First of all, I would like to offer my sincere apologies for being MIA. It has been cold and almost miserable, weather-wise. And when the sun isn`t shining, I have little desire to leave my little heater and venture out of my apartment. In fact, after school every day, I have been going home and planting myself in front of the heater while studying for the GRE. I agreed to play with the brass band in March but I`m feeling reluctant to go practice because spending two hours in a freezing band room, playing the trumpet, isn`t my definition of a good time. One should never be able to see their own breath in a classroom. And something tells me it would be difficult to play the trumpet with mittens on.
All of the teachers continue to be in charge of their extra-curriculars at the end of the work day: tennis, badminton, baseball, track and field and brass band. They stay at school often until 8 o`clock doing this but I feel like that is highly unnecessary. No one should stay at a job for a full 12 hours. You can stay for 20 hours if you want, but time isn`t always an indicator of quality work or dedication. That`s just my opinion. In Japan, people spend hours upon extra hours in their jobs in order to create a favorable impression. As an American, I guess I see more importance in showing that you can use your time wisely during the regular work day, rather than missing out on time with your family or friends in the evening or on the weekends. How can you learn how to bother the crap out of each other if you are never home!?!
I was talking to someone who said that during their first year at a job, they wouldn`t take vacation days. I asked why not and they said that it`s because it`s their first year and that it looks bad to take a vacation. When I said that Americans take their vacations because it gives them time to relax or spend time with their families, he seemed surprised. I tried to explain that often, when people are given this time to relax, it makes them better workers because they are less stressed.
Stress is such a problem in Japan when there really is no need for it. People work extremely hard - even more than many Americans. But at what cost? There is a lot of pressure to succeed, less family bonding, and a higher rate of suicide. Japanese people, like Americans, have so much to be thankful for. They have jobs, their physical health and a comfortable lifestyle. But in terms of happiness, they seem far less happy than people I knew in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Related to stress is this website, entitled "The 25 Most Ridiculous Stress Relief Products." I don`t doubt for a second that people actually use these.
But there are obviously many good things about Japan as well. A good point is that I am working in the junior high more now. I really enjoy going there. My students are all so respectful and enjoy having fun (I can`t generalize on that because according to other teachers, the island kids are totally different than mainland kids). The junior high students are at that perfect in-between stage where they aren`t super immature children but not bored and jaded high schoolers. They are always happy to see me and excited when I sit down to have lunch with them at school. I had a lesson with them yesterday and we played a game at the end where they were up and moving around. I talked to the home ec teacher later and she said she taught them after me and she asked them "why are you so happy?" and they said "because of English." Awww. I also like teaching with the junior high teacher. He is a good teacher and you can tell the students are comfortable around him. I also appreciate the fact that he uses the phrase "that sucks."
We are doing this thing during class where I ask them questions and they have to figure out what I`m asking. It puts each student on the spot. Some of them freeze, nervous to be spoken to by a foreigner, but some of them thrive under the pressure. One student who is going to be in high school next year is amazing at his English. And extremely formal. He bows after giving every response. I feel like I should curtsy or something to level the playing field.
In other news, my parents and my sister are coming to Japan next month! (Side note: shout out to my sister who will be taking the bar exam toward the end of February and will be in desperate need of a vacation. She just graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and I`m so proud of her for all her hard work!) First, I will show them Ojika and then we will head back to the mainland to visit Hiroshima (to see the atomic bomb memorial) and Kyoto (for cherry blossom viewing and the traditional fanfare). It should be a good time and I look forward to seeing my family after what will be eight months apart. My parents are staying for a week and then my sister and I are traveling to Beijing for an extra week. I am super excited to see the Great Wall and Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. It is obvious that I cherish my days off and will happily use them all. Carpe diem, people.
I spoke with my mom and she told me all the Japanese she is learning. Apparently her and my dad have been practicing eating food with chopsticks. So far, that list of food includes scrambled eggs and tuna helper. Oh, if only the dogs had opposable thumbs to take a picture of that for me.