Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas in Japan for Teachers

So this is Christmas....
In Japan, for an English teacher.

Christmas week, you try to do slightly different classes - with adults and for kids. I have adults, and every year there are in-class "parties", which usually means students (the women in the class) bring cookies and snacks and drinks. The desks get moved a bit, I try to put on background Xmas music, I might wear a Santa hat or a bit of tinsel...and I try to think up some kind of quiz/game/activity which is fun and festive.
It is nice, in a slightly formal, polite kind of way - without alcohol Japanese adults don't really relax easily and people tend to sit quietly and wait to see what happens next. It's not a rip-roaring laugh fest.

The cake takes center stage at in in-class party.

The game part is VERY hit-or-miss, yesterday I tried an information matching card game based on the text we've used this year...but in my hurry to get it ready I didn't check the printer...and it cut some of the essential information OFF the cards.....leaving students even more bewildered that usual. Had to go into super-energetic, reassuring Teacher Mode to paper over the cracks in THAT mistake. very luckily, Japanese people are polite about things-not-going-as-planned and everyone assured me they had enjoyed the class....not so sure about that, but I accepted the warm feelings and wrapped myself up to set off for the NEXT party-in-class one hour later at a different place.

(Almost as non-succesful as the Halloween Theme class I tried to do with a colleague years ago, where we prepped Apple Bobbing, and NONE of the kids wanted to go anywhere near a bowl of water and put their faces in it...we did it a few times to demonstrate how fun it was...and they stood and looked at us with puzzled eyes!!!
Or...the Pass the Parcel I tried once, with questions in English taped inside every layer. students, being polite Japanese, ever-so-carefully unwrapped each wrapping and the whole crazy, fun, frenzy of this mysterious foreign game was lost).

But yesterday, the English Christmas cake was a success...although not cooked in the center.....again.....must add heat/time to future cakes.

Some classes actually organise a meal out - a lunch or a dinner, plus karaoke. The teacher usually doesn't pay. There is drinking and merry-making.
Bonenkai are Japanese end-of-year parties, and while of course working people are obliged to do it with all their colleagues and bosses, non-working people do it too - with all the "groups" in their life, and of course with friends.
So the Swimming Club, the Cooking Class, the old-P.T.A. friends, the Residents' Association, the English class, the Volleyball Team at the Community Center - ALL will probably organise a Bonenkai.

This year I've already had a Bonenkai lunch (very nice tofu, traditional restaurant, private room, slightly formal), several in-class snacks and game parties and last night a pub/restaurant with food and beer and then karaoke private room. Got another pub/restaurant and karaoke tonight too.

And....this year I am go encourage students to help me donate money to a volunteer group in Tohoku. A group that is helping people put their lives back together after the March 11 disasters. 

After all the eating/drinking parties I am giving each student a letter to take home. Inside is a Y1,000 bill (the money they paid for MY dinner and drink), and the details of the NPO's bank account, with a request that they send the money to the NPO on my behalf...and maybe add some more of their own money.
I feel guilty that all this money is being spent here - I know the Hokkaido economy needs the business - and this is the way I thought of pausing a moment during all the over-indulgence, and thinking of people still clearing up and trying to live after an earthquake/tsunami etc.
But I don't know how students will react. Will they think it is strange? Or even worse, rude of me to return their money? I hope they get the idea...

Anyway, this is all Chritsmas for English teachers in Japan. I've been doing variations of all of this now for 17 years, and the games and the snacks and the food and the karaoke vary a bit - but not so much.

It's exhausting, to be honest.
By the time Christmas actually comes I 'm a bit done with it all.
Happy to just sit and open a few presents from friends and watch TV.

Yujiro starts his ski teaching season today and so we don't really know which nights he is home for dinner. Yesterday he and I went to COSTCO but, apart from cheese and snacks, didn't actually buy any delicious Christmas dinner for ourselves because we just don't know when he is home. Okaasan will be happy with whatever I serve...a bit of supermarket chicken and a potato or two, with a bit of tinsel in the table to indicate that this is a Christmas dinner.

I'm ok with that. Last year I desperately needed a Party. And friends came out with me for cocktails and dinner etc. After two terrible years, I needed a party.
This year I will just eat my bousine cheese and crackers, finish off the mulled wine and relax.

Anyway....time to get going on the day....and get up the energy for another Bonenkai tonight. 


  1. I am fortunately avoiding all English Christmas parties this year as off classes until January, much to the bewilderment of some of the mothers. But I'm back early? When are classes starting?

    I'm not really in the Christmas spirit to be honest. I want to be. The kids excitement over Santa coming and the two bottles of champers in the cupboard are a glimmer of hope. Pity hub wants us doing osoji on bloody Christmas eve. Am doing some of my part today so I can still make our Eve 'Christmas Roast' on Saturday.


  2. I just found myself buying a small chicken on my way to now I HAVE to do a roast.....don't know how that happened....impulse buy!