Technology and Winter

People who haven’t been to Japan always ask me about how technologically advanced Japan is. “I heard Japan is covered in bullet trains and robots….that do your laundry!”

No. I don’t even have a dryer. I DON’T HAVE A DRYER. When I first got to Japan, that was definitely up there on my “shocking findings” list. Although drying your clothes outside on a pole does take more effort and more time, I’ve gotten used to it. It makes me feel like I’m saving the world, one load of laundry at a time.

Some people do have dryers though. You’ve just got to be rich enough to have a big house (in Japan…) to even think about it. There’s simply no room for extra luxuries in this country. You learn to make do, or you spend a little extra to use the coin laundry.

I also don’t have an oven or a dishwasher for the same reasons. I know people with glorious baking machines, but they also have relatively glorious houses. I really can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a dishwasher.  People in Japan wash their dishes by hand, and I admire that. I grew up with a dishwasher, and learning to do everything with two 5-digit tools god gave me took time. It’s just another way Japan has made me feel like a privileged brat.

I feel like Japan doesn’t have a massive consumerist mentality when it comes to home appliances. People just spend more money on their appearances and nights out I guess.

Anyway, this post is not an attempt to demystify the lack of home technologies in Japan. I wanted to say, that despite the fact I’ve learned to live with and even love my now simpler life, I’m having a hard time getting over the heating systems used in this part of the world.

My main source of heat in my home is a space heater pointed at my bed. Also, I work in schools, right? We know this. Where have you been? Schools in Japan, as you probably could conclude from this and previous posts, do not have central heating. Or any heating. Save for the staff rooms and the library, maybe, Japanese schools are ice boxes full of bare legs and sadness. Yes, girls wear skirts. Without tights. BARE LEGS IN SUBZERO WEATHER. The teachers’ rooms have simple, no-fuss gas stoves. I asked my boyfriend why Japan tortures its youth, and he said it’s to build character. It toughens them up. A teacher told the kids once that American kids probably think Japanese kids are amazing and strong for enduring winters sitting in cold wooden desks while learning how to buy shoes in America. American kids would probably think Japan’s insane and then decide to never come here while they’re school age.

advanced heating technology

advanced heating technology

That’s what I thought. Japan, you’re crazy. But winter goes on. The temperature does not give in to my complaints. It is not forgiving. And I see these kids go about their school day, just like they would if it wasn’t two degrees Celsius out. Some kids still run around in their athletic shorts. Maybe some of them will get sick, but they’ve been doing this since they were five. I’m sure they’re used to it. Many of them do complain, but they’re wearing far less clothing than me. What can I say? Besides the necessary “寒いーーー.”

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To America and back

Happy New Year!

I’m officially the worst blogger ever and haven’t posted in nearly two months, because I’m an idiot who dropped her computer and shattered the screen. But don’t worry, it’s been fixed. We are back in business.

So let’s catch up. December was pretty good. I went to a huge end of the year party with my BOE and though some people I’ve never met before neglected to ask me if I understand Japanese and just assumed I don’t, it was pretty fun. As soon as you say something sassy in Japanese, people will compliment your language skills until they’re too drunk to talk.

I also got closer to some of my teachers and students. My 9th graders were practicing speeches about Mother Teresa until the last day of classes, and it was really rewarding to be able to teach them about one of the world’s most loved women. A lot of the lower scoring kids even showed some motivation and surprised me with their improved English. It was a good month for English teaching. Well, it was good until a group of 9th graders decided borderline sexual harassment was a good idea. Fifteen year olds are gross in any country I’m sure, but when they don’t think you understand what they’re saying (or they don’t understand what they’re saying), things get a bit more complicated. Good thing I know enough Japanese to temporarily transform into a real teacher and tell them off. If you ever teach in a foreign country and don’t speak the language–or do and are afraid to speak it–don’t indulge your kids, and please ask their teachers what they’re saying. Kids are rude and gross and as an educator, it’s your responsibility to discipline them and teach them what’s right.

Apart from that one class, my kids are mostly great. Or at least mild enough for me to fix their problems quickly.

Towards the end of December I got a little lonely and anxious. See, I would be visiting home and I was honestly a bit freaked out about it. But most of my friends were out of town and boyfriend was busy, so I spent a few days packing and lounging around. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to America and see my friends and family, but I always get so afraid that people will change. People do change. I was afraid that that change would lead them away from me and our relationships. Or that that change would be enough to think differently about those people. Or that I had changed enough for them to think differently of me. I can happily report, though, that nothing has changed! Everyone was just as I remembered. Hanging out with my friends and talking like we hadn’t just spent a year and a half apart was a relief. And my mom is just as emotional and supportive as always.

I really did miss my family, and I’m glad that the first four days I was in America I spent with them. I tried not to go to crazy on the food, but I was completely satisfied with the amount of visiting I got to do. I finally met my new aunt, though I’ve known her for years. I’m still sorry I couldn’t attend their wedding. One of my cousins got married to a beautiful woman who is really nice, and his little brother is getting married this year (also to an awesome and beautiful woman). My best friend is dating someone I super approve of. They complement each other so well, and I’m happy for them both! I’m happy for everyone.

My friends joked that my heart “grew three sizes,” not unlike the Grinch, and that I seem much more in tune with my emotions. So I guess I did change enough, but in a good way. That is what I’m most thankful for in 2013.

I realized on my trip that America and Japan are very different (duh). So many people in America feel entitled to everything. Nothing is a privilege, but a right. A lot of people are openly rude. And America makes me feel really unsafe. Also, what’s with the food, seriously? More times than necessary, I felt like my ribs would violently separate due to the rabidly expanding stomach beneath them. I promise I don’t eat that much. All of these negatives remind me what’s great about Japan. However, America wins in so many other contests. I don’t have to listen to my elders. I probably should, but there’s no deep running cultural rule that tells me I can’t talk to my grandpa like my best friend. I can argue with people who are supposed to “know better.” That’s how change happens. That’s how state after state this year was able to pass laws allowing gay marriage. Or legal marijuana consumption. This trip has allowed me to clearly see what I like about America, without hating Japan in the process. Both places are great, and though I don’t know where I’ll live in the future, I know I’ll likely be able to live happily in either. I wasn’t sure six months ago where’d I’d be living at the end of this year, but I’m fairly certain I’m staying in Shibushi another year. According to Chinese zodiac this year,  the year of the horse, is my year. So bring it on, 2014. I’m not afraid of you anymore.

So in closing, America was fun, though I wish my parents hadn’t moved to the middle of nowhere. I did get a lot of shopping in though. Not sure how I fit everything back into my suitcases…