I can unequivocally say that every time I went to Japan, I enjoyed it. I went as a student for two semesters at Ibaraki Christian University, and it was wonderful! I took many trips into Japan just visiting and site seeing, and they were great. I also spent a year teaching in a Japanese Juku, and I enjoyed it too! I have a real love of Japan. A Juku is what people call “a cram school” or “language school.” My year teaching was delightful and easy.
I usually teach on the university level, but at the Juku, I was able to teach all ages. It was easier than teaching in a university. I got to sing songs, draw pictures, play with kids, have tea and conversations with nice people, play board games, etc. I didn’t have to wake up early in the morning. I didn’t have to be there until after lunch. I clocked in after lunch, and then I had freedom. If I didn’t have a class and was prepared for all my classes, I could sit at my desk and do whatever I wanted or even go downtown shopping or to a restaurant. I just had to be there for my classes and make sure my classes were prepared. I clocked out at 9:00 at night, and went home to a three bedroom apartment supplied by my employer. My employer also offered a car, but I had to live in an apartment complex that only had one room apartments if I chose the car, but I didn’t choose it because I had two kids. The job paid better than any university job I have held, even teaching full time in the States.
Here are some descriptions of some of the classes I taught:
1) I taught a group of 3rd graders and a group of 4th graders. Both groups were small and right after regular school. The Juku chose and supplied the book. I played with them to teach them English. The book had lots of cartoons and suggestions for songs and handwork, and I had ideas of my own for songs and handwork too. They were sweet little kids, and the groups were small.
2) On Friday evenings, a group of Japanese teenagers came to play Scrabble with me. It was considered a class. They were convinced they would be able to beat me, but they never did.
3) At times, I had a 60 year old doctor who used to come because he wanted to keep his English conversational abilities intact. The Juku served us tea, and we just sat and had pleasant conversations.
4) I taught a group of Japanese English teachers. They were supposed to all come and share games, songs, and other teaching materials, and for the most part, I just moderated. However, if it happened to be that no one had anything to share in one week, I was supposed to always be prepared to share one of my ideas with them.
5) I taught a little girl who was three years old. Her mother wanted her to be good at English so she could take a test to attend a private English school. The little girl was very unhappy about her mother pushing her so hard, and she cried a lot. I felt sorry for the little girl because she wanted to play, but her mother insisted that she act like a student at 3 years old.
6) Once a week, I was sent to a Japanese elementary school with a Japanese co-teacher. We were supposed to teach the kindergarteners the alphabet, songs, etc. We had huge alphabet cards we made for that. Those Japanese kindergarteners were extremely naughty! It was hard to keep them policed. In my time in Korea, I learned why. They Japanese and the Koreans both ascribe to a way of child rearing that comes from Tibet. The parents love their little ones so much that they can’t handle spanking them or scolding them. The children basically rule the roost for several years and become total brats. When they begin school, they are a terror for their teachers. However, at 8 about years old, the philosophy teaches them it is time to start teaching their kids the difference between right and wrong, and at that point, the parents and teachers both clamp down hard, so hard the kids can hardly bear it at times. There are Korean teachers who get absolutely abusive with the kids, and that is why the law has been made that the teachers can no longer spank the kids in Korea. Little Korean kids can be just as much brats as little Japanese kids.
7) Another type of class I was sent out to teach was in the back of a toy store. There was a classroom attached to the back of the store. I got down in the floor and played with toys with the kids and spoke to them in English as we played. I read them stories in English with big poster boards. I was even asked to give very small children cooking classes. Thankfully, their mothers came, and they sat in their mother’s laps as I was teaching them. If they had to wash their hands, the sinks were outside, and it was extremely cold, and the water was very, very cold. It made no sense to me to put the water faucets outside in the yard and freeze everyone. I also had one class there where I was teaching Reading in English to elementary school students who were a little older.
The Japanese teachers sometimes taught with me but not for every class. They had their classes too. There were Japanese teachers teaching Math, English, and Kanji. The students always had to take tests at school to see their level of Kanji, and the Japanese teachers helped them a lot with Kanji. All the teachers stayed in the same room until it was time to teach, then each went to a different classroom. We all had assigned desks. You always sat in the same place. The room was full of bookcases full of books, computers, art supplies, and a copier. We gave grades, but not in letter form. We had to evaluate each of our students progress and write a little paragraph about them every so often. The Japanese teachers were expected to go from door to door, hand out fliers, and sign up new students, but I wasn’t expected to do that because I was a foreigner. All the teachers became friends. We all got along great! We had school parties every so often, sometimes with everyone in the school, and sometimes just with the teachers. We brought birthday cakes or mochi for one another. We had fun together.
As I said, I had two kids with me. I got up in the mornings and homeschooled my kids before I went to work. If they weren’t finished with what I asked them to do, they had to sit in one of the desks in the teacher’s room at the school and finish. My boss encouraged me to bring my kids to work because she wanted the Japanese kids to have English speaking kids to play with. My kids went to the playground and played with the Japanese kids when they were done with their school. Either that, or there was a huge TV in the lounge of the school, and they hooked their Nintendo game system to it and played games in both Japanese and English. Sometimes, one of the teachers joined them because they liked the games too.
I enjoyed my year in the Japanese Juku. When I left, I didn’t want to leave, and they didn’t want me to leave. I felt really bad about having to leave, but I had obligations in the States an had to go back and take care of them. When I wound up in Korea, I didn’t apply for it. They recruited me, but Japan didn’t. I was hoping that if I got closer to Japan, I could go back, but I only went back for visits after that because I had a good job in Korea, and my kids liked Korea, and I learned to love both countries.