Memoirs of a Gaijin

My Travels as an Expatriot

姉妹都市 – Sister City

For the last two weeks, I have been in an incredibly good mood. I’m not sure if it is finally starting to teach in the classroom, feeling Kiryu become more and more like home, or just the extant jubilation I felt when I first arrived and realized I had finally accomplished my goal. Regardless, my outlook and demeanor have been especially high-spirited, and this effect was even further compounded today when I received my first care package from my parents back in Rochester. There was nothing of incredible value in the parcel, just a few books and smaller momentos from home that I asked my parents to send my way, and it was great to feel that connection with home as I continue to make my new one here. The concept of a truly global connection is one that I have learned much about this week, specifically as I have learned more about the concept of Sister Cities.

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地力 – One’s Own Potential

As I touched upon in an earlier post,daily routines have become a key part of my life here over the past five weeks. I have always liked to have a certain amount of structure in my life, even if that structure is as vague as a general plan for how I may think or want things to proceed.  On the Tuesday of last week, I finished my final round of self-introductions, and on Thursday my speech buddy competed in her speech competition, as she delivered a fully memorized, five minute, English speech about the benefits of Japanese volunteerism. With each of these milestones passed, it truly felt like i was settled into the rhythm of my daily life.

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授業の技能 – The Art of Teaching

After being in Japan for a whole month, I finally began to work as a teacher at my Middle and Elementary Schools. As is common with each and every new ALT in my program, the first time with a new class is used to introduce yourself, and there is even a special term for it in Japanese: 自己紹介, pronounced “jee-ko-sho-kai.” This is the first time most of the students will interact with me, and I wanted to make this a fun occasion for both parties. If I am going to help these students learn English, and if I am in turn going to learn more Japanese from them, then I want to make the process of learning English as fun as learning Japanese is for me.

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山の自分 – Myself on the Mountain

Earlier this week, I finished my first book in Japan, and though I started it in America before my departure, I read the lion’s share of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore here in Japan. As I did with the protagonist of his 2013 novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I find that I relate very strongly to Murakami’s protagonist in this novel: Kafka Tamura. Kafka, in the interest of distancing himself from his former life as well as finding some a sense of meaning for his life, runs away from home, and, though my own reasons may not be as dramatic or profound, I feel a sense of affinity with Kafka. In the same way that Kafka is on the shore looking out at the ocean trying to find answers about himself, I too am looking out as I also look inward to make determinations about myself; though my perspective is framed by the forested mountains of Gunma rather than the Pacific Ocean shore of Shikoku.

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文化的な交流の永久 – The Permanence of Cultural Exchange

In my new job, I have many responsibilities, but the most important one is at once both simple and complex: I am mean to be a cultural ambassador from America. What this entails, I do not yet fully comprehend, and I doubt that I will ever be able to fully understand what this position means. On a mechanical level, in the classroom I am to function as something analogous to a recording device, and I am to help the students understand how and why certain English words or grammatical structures work the way they do; however, to limit the position to that would be a waste of time for each party involved. The JET in JET Programme stands for “Japanese Exchange & Teaching,” and what I have realized in my first two weeks here is the significance and intent of that first part: Exchange.

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自転車の日記 – The Bicycle Diaries

Since last week’s post was all about the realization of a new life here, it is only fitting that this weeks post is concerned with the nature of that new life and all of the new adventures it brings. Naturally, the experience, as with every one, has not been an incredible, paradigm-shifting one, but just a general slice of life. I have work at 8:20 every morning, and I normally wake up two hours to an hour-and-a-half beforehand. In that time, I shower, make breakfast, brush my teeth, dress myself and hop on my bike to make the five minute commute to work, and when the day is done I ride my bike around Kiryu before eventually making my way home. However, though this may sound mundane, it has been a rather interesting week of discovery in more ways than one.

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日本で新しい最初 – New Beginnings in Japan

It should be obvious that this past week brought forth a slew of new beginnings in my life. The beginning of the 14 hour flight from New York to Tokyo, and the beginning of the jet lag that followed. The beginning of my new cell phone plan, apartment lease, and job contract, as I settle into my new home in Kiryu. The beginning of new relationships with my coworkers and newfound friends in my town, as well as the beginning of a new era in my friendship with my native Japanese friends from Geneseo. In the most succinct way possible, this week marked the beginning of a new life for me. The American bank accounts have been closed, the car sold, and the goodbyes said, replaced with Japanese bank accounts, a bike, and new hellos. I am truly beginning this new life, and only now has it begun to set it, six days after arriving in Tokyo, and four after coming to Kiryu.

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千里の道も一歩から – The Journey of One Thousand Miles comes from a Single Step

For those who know me, I have a bracelet that I never, ever remove. It’s nothing special, just a minimalist black silicone bracelet with two Japanese proverbs on it: the first reads “猿も木から落ちる” and means “monkeys also fall from trees;” the second one, the focus of this blog post, reads “千里の道も一歩から” and means “the journey of one thousand miles comes from a single step.” So far as proverbs go, I believe this one is particularly applicable to my current situation; though, my own journey is 6000 miles, not just 1000. However, the differences of scale notwithstanding, my own journey is still coming from a single step. But the question is which step marks the beginning of this journey?

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