Berlin · Day Trip · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Summer Vacation, Nagai Botanical Garden, and Big News!

I’ve taken a break from blogging over my summer vacation, but I’ve just completed my prep week back at work, and the Autumn term begins tomorrow, so I’m going back to weekly updates from today.

Both Dillon and I had a bad cold over the summer, so we spent the first few days of my holiday resting and getting over our illness. We went for a walk around one of the local shopping malls, Namba Parks, and sat up on the rooftop garden admiring Osaka from above. Something I really like about this city is that despite it being so busy and there being countless things to do, there are lots of quiet spaces interspersed throughout it, where it stays peaceful and you can enjoy some peace and quiet. For my 26th birthday we went bowling at Round 1 in Namba, where I did surprisingly well considering there were no bumpers, and the Japanese guys in the alley next to us who were on their twentieth game applauded Dillon’s strikes and my spares! We also went out for soy burgers (this Friday marked one month since Dillon and I adopted a wholly plant-based diet). We went back to Round 1 later in the holiday to play pool, and we also visited an amusement park in Misaki Koen, outside of Osaka on the coastline.

This week at work was a preparation week, spent mostly in meetings. I met a new student who will be joining some of the classes I teach and did some assessment with work him. I also had some time to complete my planning and resourcing for the new term. Thursday and Friday were spent in a workshop focusing on teaching the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for the IB. The lady who ran it reminded me a lot of my PGCE tutors and I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting and helpful the workshop was – it’s always great to come away from something like that feeling as though I’ve learned lots of new things.

Today we went to Nagai Botanical Garden, an incredible natural space in the centre of the city, full of flowers, herbs, bamboo trees and areas of ancient forest. We saw turtles, huge koi and other fish in the lake, dragonflies, butterflies, and even some Japanese beetles in the roses.

I also have some big news! Dillon and I have wanted to move to Europe for some time, and once term broke up in July, I had some time to put together application materials to submit, and I saw an advertisement for a position similar to a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator), which is a role I always aspired to take up in Britain, had our circumstances been different. The position is at another international school, this time in Berlin. As well as leading SEN provision for the Primary School, I will have some responsibility for EAL support. The job starts in January, so Dillon and I will be leaving Osaka in December and travelling to Germany. The school are covering my flight and our relocation costs, and we have been put in touch with their relocation service, which is brilliant and very reassuring. Until then, our plan now is to enjoy our last few months in Japan as much as we can, before beginning our next chapter in Berlin!

(It is also our second wedding anniversary today, and next week will mark three years since Dillon and I met in York for the first time ♥)

Day Trip · Illness · Japan · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Mega Dinosaurs Exhibition, Sigur Ros & I finished Summer School.

Four weeks after the official end of term, Summer School is finally over. I have experienced very mixed feelings about Summer School over this last month. It’s true that some of my favourite kids were there (even though you’re not supposed to have favourite kids, but anyway), and it was a really nice experience to be able to spend some time actually teaching them rather than just chatting to them briefly or supervising them at lunchtime, as they are in different grade classes to the ones I teach. I can’t pretend that it wasn’t lovely to receive daily drawings and notes from these students, either, and you can see a selection here:

However, I couldn’t get past the psychological block that ultimately I believe it’s not appropriate to offer or send kids to Summer School. They work hard enough during school hours, and the summer should be for playing, having fun, relaxing, seeing family, or whatever else they want to do outside of school. My other problem with Summer School is that it was a glorified daycare service, because all the teachers were too exhausted to do much of any educational value. I think I would have preferred it being officially called summer daycare, because then at least we could have done fun activities without feeling guilty about doing so, and we could have planned outdoor activities and trips to make it a more enjoyable experience for the students.

Between Summer School, Dillon and I went to the ATC Hall in the Osaka Bay area to see the Mega Dinosaurs Exhibition, which was very impressive. It was right at the end of the subway line, at a stop called Cosmo Square, which is one of my favourite names. We also went to a music venue called Zepp Namba, about a ten minute walk away from where we live, to see Sigur Ros live. I’ve caught a summer cold, but we bought some cold medication today and it has cleared up in a couple of hours, so I think over-the-counter medicine is quite strong in Japan compared to the UK!

The temperature is still in the mid-30s every day with high humidity, making it feel like low 40s, so I’m not planning to over-do things in the couple of weeks that I have off for summer vacation. However, I am hopeful that we can go back to the Tempozan area of Osaka to ride the ferris wheel and visit the animal petting zoo; there are a couple of exhibitions on at one of the art galleries that we would like to see; and there is an amusement park just outside of the city with lots of water rides that I would like to go to. It’s also my birthday next week, so hopefully we can go bowling and then to our favourite burger place for lunch.

Anxiety · Day Trip · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Stress · Travelling

Keitakuen Garden, Tennoji Park.

Hello from Osaka!

This morning, Dillon and I visited Keitakuen Garden, a City designated Important Cultural Property in Osaka. Keitakuen Garden is located in the Tennoji area of the city, near to the zoo we visited last weekend, and was originally the residence of the Sumitomo family. It contains over two hundred varieties of trees, and has a lovely pond in the centre that is designed to be a reminder of the ocean. We saw large carp and koi in the water by the summerhouse, watched turtles swimming in the water beneath the bridge, and enjoyed the calming sound of a waterfall in the peaceful surroundings. The smaller white building in the background of these photos is the Osaka City Museum of Fine Art, while the huge skyscraper is Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan at 300m high.

Other than that, this week I was invited to the cinema with one of my colleagues, so we went to watch Beauty and the Beast on Saturday afternoon. The cinema is the closest one to where Dillon and I live, so it was only a couple of minutes’ walk away, and I discovered it was on the top floor of a huge shopping mall, which isn’t that uncommon in Japan. The cinema itself was wonderful – spacious, low-lit, air-conditioned, comfy and completely silent throughout the whole film. As well as the mini-adverts common in Britain reminding people to turn their cell phones to silent, the adverts in Japan also instruct people not to talk, or make any noise, or disturb others, or kick seats! Something else that I found interesting was that no one in the cinema moved to leave until after the very end of the closing credits, which I thought was another example of the respectful culture in Japan.

Following the haircut I gave Dillon a couple of weeks ago, I have taken a few inches off my hair this afternoon, so I’m in a better position to cope with the weather becoming hotter. We have also ordered some natural products to manage mosquito bites and repel them naturally. The plants that we have been growing on our balcony are coming along well, although we have not seen any flowers yet.

I had a meeting with the vice-principal this week, a bit like a check-up on how the first term has been progressing so far, and it was incredibly positive. The word ‘perfect’ was thrown around a lot, and the fact that he said he uses my class’ e-portfolio to demonstrate to other members of staff how they should do theirs made me feel particularly proud of myself. As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-doubt, is a perfectionist and spends a lot of time questioning whether I am even meeting a fairly good standard, I really appreciated the praise he gave me. I also really appreciated the fact that the principal took the time to speak to me about the terrible events in Manchester earlier in the week, and to check how I was feeling. I feel very lucky to work in such a supportive environment.

For various reasons, I lost most of my planning time at work this week, but I was still able to get all of my planning and resourcing done at school during the couple of sessions that I did have available to me, which meant I had little work left to do over the weekend. This makes me feel very positive about my time management, productivity and workload going forward into this week.

Until then!

Day Trip · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Travelling

Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park.

Towards the end of Golden Week, Dillon and I went to visit Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, a huge open space in Osaka where there are numerous themed gardens for different countries around the world. The park was originally for the Osaka Flower Expo some years ago, but has remained a lovely place for sunny days out and walks in nature. We especially loved the Korean Garden, which is where most of these photos were taken.

In other news this week:

  • I cut Dillon’s hair(!) Personally I think he looks lovely, handsome, and five years younger! He has been working hard this week continuing to submit essays to journals and preparing for job applications.
  • I got my first pay cheque! I have seriously never had so much money in my bank account before in my life, and that’s even taking into account that I had an advance of roughly a third of my salary given to me at the beginning of April. My taxes have already been paid automatically before I received this money, and our health care premium is going to be tiny during our first year in Japan. Once I had been paid we were able to pay our (very small) cell phone and electricty bills, leaving only our rent and food to be paid throughout this month.
  • The vice-principal of the international school where I’m currently working in Osaka said very off-handedly to me that “your health insurance payments will be higher next year, but your salary will increase next year in line with that”, and I feel very happy to think that he is already assuming that he will extend my contract and that I will continue to have a job at the school next year.
  • I bought five amazing t-shirts from the supermarket for about £6 each, so now I’m able to go out on sunny days without needing to borrow one of Dillon’s t-shirts!
Day Trip · Japan · Kyoto · Overseas · Photography · Travelling

Kyoto Botanical Gardens.

Hi from Osaka!

It has been getting close to 30°C this week – I already have the best tan that I’ve had in years, and it’s only May! This week was Golden Week, a small holiday period towards the end of spring that includes lots of different national holiday days in Japan. Shōwa Day celebrates the Emperor’s birthday, Constitution Memorial Day celebrates democracy in Japan, Greenery Day is a day to spend celebrating nature, and finally Children’s Day is a day to celebrate the happiness of children. When I go back to work after this weekend, there will be another nine weeks of work before summer school begins in mid-July. I’m not too sure how my holiday will work during this time, but I know that I will have my birthday off during Oban Festival in August, and our wedding anniversary during the school summer holiday later that month.

Dillon and I decided to spend some time during the holiday getting on top of tasks that we had not found time for during my first few weeks of work. We got a new key cut for our apartment (so now we can both go out at once!), and we visited the Chuo ward office to apply for health insurance. I got all my work done for my first week back at work after the holiday, including some general administrative work and planning that always seemed to get pushed to the bottom of my priorities list. I feel ready to get back to work – these first three weeks have flown by, and I am looking forward to building on the work we have done in the next part of the term.

We also had the chance to visit Kyoto for the day. Kyoto has a special place in my heart because it was after Dillon travelled there for a work conference in 2015 that we first started considering moving to Japan. To get to Kyoto we travelled by train from Osaka, a very easy journey through rural countryside. Kyoto was very different to how I imagined! Central Kyoto reminded me a lot of the large towns or small cities in southern France and southern Spain – wide, dusty boulevards, palm trees, European restaurants, and mountains in the distance. We visited the Botanical Gardens, which is in the centre of the city, and you can see some of the photos we took here.

During the holiday Dillon and I also visited Tsurumi Ryoukuchi Park in Osaka, a huge public park filled with various themed gardens from different countries around the world. I’m going to post about our visit there separately, but it was a lovely day, and it’s a place that we plan on going back to visit regularly. I love that in Japan you can often go out for the day with the assumption that you will only pay subway fare for a day out, and any food you want to buy when you are out, as often entry fees to even the top tourist attractions are low or non-existent.

I get my first pay cheque next week, and we have a few things lined up on the horizon for days out over the weekend. There is an exhibition of Matisse artwork at Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan; we want to go back to the Tempozan district to ride on the huge ferris wheel there; and of course there are so many shrines and temples we have not had a chance to visit yet. Lots to look forward to!

Animals · Aquarium · Cherry Blossom · Day Trip · Japan · Nipponbashi · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Travelling

Our Neighbourhood & Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Hello again from Osaka!

It’s been another busy week, but I’ve been getting to grips with my timetable and workload now, and it’s meant I have had to spend less time this weekend getting prepared for my next week at work. I went to Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park yesterday to take part in my school’s first annual family picnic (where I did a lot more running than I expected to do!) and today Dillon and I visited the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan on the coast. The aquarium is the biggest in Asia, and one of the biggest in the world, and we had a brilliant day out. It was wonderful to be by the seaside, in the beautiful sunny weather, feeling the sea breeze and smelling the salty air. I feel so lucky to live right by the sea, so that a day trip to the seaside is only a short subway journey away.

Enjoy some photos of our neighbourhood in Nipponbashi, and from our morning out at the aquarium!