Author Archives: Jessica

Full Circle

Earlier last month, I returned to the school that I started at in Japan over a year ago. It’s been interesting seeing everything that’s the same, who has grown up, the differences between then and now…

And as much as it hits home to be there and know everything I’ve accomplished and that I’ve decided to move on with my life in less than a year, there still manages to be times every day that are just silly.

This school thinks I’m absolutely adorable.

Other schools have made comments, and there had been students here and there who have decided I’m the cutest/dorkiest thing ever, but this school. This school. I cannot get anywhere without a chorus of girls trying to prompt me into saying “good morning” or anything at all so they can squeal, “KAWAII!!!!!” and continue with their mornings. It likely hasn’t helped that I’m always super smiley and bouncy these days.

The best of the bunch, though, is a little first year girl who has a birthday tomorrow.

I was told today by her English teacher that whenever I’m not assisting for their English class, the girl (let’s call her Y) becomes extremely grumpy. It seemed to be a fangirl at first sight moment. This kid cannot seem to handle that I exist. She has trouble speaking to me because it embarrasses her too much, she hides her face in her hands/hides behind a friend/slams her face down on her desk and hides behind her arms if I catch her looking my way. The only thing she ever manages to say to me is, “Very, very, very cute!” and that takes all her willpower before she has to run away and hide again.

Y’s entire class knows about how she is around me. Whenever there’s a chance to speak to me, the normally noisy class will grow quiet and all turn toward Y to see how she will react (usually by turning red and dying).

Her friends think it’s hilarious to drag Y up to me and insist that, “Y loves you!”

I have never had a kid react so strongly. I’m really looking forward to how she does when I stop by her class tomorrow to wish her a happy birthday. It might kill her. ❤

I’m going to really miss stuff like this when I leave. I’ve said multiple times that I don’t really want to be a teacher, but I really love kids. Maybe I wouldn’t mind tutoring on the side or being a volunteer somewhere? We’ll see what I can manage in the future.

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Eventful Days

Through a combination of work and life being equally hectic, I haven’t been around much for blogging. A crazy ton has happened that I should have talked about, but lately I’ve been running on around four hours of sleep a night and suffering from some major stress. But I guess let’s start at the beginning? 

I went on radio silence through the latter half of September and all of October. Part of it was recovering from the English speech contest that I’d been helping out with. Another part was dealing with worrying about my dad’s health problems and other family issues. I’ve been coordinating with my mom for my family’s upcoming trip to visit me for Christmas, dealing with unexpected taxes, and fifty billion other things that all seemed to come up at once.

And, of course, I was still in recovery mode from my recent break-up. I was mostly okay at the time, but I seemed to dip back toward being depressed any time some new stressor hit me. After far too many ups and downs, I decided to take a step back from unnecessary stress (like keeping a blog updated) and to just focus on me and what makes me happy.

Focusing on me meant becoming a serious social butterfly. My calendar suddenly required multiple ink colours, tinier handwriting, and constant consultation to keep my life straight. Any time something came up, I made a point to say yes — yes I would love to go and pick soybeans and then eat some horse meat. Yes, who wouldn’t want to carry a Shinto god around the neighborhood and acquire some god-like bruises. Yes, I would kill to see the Backstreet Boys in concert, a million times yes! And so on.

However manic I got to achieve it, my emotions evened out and I stopped having the “I’m just sad” days.

Unexpectedly, I also got to start skyping often with one of my best friends who I’ve known fooooor almost ten years?

Often. Then frequently. Then sometimes every day…

We started dating last week!

I should warn my youngest sister to beware. Long distance seems to be a thing with our family now. My middle sister’s boyfriend is currently in Alaska (she’s in Alabama). 

I’m still under a lot of stress with my graduate school application suddenly looming over me, constantly reminding me that my statement of purpose isn’t quite done, but… I’m really happy.

Not sleeping awesomely since I have new neighbors and sleep lightly anyway, but super happy.

Little bit worried about money, but happy.

Things have been crazy. Life has been unexpected and wonderful and a mess. Despite it all, I think things are finally working out and making sense.

Coming up next time: my new school and how insane it is that I have a small fan club of girls. ❤

Still Rough Sailing

I can’t seem to catch many breaks lately. Have I updated since my dad had a stroke…? I don’t know if I have.

He’s okay now. Ish. Still working out the medicine to prevent a second one.

There’s not much else to say at the moment, but next update I’ll upload some pictures and talk a little bit about my experience carrying a Japanese omikoshi in the festival last weekend. I will also complain a lot about the enormous bruise I earned in the process.

Stormy Weather

The past few days the weather has been somewhat unpredictable. It can’t decide if it wants to stay sunny and at five billion degrees, or try to drown us. Either way, walking to school has been a bit of a challenge. I’m counting down the days until cold weather arrives. The cold might suck as well, but at least I can bundle up more and hide behind scarves. It’s considered inappropriate to strip down in public to avoid sweating to death.

At least inside the school it’s bearable lately. I’ve just had to roll with the weather and take a washcloth to school with me. As soon as I arrive, I put my bento in the office fridge, dump my things at my desk, and head off to the bathroom to wash my face and try to look presentable again.

I never look my best in hot weather. My face doesn’t cool down as much as it should? Or as fast as it should? So it gets more and more red until, if I don’t watch out, the blood vessels burst. (When I was a kid and unaware of what was happening, I seemed to permanently have the two bright pink circles on my cheeks like you see on anime characters. The doctor said I needed laser surgery, but I healed on my own! I’M WOLVERINE.)

I was clearly not made to exist outdoors, though.

In student news, I had one 3rd year boy declare loudly that he was free when I said I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I had another serenade me with some pop song I’m unfamiliar with.

In another class, a girl who seems physically incapable of paying attention to the lesson rescued me from a string that was dangling from the back of my collar.

I’ve also gotten to know the three students in my assigned cleaning area. The boy wants to be a doctor, one girl a nurse, and the other girl a flight attendant. I told all three that English could be helpful in those careers and they seem somewhat willing to practice speaking while we clean.

I’m thinking… that I might like this school. The kids remind me of my favorite school. Lots of energy!

The only thing I dislike about the school so far is that the third years seem to know less English than the first and second years. It’s really unsettling. Hopefully when I go to the other third year classes tomorrow I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Start of the Second Term

If it seems like I dropped off the face of the map for a while there, it’s because summer has officially ended in Japan. I started things off beautifully on September 1st by forgetting that my class for adult English learners was starting back up. Luckily, I received a wake-up call to double-check that I would be coming to the lesson that day. If I hadn’t gotten that call, I wouldn’t have made it to the station in time. ^^;

From Monday until now, I’ve been going to my new school! I’ll be here from now until toward the end of October. I marathon-ed the first grade classes yesterday for five periods straight. Today I’ll have two classes with the third graders and two with the second graders. A much easier schedule, I can assure you.

At this point, I like teaching with the second grade teacher the most. He plans the lessons carefully, wants to challenge the students, and has a really cohesive style! It will be interesting to learn from him the next month and a half. I hope I can teach as smoothly as he does from now until next August. Classes like his seem to fly by! I never agonize over how much longer the class has.

With work started back in full, I can keep distracted a little more, but my life is still crazy at the moment. I’m fighting hard to assure people I can still keep my previous commitments. It’s extremely difficult being an adult and learning that no matter what insanity is going on in your life, there will always be people around you who are unwilling to cut you any slack.

At least I’ve been getting a little reading done. And watching Arrow. That show is a lifesaver. But where is the handsome billionaire to sweep me off my feet? Maybe I should get into the arrow-making business…

 

The Road to Fluency

I am nowhere close to fluent in Japanese.

On a good day I can communicate basic needs, but I usually remember all of the right things to say after the conversation has ended. Reading Japanese becomes easier every day, but speaking Japanese is altogether terrifying and different. My brain has a lot of trouble connecting spoken words to the written words I know.

It’s usually an exciting feeling when I realize that the word someone is saying is something that I read every day, though!

That aside, I’m working toward passing the Japanese Language Proficiency exam. I go to a private lesson with a volunteer teacher every week and slowly fill in gaps in my Japanese knowledge. I have been studying kanji diligently for almost an entire year, but I’m doubtful that I will be ready for the exam with my current progress (I took the 2nd level of this exam before).

Currently I use Anki flashcards to study level 2 kanji and vocabulary as well as practice listening.

Does anyone else study Japanese? If anyone has a study trick that they think works brilliantly, please let me know! There are only a few months left before I shell out quite a bit of money for this silly exam.

I predict that, because of the turmoil that’s happened the past several months, I will falter and choose to take the 3rd level instead of the 2nd.

I think it’s important to try my best and give it my all, but I also want to be honest with myself and realize what I am and am not capable of in my current state of mind.

Japanese Conbini

Can I just talk for a moment about how awesome convenience stores are in Japan? They are everywhere. Everywhere.

First, the food. You can get  dozens of different boxed lunches at the Japanese “conbini”. There are hot lunches, cold lunches, ingredients for going home and making your own lunch, a frozen food section, a pastry section, and a small “fast food” sort of section up by the registers.

The hot and ready food at the registers usually consists of some form of fried potato, fried chicken, chicken on a stick, spring rolls, and varied steamed buns. Depending on what store you go to, the selection varies, but generally the quality is about on parr with some fast food places. At least here in the city nothing looks questionable or in danger of health code violations like back in the states.

As if there wasn’t enough reason to go there just from that, it usually doubles as basically a small, well-maintained dollar store. You can usually find everything from pencils and notebooks to work shirts and socks in case of emergency. There’s also a large magazine section and sometimes a manga shelf.

Maybe my favorite part of the Japanese convenience stores, though, is that you can purchase tickets for concerts/theme parks/whatever AND you can pay your bills there! I go by all the time to pay my internet bill. I can also buy things online, take a special code to the store, and pay for my purchases.

Because, you know, who wants to bother with Paypal these days?

Summer Festivals

Narashino Dancing

Narashino Dancing

Lately has been kind of crazy for me, but over the weekend I was able to attend some festivals. Unfortunately, I showed up right as one was ending and I had to leave the other after only glancing around for a minute, but they were still fun to see!

My city’s festival was the one I was most looking forward to. I thought it would be interesting to see the sort of things my city would do during summer. I assumed my city was fairly small, so I thought the festival would be extremely small. Not so!

To start things off, they held a huge parade down the street. Many different clubs and organizations participated and walked through with their banners. You can view some of it here.

After the initial parade, there was another parade of dancers. I could stand at the top of the hill and see a line of dances down the road for as far as I could see.

In a large, open area the usual festival booths were set up. There were games to catch goldfish, a ring toss, prizes (I saw a lot of kids carrying newly won inflatable baseball bats and an inflatable Stitch from the Disney movie), and a lot of similar things to do. They sold a lot of typical festival foods as well. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to take more pictures.

Starting today, I’m taking a few days off work to pull myself back together and get everything about my life reorganized. My four day absence from sorting through my e-mail account seems to have already cost me the internship I was really excited about. I suppose I just need to accept what’s happened so far and try to keep going.

 

Catching My Breath

Sorry I haven’t been blogging every day as per usual, but everything seems to really be hitting me at once. It’s difficult to deal.

I’m not eating much or getting any sleep recently, but I’m working to steer away from those negative reactions to stress. Hopefully after work today I’ll take a good, 12 hour nap and just reset.

Wish me luck? I’l try to update about my city’s festival and the festival in the next city over soon!

Scary Japan

Last night was terrifying.

I’m going through a break-up, so I took a 20 minute train ride into Tokyo to stay at a friend’s apartment. I helped her cook dinner, then had hamburgers with my friend and her husband. We watched some of a movie, talked a lot, and then suddenly I realized it was after ten. Having work in the morning, I hurried on my way.

The train home was fairly uneventful. An older guy kept nodding off and falling sideways toward me, but that’s standard in Japan. I just rolled my eyes and scooted over when I had the chance.

My apartment is maybe 15 minutes from the main train station. It was getting toward 11pm as I was walking home, but I wasn’t overly concerned. It’s Japan! I was, however, acutely aware that I was walking home by myself when normally I would have my boyfriend with me (what a depressing thought that was).

Between being a hopeless sap, trying to come up with really nice things I could do for said recent boyfriend to try to make things better (or at least make myself feel better), I considered my route home. At one point, I can take a road that goes almost straight to my apartment or a road that runs parallel, but I have to turn right on it to hit the first road and reach my apartment.

The latter road is brightly lit with lots of people on it even late at night. It also has two convenience stores that are super bright and open 24/7. I needed to pay my internet bill at the convenience store, so I took the bright, safe road. I congratulated myself on playing it safe and not going down the straight road just to save on a little time.

I was also proud of myself for not wallowing in sadness completely and responsibly paying my internet bill.

I stepped into the first convenience store, paid my bill, arranged everything back into my bag before leaving, and continued on my way.

Shortly after leaving the convenience store, a Japanese guy around my age suddenly started walking uncomfortably close to me. There were other people around me, so I wasn’t too concerned, but the thought of dealing with a creeper in my current state of mind wasn’t appealing.

He asked me in Japanese if I was going home. I started to worry that I would need to duck into the second convenience store to lose the guy so he wouldn’t follow me home. I replied in Japanese that I didn’t understand Japanese at all. And sped up. He sped up, too.

He said something I couldn’t quite catch, but I heard the word for “I like you” in the middle, then he thew an arm around my shoulder and put his hand on my other shoulder, trapping me. Between the two convenience stores is an alley that goes to the dark road. He said something that sounded in Japanese like, “Let’s go this way,” and tried to pull me into the alley.

I yelled, “CHOTTO!” Basically: “HEY!” I threw my arms straight up to knock his grip loose, then ran for the 7-11. I hid in there for a few minutes, noting before I stepped inside that he vanished down the alley. I tried to call some people, but no one answered. Eventually, I decided (stupidly) to go home. Forgetting for a moment that the alley leads to my road, too.

I took the right turn to go toward my road, but before I made it very far, the guy appeared, cutting me off. He said in English, “I want to talk.” But I was already sprinting back the way I came.

I hid in 7-11. Again. I had the clerks call the police, then gave a statement at the station. The police told me they would send out a patrol, then they took me home.

Every time I repeat the story, I feel a little better. But it’s still scary. I’ll be buying pepper spray this weekend. It was brightly lit, there were people around (who ignored me while it was happening), and it still wasn’t safe.

Time to step up my security measures.