Hi everyone, for those of you who are interested in incorporating diversity and/or racial awareness within their lessons; there is a google drive containing material focused toward teaching racial issues in the classroom. We are in special times right now, and also in unique positions, as we have access to different levels of public education. People have been voicing a desire to run their own classes on racial issues recently, and I think this google drive is a great starting kit to do just that.
As someone who strides toward improving my competencies surrounding racial issues, I started off by reading the folder that relates mostly with my teaching environment. In my case I read through the elementary school criteria. The google drive contains lessons for all ages and academic school levels, so to make the sifting less daunting I would suggest the same strategy. Find the folder that is relevant to you, and just click it open! Even if you have no plan to run an entire class specifically on the topic, it is a good thing to keep the topics at the back of your head, and incorporate it into your lesson here and there when the opportunity arises.
Shun Chen (Dom) is a Saijo ALT. He is a Hong Kong native, and has lived in Calgary and Montreal since elementary school. This is his third year in the JET Program and you may remeber him from last falls SDC group 5 workshop!
Maybe it’s the language barrier, perhaps it’s misguided preconceptions, but I suspect my own limited exposure to and familiarity with Japanese music reflects the experience of a lot of us. Not content with this state of affairs, I used some of our recent free time to conduct a deep dive into the music scene here, past and present, mainstream and beyond. With deference to Spotify, YouTube and various blogs, what follows is a non-exhaustive, multi-genre introduction to a selection of contemporary Japanese acts deserving of your ears.
Chelmico’s peppy tunes flaunt a glossy sheen and plenty of effervescent commercial appeal. The Tokyo duo’s catchy pop/rap hybrid has substance to complement the style, though, with a latest single that’s a certified bop. A recent placement in an anime opening will do their stock no harm at all.
Best for: toe-tapping on the train with your headphones on
Start with: ‘Easy Breezy’
- Otoboke Beaver
This female four-piece from Kyoto have been a going concern for a decade, but thanks to slots at Coachella and Primavera, they find themselves making waves as the current export du jour. Otoboke Beaver specialise in abrasive noise-rock, though with a dose of humour and some twisted pop hooks not far below the surface. Named after a love hotel, in case you were wondering.
Best for: tinnitus
Start with: ‘Don’t Light My Fire’
- Pasocom Music Club
From beginnings in vaporwave that recalled the smooth digitised grooves of Japan’s 1980s city pop aesthetic, the duo that make up Pasocom Music Club branched out on their latest release to embrace house, accessible techno and on-trend dance pop, and accordingly find themselves at the forefront of popular electronic music in Japan.
Best for: pre-drinks on your scenester night out in Tokyo
Start with: ‘Reiji no machi’
- Yabai T-Shirts Yasan
While Japan has no shortage of melodic rock that favours a poppy sensibility, what sets Yabai T-Shirts Yasanapart is the interplay between the two vocalists. Infectious and irresistible, and with a giddy excitement driving the momentum, this Osaka indie trio offer unapologetically feel-good vibes.
Best for: dancing like a toddler on Skittles
Start with: ‘Happy Wedding Mae Song’
MONO are a four-piece instrumental rock act entering their third decade, but whose slow-burning, sprawling epics are a soundtrack as fitting as ever to our uncertain times. The band’s unhurried soundscapes tend towards delicate and transcendent, yet frequently make time to descend into a shoegazey squall. Just the ticket for imbuing even the most mundane chore with some cosmic significance.
Best for: watching the world go up in flames
Start with: ‘Where We Begin’
Polysics can be easily identified by the distinctive orange boilersuits, straight-bar shades, and their air of detached nonchalance. Keen observers will note clear parallels with new wave pioneers Devo. So while the quirk factor is high, Polysics back it up with a brand of frenetic post-punk sufficiently tightly wound to be the musical equivalent of an anxious tic.
Best for: showing your friends one of those ‘eccentric’ Japanese bands
Start with: ‘I My Me Mine’
- Luby Sparks
Part of the dream pop movement that’s been central to Tokyo’s indie scene for a few years now, Luby Sparks is the sound of wistful nostalgia for a lost youth. The band’s musical output evokes the languid glow of a hazy California sunset transplanted to central Honshu, with Erika Murphy’s airy vocals the cherry on top.
Best for: the closing credits of a John Hughes film
Start with: ‘Somewhere’
If metalcore is your jam, Osaka’s Crossfaith fly the flag for the genre. With plenty of nods to an angsty nu-metal that’s retained a foothold in this country, the band’s English lyrics make them more accessible to a small but ardent international fanbase, but what makes Crossfaith particularly interesting is the use of electronic touches to flesh out their sound.
Best for: a kyushoku that won’t be forgotten any time soon
Start with: ‘Endorphin’
With smooth guitar grooves that represent the broader neo city pop trend of recent years, here’s a group riding the crest of a wave. Reliably funky, always soulful and melodic, Nulbarich straddle that line between indie and commercially viable, topping the list of a rake of contenders fit to soundtrack H&M’s summer collection.
Best for: shopping at Uniqlo
Start with: ‘New Era’
10. The Cherry Coke$
I’d be neglecting my patriotic duty as an Irishman if I failed to draw attention to this curiosity. Though far from the first Japanese band to ape 2000s punk acts from English-speaking territories, the Cherry Cokes are still an anomaly. It’s a boisterous Celtic knees-up indebted to the spirit of Flogging Molly, rowdy Japanese punk set to a backdrop of tin whistles and banjo, a Guinness glass full of shochu.
Best for: spilling your pint
Start with: ‘Rise Again’
Killian is a first-year ALT based in Uchiko. He reviews for publications back in Dublin, Ireland, and is an avid music fan still coming to terms with the dearth of live shows in Ehime.
by Killian Barry
I enjoy cycling. It’s not a passion, but I miss the daily commute back home. Dublin is a decent spot for a bit of a jaunt, located as it between a bay and the hills, and mostly flat to boot. What’s more, recent years have even seen the government sit up and take notice of the benefits cycling brings. Go there now and you’ll find some vastly improved bike infrastructure and an encouraging decrease in motorists who consider those on two wheels to be sworn enemies.
My first foray in to bike touring was during the summer of 2018. My buddy Simon and I cycled 1,200km from the north coast of France to the south. This was like peering behind the curtain of French life, exploring quiet backroads, taking pit-stops in quaint villages and feeling generally rustic. I’m pretty brutal for tearing through life without stopping to look around, and the simplicity of this adventure did wonders for me. The plan for any given day extended only to pedalling, eating guilt-free pains au chocolat, and continued pedalling before finding a donkey-free campsite to pitch the tent.
Fittingly, this same friend subsequently loaned me a book written by a restless soul in search of fulfilment and contentment through pilgrimage. Having not quite got the requisite kicks from the Camino, he turned to the Shikoku henro, presumably to maximise the masochism. Eighteen months later, as I watched pilgrims in full garb saunter/trudge past my apartment, my epiphany was “you know, you could probably cycle a chunk of that”, thus satisfying half-hearted attempts to ease my own restlessness, but primarily enabling me to get out on the bike during that sweet not-too-hot/not-too-cold spot that is Japan in the springtime.
I mapped a course to follow the pilgrimage route from temple 40 in Ainan to temple 51 in Matsuyama, a distance of 245km over four days. I set off gleefully complacent, neglecting to stretch and assuming I’d retained the same level of fitness since the last big cycle. A sunny but mostly temple-less first day meant I was treated to some glorious vistas of shimmering seas en route to my first visit to Uwajima (Day 1: 54km, 1 temple).
Of course, the weather took a turn on day two, as did the inclination of the roads, and the driving rain that defined those steep hills coming in to Seiyo rather made me question the wisdom of the whole endeavour. This was balanced out, though, by the general curiosity of those I encountered who recognised me as a “pilgrim” (very much in inverted commas) as I observed temple protocol. Only pilgrims persevere through frankly terrifying tunnels and particularly wet rain, right? Plus, there was the lure of sleeping in my own bed in Uchiko that night (Day 2: 72km, 3 temples).
I figured that incessant rain on Day 3 was a valid reason to delay my trip. A shrewd decision, too, because the following morning I needed all the good vibes I could muster to essentially cycle up a mountain. The issue with cycling along the river via Oda is that constant photo opportunities hamper one’s progress, while the main problem with going from there on to temples 44 and 45 is that they are two of the most inland and therefore elevated temples of the entire 88. I sweated my way up those single-lane switchbacks in to Kumakogen, at 700m above sea level, thankful for the rest huts that serendipitously appeared just as my lungs were about to explode. Besides, this time there was the lure of a sub-zero night in a tent on top of a mountain with two measly heat pads and a deflated mattress (Day 3: 71km, 2 temples).
The final day was all downhill in the best possible sense of the word, wearily freewheeling in to Matsuyama with stops at a series of temples located on the city’s outskirts, by which point I’d regained feeling in the majority of my toes. A brief detour to see the sakura at Matsuyama castle and then on to the JR station so I could contemplate my new-found state of inner peace on the express train home (Day 4: 48km, 6 temples).
At a time when friends and family are forbidden from being outside, this cycle was a privilege. Even the roads I already knew were different from the saddle. I could hear the frogs, smell the lumber and see a copious amount of cherry blossom. Most pilgrims I met were from various corners of Japan, though I encountered a handful of foreigners. Some were walking, but far more were making the journey by car, a 21st century pilgrimage. Throughout, I was motivated by the friendliness of those I met, awed by the deft calligraphy I now have in my pilgrimage book, and grateful for the snazzy osettai I occasionally received. I now regard vending machines as power-up stations and conbinis as Edenesque oases. I’m pleased to report that my legs are in better condition than my brake pads. I don’t particularly want to repeat the experience in a hurry, and I may not be the enlightened mortal I’d sought to become, but in terms of outdoor adventure, memorable experiences and cultural immersion, this spontaneous getaway will be hard to beat.
- I’m Killian Barry and I come from Dublin, Ireland. I took a career break from my teaching job at home first to travel and then to come to Japan. This is my first year on JET. Since being here, I’ve come to miss pub quizzes, but I’ve developed a penchant for collecting Kit Kat wrappers.
Darling you gotta let me know,
Should I stay or should I go?”
Time froze as I stared at the recontracting paperwork lying in front of me. I was flanked by my BOE supervisor and Carolyn, a fellow ALT, who had only just confirmed that she was not recontracting. What was taking me so long? I had walked into the Board of Education with my mind already made. I had spent all of Christmas break discussing whether I should recontract, and why, and why not, with my loved ones (in Japan and back home). It felt like I had had the same conversation a million times. I was trying my utter best to ensure that I wasn’t making a hasty or irrational choice. When there seemed to be nothing left unsaid, I was finally satisfied that the choice that made me happiest was to return home.
And yet as I stared at that document, along with my supervisor and Carolyn, doubt hit me like a tram. I couldn’t think of anything other than all the love I was agreeing to leave behind, and all that it would mean.
I was consenting to leave all of my wonderful friends here. The weekly Hamazushi dates, rounds of King’s Cup on the weekends, trips to Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka sponsored by Strong Zero, enough inside jokes and group chats to last a lifetime. The friends who supported me during some of the darkest days in my life, showering me with constant understanding, care and support. I felt, and still feel, able to be vulnerable and close to them in a way I had never really been able to with a friend group.
I was acknowledging that I would leave my beloved students, my kids who I cannot deny my affinity for. It meant I was now counting down the days that I got to spend with all of them. From the tiny 7 year olds who babble to me in the cutest, yet lightning fast, Japanese (that I can barely piece together most of the time) to my JHS students who compete with one another to see who can make me laugh the most. Was I ready to know that the last time I’d most likely ever see them again would be in the 2nd week of September?
I was stepping down from my role as RA, a job I had wanted to do since day 1 . I enjoyed every single second of it, even when I almost destroyed my kitchen trying to make a traditional Thanksgiving turkey in an oven that was no bigger than a desktop computer, or when I almost lost my mind trying to get the Welcome Pack as perfect as possible (even though I knew no one cared about it more than me!).
I was waving goodbye to my bestest friend here at the time, who had proclaimed me his favorite person in Japan (among other things). How could I consent to leave, knowing that it meant that someday soon, he wouldn’t be just a short train ride away?
Observing the sky’s amalgamation of colors from my balcony; wearing a yukata to summer festivals; riding my bike pass endless rice fields; all the different kinds of coffee sold in the vending machines; the rows of mikan trees I see as I ride the train, specks of orange dancing by….I could speak for forever about the beauty Japan that has introduced to me, and of course, go on even longer about the people it has brought into my life.
All these thoughts and so much more flooded my mind. But as I picked up the pen, I remembered what I had to do. I held my breath as I signed on the line to not recontract.
“Oh wait, we need to give a reason?” I asked Carolyn, my eyes widening as I noticed the small section allocated to explain why you weren’t recontracting. “I thought we just had to sign! I didn’t notice this part last year.”
“Yeah, dude,” she replied, a look of understanding on her face. She also knew that there was not enough room on those mere three lines to adequately explain why we were choosing to go. I scribbled a mediocre sentence and handed the paper back to my supervisor, who gave me a weak smile. I pushed any blue feelings away and did my best to give her back a toothy, content grin.
As heartbreaking as it will be to part with Japan and all it has taught me, to part with all of the people I’ve come to know and love, to part with all the experiences that I would not have gotten anywhere else, I knew that I had to begin making progress towards the next chapter in my life. Those experiences will become fond memories, those loved ones will hopefully remain in my life if they’re meant to remain, and I’ll be able to take all the lessons I’ve learned in Japan with me on a fresh journey. And so, I decided to make the first steps to begin to say all kinds of goodbyes.
Instead of just scrolling through LinkedIn and Instagram, dreaming of the day I’d get to begin working towards my career, I will have the actual chance to start! Deskwarming has given me the chance to research so many different things I possibly want to do: internships at Planned Parenthood and/or the Wildlife Conservation Society, applications for graduate school in Europe, networking for a future PhD, volunteering at an animal sanctuary….and so much more.
Ultimately, I realized I won’t get to any of these goals by deskwarming. Yeah, it’s been nice to have had all those hours to make lists and dream boards of all my goals, but now I can finally put them into action. I will stop pinning ideas left and right on Pinterest, and in contrast I’ll be out there making my life happen. I am ready to further my knowledge and explore what other opportunities lie ahead.
I began to write this piece in February, and it has taken so long to finish because I was worried I would regret the decision to leave later. I have had a few months to sit and reflect on my choice, and I am relieved to say I feel better than ever about it. I’ve held those dear to me closer than ever (even if recently it’s just been limited to Zoom) and delighted in every experience as much as possible. Although at the present moment recent unfortunate events in the world have changed some of my plans for the near foreseeable future (and caused quite a bit of uncertainty), I’m still ecstatic about beginning a new adventure sooner than later.
Beni is a second year ALT in Ozu, originally from New York City. She enjoys spending a lot of time with friends and family, but most of all with animals. She didn’t admit it in the article, but she’ll probably miss Lawson above everything else when she leaves Japan. <
About a week ago the Mikan blog reached out to Shikoku ALTs in an effort to accumulate photo submissions of personal art, creative projects for work or pleasure, or anything for that matter. Here are some awesome submissions from ALTs around Shikoku. If you are interested in submitting your photos or interesting work showcasing how you are spending your time during the current pandemic please email Joshua Hill, firstname.lastname@example.org to share with ALTs far and wide.
Sakura in the time of Koro-chan
So with the lurking COVID-19 (or as I like to affectionately call it, Koro-chan) sweeping the nation and by extension, the world, many of us ALTs (at least in the land of Mikans) are still reporting to work at our base schools.
For me this means I don’t get the chance to visit my schools in the serene mountains. In an environment which usually recalibrates my mind just being surrounded by nature. However, with Koro-chan taking over, I now have to trek to my base school in the suburbs everyday and desk warm. First season of desk warming. Yikes.
Anyways, there’s a point to this. Thankfully, nature has given me something to anticipate everyday with the blooming of Sakura trees. So, first season of desk warming but also first season or experiencing the beauty of Sakura. Nice balance, I guess you can say.
With that being said, I actually found my alternative to recalibrate my mind in the midst of Koro-chan. By taking a little detour on my way home from school, I get a cool ride through a park lined with Sakura trees along the Ishite River. And although it may take me a bit longer than my regular shorter trek back home, it’s definitely a great temporary distraction from the pandemonium that’s taking place around me.
Seiyo City costal Rock formation
“My main activity lately has been drawing and painting everyday. It keeps my mind challenged and entertained. This is a quick watercolor painting I did of the rock formations in the costal area of Seiyo city”.
by Joshua Hill, Matsuyama
“Your party is camped out at the edge of the Forest of Doom and night is falling. Suddenly, you all hear something coming through the forest. Not on the well trodden road just off to the right of your camp, but crashing through the underbrush as though running from someone, or something. As you ready your weapons and spells, you see a small dwarven man break his way through the tree line. Some of you recognize his scarred and bent armor, stocky features, and magnificent beard. This is Lieutenant Bigleg, second in command to General Gilibran of the dwarven army. He manages to tell your party that the great warhammer of Gilibran has been shattered into two, and the pieces are lost in the Forest of Doom. He gives you the task of finding the pieces and returning them to the city of Stonebridge before the rising troll army can crush the now demoralized dwarven forces. His last words are cut off as he falls forward, poisoned arrows protruding from his back. Your party now sees three trollkin, the enemy Bigleg was fleeing from, readying their weapons for an attack.
What do you do?”
This was the general premise that was set for the first annual Table-Top Role Playing Game conference in Matsuyama, Ehime. The rented room was filled with seven groups of three players and one GM (game master) each. The event was organized by the AJET Event Coordinators Kate Flake and myself, Ada Smith. When picking a game and a theme, we wanted something that would be accessible and enjoyed by veterans of TTRPGs and first time players alike. Dungeon World, a fantasy game similar to the infamous Dungeons and Dragons, was an obvious choice. One of our favorites, the system focuses less on battle strategies and leveling up, and more on collaboratively telling a narrative. Though each group had the same basic premise; find the hammer pieces and return them to the dwarven army, as well as the same list of monsters, everything else was left up to the GMs and, more importantly, the players.
The event was open to the island of Shikoku, but due to timing and size restrictions, only people from Ehime attended. Players traveled from the far reaches of the prefecture, though, and the different groups were a mix of people from every region. The purpose of the event was to bring people interested in interactive games together, and hopefully foster new friendships and future campaigns. “I really enjoyed how we were one large group made of smaller groups….it felt like there were more opportunities to interact with people because of the smaller groups making up the tables,” said Michael Havarty, a GM for the event, “Then we could come together as a larger group and share our experiences.”
The event ran for about five hours, and we encouraged participants to bring their own drinks and food (though most parties seemed to sustain themselves from coffee and corn soup from the vending machines outside the room). The first hour of the event, after introductions were made and expectations were set, was dedicated to world building and character creation. Statistics for charisma, strength, dexterity, and wisdom were divvied up, and flavor such as religion, alignment, weapon of choice and appearance were written down and shared. Then the GM asked the players some simple questions to guide their game; what rumors have you heard of the evil in the forest? What treasure lies there? What is so special about this hammer of Gilibran’s? This free form storytelling is what allows each game to have it’s own individual outcomes and narratives, despite starting with the same basic premise. It’s also thrilling for players to feel like they have some control over the story. The excitement and recognition on a players face as they realize that the monster they described way back at the start of the game is what they will be facing off with in the final battle has always been one of my favorite parts of running these games.
Dungeon World still uses dice, but not the iconic 20-sided die used for D&D. For most of the moves and decision making, only two six sided die (like you would find in a Monopoly set) are required. By leaving moves up to chance, surprising things can happen, like convincing an enemy to join your party, or an unexpected heroic moment changing the tide of battle.The simplicity of the characters, moves, and the open style of the gaming system means that the rules themselves are relatively easy to explain and quick to grasp. Many people came to this event as first time players, and they had no problems picking up the mechanics along side the veterans of the game. It was heartening to see people explore and connect through this event, and I met many people who I hope will be encouraged to come out to future events. I was pleasantly surprised by the turn out, and I hope it bodes well for other gaming events we may plan. One event goer even said that it was the best attended AJET event that they had been to, and they’ve been here for five years!
By Andrew Fischer
Nearly every ALT across Ehime ought to be familiar with the EIKEN, or Jitsuyō Eigo Ginō Kentei (Test in Practical English Proficiency).
The EIKEN is similar to the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The differences, besides the fact that the EIKEN tests English-language skills, not Japanese-language ones, are as follows: the EIKEN offers more levels (seven), is offered three times a year, can be taken at some schools, and includes writing and speaking sections.Continue reading
By Niall Magee
Last weekend I was invited to go on a tour of Uchiko to help promote it as a tourist destination. As a disclaimer, all expenses were paid for by the city, except for dinner at the German restaurant and the washi products I bought.