Getting Students to Write Fan Letters

(Written back in September 2019)

I frequently find that my main responsibility as an ALT is simply to motivate the students. The majority of my junior high students don’t feel that their future lies with English or in a foreign country. When a student’s dream job is to be a “salaryman” because “it is interesting”, it puts things into perspective.

Getting students to write English is an increasingly frustrating process for everyone involved. But the “Fan Letter” section of the third grade textbook has become a source of motivation and genuine surprise for both teachers and students. Instead of writing a letter and it ending up crammed in the bottom of their backpacks, the JTE and I have made it our mission to actual send the students’ letters. Of course it means extra work to check their letters, find the addresses and write a cover letter explaining why random Japanese students are sending letters to the likes of J.K. Rowling and Brad Pitt. But we felt it would encourage the students to take it a bit more seriously.

The fruits of our labour has been a steady trickle of replies from various celebrities. It might not be the surge we dream of, but the JTE and I are always excited to see who the responses are from. We’ve received replies and postcards from Pixar Studios, Disney World, and various soccer clubs. There have been handwritten replies from the Miffy Museum in the Netherlands and a number of Olympic medalists. Benny Andersson (ABBA), Milla Jovovich, and Johnny Depp have even sent “signed” photos back to our students.

Unfortunately not everyone gets a reply. But at the end of the day, every student manages to willingly do the work and seeing the students’ faces of surprise that “so-and-so” replied to their mail is a great feeling. It seems to puts a smile on the JTE and principal, which is always a plus.

Saving my 500s

I remember owning a football-shaped “piggy bank” when I was a child. I’d save my weekly allowance, birthday money and loose change in order to fund my video game addiction. The last time I checked it, I think there was still a fake diamond earring that I’d found in Las Vegas, some badge pins, and a few football coins from an Alan Shearer World Cup. I think I had three Nicky Butts and two Terry Sheringhams. But as soon as I had a bank account, my days of hearing the “ding” from coins hitting my tin “piggy bank” were over. Instead it was all about that magic “virtual” money, baby.

Yet starting this year, the piggy bank has returned. I’ve been saving my 500-yen coins in a glass jar. Strawberry jam, if you wanted to know. Essentially whenever I buy something and receive a 500-yen coin in my change, I hold onto it and stick it in the jar. And that’s it. With 500 yen equating to about £3.35, it’s a good amount to be saving and not something that you worry about.  Plus they’re gold in colour, so it’s like real treasure.

It seems to be a fairly common way of saving money in Japan as most people here still use cash over card.  I paid for my wife’s engagement ring with a wad of cash, like some cockney geezer. In fact, there are still a large number of shops and restaurants that won’t accept credit and debit cards. Even online purchases can be paid in cash when delivered, which is a fantastic service.

Anyway, in a couple of months I’ve easily managed to save 25,000 yen from saving my 500-yen coins. My Irish mate who introduced me to this way of saving cash, actually used his coinage to fund his trips back home. It’s a simple and effective way to save a little extra each month, and one that can be a little addictive.

Miyajima in Autumn

Autumn is my favourite season. It’s cool enough to leave the house, baseball season is thankfully drawing to a close, sukiyaki is the dish of choice and Japan looks beautiful in the autumn colours.

My wife and I decided to head off to Miyajima for the day. It’s not quite the time when the leaves have turn their autumn shade, but we just fancied a day out.  It’s 15 minutes on the train then 10 minutes of the ferry, so it’s fairly close. And as has become the norm over the last couple of years, the train was rammed full of tourists and backpackers. 

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