it’s been nice!

31 December 2011 § Leave a comment

Only a couple days left at home. Christmas was splendid, spent with my family and relatives. The first several days home were really difficult between this cold, which I’m still battling (I think it’s winning), and the jet lag. The latter isn’t so bad now, but I’ve been staying up too late.   With the exception of a couple days, I think it’s actually been warmer here than it has been in Osaka. I was hoping for freezing cold and lots of snow, but apparently it’s a little early for that.

Last night was my friend’s annual gingerbread party, the twelfth or thirteenth one. A Christmas season necessity. We went with a Mario theme this year, creating a two-tiered base on which to place various Mario related items, including bricks with treats in them, stars, flowers, pipes, Yoshi, mushrooms, and Koopas.

I went on a grocery run the other day and bought numerous items which aren’t available in Japan. Shreddies, gravy mix, various canned soup (all I can find in Japan is corn chowder and clam chowder), granola bars, etc. Between various clothes that I dug out of bins and the groceries, I won’t have any trouble filling up my suitcase, which I brought over filled with gifts for almost everyone I know.

Being back home after eleven months in a foreign country, there isn’t actually too much that I’ve noticed upon my return. You know.. how maybe I’d notice lots of little things that I hadn’t before, like maybe how store employees aren’t as polite as those in Japan (though I have noticed this, in fact). I’ve enjoyed people holding the door for me, and visa versa. I’ve been tipping generously everywhere I go, as I’m not supposed to tip in Japan. I’m more talkative with people in stores than I used to be, just because I can be (which is to say we understand each other.. the things we take for granted, right?).

Eleven days isn’t enough, really. There are people I’d love to see, people I’d love to sit down for tea and talk at length with. Being back has given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ll do about coming home for good. Mostly what goals I have for when I’m back in Ontario.

Most imminent goal right now? Have a satisfying New Years, which involves not going to any parties. Maybe I can catch up on some sleep.


I can’t remember everything I want to share with you!

28 May 2011 § Leave a comment

I don’t know where to begin. There are so many little things I want to tell you about, and a couple of really big things too. The past couple weeks have flown by.

To start, the little things:

They’ve borrowed this word from English in Japanese, just like they’ve borrowed a lot of other words (video, coffee, toilet, digital camera, supermarket, etc.). A lot of the borrowed words retain their meaning. Naive, however, in Japanese, refers to sensitivity – particularly of the skin. I had found it unusual the way that soaps and moisturizers are named here, with words like “Naive” and the like. But then it came up in a lesson last week and a student explained it to me. Who knew!

What is true love?
One of the lessons I taught yesterday to my group classes was about true love. Two of the four students didn’t show up because of work, so it was just me and two woman. As much as I try to pretend to not be any kind of romantic, I really enjoy talking about it,  so it was fun. There’s nothing much more to say about this, actually. There were no apparent major cultural differences of opinion on the subject. I think that’s what I found most interesting. On the other side of the world, notions of true love are very similar. I guess when you consider the popularity of western movies in Japan, this might not be surprising, though.

What’s polite?
I will go into more detail about my visit to my family later, but when I was visiting my distant cousins this past weekend for the first time,  it happened that they brought me and my family visiting from Canada some coffee and these lovely slices of cake. And then they left the room for a good while because that’s what you do here. The cousin closest to my age, who is quite fluent in English, tried to stay to chat with us, but her mother called her out of the room. The idea is that if you have gone to visit someone’s house, you might want some downtime alone or something. So they bring you some light refreshments and leave you alone. We told our cousin that whenever she comes to visit us in Canada, we are going to be quite rude and stay with her the whole time.

I’m half-Japanese.
Obviously. I think we all know this by now. But I enjoy those moments in my lessons when my students tell me that I’m acting Japanese.  I was getting sort of flustered trying to explain the difference between special and specific to a student yesterday, and going into a lot of detail and he stopped me saying to not worry, and that I was being very Japanese. It’s happened a few times before as well. I like it!

Work love.
I’m trying hard to not worry or stress over my job. I think there are a lot of things I could complain about if I wanted to, but I actually am learning to like being there. Now that it’s a couple months into my contract, I’ve started to have regular students coming in for my lessons, giving me an opportunity to get to know them better. When I have different students all the time, and no consistency there, it’s hard to feel like I have any impact at all. But when I’m meeting the same students every week, I can see where they’re improving and see their confidence in speaking a second language increasing. I’m not particularly happy when I’m not doing anything for other people, and my job is a great opportunity to do that. Sometimes I even look forward to it. This is good.

I tried nato at my family’s. It’s basically fermented soy beans. Most people I’d talked to prior to trying it said it smells awful and doesn’t taste that good either. But my cousin urged me to try it and so I did. It wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t that bad. Maybe google this one, just to read what people say about it, and maybe see a picture, because it kind of looks gross too.

A woman fell asleep on me last week on my way to work on the train. I could see her nodding off, and then her head was on my shoulder. No one else was looking or noticed, so I sat there, trying to act like it was nothing when I really just wanted to laugh.  I’d heard that that happens, and it now it finally has!

And now, the bigger thing:

What a comfort it is knowing that I have family here, only a short train ride away (well, short relative to a long flight over the ocean, anyway). Meeting family for the first time, especially family in a different culture and country and language, I had no idea what to expect. Given that my aunt and cousins from Canada who I was going with  had met them before, I wasn’t too concerned about them being welcoming, but their welcome was warmer and greater than I had anticipated! A few of them met us at the train station and were so kind. We were driven back to one of their houses where we spent the day.  I learned that my one cousin and his daughter (the one close to may age) perform with a Taiko drum group (if you google “Tennon Daiko Wakayama”, you’ll find at least numerous references to them). They took us to where they practice and we all got to play on the Taiko drums, which was really, really cool. Of the family there, only two out of seven of them speak English, only one of them fluently. I need to learn more Japanese to talk with them! I am hoping to go to visit again in the next few months.

It’s hard to articulate the experience of meeting distant family for the first time. There is so much, I think, that can only be felt and not spoken.

It’s not that family didn’t mean much before I came to Japan, but it’s become that much more important now that I’m on my own in Japan. One of my aunts and her two daughters were in Japan for the past two weeks and I was able to spend some time with them. It was so nice. The idea of a year (and then some!) without seeing my family – aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, parents, and brother – was daunting.

That being said, I think of you all often, dear family. To all of you reading where ever you are – Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Indiana, Illinois, and anywhere  else I might have missed – I think of you all. I’m so grateful for the Internet and being able to keep in touch with everyone. I can’t imagine doing something like this twenty years ago! (Especially considering I was only four…)

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