I owe you an apology.
I had intended to start blogging as soon as I arrived in Japan but almost a year in and this is my first post. I could say that it was because of my busy schedule, which does in reality shoulder some blame. Ultimately though, it really comes down to the fact that I’m experiencing a bit of a half-life in Japan.
On one hand, I’m a tourist. I travel at every opportunity and take every cliched photo you could care to think of. On the other hand, I’ve been spending the majority of my time in classrooms since Day One. At first, it was for my own training. Now I’m the teacher. Speaking, reading, writing and teaching English in an English environment for 80% of my average week certainly takes a lot of “Japan” out of the Japanese experience.
Regardless, I’m a firm believer in “better late than never” so here we are! And sure, it’s unconventional to start off any blog with a FAQ but these 8 questions come pretty darn frequently.
Culture? Loaded. People? Friendly. Cities? Safe. Food? …oh man, the food! So very おいしい (oishii: delicious)!
The other reason, which I’m condensing here, is that I’m rather determined to travel the world but needed a stepping stone into the whole independent/globe-trotting scene. Enter Japan.
2. Is Japanese easy to learn?
Most people I talk to back home seem to think that I would have achieved fluency within my first three months here. But a) that’s just plain crazy and b) let me remind you of what I said earlier: I’m only immersed in Japan for 20% of my average week.
To paint you a picture, I was living in the dark for my first few months here. I couldn’t read or write or understand anything anyone said to me. Only after those few months did I start learning the phonetic writing systems. Grammar came into the picture around October.
So is it easy to learn? Well, if we place it on a scale with other foreign languages then phonetically, sure! If you speak in a natural monotone, Japanese is the language for you. Grammatically, it’s a little trickier.
To have gotten even this far – which is to say, not far at all (I say that in the spirit of honesty rather than humility) – I’ve been studying a few hours everyday before and, on occasion, after work. I’m fortunate enough to have found a very, very dedicated study buddy and my Japanese coworkers are generous with their time and patience.
So far, I’ve been focusing almost entirely on grammar which means everything else – vocabulary, speaking, listening – is falling very far behind. Considering that I’m hoping to take the proficiency test in June, I need to work on that. Stat.
I am innately introverted. It took me a full school term to begin socialising when I changed high schools. Public speaking was my nightmare. My manager had to push me to speak to the customers when I got my first retail job. I get grumpy if I haven’t had sufficient time to recharge my social battery.
But being a foreign teacher is like being half a teacher and half a mascot. People have a certain expectation when it comes to foreigners from Western countries. Besides, having an extroverted personality generates a less awkward classroom environment. So at work, that’s who I am.
Even outside the classroom, to communicate friendliness without a common language often calls on social confidence (and over smiling, if we’re going to be honest here). Everyone’s shy at the prospect of talking to strangers and foreigners, so I normally try to initiate conversation.
It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good skill and yet… by the end of the day, I need my alone time or to be with people who I’m so at home with that it expends no energy whatsoever to be around them.
It’s not to say that I haven’t made friends here. I have. Good friends. But sometimes I just miss the comfort of my established friendships back home.
I also miss beaches, the variety of fresh and affordable produce, the smell of trees after rain, the Australian sense of humour and the taste of Melbourne’s tap water.
I have three responses. I either adjust what I do to match (like separating my rubbish into a billion categories); respond with, “oh really? That’s strange” (like to the fact that they eat KFC for Christmas); or just grin and bear it (like that they prefer handwritten documents to word processed ones, even in professional settings).
6. Are all your students really studious, formal and respectful?
I don’t want to go into any details about my job, especially on the Internet. It’s actually one of the reasons why I find it hard to find things to blog about (in case you haven’t picked it up by now, I’m at work. A lot.) I’ve weeded out the other work related questions but this question… Boy, I get asked this question so often that I’m going to make an exception and answer it.
Here we go.
The answer is: no.