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Published: August 9th 2007
English teacher, Tokyo
Listening to a student as she fine tunes her English conversation skills. The boss looks on favourably ... phew, I must be doing OK!
This journal summarises travel highlights from the year 1987, which I spent living and working in Japan. The great Japanese adventure began with my arrival in Shimononseki after a day and a night on the ferry which set sail from Pusan in South Korea. It was good to be back in Japan after spending three months here during 1986, and my cunning plan involved hitchhiking from Shimonoseki north to Tokyo with local truck drivers. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and a Japanese man at the terminal wrote Tokyo in kanji on a large cardboard sign which I held out at the truck stops. Winter had set in, and in the dead of night I was hopping around like a demented kangaroo trying to keep warm while holding up the sign, meanwhile truckie after truckie casually ignored me as they headed out from the rest stop back on to the highway. The longest wait I endured was five hours before a truckie picked me up, and although he didn't speak a word of English his truck sure was warm! By this stage I was bone tired but every time I nodded off he jabbed me in the ribs
...and winding down after work
My Mama San cooks me a meal with a beer at her restaurant and I relax at the end of another day's work.
to keep me awake. Obviously my role was to help keep him awake! While passing through one of the towns he ran a red light in a terrifying instant, but managed to blow his horn a moment before we were going to wipe out two pedestrians crossing the road. That experience was way too close for comfort! Anyway, two days after arriving back in Japan I finally made it back to the guest house to be reunited with my friends, to their great surprise I'm sure!
I quickly slotted back into Tokyo life, constant reader, with my friends at the guest house. With a working holiday visa and a university degree I quickly re-established my student contacts for English conversation classes, while also securing a more regular job with a Tokyo English college thanks to a recommendation from a Canadian teacher at the guest house. Everything fell into place rapidly but this time in Japan I was determined to become more involved with the Japanese language and culture, as the constant partying from my last trip was not sustainable over the long term. Within a month of arriving back in Tokyo I was offered an apartment to rent from
Niijima Island on holidays
My school friend from Oz visits, and after showing him the sights we got on outa Tokyo!
one of my students. My apartment was in Adachiku, a typically bustling ward in northern Tokyo and outside the main train loop called the Yamanote line. I also signed up as a Japanese language student at a Shinjuku language school for a year long course, and to complete my busy schedule I attended dance classes at a school in Shibuya.
My life was settling into a regular pattern, and I bought a Honda 250 from one of my neighbours for the hour long commute from my Adachiku apartment to Shinjuku in the heart of Tokyo. Before too long I found I wasn't missing the westerners from the hostel that much, because I was adapting to my new life as the only foreigner in the neighbourhood, while gradually becoming immersed in the real Japan. Nobody spoke much English in Adachiku which was a great help when trying to improve my Japanese skills. Within days of moving in I walked down the main street and entered a local restaurant. The Mama san of the restaurant is a gentle lady of Korean extraction, and she took me under her wing. I went to dinner at her restaurant every night where she cooked
Temple gardens, Kyoto
We took the bullet train to visit the traditional capital of Japan, home to many exquisite temples.
scrummy meals and served a beer as I relaxed after work, and she also engaged me in conversation with infinite patience as I struggled to gain a fundamental understanding of the Japanese language. At times she became protective when a tanked up salary man came in and thought I was there for him to practice his English on. She would rouse them away and tell them in no uncertain fashion that I'd finished work for the day.
When I look back on my working life in Japan as an English conversation teacher I quickly came to the realisation it's just not my bag. I tended to struggle with the classes and it seemed that time stood still as each hour long class would slowly grind on to it's eventual conclusion. I'm not really sure why but I just don't have the patience for excruciating conversations that are going nowhere. I recall taking classes where I asked one student after another ... so what did you do last weekend? Then on to ... so what will you do next weekend? The answers were invariably slow and tortuous, and I rarely had students with good conversation skills, which of course makes
One of the stunning temples in Kyoto.
English conversation so much more enjoyable. In general my students had neither the aptitude nor the inclination to engage in English conversation, which led to a forced environment both on their part and on mine. However, my working day only consisted of two to three hours teaching in the afternoon, which left me free to pursue language and dance classes for the rest of the day so I certainly had nothing to complain about.
Towards the middle of the year I was thrilled to welcome my best mate after he decided to come and visit from Australia for a holiday. I didn't appreciate just how much I missed home until my friend arrived, and excitedly welcomed him to my apartment as we prepared for a fortnight off work. We had a great time and I showed him the sights of Tokyo before we headed out of the capital for a holiday. Our first destination was the beautiful Niijima Island off the coast of Honshu where we spent a week in the sun, sharing the island with the mad keen Japanese surfers who flock there for the quality of the waves. My cares washed away as we caught up on
Ego no sensei
Socialising with my students
all the news from home and I shared my experiences living in Tokyo. It was great to have a holiday with my friend and really helped get some balance back in my life. We took the ferry back to Tokyo, from where we boarded the Shinkansen (bullet train) south to Kyoto, the traditional capital of Japan which is famed for it's magnificent temples. The city itself is very beautiful and life is a lot less frantic than living amidst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
One of my students gave us tickets to visit Tokyo Disneyland when we arrived back in the capital, and I'm confident my friend had an enjoyable stay in Japan. We said our farewells and I settled back into my routine in Tokyo. The months continued to roll on, and I was diligently working on my Japanese language skills including learning the written hiragana and katakana scripts used in the language. I also learnt hundreds of Kanji characters but the written language is almost impossible to master for a foreigner. One day I rode my bike into Shinjuku to attend class and was caught up in an extraordinary incident in the heart of Tokyo. My
Memories of Tokyo
With my favourite student, and my mate visiting.
Sensei and I were suddenly caught in a serious earthquake as the building started to shake violently from side to side. Something made me get up and go to the window, although my Sensei was screaming for me to join her under the desk. I don't know why but I just had to see what was happening. I've never witnessed anything like it in my life as the street and the overhead walkway were rippling up and down as if part of a passing wave, and then our building went from violent side to side shaking to an even more alarming and violent bouncing up and down until the earthquake mercifully subsided. I learnt later from the news the quake was around 6.5 on the richter scale and there were a few fatalities at the airport, this was a serious earthquake and not just a tremor. My Sensei said it was the worst she had experienced and it was alarming to be in the middle of nature at her most destructive. Tokyo is situated in the middle of a major fault line and serious earthquakes are an inevitable fact of life in the capital.
Japan has four distinct seasons and the summer heat and humidity are very tough to bear. Then the rains come in force before the weather takes another dramatic turn before ushering in a northern hemisphere winter. Towards the end of the year Tokyo was becoming seriously cold, and I was battling to stay warm on my daily ride into Shinjuku and back. I was also getting increasingly homesick, and looking forward to going home for a Christmas visit after spending 18 months away from Australia. The year I spent living in Japan helped me grow and mature as a person, and I gained a greater tolerance and understanding of different cultures and different people. After all, my lifestyle in Japan was a completely different way of life to living in Australia which proved to be an eye opening experience, but I was looking forward to home where I wouldn't stand out in a crowd or feel like a foreigner any more. I was in a great mood during my Tokyo farewells and felt a real sense of achievement, and was also excited to be boarding a flight bound for Sydney to enjoy Christmas and New Year at home. If there is one foreign country I feel able to talk about with a degree of authority it's Japan; the culture, the traditions, the language and the people are truly unique in the world. Oh, and the food is the best I've experienced anywhere. When you think about all Japan has to offer, basically all of you should be here now!
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." Jackie Robinson
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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