Six months is a strange period of time. It can be compared to watching a three-hour film in a cinema: you know you’ve been there a long time, but it also goes really fast. Everything has changed since I arrived here. From the 40′ heat to -3 degrees, from being in a relationship to being single, from knowing hardly any Japanese to being able to get by, just!
When I first arrived at my flat, I couldn’t actually get in. The key was stiff and twisted in the lock. But now the steel red door, which I still struggle to get in everyday, has my name written above it and it feels like home. In August, after the week and a half of transiting from Tokyo to my red door, I was so happy to finally have reached a space I could call my own. Strangely enough, it was when I unpacked my crinkled clothes from my suitcases that I started to feel like these four rooms were my home. I would hate to be called materialistic but it seemed that a key part of identity was hung up on those plastic hangers, so maybe I am. My clothes and a few photos of my friends made me feel at home in the first few weeks. Now my flat is filled with hangings, cards and souvenirs from the places I’ve visited in Japan, each with a memory attached to it.
The first couple of months were definitely the hardest. There was no severe ‘culture shock’ or homesickness but it was the personal relationships which were new, or different and seemed so important. It was like being a fresher all over again! Yet once the school term started and I had a routine to my life, I felt much more at ease. Now, I have some wonderful friends that I’m thoroughly going to miss when they leave, especially my travel-buddy Zoya who is only staying one year.
I’m happy with the small part I play in the slick machine of the Japanese school system. In some classes, I do nothing more than be a pronunciation coach, but in others I can do anything. Last week I gave a presentation about teaching in a junior high school in Nepal and the students fell into a hazy silence as they saw photos of smiling Nepali kids all squashed in a classroom a quarter the size of their own. It is opportunities like this, to amaze and inspire students about places in the world they’ve never heard about, that makes me love my job. I also like reading their work and finding out what they’re in to. I know a lot of J-pop band names now, the best being ‘Flumpool’ and ‘Funky Monkey Babys’!
There was a new girl at school today and I felt for her. All the new names she’d have to learn, all the strict rules (she’d have to get rid of her hair braids!) and the friends she’d have to make. I remember being introduced in the staff room for the first time and feeling so out-of-place, the newbie, foreign in every way. Yet now I know my colleagues, not all their names, but the subjects they teach and whether they like having a disjointed chat in English and Japanese. Every morning as I walk into the staffroom and shout my ‘Good morning’, a chorus of ‘Ohaiyo Gozaimasu’s are returned and I feel part of the school community.
The students, too, have become accustomed to me, and I to them. Girls wish me ‘Bye, bye’ as I leave the school and give me a cute smile and a wave. At first I remember not being able to tell the difference between most of the students, everyone looked more or less the same! Even two girls in my English Club looked so similar, with long hair tied in bunches and the same height that I couldn’t get their names right. Now I could recognise one from the other from down the corridor as they look so different!
Studying Japanese before I came here has paid off. I didn’t get much further than a beginners book, but still I had the basics and could read Hiragana and some Katakana, even if very slowly. When I arrived I was hesitant to try out my Nihongo, so much so I did my introductory speech in the school assembly in English. Looking back that was a mistake and I wished I’d felt confident enough to do the first speech in Japanese. For the first few months I found it very hard to understand what people were saying and rarely tried out the few phrases I knew. Yet now I’m becoming more confident and trying to string sentences together at a just-faster-than-painful rate! When I can understand something said in the morning meeting, I’m happy for the rest of the day.
All in all, I’m really enjoying my life here. I suppose the freedom of living alone, having evenings and weekends free, and not having to worry about friendship, relationships or career plans. So I have signed the papers to re-contract for another year. I have many places I want to explore, festivals to see and things to discover.
Thanks for reading!
Photos from my balcony through the seasons.