Greetings fervent readers. I never know how to start a blog. . . The first entry should be something monumental right? A declarative passage outlining your goals and reasons for spilling your inner thoughts into the digital data super highway for everyone to read, should they stumble across your tiny slip of a web-sight. Well my goals are two fold. Firstly and bluntly I am a teacher of English living in Japan, and a very happy participant of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. I teach, or will teach rather (once my students return from summer holiday), at Susaki Senior High School in Susaki City. I’ve been in Japan a grand total of nine days now, although it’s not my first time in the land of the rising sun. According to the Japanese government I am here to assist a Japanese Teacher of English (to forever more be referred to as a JTE) in the teaching of conversational English. All of the classes I teach focus on oral communication paired with cultural exchange.
On a somewhat more personal, and I suppose less practical, level I am back in Japan to experience some kind of awakening. No, that’s too divine sounding. When I last spent time here I lived in Nagasaki for three months, and it was a life altering experience. Japan holds an indescribable ability to change the way certain people view the world that surrounds them. There is simply something embedded within Japanese culture that once experienced leaves an unforgettable sense of longing. And so, I’ve returned. After three full years I’m back, but this time no English speaking roommate, no Japanese culture classes in English, and no host mom doing my cooking, laundry, cleaning. My first giant step towards independence, hell of a step hu? Maybe we’ll call it a jump.
So all the new JETs of group B (as in Boy) flew into Tokyo on Sunday August. it was a surprisingly quick 14 hour flight. Tokyo orientation is a blur of meeting someone new every five or so seconds, jet lag, and copious amounts of sitting and listening. There are multiple workshops put on by current and former JETs. Some of these, Budgeting Your Money, and Career Building and Management, were quiet helpful. Others, Japanese Pop culture, were . . . less than thrilling in their presentation, but given its ups and downs Orientation was a chance to really meet new JETs and also feel very grown up. As a 23 year old working his first “serious” job after college it seemed somehow relevant that for three days I was required to wear a suit and tie. However, Tokyo felt nothing like Japan. with around 800 other fresh JETs all eager to get to their placements Tokyo Orientation is a bubble of English, which is quickly shattered upon arriving at one’s placement.
Please don’t mistake my use of the word shatter. . . I LOVE MY PLACEMENT. My apartment (though lacking in air conditioning) has a beautiful view and is huge. Susaki High School has a great staff of friendly faces who always try so very hard to carry on conversation with me in gesture, laughter, and smiles. Very few speak English. Those that do are modest about it, and shy despite there very capable comprehension level. The students I’ve met so far giggle at me uncontrollably and sprint away, leaving me waving at them saying, “wait, wait, what’s your name?”. I look forward to teaching them, but certainly hope we are able to move past this shy giddiness.
With the help of my JET PA (Prefectural Advisor) and my predecessor (who decided to hang around for a while) I have thrust myself right into some incredible experiences. I immediately joined a taiko, Japanese traditional drumming, team that practices from 7 to 10 on Wednesdays. It felt really good to be reading music again. I haven’t seriously played/ practiced anything sense I unfortunately dropped piano after my senior year of high school. It’s a very physical activity though. One play’s taiko with a crouched wide stance that brings a slight burn to your thighs, the sound rumbles down into the floor in great vibrations that shake up into your bones and come echoing into your gut, and up humidity and lack of air conditioning in the theatre where we practice simulates a cleansing sauna. Unfortunately the group is going on holiday until the 25th so I’ll have to wait to get more involved with that experience.
Sunday morning I met a Chinese Dragon Boat team compiled from friends, family and patrons of two local bars in my neighborhood block: Kaijia (a delicious and very swanky Chinese influenced Izakaia) and @ Home (a smoky, over priced, western style bar). They apparently were informed that I was a rower in high school, and thustly a spot on the boat was reserved for the giant gaijin who used to row. None of the rowers spoke English very well, but it seems less and less necessary. Through gesture and broken Japanese I was able to learn quite a bit about the various patrons, employees, and family members of these two establishments. The actual rowing is quite different from what I’m used to. Crew is 80% legs, 10% arms, and 10% back. Dragon Boat races are 100% arms. Boats filled with 25 people taking fast short strokes and three crewmen beat drums and chimes to keep everyone catching at the same time. To have proper technique one must also yell “YA!” every time one’s paddle blade hits the water. This all took place on a beautiful lake cradled amidst green green mountains dotted with country houses and rice patties. My boat made it past our first heat, and came in a close 3rd in our second heat (which wasn’t enough to move on to the other races). Interestingly instead of water or perhaps Gatorade being given to the teams to keep them hydrated Kirin Ichiban Beer is distributed by the case to each team. I watched as at 9:00 a.m. my team, and hundreds of other’s on many other teams cheered kampai! and drank a prerace brew. This continued throughout the day, and left many is a hysterical state of semi intoxication (which lead to them trying to speak some very interesting English). When I chose green tea instead of beer right after we got off the water I received many questioning glances. . . “what do you mean you don’t’ want a beer after sprinting 1000 meters? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” I won’t lie, I drank the beer offered, and it was cool and refreshing. All in all it was a wonderful experience. To be surrounded by people who only speak a few words of you language is something hard to imagine being a mostly inclusive feeling, but somehow I left feeling as though I was a part of this team. We all smiled when the race was over, and a suppose it goes to show you that gratitude and kindness transcend even the most difficult of barriers. There will be much much more to come. After all it’s only the beginning.