5 Months and Counting
Well, I've now been here for almost half a year, so time for some reflection on my experiences so far. Firstly, as I expected before I even set foot in Nippon, I'm loving it. Not that I was uhming and ahhing over the decision to quit my job in the first place; I was in need of a change and some more adventure and Japan has hit the spot.
Of course there are times when I get pissed off here; getting stared at all the time by old Japanese grannies, is beginning to grate. Today as I got out of my car, some old biddy, who I had previously over taken whilst she was walking on the side of the road (despite there being a perfectly good pavement available) couldn't keep her goggle eyes off me. I gave her a friendly "konichiwa" but she just looked away momentarily with disgust before locking her eyes on to the foreigner once more. This is a common occurrence here, but thankfully it seems to be only the old Japanese women that have no manners. Most other sections of the population at least reply to your greetings.
However, the very fact that my only complaint is being stared at by grannies, is a telling sign that life here is pretty good. I'm beginning to pick up a little of the lingo, and although there is a long long way to go yet, I know a lot more now than when I first arrived. I'm getting to know students and teachers better, and despite having some rowdy students, I enjoying the teaching.
There are of course a few things that I miss about England, aside from friends and family:
1. Cheese and pickle sandwiches
2. Dare I say it - good drivers and roads (oh round abouts - how I miss thee)
3. Cosy pubs, with crackling log fires and sofas.
And, there are a few other things that annoy me about Japan:
1. The drivers - it's just a matter of time before I'm involved in an accident.
2. The old grannies walking in the middle of the road and starring at you all the time. What's the matter - ain't you never seen a white boy before?
3. Houses that lack insulation, and central heating.
But, overall Japan is a great country to live in. For starters it's so safe. I don't want to tempt fate, but where I'm living, I doubt the police ever have anything to do. People leave their 4x4s running with the doors unlocked when they go into a shop. People leave their front doors unlocked all day. Completely absent are gangs of tracksuit clad Burberry skanks, with their Kappa slapper bleach blonde worm perms in tow, hanging around on every street corner.
Secondly I love living in a city surrounded by mountains. And today it snowed. I was tempted to grab my board and head up to the ski areas, but I think I'll wait until I return from Hong Kong, when the snow is deeper. Apparently it's late this year.
And thirdly apart from the grannies - I'd have to say that the Japanese are one of the most friendly, welcoming people I have come across. The people living in my area have been so kind and helpful to me. From inviting me into their houses for dinner, to giving me free Japanese lessons, to taking me fishing. Even the smallest actions make a big difference to someone who is a long way from home, and understands only a fraction of what he sees and hears.
For example the other day I was in a super market. I picked up a box of sushi and continued browsing, when I noticed I was being followed by an old Japanese man. I tried to lose him by taking a short cut through the womans underwear section, but he intercepted me in the dog food isle. "Here we go... what have I done now?" I thought to myself. The man said something in Japanese that I didn't comprehend and motioned for me to follow him. Assuming I had made some sort of cultural boo boo I followed him right back to where I got the sushi from, but it turned out that as it was the end of the day, the sushi was being reduced, so he swapped my box for one with the reduced price sticker on. This old man had noticed that my box wasn't reduced, and had gone to the trouble of chasing me half way around the super market to bring this to my attention.
Another example was when I first got here, and I was trying to find where a bus stop was. Due to immense flooding which destroyed the railway line to Ono, a special bus had been laid on to compensate for the train. I didn't have a clue where the bus stop was, and stopped to ask two girls. I spoke no Japanese and they spoke no English, but eventually I got the message across. They had no idea where the bus stop was either, but we went back and forth asking all sorts, till eventually the illusive bus stop was located, but they still wouldn't let me go until I was safely on board.
It's acts of random kindness, generosity and helpfulness that make life for a foreigner so much nicer than it might be. I have made up my mind to stay for another year. This won't come as much of a shock to most of you, as it has always been my plan to stay for at least two years, unless I really didn't like it, and that was always going to be unlikely.
So - 5 months in, the snow on it's way, the ski areas are poised to open - the next 3 months should see me making several trips to the slopes. Many people hate the winter here, as the houses are cold, driving is difficult and it's dark and miserable - but for a snow lover like me, this is exactly what I've been waiting for.