That's right, it's rarer than a three-eyed frog, but here it is, a blog post from me (Justin).
Well here we are, Day 22 in Japan, and life seems almost downright normal already. I don't see the full-on "culture shock" setting in for us here, partly because I've done this before and know what to expect and partly because we have such a great support system here. The school and its faculty are outstanding, and I am privileged to be a part of it. We are all on good terms, most of us friends by now, and all seemingly focused upon the same objectives and goals. It makes for a pretty good work atmosphere. There are only five teachers on our secondary campus, so we see each other all the time and work in pretty tight confines (we really HAVE to get along, we don't have any room not to, literally).
Our school is located in three locations. ICAN 1 as it's called is K-4 and is our original building. ICAN 1.5 is grades 5-6 and is located just a block from our apartment in the neighborhood of Kibutake. Last, there is my campus, ICAN 2 where grades 7-10 are located. All three campuses are a five-minute bike ride away, so it makes for easy travel between the campuses.
Yes, bike travel is the norm around here. There are hundreds of them sitting around everywhere, and amazingly enough everyone remembers where they left theirs at any given time. The other amazing thing is that at any given time, half of them are unlocked or locked with this kindergarten-ish wheel lock that I could disassemble with a fifty-cent screwdriver. It's just that everything is so safe around here. It's really hard to describe to someone who hasn't been to non-Tokyo Japan (Tokyo is its own animal). We never lock our door, except for at night when we sleep. When we leave, you just shut the door and you have nothing to worry about. I always peek at wherever I left my bike ten or more times a minute it seems just to make sure its OK, but it is always right where I left it. I used to lock it down even for a 30-second jolt into a convenience store, but I am doing that less and less all the time.
At night, people of all ages walk the streets and think nothing of it. It is perfectly normal to see a group of elementary kids biking down the road at 9:00pm, or an old lady walking her dog down the back streets even later than that. Noah and Amy routinely walk to the store or a restaurant by themselves at night, completely safe and sound. It makes the overall feeling of comfort you have in your community even that much better.
The people here are very nice, extremely courteous, but closed off to many interactions. When you are on a street and people cross your path, there is nothing said, only stares directed at the ground. People in stores and shopping centers will greet you enthusiastically, but most everyone else keeps to themselves. Don't misunderstand me and think that Japanese people are by in large rude and antisocial, it is just the Japanese way and we are getting used to it. A lot of it is the language, and the fact that Amy and I know little to say to anyone. What little Japanese I do know is received with joy and returned almost every time. I have not met a single rude or unpleasant person the entire month we've lived in Japan.
My students break the mold a bit when it comes to one's expectations of Japanese people. Their culture in which they live specifically is such a hodgepodge of Japanese traditionalism, western ideas and media, and whatever culture they bring with them from wherever they come (those who aren't native Nagoyans). Our lead teacher told me that most kids at our school are two years behind their American counterparts when it comes to their state of innocence/jadedness and two years ahead of them when it comes to their scholastic abilities. I have found that to be generally true. I gave the 7th and 8th graders an initial writing assignment the first week, expecting to receive back mostly ESL-level work that I'd spend an hour combing over with a red pen. But my kids really surprised me. I got some essays out of my middle schoolers that would be passing work in the 10th or 11th grade in the States. These kids study, they do work during break time and lunch, they finish homework assignments before they leave school, and they do whatever you ask them to in class. They are really exceptional students for the most part, and it is no wonder why Asian kids outperform American kids across the board in academic performance. I am really looking forward to having them in class and seeing them grow as learners this year. Oh, and by the way, here are my six class sizes: 7, 8, 9, 7, 7, 9. Not too bad, eh? The rough part is having six preps every day, but it is much easier to do with such small classes. (for all those non-teachers out there, a "prep" is one subject you must complete planning for; six preps means six totally different subjects every day, which is crazy)
Well, I'm forgetting about a hundred topics I wanted to write about, but my fingers are about to fall off and I have to get to bed. It was nice to finally get "some ink on paper" or whatever the digital equivalent is. We are doing some pretty amazing stuff soon, and Noah does pretty amazing stuff almost every day, so I'm sure I'll be back with more soon. Sayonara for now!