Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Halloween and Homesickness

I did a vlog about dealing with homesickness , and I honestly get so many questions about it that it’s probably in the “Top 5 Questions” I get since moving to Japan (Hmm, next post idea maybe? We’ll see!). I remember that I actually went back to this post two times to try and update it with pictures and more details, because I left out a few adventures that I did in August and September.

I wanted to also soften how homesick I was, because like I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t really want to worry my people back home in America.I deleted and re-wrote sections, so this post lacks smoothness and flow that I try my best nowadays to maintain.

Then again, I was trying to jam pack a lot of stuff into one post, which as any experienced blogger will tell you is a bad idea. Stick with one topic, one adventure, don’t try to cram. It’ll just come out a huge mess! Still, let’s see what past me was up to back around Halloween time five years ago.


THE LAND WITHOUT HALLOWEEN: GETTING HOMESICK

Although the title isn’t entirely accurate, the love that America holds for Halloween and the love that Japan has for the holiday just isn’t the same. Back in America, I would’ve seen people’s front lawns and porches decorated to the nines with skeletons, witches, bats, maybe a few fake rodents, and the occasional scarecrow. Here, nothing. Nada. For one thing, it’s rare for me to see someone with a lawn period, and even more rare to see someone put up decorations.

It sucks, because I’m coming down from my euphoric state and slipping downwards into homesickness. I’m dying for familiar things, and it doesn’t help that Halloween is my favorite holiday. No contest. Most people usually take issue with Christmas and feel utterly lonesome about missing their families. I intend to hop on a plane and get back to the states for Christmas. I can’t exactly do that for Halloween, and I don’t want to do it. I just got here!


Repeat after me: There is no set formula for living abroad! Some people may go through the stages of adaptation in different ways.

What are the Stages of Adaptation you ask?

  1. Preparation– You’re packing and getting ready for the big move to another country. Often this is the stage where people are feeling the nervousness and excitement the most.
  2. Honeymoon/Euphoria Stage– You have arrived! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! You will never be unimpressed by anything that’s happening around you ever!
  3. Culture Shock (Fatigue) / Homesickness– You are worn out from everything being so DIFFERENT, and you just want FAMILIAR things but you can’t.
  4. Adjustments/ Compromises– You’re getting the hang of things, you’re starting to adopt what you like from the new culture and what is just too big a part of your cultural identity to change.
  5. Isolation (Mentality)– You’re feeling like you’re the only you that’s ever existed and you’re so alone; Note that many people skip this step and I usually don’t hear many people complain about it, but here it is.
  6. Acceptance/ Integration– You’ve decided how you want to live your life abroad. Some of this culture, some of your own, and discovering your new identity as well as learning to love it.

Nobody goes through all of these in a set timetable, but at the JET Conferences they’ll give you an estimated time when you’ll go through “each phase.” Here’s the thing though, you might not go through these in phases, you might skip these steps, go back and experience them again, nothing about ex-pat life is one size fits all.

Don’t beat yourself up if you start feeling down! I was always hard on myself for feeling homesick when “I shouldn’t,” which is silly since that’s not how emotions work. Just take care of yourself!

Also, what I ended up doing was going to Tokyo Disney Land like a week after this post to do Disney Halloween!

Halloween Tokyo Disney 2.jpg

My friend Emily called me up out of the blue and basically asked me if I’d like to go. Long story short, that’s become my new annual Halloween tradition. I love dressing up and going there every year! It’s the whole month of October, and I definitely think that if you love Halloween like I do this is one the better places to celebrate, although lately Ageha has had some pretty epic Halloween events too.

Halloween Tokyo Disney.jpg

Past me of course didn’t know this was going to happen, so she decided to switch her tone from sad to happy without much of a transition.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still having fun. I went off to Gunma for a vacation in August. That was awesome! I went canyoning and rafting with a bunch of other ALTs and we had a good ol’ time. I nearly died walking up the mountain, but going down by basically going down the best slip and slide ride ever made was well worth the effort (and the asthma attack).

First Year Gunma Trip 1.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hamashima (Inoue)

I highly recommend going to Gunma for canyoning and rafting in the summer. We went on a three day weekend so that even the desk warming high school teachers could come. On our first day, we went rafting down the river, and in the picture above you can see us holding the paddles. We took this right after and we were soaked! The hotel we stayed at had the buses to take you there, the equipment, everything.

First Year Gunma Trip 1 Raft.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

The next day we went up the damn mountain, and what I failed to mention in this post is that our guides were trying to kill us. They were hopping up from rock to rock like bunnies while the rest of us were huffing and puffing trying to keep up. And yes, for the first time in years, I had a stress induced asthma attack. I was so embarrassed, but the whole group assured me that I wasn’t the weakest link (one girl told me later she wanted to throw up).

First Year Gunma Trip 2.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

Still, the near death was worth it, because wow was going down the mountain a ton of fun. We slid between the crevices of rocks and jumped into deep pools. The whole thing was gorgeous! In one part, a natural slide down the rocks took us through different holes on the way down to a big pool. It was exhilarating and terrifying! I thought I’d surely hit my head or something, but nope. Just landed in the pool.

First Year Gunma Trip 2 canyoning.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

Sidenote: Midori, the photographer and friend on the trip, was the only one of us who was smart enough to bring with her a waterproof camera. She ended up taking all of the pictures. My advice is to get a waterproof case or something beforehand so you don’t end up missing out on capturing these amazing memories.


And in the evening we had a BBQ at the hotel.

BBQ picture Gunma Trip 2.jpg
Photo Credit: Midori Hanashima (Inoue)

For reasons that are quite beyond me, I failed to put in an actual picture of the BBQ in the original post so I’m changing to this picture. There were about 5 plates of meat we consumed, but there was only ONE GRILL, but the food came with our accommodations so I guess I couldn’t complain. Besides, the meat was juicy and delicious, so worth the wait.


I also went over to Tsukuba for a festival and got to see a giant, robot bug.

Tsukuba bug bot.jpg

By the way, the fact that Japan makes giant robots just for fun? Yeah, don’t %$#@ with Japan. Just. Don’t.


Tsukuba is a huge science and engineering city. Every year they have this annual science fair like festival showing off things like the bug and other robotic tech. It’s pretty cool!


Anyway, I also hit up the Space Museum and the Geological Museum while I was up there.

Tsukuba Space Shuttle.jpg

Tsukuba Space Museum

Next time, I’m going to take the park tours and go up Mt. Tsukuba (Tsukuba-san!) I also go up to Mito every other weekend. Sometimes it’s for business trips, and sometimes it’s for fun.


See what I mean by pick a topic and stay on topic? I was trying so hard to cover everything that I didn’t really give all these events the proper time they deserved to really discuss them at length.

Tsukuba’s Space Museum is a great tour that goes on a detailed timeline about Japan’s astronauts and the Japanese space aviation industry. If you’ve got kids who love space, take them here if at all possible. They will love it. If you love scientific things in general, the festival is full of cool things to check out.


A couple of weeks ago I did another homestay. I say another because I did two last year. So, this makes my third host family in Japan. I like them a lot! The mom and dad were so nice, and tried their best to speak English. The daughter is so cute! She spoke the most English, so she and I talked the most. I plan to go back up to Mito soon and visit them again. I’m bringing gifts because it’s my host sister’s birthday soon!

We went together to Hitachi Seaside Park for the flowers, but we kind of went during the off season so my pictures didn’t turn out as vibrant as the ones in the tourist brochures.

Hitachi Seaside Park 1.jpg

Still pretty neat though!

Hitachi Seaside Park 2

No, I don’t care how “cute” and “romantic” anime portrays these death wheels. Just no!

Hitachi Seaside Park 3.jpg

The bell people rang is for peace and serenity. 


Oh the Mito host family, uh…The parents were nice, but super awkward. The daughter was,well, she was a doll otaku. She collected dolls, spoke through them, and I just…I didn’t know how to describe that whole experience, so I chose to focus on the park. Sometimes that can happen with host families, and even though I tell everyone to try them out, I always forewarn that sometimes you might not mesh with the people. That’s okay, don’t worry, the experience can still be…noteworthy.


Alright, so I’m having fun and keeping myself busy (believe me), but I’m still feeling down. The thing is I think all the little things just keep piling up. It’s a chore to go shopping sometimes. I have to look up what sometimes looks like in Japanese before I buy it, and even then, sometimes the font is just so hard to read. I feel illiterate, and I suppose I am in a way. I can’t read so much of what’s around me. It’s frustrating and disheartening. Usually I can figure it out and move on, but sometimes I just have to sigh and give up. I hate giving up, but bashing my head against the language barrier won’t do me any good either.

That’s another thing. The barrier can sometimes be more of a Great Wall of Misunderstanding. Luckily, my Japanese English teachers and I can get our messages across, but then I’ll have the wonderful experience of flinging words at this invisible force field that’s suddenly flung between us by some bored deity with too much time on his or her hands. I’ll say something, and the teacher will just look at me like I’ve suddenly began dancing instead of talking. I go through different, simpler ways of saying what I said before, but somehow that only makes it worse. Add about ten minutes later, my very large vocabulary suddenly seems useless, a little bit of hair pulling later, and then the light bulb finally goes off. Or, it can happen the opposite way, wherein the teacher’s trying to convey something and I just don’t get it. When the light bulb goes off for me, I usually feel like an idiot for not getting it the first time.


The language barrier wasn’t actually the problem, but that’s what I was clinging to as the excuse for how I was feeling so frustrated. I was just exhausted with living in a completely different environment with completely different people. I went from being the senior in university that knew everyone and everything around me to being the youngest teacher in the school who didn’t know anyone or anything. It’s a lot to try and get used to, and it can take a toll.


I love my teachers, though. They’ve been good to me, and they’ve taken care of me whenever I’ve needed help. I’m very grateful to them. I’m good friends with some of them, and I hope that I can eventually communicate without being so ridiculously impaired by ignorance.

Well, this post is turning out a little more angsty than I’d like. The thing is, as much as I complain, I get to say I’m homesick…IN JAPAN! It’s the trump card. I use it for everything. For example, when I get lost, I just remind myself that I’m lost IN JAPAN! And it makes everything seem a little better. I still love this country, even if it’s lacking in the Halloween spirit to me, that’s because it’s just not a part of the culture. It’s a part of mine, and I intend to spread it’s gruesome awesome all over my classrooms. Mwahahahaha!!!

Okay, I’m determined to make it happen.

That’s my life right now. I’ll try to be better about posting, but as I mentioned before, I’m awful at journals and blogs. I’ll try my best to remember.

TTYL!


Actually, Halloween is now gaining more and more traction in Japan. People are doing more Halloween parties and such, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out as much.

So yeah, if you ever feel like starting up a blog, try to pick a topic and write about only that topic. Don’t think that you need to talk about everything all at once. Your audience will thank you for it.

See you next week on Friday for another flashback!

Posted in flashback friday, Uncategorized

Flashback Friday: First Post In Japan!

When I first got to Japan, it took me over a month to actually get the courage to write a blog. Most people think it’s easy to just throw words out there and see what happens, but I was scaredWhat if nobody likes it?! What if I suck at this? Shoud I even bother?

But with the encouragement of my family and friends, I did in fact put it out there for the world to see. Honestly, it didn’t really go into a lot of details, because I was so scared of hurting someone’s feelings or making someone angry if I mentioned something about them in the post. Now that I know these people, I don’t think they’d be too upset about me telling a few additional things here.


WELCOME TO JAPAN!

Ibaraki Prefecture Group A.jpg
Ibaraki Prefecture: Group A

I’ve heard it so many times and it never gets old. I’m still so excited to be here! Everyone in my city is so nice and helpful. I’m glad I ended up in a place that’s more rural than urban. I’m not a fan of big cities. I like looking out onto the rice fields and just feeling so relaxed. I couldn’t have ended up at a better place for me.


Oh boy, Itako-shi was a great city, don’t get me wrong but past me couldn’t have known that it would also begin to feel really isolated after about the fifth month mark. I didn’t really have a lot of people around me who I just, ya know, really clicked with. The few people I did lived far away, so I’d have to either go up to Mito to see them or Tsukuba or something. It wasn’t as perfect as I made it out to be, but I suppose I just didn’t really know anything else to compare it to.

To just add on a few things I failed to mention the first time around, Group A was a fantastic group. I’m still in contact with most of these people, even though many of them left Japan and returned to their homelands. We had a mixed bag of a photography major, a chemistry major (who I think was still getting her masters at that time?), philosophy, and so on. Two of my friends, I’ll call them J and C, still live in Japan and I meet up with them sometimes. You can really make long lasting and strong connections with your group, and then it got even better with the following groups B & C. Get to know them at the JET training conference, because you’ll be seeing them a lot and also because you’ll want to make an ex-pat social life circle starting from there.

There’s this rumor that circulates around about the JET Programme that you need Japanese to get a leg up on the competition, but that’s just not true. I hold these guys and gals don’t get angry with me for saying so, but only three people in that first picture could speak Japanese (at first, I mean). Later on we would all learn and study Japanese in Japan.


Lauren Parker
From left to right: Ikeda-san, me, and Lauren

And I couldn’t have lucked out with a better predecessor. Lauren Parker lived in Itako for three years before I came along, and she got the apartment all prepared for me. She even put up pictures and things so the walls didn’t seem so bare. Since she and the Board of Education furnished the apartment, I didn’t have to buy anything when I arrived. Many of the other ALTs did, poor things, but I didn’t!


Lauren was an amazing pred. She set up so much for me, took me to a bunch of social gatherings so I’d make connections, she introduced me to my schools. Yet, that whole experience was overwhelming. I was getting shuttled here, then there, getting this contract signed, and then having to go meet a whole bunch of new people every night, and I ended up having a huge migraine one day, and the night the picture below was taken I balled my eyes out in a mini-breakdown on the car ride home. It wasn’t her fault, not at all, just be aware that going abroad just on its own can be stressful and then all the prep work to live there will compound that stress. I survived, and looking back there really isn’t much I’d change, because all of that was imporant to do.

Also, I was really lucky with my apartment set-up. The city paid for the rent, so I just paid utilities. Many JETs got subsidized housing, but not completely paid for kind of places. It was a pretty spacious 2DK with a full kitchen, which meant having people over for dinner and spending the night was no big deal.

However, the place was old, as in it needed new tatami, it needed new work done on the walls, someone should’ve come in to insulate the windows better, it was just kind of always grungy no matter how much I cleaned and cleaned it. So I, honestly, gave up one year into it and started putting carpets over the floor and covered the walls with pictures and posters to just make it look less so.


 

Cultural Festival with Lauren
I also met my Japanese teacher, Yamada-sensei! She’s between Lauren and me. 

The teachers I’ll be working with at Hinode and Itako 2nd Junior High School seem pretty cool. They’ve asked me to help out with activities during the summer, and I’m glad. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t help out. I find that I spend my free time just kind of being lonesome in my apartment, and that can’t be healthy. I’ve tried to be more outgoing after school, but it’s hard. I don’t know who to call, when it’s okay to call, or what the proper etiquette is over here. I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.


Just for future reference to future JET and incoming to Japan people, if you get a number and someone tells you to call them “anytime,” they generally mean it. Go ahead and call, the worst thing that can happen is they’ll say no. Making new friends in a new environment is important, and just getting to know the area is good too. If you’re finding yourself “lonesome,” then go take a walk. Get familiar with your surroundings. Be proactive when you’re abroad!


Settling in has been pretty easy, all things considered. My shipped box came in earlier than I thought it would with everything intact. The apartment’s really starting to feel more like home. I want to add more things, like more bookshelves, but I have to wait and get a car first. I need a car for where I live. It’s just too spread out for me to bike everywhere. I enjoy biking, but the convenience of a car is nice, not to mention safer than biking on these broken roads.

The area specifically where I live in Hinode got hit hard by the earthquake. Hinode Junior High School, one of the two junior high schools where I will work for Monday through Friday, actually had the ground around it drop a few feet. The roads used to be smooth and flat, but now they’re bumpy and out of alignment. When I bike I have to be careful of the cracks and crevices, and also spiders. There are lots of spiders here and they are not afraid of putting their webs right a human face distance from the ground, unfortunately.


My shipped box was basically a bunch of shoes and jeans that I’m ever so glad arrived when it did, because dear Jesus my shoe size doesn’t exist here. I’m a female with 10 and a half wide feet. Yeah, it’s a nightmare shopping for shoes in America, and hell in Japan with all the woman having the daintiest tiny feet!!!

Also, poor younger me, those jeans weren’t going to fit in only six months. I lost A LOT of weight shortly after those pictures were taken, and it wasn’t until I went back home in December that I got clothes that fit me again. This is a fairly common thing for ex-pats that come to Japan, they generally loose about 5 pounds in one year, but I lost about 9 in six months. I had to keep wearing them regardless because the clothing stores here aren’t kind to busty bodies.

I really confused as to why I didn’t put up a picture of the earthquake damage. I mean, I had pictures but I guess I must’ve just forgot to put them in, so here:

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I also neglected to mention that when I first moved in, there was still a water advisory for the area to not drink the tap water. I would have to either buy water from a convenience store down the street or bike all the way to grocery store and back for free water. I asked my teachers if it was safe if I just boiled the tap water, but they shook their heads and told me no. For some reason, showering in it was fine? I don’t know. Long story short, I ended up biking at least once a week (if not two or three) which is probably the main reason I lost weight.

By the way, I ended up having a pet spider named Bob, but he’s in another post.


I’ve had communication issues. I came over with only the basic Japanese skills, enough to basically be an annoying tourist. When it comes to reading and writing, I know Hiragana and Katakana. It’s useful, but Kanji exists. Kanji and I are not friends. I want to learn all the characters so bad, but I can’t seem to keep anything in my head since I came over. I think I might just be out of practice, but it’s also probably got something to do with stress. I’m hoping that when I get more of a routine down things will start to stick.

Still, I think the language barrier is aptly named. Sometimes, not very often but often enough to make me feel dumb, this invisible wall comes up between me and other people. Nothing is getting through and I really need to say something important, but I can’t get the message sent out and then received. It sucks! I hate feeling helpless, and a language barrier can definitely make me feel very much so. It only lasts maybe about two minutes in a conversation, but it leaves a bad kind of aftertaste in my mouth, like the words I couldn’t say are bitter. I really hope that as my language skills increase, the barriers will decrease.


Oh my God, Kanji and I still aren’t friends! How little has changed in that regard. I, of course, can read and write a lot more now than then, but it’s not easier to study in the slightest for me. I have a tough time with it, which just makes me all the more determined to learn it, though.

Also, younger me won’t realize until later that the language barrier can be greatly overcome with gestures. I talk more with my hands now than ever before, because it really helps both me and the people I’m talking to understand what I’m saying. If all else fails, getting a picture of the thing I want on my phone is also fine, or drawing it when I’m desperate. It can feel really hard when people don’t understand you, but don’t be afraid to use something other than just words to get your point across.


I don’t think the small town celebrity status will ever change. It’s odd to walk around and feel trapped in my own skin. I mean, I don’t want to change or anything, it’s just I’m really aware of the fact now that I’m Caucasian. When I get on the train, I hear the whispers of, “Gaijin!” and I see people pointing and staring at me as if I really am an alien. Also, I’ve never been winked at by so many guys until I came over here. I swear! I’m not that attractive, but apparently that doesn’t matter. It’s kind of nice, I mean, I’m flattered. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m here to work, not date.


Hahahahahahaha! Alright, so if you’re not someone who lives in Japan, this might seem really arrogant and dumb. You might be thinking, “How can you know they were talking about you?!” And the answer to that is, I’d be the only foreigner in my shopping mall, on my street, on the trains, all the time! Eyes followed me everywhere! But then at some point my town did in fact kind of accept me as a strange part in their background and stopped commenting all the time. Every time I move, though, the same thing happens. I get “small celebrity” status for about six months, and then everyone doesn’t care so much anymore.

Younger me was also not aware that the guys were just excited to see one young and single woman in the area, because most of Itako is made for married people with kids. Singles aren’t numberous, and ironically enough, it’s one of the reasons I ended up leaving. When I finally wanted to date, I couldn’t, so I decided to move somewhere that I could.


Although, I’ve got to admit I love the Japanese business men. Not the shady ones, but you know the black suit with the black tie. I think it’s hot. I don’t know why, I just kind of do. Speaking of hot Japanese men, I’m apparently a fan of Jun Matsumoto. I really liked Shin Sawada in the drama Gokusen. For some reason, it never occurred to me that Matsumoto Jun is Matsu Jun from Arashi. I’ll go ahead and admit I’m not a huge Arashi fan or JPOP fan in general. Arashi is okay, but I really don’t love the music. I’ll listen to them, but they’re not my favorite. Still, I’ve got to admit I can see why girls just lose themselves over Jun-kun. He’s quite attractive (and a pretty good actor, in my opinion). So, yeah, something I discovered about myself I didn’t know. I’m apparently Team Jun.

Anyway, I think I’ve run out of steam. It’s my first blog post in a really long time. This time I hope I keep it up. I’m not very good at keeping blogs updated, so we’ll see how it goes. Hope you all enjoyed my ramblings!

TTYL!


I stand by all my words about the attractiveness of both men in business suits and MatsuJun. Don’t even play with me on the man, he’s my future fantasy husband.

Hold up, what game are you playing younger self? “My first blog post in a really long time?” I must’ve either meant my long defunct Live Journal or MySpace “blogs,” but either way, that’s hilarious. I also really, really thought TTYL was gonna be my like sign off catchphrase thing, but no just no.

This has been the first ever Flashback Friday article! I’ll be doing these every Friday until I run out of old posts from the old blog…although by then I might do flashbacks from this site instead, I don’t know we’ll see how this goes. Until next week!

 

Posted in YouTube Videos

Tokyo Station (VLOG)

I made this video as I was running to go catch a train, so it’s not the prettiest thing ever. I’m tinkering around with editing and songs and such, so I hope I’m slowly improving over time. If you have any requests for what you want to see, feel free to put it in the comment section!

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Years Later: Reflections on March 11th

Today, Japan and its citizens stopped at 2:46 p.m. for a moment of silence. It was the same time when the great Tohoku Earthquake struck five years ago. The earthquake caused a tsunami, which in turn made the Fukushima Dainichi Reactor go into meltdown. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, over 18,000 lives were lost, and the damage dealt then still hasn’t been fully repaired.

 

I came to Japan in July of that same year. When I arrived in Itako, so many of the roads were cracked, shifted sideways, or in waves. The school across the street from me had a long crack up the side still being repaired. Most of the buildings in the area dropped an inch into the ground after the earthquake hit; due to the rice farming, the entire region was so soft underneath the ground just gave way.

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A sidewalk pushed up by the earthquake. The road used to be a straight line, not a curve. Notice the poles about to fall over. 

For a month or so, if I wanted clean water to drink and cook with, I’d have to bike all the way out to the supermarket to get water. I’d fill it up and lug it home with the groceries in a backpack killing my shoulders. The whole time I was doing it, I knew I was lucky because so many others were facing he grief of losing family, friends, and homes. I just had to do some exercise. Nothing I experienced could even come close to that kind of awful.

I was amazed at how resilient my Japanese co-workers and students were about everything. Even though their country just went through something terribly traumatic, they were still able to work forward towards getting back to normal. My teachers often praised me for coming to Japan after the earthquake, calling me brave, but I feel like my boarding a plane and their surviving a natural disaster weren’t comparable.

My students just rolled with the aftershocks, of which there were many in the year to follow, even if they sometimes needed to hold my hand when a big one struck during class. They’d still move on, go to the next class, keep trucking through. I really admired all of them for being so strong, even if they didn’t think of it.

Over the three years I lived there, I watched as everything slowly transformed. The roads around my apartment were done one at a time, painstakingly thorough in trying to make them straight again. You’d never know that the buildings are two inches shorter with all the stairs and foundations redone. When the construction finally died down, everyone relaxed and got into a groove of normalcy again. The cracks in the buildings and the psyches became faded lines that you had to look for, and if you weren’t looking you wouldn’t even see them at all.

Fukushima hasn’t been so lucky. Many people there are upset that the government isn’t doing enough in Fukushima. Many residents cite radiations concerns as their number one issue, since they fear with the decontamination not yet complete they and their families are in danger. Also, a complaint that pops up every other month is that the evacuees are still not given their stipends by the government for being forced to evacuate. Safety and money are in small supply for them.

I did some small volunteer efforts around Ibaraki, mostly just helping cleaning and such. I always meant to go up to Fukushima to volunteer, but I was told that most of the volunteer tourism was becoming a hindrance for people living there. Instead, I donated clothes and food, sometimes books if I could afford the postage. At Christmas time, I would send presents to children affected by the earthquake. Little things, here and there, and I still do them when the opportunity arises. It’s easy to think that enough time has passed and since the issue is no longer covered in the national news that the problem must be solved, but that simply is not the case.

Even though it’s been five years, the recovery and rebuilding efforts continue in all the affected areas. Every day people are continuing to help out those who lost so much. If you wish to donate, please consider giving to the JET’s Rally Cry for Tohoku. One JET teacher, Taylor Anderson, died in the disaster and her family set up an education charity in the hopes of aiding all the people who have lost so much. Just $25 can help provide living expenses for students through the YMCA. Honestly, there is still so much to do but with donations, money, and supplies given to the displaced residents, perhaps they can start to live securely again.


Cover photo credit: Japan Today| Reuters photos

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Japan Won’t Solve Student Loan Woes

I live with over $50,000 in student loan debt. I’m the national average for an American undergrad in terms of student loans, so I know for a statistical fact that I’m not the only person out there struggling with this weight on my shoulders. Before I came to Japan, one of the “selling points” for the JET Program I heard about was that many people throughout the years managed to pay off their student loans. I figured if I was thrifty I ‘d at least manage to get some of it paid off.

In the first year, man I had it so good. The yen was strong, so when I sent money back I paid more in US currency than yen. I could travel, never worry about when or if I’d have to buy be careful about money. The second year, the yen got a bit weaker, but I still managed to make regular payments. Then a recession hit, the yen’s value went down, and I found myself starting to struggle.

Fast forward to this week, where I’m struggling to pay just regular bills some months. I went into a forbearance, my second or third one in the past year. I sat down and calculated, and realized with sickening clarity that the forbearances put me right back at square one. It’s like I never made any payments before, mostly because of the interest rate.

When I wrote about the dispatch companies, I wanted to put out some awareness about what it means to live in Japan nowadays. The bygone eras from decades past (where people could come over, get paid  about $2,000 per month, and pay off their student loans) are gone. Dispatch companies are trying harder than ever to screw people out of money, and no one can fight the system because no one has enough money to get a lawyer, not to mention Japanese language skills.

If you live with JET for all 5 years, you might make some headway. But then like I said, as soon as you leave it the whole ballgame changes. Companies might offer subsidies for housing, might offer perks to study Japanese, but none of those perks will be enough to save up if you still have to pay for your own health insurance and pension. Then if your company is really, really awful and doesn’t pay for transportation, you might find yourself getting strapped for cash every month (especially if you like in Tokyo).

Granted, the situation is dependent on the amount of student loan debt accumulated. If you have no student loans, or loans in the low $10,000 region, then you’ll do fine. I honestly don’t know about credit card debt having never had a proper one until I moved to Tokyo, but I imagine it’s the same idea. You should be able to actually save money if you’ve got no student loan debt if you live out in the inaka areas where taxes and food is cheaper.

At the same time if you hear from an ex-pat who lived in Japan some ten years ago and tries to sell you on the idea of moving abroad to solve all your student loan problems, take into account that the times have changed dramatically since they went to college or uni. I stay in Japan because even though I struggle some months, I still love this country and I know that I can get a stable salary out here. Returning to America would mean three part time jobs at best with an English major and Communications minor. Also, of course, I love Japanese culture, the friends I’ve made here, and the chances I have to do more than I ever dreamed of every single day.

I envy the people who came before me who managed to pay everything off, but I have to applaud them for doing it, too. Paying off those loans will be the best, for now I’ll just do what I can, and pay when I can. Maybe some day I’ll get to sing “Sallie Mae Back,” too.

 


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