japan (104)

Elementary School in Sapporo

What I found interesting is how the school structure works in an elementary school, Ainosato Nishi, I volunteered at. What stood out to me was how the teachers structured their classes in managing the students and other teachers. Each classroom, for each grade, has one homeroom teacher, the same as our classroom structure in Canada, however, each grade with the homeroom teachers are managed by two different teacher leaders. They are practically like managers for teachers. If anything happens to students, or things that need to be changed in the classroom, the teacher leaders from each grade will come together and collaborate suggestions, new ideas, and solutions. Once this has been completed, they will share their findings with the teachers of the same grade they manage to implement these solutions. In addition, these teacher leaders also have their own homeroom classes that they teach in. But it is common as well for them to teach a combined class of one specific grade. For example, I witnessed a group of three classes of grade 3’s, led by a teacher leader who specializes in music. He was teaching the students music with another teacher leader. In this lesson, the homeroom teachers of the grade 3’s, were not present. I inserted an image below of a teacher leader leading a group of grades 3 students:


Another classroom culture I found interesting are the student’s behaviors. Students in this school are calmer and very organized, more than what I have experienced in Canadian classrooms in my practicum. Students understand when to be quiet, especially if they are told to be. Teachers do allow students to be loud and noisy in the classroom during activities or when they are working on their assignments. It encourages students to communicate with each other. On another note, I find that the students have better listening skills, are punctual, independent, and very respectful of others. It is part of the school culture to act accordingly, since it is emphasized to follow specific routines on a daily basis in the classroom. It is also including the family cultural structure at home on how students behave. Additionally, looking at the classroom, they all have strong values in supporting community. The classroom values and respects every individual student to enforce that sense of belonging. I can see this when one student speaks in the class, they do not get interrupted. Immediately, all the attention is put towards the one student speaking, even if it’s a asking a question or to answer a question.

Regarding seating arrangements, I asked a teacher how it is organized. They prefer to have male and female students sit together in rows of two, so they can feel comfortable conversating with the other gender. I find this interesting because I think it helps to build that cohesion in male/female relationships. Every student in the classroom i noticed are friends with one another and are always interacting with everyone. Even during break time (recess), the male and female students play together. I had the opportunity to witness this and also participate in their activities (tag). In Canada, we don't often arrange our students to sit in pairs like this. In my own practicum experiences, I have noticed students being paired based on their learning needs, not so often with different genders. 

Another interesting point that stood out to me is the teacher rotation period. I have thought about this concept before, but I did not think that it was something being implemented in this school. One of the teachers we had told me that every teacher stays in each school for only five years. After this time period, they get rotated and begin their new year at a different school. So, each teacher has the same time limit of five years before they get moved to another school. It is a way for every teacher to experience learning and teaching in different schools. I thought this was interesting because looking at Canada, teachers don’t often move out of their positions and do not get rotated. The teacher we had partnered with at this Elementary school has taught for fourteen years and has been a teacher at three different schools. She is very knowledgeable because from observing how she handles students and interacts with them and including teaching classes. She has a good reputation at the school and is admired by many students. 

Overall, it has been a great experience to observe the school culture and the student behaviors in these two elementary schools. I look forward to learning more and hope to implement Japanese school cultures I have learned into my own future classroom!


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Elementary Schools in Asahikawa

The past two weeks have been spent accustoming to our new city of Asahikawa! I find that I am definitely using the little Japanese I know to get around in Asahikawa. When we first got to Asahikawa we went to the popular zoo, Asahiyama Zoo. This zoo focuses on being more interactive, allowing little tunnels to weave through the animals’ exhibits and allow you to see them more up close and personal! I thought this zoo was so fun and interesting because I have never been to a zoo that had such a unique concept!


The continuing weeks we started at the Hokkaido University of Education Affiliated Elementary School. The school had three floors, which were divided by grades, allowing the older kids to be on higher levels the further they advance through the grades. One of our interpreters from the Hokkaido University of Education actually attended the same Elementary school when he was a child. When I asked him about if there was anything different from when he attended school there, he said everything was basically the same! We were able to observe every subject provided by the school and also by the teachers who specialize in those subjects. Some interesting classes to me was “Integrated Studies” where students would combine Science and Social Studies together and also separated from their usual Science and Social curriculum. Something I asked the teachers about was the subject “Moral Education” which is apparently recently added to the curriculum and just teaches students how to be good citizens. I also enjoyed their Music classes and seeing the professionalism in the students performing from Grades 2 through 6! Although classes were in Japanese, I was still able to understand and pick up on the concepts being shown like in Science, Math, and Home Economics.


                                                                                                             A Japanese Math class covering the same curriculum as in Alberta!

One thing I am most impressed by through my class observations is the efficiency of the students here in Japan. We were able to observe a gym class where students chalked up the field, and set up all the equipment for the activity, including dividing themselves into their own teams and positions. This was all done without the teacher having to remind or tell them. This efficiency was not only in Physical Education classes but in every single class we observed.


                                                                                                            A Japanese Physical Education class

The second week at the Elementary School, we observed and helped in the English classes from grades 1 through 6. In Japan, English education is mandatory from Grade 5 and so forth. However, at this specific school they teach English education earlier. This upcoming week we will start at the Hokkaido University of Education Affiliated Junior High School. I am excited to see the differences between Elementary and Junior High Schools!


Until next time!


Christine Erana

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Bike is Life


A major form of travelling within Asahikawa is using the bus. Unfortunately, the bus system is quite difficult to figure out in Asahikawa as the website for the bus is all in Japanese and the bus routes do not show up on Google Maps (the holy grail of our trip is failing us). When we got our bikes we were so excited to not have to figure out whether or not we would have to walk home for half an hour just so we would not be lost.

Below: A bus stop sign. 

As I have been in Asahikawa for two whole weeks now, we have been blessed to be lent bikes by the HUE Asahikawa campus and I am in love. Travelling Japan, I observed that there is a big portion of the population who use biking as a major form of transportation. From young to old, there are always people biking everywhere around. This is no less in Asahikawa and it has been amazing to have my own bike that I can ride around. Because I do not ride a bike very often in Calgary, it has been quite difficult to cycle 30 minutes one-way everyday to and from the affiliated schools that we are volunteering at. At the same time, the exercise is great for all the delicious Japanese food and desserts that I have been having for the past month and a half! 

Some advice that I would give if you are cycling in Japan:

- remember to always stay on the left side of the road (travel the same way as traffic) 

- always have a reflector or light so that vehicles may see you

- having a basket is an amazing thing 

- watch for pedestrians and vehicles

- remember to lock up your bike and never forget the key!

- stay safe!

If you follow most of these you will be ready to go biking in Japan. 

Watch out Asahikawa, I'm ready to take you on!


Chuen-Xi Quek


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Nihon Go!

Our month in Sapporo was one month of Japanese (nihon-go) learning classes where we were graced with the wonderful and funny Yoshida-sensei (teacher). We learned a lot from her and I think that it was very important for us to learn some Japanese before we go off on our volunteer teaching in Japanese classrooms. At first it was quite hard to grasp the language and the pronounciation as it is quite unfamiliar and different from English. Eventually with practice and daily usage I think I picked up on some Japanese. I still have a lot of trouble with making a complete sentence and the order of the sentence structure, but with more practice I think I will get the hang of it. 

One thing that I am getting the hang of and I think that is very important is numbers! We shall go over them:

1= ichi

2= ni

3= san

4= yon

5 = go

6= roku

7= nana

8= hachi

9= kyu

10= juu

10+ = juu + __ (e.g. 11= juu +ichi)

20+ = ni juu (e.g. 22 = ni juu ni)

100= hyaku 

And there you have it! Practice. Practice. Practice. I hope that my fellow friends are practicing their nihon-go diligently so they don't forget what our sensei taught us! 

Happy practicing!


Chuen-Xi Quek


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Insights in a Soba Shop

This week we had the opportunity to go on a 3-day excursion to the National Park of Lake Akan. This included visits to the local rural schools, many gorgeous sights, wildlife and my personal favourite, marimo - a super cute algae ball native to Lake Akan (as you can see in my marimo selfie). However, one aspect that stood out to me was unexpectedly on our visit to a local soba shop. 

During our dinner, a young girl walked into the restaurant and seemed very shocked at our presence. As it turns out she was a student of Shinya, the Hokkaido University of Education student that came on the excursion with us. She attended tutoring sessions with Shinya in Kushiro, about 1.5 hours away - so they were quite surprised to see each other - and I was quite surprised that she traveled that far for quality tutoring.

As the discussion continued, we learned that she was the daughter of the soba shop owners, and soon we were all in conversation about education and her upcoming exams. As it turns out, she is a junior high school student - but being a small community of around 6500, there was no high school in the area. As a result, students must live outside of their hometown for high school, moving at least 1.5 hours away to the nearest city of Kushiro. We also learned the importance of the entrance exams. Entrance exams taken in junior high determine eligibility for various qualities of high school, similar to the University application process in Canada. I was shocked by this competitive edge at such an early age, but it explained her traveling so far for tutoring.

 This all came together to highlight the importance of Akanko Elementary's focus as a community school.  In Akan, this has even higher stakes, as students have no high schools available in town. As students will leave Akan after Grade 9 to larger centres, it is important for the schools to build connections to the local community before they leave. This allows students to see the local career opportunities available, to be proud of their hometown, and to share this interest with students they meet in their travels. Akanko Elementary School hopes to maintain the spirit of their town and their population by developing this foundation of connections within their community, as many smaller communities in Japan are in decline or have had their unique, historical industries lost.

While this situation of population loss is unique to the rural locations in Japan, I believe that investing in a sense of community connections can have great value in all schools, from small towns like Creston, BC where I grew up, to larger centres such as Calgary, where students can easily feel disconnected from the larger community. I hope to develop these community connections within my own classroom through authentic projects that connect student's classroom experiences to their local community.


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Today I want to talk about Comiket! If you’re into the culture surrounding Japan’s animation and game scene, and leave for Japan early August, this is an event you cannot miss! Comiket is a shortened title for コミクウマアケット Komikku Māketto, or Comic Market. As the name implies, it’s a convention for comics! In particular, it focuses on fan-made, self published works. In the spirit of this, it is a not-for-profit, volunteer run event. As well, admission to the event is free! The event has been growing and growing, and nowadays it’s the largest fan convention in the world. Estimated attendance is around 500 thousand people. To put this into perspective, if you have ever been to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo, they have an attendance of about 100 thousand people, and Otafest has about 10 thousand people.

With so many people, there is a lot of things you must keep in mind ahead of time if you want to get the best experience out of an event like this. Since I went to Summer Comiket 94, I wanted to share the tips and tricks that I learned from attending!

  1. What time are you going to go?

The very first thing you have to decide is what time you want to go. If you know a popular artist, you must get there first thing in the morning, which usually means leaving around 5 am to catch the very first train. Popular artists will sell out almost immediately, and people form groups to team up to hit all of them right at the start. If you don’t have any of the popular artists in mind, I would recommend arriving around 11 or 12. By that time the line up to enter the venue should have mostly died down.

  1. What type of bag are you going to bring?

For this section, there are two choices. First is a backpack. The pros of this is that you can carry a lot with a backpack without getting tired. However, if space is limited. As well, the venue is really crowded, so if you want to take things out or put things in, you have to find a place to stop so you’re not in the way. This can be harder than you think given how many people are there, and can really slow you down. The second choice, which I would recommend, is to bring tote bags. The advantage tote bags have is that it is really fast to put things in it and keep on going in a crowd. It also keeps your stuff generally out of the way, meaning it’s easier to slip through and not accidentally hit people with your bag. It does have a downside though, as it uses your arm muscles rather than your back muscles. This means for longer treks, it’ll get sore faster, so either hit the gym to build up some endurance, or just suffer through it.

As a bonus tip, if you go to a store called Daiso ahead of time, you can pick up a plastic case to protect the comics you buy for 100 yen.

[Venue Entrance]

  1. Lunch options!

This one isn’t going to be long. Everything around the venue has really long lines that make it not really worth trying. Bring your own food and supplies for when you get tired! Bring at least a water bottle, as the summer Comiket is really hot. For food, I brought onigiri I bought at the convenience store, and a meal replacement called Caloriemate. Meal replacement sounds pretty bad at first, but Caloriemate is just like eating a shortcake biscuit! The easiest ones to eat are plain (white logo) and chocolate flavour (brown logo), but if you’re feeling adventurous cheese flavour is pretty good too (black logo). The only one I didn’t really enjoy was the fruit flavour (green logo).

  1. How\Ho How much money should I bring?

This really depends on how much stuff you want to buy. As a general rule, I’d recommend at least 5000 yen. Fan made works usually go for around 500 to 1000 yen, and official merch starts at around 2000 yen. Another tip is to bring smaller bills, as the fan authors usually don’t have too much change. If you have a bunch of animation series you like, I would recommend bringing more!

[East Hall Entrance]

  1. Don’t pick up free stuff!

On your way from the train station to the venue, as well as inside the venue, people will be out handing out free fans, posters, and clear file folders. Don’t pick these up! While one or two might not seem like it weighs all that much, it really does add up if you pick everything up. I have a small suitcase full of these things and it weighs more than it’s worth. Some people will be handing out branded one-use ice packs, and those are totally worth picking up because it’s so hot. Of course, if you like the stuff they’re giving out, feel free to grab it. With my tendency to pick up anything that’s free, I picked up a bunch that I don’t know anything about.

  1. Go for multiple days!

Comiket is a three day event. They have different genres for different days, so if you don’t find what you are looking for, you might have a better chance on another day. If you have the time, you can get a catalogue of all the artists that will be there for the event for about 2000 yen in convenience stores or animate, an animation shop. Different stores will have different bonuses they give with this catalogue. My Japanese reading proficiency isn’t quite high enough to read it however, so I just went for all three days.

[West Hall Entrance]

  1. Finally, schedule in some rest!

Three days of walking around in the heat and crowds for hours is almost like a marathon. Make sure you give yourself some time afterwards to just crash and relax for a day or two. My legs were so tired after the event I stayed in bed for an entire day! Make sure you stock your lodging with food for after the event just in case!

Comiket is really an amazing event! If any of you future TAB participants or anyone reading really likes animation like I do, I hope you can find the time to go! I also love talking about this kind of stuff, so feel free to message me if you have any other questions about it!

Seeya Later,


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Moving to Asahikawa

This week we moved to Asahikawa from Sapporo! I can’t believe a month has already flown by! It was so weird having to leave my host family this week. It seems like once we all started getting used to each other and close to each other, that it was time to move! The last week in Sapporo was spent wrapping up classes and things left to do in Sapporo. Our last night in Sapporo everyone left in Sapporo went over to one of the other TAB students’ host family’s house and we all had dinner and desert there. It was super nice seeing everyone get together for one last time. Moving to Asahikawa has for sure been different! We went from immensely being cared for, to now fending for ourselves! This week we will start teaching at the Affiliated Elementary School near the Hokkaido University of Education. I am super excited to meet the students and to see how this next month will turn out!

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Japan: Culture, activities and food!

So far, from being in Sapporo, Japan, I have been doing various activities here with my family and friends! There is lots to see, eat, and explore! First, lets talk about culture. Japanese culture is quite different than Canadians in many ways, such as the festivals/ceremonies, formality (bowing, greetings when you come home and when you leave), and few trash cans.

I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the practice of a tea ceremony. This ceremony takes place near the end of October, including November, from what I was told by my host mother. I was shown how to properly and traditionally make green tea, offer it and to drink it in a very formal manner. There is a specific ceremonial way of preparing tea and drinking the tea in a traditional tearoom with tatami mat floors. The tea ceremony practice is a very slow paced process with various and distinct instructions. From what I have witnessed, the process of preparing it took around 15-20 minutes. It was a very interesting experience! 

What I was not used to was how formal Japanese people are. They bow in in multiple situations, such as when they greet you, and saying goodbye, and when they say sorry, or thank you. It is a very formal gesture in order to be polite. I am very intrigued by it. It comes so naturally to me now whenever I greet someone, say goodbye, and say sorry or thank you. It feels very respectful and I enjoy doing it. Another formality is greeting your family when you come home and when you leave. It was something new to me as well since I don't normally do this at home. If you don't greet your family when you come home (Tadaima), then you will scare your parents if they find you suddenly in the house without them knowing. As well as saying (Itterashai), when you leave the house, so they know you will not be home. I have gotten used to this as well, and use it on a normal daily basis now. 

Another cultural difference is the trash can availability around Sapporo. There are not many trash cans present in many areas, and so it is common to hold onto your trash until you find one. Japan is all about reducing and reclying the amount of trash people have. I think this is a great option to have to be a more green country. I've had many instances where I had to carry my trash for a long time until I found a garbage can. This conept makes me more mindful of how much trash I will accumulate everywhere I go and try to reduce as much as I can. 

For activities, there is so much to see in Sapporo and I recently visited a place called, Otaru. I inserted a picture below. It was a beautiful place and filled with tourists, such as myself. It is a popular destination when visiting Sapporo, especially this beautiful canal. Otaru is known for this canal and is a must see destination. 

Another place I visited was Mt. Moiwa. We hiked to the peak of the mountain and was invited to a beautiful city view of, Sapporo! I didn't realize how big Sapporo was until I was up there. The city is lined with many buildings that stretches very far. It was a beautiful view. It was a great hike with beautiful trees and a variety of different plants we don't see in Canada. The hike was also lined with 33 stones that you pray to on the way up. They each have numbers that indicates how far up you are until you reach the top. I will possibly be hiking this mountain again next month! I inserted a picture below:

Finally, the food! I have had lots of homemade dishes from my host mom and they were all delicious! (Oishi)! When we go out, the food is always great, especally the presentation of them too. There is so much variety in different Japanese dishes, I haven't even had the chance to really eat everything yet. There is more that I need to consume! I guess it's not a surprise here, but Japan does not have that many international foods, except Mcdonalds, and a few indian restuarants that I have seen, but haven't gone into. I did have the opportunity to try a Mcdonald's here and it was interesting. The bun they use is different from what I am used to, including the sauces (its only a big mac sauce). My family members rarely, if even ever, eat international foods. However, I did cook for my host family! I made pho! They really enjoyed it and are wanting to make it themselves next time. It makes me happy that they are open to trying new foods and the fact that they loved pho. I am hoping to cook a Canadian dish for my next host family, so we will see how that goes!

Overall, my experiences here have been wonderful here and I can't wait to continue my journey of exploring more about their culture, visiting different destinations, and keep eating! :)

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As discussed in my recent post “My TAB Goals & Rural Small-scale Schools“, Jenny and I had the opportunity to collaborate with University professors Koshikawa-sensei and Tomita-sensei when discussing rural, small-scale schools at the Hokkaido University of Education (HUE). These schools are interesting in that they are small and remote, but seem to be leading the change in the Japanese education system. Tomita-sensei explained that HUE seemed to train teachers to assimilate and become part of the pre-existing system, but in his course “Curriculum Redesign”, created 2 years ago and currently involving 5-6 professors, they were working towards breaking away from this uniformity. He discussed their interest in curriculum redesign and challenging the current traditional legacy of education in Japan to better suit the needs of today.

We had rich conversations about interdisciplinary learning and shared current examples of schools in Canada breaking these traditional norms, which really brought to light for me my passion for the subject. It took our classroom learning and put it in a very authentic context – how can we contribute to this knowledge building community for education development in Japan? This made me really consider: how do we, as teachers, communicate our philosophies effectively? How can we share what we have learned?  What information is most valuable to share in our short time? And which areas are we most passionate about?

This experience is providing us with a great opportunity to attend this new university course “Curriculum Redesign” with 3rd year HUE education students, and to present and hold discussions about key ideas in education today in Canada. We get to share our philosophies and collaborate with Japanese students, building and becoming a part of an international community of teachers. This task has been both hugely motivating for me in developing ideas, and it has offered a great reflective task for my own personal teaching philosophies and rationale as I navigate how I want to present my beliefs and professional development with this community.

Upon reflection, I believe the source of this motivation comes back to the authenticity piece of learning. This opportunity allows me to communicate my understanding of how students learn and frame interdisciplinary learning in a context that is meaningful and has the potential to affect widespread change - making it an incredibly powerful learning experience. This reflection only reinforced my understanding of the importance of creating authentic learning environments for our future students. I can’t wait to see what we will all come up with together, learn from one another, and to become part of this collaborative, developing, International community.

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My TAB Goals & Rural Small-scale Schools

      My motivation for applying to the TAB program, specifically Japan, revolved around my goals of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, increasing my understanding and experience with ELL education, learning from the unique culture of Japan, both in its school systems and day-to-day life, and collaborating with teachers internationally. TAB also provides the opportunity for me to build upon my personal interests of travel and gaining new experiences. In my Ning posts over the following weeks, I hope to share some of my insights I have gained in reflecting upon these goals.

     This past week, Jenny and I attended our first meeting at the Hokkaido University of Education, Kushiro campus with university professors Koshikawa-sensei and Tomita-sensei. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the rural small-scale schools we would visit, and to gain insight into their distinctive school cultures.

     We discussed several small-scale schools that we would be visiting, ranging in size from 19 students (grades 1-9 in 5 classrooms) to 65 students (grades 1-6 in 9 classrooms). In addition to their small size and rural environments, these schools were unique in their authentic approaches to education. Today, many of Japan’s schools educate students in a more traditional sense, continuing in Japan’s traditional legacy of education. Thus, these schools are an interesting focus for our volunteering in that despite being small and remote, they seem to be leading the change in the Japanese education system.

     Each school had a unique, community-driven focus on authentic learning. Tomita-sensei explained that Akanko Elementary is one of Japan’s “community schools”, meaning that the local community, including community partners and organizations (forestry & fishing companies, Indigenous Centre, local eco museums, hotel and tourism industry, etc.) all work together to create authentic curriculum for the students (see photo below). Komburi Elementary designs interdisciplinary curriculum connections around the local industry, kelp harvesting. Yamahana Elementary and Jr. High is a special-approval school, which (much like Canadian Charter schools) focuses on a niche teaching style to draw both local and commuting students. Yamahana’s design functions three-fold: to provide a niche environment for students struggling in traditional learning environments, to draw higher numbers from neighbouring communities, and to increase school prestige to draw families to move to the community.

     During our next month of school visits, I am excited to learn more about how educators navigate the unique challenges of multiple grades in a single classroom, small class sizes, building strong community connections, and applying the authentic learning philosophies of each school.

Image 1. Picture of Akanko Elementary School Community partnered events throughout the school year. Each row (blue arrow) represents a different community partner (Indigenous Centre, tourism organizations, fire department, etc.) involved in designing school events, and each column (red arrow) represents a month of the year.

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Japan: Earthquake and Typhoon

Earthquakes don’t often happen here in Hokkaido, Japan. The magnitudes are very small, and it is quite rare. This is the first hard earthquake that has hit the Sapporo area. I have never experienced one before living back home in Calgary. It was a bit traumatizing when I experienced it for the first time travelling abroad in a foreign country, alone. We had a power outage that lasted a bit more than a week and a bit of food shortages as well. Thankfully we had very nice neighbors that offered us food, tools, and equipment during the power outages. My family were also well equipped with tools to survive earthquakes. The only updates we had about the news was on a small little radio communicating to us what happened and what is going on everyday. Schools were cancelled for everyone for the whole week and almost two weeks because of food shortages in supermarkets when families were not able to buy any food. I think my anxiety kicked into full gear when there has been updates on another big aftershock in a couple of days with the same magnitude of 6.7 or higher. Having to experience it once was enough, but with two would be more traumatizing. Especially becaue my house was swaying back and forth quite severely, which knocked over a couple of furniture and broke glassware. After the earthquake, Hokkaido, Japan got hit with another natural disaster, which was a typhoon. It created lots of damages in the city, such as big fallen trees and strong winds blowing things around, and the earthquake created displacements of solid grounds on streets and roads. All of this happened within a span of just about two weeks. It was quite an eventful first couple of weeks from just landing here a couple of days before. 

On the other hand, my host family has been very supportive and helpful during these events. Since they have lived in different parts of Japan where earthquakes are quite prevalent, they have the knowledge and skills of procedures to take during this. I am very grateful for them in taking care of me and the family to ensure we are all well and safe. It was traumatizing, but without them, it would have been worse, especially if I was travelling alone without this support.

I am glad all my friends on Japan TAB are well and safe after both of these natural disasters. We lost contact with each other for a couple of days because of the blackout. We were not able to communicate to each other, unsure if everything was fine, which was kinda scary. 

Overall, I can say I have survived two natural disasters in just two weeks in Japan! 

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"Earthquakes are a regular occurance"

What does it mean to survive a typhoon and earthquake? It means having a lot of resilience, adaptability, and the power of an amazing homestay mom. It feels like It’s been a while, but at the same time, the aftereffects of the earthquake finally starting to wear off.

Let us start of at the very beginning of the whole mess, the typhoon. Our program ambassador had told us that if the Japan Rail (JR) trains stop service, then we wouldn’t have class. I was still sick, so I groggily got up for school, only for my host mom telling me that the train service was closed. I was under the impression that the trains only shut down under serious conditions. Since I was inside, the typhoon only seemed like it was just really windy and rainy outside. It turns out we only got the edge of the typhoon. I can’t imagine what would happen being straight in the path of it!

On Thursday, I woke up in the morning to my entire room shaking and the ceiling light flying all over the place. To be honest, I had a huge mistake in my thought process in this moment. My initial thought was just, “Oh hey! It’s an earthquake. This is a regular occurrence for the Japanese people.” I promptly followed this up with falling back asleep. It was only later in the day when I realized how ignorant that thought really was. Watching the news, seeing all the houses that had collapsed or had been buried under the landslide, and having to line up for hours to get food and supplies only to have the convenience stores run out food really woke up me to how serious the situation was. I could’ve easily been killed just going back to sleep like I did. My host mother had never experienced a city-wide blackout or earthquake of that magnitude in her life. Looking back on that thought I had, it would almost be synonymous with saying that it rains a lot in Vancouver, so that the 2013 flood in Calgary was a regular occurrence. I could have easily died in my sleep if anything happened to the building I was in.

The thing that surprised the most is how long it took for the convenience stores to go back to regular running conditions. It’s only this week that we have had hot food in stock again. If it wasn’t for my amazing host family, we would have been eating only Caloriemate and cup noodles. However, I was really glad to be eating cup noodles when I had them! Being resilient means being able to adapt to the situations you are given and make the best of it! Another aspect of this whole thing that surprised me is how civil people here are. Even though it was a disaster, people still line up in a single file and weren’t fighting to get their supplies.

[People lining up in an orderly fashion after the earthquake]

[Everything is still out of stock, one week after the earthquake]

One thing that I took from this experience is that you really have to appreciate the power of nature, the support of your community and the people around you, and the luxuries that we enjoy as part of everyday life! Taking all this into account, I think I want to be able to convey that appreciation of these things into the lessons that I teach to my students.

Here’s a fun tidbit to end off this post: in Japanese, the word for wind is kaze, which is the same word as having a cold. Hopefully it wasn’t an accidental jinx. The word for earthquake is jishin, which is what my phone started blaring in the middle of the night as an emergency alarm! “JISHIN DESU, JISHIN DESU”

Next time, I’ll post about survival tips and tricks for an awesome event for those of you who are interested in the culture that surrounds the Japanese animation scene, Comiket!

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A Home Away from Home.

Konnichwa everybody! 

Its been eventful here in Sapporo with a typhoon and earthquake and good 20 degree weather to follow. It has been a wild ride for me with all of the weather conditions, language classes, and getting back into the swing of course work. Unfortunately, my time is almost up in Sapporo and I will be going to Asahikawa soon. Before all that though, I would really like to talk about my home stay family and how they have really made my stay in Sapporo one I will never forget. 

At first, we were all nervously waiting in a room like animals waiting to get adopted. Each parent came one by one to pick up their new home stay student and we all were excitedly waiting to see who would be picked up next. It came my turn (thankfully I was not last) and I met my host mother who I now call "Mama-san". She told me that I would be having a younger host sister named, Eko, who I was quite excited to meet as I have always wanted a younger sibling. Our meeting was full of shy interactions and eventually she has warmed up to me! 

7 layers (top/bottom): grape, strawberry, green tea, melo, chocolate, vanilla, lavendar

In my month of staying here, I have learned to love my host family very much and I am sad to leave them behind. They have showed me multiple places in Sapporo and have given me the comfort of home away from home through everything that has happened. They have fed me all the sweets I could ever imagine and have encouraged my love for cats. I will always remember them as my Sapporo family and I hope that they come to Calgary to visit me so I can show them the wonders of Calgary and Alberta!

Homemade takoyaki! Oiishi!

Ja mata! (See you!)

Chuen-Xi Quek

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Crises and Community

     Japan is historically known for its natural disasters, including (but not limited to), tsunamis, floods, typhoons, and earthquakes, and while these occurrences do not always result in mass destruction, they are not uncommon.

     Before our official start date of our Teaching Across Borders (TAB) program, we heard news reports that Typhoon Jebi, the strongest Typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years, was headed towards Hokkaido late Tuesday, September 4th. Even though Sapporo was not directly hit by the Typhoon, we experienced extremely high winds and heavy rainfall Tuesday evening into early Wednesday morning. This caused a lot of damage throughout the city and resulted in schools being closed that day.

     The storm had passed, or so we thought. Just after 3 o’clock Thursday morning, I was abruptly woken up by the trembling ground and swaying house: it was an earthquake. My adrenaline pumped as I sat on my bed in my traditional Japanese tatami room analyzing the severity of the rumbles of the ground beneath me, listening for my homestay mother in case we needed to evacuate. The shaking lasted for nearly one minute and then finally settled. Immediately afterward I started getting messages from my fellow Japan TAB-ers. A sense of relief started to fill me as each member checked in. We were all safe.

     A series of strong aftershocks continued after the initial earthquake which left me unsettled and unable to sleep. And then the power went out. My homestay mother told me she was moving our family over to her parent's place in hopes that we would be safer together. We were without power for the next 36 hours while other areas of Sapporo and greater Hokkaido went longer without power.

     Grocery and convenience stores all over the city ran out of food and water, and gas stations sold out of gas. Emergency shelters were set up throughout Hokkaido for those who did not have food, water, or housing during the blackout. We lost all communication with our group, family, and friends for about 8 hours while mobile signals were down.

     Since September 6th, there have been over 150 earthquakes and aftershocks that have transpired where the earthquake originated, and though it has been nearly two weeks since the earthquake occurred and we are still recovering from its lasting effects. While many things have been restored, such as electricity, water, and transportation, the stores in Sapporo are still slowly being restocked, resulting in certain foods have rationed limits or remaining unavailable.

     Typhoons and earthquakes in Hokkaido are extremely rare occurrences, especially the magnitude that we endured. My homestay mother has never experienced either in her lifetime. While this experience has brought about many difficult challenges, one positive perspective I have felt is a sense of community. Community comes in all shapes and sizes and I have seen many ways in which various communities have banded together to help support each other through this crisis in whatever means necessary.

     As a pre-service teacher, I think it’s very important to put effort into building a strong sense of community both within your classroom and school. In all hopes, you will never have to undergo any serious crises in your classroom, school, or city in which you work, but think of the potential if we all recognized and acted on the need for community? By being there and supporting each other throughout the year we could have limitless success in the classroom and beyond!



Waldrop, T. (2018, September 10). Japan earthquake: Death toll rises after devastating tremor. Retrieved from


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Typhoons and Earthquakes

Our first week in Sapporo has been very eventful to say the least! After last weekend, we started Japanese lessons at the school on Monday. The commute to school for each of us varies, but for me, I have a 22-minute walk, 16-minute subway ride, and a 33-minute bus ride to school. After our first two days with Japanese lessons, we were given notice of Typhoon Jebi, which was approximately going to hit around midnight or early morning of September 5th. We were told that if the JR trains were working in the morning, that classes would presume, if not, we were to stay home.

The morning of September 5, I woke up and found out my little sister didn’t have any school, and ultimately, we did not have school either! I spent the night preparing for the next day of classes. At 3am on September 6, an earthquake hit Hokkaido of the magnitude of 6.7. I woke up in the middle of the night and it honestly took me a few seconds to process what was happening. As I live in an apartment on the 10th floor, I felt the apartment sway further back and forth compared to being on a lower floor. I quickly checked my phone and was messaging with the other TAB Japan students to see if they felt the earthquake and if they were alright. After that my host mother checked on me, told me to wear warmer clothes in case I need to escape and that the elevator wasn’t working so I should use the stairs. She then told me to get some rest and that I would feel some more aftershocks.

Later that morning, we had breakfast then my host mom went to the grocery store to line up and get food and water before our resources would be cut off. Our electricity was off for more than 24 hours and we lost water for most of that time. I ended up meeting my host mom with my sister at the grocery store to help them with groceries and also because they were allotting food/water for families. It honestly kind of felt like preparing for an apocalypse. But of course, in Japan, chaos is orderly chaos, so people were waiting patiently in line and service in a dark grocery store was still impeccable. The registers weren’t working in the grocery store so staff was running around with flashlights and writing all the barcodes and prices of the items people were buying. I helped them carry their groceries up to the 10th floor of their apartment and we had instant ramen for lunch. Last night we had dinner by candle light and watched the other grids/districts of the city light up with electricity hoping we would get electricity that night. My host mom listened to the radio for news, my sister practiced her kanji and I wrote in my journal. I remember my host mom asking, “Does this happen in Canada?”, and I responded, “No haha, nothing like this happens in Canada.” Then we went to bed with high hopes that things will be better the next day.

                                                                                                      The 3 hour line for the grocery store.

This morning I woke up to hearing my sister and host mom excitedly yelling in Japanese. I didn’t understand what they were saying but I knew what it meant so I instantly tried to turn on my bedside light to see if it worked and it did! I took a cold shower this morning and I never thought I’d appreciate a cold shower until then! The rest of the day was spent notifying friends and family that I am okay and that things are back to normal for my host family and I. Sadly, not everyone has had their electricity or water back on. In that case, my host family invited Sarah and her host family over to shower and have dinner with us.

Hopefully the natural disasters will stop for now and you all can hear from me when I’m officially all settled in school and in Japan!

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Sports Day

Hello everyone! This is Chris reporting in from Japan. I started out my trip with my host family bringing me to an event called undou ka, or sports day.

Sports day is a yearly event held by elementary schools where they split the classes into red and white teams, and they compete in various physical activities to win points for their team. Several of the events that I saw include running, tug of war, baton relays, getting a large inflatable ball a goal, carrying around a large box with their teachers faces painted on it, and jump rope endurance. While on paper it might just sound like a spruced up physical education classes, I think it brings a much greater sense of community than that. All the grades are expected to work together on teams, and everyone’s parents come to watch. Since it takes a whole day, the parents set up tents all around the field and bring fancy lunch boxes for when the kids get a break. There also really is a sense of competition and excitement as the students who aren’t participating in a certain event sit on the sidelines and cheer for their colour.

I have never really been a person who gets excited watching sports but cheering for my little host brother as he managed to pull one of the tug of war poles across the field filled me with a sense of pride but also the feeling that I really missed out on something. It’s as if that sense of community and teamwork that was building in the atmosphere, the happiness of the team winning and the frustration of losing an event by a hair just didn’t exist in my school experience. Thinking back on it though, it might just be because I never really got invested into my own school events anyways.

I think my favourite event was the baton relay. In this event, the teams consisted of 1 student from each grade, and they ran half of a track loop with a baton, which they would then hand it off to a student in the grade above them. Some students would fall behind only to have the student they hand off to blast as fast as they can and close the distance. During the relay they were playing an instrumental version of the theme song from “Kimi no na wa”, which is really fitting as a motivational theme to run to. My host little brother was singing the song all last night and morning. At the end of the race it really feels like the team that won only won because everyone ran as hard as they could.

While the baton relay was my favourite, I think the most interesting had to be the piggyback capture the flag. The students in this event would form a team of 3, and they would form a piggyback structure and try to steal a flag placed on another team piggyback. It seemed a little dangerous to me, but they managed to get it done.

Talking to my host family led me to some other insights about sports day. Like anything of the sort, there are people who don’t really like the event, having to do the exercise or the competition, or even memories of losing. However, since every elementary school has one, it serves as an easy conversation point for people, even if they have good or bad memories of sports day. As well, it serves as a social event for the parents. My host mom brought a ton of presents for other parents and went around talking to other parents. Unfortunately, I had caught a cold and couldn’t participate in the social events that happened after sports day ended.

Anyways, that’s it for my first post, hope you found it a little interesting! I’m headed to bed to try and recover from this cold. Next time, I'll write about what a typhoon and earthquake are like!

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Japan Fall 2018

Travelling internationally and independently is a big step out of your comfort zone. This was mine entirely. But, there are so many benefits that I hope to achieve from going on TAB. Primarily, I want to increase my confidence in taking new challenges out of my comfort zone that will allow me to also learn about myself, and grow as an individual. Travelling is perfect for me to achieve this confidence and learning. I have always wanted to travel somewhere far and by myself to try new things and stay open minded. With my previous experiences in travelling and the love for travel, I have progressively, over the years, grown an itch to keep going. And now here I am in Japan to embark on this journey!

Going to Japan has always been a bucket list country of mine to visit. Their culture is different from Canada's in many ways, and I wanted to immerse myself in their country and learn about them. By doing so, I hope to learn about Japan’s fascinating culture, people, values, and language. It would be interesting to see the relationship, according to similarities and differences, compared to our own. Maybe I will be able to pick up certain traits and values that are meaningful to me to hold on to, or need to learn and improve on about myself. 

Not only this, but it would also be a great experience to witness the classroom setting, the curriculum that is being taught and the school culture itself of Japan, such as what can we learn and strengthen in our classroom. I hope to learn the various teaching methods of Japan that will allow me to integrate new knowledge and skills into my own teaching career. Since Canada is a multicultural country, it would be beneficial for future teachers, such as myself, to be able to expand their teaching techniques that align with a diverse range of students.

Currently being in Japan already, there is so much to experience and learn. I am grateful for this opportunity to visit Japan and I will keep you all posted in the next few blogs!

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Ready for an Adventure!

Konichiwa from Japan! 

I am very excited to start this adventure in Sapporo. I have previously been travelling in Seoul, South Korea and in Kyoto and Tokyo before coming to Sapporo. Everything was amazing to see and I am looking forward for the future where I am able to experience much more. It is a little hard to let go of the vacation mode that I am in, but I am also excited to going back to the routines of school and not living out of my suitcase. 

Throughout my stay here, I hope to fully enjoy my time with my host family and officially learning Japanese. I have realized that many people have limited English and that it would make things much easier if I knew the basics of Japanese, including communicating with my host family. I am also looking forward to experiencing the different educational system in Japan. I assume that there will be some differences as the school cultures seem to be quite different from ours, but we shall wait and see what is in store. 

Overall, my main goal of this whole experience is to have fun and learn a lot from it…. So, let’s do this!

Chuen-Xi Quek

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Konnichiwa From Sapporo!

After travelling around Japan for two weeks, I have finally made it to my final destination, Sapporo! I arrived Friday, August the 31st and was taken to my new homestay. I was honestly just excited to settle in and unpack my bags after living out of my suitcase for two weeks. Even after one night at my homestay, things are definitely different here. I have noticed that already travelling around Japan for two weeks, it has me a little acclimated to society and culture here, rather than just flying in right away.

Yesterday was my first full day in Sapporo! My family and I woke up early to go to my sister’s Sports Day event at school. It was definitely interesting to see the family involvement in an event that large. There is a “Father’s Committee” of the students and they volunteer their time and help organize the event. There was even a dance made up by all the fathers and they were all dressed up like Samurais, made their own costumes, and they even practiced for weeks after work at Karaoke bars. 

After the event, my sister and I took a nap on the drive back home and quickly got changed to go to the Sapporo beer garden for dinner with the other host families and TAB students. It was a fun night that even involved my sister and father teaching everyone how to dance “Odori” which is a traditional Japanese dance.

I’m excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in hold for me and I’m nervous to see how I’ll do starting Japanese lessons tomorrow! :P


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Arigato Gozaimashita!

Today I visited HUE’s Hakodate campus. It’s smaller than Sapporo, but the team made it a packed day for getting a sense of the work they do here and how they connect to Japanese education overall. After a campus tour, I sat in on two classes, both in Japanese. The first featured student presentations on their visits to a nearby affiliated school. The students presented on the school’s approach to special education, including how the school interprets ministry guidelines and tries to foster students’ autonomy and independence. The second class was a high level language learning course. Several of the students in the class are “N1” students – the highest level for Japanese language learners and well above some of the other classes I visited last week. Beer taxes around the world was an unusual topic, but hey, it was interesting!

After lunch with my hosts I had the chance to meet with the head of HUE-Hakodate’s Regional Education program. We spoke through an interpreter (Andre, a Newfoundlander who teaches in the program), exchanging ideas about education and the different things HUE and UofC are working on. I’ve been lucky enough to chat with teachers from other programs in Canada about these things (how is your program structured? Why do you do what you do? What are you good at? What do you struggle with?), but this was the first time I was able to chat with someone running a program in another country with such a different perspective. We found a lot of common ground – Alberta and Hokkaido are both home to Indigenous peoples, for example – as well as differences and quirks in our systems (Japanese teachers are regularly moved every few years; French is one of our official languages yet most Canadians learn less French than Japanese students learn English).

Today’s my last full day in Japan and it was a great way to end off my stay here. I’ve been asked several times when I’m coming back. I don’t know – but I’d like to, and I’d definitely recommend Japan on the whole. It’s easy to get around, the food is great and has plenty of variety, and almost everyone I met was helpful and kind despite my linguistic bumbling.

The TABers coming here in the fall are in great hands, and I think they’ll learn a lot from the HUE team. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures – 4 airports in a day and lots of places to get awkwardly lost in. See you in Calgary!

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