Somehow October and most of November has gone by. The early autumn rain has turned into early winter rain, and suddenly everyone is bundled up in jackets and scarves on the way to school and work in the morning. “Do you have an AC?” has been replaced by “Do you have a heater?” (the answer to both is still no). The man with the cat no longer sits outside in the mornings, and it’s dark outside by the time I get home at 5:00pm. I still see the same student every day heading the other direction with the exact same expression on his face. If I ever see any emotion on his face at all, I think I will celebrate.
I began walking to school a few weeks ago. I could feel my body starting to get weak from sitting down all day. It is about a two mile walk and takes me around 40 minutes, but I’ve come to appreciate the time in the morning and evening to listen to music and think. Even with my new four miles a day of walking, I’ve been gaining weight. The dreaded post-college weight gain has found me just like it has found many before me. I am grateful for the exercise, even so.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Japan for four months now. A third of my first year is finished, but I still feel like I’m being swept along by the current.
On Halloween I went with local friends to the Daidogei Shizuoka World Cup in Shizuoka city. This three day event brings performers from all over the world to the streets of Shizuoka. It was an exciting event and I saw many great performances.
I also got to see fellow NAU alum Eric Buss perform, which was a fun reminder of how small the world can be sometimes.
I’ve been busy, sometimes surprisingly busy. Two weeks ago we had the Skills Development Conference where I spent two days wearing nicer clothes than usual and attending workshops on things like writing assessments and resolving conflicts between JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) and ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers (me)).
I have been building connections with local people here in Shimada. There are many people who have welcomed me into their social circles and homes and don’t mind speaking Japanese a little slower so that I can understand. I appreciate these people more than I can express. Feeling like I have a life outside of my work is so important to actually having a life here. I appreciate them reaching out to me, making sure I feel welcomed, and being concerned for my welfare. Even if it’s just the occasional dinner, it’s nice to have social time.
Things feel more normal now, even if I still am sometimes struggling through. I can do my walk to and from school without actually having to fully wake up. I am constantly ready for “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Don’t you want a Japanese boyfriend?” “You should find a Japanese husband” and “Why don’t you have a Japanese boyfriend?” I respond to any combination of “Annamarie” “Mari” “Carlson” and “—chan” “—san” “—sensei” without hesitation. Very few things catch me by surprise. I am ready for all of the questions they throw at me at the convenience store. I now understand most things said to me at restaurants. It’s great.
The other day a woman I know started petting my arm hair and then looked me in the eye and said “Soft,” which was admittedly kind of a strange experience, but I moved on. In fact these days I often feel like I am Shimada’s pet cat. People feed me, play with me, and pet my hair, and all I have to do is look cute and claw the furniture. Really it’s a dream come true.
It has been getting colder in Japan recently. Today has been the coldest day yet. It’s currently 48F (9C) outside, but the “feels like” temperature is 37F (3C) which means in the hallways at school it’s more like below freezing because our school does not have a door that closes to the outside. Whatever temperature the wind brings into the building is the temperature we have. Today the teachers have all silently agreed to keep the doors to the teacher room shut so that we can preserve what little warmth we make. I feel a real sense of camaraderie with them as we all bundle up and leave the students out in the cold hallway. Coming from snowy Flagstaff, I know it isn’t really that cold, but after the hot summer these temperatures feel like a frozen night star gazing in Flagstaff.
I may not have a heater yet, but I do have a kotatsu. The kotatsu, for people who do not know, is probably the greatest thing Japan has given the world, and I saw this having gone to an all you can eat pizza, pasta, and cake buffet last weekend (probably the second greatest thing). A kotatsu is a low table that is covered with a blanket that you can put your legs under while sitting at the table. There is a table top on top of the blanket so that it still has a usable, solid surface. Underneath the table is where the magic happens.
Underneath the table there is a heater that can be turned on and off by a switch and up and down by a dial. Between the blanket covering the table, the soft futon underneath the table, and the heater, the kotatsu creates a soft, warm bubble for you to sit in and never leave. The kotatsu has become the center point of my life at home. The kotatsu sucks you in to its fuzzy warm embrace and refuses to let you go.
I love it.
If the rest of winter is like today, I will probably need to buy a heater of some sort. Eventually my apartment will lose all the warmth it is holding on to and I’ll have to make more. Today I had a meeting about re-contracting for next year where I was told the teachers are concerned about me living somewhere that gets so cold in the winter and so hot in the summer. I have, admittedly, briefly considered moving somewhere new next year, but for now the kotatsu and sleeping with two thick blankets is enough. If I stay in this apartment, though, I’m definitely buying an AC before next summer.
I’m not sure I’ve had any deep revelations to share since I last posted. Life goes on. I work. I pay my bills. I spend my money on food, clothes, books, and music. Sometimes I have great lessons at work and my students seem to like me. Sometimes I have awful lessons and I think I’ve made a mistake in trying to teach.
I guess what I’ve realized is that there aren’t any answers in life. There are choices, and there are outcomes, and as you keep making choices and dealing with the outcomes your life is happening.
Time goes on. I didn’t get much writing done during the regularly scheduled October bout of depression, but hopefully as work dies down and the holidays start up here in Japan (I’m looking at taking 12 days off!) I will get more in the swing of writing again.
If nothing else it gives me a sort of illusionary sense of productivity when I’m really just talking about myself pretending others want to listen.
But that’s my inner critic. This blog post has been a mess, but I think it’s probably a good representation of what I feel like going into my 5th month in Japan. I’m 23 and there isn’t a guidebook for this shit.