Brief Outline of Alpha English Academy

Alpha English Academy is a small private English School established in 1982 by the owner Fumio Funaki and located on the east coast of Hokkaido island in Japan. For over thirty eight years, we have operated as an independent school with no affiliation to the larger English school chains. Alpha English Academy is not your typical school. Unlike other schools in Japan which are located in concrete and formica office buildings, Alpha is situated in a somewhat chalet-style structure. The atmosphere is warm and makes learning more enjoyable for the students. 
Address : 22-20 Shinei-cho Kushiro City, Hokkaido, Japan 085-0032
TEL : 0154-22-2428
Website : http://www.alpha-english-ac.com
E-mail : aeaowner@mac.com

A note about the culture

I've seen it hundreds of times. Foreigners come to Japan and then it's "Man! This isn't what I expected or was told Japan was like." Believe me, there is an adjustment period to get through. I'm not saying you'll like everything you see after that, either. But I think if you remain calm, stay positive and think it through, you'll be able to "do" Japan without too much trouble. The fact is the culture, the style of thinking about life and the language is quite removed from the rest of the world. It's a combination of many things (all of them not easy to explain) throughout the ages that has made Japan what it is. Like any country, Japan has it's good points and it has some hang-ups. Though the hang-ups tend to be a little different from what you're used to, take the gentle approach and enjoy Japan for what it is. It's my hope that you'll have an enriched growing experience while staying and working at Alpha English Academy in Kushiro of Hokkaido,Japan.

Fumio Funaki

Information about Kushiro and Hokkaido

The island of Hokkaido covers an area of about 78,500 sq. km., which is about 21% of Japan's total land area. Hokkaido is Japan's second largest island after Honshu, the main island of Japan. Due to its northerly location, Hokkaido is considerably cooler than much of the rest of Japan. But the climate varies remarkably from district to district because of the influence of the cold and warm currents surrounding the island. The average winter temperature is 8 degrees centigrade lower than Tokyo's average temperature. More than 60% of this vast island is covered with primeval forests. From quite early times this part of Japan provided refuge to the Japanese fleeing from war or famine and is actually Japan's version of the Wild West. You will notice that there are many differences between Hokkaido and the rest of Japan. There is little aura of age and tradition. In fact, many American residents of Japan find that Hokkaido reminds them of the U.S., since there are many wide open fields with silos and barns that resemble those of the Midwest and northern New England . Things also tend to be more spread out in Hokkaido than the rest of Japan, the roads are wider and yards are bigger than what you find in large cities like Tokyo and Osaka. There are many National Parks, which offer spectacular scenery. Much of the fascination of Hokkaido lies in the multifaceted charms of its changing seasons. Hokkaido draws many tourists from the rest of Japan throughout the year. The population of Japan is about 120 million. Hokkaido only contains about 5.5 million and people, about 6% of the total population. It is the fifth most populous prefecture in Japan (there are a total of 47 prefectures) but it is the least densely populated of all.
Kushiro is a port city which is located in Eastern Hokkaido along the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of approximately 170,000 and a total area of 1,362.75 square km. It is a quiet city, and there aren't many foreigners living here. But, Kushiro has a lot to offer, especially to those who enjoy nature and are looking for a unique cultural experience. You should find everything you need in Kushiro, and the cost of living is low. There are many restaurants, bars, grocery stores, bakeries, fitness centres, and so on. There is also a movie theater which usually has a couple of English movies playing. Kushiro's weather is not always easy. The winters are quite cold (sometimes reaching -10 C), but the sun shines almost every day. In spring and summer, the temperatures are cool (usually less than 23 degrees C), and there are many days, consisting of fog, rain and a dreamlike mist, from which Kushiro gets its name "City of Mist". Most of the locals say that fall is their favorite season, with lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. Kushiro is surrounded by nature, so it is a great place for hiking, camping, skiing, fishing, canoeing, etc. There is also plenty to see and do within the city. Here are some of the highlights; -The waterfront is the most scenic part of the city, with the Nusamai Bridge, street-lamps and bronze statues representing the four seasons. It is the perfect place for an evening walk in any season.-Along the wharf is the MOO, an interesting building with shops, restaurants and a greenhouse called the EGG.-There is an excellent seafood market, The Washo Market, located downtown across from the train station. It is known for its "Katte Don", a bowl of rice topped with raw fish (Kushiro has amazing seafood).-Lake Harutori is another nice place to walk and observe nature. Next to the lake is the Kushiro City Museum.-Lifelong Learning Centre has many events taking place, and it is located in the Manabotto Nusamai building in the centre of downtown. The Kushiro Museum of art is also located near MOO by the river.-The Yamahana Onsen is a hotspring resort, which is about a 30-minute drive from the city (next to the Kushiro Zoo). It has both indoor and outdoor baths and a restaurant with reasonable prices.-And last, but not least, the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park - the largest peatland in Japan - is a must see for anyone coming to Kushiro.Kushiro is also a convenient home base for travel around the rest of beautiful Hokkaido. Many day trips are possible from Kushiro: you can see Red-crowned cranes (symbols of love, fidelity and longevity) in the Tsurui and Akan areas, stare in awe at the mysterious Lake Mashu (a lake formed in an old volcano), eat oysters in Akkeshi and watch the waves crash against shore at Kirittappu Cape. When you have more free time, you can explore all of Hokkaido if you want, and go to places such as Hakodate, Sapporo, Asahikawa, Biei, Furano, Obihiro, Shiretoko, Nemuro or even north to Wakkanai.
You will never be bored in Hokkaido.

Previous Native Teachers' Comments

Tina from Canada on the left and Ginny from England on the right.

Hi! My name is Tina Marshall. I found my job here at ALPHA on Dave's Cafe last year. Teaching at ALPHA has been great. It is a very relaxed and enjoyable teaching atmosphere. Working at ALPHA is like teaching in a large cozy home, where you feel like part of the family. I 'm from Toronto Canada and I have found the weather to be quite similar. The Kushiro area is great for outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking and camping. I teach students of all ages, both private and group lessons. I work Tuesday to Saturday from 1pm to 9:30pm. I live in a nice little apartment about a five minute walk from the school. It is fully furnished and safe. In reference to "safety", Japan is exceptibly safe. The people here are very, very friendly. I am leaving the end of January, so if you are interested in this position please apply immediately. I highly recommend ALPHA and will miss everyone here. Actually, I think that if my true love wasn't in Canada, I probably wouldn't leave. (Left Feb.,1998)
Hello! I'm Ginny. I'm from England. Tina and I are the only two teachers here along with our boss, Fumio. As Tina mentioned, the school atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. I think this is helped by the fact that we work in a wooden chalet-style building which is a far cry from the usual concrete/formica, windowless classrooms of other schools. I've been here for two years now and can honestly say I've enjoyed every minute. The work is great because our students are such fun and so enthusiastic. Since Kushiro is a relatively small city, it is easy to become involved with local events and to get to know people. There are also four other language schools here which employ foreign teachers, so you can socialize with them when trying to speak Japanese gets too much!! If you like the outdoors you will like it here. I spend almost every weekend either hiking around the local mountains, mountain biking or camping in summer, and skiing in the winter. The skiing is great since the snow is light and powdery, and this is not Honshu, there are no lift queues! There is also plenty of fishing, canoeing, windsurfing etc. if that's what you enjoy. No doubt you've all heard how hideously expensive Japan is, but in fact it is not at all bad. Travel and hotels are very expensive but the cost of day-to-day living is comparable to England and Canada. I also live in a very comfortable apartment, 5 minutes from school.
( Left Mar,1998 )

Richard Doncaster from canada with little girls, Kaede and Nanako.

Hi! I'm Richard. I'm from Calgary, Canada. I have been working at Alpha English Academy for about 9 month's now. Before coming to Japan and Alpha I've had the opportunity to teach at schools in Canada and Korea. I can honestly say that working at Alpha and in Kushiro has been my best teaching experience to date! The teaching atmosphere at Alpha is casual and teachers are given the freedom to be creative in the classroom. The students are great and I've had the opportunity to become friends with many of them. Working with the other native speaker and my boss Fumio has been a pleasure. Whenever I've had a problem or question regarding my work or personal life, Fumio has always been willing to help. Kushiro is not the most exciting city in Japan, but if you like the outdoors Kushiro has a lot to offer. Great hiking, camping, canoeing, skiing/snowboarding, fishing, etc. etc. etc. are easily within reach. Another aspect I enjoy about Kushiro is the community atmosphere. It's relatively quiet yet it offers the opportunity to meet many interesting locals and foreigners. My apartment is smaller than those in Canada but it's very comfortable and cozy. It has everything you need...washing machine, TV, VCR, CD stereo player, etc. etc. and it's only a five minute walk from work!
I, like Ginny and Tina, highly recommend working at Alpha! ( will be leaving Jan,1999 )

Helen from Canada and her student Kaede.

Hi, my name is Helen and I am also from Canada. Everything the former teachers said is no exaggeration! ALPHA has a truly unique atmosphere, (especially since we opened the Internet cafe), and is a really enjoyable place to work! From a teaching standpoint the classes are small and the atmosphere is casual, yet professional. Although most classes use assigned texts, one has the freedom to expand on and adapt the material to better suit the students. We also have use of the computers and the Internet, so finding and creating extra material is no problem. I have a great new apartment that's near a large park. It's fully outfitted, close to shopping and only a 7 minute walk or 2 minute bike ride to ALPHA, (I should also mention that it is a really good size, and has a separate bedroom!). Kushiro is a relatively small city with only 200,000 people and is very safe. I got to know my way around in no time. I picked up a second hand bike and now I ride everywhere! I have lived on Honshu (Japan's main island) and I can say from experience that Hokkaido is very different. Hokkaido houses only 6% of Japan's population and its primary industries are agriculture, dairy farming and fishing. In Kushiro the winters are like those in central Canada, cold and snowy; and the summers are like those on the West Coast of Canada, mild and not humid. You might also be interested to know that there is no typhoon season on Hokkaido! I am really happy with my decision to teach at ALPHA and would recommend it highly. You know you love your job when you find yourself saying "Is it the weekend already?". (leaving February, 2000).

Mark and Christinefrom Canada.

My name's Mark, I'm the tall one in the blue yukata. Next to me in the pink kimono is my new wife, Christine. I'd like to put your mind at ease and disspell any rumours before they fester into fact: the yukata/kimono is NOT part of the daily dresscode at Alpha! So... why are we wearing such traditional outfits? In a word (or five), we had a pre-wedding wedding. It was a full-blown convert-the-classroom-into-a-shrine, drink-three-cups-of-sake, offer-food-to-the-gods, recite-vows-in-Japanese, Shinto wedding (then we flew back to Canada and had a somewhat more conventional wedding). That was just one of the many cultural opportunities we have been able to participate in by working at Alpha. Of course, all of the previous teachers' comments apply regarding Alpha and Kushiro. The long and short of it is: this place has as much to offer as you are willing to take. Book your ticket, come to Japan, give it a shot, and you won't be disappointed.
(April 2001 to March 2002)

Manami, Terry, Pat, Nanako and Fumio (Halloween 2002).

Hello, my name's Pat and I'm a 24 year-old American who's currently teaching at Alpha. I remember reading this web page a year ago and wondering, hmmm... is everything that these previous teachers say really true?? After teaching at Alpha for nine months, I can answer with a resounding, YES!! While Kushiro may never win any awards for the nightlife, the surrounding countryside and friendly people more than make up for it. Like many of the previous teachers, I've spent a lot of my free time hiking, biking, skiing, and camping in beautiful Hokkaido. I've learned a lot about Japanese culture and language from the friends I've made at the two local universities. It's really nice to step out my door in the afternoon, walk for five minutes and arrive at work. How many other people living in Japan can say that? Alpha's students are fantastic and the teaching atmosphere is casual, no suits required here. Having free internet access and CNN at the school are also a great benefits and keep me in touch with the world outside of Japan. Through teaching at Alpha, I've carved out a very safe, interesting, enjoyable and rewarding life. If you enjoy nature, don't require the excitement of a big city and are open-minded, you should have no trouble doing the same. ( April 2002 to March 2003 )
G'day, I'm Terry and I'm the one attempting to look dangerous in the judo outfit. I've been here at Alpha since March but have lived in Kushiro for 2 years in total. I come from North Queensland with it's tropical climate so the long winters worried me at first, but I haven't had any problems and I'm now in my third winter. I've been skiing every weekend this season and I'm getting pretty good (not bad for a beach bum anyway). Previously I worked in one of the larger chain schools to be found dotted all around the country. I'm so glad I made the break and switched to a smaller school. Here at Alpha it is far more personal as I get to teach the same students each week and can arrange my lessons to meet their needs. I don't get dictated to by the text book which was the way at my previous school. Alpha will suit you if you like working independently. Fumio is happy to help if he's asked but he doesn't stand around looking over your shoulder in class. You can be as creative as you like. And fortunately we have intenet access so when I've run out of ideas I can use Dave's ESL site to find some new ones. I would recommend Alpha English Academy in Kushiro to anyone willing to try something new. I wish I could stay longer but personal reasons are tearing me away.
( April 2002 to March 2003 )

Matt and Christine from Maine, USA.

Hello! My name is Matt and I am a native english teacher from America worker here at the Alpha English Academy. I am 27 years old, married and have a love for the outdoors and traveling. I arrived in Kushiro on January 1, 2007. Working at Alpha English Academy has been a pleasure for me. It has a relaxed and professional atmosphere where I am given a high level of responsibility and independence. It is my responsibility to plan all my lessons. I use the various resources here at the school, the internet and Mr. Funaki himself. Mr. Funaki is very helpful and always has time to point me in the right direction if I am unsure of how to proceed with a class. He is a friendly, patient and helpful boss. My days begin at 1:00 in the afternoon. At this time I do not have classes immediately and I use my first few hours at work to prepare my lessons for the day. I also make sure things are in a neat and orderly fashion around the school. I turn on my computer and the photocopy machine, make sure the garbage cans are not overflowing, turn on some music and tidy-up as much as possible. My days have always finished by 9:00 p.m., and often, depending on the schedule, earlier. As I said, working here I have a lot of independence and things are quite relaxed. During the middle of my shift, assuming I have a break between classes (which I always do) I often walk to one of the nearby stores to buy some lunch. The school has a microwave, toaster oven and a stove so sometimes we will enjoy one of Mr. Funaki's excellent home cooked meals. Other times I will walk or ride my bike home (a six minute walk and only a two minute bike ride!) and enjoy a delicious meal prepared by my wife. If I am really lucky, I will come to my desk after a lesson and find a plate of food left by Mr. Funaki's wife. This is always a nice treat. If you are looking for a friendly, professional and family atmosphere at work, this is the place for you. If you are looking for a wide range of students, from a two year old boy to a 72 year old woman, you will find it here. Having a love for the outdoors is also a plus if you come to Kushiro. There are endless mountains, places to go camping and summer festivals to enjoy. I will always remember my time working at Alpha English Academy with a smile. Check out "My life in Kushiro by Matt 2007" in this website for more details of my life here.
(Left October, 2007)

Tracy form St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

When I think of my time in Kushiro, many found memories come to mind: the cultural experiences like going to a tea ceremony and a kimono show, and the simple things like watching the sun set over the Kushiro river and eating delicious "Kashiwa" soba noodle in a tiny restaurant. But, most importantly, when I think of Kushiro, I am remind of the wonderful people.
(Tina form St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, left October 2008)
I am grateful to all of you for working at Alpha. Fumio Funaki

My life in Kushiro by Matthew Grillo 2007.

January 2007:
The arrival to Kushiro by my wife and I was marked by one thought ... cold! This was not necessarily because Kushiro is colder than any other place near the 45th parallel, but because 13 hours earlier we had been in southern Thailand with balmy 30 degree temperatures relaxing on a sandy beach. We were scooped up by our new boss, Mr. Funaki at 5:00 in the morning on New Years Eve and quickly brought to our new home. Although we were excited to explore our new surroundings we were soon sleeping the day away due to our previous nights travels. Okay, to be honest...I slept while my wife cleaned and unpacked before she also joined me in a coma-like state. When we awoke later that afternoon we were invited to spend the evening with our boss and his family for a New Years Eve dinner. It was an excellent introduction to Japanese food, culture and truly generous people. Unfortunately we were still very tired from our travels. It was an early New Years night for us and we failed to see the clock strike midnight. We were sound asleep! How pathetic! January was filled with exploration, (made possible by the use of the company car) shopping in an attempt to make our apartment feel more like a home, and experiencing the many stages of culture shock. Highs and lows that at times put you on the top of the world and other times made you feel nothing but the desire to be somewhere you understood the language. I found work at Alpha English Academy never failed to improve my mood. The laidback yet professional atmosphere agreed with me and I found myself right at home from day one. My students ranged from a two year old boy who loved to crawl all over me to a seventy-six year old woman who would play me classical Japanese music on her tape recorder. Classes were wonderful and I had the freedom to design my own lessons by incorporating information and advice left by the previous teachers.
Before we knew it January had slipped away. We had successfully made a home for ourselves in our little apartment in Kushiro. We now knew where the best places were to go shopping, buy groceries, see a movie in English, eat out, and thanks to Mr. Funaki we even found a neighborhood gym.

February 2007:
With the beginning of February we began to enjoy more 'normal' lives. By this I mean my wife and I developed our own routine. Every morning we started going to the local gym. We also had the internet and cable tv connected in our apartment. Internet and cable tv was something we were very happy to have because it was still the dead of winter and we really had no clothes for outdoor adventures. We often went out at night to catch a English language film at the local cinema and found that there were usually one if not two playing at any given time. After being invited out one night in February, we discovered our now favorite friendly little bar. We also realized that having a few drinks in a bar in Japan was a wee bit more expensive than in North America. However, the higher price of drinks was easily forgotten after a few cold 'biiru', 'cho oishii' French fries (one night...whale!) and the homely atmosphere that made snacking, drinking and singing karaoke so ridiculously fun. Most bars in Japan, much like the one we favour, have felt more like converted living rooms adjacent to someone's home than the more typical pub style places we've enjoyed in other parts of the world. Makes one's night out quite comfortable! During the second week of the month I was able to go skiing for a day with a co-worker, my boss and his daughter while my wife enjoyed the time to herself at home. She was not only working a few days a week at the school, but completing her university degree online through her school in Canada. She was very busy. Much to my chagrin she was always able to find time to make a trip to the local 100 yen shops or Oki Doki recycle shops which were also one of our new and exciting Kushiro discoveries.

March 2007:
Still cold! Although the days were getting noticeably longer the winter chill was still in the air and there was plenty of snow on the ground. The month was highlighted by a trip to a ski resort in north of Akan where I experienced some truly fine Japanese powder and taught my wife how to snowboard. The cost of a day at a ski hill in Hokkaido was considerably cheaper than back in North America. We paid the equivalent of about $25 for our rentals and $25 for our lift tickets each. Therefore the total for the two of us for our day was about $100. Not too shabby! The ski hill was amazingly beautiful, quiet and pristine. That is until my wife got there! The serenity of the environment was slightly altered by the frustrated cursing of my wife as she learned how to snowboard and as I attempted to teach her through crippling laughter as she went face first into countless snow banks. We had a blast! Work was slightly busier as our Dutch co-worker went back to Holland and I was teaching at the elementary schools in mornings. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the Japanese school system. I found the students to be just like any kids I had ever taught before. Some good, some bad, kids will be kids. Teachers were friendly and usually very helpful. The school lunches weren't too bad either!On the weekends my wife and I enjoyed our new ritual of coffee and a long drive in the countryside. Navigating was very easy with plenty of English road signs. Each drive we took brought us further and further into the mountains and the beautiful scenery that Hokkaido has to offer. Our scenic drives included areas like Akan, as well as Teshikaga to Akan through a winding mountain pass. We also traveled to the city of Obihiro about two hours away. There we stumbled upon a shopping centre downtown that had a foreign food section on its lower level with all sorts of good things. My wife actually squealed with frightening and over enthusiastic joy when she discovered couscous! It was kind of embarrassing. Anyways, we also found a great restaurant also in downtown Obihiro that sold some of the best pizza we've had since leaving North America and to top it off we enjoyed a thirst quenching pitcher of amber ale (Tokachi Beer). We were in heaven.
April 2007:
Spring where are you? After the early part of April most of the snow was gone, but the weather was still quite cool. My wife and I coined a little term we like to refer to as "Kushiro gray". If used in a sentence it would be used like so, "Honey, what's the weather like outside today?" followed by my wife's reply, "ummm...Kushiro gray". Despite the somewhat somber weather, we enjoyed the odd sunny (albeit still snowy) day by taking short walks around the area - often to our local park or downtown to the MOO and EGG. The MOO is referred to as a 'waterfront resort area' and has gourmet food shops on one level looking out to the water, restaurants on another level and finally - a gym and swimming pool on the top level. The EGG is a small greenhouse and is connected to the MOO. It is kind of nice to stop there and smell plants and dirt when its cold and snowy outside! Just beyond the EGG is the Nusamai Bridge, said to be one of the most beautiful bridges in Hokkaido. It's lined with bronze statues symbolizing the four seasons. My wife and I took the obligatory tourist photos on the bridge one day in early April and then warmed up across the street the next block over at our favorite coffee shop - Tully's. April was also the month my wife was featured in the Hokkaido wide newspaper, the Hokkaido Shimbun! There were a total of seven articles detailing her adventures at the Akan International Crane Centre. Very exciting!
May 2007:
May would begin with the departure of my wife back to her home country for twenty days to work and visit with her family. It was also the month that spring arrived here in Kushiro. No more jackets, no more sweaters. It was finally t-shirt weather and I was loving it! To pass my new found free time I started exercising more. I began running through the cherry blossoms in our local park in the morning and riding my bike in the evening (Mr. Funaki provided us each with a mountain bike).May also brought Golden Week - a Japanese national holiday. Everyone in the country had the week off and took the opportunity to enjoy a holiday, and thankfully I was no different. Mr. Funaki invited me to go along with his family to a resort in central Hokkaido where we went rafting and took a trip to the zoo. I also enjoyed playing my first game of park golf. What is park golf you might ask? Picture a half-sized golf course filled with families, golf balls made of plastic the size of baseballs, and golf clubs with oversized heads that are only three feet tall. Strangely different but amazingly fun. If you think you might like golf but not the typical expenses or country club atmosphere that usually come along with it, you will love park golf. Near the end of the month my wife returned home and it was good to have her back. With her came delights from home - Kraft Dinner, tortilla shells, Indian spices and iced tea mix! Her arrival home also seemed to bring the famous 'Kushiro mist'. This is something more easily experienced than explained. The air became thick, gray and seemed to softly blanket you and everything around you with its presence. The weather was getting warmer!
June 2007:
June began well with a hiking trip in Akan National Park with Jordi, our co-worker from Spain. We left kind of late so only hiked a short way up Meakandake, but we enjoyed every second of our two hours on the trail. We went through snow and forests and even past venting steam and the smell of sulfur. Meakandake closes periodically due to volcanic gas emissions! After our short hike we visited Akan-kohan, a great little resort town famous for its lake and its Ainu village. Lake Akan was a gorgeous crater lake and home to a weird phenomenon known as marimo - a rare algae species that forms itself into green balls of various sizes. The small Ainu village was called Ainu Kotan. For those who are unfamiliar with the Ainu, they are Japan's indigenous people who we found to share an uncanny resemblance in facial features and traditions with our own North American indigenous peoples. Not experts on the Ainu by any stretch, we look forward to learning more about them as we also become more familiar with Hokkaido! The new warm weather also made it possible for us to enjoy our first camping trip. Our employer, Mr. Funaki, was more than generous and lent us all the camping equipment we could possibly need. From lanterns, camping stoves, to a four person tent we were outfitted like experts! The best part was the perfect weather and the worst part was we enjoyed it alongside copious mosquitoes! We left around midday after getting a quick coffee and a few extras from the Posful grocery store and were at the shore of Lake Kussharo-ko at the Wakato-hanto Camping Ground with our tent up and our hiking boots on before we knew what hit us! While there we took the short hike traversing the peninsula through thick woods and alongside the lake. The woods were strikingly green and lush. When we noticed the smell of sulfur we looked over the edge of the trail and saw steam venting out of the shoreline! Near the end of our hike we found a small wooden building at waters edge and upon more careful inspection discovered it was a public onsen for both sexes. We later discovered through the head shaking, arm crossing and 'iiees!' of an older gentleman that we indeed were supposed to be naked in the public hot springs, not wearing our bathing suits - which we were of course doing. Life in Japan is all about trial and error and sometimes when you're us it's also about looking like a total moron, but we really love it!
July 2007:
July was a rather busy month. The weather improved and the sun shone! We took advantage of the warm weather by heading out to Japan's largest marshland - Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. We decided to visit the Kushiro City Marsh Observatory, less than a half hours drive out of Kushiro. Upon arrival we paid our 400 yen entry fee and made our way up the stairs to the top of the observatory. We ventured outside on the highest level of the building to see a view of the wetland, the city and surrounding wilderness. My wife and I took a few photos and enjoyed the fresh air and amazing views from the top. Outside the observatory, we followed the signs that indicated a hiking trail. What we discovered was a weathered wooden trail through lush, green, and silent woods. Just about half way through the short hike the woods opened up to a view of the vast wetland. It was awe inspiring! I highly recommend this walk in the woods. The following weekend, my wife and I accompanied our co-worker, Mr. Funaki, his daughter Nanako and her friend to Tsurui Green Park. Tsurui is a small village less than an hour from Kushiro. I was really impressed by Tsurui Green Park! it had every kind of fun activity imaginable. There was mini-golf, tandem bikes, playgrounds, tennis courts, a go-cart track and swan-shaped paddle boats. Mr. Funaki suggested we try something called laser gun golf, which was a game where we took turns taking shots at an 18 target course. Even my wife loved it and she is not really all that keen on guns! Afterwards, we enjoyed lounging in the grass on one of the most relaxing, warm and sunny days so far. In need of some cultural activities, my wife and I decided to visit the Kushiro City Museum and the Kushiro City Art Gallery. Our first stop was the museum, located next to beautiful Lake Harutori. The entry fee was a reasonable 400 yen. I was really amazed by exhibitions and my wife and I spent at least an hour and a half learning about Kushiro past and present. We found the Tancho Crane exhibit located on the top level of the museum to be especially astonishing. The dome-shaped room was painted to represent summer and winter in the wetlands, home to the Tancho. What was so amazing was the absolutely realistic nature of the paintings of the wetlands. One almost felt as if they had left the confines of the indoors and stepped outside. After the museum, we ventured to the art gallery located near the MOO. Thanks to a student of my wife's who took her to both the museum and art gallery, we knew that the city art gallery was hosting an exhibition of the Czech artist Alfons Mucha. The entry cost was 900 yen and we felt it well worth the money. It was a very well presented and extensive show . Again, we easily spent an hour or more taking in the art and enjoying the serene atmosphere. Towards the end of the month was the Kushiro Mist Festival, described as the biggest summer event in Kushiro. Apparently the festival was created to reverse the negative image of Kushiro's renowned mist. My wife, some friends, and I enjoyed the various food (and drink!) stalls, the laser show and fireworks. The festival was a lot of fun and well attended. After the event we all enjoyed the nightlife in downtown Kushiro.
August 2007:
Summer has finally arrived and with it sunny days, festivals almost every week, and best of all, nine straight days off. Kushiro really came alive this month. It was great to have the opportunity to go to a different festival every weekend and we did just that. There were parades, fireworks and food venders all waiting to stimulate our senses.The best part of August for us was summer vacation. We decided to head to Sapporo and then camp in the small onsen village of Shirogane. After about a six hour drive from Kushiro we arrived to Sapporo tired, excited and completely ready to take it all in. We weren't disappointed! We were greeted by the busy, cosmopolitan city streets of Japan's fifth largest city. Clean, friendly and alive! I'm sure we walked around with our mouths hanging open taking it all in like typical tourists. There were so many things to do and see - Odori Park, Sapporo Factory, the Susukino entertainment district, the breweries, the TV and Clock Towers, and many restaurants (and so much more). We were especially excited to eat Mexican food at a restaurant beneath JR Sapporo. We loved our time in Sapporo! Three days later coffees in hand, we drove north to find the perfect camping spot. It was a nice change to drive through the truly stunning scenery of Furano and Biei. Once we reached our destination we easily found a place to set up camp, thanks to the helpful and friendly staff at the campground. We spent our time enjoying food and drink around our small hibatchi while I played my new guitar and listened to the sounds of the nearby river. We would have never left if the last two weeks of sun had not finally come to end on our third day with a rainstorm. We did not mind though. Our spirits were high and it was nice to get back to our home and to the next night of Kushiro fireworks.'Oakandake?' We had been wanting to hike this local mountain of over 4000ft overlooking Akan Kohan for some time and the weather was going to be just right. So the next morning, with a typical late start as always, we headed up to Akan National Park. We were in for quite a day. Let's just say we were not exactly well prepared. Our breakfast consisted of splitting a large croissant and a cup of coffee. Not exactly an appropriate pre-hike breakfast. I think those calories were burned just walking through the parking lot. Lunch? How about ONE snickers bar for the two of us and ONE bag of peanuts. Oh it doesn't stop there. On this beautiful, sunny, HOT day, I decided that only three bottles of water would be just fine for both of us. Yeah well, that was gone within the first hour and a half of the hike. Oops. We managed to nearly complete it, but were forced to turn around due to severe hunger and dehydration. Needless to say we are determined to finish this hike. We will not be bested by Oakandake. We first need the use of our legs back.
September 2007
The festivals of August have come to an end and fall has officially arrived. Just as our boss and students predicted, with fall would come the sun. The past month we have enjoyed the sunniest weather of our stay. Fall in Kushiro is truly magnificent. Although we enjoyed many nights karaoke fun this month, our best weekend would have to be the one we spent exploring central Hokkaido by car. It was a beautiful, crisp, fall day. We turned down roads without a real clue where we would come out. Thankfully, we found ourselves at Lake Onneto, an aqua colored lake on the north side of Meakendake. After snapping many photos we continued on to Akan-kohan and stopped into a local hotel where we enjoyed delicious plates of curry-rice while sitting comfortably. We devoured our curry while gazing out at Lake Akan and the stunning gardens just at its shore. It was a truly relaxing day that we both needed and enjoyed. Other highlights of the month included an afternoon at the batting cages with Fumio and my co-worker, bringing my wife to one of my kindergarten classes, and our first experience with the Wii game system. We could not understand one Sunday afternoon why both of us were so tired and suffering from severely sore muscles. We had gone to bed early the night before and I had even taken a break from my usual exercise routine the two previous days. What was wrong with us? Then we realized - the Wii! The night before we had spent hours swinging our imaginary golf clubs, baseball bats and bowling balls. It had actually made our muscles ache the next day! We had a good laugh and agreed that it was at least something positive for the millions of young kids who insist on getting their entertainment from these game systems. At least they'd be getting some excercise in the process. We certainly did! We slept well that night, vowing to get into better shape. As the summer has come to an end, so too has our time here. We will depart for home in November and are busy making final arrangements for our journey home. Although we are excited to see our families and start the next phase of our lives, the thought of leaving this place we have come to know as home saddens us. We will surely do our best to enjoy the time we have left and will make sure our finals memories are filled with good times and lasting memories.
Final Thoughts
Oct 2007 Last Month in Kushiro, my last month in Kushiro. How fast it goes. Throughout the year Fumio and all my students told me that the fall here was the most beautiful and sunniest time of the year. They were not kidding. I think about 40 days out of the last 45 have been filled with sun. My morning jogs turned into morning walks and I tried to take on a more reflective approach to the last month here. I made sure I took my time and walked through the beautiful park that welcomed me each morning and not just run through it unaware. As usual, just when a place starts to really grow on you it is time to leave. My wife left two weeks before me so my last two weeks, although good, felt a little empty without her. I was left to do the majority of the cleaning and packing myself and I would be lucky to get my luggage down our stairs, not to mention half way around the world they were so heavy. Where does it all come from? We arrived with nothing but one small backpack each. The highlight of the month was the Halloween party. Decorations, a pinata, a haunted house and so many kids. I could not believe how many people came. It was a blast and everyone had a good time. All of my student were very kind in saying their goodbyes and I will miss many of them. I didn't realize it until these last few days, but the students at Alpha were like having an extended family. My momories of Japan will include camping in the mountains and on lakes with my wife, skiing with Fumio, my first wedding anniversary, drives in the country side, our local pup (with a name that I still can't spell and will not try), karaoke, summer festivals and late nights downtown and a wonderful job and boss. I hope someday I will be able to return and do it all again. I can only hope that Fumio and his family understand how grateful to them I am for all there generosity and kindness. I will leave Kushiro with nothing but positive thoughts and memories. So thank you Japan. Thank you Alpha English Academy. And Thank you Fumio! 

Thank you Matt. It was pleasure to have you at Alpha.

My life in Kushiro by Jordi Rossell, 2007.

Hello! My name is Jordi Rossell And I am from Canet De Mar, a small but lovely village close To Barcelona, Spain. Now, I am teaching English at public Elementary Schools in Kushiro.

Even I am not a native speaker, English has opened me a lot of gates so I see English as a very basic need of these days. This, together with the fascination about Japan I have had since a kid, brought me here. And here I am, enjoying my job and learning more about this ancestral culture.

AET in Kushiro
Working days usually start around 9.00 am. At that time, I go to Alpha, take the Car and drive to a school. There are about 20 different public Elementary Schools in Kushiro where AETs teach. In this job, We hardly ever go to the same school on two Consecutive days. Once there, You’ll have to teach very basic English to Japanese Primary School students. In Japan, children only take three English classes per year so your job is more about an entertainer than a proper teacher. You will go to class, introduce yourself and your country verbally, showing pictures, dancing, singing or in whatever way you think kids will enjoy. There are not many foreigners in Kushiro so it's a good chance for them to meet somebody from abroad. Children are usually very curious and will ask you many questions. With an AET teaching the same class an average of only three times, classes are not supposed to be very serious. What can students actually learn with three 45-minutes classes a year? The idea is more about playing games and trying to make an enjoyable time for the kids. If they see they can have fun learning English, they might get more interested in the language. After teaching three or four classes and as a part of the contract, you will eat lunch with the kids. Your tasks at school finish around 2.30 pm and you are then required to go back To Alpha. Once there, write a short report about what you taught and your personal observations. Then, prepare the classes for the day after and maybe, teach some afternoon classes. Days usually finish at 5 pm. If you are interested in this job, keep this in mind: You MUST Love Kids. seriously, I mean it. You’ll spend at least 6 hours everyday with them. The ages are between 6 and 12 years. Occasionally you’ll go to Junior High Schools but that’s once every three months maybe. If you don’t really like kids, you’ll end up hating this job and that would be bad for everyone; First of all, yourself, and at the end, the kids and Alpha English Academy. Even it’s not a Must, I highly recommend you to study Japanese. The teachers you will work with at public Elementary Schools are supposed to speak some English but the reality is different. Usually they don't, and even we're supposed to be an assistant teacher, we're actually the main teacher. There are only few schools where teachers do their own lesson plans. You will have to prepare the classes and teach the kids. You don't need to be a native Japanese speaker but it's very convenient to know what you're going to teach in their language, as well as some basic instructions. Hey! don't worry too much though… you’ll teach about easy greetings, time expressions, animals and colors. Another thing I should say about this job is that it is quite easy after a while. Of course, all jobs are tough at the beginning and so is this one. But remember, You’ll teach very basic things through fun activities. It's more an enjoyable approach than a linguistic approach.
I arrived to Japan on April, 21 so there's not much to be explained about my life in Kushiro during that month. The month of April was basically the month of getting ready, physically and mentally, for a new life, with that mixture of nerves, fears and excitement before going to live abroad. To get all the required documents we needed to apply for the certificate of eligibility took longer than we expected. In Spain, the Ministry of Education holds the university certificates for five years. Therefore, whenever a Spaniard is recently graduated and wants to go to work abroad, s/he has to get through a lot of bureaucracy and supply the employer with extra documents. Why am I telling you this boring staff? Because it took me about 1,5 months to get all the papers and send them to Mr. Funaki. He could have perfectly opted to forget about me and choose another candidate but he didn't. That, together with the time he spent answering to all my questions, was a good sign. This was reassured when we arrived at Kushiro airport on a Saturday night and Mr. Funaki came to pick us up. Moreover, he spent the next day, his day off, showing us all around, from nice spots to cheap stores.
I started working on the next Thursday. And immediately: after only ten days…holidays! It was the Golden week. The owner invited all the staff to a winter resort in Tomamu, a small town in the heart of Hokkaido.
We can actually say that I started teaching in May.
Why? Because I only taught a couple of classes in April, and accompanied by Mr. Funaki in both occasions. First days, as in any kind of job, were a bit tough. I did not speak much Japanese so I felt a bit nervous and insecure. Also, the way I learnt English and the way I was supposed to teach differed a lot. Thus I had to readapt my way of teaching into a Japanese style. I was always too worried about teaching a lot of things so my classes were very serious and the students often looked bored. They are children and they only take up to four or five English classes per year so our mission is more about broadening their minds and try to make them have fun. This way, they can see that English can be learned in a funny way. After understanding this, there was a big improvement in the classes. JET were more satisfied and students seemed to have more fun so I started to feel the classes were going better and actually, so did the reports from the board of education. What we did now, was one vocabulary or grammar point per class and the rest of the time was spent with games and songs.
In June, I started to get more used to this job. Honestly speaking, it was a bit hard to readapt my way of teaching into a Japanese style. Why is that so? Well, from my point of view, what I was doing was more about being an entertainer rather than a proper teacher. My English teachers used a traditional style and we rarely played games at class. However, it was a matter of time. Experience is a grade and after one month, I saw that not only could children learn with games, but they learnt more. They had fun so they were keen to learn.
Until June, I only taught sporadically some classes in Alpha. In this month, Michiyo-san started to learn Spanish, which turned out to be a kind of a challenge, as being my own language, I never studied its basic rules. I am very proud of her. In only three months she can hold basic conversations, such as order food and drinks, ask for directions, ask the time, and a large number of etcetera.

My girlfriend Asuka found a job as a librarian so we had an extra income at home. Mr. Funaki let us use the car on our days off thus we decided to take advantage of it and start to explore the East of Hokkaido on day trips. Even June was still cold and foggy, we went out every weekend. We visited different spots of Kushiro Marshland by ourselves and we went with Matt and Christine to Akan National Park for a hiking. Nature is the main highlight of Hokkaido and it's awesome. There are plenty of beautiful and peaceful sceneries… peaceful until a group of gaijins, us, got there.


The weather was usually cloudy or foggy in June. Not cold at all though. In July, the weather started to improve a bit and we had some really nice, hot and sunny days. We continued with our weekend trips. Sometimes with Matt and Christine and/or Mr. Funaki and sometimes, just the two of us. We went to Akkeshi, a town with a lovely gulf, and a perfect spot for oyster lovers. For sure, one of the best oysters I've ever eaten. In July, I started to feel more comfortable at class. At the beginning, I felt very frustrated when I couldn't understand what the students were saying to me. With time, I got used to that. Another good point is that I started to understand their basic questions (What's your favorite food? What color do you like? Etc) so I could hold a little basic conversation with them.
One weekend, Asuka and I went to lake Masshu. Unfortunately, it is usually cloudy during summertime, so, we couldn't see the lake. Just 15 minutes away from the lake, there's mount Iwo, an interesting volcanic zone. And within 15 more minutes of driving, there's lake Kussharo. There, you can create your own foot onsen and regulate the temperature. You can mix the hot thermal water with cold water from the lake and get your comfort temperature.

After reading the previous reports, I've seen that I haven't specified much about my job so that's what's I'm going to do today. Let me start with the job at Elementary Schools: When preparing the lessons, I usually divide the activities, games and songs into three age groups:

1st and 2nd graders (7-8 years old)
3rd and 4th graders (9-10 years old)
5th and 6th graders (11-12 years old)

Kushiro's board of education sends us a basic plan about what we have to teach. For example,
Colors, numbers and basic greetings for 1st graders and Animals, body parts and basic actions for 2nd graders. As they're young children, they are not able to reason yet and they cannot be sitting for a long time… more than 10 minutes is an eternity for them! Therefore, we usually play games which involve physical activity, such as Karuta, Flay Swatter, Fruits basket, Simon says, and we usually dance a lot of songs: Head, shoulders, knees and toes, Hokey Pokey, etc. Kids are usually super cute and they look at me as if I were the new attraction of the zoo. That's why there are not many foreigners in the city. I usually have a lot of fun with them. They always have tons of questions and times passes by very, very quickly with lower graders. 3rd and 4th graders form the second group. The kids are a bit older so I can plan more difficult activities. The activities don't need to be so physically though the more physically they are, the more fun the children have. They learn about likes and favorites, emotions, animals and weather expressions. The main difference comes with the songs. Apart from dancing, the students are able to sing very basic English songs, such as BINGO, Twinkle little star or Incy Wincy Spider. 3rd, Karuta 1 3rd, Haetataki 1

he oldest kids, 5th and 6th graders are a bit more difficult. From time to time, I find a student who wants to stand out and make you have a bad time. Usually, the kids are easy to teach but it's sometimes hard to find an appropriate activity. At this age, children start to be shy so it's hard to get volunteers and make them talk in front of the class. They will reject doing an activity, playing a game or singing a song they think it's too childish. The good thing is that we can play games more challenging: 3 hints game, Think something ~, etc.

So far, only a couple of Junior high-schools have required me to go. There, the role of the AET is usually to be a mere assistant. JET prepares everything and we just have to drill the pronunciation of some words.

From a personal point of view…
Mr. Funaki told me long ago, during the (long) foggy season -June and July- that the fall was the best season to visit Hokkaido. That there were lots of sunny and warm days… Absolutely true. We had attempted to visit Mashu lake twice and it had been always foggy. We went there in September and it was amazing. An old volcano now turned into a beautiful lake.

 A friend told Asuka about Kaminoko Ike, about 30 minutes away from Mashu-ko. Kaminoko Ike is a small pond with blue-emerald water. I had never seen this color before going there. It's not in the guides so it's not a touristy spot, which makes it even better. If you ever come to Hokkaido, I definitely recommend you to go there.

Another place we went to on a weekend trip, is Shiretoko National Park. The chromatic variety of the autumn leaves was splendid. The walk around the 5 lakes, beautiful. The only black spot of the trip was the Sunday morning weather; due to strong wind, the cruises were cancelled and we couldn't see the peninsula from the sea.

October was the Good byes month. Christine left the first and after a couple of weeks, so did Matt. We had been working together for half a year so their departure left me with a bittersweet feeling; happiness because they were going back home and sadness because we won't probably meet up again.
Leaving sentimentalism apart, I was left here alone with another thing… a whole bunch of work. I continued going to primary schools in the morning and teaching my regular evening classes, plus I now had to make substitutions for the American-Canadian couple.
Usually, there is no problem because the former teacher shows the new one how everything works but Matt left before Tracy came so I had to do some extra work.
Destiny wanted October to be a crazy month. I was given two new regular students: Hiroki, the ever smartest 7 year-old kid and a new Spanish student, Hiroe - a really privileged person learning languages. She spent one year in Costa Rica and within only twelve months, she achieved an awesome level of Spanish. She even knows the weird tenses and genders of the Iberian language. I've never met a person with such skills for languages.
That is not all though. To complete my nightmare, we celebrated Halloween on the 28th. The preparation for the party took us a daily average of one and a half hours. We had to redecorate Alpha, think and prepare some games, create a haunted house, etc.
As you can guess, I LOVE to complain but Halloween party was actually extremely fun!

We attempted to control 60 kids while Fumio was giving the instructions for the pinata.
If you have read September's report, you'll have seen that I wrote "I rarely go to high schools". Well, you know that as soon as a person says white, it is going to be black. I mean, after making a statement, the opposite happens, always! There were 22 working days in October and half of them -eleven- were at Junior High Schools. That was a relief as days at Chugakkos are very laid back. Rather than being the main teacher, our role is more as an assistant so I didn't have to prepare much for those classes.
I cannot add much more. Maybe, that within a week, ALL trees lost their leaves and temperatures dropped dramatically at night. Daytime was sunny and warm when the weather was not windy. The ephemeral beauty before the fall off the trees was at its splendor. The colors were awesome.

November started in the very same way October finished. To summarize it, one only word: busy! Tracy got a bad cold in Canada, so she cancelled her flight and came to Kushiro one week later, on the thirteenth. After her arrival, things calmed down again. From a personal point of view, I was happy in November. I mean more than usual. Even my Japanese is still very basic, I have already finished the book I had planned to get through by the end of the year. That's an anticipation of two months and therefore, I was glad to have achieved this short term goal before the date I had planned. However, I cannot sleep on the lavenders and far away from taking Nihongo no benkyo holidays, I spent the whole month reviewing the previous units and re-learning the vocabulary and grammar I had already forgotten. There's usually a 3 day weekend every month in Japan and so was it in November. Asuka and I hadn't been to Sapporo yet and we decided to spend that long weekend there. Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and it's the fifth largest city in Japan by population. We had a very nice 4-hour-trip by train. We were warm inside the wagon while we could enjoy beautiful snow-covered landscapes with some snowflakes falling in the air from time to time. Once there, we visited the must go places, such as Odori Park, Sapporo Clock Tower and so on.

Thank you Jordi. It was pleasure to have you at Alpha.