My school has just finished our end of summer festivals. My high school has a two-day culture festival and sports day. These 3 days are pure joy to be at school. Classes are cancelled, kids are relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, Teachers are dressed in weird costumes, and graduated students return to the school to visit with their old classmates and teachers.
These 3 days are always some of my favorite memories from each school year and remind me of how lucky I am to experience Japan from within the public school community. These days of fun couldn’t come at a better time, especially this year..
My summer was tough this year. As stated in a previous post, many of my friends left Fukui moving onto their next adventures in the beginning of August. I had made plans to visit home for a few weeks at the end of July, which forced me to say goodbye to them a few weeks earlier than normal. Saying goodbye I knew would be hard but I didn’t expect it to involve as many tears as it did.
I think the hardest thing was that I knew starting my 3rd year in Japan would feel a lot like starting over. While I am no longer new to the country and I know far more than I did when I came, my experience these past 2 years has had as much to do with the people as it did the country I was in.
Please don’t think I am overlooking the people who are still a part of my daily life in Japan, like the ALTs who stayed and the Japanese friends I have made. I still love my community at school with my coworkers, students, and Japanese friends, but many of the other ALTs in Fukui have been my traveling partners and become some of my closest friends. I knew that when I came back to Japan it wouldn’t be the same.
After saying goodbye to my friends and shedding a few tears on the train ride to Osaka, I left for home. I was so excited to be home. I had only been away for 6 months but it felt like it had been longer. So much had changed in 6 months. My sister had a baby and a dearly loved grandparent had passed away.
I loved having the time to reconnect with my family and good friends. I think this trip home was far and away my favorite. I wasn’t looking forward to returning to school and to Fukui where it would feel empty without the people who I spent most of my time with.
When I came back to Fukui I was missing my family and dreading the coming school year. The term after summer until winter vacation is BY FAR my busiest at school.
The new ALTs arrived and that was better than I expected. I’ve met a lot of people I really love talking to but I couldn’t shake this negative cloud following me around affecting my attitude.
Then the end of summer came and school festivals were happening. (read about my first impression of school festivals during my first year here) Like I said earlier, pure joy. I LOVE my job, I love the kids I teach, and I love the teachers who I get the privilege of working with. It was the perfect thing to shake me out of my negative attitude!
Bunka-sai or Culture Festival/Culture Day comes first. Each year the student council picks a theme. Last year our theme was “fantasy” and this year it was “puzzle, putting the pieces together.” The classes are all divided into 4 teams and the teams compete over the course of the three days. The ichi-nensei students transform their classroom into different places/settings for the culture festival.
The ni-nenseis open a stall or food booth in their classroom and serve lunch to everyone at the festival, and the san-nensei students are in charge of the stage and the entertainment over the 2 days.
Different clubs get to sign up for stage time and get to show off what they are doing in their club. The ESS club this year sang and danced in English to “Let it Go” from Frozen and “Light Up the World” from Glee. The performance wasn’t the most shining or perfect performance of the day but they definitely tried their best, especially with such a difficult song. (imagine Japanese students trying to pronounce and memorize lines like “one thought crystallizes like an icy blast,” and “my soul is spiraling like frozen fractals…” not easy.)
After Culture Day is Sports day. Sports Day is like an extreme version of field day from elementary school. The kids are older so the games are harder and more competitive. They are also slightly more dangerous.
Each team also creates giant sculptures as a team mascot and perform a 10-minute cheer dance routine. The kids make and choreograph everything completely themselves, including music and costumes. I love sports day. It’s my absolute favorite.
This year meant more to me than ever before because the leaders of each team are always san-nensei and this year my san-nensei students were all ichi-nensei when I arrived in Japan. That means I have been teaching these kids for 3 years. I finally know every student in the school. It really meant more to me seeing them enjoy themselves and lead the festival. Also they all know me and are unafraid to speak casually with me when I am walking around seeing the festivities or watching them prepare for the festival.
The kids are completely happy. They are acting like kids, they are enjoying each other’s company, and the positivity in the air is contagious. Just what I needed to get me out of my funk and excited for the next year in Japan.
While at home I came up with a list of things I want to accomplish this year. I wanted to give myself some focus or perspective and not let this year pass me by. I think I may of accidentally made too many goals! However, Im going for it anyway! This is what I decided:
I want to take two long trips in Japan to new places, perhaps Kyushu and Okinawa? I want to travel abroad for winter vacation. I want to feel more comfortable having full conversations in Japanese without using English words or phrases as a crutch. I want to continue to challenge myself to become a better teacher and to invest in the relationships I have made here that will mean something to me forever, even after leaving.
I’m going to do my best and have a positive attitude going forward so I don’t waste a second of my experience. Positivity is a constant battle when you are abroad and very aware of everything you are missing out on at home. Staying positive even when you are feeling negative has been one of the most constant lessons I have had to learn and relearn while living here.
I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m refreshed. I love being apart of this community at my school. I find it so rewarding and I wouldn’t trade any of the time I’ve had here for anything.
You can read more about my friend’s Sophie’s school festivals on her blog here. Each school is different and she had a different experience being at a junior high school!