At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Thursday, November 18, 2010

お久しぶりですね(Long time, no see!)

I sat down to write about my working trip to Iriomote island, but instead these other sentiments came out.  I've had a few difficult weeks the past month, so that may be why this entry took off in another direction.  I'll post my Iriomote entry soon. 

A rainbow on this beautiful island
I've neglected you, dear readers and somehow in the time between my last entry and this current one, I feel like I've forgotten how to write.  In fact, I haven't felt very motivated to write anything and I've been wondering why this has happened.  I do believe it stems from an internal shift directly related to living in Japan.  One of the immediate things I can pinpoint is that I've had to confront ego-related issues with others recently and it has made me less excited about living on this island.  That being said, I think this dry period is coming from a shift in who I am, who I was and who I am becoming from my experience in this country.   I realize how critical this time is for myself to address my own flaws, my dreams and how I see the world.  I have started to see how the American Dream work ethic that has long driven me to compete and achieve step by step through life, has also contributed to a constant, unfulfillable desire to succeed.  Instead of focusing on a sense of honesty and truth in my work, focusing on enjoying everything that I've been given in life and being thankful for it, what has become the priority is focusing on what might become a success and when not feeling like things are working out for me, then feeling like a failure.   (I think there are many Americans who face this same dilemma because of this strong drive within our culture and many are unhappy as well). None of this has made me happy so it's time to shift gears. While my motivation for things seems to be slowly fading away, I am hopeful that whatever does come from this break and this shift in my priorities will be ever so better, even if it is just takes the form of a new perception of the world, of life and of the self (and even if I never produce anything else again).  That being said, I need to make certain that this lethargy isn't just laziness due to being on what seems to be somewhat like a working holiday or due to feeling helpless in a foreign land.

So, now that I have some of my thoughts down about where I am as a writer, I should probably mention some of the things I've been confronting while living in Japan.   This past week I had a really good chat with some of my students during recess (they get about a 45 minute break to relax or spend time hanging out with each other after lunch and cleaning time -- yes, the students all have to work together to clean the classrooms -- sweeping, moping, scrubbing and washing windows -- and yes, I help too).  One of the girls I was speaking with asked me, "Do you speak Japanese?"  and I said, "only a little bit."  Then another girl asked, "but how do you manage to live here without speaking Japanese?"  This student's question hit home because I have been asking myself the same thing.  How am I surviving here without speaking this language at least on a conversational level?  It's a very good question and something that I need to focus on.  I know I'll gain a better sense of the big picture if I can just get over this language barrier, but it is quite a process.  It is always this way when learning a new language, especially one that is almost brand new to my ears.  While I am learning some of it through osmosis, I'm not learning it fast enough.  And there is also a sense that because I am a Gaikokujin, that I probably will never learn it.  It would be really nice to surprise people though and I think it would help me to make friends who I do not yet have access to because I lack the ability to converse with them and they do not feel confident about their Eigo skills.

I learn quite a bit from the students I interact with, not just language based learning, but also learning how to fit into this culture with more ease.  Some students are incredibly kind and really enjoy speaking with me while others are cruel or disenchanted or just disinterested.  I've been thinking about what each of these students as individuals mean to this society.  These individuals are the future of Okinawa/Japan and I think underneath the old traditions and rituals, there is a rapid shift occurring in this culture that may be directly related to the influence of Western values and images through TV, Film and the Internet.  That being said, these kids I teach are not urbanites.  They're kids in the Inaka.  They live on a tiny island that is quite far away from mainland Okinawa where Western influence can be seen on a daily basis (military presence), and even further away from mainland Japan.   So, I wonder often what my presence in their lives means to them.  Do I represent the stereotypes they are taught to maintain in order to separate the foreigners from the Japanese, or do I have more of a chance to connect with them and maybe enable them to think outside of the mainstream way of perceiving "us" vs. "them"?  (By the way, this is "us - them" mentality also happens in the USA and I do remember making a conscious effort around my early teenage years to learn from what was fact I was really drawn towards living overseas, learning new languages and towards the foreigners in my own country (and not out of an exoticism either).  Rather, I felt that their presence in my life as friends or colleagues taught me how to perceive the world through a different lens, and that was very crucial for me during my teenage years when the force of conformity is at its highest.  So, I I doing a good job as this foreign exchange teacher?  If I don't make the effort to learn about Okinawan culture or the Japanese language, I doubt it.   It's a two way street...

Yes, that's a real cat on Kokusai Dori in Naha, Okinawa.

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