今週の漢字: 決定

As I wrote last week, February is the big decision month when JETs let their contracting organizations of their intentions for the next contract year. Basically, current JETs just need to submit a form. It’s very simple with one checkbox indicating the desire to re-contract and another checkbox for the desire to end with the JET Program. Re-contracting isn’t guaranteed, but it seems that in most cases, it is easy for current JETs to re-contract. I only heard of a few examples where the JETs were incredibly irresponsible leaving the board of education denying any request to re-contract. At any rate, all this just seems like formality. It’s a lot like life, right? There are a whole lot of formalities just to keep people busy. I love relating things to life, because we create so much nonsense for ourselves sometimes. Life isn’t nonsense, depending on who you ask, but people certainly don’t like to think too much. Anyway, I digress.

I am hoping to stay for at least another year. I wanted to hand in the form last month, but the board of education wouldn’t let me. It has been very interesting thinking about how long I want to stay. On some days, I’m all up for it and ready to take on many more years, but then there are those days when I don’t think I’d want to stay for even a third year. Those days are usually when I am very tired though, so it’s not too often. Those are also the days when I just don’t want to think. I still feel that I’ll probably stay for three years, but I’m sure next year I’ll think hard about it. Aichi prefecture actually has a fairly high retention rate with the average length at 2.5 years, but that was when the maximum time on the JET Program was 3 years (now 5 years).

The third trimester at school has already started, and boy is the schedule crazy again! There are so many Mondays off. Either the school has something that needs to cancel classes like the entrance exams for junior high school students, or there is a holiday whether Monday is the actual holiday or a substitute for a holiday falling on Sunday. Because of this mess, my classes are so lopsided. Currently, the first year general track students are learning about hobbies, shopping, and expressing desire. The first year English track students are learning about shopping and restaurant, which will soon head into asking and giving directions. All the second year students are learning about traveling, although the second year English track students will soon do telephone conversation. This Wednesday marks the last class with my third year English track students. Their school time is gradually being cut as they head into a more intense exam time including college interviews. The focus for the class is on debating.

Overall, this trimester seems to be vastly improved over the fall trimester. I think the biggest help has been sitting down with the teachers before the trimester began to discuss goals and topics. I was hoping to do this for the fall trimester, but it was hard because of the adjusting that I mentioned in a previous post. Just to clarify to those who might be reading my blog for the first time, I really enjoyed the fall trimester, but there were some problems mainly because of the fact that I started in the middle of the school year. That’s just the nature of the JET Program. However, the best way to describe my overall feeling since arriving in Japan is by this smiley… =)

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
- Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

I have faith that God will lead me down the best path. I know that the best path is not just filled with chocolate, but there will be some licorice too. People need to understand that they need to go through difficult and tough times. Instead, people ignore this as they seek a belief that is full of irrational promises. There are also many people who challenge the Lord with man-made theories like evolution, but how can something created by man (more accurately just named by man) go against God? I always find it funny when people talk about the amazing discoveries and inventions that man has done. However, wasn’t the foundation of these discoveries already in place? Humans didn’t create the raw items used for their inventions. Can’t the way we try to classify things be wrong? In science, it is stressed that theories cannot be proven. It just takes one bit of evidence negating the theory to falsify it, and as humans, we don’t know everything.

I have my faith, and I try to leave my life in God’s hands. Is it His fault for any of my wrongdoings? Something that at first may seem like a misstep may very well turn out to be something very positive. When my actions do turn out for the worse, it's usually due to my own decision to change direction. For some people, I may just sound foolish, but again, I know what I believe. Take the time to listen and think.

今週の写真: I saw this really cool show that takes kabuki, one of the traditional Japanese theatre arts, and blends it with rock music. I couldn’t take pictures of the actual performance, so I have a picture of the stage and one of some of the actors at the very end when there was a raffle.

You can't really see it, but there is a walkway under the lanterns where actors often enter and exit.

Another funny thing I saw: a sweater label. I wonder what pleasured item the wearer will chase after. It's also great that it's produced by some unknown person or persons?

今週の漢字: 討論

I attended a seminar this past week, which was very similar to the seminar in the summer to improve the English competency of Japanese teachers of English (JTEs). Don’t you love all the acronyms? I don’t think teachers like them though. Many times, they mixed “JET” with “JTE.” At least those confusing times kept everyone awake as people were trying to figure out the content.

The summer seminar was for all AETs in the prefecture and a greater proportion of JTEs, whereas the recent seminar was specifically for JET participants and a representing JTE per JET. It is also called the “mid-year conference” in the JET Program. Let me take this time to explain a few key meetings and deadlines for JET Program ALTs after arriving in Japan. In my prefecture (Aichi), most JETs attend a monthly meeting. I don’t think this is standard in all prefectures. However, I don’t think my prefecture is unique with holding these monthly meetings. In January, there is a mid-year conference, which I’ll further explain in a bit. February is the big decision month when current JETs have to submit their decision on if they would like to re-contract. In June, I believe, there’s a re-contracting conference held in Tokyo for all those who will re-contract. July is the end of the contract year, and JETs who will be returning to their home country can leave anytime in the month of August.

The mid-year conference lasted for two days and consisted of five workshops: 1) Classroom Management and Extra-curricular Activities, 2) Customs and Culture, 3) Demonstration Lessons (through Listening and Speaking activities), 4) Demonstration Lessons (through Reading and Writing activities), and 5) Student Assessment. Personally, I don’t think these seminars are very effective, because schools are so different that it’s hard to really apply the workshops. I feel that some people are looking for a big guide with lesson plans, but I think that a lot of the lessons need to be tailored to each class. I do see the need for more formal training though. Then again, JETs are assistant teachers, so I’m not sure if there needs to be more formal training or if the problem is a lack of control by the JTEs. Team-teaching is all about give and take between the main teacher and the assistant, but I think the main teacher has the final say. There are some general things that can really help JETs like effective pacing and classroom management. Probably, the most helpful thing for me was realizing that the best lesson plans had the class time broken up as much as I could. What I mean is that the students shouldn’t be sitting for the entire class nor doing one type of activity. Another thing I have realized is that explanations can take a very long time, which is something I’m trying to deal with because of limited time. Along with my teaching partner, we need to figure out what are the bare necessities.

My post title this week focuses mainly on the impact of heavy discussions that I had with some fellow JETs. After the seminar time on both days, many JETs went to drink and party a little, but I’m not into all of that. Instead, a few other JETs and I went to a tea and dessert shop. We talked about international affairs ranging from health care, politics, economy, and of course Iraq. There were a lot of very interesting ideas tossed around, but I don’t want to focus on the actual discussions.

One of the great things with the JET Program is how there is a social network into which each JET is placed. If the JET doesn’t want to be a part of the group, it’s okay, but there is a group available for support and sharing the experience. Coming from a background in theatre, I came to Japan thinking about going off on my own. I didn’t want to deal with any unnecessary drama attached to group dynamics. However, within weeks I found myself doing some activities with many Aichi JETs. While there are lots of interests that many of them do not share with me, it is very comforting to have this community. I know there are some prefectures where the JETs aren’t organized well, which leaves many of them feeling alone, but there are a good number of prefectures where the JETs share a very special bond that may even last past the JET Program. I think it is most intriguing to see the different opinions out there. Also, it’s amazing to hear about the very different lifestyles in the world. It is one thing to read about other places and cultures in books, but it is all grounded and put into perspective when you meet and share stories with other people from those places and cultures.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?”
- Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (NIV)

Looking back at all my discussions even before the JET Program, there has been a lot of complaining. Sometimes it is necessary for people to vent out their anger, but more often, people are just lashing out at other people or things all under the rules of the blame game. As one of my friends loves to say, “No one wins in the blame game.” This isn’t something groundbreaking. My father said a variation of this too. Jobs, work, and school… we place so much importance in them, but aren’t these also materialistic? What’s the point of these parts of how we live? More money? More fame? I suppose it’s really why we do the things we do. To whom do we live for? It’s amazing that some people I know are going through a personal conflict trying to figure out why we exist. Many of them have resorted to escaping reality by just focusing on their work, trying to find a romantic partner, or keeping busy. Discussions and soul searches are necessary—take responsibility and really know who you are!

今週の写真: Look at how these pictures are funny or cool.

Isn't this such an awesome bike?! Look at those pedals. Cool! I wonder if it belongs to an old modest woman.

Are any of you ready for "human dining"?

I wonder what people do in this "adult space."

"Any masterpiece just becomes noise disturbance when emanating from earphones."

"My lit cigarette always points toward others, never toward myself."

The messages in these last two pictures are good, but I find the pictures to be masterpieces toward the readers. =)


今週の漢字: 旅行

Last week was part 1 of my vacation with my family in Japan. This post is all about what I really liked. There were some places we visited where my family expressed their feelings clearly, so I’ll write a bit about their impressions when I can.

Akihabara – This is basically the electronic district of Tokyo, or at least that’s what I was told. It’s a very lively place full of lights and gadgets. This place also has a lot of anime stores. A friend informed me that it has changed a lot over the past few years and the quantity of anime stores has been increasing. When my family and I went, it was really crowded. I like anime and electronics, so I highly enjoyed it. We didn’t do too much exploring unfortunately, because we got there rather late. We went to a few anime stores and passed by many small electronic havens. After we finished eating dinner, places were starting to close. It was very interesting to walk around in an eight-floor anime store. Hannah also likes anime, but the store was too much. Although there were many floors, each floor wasn’t so spacious. There were many customers, so it was a bit hard to move around.

Shibuya – I’m sure many of you know about the very populated intersection in Tokyo, which at one time was the busiest intersection in the world. It may in fact still be the busiest, but I’m not too sure. It was amazing to see the amount of people crossing this one intersection that is just outside the Shibuya train station. This area is also known for the statue of Hachiko, which represents possibly one of the most faithful dogs. Some people use the story of Hachiko as the best example of dogs as man’s best friend. It goes something like this. There was a dog and his master, who was a commuting professor. Hachiko accompanied his master to the train station every work day. At the end of the day, the master would return to find Hachiko waiting. After two years of this routine, the master died before returning. So for about the next ten years, Hachiko would wait at the Shibuya train station for his master who would never again return. Sometimes he wouldn’t go home for days at a time. Dogs rule and cats drool!

Harajuku – This is probably Sarah’s favorite place. It’s the hip and youthful area of Tokyo. I hear that crazy fashion can sometimes be seen here. However, there wasn't much when we were there. I think the more muted fashion came from the fact that it is winter. In cold weather, I feel that people would choose function over looking avant-garde. My eyes did catch were maybe three people whom I noticed with very big brightly colored hair with matching bizarre outfits. Other than the eye-catching fashion setters, what I found really interesting about the increasing popular trends is a move more towards hip-hop. Well, this is the direction Japanese fashion seems to be heading. I don’t think hip-hop has reached its peak here yet, but I just hope that people don't start speaking “ghetto.” Besides this, I also really liked Harajuku. It’s a very interesting mix of the new and old as one of the oldest shrines is also in the area. I must say that I really liked the fun cafés. My mom definitely liked this place more for the three-story 100 yen store (sort of like the dollar store in America only with comparatively much higher quality products). I love 100 yen stores too. They’re amazing. Maybe I’ll talk a bit about them another time.

Asakusa – This was by far my favorite place. I knew of the place, but I didn’t originally plan to go there with my family until it was suggested to me by my former Japanese professor. It was great! There’s a lot of culture and history packed here. Even after an entire afternoon, we didn’t get to fully explore all that Asakusa had to offer. Because we went just a few days before New Year’s Day, Asakusa was packed and busy. There were tons of stalls set up. I’m not sure if they were just for the festivities or if they were permanent. My parents were really happy to get most of the souvenirs for people there. My father, Hannah, and I really enjoyed a lot of the food. We ate dango, and I also had some soft serve ice cream. Delicious! We didn’t participate in the Buddhist rituals that other people were doing, but we did see them. It was really good for us to see. We didn’t take pictures inside the temple considering there are idols.

Nagoya and Mito – For a few days, my family stayed in my apartment. We didn’t really have much time to sightsee, because many places were closed due to all the new year’s festivities. We had dinner with one of the Mito SHS English teachers and his family. Another night, we had dinner with the church pastor and his family. The rest of the time was spent walking around my town and going to Nagoya. We only had about four hours in Nagoya, so I introduced my family to my favorite area, Osu Kannon. It was incredibly crowded as many people gathered for 初詣 (はつもうで - hatsumode), the first visit to a shrine or temple for the year.

Overall, I had a fabulous time. Probably the most difficult thing for me was to act as a translator for my family. The experience has motivated me more to keep up with my studies. I’m happy that I will celebrate another type of new year in a little less than a month, which is the Lunar New Year (in America a.k.a. Chinese New Year).
Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
- Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

Pray for Japan. It is a mission’s field here.

今週の写真: Family in Japan (Part 2)



Harajuku during the day (So crowded...)

Harajuku at night (still crowded!)


Look at all the people crossing the intersection at Shibuya

Shibuya intersection with buildings in the shot
Taiko drumming at Kanayama, Nagoya

Osu Kannon

Doesn't my dad look so happy with his squid? Well, he was ecstatic!

The last of HATS!


今週の漢字: 家族

My family and I had a blast during the winter vacation. There’s something that I confirmed with myself. Of course I love my family and friends, but I can’t say I miss them in the sense that I must be home or live in close proximity. It’s mainly because I know that they are there. I can communicate with them. Yes, I know it’s not the same as being within a maximum of an hour’s drive and being able to physically meet someone, but I have a different type of feeling. I feel that missing someone to the point of needing to be with the other person physically is so restrictive. My heart believes in those whom I love. For me, the extreme feeling of missing someone because of the physical distance is superficial. If I were to treat someone in that way, the relationship would be in vain. When I was in Miami, the pastor of the church mentioned once in a Bible study the idea that good friends don’t need to talk everyday. Whenever you communicate with such a friend, it picks up where it left off as if there was never a lapse in time. This view really sums up my feelings perfectly. For someone else, missing someone in the previously mentioned extremity may not be based on superficiality at all. My feelings don't apply to romantic relationships, though. A long distance romance may work temporarily, but many times it can only go so long. Ah, how I suddenly feel like the acne infested teenager living in the bubble where all you need is love!

Speaking of love and false notions of love (call me cynically colored, but I believe I’m a realist), Tokyo Disney Sea was fun, despite some disappointments. Those of you who are faithful readers and those who know me well already know this, but I love Disney. My favorite ride is MGM’s “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” in Disneyworld. So, I was thinking, “Disney Sea should be great, because it has the ‘Tower of Terror.’ Even though the Twilight Zone part is not part of the attraction, the drops should be lots of fun, especially since this is the newest ‘Tower of Terror.’” Unfortunately, it did not deliver. There were a few major differences that really tamed the ride. The drops were fewer and shorter. Also, the drops were partially lighted, so riders can see the wall in front of them. These take away the thrills of the original, which got even better when it introduced random drops. Well, it’s possible that this major disappointment influenced my judgment of the entire park, but one of the good things about the park is that it’s really well built. The design looks beautiful, and it was fun to explore.

We did a lot of things, so I’m going to write about a few things that we did. I’ll save my favorites for next week.

Tokyo Tower – If you watched the anime Card Captor Sakura, I’m sure one of the first things you remember about the series is the significance of the Tokyo Tower. For many people, this tower is one of Tokyo’s major icons. It was nice to see a part of the expanse that makes up the metropolis, but it was nothing special. Personally, I think the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building provide a much more exciting experience. For the Paris and New York landmarks, romance certainly has something to do with it. (Again with the love… maybe I am channeling my angst filled teenage years.) However, what makes Tokyo Tower less special is the view. I don’t think it’s very good. It was actually very boring. Well, fatigue and unfamiliarity with the city might have contributed to my thought.

Imperial Palace – This is another Tokyo icon as it should be. This is the residence of the emperor of Japan. I knew before going that the actual grounds of the palace are closed to the public. So, it is what it is. We saw what there was to see and took pictures to our hearts content. The water fountain was fun, but because of laughs shared between my sisters and me at the fountain’s perfect timing.

Ginza – This area, sometimes compared to the fifth avenue of New York, was nice to walk around. It was fun to see all the expensive clothes that I will not buy anytime soon. Contrary to what many tour guides suggest, I do not recommend the Sony building. I think it’s just a place for Sony to advertise its products. On the upside, it’s free to enter. Maybe if there was a more exciting gadget that Sony was showcasing, it wouldn’t have been so bad. A small robot that plays music and dances just doesn’t cut it. I think Ginza is worth to explore. My family and I really didn’t get to see too much of Ginza, so I look forward to future explorations.

Shinagawa – We didn’t really make a visit to this area. It was where we stayed, specifically at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. It’s a really nice hotel with an aquarium, aqua stadium, bowling alley, Cineplex, carousel, virtual simulator, roller coaster, indoor pool, indoor tennis courts, numerous restaurants and shops, and a lot more. If only the area had a lot more to offer, but it’s okay because we didn’t have the time to do much in Shinagawa anyway let alone indulge in all the hotel has to offer.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
- Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)

The holidays have come and gone once again leaving people to return to their old ways. There’s less giving for the sake of giving, or helping for the sake of helping. Although sometimes it’s a façade, there’s no more of these good actions in the name of the Lord. It goes back to a time of bashing the Lord. You might be wondering, “How so?”

This verse seems so simple, yet there is so much meaning packed in it. For someone to fear someone or something else, it may be purely being afraid, but the Lord loves us and provides for us. So, does this verse mean that the beginning of knowledge is being scared of the Lord? Not completely. On one point, there is a component of being afraid, because He is so great and powerful. On another point, this fear is the acknowledgement of His greatness. It’s the acknowledgement of His amazing design of each person and the world. Think about it this way. If someone muscular got mad at you, fear might run through you. What are you afraid of? It’s probably the fear that this person can beat you up. In a sense, you are acknowledging this person’s strength.

I don’t want to go into the debate over intelligent design, destiny, fate, and all that. I want to point out that the acknowledgement of the Lord is so important to build upon. Take a look at those who reject Him. In many cases, life revolves around work, but what are people working towards? Sometimes people want to leave a legacy. Sometimes people want to get more material things. Sometimes people just need something to distract them from reality. Face it! Many people have no clue why they are alive. How long have we searched for the purpose of life? There’s this void that people try to fill. Even for Christians, or ones who claim to be Christians, the actions of praising God might be masked by other intentions. Maybe some Christians just want to be part of a community.

The fear of the Lord, or the acknowledgement of Him, or living for Him with the utmost respect and love, is needed. If this direction of life is kept, then everything will be made clear. It may not be fully shown right away, but eventually, it will make sense. It’s amazing how because of Him things fit into place.

今週の写真: Family in Japan (Part 1)

At a café outside the hotel with my mom and dad

In a train doing the Asian picture thing with my sisters (To clarify, my sisters and I really do not like doing this pose, but I wanted to do it considering we're in Japan.)

Tokyo Tower (as you see before the New Year's Day)

Outside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel with my sisters

In Shimbashi

Tokyo Disney Resort entrance (Did you really need a caption?)

Inside Disney Sea (Isn't it such beautiful architecture?)

Awwwwwww... look at the cute Stitch plush!

HATS! This time it's with funny faces. I have another HATS picture. Look forward to it next week.



Happy New Year! I’m having a great time with my family. They’ve been here since the 26th, and they’re leaving in a just a few days. So, I’ll update this weekend.

Stay tuned later this week for another update!

今週の写真: Hats! =)