I really love my small town. Paul expressed beautifully what I can’t quite yet; maybe never will here. I just like living in the atmosphere where it’s possible. My small-town love is really about the potential for interconnectedness and the vested interest the people have in getting along (since we’re all we’ve got). Feels like we’re on the same team. Against what? Meaninglessness, I suppose. I’m sure there are miserable, dysfunctional small towns just as there are people, but this pocket of Sasayama feels so cozy and safe to me. Don’t talk to me about dark underbellies right now.
As a teacher I’m evolving. My standards are higher. Which means it’s harder work than I initially thought. The sheer variety of classes and the sole responsibility. The not really knowing if I’m doing well, so I just keep trying and erring. At least I have control. There’s just one class I have completely lost control over though – my littlest kids. That I know is a certain hell because I stop breathing and float above my body for the duration. They’re so far gone. But at least they’re contained. And at least they serve the purpose of keeping me from getting too comfortable. Ah, I long for the day when I am both comfortable and not a shit teacher. And don’t have to control. Possible?
Anyway, I got my first earned break since I arrived, which I made an excellent time of just driving around with a vague sense of direction (the edges), sleeping in my car and following the attraction signs (which were all in English!). Basically how I live my life. No plan = no expectation = surprise!
I seriously love Japan. I made careful not to say it until I was sure, but I felt it from the start and it has only been confirmed. It’s surprising how normal everything feels even though each day brings some new sight or situation that is so absurd if I think of it from Canada. It makes me reconsider what normal even is. That which doesn’t provoke a big reaction from the surroundings? So then my presence here is normal. It does indeed seem that way. Besides the amusement park diffusion of responsibility, people don’t avoid engaging with me if they can’t speak English (which is funny), nor do they come up to me to practice (like in Korea…which was funny too). It’s nice! Until I remember the Japanese tendency to hide their true feelings for the other person’s sake. Well, that’s nice too I guess. For now.
Language learning is slow but sure. It’s interesting to discover two distinct concepts in English that are the same in Japanese. Like “clean” and “beautiful” (kirei) and “early” and “fast” (haiai), “good night” and “break” (oyasumi). And common words that mean opposite things depending on the context. Like chotto, one of the first ones you pick up on from hearing it all the time and learning chotto matte (“wait a moment”). In most contexts it means “a little” or “a bit” or “slightly”, but in others it means the exact opposite; “fairly” or “very”. It also can mean “indeed” or “inconvenient”. Also very common is betsu ni. The word itself means “in particular”, but it’s used to mean the exact opposite. “Nothing in particular” or “nothing special”, or just “nothing” The whole reason it’s negative is because it’s abbreviated from betsu ni nani mo – “nani mo” being part that actually means “nothing”. Augh. And there’s yabei which is an exclamation to mean “Super cool” or “crazy/insane”, but in one case my student said it to me while saying an emotional goodbye on her last class, and when I asked why she just said “big feeling”
But it’s it interesting that once you learn the contexts, you get it. Like, I get kirei; something that can be classified as both clean and pretty. Never thought of it before. Never had to! These are not new concepts a foreigner can’t possibly grasp. It’s not that they don’t exist without the language, either. We just don’t think of it. The potential is there and we could understand it if we were shown how. It’s so interesting! I want to learn faster/earlier!
By the way, the word for “foreigner” was originally gaijin, which means “outside person” but Japanese thought it sounded rude so they changed it to gaikokojin, meaning “outside country person”. That’s nice!
I’m still working on being alone. Without intimacy, I mean. It’s not that it’s lonely, it’s just kind of neutral. Actual joy is only ever experienced when other people are closely involved (so too along the other end of the continuum – that’s the deal). I often feel like the kid from Into the Wild, except not so stubborn that I have to be dying to come to the conclusion that happiness is only real when shared.
When I left Canada, it was in the midst of some of the best relationships I have ever had. I made sure they connected before I left, and so it was just becoming a network. I was so happy. But here I am so happy in a different way that I’m not sure I can get back there. Best of both worlds, kudesai!