Last Samurai

My workplace

 

November 15, 9:30 PM JST

Wow, what a Monday! I’ll kick off this post with a “brief” replay of the day’s events before I move into some commentary.

This morning was the standard army drill; hurry up and wait. I was to be “checked” out of my room by 8:30 AM. And it wasn’t until 11:15 that I was on my train out of Ómiya. So the girls and I had plenty of time to say goodbye and reminisce about our two weeks together. A trainer physically saw us on to our trains and we were off. Halfway through my journey I had to switch trains. A company representative from the main office met me trackside at my exact car. Pretty impressive. I was promptly escorted to my next train and enjoyed the scenery. This was the first time I was on my own in Japan. And it only took 30 minutes for me to screw it up. I stepped off one stop too early. Of course I realized I was wrong just in time for the train doors to close behind me. I looked close at the train map, thankfully it had English, and I got back on for Sagamiono. Japan: 1 Alex: 0

I was picked up trackside by my new immediate supervisor. Motoyasu, or Moto, is the school’s Head Teacher. He is Japanese and only a few years older than me. We share many interests and his English is excellent. He seems like a class act. I was delighted to learn that my branch school sits on the eighth and top floor of a department store. Below all the eateries and shops was the train station that I came in on. Talk about convenience. We navigated our way to the office where I dropped off my bags and met the Branch Manager, the highest authority at my branch school. She was super nice and made me feel right at home.

Next, Moto and I began our day of errand-running. We visited a stationary store where I placed an order for my personalized “stamp.” This will have my name in Katana (a Japanese alphabet) and will serve in place of a signature. Pretty cool. I won’t be able to open my banking account without it. Next I registered for my Alien Registration Card, a form of state ID (I believe). We briefly stopped for lunch before we visited a cell phone retailer. I ended up walking away with a brand new iphone. Did I splurge? Yes. Can I afford the occasional new toy with my big boy salary? Yes. Moto then took me to the grocery store, still in my department building, where the company bought my dinner. We headed up to grab my bags and caught a cab to my new apartment.

I got a real kick out of the cell phone employee. He seemed to be a total dork. And I mean that with all the niceties I can say. His mannerisms, facial expressions and demeanor all made me grin. He seemed to take complete delight in helping a foreigner get a cell phone. He would make complete eye contact with me, even as he spoke in Japanese for Moto to translate. I delighted in this respect. I especially loved his behavior just before I signed the contract. He bowed his head and presented his personal pen to me, much as a knight would present his sword to his king.

My new apartment is… TINY! I would estimate it to be 75 sq. feet. The bathroom/kitchen areas are divided from my bedroom with a sliding door. And that concludes the tour! I have a sliver of a balcony with an outside clothes-washer, and clothes-lines to hang dry my items. Some might consider this small. I find it cozy.

Well that about sums up my Monday. I am mentally and emotionally drained. Motoyasu was INVALUABLE today as he helped me through everything. I would have been completely helpless through every step of the day. But he was always there. And he was especially helpful in getting a cell phone. The process took over an hour and he played translator between the clerk and myself the entire time. I have some way to go before I can fully take care of myself here, in Japan.

After Moto got me settled in to my new place, and the door closed behind him, it hit really hit me. I am now here. Working abroad in Japan. I don’t speak the language, and am all alone. The gravity of this began to weigh heavily on me. No sooner had this thought come over me than I began digging into all of my bags and unpacking. Staying busy is going to be the key to avoid the dreaded homesickness. Luckily it took me a solid hour to get the duvet covers over my futon and comforter. Never have I been so delighted with a trivial task taking so long.

That concludes my thoughts on today. It sure feels good to get all of those thoughts out of my head!

 

November 17, 9:15 AM

Yesterday was my first day on the job! I spent eight hours following around the out-going teacher, Jon, whom I will replace. All told I will be teaching 5 classes on Mondays with approximately 25 students in all. My suspicions were confirmed that I will be teaching primarily upper level courses. I am very excited to work with advanced speakers and help them continue to improve their English.

The workplace also seemed great. The office covers a considerable amount of space, by Japanese standards, but still feels a little tight to what I’m use to. However all my coworkers seem like great people, and they speak excellent English!

Work was followed by a beer with Jon who gave me some advice about both the workplace and adjusting to Japanese life. All of which I was thankful for. We bid goodbye, I popped in my headphones and I walked home in just under 20 minutes.

That’s all for now. I’m off to work soon, so I will journal more tonight.

 

November 17, 11:45 PM

Huzzah! I have hot water in my apartment! Tonight I enjoyed my first hot shower in over 53 hours! There was a mix up with the gas utility and they shut off my gas unbeknown to my employers. A man came out to turn my gas back on tonight after I got home from work. He was very friendly and did his best to explain to me what he was doing. I let him in to do his job and it was immediately apparent that we were on different pages. Together he spoke in fragments of English, and I spoke in broken Japanese. We were able to use hand gestures and facial expressions to convey what we were both talking about. I found the entire exchange very refreshing and humorous. Despite growing up an ocean apart and knowing very different languages, we were still able to communicate. Human beings never seize to amaze me.

Today was another FAST day at work. I taught just one class today. All of my students had prepared brief essays to share with the class. It was my job to switch their minds over from Japanese to English, and to facilitate a forum for them to interact with their peers. And what fun it was! The students were all older, late 30’s to early 40’s and were very shy. However by the end of class they had come out of their shells, even just a little.

Jon sat in class and observed my lesson. He didn’t interfere at all with how I ran the class, he just took notes. After class he gave me some great positive feedback. His primary compliment, one that the trainers told me time and again; I act confident and I control the class. Through my limited lessons thus far I have never been fully prepared or comfortable with the material that I am to teach. However when I close the classroom door and class begins, I become the teacher. Jon, like the trainers, seem to be very delighted with this trait. Lesson structure can be taught, they tell me, but an air of confidence cannot.

Now I lay down for some sleep. Tomorrow I’ll teach two classes, and will have more to report then!

 

November 18, 11:55 PM

I just finished lesson planning for the night! As if I didn’t have a profound respect for educators before, I now know what effort goes into the average class!

I did not lesson prep last night, and it was apparent today! Today I taught two classes. The first, a children’s class, did not flow very well. I was unfamiliar with the lesson plan and stumbled through much of it. However I still displayed a calmness which the young student (appeared) to buy into. My second class, an adult-beginner course, was much better. I was familiar with the flow of the class and had the benefit of seeing the outgoing teacher present it earlier in the day.

Today we also had our first staff meeting. We discussed the budget, our financial goals, and upcoming events. Today we talked about a new change coming for the rest of the teachers this January. Our company is making a change in lesson structure for a specific variety of our classes. Luckily for me, I was already trained in the new method. So at one point I was requested to demonstrate the new method to my peers. This was a bit nerve-racking, presenting to veteran teachers!

Today was a great day, in that 8 hours just flew by. No sooner had I arrived at work than I was walking out the door again. I cannot stress the importance and satisfaction that I take in a job where the time passes so pleasurably! My great day was also compounded by my novelty to all the students. All day, between classes, I was introduced to our many students. On a side note, I’m getting pretty good at drawing the United States, so as to indicate where Nebraska is!

All is well here in Sagamihara. My occasional bouts of homesickness are quickly countered by busy days at work. I hope you’re all taking care too!

 

November 19, 11:50 PM

Another day, another dollar. Today was a truly rewarding day as I taught three classes. I am continuing to develop my grasp on the teaching structure. As such my confidence in front of the class is growing by leaps and bounds. I am very grateful for my school and the first-week schedule they prepared for me. I am working everyday of the work week, Tuesday-Saturday, but I am easing into the schedule. The first day I only observed. The second day I taught one class, Thursday was two classes, today I had three classes, and tomorrow, Saturday, will be four classes. However the following Monday I will be taking on my whole schedule of teaching 30 hours and 75 students!

Before work today, I met Moto at the station and we finished our errands from Monday. First we picked up my stamp, which serves as a signatory seal in Japan. My stamp had to be customer made. Not only is my name gaijin (foreign) but it is too long to fit on a tiny stamp. As such, my personal stamp simply reads “AL” in katakana. Real official. Next we went to the bank and opened up a checking account for my automatic deposits. Again, Moto took care of all the talking. While we sat at the bankers cubicle, I began to understand just how vulnerable I am in this country. There I was, sitting across from a total stranger. Next to me, and representing me, was a relative stranger that I was placing complete trust in. The two people fired away in Japanese and I sat there with a dumb smile on my face. I am very fortunate to have a representative like Moto. I’m sure the bank wouldn’t have swindled me, but it creates an ease of mind knowing someone is looking out for my interests.

And so now I crawl into my futon for a full night’s rest before work tomorrow. I’m still not crazy about the idea of working on the weekend. I haven’t worked Saturdays in over five years. Oh well, I’m not complaining.

 

November 21, 10:00 PM

Apologies for the missed entry! Yesterday, Saturday, was a busy day! Saturday is my Friday, and the conclusion of the work-week. It also happens to be our busiest day. To conclude my week of on-the-job training, I taught four classes. All of which went as well as I could have hoped for.

After work the entire staff of Sagamiono school went down the street to a local Indian restaurant. Over 40 students attended to celebrate Jonathan’s farewell and my welcome. For a single fee all attendants enjoyed all you can eat, and an open bar. It’s safe to say we all had a great time. I navigated between the tables to introduce myself and chat with everyone. The varying levels of conversational English were amazing. I would sit with one individual and speak with them as if they were a native speaker. No sooner would I feel at ease than I would be sitting with another person and they would be beginner English speakers. No matter, this was a wonderful party and I felt very welcomed to Sagamiono.

At the conclusion of the party I was asked to come before the dinner crowd and give a speech. Giving a speech after two hours of an open bar, was interesting. Fortunately I knew beforehand that I was to speak and thusly moderated my booze consumption. I briefly thanked everyone and sat down. We had only reserved the Indian restaurant until 11pm. After which 90% of the party migrated to another bar. I found it funny, the Japanese call this “second-party” whereas I am used to calling it “after hours.”  Second party was fun. We enjoyed more drinks and some darts. The more everyone drank, the sillier they became.

I left the party shortly after 1am and made the 20 minute walk home. I put in my headphones and made the journey home. Not a bad end to the first work week.

Today, Sunday, was a great day! Moto invited me to play “footsall” with him and some of his friends. For my American friends, footsall is nearly the exact same as soccer. Except the field is half as long and the ball is smaller. I met up with Moto at Sagamiono Station at 2pm. We jumped on the express rail and met up with his friends a short while after. Much fun ensued.

Footsall was a total blast. I was the only white-person for as far as the eye could see. As such, I was a complete novelty to most of Moto’s friends. We played footsall for roughly three hours. Everyone seemed to be completely entertained by my presence on the field. While I was not the most skilled or coordinated footsall-er on the field, I was perhaps the most tenacious. This tenacity won me the respect of my peers, but cost me physically. I picked up three nasty bruises that will serve as battle scars until our next meeting come the middle of December. I did decide from today’s game that I really should get involved with a contact sport while here in Japan. Back home, in the States, I’m too small to play a physical game. But here I am bigger than 90% of the adult male population. I am only a few inches taller, but more importantly, I’m stacked compared to many of these guys. Any suggestions for a sport? Rugby maybe?

After the game we all hopped on the train to head back from whence we came. After 10 minutes we stepped off the train for some drinks. “Some drinks” turned into a complete meal. We spent our time at a Japanese Izakaya. An Izakaya translated, is a “Japanese bar.” Dinner and drinks lasted some time, and we easily ran up a bill of $500+. I tried vehemently to pay for a portion of the bill, but my Japanese friends wouldn’t let me. They were too nice.

Dinner was great. I tried each of the 10 dishes put before me. My friends were very surprised that I tried so much.  They were even more surprised that I didn’t flinch at some of the more foreign food. Between the dishes the waiter brought out every alcohol in the store. I believed I tried three different kinds of beers, three different sakes, and three different kinds of liquor. These Japanese know how to party.

Because I have some spent some time studying Japanese culture, I was attune to many of the cultural tendencies the Japanese exhibit at dinner. However much of what I practiced was very formal and oldschool. All of the guys thought it was awesome that I was aware of some of their traditions. Before long they started calling me the “Last Samurai”, from the Tom Cruise movie. I’ve never seen the movie, but will wear this nickname with pride.

Dinner was followed by a train ride home. And now I’ve found myself here. Overall this was a WONDERFUL Saturday. If I am able to keep filling up my free time like this, I won’t be near as homesick as I could be. I met a really great network of people. Additionally tomorrow is my first reunion with the girls from training. We’re meeting up for lunch and drinks in Shinjuku. Many details to come later!

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About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

5 responses to “Last Samurai”

  1. Claudia Wheeler says :

    Not rugby…it’s too rough. (Such a Mom.)
    Sounds awesome, I love hearing of your adventures. Know we miss you but don’t be homesick. Go play!! Love you:)

  2. Emily says :

    Alex–

    Just want you to know I really enjoy reading your blog! As a travel junkie stuck in Lincoln at the moment, the chronicles of your adventures are a great escape 🙂 I wish I would have documented my time abroad as well as you are!

  3. Randy says :

    Alex:
    Your blog is fascinating and I enjoy reading it. Keep up the blogging–you’re going to end up with a fantastic collection of memories. Thanks for sharing.
    All the best.
    Randy

  4. kellee says :

    I wish I could have been there to hear that speech! hahahaha

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