A Year in Review

Today is the first anniversary of my arrival in Japan. I arrived on July 28th, 2012, and now I’ve been in this country for a whole straight year.

(This is also the 50th entry I’ve written for this blog! Milestones!)

I hardly remember how I felt before and after arriving, which is why I wrote this blog in the first place. To remind myself—and perhaps others—what it’s like to come to live in Japan for the first time.

It was scary and exhilarating. I think it probably felt like my arrival at college—the start of a new chapter, a new life. Something totally different. I wasn’t too scared, I think. I’m a pretty optimistic person, so I was mostly just exciting about doing something new and proving myself to… well, myself.

Over the last year, I’ve definitely felt the ups and downs of culture shock—which, as I’ve said over and over, is not a single event, but a cycle that one goes through. If you go to a new country for a week, you probably won’t feel the negative parts of culture shock. It’s more likely you’ll be in Stage One the whole time—the stage where you’re excited and love everything. Living somewhere is a completely different experience than just visiting or traveling.

I was stuck in Stage Two for a long time, but… I think it’s getting better. It’s a slow climb out of this Stage Two pit, but I’m optimistic that I’ll make it. I think I’ve just about made it.

I don’t know if I’ve grown as a person. I felt pretty static for a while—I don’t feel like I’m actually doing anything productive or learning anything. Is that just how life is? It’s very strange not to be in college anymore, a place where I changed and learned every day. I miss that feeling. That dynamism. Always in motion. Like water.

Isumi River in Otaki.

Isumi River in Otaki.


Speaking of water, today, I went surfing for the second time with Riyoko.

A year ago, I wasn’t even dreaming of surfing. Surfing was always one of those things that was like, “Oh, I’d like to do that someday.” But I didn’t have the money or the space or the time. I’m still not very serious about it, but it’s a new experience, and I do like it.

I think that easily symbolizes how many new things I’ve experienced this year. I moved to a new country, I lived in that country for a year, I paid my own bills, I bought my own car (sort of), I decorated my apartment so that it felt like my own (instead of a temporary space, which is how it felt for a while), I sang in front of people at karaoke, I went to local events, I organized my own Christmas dinner (albeit a non-traditional one), I traveled on my own, I traveled with friends, I went to a sort of underground concert, I volunteered in an area devastated by a natural disaster, I learned to surf (halfway, anyway). I tried new food (okonomiyaki, the joys of Japanese yakiniku, takoyaki, Japanese seasonal goods). I met new people. I made new friends (somehow).

I discovered that I could actually take care of myself and be okay.

Full Circle

Summer vacation began on Friday, July 19th, but that meant nothing for me and many other ALTs. Unfortunately, even though we don’t have any work to do when students aren’t around, we still have to go to work.

I’ve been exaggerating to everyone a little bit when I’ve said that I have absolutely no work to do. The truth is, at least for last week, I had a fair amount of work to do. I had to write 5 speech contest speeches, and they all had to be finished very quickly. I finished all of that on Thursday, so after that… I needed to give myself work.

Thank goodness I’m a writer.

Last summer, when I first arrived (which was today, a week after summer vacation started), I didn’t have a lot to do in the office. I only met with students for 1 hour a day, and the rest of the day was me sitting at my desk, reorganizing everything. Luckily, my principal was very kind and let me come in at 9 (instead of 8) and leave at 3 (instead of 4, and sometimes earlier). But that was just because it was my first year, and they assumed I needed time to get settled. Since it’s my second year, and I have a stricter principal now, I don’t get that leniency.

Now that I’ve come full circle in the school cycle, I’ve seen mostly everything that could possibly happen at this school. I’m sure I’ll still be surprised, because every ALT agrees that they never tell us anything important. They seriously don’t. It’s kind of ridiculous. And that sort of thing will never stop, because 3rd year ALTs still get surprises that would be prevented if they were just told ahead of time what was going on.

Things I’ve Learned

I don’t know about growing as a person or changing, but I do know I’ve learned some things. I’ve learned a lot about Japan and Japanese culture that I wouldn’t have learned—or really understood—without being here (and to be honest, I’m sure I still don’t fully understand). But I’ve also learned a lot about my own culture—American culture—and about the U.S.

Sometimes people ask me which is better—America or Japan. (Or else, certain things in America versus certain things in Japan.) I’m serious—people ask me that sometimes. I think it’s a ridiculous question. You can’t compare the two. Neither one is better than the other. They’re not better or worse; they’re just different.

That said, Japan is worse at women’s rights. And that’s taking into account the atrocious things that have been going on with women’s rights in parts of the U.S.

But every place has its pros and cons. If you had to choose a place to live—well, there is no perfect place you could choose. You just have to choose a place where you are most comfortable, where the pros and cons seem to match up to you.

I’ve also learned a lot about myself—the limits to my patience and how I handle obstacles.

I also got a lot of praise from other people, for what feels like the first time in my life. I’ve never gotten this much praise for my work before. It’s been kind of crazy and ego-inflating. I’ve been told I’m a good writer (by people reading this, by my JTEs, and by the people for whom I wrote that script). I’ve been told that they’re impressed by my ability to work with many kinds of people. I’ve been told that I’m cheerful and friendly and good with children. It’s pretty much been everything I ever wanted to hear.

Besides people telling me things, though, I’ve also learned that I actually can take care of myself. (Sort of. A lot of things here are done for me.) I kind of knew that from college, but I feel like this was a good next step, and I’m on my way to being a real human being.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned, however, is compassion and empathy for people who are considered outsiders.

I thought I was okay on that front before—after all, I was sort of a freak in middle school and high school, and I’ve always been one to root for the underdog and prefer things that are a little outside of the mainstream (just a little; I enjoy mainstream things, too; I’m no hipster). I thought I knew what it was like to be on the outside, looking in, and I felt like I could understand a lot of people that way.

Looking back, I could really only empathize to an extent. I wasn’t very nice to some people in high school—some people who were a little different from others and to whom I could have probably stood to be a little nicer—and I remember saying some pretty stupid things in high school (and even in college) that were embarrassingly ignorant. I’d like to excuse myself by saying that immediately after I said those things, I realized how wrong they were, but they still came out of my mouth. That’s still a problem.

But anyway, now that I am officially an outsider—that’s what “gaijin” literally means, after all, and it carries with it a certain xenophobic connotation—I think I can understand a little better. I mentioned in an earlier entry that I’m more sympathetic now to marginalized groups in the U.S., because I know now how it is to be afraid in a country whose language I don’t speak and who doesn’t particularly like me or want me there.

And before you jump all over me for trying to compare my situation to theirs, I’m not. I am aware that I still have priviledge and I have never—and will never—feel the actual hardships that they have had to live through for centuries. In no way am I implying that.

But I think I’m a little closer than before to understanding their hardships. And I think that’s important. I didn’t understand before—and now I think, in some ways at least, I do. And I think that’s a good step toward understanding each other and working together to make a better world for everyone. I hope I can learn more in the future and be an actual help to the cause of making an awesome world, rather than a hindrance and a contributor to World Suck.

But I’m not perfect. (Yet.) ;)

So the message I’d like to leave you with here is this: Please try to put yourselves in other people’s shoes more often. And it’s important to remember that “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone… just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Where I’m Going Now

My goal for writing this blog was to document a first year JET’s experience. I also wanted to tell my family and friends back home a little about Japan and how it feels to live in another country. I don’t know many people back home that have done this.

I hope you’ve all learned a little something from this blog. Because I think I have. It’s been a great experience, living in Japan and writing about it. And if there’s one thing I hope that this blog did, it’s taught someone something.

I hope to keep learning, and I hope that you all keep learning. Because you should never stop learning. Ever.

Now, this blog has come to an end. Not the end; just an end. I know my posts were rather… er… irregular (not on purpose; I had originally meant to write every two weeks) and it’s about to become even more irregular. The pattern so far has been about my daily life, but now I plan to write more in-depth entries about culture and general thoughts about Japan and the U.S.

And honestly, I’ll probably post about my students every once in a while—because they never fail to amuse me. But I think you pretty much get the pattern of my life here in Japan, so I’ll be leaving pretty much everything else out.

Instead of posting about every month to this blog, I’m shifting focus to other writing avenues. Namely, I’m going to start writing for my anime blog. (I’ll let you know what I get that one up.) I also want to spend more time writing fiction and editing my novels. Because I need to get on that.

I think it’s been a great year—with all its ups and downs, its stalls and starts—and I’m looking forward to another great one.

For more on an ex-pat’s life in Japan and their observations on Japanese culture, read this greatly superior blog. Seriously, it’s so much better and informative than my blog, by a factor of, like, a gajillion. It’s everything I wanted this blog to be that my blog failed to be.

Anyway, thanks for reading so far. See you when I see you!


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5 Responses to A Year in Review

  1. janesclement@aol.com says:

    You are so awesome!

  2. clairemariedavidson says:

    This blog is amazing! You’re amazing! Good luck with year 2! D

  3. Jeff Hadlich says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t link this the first time I read the post. I think I got distracted by the end. Anyway, here’s something for the dynamism/water ideas! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGFf3SRP1bE&list=PLLwFshqKhSoKwu1s67F8DgYJCyv7BxV5G&index=5

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