Welcome incoming JETs! Placement decisions.

Congratulations and welcome to applicants of the JET Programme who have been placed in Fukui! You are coming to one of the most beautiful prefectures in Japan, with mountains, a ragged coastline and hidden villages on our doorstep. Best of all, there is a close-knit and active foreigner community that are looking forward to meeting you! 

Don’t be alarmed if all you can find about Fukui is power plants, suicide spots and daffodils. There is a lot more than that. If you’re interested in traditional crafts, century-old festivals and outdoor sports, this is the place for you. If you’re coming to Japan for the Cosplay, anime and J-pop scene, I’m afraid you may be disappointed, but Kyoto, Nagoya and Osaka are only a train ride away!

Fukui JETS at Sado Island Earth Celebration Festival 2013

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Learning to snowboard at Ski Jam Katsuyama

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Enjoying Obon festivities in Echizen City

Two years ago I remember being in your position and not knowing where I’d like to be placed in Fukui, nor whether I’d like to be placed in a junior or senior high school. So I hope this helps you choose your preferences.

Big decision #1

If you are a ken-cho ALT, employed by Fukui Board of Education, you’ll be asked whether you want to teach in a senior or junior high school. I know JET forums are flooded with information on the differences between them, but here is my take on it.

Junior high schools

At the very formal graduation ceremony in March.

At the very formal graduation ceremony in March.

Junior high school ALTs teach three year groups of students from 12 to 15 year olds. Given that JHSs are smaller than senior high schools, there are more JHS ALTs than SHS ALTs. You will be teaching from the New Horizon textbooks, starting from teaching the alphabet to first graders to teaching reduced relative clauses to third graders. The textbook is pretty dull, so it’s your job to make English exciting for the students. In lessons you can tell them about your home country or give a presentation, quiz or game on something vaguely related to the text book. Yesterday I did a presentation all about kiwi birds and kiwi fruit, using funny pictures I found on the internet, and the students loved it!

Many students don’t know anything about the rest of the world, apart from that Americans eat hamburgers, so I focus a lot on the internationalisation part of our job description. I often give presentations and make display boards on different countries or current events.

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Giving a presentation on my village to second graders, using the target language “We call it…..”

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Porridge tasting as part of the ‘What do you have for breakfast?’ lesson

The World Cup is a great opportunity to introduce Brazil to students, especially as I have many Brazilian students at my school and Japanese students don’t know anything about their classmates’ country.

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New Zealand is part of the second grader’s textbook and is a good excuse to make a display board.

In junior high schools there are opportunities coach students for speech contests, run writing or drawing competitions and English Clubs, but you need your JTEs on-board for these extra-curricular events to work well. JHS ALTS will have two or three elementary school visits a term where you will learn what ‘being kanchoed’ means, how fast kids can down a bottle of milk and find out just how cute Japanese children are!

My weekly elementary class at my visiting school.

My weekly elementary class at my visiting school.

Senior high schools

Senior high schools teach students aged 15 to 18. Working in a high school as an ALT gives you more freedom to teach your own lessons and have the JTE there as a support. The level of high schools can differ a lot. Some run International Courses, where the students have more English lessons and often have a home-stay experience in an English-speaking country as part of the course. You may be asked to run lessons on current affairs, run debate teams and speech contests. 

English is on the curriculum for all high schools and ALTs can really motivate students to keep studying English through running communicative lessons. Unfortunately, many students do not have many opportunities to speak English in Fukui, nor do they have the motivation to go abroad. So ALTs offer a great opportunity to those students who want to speak English, not just pass the tests. 

My decision 

I remember choosing between JHS and SHS was a really hard decision for me. I wanted to be a JHS ALT as I knew the students would be really genki, and I knew I could have fun with the students. I also didn’t want to teach moody teenage boys in SHS or be out of my depth in terms of the English level being taught. Yet when I work with SHS students at English seminars I really appreciate their higher English ability that makes communication so much easier.

Looking back I would’ve been happy teaching at a senior high school, especially at an international course, as teaching higher English is more challenging. I could have transferred to a high school, a luxury we have in Fukui, but I was already settled at my school and decided to stay there and teach for just two years before leaving Japan.

You come to love your school and your students, so transferring schools would be hard.

You come to love your school and your students, so transferring schools would be hard, but it’s possible.

Big decision #2

If the form is still the same as two years ago, it gives you a choice of whether you want to live somewhere urban, semi-urban or rural. What do these categories mean for Fukui? This may be geographically incorrect but it’s basically how many rice fields you are surrounded by! There sure are no shortages of tanbo around here.

P1070151 P1070177P1070176The most important factor for me was how close I wanted to be to other ALTs. If you want a full immersion experience into living Japan; to make Japanese friends and improve your Japanese, choose ‘rural’. If you want to easily hang out with other ALTs in the evenings, go for ‘urban’ or ‘semi-urban’.

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Sport practices take place in Fukui City, and there are many opportunities to join cultural groups, such as learning taiko and tea ceremony. There is also the most night-life there, although don’t get your hopes up too much as the going-out district consists of a few bars and a couple of disappointing nightclubs!

Every place has its own character and charm, and if you ask around there will usually be a group for what you want to do whether it’d be kyudo in Tsuruga City, aikido in the Sakae area or learning the koto or shamisen in Fukui City. Also, if you know you want to snowboard or ski every weekend in winter, choose Ono or Katsuyama!

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A popular taiko group in Fukui City

Most ALTs become reliant on their cars. Those who don’t have a car usually live in Fukui City, where it’s possible to get around my bike, on foot and using the public transport. ALTs placed in smaller towns who don’t have a car, survive by taking trains and catching rides from nearby ALTs!

Two years back when I was deliberating on these dilemmas, I ticked ‘junior high school’, ‘semi-urban’ and ‘within walking distance of other ALTs’ and was placed in an apartment block with other ALTs in Echizen City. Where ever you are placed, if you have a positive attitude and really want to enjoy teaching and living in Japan, you most definitely will.

If you have any questions, please comment below. Also, if you haven’t already, join the Fukui JET (FJET) Facebook group!

 

 

(The only) 10 things to do in Ikeda

Ikeda is the Narnia of Fukui. Where is it? Follow the signs from Echizen, Sabae or Fukui City and once you’ve gone through some incredibly dark tunnels you emerge in the valley of Ikeda-cho. You’ll find that the average age of the people increases by 20 years, the average height of the people decreases by a foot and there are no combinis in sight. Instead you’ll see egrets resting in rice fields and rivers, and crumbling old houses dotted against the forested hillsides. Look beyond the fields and you’ll find a village working to preserve its cultural heritage, in making soba and Noh masks, and promoting its natural beauty with rafting trips down Asuwa river.

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The view back to Imadate and Echizen on Route 417.

P1070068 P1070074 P1070102 1. Ryusogataki Waterfall As one of Japan’s 100 Most Beautiful Waterfalls, one of many official lists they have, be ready to be wowed by this waterfall! This is a 60m high waterfall, where a gentle stream glistens down a sheer rock face, creating rainbows on its way. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Fukui, and as my friends found out, it’s a perfect place for a water fight! IMG_323210309600_10152191391757815_2540151608691489341_n 2. Kazurabashi – Wild Vine Rope Bridge Like something out of the Lord of the Rings, this bridge is pretty darn awesome. At 12 meters above the river, it’s not for the faint-hearted! It’s 300Y to cross, unless you try to get away with being a junior high school student, then it’s 200Y. Or you could just not make it all the way across, then you don’t have to pay at all (but I didn’t tell you that!) Once crossed, or not crossed the bridge, enjoy the peaceful walk along the river back to the Noh Mask Museum. IMG_3255 3. Go ‘not-so-white-water’ rafting! I can’t imagine this is going to be the extreme kind of rafting, but whatever the height of the river, it looks fun! Details: 4 person boat 6000Y, 6 person boat 8000Y for 90 minutes of rafting down a 2km stretch of river, starting at 9, 11, 13:30 or 15:30. Offered from April to September. Call 0778-44-7755. P1070132 4. Make soba (buckwheat noodles) or mochi (rice cakes)

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This mountain-vegetable tempura oroshi soba was delicious!

Learn how to turn buckwheat flour and water into de-ri-cious soba. Or do as I did and make something that looked a bit like tagliatelle pasta. However it looks, it still tastes good, and you can eat it afterwards. Details: it takes 1 hour, from 10am, 13:30 or 15:00, for 6 or 7 people it costs 2600Y. To make mochi, 2500Y. Call 0778-44-6878. If you can’t be bothered to put the work in, just go there and try oroshi soba for 550Y.

5. Take to the slope at Shinbo Family Ski Resort I went on a weekday and my host mum and I were the only people there! But beware, it’s called ‘Family’ for a reason, this is a great place for beginners, but you may get bored with the one and only slope, yet it’s a great place to practice your skills before hitting up Ski Jam. You can also rent equipment there, or if you have your own gear, it’s only 1500Y for a half day, and 2000Y for a full day. Open from late-December to mid-March. Call 0778-44-7787. IMG_2262 IMG_2263 6. Noh Mask Museum Noh Theatre is what Ikeda is famous for. For 750 years a Noh performance has taken place on February 15th at Ukan shrine in the forest. My friends who went, reported back that it the strangest dance they’d ever seen, and after the first half they were all ready to leave. But the Noh Mask Museum may be of more interest to the average foreigner who knows nothing about this tradition. I stumbled across this mask-making workshop and found a roomful of men entranced in their work. The friendly master-Noh maker there showed us round and even gave me a sake cup as a souvenir! IMG_3265IMG_3258 IMG_3261

7. Climb Mt. Kanmuri (1257m) imagesOnly accessible in summer, this is one of “Japan’s 100 Nature Spots to be preserved in the 21st Century”. I haven’t climbed it, but it must be good if it’s on the list!

 

 

8. Buy fresh locally-grown produce at the one-and-only village shop.

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Ikeda is known for its organic farming techniques. So the vegetables may not look perfect, but they probably taste great!

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I can vouch for both the pudding and the chocolate cake.

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Here is a nice cafe attached to the village shop.

9. Try strange flavoured ice cream – 300Y each from the village shop.

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From top left: goat’s milk, mugwort (?!), wild sesame seed, tomato or soybean flour.

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If you’ve ever wondered how Heinz Tomato Soup would taste frozen, you should try this.

10. Try wild boar meat!  At Keiryu Onsen, Kanmuri. First, bathe in a mountain stream hot spring known for its healing powers, then try wild boar ! Here is Jessie’s experience of eating wild boar nabe.

Chainsaw art - a bear riding a wild boar!

Chainsaw art at the Ikeda Festival in May. It’s a cute bear riding a wild boar!

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Who’d have thought there was so much to do in Ikeda!

Find out the locations of these places by looking here. The 100 Hometown Views of Fukui Website.