January 31st, 2015
This year, Ehime AJET formed the Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee to create a scholarship for 200,000 yen to provide one high school student in the prefecture an opportunity to study abroad this summer. The committee will evaluate applications based on academic merit, interest in cross-cultural exchange, and financial need.
The application process has two components: a written application and an interview. The written application requires the applicant’s background information, preferred study abroad program, school activity involvement, and a letter of recommendation. The interview provides an opportunity for the applicant to demonstrate his or her English speaking ability, to express motivations for studying abroad, and to share his or her hopes for the future. Any high school student in Ehime is eligible to apply.
The submission deadline for the 2015 Ehime AJET Scholarship is Friday, February 20th. The recipient will be chosen by the Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee.
Being an assistant language teacher of English in Japan affords an opportunity to positively influence students’ academic experience, development, and achievement. The Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee encourages students to speak and learn English in a foreign country; to interact with students of different ethnicities, races, and cultures; and to understand the concept of being a global citizen.
If you have any questions about the scholarship, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee
March 30th, 2016
Tell Me About the Rabbits
From fox villages to cat cafes, Japan has a reputation for animal tourism. And one of the most unique examples is Okunoshima — an island overrun with rabbits — located between Ehime and Hiroshima prefectures in the Seto Inland Sea. After hearing rave reviews, some friends and I decided to visit the island in mid-March.
For such a popular attraction, Okunoshima was surprisingly difficult to reach. We took a train to Imabari, where we caught a bus to Omishima, the largest of the islands along the Shimanami Kaido. From the bus stop at Inokuchi port on Omishima, it was about a 45-minute walk to the next port on the island, the only place we could catch the ferry to Okunoshima.
The clerk at the ferry port sold bunches of carrots for 100 yen each — a good indication of how many people visit for the sake of the rabbits. We’d come armed with our own carrots and lettuce, so we didn’t buy from him this time around.
The ferry runs once every couple of hours, and, after missing the 10 a.m. ferry, we opted to eat lunch on the dock while waiting for the noon ferry. We spent the short, 15-minute ride watching Okunoshima grow larger as the ferry grew nearer. From sea, the island has nothing distinct about it; it’s a mass of pine trees and boulders like the other islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
But as soon as we set foot on the island, we were greeted by a swarm of bunnies feasting on pellets that a couple of tourists tossed to them. It didn’t take me long to open my bag of lettuce. The rabbits, though definitely not underfed, were eager for a treat, and hopped right up to tourists who had anything in their hands. One of my friends shooed away curious bunnies as they sniffed at the orange case on her phone.
These rabbits are not the skittish animals found in neighborhoods back home. They put their paws on my knee as they stretched for food, nuzzling my hand even when I didn’t have anything to offer. I’m something of a sucker for animals, and I encouraged them, waving strips of lettuce in the face of whatever bunny wandered my direction. Coos and cries of “kawaii!” could be heard all around — especially from me, though I’d like to pretend I have more dignity than that.
Not all of the animals are cuddly, though; among the fat, fluffy bunnies were several rabbits missing eyes or with chunks of their ears torn off, more like scruffy bunny pirates than house pets. These battle scars likely came from squabbles over territory or food, since outside dogs and cats are banned from the island.
Aside from rabbits, Okunoshima is famous for its poison gas plant, which produced mustard gas and tear gas during World War II. Though the plant was abandoned after the war, modern tourists can learn about the island’s history at the Poison Gas Museum and other former manufacturing operations that dot the island’s perimeter. Now, these abandoned husks of buildings serve as more hiding places for the rabbits, who dig burrows near old foundations and sleep under decaying bridges.
Urban legend has it that Okunoshima’s rabbits are the descendants of test subjects that were released into the wild when the gas factory closed. Another popular theory holds that the current population is descended from eight classroom pets that were released into the wild. Whatever the case, the 2.5 km of Okunoshima are now dominated by more than 700 rabbits. It’s impossible to visit and not see a rabbit.
Regardless of the island’s past, it has a promising future in tourism. The island has its own resort and campground, complete with onsen and a gift shop where visitors can purchase any rabbit-themed souvenir imaginable — from tenugui to rabbit-shaped cookies. Connected to the gift shop is a cafe where customers can enjoy small meals or ice cream while watching rabbits frolic on the hotel’s lawn.
We finished our day on Okunoshima by walking along the boardwalk back to the ferry port. Even on the wooden planks of the boardwalk we found wayward rabbits hopeful for a carrot or two. As we sat on benches waiting for the return ferry, three rabbits joined us, lounging under a tree and looking tired, but content, just like us.
Compared to their house-pet cousins or the cats who inhabit cat cafes, I’d imagine the bunnies of Okunoshima have no reason to complain. With the exception of a few gates, they’re free to roam wherever they want, dig holes, and frolic with other rabbits. They’re not overcrowded or outcompeted, and they always have access to fresh water. And animal-loving tourists (like me) will always be around to offer them carrots in exchange for a photo.
Posted in: The Mikan
February 29th, 2016
Never Give Up: the Japanese community theatre experience
Musical theatre isn’t easy. You have to be able to sing, dance and act, as well as give the commitment that any performance requires. To do a musical, you need a “Never Give Up” kind of mindset. I had the chance to be in a musical about a man with that very mindset — Sogo Shinji, the founder of the shinkansen. “Full speed ahead! The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji,” centered on Shinji’s motto “Yuufazu” (有法子 “Never give up” in Chinese) and how he never gave up on Saijo, his wife, or the shinkansen.
Like Sogo Shinji, I had to follow the spirit of “Yuufazu” even from before my audition. The auditions required me singing a set song (to be given on the day) and a Japanese poem. I was dreading this because I probably wouldn’t understand the poem even if I could read it. Even if I did understand it, I knew very few Japanese songs so I didn’t think I’d know this one. I nearly dropped out because I just assumed it would be impossible, but in the end, I decided that at worst, the experience of auditioning for a musical in Japan would be worth it. I managed to read through a poem I still don’t understand, and I was given permission to sing any song I wanted. And so I did.
I got accepted.
We all got accepted in fact. And so began the first trial: reading a script dense with Japanese that was certainly not in line with my N4/N3 skills. My lines would come up, and I’d be in the wrong place of the script, and then scrambling to read the line that was actually mine. With no prep time I couldn’t find readings for kanji, and even if I did, some of it was in the local dialect or archaic. Ultimately I was given a small role that used a combination of English and Japanese, and I was able to focus on really making those lines work.
How do you sing a small tsu (っ)? Singing was more of a trial than I expected. I’d never read sheet music with Japanese before and the っused on notes was confusing. For the longest time I found the songs difficult to memorize. With words flowing so much into each other it was a puzzle to just know where the words broke, making finding the meaning for words I didn’t know difficult if not impossible when clustered together. As someone who usually has little trouble memorizing an English song, this was frustrating. The one thing I thought I’d have no trouble with ended up being a major difficulty! It took me several extra weeks of solid practice to nail the lyrics so that I could finally work on the dance.
Dancing was a surprising relief. If you were to look at me, dancing might not seem like my favored activity. But because learning the dances was a simple matter of watch and repeat, it was a nice break from using so much energy listening out for instructions.
Which leaves the biggest continuous challenge I had: following directions. We were a pure Japanese troupe aside from me, so naturally all the directions were given in Japanese. I certainly learned a lot from context, but long rehearsals (twice weekly, 3-6 hours) were exhausting. Not just because of the length, but because I wanted to not be the weakest link in the chain, and to not slow anything down, which meant always being ready to leap into action, and thus listening carefully to anything that might apply to me.
After about four months of rehearsals, it was almost time to perform the real thing. The two weeks leading up to the show consisted of 6-12 hours of rehearsals a day in the blazing summer. “Never give up” was said a lot by the producers of the show. By the time the show ran, we had been practicing for so long I think everyone had difficulty believing we were finally performing! The show sold out in both venues, and people to this day still tell me how wonderful it was. With strong performances particularly for the role of Sogo Shinji in his old age and his wife Kiku. But why don’t you see a bit for yourself?
Next time you think “I can’t do that!” imagine a rather tall, rounded Australian man performing a cheery song about never letting go of your dreams in Japanese. There are an awful lot of fascinating things to do in Japan, even in — in fact especially in — Ehime. Worry less about the ability to do, and more about making the effort to try. “Yuufazu” Never give up, never surrender to practicality. To musicals and beyond.
Posted in: The Mikan
February 29th, 2016
Posted in: Site Updates
January 27th, 2016
Re-sign or Resign: coming to terms with my recontracting decision
It would happen about five times a day. A niggling feeling at the back of my mind, reminding me that there’s something I needed to do, something I’d been putting off. I’d be working at my desk, my eyes would wander to that stack of papers, and I’d lose focus.
I’d been putting off signing my recontracting papers. I waited until the last possible moment to submit them.
“Wow, I can’t believe you waited so long to decide!” you might say, but that wasn’t the problem. I had decided a month prior that I wouldn’t be recontracting, that in August I’d be heading back to the motherland (Canada) to reunite with the love of my life (Twix bars). But as long as I put off physically signing the papers, I could entertain the idea of staying.
As much as I relished the thought of moving on to the next chapter in my life, of starting an exciting new career path, of digging my fork into a hot plate of poutine again, the thought of leaving was always accompanied by a feeling of melancholy.
It was even more unsettling to me than the decision to come here in the first place. I always knew the JET program would be temporary, that I would be returning eventually, and that things at home would remain more or less unchanged — life moves slowly when everything is frozen for half the year.
What worries me about leaving Japan is that I’ve made a home here, and I may never come back to it. And when I do come back, it won’t be the same. By the time I return, the majority of my friends (mostly JETS) will have moved on to new points in their lives: new countries, new jobs, new adventures. This place will never be the way it is right now, and I will likely never see these friends I’ve made all together again. It’s only been six months, and I’m already so attached to the town, the landscape, and the people here that I know leaving will be painful.
Suffice it to say that the decision was not easy. I have my reasons for going back, but sometimes I worry that they’re superficial, or that I’ll regret my choice when I’m gone, and it’s that worry that fueled my procrastination for so long.
I could complain that the papers come too soon, or that the contract is too much of a commitment, but I think that in the end, I would never be completely sure either way. If I had decided to stay, I’m sure I would be filled with just as much doubt and insecurity. I’d be missing just as many milestones back home ー so many weddings, so many family gatherings, so many caesars(!).
As much as I’ve struggled with this over the last month, I do believe that there is no right or wrong decision in this case, only two directions that will make the next year of my life very different. I have no way of knowing which would be “better,” only that for the last couple months, I’ve felt a pull towards home. I can’t know how the next chapter of my life will turn out, but my gut is telling me that it should begin in Canada. I know that things will work out for me either way, and I’m out of time for second-guessing.
And so, at the last possible moment, I signed and sent off the documents. Despite my hesitation, they still said that I do not wish to accept reappointment, leaving me to make the most of my remaining six months here and to prepare for the giant question mark that is my life after JET. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in: The Mikan
December 21st, 2015
Teaching as an ALT
This post is for any ALT who has teaching in their sights as a career path. Maybe your goal is to become a better teacher, maybe it’s to gain teaching experience for something post-JET, or maybe it’s just to find out if you like teaching. I try my best to revise and reevaluate the goals I have for teaching each day. I ask myself, “What do I want my students to gain from this?” and question if my actions are aligned with my objective. Often times my judgement wanes, and mistake after mistake has me reflecting on how I can do things better. Every now and then there are moments of teaching frustration, but there always seems to be small things that keep me motivated as a teacher. Here are my thoughts and observations, highs and lows of being an ALT to junior high school students.
Attempting to spark a student’s interest in English isn’t always easy. Especially when the students are catching up on sleep during class—and I don’t blame them. One student recently told me his schedule on an average day: wake up at 6 a.m., run around the track at 7 a.m. (if he has club activities), change clothes, read for 20 minutes, go to class from 8:40 a.m. – 3:20 p.m., go to club activities from 4-6 p.m., eat dinner, take a shower, start homework by 9 or 10p.m., and go to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight.
It used to irritate me when students slept during presentations I was giving, but now I’m a bit more understanding. Most students have a busier schedule than I do. I believe some students are really fighting to stay awake in class and want to be there. I see those students usually taking 5-10 minute naps, then resuming their attention on the lesson. Some students stay awake but look like they are being hypnotized by an invisible ghost in front of them. Damn those ghosts! This is one of my challenges: making sure I’m maintaining the attention of my students.
Although, one mistake I’ve made is overexerting myself trying to maintain everyone’s attention. For example, while I’m giving a presentation, there are always a few students doing homework for another class, sleeping, or staring into space. After seeing this, I would actively re-channel all their focus back to the class. This would take time, energy, and limit the opportunity more serious students have to learn. In other classes around the school like, science, math, and Japanese, I see teachers commanding the full attention of the class: side conversations, group conversations, and students doing homework for other classes all seem relatively nonexistent. It’s awe-inspiring.
Additionally, a number of students are difficult to motivate because of reasons outside of the classroom. Many of those reasons my JTEs are already aware of and probably discuss with the students’ parents. After missing the last bus home from school one day my JTE offered me a ride. Before she took me home, I accompanied her as we did 家庭訪問 (かていほうもん), or visits to students’ homes.
We knocked on six doors, talked to six parents, and I listened as she discussed matters regarding those students. The issues were related to grades, the students’ behavior, and their motivation in the classroom. I don’t know if this is common for all JTEs around Japan, but most of my JTEs keep communication between teacher, student, and parent very active. This year, out of my six schools in total I visit one per month. It seems that if I ever wanted JTE-like cooperation from my students, I would need to spend more than just once a month with them.
I find motivation in knowing that I could potentially inspire students to improve their lives. There’s a chance for all of us ALTs to do so. And the child we motivate or inspire could be someone we don’t expect to have an impact on. On my search of ways to deal with classroom troublemakers I asked a “unicorn” — a fifth year ALT — for some advice. My fifth year friend Mr. 0 shared a story about one student who really had an effect on him. This was a “bad kid,” who received awful grades, stole, got in fights with teachers and the whole lot. But Mr. 0 took a more patient approach with this student, trading jokes with him and giving him someone to talk to. He treated him like somebody with value, treated the student like a “human being” (as Mr. 0 puts it), when everyone else just yelled at him.
After a few years, the same student came back to the school and asked for Mr. 0 who was coaching speeches at the time. The two got to talking, and Mr. 0 learned that the boy had been working a part-time job while going to school. You never know who you might have an impact on — no matter your role.
Mr. 0 finally said of the students, “Treat them like humans and they might act like ones instead of monsters.” It is easy to see “unruly students” as those who only cause trouble, sleep in class, and fool around. It is also easy to see them as unchangeable in their negative habits.
However, 12–15 year-olds will always struggle with self-acceptance and creating a positive self-identity. Our students might act like the monsters we sometimes see on the surface, but if we can relate to a small portion of that student’s life, just like in Mr. 0’s story, I’m sure they will deeply appreciate it. From the testimonials I’ve gathered from long-term teachers, it’s always the students who come back after a few years — and give their deep appreciation for your teaching — who make your efforts as a teacher worth it. Moving forward, I hope we, as first year JETs, will have a select group of students who will eventually show us why what we do as ALTs will be important.
Posted in: The Mikan