JET Programme · Life in Japan · School

Getting Lost and Finding Comfort

I can see lightning flash across the sky as I start to type this post, though I think it is quite far away as I can hardly hear the thunder. Looks like it is going to be quite an epic night for the weather, very similar to the sort of day I had, in my view. First, I will start with the end. The end of my day, that is:

  • Wrong bus

Yes, it didn’t take long for me to take the wrong bus from my school to the apartment. I was 100% positive I was getting on the right bus, as it had the name of the area I live in on the bus, plus it was leaving at the exact time that I usually take.

However, once the bus failed to turn up the road that it usually does, that was when I started to worry. When the price for my ticket exceeded the usual amount that I normally pay, that was when I was freaking out inside. It got to a point where I was the only one left on the bus, and it looked like it was heading right out of town. So I immediately pressed the ‘stop at the next bus stop for me, please’ button, and promptly got off, paying about 30 Yen (R3.00) more than what I usually do. I then quickly whipped out my phone, straight onto Google maps, and saw that I was about 2km away from my apartment.

“That’s not too far” you might think. But consider this: Onomichi is known at the ‘City of hills‘ – and more often than not those hills are actually small mountains. So yes, I had a bit of climbing to do as my apartment is at the top of one of those small mountains. As much as I could of complained about it, I realised that it wouldn’t do me any good and instead just went with the flow and started walking.

I ended up taking some pictures on my mini trek (see below), and about 45 minutes later I dragged myself though my apartment door, drenched in sweat and sporting some very nice looking calf muscles (you must see how defined they are becoming from all this walking!).

It turns out, according to my predecessor, that my usual bus was probably running a bit late and it was most likely waiting for the current bus to move so it can take its place at the correct bus stop. So, in future I must look carefully before strolling onto a bus, or else take the long route home 😉

Glimpses of Onomichi
All of the trees in gardens are so neatly trimmed and sculpted, which makes the whole area quite pretty and aesthetic-like
The long way up. This hill is the last of the hills that leads me to my apartment


  • The ‘epic’ part of my day

This week the Japanese celebrate Obon. According to one website: “Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. The customs followed vary strongly from region to region.”

Obon officially started yesterday, the 13th, and ends on Friday the 15th. I have noticed this week an increase of people around Onomichi as everyone is out sightseeing and travelling to their home towns. So today at school I was not surprised to find that absolutely no one else was in the staff room except for the principle, vice-principle, and one other teacher. At first I thought “this is going to be one very long day”, but that was quickly forgotten when the only other teacher approached me after morning greetings and announcements. She asked me if I understood the announcements, to which I replied with a puzzled look and shook my head. She then proceeded to explain what the principle had said, showed me how to bow properly, and very soon after that declared that we were to have lunch together and would drive me to the convenience store to buy what I wanted to eat. She was so friendly and so easy to talk to (in English!). She wants to improve her English conversation skills and I am more than happy to oblige.

To sum it up briefly, I ended up spending the whole day with her in her office (which is separate from the main staff room). She bought me green tea ice-cream (yummy!), told me of all the places she has travelled to in the world – which includes Cape Town – and it turns out she is the shodō sensei (calligraphy teacher) at school. Upon noticing my enthusiasm to learn, she immediately looked at her timetable and decided that starting September I will be joining her calligraphy classes on Friday when I do not have my own English classes to teach. How epic is that!?! To add the cherry to the cake, she also gave me a beautiful sakura-decorated fan.

So pretty!

So yes, not even getting on the wrong bus and walking for miles back to the apartment can spoil this day. I just feel so happy and relieved to have someone at the school to whom I can openly chat to and learn all things related to Japanese way of life and language.

To be honest, I have found the last 2 weeks kind of challenging at school. The majority of the teachers do not speak English, and as I have very poor Japanese language skills, there is little to none communication between us. I have wanted to chat to other teachers, but just don’t know how to go about it. I know that others have said that bringing omiyage (small gifts of food mainly) helps break the barrier between teacher and ALT. In light of that, I would like to try baking cookies for my omiyage, but only plan on handing them out once all the teachers are present, which will be from the 1st September when the school semester starts. So for the moment I am just the quiet ALT that feels like she is sticking out like a sore thumb in the staff room.

However, after today, I realise that I will not get anywhere by being quiet and shy, I need to get out there and show the other teachers my interest in learning Japanese and their culture. I do feel a bit more positive and comfortable with my position, having experienced the friendliness and openness of the calligraphy teacher. So let’s hope this is just the start of the many work-relationships I will make over the next year 🙂

Official Onomichi Cat Count: 5

(I know, I know, only 1 cat has been sighted in the last week. I really need to get out into the streets and explore!)


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