Last week, after twelve years in this country, I did something for the first time that’s apparently quite the lure for English teachers in Japan, mostly because of the bonus – extra cash — going on a school camp during summer vacation.
In this case it was a three-day affair, attempting to teach a bunch of junior high school girls I’d never before met, without any idea of their English language level and no access to a PC, whiteboards, textbooks or a photocopier.
The lessons were conducted on the tatami-matted floors of their shared rooms at an inn near Yamanaka Lake, and my particular group of nine included the rowdiest and more stubborn members of the entire camp. I had one kid constantly questioning everything we did—sadly in Japanese rather than the language we were supposed to be practicing—along with a grumpy scowler, a girl who thought she was a bird, rivalries, and mood swings galore.
There were tears almost as often as there was laughter.
To top things off, one of the Canadian teachers had a meltdown, locked herself in her room, and refused to teach—meaning the other four instructors inherited that class as well.
Being stuck teaching 13-year-olds from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm every day had me climbing the walls—and fired up to do something creative. Like drink a lot of beer from the convenience store located a kilometre away down a road in the middle of a tiny village with no streetlights.
However, we did have our free time, and that included the mornings prior to 6:00 am, so on Thursday, the day after we arrived, I woke up at 3:30 am, pickled myself in the inn’s onsen (hot spring) for a good half hour, and then stumbled about outside in the dark until the sun came up.
Once the sun did show itself, Yamanaka-ko proved quite the glorious place to explore. Think old farmhouses with thatched roofs, shrines aplenty—and the lake itself. It’s the largest of the Fuji Five Lakes at the foot of, yep, Mt. Fuji, and was this year granted World Heritage status as a portion of the “Fujisan Cultural Site”.
Turns out that the area has a long history.
Long before it became a hotly contested border haggled over by the rival Takeda, Hojo and Imagawa clans during the Sengoku warring states period (the 15th and 16th centuries), remains have been found here dating back to the Jomon Period (12,000-300 BC).
These days it’s more popular for paddle boating, fishing and sightseeing—and school camps. Plus there’s the fireworks festival that takes place in early August, which we were lucky enough to be able to attend (with our students, of course). There are several fireworks settings around the lake, making a visual stereo-effect of some of the best pyrotechnics you’re ever likely to see.
But you know what was the icing on the cake?
Getting home to my own bed, silence, real food, and a box full of promo-copies of my next novel, due out in September.