Teachers' review: Sean
Working at Bower’s English School in Shizouka, Japan
Written with fond memories of Hiroko Bowers, who sadly passed away on
3rd September 2014.
Hiroko san’s big hearted kindness, generosity and selfless work with others both within her local community in Japan and for under privileged communities in India knew no boundaries. She had such a positive impact on all people’s lives she touched, including my own. She will be deeply missed by all that knew her…
Escaping the big smoke
I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced living, working and travelling in different cultures and wanted to put a few words together for a short review of my teaching experience in Shizuoka, Japan.
… My teaching adventure in Japan began whist I staying with my friend Taku san in Tokyo during 2007 after having recently returned from a voluntary teaching placement in Darjeeling, India.
I was looking for a teaching position in an interesting part of Japan - not that working anywhere in Japan wouldn’t be enough of a fascinating experience on its own, but getting away from the big smoke and hopefully much nearer to the countryside seemed so much more appealing.
I was most grateful to Taku san for giving me his insights in to the history and current events of this extraordinary city. We had been having great times exploring his favourite parts of Tokyo, but I suspected that by now I had probably stretched my friend’s hospitality far enough as he was kindly sharing his typically small Tokyo apartment near to the Korakuen area with me. So it was perfect timing for both of us that I was offered work at this school in Shizuoka prefecture and was thrilled to have been given this unique opportunity.
A Shinkansen ticket heading west
I bid a fond farewell wave to Taku san at Tokyo Shinkansen station,
reflecting on the journey ahead with both excitement and some trepidation but looking forward to enjoying a bento box full of Japanese lunch time delicacies.
Any uncertainties I had were immediately put to rest when Ranie and her friendly assistant, Misato san met me at Shizouka station with happy smiles – we were chatting away like we’d known each other for years….
The owners Ranie & Hiroko Bowers gave me a very warm welcome and they were keen to help me settle into my new surroundings immediately. Living and working in the vicinity they introduced me to some of the local people, so I got a real sense of the friendly atmosphere around the neighbourhood – such a pleasant way to find my feet and feel more at home in this strange, fascinating new world…
Ranie & Hiroko san kindly arranged interesting orientation activities, some of the most memorable for me were; watching a traditional summer matsuri festival, an introduction to my first Onsen spring bath, trying out local dishes in the local Izakya (a Japanese bar ) with Hiroko san, colleagues and other teachers, going to student fraternity parties arranged by the school and attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony class (Sadou, literally ‘the way of tea’…)
It was the start of an amazing adventure and a rewarding teaching experience that was to give me a unique insight into the Japanese way of life that I was hoping for - close to the countryside and away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and neon lights….
The school is based in the scenic costal district of Hibara, part of Makinohara city which is located about 180 Km (111 miles ) south-west of Tokyo.
The main town of Haibara-gun is situated somewhere between Omaezaki city to the South and Shimada city to the north in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The school is set in a residential area in close proximity to the main highway and Shizunami beach. This beach is very popular with surfers who come from far and wide to catch a few waves or just to hang out and enjoy the beach vibe, surf shops and bars. Raine showed me a coastal path nearby ideal for long walks or mountain bike rides - a ideal way to view the rugged beauty of the area that you wouldn’t normally see by car.
The classrooms at the Bower’s school residence are situated in one part of the house, where some of the classes are taught. Other teaching sessions were held at local Schools or designated venues, depending on the type of classes being offered.
My weekly schedule at the school was 5 days a week, teaching 4 or 5 one hour classes a day. I had the opportunity to teach English to a wide variety of different age groups, ranging from kindergarten through to junior high School. A fun ‘genki’ learning environment was encouraged and the children were an absolute joy to teach. (I had begun Japanese language study; this really helped me to relate better to the children and parents, also to give basic instructions in class which I felt this was vital if I was to make any progress with the students).
I also gave adult conversation classes in small groups or one-to-ones as an 'eikaiwa sensei’ which was also a great way to make new friends. It was an added bonus to have been able to draw upon my background in business to teach English classes to
management & employees at a local engineering company.
This was just the sort of job I relished – full of fun and variety, planning for lessons, meeting people, organising my work time with an element of travel and the unknown thrown in for good measure!
The School kindly offered me the use of a car, a little white Daihatsu to commute to the various classes that were run outside of the Hibara location, including the Hamaoka and Shimada areas. At other times, I would catch a bus near Oigawa town shopping centre, a scenic journey over to Hibara Hospital (the nearest stop to the school) or into Fujieda town to check out the shops and use the internet café – there was also a great coffee shop there too!
The car journeys were a daily intrepid adventure. Imagine endeavouring to navigate local roads, where the signs are mostly in Kanji! I often got hopelessly lost, so learned to make pencil drawn maps of my most travelled routes with notable land marks to aid my limited sense of spatial awareness….
Then there were opportunities to head off into the countryside, driving past the serene beauty of surrounding rice paddy fields and to view the lush carpets of the green tea plantations that cover the Makinohara highlands in every direction.
I was able to rent a comfortable apartment in nearby Oigawa town from the School management. The apartment had stunning views of Mount Fuji outside the window – a most incredible and inspirational vision to awake to every morning when I drew back the curtains!
There was also a Karaoke bar in the building below - the singing was mostly in the traditional ‘Enca’ style, but the crooning sounds hardly ever penetrated my walls, so I did not have any problems with sleepless at nights.
Around The Area
In and around Haibara-gun, there is no shortage of supermarkets and shops, not to mention local Izakayas and restaurants to sample the local delicacies such as Shizuoka Oden, eel, Cherry Shrimp and the fresh fish caught daily in Sagura bay.
I often purchased food from the local shops to cook at the apartment. This was most intriguing at times, as I had no idea what was in some of the cans or packets I brought back – but I certainly had a lot of culinary adventures and surprises trying them all out...
Although set a semi-rural location, I found that there are easily accessible transport links by train and bus into Makinohara city, or to explore places of cultural interest when playing the tourist (which of course is part of the pure joy and fascination of working in a very different country to your own).
Tokyo is within 2 hours by bullet train. Tokyo and Shizuoka station are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. The ride takes about 60 minutes by 'Hikari' Shinkansen or 90 minutes by 'Kodama' Shinkansen . I often went to visit friends in Tokyo during my time off - any excuse to enjoy the smooth ride of the speeding bullet train whilst eating lunch from a bento box and watching the ever changing scenery outside window unfold around me…
Travelling by the speeding Shinkansen in Japan is a unique experience, just to sit back and watch the ever changing scenery unfold outside the window around you….
A little bit about Shizuoka – there are spectacular views of Fuji san and the prefecture is also blessed with numerous Onsen hot spring resorts, historical sites shrines & temples and traditional crafts but it is perhaps famous first and foremost for its tea.
According to the official Shizuoka Prefecture information web site, Shizouka accounts for about 45% of Japan’s overall tea production and many of the Green tea plantations date back to 1241.
It is said that a monk named Shoichi Kokushi returned from Sung China to his native province of Shizuoka with green tea seeds, which were then planted in this area.
Tea growing became economically important in Shizuoka after the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (from 1603–1867 the final period of traditional Japan, a time of internal peace, political stability, and economic growth under the Shogunate rule), when a former retainer of the shogun began to cultivate green tea in Makinohara for its trade potential.
Shizuoka’s climate, the quality of its water, as well as its proximity to major ports all enhanced this area’s position as a major green tea producer. Green tea comes in many different varieties suitable for drinking on different occasions. Being a passionate green tea drinker, I've been drinking fresh green tea from the area ever since, the aroma brings many wonderful back memories of my time there and has such a deliciously fresh taste.
…making a return visit to see Hiroko san & Ranie in August 2014, sharing many wonderful memories…
A sad farewell to friends…
It certainly was a privilege to work with and teach all the wonderful students in and around Haibara and a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget. So it was a very sad day when I had to leave behind all the friends I had made there and return to the UK.
I am most grateful to all my close friends for their understanding and support without them I could not have the trip. Also most of all to Ranie & Hiroko Bowers for all their kindness and hospitality during my stay in Makinohara and for giving me the precious opportunity to live and work in and around the Makinohara area and experience the wonders of Japan together with them.