So, it has been a year now, of living in Japan, and I thought I would talk about somethings I have gotten used to and somethings I haven’t gotten used to. I will also touch on identity as well.
Let’s start off with something that no matter how many decades I end up living here, I will just never come to terms with. There is no way you are going to make me accept that this is a thing here, and I cannot get used to it ever. The garbage. What is so wrong with throwing things away? It wouldn’t be so bad if Japan didn’t wrap everything at least 3 times. You can’t just buy a box of cookies. You have to buy a box of individually wrapped discs of baked sugar. Not only has Japan made your gluttony apparent by having the numerous emptied plastic packages stare back at you in shame, but Japan has also caused you to waste trees by creating more trash.
You also cannot just buy any old trash bag either. No. You have to buy your area specific bags. They are really small, and don’t stretch. If you get a package, you have to use more than one bag to throw away all the garbage. You have to throw things away in plastics, then you have both plastic and glass bottles, you have cans, you have clothing, you have paper, you have milk cartons, you have burnable, you have non-burnable, and you also have those items that just do not fit in a stupid bag so you can’t throw it away! For the items that don’t fit in a bag, you have to call someone to come pick it up, pay them, then wait for them to tell you if you called the right company or not, because not all companies collect the same type of items. We have a broken suitcase that just cannot be tossed. I don’t want to pay someone to get rid of it, so it is just staying in our place, useless, and broken.
Well now that you understand that everything must be separated and that every day is a different trash day (and I do mean everyday), let’s talk about exactly how you throw away your junk. You aren’t able to toss it into the correct bin, no. You have to wash it first. Why?! It’s garbage! Who cares! Someone does, because if you don’t throw away your garbage correctly, it gets returned to you. It actually gets returned to you! I am not joking. So you have to wash all your garbage, and once it is all nice and clean, you then have to separate it according to category. I will admit, I am getting to the point of not caring anymore, and if it is small enough, I will shove things inside or between something else so that it can be thrown away without cleaning it or separating it. (Our trash bags are transparent). Let us take a plastic bottle for example. You have to clean out the inside and make sure it is spotless, then you have to throw away the caps (some cities require that you have a separate trash bin for just the bottle caps) then you have to take off the label. Then, and only then, is your bottle ready for bottles day. Which only comes once every 2 weeks. Great. You know what? Just smash it down really good and shove it inside an empty cereal box. I am not having a plastic bottle sit around here waiting for the right trash day.
The reason they actually started separating trash and have removed all publish trash cans is actually because of a crazy movement in the mid-90s. There was a group of people (I don’t remember what they were called) that really wanted to end the world, so they would plant bombs in public trash bins. Many people were killed or injured because of these bombs. The psycho people from this movement were eventually taken care of and to prevent something like this from happening again, they removed all public trash bins from existence. Which makes sense. I am totally ok with that if it means my safety. However, they took it one step further and decided to have every human separate their trash so that there could never be a possibility of bombs being planted. Seriously though? You need to have people separate garbage so strictly in their own homes for fear of them planting a bomb on themselves? I think that is a little too far with that one.
Now that I have thoroughly upset myself by talking about that, let’s talk about something that I absolutely love about Japan. This is something that is just not in the US yet. I have heard that they are in very random parts of California, but as I have not witnessed them for myself, they do not exist. Electric toilets. And not just any electric toilet, but the electric toilets, that use the water to fill up the tank as a sink. That is so innovative and a great use of water. With America being into a conservation mindset, I am surprised that we don’t have them there. It saves space, and money. You don’t have to pay twice to use water. You just flush and wash your hands with the same water used to fill up the toilet. You don’t have to flush, then turn on the sink to wash your hands. I think it is awesome. Plus, with the electric toilets, the seat is warmed. So when you sit on it, it feels nice and cozy. Wouldn’t you rather have a pleasant toilet experience than an uncomfortable cold one? In the winter time especially the heated toilet seat is a dream. Your butt is not assaulted with an ice cold seat when all you are trying to do is your business. When the seat is really cold, it causes you to hurry, and makes going to the bathroom feel like a hated chore. Shouldn’t using the toilet not be so difficult? That is why the Japanese electric toilets are the greatest feat of all time.
After being in another country for so long, you start to develop a new sense of self. I know that when I go back to the US soon, I won’t be the same. There are of course going to be annoying things that just pop up all the time because I have been in Japanese culture, but there are other things that cannot be seen that will be different. I identify with the Japanese culture much more so than I identify with my Arizonan culture. Americans are very flamboyant and loud, and quite often rude. When I think back on the people of America, I most often first think about how rude and loud they are. Japanese people are more down to earth. And if you tell them something that they don’t necessarily agree with, they don’t show their offense by hurling insults at you. They simply respect your opinion and go about their day. I have had many debates with my JTEs here, and never had we ever ended a conversation in anger or hurt feelings. We all just respect that we have different views and move on.
Japanese people are much more respectful and polite. They are also not so loud. Which, since I am an introvert, I value quite a lot. It takes a lot out of me when I have to constantly interact with loud people on their level of energy. I can’t constantly keep it up. At least in Japan, I can keep up.
My love language is gifts, and I am in the perfect country. All they do is shower each other with gifts. I went on vacation, here is a gift, I am moving soon, here is a gift, you waited for 30 minutes to talk with someone at our company, here is a gift, you forgot to pay your bill, here is a gift. Everything and anything has a gift attached to it. Sometimes, I give a gift, just to get one back. That is also something that they do here. If they want you to give them something, you have to give first. My desk has a bunch of pennies in it, and randomly, I will give a penny to someone. They are big on good luck charms here, so I tell them the phrase “find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.” Then they think I have given them a great talisman because it is good luck from America and gratefully accept the penny. Of course I also teach them that Abraham Lincoln is inside his memorial. Then they get out their magnifying glasses and stare at the back of it in amazement. All I have to do is wait about 20 minutes, and there will be a gift at my desk. It is always equal in value to how they felt about receiving my penny.
I also like that Japanese are very much into traditions, and not so much into modernity. They value their history and heritage and don’t see the need to change something if it works. I like innovations of course, but I don’t see the constant need for them like most of Americans do. Japan has wonderful inventions, but they only use them if they absolutely need them or find them useful. Such as the electric toilets. That is really useful. (see above^) In my experience, they don’t go crazy over the next best car, or the next best TV or phone, not even computers. Half of my students don’t even own a computer in their home. They use the school’s computers to study if they need to. (They have their electronic dictionaries they don’t really need a computer). Their philosophy is that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. America’s philosophy is that if can be more exciting, then do it. That is just not something I agree with.
Of course there are things that I don’t agree with such as causing students a great amount of unnecessary stress with their studies, or being so freaking strict on millitarianism, for the most part, I identify more with the culture than I do with American/Arizonan culture. This is not something that can be understood unless you have spent a lengthy time abroad. Anyone who has spent quite a bit of time abroad will agree with me, that other cultures influence and change you.
Before this post gets headed to the dark side, I think I shall end it here. I look forward to another year in Japan, and I feel extremely blessed to be here now, doing my dream. Some days I wake up and cannot believe that this is real and that this has actually happened to me. I live everyday with praise and thanksgiving to God for allowing me to be here, and for placing me in the most perfect location I could have ever asked for. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.
After having lived in Japan for nearly a year, there are many things I have come to understand that is strictly Japanese culture and norm and I cannot expect them to change. Those things are fine. Typically, those things either work better than in the US, or it makes sense why they do things. However, there are just some things, I will never be able to understand about Japan, no matter how long I live here. These are the 5 things that I know are inherently Japanese, yet have no idea why they do them.
Why? Seriously, why?? I get that they want to save money and supposed energy but is risking your health really worth it? The winters are brutal, and the summers are choking. If they really are wanting to be saving money, you would think that they would invest in insulating homes and businesses. It would save them energy costs for heating and cooling, but no, they think it is bad for the environment to have insulation, yet they also think running AC and heat is also bad for the environment. Pretty sure you only have to install insulation once when those units get used indefinitely. I think they have it a little bit backwards.
Strictly Following the Seasons Calendar
This mostly pertains to fashion, but other things stem from this as well. If the winter is scheduled to start on the 12th of December, then they cannot start to wear winter clothing until that date. Who cares if the weather has already dropped below freezing, the calendar hasn’t said winter started yet, so we can’t wear winter coats until that time. The same goes for all the seasons. The summer hit early this year, but the calendar summer was the second week of June. No body wore short sleeves until the exact date that summer was scheduled. They would be walking around in long sleeves and sweaters, sweating profusely, and complaining about how hot it is. Well duh!! You are wearing sweater on top of long sleeves! Spring ended a while ago. At least take off the sweater.
This also extends to businesses too. They won’t turn on the AC until summer has officially started. They have AC at my school, they didn’t start turning it on until the 3 week of June (this week) because summer hadn’t been upon us for long enough yet. I am not sure where they got that idea from because everyone was complaining about the weather, they were using fans, and towels to wipe their sweat. Um, if your employees are suffering, you should probably relieve their suffering. Just saying.
No Regular Sized Spoons
I have never, and will never understand this. Whenever you go to the store and decide to buy plastic ware, they have normal sized cereal spoons. If you go to the store to buy silverware, you will find only dessert spoons, or the big sauce/serving spoons. What happened to the spoons in between? Someone once tried to tell me that perhaps Japanese just don’t use cereal spoons, but that doesn’t make any sense because they sell them in plastic. Why? I just don’t understand. If you have them in plastic everywhere, (and I mean that many many stores sell them) then what is so hard about selling the cereal spoons as flatware? You might be saying, why not just buy imported silverware then? Well, actually, they remove the normal sized cereal spoons from the sets. Why? The only time I have ever seen normal sized spoons as flatware, they were from the Noritake Museum where each spoon was made out of genuine silver and gold and cost about $30 a spoon. I am allergic to silver too; I am not about to spend hundreds of dollars on a spoon I am allergic to. Why Japan? Why you no have normal spoons??
The things that Japan believes they are secure in, they aren’t. And the things they believe shouldn’t be secure, should. I send money to the US every month to pay for my student loans and such. Before my husband came to join me, I had to take a day off work to do that. Now that he is here, he does it for me. I thought there would be issues with him sending the money because they need my IDs to confirm who I am, but apparently, he just needs to have my IDs and tell them that I gave him permission, and they will send the money. I ask another bank the same question, except said friend instead of husband, and they said that as long as he has my IDs and says I gave him permission, then they would do whatever he requests. Um, if I am not mistaken, that is the gateway to identity theft. Apparently, as long as you have someone’s ID and give the OK, they will do what you ask. It is like they cannot fathom someone having another person’s ID unless that person gave it to them. Because you know, no one steals anything these days.
There was another time, where my husband received a package, and he wasn’t home. I wanted to sign for it, but they wouldn’t give it to me because my first name isn’t Joshua. I told the delivery guy that I am his wife and we have the same exact last name, and they refused saying that he would be committing fraud if he gave it to me. He had to come back another day when JD was home so that he could receive his package. Granted, I have only had that happen once, because usually Japanese people can’t tell the difference between and boy and girl American name, but my point remains the same. You are telling me, that giving someone else a package is fraud but possessing another person’s IDs is not? Apparently they haven’t run into any problems, but I guess being from America where identity theft is the Gucci, it is a little absurd to try and wrap my head around.
The thought of having all the food individually wrappe sounds nice right? You never have to worry about finding a clip because all the food is always sealed. Plus, if you are on a diet, you can check yourself by eating only what is packaged. Let me put it to you this way. You decide that you want to buy a box of cookies. So you head to the store, food a decent sized box of cookies thinking you would be going home to eat an entire row only to discover that your$3 box of cookies only contains 4 packages of 2 cookies each. What the heck? You didnt pay for packaging, you paid for cookies!! I cannot tell you how many times this has happened.
Recently, i bought my husband a box of saltine crackers and they were all individually wrapped. Why? I thought Japan was eco friendly. Apparently not. Everything in Japan is wrapped at least twice. I bought cream cheese once and it was in the plastic container, shrink wrapped, and inside a box. You cant just eat a box of candy here because the candy is wrapped in foil, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in a box, with wtapping paper. It can be convenient when packing lunch but the convenience goea out the door when you live in a country that separates trash and sells cookies on average $4 a box.
So these were the list of things that I just cannot understand. I am not saying that Japan needs to change any of these things nor am I really offended by these things, but I have accepted that this is just a part of their culture, I just don’t understand them is all. I still love the country. These are only 5 things that confuse me. I am sure I will never understand them.
If you ever come across a custom from another culture that you don’t understand, it is ok to question, just don’t condemn them, or tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. To me that culture shaming. There are some gaijin here that complain to employees or have written reviews about Starbucks here, and how they only do their limited time drinks for about one month. So Japan only has special drinks for a month, how is that harming anyone? You yelling at the employee or writing a bad review is what is causing the harm. Just accept that you are not in America, where there limited time specials seem to last 3 years and will eventually turn permanent. (that always seems to happen). This is a new country, with different customs and rules from what you are used to. Just accept them for what they are. Not understanding them is totally ok though, hence the blog post above.
Now that I have been back in school for a while, I thought I would share what my schedule looks like on a weekly basis. What I do at work, what do I do in my free time, that sort of thing.
This year, I teach a total of 22 classes. Those classes are split into A week and B week. Each week consists of 12-13 classes. Every week, I teach all the 1st graders and the 3rd grade students are the ones where I have A week and B week. That means that any day I could teach 2-4 classes. At my visit school, I teach 4 classes. Basically the same classes as last time but with different students. I can’t really tell you exactly what my schedule is because 1, that would be weird, and 2 it isn’t the same every week so I can’t really do that.
Depending on what week it is, I will do lesson planning on either Monday or Friday. I usually try to finish the lesson planning as soon as possible so that I have enough time to submit my lesson plans to all my teachers. With there being 2 different weeks for the 3rd graders, I have developed a color coded system. 1st graders are red, A week is orange, and B week is yellow. My planner also has each class listed 4 weeks in advance with each lesson that they are doing. I have found that numbering my lesson plans makes it easier to communicate with all my JTEs which class is being taught which lesson. Because of the school schedule, I teach about 4-8 different lessons a week. It can get confusing and numbering the lesson plans helps me keep my lessons in order. I teach with 10 different Japanese teachers.
I try to prepare for lessons a day ahead of time. I usually go easy on myself and only have simple lessons where I just make copies for each class of handouts to be used. Once a month, I will do something different and that usually takes 2-3 days to prepare for, such as a game or a special lesson. With 22 classes I try not to overwhelm myself. The most recent project that took a lot of my time was creating charade cards. I have to make double because I have over 700 students. They are going to get worn out after doing 10 classes so I need back up when that happens. That project took me about 2 days to prepare for. It is stressful, but know that it will be used in almost all 22 classes is satisfaction enough.
It doesn’t happen as often but when I do have free time I will study Japanese. The next couple of weeks I will have free time due to midterms so I will have plenty of time to myself. Kind of like, a short break. I will be paid for my presence. During lunch, I will go on Facebook, play Kingdom Hearts on my phone, or take a nap in the lounge room. I most often take a nap at my visit school, because those students wear me out the most.
I typically get off work at 410, but I usually leave around 415-420. On Mondays I stay later to finish lesson planning, Tuesdays I have a Japanese lesson, so I get permission to leave early on that day (it takes me about 20-30 minutes to bike there), on Wednesdays I have English club after school so I usually leave close to 5pm, Thursdays I am at my visit school and take the bus, so I don’t get home until close to 515, and Fridays are my “freedom” days where I start gathering my things to leave at exactly 410.
If I didn’t get a chance to study Japanese work, then I will head to Starbucks (2 blocks from my school) and study there for about 2 hours. When I get home, I will immediately change clothes and slouch on the couch with my phone. My routine is Facebook, Vine, YouTube, and Kingdom Hearts. After that, I feel recharged enough to do laundry or dishes and make myself something to eat. If the weather is bad, I skip the Starbucks and leave my texts at work so they don’t get damaged and just study vocab. (I use the app Study Blue, ICYWW). I have a little mini white board that I use to practice kanji. I will also do bookbinding, video editing, or piano playing. Last year I was really into reading and had even joined a book club, but due to the craziness from the school year ending and starting again, the members kind of stopped participating so I haven’t read anything. Plus, I haven’t had the interest to read for a while. I am sure I will pick up a book at some point, but for now, I will just make books.
Well, I think I covered everything. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the guestbook or fb comment. Thanks for reading!
Having been in Japan for 9 months now, I have come to realize the many prejudices Japan holds over the rest of the world. Most, if not all, of them are pretty negative. Let’s start off by talking about each different type of prejudice you will encounter during your stay in Japan.
The western lover
Ok, so maybe this one isn’t so much as a prejudice, as something that is rather noticeable and sometimes quite annoying. Much like (whom I like to call) junkies in America, these people are obsessed with all things western. They don’t care if you are from America or England, they just want to know any all things that they can about western culture. They will also tell you all things that you are wrong about with it comes to your own culture. I once had a person tell me that there are no sushi restaurants in Arizona, and that Halloween is a Christian holiday. There are many others but these ones bothered me the most. No matter how many times I tried to correct them, they insisted that they knew my culture better than me.
The sympathy speaker
These people annoy me to no end. I appreciate that they are being mindful of my language limitations, but they don’t need to be THAT mindful. Just maybe change what you say if I don’t understand a particular word or phrase. These people talk extra slow, pausing after every word, and even increase their volume when speaking. Why? Is all of that really necessary? One person wanted to ask me how long I had lived in Japan. It felt like it was taking 5 minutes just to hear the question. “Jeny wa, pause pause pause, donna gurai, pause pause pause pause, nihon ni, pause pause pause, sunde, pause pause…” “9 MONTHS! 9MONTHS!! I have been in Japan 9 freaking months!!” Is what I want to scream at them. I just patiently wait for them to finish. Letting the angered expression sit on my face, so they know that I am offended, and politely answer their question at a normal pace. They, however, will forever refuse to hear my Japanese comprehension level.
These people have it in their heads, that any white person they see, speaks English, and ONLY English, and they happen to be learning English. So they will run up to you and proudly use whatever phrases they have memorized that day. It is funny at times, but having watched some people get embarrassed, they need to lose this assumption. Not every gaijin that visits Japan speaks English. I have seen many gaijin come to Japan not speak English. They maybe know just as much as Japanese do. Assuming that every white person you see speaks fluent English, is just dumb. When I studied abroad 3 years ago, I met some people from Europe who didn’t hardly know English. The only language we had in common was Japanese. There are also a high number of half Japanese citizens, that may look like they are American, but have been born and raised in Japan and speak absolutely no English. So while it is great that you want to practice your English skills, why not first ask them if they speak English, before blindly speaking to them, and save the embarrassment.
These people get on my nerves the most. I cannot tell you how many times I have been refused service because Japanese refuse to believe that I am speaking to them in English. Usually, I just let it go and move on, but this past week, while visiting Kusatsu, I was pushed over the edge. Kusatsu is world famous. World famous locations employ people, whose only job is to provide information to foreigners. They have people who speak: Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, English, and other languages. So how does it make sense, to refuse service to someone, just because you think they don’t know Japanese? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Story time tangent.
When we arrived in Kusatsu, we knew what we wanted to do, but didn’t know how to get there. They had pamphlets in many different languages, but English was not one of them. I asked for a bus schedule, and they hand me one in Japanese, listing only the stops. As if, visitors know where exactly those particular stops are without also consulting a map. Anyway, we politely asked the information lady that speaks English how to get to where we wanted to go, and she gave us the information. Even writing it down. So we waited for our bus. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the bus never came. So I went back down to information and asked her what was up, she said to talk to the ticket counter. So I did. And oh my goodness was this guy rude. I walk up to the counter holding my paper with the stop name on it so I knew what to ask for, and he just rips it out of my hand and starts talking very loudly and slowly in horribly broken English what I “wanted” to know. I didn’t want to know what he was telling me, because what he was telling me was nonsense. I told him in Japanese, that I was trying to get to Mt. Shirane and I guess all he heard was “help me I’m a lost gaijin” or something because he kept cutting me off and not letting me finish. He hands me 2 tickets and says to pay him, and I had no idea what I was paying for, all I wanted to know was when the bus was arriving. I tried to talk to him again in Japanese and all he heard was “English English English English.” Somehow, I was able to get the right bus tickets from him for both me and my husband, but my afternoon was just ruined by his rudeness.
Another time, during that same trip, we were buying food from a combini. During the check out, I was waiting for them to ask whether we wanted the food warmed up but he just pointed to the price, not saying a word, and threw the bag of food at us, then shoved us to the side to make room for the next customer. My husband was about ready to walk outside with his cold food, but I was not having any of it. I stepped back where I was and insisted that he heat up our food and give us chopsticks to eat it with, in Japanese. Red faced, he takes our food and warms it up for us.
Last one, I promise. We were wanting to go to an onsen and as I walk in, the guy was scrambling to prepare an English translation of everything. I didn’t need it because asking for 2 adults and 2 towels is super easy so I just said that in Japanese. He, I guess, didn’t hear the Japanese part. He kept pointing and pointing at different parts of their sign in English, and asking if I wanted one or the other. I politely told him again, in Japanese, what I wanted, but he kept pointing to the English sign he was holding. I never spoke English once, and just pointed to what I wanted while also saying it in Japanese. Needless to say, that day was the worst day I have had in Japan.
This person believes that no one knows Japanese except Japanese, and it is near impossible to learn unless you are Japanese. So when you do happen to say “arigato” they will compliment you as if you are an angel who just fell from heaven. After the showering of compliments, you will get asked how long you have been in Japan. When I tell them how many months, they freak out and just go crazy with compliments. For some reason, they don’t understand that you can learn Japanese in other parts of the word without having to be in Japan. I have to explain to them every time that I have been learning Japanese for 5 years and they just loose it. They cannot contain their excitement in the fact that I know Japanese. It was nice at first, but now it is just annoying and they come across as extremely ignorant. Strangely enough, it is the older generations that do this the most. The younger ones, tend to just look surprised that I speak Japanese, but say nothing on how long I have lived in Japan or how long I have been studying it. They just proceed to ask where I am from and what Arizona is like. The older people, seem to believe that Japan is in a bubble, and the rest of the world has no idea that Japan exists. I guess they need to watch the news more.
The gaijin hater
Finally, you have the hater of all gaijin. This person will be super rude to you. He will purposefully speak Japanese extra fast, saying difficult words and phrases to try and confuse you or hurt you. They hate that any gaijin would come to Japan at all, and they believe it is ruining their lives. They are the ones that will say rude and racist things in your presence, mostly believing that you don’t know what they are saying. You can easily put them in their place by just telling them you speak Japanese, but there are times when they intend to hurt you so that you will leave and never come back. This hasn’t happened to me that much in Gunma as it had in Tokyo. This is more likely because Gunma is the least visited prefecture in Japan.
When thinking about why Japanese act this way, I believe it is because of the other gaijin who have come before me. After traveling during golden week, I have come to realize where we get our person prejudices from. JD and I witnessed several instances of Asian gaijin (Chinese, Vietnamese, Philippian) being just the rudest people we have ever seen. They were insane! We were heading to an empty table with food on our tray ready to sit and eat, but a Vietnamese person ran to the table and removed the chairs from us and just sat down. She didn’t just happen to get there before us, she literally ran to the table. Another time, while we were shopping in a store, they were just pushing and shoving people out of the way and cutting other people in line. Then on their way home as they boarded the train, they literally ran and shoved people out of their way so they could have a seat. I get that in China or Vietnam they have to act that way to get things done, but it isn’t like that in Japan.
I have worked with people from all over the world, and have built up many stereotypes and prejudices as a result of meeting these people. We need to remember, that how we act, is not only a reflection of our own culture, but other cultures as well. What I mean by this, looking at several white people, how can you tell if they are from Poland, Canada, or America? You can’t. Same with seeing a person from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or India. You can’t tell the difference based on looks alone. We need to be aware of how we act around other people. Of course not all Chinese people are rude and maniacal, but almost all of the Chinese people I have met/worked with are. Of course not all people from Arab countries are angry and selfish, but most of the ones I have been are.
I never realized I held prejudice against Mexicans, until I had students from Mexico. All the Mexicans I have ever worked with or met before, were so selfish, rude, and thieves. They had no respect for anything. They expected Americans to cater to them and speak Spanish, even though I heard them speaking English to each other right before they started speaking to me. The students I had from Mexico, were completely opposite of that. These students were the nicest and most polite people I have ever met. They were kind to each other, and even apologized for other Mexicans and their behavior in Arizona. These students were so happy to be speaking English, and really wanted to learn about American culture. They showed me, that prejudice, just only closes doors for you. They also taught me, that we reflect other cultures. Try and keep this in mind the next time you travel or meet someone from another country. I am guilty of doing some of these things I listed myself, but being aware of it, is the only way we can change and make things better.
I decided that today’s post, will be a funny story. Living in Japan, certainly allows for some interesting cultural differences from time to time, and I happened to have encountered one that I thought everyone would appreciate hearing about.
One of my bras made it into the dryer on accident, and as a result, the wires are all bent weirdly. It is unwearable. So I had no choice, but to go bra shopping. I knew the day would come eventually. I don’t like bra shopping because of the size differences in Japan, I just don’t like bra shopping in general, because you have to try on 50 different ones, just to find the one that fits perfectly, only to discover it costs way more money than you can spend. So you end up buying one that kinds of fits, but you would rather not wear it if you had a choice.
I get to the store, and start looking at all the various options. The have the same cup letters that I am used to seeing, but the sizes are in centimeters instead of inches. I wanted to be measured, but had no idea how to ask that. I knew the word for measure in Japanese, but it was the type of measure we use for cooking, not exactly the word for sizing. So I looked up a conversion chart online, and found that they use the European sizing charts. So if you are reading this, and happen to be from Europe, then bra shopping in Japan will automatically start out easy for you.
After looking up the size I figured I was, I began looking for it. Only, that size was apparently the average size because I couldn’t find it anywhere. After looking for a long time, the lady came up to me with a measuring tape in hand and asked if I wanted to be measured. Normally, Japanese associates avoid me like the plague, so this was a pleasant surprise. I said yes because the sizing is so different. After she measures me, she tells me that I am an in-between size. Which doesn’t surprise me. Their sizes increase by 5 centimeters. They increase by 2 inches in the US. As if one gains weight in multiples. So proceeds to tell me how I need to try on a bunch of styles to see which one fits the best. I already knew that, but at least now I had a lady who could find the sizes I needed right away.
She handed me a couple to try on and I head to the dressing room. Dressing rooms are basically rooms with curtains. I get in there, and try on the first bra, check out the fit and move around to see if it will stay in place, then moved on to the next bra. Just after I unhooked it in the back, the lady asks how everything was fitting, and then just walks in. She actually walked in! There was no, “excuse me”, there was no “may I come in?” there was no warning what so ever! She just walked in! As if it were a perfectly normal thing to be doing while a complete stranger is changing. I had just unhooked the bra in the back and was ready to take it off and try the next one on. I was almost naked! Rather than act complete shocked, I just pretended I was having difficulty in hooking it in the back. She hooks it for me, making some kind of a comment on how that particular style was difficult to attach. In my mind I was thinking, “har har har, you just walked in unannounced! What is wrong with you?” After it was attached, you would think that she would just look at me and ask how it felt, no. No, that didn’t happen. She adjusted me. I’ll say that again, she adjusted me! Adjusted! She literally just reached in the bra and moved me around, to get the bra to fit just perfectly, as if it were a totally normal thing to do.
After the groping session, I tried on a couple other bras, and each time, the lady came in. Except she at least gave me a warning. I don’t know what was up with the first time of her saying nothing. I have tried on clothing before, and they have never come in the dressing room before. After this experience, I prefer doors with locks on them. No more of this curtain stuff.
I did end up finding the perfect bra. It was comfortable, it stayed in place, and was smooth enough to wear under a thin shirt without having the designs poke through conspicuously, but alas, it was too expensive. Why are all the good ones too expensive????? Why universe? I don’t understand! So I ended up getting a cheaper one, that fits, but just hates to stay in place. All of my other clothes stay where they are supposed to me, why must the bra be so independent?
Anyway, that was my experience. I hope you enjoyed it! I will be sure to tell you of any other times that are certainly an experience.
I would like to apologize in advance for how unorganized this post is. I just went right into writing without any type of planning. I am pretty sure my train of thought changed courses while writing this. I hope you still enjoy it none the less.
Everyone has thought about learning a foreign language at some point or another in their life, but few have actually fallen through with it. Even fewer whom have gone on to speak multiple languages. Recently, I came across someone by the name of Tim Doner. He is a famous polyglot speaking over 20 languages by the time he was 16. If you want to check him out, please visit his YouTube channel www.youtube.com/polyglotpal where he practices speaking all the languages that he knows. It is really quite impressive and admirable. While watching several interviews that he, and other polyglots have done, I realized that indeed, all language learners are the same. They all encounter the same struggles, and they all face difficulties. The difference between a polyglot and someone learning just one language is the hobby of learning multiple languages. I mean, I love learning foreign languages, but some of these polyglots who speak 30 or even 40 languages are on a new level of obsessed and have a ton of time on their hands. Let’s not focus on the extremists right now, you can research about them on your own time. Let’s talk about how all language learners are the same.
1. Unrealistic expectations
Ok, so it is your first day of language study, whether it be a class or self-study, you have made this decision, to diligently learn a new language. You are one step closer to being multicultural. Immediately, you have all these high expectations: “I’m gonna study every night” “In 2 years time, I should be having a decent conversation with somebody, maybe even watch a movie in my new language!” or “I am sure that by 4 years, I will be fluent.” The expectations go on and on. There are so many goals in mind. Let’s face it though, 80% of them, are completely unrealistic. Studying every night is a good goal, but you are never going to achieve it unless you map out your studying. How long are you going to study every day? What content? And how? If you don’t have a clear plan, you are going to fail. But, let’s take a step back, and try to be fair. If this is your first attempt at learning a foreign language, you don’t know these things yet. You also don’t know how you as an individual get motivated to learn a foreign language, nor do you know your learning style.
When I started learning my first language, (Spanish) I had all kinds of unrealistic expectations. I thought I would be fluent in 2 or 3 years time and that I would be able to watch TV or movies in Spanish. I was wrong. I don’t know where these expectations came from, but for some reason, I thought that fluency meant native level. It doesn’t. Everyone has their own interpretation of the term but in my mind, it means native level, so I use the term proficient. I never even got to the place where I could call myself proficient because after 2 years of study, the extent of my abilities was taking orders in Spanish at Chick-Fil-A. We all have fluency goals, and they are just not going to happen.
We all expect to learn a language the same as we learn math or history, but truth is, we don’t. In fact, none of us learn a language the same way we learn another subject. It uses your entire brain whereas learning math or science only uses one part of the brain, and they are in the same location. For me, I am a kinesthetic learner. I have to hear, see, and apply what I have learned into action. That is how it has always been for me. So when I went into a Japanese language classroom for the first time (I don’t remember how I learned Spanish or Korean. I only remember absorption and regurgitation because I was still young) I applied my normal language learning method into the class, yet I wasn’t learning anything. I would study everyday, any chance I got, and nothing was sticking. I couldn’t figure it out. I somehow magically passed 2 semesters with just a high enough grade to continue, until I figured it out. Once I figured it out, I went back and studied everything from the beginning. I am a visual learner. One day I saw someone writing kanji over and over and over. I asked what they were doing and they told me that they were a visual learner, so they had to write out what they were learning in order to remember it. I went home, and tried it, and I have been absorbing Japanese ever since. Once I started to see how each grammar worked, and how each kanji has its meaning, it all just made sense to me. I started to take more notes, and copy vocab and sentences out and things just started to make sense.
Once you tailor your expectations to be more realistic, then your language learning can proceed. That is not to say that you will never have unrealistic expectations again, because you will. There are always thing you encounter unexpectedly that you were not prepared for. It happens. Just knowing that it happens, keeps you level headed.
Language learners struggle with motivation all the time. It never goes away. You start off your first lesson with high hopes, excited, and ready to dive in. If you encounter issues, no biggie, you are only a beginner, that is to be expected. Once you progress in the class and you start to see the students that are doing better than you, you start to think that maybe you can’t actually learn this language, or any language for that matter. You just don’t have the natural ability to learn it like others and you just give up. You get discouraged, and can’t focus no matter how hard you try. Then it happens, you know an answer to something that the smart person you had been admiring doesn’t know, you jump at the chance and display your knowledge and feel so proud! Suddenly you are again eager to learn the language and dive into the learning. Then, you didn’t do so well on your last test despite the fact that you spent hours and hours studying. What went wrong? Why couldn’t you remember everything you worked so hard to remember? You feel like giving up. Your efforts are all in vain. You just can’t stand not seeing any progression. Then, you watch a drama with English subtitles, and you read a phrase, that you conflicts with what was said. You realize that you just understood the language you had been working so hard to study, and immediately start watching more dramas without the subtitles to try and catch anything you have learned. Your language learning sores. Then you get asked a question in class. You know you know the answer, but you just cannot recall it. It was something you studied at the beginning of the semester yet now it is old news and your mind acts as if you never heard it before. You have failed yet again. Other people get it, but you don’t. Why don’t you get it? Why is it so hard? Then you encounter foreigners who are struggling with something at the store. You recognize that the language they are speaking together is the one that you are currently studying. So you approach them, hoping that your broken understanding will at least do something to help. You ask them what is wrong, and immediately you understand that they are lost and need directions. You just so happened to have just left a class, where you were practicing how to give directions. How perfect! You give them the directions they need and they thank you, fully understanding everything you said. You were successful. You communicated perfectly with native speakers. What a great day! You go home, and dive into your studies even more.
All of these things and more happen to language learners. It is all about motivation. It helps to write out your achievable goals and reasons for taking your language learning journey. One of my goals is to read a novel in Japanese. A more near future goal, is to pass JLPT N3 (I failed it last time I took it BTW). I get discouraged all the time. I sometimes have days where I just can’t be bothered to study Japanese, and almost without fail, something happens where I do something in Japanese that I never have done before and it was successful later on in the day. It is easy to find those moments with living in Japan, but they did happen back in the states. Not as frequently as now, but they still did happen.
3. New cultural identities
When you learn a language, you don’t just study how to communicate in that language, you learn about the culture. Language and culture go hand in hand. For example, in English there are several native speaking countries out there, but what separates them apart from the accents? Culture. In America you would never say “cheers” when hanging up the phone, yet you would if you were in England. You also wouldn’t say “begging your pardon” I America but in Australia you would. There are many things in culture that translates into language without you even knowing it. In America, we say “excuse me” all the time. We use it to mean, “I’m sorry”, “pardon me”, “I didn’t mean that” it means a lot of things. The Japanese equivalent of that word is sumimasen. As Americans learn Japanese and visit Japan, they treat “sumimasen” the same as “excuse me” when in fact, it is not, and the Americans end up confusing and annoying the poor Japanese people. Sumimasen means “I’m sorry” or “could you help me” or “I am sorry to bother you but…” Hardly ever, does it actually mean, “Excuse me.” Also, the Japanese equivalent to “I’m sorry” is “gomen.” Yet, no one in Japan uses “gomen” to mean the “I’m sorry” in English/America. You only use it when you have offended or hurt someone. Saying “gomen” after you accidentally bump into someone, you are going to get strange stairs because the person was neither offended nor hurt by an accidental bump. You are better off just saying nothing or “sumimasen.”
Another thing that happens quite often to foreigners yet is pretty funny to those in Japan is “irasshaimase.” It is said when you enter a store by everyone, at least 20 times an hour. It literally means “you have humbly come.” They use it as a greeting for having entered the store. So many foreigners you are just starting to study Japanese, have not reached the stage of keigo learning (the most difficult conjugation of honorifics) and haven’t a clue what “irasshaimase” actually means. So they hear someone say it to them, thinking it means “hello” when in fact, it is just a “welcome to our store” they say it back to them. Anyone reading this that knows Japanese will be laughing thinking about it, because it is just ridiculously funny. Think about it in English. You say “welcome” to someone who just entered your store, then they smile and wave at you repeating “welcome” right back to you. Wouldn’t you have a hard time containing your laughter? That is kind of what happens in Japan, except they try to be really polite about it and stifle their laughter. They will talk about you later though and have a proper laugh.
I say all of this, because once you understand the culture behind the language, you start to understand how to need to present yourself when speaking the language (I am going to say TL for target language from now on). When I speak English, I am more blunt and outgoing, because that is what comes with the American culture. When I speak Japanese, I am more bubbly and polite. You become a new person when you speak the TL. If you are uninterested in traveling, or learning a new culture, then you cannot learn a new TL. It is just not going to happen. Which brings me to my final point,
Those who are dedicated to language learning in general probably already know this, but you cannot call your language learning complete, until you have traveled to the country whey they natively speak the TL. This is something that is just ingrained in language learners. No one learns a foreign language without also the desire to travel to a country where the TL is spoken. I have yet to meet someone, who just is learning a foreign language for the heck of it. Even polyglots will tell you, that they have traveled the globe using their multiple TLs. It is the only way to curb your learning in the upward direction, as well as give you all the extra motivation you need to keep studying. There is no grater reason for language learning, than traveling. When I took classes at community colleges for Spanish and Japanese, there were a few older people who were learning it because they planned on traveling. So already, they have a realistic goal, proper motivation, and an understanding that there is a new culture involved. When I first learned Spanish, I wanted to go to Mexico, and I actually did. When I first learned Korean, I wanted to go to Korea (and still do). When I first learned Japanese, actually, I never had an interest in going to Japan. The only thing I knew about Japan was sushi, anime, and manga. It wasn’t until I started to learn about the culture in that first class that I grew an appreciation for Japan and made it my life to be here doing what I am doing right now. Learning a foreign language gives you the bug and the bug is pretty hard to get rid of.
5. Continuing the journey
Now you have achieved your immediate goals of learning the TL, and you are ready to move on. So you choose a new language and discover that it is slightly easier to learn a new language than the first time. Especially if that language relates to English or another language you have learned. For me, Korean is super easy. This is because of two reasons. 1, I used to speak it quite well when I was in junior high, so learning it again is like popcorn going off in my brain and grammar just keeps flooding into my brain. 2, it relates so closely to Japanese, just as much as Spanish relates to English. There are so many similar words, it makes it so easy to remember. For example, in Korean, the word for time, or library are sikan and tosagwan. In Japanese, those words are jikan, and toshokan. So similar! Because of this, the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to gain your level of fluency. It is amazing how many languages relate to each other. That is why there are linguists out there studying similarities for a living. Though, I do happen to disagree with most of them, however, that is a topic for another day because I have a LOT of opinions about most linguists.
Anyway, I hope you too learn a foreign language. It doesn’t matter the language, as long as you choose one that you actually want to learn. Don’t just pick a language out of the air because it sounds interesting, it will have no meaning to you nor motivation. After I learn Korean and go to Korea, I want to tackle Polish next. Simply because I have a Polish heritage. Knowing that cultural identity comes with language learning, it would be interesting to find out the roots of my ancestry and visit “the motherland” as it were. Plus, I am sure that my grandparents would appreciate it. :D
With the school year approaching its end, I thought I would write about what it is that I like to do in my spare time when I don’t have any classes. First, I will talk about what I do when there is no school and I am just a desk warmer, then I will talk about what I do normally during the week, when they are classes.
I hate the days when I literally have nothing to do. It is basically just me getting paid to sit there. My mere presence is charge worthy I guess. Many teachers internet shop and have their items delivered to the school during breaks. It is kind of entertaining. I don’t internet shop, in case you were wondering. Some other teachers will sleep and snore quite loudly. I also do not do this, in case you were wondering that as well.
What I do is actually productive (at least I think it is). I spend the first 4 hours studying Japanese. At first I had to take a break every half hour to an hour, but now I can work a full 4 hours without needing a break. I rarely study beyond 4 hours. I will do vocab review or listening comprehension, but I don’t consider those to be studying Japanese as it does not involve a brain exercise. Studying a foreign language is exactly the same as going to the gym. The brain is a muscle, and when you study a foreign language, you are doing work outs. You are using parts of your brain that were never exercised before.
(Prepare for a lesson on your brain and language learning) When you know only one language, your brain is split in half. You have half your brain doing the active (speaking and writing) and the other half doing the passive (listening and reading). You can actually feel your brain working if you concentrate. Try speaking and reading, your brain will work in either the front or the back. When you start to learn a new language, you brain needs to reorganize. Up until then, your English language files were spread all over the place and you only had one little man pulling up files as you needed them. When a second language comes into play, the poor little man has to now reorganize your entire brain to create an English side, and a foreign side, in this case Japanese. Using Japanese requires your brain to work in ways it never has before. First filtering everything it hears and reads through English, then regurgitating everything it wants to express with writing or speaking through English. After a short period of time, your brain will literally get sore. You will get headaches, and many people experience severe migraines. There are also days where the little man just needs a break from running back and forth between the two languages and will just refuse to work. Those are the times that I like to call a brain shut down. You just run on auto piolet. And no matter what you do, your brain will just not let you retain or recall anything in the foreign language.
After a while, the poor little man realizes that he cannot keep running back and forth and filtering everything Japanese through English and vice versa, and then he will eventually hire new people to assist him. This is when you start to dream in the new language, because the new people are going through training. Then one day, you literally wake up and think, “Oh! I can think in Japanese now.” I am not joking! This has happened to me 3 times (Spanish, Korean, and Japanese). Also, other people have claimed the same thing. You just wake up, and happen to have the magical ability to think in the new language.
Now that you have new hires for your brain, your brain then splits again. You still have the passive and active parts working separately only this time, each of those parts are split into two. You have one section for each skill (reading, writing, listening, speaking). Some scholars will argue and insist that nothing has changed, but you are going to have a hard time convincing me that reading and listening are the same exact skill. It’s not. I can read and understand much in Japanese, but hearing that same passage I just read is difficult for me to comprehend. Same with writing. I can write long cohesive sentences in Japanese, but ask me to formulate them with my mouth and you get a dying cat on Valentine’s Day.
When using the second language, you can more easily feel your brain working in different sections. When I speak Japanese, the front, right of my brain is working hard, when I read Japanese, the back, left of my brain is working. Pretty cool.
Much like working out, eventually, if you keep it up, you will become very fit and in shape. It is the same with your brain. You will be able to do more and more with your language abilities and studying becomes more fun than it does painful. When I speak Japanese, it is really exciting for me. Almost euphoric. Especially when others understand what I say and we have a conversation. It really lets me know how far I have come.
(Back to the original post)I am trying to get to the point where I can spend the full 8 hours studying Japanese. I am wanting to improve my Korean, so if I extend my language learning abilities, then my mind will be stretched enough to handle the 3rd language. I have reviewed bits and pieces of Korean here and there to test my brain so to speak, but I have not gone into grammar focus just yet.
I spend the first hour doing Kanji review. I have a separate book for that. Then I spend the next 90 minutes reading Japanese (45 minutes without the dictionary 45 with the dictionary), then the next 90 minutes is spent on reading comprehension and grammar learning/practice. Then I have lunch, and after that is listening comprehension/practice. I use resources from my text book I am using as well as a fun site I was introduced to. Occasionally throwing in some vocab learning too.
On days where I just cannot be bothered to keep learning Japanese, I will write or read. I feel kind of nerdy and too adult to be saying this, but I read text books about ESL and SLA. Even though I have already read them, there are still things I forget so I read them again. I will also read articles online (scholarly ones I might add) about the same topics. Language learning is an innovative topic so it is ever changing. When I write, I mostly focus on writing for my story. I would say book, but I have finally decided against getting it published. I was seriously considering it for a while, but I feel that it is more of just a recreational hobby than a vocation. On rare occasions, I will read an actual book.
During the time when I have classes, I lesson plan, or read my text book. This past year, I would prepare for my lessons by making copies and such, then teach classes, then start planning for the next lesson. I have two schools so I have to make a total of 5-7 different lessons a week. I also have to fax my lesson plans with all the materials to my visit school by Monday afternoon of each week. Mon-Wed free time was usually spent preparing for lessons, and gathering lesson notes/ideas from all my JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) then I used Thursday and Friday as my lesson planning day because I only had morning lessons on Thursday, and afternoon classes on Friday. The planning typically took the full 2 days. Sometimes even until Monday.
At the end of terms, I like to play games with the students, but that requires me to make all the materials required for said games. Once, I decided to play Apples to Apples with my 3rd grade students, however, the game is not sold in Japan, nor would it have arrived in time before the term ended if I ordered it. So I had to make, each and every card by hand. I found a template online, and printed it out. Then I glued all the papers onto thick card and cut them out. I then colored all the backs of them in either red or green. I went through 3 red markers, a green marker, and a green colored pencil. After they were colored, I then laminated each and every one. Because the guy had me put them too close together in the machine, when I cute them out the sides were pealing. I needed them for class the next day so I took them all home, along with a huge roll of tape, and for the next 3-4 hours JD and I taped each and every side on all the cards. I made sure that these students would enjoy this game, and they did. So much so, that on another day, they asked to borrow the cards so they could play the game during lunch.
Anyway, now you know what I do during my free time. I do get on Facebook during the day, but usually to chat with my family or because I am on lunch and just need a break.
Until next time, sayonara!
Hello! Long time no read. I have gotten some requests on what I should talk about, so I will be posting information about those once I have written out an outline for them. For now, I thought I would tackle the easiest request first, and that is, what is my schedule like? It won’t be exactly the same every school year, but the premise of it will still be the same. Also, I should probably explain a bit about the Japanese school system before I get into my schedule, to help you better understand.
I teach at high school level schools. I have two schools. Currently, I work 5 days a week, with Wednesday being my visit school day at my low level school. My base school is high academic. The only real difference, apart from the distance, is lesson planning and requirements. Other than that, it is basically the same.
All JETs work at public schools. Public schools are technically funded by the government, but only with some things. Everything else is paid for via student tuition. For students, high school is optional. However, once they enter into a school, they are not allowed to transfer or drop out. They can never come back or go to another school. Students also are responsible for paying tuition. Parents usually pay it, but at lower level schools, the students sometimes work to pay for their own tuition. The tuition is cheaper than you would expect, so students working a part time job are easily able to afford it themselves. It is not as cruel as it sounds. Public schools (or commercial schools) all have a standard which the board of education sets. All schools are required to have these standards met. These standards are mostly regarding entrance exams. There are entrance exams for high school, and college. Every public high school has the same exam. What qualifies students to enter into one school over another is simply the score requirements of a particular school. There isn’t a standard for each school. The standard is determined after all the students have taken their entrance exams, and after their exams have been graded. Actually, last week I spent 2 days of overtime grading the English essays from those very exams, not once, but four times. Four! I get two times, but not four! There were hundreds of exams. Hundreds! Anyway, back on topic. Right now, the teachers are looking at the scores from all the students, and deciding what the minimum total score must be to enter this high school. Now, if they were like colleges, the minimum would have already been determined and if you didn’t make it, then you didn’t make it. But at high schools, they have a quota that needs to be filled, as well as a reputation, and they have to determine which one is more important. So as you can imagine, there is a lot of fighting going on right now. I do not have to be involved in such things as I am only an assistant teacher.
Colleges also have these exams, but there are 3 major differences: 1) they are much more expensive, 2) each exam is designed by the individual universities themselves, and 3) the standard has already been decided, so you either pass or you don’t.
SIDE NOTE: The difference between private schools and public schools in Japan is that one is government funded, and the other is student funded. Public schools are also higher academically than private schools. There is a negative stigma with a private school.
Unlike the United States, high schools have an academic focus. Meaning, if you want to go into business, then you go to a business high school. If you want to go into nursing, you go to a medical high school. They all have standards, but if it does not relate to their field of study, then they don’t study it. For example, if you are wanting to be a business man, you don’t need to take chemistry. How is that going to help you run a business in the future? My base school is business focused, so much of what they learn is bookkeeping and have classes on how to wear a suit (Why? IDK) and my visit school is more of a vocational school. (They don’t expect their students to go into college. It is kind of sad.)
I am sure there is much more to explain but this is my basic understanding of how things work. So, if I have gotten anything incorrect, please kindly advise me in the guestbook section of the website, or send me feedback.
The schools in Japan follow the Prussian school year systems. A school year starts in the second or first week of April, and finishes during the middle of March. There are 3 terms instead of 2, so I can’t really call them semesters as semi means half. Let’s call them trimesters. The first trimester goes from April until July. Then they have a summer vacation that lasts for about a month, and they start back up again from August/September until December. Their winter vacation usually starts after Christmas, as New Year’s is a much bigger holiday here. Much like how Thanksgiving is in the US. The third Trimester then begins in January, and ends in March. There are other national holidays, of course, at least once a month there is a holiday. Japan has the happy Monday system, but that mostly affects trash day, post offices, banks, and other small businesses. Not so much schools or companies. (Happy Monday system is giving a 3 day weekend every month). Very rarely do Japanese holidays coincide with American holidays.
I didn’t start working in Japan until August 3rd, so I came in during their summer vacation, not knowing it was summer vacation, expecting to start teaching within the week. Nope. I had the entire month to myself. Also, it was a bit odd starting in the middle of the school year, but it mellowed out after about 4 months.
On a final note, there are 6 years of elementary school, 3 years of junior high school, and 3 years of high school. So when you see me referring to 1 year students or 3 year students, just think in your mind 10th and 12th graders.
Ok, now that you understand somewhat how the schools work, now on to my schedule. On any typical week, I have anywhere from 3-4 classes a day. I teach a total of 17 classes per week. My main focus year was first year students. Next year there has been some debate about me teaching all the first years and third years, but I don’t know my new schedule yet, so I will just focus on what it was like last school year.
My school is huge. Almost 1000 students. Each class has 39-41 students. There are 8 classes in total for each grade. For example, every Monday, I taught first year’s class 1 and first year’s class 5. I would see each class once a week. I also saw the first 3 classes of the third year students, however, those were split up into 5 smaller classes because of their target focus. Each of those classes had specific English they were learning. Those classes ranged from 16-32 students. I tended to like those classes better because they had a stronger desire to learn English than the other classes. I taught with a total of 7 different English teachers. With the exception of one teacher, I taught with each one twice a week.
On Wednesday, when I went to my visit school, I taught 4 classes. That school is significantly smaller than my base school and also significantly less strict and military like. I basically called the first years there, the crazy classes. There is one in particular that makes you question your sanity if being a teacher. Every day, there are students in trouble from that class. There was one glorious day, when 7 rowdy boys were in the principal’s office all at the same time and that class was glorious. The most peaceful lesson I ever had.
That class has a few hundred students, so each grade is split into class A and class B. Each class has 35-41 students. I taught all the first years, and high academic second years (that class had 9 students) and a specialty class of the third years (16 students). I feel a little guilty for saying it, but the third year class was my favorite class this year. They really enjoyed my classes and really took advantage of asking me questions and using English. They threw me 2 parties. One was a surprise party, and one was a pizza party because they knew of my love of pizza. They all wrote me letters on my first day and I wrote them back. Then they gave me soo many snacks and sweets on my last class with them and gave me a good bye photo frame. So cute! Kawaii ^^!
At my visit school, I teach with only two teachers. Unlike my base school, where almost everyone knows English pretty well, my visit school has just 3 people that speak English. And even those people who know English, will speak to me in Japanese more often than not. When I first arrive, they are using English like crazy, telling me about their week, their plans, and the weather, then after they have gotten that out of the way, they just use Japanese. At the end of the day when they are driving me to bus stop, we use Japanglish, which is basically just speaking bilingually. Using only certain phrases or words in one language over the other. I could go into why we do this, but it would take too long to explain. If you are interested in bilingualism then I recommend you research some scholarly articles. It is quite fascinating.
I almost forgot about times! Silly me. My working hours are 8:25-4:10 Mon-Fri. I usually arrive 10 minutes early and leave 5 minutes late. It just ends up that way. The teachers here don’t end their day until 4:55. Depending upon the time of year, they will actually kick the teachers out and make them go home. Half of the year they stay ridiculously late, and the other half they make them leave right at 4:55pm. At 8:25am, they have a staff meeting where they talk about the schedule for the week and other things to remind their students, and other various things that are important for the day. Then at 8:30 each grade has a meeting. Meaning, all the teachers of first grade will meet and all the teachers of second grade will meet, and discuss specifics for that particular grade. I just kind of sit there, trying my best to comprehend everything. Also at 8:30, they play the school’s song over the loud speakers. Not sure why though. At 8:35 they have 10 minute home room, then break, then begin the lessons from 8:50. Every 50 minutes there is a class with 10 minutes of a break in between. There is lunch from 12:40-1:25 then resumes the lessons in the same format. With the exception of Tuesday, they have 6 lessons a day. After school, there is a 15 minute cleaning time, in which all the students clean the school while the teachers watch and yell at them for doing things wrong.
That is basically it! Remember to leave your suggestions in the guestbook of other things you wish to know.
Culture shock. It is something that over 70% of travelers and those living abroad experience. So that does not mean everyone feels it in their life, but then why does everyone assume it will happen to you? Perhaps the answer is that we are often confusing culture shock, to homesickness.
Culture shock is a sense of confusion, longing for home, and feeling alone. Longing for home is more than just homesickness. Longing is a strong desire to return to the familiar and have things be as they were and make sense. When you are in another culture, things can be confusing because none of the customs make sense, nor are they relevant to you. Longing for home, does not mean homesickness.
Homesickness is being sad because you are away from your family or home. When one goes off to college, they tend to go through the waves of homesickness. Things are different, things get tough, and the familiar support groups are not so easily accessible, so therefore, one suffers from homesickness.
Too often do we confuse culture shock, with homesickness. As soon as someone over here says that they miss their family, friends, food, TV shows, or what-have-you back home, it is immediately equated with culture shock. But is it really? I miss my pets and my family, but does that make me a culture shock sufferer? Of course not. You wouldn’t tell a college student, who missed their family that they are suffering from culture shock, because they live in the same culture, just a different location, and are missing the familiar. Culture shock includes a lost sense of identity, which is why it is such a serious thing, and why my program offers specialized support to those suffering from culture shock. An identity crisis is something to not be taken lightly.
I suffered from culture shock when I studied in Tokyo two and a half years ago and witnessed my friends suffer worse than me. It is also something that happens gradually. One symptom is of missing your family, which is usually why people are so quick to cry out culture shock, but culture shock includes a wide range of symptoms. You start to keep to yourself, feel depressed, often find yourself feeling frustrated or confused, you become OCD, you also start creating a ritual for yourself daily, you stop talking with people even those close to you, and when you do talk to someone, all you are talking about is home. You start to question things, such as, who you are, why you are doing something, and what your purpose in life is. THIS is culture shock. Homesickness has 2 symptoms, depression, and cleanliness. Nowhere is there a sense of identity being taken from you.
Reverse culture shock is something that happened to me when I came back from Japan. I was only in Japan for 4 weeks, yet coming back home, I did not know who I was. It took me over 6 months to find myself again. I wanted to tell people about my adventures in Japan, but because I had posted everything on my website, no one really cared about what I had to say. I was excited to see people, but no one was as excited to see me. I would get to school ready to continue my studies in Japanese, and yet, no one else had any motivation to do anything. I felt that the America I knew, was taken from me and I was living in an alternate universe. In Japan, I knew I was American, and could call myself that. But in America, I didn’t feel American, yet I was not Japanese. I was in a 3 world where only travelers from abroad understand. It wasn’t until I took a class on SLA learner motivation that I was able to study up on the subject of identity and culture shock. I chose to give a presentation and research project on cultural identity and discovered that mostly everyone who had studied abroad before, was also struggling with finding themselves after returning home. They felt they were not from America, nor were they from the country they traveled to, but they were all in an in-between place, and they will remain there, until they discover who their new self is.
Reverse culture shock affects more people than initial culture shock does. About 90% of people who return home, catch what is known as “the bug.” They have a lost sense of identity and by traveling to different cultures they feel they are more easily able to find where they fit. I caught the bug. I desperately wanted to travel to so many locations in the world, but I couldn’t. So I just went to places in the US with my husband. The bug is real and is hard to get rid of.
That being said, culture shock has the same effect on people. They feel that they don’t belong in that country and need to return home, only to discover that they don’t belong there anymore either and need to go somewhere else, because they are in an in-between place that cannot be reached. You see, culture shock is a much much deeper issue than just simply “being homesick.” The cure for homesickness is to talk to people you miss. The cure for culture shock doesn’t exist. It is a never ending wave most suffer through.
I am not suffering from culture shock. I have my days where I just don’t want to do anything, but I had those days in Arizona too. I also have days where I just do not want to talk to anybody, and I had those days in Arizona too. I also have days where I miss my family and pets and friends, but in Arizona, being a married adult, I also had those days. You know if you are suffering from culture shock. It is not something that you think about. If you think it is culture shock, it’s not. So before you are so quick to call me out for missing my family and tacos as culture shock, make sure you fully understand the difference between being homesick, and suffering from culture shock.
I know this isn’t my typical post but I have something on my heart I want to share. I also apologize for the length, it is sometimes not easy for me to articulate what I want to say in English. My thoughts also get jumbled and don't seem to make much sense, but I promise you, I really am trying to say something important. Such is the struggle of a second language learner.
I was reading Purpose Driven Life during my lunch today and something I read really struck me. “You look the way you are for a reason.” I don’t know why, but that never really occurred to me before. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Everything. Even the small things like dropping something. I believe there is always a reason for the things we do. With always believing that, I never stopped to think about appearances. I never wondered why we look the way we do, or why my sister prefers short hair to long hair, or why I am blonde when my father has darker hair than me. I just accepted the fact that we all look different because we can’t all look the same. That would just make identity a mess.
After I finished my lunch, I really pondered on this for a while. Why do I have blonde hair? Why do I have blue eyes? Why did I stop growing at 12? The answer? God. God has a reason for all of it. If I didn’t look this way, I would either have a different husband, or no husband at all. If my husband was shorter, I don’t think we would be together. We all have preferences whether we choose to admit them or not. It is not shallow of us to think this way, it is how God made us.
I thought about where I am and how my appearance affects my daily life in Japan. Sometimes I get the cold shoulder and other times I get treated special. People are more willing to be patient with me when I speak Japanese, and give me more kindness because of it. Appearance makes a difference.
Then I thought about how I got to where I am today. I thought of my life and growing up, and how my appearance affected my life then. To be honest, apart from my husband, there were not many instances in which I was positively influenced by other based solely on my appearance. Why is that? Why would Japan have a more positive influence than America, a country most known for its cultural diversity? The answer…God.
God is everything good. There is not a speck of evil near God. Lack of God is where sin comes in. (I am not trying to condone conceitedness I am merely proving a point.) Do you honestly think for one moment, that God, the creator of ALL things, would make a mistake when creating you? He WANTS you to have blue eyes, He WANTS you to be 4 foot 9, He WANTS you have brown hair. God wants all of it, because He made you. He thought about you, He planned you, He mapped out your life. You look the way you do because He has a future planned for you, and He understands that appearances do matter however small of a degree that is. Maybe I have blue eyes and blonde hair because He knew I would be coming to Japan. Maybe if I had brown hair, I wouldn’t be having the same experience. My husband has brown hair and he gets treated differently than I do here. Everything is for a reason, and yes, even how you look is for a reason. If knowing I look the way I do because of God, then why is that so hard to accept? What about your appearance is hard to accept?
The chapter goes on to ask some reflection questions about personality and health, but those things don’t bother me. I love who I am. I am happy with how God made me. Think about it, could you really imagine yourself to be any different than you are? It is impossible because God already perfectly made you. Sure I don’t have the most likeable health, but it is all I know and it is not going away anytime soon, plus my condition never really was hard to accept. Then I started thinking about my appearance, and I found where I stopped accepting who God made. I love my blue eyes. Wouldn’t trade them in for the world. The thought of wearing colored contacts abhors me. Who would want to change their eyes? I love my blonde hair. It isn’t the most healthy looking hair, but that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with climate and product, and…well… I guess I have a part to play in that as well. >.> My skin isn’t happy with me at the moment but that is what make up is for. (Seriously, I have all kinds of rashes and dry spots and it is driving me crazy! Any advice on how to handle humid winters will be accepted with love and gratefulness.) Plus, I look younger without make up on, and I kind of don’t like being mistaken for a high school student while out shopping. None of those things were hard for me. I knew there was something there stopping me from believing God made me this way for a reason, so I kept searching. The reason I struggle, the real reason, is my weight.
For years I was anorexic. Years. At least 10. I let the numbers consume me. I don’t know what I was waiting for or wanting. Was I expecting that the next time I stepped on the scale I would weigh nothing? I knew it wasn’t realistic so why did I keep obsessing? The answer is the lack of God. I stopped trusting in Him. I stopped believing that He knew me and created me. I forgot about that along the way. I just eventually came to a point of knowing that I will never become what I want. (Also, being in Japan where things are Kilograms certainly helps because it feels like you suddenly lost like 50 pounds.) Since coming to Japan, I haven’t really struggled too much. I honestly didn’t realize I stopped my old habits until my husband said something to me about it. Sure I have weighed myself here and converted it to numbers that I understand and would always get upset, but the longer I went without doing that, the more I started to care less and less about the numbers.
You could say that I am recovered, but I am not. I still hold on to that part of me, just in case I let go for too long, or need help getting back to how I was before. But why? What good is that going to do me? I know that God made me, I know that God loves me, I also know that God put me in Japan and I have never felt more at home. It is because I have not fully accepted who I am. God doesn’t want someone who is 90% on His side, because that isn’t really being on His side at all. That is just saying when the time comes, you will choose the other 10%, and God doesn’t want that. Neither do I. So I am here, to break free of that 10% I keep holding on to, and break free of the doubt that I am not perfect, because God made me perfectly. There is nothing to dislike. I am should embrace it, smile about it, feel happy; that is what God is doing every time He looks at me. I am wonderfully made in Him. Perfect in every way. You are too.
Did you know that God made how you look for a reason? If you do, then great! If you don’t, then what can’t you accept?