Living Abroad: Battling Loneliness

Osaka1
Osaka Days

With the new JETs currently settling into life in Japan, I can now officially call myself someone’s senpai. Which means, I’ll be asked to constantly share life advice and my old experiences with the new comers at every opportunity that we meet. The question that I receive the most from people is, “What’s the hardest part about living in Japan?”

I’ll admit it was a little bit of a tough question for me. I don’t really have any dietary restrictions so eating the food isn’t really all that bad. Learning the language isn’t as tough as everyone makes it seem. I’ve never really had a problem adjusting culturally to living abroad, especially since I’ve already been here once before. I think my biggest adjustment being here is battling loneliness.

 

Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives, but I think living abroad adds another degree to that sad feeling. No matter how long you’ve lived abroad, culture shock will still inevitably catch up to you. You’ll yearn for the familiarity of your home country. Even if you make good friends in your host country, sometimes the language barrier still prevents proper communication. Other reasons for loneliness are not so obvious sometimes. Your friends all have jobs or are in school. They get married and have children, or move away.

IMG_2055
Umeda Lights 

I don’t think people talk enough about loneliness when going abroad. Many people when they talk about loneliness they intrinsically think it’s their fault for feeling this way. Maybe they’re just not interesting enough or you don’t feel comfortable enough speaking another language. Especially if you’re already battling mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, living abroad can be tough. Loneliness tends to make you fall back into your own bubble of seclusion. While you might feel better for a while, eventually you start to feel worse and then the cycle continues.

Are There Any Solutions?

 The only thing I can recommend as someone who’s goes through it from time to time is just to reach out to people. Reach out to your family and friends from home and your friends in your new country. A simple phone call or text can really make your day.  Don’t let language stop you from making new friends in your host country. Most relationships I have here started out with very little verbal communication. Try and integrate into the community as much as possible club activities, hobbies, etc. just to keep yourself busy as much as possible.

Kinkakujin1
Best Friends for Life

 

If your biggest dream is to live abroad for a while, go and do it. It’ll be full of some of the greatest experiences you’ll ever have. There are plenty of days when I struggle with loneliness, but I would never give up this experience for anything else in the world.

How about you my fellow readers? Do you struggle with feeling lonely while abroad? What are some things you’ve tried doing to battle that?

 

 

One Year Review

Koto
Trick Art Museum- Odaiba

July 24th was the official anniversary of my one year of living in Japan. Although a year is a long time, it really only feels like it was just yesterday that I landed in Tokyo. There’s still so much that I want to do and I feel like I have so little time left. Yet at the same time I’ve done so much. Much more than most people can say they’ve ever done in their entire life. I can admit that when I first landed I didn’t expect to change so much from my previous self.  So in celebration I’m going to take a step back and reflect on some of the ways that I have changed.

 

Learning to Save

IMG_4466
Breaking in my new bank book

I won’t lie and say that the JET salary is incredible, but they do pay me more than enough money to travel somewhere at least once a month. I’m happy to say that I am one of the lucky few who graduated college without crippling student debt. So when the checks started rolling in, I wasn’t to concerned with saving a lot of money. For the first six months I spent a lot of money on things I probably didn’t need too. I don’t regret my decisions but I’m learning that I should start saving more and more everyday. I have two account books to keep track of everything I spend money on and I’m trying my best to put away more money every month.

 

Learning to be Open

IMG_4313
Beach Bumz

 

I’m an introvert at heart. I could spend days just laying around my house pretending nobody else exists. There’s nothing wrong with that but I didn’t come to Japan to do the same things that I would’ve done in America. Being here has made me open to new experiences with people. I’m forcing myself to try new things no matter how awkward conversations may become. I figured it’s much better to let people know you’re trying instead of constantly running away from interactions.

 

 Learning to be Alone

 

Sounds like a contradiction of the first but it’s not. Along with being a introvert, I sometimes get anxiety about doing things alone. I’m not currently dating anyone inside or outside of Japan. Sure I have friends but people get busy and they can’t do everything with you. Living here I had to learn that it’s okay to be alone sometimes and to really enjoy my own company. I’ve traveled alone, eat out alone, shop alone, etc. It seems daunting and scary at first but I think I’ve grown a little more self sure of myself.

 

Learning Dedication

Something that both fascinates and annoys me about Japan is the group mentality. Almost everything is done in groups and everything you do is to make the group better. So joining club activities or going to outside events it’s almost unheard of for someone to cancel plans at the very last minute (unless your sick of course) because it’s a hindrance on the group. I recently joined karate at the local gym in my town. It’s fun but there are definitely days that I wish I never joined just because I can be so lazy. It’s fine to miss of course but the idea is that you don’t join something unless you’re serious about it.

 

 Learning to Appreciate Nature

I’ve always appreciated and respected nature. I try not to litter or create a lot of pollution in the world. And I’ve always enjoyed going on a good walk through a nature trail. Japan however has really made me see the beauty that mother nature has to offer. I’m not sure if it’s a Shinto thing or maybe Japanese people are just some how more in tuned to nature than the rest of the world, but there are really some amazingly beautiful nature sights that you can only find in Japan. Especially during the peak seasons during spring and fall, it’s hard to put into words how beautiful Japan is.

 

Well there are the top five ways I’ve changed since living in Japan for a full year. What about you, have you changed in anyway during a trip abroad?

A Little Bit of Culture Shock

I have to laugh at myself a little bit, mainly because this is my second time coming to Japan. I’ve already lived through all of this for a short time before, so what else could I possibly find shocking? The truth is there’s still a lot that gets to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and other times I just have to roll with the punches. So I’ve complied a short list of things that I’ve found to be the most shocking since living here.

ATMs Close

img_3666
My ATM: I’m charged ¥ 108 after 6pm on weekdays and on the weekends.

Japan is still a heavily cash based society so it’s still uncommon to pay using credit card at most places especially in rural places where they might not even have card machines. So it’s very common for people to walk around with $500-$1000 in cash at any given time. The only place I can think to use a credit at around Sano would be at the Aeon Mall and Outlet stores. Even online, there’s often options to pay in cash at convenience stores or give the delivery man cash on arrival.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if dealing with the ATMs wasn’t so annoying. Unlike in America ATMs in Japan actually  close, usually around 6pm, on weekends,and on holidays. ATMs are also notorious for charging fees for withdrawing your OWN money from your OWN account. I was lucky enough to be with a bank that’s not so annoying but I know I do get charged to withdraw money if I do it after 6pm.  So this means I have to do some careful planning when it comes to my weekend adventures. Especially since my bank can’t be found outside of Tochigi so I try to make sure I withdraw enough money to get through the weekend.

bankbooks
Just slide into the ATM, the machine writes all your transactions.

A good thing about them though is that you can update your bankbook automatically at the ATM so Japan got that part right.

 

 

 

 

 

No Returns

This one is still a little hard for me to understand, most stores will not allow you to do a return. If you are able to make a return, it’s usually an annoyingly long process.  It’s not that you can’t return things I’ve returned a couple things, you just have to have a good reason why you want to return it i.e. broken, wrong fit, etc. Even if you are able to make returns most places will want you to do an exchange instead of giving you back your money. It’s a hard concept to get used to,  especially coming from America I remember returning things that I bought months ago without any problem. Hell I’ll buy clothes to try on at home and then return them within the week if I don’t really like them. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to return things , I guess it’s just to make sure the stores aren’t being cheated out of money somehow. It’s not all that bad though I just have to really think about what I’m getting and weather or not it’ll be worth the purchase.

 

Technology

tumblr_inline_nzy4hdjxlf1rayas9_1280
Electronic Dictionary: the saving grace of English Education

Japan has a very love hate relationship when it comes to technology. On one hand they have electronic dictionaries, self opening car doors, and high tech Japanese phones, but on the other hand they still rely on kerosine heaters, fax machines, and chalk boards. I guess it’s the idea of if it’s not broken don’t fix it, because they will hold onto outdated technology until it dies. Maybe it’s a part of the energy conservation or just putting money into more viable infrastructure… I’m not really sure what it is. Most of my teachers aren’t really sure how to use certain technology like bluetooth speakers or creating power points it’s strange. I remember being at Kansai Gaidai and having to type my final reports on computers that  were still running windows 98. It’s crazy to even think that that program can still work on anything in 2017, but it still exists.

Delivery

mcdelivery1
McDelivery is McGenius

This one I can’t experience too often because most places around me don’t deliver but it’s surprising how many restaurants actually offer delivery services. You can get not only get pizza but also McDonald’s, Moe’s Burgers, ramen, etc all delivered to your door step. The first time I had it in Osaka I was shocked, as lazy as Americans are why don’t we have delivery McDonalds?

 

 

 

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that throw me off every now and again but these are the few things that I experience everyday that really get to me.

 

Japanese High Schools

Japanese classroom.jpgThere was never a moment in my life where I thought I would be teaching in a high school. Not to say that teaching is bad, its a very respectable job that only certain people can do well. It just wasn’t something I saw myself doing. Yet here I am in Japan none the less, teaching high school students English.

Before coming here I knew working in a Japanese high school would be different compared to working in America, but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be from my perceptions.

Academically:

no-homework

From what I can tell going to school in Japan feels a lot more like going to college. Not in the sense that everyone is drinking, but in the sense of the way that school is taught. For instance homework isn’t all that important. As a matter of fact students aren’t required to do homework at all. Homework is just treated as extra practice, you should do it because it will help you but if you don’t no one is going to chase you down about it.

The only things students seem to be graded on is their midterm and final exams, otherwise than that they have nothing to worry about as far as grades. That’s not to say students don’t work hard. They are very studious and they do put a lot of effort into their school work. I’m pretty sure a majority of students do their homework daily but it’s just not something that they have to constantly stress about.

 

School Life:

Image result for cleaning time japanese schools

Life in school is much more community based. At one of my schools (I work at three) students don’t change classrooms, the teachers do. So the students spend all day with the same people.They learn together, eat lunch together, “clean” together, answer together, togetherness is a very important concept for Japan. I often get the best results from students when I allow them to work together in class.

Students also spend a lot of time at school. Some students show up early for club activities, stay late to study or do more club activities, and then some even come in on the weekends for club activities or for a quiet place to study. I was surprised to see students coming in during summer vacation for extra classes but that type of behavior is very normal.

Even as a teacher there is still a strong sense of community. As mentioned before I don’t have my own office instead I work in the teacher’s room with the English, math, Japanese department, and Vice Principal. Every morning we have a short meeting to announce changes to the schedules, absences, etc. All the departments communicate with each other about everything.

Discipline:

Image result for discipline

This concept probably took me the longest to get used too. Discipline in Japan unless the problem is very extreme is very rarely discussed. Japanese people in general don’t really believe in discipline which was very frustrating at first. Behaviors that would seem unacceptable in America; talking in class, sleeping, being late are not really seen as problems. When these do happen teachers will kindly talk to the student and that’s about it.

That’s not to say that, they let the students get away with whatever they want but, overall Japanese students show a little more respect for their teachers than Americans do I think. I have plenty of loud and talkative students but as the year progressed the problems sort of resolved themselves. The reason for this seems that Japanese people in general don’t like to be singled out. So consistently calling attention to behavior issues eventually causes them to conform. If a student is to disruptive you can talk to the homeroom teacher or their sempai (upper class men) and they might give the student a good yelling but that’s about it. Again community is very important if your classmates, teachers, or principle find you to be a problem then its usually not good.

It’s different but I guess the system works. I haven’t seen any kids get violent or be outright disrespectful to their teachers. At the end of the day kids are all the same everywhere and they’re just looking for someone’s attention.

Energy Consumption:

This is more of a nationwide thing but since I spend most of time in a school I notice it most often here. All of my schools do their absolute best to be sure they’re using as little energy as possible. That means no AC or heat unless the weather is unbearable and all electronics are off (not standby) unless they’re being used.

It’s getting cooler outside but we can’t turn on the heat since it’s not winter yet.Instead everyone is just expected to dress warmly. They also do their best to keep off all the lights unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve been caught at all of my school several times having to walk through the hallways in the dark. It seems strange especially when you compare everything to home, but again its just one more thing to get used too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanoshi: First Thoughts

Sanomaru
Sanomaru the cutest mascot in Japan

栃木県の佐野市or Sano city of Tochigi prefecture. It’s a pretty decently sized city with somewhat reliable transportation and plenty of areas to go shopping and explore around. It is however much more inaka (rural) than I expected. Being so close to Tokyo, I expected there to be a much stronger metropolitan influence here, but things are pretty quiet. It reminds me a lot of Columbia, SC my high school city. There’s a lot of young kids and old people here but no one really around my age. I assume that much like my town high schoolers graduate and move out to in the bigger cities for school and work. I can’t complain too much though, there are plenty of JETs that were placed in very isolated areas where the nearest convenience store is thirty minutes away.

sano eki
Sano Station, the center of Sanoshi

My apartment is conveniently located right next to the bus terminal and train station so it’s the liveliest part of the city. Tochigi prefecture in general, is known as a religious cultural hub so all around Sano there are several temples, churches, mosques, etc  Some nice parks around me, one in particular is right behind the train station is pretty locally famous. And two rivers that are about a 30 minute walk from where I live.

soshuji
Soshuji Daishi Temple- I think the biggest temple in Sano

Sano in particular, is very famous for its ramen and imofurai. Ramen of course what everyone knows as Japanese noodles (they’re actually from China) and imofurai is just fried potato with some sweet BBQ like sauce on it.  There are several ramen shops around town including one that directly underneath my apartment (which I’ve been told is the best ramen in the city). As for imofurai I’ve only been able to find one stand so I’m not sure how popular it is. I guess since I live in the more livelier part of town, there are plenty of restaurants and local food markets.

 

PUHP9928
Three Local Ramen Shops near me

There’s a super market called Aeon Town, where everybody goes for groceries and typical home needs. In there is a clothing store, book store, gym, and this great 100円 ($1.00) store called Daiso, makeup store and I think a spa. Around here, there is a McDonalds, Pizza, Japanese, and curry restaurants. This is probably the area I’m most likely to see my students.

Aeon Town Sano
Aeon Town, where I do my daily shopping

Further down maybe a fifteen-minute bus ride is the Aeon Mall and the Sano Outlet. Aeon Mall feels like your standard American mall except everything is just Japanese. You can find just about anything you need here from groceries to clothes, to random trinkets. I can’t speak for men but as far as clothing size for women Japanese sizes are really made to fit a smaller framed women. I wear a size 8/9 in jeans in America which is maybe a Large or Double Large over here and that doesn’t take into account how the clothes fit my waist and hips. Even though I can find somethings to fit me, I will probably avoid buying a lot of clothes here in Japan or at least in Sano.

 

sanooutle
Sano Outlet Mall

The outlet mall is the same as any other outlet I’ve been too. This place has a lot of American brands such Polo, GAP, Addidas, Nike, Levi, etc. along with some Japanese brand stores. It’s pretty popular, there’s even a bus that comes from Tokyo just so people can come and shop at this mall. I don’t really spend a lot of time here, simply because it’s too expensive and I’m not really into name brand clothing. Even though I found my sizes in GAP and Levi the fit was still pretty weird and didn’t compliment my figure at all. The outlet does have some pretty good restaurants around.

Despite it’s set backs, I do actually like Sano. It’s fairly close to Tokyo (about a two-hour train ride) so I can easily go there on weekends for a day trip when I want to get away.  I’m placed in an area that I’m forced to speak and read Japanese in order to get by unlike more populous cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc. Now that I’m moved in I officially start my new life in Japan, wish me luck (^_^)