Nov 19, 2015

September: Ups & Downs

September was another busy month, though things had settled down a lot compared to August. Work geared up, I had sports day at my junior high school, traveled during silver week, and went though my first rough patch in Japan.

I started teaching actual classes with the start of the new semester, rather than work simply consisting of desk warming and a bit of lesson planning here and there. Not only was I giving self introduction lessons and jumping into course material, but my 'spare time' was often fully occupied with various things around the school. September at junior high schools in Japan is crazy busy. Not only are there regular classes and exams, but the whole school is preparing for Sports Day.

Sports Day, called "Undou-kai" or "Taiku-kai", is a huge deal here. One of the most important event of the school year. The students and teachers take it very seriously and work extra hard in the weeks approaching the big day. It was common for me to come into work to find out one or two of my classes had been moved or cancelled to make room for practice. The girls have mass dances and flag routines that they perform, and the boys do Kumi-taiso, which is a form of traditional gymnastics. On top of that the students are practicing for various sporting events and contests that will also take place. I didn't have much involvement in Sports Day, but I tried to take every opportunity to watch practices and take part any way I could.

I have to say, it really helped build the connection with my students. Being at their practices, even if I never spoke to them, they could see me there and see that I was cheering them on. On Sports Day itself, I walked around and talked with students who weren't in an ongoing event. It was a really great experience. This was also my first time experiencing sports day in Japan, which I had heard and read lots about, but its really amazing to see in person. The only thing I can compare it to back home is some mixture of a military drill event and track and field competition combined into one, with a scattering of dancing, drumming, and a marching band throughout. Sadly I don't have any pictures to share, due to the strictness of privacy rules here as a teacher.

Sports Day is also a big day for the teachers, and once the day is all said and done the teachers like to let loose and relax with a big drinking party, sometimes called a "nomi-kai" or "enkai". This was my first nomikai with all my co-teachers, though I had been to a super casual one with the 3rd year (grade 9) teachers in August. These are amazing events, and really a great way to get to know your coworkers. Its a completely different environment to the office, and alcohol goes a long way in breaking down language barriers.

The next day after my schools Sports Day and the Nomikai was the start of silver week. Silver week is kinda like golden week, which occurs yearly in late April/early May, but silver week is less common and is more of a recent thing in the past few years.

I was invited to join a good friend whom I met and lived with in Kamloops a number of years ago and her family for their trip. I headed to Chiba where she and her family live, and stayed with them for one night. Her dad is a police officer here in Japan, so the day I arrived he invited us down to the station and they let me see the cars and bikes. It was super cool!

The next day we drove to Nagano for the purpose of seeing another friend whom we both knew from Kamloops. His family owns a Soba restaurant, so we went to check it out and to see him even if only briefly. The food was amazing, and he was surprised to see me, as he didn't know I was joining my other friend for silver week.

It was evening when we left the restaurant. My friend, her dad and her mom had been switching off on driving all day, and we still drove most of the night as we headed to Fukushima and lake Inawashiro. We made little stops here and there, but made it to Fukushima early the next morning. The plan was to meet up with my friends jet ski "team", which is really just a group of families that all are friends through jet skiing, and to spend the day hanging out, BBQ-ing and of course jet skiing. 

The lake was really beautiful, and jet-skiing was a blast!

The BBQ was also really fun! 

Group photo!! 

After spending the day at the lake, we all drove to a cabin that had been booked nearby. We made dinner and hung out there for the night. A few of us went to an onsen/sento as well to wash up and relax. When we came back a bunch of the adults sat around drinking and chatting. It was really fun, and though no one except my friend really spoke English, they were really welcoming and friendly to me, and did their best to talk to me even with my poor Japanese skills.

The next day we all headed mostly our separate ways, though we did drive and make a few stops for lunch and such as a convoy together. My friend and her parents drove me back to Chiba, where we went for dinner and had a quiet night. The next day me and my friend headed into Tokyo, where we had appointments to get our hair done and hung out together until I finally had to catch my train back to Kobe.

This is turning into a really long post, but I will touch on one last thing. August was amazing, and while September was also amazing and had lots of fun and eventful things happen, it also saw my first truly "difficult" time in Japan. 

Before I left, I was struggling with my current relationship. The relationship itself was going fine, but a lot of my personal feelings about it had changed. I thought about things before I left, but eventually decided to leave them as is. August I was too busy and excited and still in 100% honeymoon mode, so I never thought about it much. But with September bringing routine and some settling down, it also brought all my worries and concerns about that relationship back to the front of my mind. I struggled with what to do for a number of weeks, and finally decided to break the relationship off, which didn't go as planned or very well on the other persons part. I felt like a really crappy person, which made me fall in and out of little slumps through the rest of September and into part of October. I'm mostly over it now, after talking to a lot of friends and just coming to terms with the fact that I did it for my own reasons, and even though I may have hurt the other person, there wasn't much else I could do in my case aside from carry on and pretend to feel differently than I really did. 

Things are a lot better now, but the honeymoon phase is over for the most part. Luckily I haven't hit any other really troubling parts of my adjustment yet - here's hoping it stays that way!