Coronavirus · Life · Personal

Social Distancing and Living Alone in Japan

So ‘social distancing’ has become the buzzword of the past few weeks, as people – voluntarily and involuntarily – start barricading themselves into their houses for the foreseeable.

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from couples and families back home in the UK seeing the silver living in a terrible and unprecedented situation by using it to spend quality time together – reading, watching films, cooking, playing board games.

This is of course lovely – but what if you live alone?
And what if you live alone on the other side of the world?
Eeep.

A happy life as an expat for me revolves around my social circle, as I’m an extroverted introvert (also known as an ‘omnivert’ but that sounds too much like ‘omnivore’ to me, which always reminds me of dinosaurs for some reason…).

While I crave social interaction, I find myself exhausted and overstimulated if I’m around people too long (especially in larger groups) and feel the need to hibernate and recharge. But in the same vein, if I’m isolated for too long I find myself irritable and depressed.

Being away from home just amplifies this – I can’t go and chat with my mam, meet Lauren for pints, have a night in with Claire or get a train to visit Sam in Glasgow whenever I like. Living abroad you really have to work hard to put yourself out there to make connections – potentially friendships.

So what happens when that’s taken away?
Again, eeep.

As of writing this post there is no lockdown in Japan, nor clear information regarding social distancing. (Except beyond that it was suggested by the local government for Tokyo residents to stay indoors this week, and for no non-essential travel to the capital due to the recent rise in cases.)

However as an asthmatic I am classed as ‘high-risk’ and so I made the decision to self isolate as much as possible, only leaving my apartment for essentials such as trips to the supermarket/conbini and short walks in quiet areas.

So here’s what I’ve been doing while social distancing:

♥ Keeping in contact with family and friends back home.
While I do text my mam every day (if I don’t she assumes I’m dead – Italian problemz) I’m making an extra effort to Skype. Seeing their faces keeps me going, and reminds me that they are keeping safe and well.

My best Shields girls.

♥ Blogging.
But you should know that by now! From curating photos to even brainstorming ideas, I’m loving keeping my little diary about my time here to one day look back on.

♥ Reading.
Back home in the UK I have a decent physical collection of books, but knowing I’d be moving into a tiny apartment I bought myself a Kindle. (My sister has a MA in English and refuses to even look at it.) I have a hefty reading list to get through – though I’ll probably end up re-reading Harry Potter for the billionth time.

“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

J.K. Rowling*


♥ Watch something familiar and comforting. For me:
TV: The Office, Friends, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Spaced.
FILMS: Harry Potter, The Princess Diaries, Tangled, Pride.

♥ Watching something new!
Time to get through that Netflix list. (And resist the urge to watch season 6 of Drag Race AGAIN.)

Spa time.
A long bubble bath, face mask, painting my nails etc.

♥ Drinking lots of tea.
Because I’m British and tea runs in my veins. I actually have a nice little collection of teas built up over the last few months.

♥ Cooking.

I mentioned in this post I don’t really like cooking, and living in the city I prefer to eat out. But now I’m kind of forced into cooking, so am trying to flex my skillz. Back home, baking is a huge stress reliever for me (I don’t have an oven in my apartment and there’s no room for a mini one) – and although I still can’t say the same for cooking – I’m really trying!

After drama with delivery I now finally have a proper coffee table – and don’t have to use this stool from Nitori I still haven’t returned to my friend. Sorry, Haruna!

♥ Redecorating.
Well, I’m using the term a bit loosely here – there’s only so much I can do with my little rented Leopalace. But I’m doing what I can to make it feel more homely – especially as I’m going to be staying her at least another year.
I ordered a cute pink sofa from Amazon for only £80 and was able to put away my dining room table and chairs which has already made the space look a lot bigger. I have a new rug, which is much nicer than the rough carpet that came with the apartment, a new fuzzy pink blanket and I’ve been re-arranging my photos, prints, books and other knickknacks I’ve accumulated over the past seven months.

Journalling.
Because I’m so extra I actually have THREE journals – an everyday journal, a journal for streams of consciousness/creative writing etc, and a Hobonichi for more art-style journalling. For me, it helps to set time aside to write down my thoughts for the day so they aren’t going round and round my head at bedtime. Speaking of which…

Keeping to a routine.
I’m a night owl and could happily go to bed at 3am and sleep until noon. But frankly it’s not healthy to spend my days like this, so I still set an alarm and try to go to bed around midnight at the latest.

Playing video games.
I’ve been enjoying spending time once again in Skyrim (my all-time favourite game – I even have a Skyrim tattoo) for the first time in a long while. I’ve also been playing Breath of the Wild, Fire Emblem Three Houses and online multiplayers like Mario Kart and Splatoon on my Nintendo Switch. With most of the world in isolation you’re never short on people being available to play!

Speaking of which…

Four words:
Animal Crossing New Horizons. I don’t need to say anything more. It’s the game the world needs right now.

Treating myself.
I believe everyday is “Treat yo’ self” Day, but on a particularly dull, grey day – I opened the fancy chocolates my pal bought me for White Day and watched Space Jam.
When I do venture to the supermarket or conbini, I’m making an effort to try something new – difficult for me as a creature of habit!

Improving my Japanese.
Because it’s still embarrassingly bad. With all my Genki textbooks gathering a little dust on my shelves, the thing I’m actually making most progress with – for now – is the Duolingo app.
I’m an interactive learner and struggle with textbooks alone. I’d love to take some classes (when everything has calmed down) but my schedule simply doesn’t allow it. I’ll eventually go back to my textbooks when I’ve progressed a little more with Duolingo.

Helpful.

Practicing mindfulness.
I recently converted from Apple Music to Spotify, and you can get Headspace a reduced rate if you sign up to a paid account (and even free for the first three months!). So I’ve been trying to make time to meditate every few days.

Open the windows/spend time on my balcony.
I have a tiny balcony in my tiny apartment, and really it’s only meant to hang your clothes out. But as the weather warms up, I have no problems with bringing a chair outside and reading, playing my Switch or meditating outside. Get that vitamin D, guys.

Stretching/working out.
I fucking hate exercising, I fucking hate it. But I don’t mind yoga and pilates. It’s on my list to do more, I promise.

Accurate

Practicing my ukulele.
A few years ago after a night out I went on Amazon and drunkenly bought a ukulele. Last month, I did the same thing again – I even managed to buy the same make and colour. Well done, drunk Carla! While instruments are technically banned in my building, if I do it on the down low people don’t have to know. It’s not like I’m being a dickhead with a drum kit.

And finally…

No! Is that the only word you know? No???

Giselle, Enchanted.

♥ Crying.
Wah wah. I’m a really sensitive and emotional person, and know that it’s OK to just be sad sometimes. It’s OK to feel sad, lonely, homesick sometimes as an expat – there’s a lot of pressure on you to be happy, excited and doing amazing things every single day. But in these scary times, being honest with yourself and how you are feeling is of the utmost importance.

Last Sunday I was feeling a bit wobbly all day so tried watching Enchanted to cheer myself up – joyful, musical numbers, helpful pigeons, a Disney princess in New York, Timothy Spall!

But for whatever reason during So Close I just sat and wept like a baby – huge racking sobs – for the full duration of the song. No idea why, I just did.

Anyways, whatever you are doing I hope you are keeping healthy and as happy as can be. Remember, during these stressful times there is NO pressure on you to be productive. If you want to get up, work, enjoy your hobbies then that’s great. But it’s also totally valid to stay in your pyjamas all day and binge Drag Race.

I’m there with you, everyone.

~ Carla




*Although I’ve used one of her quotes here, I do NOT endorse or agree with JK Rowling’s harmful stance regarding trans women. The Potterverse has always been a safe and welcoming space for so many of us in times of both joy and hardship, and learning that your childhood hero harbours views like this is frankly devastating.

School · school events · Teaching

Life Of An ALT: Open School/Parents Day in Japan

Who am I to judge? For I am neither Jesus nor Judy.

Miss Rory.

Ahh “Open School.”
Two words that send shivers down the spines of Japanese teachers and ALTs alike.

Open School is the one magical day per term where the parents can come and observe classes. Vom.

At my Junior High School I am T2 in most of my classes, so I’m just there to look pretty and beam my big gaijin smile at the mums and dads.

But I lead all classes at my Elementary School – so hello, pressure?
I was somewhat overwhelmed that I was going to be observed all day, however parents were only to come in for one class – the last period at the end of the day.

Thankfully, my open school class was scheduled with my tantou (as explained in my daily routine post, “tantou” = the teacher who is responsible for me at school), who suggested we rehearse beforehand.
She’s one of my favourite people in Japan, and I was eager for us both to do well so I took some time out of my schedule to meet with her, get comfortable with the digital materials and rehearse our banter. We were like a multinational Mel and Sue.

While all our classes are especially fun (I have no idea where she gets her energy from, she’s the type of person who runs at eleven every single day) we decided to make a special effort to make things as interactive as possible – using a mix of the digital materials, and our own stuff.

By the time Open School rolled around for us – we were on We Can 1 Unit 8: “What do you like?” using food as a grammar point.

Food is the great connector (Japanese people in my experience are especially big foodies) so I was glad it was a topic that could especially pique the students’ interests. (The previous unit was directions, and frankly I was knackered after that.)

To get them prepared for the vocabulary, I gave my tantou my stash of food flashcards which she went over a few times with her homeroom prior to our lesson.
Her students are especially eager and genki, so they picked it up fairly quickly.

Our Open School lesson ran a bit like this:

✍ Greeting
I greet all my classes the same way every time: I pretend to be a sergeant major and shout “OK EVERYONE STAAAAAAND…UP!”
(The boys especially love trying to beat their pals on who can stand up first.)

I then flex my muscles and shout “Oooh, I have the power!” Gets a laugh every time.
(My physics teacher Mr Obee* used to do this and it’s always stuck with me.)

ME: Let’s begin, so good morning/afternoon everyone!
STUDENTS: Good morning/good afternoon Miss Carla and Miss _________.
ME: How are you?
STUDENTS: I’m ___________________.
ME: Oh good, how are you Miss _____________?
TANTOU: Oh I’m great, thank you. How are you?
ME: I’m fine, thank you very much! *sergeant major voice* Ok everyone, you can siiiiiiiiit…DOWN!

Small talk.
I’d prepared a short presentation about my favourite foods from the UK. A lot of them tend to recognise fish and chips** but I also included sausage and mash. For desserts, I showed sticky toffee pudding and a jam roly poly.
I also featured some of my favourite Japanese foods (takoyaki, ramen, gyoza and matcha ice cream) and had a little vote on the best. It worked pretty well and got them hyped up.

Japanese desserts are great but MAN what I would give for a bowl of jam roly poly with custard…
Picture credit.

✍ Vocabulary
Although they were pretty familiar with the vocab by this point, we drilled it again a few times – especially to get their pronunciation down. Plus it helped to show the parents what they’d been learning.

✍ Keyword Game.
Man, the Keyword Game is the world’s easiest game to prepare and for some reason my kids LOVE it. Basically, we put all the flashcards on the blackboard (Japanese blackboards are magnetic, so I attach magnets to all my flashcards so they can be visable at all times), choose one of them as a keyword.
The students make pairs and put one eraser between them on the desk. They put their hands on their heads and when they hear the keyword, the first one to grab the eraser wins a point.
I always demonstrate the first round, then ask someone to come to the front. (I always camp this up, calling the student Mr/Miss _______ and making sure everyone listens to their new teacher.)
Eager to impress mum and dad, we had a bunch of volunteers so had about five rounds – keep it an odd number so there’s always a winner.

✍ Listening activity.
We used MEXT’s digital materials from We Can 1 to demostrate to the parents how we use these, and how the students complete their workbooks.

✍ MRI Quiz.
As a fun cool-down, I presented a shorterned version of this MRI quiz from ALTopedia. It’s actually an activity I’d used for my third graders, and it had KILLED. But thought it was a fun, easy activity – and would get any bairns who were starting to lose interest back in focus.

✍ Chant
We ended with a chant/song that came with the MEXT digital materials. Some of the songs can be a little strange, but the one in this unit isn’t too bad. They were quite familiar with it, so I played it twice at normal speed, then got them all to stand up and sing it faster. We emphasised to use nice big voices, gestures and big smiles.

Wrap up
I wrap up the class the same every lesson – I get the kids to stand up (sergeant major act again – “STAAAAAND….UP!”), and I compliment them with what they have specifically done well in the class. So I told them their pronunciation was good, and thanked them for volunteering with activities.
ME: That’s all for today, so for now I’ll say *dramatic pause* GOODBYE EVERYONEEEEE!
THEM: Goodbye Miss Carla, and Miss Haruna!
ME: See youuuuuuuu! *Big wave*
THEM: See youuuuuuuu!! *Big wave back*

And that’s it. I then left while my teacher had a thirty minute meeting with the parents to discuss the students and they gave feedback on the lesson.

Usually in my classes, I’ll try and make sure there’s a free discussion section with plenty of time for the students to practice amongst themselves, with me and the homeroom teacher observing and helping. This is usually in the form of an interview or survey game.

However we’d discussed how this would be logistically difficult with parents taking up space in an already crowded classroom, plus they tend to take around 15-20 minutes out of a 50 minute lesson by the time we have demonstrated the target language and how to complete the worksheets.
So on this occasion we decided to omit this and focus on quick, dynamic activities.

In short although I wasn’t there for the discussion with my tantou, it seemed to go down well with the students – they all wrote me thank you letters at the end of term, and a lot of them referenced the games and activities we specifically did in Open School.

It was definitely a stressful planning period and day – but still, ever a new learning experience!

~ Carla

*Mr Obee now has a Science Youtube channel and it’s the most wholesome content on the internet. There was even a merch drop.

**I’m actually not a huuuuge fan of fish and chips – it’s a little too heavy for me and I’m more of a chips and scraps kinda girl. But it’s an easily recognisable British food to many Japanese people. Plus I always make the connection explaining the batter is crispy and similar to tempura which they all know – comparing your life to theirs always keeps them interested.

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: Your First Days

Since it’s the end of term and the next influx of ALTs will be landing this week, I thought it was a good time to post about my first few days of teaching in my Japanese schools.

So you’ve had four or five days of training, been bombarded with information, lesson plans, activities, schedules and more. You’re jet lagged, running on coffee and conbini food and most likely living out of a hotel room.

But all of a sudden you find yourself in a suit, and reality sets in that it’s time for you to impart your gaijin wisdom and knowledge. Heck.

I can honestly say that the most nerve-wracking time you will have during the whole moving to Japan process is visiting your schools for the first time, and the days and weeks that follow.

All situations are different – some people visit their schools a week or so before classes begin, some due to teaching schedules are thrown into the fray mere hours before their first class is due to begin.
It’s just luck of the draw. So all I can base this on are my personal experiences.

The one thing I would say before I start is although it is ridiculously anxiety-inducing – remember that everyone at the school is expecting you, looking forward to meeting you, and are happy that you’re there.

You won’t be the first ALT they’ve met and you certainly won’t be the last.

The Initial Visit.

The Friday before term I was taken to my two schools for a visit before all the students were there accompanied by a representative from my company’s office.
(FUN FACT: I was actually my representative’s first day on the job and she admitted she was a little nervous too, which helped!)

“Pretty darn good!”
(I could legit quote this film from start to finish)

First thing’s first – dress up!

Before arriving you’ll be told to bring at least one nice black suit, preferably a second in another colour – wear the black one when you visit your schools and at the opening ceremony.

I wore: my black suit, white shirt and black brogues but I carried my pink Kate Spade handbag to give me a pop of colour to match my personality.

(At many schools the dress code is fairly relaxed – especially in elementary schools. Officially you’ll be told to wear a suit all the time, but the reality is this is usually not the case. Your teachers will give you advice, and the old saying goes – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

At my junior high school, I was taken to the principal’s office. In training, we learned how to do jikoshoukai (“self introduction”) with simple Japanese and it pretty much went as follows:

ME:
はじめまして。Hajimemashite. = Nice to meet you.
わたしのなまえは カーラです Watashi-no namae-wa Carla (SURNAME) desu = My name is Carla (SURNAME)
= I am from England
よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you (but literally translates as “Please take care of me.”)
PRINCIPAL: よろしくおねがいします。Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = Pleased to meet you/likewise!

If you know, you know.

Then there’s the exchanging of business cards which is an art in itself, especially if you’re clumsy as fuck like me.

Business cards are treated as an extension of the person, and must be treated with the same respect you would give them. My company were kind enough to provide nice quality business cards and a rose gold case at orientation.

In my experience, you don’t especially need these when meeting your fellow teachers, but they’re important to have when meeting the principal and vice-principal.

More information on business card etiquette can be found here – however again, we did go over this also in initial training.

It was at this point the principal asked me to take a seat and someone came in with green tea for us.
I placed his business card on the table in front of us, facing myself and sat down.
You’re also not supposed to take a drink until the principal has taken his first sip. We then had a fairly casual but polite chat with my representative translating.

I was introduced to my three JTEs I would be teaching with in each grade. They told me on my first day it was just the opening ceremony with no classes, and if I could prepare a short speech to introduce myself to the school. Eek.

We then went to my elementary school where we met the vice principal, who is incredibly chatty and funny. (The principal was unavailable and I wouldn’t meet him until my first day of teaching.)
I would miss the opening ceremony due to being at my junior high school so I didn’t need to give any speeches there.

After we were finished I got to go home for the rest of the day.
Try to relax over the weekend, and get plenty of rest because the next week is going to be pretty full-on.

Your First Day / Opening Ceremony

As I mentioned, all I had to do on my first day was attend the opening ceremony and give a short speech.

These school ceremonies tend to be a little dry and super formal, but I was too busy feeling nervous about three hundred little faces staring up at me to pay much attention to what was going on.

When it was my turn, I walked up onto the stage – my legs feeling like jelly – and just said a few words about how their predecessor told me how much she loved he school, and how I was looking forward to teaching them all. Very simple stuff, though I practically ran back down the stairs when I was done.

Other than that, I was showed my desk in the teacher’s lounge, where the supplies are etc. I started in August, and the teachers told me I don’t have to wear my suit and can dress down a little – especially it being in the middle of the sweltering Japanese summer.

We also had a tsunami drill, but it was a long day with nothing really to do!

Self Introduction Lessons

This is the big one. Your first lesson.

Most likely your first few lessons are going to be your self-introduction. I’ve since done this so many times I could recite it in my sleep. Though my first time, I was incredibly nervous and nearly went to pieces.

Keep it fairly simple: Your name, where you’re from, lots of photos of your family and hometown, your hobbies and favourite food will suffice. It’s up to you how much personal information you’d like to give – it’s likely the kids will ask you your age and if you have a partner or spouse, but anything you’re not comfortable answering, just camp it up with “Shhhhh! It’s a secret!”
Afterwards if time allowed we did a Q&A.

I’m eventually going to do a post on my self introduction as it went through some major changes throughout doing it a total of THIRTY times over the following weeks as I met all my classes in both schools.

But quick tip: make it interactive – we ended up turning mine into a quiz that the kids really got into.

Accurate

Your First Lessons

Talk about throwing me in at the deep end!
At the junior high school it wasn’t too bad because I just assist in those classes most of the time. I got to know my three JTEs, working out our rhythms and pacing.

But I’m not going to lie – I really struggled during my first few weeks at elementary school.

I lead all of my elementary school classes – however I thought during my first few weeks I’d be able to take a slight back seat while I found my feet. Well, I was wrong.

I was sent a lesson plan a few weeks before, but hadn’t actually received my textbooks until the last day of training. And I hadn’t had a chance to look at the digital materials (songs/chants/videos etc.) until I was in front of the kids. Nerve-wracking stuff, and I’ll be completely honestly I spent the first months dreading my elementary classes.

However as time went on, the kids warmed to me and were more eager to participate in lessons (though all ALTs I know have at least one class where it’s like pulling teeth), I got to know the homeroom teachers, I felt more confident making my own activities and games – and before I knew it, I’d found myself also into the swing of things.

Elementary teaching is definitely a steeper learning curve than junior high school in my opinion – but stick with it, you can do it!!

So I’ll wish you the best of luck if you’re an aspiring ALT, or you’re about to start at your school/s and are feeling nervous. It’s natural – nerves are good and show you care.

However please try not not tie yourself in knots about it like I did, and if you have any questions – please just ask, and I’ll help as best I can!

~ Carla

Apartment · Coronavirus · Personal

Life in Japan with Coronavirus (Covid-19)

A positive to everything that’s going on – my apartment is looking lovely!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts – for the past two weeks I have been working from home.

The students left school on the 6th March at the request of Prime Minster Abe to close all schools in Japan, although most teachers have still had to come in everyday.

However because I have an hour’s commute on public transport (an hour there, and an hour back), plus I have all the materials I’ll need at my apartment, I’ve been allowed to work remotely from home – mostly planning lessons and activities.

And while I have not been “self-isolating” per se, unless necessary I have been staying inside as much as I can.
This is mostly for two reasons – as an asthmatic, if I contract the virus I am at higher risk of becoming more seriously ill, and secondly I risk passing it on to other vulnerable groups, such as those also with pre-existing conditions and the elderly.

Cabin fever is a real thing, and in the middle of this week I felt at risk of going a bit Jack Torrence. So I’ve been trying to keep myself busy, and enjoying a slower pace of life in Japan.

The weather has been slowly warming up this week and has averaged around 12-17°C.

Although we had terrible storms over the weekend, most days I can have my balcony door wide open to let the fresh air right through my apartment, and so I don’t feel so claustrophobic.

I’ve been enjoying making nice meals like this french toast and sitting by my balcony to eat while watching Let’s Plays. (Shirley Curry’s Skyrim videos always help when I’m feeling especially anxious.)

I’ve also been cleaning my apartment and rearranging to make it as homely and comfortable as I possibly can with such a small space.
I bought an adorable pink sofa for only £80, and it has already made my living area look a lot bigger as I no longer have my dining table and chairs.

People have been asking for an apartment tour, and I promise it’s coming soon.
It’s still not looking 100% how I’d like it to, and as a perfectionist Taurus I’d prefer it to be just right before I post photos – and potentially a video!

“How do girls all know how to pose like that?” ~ Felipe.

While I’m not socialising as much as I usually do – which is difficult for me as an extroverted introvert – when my pal Felipe invited me to a birthday party I leapt at the chance and had such a good night at Las Chillonas in Hamamatsu city.
(Happy belated birthday, Farrah!!)

I also managed to make some new connections on the night, I really need some new girlfriends here – especially with my bestie Faith moving away in two weeks.
Many of them were planning on going abroad for Spring break (I was going to go to Seoul), however with travel restrictions in place, everyone will be staying in Japan.

So hopefully we can organise some cute activities to do together, even if it’s just hanging and playing Animal Crossing New Horizons. (7 days away, omg omg!)

I’ve also booked myself for a SOLO YOLO to Kyoto, since tourism is apparently down 50% and I want to see it when it’s not unbearably crowded for once.

While I haven’t felt like writing here much, I’ve been enjoying other creative writing outlets – such as journalling, letter writing and working on a fantasy fiction project that has been rattling around my brain for over a year now.
(It will probably never see the light of day. I enjoy writing – especially characterisation – but I don’t think I’m particularly talented!)

I was also surprised to receive the above from my head cheerleader, Sam.
There really is no better feeling in the world – on a particularly low day – than a letter arriving with your best friend’s handwriting on the envelope.

I’ve also been stocking up on essentials from the supermarket.

I’m certainly not going crazy and buying up the entire supply of beans and pasta (I HATE beans, for one thing – the slimy bastards!) but it hasn’t hurt to grab an extra bag of rice, tins of tuna, dried noodles, bread (it freezes well!), frozen vegetables, soy milk etc. as part of my usual shop.

(People in Japan don’t tend to do a weekly “big shop” as we call it in the UK – living spaces are very small here, so people tend to buy little and often, myself included.)

As you’re all probably well aware by now, people are panic-buying toilet roll.
There seems to be a lot of confusion in the UK especially why this is a thing – from what I can gather on social media, many people think it has to do with diarrhea.

However it all actually stems from a fake tweet here in Japan that stocks were running low because the paper is made in China, and would no longer be exported to Japan. This wasn’t true at all, however people started panic-buying until stock actually did run low.

This seems to have settled down a little now, the rule of one-per-family seems to have taken effect and yesterday at my local drugstore the shelves were full.

Anyways, from next week I’m back at my schools.

We have no classes, however the students will be back to practice for their graduation ceremonies which they had already been rehearsing for weeks. As far as I can tell, they’re scheduled to go ahead as planned.

I’m already getting my tissues at the ready – I cry very easily anyway, but a few of my favourite teachers are leaving/retiring so I can already see myself bawling my eyes out.

To finish, I’ll leave you with videos from two of my favourite J-vloggers Sharla and Chris Broad, about their experiences living and working in Japan during this time.

Stay safe, everyone!

~ Carla

Culture · Festivals · Food · Friends · Party

Hinamatsuri: Girls Day in Japan

March 3rd was Hinamatsuri – otherwise known as ‘Girls Day’ – in Japan.

While it’s not a national holiday, it’s a special day on the Japanese calendar for families to celebrate their young daughters, and pray for their happiness and success.

You may recognise this emoji, right?

Hinamatsuri translates as “doll festival”.

Around mid-February, special dolls are displayed in the family home until March 3rd, after which they are immediately taken down due to an ancient superstition that leaving them up too late means the daughter will also be married off late.

(Similar to a superstition we have in the UK – if you leave your Christmas tree up longer than twelfth night – January 5th – it brings bad luck.)

I’d vaguely heard of the tradition before, but figured it was mostly for young girls.

So when my friend (no longer my co-teacher, wah!) Haruna invited me and Faith to a Girls Day Party, I was very intrigued.

But she explained that her mother is very traditional, and likes to keep Japanese customs and holidays alive which is so nice and kind of familiar to me – my mam (aka: Italian Catholic Mother) still loves preparing Christmas stockings and Easter baskets for me and my sister.

Haruna and her little sister’s childhood dolls.
Isn’t this just the cutest cake you’ve ever seen? This is a traditional Hina-ogi Cake – in the shape of a fan with two sugar dolls on top. Strawberry and matcha sponge is layered between whipped cream and strawberries.

We had so much fun, I was still smiling ear-to-ear when I got back to my apartment.
Thank you so much for inviting us, Haruna!

Happy Hinamatsuri, everyone!

~ Carla

Food · School · School Lunch

Kyushoku: Japanese School Lunch – Part 2

Since my previous post about kyushoku (Japanese school lunch) is one of the most popular on this blog, I thought I’d make a part two.

It’s the end of term, and as the students no longer have to come to school until the end of Spring Break due to the government trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus – teachers now have to bring our own lunch in every day. (I’m currently working from home.)

So I figured it’s as good a time as any to reflect on some of the lunches I’ve had since my last post.

As before, meals always come with a carb – usually rice, but sometimes noodles or bread. I find it difficult to eat rice every day, so I often forgo this – but you can see it in some of these photos.

Fridays at my school is also bring-your-own-rice day, but I’m lazy and usually forget anyway!

Fish patty, cheese slice, bread bun (kinda like a Fillet O’ Fish), cabbage, pudding, stew.
Chicken and vegetable soup, teriyaki salmon, fried potatoes and an orange.
Vegetable soup, bread slices, fried aubergine and half a banana.
(I always wish they’d give us some butter or spread for the bread!)
Mushroom and tofu soup, beef in black bean sauce, greens and cherry tomatoes.
Egg drop soup, dried fish and noodles.
(Not going to lie – this one was a struggle!)
Noodle soup, chicken tonkatsu, cabbage and grape jelly.
Curry and rice, pickled cucumbers and pudding.
Tofu soup, root vegetables and natto.
(I gifted the natto to my tanto. Bleurgh!)
Tofu scramble, shishamo and cabbage,
Cream of mushroom soup, cabbage and hot dogs, hot dog bun and fruit salad.
Chicken and konnyaku soup, fried teriyaki fish, bean sprouts and pudding. 
Oden, bonito flakes, gohei mochi and bean sprouts.
Gohei Mochi is a traditional rice cake with a sweet miso paste. The reason it’s on a stick is because in the olden days people working in the mountains used to ate them this way! They are also made to thank the gods after harvest in Autumn
It was absolutely DELICIOUS and I remember the students and teachers alike being very hype about this school lunch!
Egg drop soup, sweet and sour chicken and a milk pudding.
Vegetable soup, shishamo, daikon salad and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, croquette and cabbage.
Egg drop soup, fried fish, daikon and a mikan orange.
Vegetable soup, tofu with noodles, Japanese sweet potatoes and an orange.
Sweetcorn soup, burger and fries
Will I ever tired of wholesome Japanese soups? Nope!
Curry and rice, sauteed greens and half an orange
Vegetable soup, salad and a tempura prawn.

And as a bonus – the special Japanese New Years themed lunch box we got at the start of the school year. MAN, this was delicious:

FROM TOP LEFT CLOCKWORK:
Prawn and vegetable tempura.
Teriyaki fish, rolled omelette, fish cake, egg salad, a plum (I think)
White rice.
Tuna sashimi.

Honestly, I’ve had worse bentos in Japanese restaurants back home!

Let me know what you think. I know kyushoku is very different to the school lunches I remember in the UK. How about from your country?

~ Carla

Culture · Friends · Hamamatsu

Strawberry Fields Forever

I was recently invited to go strawberry picking with one of my teachers and her family. WHOLESOME.

There are many places to go strawberry picking all over Japan, with many in my area growing the local “akihime” variety local to Shizuoka – known for their large grain and slight tartness.

We went to Shimano Nouen, which for around ¥1400-¥1800 (depending on the time of year) you can pick and eat as many strawberries as you’d like.
It’s also common in Japan to dip your strawberries in condensed milk so it comes with that too.

(In the UK have our strawberries with whipped or pouring cream – especially in the summertime so it was somewhat nostalgic for me!)

You can also take your photo outside with their mascot, Masaharu the Ichigorilla.
A combination of two of my favourite things: a photo op and a pun.
(“Ichigo” is Japanese for strawberry!)

Such a cute day.
Me and ******-sensei sadly won’t be teaching together in the coming school year, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make lovely memories.

~ Carla

JKMH

Japan Keeping Me Humble: #9

Gaijinzilla

We were doing comparative adjectives and my JTE suggested the activity was:
CARLA is ___________ than *****-SENSEI.”
Bit of a risky one but I said it was OK.

After comparing palm span, foot size, arm length and height in front of the bairns she declares cheerfully:
“Wow everything is bigger than me!”

It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive.
Welcome to Japan: where I’m a giant at 5’4.

~ Carla