Last Day as a JET ALT

My last month has been a tornado, with goodbyes and thank yous, packing and cleaning, and all sorts of logistical things, so much so that I’ve had little time to actually reflect and think, “I’m leaving Suzuka.”

And even when I say that, all of the facets of these past two years just won’t seem to fit into those three words. I’ve invested in and been touched by so many lives, students and teachers, friends, babies and grandmothers, Japanese and foreigners. I’ve learned so much about Japan in these two years, things I couldn’t have learned during my study abroad. I’ve grown in my language abilty, learned a new instrument, been to Universal Studios Japan, twice! And in the midst of the busyness of life here, I got used to Suzuka. It feels weird leaving here, as though I can’t imagine a different life.

I’ve certainly had my struggles during my time here as well. I’ve been hurt by people, and I’ve hurt people, Japanese people. And looking back, it breaks my heart to think that I hurt them. But thanks be to God, I really feel I’ve grown through it all. I think that I’ll always have more growing to do, but I think I can say that at the end of these two years, I’ve gotten a little bit better at forgiving, a little bit better at loving, a little bit better at lighting joy like a candle in the night. My soul feels more free now than ever before. I’m so happy to have had this time, and yet so sad to leave. All the students I’ve grown to love, the friendships that I’ve made that I know can’t end now. And yet, unlike the last time when I left Japan before at the end of my study abroad four years ago, something is really different this time. Something is here in my heart that wasn’t there then: Hope. Hope blazes in my heart like a wildfire. Though i don’t know what the next years hold for me exactly, I know that it’s gonna be good! I’m so excited to see my family! So excited to walk into tomorrow! I know that God is good. I know He’s got my back. And I know I’m coming back.


Suzuka, I’m so thankful for you

Suzuka, you’ve made my heart full

Suzuka, you know I love you

So Suzuka, I’ll see you soon.



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和楽器生活 - パート 2   Wagakki Life – Part 2


I’d like to take this time to just brag on my favorite band, Wagakki Band! Wagakki Band is in my opinion one of the coolest bands over here! I’ve never really been one to be a fan of a particular musician or actor or celebrity to the point that I buy a bunch of their merchandise and go to every concert screaming their name, but I’d say Wagakki Band is the closest I’ve ever gotten to that : P I’ve been to two concerts already, bought a hoodie and a few CDs and a few accessories. Oh, and I entered the fan club! I guess that makes me a fan! : P



All goofing aside, though, I really admire this band for the music they’re putting out, and for the cultural path they’re blazing for other artists. In a nation that seems to be increasingly hungry for Western stuff, I feel like this band has found a way to honor and use traditional Japanese culture while at the same time staying in touch with modernity and producing high-quality J-Rock music. They’ve managed to integrate both old Japanese culture and new Japanese culture together, and make it sound good.

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So when I heard that Wagakki Band was starting off the new year playing in the Nihon Budokan (The National Martial Arts Stadium), which I later learned was their biggest venue yet, I just had to go! So off to Tokyo I went! It was about 3-4 hours from where I live. But it was totally worth it! They didn’t allow cameras during the concert, so I didn’t really get pictures of the actual concert itself, but they were so awesome to listen to! And as an aspiring musician aspiring to use a Japanese instrument in modern music, it was really inspiring to see it done, and done well.


For those in the States who are interested, they’re actually having a concert in New York on March 14th! Go Wagakki Band!

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Christmas vs. New Year’s

So being here in Japan over the holidays has brought to my sight something I didn’t realize before. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t know this, but I just didn’t know quite how strongly it was this way.

In America, Christmas is a big holiday. Whether if you’re Christian or not, there are all kinds of festivities and traditions and reasons to celebrate. And in terms of decorations, there are Christmas trees, lights, red suits and red hats, Nativity scenes, songs about baby Jesus, and songs about Santa coming to town. In addition to all the decorations, Christmas is usually a day (at least in my experience and from what I’ve heard from others) when families get together and spend quality time together. We may have traditional foods that we like to eat on that day, which, again, in my experience, is usually similar to the Thanksgiving menu. Or, according to the Grinch, hoo pudding and roast beast : P


In Japan though, the family day really does seem to be New Year’s Day. The almost a week of vacation that Japanese receive is centered around not Christmas, but New Year’s. And in place of Christmas decorations, there are new year’s decorations usually made with bamboo, and there is usually osechi, traditional rice cakes made by pounding rice into a goo, essentially. In just the past month I feel like so many Japanese have asked me, “What do you eat for New Year’s in America?” Uhh…am I missing something guys? What do we eat on New Year’s? I told my 6th graders that my family and I eat shrimp on New Year’s Eve, and that was about as much as I could tell them : P


I didn’t notice the complimentary reflection of me in the background in this picture : P


Having said all this, the Japanese are aware of Christmas in that they are very good about putting up Christmas decorations the month leading up to Christmas, including trees, lights, and santa hats of all colors! In the local supermarket, I had to smile at this sign they had up throughout the store.



“Let’s Make a Christmas!” But there’s no question about it; here in Japan, the big family holiday at the end (beginning) of the year is New Year’s.

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Wagakki Life, Part I – Taking Up Shamisen

It’s gotten cold here in Suzuka. I finally broke out my heavy jacket in the past couple weeks. Things have been busy the past couple months. But it’s a good busy : )

Today I want to talk about Wagakki! Wagakki is the word for traditional Japanese instruments. There is a drum called Taiko, A bamboo flute called Shakuhachi, a 13 stringed harp called the Koto, and a three stringed guitar-like instrument called the Shamisen. For a while now, I’ve wanted to learn a Wagakki instrument, so these past few months, I’ve taken up learning the shamisen!


I actually found out that there’s a shamisen teacher next to one of the schools I teach at, so it’s very convenient. She’s an elderly Japanese lady, and very kind and hospitable towards me. About twice a month after teaching I go to her house for lessons. And recently, since finding out that I don’t have a chance to eat dinner because I bike straight to her house and then straight home afterwards, she has prepared rice balls for me when I come. She fondly calls me her grandchild, so I guess that makes her my Japanese Shamisen Grandmother!

And boy, can my Japanese Shamisen Grandmother play some shamisen! I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s nice to know that one has a quality teacher who’s been playing for most of her life. And yet, even though I’ve only been playing for a couple months, I’ve already had my first shamisen recital! And since shamisen is a traditional instrument, you have to play it in traditional garb as well!


As much as I like traditional Japanese clothing, I’ve always thought it looks better on a Japanese : P I actually didn’t know how to put any of this on, or how to tie any of the stuff, so I had several elderly Japanese men and women fiddling at my clothing for what felt like half an hour, but I suppose the most important part is that it looks right, right?

There were young people there, too. Another woman around my age just started taking lessons recently, and there’s also a young man who has been playing since elementary school. Needless to say, he could play some shamisen, too! I only played 2 songs, but I figure that’s pretty good for 2 months. From here on out, My skill can only go up!



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Silver Week Adventures シルバーウィークの冒険

I originally was going to make my September post about my first experiences teaching English in Japan. But then a five day weekend called Silver Week came along and whisked me away on a string of adventures with lots of Japanese friends! So I thought I’d write about that while it’s still fresh!


First, I went on a short weekend camping trip with some Japanese friends at a nearby mountain. Mie has lots of mountains. Japan in general, actually, is pretty mountainous. The weather was beautiful! And so were the mountains, and everything on them!

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Camping on the mountains wasn’t enough, though. A friend from Tokyo came to visit me, and we decided to hike up one of these things! We went to a mountain called Nyuudougatake, which was only about a kilometer high, but honestly, at times it felt like we were climbing! Thankfully there was tree cover most of the whole time. I don’t know how it is for most American mountains–nor do I really know what’s normal for Japanese mountains really : P but for this mountain at least, there weren’t any guard rails really. With the exception of a few well placed, well tied ropes as an aid for hiking up and down certain parts of the trail, the trail itself, and a little shrine at the top, the nature felt pretty undisturbed. We encountered two snakes and briefly saw a third something at some point(!?) but thankfully, we were okay! The weather was beautiful on this day, too!


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Then, the weekend after Silver week, I was invited by some other Japanese friends to go to Universal Studios Japan! They told me to be ready at 6:30 AM! I suppose the Japanese play as hard as they work! I got to try out lots of different attractions with my Japanese friends, including seeing Hogwarts! Yes! For those of you who didn’t know, Hogwarts is in Japan! And they honestly did an amazing job reproducing so many different aspects of the Harry Potter world. They had the castle, they had a recreation of the Hogwarts town, with a wand shop and several other shops, they had butter beer! And according to my female friends, there was even a Myrtle ghost in the girls’ bathroom! That’s dedication if I ever saw it! (Although, since I’m not a girl, I can’t actually say I saw that last part : P but you know what I mean!)

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It was a hot day, so I got the frozen version!


These were just snippets of some of the adventures I have had over the past couple weeks, but they have all been full of fun and good things! I’m thankful to have found so many Japanese friends so quickly : )

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Getting my Bearings 慣れている

It’s been quite a month! After a 14 hour flight, a shinkansen (bullet train), countless orientations, and 4 weeks later, I’m just beginning to settle into my new life here in Suzuka, Mie, Japan! Here are some of the things I’ve been up to.



Orientation has been about 1/3 of this month. Honestly, I didn’t know it was possible to be oriented in as many ways as I have been. The JET Programme is sure to make sure you hear everything you need to know both before you arrive at your city, and after you arrive at your city, twice. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but they are thorough about it, and if you can muster up the patience for it all, you’ll learn lots of useful stuff. I learned about Japanese culture, teaching English, how to be effective as a JET, what you’re actually supposed to do as a JET, how to have fun as JET, how to not die as a JET, etc. (That last one’s pretty important!) But I’m sure most of my family, friends and readers want to hear about Suzuka.



So, Suzuka! Suzuka is a small city–perhaps the best way I can describe it is a patchwork of city and rural. In some parts there are 15 story buildings. And in some parts, there are acres of rice fields and farmland. There are several railway lines. But nothing like Tokyo, for those of you who are familiar with Tokyo. There are lots of restaurants, Japanese restaurants, of course, but also Italian, Indian, and American restaurants like KFC, McDonald’s, and, of course Denny’s! Don’t expect pancakes there, though. This is the Japanese version of Denny’s, which is well, Japanese. Maybe sometime I’ll expand on that.


In terms of where Suzuka is, it is in the coastal prefecture (state) of Mie in the center of Japan. It is roughly an hour from Nagoya, the 4th largest city in Japan, about 2 hours from Osaka, the 3rd largest city, and about 3 hours from Tokyo, the largest city, so it is fairly centrally located.



There are several others aspects to my experience living here in Suzuka that are fairly new for me. One is that, unless I am going somewhere far away, I bike most everywhere. And I love it! It’s free, there’s no gas to buy, no insurance, and apparently bike shops will do most basic maintenance for free. Also, this is my first time living in an apartment on my own. I’ve lived on my own before, in a dorm. But unlike my dorm experience, where two of my meals, and several other expenses, and other things were semi-handled for me, I am now mostly on my own, to provide my own meals. Which either means going out to eat most days, buying premade meals, or, the hopefully cheaper option, cooking. So far, what cooking I have done has has been an odd adventure, but I hope to get not terrible at it someday : P

鈴鹿市に住んでいる経験の中で、私に新しいほかのことがいくつかある。一つは遠い場所以外に、大体どこでも自転車で行く。そして、好きだよ!無料で、ガスがいらないし、保険もいらないし、自転車やは基本整備が無料だそうだ。それから、はじめてアパートに住むことだ。寮に住んだことがあるけど、その経験と比べたら、毎日二食事、いくつかほかの経費や用事は私のために扱われたみたいだった。今、大体全部を、特に食事を、自分でしなければならない。その解決はレストランに行くことと弁当を買うことと、一番安い(かな?)料理。今まで、それはおかしい冒険になったけど、結局に、いつか、ひどく苦手じゃなくなる希望を持っている :P

I don’t have many yet, but here are some pictures of my new home.



This is the view from my front door, to the right.






Have a little country with your city. Or is it a little city with your country? Probably depends on what you’re comparing it to.





A local shrine.



Japanese English. Also known as Engrish! Heh heh, if you think this is funny, I’ve got more coming…


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Eyes to the Skies 目を空に

10! 9! 8! I feel like I’m in one of those steam-punk sci-fi movies where something catastrophic is about to happen, and I’m flying out via a homemade space contraption. I scramble about the ship, scrounging for parts, pushing buttons, leaping over seats. Time is short.



7! 6! Will I make it? Computers beep at me. Meters are off. I make some last minute repairs. I leap over the seat again. There’s something about leaping over the seat that seems both in a hurry and really cool. Screw in a bolt here, pull a lever there. Seconds blur into days into months.


5! 4! I’ll make it. My best friend helped me with the ship. Lots of friends actually. And I trust them all. I’ll make it. I’m getting there! Tighten another screw, hop over the seat one more time. So much excitement, but no time to stop and revel in it. Gotta be ready when this thing takes off!

5!4! 間に合う。大親友が応援してくれたんだ。たくさんの友達、じっさいは。そして、みんなその友達に信用している。間に合う。着いている!もう一つの螺子を捩 じて、もう一回座席を飛び越す。とっても興奮しているけど、その興奮をとどまる時間がない。この宇宙船の発進の前に準備しなきゃいけない!

3! 2! 1! I strap myself in. I watch the lights, hear the beeps, feel the rumbles, let it all unfold before me for just a moment. Takeoff. Peace in the chaos. Where endings and beginnings meet. Engine churning, thrusters burning, eyes to the skies, hope is in the air! I’m getting there.


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