Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 2 — Kyoto

My second day in Japan saw us in one of the most beautiful cities in Japan — Kyoto! Kyoto is one of the few cities that has buildings and roads from before World War 2 and the atomic bombings. It was ridiculously hot again that day, plus even more humidity. Our goal for the day? Besides not dying… involved some major temple and shrine hopping.

Our first stop was at Kiyomizu dera, a Buddhist temple which also has a Shinto love shrine there. The Shinto shrine was particularly interesting as it was home to something called the “love stones.” The concept is you walk from one stone to a second stone a few meters away with your eyes closed, without help, and if you make it, you will find true love. Of course, try doing this with huge crowds pushing and bumping you while you are walking with your eyes closed. I’ve been here three times, and the crowds are always ridiculous. My mom even spent way too much time trying to inconspicuously help those trying to walk the love stones. (“It doesn’t count if they don’t speak English”).

After a 30 minute trolley ride, we arrived at was another Buddhist Temple, Daihonzan Tenryuji. It was very peaceful and beautiful, with rock gardens, monstrous koi fish, and fields of green leafy plants. This temple lead us up to Arashiyama (a pretty famous tourist destination) and the bamboo forest.  Out of all the places I have visited, the bamboo forest is the most surreal. You are transported into a different world, and if you manage to go when students are studying for final exams (which we did) you won’t have to battle the sheer number of visitors.

 

Like actually, you try getting a photo without people in it. It’s a lot more difficult that it sounds.

We finished our day by climbing down the mountain that the bamboo forest is on down to the main part of Arashiyama before finding a taxi and riding back to a train station in Kyoto that would take us back to Osaka.

We were quite lucky, as while we were on the taxi we got to see a Maiko (a young Geisha-in-training) and with my super stellar camera skills, I managed to get a blurry shot of her back. So skillful.

maiko

Still counts though.

 

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Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 1– Osaka

 

April 2013 was when I found out that I would be travelling to Japan to study abroad in Kobe for 3 weeks in late July-August.

The first time I visited Japan, I knew I wanted to live there.  It wasn’t that flickering “oh this place is really neat.” It was like I got hit with this overwhelming sensation that I had found home and that I really belonged.

July 2013 I departed from Canada with my mother on an international adventure, leaving Saskatchewan, stopping in Vancouver, then again in Seoul, and finally landing in Osaka around 9pm or so. Even at 9, it was incredibly humid and hot out. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything like it. Thankfully, my mom had booked a hotel room at the airport so we could sleep before starting our adventure the next day. We both woke up fairly early (around 5am?) (yay, jet lag). And what an adventure it would be. Prior to this trip I had taken only two beginner level Japanese classes at my University, so my knowledge was limited to saying things like, “this is a pen,” “where is the train station,” “I like food.” Nothing super helpful when trying to figure out trains and schedules written primarily in Japanese. Every so often, a sign would have some English which I think is the only way we made it to our next hotel, only after I dumped my suitcase down an escalator.

Side note: Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara) people are incredibly kind. When I dropped my suitcase, about 4 people came rushing over and brought it up the escalator, asking if I was okay and if I needed any help.

Side, side note: I’ve spent 90% of my time in Kansai, so I’m probably biased.

Finally my mom and I got on the right train, and ended up at our train station. For those of you who haven’t been to Japan, train stations are often home to other businesses– like giant freaking department stores and malls. The colours, the sounds, the smells overwhelmed me as my mom and I had to walk through this train station/mall with our giant suitcases looking exactly like lost tourists as we tried to find the right exit for our hotel.

My feet were sore, it was hot, and my bags were heavy. We were very close to finding a taxi when we took our next exit and looked at all the high rise buildings and found the name of our hotel flashing fairly close to us. Our hotel was fairly nice, both my mom and I were ecstatic about the blue yukata pajama’s laid out on our beds. Starting the next day we had a tour guide who was going to show us around Osaka, Kyoto and then finally in Kobe where I would be spending the next 3 weeks.  We started in Osaka, visiting shrines and temples, the Osaka castle, a historical museum where I tried on my first yukata and got to wander around ancient buildings. We even got to see the beginning of a local festival where students (high school) would play a taiko drum while carrying a giant, portable temple through the streets. All traffic lights became irrelevant as the temple bobbed through the intersection on the backs of teenagers.

We ended our day in Osaka by visiting the red light district where I got to meet a cross-dressing actor. This is an old form of theatre in Japan and you will often come across females portraying males and males, women. I also got to try plinko which is Japan’s version of gambling, without actually gambling (which is illegal in Japan). It’s a bit like pinball, but after you get a certain amount of points you take your receipt with your points to the next door building where you can trade your points for everyday items and food. See, not really gambling.

This is also where I first almost got kidnapped. Well, probably would have been kidnapped.

My mom and the tour guide were looking at a shop and I was just a few meters away looking at something else, when an old man (like, dinosaurs were still around when he was a teenager) came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulders while pulling me away from my mom and tour guide, repeating “kirei, kirei.” (It means, pretty). I was able to pull out from under his arm and my tour guide came running over, hitting him with her fan (legit straight out of an anime) and telling him no. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger, but considering all of my almost kidnapped stories happen in Japan, this one had to be included.

After leaving the red light district, it was time for our tour guide to return home. She had told us about a fireworks festival tonight, gave us directions, and then left us to enjoy the popular shopping area.

We went to the festival and experienced the famous train squishing, where guards would force as many people as possible onto the train. Surprisingly it wasn’t as awful as I’d thought it would be, since the train was well air conditioned and everyone was doing their best to keep their hands away from uncomfortable areas.

The fireworks were amazing, at least 3-400 people were crammed onto a tiny bridge, with another 6 or 7 bridges filled the same way and thousands of people lining the sides of the river.  Bright, colourful boats floated down the river while fireworks lit up the sky with smiley faces and hearts. Unfortunately, jet lag had finally caught up with my mom and I, so we made our way back to our hotel on a nearly empty train.

And here I will leave you, with my trip to Kyoto for next time!

 

JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 4 — Results

I thought I cried a lot when I received my email about getting an interview.

Well nothing would have prepared me for what happened when I read the line, “We are pleased to inform you that you have been Short-listed.” I couldn’t even finish the whole email before I started hyperventilating (I kid you not) and crying while trying to find my phone to call my mom. I couldn’t talk and she started panicking until I barely mustered out, “I’m in. I got in.” Of course she knew what I was talking about and even she started crying.  After I hung up with her I started calling my sisters, friends, boyfriend, everyone. My mom wanted to prevent any more heart attacks and texted everyone (including me) “if Meggie calls you, it’s good news”. So I purposely started each conversation with something like, “I have bad news… I won’t be here for your birthday.”

I don’t think I would have had such an intense reaction though if it hadn’t been for the intense and horrible hour and a half wait.

The Embassy of Japan in Ottawa had posted on Facebook that the results would be released — about an hour before I saw it. So I messaged two other people I knew who had applied. One girl had gotten a response and was an alternate, while the other girl had no response yet either. Of course this was happening the day before a test, when I was supposed to be studying and instead I had my phone turned up all the way, and had my email opened up on two computers. After about 30 minutes of waiting I had started to accept my fate — I didn’t get in. I figured that they wanted to tell those getting in first, so that they could message their respective consulates if they had questions. So between comforting the girl who got Alternate status, while also speculating what was taking so long with the other girl, my emotions skyrocketed. I just couldn’t imagine what would happen if I got in, or even if I didn’t get in.

For reference, there are 3 results you can get; Short-listed (guaranteed position), Alternate (if people drop out, you might get called), and of course not accepted.

The first ping came from my phone. Second, laptop. Third, the other laptop. “New Email from JET DESK.” I almost didn’t open the email.  I wanted to puke and cry from nerves. Thankfully I clicked the email, read half of the first line, and well you know the rest. With this email comes a bunch of forms that need to be filled out and mailed (yes , stamp and envelope) by certain dates along with a few other things that you need to get yourself.  I mailed almost everything in by the end of the week. Again, pay attention to specific details when you submit things (no staples).

Unfortunately, after you get your results you still have to wait again for your placement, which is the stage I’m at right now. Literally any day now I will find out where I’m going and who I’m possibly teaching.

I’ll update more once I find out 🙂

JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 3 — Interview

I cried when I got the email that said I was selected to be interviewed. I didn’t even care about the $500 plane ticket for a day trip to Vancouver either. I read somewhere that only 50% of people who apply (in Canada) get interviewed, and then only a further 50% of people interviewed get accepted. Of course this could all be made up numbers since JET doesn’t actually reveal their statistics.

But there I was, January 13th, bawling over the phone to my mother while also trying to check out flights. With only two weeks notice, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Thankfully I had started preparing on the off chance I did get an interview.

****MOCK INTERVIEWS ARE YOUR FRIEND****

Seriously, the best way to prepare yourself is mock interviews. Again, just like with your statement of purpose, get different kinds of people to interview you. Have them read your statement of purpose, give them a list of potential questions (just google, there are lists upon lists). Don’t just focus on your answers, also pay attention to body language and any nuances (like, ummm). If you can, record yourself. My biggest struggle was I waved my hands around like a little bird. I still ended up waving my hands in my interview, but being aware of it helped decrease how much I did it.

I was interviewed by three people — a Japanese man affiliated with the JET Programme some how, a previous JET who lead the interview, and a Japanese teacher who seemed very intimidating but was actually really sweet.

I walked into the building with my best genki face (super happy, outgoing, friendly)(I swear the word “genki” will one day make it’s way into frequent use in Western societies). I made small talk with everyone — other candidates, other interviewers (which set up a fun tone with my actual interviewers). I’m pretty sure I was a little delirious by this point — I’d been awake since 2 am Saskatchewan time, and my interview was at 3pm Vancouver time, about 5pm Saskatchewan time. I had flown in from Saskatchewan that morning and basically wandered around Vancouver the entire day.  Maybe my exhaustion added to my genki-ness?

Anyways, so while I was waiting for my interview, a couple other interviewers went to get coffee and chatted with my interviewers. One of the men, when he came out, jokingly told me to watch out for the “sensei” (teacher). This was great because it created a connection with her once I entered as she laughed when I told her the man’s warning. I was ushered to a side table to put my things down, show them my ID (don’t forget this) and shake hands with everyone. I sat down at the lone chair in front of them. Not gonna lie, this was super intimidating. Everyone was super friendly though, and most of the questions they asked me were found on the lists I’d seen online.

-Why JET?

-Why Japan?

-Why your placement and what will you do if you don’t get it?

-How would you deal with misbehaving students? (Bonus, read the ALT handbook on the CLAIR website)

Some questions that weren’t on the lists

-If a JET close to you gets better benefits (better apartment, subsidized, car, more holidays, etc) how would that make you feel?

-Say you bought a ticket to a once in a life time event on the weekend, but the school needed you to come in, what would you choose?

My most memorable question was if I knew of any recent events in Japan. I read the Japan times every weekend, but for some reason I completely blanked at this question. The only thing I could remember was a story I’d read a few months before about a 40 year old man tormenting the guys who bullied him when he was 10 by sending over 500 pieces of garbage in the mail. The best part? He put their address as the return address so he didn’t pay a cent for shipping. Surprisingly this story went over very well and everyone was laughing a lot. I’m pretty sure the more your interviewers laugh, the better your points will be.

I also had to do a mini lesson on a song I would teach to elementary school kids. I picked “Head and Shoulders” and got all the interviewers to stand up and participate. Thankfully I only had to go through it once, because the room was large and echoed and it was just a super awkward experience trying to teach adults pretending to be children, children songs.

Overall the interview was actually a lot of fun. Typically, interviews are supposed to be between 20-30 minutes maximum but I ended up staying for over 40 minutes (good sign?) and after I walked out, I was really glad that I was just able to be interviewed.

Until March hit (when results are announced), and again the refresh button on my email became my new best friend.

JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 2 — Applications

So now you’ve thought about why you want to apply to the JET Programme. Are you ready for what lies next?

Hours… and hours… of paperwork. Thankfully most of it is online. I’m not going to go into specifics of the application, you can find that almost anywhere. The basic process is the initial, half online half handwritten application. Start on your application as soon as the portal opens. You will need all the time you can get. In Canada I believe the portal opened either September or October. But applications were due the second week of November. Between all the referral letters, transcripts, medical notes, and everything else, you will need to commit a lot of time to collecting everything. Even more if you decide to do Early Departure.

Pay attention especially to the tiny, specific, itty bitty details that are on your forms (like don’t staple it, use a paperclip). Small things like not following directions can get you disqualified before they even look through your application.

The only thing more nerve-wracking than the sheer amount of paperwork is the Statement of Purpose. This should be the first thing you start when the application portal opens. Have it proof read a billion and two times. I’m kidding, but have all kinds of people read it — academics, friends, family. They all have something they can contribute to it — your friends and family know different sides of you, and academically inclined people can check for grammar and if everything flows smoothly. I had about nine people check over my statement before I sent it off. A big tip is to try and make yourself memorable, as well, leave them wanting more. Them=the people reading your statement. I don’t mean leave a super awful cliffhanger, just tell them a brief story that will peak their interest and gives room for them to ask more questions. But keep in mind, you only get two double-spaced pages. Be concise, make sure you answer all the important questions. You can elaborate later in your interview.

Make sure to send everything in before the due date, and then it’s time to play the waiting game. Try to keep busy during this time, because checking your email every 5 minutes will consume you. I know. It consumed me until I finally got the notification on January 13th that I was accepted for an interview.

JET Programme

The JET Programme — PART 1

What is the JET Programme? Why did I apply to it?

Both of these questions were asked during my interview and I think that these two questions are incredibly important to think about before someone decides to apply.

Question 1.

What is the JET Programme?

Well, the official title is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. But it really is so much more than that. Yes, the position/role that you will most likely get is as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), but you are also teaching culture and different ways of thinking.  The role of an ALT, if utilized properly, cannot be substituted with a textbook.  Many Japanese students never leave Japan and never get a chance to interact with foreigners. In a world that is becoming more and more accessible, it is important to be able to interact effectively with different cultures. Remember back in the good ol’ days (sarcasm, for all you Sheldon’s out there) when great adventurers decimated thousands of people because of cultural differences? That doesn’t fly so well anymore. And now as modern and civilized people, we have to learn new ways of how to deal with cultural differences.

Anyways, back to JET. What does JET actually do?  Basically the JET Programme acts as a hiring/placement agency. They are the ones who sift through the thousands of applications, weed out a few more to interview and then decide on the lucky few who get Short-listed (or accepted). The application process is long and grueling, but nothing feels better than reading you’ve been accepted. After you’ve been accepted, JET places you with a Board of Education, or Prefecture or some other division in Japan who will actually be your employers. As soon as your feet hit Japanese soil, you are no longer their responsibility.

So basically the JET Programme’s role is to get you from your country to Japan disguised as an English teacher, in order to encourage multicultural relations so that internationalization doesn’t seem so scary.

 

Question 2

Why did I apply to JET?

Easy answer? I love Japan. Would that have gotten me into JET? Probably not. It’s important to show your passion or interest in the country. But if you come off sounding like an otaku (google it. I dare you) your form will immediately be tossed in the discard pile. My personal answer had to do with wanting to be completely immersed in Japanese culture while also sharing my (Canadian) culture. Now this is completely true. I took what I loved about Japan and what I hoped to gain from living in Japan and made it an answer that got me accepted. I also do enjoy talking about Canada. You try getting a 76 year old Japanese grandma to say “Saskatchewan”. It’s hilarious and amazing at the same time.

Now, I’ve worked towards getting into the JET Programme since the beginning of my second year of university. I had just come back from my first trip to Japan and I knew I’d found home. When I was there, this overwhelming feeling of comfort came over me and I knew I had to go back for an extended period of time. That fall semester there was a JET Programme orientation. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but it put a bug in my ear and I began researching.  I knew I wanted to go to Japan. I knew I wanted to go with the JET Programme. They offered the kind of support that felt comforting to a young 20 year old about to leave everything behind in order to move halfway around the world.

JET also is more than just teaching English. Again, cultural exchange is also a huge part of it and Japanese culture is a huge interest of mine. I want to learn about not just the mainstream, advertised parts of Japan but also the localize, intricate rituals and beliefs that can only be taught by the locals.

 

JET Programme

Who am I?

I am a 23 year old Canadian who just got short-listed for the JET Programme 2017. My name is Megan, for those of you who don’t know because you aren’t related to me and reading this because I told you too.  This blog is going to mostly pertain to past, present and future adventures in Japan, the JET Programme, and basically how I got to where I am now.

A little bit of my academic background– I am just about to graduate (6…more…weeks…) from university with a Bachelors Degree with a Major in Japanese, a minor in English and a second minor in Religious Studies. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Oh god, another Japan loving otaku.” If you were thinking that, you’d only be half right. I do love Japan — the intriguing culture, the colourful history, and oh, the delicious food :). However I do appreciate the occasional horror anime or inspirational Ghibli film, but not for the same reasons an otaku would (Overly voluptuous women, ridiculous characters, etc.).  One day I’ll write a blog about Ghibli movies and just how important they are in understanding Japan.

I also have my Certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language (CERTEFL) which I got in Thailand (I will also touch on this in another blog).

A little bit of personal background– I am the oldest daughter of 3 girls. My dad passed away when I was 10, so it was up to my mom to raise us all by herself. But because of this, I had to mostly put myself through university– everything I accomplished, was because of my own hard work. I think this is what has made my accomplishments seem so much sweeter.

Anyways, enough rambling. This is me in a nutshell. Time to get to the good stuff 🙂