In true JET fashion, time is flying and I can’t believe it’s almost the middle of July! I finally started to shake my most recent bout of Stage 2 culture shock in June, so I could finally enjoy my time in Japan once again.
It helped that June started with one of the most anticipated events of the year – my junior high school’s annual Sports Day! Sports Day is similar to the Field Days I had at my Canadian elementary school, but on a whole new level. For two weeks, we had no afternoon classes – instead, all of the students practiced cheering, dancing, chanting, and body percussion. I spent those afternoons sitting outside in the 25C sunshine, watching and taking pictures, so I really can’t complain!
(Unfortunately, I can’t post any of those pictures because I’m not allowed to put pictures of my students online.)
Sports Day itself was on June 1. The students participated in 100m dashes, class relays, a Kanto race, strange games that involved one student walking along the backs of the other bent-over students in order to cross a finish line, jump rope, club-themed relays (the swimming club had to do the relay in their swimming trunks and flippers – hah!), and more. I even got to race with my Grade 7 girls in the 100m dash! That was so much fun, even though I came fourth in my heat (beaten by 12 year old girls, the shame)! I got to run with the teachers in the day’s main relay, too, but that ended with a spectacular fall on my behalf as I handed the baton to my Vice Principal, so I could do with forgetting that particular moment. ;)
School calmed down after Sports Day was over, but I was kept busy outside of school. I started to get everything ready for converting my Canadian driver’s licence to a Japanese one (which involved several trips to Akita City), as well as had to arrange for shaken (a mandatory (expensive) car inspection every two years) on my current car.
All of the ALTs in the prefecture also attended the Returners & Recontractors Conference in Akita City in early June. After doing all of the conferences together as a large group, it was so weird to be separated into those who would be going home and those of us who would be recontracting for another year in Japan and we couldn’t believe that the returners would be returning home so soon!
The day after the R&R Conference was the annual Akita Tazawako camping trip! Twenty-four of us spent the Saturday afternoon and night paddle boating, having a BBQ, enjoying a campfire, and playing games. It was so much fun! Even the slight rain couldn’t dampen our spirits!
I also got my first annual Japan health check in mid-June. For those who don’t know, all Japanese employees must have an annual health check. For us ALTs, we were told to go to a certain building at a certain time, at which we were shuffled from one station to another. Within 45 minutes, I had been through an X-ray, urine test, height and weight check, blood pressure test, eye test, blood test, doctor consultation, hearing test, and some kind of test that listened to my heartbeat (I think that’s what it was?! I don’t even know). It was intense and, of course, entirely in Japanese, but fortunately there were other ALTs there and we were able to chat in between stations. I’m still waiting for the results, but I can’t say that I’m looking forward to next year’s health check. :/
The end of June brought the city-wide summer sports tournaments. I did a great job this time at seeing as many sports as I could, driving literally from one end of the city to the next to watch volleyball, softball, baseball, and basketball! Baseball was the most fun to watch, even though our school lost – our school bussed the brass band and all other non-competitive club members (science club, art club, etc.) to the game to cheer! I sat with my teachers, students, and their parents, and cheered along with them. The energy was incredible! I really want to go to another baseball game in my time here.
That same weekend, I got to try Japanese traditional dance for the first time! One of the teachers at my school whom I talked to at an enkai knew someone who teaches the Nishimonai Bon Odori in Ugo, Akita, and she invited me to join her! We drove the hour to Ugo, ate some cold soba (my first time doing so – it was delicious!), then joined the dance class at the community center. There must have been at least 50 people there! I learned the dance on the side of the room with some other beginners. It was harder than I thought it would be – the hand movements are so precise and not at all what I’m used to! After we practiced for 30 minutes, we had a break while the musicians set up on stage, then all 50 of us, beginners and advanced alike, joined in one big circle to dance along to the live musicians! The dance is performed every year at the Nishimonai Bon Odori festival that I went to last year (which also happened to be my first ever Japanese festival), so getting to dance it myself with the Ugo community was an incredible moment for me. I’ll never forget it!
My Japanese cultural activities continued when I got to participate in a tea ceremony class with my Grade 6s at elementary school! I had a free period when the Grade 6s were having the special lesson, so the homeroom teacher invited me to join in half-way through. I was served a Japanese sweet and tea by one of the instructors and taught how to accept it and eat/drink it. Then she taught me how to make my very own tea! We sat in seiza for over 30 minutes, so my legs were dead to the world, but it was totally worth it. Afterwards, the Vice Principal came in and we drank more tea together. It was such a wonderful (and delicious) experience!
June didn’t stop there – in between me still trying to get my driver’s licence (yes, it really is that much of a pain in the butt, and I’m not even American!), we had the Akita AJET International Sumo Tournament! Twelve men and four girls, mostly ALTs, competed in the tournament. In true sumo style, all of the competitors wore mawashi (although the girls could luckily wear clothes underneath theirs!). Watching the tournament was actually really stressful – in one of the early matches, two of the guys headbutted each other so hard that the bang echoed throughout the Budokan. From then on, every time a match started, we would all flinch and cringe at the thought of another headbutt happening. Fortunately, another one never did, but sumo was plenty violent in other ways – people were thrown from the elevated ring onto the hard ground below, they were pushed down onto the raised circle marking the ring, and one guy even lost half of his toe nail and had to go to the hospital! Yikes. O.o I’m glad I went, but I’m having second thoughts about going again next year… Hah!
While all of this was going on, I was also teaching tap dance during International Days at two junior high schools in Akita, practicing lots of karaoke, and eating more pancakes in cafés than I probably should! All in all, June turned out to be a pretty great month, and July looks like it’s shaping up to be much the same as we try to cram in as much time together as we can before the returning ALTs return home! Now, if only the summer heat and humidity could give us a break…!