Letter From Japan

Sasayama Castle in Sasayama, Hyogo prefecture,...
Sasayama Castle in Sasayama, Hyogo prefecture, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of our authors has taken a teaching position in Japan. I have asked her to write a monthly “Letter from Japan” for our enlightenment, education, and enjoyment. Here is the first:

Dear Bob,

Greetings from my new life in Japan! So far it’s nothing like I expected. Or rather, everything that I didn’t expect. Which would have been anything, because I had no expectations. Well, the whole situation did seem too good to be true when I signed up, so I guess I expected less than what was to be expected…but not only is it true, it’s better!

I’m in Sasayama, which is roughly half the population and quadruple the area of Nanaimo. I’m coming off two years in Vancouver though, so the size difference feels like the most drastic change (other than the not being able to communicate with whomever I want dealio). But it’s exactly what I wanted.

I chose a small town because I really believe big cities breed psychological and societal sickness. It certainly makes it much harder for me to achieve the inner peace and outer productivity I so desire. I want a simple life that is easy to control so that I only have myself to blame.  That’s where my freedom of choice ended though, as Sasayama was the only small-town job listing at the time I was ready to go.  Sasayama, “an historic castle town” Japan-famous for its black soybeans. Sounds just fine.

But I did not expect to be so lucky as to stumble into this awesome family of misfits (for Japan)!

It is a very small English school.  Just the two brothers who run it up top, and me down below. No grades/curriculum/homework for the students, no training/evaluation/CCTV for me. “What is the most important quality you are looking for in a teacher?” I asked during the Skype interview, because that’s the sort of question you ask your prospective employer. “Laid back.” He says. Ok. Usually it takes me at least two months in a new job to be molded into what I need to be, during which time I am a nervous wreck, but here I felt in my element almost right away. I have so many ideas, and I will actually be able to do them, or at least try! Did I mention I have medical? And a car?! Seriously they’re gonna trust me with a car????

The one brother also runs a “free school” out of his home in the day.  School is not compulsory in Japan, but there are so few independent options, so as a result the kids who are fed up with the soulcrushing public school system just refuse to go. This leads to either withdrawing from society (Hikkikomori is the word for them – it’s become a bit of an epidemic) or becoming a productive member in your own damn way. My boss was definitely too cool for school, and now that he has his own school-aged kids, he’s set up his own. The idea is that the kids, as a group, decide how the school is run, and decide individually what they want to learn and how. Freedom without limits pretty much. Now, I did Montessori Elementary training but left it off my resume because I was worried what it would look like on paper having quit in the final stretch without being able to explain why. But he seemed glad to hear it, both the doing and the quitting, and asked me to give a presentation on the Montessori method to parents of his free school next week! Just to familiarize them with alternative education philosophies, because not everyone is on board. Montessori is more like freedom within limits though, which in my nonprofessional opinion is more suitable for elementary aged kids (and more digestible to parents). But I suppose it depends on the kids. Anyway, it’s always nice when the biggest waste of time and money of your life ends up serving a purpose later on, however small.

The other brother is teaching me film photography but I have almost zero patience with fiddling with ISO and aperture and shutter speed numbers and figuring out how they correspond to reality before I can even take the damn shot, and not even knowing if I struck the right balance until after all that work developing it. So we’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’m just not Zen enough yet.

And their mother who started the school – she’s just the coolest. She lives alone or with whatever WOOFer she’s hosting, just doing whatever she wants all day, continuously learning random new things and teaching whoever wants to learn. Currently she’s teaching me Japanese and calligraphy. Next week we are going to a djembe workshop and concert, and then try couchsurfing in Kyoto. Oh and she’s 70! For New Year’s we watched an incredibly disturbing Japanese drama/thriller called Confessions which I highly recommend (it’s on Netflix) and then went to the traditional Japanese New Years Noe play in town’s square. So she’s my best friend and I’m happy with just the one if they’re this good.

So, you see, I work alone and live alone, but I am not alone!

It’s only been a month, but it really seems like I’m set up to have the best year of my life, as free as I’ll ever be. And if I don’t at least ALL of what I intend, then I really am hopeless. But who’s expecting?

I’m not homesick just yet. But when I disconnect from the digital versions of my loved ones, and I turn off my music, and I go out to explore, I do feel the weight of what I’m missing.  But “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” (thanks Winniw) Right? And it’s true. It’s not that I left because I had no reason to stay. But I still feel like I had to go, which I always do in about a year no matter the situation, and I wonder why? There has to be a reason. Probably mommy and/or daddy issues.

I’ll keep you posted!

  • Jess

P.S. I’m off Facebook for now, but you can still see my (phone) pictures on Instagram!jess
Picture from:  https://www.instagram.com/meta.forest/

12 thoughts on “Letter From Japan

  1. Mishima Yukio might be a good place to start if you haven’t had much exposure to Japanese literature. He has an interesting blend of western and eastern ideas. Abe Kobo — the Kafka of Japan — is a hoot. I recently watched an adaptation of his book Suna no Onna. Although the location is never stated, I’m guessing the location is Tottori which is not too far from where you are:

    Dazai Osamu is the bad boy, whether he is being attacked from the left or right, with an interesting outsider view of Japan from the immediate postwar period. His stuff ranges from the darkest dark to damn funny. Tanizaki is pretty much taboo in polite conversation — Bob has one of his essays, “In Praise of Shadows” which I found online at:

    http://wwwedu.artcenter.edu/mertzel/spatial_scenography_1/Class%20Files/resources/In%20Praise%20of%20Shadows.pdf

    It seems pretty much standard among Japanese to recommend Kawabata or Soseki to their western guests. Kawabata’s Snow Country is worth a read, but I found all of Soseki’s stuff to be dry — quite possibly because he was writing for the most part for weekly publications, so he repeats and repeats and….

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