Once again, it is that gloriously slack week when the first-graders go camping, the second-graders do work experience, and the third-graders take a field trip to Tokyo. This leaves me with nothing to do other than go out for lunch every day and get served by my kids. This is fine by me, as I'm viewing it as a well-earned breather following a frantic previous week.
As a member of the eight-strong Yamagata JET Conference Committee, I spent wednesday to friday giving the 37 newcomers a crash course on life as an ALT. My first major responsibility was the "Welcome to Yamagata" presentation. As this blog attests, I am rather fond of the place, so I was selected as a suitably enthusiastic poster boy to sell Yamagata to the n00bs. It went rather well if I say to myself; my timing was down to the minute, and I got quite a few laughs (for instance, when I pointed out that over-65s outnumber gaijin 50-to-1). But the biggest reaction from the audience came when I flashed up a photo of my grandmother tucking into the Yamagata delicacy of inago, garnering an enthusiastic round of applause. Grannie, you're a star.
That evening I MC'd a pub quiz for the newcomers - I knew all those tuesday nights in the Hoose would pay off someday. (Four-pointer: Which four prefectures share a border with Yamagata? One of them should be quite easy.) Then a bunch of them went for a 'walk' (beer run), requiring a couple of committee members to be urgently dispatched to keep an eye on them. I meanwhile watched Swing Girls with the more responsible rookies, whilst stealthily sipping whisky.
Thursday was a solid day of teaching training. The highlight for me was giving a pared-down version of my self-intro lesson, which meant donning the kilt and brandishing amongst other things a cuddly Nessie, a Union Jack, and a photo of haggis. I must have done my self-intro about 50 times by now, so I've refined all the filler out leaving nothing but pure killer. A couple of my colleagues described it as "the best self-intro [they] have ever seen", which made my day.
Spoiler alert: if you may apply to be a JET in the near future, please skip this paragraph. In the afternoon we did a session called "trading places", where without any explanation or warning, we put the greenhorns in a classroom and the Chinese-American member of the committee taught them a lesson completely in Cantonese. I sat in on the class, and although a similar trick had been played on me two years previously (albeit in Irish Gaelic), I still found it a real eye-opener to be on the other side of the language barrier. During a speaking activity, I managed to offend a Filipino guy (who of course spoke no more Cantonese than I do) by insinuating that he was at an unfair advantage. Oops.
After that we had a special discussion session about the aftermath of the Great Quake, for which I reprised my role as radiation correspondent and dropped some serious science on the newcomers. And then it was time for the main event: a trip to the onsen, followed by a traditional Japanese enkai. This was primarily intended as a piss-up, but secondarily as part of their training on Japanese social customs. As such, we put on a skit illustrating the many faux pas one can make at such an event. I tossed the etiquette book aside (literally) and downed my beer before the "Kanpai!", for which I was summarily executed by a samurai. Harsh but fair.
There were a few problems with the enkai. First of all, the hotel got the numbers wrong which caused an unbelievably protracted period of faffing around. Then they appeared to only appoint a single waitress to the 50+ of us that were crammed into the tatami room, meaning that while the booze was technically unlimited, there was in practice a rather severe bottleneck between us and our Asahi refills. Furthermore, the vegetarian options turned out not to exist. While this was clearly a blow for those with ethical or religious dietary scruples, every cloud has a silver lining, and I was able to eat three bowls of delicious imoni. Thankfully, the booking of this place had not been a committee decision. The member of the Japanese team who was responsible for the choice looked like he would have gladly lopped off a finger to make amends, the poor bastard.
As the enkai finished and we returned to the dorm, I found myself in the conflicted position of trying to stop the whole thing from getting out of hand (my kouhais had cleaned out an alcohol vending machine at the hotel), whilst not coming across as some sort of killjoy party Nazi. I did this by shooing them all out of the communal areas and back to their rooms - where I decided that whatever they got up to was no longer my problem - and going to bed at about half eleven.
Feeling a little hungover and a lot exhausted, I was glad that I had front-loaded my responsibilities and could take more of a back seat on the last day. I did however have to host a workshop which, in quite a meta move, was intended to teach the debutantes how to learn Japanese. This too seemed to be well received. However, I was conscious that there was quite an air of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do about the whole thing. Consequently, I have shamed myself into pulling my linguistic socks, which had slipped rather due to my recent distraction by a certain weird-surnamed vegetarian from Jersey. I am determined to plough through the 1797 vocab items required for the JLPT N3, which I intend to dominate this December. And, the other night I turned on the TV for the first time in weeks, and watched (and largely understood) a whole programme on NHK's educational channel about how to cook a perfectly round and symmetrical fried egg.