The sound of glass shattering and metal colliding caused me to run to the window this morning. It was so close, I though maybe somebody hit my tiny Japanese car. But it wasn’t until I climbed into my car, safely parked in my parking stall, and drove down the road I always drove on in the morning.
A car in front of me nearly crashed into my car as it backed up to avoid the crumbled pieces of two stopped cars at the light. The rest of the time I drove to the junior high school I worked at, tension settled into my bones. My imagination runs wild with certain observations, and sometimes, I experience imaginary things with such a visceral quality, I nearly shake with fright.
But I arrived at school very early in one piece and said, “Good morning” to all of the teachers. Working in the junior high school in Japan has made me switch the gears installed into my head through living in America for 25 years. In America, I jumped between the quiet me whenever I worked in a place dominated by white people because I didn’t want to confirm any stereotypes. Outside of work, I was a louder more free me.
In Japan, it’s different. I get to be closer to the free me, where my wings only hit the top of the Japanese societal rules, not the American ones. I can speak more honestly. The difference is the language barrier, but even that is shattered once a bridge is erected. The only real boundary in school I’ve found is having to speak English to students. With the staff and other teachers, I can switch between Japanese or English, depending on their level of understanding. Still, I don’t have to cover myself up because of my obvious skin color. Already being in the country is enough to start to break down stereotypes, preconceptions, and assumptions.
I think the students are interesting, to say the least. In the junior high school I currently work at, the students greeted me with varying tones of “Hello” and “Hi”. As I passed classrooms to get to class, I felt eyes follow me down the hall and surprised calls, “It’s Miss Jd!” Several students ducked past me after a quick “Hello!” and a wave of their hand. I always respond back with the same greeting.
The funniest moment today was when I finished at the junior high school almost thirty minutes from my home. I turned off my computer, put on my i-Pod, and walked up to the junior high school four minutes from my house. After I greeted several students, two girls from the volleyball club stopped to talk to me. Soon, we were laughing and giggling at what some Japanese TV stars said on their respective TV shows. Even though we didn’t fully understand each other (although I’m understanding more of what people say in Japanese), I could feel their carefree spirits come from their small bodies. It made me smile to know that even when people couldn’t understand the words you say, they could understand the meaning in your heart.
I felt more energized as I went on to talk to a few basketball players. Although the stop into the office was simply to write a few sentences of English for the English teachers, I quickly realized that there was more to do. I worked at my desk and the time floated by like a butterfly. It was past 7:30 PM when I finally talked to my Okinawan brother, Ayuta. I decided to adopt him as my “younger” brother on Monday during our weekly run to the sea. Today, we talked for nearly an hour after gobbling a kimchi rice ball (onigiri), just talking about our “twins”, or our best friends. It was always fun talking to him because he reminds me of my older brother so much. I think he keeps me sane when I start to really miss my brothers.
When I walked back home in the dark, the air was so quiet, I became afraid. In America, I hardly walked in the dark anywhere, and the feeling of silence in nature worries me. It means that there is something dangerous out there and even the birds quiet themselves to avoid it. But in Okinawa, the things that I’ve come to understand in America don’t apply here, and I am sometimes confused. I calmed myself down to enjoy the warm air, and when I arrived at my apartment, I realized how peaceful life was here.
I want to remain in this peace forever, but I know I won’t. Still, I love living, working, playing, and being here in Okinawa.