City skyscape photo that I took from Odaiba

Monday, December 17, 2007

Adjusting to life here

I've been in Tokyo for 5 months now and finally feel much more adjusted. However, the initial transition period was a bit rocky. I've looked back over e-mails and journal entries that reference getting settled in, developing a routine, and adjusting to a new society and culture. I've decided to share some of the more revealing excerpts here, including both good and bad, in order to give an honest picture of the Tokyo culture shock I experienced.

As a quick background, I graduated from a college in Washington state in May of 2006. I moved back home to Indiana for a year. In June, I took a three week vacation with my friend before heading to Japan to meet up with my Tokyo exchange sister and her husband (who were also on vacation in Tokyo, but are permanently settled in my hometown in Indiana). My training for work didn't start until late July.

July 9, 2007 -- journal entry. my first day in Tokyo.
I feel like my head is spinning with transitions. No sooner did I end one of, if not the, best trips of my life, than have I dived into another chapter. I'm not sure I was fully able to process the trip [to Southeast Asia]. And now here I am in Tokyo -- on vacation still, but really -- preparing to embark on a one year commitment abroad, in a culture and language I do not yet understand.

e-mails and journal entries during July -- a summary.
In general, most of my initial e-mails have to do with various observations about my new settings or situations I encountered. I summed up most of them in my first blog post entitled "Initial Impressions."

July 13, 2007 -- journal entry.
I am kinda nervous for this year. But it still feels like the right thing, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps spiritually it will be a good year to grow, or maybe career-wise, it will be important in shaping my path. Possibly, personality-wise, I can learn things from the courteous Japanese behavior. Or maybe I will meet someone who significantly impacts my future... Who knows though. ...a good friend [here] would be nice, really nice. I hope to find a good church family too.

July 29, 2007 -- journal entry.
This week has been good, yet interesting. Training, from a purely professional level, has been very helpful and productive. Emotionally, I feel a bit uncertain/excited/confused/nervous.

July 31, 2007 -- journal entry. before my first official day of work.
[Background -- one of my current American coworkers started the same time I did, so we had our initial training week together. This excerpt begins with a conversation I was having with her the night after we got a tour of our school and met our staff and coworkers. She and I were staying in a "weekly mansion" at this point, and weren't moving into our respective apartments for another week still, although I had already gone and looked at mine from the outside].

Afterwards, we were talking. I told her I felt intimidated. Intimidated about teaching so may classes, intimidated about living on my own and feeling lonely, and intimidated about living in a country where I'm illiterate and can't speak or understand the language. Then she and I went to the station, looked around, and found her apartment. Then we walked over to mine (they're really close) and saw the small shrine by the apartment, and then we got dinner together. Navigating is the one thing currently that gives me a sense of control and ability. I can, at the very least, read a map.

August 1, 2007 -- e-mail to training group.
Yesterday, we got our bank accounts and applied for our Alien Registration Card`s. We haven`t gotten our cell phones yet, although our head teacher wanted us to sign up for this family plan from AU that cost ¥3,000+ each per month that included 60 minutes of calling, no free texting, and one of us would have to make our monthly payments at a convenience store... We are "thinking about it."

Aug. 5, 2007. journal entry.
[Background: This entry was after the first time I attended the church of which I have since become a member]
I had a wonderful time this morning at church. It was so comforting and nice to worship with other Christians. I quickly felt "at home."... It seems they have an active young adult program -- they invited me along to lunch. Maybe about 15 or so of us were there. They said the church has members/attendees from 40 countries. At lunch I talked to someone from Paris, and someone who is Japanese but lived in Latin America until age 10 (we talked in Spanish some :) ) in Chile, Ecuador (Quito!), Argentina, and El Salvador, and who went to law school at Northwestern in Chicago...

Tomorrow, I move into my apartment. After almost two months of living out of a suitcase, I am really looking forward to having my own space.

August 5, 2007 -- e-mail update to several people.
I don't have a routine yet, so in general, I have avoided trying to make any summary statements of life. I just need a bit to get into it, and then I will describe things more. In general, everything just seems new and uncertain, yet exciting and fun. Overall, life seems a bit intimidating, but I believe things will work out, at least I hope so.

August 15, 2007 -- e-mail to Mom
…the weather here sucks and is very hot, humid, and sweaty right now…

It has been fun exploring.

We went to the grocery store today. It is frustrating to not be able to read.

I got a new cell phone: Talking is expensive (42 yen a minute to be precise).

My bike has a flat tire. I need to buy a new tire. I took it to a car repair shop, which was about a ten minute walk from my apartment. They put air in it for free, which was nice, but then it deflated quickly. They said the bike shops were closed for Obon. So, I will try to figure that out later.

August 23, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life has been spinning. Finally, perhaps a direction will settle out. I'm not sure what I feel, but I have so many emotions...

Japan is difficult. I miss living in an English or Spanish society. I love both of those cultures, too. Here, I can't function. I can't read. I can't speak the language. I don't understand input. I don't know the social rules. Everything is incomprehensible...

...where do I go from here? I feel unsettled. I realize how it is I feel: I feel lost. Where am I? Why I am here?... I feel so very, very lost...

[However,] life is similar enough here, it is not so hard to adjust, but different enough, I feel out of place.

August 27, 2007 -- e-mail update to several people.
I have been in Tokyo about one month now teaching English. So far, I think life could best be summed up with: unfamiliar and interesting.

Tokyo has been very hot. Several days have hovered around 100 F with humidity. Despite that, I have been doing a lot of sightseeing...

Work is starting to feel a little more routine. There are many details to remember, but I think I am beginning to get the hang of time management for lesson planning. I teach somewhere around 25 - 30 fifty-minute classes a week...

My coworkers seem nice...

Moving into my apartment has been nice. It is refreshing to have places to put things and have my own space. My apartment is quite small, but I like it nonetheless. I think it will make anything seem giant after this. Yesterday and today, I have been saying hello to my neighbors. In Japan, the traditional thing to do when you move to a new area is buy a little gift for your new neighbors and introduce yourself. Some family friends of my exchange sister kindly helped explain to me the proper presents (I bought little cakes) and etiquette and wrote out and recorded on my cell phone the Japanese phrasing for: "Hello. I moved in next door. Nice to meet you." So after much rehearsing, I nervously delivered my cakes and said hello. Greeting your neighbors with gifts is becoming less common among younger generations and also for people living in Tokyo. So my introductions were a bit of a mixed bag. A couple neighbors, I believe, thought it was quite odd that I was knocking on their door and introducing myself. A couple others though (including who I think were my landlords) were very gracious and friendly. Regardless, I am glad to have faces for my neighbors, and I think it cannot have hurt to say hello.

September 9, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life is confusing. Life feels so uncertain. I have no idea what direction it will go. Should I be an English teacher? It is rather cool to help give others keys to the global language... I am in a unique position to help others learn a very powerful language. And language is powerful. How glaringly obvious has that become to me here? I am helpless without Japanese. Except not totally, because I happen to be a native speaker of the most influential global language...

September 9, 2007 -- e-mail to a friend.
Ok, so anyway, life is pretty good. Everything just still feels strange. I don't know. Japan is different.

Last night some of our students invited both my American coworker and me to dinner. It was quite fun. The age range of people who go out here is really interesting. I was the youngest. The youngest Japanese person was about 30, I think and the oldest said she was 76 -- but she was quite spunky, esp. with some alcohol in her!

Today, some Japanese family friends are taking another friend from training and me to sumo! Should be interesting. We have boxed seats too. :)

Japanese classes started this week. They are good, but will very, very quickly be over my head. It doesn't matter I guess because it is still good practice, but that again adds to the frustration of not being able to communicate here very well.

There was a typhoon here a couple days ago. My first. About 15 inches of rain. It just rained and was windy for a while. It was never too powerful at any one point though. Typhoon #9 of the season and they said it was the worst one yet. My umbrella broke in the morning. But, mainly just it rained a long time. Interesting to compare with Midwest storms, which are much shorter but much more powerful.

September 12, 2007 -- e-mail to Mom
Things are beginning to become a bit more routine, which is nice. I am taking Japanese classes two mornings a week (Tuesday and Friday). I have to concentrate pretty hard to follow along, but it is good to finally start learning more of the language. Soon, I will check out "home groups" that meet once a week and organized by the church I have been going to.

September 18, 2007 -- journal entry.
Life in Japan is hard. I am not happy here. I don't know what to do. Maybe I should ask my brother for advice [he's in the Peace Corps]. I wish I understood Japanese. But I don't really like studying it, so that kinda screws me over.

I just wish I had a/some good Japanese friends. Life is so hard here... I just know that I am experiencing culture shock, and it is difficult. It is hard to overcome so much unfamiliar territory. Work is okay, but I still have much to learn.

I feel so lost. I wish I had a friend. I wish I spoke Japanese. I must learn the language if I'm going to survive. How does one go about making Japanese friends? It's so difficult here. I feel like such an outsider. I want to cry.

Maybe I am not so mature, not so adventurous. I feel homesick for the familiar...

September 23, 2007. e-mail to a friend.
I'm glad you spent time in Japan and can relate. Yes, no sarcasm. The culture seems kinda prescribed and sarcasm would not fit. This past week, I have been doing more reflecting and thinking about how I have been experiencing some culture shock. While it's kinda annoying to recognize that I experiencing it -- and esp. to still have to go through it -- I think the realization is positive so that I can continue adjusting. I know it will just take some more time and effort.

In general, life is interesting and new, and I am learning things and enjoying myself. Last night some students invited a couple of us teachers out to an Italian dinner and we did karaoke afterwards. It was a really fun evening...

..last week I became a member of the church I have been attending, and this morning, I went up to the front during the service with the other new members to affirm our faith and be welcomed into the congregation. Then there was a dance performance after the service, which included ballet, flamenco, and Japanese dancing.

This afternoon, I met up with one of my Japanese coworkers to go shopping/explore a college neighborhood and also do some English Japanese language exchange.

Anyway, so, I guess that's all kinda to say life is very varied -- interesting and enjoyable, yes -- but I think the newness, the language barrier, and the cultural differences have been difficult to take in all at once, and so I have been at the point where I am just trying to figure out my place and adjust to the new surroundings/customs.

Oct. 5, 2007. e-mail to Mom
Yes, it has finally gotten cooler. The temperature has been very pleasant the last week or so. I've enjoyed it a lot.

October 15, 2007. e-mail to a friend.
Life in Japan is okay. Nothing too fabulous and nothing too horrendous. I've been able to see some very cool and interesting stuff. And I've made some fine friends (no amazing bonds or anything, but some people to hang out with and enjoy each other's company). But, the culture here doesn't exactly fit who I am that well, and I don't really have this deep desire to learn the language other than to make life easier, and so... things are alright. I do enjoy exploring Tokyo. On a work note, I have really enjoyed teaching English for the most part, and I'm thinking about pursuing that more, maybe even as a possible career. Who knows. But that has been kinda exciting to think of having some direction for myself in that respect.

So anyway, having these staggered visits with people I'm close to is nice. It makes the year not seem as long, in a way. And actually, it's hard to believe, but I've been in Japan for three months already.

November 14, 2007 -- journal entry.
...I am making more friends -- students, coworkers, and people at church. My Japanese is very slowly getting slightly better...

end of November -- facebook update.
I've been in Tokyo since the end of July, and I think I'm finally over the largest portion of the culture shock hump... Knock on wood. lol.

December 15, 2007 -- e-mail to friend
Things have been going really well here actually. I finally am feeling more settled in and at home here. We had our work Christmas party yesterday with karaoke afterwards, and it was lots of fun. I've had a couple visitors come through recently, which has been nice...

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