Why am I still here?

I’ve been living in Japan for three and a half years now, and sometimes I catch myself thinking, Why am I still here? What am I looking for? What am I doing with my life? But I never have to think very long for my questions to be answered. Here are some of my current reasons for staying in Japan:

1. OMOTENASHI–Customer service

My mom always told me that I should never settle for anyone who doesn’t treat me like a princess. She was obviously talking about relationships, but it definitely applies to customer service as well. In America, they say “the customer is always right,” but in Japan, “the customer is god.”

I went to a department store last week a few minutes before they opened, and a staff member came out in her fancy uniform to unlock the doors and great everyone waiting. She said they’d be opening soon and apologized for making us wait. At exactly 10:00AM, she came back with three other fancily-dressed staff members, who all bowed deeply towards the crowd and energetically said “Good morning and welcome. Please come in!” They opened the doors so politely and personally greeted everyone entering. Then, as I passed each vendor in the basement to get to the vegan bento shop, I noticed literally everyone bowing and saying “Good morning and welcome!” This happens everywhere, but this was the first time I’d been to a department store right as they were opening. There weren’t many people buying things yet, so the staff had plenty of time to greet and bow. The amazing customer service and attention to detail was so much more visible because I was early.

Granted, this was a high end department store, but most places in Japan are like this. Makeup counter staff are super flattering and helpful, restaurant staff almost never get anything wrong, and even fast food workers are super nice. It may all be fake, but it works on me. I think clothing and beauty store staff have single-handed scooped me out of my shy, introverted past and brought me into this new world where I like talking to people. I’m treated like a princess all the time, and it’s really changed me. Bravo, Japan. BRAVO.

2. Health Consciousness

Minus Japan’s annoying disregard for the dangers of cigarette smoke (it is legal to smoke almost everywhere here for some VERY STRANGE AND ILLOGICAL REASON), Japan is a pretty healthy place. Kids learn nutrition from a young age, and their school lunches are carefully thought out and prepared fresh. Because of this, people recognize that certain foods shouldn’t be consumed all the time. It should be easy, but America still has a hard problem differentiating healthy from cancerous so apparently it isn’t. I will say that there is a lot of pressure here to be thin and thus many people take it too far and end up with eating disorders, but that happens literally everywhere. Overall, Japan has quite a few healthy restaurants and a generally good grasp on nutrition.

Also, veganism hasn’t really caught on where I live, so there aren’t a lot of vegan junk foods for me to be tempted by. I literally have to make my own food for almost every meal, and I eat pretty clean. It’s not hard for me to be healthy here at all. AND if you read my last post, you know that health care is super cheap as well. Win-win.

3. Safety

Bad things happen in Japan. I know this. Yet I feel very safe walking home at night from the station. With headphones in. Occasionally holding bags of groceries. I have had a few encounters with suspected stalkers, but the experience never lasts more than a few minutes. In America, walking around alone in the middle of the day could gain you a lot of unsolicited advances. Old guys in cars used to always try to pick me up when I was in college. Now I don’t have to worry about that nearly as much.

I know I should be careful, and I am, but I feel like Japan does have a more peaceful, safe atmosphere. There aren’t usually large men around the corner waiting to rob you at gunpoint. Even Osaka, Japan’s most dangerous city, feels much safer than the average American city. This has allowed me to feel more comfortable going places alone and just doing what I need to do to live.

4. Public Transportation/Proximity to City Center

I love driving and belting my favorite songs just as much as the next person. I don’t, however, love driving with a purpose. Having to drive to work or the doctor or the mall is stressful. What if there’s traffic and I’m late? Where do I park? Also, gas prices are ridiculous in Japan, and car maintenance is even worse. If I had a personal chauffeur I’d have no problem, but unfortunately I am neither rich nor important enough for one of those. I was made to live in a place with good public transportation. Japan is that place. Between trains, subways, buses, and taxis you can get anywhere you need to without having to drive yourself. It’s lifesaving.

Japan is also really small and densely populated, so everything is centrally located in cities. If you live even somewhat close to a city, you can get there pretty easily and find anything you may need. Texas is a vast land full of cows and long, winding highways. Everything good is a least two hours away. At this point in my life, I’d take Japan over that any day.

5. Fashion

America has its pockets of good fashion. The problem is that they’re all so far away from each other and only so many people even care about fashion, that it was never really that exciting for me. I had to rely mostly on fashion blogs and runway videos to get any kind of style inspiration. Now, I just have to walk outside. Japanese people just seem to care more in general about their outward appearances. That, or I just find standard Japanese style to be more appealing than its American counterpart. Either way, Japan is full of beautiful, fashionable eye candy. People-watching here is like watching NY Fashion Week and not a train wreck like it is in America. Seriously, even if Japan had Walmart, People of Walmart would not exist. I am so so grateful for that.

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more stylish old ladies wearing very odd but amazing clothes, and I can’t wait to grow up and be one of them. Maybe Japanese people have more money to spend on nice clothes because housing tends to be cheaper, or maybe the need to fit in just forces people to look nice because of peer pressure…either way, I enjoy going out and seeing what everyone else is wearing.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to be vain or judgmental; I simply really care about personal style and think fashion is the perfect way to tell people about yourself without having to say anything.

6. I’m having fun

Quite simply, I don’t feel the need to leave because I’m having so much fun. I love my job and getting to meet so many amazing bilingual children and their families. I love teaching English as a foreign language. I love teaching Japanese people about America and what I know about the rest of the world. I love being an outsider because there are so few expectations of me, and I like proving people wrong. I love learning and living the Japanese language. I love it all. Everyday is an adventure here even after three years, and I hope that feeling never stops. Then I’ll just have to move again.

 

In conclusion, there are a lot of really good reasons I choose to stay in Japan. I still don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for now I am enjoying life and finding happiness. That alone is reason enough to stay.

 

Check out my instagram for current pictures of my adventures (which admittedly haven’t been so amazing lately, but that’ll change soon)! See you soon.

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Junior High School Stories: Kids are so Weird

I haven’t written about my students in a while, and I feel like they know it because they’ve been giving me a lot of great material lately. Cute, but mostly creepy material. (NOTE: some student comments are translated from Japanese.)

 

1.

My 8th graders have been studying infinitives and what expressions to use them with. Things like “I like to play soccer” or “I want to go to the movies.” So one day at lunch, I asked some students what they want to do in the future.

The young lady sitting across from me said, “I want to marry a rich, handsome man so I can sit on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips all day.”

To which I replied, “You want to do nothing but sit and eat? that’s not very healthy.”

And she said, “Oh we’ll have a pool. And three mini poodles. It’ll be fine!”

Okay sweetie, what a wonderful dream!

The boy next to her said the opposite. Apparently his dream is to marry an ugly, poor woman. I just don’t even know where they get this.

 

2.

Soon after that conversation, one of my most adoring students came over to poke me and ask me weird questions. I ignored her and asked her the same question as above instead. Her answer? To be my boyfriend. She meant boyfriend. When she was in 7th grade she wrote “I Love KORI!” on her arm and told everyone she was my boyfriend. Hmmm….::concerned face::

 

3.

That same day, during 5th period, I asked a young man where his workbook was, because he was supposed to be working in it.

He said, “It went home.”

“It went home? What?” Because I thought he meant it was at home.

“Oh, yea, it went home. By foot!”

 

4.

Another day, I was walking back to the 7th grade teachers’ room after a lesson. I walked by a group of three girls, and as I passed, I could feel them stop and face me. I turned to see one girl sniffing my shoulder.

“What are you doing!?”

“YOU SMELL GOOOOOD!”

 

5.

Almost everyday, someone (usually a boy) will scream, “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!” in English. Why?!

 

6.

One day I caught a boy copying the answers for the workbook page he was supposed to be doing from the answer book. I grabbed the answer book, playfully tapped his head with it, and then erased all of his answers. He laughed nervously, and then actually did the workbook page correctly. It was a rewarding day for us both.

 

7.

Recently the 9th grade upper level English students were writing group essays. Their teacher was absent this particular day, so I went to the lessons by myself and helped the kids with their grammar and word choice. Easy stuff, you know. I’m helping one group write something about kimono or something, when one boy starts yelling “BEE! BEE! A BIG BEE!”I freaked out, because for once the students knew the correct English word for such an animal and because our school had been having a problem with giant hornets that are apparently vicious and painful. I did not want to stick around to find out what it felt like to be stung by one, and with all the children flailing around like drunk donkeys, that bee was probably peeved enough to stick his little stinger right into my face. Before I could calm anyone down, or breathe for that matter, the tiniest girl in class had run to the teachers’ room, fetched a bug spray gun, and begun (trying) to kill the little insect. She was way too short to reach the bee, who was flying close to the ceiling like any smart bee would, so all she managed to do was douse the classroom in a very obnoxious fume cloud. We all had a good laugh at her futile attempt to murder the poor thing, and then a much taller boy yanked the canister from her hand. He gave that hornet the lethal dose every student was hoping for, and  the little bug buzzed his little way down to the floor where he perished in a puddle of poison.

I felt so weird. This little bug had the ability to scare 20 teenagers with just the flap of his wings, and yet he died so easily at a few breaths of poisonous air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made the kids have a little funeral for him. We all said “Sorry. Goodbye Mr. Bee.” and threw him into the “general waste” bag.

 

8.

Every Tuesday I help the 7th graders clean the teachers’ room, mostly because I like to look busy, but also because I like to make them speak English. A while back, I taught them the words “dustpan” and “broom.” Now, every week without fail, a boy who could easily pass as an American 3rd grader comes to my desk and exclaims, “Kori! Clean time!” It’s so cute, I have to clean. He is also “dustpan” boy, so whenever someone yells, “DUSTPAN!” he promptly scurries over to them, not unlike a mouse, and provides his dustpan-steadying skills. Tuesday is probably my favorite day of the week because of Dustpan (his loving new name).

 

9.

My favorite thing about my job, by far, is watching students’ faces when they randomly blurt out an answer and it’s right. They’ll say it happily, and if you don’t immediately congratulate them on their answer, they doubt it and try to retract it. That’s when you say, “THAT’S RIGHT!” and their faces light up like the sky on (American) New Year’s. It’s more beautiful than the most beautiful fireworks display, really, and it’s why I do what I do. Slowly, these kids are picking up English and enjoying it. And maybe English itself isn’t so important big picture-wise, but being bilingual is correlated with higher intelligence right? And it means they can talk to me more, because Kori-sensei does not speak Japanese at school without good reason. No sir.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you enjoy this kind of post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Until next time!

Taking it Easy and Traveling Alone

The end of April/beginning of May is a wonderful time in Japan known as Golden Week, because of the many public holidays.  Half of the holidays are on weekends though, and there are working days in between holidays, so it’s only so exciting. I didn’t take any additional time off, but I did have a nice four day weekend to do whatever in Japan.  I decided to be completely uncharacteristic of my shy and needy self and went alone. Oh yes, I took a four day vacay all by my lonesome, and it was amazing.

 

Okay, so I did spend one night at a friends house watching trashy dating shows, but for the next three nights, it was just me, myself, and I…

I took a 4-hour bus ride to Fukuoka Prefecture and eventually made it all the way to Kitakyushu, a city in the northern tip of the island I live on. I didn’t have much planned, so I just wondered around the city for a few hours. If you’re going alone, slow walks through popular areas are actually really nice. When you’re alone and not in a rush, you notice so much more of what is going on around you. I did feel like people were judging me for aimlessly walking around alone, but after a while I JUST DID NOT CARE. I was on a date with myself and was completely absorbed in my own world.

 

 

Krispy Kreme!

 

One night I stayed in my hotel to watch a movie, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and have a bubble bath. I learned that I need more bubble baths, but I probably could do without Krispy Kreme.

 

 

I do think it’s a good idea to see the city and what other people do there and then pamper yourself. But it’s also nice to get away from it all.  I left Sunday morning for the Yahata district of Kitakyushu and later got on a bus leading to the Kawachi Fuji-en  (wisteria park) tucked into a mountain side. The bus stopped earlier than I thought it would, and long story short, I was left to walk 4 kilometers with a woman older than my grandmother. I asked if she was okay, but she kept her pace better than I did.

on the way...

on the way…

We talked a bit through our tired breathing, and once there, she offered me tea, food, and her photography skills. Her kindness nearly brought a tear to my eye, and I am still thankful that we could spend an hour or so together.

2014-05-04-19-13-04_deco

We lost each other after a while, and I spent more time wondering through the wisteria taking tons of pictures (including shameless selfies) and smelling those sweet sweet flowers for quite a long time. The park is up a hill and from the edge you can see a lake. Despite the crying babies and giggling couples, it was totally peaceful. And stunningly beautiful. And none of the couples walking under the hanging flowers made me want to vomit. Instead I was happy, that in that moment, they all seemed happy. Maybe some of them would get what we’re promised: a life of eternal love and happiness. I was just happy thinking of that possibility. Which is sappy and dramatic, but I guess that’s who I am now. Oh, Japan, how you’ve changed me.

2014-05-04-19-44-21_deco

2014-05-04-19-22-17_deco IMG_20140504_135813 so pretty

 

After the marathon trek down the mountain and back to the train station, I headed back to the city and shopped. And then shopped some more. Boy, did I shop. I think I got all my therapy sessions in. Natural relaxation, retail, sugar…yup all there. How many times can I say amazing before it loses its emphasis?

mini treat-yo-self haul!

 

 

BUT you know me…I won’t lie to you. I did experience of few moments just short of existential meltdown. Being alone did make me realize that a lot of times I am alone in Japan, and though I do appreciate solitude, it is nice having someone you like around for the times you want to hear another person’s voice. I did experience moments of intolerable longing, moments where I thought I could collapse from all the injustice of the universe. But, I didn’t. If there was only one thing I could take away from that weekend it’s that I do like myself…I love myself, and though I wish there were times I didn’t have to be away from certain people, I know I can do it because I love and appreciate myself just as much as I love and appreciate them. Or more. I’m pretty alright, you know? I don’t think that’s conceited or narcissistic. I think it’s sort of necessary to being sane in a foreign country when you so often feel alone. Beyond that, it’s so so necessary for me right now. I’m glad I could spend a few days alone to help discover myself and notice all those things that have slipped by before. I highly recommend you do the same sometime. It’ll change your outlook. And, of course, it’s amazing.

 

Thanks for reading! Enjoy the warmer weather all you Northern-Hemispherians. That’s a word right? See you soon!

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…