A Day in the Life, Dekkai Style
(Side B)
     Only two periods left in the day and I get a break from class. I have no class scheduled, the time left open for first and second grade classes. I had finished those classes up a couple weeks prior. Mandatory English education in Japan starts in third grade, so the lower grade classes are a more informal effort by the city to grow English proficiency. This is a fairly new development in the Japanese educational system. The year before, English as a subject only started in fifth grade. The government, in an attempt to increase English fluency before the 2020 Olympics, introduced a plan to overhaul the way English is taught in the three years leading up to the event. Now, many prefectures and cities are taking this three year approach, meaning most schools won’t begin this push for greater English learning until four months before the flame is lit in Tokyo. Fortunately, the city of Minami-Alps decided to adapt the plan fully, pressing for maximum hours of classes in the first year. This did lead to a bit of growing pains, implementing a new curriculum for third and fourth grades without a grace period. That said, this should place the city miles ahead in 2020 and beyond when it comes to English proficiency. Well, unless the teachers and schools treat this like the Atlanta Falcons treat a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl (never forget).
     Most of the first and second grade classes were about the basics. Foods, colors, feelings, animals, the numbers 1-10, etc. Well, there was that unit about Halloween words. That ended up being a bit of a difficult one, but we made it through. I taught each grade a song. The second graders got “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, while the first graders got the internet phenomenon of “Baby Shark” (That’s right, I did it. You can hate on it all you want, it was amazing and I regret nothing!). It was always a blast to talk with the kids and just have a fun time of it. Some of them are so small, they barely clear knee height on me. You have to be careful one doesn’t cut you off in the hall and you squash them like bug. Also, they are the cutest things on earth. After the last class, one of my first grade classes rushed me and gave me a group hug. I had to use every ounce of manliness stored in my beard not to melt into a puddle.
     Last period of the day is just a few minutes away. I grab my trusty tank of a laptop and head back to the far side of the school. I reach the second floor and in the back room I find today’s fifth grade class. There are only two fifth grade classes, compared to the three sixth grade classes. Today is with my 5-1 on class and one of the teachers I have learned the most from. It probably helps that she is one of the best English speakers in the school. It’s (for the most part) easy to go over concepts, talk about lesson plans and even just normally chat with her. The next two days will be classes with her counterpart in class 5-2. At the beginning of the year, you could tell he was nervous, not only about speaking English, but teaching in general. A young man who is, much like me, still in the early stages of becoming a teacher. He has grown leaps and bounds over the year and now gets right into the middle of things. Now I can do just fine as a solo act in a classroom. I had to develop that knack in the crucible of the first few months. That said, it is so much easier to teach a class with someone. Sure, I love having the ability to control the flow of class and make it my own. At the end of the day though, I am still trying to figure out how to be a teacher and how not to suck at Japanese. Having someone there who can communicate the concepts clearly and knows how to control a class is invaluable. Also, the teacher trying to speak English and not being afraid to make mistakes only goes to make the students more willing to participate themselves.
     Finally, the day comes to an end. I return to the office and park the tank for the night. As I return to my desk, I notice a familiar sent wafting in from the tea room. I enter to find nice pot of cocoa waiting for me. The day before, there was some lovely tempura onion strings that our tea lady made. The chocolate cake made with tofu was a bit strange, but not bad. This really is a wonderful place. I have a bit of a wait before I can meet with my third grade teachers to talk about tomorrow’s class. I take the time to further deepen my appreciation for internet access, enjoying the CFB and MLS sub-reddits while sipping on my cocoa. I finally get my chance to meet with the two Sensei’s, going over the lesson they have planned.
​     It’s now a shade past five, about 20 minutes since I was scheduled to leave. I don’t often have to stay late, but I never mind when the situation occurs. I never feel like I’m doing enough for the school. The regular teachers are working insanely hard, day in and day out. I show up after school starts, teach a handful of classes and leave well before they can even think about 
such a move. Then I talk to the teachers and they praise me for all that I do, exclaiming how hard my job has to be. My job is a cakewalk compared to the amount of work they put up with on the daily. I don’t have their paperwork, their meetings, their continuing education classes or their stress of dealing with parents. Sure, I have to work with every student and teacher in the school, but that’s about the top of my difficulty curve. The respect I have for the work they do does have a drawback. I often limit my communication with them, not only because my Japanese level is still in its infancy, but because I don’t want to be a bother while they are buried with work.
     I only have a couple of final touches to put on my day. I fill out my time sheet for the day and take it to the Vice-Principal for his hanko. Instead of signing for things here, often people will use a personalized stamp (hanko) instead. I have one, but I still sign for things mostly. I grab my coat and my headphones before heading for the door. I turn back to the room, giving a slight bow as I proclaim “osaki ni shitsureshimasu” (excuse me for leaving before you). A shower of kind responses are received in return as I close the door behind me. I change back into my street shoes, turn on my headphones and make my way down the street. Today’s end of the day soundtrack is from the movie “Whiplash”. Walking down the street to a killer jazz soundtrack always makes me feel good.
     I walk a couple of blocks in the opposite direction of my apartment before arriving at the only store you need to know in Japan to survive, 7-11. The combini (convenience store) life is one of wonder and excitement. Here you will find everything you need to live well in Japan. They have your ATM that works for every bank, wireless multipurpose printer, ticket sales, porn, stationery, hard alcohol, package delivery and pickup, fresh produce, amazing hot food and some of the best bentos you could imagine. They even have small, electric cars for local grocery delivery. They almost have too many choices when it comes to food. I decide to go with gyudon (a bowl of rice with grilled beef and onions) for dinner. I’m a bit on the hungry side, so I get some gyoza and a salad to go with my bento. The grilled chicken and pickled mustard leaf stem salad is always a go to. For desert, I pick up a liter of milk and small tiramisu cup. It reminds me of the little bucket parfaits that we got at KFC as kids, just vastly superior. I also pick up a two liter bottle of mugicha (barley tea) to have over the next few days. Its healthier then soda at least. As I approach the checkout, I remember I need breakfast for the next day. Luck has it, I’m right next to the bread section. I consider just getting a loaf and making a peanut butter sandwich when my eye catches the curry pan. Think of it like a hot pocket, except the outside is soft, delicious bread and the inside is Japanese beef curry. That and a can of Boss will be a perfect start to the day.
     I finally make my way home, remembering how much I like the song “Caravan”. I enter my apartment, a new smattering of advertisements adorn the floor (the mail slot is in the door and they just fall on the floor. There are some pizza coupons, but it’s still too expensive for the lackluster product. I put away my groceries and turn on my PS4, going straight to YouTube. I spend the next few hours vegging out. I watch some videos and check social media. Around seven, I decide to get a game or two of FIFA in before dinner. Just before eight, I start microwaving my gyudon and gyoza. I move my MacBook off the table, making room for my meal. With the table sitting about shin height, sitting on the ground is the only viable option. I watch a video during dinner of a statistical analysis of the worst punts this decade (it was actually a very interesting video, Chart Party does some great work). After I finish my feast, I throw some clothes into the wash to wear tomorrow. I will take them out and hang them in the shower room/ dryer when I get my dessert out of the fridge later. I wind down by watching a couple of hours of anime before finally surrendering to the need for sleep. I decide to climb the daunting mountain that is catching up on One Piece. One of the most popular franchises in Japan for the last 20 years, I figure I should give it my attention. After a solid push, I find myself this night around the 100 episode mark. As the anime creeps ever closer to 900 episodes, with no end in sight, I still have a herculean task ahead of me to reach the current episodes. Gone are the halcyon days when I could stay up until 5 AM, polishing off six hours of a show nightly. Now I have to get up in the morning and be a respectable example to my students. Well, maybe not entirely. I still don’t know if this being a responsible adult thing will ever stick.
   
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I still don’t know if this being a responsible adult thing will ever stick.

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Jeff Maack
 
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