“What do I like? What will I miss? What don't I like? What won't I miss? “ These are the questions that the JET Programme gods told us returning JET's to ask ourselves before we leave Japan. These are their little words of advice to us as we depart from this country and return home to something different than what we knew before. For those of us returning to our home countries after 1-3 years here in Japan on the program, the experience of going back home can be just as stressful as coming here to Japan. I am slightly worried about what reverse culture shock might do to me, especially since I'll be living in a place I've never even been to before (N.C. here I come!). So the questions I must ask myself now are: 1) What has changed in me in the last 11 months? 2) What do I see differently than I did before I came to Japan? 3) How will I react to those people in my life who have also changed? 4) What will I miss about this country that I won't have back home? 5) What will I be happy to leave behind?
One of the most significant things that has changed in me is my perspective on the country of my birth, America. Of course when I lived there, I never really analyzed the happenings of the country. It wasn't until I looked at it from the outside that I was able to analyze it and try to determine what I think of America and it's people.
Americans are a unique people. We all come from varying backgrounds and heritages, yet somehow we assimilate ourselves into the “melting pot” we call home. America, for quite some time, has been the leader of the world in many respects. With the resources available to us, one would think that we would be more knowledgeable about the world. However, many Americans display a sort of ignorant arrogance, that until I came to Japan, I never knew existed. What I mean by “ignorant arrogance” is that Americans seem to be very confident in themselves, but are not knowledgeable enough to be deserving of this confidence. This of course does not account for the entire nation because everyone is different, but I've seen many displays of this. Let me use myself as an example. I had what I thought was a very good education at one of the top high schools in the nation and an academically strong University. However, what was I learning? What wasn't I learning? When I came to Japan and met English speakers from all over the world, I felt like I was learning so much more than I ever did in school. There were countries I never thought of, like New Zealand that I now long to go to because of the people I have met and the things they taught me about their country. When it came to my country, people from other countries knew so much, but I knew nothing their countries. It was disturbing!
Secondly, my view on Japan has changed. I never really learned much about modern Japanese culture before I ventured to this side of the world. I knew many things about Japanese history, traditional culture, and language, but nothing of what modern Japan was like. I was not prepared for what I was to encounter when I came here. The Japanese are a complex people; as complex as their language. Although they portray a sort of uniformity of thought and action, they range just as much as any other culture. But this sense of uniformity is very strong, so much so that it is sometimes very difficult, if not impossible, to fit in here as a foreigner.
Many things are judged here on appearance. For example, the obsession with fashion and brand name anything is almost sickening. In America it is pretty bad, but when I came to Japan I saw just how bad it could be. If I wear something my students like, the first thing they ask me is what brand name it is. “How much?” is also a popular questions with my students.
Naturally as a foreigner (a very BLACK foreigner), living on a small rural island that even some Japanese people don't know about, I stick out like a sore thumb. Being accepted as just a normal human being is a very difficult task. Some people are able to accept me right away. Others either gawk at me as if I'm a superstar, stare at me as if they're angry that I'm here, or run away in fear. All of these reactions were very cute at first, for they were a novelty in the beginning. However, somewhere down the line, they became frustrating incidents that I didn't want to deal with. I didn't want to feel like the outsider. But time passed and I adjusted to my status in this society I live in and realized that I am not the same, and therefore could never be treated as such. I don't see the stares as much as I used to; I laugh at the children who run away from me. I try to enjoy the sort of circus act status that I feel I have sometimes.
Japan is also a complex society with unspoken guidelines of behavior that dictate the way in which people should interact. Recently, the guidelines have been falling apart, especially in the younger generation. However, they are still there. The guidelines do not all apply to us as foreigners, but many of them do, forcing us to change in many ways. For me, it has mostly been my gestures, which have changed and become quite comical when looked at through western eyes. For example, saying, “I'm sorry” to someone in this country is hard work! With all the bowing and hand gestures involved in saying “sorry” you get quite a work out.
I think I have also become more humble. It is quite easy to get a swelled head in this country with all of the attention that the Japanese give foreigners. When you receive compliments for the way you say a single word in Japanese or the way you play basketball even though you're no that good, you could actually start to believe what people say. An example is when I was told that my Japanese was very good because of the way I pronounced “Awajishima” the other day. 'I think I should be able to pronounce the name of the place I've been living in for eleven months' I thought to myself.
Now that I have lived here and fulfilled my dream to a certain extent, what will I miss about my time here? There are many things I will miss. Firstly, the safety of this country, especially in rural areas, is unbelievable at times. I've told many people back home that the only things I have to worry about are earthquakes and car accidents. There have been many nights when I left my door unlocked unintentionally because of this feeling of safety. I don't feel threatened in any way. That is going to be a difficult adjustment when I go back home. Adjusting from danger to safety was the easiest adjustment I had when I arrived here, so I can foresee the opposite transition being the most difficult when I go back home.
I will also miss the very GOOD friends I have made here in Japan. It is so difficult at times to find people that I get along with and feel comfortable around. It will be sad to leave them behind. We will live so far apart that I don't know if I'll ever see them again. But I think that's the way life is. We all move from place to place, our friends come and go, and we are forced to move on with our lives. I will never forget the friends I made here in Japan because they made my experience so much better. I want to thank them all for showing me a good time.
I will miss some of the free time I get to enjoy here. Although it has been very mind numbing to do nothing all day (at least I'm getting paid for it!), it also gave me time to put my life in perspective. I cannot foresee how busy I will be back home, but I know the amount of time I have to reflect on my life will definitely be cut short.
I will miss the Japanese language. For it was my goal and my dream when I came here. I know I need to go back home and learn English all over again (it's amazing how much of it I've lost!), but I've been wanting to really speak Japanese for so long that leaving it behind will be a little sad.
I will miss the students…well, some of them. I will miss playing basketball with them and seeing them have fun. I will miss laughing with them, joking with them, teaching them, and of course, learning from them.
I will miss my nights out at karaoke!!
I will miss the mountains and the sea that I get to see everyday. Although I can't swim and haven't been to beach here in Japan, I will miss the ocean. I will miss the way the sun reflects off of it in the morning as it rises. I will miss the way the moon shimmers in the waters at night. I will miss the mountains in all of their magnificence. I will miss their longevity and their presence as watchers and protectors.
I will miss the interesting encounters I have with the people of this land. These are the things I will not have back home.
What won't I miss you ask? I will not miss the teacher's staff room and its tense, boring, lonely, suppressive atmosphere. The loneliness was unbearable to the point of insanity at times. I will be happy to leave it behind.
I will not miss being lonely. Being a foreigner in this country as been a great experience, but at many times a very lonely one. I know I am not alone in this feeling. My friends say they feel the same way sometimes. I'll be happy to no longer feel that.
I will not miss teaching. I would NEVER want to be a teacher again. Children are a difficult bunch to deal with. I don't know how my mother did it for so long! There are of course good moments, but overall it is not to my liking.
I will not miss being away from Sudarika. She is the love of my life and hopefully my future wife. Being away from her felt like I was depriving myself of one of the necessities of life…love.
I will not miss Japanese prices. My Lord this country is ridiculously expensive!!
I will not miss Japanese fashion. I have come to realize that time travel is possible(at least fashion-wise). If you ever want to relive the 80's again with all of its outrageous fashion...buy a ticket to Japan!
I will not miss sitting on the floor ALL THE TIME. Chairs, sofas, love seats; those are wonderful things. They cushion the ass, not flatten it. Through a combination of sitting on the floor and losing a lot of weight, I have also lost my ass and have almost completely assimilated into the ass-less society. Yikes!! We can't let that happen, now can we?
I will not miss the screaming of little girls as they leave the school. “BAI BAI!!!”(bye bye) they scream to their friends. That is one phrase I never want to hear again!!
I will not miss the humidity. Humidity in the summer is bad enough, but for it to be humid in the winter; that's ridiculous!!
I will not miss the lack of central heating. It's just another one of those comforts that I miss about home.
The list goes on and on. I have experienced too much to be able to cover every detail. I am ready to go back home and leave this dream behind. I know this time I've had here can never be repeated…ever. It was a special time. It was a time that changed my life. I have no regrets. I only wish I was better able to share it with my loved ones.
This leads me to my next topic: changes. I cannot explain in words everything that has changed in me. My perspective on life, family, love, friends…everything has changed somewhat. I know that during my time here in Japan, those who I left behind at home have also changed. I can only imagine what interacting with people after my yearlong hiatus will bring. Maybe people will like me more now and see a more mature version of the person they once knew. Maybe people will not like me. They may not like what I've become. But whatever the reaction, I'm sure it will just be part of the next episode in my life. You know, the usual happiness, sadness, joy, and strife. Just another challenge to keep me on my toes. I know not what it will be, but we'll see how it goes.
Until my next adventure....