One year in Japan

A little over year ago now, I received a phone call. As I was supervising a class of first year students in a chemistry lab, I left the phone call to go to voice mail, while I rushed to ensure the laboratory wouldn’t be blown up by my students’ slight incompetence. The class having finished with no one minus an eyebrow, but many complaints about my marking of lab reports, I finally checked the message on my phone. Expecting a telemarketer, I was surprised to hear a gruff voice, belonging to a man I had met once before at a job interview. The voice informed me that he might have an opportunity for me, and could I please call him back as soon as was convenient.

As exciting as this prospect sounded, as I had a vague idea of what this opportunity might be but didn’t want to get my hopes up. As I hate making phone calls, I avoided returning the call until I was ensconced in the safety of my room. With slight apprehension, I dialled the number left in the message, and listened impatiently to the dial tone. As the phone rung once, twice, I half hoped the gruff man wouldn’t answer, so I wouldn’t have to face my fear of phone calls, but as life would have it, there was a click, and my fate was sealed.

Going back even further, to a year and a half ago, I was nearing the completion of my honours year, and had no notion of what to do after I left the relative safety of 18 years of schooling. Many options were laid out for me, but I knew I really wanted an escape, to see the world, but, being practical, I wanted a firmer plan that a one-way ticket and starry-eyed dreams. It was around this time, when my father pointed to a job advert in the local paper and told me I should apply for it. The job advertised was for a citizen of my town, to travel to our sister city in Japan and work as an English teacher. It seemed like my dreams were coming true right then and there and I called the number listed to ask what would be needed to apply. Following instructions, I sent in the paperwork and a few days later, was asked to attend an interview.

Every job I had held so far, had come by way of connections I had, so this was set to be only my second professional job interview. I remember spending days googling what to wear, how to answer questions, even though I had adequate schooling on the topic as part of a specialised course in my first year at university.

I arrived at the interview far too early, and nervously wiped my sweaty palms no less than 100 times, while waiting to be called in. Eventually I was lead to the interview and received a mild shock when it seemed the entire local council had turned out to interview me. However, the interview progressed well, and after I shook hands on my way out, this time a lot less sweaty than on my way in, I couldn’t help thinking that I had nailed it. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, I received a letter that I had been unsuccessful and good luck with my future endeavours.

Like the break up I’ve never had, I experienced a range of emotions from anger, to sadness, to confusion, but finally ended in acceptance. So back to the endless job hunt and questioning about my future I went, until eventually my connections came through again and I, somewhat reluctantly, become a chemistry demonstrator.

Cue the phone call once more. Six months, and one resignation later, the job in Japan had again become available, and being the second choice of the candidates interviewed, was I still interested in the opportunity. I’ve never been happier to be second best at anything and I immediately said yes. Some back and forth with Japan, and the very next day I was filling in paperwork for a visa and an adventure.

A little over a month later, my bags were packed with clothing appropriate for seasons on the other side of the world, and my one-way ticket clutched tightly with my passport. Nine hours, with a few hours spent in the tedium of lay-over, I arrived in Japan. I headed through customs, pausing momentarily to change to clothing appropriate for the humidity that had struck as soon as I exited the plane. Overwhelmed, a little scared, but mostly excited and determined, I stumbled out of the arrivals gate, to a sign bearing my name and two faces I didn’t yet know, but would soon become a dear part of my everyday Japanese life.

One bus, one train and one car ride later. I was show to a large white house, informed this would-be home for at least the next six months, and was left to get settled in.

The next few days were a blur of bike rides, signatures, Japanese faces, and strange compliments. In Australia, no one took great strides to compliment my appearance, but in Japan, everything from my still winter pale skin in the dying reaches of Japanese summer, to my eyebrows, was a marvel. In that first week, most people were taken aback when I said I was to be an English teacher. Most had assumed I was a model or actress, who for some reason, was touring their school. A year on and thankfully that hype has died down somewhat now, but it’ll be hard to fade back into obscurity whenever I do return to Australia.

My initial time in Japan was meant to last 6 months, but 1 year later I am still here. I don’t think I have finished making my mark in Takasago yet, nor has Takasago or Japan, finished making its mark on me. Although my time in Japan has been turbulent, with times where I’ve just wanted to run to the airport and go home to my cat, dog and maybe even my family, the good has far outweighed the bad. From mastering a simple Japanese greeting, to being able to form and sentence and almost hold a conversation. To having no idea how to teach English, to now being able to make up lessons on the spot. From yakiniku parties, to Halloween fancy dress. From the tragedy of Hiroshima, to the bustle of Tokyo. From the students and teachers I’ve met, to my amazing assistant/boss and the wonderful international association. If I hadn’t have said yes to that phone call, I would never have got to experience all these amazing things.

So, I wanted to say thank you.

  • Thank you to my Dad for pointing out the job in the first place and to my parents for telling me to go overseas because they were sick of my face moping around at home.
  • Thank you to Jason, for giving me a second opportunity at a dream come true.
  • For Jie, for supporting that initial transition to Japan.
  • For Sawako and Chi from the TIA, for basically being my Japanese mums and helping me through all the tough times.
  • For Goto Sensei, for being a fantastic boss and the greatest assistant anyone could ask for. Plus, an apology laughing at all those times you’ve made an English pronunciation error. But also thank you for giving me a reason to laugh, and honestly, your English is good for only 2 years of practice.
  • For Ryo and Atsuko, I know we struggle with communicating, but thank you for making me feel welcome in Japan and being my friends.
  • For the teachers at Takasago Junior High. You try to include me, even when I have no idea what’s happening. Thank you for all the advice you’ve given me, and food you’ve fed me. Without you I’d be a shit English teacher and probably a few kilograms lighter.
  • And all the students I’ve taught. Thank you for entertaining me with your sometimes inappropriate comments and inappropriate English use. I know English is a pain to learn, and school sucks, but thank you for mainly listening to me in class and sometimes even following instructions without me having to resort to yelling.
  • And thank you to everyone else who has invited me into their homes. Shared a meal with me, or even shared a conversation with me. I can’t list you all because honestly no one wants to read this many words, let alone another thousand as I write down all your names. But thank you for welcoming into your country and culture. Every opportunity you’ve presented to me, is a memory I’ll treasure forever. So, thank you.
  • Oh and finally, thank you to my friends and family back in Australia. I don’t talk to you half as much as I should, but you should know I still occasionally think of you and I want to thank you all for supporting this crazy idea that I could live in a country where I didn’t speak the language, or understand the culture.

Japan, thank you for one year of memories. Here’s to however many more are to come!

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Until next time, Melissa.

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