Archive for Life Ramblings

My “Japanese” name…haha

So the other day my friend was trying to come up with ways to write my name in kanji. He came up with with following:

冷児 (cold child)

霊寺 (ghost temple)

麗児 (pretty child)

So each of these mean “reiji,” but since I can’t write the character for “pretty,” and neither could my friend without the help of his cellphone, I am just gonna combine them into 霊児 (ghost child). Yep. I’m a ghost. Booyah.


Just some cellphone pics of Shinjuku

These were all taken from the top of my hotel (the Keio Plaza)

And a few days in…


So I know you can’t see it well, but that right there is a yellow Pokemon airplane. And we flew in the Gundam plane! (or, at least, I think so. there was some debate over this, as we could not see the ACTUAL plane from where we were sitting).

I’ve been here for a few days now, and I must say the people are extremely nice. Sometimes a little TOO nice…But to be honest, I already miss the city. I desperately want to get back there, and I don’t know when that will happen. I’ll do my best to job hunt while I am here, and if all else fails, I can either renew another year or enter language school!

I’ll take pictures once the car is fixed and I can actually get to a place to buy a charger for my camera’s batteries….

First Impressions of Taiki-Cho…

Tokyo Orientation lasted 3 days, and on the last day I was hit hard with jetlag. It really sucked, because I was supposed to go out and do something for one last “hoo-rah” in Tokyo.

In order to get to Taiki-cho (located about 40 minutes to 1 hour south of Obihiro, Hokkaido) from Chitose Airport (about 1 hour south of Sapporo), I had to get in a car with my supervisor and drive for 4 hours along the coastline. If I wasn’t so zoned out due to jetlag, I would have taken some pictures because it is GORGEOUS here. The Tokachi Plains remind me of Pennsylvania quite a bit, what with farms and cows and such, but drive an hour south and it’s nothing but fishing villages.

The first thing I had to do when I arrived was greet everyone at the office. I only remember two people’s names…this is a problem. And then I had to go out to the welcome dinner, which was yakiniku. I forgot how much Japanese people can eat, because they ordered SO MUCH food, it was ridiculous. I tapped out after about an hour. Immediately after that, I was driven to the nearest 7-11 and bought breakfast, then was taken to my apartment for the first time.

It’s big. It might be too big. And I so need to buy new towels and air out the blankets because they smell musty. And buy new detergent, because the stuff Aaron (my predecessor) left irritates my nose…I might just buy some Clorox from FBC and go from there…

Today I see the government officials (including the mayor) and my teaching coworkers. At some point I will hand out the omiyage, though they really don’t seem to care about it…Will update tonight with pictures and, hopefully, a better idea as to what is going on!

JET Orientation, Tokyo

So I have just finished my JET Programme orientation in Tokyo, and I have a few things to say about it:

  • I realize every placement is different. As such, STOP GENERALIZING.
  • Jet lag makes people skip.
  • Tokyo being Tokyo makes people skip.
  • Does everyone really have to wake up by 7 for breakfast?
  • How did some of these people get on the program?
  • Stop generalizing situations.
  • I want to do Karaoke, so make time for Karaoke.
  • Why do we have to check our bags the night BEFORE we leave for our placements?

Ignoring that, it seems that I have managed to find a drummer and a guitarist for the band. However, it is under the condition that it is done for fun. I can live with that for a while, but if I end up moving to Kansai, that won’t really work for me, will it…? Will keep you posted!

Leaving the States on a New Adventure…

I leave tomorrow for Japan. I haven’t updated in all this time because life has been insane, but I promise I will do better from the moment I settle in on!

I bought a new DSLR, so hopefully the pictures will be better than the ones with my point-and-shoot. I didn’t have the money for it, as only my grandmother gave me money at the farewell party, but I suppose I will pay it off a little when I finally get the money paypal has been withholding. I sold a bunch of magic cards (and made about 200 dollars on them), but two sold for a lot more than the rest, so paypal is holding about 90 dollars from me. Sadness…

In other news, I am now not JUST a JET. I am a columnist at MadHatterMagazine with the monthly “State of Play” and other occasional contributions. It is an internship, but experience in any capacity is much needed right now. I also managed to wrangle a translation job at HearJapan in which I get paid about 300 per unit (it’s a little complex, but it is, essentially, a unit-oriented job). I may have found another translation job as well, but I am waiting for the details on that. Hopefully, with this extra money from the translation job, I can directly pay off quite a bit of my leftover loans from college without having to transfer too much money from my Japanese bank account to my American one. If you know of any other freelance jobs or translation gigs, please let me know! I am willing to work for free for a set period of time to prove my worth ^_~

What I will miss most about America:

Awate showing up on my doorstep unannounced with a look of sheer insanity on his face. Salute the Admiral!

Talking to Jasmin online in #hashtag format, just because we can. Oh, and getting cupcakes.

Linh being…Linh. Best roommate ever? Quite possibly so! Just keep holding that cup of water, Linh…Just keep holding it.

Being random with Leslie, who is definitely certifiably insane.

Shocking Chris (and various family members) into silence at my inane and off-the-wall comments.

Will and his awesome back rubs and kick-ass personality.

Lisa and Julie…well, what can I say? We grew up together.

Kevin and the pics of the lab. Or, more specifically, what he DOES in the lab when he is bored.

Joelle, her amazing singing voice, and her outrageous stories about her mom.

Repka and his uber-nerd-ness, which never ceases to make me laugh. And he doesn’t deny it, either!

Late-night chats with Mike about anything and everything.

My cousin Mike being a dumbass.

What I am heading to:

Kazuki. Complete with random conversations about people in a language they don’t speak right in front of their face in a coffee shop.

Azusa, my little birthday soulmate!


Ryuta, the most ADHD of all Japanese males.

Natsuko and Mio, because they come in a set.

Nozomi, the girl who spent many a late night helping me out on the closing shift of the cafe.

Non-chan, photographer extraordinaire!

Shiori, at least until she goes back to Pittsburgh.

My host family and host dogs!

Yusuke and shabushabu.

Toru and Kobe beef.

Visual Kei.

A mystery individual whom I do not/can not say too much about.

A new life.


I found my old Japanese cell phone pics!

Incredibly random as it may sound, I just found almost all of the cellphone pictures I took while I was abroad in Kobe. Everything from Purikura to my host family’s dogs…These are the best ones, not all. I used my camera to record landmarks and things I needed to buy, like a visual list, so I excluded those pictures. My cellphone was a softbank one with 7megapixel camera.

Planning For Hokkaido: Not So Different From Pittsburgh?

So my placement is Taiki-cho, Hokkaido. I just found out that they have already scheduled my welcome party and several meet-and-greets. I’m not sure whether I should be terrified or thrilled at this behavior…It seems like such a warm gesture and yet it’s being done now?

A warm the fireplace?

I was doing research on Obihiro, and it seems that it is basically like Pittsburgh, only smaller. It has lots of rivers, the winter temperatures are about the same, and the snow is the equivalent of Feburary’s “snow-pocalypse.” Taiki specifically has under 7,000 people. The University of Pittsburgh’s 2010 graduating class had well over 7,000…This is going to take some getting used to. On top of all that, my predecessor has told me that my fashion is going to be quite loud there, and draw attention to my already non-Japanese-ness. I bought some work-type clothing, but it will be very difficult for me to wear slacks and button-down shirts everyday…I don’t know if I can pull it off but I will ask if I can wear jeans on Friday, just for my sanity.

The airport is close by, and my one friend has told me that it should not be so terribly expensive to fly down to Kansai every few weeks, same as with Tokyo. I have people to stay with in each area, which cuts down on expenses tremendously. On top of that, it seems a rogue kohai (後輩=underclassman) will be joining me after his semester abroad for a little exploring. I’m really looking forward to this, especially since traveling with someone else makes me view things in a new light. I always settle down far too quickly in new places (case and point: Italy. I was done exploring within a few hours). Plus, as I will be the only foreigner within at least 50 kilometers, perhaps more, it will be a welcome respite from the constant use of Japanese. We’re starting to make plans now, but unfortunately University of Pittsburgh starts the spring term far too early, so he’ll have to book a more expensive ticket…

What I want to do when I get over there:

1) I will enter the lottery for Miyavi’s birthday concert tickets. If I win, I am soooo going since I am missing his American tour.

2) Get my butt to Kansai for a long weekend and hang out with my friends, old and new.

3) Karaoke with Coral. Hmmm….this should be number one….(I miss you <3)

4) Find a bass teacher ASAP. This is, of course, provided that the airline DOESN’T BREAK MY BASS. You never know with them….

5) Mystery meeting. I’m going to see if I can pull this one off, if I can details will follow.

My attempts at teaching...

Who knows….Maybe I can pull off this teacher/visual kei/social butterfly-thing after all…

自閉症とうちの弟(Autism and my little brother)

(Italian and Spanish: autismo)自閉症(read: jiheishou) is the Japanese word for autism.  I’ll be honest, I love the characters because they describe the disease quite well: self-closed-disease. Basically, autism is where interpersonal communication, something a lot of people take for granted, becomes a huge problem.

My brother was diagnosed when he was very young, possibly around 2 or 3, though I can’t recall exactly as I was quite young myself. He was diagnosed because someone at the daycare center noticed he was pushing kids around and not using words to communicate. Considering this was the early 90s and not much was known about autism, the fact anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary is impressive. More impressive would be my parents actually managing to admit to themselves something was wrong. Years of therapy later, and my brother managed to graduate with honors from a normal public high school….

My bro and his friends

I would like to think that having a brother made me a less selfish person, but sometimes I can’t help but think it made me more selfish. This disease is kind of like a double-edged sword. You learn patience and yet lose it just as quickly, especially if you are the sibling (i.e.: me). I don’t know what his future will hold, but he is enrolled at the community college. And I’ll be off to Japan with a debatable return. There was enough hope for him to graduate from high school, there should be enough for him to graduate from college, wouldn’t you agree?

On another, vastly different, note, I ran into my old AP English teacher at the ceremony. Damn I love that woman, she’s what I want to be like when I grow up. Only not a librarian (which she is now).

So I went to Chicago, and I took a JET interview…

Life has been rather chaotic of late, what with the snow storms, midterms, lack of internet, and far too many double shifts at the cafe for one’s immune system to bear. But, I did manage to get my butt to Chicago for the JET interview despite all the mayhem.

As almost all students of Japanese may know, the JET program is one of the main English-teaching programs emphasized by universities as a way to get students back to Japan. The reason it is emphasized so much is because it is run by the government, and no Nova-esque disasters can occur unless the whole government collapses. However, as more and more students apply, it is getting more and more difficult to be granted an interview, let alone be allowed into the program. There are several reasons for this, the first and foremost being that schools in Japan are cutting their ties with JET in favor for outsourcing their English teaching programs. Why, you may ask? Well, JET, though stable, has had a history of attracting the “loonies” from abroad. Take, for example, the predecessor to my adviser: Sara, the Wakayama JET. Now, Sara was a Scotswoman. She liked her drink, and she also like to throw up in the toilet and pour coca-cola down after the puke in order to “clean things up”. She would also miss work periodically, and when her husband was hit by a taxi, she pretty much quit the program for the last few months (i.e. spent all her time at the hospital and none at the school she was assigned to). She was a nightmare for the system, an irresponsible JET who is now, rumour has it, a plumber. It’s a good example of why JET is being cut out of schools. There is also the matter that outsourcing is much cheaper. Schools only want a JET who is responsible and able to adapt to a new environment quickly and efficiently without a nervous breakdown. And this is all according to my adviser, mind you.

Allow me to explain how the JET program application process works. You fill this application out online, and you print the materials under the “Printable Materials” tab. This is where things get tricky, and this is also where the first round of cuts occurs. If you mess up one tiny step of this application, your whole application, letters of recommendation and all, will be thrown out. This happened to my classmate, who did not specifically state how to write and package the letters of recommendation. Or the woman from whom the recommendation was requested was just a moron and did not know how to read. At any rate, read EVERYTHING on the forms, and go over things as many times as possible to make sure you did not mess anything up. There is even an order in which you must package the materials for mailing, so don’t give them a reason to pitch out your application on a technicality.

There are two aspects to JET: ALT and CIR. 90% of all JET participants are ALT, or Assistant Language Teachers. I once heard it described as being a “child’s santa clause”, but after speaking to a variety of JETs I came to realize that the duties vary not only with the school, but with the amount of effort you are willing to put in to the task at hand. A JET from Kyoto basically does all his own lesson plans for his middle school class, which is excellent experience if you want to be a teacher in the future. Other ALTs, well, let’s just call JET a break from reality for up to 5 years. There is also no Japanese requirement for this position, though JETs that know Japanese are becoming a gold standard. Let’s face it: you may be teaching English, but you still need to navigate Japanese society. Also, flexibility is key for this position, as you will most likely be placed in the countryside far, far away from cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. If you absolutely have to be in the city, your application may be ranked lower than others simply due to the lack of positions available. Now, the other 10% of JET participants are CIR, or Coordinators of International Relations. You NEED to know Japanese to get this position, preferably a very high Level 2 or a solid Level 1 on the JLPT. There are two types of CIR positions: local government and prefectural government. Local government has more leniency than the prefectural one, as you are more involved with community outreach. The prefectural government, located in the capitals of each of the provinces, has a very specific outline of what the CIR is to do on a daily basis. Obviously, Japanese is needed to communicate with coworkers and the people in the community you are assigned to. Tasks range from translating to helping create tour guide tapes to throwing a community festival.

I applied for CIR with the option of being an ALT. I was granted an interview (for reasons unknown to me) for the CIR portion. I immediately ran to my adviser and also to my mentor, who both gave me a list of possible questions, Japanese study guides, and also just spoke to me about their experiences and what I should expect from the interview. The interview was to be in Chicago, as I initially planned to go with my friend (though that plan fell through when I realized CIR interviews are on very specific days whereas ALT interviews are everyday during the assigned week), and it was to be divided into two portions: a 20-25 minute English interview with a former CIR, a member of the consulate, and (insert random Japanese person here) followed by a 10-15 minute Japanese examination. I opted for a Tuesday afternoon timeslot, as it was earlier in the week and on the first day of CIR interviews. I prepped the best I could, and off I went to Chicago to face my doom.

I arrived at my interview a day ahead of time, mostly because I wanted to do some shopping. On the day of the interview, I arrived 30 minutes ahead of time so that I could check in and use the facilities as I pleased until my name was called. All CIRs in Chicago interviewed with Panel A (out of A-D), so I was led into the room and placed in front of a table labeled Panel A. I made sure to introduce myself and shake everyone’s hand. The random Japanese guy, mine was an academic whose name I cannot recall, began the conversation in Japanese. Very simple questions, such as “Why do you wish to be placed in Kansai?” and “How did you handle Japanese food?” I responded accordingly and to the best of my ability, with “I have a large network of friends there” and “I was fine, except I have a milk allergy and that made me unable to consume most desserts”. He also asked me how I would handle a long-distance relationship, to which I responded “I have done it before, and though it did not work out, Skype made the whole process easier”. After that we switched into English, and I was asked how I would handle a company dinner in which a food item I did not like was placed in front of me. I told them I would have to swallow my pride and eat as much of it as possible and not complain (I had mentioned that I was not a fan of takoyaki or okonomiyaki, so they used those items as an example of a company meal). I also said I had done the same thing before with a fugu dinner my host family had held, as I do not like fugu. They asked of my experience in Japan, either working (I did an internship at BNY Mellon, Tokyo and also worked part-time in a restaurant) or studying (I studied abroad in Konan University, Kobe and Temple University, Japan). I said  I had an enjoyable time, though if I had to repeat the experience I would not have selected Konan. When asked why, I asked them if they knew of Konan’s reputation. When they said no, I described the student body as being a stylish entity I had no connection to, thus forcing me out into the wilds of Osaka and Kobe to find a friend network that genuinely wanted to hang out with me, versus being forced to due to the small nature of the college. I also stated that, despite my hatred of the school, I adored my host family, who treated me as their very own daughter. They asked how I liked Italy (I studied there for a summer), and I said it was amazingly eyeopening, and that I never knew men on vespas would hiss at me in order to get my attention. The panel asked me to describe how I would present and teach American Valentine’s Day to a group of elementary school children. I said that I would teach them phrases to put on their valentines, and also have a valentine-making contest. I also stated that I would teach them some picto-grams, just so the kids could have fun with drawing the bees in “be mine” or the eyes and hearts in “I love you”. They asked of my experience at BNY Mellon, and how I was treated during company drinking parties. I said it was usually just myself and the higher ups, so the panel responded with a “What would you do if your coworker got drunk at a company nomikai?” I was stumped, so I responded with “Take care of them the best I can, but when they pass out I would have to put them in a corner out of the way to prevent harm to them or others”. I have no idea how that response went down (same with the Konan statement). There were several other questions seemingly off the cuff: “How will you react to a situation in which you are constantly gossiped about?”, “When you are a JET, you stand out no matter what, so how can you cope with the feeling of eyes constantly on your back?”, and, finally, the dreaded “Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?”. I responded “Yes. I heard there have been times when JETs must work with special needs children….” The former CIR assured me that every experience went over well. She must have thought I was scared, so I corrected her with a “But I WANT to work with them! My brother is autistic, I know how they function and how to help them through most stages of development, provided they are autistic….” I think that response went down very well, as the consulate guy wrote it down on my application. They finally asked me the required questions, including “Are you on medication?” and “Would you like to be considered for an ALT if you are not ready for CIR?”, among others.

After the English portion, I moved to another room to take the Japanese examination. I was greeted by a little old Japanese woman, who told me that she would hand me two essays, one at 2 level and one at 1 level. She gave me one minute a piece to read them. Then she asked me to read them aloud. I did very well with the 2 level, but the 1 level I was very hit-or-miss with. After I read them aloud, she asked me a series of questions about the essays, and I was to answer them to the best of my ability. I did the best I could, and tried to escape as soon as I was able. It was not a walk in the park, but anyone who has taken a JLPT exam would recognize the format easily. I failed my 2 level JLPT by one point, but I think that I am more than capable at working in a Japanese environment.

Thus ended my exam. I thanked the former JETs working the check-in booth for taking the time to talk to me about their experiences, and then I ran to catch my flight (only I hopped on the green line instead of the orange at Roosevelt. Oops…) I will hear from the program in April. I hope I got in, but I am very reserved in this hope, as spaces are limited.

One last thought: Always wear a suit to these things. Presentation is incredibly important, and you have only 15 seconds to make a good first impression. Manicure it up, wear cleanly pressed suits, shine your shoes, and show self-expression in minute details, such as earrings and necklaces and color of the button-down shirt. DO NOT come in khaki pants, a tweed suit, a tweed dress, or, heaven forbid, jeans. They may just reject you on lack of work styling.

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