“I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way”

Frank sinatra, “My way”

Apologies for being absent from the blog for the last three weeks. I have been without a laptop, so writing my blog posts has been an impossibility. However, I finally have my repairs completed and I will resume me weekly schedule, so I hope you will continue to follow me through this journey as I figure out this new life in Japan.

In the last few weeks, life went on in the absence of my computer, and of the new developments, I would consider three of them to be the most important, though they all differ in how they have impacted and will continue to impact my life here. The first is something fairly simple: I finally got a couch and coffee table for my apartment. The second, and arguably more impactful one, relates to my work as a teacher: in November I will begin to hold weekly meetings of English Club at my school and in doing so provide further opportunities for my students to deepen their understanding of English. Finally, after taking some time to evaluate my personal goals, I have decided to undertake the N3  Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or simply JLPT, next June, something that will truly drive me to plan for and work towards success.

At first glance, the three may seem unrelated, but each of them have both allowed me to feel like I am truly making a mark in Kiryu, both in my own world and that of the people around me; and it is from this that I have found an even more potent excitement for my life and the possibilities that it holds.

An Apartment into a Home

The purchase of furniture is definitely the most shallow of the trio, though its initial superficiality easily belies what the furniture represents; or, at least, what it represents to me. When I arrived in Kiryu, my apartment was practically barren. Sure, I had been left a kitchen table, cooking and eating utensils and plateware, and a couple shelves, but beyond that I had nothing. I even had to buy my own futon, which, for my first two months in Kiryu, was my de facto couch or lounging area. Initially, I was slightly irritated by the absence of furniture I had, but I soon came to see it as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

The lack of furniture gave me a truly blank slate on which to paint my new life, and as I came to live here even longer I would have an opportunity to make this apartment into a proper home for myself. And the first step in making that home was buying this couch and coffee table. When they were finally delivered and set up, and I relaxed on my own couch for the first time in over three months, I genuinely felt like I was at home in a way that was unlike the relaxations I had experienced in my bed. I had put on my big boy pants and made a major addition to my home, and in doing so began to make my apartment a home. I can’t quite put it into words, but that realization was a truly great moment.

The Post-lunch Club

Yet another great moment was when my coworkers and I came up with the idea for the English club at my middle school. While many schools have a variety clubs for the students that range from sports-related ones to more intellectual or creative ones, such as art or music, my school only has sports clubs. There are no after school activities to engage the students in a more intellectual fashion, and this is mainly due to the relatively small amount of faculty presence at the school; there simply are not enough teachers to form a club for each possible subject, and sports, generally speaking, take priority. When I learned this, I wanted to find a way to work around this issue, and then, almost instantly, the realization hit me: just start a new club. As a member of the faculty I can easily work with the other members to supervise the club, and in a club I would have much more creative freedom than within the structure of a classroom; and as an English teacher I could easily use this opportunity to provide a different method of teaching and learning English to my students.

After that, it was simply an issue of finding the way to set up the club at the school, and, thankfully, one of my coworkers, the third-year English teacher, is in total favor of the club. This past Monday, we met with the Principal about the club, and he gave us the approval to move forward with the club, which I will head as the Chief Supervisor. Whereas the couch made me feel like my apartment is becoming my home, being able to start a new club for my students has made me feel like I am truly being accepted into the ecosystem of my school and being able to leave my own impact on the students, distinct from that of my predecessor. I have all sorts of ideas to make English interesting to my kids, from listening to English music, to watching movies or TV, to small speeches and even to simply playing board games, and I cannot wait to see how all of these opportunities to teach will play out in real life. All that I can say is that I have been given the opportunity and I do not plan on wasting it.

Just as I created this opportunity to make my mark, I am also making myself strive towards even more opportunities in the future, namely formally taking an examination to evaluate my Japanese proficiency. The JLPT is the standardized test given to foreigners, with the levels numbered N5 to N1, each level rising in difficulty, and with passing it comes the privilege to be able to officially cite your Japanese skill to potential employers; by the time one can pass N1, they should be able to pick up and read a newspaper with no major difficulties. For me, as both one with a passion for the Japanese language, learning new things, and challenges in general, the N1 has been a goal for me for some time, and I am fully intent on reaching it before I leave Japan. However, initially I had planned on taking a slower pace and to take the N4 next June rather than the N3, but I had a realization a week-and-a-half ago: in that time, if I put my mind to it, I can pass the N3.

It will not be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is.

This maxim is applicable to each of the challenges I lay before myself, past, present, and future. I may fail; but that same rule applies to the N4, and I would rather fail bigger if I will fail at all. If I fail, I will fail as hard as I can, because then I will pick myself back up and attack the problem with even more furor than before. I have talked about how Vienna will wait for me, and I still know that I will, but I am not going to waste my time as I pursue it. I will reach Vienna precisely when I mean to, and when I do, I will have done it on the road that I have paved for myself.

Last week, I went to Takasaki, the largest city in Gunma with my friends Joe and Brenden as well as Brenden’s friend, Ben, who was visiting from Vietnam. As we left Takasaki station after our train’s arrival, Ben asked to stop so he could take some pictures, and, as a fellow foreigner, I could not help but take some as well. While Brenden was indulging my narcissism and I looked up at the nearby signs, trying to discern their meaning through the few Kanji characters that I do know, I was struck with the humbling realization of how far I still had to go before I would attain fluency. Yet, I was not deterred by this, but instead encouraged. Just as the couch is a step in making my apartment my home and the English club one in leaving my mark on my school, studying Japanese, even just on billboards, is a step towards fluency; and while I may not have truly made it my own yet, I have no doubt I will someday, someway.

In the end, I will simply have to find my way my way.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“My Way” by Frank Sinatra

It’s certainly a cliche, but this week I cannot pick any song but this one. The last two weeks saw me harden in my resolve to truly leave my mark in my own fashion, and there is no way that I can plan each careful step along this byway, but in the end I will have done it may way. At some point I may find that there is doubt along this way, but I always know I will eat it up and spit it out, and do it my way. I truly cannot emphasize how appropriate this song is for the opportunity I see before myself now, and I believe that the only way I will be able to do that will be chronicle my way through this blog. So stay tuned! I will be doing this all my way, and I can only hope that I will be able to stand tall through it all.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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