27 November 2010

Knowing each other

This is a phrase that seems to be used by JTEs and in lesson plans. Initially it really grated on me, but I've since come to like it. It's the goal afterall.

I was advised early on that really getting to know Japanese people can prove difficult on JET, especially (obviously) if you don't speak Japanese. On my second day in Fujieda I was lucky enough to visit my night school teacher's house for dinner with my predecessor. It was a sort of goodbye to her, hello to me thing. My etiquette wasn't (and still isn't) up to much! I didn't realise that we'd be going to his house and not a restaurant so I didn't bring omiyage! Having just skimmed though the 'useful phrases' we were given at Tokyo Orientation, I couldn't even remember what you're supposed to say when you enter someone's house. It means something like 'sorry for the intrusion', but the Japanese still escapes me!

It was a great experience...seeing the inside of an actual Japanese house, sitting on the floor (because I don't in my apartment), being given lots of random foods to try, being asked random questions about Ireland and asking them about Japan. Afterwards my pred told me that visiting a Japanese house is a rare experience. She said that people here tend to be too reserved and private to invite you over. This explains the reverence JETS seem to have for the humble homestay. A while back, there was a festival in a small Shizuokian town with homestays available. You had to apply way in advance and there was a huge rush. Unfortunately I didn't hear about it until the places were all gone.

Of course I was lucky enough to do a homestay at the Hanagasa Dancing parade festival in Ito...though we didn't actually stay with the family there but in a separate apartment. It was very western, with beds, a table and chairs, and continental breakfast. Recently, I also got the chance to stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn in Nagoya. I slept on a futon there, which is still a novelty for me because I have a bed in my apartment. It was really comfortable! There was also an sento..which I didn't actually use, and slippers to wear around the house, so to speak.

But at last I have found the perfectest opportunity to interact with Japanese people! I got chatting to a really cool JTE who I don't actually teach with. While other teachers are year heads or responsible for a club activity, she's in charge of delivering the school's PET bottles to the recycling factory in Shimada. I offered to help her one time and on the drive she told me about the Time Circle. A group of JTEs from various schools, plus one American ALT meet on Saturdays to read Time magazine. They take turns reading the article (summarize it in Japanese...which I have tended to zone out during) and then discuss it. It sounded pure class to me. Free readsies of Time! Meeting English-speaking Japanese people! Intellectual discussion!

I attended for the first time two weeks ago. I didn't realise that we'd be going to someone's house and not some sort of community centre so I didn't bring omiyage!(..sensing a pattern?) Yet again I failed to recall 'sorry for intruding' in Japanese so I just bowed a lot and said 'DOZO yoroshiku onegaishimasu' (the politest nice to meet you phrase). And there I was, seated in the quaintest little living room, being quizzed about my country again. The man whose house it was introduced himself as Masahiro and then told me to call him 'Masa', because he knew that Japanese names are difficult...after which I knew with certainty that I would remember his whole name. There were cushions and doilies everywhere, kawaii! There was even a huge doily/lace thing covering the piano. Every seat had one of those thin tie-on cushions, including those on the already-comfortable couch.

The Time Circle participants drifted in one by one and we began reading an article about youth movements in Burma. Masahiro has a slow, measured way of speaking. I could listen to him for a long time. Unlike your stereotypical older Irish person, he seems to be fairly liberal and open, as well as having a lot of interesting stories. Our conversation about religion concluded with the realisation that we were all non-practicing Catholics and religious tolerance is cool. Anyway, we read sections of the article in turns and I could only feel admiration for these Japanese teachers who were taking on the daunting task of untangling and interpreting the complicated grammar and vocabulary of Time writer in order to discuss world events in Eigo. It's difficult to appreciate how varied and illogical our sentence structures can be until you're trying to explain one to an obviously intelligent and yet lost Sempai. Thankfully, the American ALT was there too!

The circle quickly descended into general conversation about Ireland, America and Japan. Let's just say I heard enough ninja vs mukade stories to make me very fearful of living in Japan during the summer! In the end I was invited to the group's 'Potluck party', maybe a standard term in the States but I was like huh?...when they explained, we go to someone's house and everybody brings food, I was like, aha!
That happened tonight. Funtimes!

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