually have bad luck at these things, but I did manage to win a small Gunma-chan towel!  It’s adorable and says “there’s no place like Gunma” on it, and I think it’s awesome.
After the raffle, we all finally got to head home, but a few of the other Kiryu people and I stopped on the way to do karaoke and then grab food at our local Denny’s (different in Japan than in America!) before braving the rain that had started and heading home for the night.  All in all, despite how long and tiring it was, Maebashi orientation wrapped up with a really fun experience, and I can’t wait to hang out more with the new JETs in Kiryu!

getting to know you~ ♪

8 Aug

Kiryu~My first full day in Kiryu was a long but productive one.  I was picked up at my apartment at 9 am to go to the shiyakusho for more paperwork– papers for the school, papers so that we don’t have to pay Japanese taxes, papers for bank accounts, all sorts of papers.  The day prior, we had received our hanko, or stamps with our names that the Japanese use instead of a signature, so we were able to do all our official paperwork in the morning!  Than, after that, we headed to a home supply store to get started furnishing our new apartments.  The store was in Umeda, close to one of the new ALT’s apartments and rather far to the north of central Kiryu, so there were some really beautiful views of mountains along the way, to make up for the longer drive.

Since my predecessor stayed in Japan, it seems as if she kept a lot of her belongings, unlike many returning JETs, who can’t bring their Japanese apartment furnishing back to their home countries.  As a result, I had a lot to buy, and felt bad constantly being the one asking people to help me carry futons and large shelves and things.  However, in order to even begin to be able to organize my things, I needed a lot of stuff, and so I apologized profusely to my supervisor, who was amazing and carried all of the large items for me.  I also picked up some poster tack– I had been wanting to be able to make the place feel like my own, and what better way than to hang my plethora of posters?  After moving in, I’m always dying to make my new space feel like home, and this was at least another step along the way.

delicious raw fish~After the home goods store, we were brought to a Japanese restaurant!  The lunch specials were somewhat limited, but luckily for me, there was a maguro don option– raw tuna sashimi on a bowl of rice, yum!  It came with miso soup, and it was delicious, if a bit on the pricy end.  After eating American sashimi for the past year and a half, which is all right but definitely not great, the maguro was really amazing, and maybe if I’m feeling rich, I’ll go back to that place.  But first, I need to check out the kaitenzushi or “conveyor belt sushi” in the area and see if there are some cheaper options!

From lunch, we headed back to the shiyakusho to set up our bank accounts so that we can be paid!  Then, we headed out again, this time for the bike shop!  In a small city like Kiryu with relatively little public transportation, either a bike or a car is a necessity, and since I didn’t want to pay for insurance or go through the difficult process of obtaining a Japanese driver’s license after my international driver’s permit runs out (not to mention putting down the cost of a car!), I obviously went with the bike option.  S was lucky enough to have the bike her predecessor left, but my and another new ALT’s predecessor’s bikes were so old that our supervisor didn’t think it would be wise for us to continue to use them.  So we headed to the bike shop!  I ended up with a silver bike (despite my desire for pink, sad) that I’ll have to learn to ride while dodging small children, pedestrians, other bikes, stray animals, cars, and other hazards of biking in real life, not just for fun…

After that, we hit the electronics store!  I needed a water heater and a vacuum cleaner, but my main personal goal was a TV!  There a large variety of Japanese television shows that I like to watch, and I’ve been waiting to be in Japan where I can actually watch them on a TV, rather than through Keyhole TV.  A friend of my supervisor helped me get it, and even haggled the price down somewhat, hooray!  Since buying the TV, I’ve had a few trials and tribulations trying to get it set up, but finally, I can watch all dramas and variety shows that I want!

The electronics store was all the way on the other side of town, so we got to see more views of Kiryu on the way.  Kiryu is in a valley, so we’re surrounded by mountains, something that currently marvels and amazes me every time I go outside (though I’m sure the newness will wear off eventually…) and it looks really pretty on the horizon.  I also started to begin to get my bearings since we were driving all over town, though I still have a relatively narrow range of knowledge.  Still, it was good to get to see the city, but after the electronics store, it was late, and we were taken home again.  Less tired this time, I took a look out my balcony and my front door, and was really amazed by the views around my 5th floor apartment.  Despite being fairly small and a little far from the Tokyo metropolis, Kiryu is a really beautiful city, and I’m looking forward to beginning this chapter of my life here.