The Other Kind of Neighbor

Most of my Japanese neighbors are pretty swell. The few times there’s been big earthquakes since I been here (meaning, the ones that just either keep going and going or the ones that actually make my stuff move around) we all run out to make sure everyone’s okay. When we’re all sure everyone’s alive, we proceed to go back to the tasks we were doing. A couple of my neighbors even invited me over for dinner and I had a good time.

Then, there’s the other kind of neighbor.

Meet Bob, everybody.

Spiders. I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t hate them either. However, I’ve got one small problem by the name of Bob. Bob is a spider. He’s apparently a pretty common Japanese spider that just likes to hang around, making webs, and helping to keep the evil mosquito population down. In other words, they’re my friendly neighborhood vampire killers, and I’m okay with letting them live.

I catch most spiders in my house and throw them outside. Usually, it’s not such a big deal. Also, they’re usually small enough that I can just scoop them up with a tissue and shake them out of said tissue. It’s quick, painless for both of us, and I get karma points for not killing a helpless creature.

But then, Bob happened. I was minding my own business one morning. Coffee in hand, I moved into the living room to open the curtain. I like nature lighting. I can stand fluorescent just fine, but I don’t like it. I slid back the curtain to find Bob. At first, I thought he was inside my house. One heart attack later, I figure out that he’s just outside the window. I breathed a sigh of relief and then glared at him.

He sits in his web and just dares me to do something. I sigh and just walk over to pick up a book. I think I was reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” at the time. I did my best to just ignore him and go on with life. After a few days, I kept opening the curtains to find him in the same place. I took pictures and then went to Google to find out if I should worry. Luckily, Bob proved to be a pretty boring find.

He’s just a common spider called Yama Onigumo, which translates to “barn spider.”  However, Bob’s big for his species. I measured him safely on the other side of the glass. He’s bigger than the average yama onigumo. I decided since he was sticking around and he wasn’t doing anything to bother me, I named him and started greeting him every morning.

We had a routine. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and then go open the curtains. He would scurry around on his web until he got to the middle. I would say, “Mornin’ Bob.” And then I’d either read a book or watch a movie. He wasn’t a bad cohabitant of the same approximate living space. He killed a good many bugs, and I saw that as keeping his keep. All was well.

One day I opened the curtain and Bob’s web was gone. I looked around for Bob, but he was nowhere to be seen. I surprised myself at how sad I felt. My eight legged little friend had gone and abandoned me. I continued on with my routine, but it didn’t feel right.

Later on that night, I saw Bob…in my apartment…making A GODDAMNED WEB OVER MY TV! I freaked out and screamed a little. I shouted, “Bob! You get down from there this instant!” Bob gave the equivalent of a spider giving me the finger. He proceeded to continue making his own mini-home in the corner where the walls meet the ceiling. I yelled out a few curses, felt violated beyond measure, and felt irrationally betrayed. At some point, I got around to grabbing a cup and a sheet of sketch paper.

The process of getting Bob down from the ceiling included me chasing the freaking spider along the walls. It would’ve been easier to kill him, but it felt wrong to kill him after I named him. I finally got him on the ceiling at a good place to slam the cup over him. I slid the paper, and Bob plopped into the glass.

I stared at him. He stared at me. I sighed. All the effort I’m going through to save him from a shoe and he just looked as content as ever. Jerk.

I walked over to the front door. Carefully, I set Bob near the stairs and said, “Okay, Bob. Stay out of my apartment.” I thought that was the end of it. Bob would scurry off into the night, and I’d never see him again.

The bastard made a web on my porch. He won’t leave. I’ve destroyed his webs several times, and even sprayed some bug spray around in the hopes of making him leave. All the other spiders got the hint and got the hell out of dodge. Bob just remade his webs and avoided the areas I’d sprayed.

After a certain point, I just gave up. I wasn’t going to kill him. I couldn’t do it. Stupid spider was determined to stay, and honestly he wasn’t inside my apartment. In my opinion, I have no right to kill him. He’s not bothering me. If his web strays just a little too much into the walk way, I just destroy it. Bob will have another one up before the sun rises.

I could complain, but oddly enough, Bob’s a part of my routine again. I find him comforting. The spider stands on constant guard for the other, more annoying, bugs. He even took down a cockroach once, which was pretty awesome. The cockroaches here are pretty big, and he made that one fly as far and fast as its wings could take it. I also take great pleasure in imagining a thief coming up the stairs, taking one look at Bob, and heading straight back down.

Every day, I walk up my steps and look up at Bob’s web. He’s usually just sitting in the middle, waiting for a meal. I nod my head and say, “Hey, Bob.” right before I enter my apartment. Bob doesn’t say anything back. I doubt he understands me, but I’m glad that he’s watching over me anyway. All in all, I guess Bob’s a pretty cool neighbor, even if he’s not human.

TTYL!

The Reason Why

I get asked this question so many times! “Why did you come to Japan? Did you know about the earthquake and the radiation? Weren’t you afraid?”

Here are the answers to such questions and more!

To answer the first question, I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was eleven years old. Initially, my interest started by reading manga. My school’s social studies textbook really only discussed Japan when it came to World War II and that’s it. And so, I started reading about Japan’s history and culture on my own at the public library.  I became fascinated by a world that seemed so different from mine. It became my dream to go and learn about Japan first hand.

In 2010, I studied abroad in Japan because a friend told me about the JET Program. She recommended that I study abroad first to see if I would like Japan as it really was and not as I imagined it to be. She warned me that I would be disillusioned and most likely would find that the country’s differences would be irreconcilable with my own Western ideology.

When I studied abroad, I fell in love with Japan all over again. I try to explain why, but it’s so difficult for me. I had a hard time speaking in Japanese (and still do) but I liked the sound of it. I also discovered things about my own language and culture that unless I studied Japanese I would’ve never even thought about.

For example, I realized that English is a fast paced language. I never really noticed it’s made for quick conversation until I spoke in Japanese. For Japanese, the conversations are meant to take their time. Words are, usually, really crisp and clear and people take their time to get the message across with the best clarity possible. I hated it sometimes because I just wanted to know where the damn restroom was and the person I asked would take forever to tell me where to go! But when I was at home with my host family, I loved it.

I also just got to see the religious aspects of Japan first hand. I took a Buddhism class before I went over there. I liked the ideas of Buddhism and Shinto. I really liked how Japan simply takes in both religions and makes them into one. When I performed a prayer in front of a Shinto shrine, I felt so peaceful. The open sky made me feel more connected with God than any church ever did. Hearing the wind blow amongst the trees, I could sigh and just release all of my burdens. It was a wonderful experience for me.

Spirituality

At the Inari Shrine in Kyoto

I also liked the circular idea of time. Honestly, I never liked linear time. It made little sense to me when I knew that time worked in cycles. Eastern philosophy speaks to me. It basically just tells me things I believed in already but my Western world didn’t like. It was comforting. People would tell me that I was odd for thinking that way. I was glad to find a place that understood me in some small way.

I visited schools, too. An elementary school filled with adorable children made me really want to teach. I felt that just by being there I was influencing the students. Whether for good or ill, I can’t say, but I’m hoping for good! I talked with teachers who already worked in Japan, and they were adamant about really thinking it through. They warned me that although the one class seemed wonderful, that the challenges of living abroad and working abroad can be too much for some people.

I did feel some doubts, I won’t lie. I wondered if I was cut out for completely leaving America and everything familiar to come back. By this point, I was aware that Japan had some, in my eyes, negative aspects. For example, Japanese people are friendly, even when they hated your freaking guts. I grew up in the South, so I’m used to people talking behind my back. However, if you make someone mad, you might never know. Imagine an invisible bomb getting passed around and you can’t even guess when and where it will blow up. It’s that kind of fear and frustration. I was told that “someone” (my teacher wouldn’t say who) didn’t like how I was holding my chopsticks at a meal and thought I was being rude on purpose.

I will never know who that person was, and I will never know what I did in the first place to offend. Never. That’s just one example. There are other cultural differences that I couldn’t quite reconcile with the way I knew the world to work, so I was worried.

But then I visited Hiroshima. If you ever get the chance to visit the memorial, I highly recommend it. They’ve got English translations for everything. If you’re studying Japanese, like most of my study abroad group was, it’s a great opportunity to practice reading and listening skills. My heart broke from reading all the stories. I felt awful being an American at the sight of where my forefathers killed so many people. I’m well aware that Japan bombed Japan first, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are tragedies that must be prevented from happening again.

Hiroshima Memorial

Hiroshima Memorial

After that visit, I decided for sure that I wanted to come back and teach English. I wanted to be a part of an international community, a community I was already a part of but never bothered to participate. I wanted to actively engage in helping my country and Japan understand each other. It’s my hope that through understanding we lose fear of the unknown, and with that we can move one step closer to acceptance. Not tolerance, but full on acceptance of others different from us.

In the end, we’re all human.

Answering the second question, when the March 11th earthquake happened I wanted to go back. I felt that Japan was like a friend that had been hurt. I don’t abandon my friends when they need my help. I go and see what I can do to make them feel better. And so, I wanted to come back to Japan and help in any way I could. It was torture waiting to hear from JET. I was trying to think of ways to go back. I had applications for Fulbright and Red Cross at the ready if I didn’t get the job.

Luckily, I did get the ALT position. I felt so relieved that I was going back. My mom wasn’t worried. She saw where my city was on the map and basically said, “Oh, yeah, you’re fine.” My family’s been pretty supportive of the whole thing. I noticed that the radiation levels around my city were minimal, and even then, I would’ve gone had the nuclear incident spawned a massive Godzilla outbreak.

I wanted to help, no matter what I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be an ally in just name only. I want to be there for the country that stole my heart so long ago in good times and bad. I don’t want to just show up when it’s convenient. I want to be there for all of it. I want to be here when the earthquakes happen (and they do, almost every day or every other day, it’s no big deal). I want to be here when the typhoons hit (although the recent combination of typhoon and earthquake was terrifying, I wont lie). I want to be there when its boring, interesting, exciting, awful, miserable, great, amazing, just okay, and all the rest. I want to be there for Japan.

Now, I am living the dream! I want to continue to be a friend to Japan and to the people of Japan. I want to help those who want to understand my culture, and I want to learn about Japanese culture very much. Although I am a teacher, I still want to learn. I take any opportunity I can to have a cultural exchange, even though the language issues still pop up.

I am afraid sometimes, but not of radiation or earthquakes. I’m afraid that I’ll mess up and get sent back home. I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and it had all just been some weird dream. Losing this job would be my worst nightmare. I was homesick for a moment, but I don’t want to go back. Not really, not when there’s still so much to do. I try not to let the fear control me, because I want to be strong.

TTYL!

Determination

Ever have one of those days where everything  just seems to go right? It’s that kind of day for me. I’m sitting in the teacher’s room, and I feel like I just did my morning classes pretty well! I’m happy about it, and I’m hoping that my next period will also go awesome. I feel so much better than I did just a day ago. It’s an amazing feeling.

I think just writing about the issues I’m having made all the difference. I’ve been locking it all away in the effort to stay positive. I don’t like admitting that I sometimes can’t handle things.In addition to that, I also don’t like making mistakes, which is stupid because I’m human and I’m going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. However, I feel like ever since I stepped off the plane that I was slipped a stupid pill. I feel off balance and unable to find solid ground. And then, I berate myself for the whole problem. Of course, that doesn’t help me at all. It just makes me mess up even more.

I need to learn to forgive myself for making mistakes. It’s not easy. I’ve been keeping a mental tally of all the things I’ve done wrong, and I really shouldn’t. It just haunts me and brings me down. I know I need to let go and move on. Learn from the mistakes and quit beating myself up over them. It’s so hard for me! I don’t know why.

I wish I could say that someone in my life gave me this complex, but that’s not the case here. My parents were never the rub your mistakes in your face parents, and I always loved them for that. Actually, my mom was always the one telling me to just relax. My dad always showed his faith in me. My brother would look at me funny and say something along the lines of, “Yeah, you’re a real failure. You got to Japan out of sheer luck. QUIT ANGSTING!” He’s not exactly subtle. In short, I can’t think of any family or friends that would throw my mistakes in my face.

As I’m sitting here, reflecting on all I’ve done up until this point, I’ve come to realize that really nothing I did was really that awful. Yes, I got lost on occasion. Yes, I was late to a couple of meetings. Yes, I screwed up that word royally. However, I didn’t quit. I just kept going. I rolled with the punches and kept moving. That’s got to count for something, right?

And man is today a good day! I’m going to make the best of it. I’m going to let go of my issues and just relax. I will smile, I will laugh, and I will not take my mistakes so seriously. I will go to the damn grocery store with head held high. They can look all they want. I’m not going anywhere. I will speak Japanese, even at the risk of sounding like an utter baka. I will put Halloween decorations on my porch and on my desk. Deal with it!

My determination got me this far, so I know it can take me farther. It’s almost the next class period, so I’ve got to get off the computer and go to class.

TTYL!

The Land without Halloween: Getting Homesick

Although the title isn’t entirely accurate, the love that America holds for Halloween and the love that Japan has for the holiday just isn’t the same. Back in America, I would’ve seen people’s front lawns and porches decorated to the nines with skeletons, witches, bats, maybe a few fake rodents, and the occasional scarecrow. Here, nothing. Nada. For one thing, it’s rare for me to see someone with a lawn period, and even more rare to see someone put up decorations.

It sucks, because I’m coming down from my euphoric state and slipping downwards into homesickness. I’m dying for familiar things, and it doesn’t help that Halloween is my favorite holiday. No contest. Most people usually take issue with Christmas and feel utterly lonesome about missing their families. I intend to hop on a plane and get back to the states for Christmas. I can’t exactly do that for Halloween, and I don’t want to do it. I just got here!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun. I went off to Gunma for a vacation in August. That was awesome! I went canyoning and rafting with a bunch of other ALTs and we had a good ol’ time. I nearly died walking up the mountain, but going down by basically going down the best slip and slide ride ever made was well worth the effort (and the asthma attack).

DSC04934

Picture Credit: Midori Hamashima

Picture Credit: Midori Hamashima

Picture Credit: Midori Hamashima

Picture Credit: Midori Hamashima

And in the evening we had a BBQ at the hotel.

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I also went over to Tsukuba for a festival and got to see a giant, robot bug.

It moves and everything!!!

It moves and everything!!!

By the way, the fact that Japan makes giant robots just for fun? Yeah, don’t %$#@ with Japan. Just. Don’t.

Anyway, I also hit up the Space Museum and the Geological Museum while I was up there.

I want one.

I want one.

And those too!

And those too!

Next time, I’m going to take the park tours and go up Mt. Tsukuba (Tsukuba-san!) I also go up to Mito every other weekend. Sometimes it’s for business trips, and sometimes it’s for fun.

A couple of weeks ago I did another homestay. I say another because I did two last year. So, this makes my third host family in Japan. I like them a lot! The mom and dad were so nice, and tried their best to speak English. The daughter is so cute! She spoke the most English, so she and I talked the most. I plan to go back up to Mito soon and visit them again. I’m bringing gifts because it’s my host sister’s birthday soon!

We went together to Hitachi Seaside Park for the flowers, but we kind of went during the off season so my pictures didn’t turn out as vibrant as the ones in the tourist brochures.

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Still pretty neat, though, I think.

No, I don't care how "cute" and "romantic" anime portrays these death wheels. Just no!

No, I don’t care how “cute” and “romantic” anime portrays these death wheels. Just no!

The bell people rang is for peace and serenity.

The bell people rang is for peace and serenity.

Alright, so I’m having fun and keeping myself busy (believe me), but I’m still feeling down. The thing is I think all the little things just keep piling up. It’s a chore to go shopping sometimes. I have to look up what sometimes looks like in Japanese before I buy it, and even then, sometimes the font is just so hard to read. I feel illiterate, and I suppose I am in a way. I can’t read so much of what’s around me. It’s frustrating and disheartening. Usually I can figure it out and move on, but sometimes I just have to sigh and give up. I hate giving up, but bashing my head against the language barrier won’t do me any good either.

That’s another thing. The barrier can sometimes be more of a Great Wall of Misunderstanding. Luckily, my Japanese English teachers and I can get our messages across, but then I’ll have the wonderful experience of flinging words at this invisible force field that’s suddenly flung between us by some bored deity with too much time on his or her hands. I’ll say something, and the teacher will just look at me like I’ve suddenly began dancing instead of talking. I go through different, simpler ways of saying what I said before, but somehow that only makes it worse. Add about ten minutes later, my very large vocabulary suddenly seems useless, a little bit of hair pulling later, and then the light bulb finally goes off. Or, it can happen the opposite way, wherein the teacher’s trying to convey something and I just don’t get it. When the light bulb goes off for me, I usually feel like an idiot for not getting it the first time.

I love my teachers, though. They’ve been good to me, and they’ve taken care of me whenever I’ve needed help. I’m very grateful to them. I’m good friends with some of them, and I hope that I can eventually communicate without being so ridiculously impaired by ignorance.

Well, this post is turning out a little more angsty than I’d like. The thing is, as much as I complain, I get to say I’m homesick…IN JAPAN! It’s the trump card. I use it for everything. For example, when I get lost, I just remind myself that I’m lost IN JAPAN! And it makes everything seem a little better. I still love this country, even if it’s lacking in the Halloween spirit to me, that’s because it’s just not a part of the culture. It’s a part of mine, and I intend to spread it’s gruesome awesome all over my classrooms. Mwahahahaha!!!

Okay, I’m determined to make it happen.

That’s my life right now. I’ll try to be better about posting, but as I mentioned before, I’m awful at journals and blogs. I’ll try my best to remember.

TTYL!