It's hard to live overseas, anywhere. But it can be very isolating to live overseas in Japan without good friends or without a sense of purpose outside of your job. So you have to try to make it work. Sometimes your life here comes together perfectly without much effort or resistance. But usually, you have to work hard and also be as flexible as possible. You have to try to make the life you wanted fit reality. If you come with too many expectations, things aren't going to go the way you wanted and you'll end up disappointed. I've had to flex quite a bit, so much so that I am beginning to wonder...I am not certain if the JET program was the right thing for me to do, to be honest. Ok, before anyone says that I'm a Debbie Downer or not positive enough, I will say that I've had fantastic experiences on JET. I think it's a great program and I think you can do quite a bit of good on it helping your students and fellow Japanese learn more English and more about your culture. It is a built in system that offers a network and support. It pays generously and you don't have to do much in terms of relocating (usually). I say usually because I actually had to relocate twice and that was expensive and not very easy. The reason I am uncertain about my choice to come to Japan on JET is because I came with the intention of studying and seeing Japanese performing arts. I specifically listed my interest in these things in my application and stated it more than once in my interview. I thought this would give me a very good opportunity to have access to live theater and dance such as Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki, Bunraku and even more underground forms of performance such as Butoh or the current avant-garde performance. Unfortunately, the island I was on last year had very little of this. It did have Ryukyu Buyo, which I studied and took every opportunity to see the live performances.
|Dressed before the performance|
|My dance teacher (left) adjusts my costume.|
I also went to as many matsuri and Obon angama things as I possibly could. I wanted to see everything when I first arrived. I remember telling an outgoing JET that I really wanted to be a part of the community dance group he was involved in and he immediately slighted my ability to speak Japanese and said I'd have to learn Japanese before I could even consider learning dance. That was my first week in Japan and I remember feeling shocked and disappointed that a fellow American who had at one time been in my position, was not willing to help me find a way to be involved in the local community (even though I lacked language skills). It was just the beginning of setbacks that I faced here. I really had to give up so many parts of who I was before I moved to Japan. For one thing, I wasn't a fresh-faced kid straight out of undergrad. I had already attended graduate school in Performance Studies and knew what I was interested in. If I had come on a Fulbright or some sort of performing artists grant, I probably would have been taken more seriously when approaching people about my interest in the creative arts here. Instead, I was treated like a n00b hobbyist who lacked any sort of ability to learn. And I just had to accept that too due to lack of language skills.
Since moving to Naha, I haven't had the chance to become involved with Ryukyu Buyo and while I have seen photography exhibits, a historical drama from a children's theater group from Ishigaki and some live theater in English, I haven't gone to Kumiodori 組踊 like I wanted to (something to tick off my check-off list). I have asked many people about Ryukyo Buyo classes and no one seems to ever know who teaches it on this island, although there have to be teachers because I see performances happening. Things aren't well advertised on this island unfortunately. Or maybe they are...maybe it's my inability to read adult level Japanese.
I have been as active as I can in performance, film and theater at my school. My English club is currently making a movie of a script I wrote for them. They are acting these roles out in English and it's quite adorable to see them. They are having such a fun time with this project. I wish I could post it online, but I would have to get their parents permission to do so. The script is called "The School of Magic" and it's about...a school for wizards, witches, vampires, and any sort of freak that could belong to a school of Magic. It's exciting to work on this with them. But I still feel like something is lacking. I don't think just being involved with my schools drama club is going to cut it. I am missing the sense of being around a community of like-minded artists and performers and people who are just interested in the arts and in ideas. I miss being professionally involved in the arts. How do I make or find a community around this? I was thinking about this today.
Was I asking too much from this JET experience? It is what you make of it, I suppose. I've tried hard to make it work. It seems that the people who come here who are involved in sports can easily get into surfing, cycling, rock-climbing, marathons, etc. Should I have tried to come over on a performing arts research grant? Am I pining away for an experience that I thought I should have had? Am I not appreciating the experiences that I have had? Am I just fantasizing about what might have been? Are there opportunities all around me that I am overlooking? Yes, probably so. So I need to continue to look for these opportunities because they aren't going to be handed to me.