I can’t believe it’s been a week already! So many things have happened that the time just flew right by.
If you are interested, all of the embedded photos will bring you to categorized photo galleries. Additionally, I have included some links to provide extra recourses and information for anyone curious!
Note: for the life of me I have not been able to figure out how to indent text! I have decided to publish now, and try to figure out this formatting issue later. If this note is no longer on this post then hopefully I have figured out how to indent and deleted it!
Sunday, 6/11 & Monday, 6/12
My plane left from O’Hare on Sunday at 7AM so I was at the airport around 3:30AM. There is such a thing as too early! The baggage check area was closed until 4 so there wasn’t much to do except wait. My trip had two legs, first a short 1.5 hr flight to Washington Duells, and next a 14 hr across North America and the Pacific to Japan. I was slightly nervous the entire time I was traveling, as I have a medicine that needs to be refrigerated and my travel case was acting up, but everything turned out alright. No issues at TSA or later at customs and I was able to connect with the IES representative at the airport right away.
I landed in Japan on the 12th around 3:30PM Japanese time. After taking a relatively quick (1 hr) bus ride to my hotel (Hotel Francs) I tried to stay awake for a few hours but eventually fell asleep at 7.
Breakfast was very fancy compared to the typical hotel breakfasts I’ve had in the past. It was a buffet but there was someone to show you to your seat and all of the food seemed to be freshly made and high quality. I did mistake the basket of eggs on a table to be hardboiled (they were raw) but luckily I caught my mistake before cracking the egg! The room itself was beautiful but slightly intimidating and would have had a nice view of the ocean if it weren’t for some fog.
Later, around 9, I met up with the other IES interns (Farah, Joelle, & Nathalie) and the IES Tokyo Center Director Caleb Foale. We walked over to the IES Tokyo Center and on our way got a lovely introduction to Chiba, as well as Japan generally, from Caleb. Once at the center, we had an orientation with a break for lunch at Tofuro Kaihinmakuhari.
After orientation, we met and went home with our host families (Joelle, Nathalie, & I) or headed off to a dorm (Farah). I was fairly nervous about meeting my family for the first time, but my host mom (Yoko Watanabe) had reached out to me on Facebook Messenger so I knew that they would be friendly. The Watanabe family lives on the 7th floor of an apartment building that is only 15 minutes by walking from the IES Center. My host mom told me to call her Yoko, and her husband (Yasunari) Nari. The Watanabes have an 11yr old daughter, Yukino, and no pets. I got to know Yoko and Yukino through some souvenirs I brought with me from Bloomington-Normal, and was introduced to Nari over dinner after he came home from work.
I met with Caleb at IES after breakfast to walk together to SOLTILO GSA International Preschool. I was planning to have my first day of work, but it was more convenient for SOLTILO from a planning standpoint if I started on Thursday instead. This was nice as it allowed me to learn how to get to work (with no Google Maps unfortunately, I had set up an emergency international phone plan for calls, but hadn’t bought a SIM card to use for data yet) and take an extra day to get accustomed to the new time zone.
On my walk home from SOLTILO, I was able to pick up a small lunch at a 7/11 and was surprised at how cheap the food was there. I believe the 8oz milk tea and pickled plum onigiri was ¥327 ($2.30).
I had a wonderful breakfast with my host family and then left to walk to work at 9. I am slated to work 10-4, M-F. In Japan, there is an unwritten but strongly followed rule to arrive no more and no less than 10 minutes early to events. Luckily, both Caleb and my boss at SOLTILO let me know about this ahead of time so I didn’t make any bad impressions by showing up at 9:55 or 10 instead of the correct time, 9:50. While I have worked with children in the past, I had an even spread of ages from 4 to 11 in a group ranging from 5 to 15 students. I also only had students for about 2 hours at a time. So working with 3-year-olds for 6 hours at a time was a little different. I get a lunch break for a generous 45 minutes and eat my lunches at the preschool. I bought my lunches from the school kitchen at ¥5000 ($35.22) for 1 month which is an insanely low price to me for the amount and high quality of the food provided.
I discovered that while IES is 20 minutes from my host family’s apartment, and SOLTILO is 20 minutes from IES, going to the apartment from SOLTILO is a slightly shorter 30 minutes. I could take a bus for part of the way to cut down on some walking, but it’s more convenient for me to have the freedom to check out shops along the way and not worry about the bus schedule. Additionally, it’s a great way to relax after herding toddlers.
On my second day of work, I felt slightly less out of my depth with the kids. However, while I knew the names of the vocal children and troublemakers I still didn’t know about half of the 15-person class. By the end of the day I was more confident and can truthfully say I knew all the student’s names except for this one trio of boys I kept confusing with each other.
Also on Friday, I got a more accurate feel for what the classroom schedule looks like. Roughly, I arrive at 10 when the children are starting their (English) phonics exercise. The curriculum at SOLTILO emphasizes children learning letter sounds first, and being able to read short words by using their letter sounds and blending them together, over learning the alphabet. So no singing the ABCs! Next, (after a potty break) we either go to a park and have free play time, or go to the nearby Honda Football Area. SOLTILO’s founder, Keisuke Honda, is a famous professional football manager and former player. So the children will do age-appropriate soccer drills and games to develop their gross motor skills.
After another potty break, it is time for the Japanese lesson. Which at the 3-year-old level means storytime! Next is lunchtime, followed by an arts & crafts activity, a small snack, and playtime. There is an official schedule on SOLTILO’s website which we do follow, but as anyone who has been around young children knows, flexibility is important. What that looks like in the classroom is letting children who have finished their lunch early play, or a teacher reading a storybook or two when the class finishes their phonics or craft early, etc…
My route home takes me through Kanda University’s campus, where I like to try a new soda from the vending machine when I pass it at the end of the day.
I had a relaxing morning and left at 12 to head to Kaihimakuhari Station to meet with Joelle & Natalie to go to Tokyo. I had ordered a Japanese SIM card a few days prior and needed to pick it up in person at Tokyo Station. I believe Farah did the same, so it made great sense for us two to pick up the SIM cards and then enjoy an afternoon out as a group. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize my phone was network locked! I have ordered a cheap $50 phone off of Amazon.jp which should arrive on 6/20 and work nicely as plan B. Side note, Tokyo Station is MASSIVE! maybe the all-caps are overkill, but I felt very lost trying to find the right exit. For some reason, I didn’t realize that Tokyo Station would be like a mini airport despite being a very central train station.
Kitte is a mall very close to Tokyo Station so we went there after picking up the SIM cards. Lunch was at Sushi Ginzo, and was very good, I especially liked the shaved gourd roll (3rd from left). Most of the stores at Kitte are very expensive and out of my price range. I did find this Mt. Fuji hand towel for a good price that I think will make a good gift to someone.
Additionally, there is a nice rooftop area where I took some pictures of Tokyo Station and the surrounding buildings.
We walked to the Imperial Palace next, hoping to be able to see the buildings, but we were too late and arrived after all of the tours had closed. The front garden had some cool trees and we saw a swan in the water on our way out.
Along the way back to Tokyo Station we stopped at Wakadura Fountain Park, which was very pretty! While walking to and from the station we noticed 4 separate bridal wedding photo shoots which was interesting to see. The dresses were all so beautiful!
Originally, I had planned to bike to a Japanese garden with my host family around lunchtime but my host mom woke up sick with a cold! Luckily she didn’t have a fever and is feeling alright but we all decided to stay home instead of going without her. However, because Yoko is the one who cooks meals Nari went out to 7/11 to grab us lunch and we had Italian for dinner.
I was able to use that downtime to do some cross stitch (a hobby I use to relax and stay off of my phone in my downtime) as well as explore WordPress a bit and start to set up my blog. I also went to AEON mall to grab sunscreen which was a dangerous trip! I was very tempted to buy lots of souvenirs to make Christmas gifts and did end up buying some stationary items for myself.
Later in the evening, I had a Zoom meeting with my advisor, Chisato Kojima, where we talked about a number of things including this blog post!
Overall, this first week went by so quickly! It was a great start to my internship, and my time in Japan. I am excited to learn even more in the future!