Farewell speeches

Thanks to Oku-sensei, a Japanese literature teacher, who proofread and corrected my speeches to students and teachers.

To the students:

Thank you for these past 3 years.

I was able to make so many memories. I came out for the ball sports festival, suffered with you through Gakuho Walk, dressed up with teachers during the culture festival as Detective Conan, played games and had chats with you during English Cafe, and even took a test together with the kyudo club. I came here from America to be an assistant language teacher, but my most enjoyable thing was seeing your individual personalities. Of course, life in another country has been tough, but seeing your smiles and greetings every day took all my cares away.

People are onions. Onions with many layers. Every layer is a hidden part of you. For example, a baseball player who’s really good at cooking. Or someone who enjoys flower arranging could also be very good at playing the guitar. As for foreign languages, you might hate English, but be very good at Korean. Discover your many hidden layers, embrace and cultivate them.

Onions make people cry when they are cut, and whether or not you like them, onions are often used in delicious dishes. As onions, let’s make amazing lives with the people around us.

Lastly, be safe, and enjoy many new experiences.


本当にいっぱい思い出が出来ました。球技大会に出たり、学鳳ウォークで一緒に苦しんだり、文化祭で先生達と「めいたんていコナン」の仮装で参加したり、English Café で会話やゲームをしたり、弓道部と一緒に審査を受けられて良かったです。英語指導助手としてアメリカから来ましたが、皆の個性を見るのが一番楽しめました。もちろん別な国で生活に苦労はありましたが、毎日生徒の笑顔、挨拶からすっきり吹き飛びました。




To the teachers:

Thank you for these past 3 years.

I think I was very lucky to be sent to Gakuho as an ALT. Diversity is an important issue to me, so I am so glad to be at a school where teachers do their best to accommodate the varied situations in the student body.

I will now be returning to the video game industry. Actually, before I came to Japan, I was very depressed to think that video games is the only job I could do. However, thanks to this experience, I’d like to support international students from overseas, including Japan, in America. I hope to cultivate this calling that I discovered from this experience in Japan.














Japanese guessing games

There’s a show in the morning where they have TV talents try to guess what is special about this particular day. They only have 5 minutes to do the segment, so they only have 45 seconds to guess the right answer for their team after they’re given 3 clues. Usually they they’ll throw out a lot of wrong answers, with no connection to each other except to the clues, then one just magically throws out the right answer.

So when I introduced 20 questions, it seems to me that the students feel this pressure to guess the correct answer, when they should be asking questions to gather clues. And the kinds of questions usually have no deductive quality to them.

But every once in while they guess correctly after a few questions. I don’t know how they do it. People here just have this magic ability to understand context… that is, until they run into foreigners.

Long time no see, what’s happenin’?

Hey blog, haven’t written on you for a while. I just paid for another 2 years of hosting, so I better make good use of it. Thanks, Dreamhost, for being so reliable and giving this minimalist user so little trouble, even when I give you trouble.

Anyway, here’s a funny story from today.

I’m headed out to lunch and took a peak at the students checking out the potential incoming freshman who came to find out their exam results to enter the school. Several students had signs to get interest from the freshman, and I’m always having trouble with 器楽部 so, of course, I approach some students with this word on their sign and say “Kirakubu!”, and get some giggles from this, and realized I said it wrong, and probably said something inappropriate.

So I continue and ask, “Okay, why is it (楽) gaku when usually it’s raku?” And they answered “Because music (音楽) is ongaku, so it’s instruments, so it’s kigaku!”

“Oh! I learned something new! Thanks!” and adding a knowing tone and look that they are not the “easy-going club.”

As I walk away, I hear them telling their friends, “I got to teach Cat-sensei something!”

This, dear readers, is how you get kids to step up (And how to hide your embarrassment from them and still be smooth).


Madlibs Lesson

This past week, I decided to use Madlibs in class for the 1st years. I was a little nervous because in the 3 years I’ve been here, I wanted to do Madlibs, but wasn’t exactly sure how to manage the lesson so that the students could understand the humor in it. I finally just dove in and prepared the lesson to take it a step at a time.

Students should understand what sort of passage they’re modifying first. So I made an example of what the passage should sound like ideally.

My “Dream Person” should be very adventurous and friendly. They should have a physique like David Bowie, a profile like Ayase Haruka, and the personality of a cat. They must be polite and must always remember to wash my dishes, to put away their clothes, and to take my hand when crossing the street. They should move gracefully, have a soothing voice, and should always dress fashionably. I would also like them to be a great dancer, and when we are alone they should whisper sweet nothings into my ear and massage my tired shoulders. I know such a person is hard to find. In fact, the only person I can think of is____!

I needed the JTE to help the students understand the passage to speed up the instructions, so Japanese was used a bit to translate, in addition to using simpler English explanations, as well as my WTF gesticulations.

For the lower-level classes, we split the students into 2 or 4 groups, whereas the higher-level students broke off into pairs. Their MadLib had 21 entries, so for a small group of 6 or 7, each student is responsible for at least 3 words. The JTE and I explained all the parts of speech to the students. When everyone is done, each student reports their words to the rest of the group to make the funny story.

This worked so much better than I thought. The students were focused on the task, making sure with each other their words were correct, looking for interesting words in their word banks, asking the JTE and I to confirm that their words met the requirement, asking their peers to spell, and were listening intently. When they finished, it was up to the JTE and I to help them imagine their story with a bit of translating. After that, we had half the members from each group switch out to read to each other their story, and to explain to their partner the non-sensical. The students really enjoyed how crazy everything sounded, and most of the sentences were simple enough to sustain some disbelief. Some commented how awesome (or possibly inappropriate…やばい!) the activity was.

Definitely one of my more fun classes. I collected their stories to have them appear randomly on page load here to enjoy.

Getting into the top public universityin Japan

Translation from the May school bulletin advising and informing students of the amount of study necessary in their 3 years of high school so that students can plan accordingly.

This year, Todai has released the recommendations application process that replaces the current system of screening final semester examination results.

  • A total of 100 applicants will be accepted
  • Each school’s principal recommends one male and one female
  • The examination will screen applicants’ documents, in addition to an interview. They will also take into account high scores on the National exam.
    The document screening  includes:

    • Written essays in school, or other accomplishments during general study hours.
    • Various science fair (Olympic) awards, and the like.
    • Foreign language certifications (such as TOEFL, Eiken, IELTS, etc)
    • International study abroad experience, or scores on certified exams that could be used to enter international institutions (such as the International Baccalaureate, or SAT)
    • Other considerations may include activities that demonstrate motivation for civic contributions, art, writing, sports.

The National Exam scores will be used to judge the applicant’s academic habits that ensure the effectiveness of their academic foundation after entering university, so one should aim for scores around 80% in general.

Volleyball manager

During my first year, I tried to remember as many names as I could. It really helped build rapport with the students, and they loved it when I remembered their names. One chipper student, though, had a name I’d never heard before, but she had such positive energy that I couldn’t forget her face, or her voice.

“Give me a hint!”



“No! Moegi! Don’t forget it!”

“Okay! I won’t!”

And everytime I saw her, I would say, “Hi MOEGI” so that I wouldn’t forget.

In her second year, I asked what she wanted to do in the future after stopping her to chat during our lunchtime English Cafe’s. She excitedly answered, “Social Media!” I was totally into that. How do you use social media? I ask. Twitter! LINE! I tell her she would be great a social media because she’s so out-going.

Now she’s a 3rd year, and one day called me over where she and a friend were studying. I hadn’t seen her for a while.

“Cat-sensei, cat-sensei!”

“Moegi, Moegi!”

“I have something to tell you!”

“What, what!”

“I passed!”

“Wow! YAY! You’re going to Yokohama, right!”

“Yeah! Kanagawa! I’m going to learn about magazines and stuff!”

“Congratulations! I’m very proud of you!”

“Thank youuuuu <3”



My supervisor asked if I would be renewing my contract so that she could report to the vice-principal. After hemming and hawing the Japanese way, I told her that I wasn’t planning to.

I hope I’m not making a big mistake.

Paying it forward

I caught word of the Stanford e-Japan program through the JET community, and was really excited to see that the program coordinator was one of my Japanese teachers from high school. She was the one who gave me the Youth For Understanding application that I took care to submit and was one of 2 in California who was awarded a 6-week homestay for a mere $500.

Homestay can be an expensive endeavor for Japanese people, and many families fear having to entrust their children’s safety in the hands of strangers. So having this opportunity to study in their homes or schools with virtual classrooms is an affordable chance for cross-cultural education in an isolated and conservative location.

One of the things that I regret, but had no control over is that I couldn’t give a Japanese kid the same experience I had with YFU. My parents were asked to host kids who wanted  to do a homestay after I had finished my program, but they mentioned their poor English, and that it would be a shame to come to America for a homestay with people who still hold tight to their Vietnamese heritage. Personally, I think it would have been a great experience for the kid, although probably not what they would ever expect, which is having that opportunity to have a relationship with a white person and experience that Hollywood or New York life they see in the movies.

So I really hope at least one of the kids who applied will get in.

One of the English teachers put their kid through a homestay program and she stayed with a Malaysian-Japanese family. She felt it wasn’t so impactful that would allow her daughter to have a life-changing experience. Not that it wasn’t fruitful, but there wasn’t much as much hardship as her mother felt she could have experienced for a dramatic change into maturity. I’m not sure what sort of experience she was hoping for, but the kid had a renewed sense of pride in her Japanese identity which made her eager to know more about other cultures. I think at her age of 13, that’s the best you could really ask for.

Apple Watch

I picked out an easy reading article about the Apple Watch from the Japan Times ST to get them started on talking about apps. I figured since many students own smartphones, they should be able to talk about the apps they use. Before the reading, I asked them to tell me what they think when they hear Apple (company, iPhone), and what they think “wearable tech” meant, and gave them some examples (Nike+, Google Glasses).

After the reading, I asked them if they would buy the Apple Watch. EVERYONE said no! Why?

  • Too expensive
  • Needs to be charged
  • Not cool (because it looks like a health care product for old people)
  • Unnecessary
  • Already have an iPhone
  • Small display
  • Already have a watch

Then I asked them what they would want their watch to be able to do:

  • Transform oneself into a better body
  • Time travel
  • Keep oneself happy (ie Her)
  • Make one able to fly in the sky
  • Help one to sleep
  • Be a real-time interpreter
  • Make orders (for food, shopping, etc)
  • Death Note

That last one…

Additional ideas, since I did this twice:

  • Makes an umbrella appear on rainy days
  • Makes bento appear
  • Sends 1 yen to your bank account every second
  • Freeze ray
  • Watch TV

The writer

English Cafe brings the best 1st years.

This year, a really excited boy came up. I must have taught a class where I revealed that I liked anime, so he comes along one day and asks what shows I like and asks if I like JRPGs, and that he’s wants to write one in the future. Unfortunately, I’m no fan of JRPGs, but I am so excited to feel such rare passion from a student, so I totally show my support. He recommends to me J-pop groups, like Back-Tick, and recently a horror anime called Kurodzuka 黒塚, a Kamakura period style modern setting based on the story of 姨捨山, the mountain where you abandon your grandparents. At least that’s what I was able to fill the blanks with.

When he first comes up, he would try a few English phrases with me. I would continue the conversation in English, ask him a few questions, and I receive a stream of excited Japanese. I have to tell him to slow down, or explain a few things to me. I told him about a local Game Jam that’s happening at the local university. He hesitates, saying that he’s more of a writer, and will probably focus on that. At least he’s got his priorities straight!