Home > Japan, School > Sorta ramblin’

Sorta ramblin’

I joined the local gym when I first got here, convinced that I was going to make the effort to go at least a few times a week. This was of course before classes started. Since they’ve started, I haven’t gone. It doesn’t help that the place is a 20 minute bike ride away, so it’s kind of rough to get myself out of the apartment to bike for 20 minutes, then run around some more, and then bike back again. So instead I bought some weights myself, and have been going out for hour-ish long bike rides every other day. There is a 300 km in 3 days bike ride in March that the Oita JETs organize, and I am planning on participating, so I’m kind of sort of starting to train myself. I’ve always been pretty good on a bike, but 300 km in 3 days is still a pretty hefty workload, so I’ve been going out after work and just picking a direction and biking. The first time I went I biked to one of my schools and then past it, only to find out that about 5 minutes later the bike path ends and a rather large road starts. Not exactly ideal biking conditions. The next time I picked the opposite way and ended up across the river in another prefecture. There was quite a nice bike path there but it only went for about 25 minutes before it ended. I plan on exploring the town more and more like this until I’ve figured out the best places to bike. I may have mentioned this before but there is a 22km bike path that begins in Nakatsu which is supposed to be really pretty. I haven’t made my way to that one yet, but maybe this weekend I’ll check it out. I figure if I can train myself to do alright on the 44 total km back and forth, I should be fine by March for the big ride which I am really looking forward to.

Now onto a few other things. As I’ve settled into my life here I’ve found fewer and fewer things to write about. Expected, surely, but still a little depressing. I’ve also stopped bringing in my computer to school so I simply don’t have enough time to write. I now spend most of my free time at work studying Japanese, which can only be a good thing. I recently received the first month’s lessons from the free JET program correspondence course (advanced) and have been working through that. So far it’s fairly easy, though I do spend a lot of time using my electronic dictionary. My problem with Japanese has always been a lack of vocabulary, but hopefully the copious amounts of readings in the book will remedy that.

It’s always the little things in life that are really profound, isn’t it? Japan is seen as such a strange country, with such strange people, but once you start actually living there it’s the “regular” things that you really start to notice. I want to share two examples on that note. The first happened before classes started, when it was still really hot. It was around 30 degrees, and one of the administrative people at one of my schools was complaining about the air conditioner not being on in the teacher’s room. The school rule was that if it was 30 degrees or above, the air conditioner could be turned on. Noticing that one of the thermometers in the office said 30 degrees, she took it away from the place it was previously hanging and displayed it far more prominently on the wall which the vice principal’s desk was staring at, meaning he had quite a good view at the thermometer from where he was sitting. She then muttered under her breath to a colleague: “Maybe this way he’ll see how hot it is and turn the air conditioner on.” Sure enough when the Vice Principal returned to his desk he looked up and noticed the temperature. He then said: “Oh, it’s 30 degrees! Let’s turn the air conditioner on!” I barely managed to stifle a laugh at that one. In Japan, where people are so often described as hive minded, and doing everything for the good of the group, this was an extraordinary example of one person simply getting her way. Sure, it was sneaky and unobtrusive and extremely passive aggressive, but it still happened! She was not afraid to make it known that she was uncomfortable, and did something to fix it. They are human after all!

The second story I want to tell happened last week at another one of my schools. I was eating lunch with the regular crew of people I eat with: The administrative folks, the principal and vice principal, the nurse, and the science teacher, basically anyone who doesn’t have a class to take care of during lunch time. The science teacher told this story: “Today in class we were working with amonia. And you know how much amonia stinks, right? It smells terrible. So one of the kids slowly moved his nose over the tube with amonia in it and took a whiff. ‘Gross!!!’ He yelled and he pulled his face away. Yet then 10 seconds later his face was slowly but surely creeping back towards the bottle to smell it again.” I have heard and witnessed similar stories so often in America, where one kid will take a whiff of something gross and then instantly move to his friend and say: “Dude, smell this!” or something similar. Yet hearing the story in Japanese was just so weird to me! This is certainly no ground breaking revelation, but hearing the most common stories in the world told in two different countries and in two entirely different languages just really shocked me for some reason. This whole: “human nature” thing, which states that human beings as a people are pretty damn similar regardless of culture or skin color or life experience, was known to me but didn’t really sink in until I heard that story being told. Japanese kids may stand up in class when they answer a question. And they may have all kinds of quirks differences that make them seem alien, but then you hear a story like this and you realize that beneath all that kids are kids whether they are in Japan, America, or somewhere in Africa. They have the same interests, they do the same things, and the feel exactly the same. The same goes with adults. Sometimes I feel like that understanding gets lost in the world where we spend so much time trying to pretend we’re so totally different. Deep down, we’re all pretty similar.

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Categories: Japan, School Tags: , ,
  1. christina
    October 23, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Hi Dash,

    I enjoyed reading your blog very much. Its so true what you say about people all over the world sharing these qualities. It is one of the most rewarding realizations I have found from traveling :)..and people are as curious about you as you are about them!

    That is awesome about the biking….will it be a competition? Well either way, sounds like an enjoyable way to experience your surroundings and get exercise at the same time!

    Have a great time, it all sounds wonderful!

  2. dotbearman
    March 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

    HI DASHIELL… yes, there are some universal characteristics and reactions although it can be misleading as different cultures produce different responses…it seems to me, the japanese are not as open to expressing their emotional side whereas Westerners, esp. Americans, ‘LET IT ALL OUT”.One must remember that japan, like Britain, is an island and there is a special island mentality… You definitely are ready to tackle anthropology as well as sociology.!!!.. LOVE YOU…FOUFOU

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