Brain-rain

Rainy season is rubbish. We’re only about a week in and I can already confirm it. Apparently this year it’s early so I’m hoping that means it’ll be over early too, at which point the rain will give way to bone-melting heat and so much humidity that your saturated body seeps along the cracks in the pavement every time you take a step like a malfunctioning T-1000 terminator.

The Japanese seem constantly surprised by the weather. In the UK we have reason to be surprised; right when the forecasters are predicting that we will have beautiful sunshine for a week we see about 2 seconds of it one day, and none the next. Forecasted snow rarely happens, sunshine comes more often that rain (contrary to what I just said), but many days you’ll take an umbrella to work “just in case.” We talk about the weather constantly. There are various schools of thought as to why we do this; Jeremy Paxman believes that we talk about it precisely because there’s so much of it. Kate Fox on the other hand, author of the rather brilliant “Watching The English: The Hidden Rules Of English Behaviour,” believes that we talk about it because we are so utterly rubbish at talking to strangers, and the weather provides a safe, forever-fluid (pun unintentional) topic with which to while away those awkward moments when you’re stuck in a lift with a complete stranger.

Shizuoka’s weather is divided into day-long timeslots. One day it rains the whole day, the next it’s sunny the whole day and the next, it’s overcast the whole day. Every day is a variation on this theme so it’s very difficult to maintain a conversation about it. You’d think that, under these conditions, the Japanese would substitute another topic as the go-to conversation of choice but no; they simply forgo a conversation altogether and stick to announcing simple facts instead:

“Ohayou gosaimasu.” (Good morning.)

“Ohayou gosaimasu.” (Good morning.)

“Atsui!” (It’s hot!)

“Sou da ne.” (Isn’t it.)

…and that’s about it. Luckily, Shizuoka doesn’t have many buildings that go above two or three floors so you’re pretty safe with that but I do wonder how the Tokyoites fare with their 30+ floor buildings because lifts are even more awkward when you start a conversation and it doesn’t last the length of the ride. It’s better not to say anything at all. When you first get in, while you’re dying in silence and waiting for the ding! to release you, they could be in a world of their own thoughts, oblivious to the fact that you’re even there; you can revel in that possibility. If however, you start a conversation with them and it ends abruptly then they’re definitely thinking about the same thing you are and the situation is infinitely worse. The silence is deafening. You think of something else to say but you know the gap between sentences was too long. If you say it now, it’s obvious you’re only doing so to avoid the silence. You keep your mouth shut instead. If they’re not going to make any bloody effort then you’re not either, especially after you made such an interesting observation on the proximity of the cumulonimbus cloud formations to the stratos ones. Screw them.

Apart from it being rainy season, the 1st of June also marked the 10th month I have been in Japan. There are many things going through my head at the moment but one thing that has just struck me as I write is that this is the first time since January that I have thought of it in terms of time done rather than time left. This could be because my brain is incapable of processing numbers greater than 6 but I think that, more significantly, it says that I made the right decision in deciding not to stay. Not that I needed confirmation of this, mind. I knew the day I handed in the form that I had made the right decision but it’s pretty obvious when you start counting down instead of up.

I spoke to my predecessor, Brian, on Google Talk in January, asking him if he had any regrets about not staying. The answer was an unequivocal “no.” He said that he had enjoyed his time here, but that it was never meant to be a long-term thing; that he had come for an experience rather than a new life-direction. I knew the moment he said it that I shared his views.

I’ve spoken to lots of ALTs about their decisions and most of the ones that are staying will tell you one of two things:

  1. Why wouldn’t I stay? The pay is great, the job is easy, the life is alright, I’ve made some good friends here, etc.
  2. I haven’t done what I came here to do yet.

Some of those No. 2s don’t know what that is yet, but they know they’ve got to stay here until they do. Luckily for me, I knew exactly what I had wanted to get out of this experience because I wrote it down on this ‘ere blog; I simply had to go back and check…

…a desire for massive personal challenge and a desire to make a difference. If I can teach a Japanese boy/girl to speak a language that will empower him/her to travel and communicate through a vast array of other countries and cultures, then I’ve directly made a difference in someone else’s life rather than vicariously through resetting someone’s Windows password.

Well, it’s definitely been a massive personal challenge; new country, new job in a different career sector, new language, new culture, new friends. The only other thing I could’ve changed was my sex, and I’m not quite ready for a challenge on that scale yet. As for teaching a boy or a girl English, there are test scores to show that a few of the kids have learnt absolutely everything I ever taught them. It’s not really about test scores of course, but when you teach 12 different classes once a week, each with 40 students, it’s pretty difficult to get to know any of them beyond what percentage they got. I definitely could have made more effort in this area but I don’t really want to spend all my free time at work – there’s more to being out here than just the teaching.

The other, as it turns out, rather huge goal I set myself was to be fluent in Japanese by the time I left. I have certainly made steps but I’m nowhere near fluency; that would probably take another year. I can hold a conversation, albeit a horrendous mishmash of tenses and bizarre sentence constructions, and I can read simple sentences. I can usually understand the topic of conversation when people are talking but I rarely know what they’re actually saying. I’m frequently disappointed by this, but I have to keep reminding myself of what it was like when everything anybody ever said was just a string of hundreds of syllables and all I could say was arigato. I remember when attempting to say “nice to meet you” (douzo yoroshiku onegaishaimasu) was one of the most difficult things I’d ever had to do, but now it just rolls off the tongue without a second thought. Whether or not I’ll continue to study Japanese when I get back home, I don’t know, but I really, really want to learn other languages. It’d be nice to have Italian, Spanish, French and German under my belt to open up the world to me just that little bit more.

Anyway, I’ve done what I came here to do, and now it’s time to go back. I could’ve stayed a little longer, learnt a bit more Japanese, streamlined my teaching methods and syllabus and saved a bit more money, but to me that just spells “t-r-e-a-d-i-n-g  w-a-t-e-r,” which is precisely what I came here to get away from in the first place. It’s been an incredible experience and I’ve loved every minute of it, but I’m ready to steam back into London and get a great job in the IT-industry once more. England is gently singing it’s siren song (“Vindalooooo, vindalooooo, vindaloo, vindaloo nah nah…”), and I am but a sailor to its charms.

…and I’m gagging for a Dominos pizza.

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2 thoughts on “Brain-rain

  1. Caroline

    Love it Bob. You’ll be back in London just in time to have loads of conversations about the late summer heat waves. Oh and to get a bit tanned up.

    Reply
  2. Kaley

    Hello! I found your blog via the Japan Blog List and I have a question for you.

    As I am moving to Japan in the coming months I am making a list of places to go and things to do while in Japan. I would like to make a similar list for my blog featuring other Japan bloggers.

    All I ask of you is to send a paragraph (or more if you’d like) explaining your favorite part of Japan and why, maybe include a picture of it if you’d like. Just send me an email at kaleyjapan@gmail.com with your reply (or questions) and I’d love to feature you!

    Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you!

    Reply

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