culture shnot

6 10 2007

I’m back in my habit of writing while I travel. This time in a car to Sapporo for a friend’s birthday extravaganza, which incidentally promises to be a disastrous shit-show.

The world works in mysterious ways. At the end of the week where I’m feeling the most negative about Japan, all the good things that could happen did. Maybe it’s just serendipity, maybe not. Let’s start at the beginning.

Culture shock is a weird name to describe what people go through in a new country. A shock implies something quick. An electric shock is instantaneous. Heat shock (hello, bio majors) is a sudden switch to a hot environment. “Shock and awe” was a rapid takeover of Iraq (“Mission Accomplished!”). But culture shock is different; it’s not fast at all. Now, over two months into my sojourn, I finally find myself feeling distinctly distant, separate and out-of-place. I think the feeling of normalcy is because there aren’t many surprises anymore; every day is the same. I wake up, I go to school, I face the same challenges. Even running around sword fighting, or hitting giant drums seems fairly normal now. And it’s wild that in a land that is so different from everything I’ve experienced, that I can feel like life is normal.

But that’s also the problem. Normal can feel boring. Feeling bored leads to introspection and lengthy writing. Introspection isn’t a bad thing, but I hate that every once in awhile I’ll be in class or the teacher’s office and just ask myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” Though, by some weird cosmic law, it seems that every time I have thoughts like that, by the end of the day something happens to renew my interest in spending time here.

Monday and Tuesday were spent studying Japanese in the teachers’ office while students took their midterm exams. Wednesday was spent studying Japanese because the students were getting their tests back. Thursday I had my only class (40-minutes long) and reviewed classroom English and body parts with the elementary school, which was by 6 hours of Japanese study. Remember what I said about boredom? (if not, don’t look far. it was only a paragraph ago.)

I think my case of culture shock, or whatever you want to call it, is made worse by a bunch of two factors that to have accumulated somewhat simultaneously. One is that I’m going back to the States at the end of the month for my sister’s wedding. I know it’s going to be awesome, and I’m going to love spending time (albeit briefly) with my family and friends, but I’m anxious for the same reasons. It’s going to be a wild, emotional, jet-lagged roller coaster; and worrying about the future is something I’ve tried to avoid doing while I’m in Japan. My new, rolling-with-the-punches attitude had been working wonders. It’s hard, though, not to think about being surrounded by family and close friends: nothing compares to the people you’ve shared your life with since you were the wee-est of wee ones. And what about when I leave that comfort zone after just having entered it?

The other factor is that I‘ve had very little personal time because my weekends are filled with birthdays and gatherings and meetings and other random engagements. Sometimes you just want to take a Sunday afternoon nap, right? In fact, I think they’re essential to everyone’s happiness.

For a sanity check, I reread the insert in the JET Programme handbook about culture shock, and while it (and talking with my friends) reassures me that what I’m feeling is normal, it also (like it has in the past) made me too conscious of things that I would never give a second thought to. Like the fact that I’m “avoiding Japanese culture.” I made spaghetti and ate it with a fork. OH NO! I’m spending my weekends with English speakers. SHAME ON ME! Honestly, ignorance is bliss.

Oh, and the intriguing icing on my cake of confusion was when, Thursday afternoon, my offer to recontract landed on my desk.

Like I said, though, things got better. Friday was just one of those days where everything seemed to go my way. The high school had a sports festival that ended up being a ton of fun when I played with a winning team of teachers against the third year students. After school, I helped the volleyball team practice, which was renamed a “block festival” (see pictures in other posts for height differences). I went to the doctor for a government-required annual check up, which was surprisingly fun: I got an EKG and my heartbeat looks so sexy from all that running I do. I saw the biggest rainbow ever. Taiko practice was a blast, and now I’m able to do some of the more complicated, arms-crossing/drumsticks-pointing dance component to the drumming. AND when I came home, there was an email in my inbox confirming my spot in the Tokyo Marathon (by lottery). So a good Friday (not Good Friday, har har) once again saves an otherwise lackluster week. Serendipity is the name of the game.

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