New and Familiar


This week has grown nicer with each passing day. Tokyo continues to shed winter and embrace spring. The temperatures are rising and the sun is sitting high in the sky. It’s been very interesting observing seasonal differences in my first post-Nebraska home. I’m enjoying the weather while I can. The locals tell me the wet season, during June & July, is unbearable.

This past Saturday I was teaching a class in the morning when an earthquake struck our building. It was small but greatly intensified by being on the 8th floor. One of our part-time teachers ran out of her class and down the hall. I laughed out loud. She hadn’t been present in the office during the big earthquake. I opened my door to listen to any commands coming from the front desk and I continued teaching. A few moments passed an announcement came over the speakers. Some man spoke Japanese in a droning voice. I waited until he was done. Clueless to what the announcement was, I poked my head out of the classroom. The rest of the teachers were staying put. I looked at my students, who were all beginner English learners. “Okay,” I asked. They nodded “yes,” and I continued teaching.After class all of the teachers poured into our small teachers’ room. We gossiped about the latest quake. Someone quickly checked the news. Our recent earthquake was an original. It was the first non-aftershock in over a month, since the original Tohoku quake. A few people found this news alarming. I thought it was positive. We’re finally moving past the big one. The glass, I assured them, was always half full.

I decided this week that I need to broaden my friend circle. The past few weeks I have been hanging out with mostly foreigners. This is a natural tendency since we’re all foreigners and it’s comforting to communicate with other native speakers. But I need to associate with more locals if I want to fully enjoy my Japanese life. Rather serendipitously this week, a student asked me out to catch a beer. I said “yes” right away. He and I met after class and had a few beers. Even though we communicated in English, it was very enjoyable. I need to keep after this habit. Associating with the Japanese, not putting down beers.

I spent Monday wandering around Kamakurawith the ladies from training. Kamakura was the capital of Japan for a few hundred years a millennium ago. We wandered the winding streets and visited some world-famous shrines. I took a moment for myself at one of the temples. I stood in a large dark room that smelled heavily of incense. In front of me was a 40 foot gold statue of a classic Japanese god. My mind struggled to understand what was before me. The struggle quickly gave way to humility. I believe that genetically the Japanese and my own European ancestors were once close cousins. However tens of thousands years, thousands of miles and recent culture had since separated us. The cultural difference was immediately apparent in front of me. Even though I had never before imagined a religion like this, I was still somehow connected to it. I gave a humble bow and left the hall.-Homogenity-
Wikipedia states 98.5% of Japan is Japanese. Let me tell you, that is an understatement. It is completely surreal walking down the street and seeing such similarity between people. The hair color is the same. Most everyone is slender and roughly the same height. Facial shapes all look familiar. Personalities are sometimes the same.

And then my train of thought splits. I think of the States. I think of the diversity there. And how that is something I truly relish. And then again I think of Japan and its uniqueness. Japan is an island that has been mostly introspective. Keeping to themselves when possible. I don’t know of any other countries that have a make up like it is here. And this is something that I want to continue to notice and enjoy.


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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.

3 responses to “New and Familiar”

  1. Claudia says :

    I look forward to them all not matter short or long. Continue to enjoy your stay in a beautiful country. We love you!

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