So before I start, I just want to make everyone aware i have NOT blogged before so mistakes are going to happen ok! Blogging seems to be a great opportunity to air my experiences about moving to japan and the "smack in the face culture" that I've experienced in the short time Ive been here (4 weeks...) so better late than never!
So I arrived in Japan on the morning of that awful freight plane crash in Narita, March 23rd. We were re-routed to another airport in Tokyo, i can't remember the name right now but it's bloody typical that the flight im taking to move to a country Ive never been to gets re-routed. EEK, first bit of panic and we haven't even landed yet.
I was met by masked airport staff which does make the initial welcome experience a little surreal! I now know that most people in Japan wear white surgical masks, apparently to protect themselves from germs or protect other people from germs if they are sick. Weird though that all the masks come off when you visit the local izakaya (pub that serves food) and everyone’s puffing away on their fags!
Anyway it’s cleaner than clean (the opposite of India, phew) and reminds me of a little toy town, the roads and tiny as are the people and the lorries are teeny weeny.
A culture smacker for me has been the bowing culture. The first time someone bowed at me was in a hotel corridor. He literally stopped and bowed, I didn’t know what to do!! I checked behind me but no-one was there, it was definitely me! I nodded back. I have since realised that bowing is used to greet, express thanks, make a request or ask a favour. To me it seems like everyone bows, our train conductor turned and bowed every time he left our carriage; even the local supermarket checkout girl bows as she gives me my change!! I’ve been told there’s a hierarchy of bowing too, if someone from housekeeping bows then make sure you don’t bow as low to reiterate your social status. However, I need to remember that when my Kouchou-sensei (principal) bows I must bow lower than him/her whatever it takes. Now there’s a challenge! We’ve also practiced our business card exchange ceremony since there are so many faux pas to be made.
I have spent the past 2 weeks in both Narita (nr Tokyo) and Nagoya attending the Interac crash course on how to become an English teacher. Eeeek! We’ve now all been told that we’ll actually be teaching (not just assisting the teacher) and not to be surprised if the Japanese teacher buggers off for a coffee during the lesson. Luckily I’m teaching at 2 elementary schools so the little sproggits won’t give me too hard a time (like they do in high school) I know I shouldn’t be too cocky so I’ll just wait and see. So I’m now frantically preparing my first intro lesson and having a great time getting glue everywhere making flashcards, a far cry away from software marketing days! (I will return one day though!!)
Also trying to mentally prepare myself for being “GENKI”, this means upbeat/fun and our company has drilled that one into us. I have a few games that they taught us so I’m praying they won’t go down like a lead balloon.
I have now moved into my teeny flat just south of Kanazawa city (4 hrs directly west of Tokyo over the Japanese Alps and on the Sea of Japan coast) and will be commuting by train (then a short bike ride!) to my 2 schools. Kanazawa is a fantastic city that mixes all that is modern, yes a starbucks and tons of karaoke bars with the traditional (and in tact) geisha districts, temples and an old samurai area that I’ve yet to visit. It has a really nice vibe and at the moment its cherry blossom season so everyone is out in the warm sunshine doing “Hanami” which literally means “flower viewing” but actually means picnics in the park with plenty of drinking involved! I’m going to my first “initiation” Hanami next weekend with some of the other teachers here so am excited about that.
So the only major struggle is the language barrier. My 6 week basic course in Japanese hasn’t equipped me (unsurprisingly) to cope with day to day scenarios (i.e “I’d like to open a bank account please- what do I need to do!”) So I have registered for a free class that takes place every Saturday morning in the city. I’m hoping to meet some other clueless westerners there too & maybe we can cherry pick from all hiragana/kanji food menus together.
The food here is fantastic and despite someone telling me the portions are small i seem to be piling it on again. I’m hoping my 20 min walk a day and bike ride will burn the carbs off! The way the Japanese translate menus is very funny, one place we went to was advertising “beef diaphragm” and “arteries”- of course the they meant ribs...”Happy Plan” is actually “Happy Hour” – love it!