Summer in Japan is cicadas. Summer in Japan is humidity, festivals, and fireworks. I’m in my apartment now, typing away, while outside I can hear the festivities of a neighborhood’s barbecue.
Normally, I might be tempted to go outside and introduce myself. However, my lack of Japanese has been hindering my interactions with the locals.
Whenever I start a conversation with a Japanese person, the first thing I usually say is “Eigo ga hanasemasu ka?” (Do you speak English?) Usually they say no. Then I move on to my next useful phrase: “Tsumimasen, nihongo wakarimasen.” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand Japanese.) Once that’s out of the way, I can start my neanderthal gesturing to get my point across. Or consult the translator on my iPhone.
I’m exaggerating, of course. I had a few heartfelt connections with locals, but mostly with the ones who are willing and able to speak English with me.
At the beach last week (which is practically bathtub temperature) I met two girls floating in an inflatable raft. They must have studied English recently because both of them were capable of normal conversation. Yay!
They were from Osaka, and had driven 2 hours to spend the day at the beach. They were wearing make up and fake eyelashes, like many of the girls there. One told me she worked for Dolce and Giobanna, and the other was a secretary. I told them I was an English teacher, although it doesn’t really feel like it yet, since I haven’t started teaching!
I have had some fun interactions with my students, though. Last week I practiced with the volleyball and table tennis teams, and both were challenging in different ways.
About 9 years ago, I played volleyball for one year in high school, on the junior varsity team. I can bump, set, and spike. Although I know I’m out of practice, I still stay “I play volleyball” with confidence. However, when I was grading some of the student workbooks, I noticed a common theme: when the kids here tell you they do something, here’s how they phrase it: “I play volleyball, but I’m not good.” Why do they need to add that afterthought?
Anyway, I thought I was a decent volleyball player until I tried practicing with these 12-year-old girls. For 3 hours I joined them in their drills and scrimmages. Even though they are all at least 6 inches shorter than me, they were so much better than me! Why? Because during summertime, instead of going to camps, most of them have been at school, focusing on their extra-curricular. The volleyball girls have been practicing for 3 hours a day, almost every day, all summer!
Despite my ego being put in its place, I had a lot of fun, and it was a great workout!I’m proud of myself for trying, and I’m looking forward to further embarrassment at practice next week.
The following day, I joined the boys table tennis team, which was pretty fun. The team captain led us through practice: practicing forehands, backhands, serves, which devolved at one point into an epic ping-pong battle.
My school is surrounded by mountains and rice fields. Since it’s summer vacation, there are some days when there are only a few people at school: the Kocho-Sensai (Principal), the Kyoto-Sensai, (Vice Principal), one or two lone teachers, and me.
Most ALT’s (Assistant Language Teacher’s, that’s my job title) don’t have to go to school this week, however my supervisor wanted me to come. I don’t mind, though, as it has been very relaxing to be alone in the school without kids, and I’ve made some headway on my bulletin board I’m making for the classroom where I’ll be teaching.
I painted these with my watercolors! I plan on using them for lessons too.
Besides the school activities, I’ve also been adventuring with my fellow ALT’s. When I was signing up for the JET program, they asked me my preference for how close I wanted to live to another English teacher. I checked the box for “walking distance,” and did they deliver! I’m living in an apartment complex with 11 other ALTs, and we see each other almost every day.
Tonight, we all ventured to a local festival together where we dined at food stalls and watched fireworks together.
If I can find a balance between school, social events, sports, exploration, and alone time, I think that I can be happy here. It helps me to share my experiences and hear feedback from my friends and family. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions!