One month ago, we arrived in Japan.
A part of me feels like moving here has been a lot like when we first got married. Everyone asks you the same question: “How’s married life??” And you just return the question with a blank stare because it’s a super jam-packed question & unless you’re answering it hours after returning from your honeymoon, cannot be answered truthfully with a simple “It’s great!”
So, to answer the question “How’s life in Japan?” I’ll go with this:
We have had to learn how to grocery shop all over again, how to coordinate our work schedules and mornings, how to stretch out our groceries until payday (note: this is not code for “we’re starving ourselves”), and how to actually do our jobs well. The Google Translate app has been a Godsend, and we love our rice cooker as well as the Japanese cookbook that we found in our apartment hutch (so many soups to make!!).
Yet we are still learning.
There is no Aldi, or Walmart, and one mango costs you your firstborn as well as a limb of your choosing. So we continue to take things one day at a time, and rejoice when the price of strawberries are reduced for quick sale.
There have been so many details to remember: how to pay for things at the store (you usually put your money on a little tray and then the cashier takes it & counts it), how low to bow depending on who you are bowing to, what greeting to say when you enter the office, what to say when you leave the office but plan to return a few hours later, what greeting to say when you enter an office that isn’t your main office, what to say when you yourself leave the office, and what to say to someone who is leaving the office before you.
Writing it all out makes life here seem very dramatic, but I must admit it got easier after the first week, and now all of those things are coming more naturally. Thankfully, our team has been so helpful, and observing what they do has helped to avoid many awkward moments and cultural faux pas.
But at the same time, it’s been joyful. There is still a newness and an excitement that we have about living here – we have sooo many exciting trips in the works – but we have found joy in just living life here and establishing a routine. There is comfort in the familiar, and it’s exciting to realize that things are becoming just that – familiar. The city seems smaller and more manageable, and our level of independence grows every day. We got paid on Thursday, and we can finally go shopping for furnishings so that our apartment can feel more like a home rather than just a temporary living space.
I am using my degree (that’s a pretty rare sentiment these days), and we both feel fulfilled in our work. This work has a greater purpose than just teaching students how to answer the monthly question; April’s question was “When is your birthday?”. We are loving people and slowly building friendships with others in our community.
My days/weeks are pretty straightforward:
I go to the Wakakusa office every morning at around 8:45 and start planning for the day. After about an hour of planning, me and the other Wakakusa ladies teach at the Kindergarten or at one of the local elementary schools. When we teach at the Kindergarten, we co-teach two 25 minute classes, and then are able to go home for an extended lunch break. On elementary days, we spend the morning planning our classes, and then are driven to the school where we are teaching on that particular day. Elementary classes (we teach for 2 periods) are also usually co-taught (depending on how big the school is) and are about 50 minutes long. When we arrive at the elementary school, we are greeted by one of the school administrators and/or secretaries and are able to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea before we start our classes.
Once we finish teaching, we are driven home for our break, which is usually from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. When my break ends I plan for three class periods (thanks to the tutelage of Dr. Modica & Professor Aspito I’ve been miraculously ahead in my planning), and then teach from 4 – 7 p.m. On Thursdays I only teach one class period with two of the sweetest and most lovable second grade girls, and then I’m able to go home an hour early.
For the past month I have learned how to manage classes with students that don’t understand English, how to create homework that is both challenging and manageable, and how to teach letter writing to fourth graders. Did you know that in Japan, the ABC song is sung differently?
Yeah, me neither. I had to learn that too.
Did you know that there are also a few students that go to the after-school English program that have learning disabilities (and as far as I know, no IEPs)? Figuring out how to help them without being able to speak their native tongue is frustrating, disheartening, yet motivating all at once. One night a student cried in one of my classes because she didn’t understand what I was asking her to do and was embarrassed – even after demonstrating it to her at least five times & attempting to translate the directions with my very limited Japanese. She sat at her desk with her head down, crying silently for the rest of class, until I gave her a hug and an eraser shaped like an ice cream cone.
But I suppose that is the struggle of every teacher out there: forever learning how to teach, and rejoicing in every stinking small victory.
Caleb’s job is a bit different, and hopefully I’ll be able to persuade him with enough sushi to write something about his teaching experience so far. 😉 Until then, know that he loves being in Japan just as much as I do.
Some upcoming things:
1. GOLDEN WEEK: we have three days off this coming week! Tomorrow we go into work, but have Tuesday through Thursday off. We thought about going to Tokyo, but since it’s a bit pricey to go (about $200 on the Shinkansen), we’re going to stay local. We want to make a trip to Koriyama to do some apartment shopping, start a small garden with tomato plants, and we might go fishing! It’s going to be a good break.
2. My birthday is on Saturday! We’re going to celebrate with some conveyor belt sushi & karaoke. The perfect way to ring in year 25.
3. Japanese classes: not only is May 7th my birthday, but it’s also the day that we start taking Japanese classes. What’s great about teaching here is that I’ve learned the Japanese translations for certain words and phrases, but it’s going to be nice to have actual structured study.
4. I officially start teaching without any observations after Golden Week!
If there is anything you want to read about, please let me know. I also want to try my hand at Vlogging, so if there are any specific things you want to see, feel free to comment and/or message me about that too. 🙂
Thanks for letting us share our life with you. We love you, you beautiful blog-reading humans.
Kelly & Caleb