Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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February 5, 2003

It's Official, I'm Coming Home in August
Well, my company offered me a contract renewal for another year. It felt really nice to be asked. :-) I've been thinking about this since I got here in August. I've had moments where I thought I could never consider leaving Nagaoka, leaving my students... and then moments where I wanted to just come home asap because I miss all of you so much. It's been a very tough decision to make, but in the end, I've decided not to renew my contract - so I'll be coming home in August. So if you're going to visit me here, you better get on the stick!

It's kind of a relief to have the decision finally made. I didn't realize how much stress the lingering decision was causing me until after I actually made it, and after I told my co-workers at school. I think now that the decision is made, I will be even more able to enjoy the rest of my time here.

Do You Know the Smiley Code?
Some of you have asked what these strange characters are... :-) It's a smiley! Tilt your head a little, by trying to put your left ear on your left shoulder. The colon is the eyes, the hyphen is the nose, and the end parenthesis is the smile. Do you see it? There's a whole series.
;-) is a winking smiley
:^) peck-on-the-cheek smiley
:-( is a sad face
:-o is a surprised face
:-\ is a sorta sarcastic smile
:-> goofy grin
8-) googly eyes
etc. There are a ton of them if you use your imagination. Just thought I pass that along. They've become pretty standard in emails, so maybe you already know. But I thought I'd be sure. :-)

I Caught a Cold
The inevitable happened. I had a cold. After months of coughing students in my very small, closed classroom, I finally got a cold. Oh, did I miss Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup. I would've ask some of y'all to send some, but my cold was gone by the time it would have gotten here. Besides, I was just fine with cup-o-noodles and tangerines. But that's why this update is a little overdue, I avoided going out into the cold as much as possible - and going to the Internet required going into the cold. It took a while to get over it because this apartment is so chilly. I've learned to adapt to the chill in my daily life, but when I had a cold, it was a bit rough to get healthy.

My Classroom
This seems like as good a time as any to describe my classroom. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, it's very small. The three photographs below are of my classroom. Many of the chairs are repeated in two of the photographs. When I took these photos there were nine chairs in the classroom, but occassionally we squeeze in another four or five chairs. I took these photographs from where I stand at the front of the room when I'm teaching. Behind me is a white board and the door is to my right. See the map of Chicago on the right wall? :-) And I have two calendars up - Christmas gifts from some of you (thank you!). :-)

Mariko's Art Exhibit
I wrote in the January 26th entry that Takahiko and I were going to go to Mariko's Art Exhibit? Mariko is one of my advanced, private students - to the left is a photo of her I took with my cell phone in my classroom after one of her lessons. She's being shy and funny at the same time. She stood like she was at attention in the military - it was funny! And Takahiko is one of the three gentlemen who took me snowboarding.

The exhibit was last weekend and it was great! Although I was SO sore from snowboarding (the exhibit was the very next day.) And it turns out Takahiko was a little sore too, in his back. This surprised me because he goes snowboarding all the time. In fact, it turns out he majored in P.E. in college. Although I wouldn't be surprised if he just pretended to be achy to somehow make me feel better. But every now and again we had to crouch down to look at something for an exhibit and we would both bend our legs and go down veerrrry sloooooowly - and say "ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch" together. Although come to think of it, he had a pretty nasty fall towards the end of the day when he tried to do a jump on skis. To the right is a photo (again taken with my cell phone) of Takahiko crouching down in front of Mariko's art work. I didn't want to ask him to stand up because I knew it would be difficult. :-)

Looking at all the exhibits, I felt like I saw a little into what the young Japanese are thinking. I was glad to see so many environmental themes to the projects. Mariko goes to a college here in Nagaoka - Nagaoka Institute of Design. There were probably about 200 exhibits - sculptures, computer graphics, advertising designs, product designs, architecture, etc. - all final projects for students who are graduating. Mariko's exhibit is made up of six drawings she made. To the left is a photo of me in front of her art work - Takahiko took it with my cell phone. Each drawing was inspired in some way by her time here in Nagaoka. Some were for important people in the community, one was for her landlord who was very kind to her, and one was of two geese flying. She was walking on a bridge across the Shinagawa River and saw them, a whole flock flying over. Takahiko and I went through almost ALL the other exhibits before we came across Mariko's. We were so tired from walking, but it was nice chatting with Takahiko as we walked along. The exhibits inspired many interesting conversations, and Takahiko is an interesting person. Anyway, as tired as we were, it was worth it to finally find Mariko's work! Everything was in kanji (including Mariko's name) so I was extra glad Takahiko was with me to help find Mariko's exhibit and then to translate a bit of it for me. :-) AND he taught me some Japanese - Bonus! A very good day!

Can't Seem to Help all the Politics
I hope you don't mind the politics in these entries. It's just that I'm getting a lot of... well, a lot of feedback on the US and its foreign policy. Whenever I met someone, particularly other foreigners, politics always seems to come up as soon as we talk about where we're from. Everyone has opinions and questions about US foreign policy, and generally, they aren't positive. I'm constantly trying to defend the US, and sometimes I just can't! This is why I've been reading up on current events to try and make sense of it all for myself. So I guess as a result, current events have become a big part of my everyday life here in Japan, and so it seems like they should be mentioned here. I guess that's why I put the headings so you can skip the parts you're not interested in. In fact, I wonder if anyone is reading this paragraph at all. :-)

Over The Wall?
I can sense that I've grown, although I don't know exactly WHEN or HOW it happened, I only know it has. I've gone from sometimes feeling frustrated and lonely about a month or two ago, to feeling happy (maybe even joyful) much more often than not. :-) Thank goodness! Right on schedule too. It really is amazing how my experience mirrors Conor's, but only about six weeks later. It's amazing because Conor arrived in Japan exactly six weeks before I did. Anyway, I'd like to share this change with you all, but I don't know if I can explain it sufficiently. Maybe this is one of those things we all gotta experience for ourselves. But just the same, I'll give it a go...

I think it's because I'm feeling more connected to the people around me for several reasons. For one thing, the Japanese don't seem quite so foreign anymore. At first the Japanese people often seemed like shadows because I didn't know how to interpret their behavior, body language, communication styles, etc. Such things are very much linked to culture. Turns out some things are the same - for example a smile means basically the same thing no matter where you go. But many things are different. I still don't understand everything about the Japanese, of course, and I never will. But I know enough now that the Japanese no longer seem like shadows. I can sense more of the individuals behind the faces now. Also, I'm being more myself here in Japan, a challenge I wrote about in the December 23rd entry. I think these two developments make connection possible, and feeling more connected to the people around me may be what has gotten me to the other side of the wall! :-)

Thanks for the Patience
Hmmm, the last few entries have been pretty deep as I've been dealing with all this stuff. Thanks for your patience with it all. I hope the entries were still interesting to you as I tried to describe all these personal changes. It's been an important part of the experience and I wanted to try and share it with anyone who might have been interested.

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to February 24, 2003