I’ve spent four days at work so far and they’ve been chill as can be. I was nervous walking into work the morning of my first day but soon realized there wasn’t much to be nervous about. Upon arriving at my base school (a Junior High school) I was greeted by one of the JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English). The school’s three JTEs and I will be ‘team-teaching’ once classes start up. Technically, they are in charge of running the class, and I’m supposed to be their ‘assistant’, however, the amount of control I have depends on the JTE so I’ll have to wait and find out. I had a fellow ALT from New Zealand there to greet me as well. Most schools only have one ALT, however, since my school is so large they require two.
The JTE and the ALT introduced me to everyone, showed me around the school, and answered all of my questions. They were very kind and helpful. I was really grateful to have them there on my first day.
I was shocked by how many times I’ve been warned that the students at this school can be quite bad. Apparently they often misbehave and have generally bad attitudes. But it all depends…some classes are worse than others and some teachers can control the students while others can’t. I was advised not to come off too friendly as I should make sure the students know they can’t walk all over me. Naturally, all of this makes me feel a bit uneasy.
My school is huge and absolutely beautiful. It’s spacious and bright and all the classrooms have a view of the mountains and ocean. I have my own desk in the teacher’s room, where I will spend most of my time during the remainder of summer vacation. Thank goodness because it’s one of the only rooms in the school with Air Con. And since, for the most part, Japanese buildings aren’t insulated, it’s humid as all heck throughout the school. I’ve never sweat so much in my life. I feel a bit awkward and out of place in the teacher’s room amongst all the other staff because (except for a few) I can’t converse with them. I’m a people-person and I love getting to know new folks, but I can’t do that here. It feels really strange and I worry people may think I’m being unfriendly. My cheeks literally hurt by the end of the day from smiling so much, because that’s about all I can do to open up to my colleagues.
Pic of my base school from across the marina
Classroom during summer vacay
Since it’s summer vacation and there are no classes, I’ve used my time to get to know the school, get my self-introduction lesson ready and study the textbooks to see what the students have learned/will be learning. I have also gotten to work on learning Japanese. Step one is to learn Hirogana, one of the Japanese alphabets. Japanese writing is comprised of three alphabets; Hirogana (46 characters) Katakana (46 characters) and Kanji (about 2500 characters..ugh). Currently, the task of learning Japanese feels pretty daunting and sometimes impossible. There have been times where I’m totally discouraged. But I’m trying to take it one step at a time. And step one is Hirogana.
view of the teachers room from my desk
On Wednesday I attended my first ‘enkai’, which translates to ‘drinking party’. It was was a welcome party for myself and the four other new ALTs. We arrived at a beautiful Japanese restaurant with a big, long table. In order to find out seat, we chose numbers out of a hat. There were about twenty-eight of us in attendance; all the ALTs, some of the JTEs and members of the board of education.
As in most Japanese restaurants, plates are ordered for the entire group and each dish is shared amongst the smaller groups of people seated together. Dishes are served periodically as they are ready. If you ask me, this is the way to eat. Sharing food is much more fun and it feels more intimate, too. It was all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink and cost each person about $35 CAD. (A steal, considering what we got. Food is very inexpensive here.) I didn’t go crazy or anything, but I definitely took advantage of the all-you-can-drink status of the evening and had several drinks, something which I don’t do often at all. I had a great night but man, did I ever pay for it. I was hungover for two full days.
After dinner we went to Karaoke. Japanese karaoke is much different than American Karaoke. For starters, it’s huge here and you can find a Karaoke bar almost anywhere. You rent a private room at an hourly rate and the room is yours, for the allotted time. There is a little doorbell button (which most restaurants here have, I’ve noticed) to call the server if you need a drink or snack. And of course, it’s all you can drink. Since we had such a large group, our room was massive. It had a flat screen TV at either end and two microphones. There were two handheld machines being passed around so people could browse the songs and add them to the playlist. It has basically any song you can think of. We sang a mixture of Japanese, Korean and English tunes. When your song choice comes up on the screen, it’s your time to shine. Everyone else either sings along or just watches. There are also tambourines and maracas provided.
For the very first song, someone had selected Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” a song which I heard so many freakin’ times during University (alog with Wagon Wheel) that it lost it’s magic for me. But the song was about to start and no one was grabbing the mic so I decided to make my fellow Xaverians proud so I stepped in and gave it my all. And I must say, it felt good. I also sang Dexi Midnight Runner’s ‘Come on Eileen’ Bruno Mars ‘Just the way you are’ and Justin Biebers ‘Love yourself’ (Yep. I’m a Belieber. no shame there). After our two hours at this Karaoke spot were up it was 11pm and some of the group was ready for bed. The rest of us continued on to a smaller room at another Karaoke spot and kept singing. We had so much fun.
A fellow ALT stayed the night as she lives about a half hour away and had been drinking. There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence here and that goes for even just a few sips of a beer as well as driving hung-over. (If I was to be caught driving above the 0.0% limit, I would get a hefty fine, I’d lose my job and be deported.) So it’s around 2am and my friend and I were up chatting and laughing when we got a knock on the door from two police officers. Apparently they had received three different noise complaints about my apartment. Which seemed ridiculous, since we weren’t even being very loud. I guess we didn’t fully take the thing walls and lack of insulation into account, but still! A friend of mine warned me that I might be in an area that picks on foreigners. I think it’s too soon to say. But I’ll have to be aware of that. The cops, however, were friendly and smiley as can be. They simply took our names down on a piece of loose leaf on a clipboard. (hehe) It was probably the friendliest police encounter I’ve ever witnessed.
Since my arrival in Amakusa, I’ve had a few evenings to myself with no plans. Generally, I love spending time alone. Cooping myself up at home with a book or a documentary can be very enjoyable. But it’s easy for me to fall into a ‘hermitty’ state-of-mind when I have too much free time on my hands. My monkey-mind gets going and feelings of ‘I should do more’ with an undertone of ‘I should BE more’ kick in. I can quickly develop a negative mindset when this happens. I’ve learned that for me, the best way to stop the negativity in its tracks is to go for a walk.
Lately, I haven’t been feeling like walking very much. This is because of the humidity and my lack of energy (my brain has been working overtime lately, trying to decode all the Japanese. So I’m beat by the end of the day) But I’ve been forcing myself. It’s a decision I never regret.
Once I’m out and walking my mind settles down and things fall back into perspective. My beauty-recognition kicks in and I feel inspired again. I find more to smile about. I see beauty and art everywhere I look. Everything seems better. There are just so many more possibilities once you get outside.
Moving around and trying a lot of different jobs recently, I’ve gone for plenty of evening solo walks. Especially during times when I’ve been unemployed, these walks have kept me sane. It’s also a great way to get to know my town and find my way around sans-GPS. I really cherish these walks and the time I have to myself to explore. Sometimes I listen to music or an audiobook and other times I prefer quiet. But I usually always have my phone or an iPod on me because ideas always come to me as I’m walking and I need somewhere to jot things down.
Evidently, I am an avid supporter of the healing power of walking. I read Walter Issacson’s biography on Steve Jobs (which is one of my favorite books, ever.. highly recommended) and admired his commitment to the practice of walking, which was mentioned several times throughout the book. Jobs was known for his ‘walking-meetings’ which are exactly what they sound like, meetings held in a park or on the sidewalks, in motion. (This is a technique I will most certainly be adopting when I manage/own a company. Indeed, I say ‘when’ instead of ‘if’ now. It’ll happen.) I actually did a collage project with an accompanying paper about the benefits of walking for my first-ever assignment at NSCAD. Here is a little excerpt from that essay…
‘A 2014 study from Stanford University found that the creative output of participants increased by 60%, on average, when walking as opposed to sitting. In addition, participants were found to be more creative even after having finished walking. This shows that the positive effects of walking linger, and can therefore be taken back to the workspace after a walk (Wong, 2014).’
Need I say more?
On Friday I had the best nighttime solo walk. I left at 9:30pm and walked around for about an hour and a half, bobbing and weaving through the city streets of Hondo. The thing about Amakusa is, it’s pretty dead. The amount of residents here has been dwindling for years. In fact, Amakusa has the fastest decreasing population in all of Japan. This weekend was especially dead because of Obon (a Buddhist holiday where many people leave town to honor their ancestor) but even in general it’s pretty quiet.
This was very apparent to me on my walk about. It was a Friday night and the streets were basically empty. It looked like a total ghost town. Many of the buildings around Hondo are old and outdated fixer-uppers. But to me, that look is totally beautiful in it’s own way, especially when they’re amidst ominously empty streets. I had a real sense that I was starting to get to know my city.
This is one reason why I love small towns, because you can get to them, in their entirety. I certainly couldn’t do this if I lived in Tokyo or Osaka. In addition, I feel pretty safe here. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and I have been assured a few times by other Amakusa residents that there is nothing to worry about here. I would be naïve to completely turn off my sense of being ‘on guard’, and I don’t plan to, but I definitely felt at ease. Much more at ease than I’ve ever felt in Halifax. All in all, it was a great walk.
Saturday was a really great day, too. For starters, it was not as uncomfortably hot as most days are here. Two ALT friends and I took a day trip to a nearby town called Ushibuka. The drive was stunning. Everything is super lush and verdant with rolling mountains galore and plenty or ocean views. I was ooing and awing at the beauty the whole drive, possibly to the point of annoying my friends. Along the way, we saw a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and a parking lot so we decided to stop and check it out. I finally got to step inside a Japanese forest, which I have been aching to do since I arrived. Granted, it was pretty short lived. There was no proper path and with that day’s choice of foot ware in combination with Japan’s scary creepy-crawlies, we felt it was best to stay on near the road.
Hellooo Japanese forest!
As soon as I was out of the car and walking around, I noticed how much more alive I felt being surrounded by nature rather than buildings. I didn’t even really realize that I was craving the outdoors, but I was. Since my arrival in Japan just over two weeks ago, I have been spending most of my time indoors because of all of the training and meetings we’ve been doing. Not to mention, it is uncomfortably hot most days, so the outdoors is less appealing. As soon as we stepped out into the picnic park and were amongst the trees and mountains I noticed a significant change in myself. I felt more energetic and enthusiastic about life. I felt more like me. The Japanese actually have a word ‘Shinrin-yoku’ which means ‘the medicine of being in the forest’ or ‘forest bathing’ as a form of therapy. That is exactly what we did. It was brilliant.
We continued driving and eventually made it to our destination of Ushibuka. It was another gorgeous little ghost town that I immediately fell in love with it. We walked around trying to find a restaurant to get some lunch and had a bit of trouble doing so because of the holiday weekend. The streets were literally empty. We were able to find a few locals who helped us find an open spot, though. People here are so kind and helpful and most of them seem totally stoked by the prospect of interacting with a ‘gaijin’ (foreign person) as it is not something that happens often. I was thankful to have my two Japanese speakers with me to help with directions and ordering food and what not. Practically no one speaks English here so it would have been a struggle for me to do so without them.
After lunch we hit the beach! The beach was gorgeous and I got to experience my first ocean swim in Japan. I felt right at home. After that we headed to another friend’s house. On our way we stumbled upon a gorgeous waterfall/swimming hole and the perfect place to rinse off the sand and salt. I know I keep saying this and I may sound like a broken record but don’t care…it was sooo beautiful.
We then met up with a few other ALTs and we all headed to the festival that was taking place in the small town of Shinwa that evening. This was quite different from the other festival I went to which was more or a parade. There was a big stage with seating, plenty or food and drink vendors and carnival games. Many of the attendees were dulled up in their traditional Japanese Kimono, and looking gorgeous as can be. We ate and drank and watched the performances, such as ‘Taiko’ (traditional Japanese drumming), which I reckon I’d like to learn while I’m here.
We went back to our friend’ house and one of the other ALTs, who has been here for three years, gave us a little presentation on ‘cultural fatigue.’ (Which is like culture shock but more long-term.) It consists of four phases: 1.Honeymoon phase 2. Everything sucks 3. Adaptation and 4. Assimilation and biculturalism. I learned that I am most definitely in the honeymoon phase. Apparently, it’s possible to remain in the honeymoon phase for a long time but that’s not common. All of the senior ALTs went through the phases in their first year and continue to do so. They use phase two as a verb now, ie. ‘yeah I was phase 2ing hard one day.’ They wanted us to be aware of what can occur and the best ways to cope with the transitions.
Before the presentation I aware that cultural fatigue existed but was of the mind that it wouldn’t happen to me, as I am a generally positive person and have moved many times before. But I realize now that I was naïve to think that way. Japanese culture and everyday life is incredibly different from what I’m used to, and optimistic or not, the transition will have an affect on me in ways both good and bad. I’m happy to have listened to the presentation so I can recognize the symptoms of the different phases and deal with them accordingly. Plus, our senior ALTs have been very open about the fact that they are there for us, whenever we need them. I really appreciate that.
A few happy festival goers 🙂
My love/hate relationship with Smartphones
Upon arriving in Amakusa, I bought an iPhone SE, complete a beautiful camera, data and all of the fixings a millennial like myself would want. This was quite a game changer for me. I have a weird and uncomfortable relationship with smart phones and social media, to say the least. Like most of my peers, I’m partially addicted to both. But at the same time, I always think I’d be happier if smartphones and social media didn’t exist. It’s something I think about all of the time, and struggle with often. And I feel I need to rant about it… you’ve been warned.
If you ask me what my pet peeve is I will say people being on their smartphones at inappropriate times, such as at the dinner table or when you’re trying to talk to someone in person. I’m not saying I’ve never done this, I certainly have. But there is a time and place to check your smartphone and social media and I like to think I’m aware of when those times are. More aware than many people I know. It seems people are getting more and more sucked into their smartphones and social media each year that passes. And it makes me sad. And it makes me wonder about what things will be like by the time I have kids.
When I did the foundation year at NSCAD a year ago, I was amongst a fantastic group of creative and talented kids. Most of them were about five years younger than me. I thought me and my friends were too involved with our smartphones but I was shocked by this group.. they were much worse. It was like their phones were extensions of them. It was common to see them using their phones openly in class and be watching videos/taking photos/scrolling Instagram in full view of the teacher WHILE they were teaching. And the majority of the teachers did nothing about it. I couldn’t believe it. I had similar sentiments towards the younger, elementary school kids who would come to Fort Langley National Historic site when I worked there as an Interpreter a few months back. I couldn’t get over how young these kids were to have iPhones. And I could barely get some of their attention because of it. It was frustrating, to say the least.
I’m constantly annoyed and frustrated by smartphones, but sometimes I feel like a total hypocrite for it, because I’ve been totally sucked into the culture myself…
I got my first smart phone while in second year a StFX and eventually found may way into the multiple forms of social media, Facebook (which I had since ‘07), Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram. Since Junior High I was always the girl who brought her camera everywhere. I constantly took photos and posted them online. This continued through high school where one of the many roles I played was that of the unofficial photographer/videographer in my friend group. I felt like it was almost expected of me to be that gal. But don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I’ve always had a knack for taking photos and making videos so I didn’t minded one bit. (Side note, I have actually been through fourteen digital cameras in my life. lol.)
After graduation, when Emily and I travelled to Japan and Thailand, I was struck by the constant presence of smart phones on our vacation. Every time we went to a new hostel or restaurant (which was two or three times a day) we immediately asked for the Wi-Fi password and connected to check emails/social media and of course to post photos. It wasn’t just us though, everyone around us was doing the same. I’d look around at a restaurant and about 95% of the people had their heads in their smartphones. And I was totally one of them! It was a bit repulsive.
Something struck me while I was in Thailand. I was on vacation in a beautiful foreign country. Why did I feel the need to be so connected? And why did I feel so inclined to post photos? (Oh, that ones easy…because travel photos are cool and exciting and always receive 10x more attention than everyday photos.) My smartphone, as well as those of the people around me, were actually negatively affecting my vacation. Which seemed like a real shame. I left Thailand with a sour taste in my mouth and a vow to buy a flip phone.
So I did. A brand-spankin’ new LG flip phone, which I have been using ever since. And I seriously never missed my iPhone. I kind of cheated though.. I hung on to the iPhone so I could still access my apps and social media if I had it on me and if I was in a Wi-Fi zone. My connectivity definitely decreased though and I much preferred it that way. The only time I truly missed my smartphone was for Google maps. Sorry but using a real map is just a nuisance.
A couple of months later, I had another realization. Even though I was constantly connected, I was still always checking my social media on my computer and my old smartphone when possible/appropriate. Which was pretty often. Snapchat was the worst. I was all about the snaps. I’d basically have full conversations over it. And be taken fully out of the moment when something cool and exciting was happening because I was busy hunting for my phone to snap chat it. So one day, in one fail swoop, I deleted Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
It felt great. I had more time on my hands. I was reading more. I was being more creative. I was more present when spending time with others. I started emailing and talking or the phone more in order to connect. I just felt generally more at ease.
I rode this wave of disconnection from social media for a few months before getting Instagram back. By this point, I was no longer the gal who brought her camera absolutely everywhere and posted entire albums on Facebook on a weekly basis. In fact, I barely took pictures anymore. But I still enjoyed doing it, and that urge to share my photos was ever-present. And of course, it’s nice to keep up with friends and family and look at their photos, too.
My relationship with Instagram was healthy for a while, but eventually I was sucked back in and checking it every night before bed and every morning upon waking up, as well as periodically throughout the day. (For anyone reading who is not familiar with social media or Instagram in particular, this may seem extremely excessive. But trust me, it’s normal for young people. I know plenty of people who were much more into social media than I ever was.)
Since then, I have probably deleted and re-downloaded Instagram nearly a dozen times, because sometimes I find myself getting too involved with it and I need a break. (Side note: Instagram actually recently deleted my account because they said I had reactivated it one too many times and went against their policy. So I had to make a whole new account. Hehe)
It wasn’t long before I got a new Facebook, too. Not having Facebook was both a blessing and a curse. The curse being that I would often be left out of events and gatherings because I didn’t get the Facebook invite. There were also times when I needed to reach someone and didn’t have his or her phone number or e-mail address. Facebook woulda been handy at times like these.
I had a few group projects at NSCAD that were annoying to try to get through, sans Facebook so eventually I made a new Facebook account, and changed my name to Sailon Silvergirl so people couldn’t search me. So I didn’t have friends, I just used it for events and so I could contact people if need be. That went on for a while but now I have about 100 friends, which is totally reasonable but it still stresses me out. Le sigh..
Now I have a smart phone with data and I have access to all my apps and Facebook and Instagram (and Tinder. I will save that one for another blog post) wherever I go. And in some instances it’s been great and a total lifesaver. For instance, Google translate. (Which even allows me to take photos of Japanese writing to translate it. Technology is freakin amazing.) Maps. (I’d probably be lost in a Japanese forest somewhere if it weren’t for maps.) And Shazam. (Whoever invented this amazing application was a genius. Bless them.)
It also allows me to take beautiful photos, something I haven’t had the hardware to do in a long time. And I’ve missed it. And Facetime! I can connect with loved ones at home without paying long distance fees. And I can SEE them. What a treat!
I’m grateful for smartphones when it comes to moments like these 🙂
But man… my incessant urges to share and check and post and creep and scroll are BACK. And I don’t like it one bit. If an ounce of boredom kicks in I find myself rummaging for my phone to end it. And I can easily spend a half an hour with my head in my phone doing whatever it may be only to look back up into the real world and realize how much time had passed. Which just doesn’t feel good. I’m referring to creeping through social media, especially. It’s not productive in any sense. It’s not helpful for learning. It just creates grounds for judgment and comparison and has the potential to make you feel badly about yourself.
I wish I was one of those people that could say ‘I have Facebook and Instagram, but I don’t use them’ I’ve tried this. It doesn’t work for me. I’m not good at doing things in moderation. I’m either connected or I’m not. But I need to find some middle ground here somehow. I’ve tried shunning technology and smartphones and while it feels great in some senses, it’s not sustainable in this day and age. At least not for me. And I realize that technology is just going to continue to advance, more and more rapidly. If I don’t embrace it, I will probably be screwing myself over.
I think the solution here is for me to set some ground rules to try to ease myself into a comfortable relationship with social media and my smart phone. For instance, I’ve been trying not to check my phone until after I’ve completed my whole morning routine, rather than as soon as I open my eyes. This blog has been helpful, too. It’s satisfying a good chunk of my urge to share. Which will, in turn, allow me to ease up on other social media. I hope.
Moreover, in honor of my blog and my new smartphone, I have taken a vow to become a truth machine. And to be ‘sorry-not-sorry’ (as they say) for my posts.
When I say ‘truth-machine’ I am referring to what one of role models Sheryl Strayed, claims to be. She’s the author of ‘Wild’ and host of the ‘Dear Sugar Radio’ Podcast. (Both SO good!!) She is considered a ‘truth machine’ because she tells it like it is, she doesn’t sugar coat anything and she is an open book. She is nothing but her true authentic self. She is comfortable sharing stories of her past and isn’t ashamed of boasting about her strengths and revealing her weaknesses. I absolutely admire her and deeply respond to the way she chooses to communicate with others. I plan to follow her footsteps in this sense. Which is a bit scary, I might add. But I reckon I’m getting somewhere.
So when it comes to social media and my blog, I shall speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth.. good or bad. I will try not to portray a curated view of my life, like I have in the past, and I’m going to try to shut up this annoying roommate in my head that is far too concerned with what other people will think of my photos. (‘Does my arm look fat in this photo?’ ‘Is the caption witty enough?’ ‘Am I posting too often?’ ‘Are people going to think I’m fishing for compliments?’ ‘I need to post a photo of the beach so people can see how beautiful it is.’ Etc, etc.) In addition, I’m not going to be sorry for this. I’m going to try not to be concerned whether I’m over sharing or posting too much, or if I’m being too blunt or self-righteous.
I have experimented with this a bit in the past. For example, when I was in Australia last year and everything was going wrong, I posted a beautiful photo of a beach near my house with this caption:
‘I took this a couple of days ago here in beautiful Byron bay. With social media being the outlet for social comparison that it is, it might provoke some feelings of envy in people. Especially those back in snowy Canada. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s what I’ve gathered from talking to people and some comments I’ve received. To be honest, it’s making me feel like a total phony. I am so lucky to be here in Australia and I realize that not everyone has the opportunities that I have. But all that glitters is NOT gold. What my instagram pictures don’t convey is that I have been in a state of complete bewilderment since leaving Nova Scotia and it seems as tough everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong. I’m not going to list what has happened and I’m not looking for pity from anyone. I’m just trying to draw attention to the fact that everybody has a story and unfortunately it’s difficult to decipher through that person’s posts on social media. Things aren’t always as they seem. In fact, they’re often the complete opposite. And while u may look at this ad think that I’m living the life and wishing you were here instead of there… I’m looking at your pictures and feeling the very same way. Everyone is facing their own personal challenges. Something to think about…’
I got a significant response from that post. Lots of likes and comments and people reaching out to me over PM or in person to tell me that they saw my post and that they appreciated it or agreed with it in one way or another. It was so much more satisfying to receive that kind of feedback from a post on Instagram than responses of envy and awe over a pretty beach photo, for example.
Moreover, in my last blog post I included some personal info and disclosed some of my vulnerabilities. This was a little scary to do. But between comments and e-mails, the response was again, significant. I was so pleasantly surprised. It’s very clear to me that being truthful and authentic in the world of social media is the breath of fresh air that some people are craving. I know I am.
So hopefully, with this new ‘truth-machine’ approach I plan to tackle when it comes to social media, I can use my smartphone for good instead of evil. Wish me luck…
Please comment, again. I’d love to hear from y’all 🙂
AKA Mary Ellen