Mount Fuji-A Worthwhile Challenge

The walk to the distant mountain
An early hiking trail-still flat
A proud mountain climber
The top of the mountain
A rest stop near the top
Watching the sunrise

During my internship, I could not miss the opportunity to climb one of the world’s most famous mountains in Mount Fuji. Not knowing any specific information about the climb, I was surprised to learn that most climbers choose to take a bus up to the fifth of the mountain’s ten stations to cut the hike short. I also learned that a previous intern had succeeded in making the hike from the bottom of the mountain which inspired my sense of adventure to take on the challenge.

Upon emailing said intern, I was further intrigued, and a little intimidated, by the details she provided me. She described that overnight hike as an increasingly steepening 12 hour trek to the top to see the rising sun. She also pointed out the massive temperature changes, saying that at the base she was sweating in shorts while at the top she was cold under 2 layers. After hearing this account, I was motivated to take on that hike and saw it as a tremendous personal challenge and truly unique Japanese experience.
So, I took a train to Tokyo on a Friday evening in late July and then transferred to a bus that took me to Kawaguchiko, one of the towns at the mountain’s base. That evening I stayed in a capsule hotel, and the next day I stopped by an onsen to relax before I began the hike.

I then began hiking from the onsen at around 4:30. I followed a main road and eventually another road, reaching the start of the trail within about an hour. During this time, the sun had began to set and twilight descended. It was near fully dark at around 7, during which time I was guided only by my headlamp in the woods for about 2 and a half hours. It was a somewhat eerie yet peaceful experience I can’t say I’ve experienced an equivalent to.
Eventually, the forest cleared and I stopped at a station featuring an overlook and a shop selling snacks. There, I bought a chocolate bar which is one of the best things I have ever eaten given how tired I was. At that point I was beginning to worry that it may be difficult to complete the hike. However, I was determined to see my goal through, reminding myself to continue to pace the hike.

While the forest part of the path featured many steps, the next part became significantly steeper and was coated in gravel, making progress much slower. This was especially disheartening after I realized how tired I already was at that point. After reaching the next station, I was surprised to see signs indicating that the top of the mountain was only 5 km away. As a high school cross country runner, I had to walk many 5ks on pre race course tours, which generally took only 45 minutes to complete. Knowing that I wasn’t supposed to arrive for 6 hours, I was worried about what lie ahead.
At this point, the area was lit up by fellow hikers and their headlamps. The whole trail was covered in hikers and the path to the top was completely illuminated. However, at this point the trail wasn’t so congested; it was possible to hike around slower walkers. This would change; if memory serves it took me over an hour to cover the final kilometer. The trail became extremely congested to the point where I spent long periods of time just standing still in line.

My arrival was worth it. I received a major sense of accomplishment upon the completion of the hike. While the sunrise was partially covered by clouds, the view was still spectacular and my tiredness made it all the more satisfying. In addition to the view, the top of Mount Fuji itself is a spectacle to see. Hiking trails circumvent the volcano’s crater and the ground is covered in very distinctive red volcanic dust. It also features a Ramen shop, which after completing my hike, proved to be some of the best Ramen I had in Japan.
I am very happy that I went through with this hike as it has proved to be one of my proudest accomplishments. If any readers ultimately end up interning at ICU and would like more information about the hike, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at matt.curry56@gmail.com.

Private Chat Hour

One of the most rewarding aspects of this internship for me was getting to work one-on-one with students during privately scheduled chat hours. During these times, you and a student will work on test prep, conversation practice, or writing practice in the intern office, an empty classroom, or—in rarer circumstances—an empty table in the cafeteria or the student lounge. In my experience, private chat hours are both challenging and rewarding: being able to thoroughly explain grammar points in basic English, understand each student’s individual needs, and balance private chat hour duties with other duties can be difficult; however, getting the opportunity to help students on a more personal level was definitely the highlight of my internship experience. Throughout my three months as an intern, I helped a total of seventeen different students during private chat hour; at one point, I had five regularly scheduled private chat hours a week. There’s still a lot I have to learn in regards to teaching and running these private sessions, but I hope that this guide will prove useful to others!

Continue reading “Private Chat Hour”

Living in an Apartment in Hitachi

General Information

Having lived in Hitachi for two sumers now in an apartment, it’s easy for me to say that it is extremely convenient and enjoyable to live by oneself in Japan. I stayed in Sagawa-san’s apartments, other known as the “Maison d’Espoir” complex. Sagawa-san is the landlord, and he is very friendly and helpful. On your first day in the apartment, he will guide you through everything that you need to know, including when/how to throw out the trash, where to put recyclable PET bottles, how to use the stove, etc.

The apartment itself is quite small, being that it is a studio. The kitchen has a singular stove, but Sagawa-san provides an abundance of cooking supplies and eating utensils such as pots, pans, plates, bowls, and cutlery. The bathroom has a classic Japanese-style shower/bathtub/sink combination, which saves a lot of space and is easy to use. There is air conditioning, and depending on the room, there may also be a fan. There are hangers for clothes drying, a vacuum cleaner, and a closet as well as other storage cubicles. There is also a TV (beware of NHK! Sagawa-san will explain this when you meet him). Additionally, Sagawa-san provides a fridge, microwave, toaster, water kettle, and a rice cooker!

Apartment Layout

During my two stays, I had the chance to see three different apartments. I can safely say that the layout for the apartments I stayed in varied only slightly. For example, in 2017, I had a desk and chair, and this year in 2018, the two apartments I saw had floor tables and no chairs. *I had to change my apartment once this year because my AC had broken down, and Sagawa-san swiftly helped me move into a different apartment the very next day. Both the apartments I stayed in this year were on the second floor, whereas the one I stayed in last year was on the first floor. If you have a request to have a table or floor table, I would make sure to let the Intern Coordinator and Sagawa-san know before it is arranged! I personally would have preferred having a chair this year, but it was nice to experience using a floor table and a seat mat (that I purchased at Daiso) seeing that I was in Japan! As for beds, my first and second apartments had regular beds and Sagawa-san provided all of the bedding. The third apartment had a sofa bed, which was slightly less firm than a mattress, but still very comfortable.

Location

The apartment is conveniently located about 25 minutes by foot from Ibaraki Christian University or 12 minutes by bicycle. A 5-minute walk away is a Daiso (100-yen shop) as well as a Mini-Stop (convenience store). I have found these two stores to be extremely useful. Daiso for things such as dish sponges, cups, and just about anything you will need in your apartment (even soy sauce, spices, and food!). Mini-stop is a 24/7 convenience store that will satisfy your late-night cravings or if you need anything when stores are usually closed. About a 20 minute walk away in two different directions are two supermarkets: Maruto and Sanyu. Maruto is larger, closer to the school, and slightly cheaper overall. I wouldsuggest shopping at Maruto. Sanyu is smaller but adjacent to a drugstore (drugstores in Japan also sell toiletries and amenities such as shampoo, make-up, soap, etc.).

Overall Impressions

If you prefer the independence and freedom, I would highly recommend staying in the apartments. If you like to cook, the singular stove is easy to work with (you can get creative with how to cook everything!). I have nothing but good impressions of the apartments and can say that if I were to return (a third time…) to Hitachi, that I would definitely return to the apartments.

Lunch at DCE

When I first arrived at the DCE, I was anxious about the lunchtime component of the internship and hesitant to sit with students that I didn’t know and might not connect with. As a generally introverted person, enthusiastically introducing myself to new people and holding the weight of starting new conversations does not come easily to me, and when I first sat down with students and tried to energetically connect, it felt uncomfortable and forced. However, after a half dozen or so lunchtimes at different tables with unfamiliar students, I realized that forcing myself to be enthusiastic and outgoing around new people and pushing myself out of my comfort zone became gradually less forced and less uncomfortable.

A series of things had changed: first, I was getting to know the students and making genuine friends, so that each time I sat down at lunch there were one or two familiar faces. Second, I learned which points of conversation were generally successful: asking for recommendations of where to travel and what to eat in Japan, sharing photos and watching music videos, and talking about my interests in Kpop and Tokyo street fashion almost always got students excited and more confidently speaking about their own favorite shows or interests. A balance of familiar (Japanese/Asian) and unfamiliar (Western) topics proved to work really well; discussing both Disney and Ghibli, Marvel and manga, kept students comfortable and confident but also challenged and engaged. Third, my enthusiasm and energy became more natural over time as I became used to regularly introducing myself to new people and sharing my interests with the students.

Of course, just as in any other situation, you can’t form a deep connection with everyone you talk to; regardless, if you’re friendly, approachable and willing to listen, it’s possible to have a good conversation with almost anyone. The experience is always tiring and conversations sometimes fall short – miscommunication and misunderstandings are common, largely as a result of the language barrier – but ultimately, it’s entirely worth it to expend the energy and put yourself out there. I’ve made some wonderful close friends at Ibaraki as a result of the lunchtime component of the internship, and I urge future interns to take advantage of the least-structured period of the day to really connect with students and have fun.

In summary, if you’re considering interning at the DCE but you’re nervous about interacting with unfamiliar students and putting yourself out of your comfort zone: fake it till you make it. With time and practice, forced enthusiasm can become the genuine enjoyment of eating lunch with your friends.

Traveling to Tokyo using the Bus

With Tokyo only 2 hours away, it would be a shame to not venture into the city during the weekend.  Lucky for interns, it is very easy and cheap to take the highway bus to and from Tokyo!

Step 1. Go to the online website (which is in English)

https://www.kousokubus.net/JpnBus/en

The site should look like this

Ibaraki and Tokyo should be in the “to” and “from” sections.  The route should be “Tokyo –> Hitachi”.  The bus stop for Tokyo should always be Tokyo Station.  There are two choices for the bus stop from Ibaraki.  “Shintanakochi” is the stop interns use when they arrive from the airport but without a car it is a little difficult to get to.  I suggest using “Ishinazaka”.  This stop is just up the road from IC and can be easily walked to.  If you are living with a host family in a town other than Omika, from “Ishinazaka” you can walk to Omika Station and catch a train home.

Step 2: Picking and paying for your ticket  

Once you put in your ticket information, you can search for available buses.

Different bus selections will pop up for the day selected

The tickets are displayed from earliest departure to latest.  (Be careful! Japan uses a 24-hour clock).  Once you find your desired departure time, there will usually be 3 options to chose from.  “Hayauri” tickets are early booking seats and are only available if tickets are reserved at least a day in advanced of the trip day.  They are a little cheaper at ¥2100  and are what I usually choose when I’m picking tickets.  The normal price for a one-way trip is ¥2460 and is the next option.  The options in the red boxes are special ladies-only seating if anyone is uncomfortable sitting next to a man.  Options or the whole bus may be sold out if you try to reserve late so make sure you get your tickets in advance.

Once you have made your selection, the website will have you give your email address and will send you a reservation confirmation and a link for payment. !!!MAKE SURE YOU PAY!!!  Your reservation usually has a time limit of 10-30 minutes.  If you do not pay within this time limit, the link becomes a dud and the whole process must be started again.  I recommend paying right away to avoid any headaches.  Once you pay online, they will provide you with a printable electronic ticket.  You will need to print it and hand it to the bus driver when you board the bus.

An example of a ticket

Step 3: Returning

After you have had your fun weekend in Tokyo, it is time to return and get ready for Monday morning.  Returning buses always leave from Tokyo Station from the Yaesu South Exit.

Japanese public transportation is always on time so do NOT be late.  I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to navigate the maze that is Tokyo Station.  Once you find the buses, it might seem a little intimidating with buses leaving every 10 minutes and masses of people running around.  No worries though since you left yourself at least 10 minutes to find what dock your bus will be leaving from….rightttt?  They have electronic screens at every docking pillar that lists the next three departing buses.  Find the correct departure time and look for 日立駅 (Hitachi Station).  If you really can’t find it, try asking one of the station attendants who are wondering around.  I am sure they will gladly point you in the right direction.  Once you find your bus, there will be 10 minutes of boarding time before you are finally off and on your way back home! The return bus will always stop at Shintanakochi (新田中内), but if you are getting off at Ishinazaka (石名坂 – the next stop), remember to push the button telling the driver that you want to get off. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself at Taga station and will have to find your way back to Omika.

Being an intern at IC has allowed me to fully appreciate Japanese public transportation.  It is so easy to use and much cheaper than back home.  During your time at IC, make sure to utilize it.  Enjoy!

Kashima-Jingu Shrine

Check out my vlog to see just how beautiful the Kashima-Jingu shrine really is!

DEITY:

The Kashima-Jingu shrine is dedicated to Takemikazuchi, the ancient god of thunder and martial arts. After the Father of Japan, Izanagi, beheaded his own son as a punishment, it is said that Takemikazuchi sprung from the blood that splashed onto the rocks from Izanagi’s sword. With Takemikazuchi, Futsunushi was also born. Both gods are revered and respected as gods of martial and military arts.

ABOUT:

This shrine is the oldest shrine in the entire Kanto region and is one of the Three Shrines of the East in Japan. It is assumed to have been founded in 660BC, during Emperor Jimmu’s first year.

The entrance of the shrine, the Romon, is one of the largest gateways in Japan! It is also considered to be an important cultural property and is one of many important aspects of the shrine. There are many historical artifacts stored within the treasure hall inside the shrine. One of the artifacts is Japan’s longest and oldest sword. Unfortunately, I was unable to go into the treasure hall so I didn’t get to see the sword.

Gateway to Kashima-Jingu Shrine
The bright red gateway showed us exactly where we needed to go.

In some parts of Japan, deer are considered to be messengers of the gods and are admired greatly due to their significance in the Shinto religion. Deer are sacred animals and can be found in the “deer park” in the Kashima-Jingu shrine, among a few other places around Japan.

Sacred Deer in Kashima-Jingu Shrine
The deer park in the Kashima-Jingu Shrine.

After wandering around the shrine and immersing yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds the shrine, you can buy an amulet (omamori) as a lucky souvenir. The ones I saw said “Traffic safety” and “Good luck on exams”. The omamori are made by women who work at the shrine. At the Kashima-Jingu shrine, they wear the traditional styled clothing of the red skirt and white top.

More omamori
Even more omamori! Buy all the luck you can!

I hope you enjoyed this post! I will try to be posting every other day on my personal blog so follow me to keep up with my adventures in Japan!

DCE Intern: Home Stay with Ibaraki Christian

 

https://www.ricoh.com/ja/SHOGI/rules/erules.html
I recommend brushing up on your Shogi before travelling to Japan. This is a game similar to checkers and chess. It helps if you know kanji before hand but the more you play the more you will become familiar with this unique game. Cllick the image to see the rules.

Before you become an intern at IC you are given a choice of living with a home stay family or living in an apartment. Both choices have terrific benefits during the internship.

I jumped at the opportunity to stay with a family during my two month stay in Ibaraki for my internship at DCE. I am learning to speak and write a new language with the parents, I eat delicious foods around Ibaraki at places like Mito, Kasama and Hitachi, and I have introduced their son to ukulele. Visiting different attractions have been incredible such as the Mito City Tower.

The family have a study school on the property. The mother works hard to teach students English, mathematics, science, history, geography and much more. I read manga like Naruto for a break while enjoying milk and Japanese snacks. This provides an extra teaching opportunity with younger students.

The ritual every morning for my home stay family is centered around the breakfast table. I am thankful for every meal. Each and every morning you wake up, you say good morning and thank the family for cooking the meal. On weekends we go out to see my host brothers soccer game. It helps to be interested in soccer, and show a genuine interest in the interests and hobbies the family enjoy doing too.

I asked another intern, Martin Chan about their home stay experience. He compares the quality of the food as a feast, better than a restaurant. My home stay family are accommodating and kind.

Thank you for this incredible opportunity. I have been given the opportunity to understand what it is like to live like a Japanese person day to day.

What are Students like at Ibaraki Christian?

Many applicants wonder what the students at Ibaraki Christian University are like. After all, as an intern you spend most of your time working with students in small groups during chat hour, one on one for English homework help and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) preperation, and in English Conversation Classes every week.

Future interns might be afraid that the students won’t be very friendly, won’t be interested in talking to them, or so on. But I can absolutely reassure you that this is not the case.

Students playing Pictionary while waiting for cookies to bake in Chat Hour.

After asking each of the current interns and one of the teachers to give me one word describing the students at Ibaraki Christian, we came up with this list:

  • Adorable
  • Hardworking
  • Shy
  • Wonderful
  • Sweethearts
  • Friendly

The students can certainly be quiet and reserved during chat hour, and there will be times when you have to sit and stare at each other and wait until they finally feel so uncomfortable that they say something. But if you put in the effort to get to know the students, do fun activities with them, and above all, be patient with them, they will slowly become more comfortable and more active in trying to speak with you. It’s rarely that they don’t want to talk with you, but simply that they’re nervous about talking in English.

Students playing Lizzete’s Battle Royale Game!

They’re also more than happy to make friends with you! Be warned, students have very busy schedules–if you ask them what they’re doing on the weekend or on a given evening, the answer will more often than not be something like “studying for my three tests next week”, “working at my part time job”, “going to a make up class” or so on. But if you ask to hang out, chances are they will want to when they have time.

Interns and students enjoying dinner at CoCo’s.

I’ve gone to Licca-chan Castle with a student and her mother, gone out to karaoke with students, gone shopping with students, gone out to eat with students, gone sightseeing with them, gone to cat cafes with them, and even gone to Tokyo for a day trip with them. Each and every time was a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Miho and Brianna when we visited Hananuki Dam.

You don’t have to worry about not getting along with the students when you come–only how much you’ll miss them when you leave.

Ibaraki Christian Kindergarten

October 17 & November 7, 2017

On these days, Onaca, Lizzete, and I (Brianna) had the pleasure of attending Ibaraki Christian’s very own kindergarten! It was an experience to go down in the books.

We made our way with Rory to the facility, to be greeted with utmost kindness, and of course cuteness by not only the staff, but some kindergarteners as well! Like most Japanese schools, we must take off our shoes. We could either sport the facility’s slippers, or our very own indoor shoes. After a brief tour of the facility, we were instructed to wait until being greeted by the respective kindergarten teachers. Once greeted, we were led into the classroom, only to be swept away by those oh-so-cute faces of the kindergarteners! We can justify this, they were NOT shy.

On the first day, October 17th, we were to teach the 4-year-old classes, Nozomi (hope) 1 & 2. To kick things off, we instructed them to gather and sit in a circle. Using our bodies and arms, we made a circle. They understood, and did as so.  The three of us introduced ourselves, and got quite the reactions, some I will not forget. Lizzete and I gave shortened versions of our names; Liz and Bri. When Onaca (AH-NAH-KA) introduced herself, we were received with giggles–I believe they heard onaka (OH-NAH-KA), the Japanese word for stomach. It was quite funny.  Moving along, we wanted to get the children moving (heh, see what I did there?). We began with Total Physical Response (TPR). We gave them commands such as: stand up, sit down, touch the floor, point to the door (ooh, that rhymes! I’m on fire!), stomp, and clap. We ourselves did it along with them. To be silly, we consequentially made them stand up, only to sit back down shortly afterwards. They got quite the kick out of that. Onwards, we gathered round back into a big circle and introduced them to body parts with pictures: head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. For head, we had a picture of Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece. He was quite a hit. We then closed with “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” and the “Hokey Pokey” and said our goodbyes.

The second and final time, we got a better understanding of the kids and how to use our time. Unfortunately, it is a process and will take much more than two times to perfect our lesson.  This time, we were with the Ai (love) 1 & 2 class. These were the 5-year-olds. Even though a year older, they were still not shy.  We pretty much did the same lesson, with minor revisions and better management of time. The 5-year-olds, however had a significantly greater retention of the vocabulary that was presented to them, and were much more responsive.

Overall, it was a great experience!