If The Sun newspaper deemed me worthy enough to grace their pages then recent events would probably herald the following headlines:
“JTE’S THREAT OF ‘NO ALT’ SILENCES CLASS”
“STUDENT PARTICIPATION IMPROVES TENFOLD”
“JAPANESE BOY EXPRESSES OPINION”
“NEW, EXCLUSIVE UP-SKIRT SHOTS OF BOBBY GETTING OUT OF LIMO”
With a backdrop as positive as this, it may come as something of a shock to learn that I am only staying until August this year. After being presented with a choice in November and having had a whole 3 months to think about it, I finally came to a grudging conclusion last week. It has been quite the rollercoaster ride let me tell you, and if deciding to come to Japan to teach English was one of the easiest decisions in my life, then deciding whether or not to stay here for another 18 months has certainly been the most difficult.
I hate umming and ahhing over things. For something important I like to spend a day or three, maximum, thinking about it and then make one, final decision at the end. No going back, stick with the hand you played, make your bed and lie in it, you reap what you sow, etc, etc. This one nearly killed me. Maria said she felt like Stretch Armstrong, if you can imagine the poor bastard stretched across the entire world with an agglomeration of people, jobs, concepts and bank accounts pulling at either end. The trouble is that life changes so rapidly over here; one week I’m on top of the world, bowling into lessons, gathering laughs and “AHHH! I SEEEEEE!” realisations from pupils like they were scotch eggs (yeah, I like them more than sweets, ok?); it’s the most rewarding job in the world and I can’t stop thinking that I love Japan. The next week, I don’t really fancy going to work, I whinge about the cold, eat bad food, drink too much on the weekend and spend the whole of Sunday with the fears, dreading having to go back to work the next day. Oh, but I still can’t stop thinking that I love Japan.
Wipe that sick off your face and listen. This place is amazing; I love the people, I love the culture, the food, the weather (I’ve nearly forgotten what rain is like – Brits, take note), the air of respect for everyone, the language… Last week I joined a gym without any help from a Japanese speaker and understood most of what the lady said, albeit with a little charades thrown in. Compare this to a week after I arrived, when I was too scared to go to the local shop and buy a stamp. Soon I’ll be as buff as Arnold Schwarzenegger after a 6-hour workout and a shoe-shine, and I’ll owe it all to my Japanese language abilities.
With all this going on in Japan then, there must be some pretty big draws at home, right? Well, no, not really. England is cold, dark, wet and dreary at the moment. It is crawling its way out of a pit of recession with a Liberal-Conservative (honestly, I’ve never seen two more-contradictory terms connected with a hyphen) government strangling its public services and raising taxes, and its job market is flooded with unqualified students struggling to compete in a market where over-qualified redundancy victims are taking under-paid jobs. Mind you, this won’t be a problem soon since no-one will be able to afford to go to university anyway.
I’ve had to make this a totally selfish decision and rule my friends out. They’ll understand. What’s left then? The social life for one thing. Yes I have a great bunch of friends here, but we’re all JETs, surfing together on top of the Japanese social bubble with each of us only occasionally daring to dive in and see how long we can hold our breath amongst the fishes. Only very few of us (mainly those who can speak the language fluently) ever truly integrate with Japanese society. Back in England I’m a part of that bubble, and it’s little things I miss; the chats about the weather, the small talk with the shop keepers, the banter with random strangers in pubs… Ok I know, you’re right, that’s a mad reason to go back for.
The real, main reason for leaving is this: Teaching English is and always was an experience for me rather than a new career path. I can choose to ride that experience for one year or many but at some point I’ve got to go back to real life, and I want to do that when I’m on a high rather than wait until I’ve exhausted all the good times, and all the things I can learn from the job. As well, unlike a lot of these young whipper-snappers, I’m hitting 28 this year and if I don’t get off the first rung of the career ladder soon then I feel like I might never do so.
Come August I’ll probably be dying to stay, but at least that way I can ensure that I’ll come back and visit in future.