Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nearly 4 1/2 years in the Japan Countryside.

For years I've pretended like I was completely secure in my independent, single status. As in, when it came to my public/online persona--as a cosplayer, as one who models, as a blogger--I felt as if my personal life should, for the most part, have stayed out of the spotlight. I've long lectured lonely people that they needn't worry about not having a relationship, that it's better to enjoy the single life while you can and learn as much as you can about yourself so you can improve upon your flaws before entering a relationship. You don't NEED a girlfriend or boyfriend.

All while saying those words to try to cheer people up, behind the scenes I had grown more and more lonely. I was, for the most part, content with being single throughout my college years. When I entered the Japanese workplace, that's when I started to see my Japanese male co-workers and wonder, "Would they ever consider dating someone who isn't Japanese?"

My female Japanese co-workers at work parties would ask me if I had a boyfriend, and looked shocked when I said no. They'd say things like "But you're so cute!" or, "Would you date a Japanese guy?" because it's pretty well-known that Japanese men are stuck with the stereotype of being undesirable in the eyes of a foreign woman. (The thing is that I'm totally open to dating a Japanese guy, and in fact I've been more intrigued by and interested in them than towards non-Japanese men.)

I've been rejected many times by Japanese men, which has led me to think that I am just undesirable--that many Japanese men would rather just have a Japanese woman. I think it's true for many (but not all) of them. Not only are there the stereotypes of Western women being more forward, blunt, bigger, and less feminine than Japanese women, there's the perceived language barrier that they would rather not deal with, when in fact I speak conversational Japanese just fine, and am capable of looking up something that I don't understand, or comprehending after receiving an simplified explanation. Many people can't see this just from looking at me, though. All they see is someone who looks different from Japanese people, and thus is probably a tourist (even though I don't dress like a tourist at all). They might even assume that I'm not going to stay in Japan forever, but that's actually my life wish.

Despite how many times I've been rejected, I've been pursued by quite a few Japanese men, although mostly online (does that even count)? So now I know that I'm definitely not UNdesirable, but there has always been something that didn't click with these guys. Some of them were clingy, and were clawing for someone to be their girlfriend because they've been single for so long. Some of them saw me as a fetish, or thought I was easy to get into bed. Many of them, like many online men in general, just ignored what was written my profile, didn't see that we had conflicting interests and personalities, and were very lazy in their introductory messages.

Oh, and then there's the kid thing. I don't want kids. So that already eliminates almost every guy in the dating pool.

I've been told by many that online dating is "shady" and "risky." All of these people have never even tried it. It is not what it used to be 10 years ago, and many of us don't have any other option. My job doesn't give me an opportunity to meet anyone. And I live in the countryside, which I've come to hate more and more. Don't get me wrong, I like my city and I'm in a very fortunate living and work situation; but the countryside is BORING. It's even worse when you're repeating the same cycle and you live in the same city where you work, giving you only the weekend as a chance to escape into the urban jungle, that is, if you're not tired from working and wouldn't rather stay home and rest instead.

It's a lonely life. Five days a week I'm stuck in the sticks. I wake up alone, I come home to an empty apartment (no pets allowed either), and I go to sleep next to my tablet so I can surf the Internet when I wake up.

Now that I've admitted all that, I can say that I'm not ashamed. I'm not invincible. I'm not immune to loneliness. I'm unique in who I am, but that doesn't mean I'm not affected in the same way as others. Of course I'd like to find that special someone. And yeah, I do wish it was sooner than later. I didn't want to admit it because I didn't want to be seen as weak and pathetic. I didn't want to be pitied.

(I wrote this hoping that someone out there would find it useful, and perhaps feel better if they were feeling lonely. Originally this blog was going to be titled "What it's like being a non-White, non-Japanese woman in the Japan Countryside," but I figured some people would complain that this wasn't their experience, or that it had nothing to do with my nationality or ethnic background.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Done with AMBW.

When I first told my best friend that there are Facebook groups dedicated to fostering relationships between Asian Men and Black Women (hence the acronym AMBW), she thought it was nuts.

I tried to clarify for her WHY groups like this existed the main reason being that there are many negative stereotypes going against both Black women and Asian men; when you see certain rich, Black athletes and especially rappers, you see them with non-Black women. (Wasn't there even a rapper who went on a tirade against Black women?)

Asian men get stereotyped as being scrawny compared to strong men of other races, and are assumed to be lacking physically in certain areas, if you know what I mean.

So, wouldn't it make sense for two groups who get a bad rep to come together and be able to relate to each other's struggles?

...is how I explained it to my friend.

I understand the difficulty in being thought of as "undesirable." And that's why I like that there are groups encouraging this type of interracial, intercultural exchange.

But...recently I suddenly left an AMBW Facebook group that I was part of for a pretty long time. I saw one post, by a Korean guy taking a selfie, pretty much saying "What's up?" and not much else.

It's become so lame. Instead of having meaningful discussion, that particular group seems to have become a shallow place where people post pics of hot Asian models and celebrities, and where the Black women seem to flock to every post from a guy with an Asian last name, even if all he's saying is "Yo."

I can't say that EVERY group is like that, because I wasn't part of EVERY group; just that one and maybe another that I've forgotten about. But I didn't sign up for "yellow fever," nor would I want a guy specifically looking for an "exotic" woman.

So, I'm all for fostering relationships that would otherwise be unlikely to happen, but don't make "getting a Japanese boyfriend" or "scoring a black girlfriend" a goal. There's quite a few interracial relationships within my own family, and none of them had anything to do with one person TRYING to score a partner of a particular race. Successful interracial relationships come to be because both people decided to look PAST race, not because they looked FOR a certain race.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

3 Things about Japanese Schools that I Didn't Have When I Was in Elementary School

After over 3 1/2 years as an elementary school teacher in Japan, I've had plenty of time to observe how Japanese schools operate and what their children get to enjoy. I often reflect back to my own time as a student in an American public elementary school and think, "Wow, I wish I had that when I was a kid."

I thought about it even more today as I sat in on the first meeting of the Cooking Club. For one, having a cooking club was unheard of as far as I know. In fact, I don't recall my school(s) ever having any clubs other than brass band and chorus. However, America is a very large country and thus each school operates differently. When it comes to Japan, I think it's safe to guess that nearly all schools share the same things.

So here's a list of just some of the things I wish I had when I was an elementary school student. If you know of and/or went to a school in America that has some of these things, I'd love to know!

1. Club Activities. As I just mentioned, all of the schools in the city where I work have club activities. Anyone who knows anything about Japanese schools know that middle schools and high schools have clubs in which students participate nearly every single day, even on Saturdays and when school isn't in session!

But did you know that the elementary schools also have clubs? (At least in my city.) They're definitely not everyday, and in fact they aren't outside of school hours, either. My current school has club activities during the last week and first weeks of the month, for one 45-minute school period. My previous school has them once a month, for two periods. The club activities range from sports like volleyball and table tennis, to cooking and sewing, to music, and even a tea club (for those familiar with Japanese tea ceremony). At my previous school, my former English supervisor (who also plays guitar) had started a Rock Band Club, in which I participated during the time I was there (and even after I transferred schools)! The club members learned to play guitar, bass guitar, and drums, and since my supervisor is a fan of rock music from the 60s through the 80s, he often chose songs like Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," and "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. As someone who had never listened to that kind of music until now, it was a great joy and a challenge to try to sing something new. We got to perform during an intermission for the Special Education school's play and even ended up in the Kobe Newspaper (Kobe Shinbun) last year! And I actually just met with my supervisor a few nights ago at the city's karaoke place and he asked me to participate in the club again as time and schedule allows. What a great experience!

Of course, the Rock Band Club is quite a unique club to any elementary school. Even so, there's plenty of clubs in Japanese schools that I wish I had when I was a kid!

On the flipside, one thing I am glad we had was the opportunity to learn a "real" instrument in elementary school. Of course all instruments are real, but what I mean is that, if we were interested, we could learn the violin, flute, trumpet, clarinet, and many other "serious" instruments  from as early as 4th grade. (I picked up the flute when I was in 4th grade, as did my older brother.)

Elementary schools here have some "real" instruments like xylophones, snare drums, and even accordions. They also have recorders and "pianicas," but no serious instruments. So when I tell my co-workers and students that I learned flute from when I was just nine years old, they think it's pretty amazing.

2. A functional and involved Student Council. Not to say that Student Council at my schools weren't involved...but actually, I have no idea how much influence they had on the school, and what they even did. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember when we had elections for what I think may have been the first time we ever had a student council...? My school only went up to 5th grade, and it was 5th grade candidates who ran for president. 4th grade candidates ran for Vice President...I think there was a secretary too, and then 3rd graders were allowed to run for Historian, who was responsible for taking pictures...or something like that. When it came time to nominate candidates, I was unanimously selected in my class to run for Historian. I won the election pretty easily, thanks to the fact that 1) I was known for being a top student in my grade, and 2) my mom who has a talent for drawing made really awesome election posters, one with the Genie from Aladdin and another with Sonic the Hedgehog.

However, I only remember ever being at one meeting. I don't think we really did anything, either...I'm not even sure.

At my current Japanese school, the Student Council consists of members from 4th grade through 6th grade, and there are various committees, such as the Broadcasting Committee, who does the broadcast for the morning, break times, lunch, and cleaning time; the Athletic Committee, the Health Committee that assists the school nurse, the Pet Care Committee, who is responsible for taking care of the school pets (this school has rabbits; I've been to schools who kept rabbits as well as chickens), as well as many other Committees who collectively help run the school. Perhaps it's because I'm seeing this from the view of a teacher rather than as a student, but the Student Council is very much involved and is given a lot of responsibility for discussion and decision-making as the teachers simply supervise them. There definitely weren't that many committees in Student Council when I was in school, as far as I know.

3. Student-served school lunch. Some people may know this already, but in Japanese elementary schools, there is no cafeteria where students gather and eat lunch served by lunch ladies. School lunch is prepared at a School Lunch Center (給食センター) and distributed to all of the elementary and middle schools in the city. When lunch time comes, the kids in charge of serving school lunch pick up the food and dishes for their class, take them to the classroom, and serve them themselves while wearing aprons, caps, and masks. The entire school eats at the same time. When lunch is over, the lunchtime group takes the containers and dishes back, and the trucks from the Center come to pick them up.

From what I remember as a child, most kids DID eat school lunch, and very few people brought their own lunch (I was one of those people). At Japanese elementary schools, pretty much no one brings their own lunch everyday; in the case that a child has an allergy to something in the day's lunch, they might bring a bento. There's also a few days during the year where school lunch isn't served, so all of the students have bentos then as well. Also, in American schools, we did have alternate choices for school lunch. If I happened to be buying lunch on a certain day, if I didn't like what was on the main menu I'd grab the salad instead (to this day I still love salads and eat them almost everyday). Needless to say, when we had pizza or chicken nuggets, sometimes I'd scrap up from my allowance just to get it, haha.

And I also recall each grade taking turns eating lunch in the cafeteria as well. Kindergarten went first, of course. But with there being only one lunch line, it's unfortunate that kids who got to the cafeteria later would have to wait for so long. And they wouldn't get to eat with their teachers, either. (Though I suppose from the busy teacher's point of view, that's the perfect break from their children.)

Non-homeroom teachers here usually eat in the staff room, but it's common for ALTs like myself to eat with a different class each day. For the most part I enjoy it, but on days when I'm extremely hungry, it's a task to have to wait until the kids finish serving everything. (And sometimes I also need a break from the kids.)

 

These are just three of the many things about Japanese elementary schools that I didn't have and kinda wish existed in US schools. I'm not sure what the big-city schools are like in Japan, but at least in the countryside, things seem organized in a somewhat convenient way. Of course there must be some things that I don't like, but I can't recall those off the top of my head right now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Using Japanese.

This is a draft from March 1st. I tend to write things and not publish them for some reason...I guess because they feel incomplete and I don't feel like completing them. I may post a couple of other drafts in the future.




 

It's one of the greatest feelings to be able to do things in another country using their language.

I used to get nervous when contacting people and telling them my name, and having them deny me just because they can tell I'm a foreigner. And I would obsessively check online dictionaries to make sure my Japanese was as correct as possible. I would have to sit and ponder about what I would say before making a phone call, and if it was possible to avoid phones altogether, that's what I did.

The other day I was able to call the post office to cancel a redelivery request, because I decided I would pick up the package right away. Without even hesitating, I found the post office number, dialed it, and even as loud background sounds on the other end almost got me distracted, I managed to get my request across.

I've also managed to post messages in BBS (bulletin boards) about two extra concert tickets that I have right now. I was worried I wouldn't get a response, but within hours two people contacted me. Even if the deals don't go through, at least I know that people will contact me, even if my name isn't Japanese and my Japanese isn't perfect.

Even though I still don't feel confident about my conversational Japanese speaking ability, I feel confident about being able to carry out everyday tasks (and not-so-everyday tasks) with my current abilities, and that's what really matters when living in this country.

If you ever come to live in Japan or even just to visit, PLEASE learn the language, or attempt to use as much as you can. (Most) Japanese people are very kind and accommodating, but that's especially true when they hear you using their language.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013: Recap

2013 was a really good year. It started out rough at first, around January/February when I got sick during a class I was teaching and laid in the school health room for the rest of the day. I realized that my body never got used to the Japanese diet of rice, rice, rice, and that I wasn’t eating a balanced diet. From that day on I decided that I would make sure to eat a salad at least 3 times a week, and it turned out to be the right decision.

I also decided that I would take a teaching course. CLAIR, the organization that sent me to teach in Ono over 3 years ago, was offering grants to people who wanted to take an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. I decided that I’d tackle it, since I could put it on my resume and also learn how to become a better teacher, even though I’m not sure that it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. My application was accepted and I finished the course a few weeks ago.

I told myself that 2013 was supposed to be the year of music, and it was. I think I’ve been to more concerts this year than any other. I saw MUCC, Bonnie Pink, exist†trace, G-DRAGON, VAMPS, girugamesh, and BIGBANG. But other than music, I was also able to finish not one, but TWO costumes for Otakon (though I admit they were pretty easy compared to past costumes). I also did three fashion photoshoots and my first cosplay photoshoot.

This year was also the most I’ve spent making friends with Japanese people. I’ve always found it difficult to do; maybe I’m just not very approachable. But I did make a few acquaintances, even though a lot of them want to practice their English (despite me trying to practice Japanese). I was supposed to be studying Japanese as well, but my closest Japanese friend and conversation partner ended up going to New Zealand to study English. Come back!!! :(

I also went through a phase of being lonely and depressed about approaching 25 and still being single. I tried going on dates, but it didn’t really make me feel that much more hopeful. I distracted myself with cosplay, shopping, and looking at photos of my niece, Kaylee, who was born last September.

Then something happened. My grandfather passed away in November. I couldn’t believe it. When I talked to him over the phone in August, there was a tiny voice in my head that told me that that could be the last time I ever talk to him. I’m glad I heard that voice, because I was able to say “I love you, Grandpa” and not feel any regrets about my decision to work overseas. I was also able to see my newborn niece much earlier than expected, which was very much a blessing behind the sorrowful loss of my grandfather.

Going home for a week and a half gave me a much-needed break from work, which was stressing me out more than anything else. I had handled a big elementary school just the year before, so I didn’t understand why this year was giving me such a hard time. When I came back, I decided that I needed to change my outlook on life. I decided not to pursue dates anymore and just focused on my teaching course, and work. But weekends that were supposed to be fun—and they were—were also starting to feel like obligations, just because I so desperately needed to rest and have some alone time. But I plowed through every single day, all the way into the last day of classes.

I have my friend Talia to thank for many of the good things in the year. Her enthusiasm got me into BIGBANG (my new favorite Korean boy band since g.o.d broke up in 2006), "Free!” that anime with all the shirtless high school boys swimming, and Attack on Titan, the super-hyped up series that absolutely deserves to be hyped up. She’s the reason why I’ve been buying so many things with Levi’s face on it. <3

By the time I turned 25 on December 16th, instead of feeling sad about being single, I was GLAD to still be single. All of the marriage proposals, engagements, weddings, and babies that popped up on my Facebook newsfeed were nice to look at, and I congratulate everyone as they take new steps in their adult lives. But I realized that everything I’ve accomplished this year may not have been possible if I had been caught up in a relationship, and that I NEEDED to be single and have that freedom in order to do what I wanted and needed to do. Instead of wanting what “everyone else” seems to be getting, I’m very blessed to have an alternative. Single life is wonderful at 25, and I hope it gets even better by the time I’m 26.