Serena in Shizuoka: ESSAYS
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Christmas in Japan + Holiday Homesickness

After my self introduction, the next set of lessons I needed to prepare was for the Christmas holiday. Once again, I wasn’t given any specific direction for the lessons so I could do what I wanted. I found this to be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it was nice to have the freedom but on the other hand, I was still new and figuring out how to be an effective ALT. While giving my self introduction lesson, I realized I would need to simplify the information I was presenting to the junior high students so they could more easily understand and the teacher didn’t have to do so much translation. I made two versions of my Christmas presentation, one for junior high and one for senior high. I added in some personal photos from past Christmas holidays so not everything I was showing was generic images from the internet. The students seem especially interested in things that are personal to me. They gasped when I showed a picture of my family’s Christmas tree, tall and filled with a variety of ornaments with tons of presents underneath.

The title slide of my Christmas presentation. Snoopy and Disney characters are really popular here.

I also planned different games and activities for the different classes. That’s one of the tough parts of the job is learning the preferences of the different classes and the JTEs themselves. In one class, we played Christmas pictionary. It was pretty fun and I bought Christmas stickers to give out at the end of it. For the first year junior high students, the teacher wanted me to prepare a clip from a Christmas movie and a Christmas song for them to listen and sing along too. I found a sing along video of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” for them to watch and sing a long to. The video played the song and used clips from the movie. It even had English subtitles they could follow along too, so I thought it was the perfect choice. I gave them a fill in the blank sheet with the lyrics so they could follow along and fill in the missing parts. The students loved the video and we ended up watching it a few times so they could finish the lyric sheet. We even slowed it down a little so they could have an easier time and the results were hilarious. We all laughed at how ridiculous it sounded, but it helped them fill in those final blanks they were missing. Click here to see the video I used.

The students laughed a lot at the Rudolph video, but they found the Abominable Snowman character especially amusing.

For the high school classes, I showed my presentation and played a Christmas Jeopardy game with them. They had a lot of fun with it and even though they’re high school students, they still wanted to take some of the Christmas stickers I bought. They were pretty cute and holographic too. Daiso, a Japanese ‘dollar store’, is a great place to get things like that for cheap. I go there every so often to collect more stickers and other cute materials for my lessons. The high school students are a lot more chill and easy to plan for, and it’s a little easier because I don’t have to simplify my English quite as much. The downside is they don’t give as much immediate feedback as the younger students do, so it’s hard to know what they’re getting out of the lesson, if anything at all. This was especially true during my first few lessons with them, but things have improved now that I know them better and I’ve become a better ALT.

Aside from Christmas lessons, I didn’t do much for the Christmas holiday. COVID-19 restrictions were in place so many events were cancelled for the year due to Omicron. I started to feel pretty homesick at this time, since this was my first holiday without my family. On Christmas Day, I had a Zoom call with my family which really helped me feel less alone on the holiday. I also got a Christmas gift in the mail from back home, and myself and the sender were surprised it managed to get here in time for Christmas. Those two things really lifted my mood during the holidays. I also participated in the Japanese tradition of eating fried chicken and strawberry cake on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, I didn’t reserve the famous KFC Christmas dinner set in time, so I had to settle for convenience store fried chicken and cake. It was still good though, and I didn’t need to travel over an hour to my nearest KFC.

A slice of Christmas cake from 7-11. Simple, but delicious.

I ended up taking a short vacation to Tokyo, which was my first time leaving Shizuoka since I arrived in early November. It was fun even though I didn’t really plan much. I sort of wandered around Tokyo doing random things. I was hit on by two random guys in the few days I was there, which felt weird since this didn’t really happen to me in Shizuoka. One of them barely spoke English but was being very pushy in trying to get me to accompany him to a nearby bar, even though I kept insisting I was busy and uninterested. This happened right outside my hotel, so I went into a nearby convenience store and waited for him to leave the area. I didn’t want him to see where I was staying. The other guy came across more polite and friendly, so when he approached me I entertained his conversation thinking he just wanted to practice his English. He asked me a variety of questions about my opinions on Japan vs the United States, before finally asking me out on a date. I declined and he wanted to get my number in case I changed my mind. I told him I didn’t live in the Tokyo area and he lost interest pretty quick after that.

Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. I definitely recommend taking a walk around the grounds here, it's very beautiful and peaceful.

I handled the homesickness as best as I could and I was actually happy when the holiday was over and I was able to get back to work.