Saturday, July 2, 2011

Number 11: "Finders Keepers" Does NOT apply here...

We were teachers at a conversational English school prior to working at Tamasei. One day at work I overheard another teacher talking about what had just happened in one of his lessons. A student (these were mostly adult students) had gotten frustrated with the teacher because the teacher had said that if he found an unmarked envelope with cash in it he wouldn't turn it in to the police. To the student this was unthinkable. Actually, the other students in the class room felt the same way. That the envelope should, indeed, be turned into the police. The reasoning? because that money isn't yours. It belongs to someone else. At this point the English saying, "finders, keepers" was brought into the lesson and the Japanese couldn't believe we had such a saying. The concept alludes them. It doesn't apply here.

I miss that about Japan. If you leave something some where, camera, purse, money, phone, or even a sweat towel you can be sure it will be there when you come looking for it or if it's not there it is probably at the nearest koban (police box).

A Koban

Seem weird that I included a sweat towel in the list above of lost items? Well, let me tell you about that story. It was our first encounter with the social rule of "leave things where you found them". In the summers in Japan it is HOT. But, not just regular hot but HIGH in humidity hot. The sweat just pours off of you and you NEED a sweat towel. A little towel about the size of a wash cloth but not the consistency of a washcloth. It is a much lighter weight. When Jason and I first arrived in the hottest month, August, we quickly learned the necessity of having a sweat towel. One day on the way to work I couldn't find mine. No idea where it had gone. We had a 20 min walk to the train station so I couldn't search long and we had to head out. As we approached the station there was my towel. Someone had picked my towel up off of the ground and draped it very nicely over a railing so that the person who lost it could see it and/or so it wouldn't get trampled on if it remained on the ground. I was so shocked. I had never seen anything like this.

The Japanese so trust that people won't take things that aren't theirs that often when I pulled my bike up to our grocery store bike parking, unmanned bicycles had groceries or items previously purchased else where just sitting in their baskets. The guarded, ever-suspicious American in me could never bring myself to do this.

Once when we were traveling through China we left our camera in an airplane seat. We never got that camera back and all we could think to ourselves was that if we were in Japan or had lost it on a Japanese airline that camera would more than likely have been returned to us. We were that sure in this social norm of the Japanese.

If you go to Japan remember that "finders keepers" doesn't apply in this culture. And if you lose your camera or anything else valuable (or not so valuable) you can almost be certain that it is either where you left it or someone turned it in to the police. That is, if a Japanese person picked it up, of course. :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Number 12: Tamagawa Seigakuin

I have to admit, I've been avoiding this thing. Not sure why. But, let me just say this...I really miss Japan. How can I count down all the great little idiosyncrasies I love about that country? How do I make that which may be abstract to you become as tangible as I have experienced it? The reality is I can't and that frustrates me. So, I avoid writing anything completely and just say I miss it. People then ask what I miss and I just can't explain it so I throw out the generic, the easily explainable, "food, people, and just the culture overall." But, I think I should push through this silly negativism and finish the list already!! I have also been motivated by the approaching one year mark of us having left Japan. I can't believe it's nearly been a year already.

So, here goes the long overdue continuation of the list....

Number 12: Tamagawa Seigakuin (the school where we worked):

the students...These girls are not your average teenagers...well, not your average American teenagers, anyway. American teenagers scare me sometimes...seriously. So much attitude and chips on the shoulder (now, I know they aren't all that way and, yes, I AM making a generalization. I do know several teens from the states that aren't like this.) which can make it difficult to sometimes just step in and have fun with them. It seems like there needs to be a stand-off first or something to prove to them that you can "handle" them and be trusted. Not with these girls. They are fun (yes, some have attitudes but it's rare) and have a friendly disposition overall towards their teachers. They laugh easily and try to talk with you in what little English they know and they try hard. It's precious. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds love Care Bears, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and basically any other love-able cartoon character. There's an unexplainable innocence to them that is endearing.

They also do really funny things when they see us. I miss having some really funny interactions with them. For example, when we first started at the school they were very excited about my husband and me working there. I guess because we were foreigners AND we were foreigners that were married. I assume that in their minds we were like the couples they see portrayed in American films. Every time they would see us together they would put their hands into the shape of a heart and say, "lub, lub" for "love, love" but some times they can't pronounce the "v" sound. So cute.

One girl once took a particular liking to Jason, my hubs, and the first time she met him she leaned in and sniffed him!! Then, she ran away screaming with glee and excitement and hands flailing in the air above her head. Jason and I just looked at each other like, "What? Did that just happen?!?" We laughed so hard.

Whenever our students would see us out in public in a casual setting (not school functions in the community) and there was a group of more than two of them we were often met with screams like they had just seen their favorite celebrity. Pumps up the ego for sure. :) Once, my husband and I were at a concert that featured a band from the states and when the concert was over we were walking out amidst the large group of people and past workers when we ran into some of our students. They screamed with so much excitement and at such an ear-piercing pitch that one of the workers (he was a foreigner) leaned over to Jason and said, "great show, man"!!! The reaction of our students seeing us made that worker think Jason had just performed in the show!! HA!

I miss these girls. They are just precious to my heart and I am so thankful for Facebook because I get to keep in touch with them even though we are an ocean apart. Tamasei students, I miss you a lot!!

the teachers at Tamasei...
We had some great co-workers at Tamasei. First, the foriegners. Jason and myself were two of five Conversational English Teachers who worked at this school of 80+ faculty and over 1,000 students. The rest of our colleagues were Japanese. And, embarrassingly to myself, most of them could speak English (I am excluding the Japanese English teachers) better than Jason or I could Japanese. I mean, here we are in their country and they are trying their best to get to know us through OUR language! Such a hospitable attitude (another thing I love about these people)!

It was interesting being in the minority along with our three other foreigner co-workers. We had our own little sub-culture amidst the larger one of our school. When we would get frustrated with some of the cultural things within the school, especially the things we didn't understand, it was nice to have people around us who could relate. We were the rookies of the bunch. Mike and Roger had been in Japan for close to 20 years each and Amanda close to 10 years. It was so nice having them to explain aspects of the culture that can allude you. I miss these three individuals. They are amazing people. Here's some pics of them....

Amanda is the beautiful lady on the far right of the picture and she is standing there with her beautiful family.

This is Roger. I love this picture of him. He has such a soft heart.

Here's us with Mike. We did lots of things with Mike. He's awesome. These were the students that screamed when they saw us at the concert. This is that same night. :)

Then, there was the Japanese English Teachers. They were so much fun. Some even became my dear friends. Here's some pics of these great people. I always enjoyed conversations with them. Sometimes I could give them English pointers and they would give me Japanese lessons. Such gracious people. Here's some pics of these great people...

Here is Kato-sensei; Suzuki-sensei; and Sato-sensei. Super lovely ladies.

Some of the English teachers. Hiromi-san and Sayaka-san. Sayaka and I were pregnant together. I will write more about her in a future post. :)

Harada-sensei and Hatori-sensei. Hatori-sensei is always one for a laugh!

The school did some pretty fun things too. Here's some video of the "sports festival". They do some activities that would NEVER fly in the U.S. seeing as how we tend to be a "sue-happy" society. The overall tendency of our society to try to squeeze every little penny out of a situation has robbed us of being able to do some fun things. See below....

video 1 is of a relay
video 2 good ol' fashioned chicken fight. :)