There are three specific Anime series from most of our childhoods that you would have experienced thanks to early morning television without even realising that they were indeed cartoons developed in the great land of Nippon, at least…that’s how it was for us living in Australia. Thank you, Cheese TV! Chances are you were a […]
VIZ Media expands its novel and manga publishing roster with the addition of several new title acquisitions set for release later in 2016. Fans of the Tokyo Ghoul manga series will not want to miss the Fall 2016 debut of the first of three new original prose novels. Each novel will focus on lead characters […]
#1 of 33 Art Projects
In 2014, I started the 33 Art Projects series to practice my artistic skill. Here’s the 2016 revamp with one of my firsts, a hand-drawn and colored banner:
Created a pencil sketch.
Cleaned up the sketch.
Inked the sketch and added in shadows.
Did preliminary coloring with Copic markers.
Continued coloring with jacket, shirt, and gloves.
Finished coloring the pants.
Complete coloring with a saturation and brilliance adjustment in Photoshop.
My final product: a banner for Jade’s Escape.
As part of FUNimation’s release of the FunimationNow app for mobile devices they are having a sweepstakes for the win of a free 12-month All-Access Subscription and FUNimation gift bag. All y…
Performers sought to play the role of two of Nagoya’s greatest historical heroes.
How to Make Backgrounds for Manga
Just as in writing, backgrounds are important for every manga. It anchors the characters and settings in a specific time and space. Without them, readers have only dialogue to follow the story.
Drawing from scratch
Creating a background from scratch may be time consuming, but it is one of the most fulfilling parts of drawing. Once you’re done, you sigh and yell, “I did it!” The best way to create a background from scratch is to take a picture of the locations or buildings you want to use and draw it from that picture.
The reason why I don’t prefer drawing at the location is because many factors change as you’re looking between your drawing and the actual place. The sun and clouds move, shifting the shadows around, and people hover over your shoulder with indignant questions, peeling your gaze from your focal point. A picture will stay whatever you want that picture to be.
Turning out a picture
With a picture of a location, you can also create unique backgrounds. Ai Yazawa turns images into shadows with almost pixelated points.
You can also turn pictures Into vectors in Adobe Illustrator or Manga Pro. To vectorize an image in Illustrator, select to “Trace”.
Using stock pictures
If drawing or vectorizing pictures are too much, you can buy Deleter background booklets or get free stock manga backgrounds on DeviantArt or Pinterest.
Deleter and Manga University both have books with backgrounds you can print onto adhesive sheets and apply like screentones or digitally place them in your manga using layers. They’re good for hard-to-find pictures such as Japanese classrooms, common streets, and convenience stores. The books aren’t free. They price anywhere from $2.50 to $12.00 online.
Here are a few generous artists:
If you want to be a well-rounded artist, my advice is to learn how to do perspective drawings. Even if you plan on becoming a traditional artist (drawing, painting, sculpting), learning perspective will only be a tool.
According to the artist, Tokyo and Niigata compete for the shortest skirt of all.
Click here to check it out at io9.com. “I am a Hero Omnibus: Volume One” coming to stores April 6.
10 Things to Learn after Living in Japan
It’s easy to learn a little bit about a foreign country in a year. In 5 years, any foreign resident will discover the ins and outs of their new home country. For me, I’ve learned about Japanese people, culture, and lifestyles that most foreigners won’t see in a year or two of residence.
10. You’ll be thoroughly surprised by the lack of technology Japan uses on a daily basis. The image of Japan usually includes robots on the streets, high-end luxury cars with races on straightaways, and girls in school uniforms carrying swords in their bags. Um, no, that’s a stereotype. In actuality, Japan maintains close ties with tradition–meaning that some of Japanese technology is lacking. When I wanted a copier to number my pages, my co-worker said, “Sorry. Here are these stamps.” As I sat stamping each page with what I thought were obsolete number stamps, I asked myself if all copiers in teaching places were like this. They were, and I learned to number the pages on my computer first. (I used the same copiers in business offices with the same functions in the States.)
9. You will be asked the same questions from the start of your journey to the very end. When I arrived in Okinawa, everyone asked me typical questions. “Where are you from? What is your favorite food? Do you have a boyfriend?” Along with the questions came the same remarks. “Your Japanese is good. You’re good at using chopsticks.” For fellow expats in Japan, don’t take it personal. They’re icebreakers. Segue the questions into questions about them and see where it takes you.
8. You will always have to show extra paperwork because you’re a foreigner. I don’t know how many times my husband and I had to bring unnecessary copies, documents, and forms to the bank, police station, immigration office, and the airport because people wanted to give us a hard time. My husband had it worse because he looked like a tall white man, so Japanese men thought he had a Japanese wife or girlfriend, which happens a lot when foreign males go to Japan. I solved that issue by making a binder with all the important documents and copies. It also doubled as an emergency binder. In the event of a fire or tsunami, grab the binder!
7. Whether you’re black, white, or purple, you’re in the same boat as every other foreigner. Japan is a homogenous country–you’ll mostly see and hear Japanese. The control freaks who arrive will want to immediately fit into Japanese society. No matter how well you speak, read, write, or think Japanese, Japanese people won’t fully accept you. Even half-Japanese people aren’t fully accepted (check Miss Japan). Though that seems like a dire way of looking at Japan and its people, it’s close to how privileged people in any other country treat the unprivileged populace.
6. You’ll learn how to check your attitude, anger, pessimism, arrogance, and ego if you really want to fit into Japanese society. Japanese people are very humble. You’ll find that as time goes on, Japanese people are reluctant to boast about their differences or what makes each one of them unique.
5. You’ll learn Japanese, but unless you study and maintain what you’ve learned, you’ll just be functional in spoken Japanese. You can learn Japanese without studying after listening and speaking to people for several years. Still, many expats don’t learn and maintain written Japanese without study.
4. You’ll see that options in everything is limited…except in green teas, ramen brands, and seaweed wrappers. After learning that the aisles in San-A are different from your former grocery haunts, food and marketplaces are equally unique in serving a mostly-Japanese populace.
3. You’ll notice that the Japanese lifestyle is really minimal and uncomplicated. When I returned to American life, I was surprised by how everything and everyone were fast, fast, fast, and when something was slow, it was too slow. Commuters behind me would groan at any human delays at the ancient MetroLink ticketing machines.
2. You’ll see how humans are unwilling–and even visibly scared–of change or difference. April in Japan usually meant a changeover in staff, a new school year in a new school, an assurance that you as a human had moved to the next stage in your life. I’ve noticed in between Japan and the States that people like their habits no matter how rigid or unhealthy they are to their lives. It could be eating habits, going outside the city, changing how something is done–people are afraid of change. The lesson to be learned in today’s world is that everything is always changing, always looking to grab you by the ankle and pull you under. Accepting change will keep you and other skeptical Japanese folks from drowning.
1. You’ll notice the real strength of women. Before coming to Japan, I thought that the country boasted unhappy, naive women who reluctantly accepted their roles as mothers and housewives. After watching, talking, and befriending many Japanese women, I realized that these women didn’t only define their lives as mothers and housewives. They were also teachers, workers, budget-balancers, hobbyists, cooks, cleaners, and disciplinarians. No matter how much work came their way because of their jobs or families, they could still smile and laugh and play without much worry or complaint. My problem was looking through the eyes of an American woman who wasn’t expected to do all those things. When I was put in the same positions (outside of motherhood), I couldn’t understand how other women did everything like clockwork while most men looked on. I found myself frowning at the men, especially retiring men who didn’t have any other discernible skills than work. As I looked at the women in my life and in my husband’s life, I noticed that women who worked, balanced and paid bills, cooked, cleaned, and cared and listened to their rambling, ungrateful children were the strong ones.
How I Lost Weight in Japan
It’s the same question from family members, friends, and former co-workers after they see a skinnier me:”How did you lose weight?”
In 2010, I was 138 pounds, still within my BMI for a 63-inch woman.
After I got married (December 2010), I gained around 36 pounds.
Every summer between 2011 and 2014, I yo-yoed between diets and exercise programs. Once winter came, I’d make excuses. “It’s too cold to exercise. I want to eat something hot and heavy. I can start tomorrow.” In the summer of 2014, I hit 2 big roadblocks. My doctor told me I was cruising the line to high blood pressure. The second roadblock came as a surprise to me: I injured my knee, leaving me on crutches for 3 painful weeks (but I still had to drive, grocery shop, cook and clean).
Weight Gain and Weight Loss isn’t about Food or Exercise
At that point, I couldn’t let excuses get in my way. I had to dig deeper than diet and exercise to lose the weight. I looked at why I ate the things I ate and what triggered my snack and chocolate binges.
The first thing that derailed all of my diet or exercise programs was my sweet tooth. Since my childhood, I hid cookies, ate the sweetest ice creams, and regularly chewed gums. I usually ate sweets when I was physically hungry or thirsty. Many times, I mistook hunger for thirst. I started asking myself before I looked for sweets, “Am I actually hungry or thirsty or bored?”
I also had to change my mindset. There really is no shortcut to long-lasting weight management. It’s really a lifestyle change. If I changed my eating habits, I asked myself, “Can I eat like for a whole year?” If I changed my workout regiment, I asked myself, “Can I workout like this for a whole year?” If I answered “no” to these, I would change my diet and exercises to something I could maintain for at least a year. It was about making new healthy habits.
On top of looking at my cravings, I had to recall what didn’t work for me (but they might work for others).
These didn’t work for me:
- Keeping a food diary or journal.
- Counting calories every day.
- Completely cutting out carbs (i.e. rice, breads, sugars).
- Doing circuit training.
- Having a workout buddy.
I changed my work and home lifestyles to lose weight by:
Staying hydrated throughout the day. Most Japanese people reach for teas at the workplace, so when I didn’t have water, I opted for green tea or jasmine tea freely offered in the office. I downed a glass of water before and after my morning workouts and meals to keep my hunger at bay and keep my body and skin hydrated.
Getting rid of all packaged sweets at my desk and home. In most Japanese offices, there are tables I label “the free snack table”. Anything that gets placed on those tables are free for the taking. The only way to not eat them was to avoid the table. I didn’t completely eliminate sweets. At first, I limited my number of sweets until I felt OK replacing them with fruits and homemade oatmeal bars.
Bringing bananas, smoothies, and small salads to work in case I wanted a snack. Instead of reaching for something on the free snack table, I grabbed something I brought. It was easier, and if I didn’t eat it, it would spoil. Did I mention I hate wasting food?
Using Japanese lunchboxes to package all my meals. Most Japanese lunchboxes hold 48.6 fluid ounces (5.7″x 8.1″ x 1.9″ at Daiso) compared to the American reusable lunchboxes, which carry 221.6 fluid ounces (8″x 5″ x 10″ at the Dollar Tree). With smaller lunchboxes and containers, I tricked my brain into believing that I was eating enough.
Using tamagoyaki, or Japanese omelette, pans. Because it stayed non-sticky for a long time, I didn’t use much oil. I limited my daily egg intake to one egg a day while the omelette pan made that one scrambled egg look bigger and cuter in my Japanese lunchboxes.
Studying the Japanese art of making bento. The best lunchboxes are balanced in not just food but color. The reds in tomatoes should balance the greens from broccoli and spinach. White, brown, and yellow complete the lunch, making it visually stimulating (you eat with your eyes before your mouth) and healthy. (I recommend The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go by Makiko Itoh for first timers.)
Taking breaks and finding time to breathe. When I lived in Japan, I saw many people walking and chatting with their co-workers. At work, people talked to each other and traded snacks and drank coffee as the clock ticked away working hours. Doing these things, I realized later, helped decrease stress from daily life.
With all of these things, I learned to control my hunger and sweet tooth.
Refining My Food and Willpower
In April 2015, I still looked big even though I had dropped to 148 pounds. I had done 2 months of running 1.2-mile (2 km) hills 3 times a week, making my legs muscular and thick.
By this point, I had stopped eating cheese, chicken, pork, and beef. From other failed diets, I learned that I couldn’t do without fish and eggs. It was hard visiting my family in the Philippines because everything had sugar or meat alongside several cups of rice per meal. Everyone kept asking, “Did you eat?” then turned around and commented on how fat I was. Later on, my mom told me I was “brave” for not eating certain Filipino foods.
Becoming pescatarian made me answer to myself, not to others who felt I was being a spoiled brat for refusing food or those who felt inferior because I had declined society’s meat-eating culture. I didn’t feel trapped because I had eliminated certain foods from my diet. I had more energy for my last days in Japan, and the box of clothes that didn’t fit were suddenly too big for my new body.
Exercise and Research: The Last 20%
As daunting as exercise seems, for me, exercise meant attacking the fat on my stomach, legs, and face. Since I was young, I consider exercise as a tool to accomplish a goal like winning a game, relieving stress, or, in this case, losing weight. I did Billy Blanks’s and Jillian Michaels’s workouts on YouTube, and when I got an Xbox 360, I did Nike+. I have to admit I didn’t like running when I started, but since I saw it as a tool towards my target weight and my therapy through some personal baggage, I ended up enjoying my runs 3 times a week.
The other thing I hadn’t done in the past diets was research. Every day was an opportunity to improve my body, health, and overall well being just by Googling questions. “What are some snacks under 150 calories? What are some vegan recipes for bread? How do I make spaghetti sauce from scratch?” I even started reading the back labels of any packaged foods I bought at the store. This is one thing that I’ve found Japanese folks–and folks in general–are afraid to do: ask! I had to go against that grain and find some answers.
Along with my research, questions, and my degree in sports medicine, I created a workout regiment that I could do anywhere. When I injured my knee from running, I was forced to re-think my exercise program. I have bad knees because I tore my ACL, so designing a knee-sensitive workout was crucial to losing the last 10 pounds. I started doing 10- to 20-minute workouts concentrating on my upper body, abs, and thighs using free YouTube channels like Blogiplates (abs and thighs), POPSUGAR Fitness (full-body workouts), and FitnessBlender (full-body workouts). At nighttime or days between more strenuous workouts, I did yoga and pilates. I picked the mornings to work out because it jump-started my metabolism for the rest of the day.
De-stressing and Getting Enough Sleep
The hardest part of weight loss (and keeping it off) was stress. It affects every aspect of life from sleep cycles and quality to diets and concentration. I would crave sweets when I didn’t get 7 hours of sleep. Even when I caught 8 hours of sleeps, I felt trapped in a cycle that included cleaning, cooking, and babying despite my 9-hour workday, class prep at home, and helping my husband alleviate his asthma troubles. To combat the stress of last-minute lesson plans and meals, I kept a schedule for everything so I would have meals ready for the next day, allocate time at work and home for studies (I was taking Japanese), and stick to an exercise regiment. When my husband’s work contract ended (he worked outside of JET), he returned to the U.S., honestly reducing my stress by half–half the meals, half the driving, half the worries.
Creating a routine also helped deal with stress. It’s something I noticed Japanese have down to a tee and has benefits for weight losers. Also, I didn’t have to think hard about what I was supposed to be doing at certain parts of the day. I woke up at 6AM, exercised at 6:15AM before showering, fixed lunch and ate breakfast at 7AM, and went to work at 8AM. At 11AM, I had a mid-morning snack, and at 1:15PM, I had lunch. I usually at dinner around 5:30 or 6PM, and if I was really hungry, I ate a mid-evening snack at around 7:30PM. 8:30PM meant dance time (yes, I scheduled a time to dance and enjoy my favorite tunes). After dance time came food prep for the next day, cutting veggies, thawing fruits for smoothies, or looking up vegan meals on Allrecipes. If I still felt hungry, I ate low-fat yogurt or a small bowl of granola with low-fat milk. By 10:30PM, I was in bed in my exercise clothes for the next day.
There were also things I didn’t do that Japanese people did such as:
Drinking. I’m not fond of beer or alcohol, but in Japan, drinking is part of the landscape. It hinders fat loss because of its caloric content and its by-products makes our bodies focus on burning those by-products, not stored fat or carbs among other things. Plus, I think it’s expensive compared to the little benefits my body gets out of it (saving money = less stress).
Eating ramen or soba. It’s not that I don’t like noodles–they’re my true loves after my mom’s cooking and pizza–but even a cup of ramen is unhealthy. I traded 100-yen soba for homemade carrot noodles and spinach fettuccine spaghetti.
Using already-made ingredients. Again, I’m not saying Japanese folks don’t use fresh ingredients (that’s more of an American accusation). It’s just that it’s easy to make meals when there are curry blocks, bottled sauces, and canned soups to speed up the cooking process. In getting healthier, I used as little canned and bottled products as possible, adopting something close to a Paleo diet. Even salt and sugar, which were constant reminders of my road to high blood pressure, I traded for lemons and honey.
Eating (white) rice. As most Asian countries eat rice for meal staples, I knew that eating less rice would make me an outsider, even in my culture. In the Philippines, everyone consumed large plates of rice every meal. In Japan, school lunches included big bowls of white rice. By reducing my rice intake to 2 cups a week, I allowed my body to use the stored fat as fuel.
Total Lost, Lots Gained
When I returned to the States in August 2015, I weighed 119 pounds, a total of 55 pounds lost in a year. Between the end of March 2015 to August 2015, I lost 29 pounds by changing my exercise regiments and diet every 6 weeks, cooking most of my meals using fresh ingredients, drinking lots of water, and de-stressing my life.
My Challenge to You
If you want to change how you look or feel, start a new healthy mindful habit. The hardest things to do are only difficult from the outside, but once you get a taste for more energy and a healthier body, you’ll find yourself in a better club.
Kickstart your resolutions by changing just one meal or adopting one of the things that worked for me. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see a new you within the next month.
Every year, I look up my yearly horoscope to see how well the concocters can predict my future. Not that I believe in it–I think they provide a good, unpredictable laugh–but in some cases, I really really want them to be right.
Here’s what my 2015 horoscope said:
For those born under the zodiac sign of Libra, 2015 will be a rewarding year. The 2015 Libra horoscope predicts that this is a year where it feels like anything is possible and that the life’s rewards are endless. Enjoy your good fortune, but remember luck can change in an instant, so don’t get ahead of yourself. –Sun Signs
This overall horoscope was generally…incorrect. 2015 has not been a rewarding year for me unless I count the fact that I’m alive and in decent health despite being a full-time vegetarian living in a fat-packed, sugar-loaded society.
2015 has given me good and bad luck as easily as flipping a coin. In losing 30 pounds this year, my knees have been injured and re-injured multiple times, leaving me skeptical of my legs stability. Though I’ve returned to the States after 5 years expecting reverse cultural shock, nothing prepared me for the reality of the dismal job hunts (3 interviews out of dozens of applications) and misunderstandings from changing languages. In a stroke of luck, I received all my uninsured boxes from being sea-shipped across the Pacific and my Japanese pension without a hitch. On the flip side, the house my husband and I saved up for won’t be available to a couple who doesn’t have residency or military affiliations for another year. My excitement in visiting the Philippines for the first time turned into disappointment as family members constantly poked at my weight and vegetarianism.
This year has been rough, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Between the move from Japan to the States and the readjustment to American life, I’ve had to look at myself and ask, “What do I want to do with my life?” So far, I’ve narrowed down the list to writing and marketing, but both require I go back to school and get papers that say, “Hey, she can do entry level jobs now in so-and-so industry.”
I want to stay positive, but no matter how hard I work, I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. I have to take 2 steps back just to see a future directly in front of me. Part of me wants to lie down and call it a day every day, but the fighter in me says, “Just power through it. You can do it.” I know I can do it. It’s a matter of when, and when feels out of my grasp. Will it be 2016 that’ll see me join a publisher or magazine? Will 2016 be the year I win something, anything, in regards to writing? Or will 2016 be rifled with disappointments and punishments for actually trying?
At least one thing’s already up for 2016–my yearly horoscope:
The Libra horoscope 2016 thus forecasts that this is a year which will be the base for the coming years. So analyze and think well before making important decisions in your life. —Sun Signs
Returning to American Life
Similar to an earlier post, Jade’s Escape from Japan, settling into American life has been a little rough, but there are slivers of silvers sparkling from their edges.
No Stomachaches, Just Stomach Gains. My body’s adjusted to the over-saturated American diet, even gaining 10 pounds in the first 2 weeks. Once I eliminated Del Taco’s bean burritos from my diet and signed up for a gym membership, I lost 5 pounds, putting me only 6 pounds heavier than when I first came back. Even with vegetarian and vegan options at stores and restaurants, I’m still struggling with maintaining my weight. On top of that, I get pressured by my husband and his family’s habits to ditch my diet. “You’re too skinny now,” my husband tells me, but these ideas won’t deter me from declining chicken dishes and sausage links. I worked really hard to get to where I am, and I don’t want all that effort to vanish just because I’m back in my home country. Sometimes I’m fighting a whole culture of fat, sickness, and laziness.
The silver lining: While living with meat-eaters who don’t care about their health or waistlines challenges my willpower, I know I’m improving my life not just now but in the long run. Plus, I’m now at my high school weight, which was my resolution this year.
The Multicultural “Gaijin-ism”. The word gaijin hasn’t disappeared from my brain whenever I see a non-Asian person, but the reaction of seeing different colored people has. My ears perk up at different Lyft drivers’ accents, and when I ask them where they’re from, I learn their stories, their motivations, their needs and wants in life. Whether it’s through broken Spanish or simple English, I’m excited to meet people from all around the world and learn something new.
The silver lining: I can study any language, and there will be people who I can speak with.
The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. Here’s the truth: finding a job after living in a foreign country is dismal, especially in California. Many companies and hiring managers don’t accept working abroad as anything but an experience abroad, leaving one big resume gap for returnees. On top of that, the job-hunting game has changed. If you were a capable player before, you’ll find yourself being benched at every tournament. It’s discouraging, especially when other former expats tell you that you’re not going to get a decent job for at least a year, so hunker down and be patient.
The silver lining: My work ethic and outlook are different, thanks to Japan. Before returning, I updated my resumes and CVs. I’ve maximized my online persona by linking my LinkedIn to my personal website that has my logo from my resume. Also thanks to Japan and my own interests, reading books such as Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 and Richard N. Bolles’s The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide have been indispensable for people in my position.
The Unhomely Home. Since I’m living with my in-laws, things are completely different–and sometimes, nonsensical–compared to what I’m used to. I just have to get used to it, right? In the meantime, I’m similar to the guy who never moves out of his mom’s basement.
The silver lining: I learned patience in Japan. Why not use it? Plus, I don’t have to pay for the basement.
No Fear = New Connections. I thought when I returned to California, I wouldn’t need to use Japanese. In the most random places–Kohl’s in San Diego, Kapsoul in LA, the Amtrak between Union Station and downtown San Diego–I’ve met Japanese people, and I’ve been happy to flex my Japanese tongue. I’m not afraid to jump between English and Japanese when I meet these people. They’re immigrants or second-generation Japanese people, nikkei, making lives for themselves in the States. Aside from meeting Japanese folks, I find I’m not afraid to speak to anyone and everyone. The man who wants my number, the bum looking for an extra dollar, the Cuban Lyft driver, I’m not scared to say what I want. Japan has taught me to appreciate the ability to be heard.
The silver lining: I don’t feel as Japan-sick as I did when I first landed in LAX.
Jade’s Escape from Japan: Desk Partners/Neighbors
Every day I sat at my somewhat-cluttered work desk, I sat next to the gentlest gentlemen I had ever met. He always marched to his desk gripping a black briefcase. When he reached the desk, he’d say cheerfully as if the first greeting in the morning would chase away those dreadful Monday blues, “Good morning!” If he were late, marching into the teacher’s room with his briefcase and huff on his breath, he’d still get out a cheerful, “Good morning!” before tossing his stuff onto his desk and jogging to the meeting room. It didn’t take long for us to become good friends. He was curious about everything and everyone in the same way children asked, “Where do babies come from?” I wanted to laugh and answer as honestly as possible.
The one thing I loved about sitting next to this teacher was the way he spoke. He had a soft voice, and whenever I taught him a new English word, he would weigh the word with his tongue, sounding each syllable out and rolling it around in his mouth. By the time he committed the word to memory, I’d sense his pride in the new vocabulary, and I’d find myself wanting to teach him more words. In exchange, he taught me Japanese, correcting my clumsy sentences and checking my worksheets. He was usually the first person to tell me what was going on, even before my coordinators.
What surprised me the most about him was his devotion to his family. Before returning to teaching, he was essentially a house husband, making meals for his daughter and wife, cleaning the home, and taking care of his child. “I went to a cooking school to make better lunches,” he told me one day. “But I had to learn the cooking words first.” After this admission, I respected him more. As gentle as he seemed, this man did things with resolve, something that many young people didn’t do nowadays.
Soon, I brought my homemade lunches and bagels and healthy sweets with me for him to try. He told me honestly what he liked the most about each item and what I could do to make them better. None of his words discouraged me, only made me smile even if the criticism wasn’t positive. One day, I brought him an oatmeal muffin, and he shyly admitted, “I’ve never had oatmeal. Is it good?” I think my eyebrows lifted to the ceiling because he laughed. “Is that strange?”
“OK, wait right here.” I went to the fridge, put an oatmeal muffin on a paper plate, and warmed it up in the microwave. I watched him eat it slowly, eating in the same way he learned new English words. He took a small bite, chewed it carefully, and this time, his eyebrows went up.
“Mmm, it’s good!” And he went on to finish the rest of the oatmeal muffin with gusto. What I realized about him was that he lacked any concept of ill intentions. Most people I met, they had some desire to be cutthroat, to be uncaring, to be superior to someone else, but not this man. He simply accepted everyone and everything, and if he needed something to happen, he made sure to make it happen in the simplest way possible. He was a man of zero drama.
And when it was one of my last times to sit next to him, he looked at me and asked, “Did you eat lunch?” I told I hadn’t, and he invited me to lunch. I was ecstatic. In the last two weeks of leaving Japan, I had forgotten when to eat, abandoning food for drives to different towns and post offices to mail boxes. I think he saw my body shrink and my energy diminish under the weight of work, and as a good older brother or cousin or father would do, help me regain at least one meal of normality.
So we went to eat Chinese food at a small but clean restaurant near the school where customers took off their shoes next to tatami mats and traditional floor tables. I learned that being away from school and the prying eyes and ears of the staff and students let me and my companion be ourselves. After eating the lunch special, we started telling each other stories. “When I was leaving America,” I told him over a cup of coffee, “some guys told me they liked me. I thought, ‘Why are you telling me now?’ And that’s how I got closer to my husband. He said, ‘If you weren’t going to Japan, I’d ask you to be my girlfriend.’ I was really happy, but nothing was going to stop me from going to Japan. It was my dream, you know?”
Watching his black eyes light up behind his glasses always made me want to say everything I thought. It was one of the reasons why, despite being the gentlest person in my lifetime, he was also the most dangerous. I wanted to say everything I felt at the moment my husband confessed to me, how happy yet unsure I felt about actually leaving the States, how uncertain my future felt without an anchor holding my old habits together. I kept that part out, let my tongue say the tip of my mind, and told him a funny story about a guy who wanted a date to be a date. He, in turn, told me a similar story, his spanning from mainland Okinawa to his time in Miyako, a popular outer islander with an Okinawan dialect completely different from Okinawan dialect.
When we went back to the office, the shells of ourselves folded over us, and we returned to being working neighbors. While I remembered everyone in my English department as people filled with personality, I felt that my neighbor and I fit together as desk partners in our somewhat-cluttered work area.
Creasing Happi Coats
Blue, red, and white happi coats moved through the crowd with “festival ” splashed across their backs and brown printed belts cinching their waists. The bodies inside them sweated and smelled, and the heads perched on the shoulders and necks held smiling faces, yakisoba in their mouths, bandannas around their foreheads. As people walked through Naha City awaiting the start of the big tug of war, their happi coats showed that the festival atmosphere started at home. When the rope, which stretched for three blocks through Naha’s 58 street, was pulled by Okinawans and Americans and cut into strips as good luck charms, the happi coats, the festival bearers, came off at home. Once laundered and pressed, the happi coats must be folded.
I folded happi coats after an event in Los Angeles. One fold here, a flip there, but the creases were the most important part. I wanted to fold them to be stacked the same length and size. When I tried to fold a happi coat without using its preset crease–“let the coat fall over at the crease”–I was inferred, not so much told since that would be too forward, to follow the folding method as everyone else had done before. The precedence was more important than the practical and stackable look of those coats, the same crease blindly to set a path than the person who wore or folded them.
Creases are made when a fabric submits to an iron, and the iron can make creases anywhere the person handling it feels. Why do some people hold the iron or fold past the creases to make a new pattern? Why not make changes instead of submitting to the creases everyone else has made?
While happi coats on bodies are uniforms for festivals and tugs of wars, their creases are traps for those who don’t want to be uniform.
The Ninth Box and the Smells of Japan
When the ninth box from Japan arrived at my in-laws’ home, I knew that my lengthy adventures there were done. It was as if closure had filled them to remind me, “You’ve given up that life. Accept it.” How can I accept it? part of me challenges with a hint of stubbornness. Even now, I still feel displaced. My eyes look out at a lake from my past and sees it as mysterious, views the surrounding houses and cars as strangers, and finally, the dread of being on the outside fills my stomach. I open each box to forget that ache. Each box had books, comics, clothes, and knick knacks accumulated from 5 years, some pieces broken but fixable, and smells from Japan. I opened a Starbucks mug and sniffed its inside. With a quizzical look, I held it out to my brother in law. “This is what Japan smells like.” It had a woodsy odor, something akin to cut tree slabs that had been perched on someone’s porch for several years.
Everything in southern Okinawa emitted earthy scents. On a summer day, farmers would burn their rotted excess sugar cane, and the smell of smoke and smoldering fritters would fill the air, usually causing my husband’s nose to clog with allergies. My nose, which I soon found to be sensitive to smells, picked up the faint smells of smoke before I saw them. Between March and May, the clouds carried heavy rain into the region, and my nose picked up the vague smell of earth. For me, dirt filled my nose, and with am exhale, I knew to grab an umbrella on the way out the door. On hot summer days, the heat offered me a new scent–the smell of smoldering tar and a stifling, thick air that said it would not leave this small island until the chilled winter air blew in. All the plants bent and wilted underneath the heat’s reign, indicating that my chiffon clothing wouldn’t be enough to shield me from the penetrating summer day. When the wind changed and Okinawans dawned sweaters, long sleeves, and corduroys, the island smells brought me back to my San Diego home and my Norfolk upbringing and the York house where my grandparents lived—crisp air with the distant aroma of Chrstimas-time pine, warmed breaths challenging white clouds and freezing hands, apple cider and vanilla bean perfumed on knits and wools and blankets.
“What’re those boxes?” a friend’s little boys asked me, and I opened the box for them to look in. For them, they saw lots of dirty notebooks, pictures of Japanese kids, and messages scribbled in an indecipherable language. I showed them the things there, but I held my tongue on everything else. No matter how I tried to explain each memory and each smell to them, they wouldn’t get it either. They were mine.
How to Teach English for Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs)
In Japan, native English speakers are seen as effective English teachers, but in most cases, new Assistant Language Teachers, or ALTs, find that being a native speaker doesn’t automatically qualify them as English teachers. Just as teachers in English-speaking countries need to earn a degree or certificate to teach English as a Foreign Language, or EFL, ALTs also need to know how to teach English.
Still, ALTs in Japan will not spend over $200 or 120 hours of EFL training on becoming better teachers. Even murky pedagogy books and online texts are daunting for ALTs looking for the quick fix. Good thing that there’s this little guide for curious (and uncertified) ALTs.
What are my students’ language levels?
“My kids are junior high school students, so they’re intermediate level.” Any seasoned, certificate-holding teacher would shake their heads at that statement. In any language, students are put into different levels of English by how much English they know, not their grade levels. Many of my senior high school students were beginners even after 6 years of English study.
How do you determine the language level of your students? If you’ve already done a few classes but you’re still uncertain about your students’ language abilities, look at the list below, keeping in mind some of your students’ mistakes and problems in English.
- Beginners level: If learners were blank slates with a few illegible words scrawled across the surface, these slates would be beginners. They have zero to little English knowledge.
- Elementary level: These learners can make sentences on their slates, but only on really easy things such as nouns (i.e. cat, dog, baseball) and simple verbs (i.e. play, walk, run).
- Low/pre-intermediate level: Students at this level can say what’s on their slates and understand what’s on the slate sometimes, but they need an eraser in their hand at all times. Even with basic sentence structures, they will make lots of mistakes.
- Intermediate level: These learners can say and understand what’s on the slate sometimes, even if there are some more in-depth ideas. Still, they need the eraser, but they aren’t as dependent on it. They can make sentences on their own such as “I can speak English fluently.”)
- Upper intermediate level: Students here can communicate what’s on the slate without looking at it, but there are a few mistakes that need to be fixed. They are able to say, “I saw teacher at McDonald’s yesterday,” though they will forget the “the” or “my” before “teacher”.
- Advanced level: Learners don’t need a slate or an easy-to-grab eraser anymore. They are fluent enough to speak and/or write in English without making many errors (“Unit 1: Teachers and Learners” 7).
You can also gauge students through questions to Japanese teachers by showing them English sentences and asking, “Can the students make these sentences on their own?” A sympathetic “no” or a gleeful “yes” will help you identify your students’ language level.
After you find your students’ language level, you can uncover worksheets and activities that better fit your students and your lesson plans. Some EFL websites such as iSLCollective.com and ESL Games World.com use these language levels to separate worksheets and games with the same target grammar.
How do I plan a lesson?
Whether you’re writing down a plan (which you should for later reference) or you’re thinking it, lesson planning is a crucial part of teaching in any subject. In EFL, it is the brain of English class—without it, you, your co-teacher, and your students will be wondering what everyone is doing in class.
In planning an EFL lesson, there are teaching patterns to make the class flow smoothly from learning and practicing to producing the target English. First, there are 3 stages for teaching EFL. The first stage is the Engage Stage, which is an introduction of the target English through skits, clips, items, role-plays or pictures. For example, you and your co-teacher may perform a skit for introduction phrases such as “Where are you from?” This stage is a way to get students interested in the target English and expose them to how the actual English can be used in real time. If the students are learning grammar, utilize the Engage Stage to do quick games that practice words they will use later.
The second stage is the Study Stage where the target English is formally taught. JET Program ALTs won’t be responsible for this area as stated in the JET Program Handbook, but private ALTs and elementary school ALTs will face this task regardless of their contracts. In teaching English grammar, build off of the Engage Stage words or games. For example, if students know nouns (i.e. cat) and simple verbs (i.e. jump), they can learn auxiliary verbs (i.e. The cat can jump). This is also the best place to predict students’ mistakes (i.e. The cat can jumping). Make sure to point out the differences between an incorrect sentence and a correct sentence.
The final stage is the Activate Stage, which is for practicing and producing the target English. Here is where students should interview or use the target with each other. In most cases, this is also where students produce the target, so it is very important to clearly explain the activity, do examples, and ask Instruction Check Questions, or ICQ’s (“Do you understand?” is not a good ICQ. Use, “What’s step one?”) (Burns). Teachers monitor students and their English during the activity. In this stage, if students are making the same mistakes, you should inform your co-teacher about this as they’ll be likely to make these same mistakes in the future.
Using the Engage-Study-Activate format, or sometimes called the Present-Practice-Produce teaching sequence (J. Richards 54), is the most basic way of lesson planning in EFL. There are other teaching patterns, but many Japanese English teachers are familiar with this format, and some may prefer this method.
Does my plan go over the time limit?
Now that you’ve identified your students’ language levels and learned the different stages in EFL, time will be your greatest enemy. “How do I teach everything I want on this grammar in 50 minutes?” Look at your lesson plan and write how long each stage and activity will take in minutes. Take care to include the time to explain, demonstrate, and question each stage or activity.
For example, if you are going to play a spelling game where students race to write an English word correctly, an explanation (“We will play a spelling game. It’s a race.”) and a demonstration (“Mr. Tanaka is Team 1. I am Team 2.”) should take 3 minutes while the example round with students and the real gameplay will take around 8 minutes. Total time for activity is 12 minutes. “Wait, that’s supposed to be 11 minutes.” Always plan an extra minute or two for what I call transition time. Between each stage and activity, there needs to be a little prep time. If students are told to wait for too long, they will drift off, and you and co-teacher will have to try your hardest just to coax them back. On the opposite end of the spectrum, playing a game or doing an activity for too long will bore students. Shoot for 10- to 15-minute activities.
The Study Stage usually takes around 20 minutes, depending on the teacher, so during that lengthy time, walk around and help students. But if you’re an elementary school ALT, you’re more than likely to be the main teacher because the homeroom teachers don’t speak English. Still, the timing applies to these cases—give the repetitive and pictorial Study Stage no more than 20 minutes. No matter what happens in class, be flexible with the time. If you rush or pack too much information in the Study Stage, your students’ brains might explode, making the entire 50 minutes completely useless.
Once you’ve got your lesson plan done, it should look like this:
(Start with words. Students usually know these.)
|8 – 10 minutes||Translation Race: Teachers will say a word. One person from each line (team) will put their team’s number on the translated word. (Example: Jd says, “playing” and students must race and put their number on the word “している”).|
|2||2 minutes||Give worksheet to students. Students will write the words from dictionary form (“run”) to progressive tense (“running”).|
(Target grammar with words students know.)
|8 minutes||Hideaki will explain the grammar and students will fill in the blanks on their worksheets. Jd walks around and helps students. Hideaki will also explain the question form using present progressive tense.|
|4||7 minutes||Criss Cross: All students will stand up. Teachers will say a sentence using the grammar (Example: Jd says, “I am playing piano” and a student will answer, “私はピアノをしています”). The student who can translate the sentence can sit down.|
(Activity using target grammar and words.)
|20 minutes||Sugoroku: Jd and Hideaki will explain the activity using gestures and pictures. Students will play rock-paper-scissors (じゃんけん). Winner will ask a question using the grammar point (Example: “Who is flying?”). Loser will find the character and answer, “Anpanman is flying.” The loser will sign the winner’s box. Now the winner can move to the next box.|
|(When students finish early or when most students are finished with Sugoroku) Funny Animals: Students will take 2 pictures with animals doing human things. They will glue the animals to their paper and make 2 English and Japanese sentences from the pictures.|
|Leeway Time: 3 minutes|
After 3 years of teaching 7 junior high schools and 2 senior high schools, I’ve learned that how long students are sitting is very important. If students sit still for more than 10 minutes, they start to daydream, talk, or the worst, sleep during the class. The best way to combat the sleepy nature in sitting schoolchildren is to make them stand or do mini games during the Study Stage. Sometimes, I do Criss Cross (立ってよこ, or tatte yoko) after the Study Stage to give slower students a chance to catch up and to gauge how well the students on a whole have learned the target English. This and other mini games get the students to their feet as well, breaking the monotony of the lecture teaching style.
After finding the students’ language levels, picking the activities for your lesson plans, and timing each stage, you must ask yourself one more thing: do the games and activities use teacher-to-student interactions or are they student-to-student interactions? In EFL, student-to-student interactions are required—no matter how “shy” or quiet your students seem, they must talk or work with each other using the target English. Interviews, rock-paper-scissors games, and interactive BINGO worksheets will get your students moving around and practicing what they just learned.
Your final lesson plan should look like the following:
(Start with words. Students usually know these.)
|8 – 10 minutes||Teacher-Student||ALT and Mr. Tanaka||Translation Race: Teachers will say a word. One person from each line (team) will put their team’s number on the translated word. (Example: Jd says, “playing” and students must race and put their number on the word “している”).|
|2||2 minutes||Teacher- Student||ALT and Mr. Tanaka||Give worksheet to students. Students will write the words from dictionary form (“run”) to progressive tense (“running”).|
(Target grammar with words students know.)
|8 minutes||Teacher-Student||Mr. Tanaka||Hideaki will explain the grammar and students will fill in the blanks on their worksheets. Jd walks around and helps students who aren’t writing.|
|4||5 minutes||Teacher-Student||ALT (and Mr. Tanaka, if needed)||Criss Cross: All students will stand up. Teachers will say a sentence using the grammar (Example: Jd says, “I am playing piano” and a student will answer, “私はピアノをしています”). The student who can translate the sentence can sit down.|
(Activity using target grammar and words.)
|10 minutes||Student-Student||ALT and Mr. Tanaka||Sugoroku: Jd and Hideaki will explain the activity using gestures and pictures. Students will play rock-paper-scissors (じゃんけん). Winner will ask a question using the grammar point (Example: “Who is flying?”). Loser will find the character and answer, then sign in the box. Now the winner can move forward.|
(Correcting any mistakes.)
|10 minutes||Teacher-Student||ALT and Mr. Tanaka||Funny Animals: Students will take 2 pictures with animals doing human things. They will glue the animals to their paper and make 2 English and Japanese sentences from the pictures.|
|5 minutes||Student||ALT and Mr. Tanaka||Original Sentence: Students will draw their own picture and write their own sentence in English and Japanese.|
|Total time: 50 minutes|
As mentioned before, the goal of this lesson, as is for all EFL lessons, is for students to produce an original sentence using the target English. But they can’t jump into it—think skydiving without a parachute. They’ll surely crash into a sea of jumbled English. Instead of ending the lesson at the first Activate Stage, insert another Study Stage between the first Activate Stage and the second Activate Stage, easing students into their original sentences with several references to the target English.
In this lesson, I gave each student small pictures of animals doing human-like things (i.e. squirrels with cameras, monkeys studying, cats eating hamburgers), and they made sentences from what they saw in the pictures. Once the teachers and I checked their funny animal sentences, we tell them to make their own sentences. At this point, students have gone from memorized verbs and nouns to a full sentence using those terms. Using different games and activities, they gained confidence in producing the target English in an original sentence.
Now that there is a simplified guide for teaching EFL, ALTs without EFL training or certification will have no excuses in making more effective and memorable lessons in Japan.
- Burns, Lucas. How to Teach English (ESL): The ultimate guide to teaching English as a Second Language. Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014. Ebook.
- Clump, A. 2007. Examining the Role of Assistant Language Teachers on the JET Programme within the Context of Nihonjinron and Kokusaika: Perspectives from ALTs. Masters Thesis, McGill University, Montreal. 40-41, 50,75 p. PDF file.
- Houghton, Stephanie Ann and Damian J. Rivers. Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education. Vol.151. Bristol: Multilingual Matters,2013. 168. Print.
- International TEFL and TESOL Training. Unit 1: Teachers and Learners. 2011. PDF file.
- Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 54. Print.
Last Night in Okinawa
Japanese businessmen with too many drinks and skewed neckties watch me walk up a block of squat business plazas and timeworn bars, most with red lanterns swinging in their wooden doorways. This is Naha City, the capitol of Okinawa, three hours by plane from Japan’s famous capitol, three decades behind what people would call Japan when Tokyo comes into a conversation. Even the powerlines, which have no intention of migrating underground, provide background noise to the drunken businessmen and the beckoning shop owners in this expensive drinking sector of Naha. The men enter and exit their doors, some stumbling with tomato faces and smiles into waiting taxis.
This is my last night in Okinawa, and I walk next to my best friend, a Japanese soccer player who became my first friend in Okinawa five years ago. We were both teachers, me in the loose sense as an Assistant Language Teacher and him as my coordinator who spoke fluent English with a New Zealand flare. Though he left English teaching a few months later, we remained brother and sister in the islander sense, and whenever we saw each other’s family members at the mall, we were meeting another relative, an extended vein from our friendship.
Now, even after five years, I notice Japanese men trying to pry me from my place next to him—seeing a tall Japanese man in a casual shirt and chinos next to a black woman walking in this area is rare, unless this American and hondoujin are lost. This is our area, our yen is better here. Your yen is better over there where you turned off International Street. At those guys, I make eye contact, and they quickly turn their eyes elsewhere. Wherever yen was going to be spent, tonight was my night to let someone else do the spending. I, as a returnee to the States, was not allowed to dirty my own farewell party with my own cash.
My friend leads me to a wooden, four-story business building that looks as tan and old as the other buildings we passed. We go up a flight of wooden stairs and duck under a curtain to enter what my friend calls “my brother’s work”. The shop, a small but clean sushi bar, boasts three tatami areas with traditional floor tables and zabuton, or colorful Japanese cushions. Wooden doors, wooden pillars, and wooden countertops provide the aesthetics rather than hanging paintings or woodblock prints. My friend and I sit at the counter, and from an open doorway with a white curtain, his brother emerges in a white sushi chefs outfit. It is my first time to see him in four years, but through my friend, I always know where he is working. He is shorter than my friend by a head, but his small eyes and humor resemble my friend’s. Before they exchange a handshake, he looks surprised to see me. “Long time no see,” he says with a shy smile. Unlike his brother, he is reserved and gracious in his demeanor.
But it’s my friend who teaches me about the life of being a sushi chef. “Being a sushi chef,” he tells me after we have wiped our hands and cheered over a glass of chuuhai, “takes a lot of training. When we were kids, my brother was always shaping rice with his hands.” Only the best traditional sushi, which consists of a select cut of fish, a dab of wasabi, and a thumb-sized amount of formed rice, could lead sushi chefs into stardom in the industry. “Every day, chefs have to make $500 to $700 a night for the shop owners. Once they make a certain amount of money for the owners, the chefs can move on to owning their businesses.” He is proud of his younger brother, watching him deliberate over the rows of sliced fish in front of us, and in a way, I hold that same pride for this young chef.
The sushi looks different than the usual sushi I used to eat from the market or in a restaurant chain like Hamazushi. The fish are colorful and thick, hearty even, but easy to chew while the hint of wasabi lacks the sharpness of typical sushi, emphasizing the flavors of the fish and the shaped rice as a tasty unit. As I chew the second sushi, I suddenly realize why I feel as if I had skipped something: I did not dip it in soy sauce. It is completely unneeded.
My friend’s brother places sushi after sushi in front of us, lapsing into English for the fishes’ names and joking in Japanese with my friend. We get another drink, and it starts to wash away my senses. I laugh a little too hard, smile a little too much, eat the delicious handcrafted sushi a little too fast. I want to remember the warm feeling that both the chuuhai and Okinawa had given me for five years. People here are warm, and even those with cold interiors have no choice but to obey Japanese etiquette. When Okinawan people speak to me, it feels as if I’ve come home after a long absence, and they’re gently easing me into what I forgotten. Five years ago, I was surprised by this feeling, and every year, I renewed my contract to get closer to it, something akin to my Filipino home in the States. Other colleagues remarked their envy when I admitted I hardly felt homesick in years.
Between the second drinks and red snapper sushi, three Japanese people sit at the bar next to me. Immediately, one of the drunk women says, “You look like a famous singer.” For a while, everyone’s stumped. It’s when our last sushi arrives that the lady announces, “Diana Ross!” For the remaining twenty minutes there, she and her two friends address me as the former Supreme vocalist until my friend bids his brother goodnight and pays the bill.
“Goodbye, Diana Ross!” the three drunk birds say before we disappear down the stairs and into the warm summer streets. Now less business suits haunt the plaza doorways, and the taxis line the curbs. This is their time to strip drunken workers of their last yen. We avoid them and walk to a close-by Family Mart to get some cheap alcohol. At 2 o’clock in the morning, the clerk looks at us with an eyebrow quirked above his glasses. “There might by a typhoon tomorrow,” it says, but his thin lips only utter, “259 yen.”
When we get outside, the wind has picked up, flinging lose plastic bags and what little trash adorn the entire city towards the south. My friend and I cheer and drink our alcohol. As the night grows cooler and windier, our conversation—his kids, my husband, our jobs, five years of being an American sister and a Japanese Okinawan brother—turns into something warmer and sadder. Tonight, I think, let’s drink and eat before it gets too sad. As the lights in some stores dim and metallic doors slide over their shops, my friend and I stand up and smile at each other.
My last night allows me to return to a pair of eyes that can see Okinawa’s beautiful islands, see its people in their chinos and suits, and appreciate looking at all of them together in one place.
Jade’s Escape from Japan
So I went to Japan 5 years ago to escape the American recession and lifestyle as well as my mother and live out my dream of working in Japan. Now that my 5 years are up and I’m back in the States, life should be better…But there are tons of things people didn’t warn me about when it came to re-adjusting to my home country.
The Constant Stomachaches. In Japan, I became a vegetarian (from July 2014), and since my husband returned to the U.S. first, I could adjust my diet every month to a lifestyle teetering on veganism. I eliminated most salts, refined sugars, and fats from my food by planning, measuring, and cooking every meal, and in 4 months, I lost around 33 pounds (15 kg). The return to America cost me dearly–in a week, I gained 10 pounds (4.5 kg). Everything I eat, even without meat, makes my stomach flip upside down. And it doesn’t help that my husband isn’t considerate of my new eating lifestyle because he isn’t vegetarian. Maybe part of my stomachaches are from stress.
The Wonderful “Gaijin-ism”. Where I lived in Japan, there were few gaijin, or foreigners. When I did see a foreigner, my first thought was, “Gaijin!” That’s how few and rare foreigners are in Japan save for the heavily-populated cities. Back in the U.S., I had to stop myself from being surprised by “foreigners”. Everyone, including myself, aren’t foreigners, so I’m in the middle of re-training my brain to think, “People!”
The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. I had a job and an apartment in Japan for 5 years. Now I’ve got job history and a former apartment that’s already passed to my successor, but no employment or space of my own. I have to depend on my husband’s family before I can look to getting a place, and the job hunt for something I actually want–a position in the writing industry–still makes me ask for help from my in-laws. I’m suddenly a dependent, and it makes me feel small and unreliable. I thought being in Japan would make me more independent, but in returning to America, I find myself in a worse situation than before I left the country.
The Unhomely Home. I got no warning about coming home when you’re not really home. The U.S. doesn’t feel familiar to me anymore. I look at the people and the stores and the houses, and I just think, “I want to go home.” My Okinawan apartment and the places I frequented there pops up in my head, and suddenly I’m finding home to be a far away place in my memories. Part of this foreign feeling comes from my immediate family leaving California. I can’t see my mom or brothers, and it really makes me sad. With the ensuing stomachaches and uncomfortable lifestyle, I just want something familiar, something normal, and that was my family. When I want to eat my mom’s soup because I have stomach pains or I want to laugh with my brothers, I can’t.
The Lost Relationship(s). What kills me is the one thing I’ve left behind: missing someone. I made many friends in Okinawa, and even though I’ve said in past posts that Japanese people are hard to accept foreigners, the friends I made accepted enough of me to let me into beautiful and loving relationships. I just knew that when I got on the plane, I’d never know if I’d see them again. Sure, there’s email, but it’s not the same as facing them at a table in Mr. Donuts or Spicy Kitchen and saying, “How’s it going?” Craving someone’s words or smiles or stories makes me feel as if I’ve lost something really precious in my life.