Japan, the beginning
Having studied Japanese at The University of Cambridge for 2 years, Japan was not only the place in which my sole academic interest was located, but also came to represent a dream for me. I had imagined the fictional Genji, the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and Japan’s post-war economic miracle. Despite this, I was still unable to imagine living in Japan, it was such a world away from my university life and I had been planning it for so long that it seemed like a fantasy.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for life in Japan! As I left the plane on the 22nd August, the sun blazing, it finally seemed real. My initial shock was actually seeing Japanese everywhere; it was as if the language had at long last come alive.
I was in such a state of culture shock for my first few days in Japan that my way of coping became trying familiar things and seeing if they were the same. I was perhaps in some way, trying to merge my life in England with my life in Japan. It thus transpired that coca-cola was the same, sandwiches were often strange and Starbucks was even better than at home.
Initially I felt completely lost in Japan, for outsiders it feels as though there is an unwritten social code which all Japanese are privy to. For example, waiting for the traffic lights to change before you cross is something that the impatient English just don’t do! Furthermore, the chorus of irrashaimase, dōzo goran kudasai that meets you when you enter a shop was so different from the often silent English shop staff. However, one thing which I enjoy is the punctuality of trains. When at home, I never rely on trains being on time, in Japan however, I can set my watch by them. Consequently, I am more often on time in Japan than ever before!
It was however when I began working at the Seikei Primary School on 4th September that I truly felt at home in Japan. I was immediately welcomed as part of the community and felt instant warmth from the children and the staff members. I knew, from my first meeting with the kindly Principle that I would be blissfully happy in Japan. In some ways life at the primary school confirmed a few of my preconceptions about Japan, especially the uniforms reminiscent of sailors and soldiers. Furthermore, as expected the children were responsible, respectful and above all seemed to genuinely enjoy learning English, and it has been a pleasure to see them master their alphabet and inform me regularly in English that they are hungry!
There are many aspects of the primary school which are starkly different from my memories of primary school in England. I am certain that had we all been asked to finish our school lunches entirely it would have been impossible. Nonetheless, as I sit with the children for lunch, it is me that struggles to finish everything. Furthermore, I cannot recall having to clean my classroom and I was so surprised when on my first day, a group of first grade students dragged me to their classroom to witness the cleaning, and I watched astonished as all the children participated without complaint.
I have always had a keen interest in Japanese society and the best way to observe the society and how it manages to function with such smoothness despite its countless unwritten rules, is to visit a school. In Seikei, with the kindness of the school staff and children I have been able to observe the thorough academic, mental and physical education of Japanese children and I look forward to eight more months at the school at which I hope to further my understanding of Japan and Japanese, while having plenty of fun.