So I’m coming down the home stretch on my stay in Japan, and in the span of one week, I’ve had a bevy of experiences illustrating exactly what I’ll miss and what I’ll eagerly try to forget about Japan.
First, the good. This weekend I went to a fertility festival in Kawasaki, a bit outside Tokyo. It was stupendous. Statues of penises everywhere, transvestites in kimonos, genitalia-shaped candy, the whole nine yards. I went with a troop of foreigner friends, and we had a LOT of pictures taken of us â€“ specifically Amy, who has large breasts, was wearing a tank top, and working away on a giant cock lollipop.
The Monday after the penis festival, I went to my favorite elementary school, where I’ve been able to establish a great rapport with the teachers and staff. They like me a lot there. So much so that when they changed up my shoe locker (we have different shoes for inside versus outside), they gave me a special nameplate… with my name in kanji.
I should explain that both my first and last name are nearly impossible to write in kanji. There is no naturally-occurring â€œjeiâ€ sound in Japanese, nor is there a â€œpoâ€ sound. My teachers got around that by writing it out as â€œjieisonâ€ —æ…ˆè‹±å°Š. The kanji mean [love][english][revered]. Pretty much everyone agrees it’s a kickass name.Having kanji for my name meant a lot to me. It made me feel included in a culture where inclusion is everything. Sure, I still have people staring at me on the street, old ladies amazed I can write kanji and use chopsticks, and I still get the â€œWow, you’re really good at Japaneseâ€ every time I so much as say one word, but at that elementary school, I really feel like part of the family. Everyone talks to me. They invite me out for get-togethers. They keep me in the loop as to what’s going on. I really feel at home.
Contrast that with my junior high. Recently, with the school year ending and starting again (my contract actually started me in the middle of the Japanese school year, weirdly enough), a lot of teachers have come and gone. Because I wasn’t able to go to their going-away party (they forgot to even tell me there was one until the day before, let alone invite me), I wrote each and every one of them an extensive goodbye note in Japanese. It took me literally all day.
Apparently, several of my favorite teachers actually wrote me back. But I’ll never know what they said. Because the other teachers lost the goddamn letters.
Because of all the new-year hubbub, they moved me around, so now I’m sitting next to the English teacher who isn’t actually very good at English. More than that, she’s incredibly awkward to talk to, and chronically absent. This wouldn’t be a problem, except every single teacher in the entire school is somehow terrified to talk to me in Japanese, afraid I won’t understand them, or that I can’t look up the words I don’t know. They don’t even try. They just route all replies through her, and will never talk to me face-to-face. They have incredibly involved impromptu meetings, water cooler chats, and whatnot, speaking as fast and in as much slang as possible, so that I can’t even understand what the hell they’re saying. In the rare event that I do understand, it’s all going so fast that I can’t formulate a response in the time it’s taken for me to decipher what they’re saying.
Sometimes all the teachers will spontaneously get up and leave the room, or crowd by the window, and I won’t know what’s going on. I have literally had intense, hushed conversation conducted in a circle around me, and nobody bothered to so much as look at me. I have had people pretend they can’t hear me so that they don’t have to talk to me.
It’s honest to god the most frustrating work environment I’ve been in, bar none. I think I actually preferred the CEO of Digital Domain calling me a worthless idiot (to my face) to being the invisible man.
I know I’ve got a reputation at this school for being quiet and reclusive, using my computer to do god-knows-what (usually I’m working on that lesson-sharing website). This really bothered me for awhile, but at this point, I’m just sort of giving up. Every time I try to initiate conversation, it fails miserably. I try and maintain perspective and remember all the good times I’ve had in Japan, but given that I’m here 3 out of 7 days in the week, it’s kind of difficult.