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.

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.

Illness · Japan · Osaka · Photography · Science Museum · Teaching · Travelling

Osaka Science Museum.

It’s been a little while.

I haven’t felt much like updating this blog recently, mostly due to events that have been going on in London. It seems as though every week there’s some terrible news out of that city, either a terrorist attack or a horrific fire or several more years of heartless incompetants leading the country to look forward to. I’m considering doing another news detox, because I think that having access to 24 hour news online isn’t helping my anxiety, and I’m finding myself getting preoccupied with the safety and health of my family and the fact that I’m so far away, and what would I do if anything happened etc. Those feelings don’t lend themselves well to cheerful blog updates.

However, last weekend Dillon and I went to visit the Science Museum across the river to the north of Osaka. The streets were almost deserted, which is very rare here, and we almost had the whole place to ourselves. The museum is on a campus alongisde one of the city’s art galleries, which we are planning to visit in the summer.

Inside the Science Museum, you are taken straight up to the top floor, and you work your way around the circular floors until you are finished, and then you take an escalator down to the next floor and do the same thing again. All of the exhibitions and displays in the museum were interactive, and there were lots of fun ways to engage with science. It reminded me a little of the Science Museum in London, although this one was a little smaller, but there were still more interactive aspects to engage with.

I have been quite ill this week, so I had to take a day off work, but I made it through Parents’ Day before having to go home, and I think it went well. Whenever I get ill I always find it difficult to get my energy and mood levels back to a normal level until I have time just to rest, so I’m relieved that there are only three weeks left of this term before the summer holiday begins. Often I would get ill right at the start of the term and then struggle for the next couple of months until a holiday, so that’s something. I still don’t know what my schedule will be like for summer and when my vacation time will be, but it will be nice to have a change in routine from normal teaching anyway.

Cherry Blossom · Day Trip · Japan · Osaka · Osaka Castle · Overseas · Photography · Teaching · Travelling

Weekend Cherry Blossoms.

It’s been another great week here in Osaka!

I have now completed my first full week of teaching. It’s strange to think that it has only been that long, as it feels as though I’ve been working at the school a lot longer than just a couple of weeks! I think it helps that I am only teaching between 8-10 students at any one time, and in one of my classes I even have a maximum of only two students! This means I feel as though I already know the children very well, and we have established a good relationship even only one week into the school year. I teach students from Grade 5 & 6 (UK Year 6 and 7), but I also do study hall duties across the Grade 1-6 Primary group, and I supervise the Grade 1s once a week at lunchtime. Next week I start teaching a yoga class after school, which I am really looking forward to!

Another thing that makes it seem as though I have worked here longer is that I feel I have developed good relationships with my colleagues across the school already. Basically each homeroom teacher is the Head of Year too, as they teach most of the subjects for that Grade. All the Primary classrooms are on one corridor, and most classes are made up of roughly 10 students. I really hope that my contract will be renewed at the end of this year, as I really enjoy working at this school, and if so I think I will ask if I can teach the Grade 1s or perhaps Grade 2s, as there is a kind of joy I get from interacting with students that age that I’ve never experienced before in my working life.

I was very happy that I was pretty much given free reign to decorate my classroom as I wanted to, as well as the content that I teach (providing it follows the appropriate UK National Curriculum levels). Here are some photos of my classroom and some of the work my students submitted that made me smile!

Last weekend was the height of cherry blossom season in Osaka, but Dillon and I were moving all weekend from our apartment in Nagahoribashi to our new home in Nipponbashi, near Namba and Kuromon Ichiba Market. We live literally around the corner from this tourist hotspot, but our street is quiet, peaceful, and full of stray cats wandering around. Despite being in the centre of the city, in an apartment big enough for two people with cooking, cleaning and decent storage facilities, we are paying around £425 a month for our new apartment. There are coin laundries everywhere, and lots of small parks where residents bring their dogs (it is very fashionable to dress up your dog and carry it around in a backpack or bicycle basket here!) We are a few minute’s walk away from a large supermarket, and we have been able to do our weekly food shop for the equivalent of around £30.

This week we have been busy getting some essentials for our new home. We visited IKEA again to get two lamps and an outdoor table and chairs (which was significantly less expensive than an indoor table and chairs), and we have also bought two folding sofa-type chairs for about £7 each. Sleeping on a futon is also going well, and I was very happy today to discover a Body Shop and Lush store in the Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade, so my skin can now get some serious TLC.  In my next post I will share some photos of our new apartment and furniture, as I have now finally fulfilled a life goal and own a clothes rail! I would still like to get a flower vase and some candles, just to make things a bit more homely and peaceful, but otherwise we are both very happy with how our apartment is looking.

This morning we went back to Osaka Castle and Gardens to see the remaining cherry blossoms. Luckily it was less busy than it would have been last weekend, and there were still lots left to see. People were having picnics under the trees in the traditional hanami style, and Dillon and I tried cherry-blossom flavour icecream by the castle. The weather this week has been changeable to say the least: blue skies, then cloudy; blazing sunshine then pouring rain; from hot to cold as soon as the sunlight fades away – yesterday during park time at school it was close to 30 degrees, and today the temperature was in the mid-20s. I am very grateful for the consistently warm, sunny mornings when I walk to work without needing to be wrapped up and shivering against the cold!

Enjoy our photos from today!