こんにちは (hello) from Osaka!
As 春分の日 Shunbun no Hi has now passed, it is officially Spring in Japan. We have been blessed with beautiful weather this past week: clear blue skies, sunny days, a cool breeze meaning you can still wear a jumper but also warm enough to not require a coat until it gets dark in the evening. So much has been going on since my last post, so we have plenty to update you on.
Previously, I shared that I had been invited to the Kinder Graduation and Primary Awards Ceremony at the international school where I will be working in Osaka. Coming from Britain, I was expecting that the ceremony would be held at the school, but of course schools in urban Japan are typically a few floors of a high-rise building – not the best venue for an end-of-year show! Instead, the ceremony was held at an auditorium near Osaka Castle. The tiny children in their blue graduation gowns were so cute, and the skills all the children demonstrated were so impressive. I especially liked watching the first graders playing the theme to the Studio Ghibli classic Castle in the Sky without sheet music!
It was also very interesting to note the international climate of the school’s community. Parents would talk to each other in Japanese, then speak another language to their small children, and when the child answered in that language the parent switched to English. For someone who only speaks English it felt daunting but also exciting to be in such a different environment. After the ceremony I was invited by the vice-principal to meet other members of staff, and as I expected it was really good to meet them and introduce myself in such a positive environment.
Over the weekend Dillon and I visited Osaka Castle Park, which is a key tourist location in Osaka, as well as being a popular picnicking spot for local families. It was far bigger than I imagined, so we did not actually explore the castle on our first visit (even spending a couple of hours walking around the park, we did not get closer to the castle than you see in the photo above). The park is filled with plum blossom and peach blossom trees, but it is not yet cherry blossom viewing season (花見 hanami) in Osaka, so I’m excited to visit again in a couple of weeks. The “cherry blossom forecast” predicts when the flowers should first be visible across Japan, as well as when they should be at their best, and in Osaka they should begin on Tuesday, lasting for approximately two weeks at their peak.
With help from a member of staff at the school, I opened a Japanese bank account – I was allowed to choose my own debit card design, and of course I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see Hello Kitty whenever I withdrew money from an ATM! In order to open a bank account, I needed to buy a hanko (a small cylindrical stamp that has my name in katakana, the Japanese symbols for words that originate from a country other than Japan [hiragana] or China [kanji]) from a stationary store. My surname isn’t very well-recognised in Japan, understandably, so I have a rough approximation! Dillon joked that his will be even more difficult to work out. After another visit to the Chuo ward office, we received our Certificate of Residence, which means that we can now sign the contract for our new apartment near Kuromon Ichiba Market, which have an appointment for tomorrow.
I think we have done a good job of getting to know our local area around Nagahoribashi at this point (it’s very strange to think that this is only our second week of living in Japan!) but I am keen to explore a bit more of the city before starting work. Tomorrow we will have a chance to visit Osaka Station City, a huge shopping complex in Umeda, and when we move to our new apartment we will be on the doorstep of Nipponbashi and Namba, so today Dillon and I visited Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori, the tourism and shopping hotspots in Osaka. The city is famous in Japan for its food, and walking around Dotonbori is an amazing experience!
Using my DSLR in Dotonbori made me feel every inch the tourist, but sometimes there’s a time and a place for that!
Otherwise, Dillon and I have been working hard on our Japanese language practice, using Memrise as an online tool to become more familiar with hiragana and more confident with basic phrases. I have also completed the elearning modules I was set as preparatory work for the school, which uses the International Baccalaureate programme as well as the UK National Curriculum as its basis. One aspect I like about the elearning modules is that all members of staff are required to read a number of pedagogy documents on the shared Google Drive, before posting in a forum their views and perspective on what they have read, guided by some basic questions, and then to comment on one another’s postings. For me it means that I really have to reflect on what I’m learning, and then engage with other colleagues as well, which helps me to think more clearly about how I want my teaching practice to look.
So I have one more week before I start work. I need to buy a pair of comfortable shoes, as in Japan you are often expected to wear different shoes when you are indoors, and I am also waiting to hear about the details of my first few days of orientation at the school. However, I did drop by earlier in the week and visited “my” classroom and got to grips with the layout of the floors. Hopefully my next update will include some photos of cherry blossom!