Welcome Fellow Miyazakians!

With the start of the new JET year and the arrival of so many lovely faces to Miyazaki, MAJET wants to extend a special hello to all the new JETs who have just arrived to this beautiful part of the world. You may be weary-eyed from long flights, jet lag, and an intense few days at Tokyo orientation, but we want to make time to welcome you with open arms (Miyazakians are very welcoming) and wish you all that’s best as you get on your feet over the next few weeks.

HELLO FRIENDS!

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Now that you know you’re not alone out here (woohoo!) and you feel fuzzy and warm inside (you do, right?) its time for the stuff. New friends, this post is mainly for you, though there are probably some senpais who would appreciate it as well.

In preparation for your arrival, we asked your senpai JETs for any useful tips or advice to pass on to you to help you settle in to your new homes. While every situation is truly different (believe us, we hate saying it as much as you hate hearing it), hopefully their stories will make you feel less alone, and their advice will help you feel more prepared to take on the many new challenges you will encounter in your first few weeks.

Natsuyasumi

Natsuyasumi means “summer vacation.” Japanese summers are a whole different beast than back home, so it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you first arrive.

One difficult and unexpected thing for many ALTs is the fact that they arrive during Japanese summer vacation. The key to avoiding discomfort upon arrival is to realize that school is not actually in session, and that the ALT will most likely need to take the initiative within his/her school in order to be successful. Japanese school is technically year-round, but summer vacation is a rather long break for many schools; quite a few ALTs arrive unprepared for the sheer “nothingness” of the break: JTEs and other teachers may not even be present during this time. Those arriving in the A group will have nearly a month  (or longer, depending on the school) of desk time before they ever teach a class. This is a problem because ALTs should ideally spend their first few weeks learning about their position and responsibilities, things which are difficult to grasp when classes are not in session. ALTs should understand that they will not be told what to do during this time. Instead, they should take advantage of materials and instructions left behind by their predecessor to familiarize themselves with their position, formulate plans for future lessons, study some school-oriented Japanese, and try to get to know their JTEs or BOE staff. In this way, when the next term begins in earnest, ALTs will not have to play catch-up in order to be successful in their lessons.

~Rick Snyder, Miyazaki City

Summer vacation is also when Obon is celebrated. While the dates are not listed as public holidays, many people are given leave to go visit their families. Don’t be surprised if many of your teachers are missing from school during this time.

Getting Started

As you can see, when you begin working you will find yourself with a lot of free time in the office, and you may not be sure of what to do. There are actually a wide variety ways to occupy your time (we’ll be making a separate post about that later, don’t you worry!), but here are some bits of advice especially pertinent to your first month as an ALT:

  • Look at your predecessor’s instructions and resources. This will help you get a feel for what your role in the classroom is and what is expected of you from your JTEs. You may choose not to use your predecessor’s plans or resources, but familiarizing yourself with them will also help you determine where your students are at and what ways you can approach them.
  • Prepare your self-intro lesson. Ask your teachers what sort of resources are available to you. Ask more than one teacher, as some might know something that others don’t. Not all schools will have technology in the classrooms, but you may find some surprises.
  • Familiarize yourself with the school. Determine where the copy room is, learn how to use the copiers and scanners, find out where all of the teachers’ offices are. Again, find out what resources are available to you. Are there laminators? Art supplies? Paper cutters?
  • Get to know the other teachers. They may seem shy and busy, but taking a moment to say hello each day can open up doors. Don’t be deterred if they seem gruff or brush you off; they may not be very confident in their English skills. It is important to make a good impression on the other teachers, though, as you never know who you may need to go to for help.
  • Some clubs, particularly sport clubs, will still meet during summer break. Go visit them. Bring some sport clothes and join in volleyball or basketball practice. Its a great way to start learning names and get to know the students. Since practices are during the day, its also a great way to get out of the office when you don’t have much to do.
  • Lesson plan. Ask your JTEs how they like to conduct lessons and begin planning your own. Familiarize yourself with the textbooks and resources. Ask to look at supplemental workbooks, CD-ROMs, audio CDs, etc.
  • Study some basic and school-related Japanese. Check out our page discussing basic Japanese words as well as other language-learning resources.
  • One of the most difficult things to adjust to is the way English grammar is taught in Japanese, so familiarize yourself with the terminology used in your school so you can avoid confusion with the students. This guide to grammar terms may come in handy.

Culture Shock

You may have learned about the various stages of “culture shock” at Tokyo Orientation. The stages can come at different times and can cycle through more than once. Everyone copes with culture shock in their own way, but rest assured that it can be coped with, and that everything will be fine in the end. If you are ever in need of support or someone to talk to, please be sure to check out the JET support network. AJET has a descriptive page about who you can go to in times of need here.

The most difficult thing that I have dealt with in Japan is culture shock. Moving to Japan was my first trip out of North America, and my first real out-of-culture experience. Unlike a lot of JETs, I didn’t have the experience of traveling/living abroad, and my previous travel destinations were all Canadian cities. Everything was entirely new to me in Japan.

It didn’t take long for me to experience “Stage Two” of culture shock. I use that term loosely as everyone will go through their own cycles and symptoms. Coming from Canada, the heat was difficult and almost unbearable for me to deal with when I first arrived. I struggled with reading food labels and walked away from things I needed in frustration at my own illiteracy. I felt small and singled out at my welcome party when there was laughter and discussion, and I wanted to communicate with my coworkers but I didn’t know how. I was a JET who didn’t arrive to a car in my parking space because my predecessor didn’t own one, and it wasn’t until mid-October that I found a car to buy. All of these new experiences had me feeling vulnerable and out-of-place… something I had never felt to this extreme.

The truth is that you will adjust. I am used to the heat after one year, and a 35 degree day feels “averagely hot” to me. I studied food label kanji to make grocery trips easier. I got to know my coworkers by attending as many gatherings as possible. I was patient in finding a car, and with the help of some JET friends near me, the deal was made, and I drove off into the sunset (after practicing some right-hand driving maneuvers, of course).

The key to overcoming these difficult situations and adjusting to a new culture is finding something that allows you to escape temporarily. Reading and writing are wonderful stress-relievers. Meet with some friends on the weekend and hang out. Capture images of your new life and send them to friends and family at home. Walking or biking around your neighborhood is a great way to get rid of residual stress, and this is one activity I can’t go without. I live very close to the Saitobaru Burial Mounds, and try to make it there often to take photos, exercise, and watch the sunset. Find something that removes you from the bad experiences that come with moving to another country. Studying Japanese, participating in a Japanese sport, or any other type of Japanese activity are fun things to do, but there are learning curves. If you’re looking to relax, putting yourself in a position with expectations could give rise to more stress and more instances of shock that have you confused about why you moved here. When I’m feeling far from home, I like to do something familiar and comforting.

Of course, if participating in a new activity is something that you find relaxing, go for it! I participated in the “Kofun Matsuri” – an annual festival in Saito that took months of practice and dedication. It was really fun, but I still needed familiar activities to keep me grounded.

If you’re feeling out of place, sad, depressed, or anxious about your move to Japan, you should always tell someone you trust. It’s important to vocalize your difficulties, and understand that they are normal. Don’t worry about small things, keep a routine, and understand that every one of us has likely felt what you’re feeling.

Good luck with your new adventure!

~Madelyn Townes, Saito

Exploring Miyazaki

Miyazaki is ripe with culture, tradition, and history. Everywhere you go there will be temples, shrines, or ruins. Take the time to explore your town and unearth whatever history you can. Then, explore the rest of the prefecture. There is an abundance of places to see!

“Not all those who wander are lost.” In my first weeks in Miyakonojo I had no iPhone, no google maps…hell, I had no map of the city whatsoever! Needless to say, I got lost. Many, MANY times! On the way back from the mall, on the way to my best friend’s house, in school! I was forever finding myself in the wrong place with no idea of where to go next. Strangely enough I was fine with it. It may have been my newfound wandering nature or Kyushu’s chill-out vibe, but I didn’t stress. If you get lost don’t worry, you’ll find your way eventually, and you never know what you might find on the way!

~Jo Gwinnet, Miyakonojo

It`ll be roasting when you arrive, and the first thing you’ll want to do is head to the beach. While the beaches are beautiful, in my humble opinion the beaches are almost too hot in the month of August. The best places to cool off are in the rivers and streams up in the hills. Near Miyazaki City, my favorite spots are Kaeda Gorge, Aya River, and Aoidake.

~Ian Fuller, Miyazaki City

Cellphones

One thing most JETs can agree on is the sheer necessity of a cell phone, particularly smartphones. A smartphone may be your first access to internet when you arrive in your new town. Many JETs will sign up for the tethering option so they can use their phones as a wifi hotspot for their computers at home. A phone with a GPS function is incredibly useful when you are out exploring or trying to find your way somewhere, be it by car or bike.

If you’re looking to get a smart phone here, check the second hand shops. You can buy iPhones for less than half of what you’d pay buying it upfront at Softbank or Docomo (it’ll be around 50,000). I’ve heard very conflicting things about being able to use an unlocked phone from home here. Some say it works some say it doesn’t.

~Ian Fuller, Miyazaki City

A lot of people go to buy new phones when they get here because they are not permitted generally to use their unlocked phones from home. I haven’t done this personally, but perhaps consider a pocket wifi or travel sim rather than buying the phone outright, especially if you are only planning on staying for a year.

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki City

Shopping

Shopping may be one of the most difficult experiences you have upon arrival, particularly if you can’t read hiragana or katakana. Not only that, but grocery stores have very strict seasonal items, so things you may be used to finding year-round at home might only be available for a few months out of the year at your local store. Some items you may not be able to find at all, and will need to turn to alternative sources. In addition to your senpai’s advice, please check out our page on getting a taste of home in Japan for all of your shopping-related needs.

Check recycle shops for things before you buy them outright new. Amazon, rakuten, and iHerb are your friends!!! Apply for a credit card (I recommend Rakuten) within the first month if you can. You might get rejected. Try again. Make sure a Japanese person helps you if you don’t have the language ability. If you plan on travelling outside of the country at all this will be very valuable to you

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki City

Traveling

One thing you’re sure to want to do is travel. There are a variety of ways to travel around Japan and other parts of Asia. If you need a hand figuring out your travel plans, please check out our page on getting around.

Get a bike if your geographical area is at all friendly to it. It is the best way to get to know your neighbourhood quickly.

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki City

Set up a frequent flier account before you depart so you can get miles on your flight to Japan. You’ll probably be doing a lot a traveling while you’re here and the points will add up.

~Ian Fuller, Miyazaki City

STA Travel is a travel agency that caters to younger travelers, though anyone can use them. They have an international office with English-speaking staff, which is very helpful if you can’t speak Japanese at all. STA can generally find you slightly cheaper flights than a general search. They also have an affiliation with AJET and can provide a small discount on flights (both international and domestic) and on tour packages within Japan.

~Cassie Conrad, Kushima

Events and Socializing

There will be many events throughout the year. They may be local festivals or events, CIR-lead events, MAJET events, or general social events planned by your friends and co-workers. Attending or participating in these events is one of the best ways to fully experience everything Japan has to offer.

Honestly, one of the most difficult things for me has been managing my calendar. There is so much stuff going on all the time. At the beginning of the year, I found myself going to two or three events per week, be it a barbecue with my co-workers, a local festival, or an event with fellow JETs. It was in mid-October when I realized that I hadn’t spent a single weekend at home since the Welcome Party in  August. Upon realizing that, I decided to stay home that weekend instead of going out. While I was sad to miss the festivals I had planned to go to, I was also really glad that I did stay home, as I hadn’t realized just how burnt out I was until I took time to relax.

The fact of the matter is, there is so much to do here that you probably won’t get around to everything you want to try. That’s alright; its incentive to stay on another year or to come back at another time in the future. In the meantime, do some research to pick and choose the events which seem most interesting or important to you. Leave some cushion time in each weekend to allow for spontaneity. One of my favorite memories so far was the day after the Leavers’ Party when a bunch of us took an impromptu trip to Heiwadai Park in Miyazaki City and spent the afternoon turtle-watching and playing frisbee.

Lastly, take it from someone with a massive case of fear of missing out, you do not need to say “yes” to everything, be it with your friends or your coworkers. As long as you continue to show an interest in what they are doing, you will continue to be included in events whether you can attend them all or not. It is important to realize that you need to book some time for yourself every once in a while.

~Cassie Conrad, Kushima

In the Home

Everyone’s apartment will be different, but this advice is universal. Make sure you find out from your predecessor or supervisor all of the rules pertaining to your apartment. Are you allowed to put holes in the walls? Can you have pets? What sort of repairs will you be responsible for vs. your landlord. Finding out ahead of time may help you prepare for future unexpected costs.

Ask your predecessor specifically how much it costs to run your AC. Some ALTs get astronomic electricity bills when they run their AC all the time while others don’t. For me, it’s only about 3000 more a month to run my AC whenever I’m in my apartment compared to not running it at all.

~Ian Fuller, Miyazaki City

Get lots of roach motels and put them around the various perimeters and corners of your apartment.

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki

Taking Care of Yourself

This is extremely important business, guys. You’ve just been plopped into a new place at the hottest time of year with horrible jet lag and you may not even have a bed, so it’s important to pay attention to your health. You might feel like you need to sort everything out immediately, but remember that you’ve got time. Listen to your body and be sure to drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest until you have adjusted to the new climate and time zone. Exercising and maintaining good health will also help you cope with culture shock. For any future health issues, please refer to our medical information page.

Drink lots of water. If you go drinking, especially in the summer, have a sports drink like Green DaKaRa before you go to bed.

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki

Hobbies and Free Time

Everyone has their own ways they relax and enjoy themselves. It is important to keep up with your own hobbies from home, but it is also part of the JET experience to try new things. Ask your local JETs, pay attention to the Plaza News, and check out the various JET groups on Facebook to learn about opportunities in your area and elsewhere in the prefecture. As for ways to keep up with your own hobbies from home, here are a few thoughts from your senpais:

Download ebooks from your home library.

~Sinead Owens, Miyazaki

There is actually quite a sizeable group of crafters in Miyazaki, though we all have different skills. If you’re a crafter and looking for some company, just put a bulletin out on Facebook and you’re bound to get loads of responses!

~Cassie Conrad, Kushima

We hope this advice is helpful to you in your first weeks here in the Zak! To learn more about Miyazaki, please explore our site.

We’re constantly working on improving and adding more information, so don’t hesitate to get in touch to suggest content we should add or to us ask questions that you’re having trouble finding answers to.

A big thanks to our contributors: Rick Snyder, Madelyn Townes, Jo Gwinnet, Sinead Owens, Ian Fuller, and Cassie Conrad.

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