Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Final Update

This past month went by pretty fast. I've been back in the US since August 1st... so about 2.5 weeks now.

Anyway, I'll try to sum up my last couple of weeks in Japan now...

July 21st I had to ride my bike to work one last time. I was using a vacation day, so I technically didn't have to go in, but I had to pick up my pay check. The weather was HORRIBLE. It rained, thundered, and lightninged ALL night and into the morning. That last bike ride to work was pretty miserable. When I got there, all the teachers couldn't believe that I had ridden my bike... even though I've ridden my bike to work everyday and that has been my only means of transportation to that school for the past year... but anyway... My supervisor was nice and offered to drive me to the Ube airport. I really had no other way of getting there since I had to go all the way back to my apartment for my suitcase and the trains weren't even running because the weather was THAT bad. He dropped me off and I went to check-in. One of my students came to visit me to say goodbye which was really sweet. My flight was delayed a little while because of the weather, but it wasn't too long of a delay. I got to Tokyo and made my way to Saitama Prefecture. I have a friend there who offered to let me stay at his apartment. He was actually in China and just left a key under the mat for me, so that was really nice. That night I made my way back into Tokyo and met some friends for dinner.

The next day, July 22nd, I met up with Ian in Shinjuku, Tokyo. He flew in that afternoon and we wandered around all day trying to get our stuff ready to climb Mt. Fuji. It was pretty exhausting just running around all day - getting food, ponchos, etc. We finally caught the bus to Mt. Fuji at 4:50pm. The bus arrived at the 5th station around 7:15pm just as the sun was beginning to set. We had planned to eat some noodles there before we left, but everything was closed! So we bought a bag of chips and that was our dinner. We started climbing around 7:45pm. We made it to the 6th station with no problem... went on to the 7th station... still no problem... but after the 7th station is where things started to get really difficult. There were a couple of 7th stations and each one was harder and harder to climb to. By midnight we had made it to the 8th station and I was completely exhausted. I think we made it to the 2nd or 3rd eight station stop before I finally told Ian that I couldn't go any further without some sleep. I paid the 5500 yen to stay the night in a little hut and Ian was hard core and stayed in his sleeping bag behind the hut. It was REALLY cold outside too. You'd climb some, get hot, sweat, then get cold from your sweat, then get hot again... it was a bad cycle of hot to cold all the way up the mountain. But anyway, we stopped for 2 hours and slept. Even though I was inside, I was still cold because of my sweaty clothes. I seriously got to my spot on the floor and just laid down and fell asleep. At 2am we started out again and the weather was pretty bad. We had about 2.5 hours left to get to the top and it sprinkled on and off. As we got closer and closer to the top a line began to form because the trail narrows and there are a lot of people trying to make it up there for sunrise. We passed a bunch of people who stopped and were sucking in oxygen from these cans of air. I just had my water in hand and kept drinking it as I walked. We had brought our own food and pretty much ate the whole way up because we were burning so many calories. We finally made it to the top around 4:40am - just in time for sunrise... but instead of a sunrise, we got pouring down rain :-( Luckily I was in the bathroom when the rain started and I just stayed in there until it stopped. We hung out at a little shop at the top for awhile because we were completely exhausted. I bought some udon to eat for 1000 yen... but it was so worth it. It was funny because there were vending machines on top of the mountain!... only in Japan. Around 5:45am we decided to make our way back down the mountain. It was really foggy and the rocks were slippery from the rain. Once we past a certain point though, the trail turned into this volcanic ash and we didn't have to climb down rocks anymore. The volcanic ash trail was a different trail than the one we took to go up the mountain. I don't think people would actually be able to climb up it. We'd take a step and then kind of skid a few feet... and that's how the entire trail down was except for the top which was the slippery rocks that we had used to get up the mountain. Eventually the sun came out and it was pretty cool to look down at the clouds below us. We made it back to the 5th station around 10am. There were a lot of people passing us near the bottom on their way up. I must have looked completely exhausted from their reactions, haha. When we got back down there were these 2 people asking everyone if they had seen the 2 people on the posters they were holding. Apparently 2 people went missing on the mountain. I later looked it up online and it turns out the 2 missing people had started climbing the mountain that Sunday with a group of people from their work and then didn't show up to work on Tuesday (because Monday was a national holiday) and then people started to worry. We climbed down Thursday morning and that's when they had started searching for them. Turns out 1 of them was found dead near the top of the mountain Thursday afternoon and the other 1 was found dead shortly thereafter. But anyway, once we made it back to the 5th station we got some noodles, bought some souvenirs and caught the 11am bus back to Tokyo. I'm really glad I climbed Mt. Fuji, but I don't think I'll ever do it again. I seriously think climbing that mountain was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done in my entire life. My entire body hurt for over a week later.

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Friday morning (July 24th), I took local trains all the way from Saitama to Shiga. I stopped in Shibuya, Tokyo to get a picture of the busiest crossing in the world - Shibuya Crossing. I was on local trains for about 10 hours that day. I made it to Shiga Friday night and stayed with my friend Nathan in Maibara for the weekend. He lives right next to Mt. Ibuki. If I hadn't just climbed Mt. Fuji then I probably would've climbed it, but I was all climbed out. We went to Osaka Saturday night and met up with my friend Mina for dinner. I met Mina back in 2003 when I did a summer homestay in Osaka. Sunday was a really chill day and we got to catch up on some of our tv shows. Monday, July 27th, I took local trains from Shiga all the way back to Yamaguchi. On my way to the train station in Nathan's town, this man pulled over his car and asked me if I was going to the train station. I told him I was and he said something along the lines of "if it's ok with you, can I give you a ride there because I'm going there too." It was about a 40 minute walk from Nathan's house to the train station and I had all of my stuff with me, so of course I accepted the ride from him. He was telling me about how his family was hosting an American high school exchange student right now and he'd just arrived about a week before. He was a really great guy and saved me from the 20 minutes I had left of lugging my stuff to the station. That day, I was on local trains for about 13 hours. I made it back to Ube around 9:30pm. I had to stay at Meng's apartment since my lease was up.

Tuesday, July 28th, I had to go back to my base school to sign a few papers and make sure all of my bills were paid. My contract ended July 27th..... but they still asked that I go in, so I did. After that, I ran around Ube all day trying to get rid of stuff that wouldn't fit into my suitcases. Throwing stuff away in Japan is a hassle to begin with - you have to sort your trash about 9 different ways or they won't pick it up. Now I was trying to get rid of things like shoes, shampoo, etc. I basically just made a lot of trips to the convenience stores and threw stuff away in the trash cans they have outside. That night, I met up with the teachers from my base school who had become my friends - the art teachers, Biology teacher, Math teacher, and Japanese History teacher. We went out for yakiniku and they gave me presents.
The next day, Wednesday, I went to buy a bus ticket to Fukuoka and the earliest one they had was at 5pm... so I bought it. I went to the bank to try to cancel my bank account, but they wouldn't let me because I had forgotten to bring my inkan - this little stamp that everyone has and uses as their "official" signature. That was really frustrating. I told them I didn't have one and they told me to go get one made. They wouldn't accept any form of identification I had either. So I just didn't cancel my bank account. Whatever. When 4:30pm rolled around, I got a taxi to come and pick me and my stuff up to go to the bus station. Mayuko, a friend of mine in Ube who I met at the Indian restaurant came to the bus stop to say goodbye. I finally made my way to Fukuoka. The bus dropped me off and then I had to grab a taxi to drive me to the airport. I left all of my luggage in lockers at the airport because it was a lot easier than trying to lug it all to Ian's house in Saga and then back to Fukuoka on Saturday. After I put all of my stuff into lockers, I caught a train to Saga and made it there on the last train which arrived around 11pm.

Thursday and Friday (July 30th and 31st) I hung out in Saga. Saga JETs are all really nice and I always enjoy hanging out with them. I went around with Ian and some of the Saga new people on Thursday and helped them at the grocery store, etc. Thursday night a group of people went out for dinner and it was good food for a good price. Friday I hung out with some Saga people who didn't re-contract for another year while Ian was at work. That night they were having a going away dinner for Eddie and Glen which was a lot of fun followed by karaoke.

Saturday, August 1st, I woke up pretty early and made my way to Fukuoka. I flew from Fukuoka to Seoul and had about a 5 hour layover in Seoul. Then I flew from Seoul to Chicago and my mom and younger sister picked me up at O'Hare and we drove back down to Indiana. We got back around 1am Sunday morning.

Being home has been nice so far. It's nice to not have to pay rent or bills for awhile :) I got a cell phone and a car... now all I need is a job!

Since I'm not in Japan anymore, then I guess this is the end of this blog. I hope you all enjoyed reading my blogs and looking at my pictures throughout the year! I definitely hope to go back to Japan - either to study or work again. For now, I'm trying to keep my options open. I might be back!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coming to an end...

My year on the JET Program has quickly come to an end. I'll try and recap what all I've been up to since the last time I posted...

Last Friday, July 10th, I went to Kenchou (the prefectural building in Yamaguchi City which is home to the Prefectural Board of Education). All of the Prefectural JETs who are leaving this year had to go there for a farewell ceremony and to collect our money for our return trips home. The JET Program is the only English Teaching gig in Japan that I know of that pays for all of your travel expenses (and then some). It's really nice! Anyway, here's a picture of all the prefectural JETs who are leaving along with 2 pictures of Seiki Sensei - our boss.

After the farewell ceremony at kenchou, I hurried back to Ube just in time for my farewell enkai (party) for my base school. It was just with the English teachers at my base school along with my art teacher friend and Japanese history teacher friend. Also, Fujii Sensei (an English teacher who got moved to another school back in March) came along with Nishioka Sensei (an English teacher who retired in March). It was a good time. One part of the meal included really nice sushi which was laid out nicely on this GIANT wooden ship. It was so cool!

The next day, July 11th, I made my way up to Hagi for the AJET Leaver's Party. It was a good time. We cooked out on the beach and then later that night we all went to a bar and they presented some awards (such as: biggest gossip, the person turning most Japanese, etc.... I didn't win any awards). Here are some pictures from Leaver's Party. I don't have too many... but once people start posting their pictures online then I can take them and add them here.

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Last Wednesday, July 15th, my base school - Ube Nishi - had their Sports Day. I love Sports Day because it's fun to see what the students wear. This is one of the only times all year where students are allowed to decorate their clothes and wear props at school. They really go all out expressing themselves! The weather started out really great - actually, it was incredibly hot... but it was sunny. About an hour and a half into it, though, it started to rain... and then it started to pour. It was kind of a mess. Everyone was soaking wet. The rain only lasted about 15 minutes, but by the time everyone made it into the gym - they were soaked. They sent everyone back to their homerooms and had a meeting in the teacher's room. They decided to go ahead and send students home for the rest of the day since they didn't have a change of clothes. It was 11:30am! It was fun to watch while it lasted. Here are some pictures:

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This past Friday, July 17th, was the closing ceremony (for the start of summer break) at my base school. There was also a special farewell ceremony for me. The principal got up on stage and talked about how I had first met a Japanese person in 6th grade when this girl was in my class (her family had moved to the US that year). He then went on to talk about how I studied Japanese in high school and how I spent a summer in Saga Prefecture and then another summer in Osaka. I was trying really hard not to listen to what he was saying because I didn't want to get all emotional before I had to give my farewell speech. I was really surprised that I was actually understanding everything he had to say... but I'd be a little disappointed if I couldn't understand him... considering all of the studying I did over the years plus this year spent living in Japan. Anyway, after he was done talking, I got up and gave my speech - first in English and then again in Japanese. My supervisor wanted me to do it in English first... so that's why I did. During my English version I got a little choked up, but then reminded myself that almost everyone in the gym had no idea what I was saying and so I probably looked really funny getting choked up because they didn't know why... But then I started the Japanese version. I was almost to the end when I started crying : ( haha... yeah. Once I started crying, the entire gym started crying. But then I pulled myself together and finished it. I think it was a nice speech. After my speech, a student came up to the stage with this HUGE bouquet of flowers and told me (in Japanese) how much students enjoyed my classes, that my classes were interesting, that she looked forward to my classes, and that they would miss me, etc. This also happened to be my favorite student :) It made me happy. As I left the gym to go back to the staff room, everyone was clapping and crying. That was when I finally felt that my time here was done. It's been a really great year. I don't have any pictures from the closing ceremony at school, but I asked my art teach friend (who takes all the school event pictures) for a copy of the pictures she took and she said she'd put them on a cd for me... so whenever I get them, I'll post them.

Friday night, I went out to dinner with Meng and our Japanese friend Mayuko. We went to my favorite yakiniku place and I ordered a beer that is just about as big as my face, haha... I didn't realized it was that big. Afterwards, Mayuko came over because I wanted to give her my bouquet of flowers since I'm moving out of my apartment and don't want to just throw them away. Here are pictures from dinner and a picture of me with my bouquet of flowers!

Saturday night I went to a Yukata Party at a brewery in Moji-ko. It was really fun and I finally got a chance to wear my yukata! Earlier that day I was shopping in Kokura, so I made my way to Shimonoseki to get ready with some people. We took the ferry from Shimonoseki to Moji... which took all of 5 minutes. Shimonoseki is on the very western tip of Honshu (Japan's main island) and Moji is on the very northern tip of Kyushu (Japan's southern island). You can easily see Moji across the water from Shimonoseki. After dinner, almost everyone went back to Shimonoseki for karaoke and it was a lot of fun! At one point I took the bow off of my yukata so I could lean against the back of the seat at karaoke. When I went to the bathroom just before leaving karaoke, there was this older woman in there (maybe in her 40s?... can't really tell with Japanese people to be honest... they usually look much younger than they really are). Anyway, she saw that my bow wasn't on, so she takes it and is all like "oh, this is how you put the bow on" as she drunkenly fixed it, haha. It was probably around 3am, my yukata was probably a mess anyway, and this woman was still happily chatting away with me as she put the bow back on. It was a fun night. Here are some pictures!:

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So that pretty much sums up what I've been up to for my last couple of weeks as a JET. These past few weeks have been really busy, but a lot of fun! I'm going to end this post with 2 pictures of these young people that I FINALLY met in Ube. I met the guy on the right through my friend Jimmy about a month ago. His name is Taka and he used to be one of Jimmy's students before he left to study in Canada for 2 months. When he came back, I met him and he's been really great! He's going to be a junior high English teacher sometime in the near future. He has his degree, he just needs to pass some test which he'll take next week. The guy on the left side of the picture is his friend. The girl in the picture ... one night a few weeks ago, Taka invited me to dinner and took me to this really good place out near Ube Airport. When we went to pay, she was the person behind the cash register. Taka told me that she had been glancing at me throughout dinner... like she wanted to talk to me, but maybe she was too shy to. When we went to pay, the 3 of us got to talking and it turns out she went to Australia for 2 months about a year or so ago and she really likes foreigners. We left the restaurant and I was telling Taka how I would've gotten her contact info if I wasn't leaving in a few weeks. Turns out, sometime after that, Taka went back to that restaurant and got her contact info because he thought she was really nice. We all had dinner sometime last week and she was telling me that she goes to Baiko University - this small school in Shimonoseki... and I know her English instructor! Small world. It would've been nice to have met her and Taka earlier, but I'm really glad I met them because they're great!

Today I'm going to finish packing and cleaning my apartment. Tomorrow I'm flying up to Tokyo! Wednesday I'm meeting my friend Ian in Tokyo and we're going to take a bus down to Mt. Fuji..... and we're going to climb to the top! I've wanted to climb Mt. Fuji for years! I really hope the weather is nice and it doesn't rain. I think it's going to be a pretty tough climb... but I won't leave Japan until I've climbed that mountain! Friday, I'm going to take local trains all the way from Tokyo to Shiga and stay with a friend there. I'll have some fun in Osaka next weekend before heading back to Ube. I have to stop by my base school next Tuesday so I can take care of some final bills. I also need to close my bank account and cancel my cell phone before I leave... so I'll do all of that around the 29th of July. I'm keeping my suitcases with Meng while I travel. Saturday, August 1st, I'll be on a flight out of Fukuoka on my way back to the US (via Seoul). I probably won't have a chance to update this until I get back to the US... but I plan on at least adding pics of my climb to the top of Mt. Fuji! Look for an update in about 3 weeks!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fun Times!

I've really been enjoying my last couple of weeks here. Last Friday, a few co-workers from my base school came over to my apartment for a little get together. I told my friend Maiko, the art teacher, that I wanted to have some people over and she rounded them up! These are some of my favorite co-workers! All of them came to Ube Nishi (my base school) in April... so I've only had a few months getting to know them and they're really great! Actually, the calligraphy teacher isn't new, but I didn't really know her before the new school year started up again in April... I knew who she was, I'd just never spoken to her before. Anyway, we made a lot of food, drank a lot of drinks, and had a really nice night!

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For the 4th of July, I went to a rooftop party in Shimonoseki. It was really fun! There was a bbq, lots of food, fireworks, and this Japanese guy juggled fire! The night ended Japanese style with Karaoke and a ride home on the back of a bicycle.

As of tomorrow, I'll only have 1 week of work left. I cannot believe it. It's really sad to say goodbye. It's been a fantastic year overall and it's hard to believe that it's coming to an end so soon. Today, I taught my last class with a group of students who I've taught quite a bit throughout this entire year. Most of the students in the class were in the very first class that I ever taught. They are 2nd years now, but they were 1st years when I met them. My lesson plan was about the 4th of July and then we played a category game the rest of the time. At the end of class, they all surprised me and stood up to read a letter they had written to me thanking me for teaching them. After they read the letter out loud together, they sat down and 5 students held up cards that had the hiragana letters ありがとう written out (one hiragana on each card). That's "thank you" in Japanese. Wow. I'm really going to miss Japan... especially my students.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I was walking around Tokiwa Park by myself today when 2 complete, separate strangers told me how beautiful I am... how nice is that?! Both times, the people were old people... but I don't care.... and it makes it that much better because they were being genuine (as in not trying to hit on me). It was refreshing to hear :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Last day at Ube Shougyou (Commercial High School)

Today was my last day teaching at Ube Commercial High School (Ube Shougyou). There are still 3 weeks of classes left, but next Friday I will be teaching at Ube General Support School since Shougyou has exams. The Friday after that, I have to go to Kenchou in Yamaguchi City for the Prefectural JET's farewell ceremony. Then the Friday after that, it's the farewell ceremony at my base school (Ube Nishi) and I will go to my base school that day because I have to give a farewell speech in front of the school. I really enjoyed teaching at Ube Shougyou over the past year. The students are all very friendly. Almost everyone at the school really warmed up to me over the course of the year. I remember when I first got there, the English Club was really just feeling me out and so were the teachers and students. I'm not gonna lie, it is somewhat disappointing to leave once everyone has finally warmed up to me, but I know I made the right decision. Also, it's really nice to leave on a high note. One student in particular at this school is my absolute favorite student that I've worked with. She is a member of the English Club. When I met her last August, she was a very sweet, shy, and quiet first year. She has since grown into an outgoing, bubbly girl and she is now a second year student. She really came a long way over the year - socially and her English has really improved thanks to a little self confidence. Her pronunciation was really good when I got here, but now it's even better and she has enough confidence to be heard. Anyway, she makes my time here in Japan complete. I really wanted to have an impact on at least 1 student and from what I gather from a letter she wrote me, I'm pretty sure I've had an impact on her and it feels really great. Lately, I've been wondering if I actually made a difference while I was here in Japan this year... and I realized that I have and that makes me really happy :)

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