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Life in Japan: Alex in Wonderland {Fukuoka, Japan!}

Hey I’m Alexandra, but everyone calls me Alex !


What do you currently do for a living? 

I have the brilliant job of a JET ALT in a Junior High School/High School  combination campus! ^_^


What’s a typical day like for you?

When the fourth of my six alarms goes off, hopefully I am awake and getting ready for work! I get to my school via the local bus that is always packed with my half asleep students, who are leaning on one another and dropping homework papers from slack hands. When I arrive at school, we do the 8:30 morning meeting (which I try my best to understand, but often just blink confused at my desk) then I dive into classes. I have a first hour class every day, so I have to wait for my morning coffee until second period. Luckily my students are still waking up as well, so together we slap our cheeks in attempts to wake up and I ask them the standard three questions (what is the date, day of the week and weather?) The rest of my day is a hodge-podge of classes, class preparation, ESS planning and down time. Some of my days are straight classes, one after the other, and those are my favorite. Time in the classroom with my students is priceless to me. I am an elementary teacher back home in America, so I feel very comfortable in the classrooms… and besides that I’ve never left a class without laughing! Other days I may have down time and if I already have things prepped it can be, dare I say it, mind numbingly boring. Monday nights I spend time with my ESS girls in a room the size of a closet and we play games, watch English movies, or practice useful conversation. Some nights I either go home at 4:10, or stay behind to watch my students in their club practices like Judo, Kendo, Soccer or Baseball. They like when I visit and always say, “Alex-Sensei is here! Now we have “Alex POWER!” It’s adorable.


What’s the best and worst thing about your job?

The best part of my job by far is my students. I teach many students as I have a rather unique situation of working at a JHS and HS combined. These kids have made me laugh harder than I ever have in my life. When I accompany a JTE to class, I’m always met with many, “YES! Alex-Sensei is here today!” Or “Is it Alex-Sensei talking time?!” They absolutely adore me for whatever reason, which makes me feel like a superstar. They are constantly wanting to talk to me, make up jokes and stories, asking me to visit their clubs and coming up to me with the biggest smiles and excited greetings every time we cross paths (even yelling to me across the baseball field). My girls giggle to me about new hair styles and cute Japanese idols, while my boys always bow, tip their gakuseibou hats and give me charming little smiles like I’m some kind of royalty. These students are such a big part of why I am loving my life in Japan, and I adore them just as much!


Who would you recommend and not recommend your job to?

I would recommend my job to someone who is not afraid to embarrass themselves for a laugh or even to help with understanding during a lesson , someone who can speak loud, who always smiles, who can be brave enough to pose suggestions and ideas and who won’t freeze up when asked sometimes rather surprising questions. I would not recommend this job to someone who is not willing to involve themselves in more than just lessons, is not willing to put forth any more effort than they are asked, or has no desire to learn what their students may be interested in (even if that means googling the characters of  妖怪ウォッチ so you know who is who.)

Practicing Tea Ceremony! (And probably breaking 20 rules)


Why did you come to Japan?

I am asked this question so often I have my answer polished! My fascination with Japan started when I saw some Japanese Ukiyo-e art and antique kimono at the museum in my home city, Minneapolis, around the age of 16. I took an immediate liking to the stunning kimono and this type of artwork and always bought things like posters or vases with Japanese art, or clothing that even vaguely resembled a kimono’s pattern or style. Curious about kimono and what Japan wore now, I looked more into modern Japanese fashion, finding the style of Harajuku, with all it’s intensely bubbly “kawaii” allure, and adopted a love for that as well. A couple years later, I stumbled upon a show called “Inuyasha” with a friend, and when doing a little digging, I realized that it, too, was a product of Japan. I began watching anime in Japanese and quickly fell in love with the language itself. I wanted to know more about the culture whose art, traditional clothing, and pop culture I found myself entranced with, so I took some Japanese history courses for my electives in college. It opened my eyes to a lot beautiful traditions and the incredible artistic past Japan has, including the world of Geisha, Samurai and the ultimate battle between historical tradition and the growing western influence. Now having graduated with a degree in Education at 26, I desperately wanted to go to Japan to experience all of the things I fell in love with in person. That was when I came across the JET program and realized it combined two of my greatest passions in life; teaching and Japan. So here I am! ^_^


What’s your favorite place in Japan?

Although I have been here six months, I have not had much opportunity yet to travel. I am going to Tokyo and Kyoto next month to experience both new world and old historical Japan, and I have a very strong suspicion one of those places, or both, will become a top favorite for me! Adventure awaits!

Banana Man in Shimonoseki

Baa-na-na-na-na-na-na…. Bananaman!


What’s one thing you love and one thing you don’t about living in Japan?

I absolutely love the jarring and bizarre mix of tradition and new world. It’s fascinating to me to walk down a street that has brilliant modern neon signs advertising the latest hot ticket item, but turn the next corner and encounter a gorgeously haunting, lantern clad shrine with its stone dogs and koi pond. Modern and history, shoulder to shoulder. One thing I don’t love is just how stuck to the past Japan sometimes is. For example, to be “unique” is considered a bad thing. “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.” Because of Japan’s somewhat strict traditions, I believe it can sometimes be absolutely suffocating for anyone with even a shred of creativity or aspiration, especially the farther you are from a big city.


Finally, if you could go back to the start of your life in Japan, what advice would you give yourself?

TO RELAX!!! I was so stressed out and frantic before arriving. My first day here I was absolutely sick to my stomach with nerves. I wish I could go back and say “It will all be fine, your school will like you, you will build great friendships, so don’t worry so much.” Then give myself a little forehead flick. Oh and maybe that when my supervisor said he would “Take me into Miyako town for the first day.” It did not mean he would take me shopping in town like I thought, it meant he would take me to school which is located in Miyako and I’d meet everyone including the principal. Talk about moving along quickly. I was only on the ground 36 hours at that point!

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Author Bio
Alexandra Zacho

Alexandra Zacho

Why, Alex is a modern day Alice, always curiouser and curiouser as she travels down the rabbit hole into her own Wonderland of Japan; with no time to reason. Always looking for the next adventure, and never going back to yesterday (because she was a different person then...) she sometimes imagines six impossible things to explore in Japan before breakfast.

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