This blog is a bit scattered. My anxiety has been keeping me up at night and my brain has been running in circles thinking about issues close to my heart, problems close to the community and universal tragedies that I cannot change. This has been in the works for over a week now…
Memories. . .
I remember being eight years old. You were looking for something and you asked me to help you find it. As we searched-we went outside and down the driveway to your black car. You opened the huge door and looked inside while I stood in the grass, barefoot. It must have been late summer or early fall. I remember the cement being cold on my feet and the grass still wet from the dew. Although, I cannot remember what we were looking for I remember that you were going to be leaving for college…and you promised me that you would drive me to the ocean. I had never seen the ocean and you knew how much I would love it. Maybe I found what you were looking for and that is why you made me such a grand promise. 15 years later, we went to the Hawaii together.
I was in 8th grade at CDA lake. I had a cricket cell phone which only received service if it was in the exact right location and position. I would use my friends mom’s phone to call and say hello to my parents. That sounds OUTRAGEOUS now. [I miss that.] I talked to my dad while I was there and he said that we got a new car. This meant the surburban was gone. The surburban housed many memories, hoopfests, and hours of Binger’s laughing, fighting and crying. It was a happy sad. A new family vehicle but the best family vehicle, gone. I remember that because it was an important moment in my life. Silly? Maybe. But my heart is usually the brains of every operation.
Last week I had a decision to make (to get pizza or make waffles). That decision was too hard for me to make so my mama made it for me, pizza. As I was waiting for my to-go order I saw a caterpillar inch worming along. I watched it crawling in that wave like way. I love how smoothly they move their bodies. As I watched I debated my next move…Do I let him stay in this restaurant and die or do I save its life. I realize I just used the words “save its life” in terms of saving a caterpillar…maybe you think that is dramatic but I think it is my strongest trait. A customer walks in nearly squashing this tiny, unnoticeable little fella. I squealed-because it made me sad to think of this caterpillar never getting a chance to become a butterfly. I disappeared behind the counter as I crouched down to get this furry critter out of there. My pizza was ready and the employee is saying “Rachel” as I’m trying to transport the caterpillar out the door saying “hai hai hai” (yes, yes, yes, I’m here). The man/lady of the hour made it outside. I hope that it becomes everything that it ever wanted to be. It came within a hair of losing everything-just a step away from its dreams being SQUASHED. Every day, humans crush each other’s dreams. My brother told me when I was a child that I couldn’t be a vet and guess what, I’m not. Not because he told me I couldn’t but because I believed him. There’s a quote that goes something like…if you think you can or can’t, your right. I understand this now. If you think you are going to fail, you will. If you think you are going drop out of school, you probably will. If you think you are going to miss the bus, you probably will. If you think you are going to be a doctor-you will work your tail off and do it. I’ve learned that this is called manifesting. Your thoughts create your life. When you change the way you think-you change the way you see things. Quitting and letting someone else tell you your dream isn’t achievable (and accepting that) is taking the easy way out. That’s the easy way-because doing what you want is harder than settling. You are the keeper of your own dreams. It does not matter what someone else tells you-even if it is out of a good place in their heart.
I read the news from Spokane for the first time since I came to Japan. A CHILD in high school was shot and killed by a person my age, over a pipe. I nearly forgot that the world we live in is unpredictable, dangerous and ruthless. I don’t experience those events here in Japan. I take that back. It isn’t the world that is unpredictable, dangerous and ruthless. It’s the people in it and that’s a shame. I don’t believe that anybody wants to grow up and be a __________(Insert word whatever word you want-addict, thief, cheater, homeless). Those are not the dreams of a child. Life happens. People make choices at the time that they think are best for themselves. Days, months, or years later those decisions have lead you to your most frightening nightmare, a person you never wanted to be.
I like to think that not only children-but all humans do good when they can.
Where I am living, these senseless acts are less common. I wonder how that can be possible. Is it because there are less guns and they are harder to get? A smaller unemployment rate? The education? How are people raised so differently that they create a safe environment and community. Can that be learned? Can a place already filled with drugs, guns and crime ever become safe? In the United States unintentional injury and homicide are the leading causes of death among people ages 15–24. In Japan-suicide has become the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10-19. Suicide is not viewed the same here as it is in American. It is not considered a “sin”. Samurai’s would do this to take responsibility for their life. Worldwide, accidents are the leading cause of death in adolescents, suicide follows, then homicide. Automobile/sports/swimming accidents …these are a few unintentional injuries I can think of off the top of my head-that are taking lives. Next is children taking their own life. I cannot find the words to explain how this makes me feel inside. Lastly, people killing people. The top three causes of death in children are preventable. Or are they?
You see that is the scariest part of suicide in my opinion. Sometimes, there are no warning signs, no cry for help. Sometimes, you find yourself crying for someone who is gone because you had no idea that you (maybe) could have helped.
School shootings is another thing I cannot bare to think about-but working in the USA it is something I am forced to think about.
Learn from Love
It is terrifying for me to think about how to protect my class (approximately 24 students a year) from the dangers and harshness of the world. Then I think about how terrifying it would be to a student or a parent of a student. The only people that love these children more than me-is their family. I consider my students, family. They know that I will take care of them, support them, advocate for them and I will always keep them safe. This feeling of security is not a part of my relationship with children, at first. I must prove, earn and work to show my students that I am a safe person. I am a teacher. My job also includes the fierce task of protecting my children from harm. I’m confident that my students would do the same for me. That’s what family is and that is how special our bonds become in less than 180 days.
Do you know teachers are not supposed to hug children? My kindergarten teacher held my hand when I was the line leader, hugged me and I’m sure I even sat on her lap. My first and second grade teacher gave the best hugs. When she was pregnant my second year with her-I would hug her every day to make sure my arms could still fit around her. Did you know teachers are not supposed to be alone in a classroom with children? I used to go into my elementary school each summer before school started to see if I could help the teachers prepare. I saw my second grade and third grade teachers outside of school on multiple occasions and rode in their vehicles. These kinds of relationships are now prohibited. Not allowed. The relationships I had with my teachers are part of why I am the kind of teacher I am. These experiences helped me know what kind of teacher I wanted to be. In middle school I had a teacher that always said, “BINGER” and when he had a child he told me he was going to him to say “BINGER” for his first word. I loved him. And it was a HIM! Female students cannot create these kinds of relationships with male teachers anymore.
My door is always open. Then I’m not in the room alone with anyone and everyone is always welcome in. I teach my students to ask each other “Do you want a hug” before they give a hug. Personally, when I am upset I prefer no hug. Rather than students getting mad that a student or myself hugged them, we first ask. I have had to adapt the rule: hands and feet to yourself at all times. After being in Japan I am disappointed in myself that I have become so strict with this rule. Children here mess around, rough house and have fun. However, they can handle it and it has not once ended in tears, a real fight, or a situation that requires discipline. Students need to be able to PLAY but I had to adapt the hands and feet to self rule because it helps us to avoid the majority of problems we face in the classroom.
Without these restrictions on building relationships, I find myself laughing with students more than I ever have. We joke around, make faces, give noogies, pats on the back and the best part is, we are learning a foreign language from each other. I envy the interactions that students and teachers have here. Teachers meet the families, make home visits and even have meals with the student and their family. WOW. Trust me, I want to do that. While that may be an expectation for Japan teachers, that is a restriction for me. I want to do that but I am not allowed.
Always on the Clock
[These next few time sheets are according to my own opinion and what I have observed.] In Japan, teachers are at school what seems like 6 days a week, minimum. I can enjoy school, after school activities and weekend games because I want to, not because I have to. In Japan, if you are a coach/in charge of a club then your time to yourself is extremely limited, coming down to a few hours a night and maybe one day a weekend if you’re lucky. While I envy the relationships that can be made with students and their families, I’m not sure that I would thrive as a teacher here due to the demanding commitment. Don’t get me wrong-I invest my heart, time and love into what I do no matter where I am-but I need time to love myself too. The classroom schedule is from ~8:10-3:20 and there are 220 days of school. Students are at school from 7:30am-6:00pm (average-). Teachers are likely here even longer. Students pick one club activity and participate in it for the entire year. In Spokane, Classroom time is 8:25am-3:15pm. teachers are at school from 7:00am-4:00pm (average). Students participate in after school activities for 3-4 weeks, but it is no longer than a 1.5 hour practice with supervision. Of course these vary from school to school but I think it is a good estimate for what I have seen/worked. There are things I prefer about the education in Japan and the USA. A bled of them together would be perfect.
I was at the mall the other day. The mall that I got lost looking for (I wrote about it in one of my first blogs). I remember walking through that mall for the first time, laughing out loud because I had no idea where I was, people were staring at me, I was walking on the WRONG side of traffic, I was hearing a language that I knew none of and I was experiencing all of this at the same time, for the first time in my life.
Recently, I was walking that same path. Going up the escalator I recalled how I had felt 2 months previous. Now, I can semi navigate my way through this massive mall and I can get home without my GPS. I’m still going new places by bike and I’m still getting lost. I recently found the quickest route to my new school after a week of riding the wrong way and crossing the same street more than once…
My favorite food here is Gyudon. Rice with meat on top of it-in the most delicious sauce. Yuko taught me how to make it which means I am now using my stove. The kitchen is a whole lot messier now that I am using it.
At school the students had a “Cultural Festival” at a University. Guess what!! No school buses. I took the train with staff and students! There were teachers at each train stop to guide students and PTA members too. On the way home teachers do the same and they even ride the train to the last stop to ensure children are behaving. This festival was a musical performance that all students participate in. There was a chorus contest between the classes in each grade, the band performed and the English club. There are eight classes in each grade (7 in third grade-which is 9th grade for USA). I’d like to be a musical/artistic person BUT I’m not. I love to listen to music but I don’t hear pitches or tones. My singing is the same as my talking voice-just a little louder. I worked up the guts to try out for a talent show when I was in 5th grade-singing a Blake Shelton song. I didn’t make it. HAH. I quit the clarinet in 5th grade. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it because I was no good-or I was no good because I didn’t enjoy it (which is a shame because my mom is beyond a talented musician). Now, I wish I would have learned the piano or flute. My drawing of an elephant is easily mistaken for a butterfly. These subjects do not come natural for me, leading me to take the easy way out by quitting and avoiding.
Anyways, the band here is incredible. The band played their instruments, sang and even danced. I need you to see it for yourself because my words are not enough to make you envision what I saw. You can use your imagination and it won’t be as good as the real thing. The chorus was also phenomenal. When each class preformed they had one person from their class play the piano(!)-the talent these children possess is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. These are children are 11-14 years old preforming with the grace, talent and courage equivalent to an adult.
Today, I had the best day.
I’ve always been the “adult” at the BBQ that sits at the kids table. Or the adult that suggests a water balloon fight, swinging at the park or hide and go seek. October 28th, I had the best day. I went to Kabutoyama and went hiking with Yuko. Many friends of hers also went (who brought their children). At our lunch break I walked out to play with the four children that joined our hike. I told them “Come, game, game, I’m going to teach you a game-sit”. From there we started with duck duck goose and down by the banks…
We played this, laughed, fell down and this led me into teaching bubblegum bubblegum in a dish…how many pieces do you wish? That led into figuring out who would be “it” for tag. Again, we laughed, ran, and had the most intense game of tag I’ve participated in, in the last 2 years. (I still try to make it a point to play with my class in the USA-but we aren’t allowed to play tag anymore). Then we compared animal sounds, video game characters and hiked up a mountain. At the top of the mountain we played hide and seek, catch and I taught the kids how to put a leaf in between their thumbs, blow, and make the most ridiculous screeching sound. Next, we whistled while we walked, compared walking sticks and taught each other so many words (at least I learned a ton). That was one of the greatest days I have had so far in Japan. I was able to incorporate my childhood into the childhood of children in a different country. When we played these games it was as if there was only one language in the world and we all spoke it. That is why I had the best day. I played games and laughed with children who speak a different language. Children were able to play a game with me-a person who speaks a different language from them. I felt my heart grow bigger this day. I know that everywhere children play the same. That is one thing that never changes. But I too, play the same everywhere. My favorite time of the day is recess, when I go out and play with students. We play universal sports. But this day…
I was able to teach children (ages 9-14) games I played at their age. Tag, duck duck goose…games have no boundaries or limits and games know no language.
I knew children play, laugh, run and ride bikes everywhere…but what I never thought about is how anyone from anywhere can play games together everywhere. Say that 10 times fast.
This weekend I spent a day with myself. I got on the train with no destination, GPS, or agenda. I rode until I wanted to get off. I spent hours walking the beach while listening to natives speak, waves crashing and the wind blowing. This weekend turned out to be a weekend full of self love.
Oh yeah…mom life chapter of life went just as fast and surprisingly as it came.
Thinking about the modesty that I have seen here, I am shocked that Japanese are okay with public baths. Also, for how close people get on the train and the lack of space you have, I’m amazed at how little people physically touch! Physical contact is little to none but on the train I you can feel the warmth of their breath and hear the rhythm of their heartbeat.
A few quick notes about differences I may or may not have mentioned before:
Bicycles are ridden on the side walk.
Traffic patterns are not all the same. People always drive on the left side of the road. However, depending on where you are at [in Japan] can change what side you walk on or where you stand on the escalator. USA-walk on the right side, ride your bike on the right side, stand on the right side on an escalator…all patterns follow traffic patterns.
Junior highs/high schools have a pool.
Chalk boards are used.
People that are dating are referred to as “Partners” .
The Goodwill of Japan is called “Hard off”…
Public education is not free.
There are heavy rain warnings.
There are Pachinko establishments everywhere.
Sleepy and tired mean different things here (I thought they were the same). Tired=drained and sleepy-you want to sleep. You can be tired without being sleepy and sleepy without being tired. MIND BLOWN.
Japanese is written up and down and books are written left to right.
Winker=Blinker. GUESS WHY?!?!?!?!?! Blinking is when you use both eyes. Winking is one eye. Winker=blinker. I think that is genius.
Casual for Japanese=fancy for me.
Everybody owns a suit.
The garbage man still gets out of the truck and physically empties the containers.
There are TOYS and play areas under “the bridge” (freeway).
Alcohol/cigarette vending machines
No ID checks.
I’d be willing to bet 90+ percent of people own a bike.
There are tons of parents in PTA here.
I have yet to see people who dislike each other. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist-but people are respectful to one another.
A good meal is cheap but everything else is more expensive.
Amazon prime here cost 4 dollars a month!
Netflix is different.
There are movie rental shops.
People complain less.
I think more people here are married. Marriage seems to me more of a partnership-than love.
No Bowzer. We call him Bowzer but they call him Koopa and Koopa JR.
There are no “finger foods” you use chopsticks.
Far more people are left handed/wear contacts and glasses.
Our measurements are all different. Centimeters/inches kilograms/pounds fahrenheit/celsius miles/kilometers.
In Junior high teachers move up with their children. They have the same “home room” for 3 years.
The drainage system that is here would be a cause of death if we had these uncovered in the united states.
The bicycle parking situation is insane.
Everyone backs into their spaces.
Sports day/Cultural festival-huge days here and incredible. We have nothing to even compare to it. It is similar to maybe…the Olympics and the orchestra at the opera house.
Bartenders can drink while working. You buy your bartender a drink as their tip since you don’t tip here.
Remember when Chichi lost my keys during typhoon Jebi? Well…It cost me 40,000yen to have my locks changed. That is 400 dollars.
Packages must be signed for-they will not be left.
A bus ride costs $2.20
There is secure wifi everywhere-so I have a pocket wifi I have to take everywhere.
Happy (almost) HALLOWEEN! Mama had surgery and is recovering now! Missing fall at home!
Go out and play. It’s good for the heart.