Reflecting on Teaching in Japan

Earlier this year, I received a package from Japan heavy with letters from the seventh and eighth grade students I taught last year. It’s hard to believe that such a short time ago, I was living in a big apartment among the rice fields in Harue Town.

I just had the chance to sit down and read the letters all in one sitting this weekend and they brought tears to my eyes. There is so much joy and sadness in remembering my students and their city so vividly. The last few months in Japan were fraught with tearful goodbyes. I knew that, for some of my students, I’d never see them again. I had and continue to have such high hopes for what they’ll achieve in life. I hope I can meet some of them again. I had promised myself I’d continue to study Japanese so I could communicate better with them if they did reach out to me, but I haven’t kept good on that promise. I was reminded of my desire to study the language again as I read their earnest attempts at English.

I thought I would share some of the heartfelt letters with all of you. (I’ve stamped out the names of the students for privacy.)


I often gave Powerpoint presentations where I described my older brother as very cool. My students thought so too, and I was so happy they remembered him.


I love that the student’s reports often included a section at the top for a picture. They always tried to fill them in, even when reports were due nearly every week. I often thought that if I were a Japanese junior high school student, I couldn’t keep up with the work! A lot of the art students would draw beautiful images with their reports, and even if their written compositions lacked in originality, I was happy they put some effort into the assignment. Also, I love this question “Which is your favorite, sushi or egg?” It’s such a funny comparison, and so hard to decide especially when some sushi comes with eggs!


Some students wrote to me on their stationery. Stationery sets are a staple of a Japanese student. I often saw them writing each other letters on these cute stationery sets. I think the choice of stationery can show personality and possibly status (I bought my stationery sets from Daiso, the equivalent of a dollar store, and noticed none of my students used any Daiso designs).


Cursive lettering isn’t taught in junior high school, so this seventh grader really challenged himself to write in it! I was so impressed with him! The phrasing “Did you get used to your American life?” is so unique. I’ve been repeating it to myself since I read it. Have I gotten used to my American life? In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. I had never asked myself that question.


This cute letter features one of my favorite things. I love how students color the lines they write on to make the report seem more fancy. I received a few letters and cards like this in Japan and I hadn’t seen it before.


“I think you have fun every day.” This line made me smile. The picture of big fat cherry blossom trees made me wistful too.


This one made me laugh! It’s so funny. Some of my students definitely had a sense of humor about English. They’d test out phrases like “I love you” and “You are beautiful” because a second language is somehow not as serious as a native language. You have so much room for experimentation.


Of course I miss Sakai City!


I love that this student is “enjoying a full life in junior high school”. I don’t think there’s a better way to do it!


I’ll end with this letter. I appreciate that sentiment so much. I too am excited and uneasy for the future. I want to be a good mentor to my former students. I want to have a life that I’ll be proud to tell them about. Reading these letters reminded me that I’m not in this life alone. I have to pursue my dreams and passions, not only for myself, but to be the best person I can be for my friends and family too.

2 thoughts on “Reflecting on Teaching in Japan”

  1. This was the sweetest post. It’s clear your students loved you so much. I also loved reading your commentary on each letter.

    Here’s my big question, though…What’ll it be?!?!?!? SUSHI OR EGGS?!?!?!?!!?

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