I'd say that the first half of Golden Week 2013 was a success--Brian, Noey, and I traipsed across the width of Japan to see a waterfall, mysterious woodland animals, light snowfall (at the end of April!), and clusters of golden, colorful, estately shrines nestled away in the woods. We even managed to squeeze in a morning hike at the tail end of our trip.
Things I Learned about “Inaka” (Countryside) Life in Japan
1. You need Japanese to interact with people in Japan. Doh! When applying for my job position, I was told that I don’t need to know Japanese for the job. In reality, I do need Japanese to communicate with my principal, vice principal, students, and well, everyone else at my schools. Oh, and everyone else in the community (the bus driver, the grocery store cashier, the bank teller, the waiter at the restaurant...). When I go to Tokyo and other big cities, I’m able to talk to some store owners and some people at the train station and airport in broken Japanese and simple English, but daily life in inaka Japan without Japanese is really difficult.
Japanese School Culture vs. American School Culture
1. Teachers are expected to come to school every day of the year, save for holidays; teachers continue to come to school throughout winter, spring, and summer vacation. If you want to take time off, you’re expected to take paid leave on previous scheduled and approved days (scheduled by you, approved by your vice principal).
2. You must have a pair of indoor shoes to wear at school. You’re expected to take off your shoes at the entrance, store them away in a locker, and wear indoor shoes around the school.
When I first arrived in Japan, a fellow expat whom I had just met invited me to dinner. Of my many bewildered, culture-shocked questions, one was “are there any real consequences to breaking social etiquette rules in Japan? Like, will I lose my job or be barred from teaching some classes?”
She said no, as long as I’m following the terms of my contract.
“Then why should I care?” was my follow-up question.
She laughed. “And that attitude is what makes you an American” (She’s half British, half Trinidad and Tobegan).
32 hours of reuniting with friends from home, making friends with friends of friends from home, devouring new music, and exploring cityscapes of all shapes and colors.
12:00 – Walk through a bustling market place. Stop for sweet bean paste snacks. Continue short pilgrimage to the Sensoji temple. Have curry udon lunch at a quaint, cozy restaurant.
3:00 – Traipse Roppongi, the neighborhood of architecture and design
4:30 – Check in at a budget, upscale hotel.
7:00 – Walk in the rain. Indian curry, basmati rice, kebabs, naan, and chai tea for dinner.
8:00 – Walk in heavier rain. Arrive at a venue very, very, very reminiscent of San Francisco. Attend a show of sweet, sultry, soulful, singer/songwriter music.