Time to Say Goodbye

Living in Ibaraki for three years, I felt like a bit of a traitor for leaving. Itako gave me some amazing experiences, and showed me how to become a better person through those experiences. I gained so much from teaching my students, and I hope that what I taught them will somehow stick in their heads despite what may come. I am proud of them, every single one.

I look back with critical eyes when it comes to my teaching methods. This class was better than this class. How much did I do wrong? God, I hope he/she/them get into the high school they want. I messed up more than a few lessons. Will that matter? Did I do something completely wrong? Please, I hope if nothing else, I can’t be the reason they don’t English.

Ms. Nesaki, the English teacher I worked with in Itako 2nd, told me once, “That’s how a good teacher thinks. You worry about the students. You care. Sometimes that enough, deshou?”

I want her to be right. If my kids can think of me fondly, that’s great, but I’d rather them have the knowledge I tried to cram into their heads over memories of me. If even one of them can remember present-past or how to do future tense, I’ll consider it a job well done.

I know I couldn’t have stayed there, not another year. It’s not the students, teachers, or schools’ fault either. I just got worn down from the curriculum, the constant battle between what I knew was correct English and what the textbook told me to teach. I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing every single year, like an endless loop of hodgepodge “English.”

I’m going to miss the people the most, and I just know it. The friendships and other relationships I cultivated over this three year period were usually hard-won, requiring that I try to communicate with them however I can, whether through language or exaggerated gestures. Some were easy, usually with people who could speak English fluently, but even with Japanese on my side it felt like it took so long to discover little gems hidden within my co-workers. Even just thinking about the lady at the 7 Eleven who I saw every other day, who I talked with about this and that but nothing important. I’m sad to think I won’t see her again.

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My awesome Itako crew!

I keep trying to tell myself I’m not leaving Japan, so it’s not the same. Yet, I know that even being two hours away will mean that I can’t see these people every weekend or even once a month. I’ll have to just try and go back when I can, and enjoy that time in the moment.

I’m going to miss the Ibaraki JETs, too. The Drunken Duck memories; the trips to Gunma, Hokkaido, and Tokyo; to even the JET Meetings in Mito once a month. I met so many awesome people in such a short amount of time on the program, and they’ll always mean so much to me.

Now, I’m moving onto a bigger city, called Machida.  My new  job is teaching adults instead of kids at COCO JUKU in Yokohama. I’m a little nervous about it, but I hope that since they’re giving me a full five days of training I’ll be able to figure it out fast. Still, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Thank you for everything Itako, JET, and friends. I hope to see you again somewhere, someday soon. Take care!

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Thanks for the great memories, everyone!

 

 

 

The Hectic Days

I’m getting to that point in the year when I want to just come home and pass out after work. For the next two weeks, I’m looking at no days off and a whole lot of overtime. Interactive Forum requires that I train students until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Also, I went ahead and agreed to be an Iris Princess (Ayame Musume あやめ娘) to make this the third year I represent my Japan hometown. And lastly, I signed up for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N3 (a.k.a Conversational Level).

For Interactive Forum, I’m trying to increase the level of my students’ English abilities, but it can be difficult to do that and keep the training times fun. If the students aren’t having fun, the entire hour can become this awkward affair where no one wants to talk, and the whole point of it is to make students converse in English. As you can well imagine, it’s frustrating as all get out when they get into this strange funk.

Usually I can bring them out with what I like to call “Crazy English,” where I introduce myself as someone famous and pretend to be that person instead of myself. For example, “Hi! My name is Sailor Moon. I fight evil in my free time. I like sweets very much. Nice to meet you!” The students get a kick out of that. However, I’ve got to be careful to balance having fun and keeping them focused on the task at hand.

My third years, who are fourteen or fifteen years old, can really help me out with doing the harder parts. At both of my schools, I’ve designated a third year student as the sempai of the Interactive Forum group. If I’m not there for some reason then they’re in charge until I show up, and if I need a translation they will be the ones who do so to the other students. It’s actually very important, I think, for ALTs to utilize the sempai system set up in the Japanese classrooms. It can be a great tool to utilize when you want to get things done in class or clubs.

It is really rewarding to watch my students’ progress from simplistic sentences to having actual full conversations. To have a student go from answering “Do you like AKB48?” with just “Yes, I do.” to him/ her responding “Yes, I do! I like them very much. My favorite member is ______. Do you know her?” That’s just one of the most awesome experiences to have as an ALT, to know that you’ve been able to guide your students to that point where they can take what they’ve learned in class and actually use it.

Still, as rewarding as it is, I feel a little bit worn out from coaching sometimes. Last week turned out fine, but I can recall a few moments last year when I showed up and I knew from the get go the session was going to be a fight to speak. I’m anticipating that next week, when the Sports Day (undōkai 運動会) practices get rolling, the whole group will show up exhausted and not wanting to do anything. And it’s my job to make them, hooray!

That’s going to be a problem for me since I’ll probably be extremely tired as well. Last year, I worked for the Itako Iris Festival (Itako Ayame Matsuri 潮来市あやめ祭) on Saturdays and Sundays. I went with the wiser choice this year to work only on Sundays, since I know I’ll need one day devoted to planning on moving to Tokyo/ Chiba, depending upon where I’m placed for my new job. However, this weekend requires that I work both days since it’s the opening weekend. I’m glad to be doing it one last time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not looking forward to not one single day that I can recharge my batteries.

This year the city wasn’t able to find another foreigner to be an Iris Princess, so I’m the only foreign woman working this year. As such, I’m probably going to be featured a little more for campaigns than in the previous two years. I feel torn about this possibility, because on the one hand I’ll be kind of given special treatment, but on the other hand the expectations for me are higher than previous years. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. I’m nervous about it.

I’m not so nervous about the JLPT, though. Honestly, I meant to take the test back in December, but I missed the deadline for registration. This time I was on the ball and got my application in on time. I’ve already been studying for it since before December, so I’m confident that I’ll at least pass. I’ve bought all the books and test materials for it.

But on top of everything else, I wonder if perhaps I jumped the gun a little bit.Two years ago I tried for the N4 (Upper Basic Level) but I didn’t pass. I did the same kind of schedule I’m going to do soon, wherein I work six or seven days a week along with studying for a test everyday. Back then I actually hurt myself from the stress. I couldn’t study kanji for a good month afterwards. My brain actually flat out refused to process any new Japanese, so I took a break. I feel like this time will be different, since I started studying way back months ago and because I know I will get Saturdays off, eventually.

With the 31st being Sports Day, it looks like the rest of the month of May is just one big block of WORK. And then in “free time” it’s actually “study time.” Next month looks like work unless it’s Saturday, but even then I’d imagine the Saturdays will be devoted to the very long list of “Things Jessica Must Do Before She Moves.” I’m praying that when all is said and done my students will have better English speaking abilities than before we started practice, I get through the Iris Festival in one piece, and I pass the JLPT with flying colors.

When Living Abroad, Fear is Part of the Thrill

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by people back in the good ol’ USA,  “Aren’t you scared to live all by yourself in a foreign country?” Usually, the last bit implies that I might as well be willingly trying to drive myself straight into hell itself. Who would want to leave the comforts of home to go off to some unknown part of the world and live there? Not to mention, it’s dangerous to go alone! The awfulness of it all, oh the horror!

Sakura in Shibuya Park in Spring

The horror!

A follow up to the frequently asked question is this statement, “Wow, you are so brave!” Brave? Hardly. I scream like a little girl when I feel like I’m in peril. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s true. I don’t do stoic or composed very well. I won’t lie, on the plane ride over to Japan for the first time a year and half ago, I clutched the arm rests so hard on take off I indented the headphone plug’s shape into my palm. Also, I kept whispering to myself over and over again, “Statistics, statistics, statistics!” while praying I didn’t end up living out the opening scene from Final Destination.

Also, I moved to Japan. While it’s not a crime free country, my little sleepy town of Itako doesn’t do big time illegal activity (except for the whole Pachinko thing, but that’s not a big deal). Everybody here is kind, polite, and generally just awesome small town folk who want to just chill.

Still, a little bit of fear here and there makes the experience fun for me. I kind of like being scared, of not knowing what’s coming around the corner. It gives me a small thrill to know that there’s a small chance of danger, that I could run smack dab into a situation I’m not prepared to handle.

Oddly enough, I find it even more thrilling when I hit those moments and come out the other side winded from the experience but still intact. It’s just like the thrill of riding on a roller coaster and getting off all wobbly knees and smiles. I survived! Heck yes! Fist pump and get back in line. That’s why I got back on a stupid 14 hour plane ride to go back home for Christmas. In case you hadn’t gathered, I hate flying.

I suppose living abroad trills me for the same reason that I love horror movies. I go in knowing that there’s a distinct possibility I will end up with my heart pounding and screaming from fright. I love them so much that when I took off some time last year to go home I hit up the Scarefest Convention in Lexington, KY.

Jonathan Breck

Jeepers, creepers! Where’d you get those peepers?

In Japan, I can get those same sort of feelings when I venture to certain cafes and nightclubs in Tokyo.  I once went into a dingy hole in the ground type club thinking, “This probably isn’t a good idea. This is how horror movies start.” To be fair, I didn’t go alone, I brought my friend Candice with me. Turned out to be a pretty awesome place. I ended up having a dance off with a guy named John and spending two hours down there shaking my groove thing.

I will admit there are times where I’ve been a little in over my head. I once ran off to Tokyo without my cell phone. I needed my phone because I was meeting up with a group of friends to go to Gunma. Of course, I didn’t realize that I’d forgotten my cell until I arrived in Tokyo without it. While kicking myself for my mistake, I attempted to find the group in a vast station without them. I failed.

Luckily, I used my head to figure out a way to get ahead of the group on their train line for a later, not to mention quite lucky, rendezvous. Even though I managed to find them, I could’ve very well ended up walking through miles of snow trying to find them if I had arrived up at Gunma alone.

We totally ended up doing the whole walking through winter’s wrath thing as a group a mere two days later, but that’s beside the point.

We were not prepared.

Trekking down a mountain during a white out blizzard is as fun as it sounds, as in not.

Alternatively, there’s the more mundane issues I face, such as bus schedules I can’t read and I’ve got to get to an ALT meeting in less than freaking ten minutes so screw it I’m just going to take a taxi this time. I also encounter people who startle me with words I can’t understand but I know somehow they’re important. More than once, I’ve come face to face with a Japanese person behind a counter at some cafe or a store clerk. I may ask simple question in Japanese such as, “Do you have (insert item here)?” The response I get ranges from short and concise to so complicated I can’t even, wait, what? I can’t follow, speak slower please! Gah! It’s like playing communication roulette. I end up sticking it out and eventually figuring out what they said, more or less, but I end up getting slight headache from the strain.

Still, I’m glad I have every single one of these memories, that I got on those roller coaster rides and lived those horror movie moments. I don’t know how to explain this to people without sounding utterly insane. “Yes, it’s scary, and I like it!” just doesn’t generally give the impression of sound mind. However, it’s true, and I don’t know how to convey that rush to people who’ve never experienced it. The best equivalents I can give also probably don’t sound like much fun to people who hate roller coasters, horror movies and/or traveling.When I share my stories, home bodies usually only hear noise coming from me, not anything that sounds like fun. To me, though, it’s great, and I’m excited for the next thrill.

My Daily Routine…and Something about Bob

People have asked me what I do during the day, so I’ll talk a little bit about that. It’s pretty simple. I arrive at 8:15 at my school and work until 4:00 in the afternoon. When I arrive I say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” My teachers will either say, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” back or “Good morning!”

I can have two to five class periods per day. During free periods, I try to work on worksheets, projects, Japanese (reading and writing), and I won’t lie sometimes I just go onto Facebook. Sometimes I eat with the students for lunch and speak in English to them. Other times, especially lately, I eat with the teachers and try out both my Japanese and English skills.

My kids are great. I’ve got a couple of punks that are too cool for school, but that’s normal I think. Some kids are also really shy, but I’ll keep trying to get them to talk. They love to tell me about what they like and don’t like. The boys are hilarious. They’re not looking at my eyes, if you catch my drift, but they’re talking to me in English so it’s all good.

My Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs for short) are awesome. I love working with them. They are so accommodating with my crazy English. Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate some things, but I’m lucky to have them for JTEs. Some people have issues with their teachers and supervisors in ways that horrify me. I’m so glad my JTEs are nice, respectful, and willing to teach me.

The only downside, I’ll be honest, is the textbooks. The textbooks are awful. Whenever my fellow JET Setters and I get together at a meeting, this topic will invariably come up. Immediately, everybody has something to say in terms of what it does wrong. It ranges from everything to bad grammar, misspellings, archaic language, and then (my biggest issue) the huge lack of English culture in the book.

The bane of my existence

The bane of my existence

I could cite the many pages throughout the New Horizon and Sunshine texts that use incorrect examples of grammar and what have you, but that would take up too much time and effort. Instead, I’ll just give a couple of examples and move on.

“My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.”

First off, it should be Kinkaku Temple, not Kinkaku-ji. Also, favorite what? Your favorite place? Your favorite sight?

“Where shall we meet?”and “Pardon?”

Shall? Really? The last time I used “shall” was a sarcastic response to my mother when she asked me, “Are you going to clean your room?” And I responded in my most obnoxiously polite voice, “Yes, mother, I shall.” Nobody uses shall. It’s polite, but it’s ridiculously polite. And the last person I hear use the word, “Pardon?” was an old lady. Nobody, that I know of, uses the word pardon in everyday language. Instead, I always hear, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Huh?” or “Wha?” or “What?” and on occasion “Darlin’, I didn’ah understand uh word ya jus said.” I miss Kentucky accents. Anyway, they’re teaching the kids these words and I have to stifle the urge to giggle every time.

“I got a letter from Canada. But I can’t read it.”

GAHHHHH! WHAT?! Every single American, British, and Australian will tell you that when writing sentences, you do not put conjugation at the beginning of a sentence if you can help it. The textbook could just as easy say, “I got a letter from Canada, but I can’t read it.” They have other sentences like that in the book. Why the wrong version?! It’s so confusing and inconsistent. Sometimes, I will correct a sentence and a JTE might say, “Oh, but that’s in the textbook!” I clench my fists while I smile and say, “Well, I’m afraid the textbook is wrong. I will let it count, but it’s not correct.” It makes me want to scream just a little bit.

Alright, so you get the idea. Now, it may seem nit picky with these examples, but they’re all over the textbooks. It would be a different story if there were only a few problems, but it doesn’t stop at just a sentence here or there. I might have been able to let sleeping dogs lie if not for the fact that the textbook teaches little to nothing about foreign culture.

Very briefly at one point the textbook students visit Canada, but then they go back to Japan four pages or so later. So often, the textbooks talk about things in Japan, things the students already know. To me, the implied message is, “Hey, kids! English is awesome for vacations and for a homestay, but really you don’t need to know a single thing about a culture other than your own!” Way to teach a language in a vacuum, MEXT.

There is little to no hope for change in the system. The textbooks stay the same because of the standardized tests, and the standardized tests stay the same because of the textbooks. It’s a vicious cycle.

I get through these moments by telling myself that the activities will make up for the loss. However, it’s hard to build up from a poor foundation. It’s very easy for the students to get confused with one little change in the script. For example, I was doing a “Where is…?” assignment. When I asked the students, “Where is your pen?” they all just sat and stared at me in confusion. Eventually they figured it out, but the fact is they couldn’t grasp that “Where is…?” applied not just to, “Where is the store?” but also other things and places. The textbooks make it seem like the scripts are just that, scripts.

For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough when it comes to activities that I haven’t had to work from nothing at all. Lauren left me a huge amount of worksheets and activity books so that I could make my lessons without much hassle. Also, I use a website called Englipedia if I need help with a grammar point activity or if I need something right before class. I love using Englipedia because it’s got the lessons organized by textbook and even by each section. For me it’s one of the most convenient resources online for ALTs.

Usually, I spend at least one free hour planning out the lessons for the next day or next couple of days, depending on what the JTE wants. Sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of them to find out what exactly they want from me, so I leave notes on their desks or a Lesson Plan Form that I fill out for them to look over and return to me. I try to catch them to talk face to face as often as possible, but sometimes they’re just too busy.

Everyday when I leave, I say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” and the teachers in the staff room will either say, “Otsukaresamadeshita!” in return or “See you!” The English makes me smile every single time.

I love how people have gotten attached to Bob. It seems like everyone wants to know how he’s doing. “Wait, what about Bob? Your pet spider? How is he?” Seriously, guys? Bob? I go to Japan and you want to hear about a spider? Fine. I’ll talk a little bit about Bob again.

Well, he’s decided that the porch is his area and, by God, he will attempt to cover as much of it with his web as possible. I have arguments with him about it. The argument goes like so: I open my front door in the morning. I see Bob’s web in my way to the stairs. I glare at Bob. I get a big stick and destroy his web. Bob shimmies up onto the porch overhang and glares at me for destroying his fine work. I go off to teach.

When I get home at around 4:10, I look up to see if Bob is there. If I have to destroy his web again, I do. If not, I just say, “Hey, Bob.” and go into my apartment. I’ve been told it’s highly likely that Bob will disappear when the winter chill finally comes to stay. Apparently, yama onigumo like to go into trees because the trees can help keep them warm somehow (I’m assuming they nestle into the bark like I do with my kotatsu).

I have to wonder if Bob will go or not. The jerk seems determined to keep his spot. He even did an epic fight out with a few other spiders gettin’ in on his turf. He didn’t like that very much and put a stop to it.

Well, until it’s officially winter, I suppose our battle for the porch will continue.

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!

Welcome to Japan!

Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

I’ve heard it so many times and it never gets old. I’m still so excited to be here! Everyone in my city is so nice and helpful. I’m glad I ended up in a place that’s more rural than urban. I’m not a fan of big cities. I like looking out onto the rice fields and just feeling so relaxed. I couldn’t have ended up at a better place for me.

From left to right: Ikeda-san (my supervisor), me, and Lauren Parker

From left to right: Ikeda-san (my supervisor), me, and Lauren Parker

And I couldn’t have lucked out with a better predecessor. Lauren Parker lived in Itako for three years before I came along, and she got the apartment all prepared for me. She even put up pictures and things so the walls didn’t seem so bare. Since she and the Board of Education furnished the apartment, I didn’t have to buy anything when I arrived. Many of the other ALTs did, poor things, but I didn’t!

I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She's between Lauren and me.

I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She’s between Lauren and me.

The teachers I’ll be working with at Hinode and Itako 2nd Junior High School seem pretty cool. They’ve asked me to help out with activities during the summer, and I’m glad. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t help out. I find that I spend my free time just kind of being lonesome in my apartment, and that can’t be healthy. I’ve tried to be more outgoing after school, but it’s hard. I don’t know who to call, when it’s okay to call, or what the proper etiquette is over here. I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Settling in has been pretty easy, all things considered. My shipped box came in earlier than I thought it would with everything intact. The apartment’s really starting to feel more like home. I want to add more things, like more bookshelves, but I have to wait and get a car first. I need a car for where I live. It’s just too spread out for me to bike everywhere. I enjoy biking, but the convenience of a car is nice, not to mention safer than biking on these broken roads.

The area specifically where I live in Hinode got hit hard by the earthquake. Hinode Junior High School, one of the two junior high schools where I will work for Monday through Friday, actually had the ground around it drop a few feet. The roads used to be smooth and flat, but now they’re bumpy and out of alignment. When I bike I have to be careful of the cracks and crevices, and also spiders. There are lots of spiders here and they are not afraid of putting their webs right a human face distance from the ground, unfortunately.

I’ve had communication issues. I came over with only the basic Japanese skills, enough to basically be an annoying tourist. When it comes to reading and writing, I know Hiragana and Katakana. It’s useful, but Kanji exists. Kanji and I are not friends. I want to learn all the characters so bad, but I can’t seem to keep anything in my head since I came over. I think I might just be out of practice, but it’s also probably got something to do with stress. I’m hoping that when I get more of a routine down things will start to stick.

Still, I think the language barrier is aptly named. Sometimes, not very often but often enough to make me feel dumb, this invisible wall comes up between me and other people. Nothing is getting through and I really need to say something important, but I can’t get the message sent out and then received. It sucks! I hate feeling helpless, and a language barrier can definitely make me feel very much so. It only lasts maybe about two minutes in a conversation, but it leaves a bad kind of aftertaste in my mouth, like the words I couldn’t say are bitter. I really hope that as my language skills increase, the barriers will decrease.

I don’t think the small town celebrity status will ever change. It’s odd to walk around and feel trapped in my own skin. I mean, I don’t want to change or anything, it’s just I’m really aware of the fact now that I’m Caucasian. When I get on the train, I hear the whispers of, “Gaijin!” and I see people pointing and staring at me as if I really am an alien. Also, I’ve never been winked at by so many guys until I came over here. I swear! I’m not that attractive, but apparently that doesn’t matter. It’s kind of nice, I mean, I’m flattered. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m here to work, not date.

Although, I’ve got to admit I love the Japanese business men. Not the shady ones, but you know the black suit with the black tie. I think it’s hot. I don’t know why, I just kind of do. Speaking of hot Japanese men, I’m apparently a fan of Jun Matsumoto. I really liked Shin Sawada in the drama Gokusen. For some reason, it never occurred to me that Matsumoto Jun is Matsu Jun from Arashi. I’ll go ahead and admit I’m not a huge Arashi fan or JPOP fan in general. Arashi is okay, but I really don’t love the music. I’ll listen to them, but they’re not my favorite. Still, I’ve got to admit I can see why girls just lose themselves over Jun-kun. He’s quite attractive (and a pretty good actor, in my opinion). So, yeah, something I discovered about myself I didn’t know. I’m apparently Team Jun.

Anyway, I think I’ve run out of steam. It’s my first blog post in a really long time. This time I hope I keep it up. I’m not very good at keeping blogs updated, so we’ll see how it goes. Hope you all enjoyed my ramblings!

TTYL!