More updates in preparation for new JETs

It’s May, meaning that our BOE will be confirming who Tochigi will take, and CLAIR will be sending out the exciting notifications of general prefectural placement! My attentions had been elsewhere away from working on the site for the past few months, but to prepare for incoming (so to speak), I will be putting more effort into revamping this site and making it more useful.

If you’re reading this, I assume it’s likely that you just got notified of your placement and are desperately looking for information about what it’s like in Tochigi as a JET. First, congrats! Second, feel free to browse the pages here, and also don’t hesitate to look at other prefectures’ pages–they tend have a wealth of information too! (Although have a discerning eye when determining whether it would be applicable to JETs outside that prefecture.)

Incoming JETs, also make sure you join our Tochigi JET Facebook group!

Recent & notable updates:

  • June 20
    • International Grocery Stores added under Utsunomiya
  • June 14
    • PA information updated
  • May 31
    • Updated “Advice” under JET Life
  • May 27
    • Added “Volunteering” information
  • May 26
    • Consolidated “Tips” page to “Travel” home.
  • May 20
    • Added “Tochigi City” and sub-page “Restaurants and Bars”
    • Added Restaurants and Bars pages to Kanuma and Shimotsuke
    • Created the “Tochigi JET Dictionary” under Learning Japanese
  • May 16
    • Changed tab interface to be more user-friendly (specifically rearranging the JET Life section)
    • Added Useful Articles and Japanese Classes in Tochigi section to Learning Japanese
    • Changed the Restaurants & Bars section of Utsunomiya
    • Added the Emergency Japanese document to Personal Safety



Website Relaunched!

Hello everyone!

This is Kelsey, your friendly, neighborhood CIR/(wannabe) Spiderman. I have finally been able to work through some of the glitches in this site (which I had been meaning to do for a few months now), so I am happy to say that this site will become useful once again for past, present, and future JETs! As it has been sitting for a couple years up till now, it will still take some time to get the rust wiped off and get it all shiny and like-new again, so bear with me! As usual, if you have any feedback, give me a shout!

Changes hitherto:

  • Tweaking the theme and format of the website in general
  • Addition of Online resources info for Learning Japanese
  • Online Resources for Daily Life
  • Addition of Tochigi JET Update
  • Meet your PA’s update
  • Books under Learning Japanese
  • Restaurants in Nasu-Shiobara, Yaita and Utsunomiya
  • Personal Safety
  • Japanese Classes in Tochigi under Learning Japanese
  • Apps under Learning Japanese (1/19)
  • Future JETs–Advice (1/21)
  • Travel–Prefectural page created (1/21)
  • Travel–Tips page created (3/7)


(PS: Even if you’ve already checked the above-mentioned pages, even since this post came out, they are still all works in progress–definitely keep checking back for more updates.)

National Sports & Recreation Festival Tochigi: Nov 5-8

Tomorrow marks the big opening of the huge 4-day event, the National Sports & Recreation Festival! It’s an annual sports event open to the public, and is hosted in a different prefecture each year. This year Tochigi-ken is the host, and the event has been highly publicized for almost a year and a half now. It’s also the reason Tochigi’s mascot Tochimaru-kun was born, and where we got our bubblegum J-Pop theme song “Hashire” from. (I’ve had to listen to the thing once a week over the loudspeakers at work for the past year and a half so I don’t want to think about it.)

Coppers can't get him down.

Official description: “The National Sports & Recreation Festival is an event aimed at promoting the enjoyment of sports and recreational activities by holding sporting events that include those not focused on winning or losing, and that anyone can participate in. The events allow participants to interact with one another, and has been rotating annually between prefectures nationwide since 1988.”

All the sports are split between separate dates and separate locations throughout the prefecture. Unfortunately, the information is only available in Japanese, and there is far too much to translate, so I will post the website and encourage you to get help from a friend to read the schedules, etc. if needed. (Some locations may also be difficult to access without a car.)

If I’m not mistaken, some games have teams that have signed up beforehand and are just exhibition games, and others will be open to the public. You’ll have to double check the info online.

Please check the homepage:
(Click on red button to see the schedule for that day. Information will be posted on the morning of.)

Hope to see you there!

Toyama International Charity Show

Toyama Prefecture, located roughly between Tochigi and Kyoto, runs an annual International Charity Show, managed entirely by JETs.

“Every year, the Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) in Toyama prefecture organize an International Charity Show to raise money for charity both locally and internationally while also giving back to the community that has welcomed them so hospitably. The first Charity Show was held in 1990, and 2011 marks its 21st anniversary.”

Click on the link to the Charity Show homepage for more information.

The event is a great chance for JETs to take initiative to manage and run events in the prefecture. It’s a win-win situation when considering both personal advantages (skills training, resume-building, great memories!) and community advantages (exposure to the international community, benefits from charity money, great memories!). Let’s take pride in our roles as ambassadors in Japan and give back to our second-home in Tochigi by planning a great event of our own!

What is Obon?

As Obon often coincides with summer vacation for ALTs, it’s common for the office to be especially empty during this summer holiday. But what exactly is Obon?

Travel Season

Obon is not a national holiday, but many people take vacations during this time to visit their hometowns. Mid-August is another peak travel season much like Golden Week in early May, so airports, train stations and highways are jammed with travelers. Travel expenses are also at peak price during this period.

Cultural Meaning

Obon is one of the most important traditions in Japan. People pray for the spirits of their ancestors, who they believe come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during Obon. For this reason, family gatherings are very important during this time, and many people return to their hometowns.

Post-Disaster Obon 2011

Asahi news article available here.
Following the tsunami disaster of 2011, even 5 months after the disaster, thousands of bodies were still missing in the Tohoku region. With the approaching Obon holiday, many cities ramped up efforts to dig through areas of hardened sludge and rubble to try and find as many remains of bodies as they could, so the souls of the dead could find peace and safely return home. In the meantime, some families pay respects to lost family members by directly visiting the disaster sites and offering gifts and prayers to their loved ones. Many other evacuee families have mourned over their inability to return to their hometown to meet the souls of ancestors and lost family members awaiting them.

Date of Observance

Obon is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, which is July according to the solar calendar. However, according to the formerly used lunar calendar, the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August. So Obon is celebrated in mid-July in some regions of Japan (namely the Kanto region), and mid-August in others.

Cultural Practices
source image by chrisdesu

Japanese people clean their houses and place a variety of food offerings such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of ancestors in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar). Chochin (paper lanterns) and flower arrangements are usually placed by the butsudan.

On the first day of Obon, the chochin lanterns are lit inside houses, and people go to their family’s grave to call their ancestors’ spirits back home. This is called mukae-bon. In some regions, fires called mukae-bi are lit at the entrances of houses to guide the spirits. On the last day, people bring the ancestor’s spirits back to the grave, hanging chochin painted with the family crest to guide the spirits. This is called okuri-bon. In some regions, fires called okuri-bi are lit at entrances of houses to send off the ancestors’ spirits. Some fires are lit on the side of mountains, such as in Kyoto. During Obon, the smell of senko (Japanese incense sticks) fills Japanese houses and cemeteries.

source image by frognavel

People go to their neighborhood Bon Odori (folk dance) held at night in parks, gardens, shrines, or temples, and wear yukata (summer kimono) and dance around a yagura stage. Styles of dance vary from area to area, but Japanese taiko drums keep the rhythm while people from the community dance in yukatas. Anyone may participate in Bon Odori, so you are free to join the line and imitate the dance of those around you.

Toro Nagashi (floating lanterns) is a tradition often observed during Obon. People send off their ancestors’ spirits with the lanterns, lit by a candle inside and floated down a river to the ocean.

Words of Wisdom: Working with Troubled Students

Elisabeth in Shimane-ken wrote a blog entry with some good insight on how to approach one’s role as an ALT who deals with troubled students:

My advice to ALTs in Japan; always assume that the child acting out has something going on at home.  The teachers may not necessarily tell you, but I’ve found it’s often the case.  Only two weeks ago I was told that the little boy who pulled his pants down to show me his willy and was constantly punching me doesn’t have a mom.  The next time I went to his school he started acting out as per usual, and I gave him just a little bit more attention whereas before I was more stern with him about how punching is bad.  He immediately calmed down, behaved, and did his group work without complaint. I walked around the classroom checking groups, and whenever I checked his group he would just lean against me, as if I were a tree.  No punching, no kicking, no climbing on me and trying to ride me around like a horse; he just needed some human closeness, what the Japanese call “skinship.” As his vice-principal said “he needs love.”  It breaks my heart.

Another student, a junior high school girl, was temporarily abandoned by her only parent, her father, and left to live on her own.  She stopped coming to school and was confirmed to be living by herself with no support at all.  After reading about the state of child abuse in Japan I wasn’t surprised at the lack of response by staff members, but I was saddened by it.  I got her contact information from one of the few teachers actively worried about the girl, and have been in contact with her ever since.  She’s been chronically bullied her whole life, and from what she’s said the lack of action by her teachers (which she was fully aware of) has damaged her trust in the one group of people she used to believe in.  She’s been going to school regularly again and as far as I know her father has returned.  I still don’t know why he left in the first place.  She graduates in two weeks, and I am praying that high school brings her more friends and happiness.

As an ALT my options are limited.  As a foreigner I am an outsider.  As an assistant language teacher I don’t have the same clearance and authority as my Japanese colleagues.  I am well aware that my reaching out to these kids in distress can also be damaging to them, by encouraging potentially harmful dependencies or leading them to be further ostracized from the group.  Unfortunately, these two children are just examples of an alarming trend that seems to take Darwinism to a Lord of the Flies conclusion, which leads to the real power that ALTs have.

We can step outside of the cultural boundaries.  We can be the tree that the kids lean against for a few minutes in class.  We can be friendly and receptive to the lonely students who are just looking to make friends but don’t quite fit in.  We can be kinder to the rough students because we rotate schools and have days or weeks to cool down before we see them again.  Possibly the most important thing we can do is give them a glimpse of a wider world where they might fit in, too.  So let’s try to help these kids.  Let’s be there for them so that they can grow up to be healthy, happy adults.

Tochigi JET Homepage Launched!

This year we are proud to announce the re-opening of Tochigi’s own JET Homepage, after years of bouncing from one home to the next. We now settle in WordPress to allow a constant stream of updates regarding news, reminders and events.

The links along the top will direct you to pages that feature useful information for working and living in Tochigi.

This website is a collaborative effort between all JETs in Tochigi Prefecture, so many thanks to all of those who contribute to building our home-sweet-homepage.