State of Affairs, Part 3
Welcome to the third chapter in my blog. If you have nothing but time I suggest you go back to the beginning of this series, or maybe just the last entry, to see how I’ve gotten here. However I’m going to assume that no one has the time for that so I’ll bring you up to speed quick, fast, and in a hurry.
I am an English teacher in Japan. I’ve taught in a private language school for two years in a suburb just outside Tokyo. Along the way I’ve had adventures and misadventures. Recently I’ve settled down into a pretty mundane life. Just when I thought I knew what to expect I was offered a new opportunity. I am now an “emergency educator.” Don’t let the title fool you, I’m still a teacher. Instead of working in one office I’ll now work in a variety of locations filling in when needed. I expect it to be challenging, but nothing good came easily.
Since I’ve signed on for one more year I’ve set another round of goals. Here’s a few of them:
1.) Travel abroad
2.) Pass a Japanese language fluency exams
3.) Paint a 5-year plan
4.) Continue to learn and grow whilst avoiding becoming cynical
For my family and friends in the States some good & bad news. The good: I’ve decided when I’ll make my first return trip. The bad: I’m thinking Christmas 2013 (thirteen months away).
For my friends in Japan; speak to me in Japanese. I need to break out of my comfortable bubble and finally learn something besides, “生ビール、ください.”
In a preview of what to expect for the next three years. I’m going to slow down my blogging speed, one entry every three weeks. I’m going to report less on my activities and more on the culture. I will try to post more videos of what I’m doing. Oh, and I’m taking requests. If there’s something you would like to hear about please put in a request below in the comments.
Without further ado, I give you the third chapter of my blog: JapaneseAlex, III.
November 3-4 (Sat-Sun)
It’s koyo (紅葉) time again in Japan.
Mari and I decided to head north to see red leaves and the beginning of autumn. We rented a car and went up to Nikko (日光) for a short weekend. Unfortunately every person in Tokyo had the same idea. The highway was packed. What should have been a three-hour drive turned into 10 hours. We spent six hours driving 5 kilometers through a mountain pass. We eventually made it through the mountain, with plenty of Donner Party jokes, and settled into our guest house (民宿).
The next morning we walked on crunchy leaves and took many pictures. The scenery was perfect and well worth the ordeal from the day before. We also visited the Tosho-gu shrine (東照宮). It’s a monument built to honor Ieyasu Tokugawa. Mari taught me much about Japanese history. It was cool. Overall a great trip.
November 5 (Tue)
Election Day in the US. I watched the results of the presidential election all morning in my apartment. I went in to work and listened to NPR on the school speakers. Much earlier than anyone anticipated, President Barack Obama was reelected, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
During lunch I watched Japanese news covering the election. They had some really… Japanese graphics during the show. The rest of the day I had students reporting the election results to me. They were overwhelmingly supportive of the President. All told it was really cool to watch this election outside of the country.
November 9 (Fri)
I took a day off from work to visit Tokyo Disney Sea with my girlfriend. Disney is huge in Japan. Like, crazy huge. So being curious I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Mari and I spent a long day in the park. We rode many rides, ate good food and enjoyed the impressive scenery. All told it was a very pleasant experience. I would recommend anyone visit and I’m excited to visit Tokyo Disneyland next.
November 17 (Sat)
My farewell party was held a week prior to my last day. Scheduling. I didn’t expect much but was delighted to be wrong. 40 people came out to wish me well. Maybe half came out for me, the other half just to drink, but who am I to judge? I rotated through each table speaking with everyone, remembering which lessons I had taught them.
Second party came and half the party, the drinking half, followed us to the next bar. Second party is always my favorite. It gives me a chance to people watch. We ended the party in time for the last train and everyone went home. Except me. I hopped across the street to my hotel where I’m staying for a week. In fact this may be a bit of shadowing for my coming year. The hotel, not the party.
I’ve fought culture shock for two years. I told everyone, and mostly myself, that I didn’t have it. I was fine and flexible. I know now that’s not true. I know everyone faces culture shock on some level. Mine was delayed to set in and perhaps a minor case. That said I have still felt it. And at what better time to recognize and talk about it than the beginning of my third year.
Wikipedia describes culture shock in four phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery. Let’s jump in and explore.
Honeymoon. My honeymoon period lasted a long time, maybe 10 months. I think it was longer because Japan was the first foreign country I had visited. Tokyo was also large enough that there was always something new to do. I was absolutely thrilled to be living here. Every day was a new adventure with new people to meet. I was living a dream.
Negotiation. This is the bitter phase of culture shock. It lasted from 12-16 months. I wasn’t consciously upset or angry. But I was often irritated by small things around me. Although not driving, I was annoyed by the way people operated their vehicles and drove. The uniform and monotonous sounds that all Japanese make really goaded me. I heard far too many “ehh’s (えーー)” and “right? (ね)”. Mostly I despised the insincerity of communication. Being nice to save face is more important than being because you like someone. The whole country just felt fake.
Adjustment. This period started after 18 months and is continuing now. I describe this as a shoulder shrug and a nod. I still witness things that are beyond me. Like the willingness to stand in line for a popular restaurant and ignore the empty eatery right next to it. But I’ve come to realize that’s the culture. Stomping my feet won’t do anything. The only thing I can do is shrug at the stupidity, and nod by joining the line. Besides, I’ve got to eat.
Mastery. This phase actually began as soon as I arrived and will continue indefinitely. I’m always learning something new that helps me immerse in the culture. I quickly learned how to order a burger at McDonald’s. Now I can meet and introduce myself to others using the native tongue. Oh and bowing is totally second nature now. There’s always one more thing to learn, and I’m willing.
One reason I resisted the idea of culture shock is because I’ve always enjoyed my time here. If I didn’t like it I would pack up and leave. Ultimately the good outweigh the bad so I’ve stayed. Not only have I stayed, but I decided my first two years were good enough that I committed to an additional year.
I always planned on staying here for two years. Now that I’m going into a third I’m in uncharted territories. I’ll keep you posted about my discoveries. That’s all for now gang, see you next month. -Alexander