japan (115)

Bittersweet Endings

     Our time in Japan has come to an end and I have so many mixed emotions. I am excited to get home and see my friends, fellow TABers, and cuddle with my fur-babies. Getting back to my normal lifestyle will be an adjustment, but I think I will find comfort in welcoming my old routine. My time in Japan has brought me so many different challenging and exciting experiences and has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. I know that there will be many things that I will miss about Japan and I hope it will not be too long before I visit again.


     During my short time in Japan, and especially Kushiro, we met so many wonderful people, sharing stories and opinions over food and drinks. I never knew how easy it would be to create such meaningful connections with people on the other side of the world. We discussed our ideas about education and our hopes and dreams of how both education and we, ourselves, could grow.


     Kushiro is considered to be one of the top three places in the world to watch the sunset, and I could not disagree. What made this detail even sweeter was the fact that we had a front row seat to watch the setting sun from our place of residence while in Kushiro. I could not believe how lucky we were the first time I noticed the beautiful setting sun. Hot pinks and oranges lit up the night skies and our 4 pm early setting sun became a welcomed experience in our hearts. Being an island, we were never too far from the ocean. While in Sapporo my homestay family took me out to the ocean, where I was able to dip my feet into the cold and salty waters; it had been years since I had been in the ocean and Japan had so many beautiful places for great views. Fall in Hokkaido was similar to that of my home in Ontario. Although Calgary does have a short but still beautiful fall, the fall colours that occur in Japan cannot be beat and made me feel at home. Shades of red, orange, yellow, and green are everywhere you looked and it was mesmerizing. I am glad that I got to experience fall in Japan – it is my favourite time of year.

Celebrity Status

     Being in a foreign country, especially one of relatively little diversity, we would often find people were surprised by our presence. This was most notable during our school visits, particularly with the junior high girls. The students would often see us and cover their mouths with their hands while gasping in disbelief, turning to their friends to get their attention on us and whispers and giggles would ensue. Sometimes when this occurred we would greet them by saying “hello” or “konichiwa” which would raise more whispers and giggles and usually a response of “kawaii” which means ‘cute’. We thought their reactions were kawaii. It has been an interesting experience having this celebrity status as with the diversity in Canada, we would never be seen in this light; so if we hadn’t experienced it already, that was our 15 minutes of fame! One of the biggest perks about having this status was that it intrigued people to want to get to know us, so it was one of the ways we were able to connect with people in Japan and develop friendships.


     Though we had some very real and challenging times with the natural disasters at the beginning of TAB, we had many other wonderful experiences to make up for the rocky start. Some of the highlights for me were: sumo wrestling, school festivals, seeing the different colours of fall, small-scale schools, sunsets, fireworks festival, food, behind the scenes at the local zoo, talks about education with staff and students, and the friends that we made. I am looking forward to my next field experience and taking with me all the experiences and things I have learned while in Japan.




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Many forms of communication

     Going to a country that speaks a language foreign to your own can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Japan has been my first experience in a foreign-speaking country that is not specifically set up for foreigners (e.g. resorts).

      I came to Japan only knowing two sayings: konichiwa (hello) and sumimasen (excuse me). I had no idea how I was going to assimilate to a life in Japanese language but I anticipated that I would be relying heavily on my phone to help me through it all. Reflecting back on my experiences in Japan I have realized there are many ways to communicate with others that don’t require you to know all the words in each other’s vocabulary in order to have a positive interaction.

 Japanese-speaking using English

     I was grateful to learn that most Japanese-speaking people know at least a bit of English. Students in Japan start learning formal English in elementary school year 5. In prior years they will also learn different phrases or words in English and many students go to education centres to improve their English speaking skills outside of school. This greatly helped me in being able to communicate with them from my own language. It was also a useful tool for them as there are many Japanese-speaking people who want to improve their English so they enjoy practicing communicating with me.

 English-speaking using Japanese

     When I was in Sapporo, we had the opportunity to attend Japanese lessons to learn some useful terms and phrases for our time here in Japan. Our homestay families also aided in our ability to practice some of the Japanese we had learned. The phrases we learned to talk about were very helpful for being able to communicate a bit in Japanese while we are here. Japanese people are always so nice and compliment you on your use of Japanese, even if it is only saying a couple words. They are always surprised and impressed.


     Some of the conversations we have had with others have had to be translated from one language to the other, mainly because of the complexity of the topic. I am very grateful to all the bilingual people who have been able to help us in our communication with others as they have been the key component to our deeper conversations with people from Japan. I am sure it is an exhausting task to do, especially for the lengthy conversations that can ensue.


     The use of technology was definitely a huge aid in our ability to communicate with others. The best apps I used throughout my entire time in Japan were Google Translate and VoiceTra. While they are not perfect, they definitely helped to get the idea across, both ways. It is also beneficial to utilize pictures while talking with others helps to make sure that the content is clear and makes it easier for others to follow.


     Some of my favourite interactions on this trip have been non-verbal or situations where translations could not be made but we were still able to make connections and understand one another. My homestay family had four children; they were aged 8, 6, 4, and 2 so none of them had begun their English language learning in school yet. I probably spent the most time with the youngest of the bunch, Sunao. We developed a close bond even though we did not know each other’s language. This first came to fruition when I was eating lunch one day. Sunao loves to eat, so while I was sitting outside with my food, he came out holding a bowl for himself expecting that I would share, and I did. It started a bond between us, whenever I was eating, he would come, and I would share my food with him (even though he already ate). It grew into non-verbal playing, laughter, and offerings of items (he would always bring me my water bottle). Some other ways I connected with the other kids was through games such as Othello and hand-clap varieties.

 Dance, Plays, and Cultural Events

     Some of the situations we were in that did not really have the opportunity for translation to occur were in the form of cultural events, plays, and dance. This led to the opportunity for us to use improvisation, pay attention to cues, and read the room – which I found I was able to do in many contexts to better help me understand. One unique thing that we did during our introductions to the different classes at our school visits was incorporated a dance activity where we taught the students how to do the chicken dance. This got the entire class involved, interacting with each other, and having fun with us, without language being a barrier. The students seemed to really enjoy the dance and even the principal and teachers would join in. It was evident that this activity really impacted the students as later that day, week, or at other functions, students would come up to us and just start doing the chicken dance. We attended a couple school plays and functions. Although we could not understand the Japanese dialogue, we were able to attend to some of the humour aspects based on the students’ ability to project emotions through their acting. We were very moved by their various acting, instrumental, and vocal talents expressed through many different forms during our visits.

      One other interesting aspect about learning Japanese that came as a surprise to me was how activating that part of my brain, caused previously practiced languages to resurface. I found that my French words kept emerging and my American Sign Language went hand in hand (no pun intended) with the use of my new Japanese words. It is really fascinating how the brain works with language!


Ja mata!


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An International Community

In addition to school visits, the program at Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) Kushiro provided Jenny and I with the opportunity to run three classes of the University's "Curriculum Redesign" course. This course is held with 3rd year HUE education students, and gave us a chance to present and hold discussions about key ideas in education; sharing those from Canada and learning about those from Japan.


Tomita-sensei, one of the professors running the course described the outline and importance of the course to us: 3 semesters, i) taking students out of the Japanese school context and objectively looking at school systems around the world, ii) thinking of themselves as learners before teachers; breaking out of the traditional Japanese ways of learning and considering how they can bring this experience into their way of teaching, and iii) applying the ideas to create unique lesson and unit plans. As all other courses at HUE are aimed towards assimilation into the current education system and structure, this course is groundbreaking and crucial in the development of Japan's education system.


So far, we have taught two classes. In our first lesson, we concentrated on developing the idea that different students have different needs. This involved collaboration through discussion of how students needs are different. We left them with the question, "How can we support these diverse needs in our classrooms?". The next class we presented different techniques from our own courses including: Universal Design for Learning, Engineering Design Process, Inquiry-based Learning, Assessment As/Of/For Learning, and Understanding by Design.


Unfortunately, these studies were all completed in English with no Japanese translations available. After Tomita-sensei translated our introduction to the topics, we divided students into groups and assigned the task of translating the resources. Students used Google Translate, made sense of what they could, and shared with the class. While many students were able to glean information from the texts, the translations from Google were poor, and some of the nuance of content was lost in translation. This made it significantly more challenging for the students to understand the content.


This struggle really brought to light the barriers to global knowledge sharing. While we're moving towards an education system with International collaboration through internet sharing and bridging of languages through technologies such as Google Translate, we're definitely still in the beginning stages. This perspective allows us to truly appreciate unique opportunities such as TAB. It allowed us to build connections - learning about different world education systems, and sharing our own - through the facilitation of a bilingual translator such as Tomita-sensei.


As TAB students, this rare opportunity also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility of sharing what we have learned from our experiences with educators in Canada. Through this we can amplify the impact of this program, and help foster the development of an International educational community.


This responsibility holds true for the HUE exchange students that visited the University of Calgary, as well. Shinya, a HUE student that attended U of C's exchange last February and has been a tutor and friend throughout our time in Japan, has really exemplified this idea. Learning about Assessment As/For/Of learning during lectures in Canada, he has applied to the Masters program in Hiroshima to develop the first research of this kind in Japan. Through his work he hopes to spread his knowledge of assessment within the context of Japanese schools.


My goal is to find ways to meaningfully bring my learning from Japan to Canada, in a way that expands beyond just my own practice.

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Ja mata ne~

As the bittersweet feeling of being home has kicked in and I remember all the good memories that I have made for the past two months, I have come to realize how I much I have learned and that I am grateful for. I have learned a lot about Japan, Japanese culture, and the Japanese education though my time there.

The biggest difference that I have observed is the collectivity and independence that they teach in schools. They teach collectively through a class called ‘moral education’ that teach students about several ‘moral’ things that they should do as an individual and for society. I find this interesting as there is nothing like this in our public schools and the classes that I would relate them to would be 'leadership' or 'life skills' classes. Students also develop organization through class and school cleaning from an early age. Schools teach collectivity and independence by having their students be self-responsible for setting up the gym equipment and through all the cleaning duties that they have to do around the school and classroom. I was quite impressed with students’ level of organization and willingness to clean and fulfill their duties, due to the fact that we do not have such a thing. Being in the schools was truly a great learning experience for me and I hope I was able to help the students and schools as well!

I have learned about the harmonious and family-like culture of Japan that I will miss dearly. Every step of the way, there was always someone there that would volunteer their time to help us out. We were always welcomed with open arms (or should I say a lot of bowing and greetings) and I have learned from each and every one of them. They did not treat us like strangers and you could feel how they genuinely wanted us to be there. 

I will truly miss everyone that I have met though this experience. I would like to thank Hokkaido University of Education and the TAB program for all the good experiences that I have had. 

Ja mata ne~ (see you)


Chuen-Xi Quek


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Hontoni Arigato Gozaimashita

I am currently on my way home from Hokkaido, Japan! The past few weeks have gone by so quickly! We spent the last few weeks in Asahikawa at the Hokkaido University of Education’s Affiliated Junior High School and we had so much fun there! We participated in English classes but we also took a large interest in their other classes as well! We especially enjoyed Art at the Junior High School as the Vice Principal would teach the students about traditional Japanese art and techniques. The school was very welcoming and so warm to us that it was very hard for us to say goodbye! The last week was spent attending university lectures, going to the Junior High School, giving presentations in University seminars, and packing. Throughout all these activities, we had to be on-top of our online classes back home as well! Things were super busy but it was manageable!

This experience has been absolutely amazing! I will miss the kind and generous people I have met, as well as all the friends I have made along the way! I think the overall theme for this past week is “Hontoni Arigato Gozaimashita” meaning “Thank you very much”. I found myself saying this so many times because of all the helpful and supportive people. I still feel almost as if the experience hasn’t ended yet. But I am sure this will change once I am home. I am sad to leave Japan, but I know this will not be the last time I will visit as I definitely have fell in love with it!


                                                                                                                   The Vice Principal giving us our send-off!


Until next time Japan,


Christine Erana

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ELL Experience

One of the reasons I chose to come to Japan was to have a personal experience what it would be like to be an ELL student in the classroom. I know that ELL students are increasing in number in the classroom, and we must be able to accommodate and differentiate for them in classes. I thought that choosing a country where I had just started learning the language could be a possible way to experience what these students have been experiencing.

To be honest, it usually sat on the back of my mind most of the time. I didn’t really feel like it was a problem at all at the start. During the first month here, we were taking Japanese lessons all together in Sapporo. We mostly hung out together and spoke in English. I had some feeling of isolation, but it wasn’t the worst. If anything, I feel as if it was taking the easy way out, hanging out with only people who spoke the same language.

During the first half of the second week, most of the group had left to other parts of Japan, while one other group member and I stayed in Sapporo and did volunteer teaching. During this phase, I still wasn’t feeling much in terms of being a foreign language learner. Since I was teaching in elementary schools, I think there was power difference and an existing expectation that we were foreigners. The students would start off talking how it was impossible for them to talk in English, but were amazed and warmed up quickly if they knew you could speak even the slightest bit of Japanese. I felt proud of knowing the Japanese that I did! Even if you didn’t speak any Japanese, the kids would flock around you if you pulled out Google Translate on your phone. I think in some part it’s because kids know that it’s a phone, but they are also interested in translating what they say into English. The feelings of isolation did grow a little bit during this phase, only having one other person to talk with.

I think the real feelings of understanding that I was looking for have just started setting in during these last two weeks. During this last phase of TAB, I have been sitting in university classes as a student. It’s in this environment, sitting in with peers of equal status that I have begun to feel the frustration. During the lecture, I can only understand maybe 5% of the language being used. It’s hard to pay attention to lectures only understanding such a little amount and having to infer the meaning from contextual clues. In one such lecture, I was given an English textbook for the course. I spent most of the class reading the textbook.

When we are given time to introduce ourselves and talk to classmates, it’s frustrating for different reasons. I really want to be friends with them, and I have a lot I want to add to their discussions, but I don’t have enough vocabulary to converse properly at this level. The language used at an elementary level is much simpler to understand, and you can lead them on conversations with simple prompts. It’s so frustrating having concepts and ideas fully formed in your head, but not having the vocabulary to get it out to other people.

At the same time, wanting to continue my Japanese language learning outside of the classroom is tough and a little scary. Sometimes it feels a little embarrassing asking someone to repeat themselves when you don’t understand just one word in a sentence. I have gone from staring blankly while I think, to asking them to repeat the sentence, to asking about the specific word I don’t understand. I think it’s important not to be shy and be specific about what part you don’t understand. Another point is that it can be difficult to find people who want to talk to you in Japanese in a way that will help you learn. I would say that it’s not a matter of people being nice, but something more of a talent. They need patience to try again when you don’t understand a sentence, understanding how to relate it to the vocabulary you know, and a talent for alternate word choice. I think this is the kind of attention I would need to show someone learning English.

While it may seem like a frustrating experience, I think it is a really good experience to bring into my teaching practice. Being in that frustrating position helps me understand how I would want to be treated and bring the patience and kindness that those experiencing this will need. As well, I feel like my experience is separate from being an English speaker in Japan overall. Since I was looking for the experience, it’s different than others. I have seen people not bother to learn any Japanese but still get around without any problems. Most of the transit has English signs and ordering food by pointing works just fine. As well, there are plenty of people who will do their best to accommodate you in English, especially the host families!

However, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not taking the time of learning the language of whatever country you go to. It’s an incredible experience whenever you see words you recognize and when you manage to express your thoughts in another language properly! I think that it’s a little condescending to take advantage of your host families efforts to communicate to you in English without trying to learn and communicate as much as you can in Japanese as well. Anyways, it’s been an amazing time on the TAB program! I’ve learned so much that I would’ve never expected. If you’re reading this and are considering going on the program, I wish you the best of luck!

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Host Families

For this last Ning blog, I want to dedicate it to discussing my experience with host families here in Japan. This is the first time I have ever experienced living with a family whom I don’t know and entering their home as a stranger. I was nervous and anxious while thinking about Japan and my host families, a few weeks before I depart Calgary. I had many questions in my head, I even felt reluctant to go. I was definitely over thinking that it might turn out not as I pictured or imagined. Which it did. I did not expect how comfortable and welcoming my host families were. It was amazing. Especially accepting a stranger, like me, into their home when they knew nothing about me. We had to write a couple of things about ourselves as an introduction before to be sent to the host family, so they are familiar with us, but the information was a bit vague. Even having this information, when I came to their home, they still welcomed me with open arms and really wanted to get to know me. I am so grateful to have experienced my two months here in Japan with host families. I developed a new way of thinking that opened my mind to new uncomfortable situations with confidence.

Both of my host families are so caring and loving. It is hard not to reciprocate. They are all unique, but I love their kindness, personality, and character. They have done so much for me that I would not expect them to do. It’s like they can read my mind. There are things that are confusing being a foreigner in Japan and my family are quick to know and understand me. They take time out of their days to do things for me, like walking me to school for the first time to make sure I don’t get lost. It takes at least an hour getting to the destination, but they still continue to do so with me. Or even taking me on many different adventures to show me around Sapporo and Hokkaido. I can’t ever thank them enough. I can’t stress enough about how much I appreciate them. My families are the main reasons why I enjoy my time here in Japan. Without them, I think it would be very different. I just love how family-oriented they are. That’s what makes me feel so comfortable, because they make me feel like I am a part of their family. During the earthquake from the first month being in Japan, I was terrified. The only thing that calmed me down was my host family. They made me feel so safe and relaxed that I felt I was in very good hands and did not need to worry.

What I also noticed are the moms here in Japan are very hardworking. Not only having a part time job (which is amazing because of how much they to do already), they have lots of responsibilities in taking care of others, especially their primary concern: family. I would even call them super moms. I don’t know how they do it, but they just take it with kindness and are so calm about everything. They are super busy everyday, and you can see how tired they look, but they still manage to always be positive and continue smiling. If I were in their shoes, I would feel a bit insane having so much on my plate. I really respect them, they deserve an award or something!

I want to also thank the sisters that I had in each host family. I never had a sister and I was curious to know what it would be like to have one. They have been so great to me. They are so fun to be around and really enjoyed getting to know me. I even enjoyed getting to know all of them. It makes me sad that I don’t have one. They are all so different in their own ways that make them special and amazing. I could not ask for a better host family.

I am sad to be leaving, however, this has been an overall, greatest trip I have ever had. It has made me feel more confident in travelling alone and independently again in the future. I look forward to meeting new people and going on new adventures! (Possibly coming back to Japan again!)

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Marimo Kindergarten

          Recently I went on a 3-day excursion to Lake Akan with Kathleen, Tomita Sensei (one of our liaisons), and Shinya – a Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) student and one of the Japan students who came to Calgary for the TAB program this past winter. Our trip started off with a private nature walk where we explored beautiful fall forests – my favourite season! Later that night we went to the Marimo Festival in town where we were able to experience some of the Ainu Indigenous culture. The second day, we went to Akanko Elementary school where we were able to view a rehearsal of their school festival play. The students blew us away with their acting talents and we could see how much time and effort they put into their production. Our final day was spent at Marimo Kindergarten.

           Before I get into my experience at Marimo Kindergarten, I should explain that the education system in Japan runs a little bit different than Canada in the separation of grades and curriculum. While each province in Canada has a different school curriculum, Japan has only one for the whole country. They traditionally separate and refer to their grades as elementary - years 1-6 (grades 1-6 in Canada), junior high - years 1-3 (grades 7-9 in Canada), and high school years 1-3 (grades 10-12 in Canada). So if I was in Grade 8, I would be in junior high year 2. Kindergarten is a completely separate education system and is not required for students to attend. If children do attend, they can start as young as 3 years of age and attend until they go to elementary school at the age of 6.

           Marimo Kindergarten was such a unique experience. As Akan Lake is such a small community, the students have a lot more freedom in what they can do and explore. Coming from a background in Early Childhood Education and all of the rules and regulations that govern childcare in Canada, I was shocked and surprised by the liberties these students had. While the students are separated into classrooms by years (ages), they are free to roam throughout the school and into different classrooms, if they desire, without even notifying their classroom teacher. During outdoor time, the students are free to roam into the forests between the school and the road. There are no fences or barriers and the only things the educators are concerned about are bears. As an ECE from Canada, it blew my mind to think of how many violations this education set up would raise, but it is the nature of the community that does not require these regulations. The community looks out for the children so there is trust in place to allow for freedom of exploration. It amazed me at the connections these young students were able to make to the environment that surrounds them.

          One of the projects that begins in year 1 (3-year-olds) that they take through the years of their Kindergarten experience is about ecosystems, and in particular relation to frogs. Students learn about the lifecycle of frogs from egg continuing into their adult life. Students help maintain their ecosystem within the classroom by providing them with daily fresh food. As part of an inquiry-based learning experience that connects to the feeding of the frogs, students collected acorns from the forest and were encouraged to break them open. Upon revealing that some of these acorns contained larvae, the teacher helps them to understand where these larvae came from. They learn that some of the acorns have a small hole in them which was formed by a beetle to lay its egg which then turns into larvae that feed off the acorn for nutrition. Through this, the students learn about the reproduction and life cycle of a beetle and how by collecting these acorns and harvesting the larvae, we can help maintain the ecosystem of the frogs within the classroom. The students are incredibly engaged in their learning as well as sharing their knowledge with others, including showing us how to do the harvesting ourselves. It was such a special experience to be part of!


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Squeaky-Clean School Culture

One of the most unique differences that I have seen in the schools of Japan thus far is the way they operate the cleaning of the schools. Unlike Canadian schools, they do not have janitors. Instead, the cleaning of the school is left for students to complete, and it is actually part of their school curriculum.

During my first few school visits, I did not have the opportunity to witness the school cleanings but there was evidence that this was something that takes place, such as cleaning rags and small brooms with dust-pans that hang from children’s desks. In more recent visits I have been able to witness the larger-scale cleaning process. After the cleanup of the student-served school lunch, the children spend time tidying their classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and other public spaces.

This is a practice that takes place at the start of Grade 1, where students are responsible for cleaning their own classroom only. As children progress through the grades, they take on more responsibility. Jobs are rotated between the students regularly so each child has an opportunity to experience different aspects of cleaning.

I believe this is a valuable experience for the students. By having school cleaning as part of their curriculum, students develop respect and pride for their school and how they treat it on a daily basis. They are less likely to develop the sense that “someone else will clean it up” and instead know that if they are contributing to any mess within the school that they themselves and their peers will be the ones who have to clean it up. These tasks promote responsibility, teamwork, and character development, and the kids have fun while doing it too!


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Teaching in Japan

It has been a busy couple of weeks! For the last two weeks, I have been doing my volunteer teaching in Ainosato Nishi Elementary and Yamanote Elementary school. This coming Monday will mark my last day of volunteer teaching, and I am going to be so sad to be done. In this post I want to write about some of my thoughts about schools here.

One huge difference is that Japan has a national curriculum. What that means is that what is taught in the schools are decided on a national level. It may not seem like it should make that big of a difference just reading that, but it leads to some notable differences in experience. First of all, it leads to very similar school programs. Both schools were teaching the same thing, using lessons that were almost identical. I think the idea is that no matter where you attend school in Japan, you learn pretty much the same things. Some of my classmates are from different provinces, and they have recalled very different education experiences than classmates from Alberta. I feel like this would have benefits as a teacher, because you wouldn’t have to worry about what resources you would use for your class. You would know that the lesson you need to give is there. A possible downside could be that there may be less room to work around if you want to teach different units or in a different order.

Something else that I was surprised about was how large the schools were. Given the stereotype of the living space being very small, the schools we have visited so far have had plenty of space! It may just be because we are visiting a small group of schools, but both schools have had lots of space for students and teachers to work with. For example, Ainosato Nishi had classrooms with half dividers into the hallway, giving them a very open feeling. As well, the hallways themselves were as wide as the classroom. The teachers would use the hallway space to do projects that required more empty space. We worked on an art project where we painted a big sheet of paper with the grade 3’s! The students would also use the space during their breaks to play various games if they didn’t want to go outside. There was enough space to even play jump rope!

[The gym is bigger too]

The school lunches are interesting as well. They are paid for by the parents at the start of the school year. Every lunch has been delicious so far, usually consisting of a rice dish, a protein source, salad or soup, and a small carton of milk. It’s nutritious, and the portions are usually more than enough for me. That being said, my portion sizes are below average to begin with. I find that people here eat a lot of rice. It seems to be the reverse of the ketosis diet that has been going around recently. Meals usually have high carbs and just a bit of protein and fat. I don’t really know much about how diets work or how legitimate they are, but I’ve lost weight while I have been here.[Students can use the broadcast room during lunch to show off talents or dance to everyone in the school]

Finally, I’d like to elaborate a little bit on the “paid for by parents” part. It seems that most of the school materials and lessons are paid for by parents. All the lunches, science experiment materials, art materials, stationary, sports equipment, and textbooks. When one of the teachers was showing me a class doing a science experiment that used special tubes to teach the difference in compression of liquids versus gases, she was shocked when I told her that in Calgary, it would be easier to fund an experiment like it out of pocket than it would be to obtain funding for it. In one of the high schools I visited, the science teacher was keeping chickens, frogs, snakes, large fish, and even turtles as pets in the biology room. He also told me that the money used to keep them was provided from the school. It gives off an impression that people in Japan really think that schools are a worthwhile investment. However, both teachers told me that the schools were built when the economy was doing well, and that getting money for schools nowadays is a bit of an issue. Maybe I don’t fully understand the situation from the position I’m in as a volunteer teacher.

It has been a fantastic experience being a part of the TAB program here! The students we taught have been wonderful, and the teachers are always doing their best to make us feel welcome. I’ve learned a lot about how teaching and learning can be different and have found a lot of joy in teaching in different places. Hopefully one day I will have another opportunity to teach in a place like Japan again! There are so many things I want to be able to take back and implement into my skills as a teacher.


Bye for now,

Christopher Lee

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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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