3 Months ago: “I’ll go to Japan if I write a best-selling book while I’m there”

“Congratulations!” an email from the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program exclaimed. It was early-May. I was sitting at my desk in the Ms. magazine offices, two other interns furiously typing on keyboards near me. I glanced through the rest of the email, not reading it. I absently scrolled back to the top; the arrow from my mouse covered the “g” in congratulations. I was left staring at “Con,” the rest of the word having disappeared from my focus. How fitting, I snarkily mumbled to myself.

I was a con. A fraud. I had cheated through my interview – proclaiming – most mildly, considerable interest and intrigue in Japanese culture – and at peak performance, a palpable desire to teach English, explore the Japanese countryside and immerse myself in East Asian culture of every kind. I was a fraud. I didn’t eat seafood, couldn’t handle chopsticks long enough to drop a morsel in my mouth, had never cared for Japanese pop culture (in fact, judged with particular detail the students at university with great anime and manga books interest) – and, worst of all, felt teaching children conjugate forms of “to be” to be beneath my goals.

For the next six weeks, I wrestled with that email, that congratulations, that job offer and all the paperwork that flooded my home mailbox. I negotiated my dishonesty with my general -often all-consuming- interest in living abroad. I woke up Monday and researched Japan high and low, deciding Okinawa was my new self-battle ground. I would be placed there, I was sure of it. I woke up Tuesday and despised the idea of leaving everything I know for a year of illiteracy and food I dislike. I woke up Wednesday and read about the white water rafting north of Tokyo, the hiking east of Osaka, the healing hot springs sprinkled across the Japanese Alps. I would go there, everywhere, and experience it all. I woke up Thursday, excited for the new issue of Ms. to come out on stands, determined to focus on my career path. And so it went, irritating the hell out of everyone around me.

Finally, a month before I would board a plane that would take me to Tokyo and, eventually, Yamaguchi Prefecture (where I had actually been placed), I made a decision. A good friend, as good friends do, forcefully (and yet with grace), advised me to cut the dramatics and remember that I wasn’t signing over my life but a year. And that a year living in another country, no matter the country, would enrich my life in ways I couldn’t see for all the “life plans” clouding my judgment. I took her advice seriously, and responded with, “Well, I guess I’ll go to Japan if I write a best-selling novel while I’m there.”

One month later, I arrived in Japan, my suitcase loaded with gifts for new neighbors, teachers and friends and teaching materials for the students I could not wait to meet.

My perspectives on this job, this country and even my “life plans” have changed drastically in the last month and especially two weeks that I have been here. Japan is terrifying in its newness and foreignness for me, but it’s also the greatest challenge and adventure, thus far, of my  life. While my novel comment was made in mock seriousness (despite its obvious pragmatism), I have pledged to myself to document this experience and do it with complete honesty.

So – welcome to feminist-san, my story of teaching English in a country I had little interest in three months ago and now in which I find absolute beauty, potential and excitement. It’s going to be a fun, and bumpy, ride 🙂

Yamaguchi Prefecture!

Yamaguchi Prefecture!

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~ by C on July 30, 2009.

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