My Summer “Vacation”


“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”

— Russell Baker
It’s crazy to think that we’re about a third of the way through August already, but time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It’s been a fun-packed summer so far, as I’ve had the great chance and opportunity to sightsee and visit so many new places around Japan, but my summer vacation isn’t over yet! For those who are unaware, unlike most teachers in the States, the majority of teachers in Japan don’t get summer break off. Yep, you guessed it: they still have to go to work. Even most ALTs have to work during the summer, but that’s mostly dependent on their individual contracts. At any rate, most teachers get a few days (or even a week) off for Obon, which is a Japanese custom in which people take time off in order to honor the spirits of their ancestors.  Incidentally, the Board of Education (where I work during major breaks like these) will be closed on Thursday and Friday in observance of the Obon holiday, which will give me a nice 4-day weekend to enjoy and look forward to.

Destroy the Weeds (草刈りタイム)
A couple weeks ago, one of my co-workers from my second BOE stopped by to notify me about a neighborhood clean-up of the weeds in our front and backyards. I didn’t have any tools, so the BOE offered to bring everything for me, so long as I was present to help out. This, of course, took place on a Sunday, which kind of forced me to cancel some of my plans that weekend, but I believe that it was the least I could do for free rent, a free car, free gas, and all the trappings of my beautiful placement. The clean-up started a little before 8am and my supervisor told me that it wouldn’t last any longer than 10am, but we were de-weeding until 1pm. There were so many bees, spiders, and beetles everywhere, but it was a nice feeling to work with everyone to make the neighborhood look neat and tidy. Once it was all said and done, I have to say that I was quite pleased with the end result.


1st Year of JET: Completed

August 2nd also marked my first, full year of living in Japan. Unfortunately, this date also meant the expiration of my international driver’s license, which I’ve used in order to drive my BOE-issued car for daily commutes to-and-from work, and quality of life purposes. Despite taking the driving exam two times, already, I’ve failed both times so far. However, every American taking the exam in Nara, this year, has failed multiple times which has really affected our quality of life. Despite there being about 57 JETs living and working in Nara prefecture, approximately 7 of us were given cars by our contracting organizations because of our extremely rural placements. It wasn’t until today, one of our ALTs managed to pass the exam, giving us a flood of helpful information on what he did in order to pass. Hopefully, this helps my chances out when I go in to take the test for the third time, tomorrow!!!

As you can tell, I'm in the backseat because I can't (legally) drive in Japan...
As you can tell, I’m in the backseat because I can’t (legally) drive in Japan until I get my Japanese license. (T^T)

Hidaka-cho, Wakayama

Thankfully, the last week has been packed full of trips with my elementary school students, by which, my need for a car was (for the most part) unnecessary, as my co-workers were able to pick me up and drive me to the various venues we were scheduled to attend. On Monday, August 3rd, we accompanied my students to a beachside town in Wakayama called Hidaka-cho, where we gave them the opportunity to swim, kayak, and canoe in the ocean, along with kids from other schools who were staying at the same facility as us. I wasn’t expecting the place to be like Okinawa (with its beautiful white-sand beaches) but I have to say that I was quite impressed with how clear and blue the water turned out to be, once we got there. The facility we stayed at wasn’t a hotel or a ryokan, but an old YMCA building with a gym and various rooms labeled 和室 “washitsu” or “Japanese-style rooms” with tatami mats lining the entirety of the room and two rectangular tables in the center. After placing our stuff in our rooms, we made our way up to the cafeteria where we were all served a hearty lunch before the hours of swimming and enjoyment commenced.

My supervisor is pointing at a ship headed our way in the distance. (He did this on purpose, too.)
My supervisor is pointing at a ship headed our way in the distance. (He did this on purpose, too.)

20150803_110833I was asked to help take some of the photos, so I don’t have many photos of my students enjoying themselves, but I did manage to sneak away for a little while and get in the lukewarm water. The area in which the students were allowed to swim was much too shallow for me to do anything in, so I found another beach that was in walking distance that was a bit deeper and more to my liking. After being so far away from my students, I decided to head back and when I got there, my students were already finished with their time in the ocean, so we all made our ways to shower up, change and get ready for dinner. We had about an hour-long break before dinner was ready, so I headed up to their room on the second level and played some go-fish and uno with some of my students. I won three times in a row (with various students) and decided to quit while I was ahead. Hahahha.

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After dinner and some more free time, we had some counselors (college students who want to become school teachers) who rallied up the kids around a campfire, sang songs with them, and had an overall good time with the kids until it was dark outside. For some odd reason, I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, so I was ready to fall asleep by 9pm. I even noticed that some of my fellow teachers were dozing off a bit, so I felt a little better knowing that it wasn’t just me! Regardless, I was able to pull myself through this tired state by gazing up at the stars, and to my luck, I was able to watch a shooting star fly by.


Not long after that, the kids wrapped up their campfire session and were taken back to their rooms for bed. It was probably close to 10pm when we made it back to our room and, of course, the first thing I see crawling around one of our bags is a giant cockroach. The only difference between the ones here in Japan and the ones back in the States is that these suckers are probably 5 times bigger, multiply less aggressively, and can fly!!! One of my teachers took it outside into the hallway, but knowing it was so close to where I was sleeping, I decided to move all of my stuff to the opposite end of the room (which I would later come to regret).

I was all ready for bed when my fellow teachers and co-workers broke out the beer and snacks in preparation for a night of drunken chit-chat. They wouldn’t let me sleep, so I had to slug back a few beers and entertain them for a little while before I just had to crash. Around midnight, I was then told that we were going to switch to a more cool and air-conditioned room. Tired and groggy, I managed to make the shift before collapsing into myself like a neutron star and then swiftly exploding into dreamland.


The following morning we had to get up at 6am, which was quite hysterical and ludicrous to me, as some of my colleagues didn’t even get to bed until after 1am. [Insert: ‘Why Japanese people?!’ viral video – here] Nonetheless, I got up, only to be told that we had a slow morning by which we had an hour or more of free time to kill. Again, [Insert: ‘Why Japanese people?!’ viral video – here]. I decided to take a quick shower, so I sifted through my clothes to find something dry. Once I had everything I wanted, I picked up my pile of clothes when I heard (and even felt) something slide off of my pile of clothes and hit the ground with a thud. I thought it was probably my boxers or something, but when I looked down, I let out a (insert the word: manly) scream as the infamous “hand spider” was what jumped out of my pile of clothes and onto the ground. I quickly staggered backwards as it almost seemed to chase after my feet as I was scampering away. My supervisor eventually walked into the room and I told him what I had seen and he quickly went over to investigate. “Whoa! That’s a big spider!” he said to me in Japanese. As he moved more of my stuff around (yes, it was still hiding near and around my stuff!!) he suddenly told me that it was gone. I asked him to double check everything, so he picked everything up piece-by-piece and waved them around to prove that it was gone. “It slipped into this crack behind your clothes, in between the tatami mats,” he said. After hearing that, I grabbed all my gear and moved it into the room we slept in the previous night for safe, bug-free, keeping. Needless to say, I don’t think I’d ever want to lay my head down in any of those rooms, again! First a giant cockroach, then a giant spider. Not my cup of tea, to say the least.

20150804_090550At any rate, we eventually made our way out to breakfast and the kids were able to enjoy another morning of water-related festivities for one last time. It was truly (overall) a great experience to enjoy the company of my students, outside of the classroom. I’d highly recommend that ALTs and JETs go on school trips with their students, should the opportunity present itself. It can truly become a bonding moment for you and your students, especially while out here in Japan.


I believe that it was on my first full day of work, after arriving in Nara, that I was asked to assist in this event. Once a year, one of my villages (Higashiyoshino) hosts an event through which students from Sakai City (in Osaka) spend two nights in a part of my village called Furusato-mura. Although it might not be extremely well-known, Furusato-mura is a local hotspot where people come to camp out, barbecue, go swimming, and enjoy the scenic beauty of the country. This event which involves the collaboration between my village and Sakai City has been an annual event for nearly 30 years, now, and seems quite similar to that of outdoor school in the States. This not-only gives inner-city kids the chance to come out and experience the country, but also gives my students the opportunity to interact with kids their own age who are growing up in “the big city”.

Our students didn’t get to the event until noon, so before then, the kids are separated into groups and each group rotates to a station where they’re given the chance to chop wood on various machines, including the chance to use an axe and chop wood by hand. Rather than the machines, the kids seem to really enjoy having a go at chopping wooden logs with the axe. (Maybe it’s a city thing, but I feel the same way.)  Once that was all said and done, the kids went back to work on lunch by preparing and chopping up the ingredients and cooking large pots of good-ol’-fashioned curry on an open campfire. Our students arrived not too long before lunch was ready, and were split up in order to better interact with the large group of Osaka students. After lunch, we cleaned up and the kids got ready to go swimming in the river.


Unlike the limited swimming area at the beach, there were deep parts of the river that made it easier for me to decide to jump in for a swim. The river, however, was much colder than the lukewarm water at the beach, but after some taunting and cold splashes from the kids, I was able to get used to the temperature. Before too long, my students tried to continue to splash water in my face, so I decided to chase after them, take them to a deep part of the river, toss them up into the air and watch them smile and laugh as they resurfaced from under the water. It turned out to be a good workout for my bis, tris, and traps that day, too. It was also nice to see some of “camp counselors” enjoying themselves and interacting with the students, as well. I have to admit that one of them certainly caught my attention, though. Hahaha.


To supplement the energy the kids were exerting through all of their swimming, the counselors and teachers prepared what I can only describe as real-life “fish sticks” (freshly-caught Ayu from the river the kids were swimming in) and hot dogs on a stick, as snacks between lunch and dinner. (So, “linner” perhaps?). Although it didn’t feel like we spent that much time in the river, it was enough to make 4-5 hours pass by quickly. After some time, the kids were separated into their groups and herded to the nearby onsen to get cleaned up and changed over. Once everyone was done, we headed into the lodge of Furusato-mura, where dinner was prepared for us all by the staff and crew.


After dinner, the counselors began to prepare a campfire while the kids ran around playing Tag (aka “鬼ごっこ”/”Onigokko” in Japanese). The same kids were getting tagged, so I joined in and asked them who they wanted me to catch, so of course – I got them for them. Hahaha. Good times. Anyway, to wind things down, the campfire was started and the kids enjoyed loud, boistrous and random singing and dancing around the fire; which the counselors kept roaring until it was dark. It eventually got late, and the fire grew dim, and the kids all had to say goodbye to one another. The Osaka kids made an overhead bridge for my students to pass through on the way to catch their bus, which was really sweet.


All-in-all, I think that Furusato-Mura is one of the events I look forward to the most with my students. It’s such a great opportunity for them to interact and befriend kids that are so different, but are also so similar to them. Not-to-mention that it’s also fun to watch new friendships unfold in such a short period of time. It’s kind of sad that it only really happens once a year, though.


At any rate, we have another school trip coming up next week where my students and I will be going to Kariya City in Aichi to visit a planetarium, and Toyota City to visit the location of the first-ever Toyota car manufacturing building. This summer has definitely been packed with a plethora of trips with my students, but I have to say – I wouldn’t want it any other way.


I hope you’re all having a fantastic and enjoyable summer, as well. Cheers!