久しぶり It's been a long time!

March 25, 2010 - Goshogawara, Japan

It's been quite a while since I last wrote!  Another school year has just finished and a new one will begin in several weeks. I can’t believe that this is my second time witnessing all the changes that occur with the end of a school year. A few days ago the teacher transfer list was announced. For those that don’t know, Japanese schools work differently from American ones in that teachers do not choose where to work. (They are, however, able to make requests.) Each year teachers are assigned to either stay at their current school or transfer to one anywhere in the prefecture. Last year about 13 or so teachers transferred from my school and this year 6 are leaving. The number is low, but sadly, one of my friends is headed for a city 3 hours away. Tomorrow, we’ll have a party to say goodbye to the departing teachers, and next week new teachers will arrive.

Having seen my second year of graduations and closing ceremonies made me realize how oblivious I had been to so many aspects of unspoken Japanese culture last year. Things that I once understood only superficially, such as which teachers are usually transferred and when, and how the teachers’ hierarchy plays a role in who moves to each new department each year, are now clear to me. I’m sure, however, that I’ll look back upon this moment later and again think that I knew nothing at the time. It’s funny how that happens.

As most of you, probably know, I’ve decided to stay in Japan for one more year. (This will be my last, though - I promise!) Seeing my friends starting to prepare for leaving Japan really helps confirm my decision to stay. Time has flown by recently, and leaving in August would have been way too soon. I really do love my life here even though I miss family and friends from home.

I just realized I never wrote about my trip home! Seeing everyone around Christmas and New Year’s was truly wonderful. I can’t believe how many family members and friends I was able to see thanks to everyone graciously catering to my schedule. It was so nice to spend time with people from home after having been out of the country for so long. Other than accidentally bowing at someone once (to the laughter of Maura and my cousins) and making Sarah, other family members, and friends drive me places because I was afraid of driving on the right side of the road, I felt like I fit back in. Being home made me realize how much I love seeing family and friends during the holidays, and I definitely plan to return home next Christmas. Thanks everyone for making my trip home so great.

Having Maura visit me in Japan was also amazing. My Japanese friends helped me plan a whirlwind tour of the area and Maura got to experience traditional aspects of Japanese culture first-hand. We were both dressed in kimono and served tea in the Tea Ceremony in a traditional Japanese home. Maura came to school where she was showered with gifts and completely bombarded by students who said things like “I don’t even know what to say to her. She’s so cute!” and “Wow, Katie, she has eyes like you!” One of my students even asked her to marry him. Maura’s blond hair was quite the attraction, and two of my friend’s children took to calling her Barbie.

Having Maura visit was really fun because I was able to go to some places in the area that I hadn’t yet visited. Some of my friends even took of work one day to show us around. Her visit was also a bit funny for me because Maura made a lot of observations about how people interact here that I had made when I first came here but later forgot. It was funny to see her react to things the same way that I did a year and a half ago, especially because this time I was included in what she was observing. For example, when I first got to Japan, I thought it was really funny that Japanese women spoke in really high and breathy voices on the phone. It’s the polite thing to do, but I never thought that I would pick it up since it’s completely different from my English phone voice. Now, however, when I answer the phone in Japanese, I, too, speak in a high airy voice. This was something I didn’t really notice until Maura pointed it out.

The two of us spent about 5 days in Aomori and we went to Tokyo for the remainder of her visit. We had a really great time there walking around the city being tourists. The highlight of our Tokyo trip was seeing sumo. Maura really wanted to see a sumo match and it turned out that the opening day of the winter tournament was the first full day we had in Tokyo. We were able to get quite close to the earlier matches and we even took pictures with sumo wrestlers. During the later matches with the most famous wrestlers, the emperor and empress showed up. They ended up sitting fairly close to us. I had never seen the emperor before, nor had Maura of course, so that was really cool. I had such a good time with Maura here. I only wish Sarah could have been there too.

That’s all I really have to update on now. I hope all of you are doing well!


4 Comments

Ellen:
March 25, 2010
Great note Katie. What an amazing adventure you have been having. You are giving all of us a window into a world that we cannot even imagine! Hope you have a good break, keep us posted on any travels!
love,el
sarah anne:
March 25, 2010
Great update Katie! So glad you decided to stay an extra year. Maybe Mookie and Phil and I will even make it there for a visit! xxooSA
Gigi:
March 26, 2010
Great update, Kathleen. So good to hear from you. Maybe Sarah can visit after Christmas this year. Love, Gigi
Mary Beth Keenan:
April 4, 2010
Dear Katie,
Great writing. And wonderful that you are having such a rich experience. I am your dad's first cousin. I met Maura last year when I visited my son at their university. Thanks for a fine vicarious Japanese experience!
Mary Beth
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