I suck at doing this Japan blog stuff.
But I’ve recently got a crapton (and when i mean crapton i mean like three) new followers to my blog 😀 So hi guys.
It’s December, more specifically December 6th. Yesterday was December 5th, that marks now four months living in this country as a teacher of the englishes (or in japanese, the person that teaches that foreign language). Four months. That’s like, almost a half year. Almost. Like two months off from a half year. I’ve now surpassed the visitor visa’s time allowance in Japan by one month; I can officially say I live in this country and not some dirty old tourist with a hard on for anime, geishas, and video games.
Not that I am into that stuff.
Actually, I’ve spent close to 10万 on something else.
Anyway, today was the first official snow of the year for the area that I live in. On the first we had snow, but it was like this hot mess of sleet. More rain than actual ice crystals. Actually it was just cold ass rain. Of course I freaked out being the Floridian who’s never seen snow in her life. Well, fallen snow at least. I’ve seen frozen dirty ass snow before but never the freshness of white fluffy snow. The christmas lesson for the 5th graders was, to say at least, very nice.
But enough about snow, lets talk about something more of interest to you people out there: The whole experience of moving to the moon and settling in.
I don’t want to spoon feed some unrealistic vision of being a teacher in Japan or living in this country period. Despite what you may believe, Japan isn’t Tokyo or Osaka. It’s actually this bizarre country stuck in the 1990s inching closure and closure to the new millenium. You land in Tokyo and it’s supposed to be some buffer period to reduce culture shock but I just think it makes the whole experience worst. Why? Well, it’s simple.
You land in Tokyo and all your weeaboo wishes and desires are fullfilled. You’re a train ride away from that Rei Ayanami figure or that AKB48 shop photo. You’re only a block or two away from Sega World and there’s conbinis everywhere. The busiest train station in the world is just down the street and there’s actual young people in mass walking the streets. When you land in Tokyo on the JET Program, its like getting that all expenses paid trip with some seminar on the side. No one really pays attention to the seminar (some don’t even go — those are the assholes that usually get booted before they arrive to their CO or freak out and bail) because they’re all aching to get out of that hotel and onto the Yamanote line.
Then, suddenly, you’re herded onto a bus, then to a plane/train, and sent back in time to the year 1998 where fax machines were staple, cell phones were flippy, and paper shredders played the soundtrack to your office life.
What is this? Where’s Japan?
Sorry, bro, but this is Japan.
After you leave that western impression of Japan, you land in real Japan. Japan Japan. The Japan with the rice fields Japan. Everywhere in Japan is rice fields with some random vegetable patch thrown in between. There’s a sea of old people with maybe two or three people your age mulling about on any given day. Then there’s the sea of children you “teach” everyday. You are exposed to these strange sounding dialects that are not standard Japanese. You find out that everything is closed by 8pm (or 3pm if its banks) and there’s absolutely nothing to do except become a Donki or Aeon Mall Rat.
What the hell did I just sign up for?
You’re now in the first stage of culture shock.
You’re not prepped for this. You’re not given a presentation on this. You’re just told ESID and dumped in the inaka expected to automatically continue where your amazing (or not so amazing) pred left off. To us, we’re brand new fresh faced college graduates in a foreign country; but to the Japanese, we’re just a warm body to fill in that vacancy where the other one left. You may have that one week to “adjust” but eventually everyone expects you to go with the flow of things.
Or at least act like you know the system.
For some of us JETs, we’re lucky to have a huge group of JETs with open arms willing and waiting to settle you into your brand new life in Japan. But for us other JETs, we maybe the only foreigner in town with no one to help us settle in. Or you maybe in a prefecture where all the other JETs are about a two hour drive away and you managed to be that one solo JET on the other side of the prefecture. Either way, the JET system depends on where the JETs are at. If there’s no JETs in your immediate area… you’re… well…
How do I put this lightly…
Off to figure out things yourself most of the time. Or beg on Facebook/Forums/Other internent thingies for advice.
With any move you make, you have to depend on you and you alone. Once you’re dropped off in your BFI town like a sack of English-speaking rations to be spread across your school district, you’re on your own. It’s up to you to make sure that your Is are dotted and Ts are crossed. There is support there but you need to prepare yourself to doing more things on your own. In my case, a lot of the things I did to get settled in town beyond the required stuff my CO had to do, I did all by myself. With my cellphone in one hand and N4 craptacular Japanese speaking ability in the other, I managed to get things like bank accounts opened, etc done.
But, like it’s been said, ESID – Every Situation is Different – I was put in a location where they wanted Japanese speakers. The people I deal with everyday, beyond my JTEs, do not speak a lick of English. Some JETs are are placed in locations with a wider English support system. It just depends.
As aspiring JETs, or ALTs period (since once you get here, it’s all the same thing), y’all have to be mentally prepared for everything and anything. Don’t just come here with your head in the clouds thinking that it’s gonna be fun and games. It’s a life style change, a new job, a new life… These are not little things. This isn’t a foreign exchange program. It’s real life. Prepare yourself for everything and anything. Don’t drink the koolaid and keep a clear head.
Though, there’s one thing I should mention with the whole moving in adjustment deal. There’s the saying, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade. For the Japanese, though, it’s more like When Life Gives You Lemons, You Just Gaman. Gaman, 我慢, the Japanese word of shut the fuck up and deal. If you run into a problem, rather than try to make that lemonade, you just gotta gaman your way through. Deal with it. Work with it. Sometimes these situations pop up as you’re just adjusting to life in Japan, and it can get super frustrating.
If things get tough or out of your control, don’t just gaman. Sometimes, for your own sanity, you need to play gaijin and make sure you’re heard. Once summer’s over, it becomes cold, dark, and depressing. Sometimes you just can’t gaman. So reach out when you can and never let go. You don’t wanna be that JET that runs home during winter vacation, never to come back.