Tag Archive: japan

School Life

Well, school started on August 29th and since then I’ve inevitably fallen into the work, eat, sleep, repeat pattern that many of you are familiar with. There’s not a lot of time to do fun exciting things like climb Mt. Fuji anymore. But, I guess my school life is exciting enough by itself. Here’s a typical day for me:

After the usual morning stuff, I run out the door and jump on my bike. It’s about 10-20 minutes to my school depending where I’m going on a particular day. After I get to school, I get ready for my classes by printing worksheets, cutting/drawing materials, and finalizing lesson plans at the last minute. At my junior high, I mostly go to class, read from the textbook, and help with the communication activites by bringing a game/worksheet that involves that day’s grammar point. At the elementary schools, I’m responsible for the entire lesson. I usually have 4 classes a day, sometimes 5, which always leaves my throat dry from yelling things like “please listen!” “sit down!” and “stand up!”

And then there’s lunch time! Lunch is always interesting. Instead of the students going to a cafeteria, the students bring the food to each classroom and the kids turn their classroom into a mini cafeteria. Eight to ten people serve the food to the classmates, all of the desks are moved, and then we eat! Usually there is a pickled salad, rice, soup, and something to go with it, like meat, or bread, or both. I never look at the menu so I’m always surprised! I have to eat with chopsticks, which is easy with certain things and difficult with others. Also, the kids are encouraged to communicate with me the entire time. Sometimes I don’t get to eat much because I’m answering questions the whole lunch time. Other times (esp. at the junior high) the kids pretend I don’t exist so they don’t have to talk to me in English.

When the kids get done eating something amazing happens. Everyone in the school works together to clean! The floors are swept and scrubbed, chalkboards erased and washed, and the kids are doing it! I don’t think American schools realize they have an army of cleaning machines inside the classrooms. Unfortunately they’re not very thorough, and there are parts of the school that probably never get cleaned. Oh well.

After lunch I usually have 1 more class and then I’m finished. In my free time I either make lesson plans, or make more materials, or study Japanese, or sometimes I write letters. On my elementary days I stay after school to talk to the teachers about next week’s lesson plan so they know what is going on.

The best parts of my days are when I get to talk to the students or play with them or see them acting silly. The elementary kids are absolutely adorable and some of the junior high kids still have a little spunk in them leftover from elementary.

Then I go home. Thanks for reading!


Sunrise on Mt. Fuji

There’s a saying in Japan that goes like this: A wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once, a fool climbs Mt. Fuji twice.

So far I am a wise (wo)man!

After work on Friday, August 19 I hopped on my bike and rode over to the train station to meet with the other 20 people climbing Mt. Fuji that night. I brought my various pieces of gear with me: A complete snow suit, a sweater, hiking boots, a head lamp, 2 litres of water, a rain jacket, my DSLR camera, hat, gloves, and a ton of trail mix. After meeting all of my lovely hiking companions, we got in the cars and started driving to Yamanashi Prefecture, the home of Japan’s tallest mountain.

The car ride was unenventful until we finally made it to the mountain. Imagine this: A dark, drizzly night, wet pavement, and winding roads going up a mountain. Finally we made it to our starting point, the 5th Station. There are nine total stations, and then the summit.


This picture was taken the next day.

At the 5th Station most of us bought souvenir wooden walking sticks. The walking sticks not only help you up the mountain, but you are also able to get stamps burned into them at each station! I like the idea a lot and got a walking stick for about 1300 yen ($13). The 5th Station stamp looked like this:


Our plan was to start that night around 11:30 and climb until the sunrise at 5:00 am. At first the hike was not bad, mainly a lot of gravel, big steps, and some trees on the side. We reached the 6th station in a short amount of time.  Unfortunately, the 6th Station was quite small and was not giving out stamps. Then we started to ascend to the 7th Station. The climb got steeper, and the steps seemed endless. My new friend Laura and I named ourselves “Team Slow” and made the trip up with plenty of stops to rest and drink water. Remember, we were thousands of meters above sea level and the air was a lot thinner than we were used to! Thankfully, we did not feel the effects of altitude sickness at the early stages of climbing, or we would have had to go back down.

At the 7th station I got my next stamp:


So at this point the climb had mostly been peaches and cream, and I thought the rest of the way would be quite similar, just lots of gravel and steps. But I was wrong, so so so wrong. After the 7th Station the path was full of large rocks, going straight up into the sky. I can’t really describe what is was like to look up the mountain and watch the head lamps of other climbers navigating among the rocks for what seemed like miles and miles. We had to use our hands, walking sticks, chain ropes, and poles to drag ourselves up the rest of the way to the 8th Station. The worst part was when we saw a station in the distance, worked really hard to get to it, and then realized that it was just a bathroom stop with a lot of lights. We took a lot of breaks, sipping our water, eating fruit, nuts, and M&Ms,  and huddled in our jackets for warmth. It was also raining, so the rocks were slippery, the sky was dark (though we did get a glance of the moon and some stars toward the top), and the wind picked up very strongly. There were a couple times when I would look up the trail of rocks and hours of climbing and thought about just staying put until the morning. My motivating factor was the promise of the beauty of the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji, and also the fact that going down the rocks would be just as awful as going up them.

So I kept moving, holding onto Laura’s hand so we could pull each other up the rocks, all the while giving and receiving courage from other climbers. We heard things like “Ganbarou!” “Fight!” and of course we said “Sumimasen!” because we had a tendency to hold up the other climbers…

Then a miracle happened. We made it to the 8th Station at about sunrise. The view was not much to look at really, but for a couple of weary climbers the lightening of the sky meant that the climb was almost over. The goal was within reach. And, we stayed up all night to climb this *&%^%* mountain!


I think this is one of the better sunrise photos I got from the 8th Station.




My hiking partner Laura. What a work out!

At this point we could have continued to the summit, another 2 or so hours of hiking, but the air was getting to me and I didn’t feel like going up any further. Also, the people at the 8th station were not doling out the stamps! I was not happy. I waited for a while to get my stamp, but the wind was very cold and strong, and I was eager to get back down the mountain so I could sleep.

Ok, so I climb a mountain, got to 3100 meters, the hard part is over right? No! Because what must go up, must come down.

The side of the mountain kind of looked like this:


See all of those little red rocks? The path way down the mountain zig-zagged, back and forth, back and forth, all on those little red rocks. The way was a bit treacherous, because losing your footing was easy. I fell about 4 times, and scraped up my leg a little, but I didn’t feel bad, because everybody else around me was falling down as well. The way down seemed to last forever, but there were stops to rest and use the restroom thankfully. I snoozed a bit here and there, and rested as much as I needed. I soon learned that if I wasn’t walking or sitting, my legs would shake with the effort to stand up. I definitely was feeling the wear and tear of the mountain. After about 3 or so hours of hiking downhill, I made it back to the 5th station to meet the rest of the group.


Some very tired but happy hikers! Unfortunately not everyone was there for this picture.

So even after everything I went through, I might have to become a fool and climb it a second time! My goal is to make it to the top, take some beautiful pictures, and get every. single. stamp. Fight!

Until next year, Mt. Fuji.

Thanks for reading! Leave some feedback, would you climb Mt. Fuji?

August: The Month of Matsuri!

Happy Obon everyone!

The months of July, August, and September are big months for festivals, I’ve noticed. It seems like every weekend there’s a festival to go to. I’ve been rained out of two festivals so far, but I got some good pictures from the Yagibushi festival in Kiryu, Gunma last weekend.

The festival started off hot and humid. The streets of Kiryu were lined with food stalls. Popular items were fried chicken, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, shaved ice, chocolate covered bananas, among others. I tried yakimanjuu, the specialty of gunma. It was kind of like chewy bread on a stick… that’s the only way I can describe it. Every big intersection had a lantern lit platform where people could stand and sing, while on the ground dancers performed in front.





As it got darker, there were more people gearing up for the dancing portion of the festival.

I ate one of these:


It was filled with meat and very hot (temperature-wise). Also greasy.

All of the lanterns lit up at night. It was very pretty.


Then the singing and dancing started! I don’t think you can imagine what it was like from just a description I could give you, but luckily I have a video!

As you can see, it was very crowded! But fun. And yes, my fellow foreigners and I jumped in and danced too.

That’s one of many festivals in the area. I’m sure I’ll go to some more in September as well, especially the Maebashi Matsuri.

Coming soon: Gunma Orientation.

Thanks for reading!