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Settling into Japan

I have been out of quarantine and living in my new prefecture for close to three weeks. Everyone's favorite question to ask me is if I am settled in. The answer is no, not even close.

When I first found out that I was moving to Japan in early 2020, I spent all of my free time researching Japan and studying Japanese. Then my first postponement happened and I was completely devastated. The second postponement was even more difficult. I found out less than two weeks before I was meant to depart. At that point, I had to distance myself from all things related to Japan. In my mind I knew I might not ever go. At this point, I did not have a plan B. Later, I decided that if I did not move to Japan by this Fall that I was going to apply to a similar teaching program in France called TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France). So instead of studying Japanese, I began studying French. When I finally heard the news that I was actually coming to Japan, part of me didn't believe it and the other part of me felt overwhelmed because I had stopped studying Japanese. The hours spent studying Japanese seemingly disappeared from my mind. Studying Japanese on your own is way different than having a conversation with someone, though. So even if I had continued studying Japanese while figuring out my next step, there would still be a language barrier between me and everyone else in the city.

Living and teaching in Japan has been my number one goal for awhile now and I am so happy that I have finally arrived. The JET Programme does a lot of hand holding, which is ideal for someone who has never lived outside of the country. I am very fortunate that I ended up in a prefecture that is more laid back, has the most sunshine in the country, and is good to their Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) (most ALTs stay in this prefecture for the full five years that you can stay on JET).

When I first arrived, I met two of my supervisors and another fellow junior high school ALT. On the first day in my city, there were so many errands that we ran in order to get settled in. They took me to the bank, to City Hall to register my residency and get my Japanese Social Security number, and to the phone company to get a phone number. The entire day I barely understood what was happening. I just kept showing people my residency card, passport, bank book, and handing out so much cash. By the time the errands were done, it was evening. I still had to run to a home goods store called Nitori to purchase some curtains for the bedroom window and linens for the bed. To finish the day off, I went out to dinner with the other junior high school ALTs in my city. I was not hungry and so exhausted at that point so I didn't eat, but instead went to socialize.

The second day was my first office day. I had to present myself to everyone in Japanese! That was also the day that I met the mayor. He served me tea and we took a picture together. I am sure that I made a lot of etiquette errors, but he told me he was impressed with my background and said that in Japan there is a famous singer named Rebecca. On day two I also bought my car! It is a 2014 Honda Fit.

In Japan, people drive on the left side of the road and their steering wheel is on the right hand side. The only other major difference is the blinker and the windshield wiper are on the opposite sides of the steering wheel. The first time I drove I repeatedly hit the windshield wiper when I was attempting to turn, it has only happened once since. The roads in Japan are very narrow, and people usually drive 20km over the speed limit. So passing people on the very narrow roads is quite terrifying. Because everything is so small in Japan, it is also common to reverse park. I am still getting used to this, but I am already way less anxious behind the wheel! If I can drive through New York City during a thunderstorm, then I can definitely drive in a rural prefecture in Japan.

The few weeks I have been here, I have needed a lot of support doing simple tasks. I am very lucky because my predecessor has been so kind and helpful. He has offered to answer all of my questions even though he no longer lives in the area. Additionally, the junior high school JETs in my city have helped with translating (like when I got my wifi set up last week), taken me to various restaurants and showed me where to go grocery shopping.

Last weekend, a high school ALT helped navigate me to all four of my schools on Saturday. She also directed me through the back roads to get to the most populated city in my prefecture: Miyazaki City. This day was great because it forced me to get more practice behind the wheel. On Sunday, my supervisor took me to a history museum as well as Sekinoo Falls, a waterfall in my city.

This week I visited all four of my schools for the first time. Being in the classroom with these kids reminds me of why I wanted to get into teaching in the first place. Students in Japan actually listen, care about their studies and respect teachers. Teachers don't need to repeat instructions multiple times and they don't have to stop the class to deal with behavior issues.

In Japan, students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotate classrooms. Students even eat lunch in their classroom. School lunches are healthy. They often have rice, some sort of vegetable and meat for protein. Students are expected to eat all the food they are given, and they never say anything bad about the food. After lunch, students and teachers clean the whole school. It is uncommon that schools hire janitors. This encourages clean habits starting at a young age. I wish that the United States would practice this in their schools. More and more students are vandalizing schools in the U.S. with no repercussions for these actions. If students were in charge of cleaning schools, I believe these behaviors would end. Sadly, this would never happen in public schools in the U.S.

This is the first weekend that I have no responsibilities. I plan on sleeping in and really getting settled into my apartment. Once my apartment is set up, I will share pictures of what it looks like! In the meantime, enjoy some random pictures I have taken around my apartment:


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