English JET Middle School Murakami


Itchu is the nickname for Murakami Daiichi Chuugakkou which itself means “Murakami First Junior High School.” Itchu is how it sounds when you say ichi and chuu together as a shortened version of the whole name. So, here I am at school, at my desk. Today is my second day here, of what have been the first days that feel like real work. Yesterday I planned what my introduction lesson was going to be, and made a bunch of materials. I basically printed out about 30 photos of my doing various things in Alaska and of family and places, and then wrote sentences for each photo. I even changed the structure of the sentences to be appropriate to the level of the students. 1st graders (what we would think of as 7th graders, but they are first graders in the three grade junior high system. It’s like calling them freshmen, basically) got simple words like ‘dog,’ ‘house,’ and ‘glacier,’ although there was some serious confusion between ‘glacier’ and ‘snow’ when I had the students use the photos and sentences in a game. The second and third graders got progressively harder sentences that incorporated things like ‘to’ infinitives, and the past perfect ‘have been.’

Today I did this in four different classes. First, in class with my supervisor, who is pretty good, then two classes with another female teacher, then one with the head English teacher, a man. It went pretty well in all of them, I think. Basically I talked about Alaska and stuff and then showed them the photos. Then I passed out photos to half of the class, and matching sentences to the other half. They had to find the person with the photo or sentence that matched. Like I said, the photo of snow covered mountains and the photo of me and Sienna and James on a glacier were for some reason very difficult for the students to distinguish between “Winter in Alaska is cold” and “Glaciers are fun to climb on.” Funny, cause the photo of us on the Glacier was taken in August.

Anyway, it is nice to have the internet here at school, but I can’t really let my hair down and do whatever I want. Today and tomorrow for some reason school gets out early, so I have a lot more time in the afternoon to just sort of kill time. I can go outside and play with the kids, but I didn’t bring any outdoor clothes today, so I will probably do that tomorrow.

I will put up a few photos just to give an idea of the place. I’ll do a proper upload with captions to pbase in a week or so, but for now I just want to put some photos on this blog!

Murakami View





This is a view of Murakami looking toward the Northwest. The river there is the Miomote River. You can see my apartment near the bottom. It’s the only flattish bright silver roof near the bottom middle, right above the trees. The photo was taken from the top of Oshiroyama, Castle Mountain, which is about a 10 minute run to the top from my apartment.


View from my back window





This is a view from the back of my apartment, to the left. That’s the little road that dead ends in our ‘neighborhood’ of sorts. Dead end street means it’s pretty quiet. Actually, if you look straight out the back of the window, there is a small bamboo grove that I have another great picture of.


JET Murakami


Today I did my last of my preliminary visits to my five schools.  I handed out most of the Alaska gifts that I brought, save the mead and calendars I brought for the principals at my middle school.  It’s going to be interesting working with different people in different settings.  Each school has a different atmosphere, and each supervising teacher has a different level of English, and approach to how to use me in the classroom.  This is particularly noticeable between my four elementary schools, between which I will spend about half of my time.  Three of them are large, from 200 to 400 kids, and one is small, with only 45.  The small one has the newest building, and is 50 feet from the ocean.  I will only visit there about once every month, the other elementaries about once every week or two.  The middle school is my base school, where I will be a little more than half the time.  Classes start Monday, although I will not give my first lesson until Tuesday.  I am anxious about what to include, particularly what sort of activity I should give to accompany my introductory lesson.  I want the students to be interested.  Thursday and Friday are free days, although I still get paid.  I got my first paycheck yesterday!  Sort of exciting.  I have enough money to go shopping for a car now.  If I were hardcore, I’d bike everyday, but not only would that be dangerous in the winter, it would just be a pain in the ass.  I’m gonna get a car.

Of my school visits, one conversation stands out.  At Murakami Minami Elementary, I was talking to Inoue-sensei, my supervisor at that school, and Kawamura-sensei after I had been given a tour of the school.  We were basically just BSing, and Inoue-sensei gave me his business card, or meishi.  I asked them if I should get some, since it’s one of those cultural stereotypes about Japan that I’ve always believed to be true.  But Kawamura-sensei insisted that most teachers do not have them.  Inoue then joked that all men had samurai topknots, and Kawamura replied “oh yeah, and we all carry swords too.”  I found that extremely funny, hearing Japanese cultural stereotypes challenged, and made fun of, by two ordinary Japanese elementary school teachers.

English Murakami

Some Etcetera

This shall be a catch-all post.  All of my posts thus far have been on either laptops with dying batteries, or the remaining ten minutes of my daily 30-minute internet allowance at the Murakami City Library.  I am at an internet cafe (well, a Japanese version of one, with free soft drinks, comic books, billiards, darts, and showers), and, had I planned ahead, I could have uploaded some photos to go along with the various explanations of things.

 Murakami is a beautiful city.  I’ve been to both major beach areas, and while pretty nice, it doesn’t quite seem like the Japanese appreciate their coastline the way other nations do.  Alan Booth, author of Looking for the Lost and The Roads to Sata, writes in his chapter on Tsugaru that the Japanese, while in a land of mountains surrounded by sea, only discovered the appeal of these natural features in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when westerners began to build alpine ski and coastal resorts.  Murakami proper is set a mile or two back from the ocean.  One must cross one of two bridges to get over the train tracks and then battle a phalanx of hotels and enormous metal windbreaks and concrete tetrapods to get a decent view of the ocean.  In a several mile ride on my “city cycle” bike provided to me (a granny bike, I call it) from Senami Onsen in the south, to the mouth of the Miomote river, I passed only four or five homes on the coast.  They were all lavish, but there were an equal number of completely empty lots along the ocean, all built high up on the seawall (actually, about three seawalls) which afford them good views over the tetrapods which clutter the beach.  Having just driven down the east coast of Florida in May, I have somewhat of a baseline for comparison.  Anyway, maybe land costs are simply too high, but my hunch is that the Japanese have a complex relationship with their coastline.  And their rivers.  And their mountains.  I’ll reserve judgement until I ride my bike along the same route this winter, when the Sea of Japan is supposed to rear its stormy head.  Anyone interested further should read Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr, which, perhaps an all too critical book, sheds some light on the points above, and which I constantly find myself quoting from.

JET Murakami


On Monday we had our Prefectural Orientation in Niigata City.  I got to ride some trains, learn more stuff, and meet all the other JETs in the Prefecture, including those right in my town.  There are six of us who live in Murakami, although two work in towns further inland.  The orientation basically covered more stuff about our paid holidays, sick leave, insurance, some teaching ideas, etc.  There was an after-party at a bar in the city which was all you can eat/drink for 90 minutes.  That concept may be the end of me.  I did eat a lot though.  The Murakami group headed back around 9, and then hung out at one of the few bars in Murakami, the “Beachside” darts bar.  It’s not near the beach, but it does have darts.  Joel, our regional adviser and ALT at Murakami Itchu High School, said that this is one of the only places to come in Murakami where there might be people our own age.  Lots of old peoples.  Oh, and yes, Obon is sometime this week.  That’s the yearly ritual where the souls of the dead return to their hometowns, so the living also return to pay their respects.  It’s also supposed to cool down after Obon, so I am in support of that.

Japanese JET Murakami


水曜日に村上に着きました。 新潟駅から来たあと、外国人登録に申し込んで、アパートに行きました。 アメリカのサイズに比べて小さいですが、合っています。 木曜日は、いろいろな種類をサインして、市長をお会いして、ほかのALTのクリスティさんと昼食をジャスコで食べに行きました。 金曜日は私が働くことになっている学校へお回りしました。 それから、自転車で町を冒険しました。 海へ見に行ったけど、けしきは変だと思いました。 浜で、たくさんテトラポットがあるから、不自然な気持ちがありました。 今週末ですから、もっと冒険するつもりです。

JET Murakami

Murakami Arrival

Well, it is now Friday.  I arrived here in Murakami on Wednesday.  It`s a beautiful town.  I have a modest apartment near the base of Oshiroyama (castle mountain) which is about a 400 foot tall forested lump with some neat castle ruins on it.  I climbed it last night and watched the sun set over the sea to the west.

They have me on a pretty light schedule, which I appreciate.  I`ve been gaman-ing (persevering, basically) with the suit and tie, but in this heat, it`s nearly unbearable.  Yeah, it`s hot and crazy humid here.  Thursday, I signed my contract and was sworn in as a public servant and met the mayor.  The exact moment of the Nagasaki atom bomb anniversary occurred during the meeting, which was rather solemn.  They tuned the TV to NHK (the national broadcasting company) to watch the ceremony at the Peace Park in Nagasaki.  I then had lunch and went to the Jusco with Chris, the other ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at the middle and elementary schools here in Murakami.  Today I visited my schools, introducing myself five times to five principals and five rooms full of teachers.  They all seemed impressed/relieved that I could speak Japanese.

I wont have the internet or a cellphone until my alien registration card arrives.  I have a phone at my apartment now but I don`t remember the number.  I should get that so I can be skyped.

English JET Tokyo

Tired in Tokyo

Well, I had planned on making this first post a very structured, informative, complete account of my future here in Japan, but then I got on planes for 14 hours and was shuffled around in Tokyo and handed reams of paperwork for two days.

But, if I don’t post now, I will have to do a recount post in a week and I’ll have forgotten things.

First things first. I am going to be living in Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture, Japan for the next few years. I am in Tokyo now, and take the Shinkansen (bullet train) there tomorrow. School does not start for another month, so I will have some training and settling in duties during that time.

Basically, I’ve been so busy here in Tokyo adjusting to the time change, acclimating to wearing a suit, listening to plodding if not mildly amusing presentations (this one guy had a fabulous vocabulary – diffident, phatic, rejuvenate – and talked to us about hangovers for 20 minutes which forced him to rush through his last 40 slides) and drinking that I have not had time to do nearly anything else. I am very glad I had three months after graduation to basically screw off and laze around, because I will continue to be very busy.

I do have an address, but I do not yet have a phone, and won’t have internet for a week or so. I’ll post those all at once when I have them all.

I am on the 14th floor of a 47 floor hotel here in Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s megadowntowns. I can see into the office building about 100m across the street. Last night around 1 AM, I took a photo of a guy slumped over a desk sleeping. Tomorrow, I’ll be in a second story apartment and I’ll be able to walk to the Japan Sea.


Here’s a Blog

Well, everything has to start with something.