As an ESL teacher in Japan my winter vacation started on Christmas Day last year. However, for many of my fellow teachers it started later than that. Some of my JTEs barely had any time off at all! So although I may lament the shortness of my holiday I should really count myself lucky.

Now it’s back to work, and for me the re-adjustment has been tougher than usual.

I Gotta Get Outta This Place

Every time a vacation rolls around my feet start itchin’ to do some travellin’. Unfortunately flights out of Japan can be costly, and on top of this the main avenue of escape is via Tokyo, at the opposite end of the country to me. This winter I was thankfully able to pop back to the motherland for some R&R. To save on cash I took an overnight bus, which was surprisingly comfy and wonderfully cheap. I flew with KLM as I have many times before. This journey was on a new plane – so new that some of the staff didn’t know how to properly operate the touch-screen entertainment systems. I noticed that quite a few of these screens were on the blink, mine included. I spent the first portion of the flight watching Mad Max: Fury Road, and every ten minutes the screen would cut out and I’d have to tap it to wake it up again. Irritating. But worth it. Mad Max is amazing.

I found London to be far more hospitable and welcoming than my ageing memories of it suggested. People were friendly and extremely chatty, the food was delightful, and costs were generally pretty reasonable. Still wasn’t very impressed with the state of public toilets but hey; can’t have everything. More on all that lark later.

Tokyo Speech Paradise

After another gruelling twelve hour flight back I opted to spend a few extra nights in Tokyo. The main reason for this was to attend the All-Japan Inter-High English Speech Contest for Commercial High Schools. The first place winner from each prefectural speech contest competed to win the grand prize. There were two sections to the contest: Recitation and Speech. This year (this school year) I was overjoyed to have one former student go through in the Recitation section while one of my current students went through in the Speech section. I patiently watched each other prefecture’s speech, silently judging and ranking them in my mind. When the time came for my student to get up I was thrilled – her performance was ace! I felt confident of a high ranking. However, the judges did not see things the same way. She failed to get into the top twelve. Frankly I thought the judges made some odd choices there.

We were all disappointed, but held our chins up high. Well, not literally – that would’ve been an odd reaction.

Back to School – An ESL Teacher in Japan

London had rain. Tokyo had sun. Iwate had snow. Not a lot of it (for Iwate), but enough for the car to need a good sweep down.

The #snow has come. Big time. #livinginjapan #winter #japan #cold #ice #doyouwannabuildasnowman

A photo posted by Where? There! Teach. (@wherethereteach) on

Not long after returning to the homestead it was time to get ready for work again. These first couple of weeks back at school have been pretty tiring. I’ve had extra classes after school on three out of the five working days and my inability to plan lessons quickly enough have forced me into a destructive cycle of waking up early to finish them. Any free time I have is largely spent sleeping or thinking about sleeping. The situation is irritating for me, not because of the way things are, but because I can see how to improve things and yet do nothing.

For example, I know that if I used my time in the mornings to go for a half hour jog every day, I would have a greater energy supply and could generally handle myself better. Yet, I never take my own advice. That’s something I can work on this year: listening to myself. I hope that anyone reading this can learn from my short-comings.

It’s been a tough start to another year as an ESL teacher in Japan, but looking ahead there’s a wealth of opportunity. I hope everyone out there has something to aspire and look forward to in 2016.

How has your New Year been so far? Have you set any goals for the coming year?

Want to know more about life in Japan? Click Here.


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