Archive for September, 2006

Busy, Busy

September 28, 2006

Clearly I need to stop socializing. Meeting people for drinks on the few evenings that I’m not running errands or too busy &/or exhausted due to school has deprived me of chances to write entries. But by God, I’ve got some time tonight, so I’ll get typing before my friends and family start breaking out the voodoo dolls.

Last Saturday was the school sports festival. The sports festival is a yearly, one-day event that is held during September in every school in Japan, although each school decides the content and exact date of its own festival. For ours, the basic itinerary was: races, class competitions, and mass performances. The races were standard sprint, distance, and relay affairs. The class competitions were much more interesting.

In Japanese schools, classes – by which I mean the groups of students – are static. That is, the students in each class are the same for every subject. They even stay in the same classroom, except for subjects like P.E. or art, while the teachers move from room to room. For the competition, each class was pitted against the other classes of the same grade.

The class competitions included games like tug-of-war, with bamboo poles instead of rope, and the thoroughly unsafe, but thoroughly entertaining game of horse battles. In the horse battles, the boys (only) form four-person groups, where one boy rides on top of the other three. Each rider wears a red hat and your group is out for the round if you lose your hat, leave the ring, or if the rider falls. Five teams go at it at the same time, and the winner is the last one standing. As you can imagine, the matches got fairly savage. Teachers were in the ring to make sure that no one broke their neck in falling, but blood was drawn.

The mass performances.

There were two mass performances. All the girls in the school did a synchronized flag dance and all the boys did synchronized acrobatics. Well, acrobatics isn’t quite right, but basically they made human pyramids and that sort of thing. Several boys were injured during practice, but happily, we made it through the actually performance without any incidents.

So the sports festival went from 9 to 4. At the end of the day, all of the teachers got together for dinner and drinks, and about half of us went on to a second round of the party. Round two was at a tiny bar that you can rent for a group of about 20 people or less, with drinks, snacks, and karaoke included in the price. Speaking of the karaoke, people sang various Japanese pop songs while I abstained, but then two teachers declared that they wanted me to sing something by the Beatles. I demurred at first, but after a great deal of pleading from everyone, I finally gave in and went with “Let it Be.” But it’s sad, I only just now realized the humor in the title of my chosen song.



September 20, 2006

Maybe I should change the name of my blog to “Infrequent Dispatches…” Anyway, I promised pictures, so here are a few. This is something of an experiment. I’m trying to figure out the best way to display images; please bear with me in the meantime.
I took this photo from my hotel room at the post-arrival orientation in Tokyo.


A question for anyone who might know (Eli, are you there?): What’s the deal with the big glass funnel to the right of the helipad on the closest building?

And for something totally different, this is Himeji Castle. (Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)


I made a day trip with a few other JETs to visit the castle and the adjacent gardens. As you can see, it was beautiful. What you can’t see is how uncomfortably hot and humid it was. I’m very glad that summer is giving way to autumn.

Home sweet home! Or my kitchen, anyway:


Some incoming JETs had a predecessor whose apartment they inherited, but others – like me – did not. This meant that my apartment was empty except for the furnishings guaranteed by the Kobe board of education. They provided a fridge, a gas stove, curtains, a futon (i.e. a Japanese mattress, not a fold-out couch), an electric fan, and a telephone. Now that’s much better than nothing, but it was a happy day when I finally bought a table and chairs.

This is just inside my door. You can see another of my purchases: a washing machine.

Okay, I’ve spent too much time fiddling with my image editor. I’m done for the evening. More to come later.

Let’s get this thing started.

September 16, 2006

I’m still learning how to use WordPress so the formatting might be off, but if I wait until I’ve got things perfect then I’ll never actually get any posts put up, so I’m just going to dive right in. Here we go.

Some background.

My name is Kevin. I am 25 years old and I hail from Washington state, in the US. I am currently living on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, in the city of Kobe, Japan.

I am in Kobe as a participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. JET Program participants – often called “JETs” – are placed throughout the country, where most work as assistant English teachers in public schools. JETs are selected from around the globe and the primary goal of the program is “internationalization.” Improvement of English teaching is the second goal. This order of priorities can be seen in the base requirements for applicants to the program: You need a four-year university degree, but no teaching experience is necessary. So basically, JETs are brought to Japan so that locals can interact with real, live foreigners, and those foreigners will themselves form bonds with the people and the country that they will take with them when they go home (we have one-year contracts and are limited to three years total).

There’s something of an unofficial slogan for JET: “Every situation is different.” But here’s mine.

I’m a first-year JET in Kobe. Kobe is a fairly large city – population: 1.5 million – that on its east end bleeds into the metropolis of Osaka. Kobe proper occupies a narrow strip of land with mountains to the north and Osaka bay to the south. I live in an apartment up in the mountains, in a semi-rural valley. I commute to work (or anywhere else) by train.

I’m assigned to two schools. Monday through Thursday I work at Sumiyoshi Junior High School, which is three train stops east of downtown. On Friday, I go to Yuusei-yougo, which is eight or ten blocks south of Sumiyoshi. “Yougo” literally means something like “nursery,” but basically it’s a school for developmentally disabled kids, grades K-12. I’ve been in Kobe since the beginning of August, and the new school term started on September 1st (although the school year starts in the spring).

Okay, that’s enough boring background info. Next post: pictures.