Posted by: patriciamar | December 26, 2018

Christmas in Kumamoto with Kumamon


After the fall quarter ended–my first quarter teaching DDP in Tokyo– I found out my Christmas schedule for the year.  It turned out I would be far, far away from my Tokyo home (relatively speaking) in Kumamoto, an area of Kyushu, which is the most southern of the main islands.  The holiday break in Japan starts after Christmas for me (tomorrow night!), so before my lovely, albeit sukoshi chilly (a little bit) early January beach vacation on a small island in Okinawa, I have had nine days facilitating empowerment programs for Japanese junior high and high school students.  I was really excited to take part in the programs.  I know that some people hate this sort of thing, but I love it.  I like Professional Development Days and Leadership training.  I like seminars on how to motivate my colleagues and students, and learning strategies for how to communicate more effectively at work. 

Helping students inspire students, and encouraging students to find and follow their dreams is about as good as it gets for a teacher, in my opinion.

In addition, this Empowerment Program was the brainchild of an amazing colleague of mine (and a good friend).  Even walking around Tokyo with him can be inspiring, which made me look forward to running the programs even more. 

This December work schedule also meant that my Christmas eve and my Christmas day would be spent in a hotel (and one that I wouldn’t pick myself, which is probably good.  I’m likely to make an impulse decision based on something fairly random, and the staff at work probably has a better sense for a quality and well-priced Japanese hotel in a city far, far away from the Japan that most international visitors see.  

Some people do go to Fukuoka (I think).  


In fact, the place where I was going (Hitoyoshi) is so far from Tokyo that they are making me fly back home.  It sounds like there is some policy that dictates that they can’t make me spend that many hours on a bullet train.

Now that it’s December 26, I have successfully finished one program (Hiroshima) and am about to finish another.  It’s been a pleasure.

When I was in high school, some friends and I were invited to a leadership camp at a high school in a nearby city.  I still remember the way they taught me how to be a leader.  If you want to be a leader, when someone ask who wants to be the leader, your hand should shoot up in the air.  They made us to this many, many times, and still, I laugh about it with my friends.  At random, even more than 15 years later, one of us will call it out, “Who wants to be a leader!?”  And our hands will shoot up.

Perhaps a few of you now understand me a little bit better.

In our empowerment program, the lessons learned are a bit more diverse.  I introduce tips for leadership and goal setting, yes, but also advice on common English expressions, how to make your school more environmentally friendly, the difference in pronunciation between /l/ and /r/, and tips on annotating when reading a particularly difficult passage.

There’s no way that teaching these programs can Not affect you.

One of my group leaders was a perfect examples.  After the first day of the program, he said that working with this program made him wonder about his own life.  If someone had taught him about positive thinking when he was in high school, his life might have turned out very differently, he thought.

As you might imagine, it has made me think a lot about myself as well.  What do I do when faced with a challenge?  How do I set goals for my future?  Do I care if other people judge me?  When I tell students that it is their opinion of themselves that really matters, do I agree?  Do you?  Can anyone really keep those feelings of judgement entirely at bay?

Again and again throughout the programs I have told students that they need to take time to think.  The material is difficult.  These questions are difficult.  (Plus, they are trying to do so in a second language!)  Some people spend their whole life trying to figure out their identity, and others will spend half their life working towards a goal only to discover that in truth, they have no interest in the topic.

This post is timed just about right for New Year’s resolutions.  And it’s timed just about right for me too.  On Christmas Eve, I was thinking about how I had never had a Christmas alone, never in my whole life.  This was a first.   I think that means I have been pretty lucky.

It wasn’t so bad.  I watched “White Christmas” three times.  I had a yule log running (as a screensaver) every second that I was in my onsen hotel.  Speaking of onsen, I spent each evening soaking in an old school Japanese hot spring in my 100+ year old inn.  (I told you they were better at picking the hotel).

Hitoyoshi is a small Japanese city surrounded by mountains that are draped with fog in the mornings.  There was a full moon the first night, and it reflected the stars off the tiny 100º streams that ran through the rice fields behind my little four-room hotel.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever be back, but it was a very nice trip and not a terrible Christmas.

This is so sappy.  I’m shocking even myself.  I guess that’s what I get for empowering young minds day after day 🙂

My Christmas was alone and my New Year’s will be alone too.  But that’s fine.

Sometimes you need to be alone to figure out who it is that you’re missing.20181224_112522_HDR

Happy Holidays!


  1. Wow, Patricia, what a fabulous place to not only be visiting but also to have spent Christmas! I loved doing that empowerment program so it was a difficult decision not to do it again last summer. I’m delighted you’ve experienced it and helped train those who will be integrating the ideas into their classrooms! What a great way to help boost others sense of worth!

    Have a wonderful holiday tasting new and old areas of Tokyo!


  2. Thanks, Gina! It is such a great program! I’m looking forward to more of them this summer. These were all student programs, but there are a couple of instructor possibilities for the future. Have a happy New Year!


    • I found them stimulating due partly to the need to adapt the content to the audience and also to the level of engagement at the moment. I had some very high groups mixed in with much lower ones so ended up scaffolding the lesson to either end of the spectrum. Hopefully, you felt free to play around with the packet (as I heard a lot of editing had been done, sometimes for the worse).


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