End of International Week and Counting Down the Days

With this being the last week of International Week, you could start noticing that the students (both from Technos the Sister Schools) were getting sad. Though it’s sad to see everyone upset it’s still interesting to see how quickly everyone was able to make such strong relationships with each other. But as the week went on, there was still a lot left to do.

On Wednesday I, along with a couple other students and a teacher got to go to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Honestly this post would’ve just been consisting of pictures of the museum but sadly you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside. But take my word for it, it was fantastic. There’s a handful of Ghibli movies that I’ve watched growing up but going to the museum just showed me how many more there are. When I get home I’m going to binge through every single one. At the museum they show an exclusive short movie that can’t be seen anywhere else and man I loved it. I bought a picture book of the movie at the shop. The second picture is of the movie admission ticket; it’s frames from a Ghibli movie. I highly recommend going there if you’re a Ghibli fan and are in Japan.

On Thursday, there was a manga class open to the Sister School students and helpers. Since I was completely free during then I asked my boss if I could join the class. Drawing can be relaxing sometimes and I like reading manga so I thought this would be really interesting. At the beginning of the class the manga teacher demonstrated how to properly use the the pens and explained what type of lines go where. After that we chose a sample page that the class had prepared and started tracing. If I had to hand draw these frames I would probably still be trying to finish it as I’m typing this post out.

Friday was the last day of International Week and each speech given at the farewell party was fantastic. There were a lot of tears but I guess that means that IW was a success. After the Sister School students left for their hotel, the SkillUp room was really quiet…

This weekend I decided to meet up with a couple of my friends back at IWU. Since they just arrived to Japan a week ago, we thought it would be great if we could hang out. With this being my last free weekend, I wanted to try and get any last souvenirs for my friends and family back home. We decided to meet at Shibuya but when we got there my friend, for some reason, immediately went to Shibuya Crossing and told me to meet there. Honestly, it took about 20 minutes finding each other but finally after we did we grabbed lunch. After roaming for a while we stopped at an arcade. This is where I grew my love-hate relationship with arcades – specifically the claw machine. The video games there are super fun but my god, nothing can get someone’s blood pressure up more than those claw machines. After wasting a bad amount of money, we saw someone going after a pair of headphones and we probably stood there watching him for about 15 minutes. He must’ve put in about $40 into that machine but once he finally got those headphones, my friend and I cheered for him so hard.

After Shibuya, we headed on over to Akihabara. It’s always so cool seeing the transition from day to night when you’re there. All the street signs illuminating the streets and having so many people still bustling around is such a cool vibe. After buying some manga for myself and some friends, we all grabbed some dinner and called it a night.

Surprisingly, since this is my last free Sunday I decided to do something. I went to go meet up with my friends again. We met up in Akihabara again and since all of us were here now, we took the one who wasn’t with us yesterday to an arcade. I witnessed a man fall prey to the claw machines right before my eyes. After (again) wasting more money there, we roamed the area more and did more souvenir shopping. Once we were done with Akihabara, I wanted to go to Asakusa. The reason being is because I wanted to buy a non-plastic fox mask. Sadly the stores that I thought would have it, didn’t, but even though that was the case there was still a lot to see there. We went to Sensō-Ji. It’s always amazing seeing these temples in person, it’s really hard to know how big it is just from a picture (8 and 9). After seeing the whole area and buying more souvenirs, we grabbed some dinner and called it a day.

I honestly cannot believe that I only have one more week left, it’s absolutely crazy.

Kawagoe and Piano Class

After hearing people at work talking about Kawagoe, I finally checked the place out. The city is towards the north eastern side of Tokyo and it is an Edo-period castle town. A lot of the architecture there is still in that Edo-period style and many people dress in yukatas and kimonos. There’s a large variety of shops in the area and a lot of them also focus in on that classic Edo style. Besides the East Imperial Gardens, I haven’t been able to see this type of architecture. I always love seeing this style so being able to kind of witness what it could’ve been like back then was pretty cool (obviously minus all the modern aspects in Kawagoe). Pictures 1-10 are all of my trip to Kawagoe and snapshots of what I saw on the way back.

International Week so far is going really well! As expected, all the students and teachers that are participating are super busy. Alongside with all the events that I am a part of, I still have my main classes that I go to.

Wednesday was the day where the main students that I’ve been helping would present. As seen in the 11th picture, the Sister School’s were lined up, sitting at tables and the Technos students would rotate around with their groups and both sides would do their mini presentation. After a group that I’ve worked with finished with one Sister School group, I went to ask the people they talked to how they did. Every group that I asked said that the Technos students did very well. I was so happy to hear that because I saw how much work that the students put into their projects. Seeing such a positive response was definitely a highlight for me.

Thursday was the day when I would teach my piano class. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would go – I have experience teaching music to children but I wasn’t sure how well the students here could play or how well they could speak English. Nonetheless I knew the material well enough so I hoped that I would be able to explain things well enough. The first couple minutes of class I noticed that the students were somewhat shy. Me being nervous wasn’t helping the situation at all so I tried to open up to them relatively quickly. Throwing jokes when I could and giving them positive reinforcement for when they answer a question correctly allowed the students to finally start warming up to me. I wrote out the piece, Heart and Soul, with the chords on one page and the melody on another. For this lesson I focused mainly on the chords – I taught them the English names for the music clefs, chord names, etc. It was surprising to me when I found out that the students only know the solfege rather than the actual note names. I taught them the acronyms that I used while growing up to memorize them (FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine). I was pretty happy at end because the students managed to learn the chords pretty well. The next I will have is on the 27th of June – for homework, I asked them to just look at the melody and see if they could start learning it.

Friday I went to karaoke for the first time. I’m not one to really sing in front of people, but I thought this would be a fun experience. I want to be clear – I’m not a good singer and I’m purposely leaving out any videos I have of this, for everyone’s benefit. That being said I actually did have a great time. My voice was shot afterwards but it was super fun being able to spend time with the friends I made here.

Saturday I visited the same shop that I previously went to Kishimojin. It was raining pretty hard but being the last opportunity going there again I still decided to go. Staying there was just as fun as the first time. This time I tried to speak mainly in Japanese and after about 2 hours of that my brain was absolutely fried. After our conversation I looked around and bought some more stuff, I said goodbye and headed back to Higashi-Koganei. I’m genuinely wondering if I have enough space in my suitcases.

Sunday is the same old – a laundry and relax day. I can’t believe I only have two more weeks left. Where did the time go??

International Week, Great Food and Odawara

Finally with the conversation tests out of the way, everyone was able to put their focus on International Week. Despite the name, this event is actually 2 weeks long and in these 2 weeks, Technos College’s sister schools around the world will come visit. Each school (10, including mine, Illinois Wesleyan University) sends about 3-4 people, one teacher and a couple students over to Japan and so they can learn about and explore the country. I am working with groups of students who are participating in something called the Sister School Fair. They will be working on presentations about a certain aspects of Japanese culture. A couple groups are talking about Japanese snacks, one is talking about how there are Japanese words that sound the same but have a different meaning and another is teaching how to write names in Katakana. I meet with each group about once a week and each week I can see how much work they’re putting into it. They will present to the other sister schools on next week Wednesday and I think it will go really well.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I leave work at 6pm and this Monday a friend asked if I could wait a little bit after because he wanted to go through his lines for international week. He was in a meeting and it went on longer than he expected so we meet at around 6:30. Since it was around dinner time, he showed me a really good restaurant and I ordered a bowl of bbq pork and veggies over rice with a side of miso soup. Besides the shoyu ramen, this is my favorite dish in Japan. It is such a comfort food (the first picture) and I could have again and again and again. After the fantastic dinner I walked home and the next 3 pictures are of what I saw on my walk back to my sharehouse.

During some time this week, one teacher asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. Since I usually plan what I do around Friday night I told her I had nothing in mind. The reason why she asked was because she had bullet train tickets that were going to expire after this weekend, so she was wondering if I wanted to use them. The tickets were for Odawara and since I’ve never been there nor ever rode the bullet train, I took up her offer. Since the Higashi-Koganei station doesn’t have a bullet train line, I had to go to Tokyo station and change platforms there onto the bullet train. The inside of the train genuinely looked like the inside of an airplane, it was so spacious (5th picture). After riding the regular commuters train everyday it was so nice having a comfortable, reclinable seat. Not only that, but the ride was so smooth and the 6th and 7th picture were from the view from my seat. If I took regular transportation, the ride would’ve taken over two hours but on the bullet train, it took under 50 minutes to reach Odawara.

One of my bosses sent me things on Line that I could check out while at Odawara. There was a small festival going on at a place called Ajisai Park. Also close to that, there was a flower viewing event. The 8th picture is of a shrine that I saw on the way to these places. I swear, every time I come across one of these small shrines or temples, I’m always the only one there and in my surrounding area – so I’m always thinking that the place is closed or it’s some private land and I’m trespassing.

Odawara is such a beautiful place and if you’re ever in Japan I highly recommend checking it out. The remaining pictures are of Ajisai Park and the flower viewing event (I don’t know the names of the flowers). There was also another temple that I came across, and guess what, I was the only person around. Seeing the whole area being surrounded by hills and seeing all the rice fields honestly reminded me a lot of Assam, the Indian state that my mother’s side is from. I really would not mind living here, the whole area was so quiet and peaceful. Not only that but I also had full bars LTE so I was pretty much sold on this place.

I honestly could’ve just started my new life right then and there, but I had to get back to reality and return to my sharehouse. Sunday has just become my laundry and relaxation day. I didn’t do too much besides just walk around Higashi-Koganei and see if I could find anything new that I hadn’t seen before – I didn’t this week. And after painstakingly ironing my clothes I finally called it a week.

Proctoring and Visiting the East Imperial Gardens

This week, work wise, was not too bad but since we were in the middle of the students’ conversation test, more and more students were coming wanting to practice with the TA’s.

Proctoring for these tests was relatively simple, two TA’s go to where the testing takes place and take attendance. After that we do a rundown of what the proper etiquette is for when entering and leaving the room. First the student wait for the teacher gives them the okay for coming in then the student knocks on the door. After opening the door they ask the teacher if they can come in. Then, the student introduces themselves and hands the teacher their test sheet. When that is done then they have their one-on-one conversation test. Once that’s over the student gets up from their seat, thanks the teacher for their time and then s/he can either go home or do whatever they need to do for the rest of the day. The whole process reminded me a lot of my Japanese oral tests. We did a similar thing when entering the room but we didn’t have to introduce ourselves or thank the teacher for their time. It also reminded me a lot of how nervous some of us would get before the test. Even though some students here have a good grasp on the English language they still got really nervous. The TA’s usually tried to comfort them or go over any last minute questions that they had. Because I proctored the students that I helped teach, there weren’t many classes, if any at all, that I had to go to.

This weekend I decided to go see the East Imperial Gardens at Chiyoda City. The train ride there was about an hour or so and I had to change platforms at Shinjuku. I genuinely don’t know how people confidently walked to their respective platforms – that place is no less of a maze than an actual station. Once I got out I finally noticed just how big Tokyo station actually is (first picture).

Originally, the reason why I wanted to go to Chiyoda City was because I wanted to buy Japanese tea leaves at a certain store. Honestly, I should have looked more into it because when I got there I saw that only for a single cup of tea, it would’ve costed me $16. So after seeing that I threw that tea leaves plan out the window. Not knowing what to do next I looked on Google Maps to see what I could do and luckily the gardens were pretty close by.

After a 30 or so minute walk I finally “made” it to the gardens. I got to one side of the gardens but there was no entrance for people to enter through so I kind of just assumed that this was all. Thankfully I started walking around and finally found the actual entrance which on the complete other side of the gardens. The next three pictures were from the side that I was on and the seven pictures after that are of inside the gardens. To be honest since the place has the word “gardens” in it I was expecting a lot more flowers and stuff, but nonetheless it was still really cool to see the old imperal style Japanese buildings. But man, it was super hot and sunny.

I’m someone who would much prefer being cold than hot, so being in the baking sun with little to no shade for hours was not that fun. But when I was done with the gardens, I went around the main city area and luckily it was cooler there. I just went wandering going in and out of random buildings and somehow I ended up in some type of retirement home. No one said anything to me so I decided to walk around in the building more but there was not much there. When I saw that the sun was about to go down I finally decided to call it a day. When I got to Shinjuku station I got super lost. I spent well over 20 minutes trying to find the Chuo line. On Sunday I did laundry but I didn’t have any hangers with me I just hung my clothes all over my room.

Finally when my clothes finished drying I was able to put them away but then I realized I had to iron my dress clothes. I absolutely hate ironing but I just had to take the hits. After an unnecessarily long time ironing I was able to go to sleep and end this week.

Exploring the Area

During the weekdays I worked my regular hours. At work I still mainly spend my time in the SkillUp room however now I have a schedule for what classes I will be assisting in. On Mondays all I have, class-wise, is a seminar for the second year students. Seminar is somewhat like study hall where the students come to the SkillUp room and work on homework or have their weekly 15 minute English conversation with the TA’s. After that is over I don’t have any other classes so I just stay in the room and help people who come with questions about their homework or grade stuff. Tuesday I help in two conversation classes. These classes go over more casual English and how to hold a conversation in English. I help teach both a first and second year class. In these classes I usually help the teachers with examples, and work with students when they work on stuff in their own. When I’m helping the students I try to sneak in some Japanese practice. Usually when the students are not understanding a certain concept in the lesson I try to explain the meaning in Japanese. It is pretty difficult for me but a lot of the times the students have a better understanding. Wednesday I have another seminar and a conversation class. Thursday I have absolutely nothing so I just work in the SkillUp room. Friday I have another conversation class and then end my day with another seminar. We started a game in the room where we put up the teachers’ and TAs’ baby pictures and the students have to guess who’s who. The fifth picture is the board. Can you guess who I am?

The first four pictures are of things that are around where I stay. The first picture is of a shrine that is very close to my social house – when I was walking to Koganei Park I stumbled across it and offered some money and rang it’s bell. The second picture is of a part of Koganei Park. I saw on Google Maps how big the park was but going there really put things into perspective. It was huge. There were so many families playing together in the open fields and a lot of people just walking around on the sidewalks. The next two pictures are of my commute to work. Everyday I walk to the Higashi-Koganei train station and get off at the next stop, Musashi-Koganei. After that I take a bus and that goes right to Technos College. The trip usually takes about 30 minutes. The third picture is of the view I have when riding the train and the fourth picture is of a park that I walk by on my way back to my place.

During the weekend I decided to visit Kishimojin, a temple which is close to Mejiro. The sixth picture is from the walk I took from Mejiro station to Kishimojin. When I got there I saw that a lot of the temple was under construction. The seventh and eighth picture are of the old Gingko Tree, a 700 year old sacred tree and of the gates surrounding it. Honestly I was pretty bummed that so much of the temple wasn’t visible but after I saw the temple I decided to just walk around. At a couple minutes I found Keyakinamiki Street. There I found a small shop called “Showroom”. So far going to this site has been the best experience I’ve had here in Japan. The tenth picture is of the inside of the shop. The owner rents out a house and uses it as a store. All the pottery there was handmade and there were a lot of hand sewed hats, aprons and bags that are made out of a Japanese cloth. The owner saw that I was looking at the display outside her shop so she invited me inside and explained what everything was. I originally spoke to her in Japanese but after a couple minutes I realized that she spoke English extremely well after that, we spoke mainly using that. Her and I continued having a conversation for a while and then she went back into the kitchen and brewed some tea for the both of us. She brought the tea out and we sat on the floor, and we continued our conversation. I learned that she loves India and we started sharing our memories from our trips there. Time honestly flew by, we talked well over an hour. I genuinely wanted to stay and keep talking but I needed to catch the train back home. So after we finished our talk I picked it some nice things to buy and said goodbye. Being in a foreign country and exploring alone can get somewhat tiring but being able to meet a stranger who was as nice and open for conversation as the shop owner is something that I’ll never be able to forget.

The next day I finally decided to go out and treat myself to a nice dinner. One of my bosses recommended a ramen shop that is very close to the Higashi-Koganei station so I decided to go there. I ordered the Shōyu Ramen (soy sauce ramen) and that was probably the best thing that I had so far. While eating, there was a person sitting next to me who could tell I was a foreigner and started a conversation with me. Since both of us are but originally from Japan we talked about our experiences here. After dinner we exchanged information and plan on grabbing some food again.

After that nice dinner I had a 20 minute walk back to my room and that was the end of my week. Still the main thing that I need to do is to make sure how much money I have in coins, but I am definitely getting better at it.

First Week in Japan

These pictures are of my first week here in Japan. The morning after we arrived one of our head teachers picked us up and showed us one of the ways to get to work. The first picture is of the college that I am currently working in and the week was more for us to get adjusted to our new environment. Mainly we stayed in the SkillUp room and talked with the students that came in. The SkillUp room is where all the TA’s and English teachers stay in; students come in anytime and hang out there, sometimes they do their homework or they fulfill their weekly conversation. Each week the students need to talk with one of the TA’s for at least 15 minutes. On top of that we grade the students’ weekly diary entries which are usually just answers to a prompt that they are given at the beginning of the week.

On Friday another one of the head teachers took us out for dinner. We went to a 回転寿司 (kaiten sushi) which is a place where the sushi is served on a converabelt. Usually I’m not someone who likes fish but I have to admit, I genuinely enjoyed this sushi. The third picture is one of the sushi that I had – the fish was tuna. On Saturday I went to the Kanda festival with Rachel and a friend who was my Japanese tutor back at Wesleyan. Pictures 4-6 were of the main area where the festival took place, and the picture of the long piece of paper was my fortune that I got from the fortune teller. The fortune says that I received the best luck. Later we all went around looking for my tutor’s dad to see his performance. While searching for him, we stopped by stores along the way and bought some souvenirs. His dad was the head of his area so he was leading the carrying of the big statue (picture 7+8). My friend gave me one of the overcoats that the people in picture 8 were wearing. When his dad saw me wearing it he called me over and then I started carrying the statue with everyone else. Honestly that statue was so much heavier than I was expecting – afterwards I got a bruise on my shoulder from the weight. But nonetheless I was super happy to participate in one of the biggest festivals in Japan. Towards the end of the day my friend and I went to grab some dinner and afterwards we just walked around Akihabara. The night life in Japan is really nice because of all the people out and the lights that the stores turn on and how it lights up the streets (the last picture).

I’ve noticed that I tend to plan things last minute so as of writing this I have no clue for what I will do for this coming weekend. I think the main thing that I still need to get used to is understanding that I am carrying more money than I think. Since back at home I mainly pay with card, I don’t carry many bills or any change at all. So when I have a pocket full of change I need to make sure how much I actually have. For example there is the 500 yen coin which is equivalent to about $5, but since I just look at it as regular change, I dismiss it as just regular change. But that is something that over time I’ll get used to.

On Sunday I spent most of my time relaxing and just walked around Higashi-Koganei. That was my first week here in Japan.

Flying To Japan

For flying to Japan, Rachel and I started from O’Hare International Airport at 11:55 p.m. and arrived at Incheon International Airport in South Korea at 4 a.m., local time. Just from seeing how the cities were organized made me realize how different living is across the world. The first picture is of Chicago and the second was taken when flying over Seoul. Luckily, at Incheon Airport there were a lot of stores to look around in because we had a 5 hour layover. Finally around 9 am we boarded the plane and took off for Narita Airport.

After being sent back in line for immigration a couple times for forgetting to fill out some paperwork, we were greeted with the giant “Welcome to Japan” sign (the fifth picture). Soon after that we managed to grab our luggage and met with one of our bosses who helped us out with exchanging our money to yen and getting our suica cards. After only being here for a couple days I’ve come to realize just how much I would be using the suica card and how Japan revolves much more heavily around paying with cash rather than a credit card. Back at home I honestly would carry barely any cash and almost solely use my card, so that was something that I had to get used to.

After a two hour train ride from the airport, we reached Higashi-Koganei station and from there my boss and I walked to my living accommodations. The third and fourth pictures are of the main entrance and waiting area. I’m staying in an Oakhouse Social-Residence and it’s pretty nice. There’s a ping pong and pool table, guitars and electric pianos, a small dance studio, a decent amount of video game consoles, a big kitchen and some other stuff. After getting my room and signing the contracts, our boss treated us to a nice dinner. Once we finished, I headed back to my room, unpacked and finally got to go to sleep. After pretty much a whole day of traveling my day ended.