Week 5

I made a new game for the basic group this week, called “TV Game Show,” which I started describing in a previous blog. How it works is that I’m the TV Game Show Host, and I pick a category like jobs, Disney characters or Singers. Next, I whisper a person from that category into each players’ ear. They will take on this identity during the game, but they must keep it a secret from the other players. The game begins by me asking the same question to each player, which they answer as their identity. For example, if the category is Disney, I might ask, “are you a person or an animal?” “What clothing do you wear?” “Who are your friends?” “Where do you live?” After each round, I give students an opportunity to guess the identity of the other players. The goal of the game is to guess other people’s identity before they guess yours.

The fluffiest pancakes I have ever eaten in my life

I noticed a few things as I played this game, for example the category “jobs” was very difficult for the students. They had a much easier time with Disney characters and singers, especially since I gave them singers they were familiar with like Ariana Grande, Twice and Black Pink. If I played this game again, I would not use the “jobs” category. Something else I noticed was that, originally, I penalized students for a wrong guess because I didn’t want students to keep throwing out random guesses until they figured out who their peers were. To avoid that, if a student guessed wrong, they had to answer two questions the next round. One round, after asking who wanted to guess, one students said, “I want to guess, but I’m afraid of being wrong! I don’t want to answer two questions.” This changed my perspective, and explained why students weren’t making any guesses. After she said that, I changed the rule where you could make multiple guesses without a penalty, which helped the game and took some pressure off. This relates to the last article, “Best Practices for Teaching the Whole Adult ESL Learner” because it allowed my students to capitalize on their experience. They know about K-pop bands and popular singers, so this game allowed them to speak about something they were comfortable about. Since I was unfamiliar with this music, I researched ahead of time, by listening to a few albums by the K-pop bands to become familiar with what they listen to (my junior high school students told me everything to listen to).

I have recently been having a hard time with students who really struggle in the chat room. I don’t know what to do with them. Sometimes when I ask a student a question, they will pause for about fifteen seconds, make a few sounds to show they’re thinking, think some more, begin a sentence then stop, etc. I don’t know if I should wait and give them a chance to answer or if that is making them extremely nervous and it would be better to skip over them and come back to them later. I don’t want to skip over people because they come to the chatroom to learn, but also I don’t want to scare people into never coming back. My students here are slow to answer questions to begin with; unlike American students who often begin answering the question before they have thought about their answer, students here think about what they want to say and how they want to say it before speaking. The rest of the people in the group are almost always patient, and wait in silence for the person speaking to collect their thoughts and speak. After talking to my professor from IWU, she told me that this is a common problem for teachers and that I need to go on my gut instinct. If the students seems to be really nervous, maybe skip over them and come back, otherwise allow them time to think and speak. My advisor also recommended partner work, which I already do very often because it takes the pressure off the student; instead of talking to a whole group, they are only talking to one other person, so it is lower stakes if they make a mistake.

A wall of imitation food. Restaurants can buy this to showcase what their food looks like

My article for this week was called “12 Ways to Support ESL Students in the Mainstream Classroom.” Since I’m in a language building and not a mainstream classroom, this didn’t all apply to me, but it was good information nonetheless. It offered suggestions like “make it visual,” “group work,” “research the cultural backgrounds of students,” “teach the students to take themselves less seriously,” and “the teacher must always take the students seriously.” I think I have already been doing all these things, and it offered good ideas for ESL students in a classroom like, “pre-teach” where you send students information like powerpoints and videos early so they have a chance to read them ahead of time, “honor the silent period,” which some students have where they hardly speak at all for fear of making a mistake at the beginning and “beware of culturally unique vocab” like “juke box” or “clothing rack.”

Exploration: Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Onsens. Are. The. Best. They are huge public baths with different pools for hot water, lukewarm water, cold water, and water with different healing minerals. Sometimes you can go in an outdoor bath, and depending on the onsen it can be a full spa experience with restaurants, massages, and everything relaxing. We went to one other onsen near Kamakura, but this one was like an onsen theme park.

For about $25, you entered the onsen, and you could pick which yukata (robe) you wanted to wear (there were six options for men and women each). Everyone had to wear a yukata. Next, you went into the locker room and changed into your yukata and took off your shoes. When you locked your locker, the key was a bracelet that you wore around your wrist so you wouldn’t lose it. When you moved out of the locker room, you reached onsen paradise! It was like a small city with decorations, restaurants, games, ice cream, wine, beer, palm reading, arcades, massages… anything that is fun and relaxing, they had. And since all your possessions were kept in your locker, you scanned the barcode on your key bracelet to pay for anything you wanted and then it was charged to your account at the end. It was truly my happy place.

After some sparkling wine, we split up into our onsens (one for men and one for women). Here, you had another room to lock up your yukata and grab a towel, because you go all natural in the onsen. You must shower before entering the bath, but afterward, you can stay in the baths as long as you want, change baths, go back out to buy more snacks or drinks and repeat. I could have spent a whole week there. I had everything I needed.

Exploration: Sagamihara campus

It was beautiful, spacious, and quiet. Aoyama Gakuin has two campuses, but I stay at the Shibuya campus, so Dareana and Caleb took me to see the other one. It was a trek to get there, about and hour and a half on the train, but the campus was very spread out compared to the Shibuya campus. There was grass, flowers planted in certain areas, a full organ in the chapel, a two-floor cafeteria and a stream with a waterfall and a statue!!

Exploration: Yokohama

New friends! Dareana met Juka and Miyu at the Sagamihara campus, and we were able to spend the day with them on Sunday. They were so kind and we were able to see a lot together in Yokohama. Yokohama is a port town, and it was amazing to overlook Tokyo Bay. We got to the Ramen Cup Museum right as it closed, so we were not able to do that, but we were able to visit the historic twin red brick buildings. These buildings were originally warehouses built in 1911 and 1913, but are now non-operational and have been reclaimed into becoming a shopping mall with restaurants.

One of the two historic Red Brick Buildings

After shopping, we passes an amusement park on our way to dinner, right between the Red Brick Buildings and the train station. There was a huge ferris wheel and a few rollercoasters, which the others rode while I waited in safety and comfort on the ground.

After an all-American dinner at Shake Shack, our friends wanted to take a picture in the photo-booths that alter your appearance to make you look extra-cute (see first photo). It was only about four dollars to take five photos and edit them with stickers, glitter and filters.

Week 4

This week, Dareana, Caleb and I held an American cultural event in the chat room. After thinking about what we could do, we finally decided to do a dance event. What’s more American than the Cha Cha Slide?! So, that’s what we taught them. We figured this was a perfect cultural exchange, because everyone at home knows the Cha Cha slide, and it’s a good listening exercise because the song tells you what to do. This event was for college students, and it lasted about 40 minutes during their lunch period, so we figured this would be an active activity that we could teach them in time (in order to go over the steps with them and learn the whole dance). We baked rice krispy treats and cake pops as snacks.

Students loved the food. They were very appreciative that we baked it ourselves, and my favorite comments about the food include, “Is this a traditional American food?” and “I tried the rice cake!” (referring to rice krispy treats). Many students had never seen or heard of either food.

The students learned the dance easily, and I saw them smiling and laughing as they danced. This relates to the article I read for this week called “Best Practices for Teaching the Whole ESL Learner” because the article says that language needs to be a balance of meaning and form, and to do this activity, they had to listen to the “commands” in the dance (clap your hands, right foot let’s stomp, etc.) and perform the meaning. This follows the holistic approach of teaching because it integrates all aspects of learning, from listening to moving to being in a community. I think students will remember these commands better by doing this activity than sitting down and writing “clap your hands” twenty times.

I incorporated some ideas from the article “Nine Drama Activities for Foreign Language Classrooms: Benefits and Challenges” into my lesson like the countless scene. For this game, I wrote out a short, meaningless scene (we need to go, okay, what’s wrong, nothing, fine), and asked two students to come up with a relationship and a place they needed to go. I didn’t listen as they figured out their idea, then I had them “perform” it for me (just sitting and reading) and I tried to guess what they chose. I figured out that they were a mother and child son, and that they were in a hurry, but I didn’t know exactly where they were going. They tried it again, and the girl mimed grabbing toys and putting them in her bag as she spoke. I couldn’t exactly guess and so they told me they were going to grandma’s house, which made sense. I think this was a fun, new activity that allowed them to think creatively and use the intonation of their voice and miming in order to make meaning.

We went to the tea ceremony club at the jr. high school, where the students performed the traditional tea ceremony for us. The rules for serving tea at a tea ceremony are very precise (for example, how you walk, what you say, what order you must serve the tea and sweets), so the teacher sat next to us and corrected students if they forgot something or did it wrong. I enjoyed watching how specific the movements were, and tasting the tea they made us. The students were very focused when they came into the tea room, but as soon as they walked out they went back to singing and jumping around behind the door.

Exploration: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Musem

We visited this museum which is in Ueno. Ueno would be a great place to spend a lot of time because there is an area that has many museums right next to each other and a zoo! There is the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Royal Museum, National Museum of Western Art, and the Shitamachi Museum. We were only able to visit the one museum, but there was also a large Filipino outdoor festival with food tents and a Queen impersonator performance.

At the art museum, we saw a huge exhibit from Gustuv Klimt. There were four floors dedicated to paintings and sketches. We saw the painting “Judith and the Head of Holofernes,” “The Three Ages of Woman,” and my favorite, a collection of paintings called “Beethoven Frieze.” The “Beethoven Frieze” paintings were painted on the walls of a building where Klimt took part in the Succession building in Austria for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition in 1902.

(I did not take these pictures, they’re courtesy of Google images). The museum was very crowded, so I wasn’t able to see all the paintings, but the paintings I did see were beautiful. He uses a lot of gold leaf in his paintings, and some had gems attached to them, too. I read at the museum that he never painted a self-portrait and instead enjoyed painting women. He never married, but fathered at least fourteen children, mostly from relationships he had with the models he was painting.

Monica and Ian came to visit us for the weekend (also Lizette, not pictured)! They are also in Japan because of the Freeman Asia Internship.

On Sunday, we visited an art/ antique outdoor market. With over 200 vendors, they sold everything from jewelry to yukatas to posters to tea sets. I bought a few posters and jewelry which I found for a reasonable price, but there were also items that cost over $200. We went right at the end of the market, but I was able to zip through and see everything I wanted to see before the vendors packed up their tents.

Week 3

I can’t believe we’re halfway through our internship. There is so much more I want to do in Japan, but I also feel like I have grown so much since I arrived. I have learned so much about Japanese food, culture, shopping, places and people in three weeks, and I can’t wait to learn more in the rest of my time.

This week at school, we did a lot of observations and self-introductions. On Monday and Tuesday, the majority of our day was spent in the high school, presenting a powerpoint about our lives in America. The powerpoint included the slides: My Background, Illinois Wesleyan University, My Course of Study, College Life, IWU and International Students, and Future Plans. We presented this powerpoint to three high school classes and introduced ourselves to another two classes. After introducing ourselves, the rest of the class was spent breaking into three groups so the students could ask us questions. It didn’t feel very helpful to spend their entire class talking about ourselves, but I think they wanted to show examples of American culture to the students.

We didn’t get to see the huge Buddha in Kamakura (it was closed), but we found this smaller version at Asakusa!

Observations about the high school:

Big classes! An average classroom is 36-40 students. I’m so impressed with the teachers for being able to focus those students and teach them something.

High school students in Japan are so similar to high school students in America. They are full of energy, hallways are packed with students laughing and talking to friends, they have lockers in the hallway (although they were plastic instead of metal), and they talk while the teacher is talking in class.

Uniforms. Both public and private schools have uniforms, though they are slightly different from school to school and depending on the level of school (elementary is different from high school uniforms). For girls, usually a white shirt with a black/navy pleated skirt and shoes with long black socks. For boys, a white shirt with pants. The elementary students have bucket hats or woven straw hats with their uniform.

On Wednesday, we observed the junior high school, and were able to sit in on two different english classrooms. Neither of the teachers were Japanese, and they both used teaching methods that were familiar to me. The basic structure for the first teacher was a lecture, and for the second teacher, it was a lecture with students interaction, then a speaking assignment that they worked on with partners and switched two times, so they had three times to practice the speaking assignment, which would be their speaking test the next week. The students in this classroom were very attentive to the teacher, I think that the more interactive and active a classroom can be, the better, especially for young students. It is difficult to sit and listen for a 45 minute long class without moving or participating. Both teachers would correct students who were not paying attention, either by walking closer to the student, patting a student who had his head down on the desk, or turning a student’s body from backwards talking to a friend, to forward where the teacher was standing. One of the teachers started the class by greeting the students and bowing to them, then had all the students stand up, greet him and bow in return. This seemed like a daily routine that he used to start the class; I liked it! It fostered a mutual respect between teacher and student.

Someone walking through the caves at the Hasedera Temple

We also recorded listening tests at the Jr. High School, which was fun. Usually the listening test is the two teachers we observed speaking, but the teacher wanted the students to hear different voices, so we read printed exams for an hour. We had to speak very slowly and clearly so the students would be able to understand us. We joked about reading the listening tests in different accents, and the teacher told us that the students can’t hear the difference between accents, and wouldn’t be able to hear a difference between an American, British or Irish accent.

Thursday was a similar situation where we introduced ourselves to students again. This time we were in the college, and had to visit eight different classes in the span of two hours. How that breaks down is that we went to eight rooms for fifteen minutes each then had three to five minutes to find the next building and the right classroom within the building; it was a packed afternoon. In these classrooms, some teachers wanted us to give an example “book talk,” where two people have a conversation about two books they just read. We had to include: the book title, author, summary, one thing we liked about the book and one thing we didn’t like about the book. After talking too fast and completely confusing the first class, a teacher told us repeat what the other person had said so the students have two opportunities to hear the answer (ex. Person A: I just read the book The Woman in Cabin Ten. Person B: Wow! The Woman in Cabin Ten sounds like an interesting title. What is it about?). Other classes did not want us to give a book talk, but instead talk about our lives in America and give the class an opportunity to ask us questions.

I am excited to get back to working with students and talking about them, and learning about their lives and beliefs instead of presenting mine.

In my article this week, 9 Drama Activities for Foreign Language Classrooms (Dunbar, 2012), it commented that, “learning is acquired through experience,” and theater in the classroom can create small experiences in which students can practice! I think being a teacher is all about performing; you want to engage your students, draw their attention, and make them ask questions. I have already been using some of these tactics, like games to warm-up in the chat room, but this article gave me new ideas to try next week! Some examples that I think would work well in the chat room include: role-play, where I give each student a “character” like teacher, businessperson, or doctor, one environment like grocery store, and ask them questions that they have to answer like their character. At the end of the period, I’ll ask the students to try to guess each other’s character. This combines role-play with simulation because I’m giving them a certain environment that they have to pretend to be in during the activity.

Pinwheel wall

Another idea I liked from this article is readers theater. This could be a short script that I find online or one that I write and bring in to have students read out loud. Since they have time to look over what they will be saying, readers theater is a good way to practice emphasis and emotion. We wouldn’t be able to do anything too active where they stand up and move around, because we are confined to a small area, usually with about five other chat sessions happening at the same time, so I don’t want to distract the other groups by using the space in the middle of the room.

Finally, I think small skits would work well! An idea that I want to try is a “countless scene,” which is a short scene that has no meaning. For example, it might look like this:

A: What are you doing?

B: Nothing. Why?

A: No reason.

B: Oh, okay.

A: Ready to go?

B: Almost ready.

They can have countless different meanings depending on the scenario because they’re so vague. It would be up to the director or the partners to come up with two different characters, the environment they are in, and what they are talking about (ex. a husband and wife who just had a fight, two high school students who are going to a concert after school), because that would drastically change how the words are said.

Exploration: Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine

Yoyogi Park is right next to Harajuku. We went after school, and were not able to walk around the full park before it closed, but we made it to the Meiji shrine in the middle! It took about 20 minutes to walk from the entrance to the shrine. This park was heavily forested so that it felt like you were completely outside of the city because you couldn’t see the skyscrapers all around you.

Exploration: Kamakura

These photos are all from the Hasedera Temple (Buddhist). Kamakura has countless shrines, and we were only able to visit one, but it was so beautiful. In the main temple, there was a golden figure that was about forty feet tall. It was breathtaking. This temple ground also had a cave full of other figures carved into the cave (the second photo). You could crouch and walk through the tunnels of the cave (with very low ceilings) and see alcoves for other deities.


Exploration: Asakusa

There were many women wearing Yukatas (summer kimonos) walking around Asakusa. These can be bought for a reasonable price, and look so beautiful as people are walking around the grounds. There was a huge shopping district here, also, right when you exit from the train station. It is one street of shopping, we explored about five blocks of it, and it kept going after that, I’m not sure how much farther.

You walk out of the train station into this huge street of shopping

There were many soft-serve ice cream stores with vanilla, matcha, melon and ramune (soda) flavor ice cream. There were also many rotating sushi restaurants, where sushi is rotated on a conveyer belt and you grab the kind you want to eat. We heard people screaming as the rode the still-functional rides on the oldest amusement park in Japan, which was near the temple. It is called Hanayashiki and has been operating since 1853!

Oldest amusement park in Japan

Week 2

This week was packed with chat sessions! My favorite activity is playing games with the elementary school students because they are so energetic and say such funny things. For example, I was playing a word game with the students where you have a barrel with Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) and you put swords in it until Stitch pops out. To have the students speak English, I chose a category (ex. foods, countries, colors) and they had to say a word from that category before putting a sword in the barrel. One round, I chose the category “bugs,” and, with a confused look on her face, one girl said “baby?” I tried not to crack up laughing! Then I chose a different category…bugs were apparently not very familiar.

Another game I like to play with the elementary school students is Telephone. I whisper a word or short phrase to one student, then they whisper it to the next student, and to the next until it comes back to the beginning. They have to repeat what they heard, and sometimes it is what I whispered, but more often it is some jumbled version of what I said.

A post-work snack from the bakery in the train station!

One challenge that I have faced with the elementary school students is finding games that are the appropriate level for them. For example, when I brought the barrel game and asked students to say a word from a category, that was very easy for them– maybe too easy for their level. Yet when I brought a more challenging game like Apples to Apples, and explained the rules by showing them examples, they were very confused. I’m not sure if they didn’t understand the rules of the game since I said it in English, or if they would be able to play it if someone told them the rules in Japanese. It is up to me to choose a game from a cabinet of games to bring to the elementary school, so it is difficult to figure out what kind of games are the right level for them, which still involve speaking and listening to English.

Perhaps I could modify games to make them a little more challenging by setting a time limit per round, splitting the group up into teams and making it a competition, or bringing in different games that are more challenging like word repetition games or using a whiteboard and making games with a whiteboard. In the article “Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners,” the fourth strategy is metacognition and authentic assessment, which means paying close attention to who is excelling and who is struggling with a task. When playing Boggle Jr. with my students, they played it as a group, all helping each other figure out the word and how to spell it. Almost all the students were engaged except two boys who were distracted because they were tickling and poking each other, or joking about the game. Upon reflection, if this happens again, I could split the two boys up in the circle. The fact that they were joking about the game signals to me that it was too easy for them, and I should challenge them more. I only have about 15 minutes with each group, though, so the game cannot take more than 15 minutes to explain and play before I rotate groups.

I think it would help me to ask the elementary school teachers more about the students’ abilities and interests to find a game better suited for them. Strategy five of the article mentions capitalizing on students’ interests, and so far I am not very familiar with their interests.

In the chat room, I have started playing more games at the beginning of the session, like a category game where you have to think of a word from a category or telephone (almost the same as with the little kids)! This is a good icebreaker for the students, because especially with the college students and when they are in a larger group of people (max. 6 people), they are hesitant to speak up, unless I ask them a direct question. I want the chat room to be more of a conversation between all the people in the group, instead of interview-style, where I ask one person a question, they answer, I ask the next person a question, they answer, and so on. Playing a game at the beginning takes the pressure off the students, allows them to laugh at themselves and at others and allows me to show that everyone messes up, so they don’t have to be afraid to make a mistake during the chat session. Sometimes I purposefully mess up in the game to show that I make mistakes too, so they don’t have to be nervous to practice speaking.

I am so impressed by the intrinsic motivation of the college students. I often ask students why they want to learn English, and the most common response I hear is, “because I have to.” Learning English is not a fun elective class like Spanish was for me, it is the key to having a successful future and career. Hearing this over and over makes me feel very humbled because I have been able to visit Japan only knowing a small amount of Japanese, but if the roles were reversed, students would not have such an easy time. It seems unfair that they work so hard to learn English, while I can speak English and many people and places accommodate for that here. I really admire my students’ work ethic and am so impressed by all of their English skills.

We love milk tea with boba

Something that works well in the chat room with college students is the sixth strategy– modeling, graphic organizers and visuals. Each station has a white board, so I always write down students names so I can refer to them personally (even though I work with so many students and don’t often see the same people). If I say a word that students don’t recognize, I write it down on the whiteboard and sometimes they know the word and just couldn’t understand my pronunciation, or sometimes they don’t know the word and I explain it to them. When explaining new words or ideas, I find it helpful to draw little pictures to explain.

Another difficulty in the chat room is getting quieter students to talk. For example, one student in a group of six was very quiet, and even when I called on her by name to ask a question, she would take a long time to think about her answer and then say a few words of response. In one case, we were talking about smells that people like, and she didn’t know the word for something so I gave her the marker and she drew an orange blossom flower (this worked well, but it did not require much speaking). The other students in the group were very patient, they did not laugh or talk while she was thinking, they looked and waited for her to answer. Perhaps she does not have the tools she needs to communicate her ideas, and maybe I could prepare a list of words on the white board that could be used for the day’s topic. I have learned to be very patient and wait while students are thinking how to translate their answer, and to wait a good few seconds after a student has finished speaking before I speak, because many times they have more to say if I don’t cut them off. I want the students to have as much time as possible to practice speaking, not just one or two turns per session. I use a lot of partner work and a LOT of encouragement.

Exploration: Harajuku

Image 1: The inside of Tokyu Plaza, an extravagant entrance to a mall. This is in Omotesando, which is a $$$$ shopping district. We walked past Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, etc. Things we can’t afford.

Image 2: Crepes in Harajuku! I had a strawberry, banana, chocolate ice cream crepe for about 600 yen! They had flavors with fruit, ice cream, cheesecake, but also some interesting ones with tuna salad and pizza toppings…

Image 3: Takeshita Dori (Street)! This is the entrance to Harajuku; a street that is famous for its counter-culture, cosplay (or costume play, where people dress up like manga characters), and as a junior high teacher explained it to me, “everything pink, plastic and fantastic.” We didn’t see anyone dressed up in cosplay, but it was still a fun area to explore! We want to go back there later to explore a park nearby called Yoyogi Park, which includes the Meiji shrine inside!

Exploration: Palette Town

We went to a digital art museum called Team Lab: Borderless, which was so fun and unique! This museum uses technology to project art on the walls, floor and ceiling of all the rooms, from waves, to flowers to waterfalls and bamboo shoots. There are no maps, so you wander from room to room on your own. Interestingly, though, the art on the walls change, so you cannot rely on what a room looks like to find your way back. Some of the walls were interactive, for example, there was a hallway with projections of animals made out of flowers, and if you rubbed the wall, the animal would purr!

Other rooms were made of mirrors; the walls, floor and ceiling, so it looked like the exhibit went on forever (like the lamps in image 3 above). There was a climbing wall, but instead of a wall it was all poles that you climbed between, a galaxy trampoline (where the more you jumped, the brighter the projection of the star became that you were jumping on) and swings that moved as you walked on them (they were only about 6 inches off the ground, but there were projections of the galaxy moving on the ground so it was spatially disorienting)!

We went to the museum at 12-3, which was a perfect time because it wasn’t very crowded, then spent the rest of the day exploring the area. We rode a ferris wheel (see image 1 above), went to 2 different malls (one was built to look like an Italian villa), ate matcha ice cream, and called it a day.

The Italian villa mall- notice the ceiling is painted with a sky to look like you’re outside. They also had street lamps and metal benches.

Exploration: Naruko Tenjinsha Shrine

We discovered this shrine accidentally after wandering around where we live! The shrine was created in 1894, burned down during the war and rebuilt in 1966. From a pamphlet I picked up at the shrine, it explains,

“Enshrined deity: Michizane Sugawara

Naruko Tenjinsha has over 1,100 years of prosperous history. The area was called Kashiwagimura Naruko, and Daijingu, Grand Shrine precincts… once stood here with magnificent pine and kshiwas trees.

In 903 (Engi 3), during the Heian period, Michizane Sugawara passed away in Dazaifu, on the island of Kyushu.

His vassals Saeki and Saiguu learned about his death while away in the Eastern region of Japan. They were devastated and brought back a statue curved by Michizane from Heiankyo to Kashiwagimura to honor him. In order to show respect for his extraordinary virtue, they created shrine precincts dedicated to Michizane as a Kami of Peace and Scholarship. Thus our shrine was established.”

The shrines seem less about religion or spirituality, and more about respect, good fortune, and peace. For example, the first image above are wishes written out and hung up. The pamphlet also says,

“5. Omikuji

After worshiping, you can make your wishes known to the Kami. While you pray fervently for your wishes, draw your omikuji (fortune slip). You can bring home the fortune if you wish.”

My Japanese teacher at home explained to me that many Japanese people would not consider themselves religious, it is more so that the religious practices are intwined with culture. Therefore, many practices are more of a cultural tradition than they are a religion.

Image 1: Tanuki- good luck animal (this one was placed outside of a restaurant)

Image 2: Shrimp tempura and miso soup!

Exploration: Hama-rikyu Gardens

I was so excited to find some nature! These gardens were actually a recommendation from one of my adult residents who comes to Chat Room. She brought in a map of all of Japan, and then asked me if I like gardens. After I said yes, she gave me a pamphlet for these gardens, saying, “You should go here! Here’s their pamphlet, it’s in English for you!” S/O for the idea, it was so relaxing!

According to the pamphlet from my resident, this garden was the family garden of the Tokugawa Shogun and outer fort of the Edo castle. Built in 1654 by the fourth shogun, it was known as the “Beach Palace,” and was used for duck hunting and relaxation. Parts of the garden (including buildings) had to be rebuilt after wartime, but 300 year old pines and many other parts survived.

The price to enter the garden was 300 yen (about $3), and we spent about an hour here, which was not enough time to see the whole garden, but enough time to feel rejuvenated. My favorite part of the garden, though, was the tea ceremony! This is what I had been waiting for! So delicious. It wasn’t the traditional tea ceremony where someone serves you in a very specific way, but it was still amazing. There were rules to eating and drinking, though. See the sheet below.

Matcha green tea and a red bean filled sweet

I am content.

Week 1

A day in the life looks like this:

6:30 Wake up and get ready for school. Eat breakfast (usually cereal or some pastry from a convenience store I got the day before), get dressed, do my hair and makeup.

7:20 Leave for the bus stop. I stopped taking the train because it hurt my knees to stand for that long (roughly a 40 minute commute) and I was nervous I would be knocked over because of the crowd. Mari and Haruna helped me figure out the bus schedule, where I can sit the whole ride! It is much less crowded, there is air conditioning, and it only adds about 15 minutes to my commute.

8:50 Arrive at the Chat Room!

9:00- 16:30 Depending on the day, have multiple chat room sessions (anywhere from a half hour to an hour of facilitating conversations), visit the elementary school or middle school classrooms, have chat sessions with the middle school, or have chat sessions with the elementary school.

16:30+ Done with work, do something around Shibuya like shop around or eat dinner as to avoid the congestion on the commute home. Go home.

So far, my favorite part of the internship is talking with the students, which is helpful because that is the majority of my job! The elementary students are full of energy, and run around the hallways in between periods. In the 5th grade classroom I observed, they were starting a new lesson on the solar system, where they did a listening activity, learned vocabulary words like “star,” “planet,” “shiny,” “space,” etc. Then, they worked on practicing their self introductions (“Hello, my name is _____, my favorite class is _______, my favorite food is _________, I’m in the __________ club.”).

The sixth grade classroom was working on catching up on work before they left for a sixth grade trip. They were working on reading a paragraph out loud about a friend in the Philippines and memorizing The Lord’s Prayer. I helped students memorize, and listened to them read the paragraph, helping them sound out words when they were stuck.

During one period, I entered the classroom before the teacher, and the entire class whipped their heads over to look at me before one student asked, “What’s your name?” I answered, and almost the entire class said “Hi Danielle!” and started clapping (without the teacher even in the room! So sweet!). I noticed how much time the teachers have to spend to focus the students or discipline students who are misbehaving, which seems very difficult. I have a lot of respect for these teachers, but I know I made the right choice for myself to choose a career with high school students.

The chatroom sessions that I think are most helpful for the students are the one-on-one sessions, which is me talking to one student for thirty minutes. This individualized attention seems to be very helpful for the students because they have my full attention and they do not have to compare their English level to anyone else. According to the article “Good Practice Principles in Practice: Teaching Across Cultures,” teachers should strive to respect diversity. I think I am doing an excellent job at respecting diversity because I am so excited to learn as much as I can about Japanese culture, and I learn so much from asking my students! For example, I learned that slurping noodles is considered polite, the masks people wear over their nose and mouth is usually for health (unless it is a black mask worn by a man, then it is for fashion, representing K-Pop), and that you should pick your bowl up when you eat, instead of bringing the chopsticks all the way from your bowl to your mouth. Another key point from this article is to create intercultural dialogue, which happens when I bring up my culture in relationship to what I am experiencing here, or if we have an exchange student in our group. I think I have been very encouraging and interested in what my students have to say, and patient in listening to their full thought before speaking (but I still need to improve on that).

We also have chat sessions with people from the community who can come in and practice speaking English, and I really enjoy talking with them because they are coming out of their way and making extra time in their schedule to visit the University to practice speaking. I have only had one community chat session so far, but I had two women who had so much life experience they wanted to share; from their families, to their travels around the world, to how one trained her two dogs in two different languages (one dog responds to English commands and one dog to German commands)! They make my job so easy because I am able to sit and listen to everything they have to share. In any group session, one thing I make sure to monitor is that people have equal opportunities to speak– I don’t want one person to hog all the time, nor do I want someone to slip under the radar and not have to speak!

A fun activity that we did with the Elementary school students was English Club. English club is playing board games with fifth and sixth graders, which is adorable and so fun. They were so invested in the game (Boggle Jr.) that they didn’t even realize they were learning vocab words and practicing how to spell! Games are always a great way into tricking students into learning. If you can spark a competition in students, they have a strong motivation to learn because they want to win. In the article “Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners,” it recommends metacognition and authentic assessment (not just memorization and tests), and games are a great way to notice which students are understanding and which students are struggling, instead of handing out a pop-quiz. Observing students is very important in order to give support to students who might slip behind.

Weekend Exploration: Akihabara

Woah. So much stuff. I feel like I would love Akihabara if I was into anime or technology, but I’m not really into either. I could appreciate it, but I didn’t geek out. Akihabara is a huge center for everything electronic, from old gaming systems, to arcades, to new technology. Video games, anime figurines, trading cards, bright lights, videos and music playing from everywhere– Akihabara has it!

My favorite parts of the day included eating (duh), and visiting a hedgehog cafe! I was told by one of my students that in Akihabara, I had to try taiyaki– a fish shaped bread with custard or sweet red bean paste inside. I took her suggestion, and it was delicious! I followed it with a matcha and coconut milk tea with boba. I found both of these restaurants in a tunnel right by the train station that was all filled with french patisseries. Not what I was looking for, but delicious! For dinner, I had cold noodles with chicken.

The hedgehog cafe was soul-healing. We paid 1,500 yen (about $15) to hold hedgehogs for an hour, and the cafe also had one rabbit and two owls! This price included free drinks of coffee, tea, juice, chocolate milk, water, etc. 10/10 would recommend. We had one hedgehog almost escape out of his cage many times, which kept us alert!

Akihabara has a ton of shopping, and I didn’t want to buy anything (I’m only interested in food, experiences and clothes), so the 10+ floors of shopping at each store was a lot for me, but I’m glad I was able to experience it!

We’re Here!

After a two hour mechanical flight delay, one layover in Seoul, South Korea, and sixteen hours of flying, we arrived in Tokyo! We saw snow capped mountains upon our landing, which sparked excitement in me (despite the turbulence)! The airport was easy for us to figure out; we waited in line to pass through customs, grabbed our luggage, and bought a bus ticket to Shinjuku, where Haruna from Aoyama Gakuin University met us and brought us to the Sakura House office to finalize the paperwork for our housing. Next, we traveled to our apartment, set down our luggage, went to the train station to buy a passmo train pass, went to a supermarket to buy a towel, then finally settled in at home. I was so ready to take a shower and lay in bed. After trying to stay up late to synchronize my sleep schedule with Japan, I passed out at 9pm.

Bus ride from Narita Airport to Shinjuku– my first sights of Japan!

The next day was our first day at Aoyama Gakuin University for our orientation. Our internship is from 9am to 5pm every day, but for the orientation, we had the morning off and had to come to school by 1pm. Dareana, Caleb and I decided to go to school early and explore the area around school. We found lots of restaurants and shops, making sure to try onigiri (rice balls) at a restaurant and bubble milk tea from The Alley. We went to a bookstore at my request, where we read children’s books to practice our Japanese! Then time for school. At AGU, we met Mari, who explained our schedule, how chat room works, what makes a good chat leader, and common problems that chat leaders face. Our goal is to keep students talking to practice English as we talk as little as possible. We have a different theme of conversation everyday, from “Manners” to “Fashion” to “Would you rather…”, and we want students to feel encouraged and willing to speak. After going over everything with Mari, a student led us on a tour of the campus, then we took the extremely crowded train home to pick up Dareana’s luggage, which was being delivered to our apartment. Dareana and I found a delicious sushi restaurant near our apartment!

Initial impressions:

Fashion!! I love everyone’s outfits! The trends include wide legged pants, long skirts, loose tops, long sleeves, delicate jewelry, long jackets, flowy clothing.

Trains. You don’t talk on the train, and you don’t eat on the train. And they can be incredibly crowded. I was extremely overwhelmed taking a packed train.

Politeness. When buying something, the clerks will repeat “arigato gozaimasu” over and over, which means “thank you very much,” I also noticed a lot of nodding and small bows as a customer. As a student explained to me, “in Japan, customers are like a god”… very different from the mentality at home!