JET love orientations. Pre-departure; post-arrival; pre-teaching; post-natal; it’s like they see all of us poor candidates as being locked into a perpetual game of Spin the Bottle in which we think we’re the bottle, and they are the only people who can save us from a life of dizziness, despair and ultimately, suicide. Either that or murder, or being locked up for 20 years for inadvertently puffing on a joint (even though you told them those nasty people said it was oregano), or dying from an earthquake, or from a tsunami, or from crossing your legs or having your hands in your pockets, or having someone give you a pair of chopsticks when you swear you asked for the nearest bridge.
This particular orientation turned out to be the most useful of the three (the post-natal one was a joke by the way – well done if you spotted it) and I came away with a sense of what I am actually going to be doing for the next year. We learnt about the topics we’ll be expected to teach, activities and games to keep the kids interested, what role the JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English) will usually take in the classrooms, ways to motivate students, etc. My official title is ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), but the “assistant” part is really just for show. We get paid just as much as the fully-fledged teachers and so for the most part are expected to act and perform like fully-fledged teachers. In my school I more-or-less own the syllabus with a little guidance from the JTEs. I decide what to teach the kids based on what I think is most useful to them; I plan the lessons, I create the materials, I brief the JTEs on what I want them to do during the lessons and then I just have to make sure I turn up and teach them the stuff. Whether or not I will do a good job of this remains to be seen, and the Kakegawa Orientation – apart from being extraordinarily helpful – also succeeded in putting the kake right up my gawa (that is to say, I was somewhat worried).
Apart from the usefulness of said orientation it was also the first opportunity I had to meet a lot of the ALTs that arrived either in April or a week before our group, as well as a lot of the sempais (veterans who have volunteered to help us newbies) that weren’t at the Tokyo orientation. It was also the first time I had ever got into a bath, naked, with three other naked men. This intriguing male-bonding ritual is known as an onsen, is thoroughly traditional, and is the only way to get yourself clean in this particular conference centre. Basically you all walk, naked, into a big room with a load of buckets lined up underneath the shower heads. You sit on the upturned bucket, soap yourself all over about 17 times, rinse yourself off and then get into a steaming hot mini swimming pool for as long as you want. When you’re suitably hot (bearing in mind it’s 30C+ outside all the time over here) you sit on a bucket again and blast yourself with cold water; the result being that you feel really fresh, clean and a little bit high from the rapid change in temperature. Once you get over the fact that there are man-bits swinging about everywhere it’s actually rather a liberating experience, and one which is worthy of repeating in this prefecture, which boasts of its abundance of natural hot springs with gusto and celebration.
Along with all of the pros I have already mentioned, it was at this orientation that I was able to brush up on my flower-arranging skills, work on my tea-cup turning technique and experience a simulated earthquake. All-in-all, the whole three-day experience was jolly good fun.