5 am. That is the hour my first alarm goes off with a pleasant little birdsong. I am particularly slow in the morning and I hate being rushed, so I get up early. Not this early though, so I turn off that alarm. 30 minutes later a more obtrusive church bell alarm goes off. I Turn that one off too. 10 minutes later, Jump by Van Halen goes off to tell me to get my ass out of bed. I shamble to do basic morning hygiene and put on some morning coffee and get dressed. I long ago assimilated the Japanese custom of showering before bed, as it saves me a few minutes in the morning. At 6am the incredibly loud and annoying alarm that has the same effect on my ears as a dentist’s metal hook on my front teeth, goes off. This is my 6am emergency alarm… Just in case. I quickly skim CNN, Fox News, The BBC and the Japan times for about 20 minutes. If I have a lot to do that particular day, I will get the 0625 bus. If I have a little time to kill I will get the 0635 bus. That 10 minutes makes a lot of difference because the train leaves at either 0650 or 0715. The ride to work takes about 25 minutes, and I usually get my NPR fix a la this American life, on point, Fresh air, or some other loosely affiliated podcast. Some schools, like the school I am at today requires me to hop another bus which leaves 5 minutes after I arrive if I managed the 0650 train. If I took the later train, I have to wait 20 minutes. Half of my schools are in walking distance from the station and in the winter 3/4 are (I prefer not to arrive at school all sweaty, so the school somewhat close to the station I walk to only in cool weather). Generally this equates to me arriving at school at either 0730ish or 0810ish. The actual time I have to be there is 0830, but like I said before, I don’t like to be rushed, and I have to prepare and contend with other teachers who are also preparing. It can also mean queuing up for the copy machines. A side benefit is that in Japan, arriving early has a very esteemed image, and it adds to my image capital within the school.
This week I am at Nakamaru-chu. My schedule looks like this: Monday is a national holiday (soooo many holidays in Japan) so no class. Tuesday I have 2 3rd year classes and 3 1st year classes. Wednesday I have 5 3rd year classes, Thursday I have 3 3rd year classes and 3 3rd year classes, and Friday I have 2 3rd year classes, 1 first year class and 1 special education class. While it looks like I am really busy with the 3rd year kids, I am actually not. It is speaking test time, and I am interviewing each student at roughly 2 minutes a piece. Class size is roughly 40 kids per class, so simple math says I have to do the same class twice.
Today is Friday so I have to make sure I get the hanko stamp from the vice principle. A hanko is a rubber stamp that functions as a signature in Japan, and by the vice principle stamping my work report, he is signing off that I was present and did my job. This is supposed to be done everyday, but all of them prefer to do it all on Friday the only problem with this is that is if at the end of the day the vice principle has a meeting or something and disappears. I usually won’t be back for another month so I will miss my monthly paperwork deadline,
Next week’s schedule came in last night and is really taking me to task. The lessons I need to teach are lessons I don’t already have an established lesson plan for, and in addition to that, it’s a day in which I am being observed. I always get nervous when I am being observed. I always rock the observation, but that doesn’t help me not be nervous for the next one.
Tonight I am getting off work around 230ish. Unfortunately it doesn’t tie in with the bus schedule at all, so I will be waiting for another 30 minutes. The train at this time is unfortunately packed with junior college kids who gibber like macaques on meth and dress like androgynous 80s rejects… That kills any chance I have for a quick nap on the way home.
Tonight, the first year teachers have invited me to go drinking with them. It ought to be fun, and I know one of the teachers in this group is a mad man when he drinks… So tonight will be interesting. I will miss the last bus home tonight, so I will have to walk home from the station… Most likely a little drunk too.
Except for the latter paragraph, this pretty much sums up in broad brush strokes my days in and days out in Japan.