Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

From August 2002 to June 2003 I lived in Nagaoka, Japan - a rural town about four hours (by car) northwest of Tokyo. I taught English for a Japanese corporation whose product was English lessons for adult Japanese customers.

While I was there, I wrote and posted journal entries (listed below) every now and again about my experiences living and working in exotic Japan. I have also generated some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) (also listed below).



Journal Entries

July 25, 2006 Looking back on my time in Japan... three years later. Life since Japan.
May 19, 2003 SARS, blind woman, and more thoughts about "the wall".
April 22, 2003 Cherry Blossoms, another Tokyo weekend, Japanese-English, and just a few more thoughts on the war with Iraq.
March 29, 2003 More thoughts on the War with Iraq, another hair cut, Noriko's bell choir, and no need to send anymore care packages (thank you!) , make-over and a few more photos I wanted to post.
February 24, 2003 Special Week at school, the Tokomachi Snow Festival, Valentine's Day, another cold, thoughts on coming home and English books in Nagaoka.
February 5, 2003 I'm coming home in August, smiley code, I caught a cold, my classroom, Mariko's Art Exhibit, more politics, and more about "the wall".
January 26, 2003 SNOWBOARDING! Several parties, cultural exchanges in my discussion class, and more about "the wall".
January 21, 2003 John Lennon portrait, stylish galoshes, That'll Teach Ya, "the wall", contract renewal, and a political epiphany.
January 14, 2003 Tokyo/Hiroshima trip, glad you're alright pop, and a disturbing scene.
December 31, 2002 A quick Happy New Year Wish
December 27, 2002 Thank you to all for the holiday care packages, Christmas 2003 and solstice traditions in Japan.
December 23, 2002 My grandma passed away, lots of holiday parties, I feel so lucky to have all of you, and the challenge of being yourself in another culture.
December 11, 2002 First REAL snow, holiday homesickness, holiday parties, ergonomics, drinking attitudes, 'the nod', and Kenichi.
December 1, 2002 NEW EMAIL ADDRESS!!! Pants that fit, trip to Tokyo, first visitors, more on Japanese perspective on current events, and more personal changes.
November 15, 2002 I visited a Japanese Hot Spring, a salmon museum and a liquor store. Earthquivers, my hair is still too short, and you wouldn't believe the fruit. Oh, and if you want to call, I've figured out the time change.
November 2, 2002 My first haircut, first snow, my apartment is chilly, read my first word in Japanese, street cats, and my computer is back in service!
October 23, 2002 My dinner party, a wine tasting party, local elections, care package ideas (hint, hint), and thoughts about Iraq.
October 16, 2002 Bike ride in the mountains, being mistaken for a Japanese person, watching a sunset, the challenges of bowing, and some personal changes.
October 10, 2002 Photos of my apartment, discovering the English books at the library, learning Japanese, and more about food.
September 26, 2002 Taiko Performance in Kashiwazaki City, more about learning Japanese names, and what I'm eating here.
September 20, 2002 Thanks to all for a very Happy Birthday, my sushi adventure, my new bike, Japanese Streets, the 'wa', and what I miss.
September 11, 2002 Just a little about September 11 in Japan, fireworks festival, dinner with students, my clanky bike, cleaning rice, and 'Anne Marie' sounds like what?!
September 6, 2002 Met my first strange Japanese person, something flying around in my apartment, feeling settled in (mailing addresses), the challenge of learning Japanese names.
September 2, 2002 Welcome party, after a week of teaching, my apartment, and being tall.
August 25, 2002 A week of training, the John Lennon Museum, Japanese folk dancing, stress release, I'm finally in Nagaoka, and the other foreign teacher.
August 16, 2002 Nine hours before departure!
August 5, 2002 Eleven days before departure.. life is changing.
July 1, 2002 Departure is nearing... My going away party my mom gave me.
June 19, 2002 Two months before I leave... initial thoughts. And links to my employer's website and the website of the Japan National Tourist Organization.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • "Do you speak Japanese?" I didn't speak a lick before I left, but was hoping to learn a good amount while I was there. But it was okay I didn't speak Japanese because actually, the company didn't allow teachers to speak Japanese in the school - the students were signing up for full immersion. The beginner students were taught by Japanese teachers. The foreign teachers (like me) only taught the students advanced enough to function in a full immersion class. Just the same, I made an effort to learn and I was just starting to make sentences when I left Japan. It was difficult to learn because I couldn't speak Japanese at work, and whenever I went out with students they wanted to practice their English. But it's okay, learning the language wasn't a primary reason for going to Japan. Now I know when someone is speaking Japanese, as opposed to any of the other asian languages, and sometimes I know what they're talking about... but I wouldn't say I'm fluent by any stretch of the imagination.

  • "What made you want to do this?" I always wanted to live and work in another culture because I thought doing so makes a person grow in ways you just can't grow otherwise. Turns out I was right.

  • "How did you hear about the opportunity?" I had a subscription to an international job listing publication and there were several positions listed to teach English in other countries. There were listings in such countries as Mexico, China and even Afghanistan. Japan was the safest and best paid of the bunch, so I applied to see what would happen. And they hired me! Most of their applicants were much younger with almost no work experience, plus I had an English degree... they snapped me up no problem.

  • "What's after Japan?" I got this question often before I left. At that point, I couldn't answer it I knew the experience was going to change me in unexpected ways. As it turned out, I ended up moving to Salt Lake City after I returned from Japan.

  • "How long will you stay in Japan?" Before I left, I had intended to stay in Japan for one year, but it was impossible to think beyond one year because I didn't know in what ways the experience was going to change me. Before I left the US, I felt like one year in Japan would be enough for me to "check the box" for living in another country and go on to something else. But I was open to the possiblity that I might discover the perfect place for me in Japan... or that I might decide to move on to another country and teach English there. I truly didn't know. As it turned out, I stayed in Japan for nine months and came back to the US.

  • "What about your cat?" Julie is staying here with my mom. The travel would be much too stressful for her, and the company I was going to work for didn't allow pets in the apartments. Leaving her behind was the hardest part of deciding to do this, but I couldn't pass it up! When I returned, Julie's fur was very matted because she wasn't grooming herself... a sign of depression. She missed me, one of the many reasons I was glad I came back.

  • "Where will you live?" I lived in an apartment the company maintains for it's teachers. It was completely furnished and ready to go. Another foreign teacher (Conor, he was Irish) lived just down the hall.

  • "How will you learn how to function?" The teacher I replaced, Ryan, and the other foreign teacher I worked with, Conor, showed me where the grocery store was and where the school was. And the school's staff was onhand to help me when I needed it. At different times they helped me get a cell phone, set up a bank account, learn how to get cash, helped me buy train tickets when I wanted to travel, etc... Also, my landlord, Suzuki, was VERY helpful and kind as well. He and his wife, Chieko, took me on sightseeing trips around the area, and invited me to their monthly wine-tasting parties. I lived in a small town so it wasn't too difficult to get around. I also made a few trips to Tokyo to visit other teacher I met in training... that place is SO big and SO busy. But just the same, in some ways it was much easier to function there because there's more English there.

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