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A Post Card From Japan

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

This Post Card is about the time I spent in Japan, which began in 1997 with my placement in Shimizu Ward in what is now Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Having previously spent a year in France, when I set off for Japan, I was really excited about gaining another insight into life in Asia. By this time, I had already spent a year living in China from 1995-1996 and I was keen to find out what life would be like in an alternative Asian culture. Until it was merged into Shizuoka City in 2003, Shimizu (清水) was a city in its own right which centred around its scenic port from where Mount Fuji can be viewed on clear days.

I went to Japan with the well-known scheme sponsored by the Japanese government, called the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. The JET Programme was launched in 1987 with the aim of increasing shared understanding between the people of Japan and other nations. Through The JET Programme graduates from around the world participate in internationalisation initiatives and get involved in language education at Japan’s local government offices, boards of education and schools.

The JET Programme has grown exponentially since its launch in 1987, with the number of participating countries in the JET Programme growing from 4 to 50. Over the last four decades, more than 77,000 people from 78 countries have participated in the JET Programme, as shown by the graph below:

Once again I was lucky enough to take part in an induction course in London before departure to learn more about Japanese language and culture. The Japanese language has about 130 Million first language speakers with significant diaspora in Brazil and the US amounting to approximately 3.5 Million of that total, however not all of these people have native speaker proficiency. Despite attempts to investigate connections between Japanese and other languages none have been particularly successful. Japanese uses three scripts in its writing system including Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, or Chinese Characters. Romaji ( Roman Letters) are also sometimes used.

Kanji options representing the name ‘Anthony’ (An-So-No-Ii)

While I was working at the school in Shimizu, one of my co-workers kindly wrote out the series of Japanese Kanji which could be used to write a Japanese version of my name 'Anthony' or 'An-So-Ni-Ii'. As you can see from the image above there are numerous homophonic Kanji for each of the four syllables which represent my name, thus illustrating one of the complexities of learning Japanese.

The bright lights of Tokyo

On arrival in Tokyo, we spent a week in the Keio Plaza Hotel. After the Tokyo induction course, other JETs from Shizuoka-Ken went to Mishima city where we were collected by teachers from our respective schools. This was my first encounter with Oka-sensei who was my 'Sempai', or the mentor who I was allocated in my school.

The People I met and worked with

My placement in Japan was in Shimizu City in Shizuoka-Ken. This city has since been amalgamated with Shizuoka City. I worked in Shimizu Commercial Senior High School which was famous throughout Japan for its production of famous soccer players. You can imagine how disappointing it was for them to recruit a British English teacher who had absolutely no interest in football. In the school, I taught with a range of teachers and tried to bring to life the rather monotone textbooks which my students were subjected to for the purposes of learning English. Although it was true that many of the students were much more interested in Football than English, this experience encouraged me to begin my Masters degree in Applied Linguistics and to focus my dissertation on teaching materials for Japanese learners. In the evenings I was also able to work for the City council and teach local adults in the community. This gave me access to a completely different group of students with alternative learning requirements.

Friends, colleagues and my students in Japan

What I learned

Working alongside Oka Sensei and fellow ALT Joe Thompson in the school, in addition to my evening classes, really taught me a lot about Japanese culture and the positive and challenging aspects of the Japanese education system. At the weekends I was also easily able to travel from Shimizu to places all over Japan and had a great network of other JETs in other cities, including Hamamatsu. My time in Japan was extremely positive both in terms of the cultural experience and the chance to learn from the Japanese education system. My time in Japan was a step back into secondary education after having worked in university environments in France and China two years previously. Although I enjoyed working in a school it also helped me to make the decision to pursue further studies in Applied Linguistics and to move towards a career in higher education.

Impact on life afterwards

The exciting and varied blend of traditional culture and hi-tech modernity, which characterises the Japanese culture, has encouraged me to return to Japan numerous times since I returned from my first year there. It is also what led me to work for Doshisha University At the University of Warwick, Teikyo University of Japan in Durham and Gyosei International College in Reading before I moved into roles in the UK University sector. During my main roles in UK universities, I have had the privilege of leading courses for Japanese students in the UK Japanese language courses for Uk students. These learning experiences have been supported by a broad range of partnerships with Japanese Universities which have also allowed me to travel back to Japan.

Visiting Kobe University

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