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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!