365 Days in Japan
One of my last memories of England before coming to Japan was sitting quietly with my parents, eating poached eggs at an airport cafe and looking bemusedly at my suitcase. We’d just wrapped the suitcase in clingfilm at an overpriced machine to keep my worldly possessions safe inside. At this point, the centre of the suitcase finally buckled under the pressure of the plastic wrap and contorted into an hourglass shape. The suitcase was red, and I smiled at the thought that I would be lugging around something very Jessica Rabbit-esque to my first graduate job. Maybe I should have interpreted it as a portent of the time trials to come, and not just the Mario Kart variety.
The Japanese time-warping began with the wrangling of time zones over Skype. When it’s midday in your hometown and dusk in your Japanese apartment, you get a twisty perception of the present. One thing that comes hand in hand with the navigation of these geographical hours is a new world of possibility. Sometimes in Japan I feel like some sort of freckly, amateur David Tennant, able to see all of these threads of potential stretching out into the distance. It’s a nice feeling. It’s not to say that being in Japan is completely pain-free — I often think about how time would be passing at home — but having so much possibility for travel, career, and life at my fingertips is something I feel very grateful for.
As well as all of the time-hopping, Japan also seems to affect the passage of time in other ways. At work sometimes time drags its heels, but on the whole it skips along as merrily as an Ichinensei playing Onigoko. Outside of the classroom, there are sometimes distinct moments where time seems to stop.
Last month, surrounded by the pine mountains, I performed a traditional drumming dance at a firefly festival with the students from one of my rural schools. I ate yakiniku leaning on the bridge as the sun stretched down and I saw fireflies glow in the valley below for the very first time. After the show we crouched down to hear congratulations from our Principal, still in our yukata and head-dresses, when I was snapped out of the reverie by the explosions of the fireworks starting. Hours after the children’s excited squealing had died down and I was back at my apartment again, I still felt the happy glow of that moment and of a good day well spent.
A lot of people voice their opinions on how to foster your time here. Sometimes, people seem to suggest that your time in Japan is some sort of rare orchid: “Don’t let your time run wild. Cultivate it, nurture it, give it a taste of the world’s nutrients, and take it back home to display it proudly.” At other times, people suggest that your Japanese time is like some sort of bohemian puppy: “Let your time run about and discover things for itself; sniff at every opportunity and time will nudge you in the right direction.” Depending on the tone that people use, the phrase I hear regularly (“21? You’re so young!”) takes on characteristics from either the orchid or puppy schools of thought. There’s something to be said for a combination of both approaches, though. You have to find the right balance between a pragmatic and a free-spirited approach to being in Japan. Although I am very familiar with that perennially inquired and still unanswered question of “How long will you stay in Japan?” the best advice I have received is to just take that decision one year at a time.
When I came to Japan I struggled (and definitely still do) with all of the things I don’t know, but I’ve already learned a lot, and I’ve now got a better understanding that part of the challenge and joy of being here is being able to embrace the inexperience in our Japanese experience.
I don’t know what the future will hold yet. Like that voluptuous, plastic-wrapped suitcase, time here is sometimes difficult to maneuver and can take on some unexpected characteristics, but I do believe it’s packed with a lot of promise.
About the contributor: Bronwyn O’Neill is a Matsuyama ALT who is finishing her first year on JET. She is from Chester, UK.
About The Mikan: The Mikan is a monthly blog written by and for Ehime JETs. If you are interested in contributing, contact editor Anna Sheffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.