japan (85)

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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Sushi and Convenience Stores

Nearly two weeks into my trip and I’ve finally had “real sushi.” It’s not that sushi is hard to find or that there aren’t a lot of sushi restaurants – but as you might have noticed, if something is easy to find, I usually miss it. But today I succeeded! There’s a sushi restaurant a stone’s throw away from my hotel, in the middle of the morning fish market. It was one of the pricier meals I’ve had in Japan - $30 for 12 pieces of sushi – but each piece was hand made to-order less than 6 feet from me, with fresh fish and pretty decent portions. The quality was definitely there and if you’re a sushi fan it’s worth the price.

In the afternoon I wandered back to the red brick warehouse district, which is where a lot of Hakodate’s souvenir goodies are. I’ll be mum on that for now but I do want to say a bit about convenience stores, since they’ve been a staple of my time here so far. Japan’s convenience stores are, well, much more convenient than the ones we have in Canada. For one thing, there’s many, many more of them – 7-11, FamilyMart, Lawson, and a few other chains have stores scattered every few blocks so you never have to walk far to get to one. Once you’re inside, you’ve got far more options. Beyond the candies, gum, hotdogs, and slushies you might expect at home, you can also buy all sorts of meals, snacks, as well as wine, dress shirts, and a few aisles of I-don’t-know-what-that-is-but-it-looks-fun.

Some (but not all) come with in-store seating where you can stop to eat or hop onto free wifi, and they also have garbage cans – something that’s fairly hard to find on the streets themselves. You can also get your food heated up for you if you want, but fair warning that a lot of the mini-meals come in plastic containers, which isn’t the greatest thing to stick in a microwave. Convenience store food isn’t as good as sushi or restaurant ramen, but it’s an easy fix, the staff are kind, and it’s nice to check out the stores that aren’t in the middle of tourist areas. All about the little things.

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HUE on the World Stage

Hakodate is a port city on the southeast side of Hokkaido, home to a few hundred thousand people and a large star fort. It’s had a long history as a port city trading with the rest of the world, and is the gate to the north for Japan and much of its tourism industry. It’s unsurprising, then, that Hakodate and Halifax are sister cities: they’ve got a lot in common. Goryokaku Park is a great parallel to Citadel Hill. Both started as military forts to defend the city from invaders (though Goyokaku actually saw a battle), and both have been converted into national historic sites for tourists and locals.

The park itself is free to get into, and there’s a small museum in the central building that costs $5. The grounds have lots of info plaques for many of the older buildings that no longer exist – each part of the fort is explained in English and Japanese, and copies of original blueprints are there as well if you’re feeling super architectural.


After lunch at a Bento Box shop I went down to a meeting with HUE’s international office where they were presenting on their JICA program. JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, connects Japanese institutions with peers in other countries, building bridges and the opportunity to share ideas across borders. HUE has worked with JICA to build teaching collaborations with countries in Africa and Polynesia. Most of the presentation was in Japanese, but some was in French and my hosts helped with the rest – so in short it was a great chance to learn about the work that HUE does with other programs around the world.

After the seminar the folks at HUE invited me to join them for dinner at a local restaurant. This was by far the most “Japanese style” restaurant I’ve been to so far, and it’s easily one of my favourites. After eating with the team and chatting with them about their work, their lives, and their families, we finished the night by going around the table and saying some closing words to the group. This was mostly Japanese-only (so they chuckled when it was my turn), but again it was a great way to thank the team for their work and get a better sense of how they interact with one another outside of the office. My hosts have been kind, generous, and great to learn from, so tonight was an especially nice treat.

Two more days in Japan – more news tomorrow!

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Climbing Mount Hakodate

Today started with an early flight out of Okadama airport. It’s the smallest airport so far on this trip – 1 gate, 1 plane, and not much more. We were airborne for only 40 minutes before landing in Hakodate, on the southern edge of Hokkaido, with Hakodate bay on the west and the Tsugaru Straits on the east. Before checking in I went down to the beach on the east end of the city. The water’s too strong to swim in (and probably not that clean), but it’s a nice view and the breeze brings the heat down on a warm day.


In the afternoon I went to the Museum of Northern Peoples, another site full of Ainu artifacts and history about the indigenous peoples of Hokkaido and the northern islands. Some of the rooms are a bit scarce on English translations, but for only $3 it was a nice stop and gave me a bit more information than the museum in Sapporo.


For dinner I went to a local restaurant not far from my hotel. Their specialty is Ika Sashimi – squid. Like most of the restaurants this close to the harbour, the walls are lined with tanks full of live catches – king crabs, scallops, shrimp, squid, and a ton of fish. This place’s squid comes as fresh as it gets, and the staff are kind enough to warn first-timers that the squid will still be moving when you get your plate. Squid hasn’t been my favourite meal here so far, but it’s something for the bucket list and I might go back to the restaurant to try out the rest of their menu.



To end the day I made my way down to Mount Hakodate, which sits just south of the city and gives a perfect view of the entire place. The hike itself only takes 45 minutes, but the best views are at the top, so unless you like hiking you can take the ropeway up the side for $12 round-trip. Once on top you should wait until the sky is dark – the views get better as the day goes on and it’s well worth the wait. On a Friday night the observation decks were very, very crowded, but the outdoor garden deck doesn’t get as much traffic and has almost exactly the same view as the top floor.

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Parks, Museums, and Rain

To wrap up my time in Sapporo I visited some of the sights around town that the folks at HUE said were worth a visit. Like Tokyo, Sapporo has a TV tower in the middle of the city – this time overlooking Odori Park. Odori runs several blocks above one of the cities busier subway stations, and is filled with sculptures and small monuments that represent parts of Sapporo’s history. It’s also not too far from the old clock tower – what one of our hosts called “one of the Top 3 disappointing tourist destinations in the city.” The park is worth visiting, but definitely skip the clock tower!


Just north of Odori is Akarenga, or the Red Brick building, an old government office that was once the centre of Sapporo and Hokkaido’s government. The park around Akarenga has some great little spots, and the building itself is packed full of art, history exhibits, and commemorations of partnerships and gifts from around the world. Hokkaido and Alberta are “sister provinces,” so there are several gifts from Peter Lougheed and other Albertans, and there’s also a number of artefacts from when Hokkaido hosted the G8 summit in 2008. Not all of the exhibits are fully bilingual, but enough of them are to make the building well worth a visit.


To the west is Hokkaido University’s Botanical Garden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the country and well worth the hour or so it takes to tour around. The garden gives weekly updates on which plants are best to view at different times during the year – I just missed the lilac peak but the rose garden was a great sight to see. The university also has a small museum on the history of the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people, as well as an impressive (if slightly creepy) exhibit on the many animals that call Hokkaido home.


Another 40 minutes west (with a nice lunch break in the rain) is Maruyama Park, which is also home to the Hokkaido Shrine. The shrine is well-maintained and also has information on the site, Shinto, and life in Sapporo. Because there’s also a subway stop nearby it’s easy to get to so if you’re in Sapporo you should check it out.


Tomorrow I’m off to Hakodate, the final city on my trip before I head back to Calgary. Until then!

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Today we visited HUE-Sapporo’s two Affiliated Schools – a junior high school (grades 7-9) and an elementary school (grades 1-6). We started with the junior high, visiting with Dr. Oga and the Vice Director of HUE’s international office, as well as 4 exchange students (1 from Taiwan, 1 from Alaska, and 2 from Russia). The Affiliated Schools are very similar to Werklund’s Partner Research Schools – they work with the university on research projects, and often collaborate on opportunities like student practicums and visits from international groups.

During our visit, the principal explained that their goal at the school is to integrate students’ learning across subjects, and especially to connect what they are learning in the classroom to their lives outside of the building. To do that, teachers work together to approach topics from different perspectives, and spend 2-3 hours a week collaborating on research to better understand how their students are learning. Teachers are also able to visit each other’s classrooms to observe one another and chat about teaching practices – so a couple of the rooms we visited also had another teacher sitting in.

The American student with us commented that he was surprised at how much group work the students were doing, especially in the science class we visited. As much as students study individually and are expected to do well, the school also wants to create a community and encourage students to learn from one another.

After lunch in the university cafeteria we made our way to the elementary school. The community feel was even more apparent here – most of the teachers we visited were in and amongst the students, and several classes had students rotating through “daily duties” like leading end-of-class discussions. After school most of the teachers hosted meetings for parents about upcoming activities and field trips. Rather than send home forms and trip outlines (waivers in particular are not a thing here), the parents come to the school for a step-by-step presentation about each trip so that they know what to expect and what the students will do while they’re away.

The highlight of the day (and I really hope the video Dr. Oga took gets lost to the sands of time) was our game of Indiaca, essentially a hybrid between volleyball and badminton (played with a giant birdie but no rackets). It’s a simple game and was a nice way to connect with the group – though I wouldn’t suggest playing it in a suit in the middle of June.

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A Day at Sapporo Campus

It’s a warm and windy day in Hokkaido! To start things off today I got to campus without getting lost (it doesn’t count as getting lost if I only look at the map 53 times). Our first meeting was with some third year education students, including some students who are part of GELPRO, HUE’s Global Educational Leadership program. Like TABers, GELPRO students travel abroad – sometimes for up to a year – to learn about education in other places and enhance their English. That’s one of HUE’s strengths: they’re connected with a range of universities around the world and open their campus up as part of these programs. 

The second class I visited was a level 2 Japanese class for some of the foreign exchange students. The teacher – who also teaches the TAB students when they visit – ran the class mostly as a conversation, and almost entirely in Japanese. The students are comfortable enough to talk about a range of topics (when is it polite to use certain greetings? What things do you say back home that people in Japan don’t say/do? What’s it like to be a foreign student in Hokkaido?), and while they aren’t fluent, they’ve spent enough time immersed in the language that it was tough to keep up.

For lunch we went to a nearby family-run soba restaurant. Credit to our hosts for what the recommended – the soba was delicious and the shrimp hadn’t spent a century in a freezer. After lunch was a meeting with HUE staff who have spent time living, studying, and training abroad. I was impressed by how humble the team is about their experiences and their English. Most of the group don’t give formal presentations very often, and less often in English, but they were easy to talk to and had lots of experiences worth hearing about.

The day ended with the international team and exchanging gifts from UofC and HUE. Dr. Oga, who organizes much of TAB in Japan, was there, along with the rest of the office and a few extra guests. I didn’t have a cake with me but it can’t be an office gathering without some food – something I am happy to say works at HUE as much as it does back home. Tomorrow’s my last day at HUE-Sapporo, when I get to check out two of HUE’s Affiliated Schools with Dr. Oga and her students. Until then!

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Sunburnt in Sapporo

It’s the end of a long day as I sit down to write this post. The day started in Tokyo at 4:00am, where I checked out of my hotel and made my way to Haneda Airport for the flight to Sapporo. Haneda is essentially Tokyo’s domestic airport, and while it’s much smaller than Narita, it felt busier. The 777 we took had a nose-mounted camera to give us a first-person view of the liftoff and landing. Is this common? I haven’t seen it before.

I landed in New Chitose airport south of Sapporo and took the bus into town. After grabbing lunch and dropping my bags I train-hopped north to the HUE Sapporo campus. I also got to take a taxi part of the way, which was a great chance to practice my Japanese, and I’d rather mention that than my conversation with the ticket agent where I mixed up “my older sister” and “that platform over there.” You know, because those are super close together (they’re not).

Once I got to campus I met with the international team, including the TAB liaisons and their Director. One of their English instructors is fairly new to campus, so we went on a tour of campus together and chatted about HUE and UofC, and some quirks about life in Canada. I also visited a Year 1 teacher ed class and chatted with the students, one of which is hoping to come to Canada next year as part of one of HUE’s other exchange programs.

After some more meetings and introductions it was time for dinner. The folks at HUE invited me to join them at Yakitori, a pub-like restaurant that mostly serves skewered meats (tori means bird/chicken) and sake. Tokyo was good for learning about what Japan values as a country, but tonight’s dinner was great for learning about the HUE team as people. They introduced me to new dishes, showed me a drink made from sweet potatoes that wasn’t orange (witchcraft, I think), and chatted about their lives, their families, and the work they do. They’re a kind and generous bunch and I’m looking forward to the next few days getting to know them and the city a little better.

A quick aside – Although there has been a significant earthquake in Osaka I’m quite far from there and so haven’t been affected by it.

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In Search of Ramen

It’s my last full day in Tokyo and the sun has finally come out! To start the day off I walked north to Tokyo Tower. While it’s not as tall as the Tokyo Skytree, it’s also much closer to get to on foot, and unlike certain other yeah-sure-that’s-a-tower, this one is big enough to outpace the buildings around. So points for that.

Right next to the tower is Shiba Park. It’s another green space in Tokyo, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s also neighbours with Zojo-Ji, a large Buddhist temple that’s open to the public. The temple runs free guided tours in English that give some context to the site, its history, and its significance for the city. While most of the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, it still boasts its original gate, one original building, and a black pine planted by Ulysses S. Grant during his visit to Japan. The tour guide was funny and welcoming and definitely makes the temple worth a visit.


After the temple I went north to one of Tokyo’s theatre districts to check things out and take an obligatory photo with one of the many Godzilla statues scattered around town. On my way I passed through a small park with a fishing pond. While I was there a mother and father were teaching their son how to catch lobsters. Always something new to see! From there I went east to the Hama-rikyu Gardens, an enclosed green space also dating from the Edo period. The stonework is reminiscent of the imperial palace grounds and the gardens are fairly large for the $3 admission fee.

I’m off to Sapporo tomorrow but first I’ve got to track down the ramen restaurant I’ve been trying to find. Until then!

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Over Hill and Under Hill

A few miles east of my hotel is Tokyo harbour, a sprawling cargo complex that also has some good sightseeing points that are worth checking out. True to form I got lost twice along the way, but had some help from security guards who understood my broken Japanese and pointed me in the right direction.

One of the detours I didn’t expect Google to take me on was a tunnel under a dozen or so train lines. The tunnel – think Harry Potter 5 but with less headroom – gives cars, bikes, and pedestrians a way past the rail lines without a lengthy detour. The concrete roof comes down to about 5 feet at its lowest point, and the passage is only just wide enough for a walker, biker, and car to go abreast, but it makes for a good photo, especially if you can get one at the end of the tunnel when a car is coming through.

After the tunnel comes the Rainbow Bridge. It is, in a word, big. The bridge connects several man-made islands on the west side of the port with Odaiba Park, a historical site turned beachfront, and spans nearly twice the length of Niagara Falls’ bridge with the same name. It’s a double-decker bridge, with 4 lanes on top and 4 underneath, plus 2 train tracks in the middle and pedestrian paths on either side. In good weather you can see Mt. Fuji on the south promenade, but failing that the bridge lights up at night and gives you a great view of downtown and the rest of the harbour.


Odaiba Park is what remains of several cannon batteries that were build to defend the harbour from the Americans in the 1850s. Most of the defenses are gone now, and in their place is a large park that some kids were playing soccer in as I walked by. There’s also a beach and recreation area, plus a marina for boat tours if you’re looking for a different view. And of course, I also ran into someone you might know (she's shorter in person).

After the beach I went to the Trick Art Museum, home to all sorts of optical illusions and photo opportunities. This is a great place to go if you’re with friends or have kids. If you’re travelling solo the museum staff will also help take photos as well – most of the pieces are interactive and it helps to have someone to hold the camera.

My final stop for the day was at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This is a must-see, especially for families or science teachers. The museum is built around asking interesting questions about the world and sharing how scientists tackle these questions across all sorts of fields. Robotics, astrophysics, environmental science, forensics, and several other disciplines all have a home here. 2 dozen Nobel Laureates have also visited the museum, and each of them have posed a question for guests to reflect on as they tour the exhibits. A very interactive museum that filled nearly 3 hours of my day – well worth it.

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My first full day in Tokyo! Things got started nice and early, which was great for getting to see the city before rush hour hit but not so great for finding a restaurant that was open for breakfast. I settled on a small western café called Dean & DeLuca, whose menu was mostly in Japanese but which catered to more English speaking guests than I’d seen so far anywhere else. I had their tuna sandwich on “pecan bread” out in a small courtyard that sits between some of the underground pedestrian tunnels folks were using to get to work. That’s one thing I didn’t expect to find here: lots of green spaces that you can sneak away to for some quiet in the middle of the day.

Today marked my first day taking the subway. Tokyo’s transit system is a bit confusing, but not nearly as confusing as it should be given the city’s size, the number of companies that run trains, subways, and buses, and the number of people who all know where they’re going when you do not. Instead it’s very well organized: there are colour-coded signs in Japanese and English all over the place, and the info maps are close enough together that if you get lost (like I did in JR’s Tokyo Station), you’ll get un-lost quickly enough.

As a history teacher, I couldn’t pass up a chance to tour the Imperial Palace downtown. The palace, built where Edo castle once stood, has some stellar gardens and a handful of 17th century watchtowers that you can get pretty close to. Tours are free and offered in Japanese and English, and if you plan ahead of time you can download an audio guidebook for some extra tidbits as you walk around the grounds.

After the palace I walked down to the National Diet (Japan’s legislature), which is also surrounded by a wide range of government buildings. It didn’t look like I could tour inside most of these, which was a shame, but they were nice to wander by and gave me a better sense of what the city feels like on a Friday afternoon.

I stopped in for lunch at CoCo Ichibanya Curry House not too far from a Shinto shrine I wanted to visit. Most of the other guests were office workers on their lunch breaks. Mostly regulars, it seemed, but the waitress was very helpful and the menu had loads of options. I went with a seafood curry that had shrimp, octopus, and a couple other I-don’t-know-what-those-were-but-they-were-tasty.

The Hie shrine sits at the top of a hill with a staircase (and escalator) leading down to the city below. Out front there are a number of lanterns set up for the Sanno Matsuri Festival, which is on until the 17th. I didn’t stick around for the festivities but the shrine itself was peaceful and worth visiting if you’re interested in history and culture.

On the train back to the hotel I found out that my route was ending 1 station short of my hotel. Not a huge problem, save that this other station A) had 4 different exits and B) my phone has decided it does not like loading maps anymore because it takes joy in watching me struggle. Again Tokyo’s organization came to the rescue. Every few blocks there are info maps that outline where you are, where subway stations are, and where to find nearby landmarks (like that hotel you want to get back to).

That’s all for today! Next is dinner and a walk down to the park I can see from my room. See you tomorrow!

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Off to Tokyo!

As part of TAB, Werklund has a longstanding relationship with the Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) in northern Japan. For nearly 3 decades, students from Werklund and HUE have been travelling overseas to learn about how teaching and learning happen in other places. As part of that partnership, this year I have the opportunity to visit HUE and learn about their programs and the work they do.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be visiting 3 cities in Japan. First, to bustling Tokyo, then, to HUE’s main campus in Sapporo, and finally, to Hakodate, home to one of HUE’s many satellite campuses and their Regional Education program. Today I’m writing from a 767, on my first trans-Pacific flight. It’s a smooth ride – direct from YYC to Narita Airport in Tokyo, with some stellar views along the way (get a window seat on the right if you can, or all you’ll be looking at is ocean).

We left Calgary around 1:00pm; then made our way northwest toward BC and the Rockies. A couple of hours into the flight I got a photo of some snow-capped mountains south of Watson Lake. There’s deep snow farther north – especially as you get closer to Skagway – but you can also make out plenty of mountain peaks, valleys, and the occasional glacier.

From there we hugged the coast of Alaska, passing just south of Anchorage before heading back inland. Once we were over the Bearing Strait we curved south, staying east of Russia until we passed east of Hokkaido and the other northern islands. We had a cloudy landing, and it’s overcast now at Narita. Baggage and customs were a breeze. I’ve loaded up my Passmo card for getting around town (thanks Dr. Dressler!), and I’ll be headed to the hotel in 20 minutes. Stay tuned for more news from here in Japan!


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Otsukaresama Deshita! / Back in Canada

Hello Everyone!

And so, my journey through the Teaching Across Border program has come to an end! I can’t believe how quickly these last ten weeks in Sapporo flew by, and I can’t believe the amount of precious experiences and memories that I have gained throughout this journey. Now that I am back home in Calgary, I feel like I've only really begun to deeply reflect on my experience. I think back on my time and Japan, and both my mind and heart explode when I try to recall all the amazing things I have learned, and when I think about all the kind and supportive people I've grown to deeply care for.

Through TAB I was able to fully immerse myself and grow to deeply appreciate another culture by living through and learning through it. Yes, due to language barriers, I struggled to communicate with teachers, peers, students, my host family, and other people I just happened to encounter. But I feel that through that struggle, I could work hard to develop my skills beyond verbal communication, as well as experience first hand what it’s like to learn another language. I feel like I have grown to appreciate the value of literacy more deeply, and of what it means to really comprehend and engage with the learning material. Through my experiences at Ainosato Nishi Elementary school, I feel like I have gained much in terms of teaching strategies, especially when it comes to formative assessment and in knowing your students well. Most of all, I think this experience has reminded me of the importance of community, in the family, in schools, and beyond.

As a future teacher, my ultimate goals are to inspire lifelong learning, and help my students to develop 21st century competencies, as well as grow in a way that allows them to live fully and happily. And I think that one of the ways in which teachers can accomplish this is through knowing and collaborating with your students, creating meaningful engagement, and establishing community. Although I am sad to be leaving Sapporo and all the wonderful people I have met her, I am excited to go back to Calgary and take what I have learned in Japan and use it in my future teaching practices!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this entire journey!

Arigato gozaimashita!

Until next time! Mata ne!


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Goodbye Ainosato Nishi Shogakko!

Hello Everyone!

I hope that everyone in TAB is having a great time at their respective countries! And for everyone else reading this blog, I hope you are doing awesome as well!

Even though this was my last week at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I was still able to learn so much about Japanese school culture, as well as observe some very useful teaching strategies. Something that I didn’t expect prior to arriving in Japan, was the amount of formative assessment. After each activity, from cleaning up, to practicing a song for the cultural festival, to participating in an English learning task, both students and teachers actively participated in formative assessment. For example, after playing a game of dodgeball for club activities, students would raise their hands and share their thoughts about their own, as well their classmates’, performance and participation. Teachers would also provide their thoughts about what happened in the previous activity. After each student would provide their assessment and feelings, the students would applause. I found this to be a great way for students to practice introspection, public speaking, explore their own learning, as well as have their own thoughts and feelings be acknowledged and validated by their peers.  Another example would be after a learning task in English class. After the activity, students would rate their own performance, as well as write down some of the things that they had learned in the class. The same as an exit slip, this practice allows students to think about their own learning, as well as provides teachers an opportunity to formatively assess their students. In some activities, students would also assess the performance of their peers on a simple rubric.

I feel like I can’t write about my experience at Ainosato Nishi without discussing the preparations surrounding the upcoming school cultural festival. During the cultural festival, students are divided into their grade levels. Each grade level performs a musical performance, and/or drama performance first for the school, and then for the school and family members. Preparation for this cultural festival starts months in advance, and requires the full cooperation of all teachers at the school. In my assigned grade four class, students were to perform a modified version of a play called Neverland. Every morning, both grade four classes would gather and sing at least one song from the play. Usually before lunch time, the students would also practice the lines and actions of the play for two periods. It never ceased to amaze me, the incredible enthusiasm of both the students and teachers as they prepared for this performance. Despite the rigorous and strict guidance of the teachers, everyone seemed to be having fun, and were all equally motivated to do their best.

(Practice for School Cultural Festival: Neverland)

Our last day at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School was a lot more heartbreaking than I had expected it to be. It was amazing to see the learners grow and mature, even in the short span of time I was able to spend with them. I felt that I learned a lot through teaching them English, and through the observation of the excellent teachers at the school. Everyone, both staff and students, were incredibly welcoming, therefore it didn’t take long for me to feel a part of the community that I first observed and admired when I first stepped in to the school. I am sad to be leaving such an amazing community behind, but I know that I have gained invaluable memories and experiences that I will forever take with me in both my future teaching practices, as well as everyday life.

After my school volunteering was done, Hokkaido University of Education set up an two-day excursion for international students, as well as four of the Teaching Across Borders students in Japan. During this excursion, we had the opportunity to explore nature outside of Hokkaido, learn about a dormant volcano near Sapporo, make udon, as well as visit an Ainu museum. Like Calgary, Sapporo is close to some very impressive mountains, and beautiful nature. It is great to see how treasured nature is in Hokkaido, and the efforts made in order to conserve and protect the wildlife present. For me, I think the most valuable part of the excursion was learning about the Ainu people of Hokkaido. Like Canada, the prefecture Hokkaido is approximately 150 years old. Like the indigenous people of Canada, the Ainu people were forced to give up their culture and language, and their traditional ways of living and thinking were seen as savage. In recent years, Hokkaido has been making an effort to bring back Ainu culture, as well as acknowledge both the validity and complexity of Ainu ways. Through visual displays, and through the stories of our tour guide, we were able to learn a lot about the rich culture of the Ainu people.

(Fall Nature Excursion ... Thank you for the picture Christine!)

During my last week in Sapporo, I was given the opportunity to sit in on multiple classes and the Hokkaido University of Education. One of the classes I joined was an English class, where students worked through a textbook and listen to audio clips related to their future plans and aspirations. In the second class, students presented through PowerPoints, something interesting about Japan. This included badminton, general differences between Japanese and Western culture (ex. Food and beauty standards), as well as the process of gift giving. The third class was an Art and Music class, where we were given the opportunity to present a PowerPoint about Canada as well as chat with the students. It was interesting to see how English was taught to university students, compared to how it was taught to elementary students.  It was also particularly interesting to see how the Arts and Music professor incorporated English in to his class, despite the class itself not having to do much with the English language. For example, tasks and assignments would be given to the students in English. Also, due to the generally smaller class sizes, teachers knew their students well, and a sense of community was established.

Until next time! Mata ne!

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Japanese Culture: Changing Conceptions

Hello Everyone!

These past few weeks have been full of excitement and learning!  I feel as though I’ve become more comfortable living with my new host family and navigating through the city. But at the same time, so many things have been happening that I feel like I can hardly catch my breath!

My new host family consists of my host father and mother, as well as two sons, aged 9 and 13. With an additional host sibling to the mix, life at home is quite a bit more hectic. Yes, the household is busy, but like my last host family, everyone is eager to discuss our lifestyles, and the similarities and differences between Japanese and Canadian culture. Through our conversations, I have learned a lot about Japanese culture, from traditions and holidays, Japanese cuisine, to the most popular sports in Japan. In these past few weeks with my host family, I have watched more baseball than I have ever watched in my life previously! It’s great to see the differences in familial dynamics, and everyday routines between my two host families. But at the heart of both family environments, I can see that a love for one another, as well as a love for their country’s history and culture.

The other topic I would like to talk about in this blog post is my developing conception of the Japanese school environment. Before coming to Japan, my perceptions of education in the country was one that was extremely standardized and strict. And although standardized testing certainly plays a large role in student examinations, especially when going in to junior high and high school, and throughout high school, everyday learning tasks were not. For example, teachers often used the process of inquiry to get their students engaged. A question would be posed to the entire class, and students would be free to discuss with their peers the issue posed, as well as the solution. Most desks in classrooms were arranged so that students were able to work with their classmates. During some learning tasks, students were also welcome to move around the classroom to ask each other, and their teacher questions, or find a more comfortable working space. The process of scaffolding, especially in mathematics classes, were very important in the classroom. Every week, student schedules would differ because the staff would come together and adapt their lessons and schedules to fit the needs of the students.

Another interesting thing to note is the different courses offered by Japanese schools. Probably the two most interesting classes are moral studies, and integrated studies. In moral studies, students would explore themes such as appropriate behavior, right or wrong, as well as duty and responsibility. Students would discuss and explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding an issue, which was often presented in the form of a story. Through these stories, students were exposed to more mature themes, such as death. It was interesting to see how teachers approached these subject with their students, as well see how students reacted to these topics. Through storytelling, and active listening, I felt as though the teacher did and excellent job of modifying her lesson and guiding the class in a way that made the material accessible to students. In integrated studies, students would explore multiple subjects simultaneously. I hope to be given more opportunities to observe this class, as I feel it will be valuable in my learning journey through my interdisciplinary education class.

At Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I have also been given the opportunity to share information about myself and about various things in Canada with another TAB student. Through a PowerPoint presentation I shared information about my family, hobbies, and likes. We also discussed food, sports, and animals in Canada. With the English teacher, we worked to adapt and modify our presentation to fit the English comprehension levels of the class. I felt that through each presentation, I learned techniques and strategies to better engage with the students in my class. Modifying the words, using large gestures and comparison, as well as asking simple questions are some of the things that we did to help our students understand, and be more interested in our presentation. We also taught the game Stella Ella Ola to some grades. I really enjoyed being actively involved in the classes, and for having the opportunity to develop my communication skills when a language barrier exists.  I felt like these tasks were especially valuable in helping me to formatively assess student understanding and engagement through their expressions and participation.

Every lunch period, I eat my meal with the students, and rotate between different desk groups. After lunch, I am also able to help the students clean up, and then play with the students. I feel that this has really allowed be to get to know the students better, as we are given the opportunity to communicate freely. It is also during these moments where their individual personalities shine, and when I can make meaningful connections with the learners. It is easy to see how natural it is for a genuine community of care to develop, especially when teachers spend time with their students in sharing classroom tasks, and in daily, simple discussion and play.

I feel as though I have only scratched the surface of everything I wish to write about my experiences so far, and I know that I’ll be learning and experiencing so much more in the upcoming weeks. I feel as though I have developed a much deeper connection to everyone at school, as well as my host family, and am already dreading the day I will have to separate from them!

(Special education classroom at Ainosato Nishi. Other classrooms often had desks groups together)

I look forward with sharing my thoughts in the next blog!

Until then! Mata ne!


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Elementary Schools in Japan

Hello Everyone!

For this Ning Blog, I’d like to focus on my initial thoughts of the elementary school that I was place in as part of this program.

After having completed my Japanese lessons at the university, as well having visited three different schools in Sapporo, I was assigned to an average sized elementary school nearby the university. Growing up and going to school in Calgary for all of my life, I had little knowledge about how the school environment would be like in Japan. In the month prior, I had the opportunity to attend a rural elementary school, and then visited fairly prestigious, and junior high and elementary schools.  Because I had only visited each of these schools for one day, I was only able to get a glimpse of what daily school life would be.  After one week at Ainosato Elementary School, I feel that through deeper engagement with school staff and students, I’ve been able to gain much more knowledge.

One of the most striking aspects that I noticed of the school that I was placed in is the sense of community present within the school. It was clear in the classroom, that students knew and demonstrated their shared responsibility in keeping classroom activities and transitions in order. For example, at the beginning of the class, students would take attendance while asking each individual how they are feeling. Another group of students would go over the class schedule, as well as what the school lunch that day would be. During school lunches, students would rotate between different responsibilities, such as cleaning the floor, putting the food in the bowls/plates, and distributing utensils. Students would do their responsibilities with little coercion from their teachers, and students would also wait patiently for their peers to be quietly seated before changing activities. The staff too, seemed to have a strong sense of community. Staff meetings, where everyone discussed and formed the schedules of the students, seemed to occur every morning. Teachers would also meet to practice a specific subject. For example, because all teachers were required to be knowledgeable about music education, teachers would often meet to practice playing or singing songs that they had to later teach their students.

After asking the teachers at Ainosato Nishi elementary school, I learned that this type of environment of shared responsibility, and in a way, class independence from the teacher, was standard to most elementary schools. This type of school environment made me wonder about why this is the case. I wondered if strong cultural influence and upbringing, especially in relation to collectivity, played a major role in the development of this school system. Overall, Ainosato Nishi seemed to be a school in which both students and staff truly cared for each other. Everyone appeared to be invested in the well-being, and/or learning of others.

My first week at the elementary school also provided me with the opportunity to practice my Japanese skills. On different days, my partner TAB student and I were required to introduce ourselves to each class, as well as the whole school in both English and Japanese. It was an interesting experience, trying to juggle between two aspects of my speech: to speak simply and clearly in English, and speak clearly and correctly in Japanese. I found this experience to be incredibly nerve-wracking, but also incredibly valuable. It made me think about how to enunciate and speak English in such a way that ELL students in my future classrooms can understand. At the same time, I got to experience what it was like to speak in an unfamiliar language in front of a large group of people. I hope that as I go on in my future teaching practice, I will never forget these moments because I feel like they will be valuable to me when thinking about how to interact with ELL students, as well as provide me with the slightest glimpse of what they might be experiencing.

Overall, my first week at Ainosato Nishi has been a great one! I am blown away by how kind and welcoming both the staff and students are at this school. I am incredibly excited to develop a deeper relationship with everyone at the school, as well as learn more about the everyday school environment,

Until next time! Mata ne!


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See You

Third day being back in winter and I am still in disbelief that I'm already home. Thankfully I don't have jetlag but that is because I arrived in Calgary at 11 am in the morning on Sunday and stayed up for a whole 28 hours before going to bed (I had woken up in Tokyo on the same day at 8:00 am).

Sapporo was my second home and I am still unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to spend 2 months there, being immersed into another culture and deepening my knowledge. 

I can't believe it's all over and I am still getting readjusted to things back home such as my friends, my significant other and just life in general. It's almost a strange feeling to be back in my own room, it seems familiar and unfamiliar to me at the same time

Some things I miss about Sapporo

  • The beautiful weather, the vibrant colours of the trees and all the peaceful walking I was able to do. The 20 minute walk to the university was something that I grew to enjoy doing every day so it is a bit weird not having to walk anywhere anymore. 
  • The endless amount of delicious Japanese cuisine readily available anywhere I go 
  • The students and my host siblings. I miss them so much because they were so welcoming, loving and embracing of me. I will miss the elementary student's enthusiasm and eagerness to say hi and see you whenever they bump into us outside of school. They are taught to say see you instead of bye and I think that is so sweet. I find it to be really optimistic when they say it, even though if I won't see those students ever again, there's still a chance we will meet one day.
  • The peace of mind and focus on myself. I found that in Japan, I was away from my responsibilities in Canada and I was able to just focus on school, myself and having fun. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and throw myself into something without any distractions. I learned a lot from even just navigating around the city by myself and it is a different kind of freedom that I will miss. 
  • Having new adventures with the girls every day is something I'll miss. We definitely had a lot of fun together in Sapporo!

Some things I am looking forward to at home:

  • Spending time with my family, friends, my significant other and my dog, Chewy
  • Continuing to learn Japanese in my free time
  • Practicum even though it is nerve racking 
  • Taking what I have learned in Japan schools and incorporating it into my teaching 

I still need time to process all that I have learned and everything I will miss but I do know that is experience was one of a kind and I am so excited to share my experience with all of my peers!

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Japan is incredible!


I can’t believe my trip here in Sapporo has come to an end. Someone needs to build a time machine quickly because I want to rewind and do it all again. 

My trip has been an experience beyond words because…

Of everyone that I met:

  • The coordinators in Japan are the friendliest people who will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and help you so that you are set in every situation. Because of them my adventure started and ended super smoothly because they are always on top of their game.
  • The students at HUE have given me the wonderful opportunity to call them friends across the world. We have shared so many memories together, like sight-seeing, school visits, HUE school festival, Halloween party and so much more. I am sad that our time was short here but I know this isn’t the end of our friendship.
  • The teachers and students at my practicum placement welcomed us with open arms and made sure all our inquiries are answered to the best of their abilities. There is a language barrier but we were able to overcome that together because we are both willing parties to get along with everything that we can do.
  • The host families. They have gone out of their way to include us in their daily lives and welcome us to become part of their family. I feel like I can really say that I feel like I have even more relatives overseas and I am very excited to see them again!

Of everything that I have done:

  • I have gone on so many trips to see the amazing wonders of Hokkaido: Mt. Moiwa, Hell’s Valley, Lake Toya just to name a few. These are all amazing places that I know I will never forget because they are all so unique. 
  • Rice harvesting. I love to eat rice and now I know how hard it is to cut the rice by hand. I got to be dressed in a traditional outfit and eat the 'fresh' rice.
  • Making udon. This was such an enjoyable and delicious experience that I know I want to try it again.
  • Winning at the claw machines. The prizes are super cute and it’s fun to try… but beware of how much fun it can be to keep trying!
  • Eating so many different kinds of Hokkaido food and specialities.

And so much much more! (The picture of the left is the famous statue of William Clark and his famous phrase: Boys Be Ambitious) 


Of everything that I have learned:

  • Teachers and students in Japan have special relationships with each other, where they genuinely care for each other. The teacher sets up the student so they will succeed and the students aim for the best. I was lucky to be placed within a school that has such a strong community and had the opportunity to meet teachers that have become my role model.
  • If you have a strong relationship with your students, classroom management is not a big issue. It is how you interact with others that define how they will react towards you. Give support but also be firm in what you do.
  • Scissor – Rock – Paper (or as we Canadians call it Rock- Paper- Scissors) can be used as a decision making game in any instance. It is super handy!

I have learned so much here that I can't put into words, but I will never forget anything I have learned.  

Of who I am now: I started this trip supremely nervous because it is my first time being away from home for such a long time by myself. I did not see myself as independent and the challenges that I would have to face scared me. Now, I know that I am capable of overcoming any challenge (no matter how cheesy it is to say that). I have made friends and connections with people through language barriers, cultural differences and differences in backgrounds. I have reached my goal of being more confident in myself and I am excited to see where my teaching path will take me. 

For all this I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way and made this possible for me. Arigatoo gozaimashita!

 This is not a goodbye but only a see you again later!

Jaa matane!!! 

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I am so so grateful to have been placed at Ainosato Nishi Elementary here in Sapporo. It was a very emotional last day for April and I. We will miss the students and teachers dearly. Words cannot describe how much love I have for the teachers and students at that school. Everyday, students would greet us with a loud "hello, good morning" and "see you" when we left. There wasn't a day where I didn't have a huge smile on my face. During our time with homeroom class, we had many opportunities to share with them cultural differences and activities. For example, one of the table group conversations we had was about different sounds that animals make. It was very surprising to them and to myself how different each sound was. A dog sound in Japanese is "wan wan" and we would say "woof woof". (The girls and I found this shirt that we couldn't stop laughing about and now we finally understand that it was a pun and not a typo.) April and I also taught them how to play "Duck Duck Goose" and they taught us a Japanese game in return. My greatest learning experience occurred when I was observing a few classes in Japanese. Initially, I didn't understand why we had to observe a class taught in a different language. Even though April and I didn't understand what the teacher and students were saying, we used their gestures and tone of voice to try to put it together. We had to think about the class in a different way and it allowed us to think outside the box and to observe every little thing that was going on. Throughout the lessons, the teacher used many effective teaching strategies. In one of the math lessons, she presented the class with a question. She gave the students an opportunity to solve it. After, she asked the class for the answer. She doesn't tell them whether it was right or wrong but she asks them for the reason for their answer. This way, students are able to understand why and how they got the answer.

School festivals are also very important here. Students practice for weeks for a one day event at the school. During these festivals students would do a combination of a play and singing a song. Students would audition for the part they want to play in the play. Students also have to audition for piano parts as well. If the students don't get the part they want, the would audition for another. They are not discourage because in the end, everyone will be able to play a role in the play. All the costumes and props are made by the teachers and students in that class. I had the opportunity to make tissue flowers and sew flowers onto a dress for one of the girls. The play and song were absolutely amazing.

On our last day, our homeroom surprised us with a goodbye party. They sang to us, told jokes, played Duck Duck Goose and another Japanese game. I felt so much love from them. The goodbye party turned into a crying party and seeing the children crying made it even more difficult to say goodbye. I will never forget them and there will always be a place in my heart for them. 

The funny pun shirt.

A scene from the school play. 

This week, we went on a 2 day excursion to a few places outside of Sapporo with other international students. We got to visit Lake Utonai Wildlife Conservation, Ainu Museum, Volcano Science Museum and made udon (Japanese thick noodle). I learnt so much about the history of the Ainu people and other facts about Hokkaido. We were all trying to piece together the information with the very little Japanese we know. 

What's left? I am currently trying to spend as much time with my host family. I can't believe that it's almost time to go home. I will really miss them. I am so grateful for all they have done for me and opening their heart and home to me. I can't thank them enough. They have taught me many Japanese traditions and brought me to many places to eat and sight see. This week, I will also be spending some time with a few university students I met and attending a few university classes. 

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Japan is awesome!

Konnichiwa! Genki desu ka? (Hello! How are you?)

I can’t believe that there is only about one more week in Japan before I go home to Calgary. The experience has been amazing and was full of adventures. I got to go to an onsen, attend the 38th Sapporo English Speech competition and go to Hell’s Valley (Noboribetsu). I am constantly eating amazing food (that I will surely miss when I go back to Calgary). 

The junior high experience has continued to change my view about Japanese education. While the original appearance looks to be that of a Traditional Learning Center in which all the students are paired boy-girl arrangement in rows, the process of table configuration is easily changed because the students know when and how to do this efficiently. This might be because when they clean the classroom and when they eat lunch they must move all the tables and chairs. The students are always actively learning and the teacher provides hands on experience in many of the classes. For instance, I had the opportunity to observe a chemistry, physics and biology class. In each class, the students are doing hands on science. In chemistry the students are mixing chemicals together to learn about endothermic and exothermic reactions; in physics, students are sliding cars off ramps/ dropping objects to learn about forces; in biology, students got to dissect a squid. The teacher provides minimal information, with the students having to figure and answer the questions themselves, which must greatly improve their critical mindset.

The class community is amazing as students come in early, give up their breaks during classes and stay after school to practice together for their Choir Competition within the school. Students conduct the music themselves and a classmate will be on the piano. The school is decorated with classwork and each class has a banner and/or pictures of the entire class as decoration. In English class, the teacher encourages the students to help each other if they are struggling. 

Japan’s educating style has provided me with new techniques and insight about how to approach a topic. I find myself thinking of how to integrate students greeting at the start of the class and the end of the class. 

I am only here in Japan for a few more days, but I will take advantage of this time and have more wonderful experiences here! 

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