Tag: Japan

The Journey to Japan

The Journey to Japan

I know my last post on Japan was kind of a downer, but I promise things aren’t actually so bleak. I am rockin’ and rollin’ with my own business after all. It’s just… falling out of love with Japan– especially to this extent– has me more stumped than anything.

I mean, I really thought that love was going to be for forever, guys! Saying stuff like that almost makes it seem like I didn’t mature after all, huh?

Tracing things back to the source might be helpful. The time gap in between feels surreal. But the memories? Reminiscing where that love came from, and remembering the reason why I wanted to go in the first place isn’t hard to do at all.

Over the years, I’ve had many obsessions with Japan. Some were not the healthiest. To be honest, I think a lot of people thought my main reason to go to Japan were the girls. So when my girlfriend at the time dumped me, it’s no surprise those same people thought I’d be on a plane home the next day.

did have some crazy, yellow fever; but that’s not why I wanted to go over there.

The idea to teach The idea to help students came from one of my anime heroes: Great Teacher Onizuka.

Onizuka, a high school dropout/ex-gang member decides he wants to become… a teacher?

How lame is that? Sure enough, he’s a klutz, unorganized, and by all accounts a crappy teacher– in the traditional sense anyway.

What separates him from the rest is his resolve to teach his students. It’s not all about books and scores, there’s a lot to learn about life. And what better environment to teach these kinds of lessons than a school? For that very notion, Onizuka thinks school is cool. School is fun. He tells his students that he’d go back to school in a heartbeat.

His students react in disbelief. I shared the same disbelief. Can school really be that kind of place?

He made school more than school. He was more than just a teacher. He gave a shit.

I’ve had my fair share of teachers that taught me about life, but they never hit that level of ambitiousness. And even in the days of having low self-esteem, I wanted to be that kind of leader. I wished at least.

And for awhile, that idea just floated in my head as a fantasy. “Yeah, that’d be nice.” But then in my freshman year, a former JET Program participant spoke at my school, and I was instantly hooked. Here was the path to make that fantasy a reality.

I was so excited to join that I asked the speaker to help me set up an interview. But then I found out I either needed three years of teaching experience or a college degree.

I decided in that moment that I would do both. I would build the beefiest resume that no way they could turn me down. I wanted to be the best ALT in the JET Program like no one ever was.

And that’s a real big reason why I chose my major and minor. That’s the key factor why I tutored and why I connected with the international community at my school. These are the steps, in addition to studying Japanese, that I had hoped would show the JET Program I was the go-to pick for the job.

When I was finally over there, I really felt like I was living the dream. I channeled my anime heroes into the dorkiest introduction speech ever.

(You can tell me how dorky it was. I can’t bring myself to re-watch it.)

But that level insanity worked. That crazy vision of making a difference drove me to learn all 600 of my students names. It pushed me to throw caution to the wind and make the craziest lesson plans on making commercials and building your dream hubby/wife.

I did have some challenges early on (i.e. being able to read the reactions of my students, recognizing shyness, working around low participation, etc.) but I enjoyed the challenge.

I loved my job.

I’d hear other people talk about the grind of the workweek and the dread of the weekend ending. I’d almost slip into the same line of small talk until I remembered, “Nope! I love what I do.”

I wasn’t perfect. I don’t know how close to being the “best” I actually was, but I enjoyed the hell out of the successes of the day to day. Being able to tweak a lesson plan that bombed in the morning into a crowd favorite in the afternoon? That kind of turn around victory is one of the best feelings in the world.

And maybe I could’ve ridden that momentum into eternity. At least, maybe I would’ve stayed the original 5 years like I originally planned. Maybe I could’ve settled down over there, if it weren’t for one change in my third year

 

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Journey from Japan

Journey from Japan

August is a weird time of year for me. Four years ago I came back to the states after living three in Japan.

The fact that it’s been four years is crazy to me.

Because no, it doesn’t feel “just like yesterday” anymore. But it doesn’t feel like a long time ago either. It kind of feels like it didn’t ever happen.

Sure, I’ve made a handful of friends that I’ve kept in touch with. Some of them being nice surprises– people that I’m way closer with now than I ever was while living over there. And for a lot of people that I thought for sure I’d be keeping up with?

Well, those connections are d-e-d. And, a lot of my original interests that tied me to Japan are dead too. No more RPGs, anime, drama, or J-Pop. I can’t even find a purpose to stick with studying Japanese.

So with the few memories I have fading, and the connections I used to have waning, I’ve been re-thinking what I truly got out of my life in Japan.

What was the real impact? Why did I want to go so badly in the first place? What changed?

These are the talking points I want to hit this month. Some of the answers remain the same, but I think it’s almost therapeutic to revisit them.

I think the best way to kick off this reflection is to cover, once again, the return home from Japan. The short story was it sucked. I talked about it every chance I had, but that might’ve been the wrong approach.

I’m not saying I should’ve suppressed my feelings, but the more I talked about it, the more I could play up the pain.

A few months before it was time to go, I made a promo video to hype up my return:

But that wasn’t for other people to get hyped. That was for me. You’ll notice the dialogue’s taken from the most heartbreaking scene from Terminator 2:

John: No! No, wait! Wait, you don’t have to do this!

Terminator: I’m sorry.

John: No, don’t do it! Don’t go!

Terminator: It has to end here.

I did that on purpose because that’s how I felt talking to myself. And his name was John! Could you get more prophetic?

But yeah, stuff like that. I’d talk about how leaving Japan was “the worst break-up” I’d ever been through. I told Chase it was like that scene from Black Hawk Down where the guy who’s clutching a picture of his family gets dragged away.

I likened myself to Dave Chappelle when he visited Africa and said it felt like home. Except in my case, I was losing that. I was having an identity-crisis.

I had shock of change, shock of loss, and shock of uncertainty. Yes, I was back home with friends and family, but what to do next?

And when I just couldn’t get a steady gig lined up, I got more frustrated. When I couldn’t even get entry-level jobs, I felt worthless.

The JET Program gave me an opportunity for amazing personal development, but as for career development, all these companies were acting like it didn’t mean shit. And it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was going through this.

But many of the people who experienced the same thing kept quiet. Maybe it was because of shame, but they preferred to stay silent. And when people don’t talk about these kinds of problems, you’ll start to think that you’re the only one who doesn’t have their shit together.

Any JET who’s coming back home, know that you’re not alone in this struggle.

Girl Talk: Xmas Plans

Girl Talk: Xmas Plans

Even before I was teaching through The JET Program, I had heard that the winter holiday was better spent outside of Japan. My professor put it like this, “If you’re used to spending Christmas with family, you’re going to want to make sure you’re home during the break. Well… actually, yeah. You’re just going to want to make sure you’re home for Christmas.”

In my first year, I honored that and flew back. By the summer of  2010, I had spent a good chunk of cash on two more trips for friends’ weddings. Three trips back to the US before a full year of working was unheard of!

That winter I wasn’t going to be going anywhere for sure.

I was kind of excited, actually, to see what Christmas in Japan would be like with my own eyes. The year before, I had the break-up that turned my life around [ed note: I should probably put that story to rest in its own write-up, eh?] so I knew that even an uneventful holiday shouldn’t be so bad.

But I can’t lie, the decorations and scenery slowly started to eat at me. You see, in Japan they treat Christmas just like another glorified Valentine’s Day. There’s no sense of family, charity, and goodwill. It’s all about the Christmas honey, honey! Extra lovey-dovey kudos if you’re able to set up something on Christmas Eve.

So while I was trying to keep my feelings in check and not get too hyped on finding the girl of destiny, I started to think I should do something. I reached out to a friend I knew from college and was thrilled she was interested in meeting up on the day.

The only real “catch” was that I needed to go to her area. This meant forking up $100+ to ride the bullet train from Toyama Prefecture to Tokyo.

We hadn’t really been in touch. I was really trying to go into the day without any pressure. Seeing her again was nice– and just that. Nothing more or less.

I thought this was good. I could enjoy this time for what it was: spending Christmas day with a cutie. We chatted some at a cafe. We walked some around the block. And then, with a little twinkle in her eye, she had something she wanted to tell me.

Whatever could it be? Perhaps the key to all this romance stuff really was playing it cool and having no expectations.

“Anyway, I’m going to let you go. Have fun in Tokyo.”

It was a really long train ride back. I haven’t talked to her since.

Now what’s the lesson to be learned here? Despite my best intentions, were my expectations subconsciously too high? Maybe.

Quick sidenote: over the years, I’ve changed my attitude towards “setting low expectations”. It’s not so much you have to be so careful, and you shouldn’t live your life trying so hard to avoid disappointment. You just need to shape yourself to be able to move past disappointment.

But that’s a lesson that’s better served with a different girl story.

The big takeaway from this bad Christmas tale is this:

Don’t ever have your sights, your plans,
your sense of joy so dependent on another person.
That’s got to be all on you.
Your vision, your goals, your happiness–
that’s all on you.

It would take my several more years to nail down this idea. The romance, the girl, the dating– that stuff isn’t supposed to be a “payoff”. That stuff isn’t a reward that’ll turn your life around and make you happy.

Does it add to your life? Definitely! At least, a good relationship will.

More importantly: doing your own things, having your own plans, and then finding someone who’s excited to join them is way, way, way more satisfying.

Without family and friends around that year, I was right in thinking I should’ve done something. But that something should’ve been my own thing– plans that didn’t hinge on someone else to make it a success.

Have you ever spent Christmas alone?