Culture · Culture Shock · Friends · Information · Introduction

明日のことをいうと天井の鼠が笑う

I suppose I should start things from the beginning of my move to Japan. It has been a long half year and there is much to tell. However, I think I will just start with my first impression of my work and living experience here in Japan.
If you will draw your attention to the title of this entry (I know that a good deal of my readers probably have no idea how to read Japanese, so fear not for explanation shall come to those who wait). Now, the text reads “ashita no koto o iu to tenjou no nezumi ga warau” and translates to if “you speak of tomorrow, the rats in the ceiling will laugh.” In other words, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. In a nut shell, you never know what is going to happen and predictions can make you look the fool when they do not come true. I think all of Japan, or maybe just the cockroaches that inhabit my apartment complex, were definitely laughing at me upon my arrival.
Once my plane landed, I had no problems getting through customs, or getting my luggage, or finding my friend Airi who met me at the airport. Nor did I have any problems getting to my hotel and finding fellow new AET Michael. It was an easy feat finding dinner in downtown Narita and the easiest part of my first 24 hours was sleeping. What came the next day…was a little more than shocking to say the least.
Michael and I took the train to Kawagoe station in Saitama Prefecture to meet with our boss, Mr. Yoshida. We had to wait about a half hour for another new KET because she misjudged the time it would take her to get from Tokyo Disney Land to Kawagoe with all her luggage. Anyway, once we were picked up, Mr. Yoshida then told us that he would drive us to our apartments. Now, something had been bothering me a little. The apartments I knew about were in Kasumigaseki, a few more train stations away from Kawagoe, so I was wondering why we were asked to meet in Kawagoe instead of Kasumigaseki. Well…I was about to get my answer.
Mr. Yoshida starts driving towards an area that I know pretty well because I used to go there often when I was a JSP students. Slowly, we begin to head out into the middle of nowhere and we arrive at an old looking apartment complex. Here come those cockroaches laughing I was talking about. Mr. Yoshida explains that this is where I will live. Shock to me, because I thought I was living in Kasumigaseki and in the same apartment complex as the other too.
Oops. Wrong on that point.
To be honest, I was a little excited when I heard I would be living in Kawagoe because, to be blunt, there is nothing in Kasumigaseki besides a supermarket and cheap-sketchy karaoke places. Anyway, we drive up to the apartment complex and Mr. Yoshida hands me the keys to my new home. Now, the girl participating in KET before me (the person whose place I was taking) had done the program for five years before deciding to move to Tokyo to get a real job. She had warned me that there would not be a lot of furniture because she took everything with her, but that the Kawagoe Institute of Education would provide me with the basics and I would quickly be able to create a suitable home.
Now…here really comes those cockroaches.
We arrive at the apartment, I am asked to unlock the door…and I was greeted with this site:
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This is the living room…
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The kitchen…
No fridge. No washing machine. No fan in the 38C heat and humidity that is Japan’s summer. No mattress (but a five year old futon), no pots or pans to cook (but old dishes), no couch, no TV, no nothing.
I asked Mr. Yoshida where everything was, and he explained (this explanation I will continue to hear for the next year) that unlike the other two new KETs, because the girl before me bought everything herself, the Institute had nothing to give me and she left me nothing. When asked about the provided things listed in my contract, I was told that they were too old and had been removed. There was nothing in the Institute to give me. So, instead I live like a homeless person who discovered an abandoned building, while my co-workers live in fully furnished apartments.
Those cockroaches must have gotten a real kick out of this.
I lived on that old futon for the first month and felt homeless in my own apartment. My host family from when I was a JSP student took good care of me and I spent more time at their home than I did my own apartment for the entire month of August. My host family helped me start slowing buying things to make the apartment feel more like a home, helped me get internet and a cell phone, and taught me a few simples dishes I could make. They also gave me the newest member of my family, a dwarf hamster I named Hikari (light). The whole experience of being left in an empty apartment did a lot of negative things to my psyche, and really made the first half of my working experience not so good.
It took half a year to do it, but that once empty apartment now looks like this:
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That same living room.
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That same kitchen area.
Don’t get me wrong, I was pissed, and I still am really pissed, but KET is not as horrible as it may seem. Mr. Yoshida was really worried about my living situation and lent me the money to buy a fridge and washing machine. We have half of our rent paid for us by the Institute and we make good money (more than first year teachers) for just speaking our native language. There is very little prep we need to do as the schools (well…not mine since my senior took all that with her too) have all the supplies we need to teach. The schools even make our lesson plans (although, I like making my own from time to time). We do maybe 1/5 of the work of a normal teacher, but make more than they do. We have a lot of free time at our schools too. Well, that’s kind of a lie. When I am at elementary schools, I almost always have six out of six classes a day. The Jr. high School I average on three or four classes a day. On the flip side, we get no bonus and our pay does not increase per year of participation. Still, for a first job after graduating straight from college, nothing to look down upon.
Living alone in Japan has proved to be a much harder test than I expected. I knew that things would not be the same as when I was a JSP student, but I think the shock of that move in day did a lot more damage than I gave it credit at the time. Had I been able to keep my head a little more, I probably would not have gone to the hospital my first day of school work because I sliced my finger down to the bone cutting a kiwi to put in my yogurt for breakfast (true story).
I will save a post on Japanese hospitals for a later time. Some interesting observations and stories there.
Anyway, now the third semester is about to end in Japan and that means graduation. Time has gone by fast and slow. I am unsure as to which feeling is the most overwhelming. I think I’ll just leave it at: it has been one wild ride.
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Speaking of wild…I want to know what the above old lady was thinking when she got dressed in the morning…

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