Wednesday, September 25, 2013

the japanese trash system

Pretend you are me for a moment. Having just arrived in Japan, there is so much you need to learn. Things you don't consciously think about until they become a physical problem, taking up space on your kitchen counter, piling up on your dining table. You went to the store to buy some important items, like a bed, some utensils, and food, but of course you forgot the all-important, often forgotten receptacle, a trash can. "Wait!" you think. "Perhaps there is a dumpster somewhere around my apartment complex. I can just go straight there and skip the middleman!" So you look around. Nothing in the backyard, and nothing around the side. Confused, you decide to ask the teacher who lives in the apartment next to yours. He's an English teacher, surely he'll be able to tell you where things are. So you ring the door bell...and his wife answers. 「こんにちわ!」, she says. You ask for her husband by name, and she replies in Japanese and shakes her head. You assume she said something like, "he's not here right now." Figuring it shouldn't be too hard to ask "where do you put trash?" using gestures, you make silly, exaggerated motions with the empty bag of potato chips in your hand, along with one of the question words in Japanese that you know, どこ. She doesn't understand, so you keep repeating the same motion over and over, until you extract the Japanese word for trash (ごみ) out of her. She catches on, then blurts out a string of sentences that make absolutely no sense. After she shows you her trash bins, and you try to tell her you don't have any, she resolves to interrupt her husband's baseball practice to have him come explain it to you.

Whether you've lived in the same place your whole life, or you've never lived in the same place for more than a year, culture shock is something we all experience in our lifetime. It doesn't even necessarily have to be in a different country; just visiting another area within your own country can have you reeling for "home." Being in Japan, it is an inevitable fact of life—it's going to happen sooner or later. People tend to think of it with a negative connotation, but that isn't always the case. Although rare, things can be different in a way you think is an improvement on what you're used to.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

the joys and headaches of teaching in a foreign land

Please read Learning How to Teach, a wonderful blog entry by my friend Adam, who is currently teaching up in Fukushima Prefecture. We went to college together at the University of Maryland and were a part of the same Christian fellowship on campus, and now we've both ended up in Japan at the same time, rather coincidentally. Although he works for a different organization, and teaches at a junior high school rather than a senior high school, our jobs are just about identical. In his post, he talks about some of the differences between Japanese and American culture, and also has some great insights on what Japanese students are like. I'm finding lots of this to be true in my own situation. I'm writing this as a sort of reflection on his entry.