Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sumo in Fukuoka - tastes of Japan

So, I hopped on a bus with some friends from Nagasaki and took of to Fukuoka for a 1 day 1 night holiday. The main thing on the schedule was Sumo wrestling! I really had no idea about it, but I have learnt a few things. Firstly, this is something you have to do at least once! It is far more interesting to go there in person than it is to watch on TV. Here are a few things i've learnt:

-Most of the famous fighters fought later in the day. Since we got there early we saw all the juniors fighting each other. They weren't even displayed on the ranking sheet. Though, this was still really awesome. You can see that there are hardly any people in the picture (taken in the morning)

- Acquaint yourself with the schedule.

- You'll probably be there for quite a while. Get some food because I don't think you can go back out (though in Fukuoka there was food and omiyage (gifts) down in the lobby.

- If your getting a cheap seat (in the back) make sure your camera has a good zoom... obviously mine didn't.

Yeah, but really try it out once at least. It cost me about 3000 yen for a cheap reserved seat.
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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A theory about making a good English lesson - part 1 - concepts for a good lesson

So, I have recently just finished my TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) course. It was a 100 hour course with ONTESL which I would recommend. 100 hours doesn't sound like to much, but it ended up taking up a lot of my time (maybe this was just me). It had 3 modules: learning styles, grammar, and lesson planning.
The one that I see as the most important would probably have to be the lesson planning, even though I was in it for the grammar module. As a ALT on the JET program we don't always get to create the lesson plans, but when you do, you'll want to understand how to create a decent lesson. I'll give you a brief run down on some of the structures and points it taught me about lesson planning.

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Time bomb" search game - TESL game

So, I came up with this game the other day when trying to think of a game to spice up a lesson on "Health problems". But I can see that this game could work well for those lessons that have a lot of vocabulary (which was the challenge I had at the time). This is only an activity, a part of the class, and is geared to getting the students speaking to each other. It would be good at the practice stage of a communicative lesson plan.
So let me explain how it goes.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Nagasaki Takengei performance

It has been such a long time since my last post. I have been doing a 100 hour English certificate, so i'm sure I'll have something to say after that.

But, I have been to some recent events in my city, Nagasaki. One of which is Takengei 竹ん芸.
So this event takes place in mid to late October. The performers (some as young as 3 years old) do some amazing acrobatics on the flexible bamboo poles. It is better that you just take a look at the pictures.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Improving your students reading comprehension

So I came across a great website recently that gives some great tips about reading strategies - Mind tools.
Firstly, before introducing the link... 
The article isn't exactly aimed at foreign students, but people fluent in the language. However, these are still really valuable tips. There is one important thing, make sure that you don't use the information to "slot" your students into a certain "learning level". Don't box them in. Instead, when wanting to improve the student's skills (in this case reading comprehension), first identify what they need to work on and then suggest an appropriate strategy to employ. Consider the variables, what content are they trying to tackle, and for what reason (test, report, etc)

One of the things I liked about the article is about how deep one should read. Useful for students that struggle to comprehend some vocabulary. Having a brief skim of the text can give you a lot more context.

Anyway, take a look at the article. I'm sure it'll give you a few strategies you can teach your students.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Summer in Japan - a couple of hints - something practical for the incoming JETs

So, it is pretty much summer here in Japan. I believe that it is still suppose to be the rainy season, but including today we've had 3 fine days. You know when it is summer when your on the way to school in the morning and you think it would be a great idea to go for a dip in that small river next to school. When you are hoping that the bus gets here quicker so you can sit/stand in the nice air conditioned interior. When half of the English department goes for a mission to the closest supermarket for icecream.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The photos that I promised recently and more

Ok, so here are some recent photos from around Nagasaki, Japan. Also include photos of Hotaru (fireflies), and Kousoutai (High school sports meeting).

Nagasaki - China Town

Nagasaki - down town

Karate sparring - Kousoutai

A dam not far from Nagasaki. This is where the firefly live.

Hotaru are hard to photograph!

A Japanese girl managed to catch one

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The event called Hotaru ホタル in Japan (fireflies)

One thing that I love about Japan is that it seems to have a season or time during the year for everything. Sakura (cherry blossom) in spring, maple leaves and colour in autumn, Hotaru in the rainy season, etc, etc. I live in Nagasaki, a small city, but it has a fair share of its own events, some of which are famous around Japan (e.g. Lantern Festival).

Anyway, last night I went to see about the 蛍、ホタル、Hotaru (fireflies) around Nagasaki. In fact, I found that Nagasaki has a website setup for giving Hotaru reports (check out other locations around Japan here). So the fireflies are doing their glowing, dancing business from the end of May to mid June. Some famous spots will also have a Hotaru Matsuri (Firefly festival). 

Personally, I loved seeing these things floating around, giving off a kind of magical feeling. The best moments are when you get a good view down the river/stream and see like a tunnel of glowing, pulsating orbs swirling around.  These things were tricky to photograph but I got 1 or 2 keepers that'll i'll post up later.

Any way, cheers, these critters are still about for a bit longer, so get out and see them if you can ;)

Monday, 6 June 2011

Prefectural high school games - kousoutai 高総体

Hey there, long time no post.
So as I have said through some of my posts, working at schools in Japan is not only about the classes. There are many events through the year. At different times in the year, you may feel like you're attending more events than actual classes. One of these events in high school is Kousoutai 高総体 (high school athletic meeting). This event (in Nagasaki prefecture anyway) is prefectural. That means all the high schools in Nagasaki-ken (prefecture) have to compete against each other in different sports.

This event is quite big. The sports are played in various high schools and sports grounds around the prefecture. Usually it has a city that it is based in, but the events are held in various places. During this time students either participate or cheer on their fellow students. There are no classes, but there is no stay at home option ;) Students are given tickets they must hand to teachers to show they had attended the event to support their high school. Though in reality they only needed to hand them in and then leave, but the many I saw enjoyed watching the sport. Same goes for the teachers (including me), we had to attend. However, teachers don't need to hand in tickets. The Kousoutai takes place over about a week, and narrows down to the winning high school sports teams.

I quite enjoyed the Kousoutai. It is quite a nice time of the year for it to be held. Now it has just entered the rainy season, so the days are warm, but not too hot like summer. I, myself, went to watch Karate on the first day, and then swimming and volleyball on the second day. The atmosphere of the city changes a bit with all the highschool students out in groups wearing uniform. It was an interesting day, meeting students, walking around, watching sport, relaxing, etc.

Well just a quick post explaining the event. Might put some pictures/video of some sports later. Cheers.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Buying a Nintendo 3DS over a electronic Dictionary - Japanese/English Dictionary

It was some time ago that I thought it was about time to get a electronic dictionary, esp because i'm meeting a Japanese friend once a week for 1-on-1 English/Japanese lessons. Having a dictionary is just plain helpful, esp if you can enter kanji in it.

So the features I really wanted were Kanji entry, Jap/Eng dictionary (and of course the opposite), and some good examples in the definitions.

Well, I finally finished looking around the shops and figuring out what the best product would be for me. I checked out a whole bunch of the new Electronic Dictionaries...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Castle game - simple but great ESOL game

Hey guys,

So I read about this game somewhere, but it is easy to adapt and can be used on any type of quiz or whenever you want to turn answering questions into a game. Pretty much anything which has a lose/win scenario. I've used this game on classes with 15 students to classes with 40 students. It creates a bit of playful competition and can liven up a class if done right.

So this is how it goes. Firstly, I break the class into 2-6 groups. Each group has a castle on the blackboard that represents them. I usually draw the castles myself. The students usually love this part. Watching as my castles get worse and worse as I quickly draw them. The castle usually consists of 2-3 wall segments (dependent on difficulty) and 1 tower which has a flag. Usually If I have a large class, or want a shorter game, i'll only use 2 wall segments. Now you just start the quiz, any team that answers the question correctly first has the choice to destroy another teams castle (and I also allow them to rebuild their own if damaged). You can simply erase a wall segment of an attacked castle (or draw in the damage). Once a team is down to only their tower, it is their last stand before the other team can steal their flag. If a teams flag is stolen it can be placed on the attacking teams castle. And that is how it goes. Really the game can last as long as you still have questions to ask (and I always chuck in a few fun questions like who is this actor just to wake them up).

So I just quickly spewed this out. Now that you get the general idea you can easily adapt it as you wish ;)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Relationship with Students and generally just people on the JET programme

So things have been getting pretty busy again in school. The new year has started up and is in full motion. Things have been moving fast. Summer break is coming up, which means the new JETs are getting ready to arrive.

You may think your first challenge here will be your first class and introductions...wrong! Well, it may be a little challenge, but I don't remember it being terrible. The major challenge in human life is and will always be: relationships. This is because they have a great potential to reward or destroy you. Working on your relationships with people will really be beneficial for your time in Japan. I mean you won't exactly be invisible here, in fact you might as well glow. Plus, Japan is a fresh start in a brand new place for many, so why not try something new. Relationships, I believe, are really the flavor of life (i'm not just talking about romance, think more generally ;). So before I get philosophical/theological I'll let you know how it is for me.

So, I'm not exactly a relationship guru or anything, but i'm not ignorant, and have spent time working on this area in my life. Anyways, when I first was told I was going to 2 high schools I was thinking... NO! Not high school! I want cute little Japanese kids that love you no matter what. However, even though a challenge, i'm glad I got this placement.

Here is how my first day meeting some of the kids went:
During a summers day roughly 1300hours, I was sitting in the staffroom while the English club girls prepared their ambush. They shyly waited at the door trying to catch a glimpse of the new foreigner. Then, as the english club supervisor (one of my Japanese English Teachers) approached me, they took this as their cue to attack. The group came to surround the area at the end of my desks-group aisle (what do you call those?? haha). It was a brief meeting, but I felt kind-of awkward with all the people. But it turned out nice. One of the girls that was especially genki 元気 (full of energy, lively) said many random things (which is great for students to do: not be afraid). I called her crazy. They were kind-of shocked at first, but then I explain "good crazy" which they accepted. Since then, she is called crazy, mostly by herself. Great attitude. Great kids. They visited me nearly everyday when I first came. I see them every week at my English club now.

Another situation may also crop up. Many students have come up to me and ask "What is my name?"   I got this from day one. I'm like, you haven't even told me your name! So they tell me. Next day... "What is my name?" just to make sure. And it won't stop there. I've been asked this question since the start of the new year by the same students (and they know I know). It has now been continuing for about 3 months with other students joining in. So, if you haven't guessed, it pays to remember students names. This year, actually last week, a group of 4 students (all girls) waited outside of the class before I arrived. When I arrived they all proceeded to ask me "What is my name?" I won that round. I lost a round once at the start of one class. The group all said "what is my name", and I knew all but 1 of their names. Then they celebrated "We won!".

You can start a good relationship with students just by trying to learn their names. You may be thinking, what is going on? All the students he mention are girls... whats up with this guy...      Thing is, and I've asked around with my JET friends, I think students from the opposite sex to the JET teacher find it easier to engage with the foreign teacher. So males students may all gravitate to the female JET teacher, etc. (If you are on JET or are a  foreign teacher, let me know what you think about this)

In life, perhaps one of the most important things you can know about someone is their name. It counts. Back in my home country before I left to Japan, one of my Chinese friends told me "Thank you so much, ... because you remembered my name" (it isn't as romantic as your probably thinking). She explained, being Chinese (a minority) not many New Zealand people would remember her name.

So my simple piece of advice is: remember peoples names. Common knowledge, I know, but make a special effort. When you arrive in Tokyo you will probably receive a small schedule/calendar/notebook. I am now using this near exclusively to write down peoples names and details to remember them by. Not just students, but teachers, and others. Also, another helpful thing to know (I didn't know this for a while) is that most schools probably have a book filled with the names/pictures of each classes students.  If you ask, you can probably scan your classes and start writing the student names next to their pictures. The names are all in Kanji (and first names can be impossible because of the amount of different readings) but you can slowly write in names as you learn, or ask teachers. Another way is to assign homework that requires marking. Ask them to write their names in English, and their class and student number (this is standard anyway). Usually you can match the student number and name to the same number in the photo book. A lot of teachers also make seating maps for the students. If you ask you might be able to get a copy for your classes.

Doing this can be really hard from some JET members. I only have 1 school now, some JET members visit more than 7 schools. Sometimes they won't see the same students for a few weeks. So yeah, it can be difficult, but worth the effort. If you can get a photocopy of the students names/photos then you can jog your memory if you have many schools.

A few hints. Hope they help.

Monday, 2 May 2011

My trip around Kyoto - Part 1: around Kinkakuji and Arashiyama

Since I've been on the JET Programme I've been to Kyoto twice for holidays. I think I could easily go back again, the place has so much to do and see. At the moment, it is my favorite place that I have traveled to. To me this place seemed to have a laid-back style or maybe that was just because of the way I choose to do the sightseeing. It also has the traditional Japanese feel to it because of the many temples and markets you can explore.

If you look at a map of Kyoto you can easily split up the sightseeing locations. I split my sightseeing into 3-4 different sections. Since I was there for about 5 days it worked out nicely. It seems to split up pretty nice into the North, East and West. East is around the area of Arashiyama (my favorite zen garden in Kyoto), and the West is around the area of Gion (geisha territory, if your lucky you can spot them being bused around in their taxis). You will probably be doing a lot of walking, but Gion in general is a nice place to walk around and explore. Further North is Kinkakuji (the Golden pavilion) and Ryouanji (zen rock garden).

If you plan on going for a few days, you might want to fit Nara into your plans. Nara is a great little place that you can conquer in about half a day. It has some amazing temples and everything is inside a massive garden that is filled with pesky deer (they ate my damn map!). You probably get on the train from Kyoto in the morning and make it back in the early afternoon.

If anyone is looking for a good place to stay in Kyoto I would recommend Kshouse Kyoto backpackers hotel for accomodation. I have been there twice and have not been disappointed. It is a great hotel with awesome staff, and only about 15 minutes walk from the station. You can easily book with their website. I would go back again (esp because it says outside: New Zealand style backpackers... NZ pride or something).

Anyway, the best way to introduce this is through pictures.
The Golden Pavilion 金閣寺

The Golden Pavilion is situated North of Kyoto's station. About a 35-40 minute bus ride.

The Golden Pavilion is probably Kyoto's biggest attraction. The pavilion itself is situated in a nice Japanese style garden. You can almost walk right around the pond. It is surely worth seeing. I mean it won't blow your mind away, but it is a nice tranquil place, beautiful and a great walk.

Ryouanji 竜安寺

Just a short walk away from the Golden pavilion is Ryouanji 竜安寺 (zen rock garden). Actually, on the way you pass a nice kaiten sushi place (conveyor belt sushi). I'm pretty sure it is a chain restaurant, but still cheap and good.
Ryouanji is also situated in a nice garden. In fact, the garden has got a lot more places to explore than Kinkakuji. This place is really worth going too. Even if the rock garden doesn't interest you, there are other nice things to look at around the garden. The whole thing can turn into a nice relaxing stroll.

There are a few smaller but great temples in this area. One of the places include, I think, Japans largest pagoda. Check them out if you wish. They are easy to find on maps in the area, and are also in walking distance. I can't go through it all, it would take far too long.

Arashiyama (嵐山) - Bamboo grove

Arashiyama, in the west of Kyoto, is a great place to spend an afternoon. Located around Arashiyama is a Zen style garden also with a rock garden.  Right next to the garden is a road through a bamboo forest. Also, a place that I really wanted to go to, but didn't make it: the monkey park.

I went during winter, so this day was especially freezing. I thought I would rather try to survive the cold (quite literally) than try the monkey park.

Friday, 29 April 2011

ESOL English game - dice, vocabulary and grammar - JET programme

Hey there,
I thought I would share with you all the most successful game I made for my Japanese High School's English Conversation class. In every English lesson I have an activity or game that helps to teach the targeted English. Whenever you are teaching a foreign language it is great to get the students using it in a fun way, and make a good teaching environment. This game in particular really succeeded in waking the students up, they actually became quite excited to play it. Let me tell you how to works...

Well, I call this one "dice, vocabulary and grammar" for a reason. It is pretty much exactly that.

The goal:  Review/Practice recent grammar and vocabulary that has been taught in the classroom.
Required: Dice. I gave each team 2 dice (you can probably pick up at a 100 yen store). A set of cards (printed if you like) with vocabulary on them.
Class size, etc: I played this game in a class of about 16 students (senior high school students). I think it could be easily scaled up. You would have to have more vocab and bigger teams however. I think if you make the number of teams close to the size of teams (e.g. 5 teams with 5 in a team) then that'll work better.

How it goes: So this is how my class went down... My class had just learned about weekend activities (going to the gym, watching TV, etc), so I based it on this. I made some vocab cards from the different activities e.g. "watch T.V.". As I said, I had about 16 students. I broke them into 4 groups. Make sure that each team gets about 4-5 vocab cards (scale up/down if needed). Each team gets 2 dice.
So how it works is: 1 or 2 students from each team stay at their table and all the other students will go to other teams tables to try and take vocab cards from them. To steal a vocab card from another team a student must ask a question (based on the grammar/content you are trying to learn). For example "Did you watch TV this weekend?". If the team being asked the question has the vocab for "watch TV" then they must hand it over and say "Yes, I watched TV in the weekend". The student then takes it back to their team. However, before they are allowed to ask the question they must roll the dice. If the student who wants to ask the question win the roll, they may ask. If not, then they must continue on to another group. Whatever team has the most vocab cards in the end wins (time of this activity is decided by you).

Note: This may need translation into Japanese if the students don't understand (which is likely). Ensure you explain the game adequately to your Japanese Teacher of English (JTE).

The dice roll makes the game exciting because of the element of chance. This game works great to teach the grammar and vocab that class is currently working on. It can pretty much be adapted to any targeted grammar or vocab list.

If you ever try it, leave me a comment and let me know how it went. If it works any well, it might just be one that you can print off and save for those surprise classes you will probably receive ;)

Friday, 22 April 2011

Japanese language text book with Manga examples (learn with Manga) - My first textbook

I just wanted to let everyone know about the book I first started learning Japanese with.
So when I first started learning Japanese I was looking for something interesting and also for a text book which actually had good content. I wanted something to follow the Japanese pop culture but also have good teaching. In short, after spending a long time reading amazon comments, I went with the book "Japanese in MangaLand". Yeah I know how it sounds haha, but the cover itself will intrigue you before you even get to the contents.
The title "Japanese in MangaLand" makes it pretty obvious you will be learning Japanese with manga. The book itself consists of around 30 lessons (covering big topics). Each of these lessons has an example section that makes use of Manga illustrations to get across the lessons content. I believe the book itself is aimed at people wishing to read manga. What I like about this is that it starts from the useful Japanese straight away. Traditional textbooks will teach you the formal Japanese long before any casual Japanese. You don't want to be stuck in formal forever, and i'm glad that this book quickly introduces both. This is done especially because Manga (and anime) often use informal language. 

So, this book is about learning the basics (as it says on the cover). It lead me through learning all of the writing systems: hiragana, katakana and beginning kanji (Chinese characters). After first introducing the writing systems at the start, with great charts and an excellent Kanji reference in the back, it will then use them for the rest of the book.  In my opinion, i'm glad the book had a solid stance on learning all of these from the start. Many people will know one or two of the writing systems, but you really need all of them to even begin reading. The sooner the better (esp because the more kanji you know, the easier it is to learn new words and guess meanings of new words).

The books topics range from the writing systems, to basics like counting, days & months, to things like Swear words and insults, onomatopoeia,  particles etc. If you actually have the guts to stick with this book (which isn't to hard to do because of the manga) you'll come away with a good foundation. Of course, this will not be your only Japanese textbook, but it does a great job getting past those basics and actually covering some advanced grammar. Again, this shouldn't be your only textbook, you will never only have 1 textbook when studying languages. One thing this book doesn't have is audio so you can hear the new vocabulary, however, the Japanese language is not exactly the hardest phonetically. But make sure you have a few text books to strike a balance ;) I myself use about 2-3 different sources (textbooks and online).

To those about to come to Japan. If you haven't started studying the language yet, you could probably pick this thing up and get through it nicely (at a nice pace) in 2 months or less.

Anyways, cheers, hope you find this book as helpful and enjoyable as I did.

(Also there are workbooks, intermediate and advanced levels of this book)
Japanese in MangaLand 2: Basic to Intermediate Level  Japanese in MangaLand 3: Intermediate Level (Japanese in Mangaland (Numbered))  Japanese in MangaLand: Workbook 1 Kanji in MangaLand: Volume 1

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Planning your first lesson - JET Programme

Hey there. Just finished being told that New Zealand husbands (followed by Italian) are highly sought after in Japan. Yeah! I was just thinking of making a song called "I still don't have a Japanese wife", guess there is still hope. Hold off on that song for now.

Any way, I want to tell you a little about preparing for you classes (in a Foreign English teaching environment). Just so you know, I work at a High school with both a general English course and a fishery course. So here are a few tips. I can't spell it out to the details, it is highly variable.

Firstly, perhaps most importantly, know what kind of situation you are about to teach in! Best way to do this is to talk to your predecessor about the type of preparation they did for classes. For me, I will plan a class a few days in advance (and sometime on the day). Recently, I've been sitting down with everyone that is involved (same material, different classes) and making a teaching plan. However, I heard from a friend that she just finished planning months of classes in advance. See what I mean by different situations, yeah! So figure out what your getting into.

Secondly, your predecessor should have left you a nice bunch of previous lesson plans (if they are nice people). Use these to get a general idea of how a class goes down. If not, you can always ask your Japanese English Teachers that you'll teach with.

Next, when you come around to planning that first class (and all classes) don't forget the objective. What type of class is it? Oral Communication? General? Reading? Writing? Meet your objective.

Write it down! You will probably have a bunch of classes, you can't remember it all. I just write it down on scrap paper and keep it safe. Many go full on with printed templates and things (at least that is what they tell you in seminars, realistically...?). If your you're into that, then do it that way ;)

Plan for the small things. Write them down, don't forget. I try to guess how long things take and make up a 50minute period. Try have some games you can use in the case you have time to spare.

A lot of the time you may have a book that the teachers follow (ask if you use one).That is great, it can provide guidance. However, not all are great books. Adapt the lessons to make them more interesting for the students. Think about encouraging participation and what environment you want in each class. For example, a list of vocabulary is pretty boring. Learning by repetition is not exactly fun (unless you can funk it up). The same vocab can probably be learned in more interesting ways with games, worksheets, in class examples, etc. You will be teaching for at least a year, if the method is interesting for you, it will probably be interesting for the kids.

So without any more rambling i'll let you in on how my lessons go down.

Intro: Greet the students. Ask about their weekend etc, Ask new questions, introduce a new "cool English phrase".

Warm-up: I will play a English song for the students while they fill in the blanks. Quiz them on previous classes, homework check, or some game to wake them up. I mean, not all of these, but around a 10 minute warm up.

Introducing the content: Today I did a little skit with my Japanese English Teacher. I tried to involve the students by asking random students "May I borrow your pen", "Could you open the window" (new grammar). Just someway to make the new content fun. 

I always seem to have worksheet so the students can work on the new material. This can be many things from filling in blanks to writing a letter/story. 

I usually have a game that is directly related to the new content. I love involving props and stuff. Bringing dice along to class and making up a game with them turned into one of my most enjoyable classes.

I usually like to do a range of activities in the period. If there is too much pair-work, it can get sluggish, to much monologue up the front, they'll go to sleep. Too much paper work, and it can lack interest. Try balance it all out. Think about it as cutting a class into sections of pair-work, self-work, class activity, instruction and talk from the teacher. Of course, you can't segment lessons perfectly, but you can ensure it isn't too unbalanced. 

I can probably write a whole lot more. For now, that is enough. But finally, a great tip. If you want to study Japanese (or another language) try and go along to classes, small ones are preferable. Then, steal teaching methods from your teachers ;) I went along to a free Japanese lessons once a week. A whole lot of fun, and it shows you some good teaching tips.

Ask me questions. I'll answer you directly.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

My problems finding a computer in Japan

Recently I've been wanting to finally get an upgrade to my 7 year computer. T'was a long time ago that I could play a decent game on this computer. That is where the problem starts. To begin with, Japan is great for electronics. At the moment they have every kinda 3D appliance you could want; TV's, laptops, computer monitors, Nintendo 3DS. It is easy to find the latest phones, mp3 players, anything with an 'i' in front of it. They surely keep up with the tech and they can do a good deal.
All this is great and a paradise for me, however, gaming computers are absent. I've been to many a store looking for a decent gaming laptop. It seems the only computer with a dedicated graphics card is the ones capable of 3D movies and games. I'm not quite on that boat (though you can turn off the 3D). All I want is a decent graphics card in my laptop! It seems hard to come by in a Japanese store. In fact, most of specs here don't mention anything about video cards (who would if you have integrated).
There is some relief, Dell in Japan sells the same computers it does everywhere else in the world. It is also somewhat cheaper than in my home country (New Zealand).

So, just a heads up to those gamer types out there ;) Unless you are into your nintendos and PS3's then make sure you come prepared!

Now I really hope someone can correct me and show me some more options here in Japan. Perhaps tokyo has more options, but graphics cards seem rare. Probably because there is no demand. I mean, I haven't meet many core gamers in Japan (COD, Halo, Counterstrike, Battlefield, etc), and if I did I bet it would be PS3 anyway.

Tokyo Dogs - Japanese Drama - Recommended viewing

Hey guys,

We'll you are either in Japan, love Japan, or are about to come to Japan. Either way, it is really good to dig into some decent drama, and other media. Watching dramas is an awesome way to become knowledgeable about the famous people of Japan (which tend to be all in one actors, singers, comedians). Which is why I will recommend to you an awesome drama that I watch called Tokyo Dogs. Pretty much, if you want to watch something with great comedy, a decent story, and awesome actors (cute girl... suppose the girls like the dudes too) then yeah, i'd watch this.
I don't want to give to much away, but it is a story involving 2 detectives with an interesting working relationship (introduced quickly) and a cute girl that happens to come along for the ride (for reasons I won't give away). The relationships between the characters provides the main comic relief. The reason I found it so great is because each of the characters in the story has a really well built up personality which just makes the comedy that much more great.
The action is not terrible either. I mean there are a few of those cliched moments, but it is surely entertaining to watch.

In all, this small drama (with only about 10 episodes) will become a favorite to both the girl and guy audience. Haven't meet anyone that has walked away disappointed.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Preparing your self introduction 2 - an example - JET programme

So, I just finished doing some little updates to the powerpoint presentation that is my introduction. My high school has just received this years new students, and the new school year is just kicking off. I will be doing my self introduction for each of my 1st year English classes (apparently that is about 5 classes). However, if your about to come on JET, you'll do your introduction for every class :) Don't worry it can be fun, it is all up to you. It is actually one of my favorite things to do.

Anyway, as the title says, I've got an "example" of my slide show presentation. Truth is, i'm not going to upload the powerpoint, it would be useless. Most of it is picture which aren't much use to you. However, I'll walk you through (with nice bullet points) each of my slide and videos I show the students. Hopefully this will give you some ideas.

Ok here we go, a slide per bullet point:

  • First slide: My opening slide. I've put a nice green theme (good for New Zealand) for my slides. I started off with some weird picture to grab their attention and a local "Kia ora" (Hello). Generally want to get the attention at this point. You could play a small vid?
  • Next slide is my personal info. All the details about me. Age, name, picture, what I studied, my job, etc. They'll probably be interested in your blood type too... I wasn't sure what mine was :S
  • With the next slide I explained my life (in simple terms) before Japan with pictures. My home, job, countries I visited before Japan. Only a few pictures, don't want to go on forever about me. 
  • Next slide: My country (New Zealand)! Where it is, simple layout, where the hot pools are, pictures of hot pools, volcanoes, and major cities.
    At this point I go into a tourism video about New Zealand. Try find a decent video with a good pace, coverage, music (to keep them awake - plus it can be cultural). Students generally love watching the video. But, try not make it tooo long.
  • Next slide! Stats about NZ (at this point I'll remind you to get the audience involved, try not to make it a monologue. For example, ask them to translate the population size into Japanese... can be hard for them sometimes) Populations size, sheep populations size ;), how big the country is compared to Japan, the capital, pictures of the capital. 
  • Food! This section they love! This slide I filled with all the different foods that you cannot find in Japan (and sometimes they're interested in Japanese you can find in your country!). Ice cream flavors, meat pies, meat, ridiculously sized food portions, lollies cakes, corn fritters, the whole deal. Nothing more cultural than your food!
    Actually, recently I brought some "vegemite". A Australia/New Zealand breakfast spread made from yeast extract. I use it to torture students and teachers alike. Something like that is great. Bring a sampling sticks or something (make sure you know the size of the class!).
  • Famous people of New Zealand. I used Flight of the Conchords, a comedy duo. They loved the video.
  • This next slide I made into a quiz. I broke the class into teams quickly and asked them to tell me what NZ is famous for (sheep, rugby, sports teams, zorb, bungee jumping, etc etc). I went through slides with pictures from Lord of the Rings, King Kong (remake), Sir Edmund Hillary, Last Samurai (filmed in NZ), etc etc.
  • Things to do in NZ slide. About everything you can do in New Zealand. E.g. ride in a zorb (big ball thing), Bungee jump, sky dive, jet boat (Hamilton jet invented in NZ), camping, tramping, canoeing, visiting all those sheep. Of course, this is all with picture.
  • Now I introduce some of the culture. This slide I introduce the "Haka". A traditional dance usually done before a rugby game by the All Blacks. I showed them a video of this. They loved it! (esp the adidas logo at the end). Sometimes they want to watch it again. Feel free to spread your cultural propaganda ;) It is part of our job.
  • More culture and interesting NZ fact. I did a slide about the Maori (the NZ natives) and there buildings, food, etc.
  • This slide is all about NZ animals. NZ famous animals (Moko the friendly dolphin), weird animals (giant weta), and just common animals, etc. If you have a cute video i'm sure it'll go down well (reminds me of that cat and dolphin video I saw recently)
  • Ok, this last part I reserved for some ridiculous/amazing fact they probably wouldn't know. I introduced 2 extinct birds: the Moa (think huge emu), and the Haasts Eagle (eats the moa). Did some comparisons to the leg height of a Moa to a human (think giant KFC chicken leg).
  • The last few slides I ended by doing a quiz of the things we had been over. See if anyone can remember the capital of NZ (so far 1 or 2 students haha... suppose it is a hard name).
So yeah, that is how my powerpoint goes. Hope you get some ideas for your own. You will probably have a lot of time to work on this during the school summer break, so don't worry to much. Get some pictures, info, and stuff before you leave your country, if it makes it easier. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sakura (cherry blossom) in Nagasaki (plus a Sakura song)

So, it was just the end of May. That means the 桜 Sakura (cherry blossom) is starting to fade away. At school this is a time when some teachers are transferred to new schools. Perhaps it is not the best time for some teachers. However, it is a exciting time for others (as they get to leave, or are happy because they get to stay). Some ALTs supervisor are transferred... sad day. I, however, have been lucky, my supervisor and the teachers I'm close to are staying. Unfortunately some of the younger teachers were transferred.

Anyways, during Sakura it will be common to see families or companies set up picnic style under Sakura trees. Some will go all out with BBQ, chiller and all. I went up 立山 Tateyama (Tate hill) in Nagasaki for "Hanami" (Cherry blossom viewing). Here are some photos:

Here is a song which is kind-of related, Sakura by Funky Monkey Babies (a popular Japanese band at the moment):

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The greatness of Japanese convenience stores (konbini コンビニ)

So I just want to share a bit about the wonders that await at your local convenience stores. I find it a whole lot more convenient than the ones back home. I not really sure where to start so i'll just throw it all out there.

Well, I've actually just come from the convenience store because I forgot to order lunch at school. I walked away with a Pizza roll (one handed pizza sandwich thats rap tasted like an Indian bread...good) and a small pack of cold Kimchi  (a Korean fermented vegetable dish). In all it probably cost me about 300en. It was actually a humorous visit. As soon as they saw the Pizza they asked if I wanted it heated. Yes. While taking my cash one of the older men asked how I was with chopsticks. The typical question for the gaijin. But it is nice, since mostly they don't make small talk around these busy places. I didn't want to be to cocky and say i'm awesome, so I just said I ate a lot of Chinese food before I came. Really, I should have prepared something more witty over the past 8 months. Pizza was done before i'd even finished paying. Back to school I go.

Anyway, I'm not sure what that story accomplished.

Ok here is what you can look forward to (and what you have to try):
Sorry, I love bullet points...

  • Nikuman, Anman, Pizaman, Kare-man. These things typically sit up the front in warm steamer. Take a look at the below picture to get an idea of what it is. Typically a sweetish steamed bread filled with something like Niku (meat, the original but always good), Anko (red bean paste, not as sweet as the Chinese ones but good), Piza (pizza), Kare-(curry flavor).

  • Pan (bread) - you can get a whole variety of sugar filled bread, donuts, pancakes, curry bread, melon pan (a common favorite). There are so many varieties it is crazy. Plus you can get your normal sandwich in the fridge. Such classics as egg and salad, ham, etc etc.
  • Onigiri (rice ball) - Rice balls are a great snack. Feel a lot more healthy after eating one of these instead of the sugary bread. Many many flavors... Salmon, tuna & mayo, chicken, pork, sour plum, vegetable ... many that I haven't even tried. 
  • Oden - So i'm going to use a dictionary def. here "oden (various ingredients, such as egg, daikon, or konnyaku stewed in soy-flavored dashi)".  Idea is: you get a disposable bowl filled with warm soup and add fried, and stewed ingredients such as daikon (radish), egg, etc etc. I haven't tried this yet, but it looks healthy and tasty. It is tempting on those slow winter days. 
  • Alcohol, tobacco. Easily available at most konbini. Alco-beverages range from beer to Japanese sake, shochu, whiskey, mixed drinks etc. 
  • Nomimono (drinks) - drinks aren't hugely surprising. You will find a whole lot more tea in general. Coffee is available cold or hot (in a can). There is a bit coffee variety. You may be surprised that Coca-Cola actually makes green tea and western tea here. Energy drinks aren't the same as the Red Bull kind. Energy drinks here are smaller and potent. Not really targeted from daily drinking (but then no energy drink should be a daily thing). You will find some interesting drinks such as Calpis (just try it, can't explain), and green tea Cola.
  • Candy, Lollies - Again, nothing to surprising. You will find some interesting flavors here. Most sought after is usually green tea chocolate (for me and my friends anyway). Chocolate blocks are not as big as back in New Zealand.
  • Fresh fruit... some will have fresh fruit.
  • Magazines, manga, etc - You can find ... all sorts of magazines here. It is usual to see the students reading manga in the morning while waiting for school to start (at least I hope they're reading manga).
  • Other things you can do - Some bills payments can be made at konbini. They simply scan the barcode and you press a big green button on the touch screen, hand over the cash, and done. ATMs are available in all the konbinis I've been too. Also, sometimes other machines such as photocopiers and a ticket machine or something. 
Ok enough! They are great. That is all. My breakfasts while travelling around Japan were mostly at the konbini. It'll give you a taste at what is on offer here anyway.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Day in the life of a JET participant on the JET Programme

So here I am in the morning, drinking Sencha (a type of green tea) after just getting into the office. Recently it has been pretty quiet due to haruyasumi 春休み (spring holiday/break), so I have time to kill. Hopefully I can share a bit about the life of a jet. While I said "day in the life" of a JET, it is hard to explain what an average day is like because there is so much variety. I'll try go over a bit of everything. Plus, it doesn't just stop with school, there are many other things you'll likely be involved in.

Ok, firstly, the kinda daily run down and happenings during school season:

I generally get start by catching my bus around 8am. I need to be at school, at my desk, and ready for the morning meeting by 8.25am. Sometime you'll probably find yourself wanting a stop by the konbini (convenience store) for a Salmon Onigiri (riceball), really sugary pan (bread), and coffee.

The morning meeting: At my 2 High schools this starts at 8.25am (though not during school holidays). At this time the Principal (Kouchou-sensei) and the Head-teacher (Kyotou-sensei) will be in the Shokuin-shitsu (staff room) to kick off the daily meeting. It'll start with a group "Ohayou Gozaimasu" (Good morning) and bow, and then later the meeting will end with a group "Yoroshiku Onegai-itashimasu/Onegai-shimasu" (Lets do our best kind-of feeling) and bow. They will go over all the important daily events in this meeting (as well as special schedules etc). I usually get a weekly print out of important events (as does all the staff, of course in Japanese). Pay attention, even if you don't understand. Ask your supervisor if you need to do anything, but usually it'll be ok, you'll get the hang of sensing weird schedules after a while.
Anyways, after this 5-10min meeting the home room teachers will go and see their classes for a short time. I usually use the remaining time before 9am to prepare if I have any 1st period classes.
After this there will be the classes. My school has 6 50minute classes. Last class ends about 3.25pm. Followed by cleaning. The time I can leave is 4.10pm, although, sometimes I will be at English club.

Classes: Classes start at 9am and they last for 50mins each (with a 10 min break between). So generally at my High school I have about 10-13 classes a week (or less, or more). This is only when we have "normal" teaching days. Other days I will have significantly less (which feels like a lot of the time sometimes). This can be due to: the last year students graduating, testing periods, holidays, sports days, etc etc. Because JET is working in a school environment, it all depends on the school year. So, at the minimum, I have no classes. At the maximum I have had about 4 classes in a day (rare). Again, this depends on your school, how many schools you have, type of school, etc etc. I know quite a few that are in my position, but I do know of some that have many classes.

While you're not in classes: You will probably be working on preparing for the weeks classes, catching up with your English teachers, perhaps helping students with English (always been fun), studying Japanese, planning out your week/next week, making games, talking with other teachers, etc etc. Again depends on what is happening in the school.

Other things apart from in the classroom: I help out everyday with supervising the end of day cleaning (of 1 bathroom); many have after school clubs (I personally try and help at the English club); In the summer you will likely be involved in the annual sports day; my school will sometimes go and clean the neighborhood for a good 2 hours; marathon days; etc, etc
Generally just want to give you the idea that you won't be stuck in the classroom your whole JET life.

Ok, so far it has been about things at the school, but another event that seems frequent (esp right now as some teachers leave around end of March each year)....Enkai! (Casual or formal party). So these Enkai things... you will probably have one for your arrival (perhaps some time after), when teachers leave, when new teachers come, for the younger teachers, for the English teachers, for graduation, end of the year, start of the year, お疲れ様 otsukaresama (thanks for the hard work) parties, season parties, for the sake of having one (get it haha... sake... sake - the alcoholic beverage). Anyways, lots of parties. Many you really should attend (because they are more official), but then some feel more optional. It is great to go and get to know who you work with. You don't have to drink much (as I carefully watch how much I drink), but be careful, in Japan it is almost always all-you-can-drink. Also, if it is official, there will almost always be people that ask you to come to a ni-ji-kai (second party)... and then maybe a san-ji-kai (third party). So do be careful about how much you drink because usually it will be all-you-can-drink and 2 or more parties.

Anyways, that is a lot and yet I feel I have gotten no where. Let me know questions and i'll answer them below ;)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

My thoughts about buying your first cellphone in Japan

So, I came to Japan some time ago, and have had a while to think about what I should have done when first buying my cellphone.
At one point in this blog I said it may be a good idea to buy a Nintendo 3DS and get the Japanese dictionary software instead of buying a Japanese Electronic dictionary. However, it would be far better to buy a decent cellphone right from the get-go. So, for starters, there is 3 main cellphone providers in Japan: Docomo, Au, and Softbank. Asking around, I can't really find many differences in quality/service (this may be different if you live far from the cities in the mountains next to a rice field). However, Softbank in particular seems to focus on smartphones (IPhones, etc)

To cut this short my advice is... think about what you will need during your time in Japan. You are paid well, think about what new things you want to acquire in the next year or two. So, if you wrap all this up in to what you cellphone could potentially do, what do you get? For myself, I found after a while I wanted/needed a Electronic Japanese dictionary (with Kanji input of course), and a way to check up Japanese sentences/travel info. Thinking about this, perhaps it would have been best to get an Android (hint hint, bias here) or Iphone which has dictionary apps for free or cheap, and good internet capabilities. That way you can input kanji by the touchscreen, etc etc.

Also more advice, forget the gimmicks that Japanese phones offer. There is so much packed into some of these phones, but in reality you may never use it. For example, water-proof phones. How often do you plan to submerge your phone in water? If your prone to dropping things in the toilet, this may be actually useful. Many other games/apps/tools loaded by the provider end up never being used. Built in camera? Surely useful, but don't go overkill. A handheld will always be better, and a good one isn't hard to come across in Japan. Solar phone? Good from trampers (hikers), but if you don't do that regularly you can always charge it every night. Ok, get the idea. Don't buy the phone for a gimmick. Check out that it has what you want, you are likely to get a 1-2 year contract. So make sure, if you want a alpha keyboard, that it has a software/hardware one. Does it have access to those apps you want, etc etc.

Also, for those that have signed up and want to change your contract, I have heard (needs confirming) that some providers (Softbank) will pay-off your current contract (on another network) and sell you a phone cheap. Check it out at the nearest store or something if you really want to change.

Omiyage (お土産)- about bringing gifts(souvenirs) for your fellow teachers - First months with JET programme

So you've probably heard about people brining souvenirs from their home country to give to their fellow teachers. This is a part of the culture in some ways, and is a good idea.
In Japan the word souvenirs can be translated as "Omiyage" お土産.
I knew about this a bit before I came, thanks to my embassies introduction. In Japan, buying Omiyage while your away on holiday & business trips to give to your co-workers is a normal thing. Generally the Omiyage are not that expensive in Japan (1000円ー2000円) When I go on holiday around Japan I usually grab some Omiyage for my co-workers just before I leave the city.
I say all this just to give you an idea of the culture you'll be coming into. The teachers aren't expecting you to give them anything, it is just a nice gesture and shows you understand the culture. As in Japan, you don't need to bring a expensive Omiyage from your home country. Usually Omiyage here are boxes (20-30 pieces) of small food items local to places in Japan. If you have some peculiar food in your country it might be a good idea to try and find a small box of them.
I went to a local souvenir store and brought many small cheap items (not tacky, but cheap). I brought a nice Paua shell letter opener for the Kouchou-Sensei (principal), and a small plate with a scene on it for Kyoto-Sensei (head teacher). For the teachers I worked with I brought small key chains (accessory culture here is big ;) of New Zealand animals/famous things. I brought some local soaps (Kiwi fruit soap, Manuka honey) for my supervisor (some Japanese will regularly use their bath).
So pretty much, I brought some small interesting items for the key people i'll be working with. You can't buy something for every teacher, so if you can bring something to share (like I said, 20-30 piece pack deal) then that'll be good. Also, some people may have many schools, if that is the case then maybe just buy small things for a few key people or just a pack of home country food to share around each school. Also, check about how many staff members you have in your staff room (職員室 Shokuin shitsu). I usually need about 2 packs of Omiyage to go around my main school. Yet, my previous school 1 pack would easily suffice.

Also, if you want to try some Japanese, this phrase might come in use as you hand someone a small gift: これはつまらない物ですが、どうぞ。 Said like: Kore wa tsumaranai mono desu ga, douzo. Literal: "This is a uninteresting thing, but please take it." Translation: "This is only a small thing, but please take it"

Anyways, nothings to hard about this. Just understand that it is nice to include people in where you have been by buying them small Omiyage (also you might be involved in good conversations as you hand out your first Omiyage to staff).

Let me know if you have any other tips.

A few things I wish I brought

  • Weird food that rivals the Japanese Natto (fermented soybean). If they try an inflict Natto on you then whip out some of your own countries terrible food to let them try.
  • Some crazy as tea flavors. They love tea here, so if you have some crazy as tea flavors, it might be good to take out on a rainy day.
  • Chocolate. The chocolate portions you can buy are pretty small here, it might be nice to surprise someone with how generous the chocolate portions are in other countries (bear in mind that it may be frying hot summer when you arrive).
  • As I said above, small local foods that all the teachers can try.
  • Bring a few local recipes with you. Cook them up one day and bring them along to a party or share it at work.
  • Energy drinks are a lot different here. I was surprised to find they were nothing like "Red Bull", V Energy drink, etc, etc (I have actually been able to find Red Bull in a few convenience stores). Still, I miss my Guarana hit.   

Monday, 7 March 2011

Preparing your self introduction - JET programme

So before you even leave Japan you will surely be told that you have to do a self introduction to each of your classes. Hearing this I was pretty nervous... how do you do an introduction for 50minutes to High school students! Ahhh.
But, honestly, this will be even easier than your actual classes you face later on (not that they are hard either). It really is up to you.
So, I did all my introductions with Powerpoint (check with your supervisor if this is available to you) in a Audio/Visual classroom. You'll have a long time to prepare because of the Summer break, so here are a few pointers I thought the students found interesting (beer in mind....hahaha... that I was presenting this to high schoolers).
  • The students love looking at picture of your countries strange food. I come from NZ so it is nothing extraordinary, but they loved it. I made a slide full of interesting foods. Ice cream flavors not available here, pies, etc etc.
  • A slide of all the things my country is famous for (I made them guess for points). Gives a good overview of the country.
  • I used my countries tourism video. It was about 5 minutes with a great overview of culture and scenery. 
  • Pop-culture from my country. Comedians, movies, songs, etc. I included a video from Flight of the Conchords (very funny), a tralier from Lord of the Rings (while pointing out that it was all in NZ).
  • Things in your country that are slightly different from Japanese things. Saying there was Onsen in NZ, wow! Hotpools, boiling mud, etc, was very interesting to them. Point out some similar things between Japan and your country then destroy that similarity by telling all the differences. Yes, we wear swimsuits in our Hotpools!
  • Things which are so different in your country that they're alien. 
  • Brief history of something interesting in your country. I did some extinct birds. The Moa. I compared the size of a human to a drum stick (englarged KFC) to a human. Wow, it is the same size as a fully grown man! Then, tell them that some giant eagles (Haasts Eagle) used to eat these other birds. What! The other bird was already soooo big!
  • Cultural dances, songs, sports. I included a video of the All Blacks (NZ rugby team) performing the Haka (cultural dance... I guess). They loved it, and knew about it. Amazingly some girls really got into it and asked for it to be played a second time. They loved the big Adidas logo at the end.
  • I built a few quiz into my powerpoint to make sure they were listening.
Of course, after all of this, you still have to introduce yourself. Make sure they know a little about you, who you are. The above are just a few examples of what I did, but you know, craft something for your students interests. Think of the 50minutes as 10 5minute slots (although you may use 5 minutes due to greetings and other unknowns, and another 5 for questions already). What 10 categories (or just interesting things) can you share about your country, yourself? 

Ok, last thing. Also, for your first time, prepare something in case you have extra time: a 5 min video, small game, country quiz, speech, whatever.

Let me know if you have any questions about your intros.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Buying a Japanese/English Electronic dictionary: perhaps a great alternative

So, for a while I've been wanting a electronic dictionary to translate Japanese while I'm reading without going all the way to my computer. However, I got thinking. It cost about 30,000yen for on of these dictionaries in which you can write Kanji on the touch-sensitive pad, but it actually cost a little less to buy a Nintendo 3DS. Now, I found that you can buy a game for the Nintendo DS called "Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten" and from what I've heard it is a good dictionary with the ability to enter Kanji. The 3DS apparently has backward compatibility with all DS and DSi games. Sweet!
So, you know, it seems wise to grab one of these 3DS machines and the dictionary cartridge and get a few bonus features on the side (such as 3D movie player, and 3DS!).

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Nagasaki Lantern Festival

So, Nagasaki is a great place to live for festivals. Nagasaki has its own unique festivals during the year, and they aren't quite celebrated the same anywhere else in Japan. The Lantern Festival is one of these festivals. The festival itself is 2 weeks long, during the Chinese New Year.

It is surely worth checking out. Nagasaki's China town and shopping arcade is packed full of people from all parts of Asia and Japan. It is also a great place to find other JET members looking around.

A few things you must do if you ever attend:

  • Eat  Nikuman. A soft white bun with a meat centre.
  • Eat Anman. A soft white bun with a red bean centre.
  • Eat Marakao. It sort of looks like a small muffin.
  • Just eat festival food in general.
  • Check out the Megane bridge. This historic bridge looks great with lanterns hanging over it.
  • It is a playground for photographers. Bring your camera.
  • Check out the numerous events. From Chinese acrobats to 2 stringed instruments.
  • Too much to do... just walk around and things will find you.
Nakasaki China Town

Megane bridge



Sunday, 13 February 2011

What to bring with you to Japan --updated view--

So, I did a post some time ago about what you will really need to bring to Japan. I've looked at it again and will change a few things. If you are about to come to Japan on the JET programme, maybe this will help.

Toothpaste. Well, the toothpaste I brought from home ran out, and I've been using Japanese toothpaste ever since. Before I came here many said that it couldn't protect your teeth, but my teeth seem to be doing fine after 4 months. Perhaps my Japanese toothpaste actually has fluoride in it? Anyway, just saying, it is no big deal if you decide to forget toothpaste.

Shoes & socks. So my opinions about shoes haven't changed. You'll still need to bring plenty of shoes if you have large feet. US 12inch (30cm) seems to be the max size. Even then I can't find many size 12 shoes here, pretty rare. Another thing, if you do have big feet, then bring big socks haha. Many of the socks here seem to stop at about 28cm.

Clothing. Most people don't have many problems with clothes. But if you are larger (esp if your a lady) then it may be harder to find some clothes. You may be limited to a few stores (and that is if you live in a city). In my home country (NZ) I would fit a M or L t-shirt. But in Japan, it always seems to be Large that works.

Anyway, that is it for the revisions.

Another example of Japanese Church & Worship

Here is another video of worship in Nagasaki, Japan.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

My impressions of the Japanese Language Course books for JETs

So, before I even received my first Japanese course book from JET, I was told it was rubbish. But, after 3 books of the beginner's course, I've realised they are quite good.

Many said they were not very helpful, and there are a few things the beginners course could improve on, but overall it teaches great Japanese. Some of the bad points about the beginners course is that it uses romanji instead of hiragana and katakana. It would really help if it dropped you into the language fully. I mean, it could of even thrown in some of the beginning Kanji to help out. Saying that, they do send you an additional (separate) hiragana/katakana/kanji book. It would have been great if they used it in the lessons though.

But that aside, I still think it is overall worth the effort to do. The vocab and grammar it teaches is great. The exercises are great. (the friggin voice on the CD drives me crazy!!!! Honestly it is recorded torture...small annoyance, had to bold it though. You'll understand.) I'm only 3 books in and it is teaching some really helpful grammar. Although, I've noticed, it is very hard to remember the vocab! I've done other courses (Japanesepod101) and it just sticks, but here it just runs and hides. So I recommend downloading Anki (flash card program) and turning all that vocab into flash card goodness. Anki really is a great flash card tool, free too.

As I said, I also study using Japanesepod101. This is where most of my Japanese knowledge has come from. If your serious about Japanese, I recommend you also study it else where aside from the JET standard issue course. You really should be tackling kanji, hiragana, and katakana head on. It will make life easier in the long run.

Any way, end of that. Do the course! It does have some good fruits in it. Make sure you get the appropriate level for yourself!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Church in Nagasaki

Hey there,

So just a quick post about going to church in Nagasaki. In general, church in Japan is probably not as big or the same as wherever you come from. I came from a very large church and now attend a small family like church in Nagasaki.

Check out their website here 

So my observation of my church anyway: fundamentally the same beliefs, emphasis on singing and praise, many new original Japanese songs but also many older English hymns. My church also has a strong focus on spiritual gifts. I'm not sure if this is common or not across Japan.

Anyway, I really just wanted to post a video here to show you what a Japanese worship song is like. This one i'll post is a regular song at my church. Here it is:
I took this video at the anniversary of the 26 Martyrs of Japan in Nagasaki.
If you do look around Nagasaki you'll find a few memorials and influence from the Christian faith. I think it is great to see. I mean, apart from all the grand old churches around there is the 26 Saints memorial, the waterfall memorial for Christians who suffered at Glover garden (perhaps Nagasaki's biggest tourist attraction).  There really is an interesting Christian history in Nagasaki city. However, as it goes, the 26 saints are famous because they were martyrs, so it was obviously pretty hard-times for that faithful back then.

Anyhow, maybe post more videos later ;) Cheers!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Japan Life - Taking the bus... how to do it!

Sorry, it has been a while since posting last. I have been holidaying around Kyoto!
So, I want to talk about something that you will tackle very early on... Buses!

This is something I had to overcome in my first week here in Japan, and I wasn't told anything.
So here is what happened. My first adventure into the city of Nagasaki went like this: try to decipher the
bus time table at the bus stop. See the bus with what looks like the correct Kanji and Katakana. Decide to go for it. I notice people take a ticket, I take one upon entering. I decide the bus is going the wrong way (incorrect, it was just going another route). Watch kids get off for an example. Figure you chuck the ticket into the machine next to the bus driver to get the price. I chuck in the ticket. Machine reads "Err 2". I'm like "How much?". Bus driver says in Japanese "You don't understand Japanese do you?". Me: "no". Bus driver takes correct fare from my hand.

Well, not exactly a terrible day, but it can be avoided. It didn't help that I don't really do public transport back home (I have my own car), but in Japan....   Let me give you the run down on successfully getting to know your way around.


  • Ask your predecessor for the name of important destination and routes (and the Kanji of course).
  • Learn the closest stops and routes to your school and other important places.
  • Learn the route back home. Most people will probably not live at the buses destination, so you have to learn what bus routes you can take back home.
  • Figure out what type of bus it is. Is it a flat fare? Or does the fare depend on how far you travel.
Riding the bus:
Firstly, check the schedule at your bus stop. There will probably be 2 schedules. One for normal weekdays, and another for the weekend. There will probably be a grid layout with destinations on the left (and their different routes, e.g. via point A, point B), and the hours running across the top. Usually public holidays use the weekend schedule (unless there is an additional schedule printed).

When the bus comes, check the destination on the front and side screens. Make sure the destination and route are the ones you want. When you're getting in you may realize there is a scanner at the door for cellphones or bus cards. There may also be a ticket dispenser built in to the scanner. If so, take a ticket (or scan away). If there is no ticket, it is probably a flat fare; try find the pricing written somewhere in the bus. If you've got a ticket there will probably be a number on it. It corresponds to a number on a screen at the front of the bus. This will show you your current fare. The bus will usually announce the next stop e.g. "Tsugi wa Arashiyama desu." (Next is Arashiyama). There may also be Kanji displayed for the next stop at the front. When your stop comes by, press one of the many buttons around the bus. There is usually a machine for change next to the bus driver (make sure you use the coin sized slot for the coins that you want turned to change). You can usually get change for 1000yen notes or coins.  You also put your fare into the same machine once you've arrived. There will be a large mouth on the machine, simply chuck the appropriate fare into it (if you have a ticket, throw that in too). The machine should make a happy beep if you have given it the right amount (it will not give you change if you put to much in). 

Getting out of a bus in Japan is usually done pretty efficiently. Make sure you've got the right change before the bus stops. Get change from the change machine just before the bus stops if needed. However, it is not the end of the world if you don't.

Any how, hope that prepares you ;)