今週の漢字: 買物

During the past few months, my bank accounts have been slapping me silly. I’m reminded to keep watch of my finances. I really don’t like to do it, because it saddens me sometimes. Being in a foreign country, there are many things I want to do. Most of the activities I have done so far are things that I can do back in America, but I find it fun to compare and contrast. Of course, there are places I visit and things I do that aren’t done in the U.S. For this topic of shopping, I don’t want to write about places, but I want to point out some interesting differences.

Let’s look into stores first. In America and many other countries, the payment flows from the consumer’s hands directly into the hands of the clerk. Usually, it is different in Japan. When I first went into a store within merely a day of arriving, I bought a cheap electric razor (I left mine in my luggage that was sent to my town). Not only was I at a loss of what seemed like fast gibberish spewing out of the clerk’s mouth with ease, I didn’t know how to pay for my desired good. I remember the clerk just standing there as I had the money all ready. She thought that I wasn’t finished getting the amount I wanted to pay. I felt uncomfortable and looked at the neighboring consumers. They were all like drones conditioned on how to pay in stores from what seemed like before birth. It was a really busy store with people going in and out. Seriously, I felt like I was watching one of those cartoons where people walk into a building using a revolving door only to exit seconds later having accomplished their goal. Anyway, getting back to my dilemma, I figured out what I needed to do. I put the money on a tray that was in front of the clerk. She took the payment and gave me the correct change. Sometimes I still forget to put my yen on the tray, but there have only been maybe five places so far where I gave my money directly into the clerk’s hands. I don’t really know why this way of paying is done.

If you think this is only done in stores, you’re wrong. This is also done in most restaurants. When the waiter gives me the bill, I don’t give the payment to the waiter. No, I have to pay usually near the door where there’s someone to collect the bill and money. In America, there are some restaurants that utilize this way of paying the bill, but it’s rare.

I think one of the best things about shopping in Japan is that the price seen is exactly the price paid. Tax is already included and tipping isn’t a custom in Japan, so I can easily calculate the price most of the time. Occasionally, I struggle with math as it is slowly escaping my brain. For example, I felt like long division was against me a few weeks ago. Well, it wasn’t so bad, but it definitely wasn’t as fast compared to before college. Somehow, I’m more comfortable with calculus. I wonder what will happen six years from now. Maybe I’ll lose my English too. Anyway, I don’t know why I’ve been going off on strange tangents lately, but I think my tangents make conversations lots of fun. I am proud of my weirdness… most of the time… inside my head… while I’m in denial. I haven’t found many people who share the same sense of humor. If you found anything funny in this post, we would make good friends if we aren’t already.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

En français:
Quand je vais au supermarché, l’employé me donne des sacs en plastique (je ne sais pas si c’est le vocabulaire correct) pour mes articles d’épicerie. La première fois, j’étais surpris parce qu’en États-Unis, l’employé les met dans des sacs. Je pense que le système en japon est meilleur. La queue avance plus de rapide, mais si le marché est très fréquenté, il n’y aurait pas assez de place pour de mettre les articles.

今週の聖書の詩: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
- 1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)

I wrote about money and shopping, but it’s important to keep this passage in mind. I find it troubling when people focus on money. Where will money get you? What will money do for you? Ultimately, it gets you nowhere and does nothing. It’s because of society that money is what people worship. In the long run, money does not follow us when we die. It will do nothing for us when we die. The importance of money is simply a societal construct.

今週の写真: I went to a hot spring at Yuya in my prefecture. It was so nice. The custom is basically the same as common baths (look at my post two weeks ago if you don’t know). I don’t like to be naked with other men, but the water was so relaxing. I highly recommend visiting a hot spring at least once. Aaaaahhhhhhhh…


今週の漢字: 進(む)

Move Forward:
I may be choosing the wrong kanji, but I need to try, right? Anyway, moving forward is natural in life. It’s better than dwelling in the past, but what I wanted to write about relates to changing job locations. In Japan, I heard that usually elementary and junior high schools are run by a municipal board of education. However, most public high schools, if not all, are administered by a prefectural board of education (BoE). Therefore, public high school teachers in Aichi prefecture are employed by the Aichi BoE, which is located in Aichi’s capital, Nagoya. In fact, my contracting organization is not Mito High School, but it’s the Aichi BoE.

Unlike the American school system where competent teachers can stay at a school for as long as desired, Japanese public high school teachers rarely stay at a school for more than ten years. The employer shuffles teachers around every year. There are some advantages to this. Teachers can give and take from the schools they are assigned. I think the goal is to equalize as much as possible how high schools are taught, but I could be way off the mark. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this aspect of the Japanese school system. There are pros and cons in the American education system and the Japanese system. I point out to students that many American students spend more time on homework and projects, whereas Japanese students are focused more on studying. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all students, but it’s just a personal observation on what seems to be common. Again, I don't have an opinion on which is the better way. Because of my own upbringing, I am biased toward the American education system, but I'm trying to stay as open-minded as possible.

Although I don’t have a problem with the transferring of teachers, I do have a problem with when teachers are notified. This past Tuesday, the last day of classes, marked the day when teachers would be jumping for joy either for being able to stay for another year or being transferred away from all the crazy teachers. Of course, I jest. We’re actually all MAD like the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Okay, that’s not true either, but if you want to know, you’ll just have to visit. Anyway, so now you know that the teachers in my school found out about their status for the next academic year, but do you know when the new academic year starts? It begins in early April. For Mito HS, the first day of classes is April 9th. I think it’s too short a notice for the transferring teachers—only a little more than two weeks—to clear out their desk and familiarize themselves with a new school. Parting can be such sweet sorrow, but when it’s this fast, it’s more like melodic chaos.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

En français:
Mardi, j’ai entendu que deux profs d’anglais seront transféré. Après j’avais l’entendu, j’étais triste parce qu’une prof voulait rester pour une autre année. Elle n’était pas surpris avec la décision. Les autres profs étaient tristes. Moi aussi! On m’a dit que tous les années en même temps, l’atmosphère est délicate. Je comprends parce que quelquefois dans une situation difficile, je ne sais pas quelle chose de dire. Pourtant, j’essaie de dire quelque chose.

今週の聖書の詩: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
- 1 Peter 3-9 (NIV)

今週の写真: After skiing in February, we went to Takayama located in Gifu prefecture. It’s also known as a “little Kyoto” for its old and traditional buildings in some parts.


今週の漢字: 集まり

Even though I wrote about spring last week, I’m basing my topic this week on a ski trip I went with some teachers last month. I want to specifically write about groups and comfort. From my experiences in Japan, people of the same gender definitely share a great deal of comfort being in the same group. Maybe some people might think I’m a little cold, because I want my distance. Well, people here also wouldn’t just touch complete strangers with ease. Of course there are boundaries even if a group of friends is involved.

As some of you might know, there are a lot of hot springs and spas in Japan. Some of them are natural with a resort built around them, and some of them are artificial. In the ski resort, there's an artificial spa. In many of spas, men and women have separate baths. I don’t really know too much about hot springs in Japan. However, if there was a coed place kept in secret, it would only mean a shady business. There are a bunch of shady places in Japan (just like many other countries) that I read about in the newspaper. I might write about them in another post. Anyway, I digress. Getting back on topic, I went to the spa/bath area with the other male teachers as this was the only place to bathe. When I first walked past the spa sign, I had to put my slippers in a cubby. We proceeded to walk through the door into the outer room where there were more cubbies for personal items including towels. Everyone casually stripped naked and put their things in the cubbies. The only thing I noticed the other teachers take into the inner room (bathing area) was a small face towel. At this point, I was very uncomfortable. In America, I always hated community showers. If I had to deal with a community shower in the past, I would wait and take a shower during the off-hours. Being in this situation was rather uncomfortable for me, but I needed to bathe somehow and the spa was only open for a few hours at night. I also thought that this would be an interesting experience to see how this spa was arranged.

I was the last to enter the inner room with my face towel in hand to cover my "delicate moose." I decided just to follow what the other people were doing. First, most of them were washing themselves with soap and shampoo. If you think it’s just like a community shower in America, it’s not. The showers are rather low, so each guy takes a stool and a bucket to sit at one of the shower stations fully equipped with a mirror. How much vainer can guys get now that we can watch ourselves bathe? Of course I jest. If you are wondering what the bucket is for, it’s to douse yourself with the water that fills up after applying soap. These stations lined the perimeter of the room. There were also two large tubs in the middle. You may have already guessed what comes after washing. A lot of the other guys were having lots of fun running around and eventually jumping into either of the two tubs.

I chose the least crowded of the two. The water was very hot, yet it was relaxing. I was still a little uncomfortable, but I was trying my hardest to relax in the therapeutic water. Before I knew it, I was out of the tub rinsing myself so that I could go to the outer room. I dried myself with my towel and stared only at my own things, all the while the other guys were all so casual and friendly.

FYI: people might wear some kind of towel to enter the water in some hot springs and spas, so it's not always nude. The spa in the ski resort wasn’t a hot spring, but it was definitely very soothing. Would I ever do something like this again? Well, I want to go to a natural hot spring, but I pooh-pooh birthday suits.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

En français:
Je me suis amusé quand je suis allé au ressort de ski. Nous sommes arrivés 16 février avant du midi. Je me suis excité parce que je n’avais skié jamais. Il était bon que j’ai appris le mois dernier parce que les profs de Mito me sont enseignés. Si j’avais skié en États-Unis, j’aurais appris d’un inconnu. Quand nous sommes partis, j’avais skié la route de pingouin (les noms de routes à ce ressort sont des noms d’animals). Je veux skier l’année prochaine. Je pense que après avoir appris de skier, je skierai meilleur la fois prochaine.

今週の聖書の詩: “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.”
- Acts 16:16 (NIV)

This was part of the passage that the pastor used today in his sermon at the church I’ve been attending in Japan. His message wasn’t exactly on this part, but he did strike an interest in me toward this verse. Why does this woman make so much money by telling fortunes? On New Year’s in Japan, a lot of people buy fortunes to see what the coming year brings. In America, people are highly invested in horoscopes and fortune tellers. In the world, there are many forms of fortune-telling.

The pastor pointed out the possibility of people afraid of the future and death. While this is nothing new, something bothered me. Why must we try to know everything? We are narcissistic beings. We feel that we are so important. Are we really important? I think maybe we are narcissistic, because we are trying to deny that we are unimportant. We want to feel important by accomplishing things for ourselves. Even for Christians, are you really giving credit to God? Do we really accomplish anything? Have we truly accomplished things? I think we just manipulate what ALREADY exists into things that lighten the workload that we GIVE OURSELVES. All of this is for what? Oh, that’s right. We want to believe that we are important.

今週の写真: These are pictures from the ski resort near or in Takayama. I’m not too sure. I know that the downtown of Takayama is about a thirty-minute drive from the resort with most of the travel being on the mountain road.

On the way to the ski resort

Ski resort

We had to attend a 7AM meeting for everyone at the lodge.


Reading room

Guys' bedroom

Spa entrance (men's side)



It’s on its way. It’s getting warmer here. I still sit under my kotatsu sometimes, but I don’t need to use an electric blanket at night until it gets cold again. The winter wasn’t as cold here as it is in New Jersey, but with the lack of insulation, it wasn’t much better. It seems that everyone is happier these days. I’m guessing that the weather plays a big part in people’s lives. When I first arrived in Japan, I thought that everyone’s conversations must be very interesting with all the laughter and dramatic shifts in volume. However, I noticed that 90% of the conversations are about the weather. How long can people talk about the weather? It seems for hours. I walk away and return with the same people still talking about the weather. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point.

Spring brings warmer weather, cherry blossoms, and a lot more outdoor activities. I wonder if there’s significance between the meaning of spring and the start of the Japanese school year being in spring. I think now that the bulk of work is finished for the students plus the nicer weather, students are so much livelier. I hope it continues for a while. Of course I prefer cold (outside) or hot weather, but I know many people usually like the moderate temperatures of spring and fall.

I’m making yet another section for my blog posts. I will shorten my English section a bit to make way for a French section. I’ll probably only write a paragraph each week in French, but I want to continue practicing my French. It is not a translation of the English section, and I will not provide a translation of the French section (for now). If you want to know what I write, please use an online translating site.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

En français:
Je pense que mon français est horrible maintenant. La semaine dernière, le professeur de français du lycée a parlé en français avec moi. Pourtant, j’ai oublié beaucoup de la langue. Je crois que ce blog a des problèmes. Une autre difficulté était que je pensais en japonais et en anglais avant la surprise. Il est très difficile de parler une autre langue quand on apprend trois langues (chinois aussi). J’espère que l’année prochaine, je peux parler meilleur.

今週の聖書の詩: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.”
- Proverbs 1:22-23 (NIV)

What is the point of work and money? Why do people love money so much? I think money and work are distractions for people. It’s amazing how people just shun God's gift, which is so easily attainable and for what? It seems that work and money are the most important for many people. I wish people could listen—truly listen. I’m not talking about just hearing sounds, but I want people to focus on the content. I want people to emotionally and spiritually connect to the knocking. Will you listen?

今週の写真: Here are pictures from Asakusa in February and the Square-Enix store, which was a quest for fantasy accomplished.


今週の漢字: 卒業

This past Friday was graduation at my school. It was very interesting to watch and experience. Less than a year ago, I was a graduate, but now I am on the opposite side experiencing the event as one of the teachers who taught some members of the graduating class. However, my time was too short for this class. I only had the chance to teach and get to know them in less than half a year. On top of that, they were very busy throughout most of my time here over their worries of life after high school whether that be going to university or working. I tried to get to know them, but it was too hard. I’m glad that I was able to get to know a few students. Some of them took the initiative to come to me, which made me really glad, and I was able to get to know others as I helped some students with practice interviews or speeches. In many ways, I wish I was able to start in the beginning of the academic year in Japan, which is April.

One of the cons of the JET Program is that the AETs start their contract with the 2nd trimester. There are many other companies that provide AETs to schools from the beginning to the end of the Japanese academic year. However, this con is also a good point of the JET Program, especially for countries where the academic year ends in May or June like America. It allowed me to apply for the program during my senior year of university with a quick transition to departing for Japan. If I had to wait almost a year so that I could start in April, I think it would have been difficult. I would have had to look for a job with the knowledge of quitting before completing a full year.

Another reason why this can be a good point is that new JETs have the time to adjust to the time difference and culture all the while having the time to plan some lessons considering JETs arrive in the middle of summer, the longest break for Japanese students. For AETs coming to Japan to start in the beginning of the academic year, they only have about two weeks to go through what JETs have a month at their disposal.

Now that I have finished that information sharing about the program, here’s some information on the graduation day itself. Although my school had the ceremony on Friday, not all schools have it on the same day. Some schools have it on Thursday and others on Saturday. The dress code for all guests and teachers is formal. Supposedly, formal here means STRICTLY black and white. Yes, you read that correctly. The caps do not represent anger or a mistake. Of course in many countries, black and white attire is considered formalwear, but a formal dress code is by no means only black and white. The men wore a black suit, a white shirt, and a white tie. The women wore a black suit or dress, and many women were also wearing a big corsage. I was told of the formal dress code, but there was no mention of the full monochrome attire. So, I wore a black suit, white shirt, and my purple and blue striped tie. I think it was perfectly fine, because I am an AET. It’s good that I wasn’t completely off wearing a green suit, plaid shirt, and flowery tie. Then again, that kind of outfit would be completely off in most societies.

There was a lot of bowing involved in the ceremony. Whenever there was a speaker, we had to bow before and after the speech. Sometimes I wasn’t sure why we were bowing. There were numerous times when we had to bow toward the empty stage. My only guess is that it was the beginning or end of a program section, and so we had to bow at the flag for national pride. As opposed to the American tradition of the acceptance of the diploma for each student during the ceremony, Japanese students enter the event space (the gym in my school), and there’s a model giving and receiving of the diploma as one student represents the class by accepting the diploma from the principal. There are a bunch of speeches for most of the ceremony similar to American graduations. If I remember correctly, my school had speeches from the principal, government officials, head of the PTA, student council president, and a representative of the graduating class. In the ceremony, the students also sang a special song that is used for graduations followed by the school song. At the end of the graduation, the homeroom teachers and teachers only involved with the graduating class stood in two lines to send off the class walking between the lines to head back to the classrooms. It is in the classroom where students hear a speech given by their homeroom teacher as well as receive their diplomas.

The audience in the graduation ceremony included parents and all the students of the school. Similar to American graduations, there isn’t a set format for all Japanese schools. There might be some variations, for example, some schools have all the teachers other than the homeroom teachers of the graduating class stand in the two lines as the graduates are escorted out by the homeroom teachers. All of the students including the graduating class wore their uniforms. A fellow AET in another school mentioned that the graduating class wore white socks (usually they wear black or navy socks). I didn’t pay attention to my students’ socks, but I can understand the meaning behind it. The rest of the day focused on graduates finding teachers to sign their yearbooks. A few students came to ask me even those whom I haven’t taught. I hope my presence in the school gave inspiration or an increased sense of fun. If only I could’ve gotten to know the graduates more and vice versa.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
- Philippians 4:4 (NIV)

今週の写真: When I was in Tokyo (Harajuku), I witnessed a part of a wedding at the Meiji Shrine. The bride and groom as well as their families were marching to the garden to take pictures. I think the march has some kind of symbolism involved, but I’m not sure. About ten minutes later, there was another wedding party marching. I wonder how many weddings are held at the Meiji Shrine. The last two pictures were also taken in the Harajuku area. They are of a free art gallery called “Design Festa.” It was very interesting to walk through. However, my time was brief, so I hope to go again to see new artwork.