ALT Feature: Carl in Ibaraki
Why did you decide to move to Japan and become an ALT?
To practice aikido, a Japanese martial art.
What do you like about being an ALT?
It’s a fun way to achieve my goal in coming to Japan while giving something back to the country by serving the community as an educator.
Tell us one of your highlight moments as an ALT.
On my last day at one of my old elementary schools, the 6th grade students surprised me by putting on a play in English. They had made props and spent a long time rehearsing their lines and when they had finished, every one of them, even the weakest in the class, gave me a thank you speech in English. By the time they gave me flowers at the end, I was struggling not to cry.
What was difficult when you first came to Japan and started your job?
I didn’t come to Japan with Interac and didn’t get much support regarding my work situation. Luckily, I had studied Japanese before coming to Japan and could get by in most matters outside work by myself. I first taught at an English conversation school for a year, where I at least got a little training, but when I returned as an ALT, I felt like I was thrown in at the deep end with several schools, teaching on my own with no curriculum or textbook. One thing I did that helped resolve the situation was to communicate with my colleagues and Japanese friends, not just to complain or vent my frustrations, but to find positive solutions. I then found it easier to take a step back and understand why things were happening a certain way and to reflect upon my own reactions and ways of dealing with people. It was good for me, but I was grateful for the help I got when I switched to Interac.
What do you like about Japan or living in Japan?
Since it’s the whole reason I came to Japan, I especially like being able to practice aikido in the dojo in which the art was created, under students of the master who founded it.
Did anything about Japan catch you by surprise?
For my first year, I lived in Hamamatsu, which has a large Brazilian population and a very nice, relaxed feel to it that I didn’t expect. I didn’t get to experience people being surprised to see a foreigner until I moved to Ibaraki.
What would you say is an absolute must-do or visit in Japan?
Of course, I would say trying out aikido, ideally at the dojo in former-Iwama town, where the ‘art of peace’ was created. For those who aren’t interested in that kind of thing, I would say at least go to the A-bomb dome and peace museum in Hiroshima. After that, of course go and see Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, and so on.
Tell us about the city and region you are placed in.
I live in Kasama City in Ibaraki prefecture and I work in Hitachiomiya. It’s a very rural region but there are plenty of sights to see. Kasama has some beautiful parks, and as I’ve mentioned, a famous aikido dojo. It is also well-known for its ceramics (Kasama-yaki) and for having been the residence of Sakamoto Kyu, who wrote the Sukiyaki Song (Ue Muite Aruku). Nearby, the prefectural capital of Mito has a famous park, Kairakuen and a plum blossom festival. It was also the home to Mito Komon, a famous historical figure, who appears in a samurai drama on TV. Also, Mito is very famous for natto. To the north there are Fukuroda Falls and Hitachi and to the south, there is the Great Buddha statue in Ushiku (one of the top five tallest statues in the world) and Tsukuba, home to JAXA.
If you were to recommend Interac to a friend, what would you say?
My experience of Interac has been that they provide good training and support for the position you will be in.
If you were to recommend becoming an ALT in Japan to a friend, what would you say?
If you come with the right mindset, every day, even the most mundane activities can be fantastic learning opportunities, which add to you as a person.