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.

Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Shinto · Teaching · Travelling

Shitennoji Temple.

We have been meaning to visit Shitennoji Temple for a long time, as it is very close to where we live, but we have been saving it for this weekend as there was also a market taking place on the same day. The pond was full of turtles, and we decided to go early in the morning so that we didn’t get too exhausted by the heat – not much luck there!

The temperature has been close to 40°C this week, and hotter with the humidity factored in, so we’ve been trying hard to stay anywhere indoors with air conditioning. We have been experiencing walking around the neighbourhood underground, by making use of the subterranean Namba Walks shopping arcade complex, which is like a whole new city underground, and takes us from the subway station at the top of our street to the local cinema, our favourite restaurant, and beyond. We visited the Studio Ghibli shop, where I resisted buying a bit of everything there(!), but I think I will probably end up getting a rucksack bag before we leave Japan to take wherever we go next.

I have also applied for a position in Berlin, teaching primary-level Special Educational Needs classes. I’ve really missed the SEN aspect of my role, and I have always hoped to live and work in Europe, so hopefully I will hear back from them in September when the school re-opens after the summer vacation. It’s still a bit early to be expecting positions to be advertised for when I need one, but I will have a quick look every weekend to see what comes up. Right now I’ve completed one week out of four of summer school, which, although I feel better about it at the end of the first week than I did at the beginning, I still have extremely mixed feelings about.

This week Dillon went to Tokyo to organise renewing his passport. After his successful lecture at Kansai University, he has also had some more good news – one of his essays is going to be published in an exciting new academic journal! The book with another one of his essays published in it will also be released next month. I’m hoping that when I have some vacation time in October, we can visit Tokyo again to go to the Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli museum. Last weekend we went to watch the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, and during the week we caught the last showing of Beauty and the Beast too. I really enjoy going to the cinema so I’m glad that lots of films are shown here locally. The only problem is that the anime films are all in Japanese of course, but without any subtitles! Maybe one day we will live somewhere that has the best of both worlds.

Anxiety · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Osaka Castle · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka.

This morning Dillon and I went to visit the Nishinomaru Garden by Osaka Castle. Despite the cloudy skies, it was over 30ºC, but because we went out early and there was a little bit of rain, the garden itself was very quiet. We spotted a cat in the grass, and when we paid our entrance fee the lady at the counter invited us to write out wishes on a piece of paper and tie it to the bamboo tree in the grounds, which is part of the celebrations for the Tanabata Star Festival.

In Japanese legend, on the seventh night of the seventh month, the weaver star and cowherder star travel across the Milky Way to renew their ancient love. Wherever you go during the first week of July, you see countless pieces of coloured paper tied to bamboo trees with wishes written on them, and on the night of Tanabata ceremonies are held at numerous shrines to burn the bamboo and wishes. 

This was my final full week at work before the end of the first term. We took the students on a field trip to the Meiji Chocolate Factory, and I had my first formal observation and appraisal. It was very different from the system I’ve been used to in the UK! Instead of a number of senior members of staff standing at the back of the room observing my teaching and taking notes all lesson, the vice-principal stayed for about thirty minutes and sat doing his own work for much of the time, took a look around my room at the displays and what the students had been working on, then thanked me and left. It was a pleasant surprise not to experience any anxiety before or during my observation; during my PGCE year I would be experiencing panic attacks before every single lesson. Instead, though, I’ve been having reoccurring nightmares about being told I have to do another observation, or the observation happening in the nightmare and going terribly. Very strange!

 

Anxiety · Illness · Japan · Nature · Osaka · Overseas · Photography · Recovery · Shinto · Stress · Teaching · Travelling

Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, Osaka.

It’s been a while since I last updated, but I’m glad to say that my illness has passed, my fatigue has now lifted, and I’m feeling much better. I always experience a few days to a week or so of real exhaustion and fatigue after illness, and it always takes me a couple of days of feeling that way before I remember that I experience CFS, so I need to take it easy on myself and let myself recover properly before throwing myself into everything again. That’s difficult for a definite Type A perfectionist like myself, especially when you have a job that means you have to be a leader, a positive role model, and alert and effective from the start of your day to the end of your day, but I think I’ve done a fairly good job of managing it over these last couple of weeks.

This morning, Dillon and I walked to Namba Station and took the Nankai Line overland to visit the Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine, an important Shinto site and originally the entrance of the Silk Road into Japan. It was lovely to see people paying their respects to the trees and the water, and lots of newborn babies had been brought to the shrine today as well. As it was so hot in the afternoon, we walked back home through Namba Walk, an underground shopping mall that runs underneath the street that takes us from Namba Station back to our apartment. We stopped at Mos Burger, the first place we have eaten out in Japan, to have lunch, and it cost us the equivalent of £2.50 each to have a really tasty burger.

This week I have been trying to do work on a number of different strategies for my anxiety. I had previously cut out caffeine by stopping drinking coffee, as the smell is enough for me to enjoy without needing to drink it, but I had not been consistent with cutting out soda, which I am trying to do better at now. I listen to a number of podcasts to help relax me in the evening and encourage a nighttime winding down routine, including Audio Dharma, Tara Brach, Anxiety Slayer, and my favourite, The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I do yoga and meditate while listening to these in the evening. I have also started hula-hooping, thanks to Meagan’s advice!

My anxiety is usually worst in the morning, when my cortisol levels are naturally highest, so during these times I am trying to focus on mantras such as ‘Right now I should be sleeping’ or ‘My thoughts are like clouds passing me by and I don’t have to engage with them’. I am also trying to use my morning commute for mindful awareness of my surroundings and positive reflections, and to leave work behind at the end of the day by shedding my worries and stresses as I walk down the stairwell on my way out of the building. I am doing a media fast and have blocked all access to anxiety and stress-inducing websites on my phone. I am hoping that by being consistent with these actions I will see real improvements with my anxiety levels.

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!