I have now begun teaching at my school, and one of my fellow foreign teachers is marvelling at what I have been doing. More, what I have not been doing. I haven’t been asking questions. I have yet to have at least one question about living in Japan. The truth is I really don’t have any questions. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. What is there to question? This may seem all fine and logical now that I have an apartment and money rolling in, but when I think back, I really have never had any questions.
On our final day of training, we all had these one on one interviews with our trainers. I was curious as to what they were about, and when my name was called, I was a little nervous. When the trainer sat me down, he point-blank asked, “What are your questions about living in Japan? Ask them now.” I was somewhat taken aback, but, after pondering this order for a moment, I had to sheepishly admit that I had no questions. We just kind of stared at each other in silence for a moment, and then he let me go.
Well, maybe I did have questions, at one time. When the company first hired me on, they sent me this book called Culture Shock: Japan which was all about the ins and outs of Japanese culture. As I read it, that book would instil me with nothing but fear about living in Japan. So, I’d quite often e-mail Chuck and quite simply ask, “How true is this stuff?” More often than not, Chuck would say, “It’s not true at all.” So, I guess that would be the only true question I’ve had about working in Japan. “How true is the Culture Shock book?”
After a while, I can’t help but question my lack of questions. How come so many of my compatriots are filled with questions about the simple workings of living here, while I have not a one? What makes me so different from them? When I hear them talk, about their desires to learn more about Japanese culture, to climb Mount Fuji, to get enough money to pay off their student loans, I can’t help but admire the nobility of their goals. And that’s when it occurs to me. Suddenly, I realize why I have no questions about being here.
I have no goal.
Not a one. Not a single thing I want to accomplish in this country. I came here because it was time to get out of Extra Evil and try something new. So, I applied, got the job, and here I am.
There are those who came because they want to learn more about Japanese culture. While that is a very noble and admirable thing, I’ve never had much more than a passing interest. There are those who came to climb Mount Fuji. While that is admirable, I’ve climbed the Whistlers in Jasper National Park. Well, true that tramway took my 9/10 of the way, but from what I gather, there’s busses that’ll take you 9/10 of the way up Mount Fuji, too. And of course, there are those who came, quite simply, to “bang hot Asian chicks.” Chuck has told me that many of these English teaching companies have had to turn people away because, quite simply, they state that as their goal. While I did not come here looking for love, I will not turn it away if I find it. It’s just not why I’m here. There is always the money. But money is something I’ve never worried about. My parents told me a long time ago that you should always put half of your paycheque into a savings account. And that’s what I do. So, money is there when I need it, and when I don’t, it piles up.
(Well, there is that student loan debt hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles, but, I only worry about that every six months: when my interest relief expires. I’ve still got to December. And by then, I should be established enough to start paying it off. Again, no worries.)
So, here I am, in Japan with not a thing to do. All I have is the job. Once I sit and think about it, I start coming up with goals. I wouldn’t mind heading up north to visit Chuck and L. Everyone says I should head over to Kyoto and check it out. Someone mentioned a national park near here called Chichibu. It’s just a half an hour away by train, and makes a lovely weekend trip, I’m told. But what’s the point in travelling? As I once told Chuck about wanting to experience more of my own Canadian culture, and as I rattled off the places I wanted to visit, he said, “Well, now, you’re not really experiencing the culture. You’re just seeing stuff.” And that’s all I’d be doing: seeing stuff. Would it really be productive to be nothing more than a tourist in my off hours? I mean, I have a job to do, people.
(And, of course, the vain egotist in me says that Chuck and L could just as easily come here and visit me, but I shouldn’t pull such a power trip. If I want them to come and visit, I should just extend an invitation, and then nag them into acceptance.)
And there in lies a tragic flaw: the job. Because I have no goal, I find the only thing keeping me in this country is the job. I’ve only been doing it for a week, and already I’m plagued with guilt because I’m sitting here at home, writing a column, when I could just as easily be writing a lesson plan. But I’m at home! Why should I have to work at home? A job should only take up about 8 hours of your day (or, if my first week was any indication, 10 hours). As I’ve said in columns prior, once your job becomes you’re life, well then, a part of you has died. The sad truth is I need a goal, if for no other reason than to get me out of the office.
So what could my goal be? I mean, being a tourist isn’t so bad. There are things in this country that I may never get another chance to see. Let see the frozen north that Chuck and L call home. (Although, I do have trouble reconciling that the island of Hokkaido is Japan’s “frozen north” when it’s about as far north as Vancouver.) Lots of my fellow trainees are now in the Tokyo area. Let’s go to Tokyo Disneyland some weekend! And who needs big things? I find my life now is starting to be dominated by little goals, like getting a phone, and straying away from McDonald’s to find some good noodle places. I’m sorry, ramen places. There’s another goal: learning the language. And then, there’s always finding a toy store so I can sell Japanese toys on eBay. Do you know how much those go for in North America?
I may not have any grandiose plans or far reaching goals, but they come. As long as I approach each day with an open mind and an adventurous spirit, the goals will come. And with the goals will come the questions. How do I get a phone? How do I get a train ticket to Sapporo? (I’m sorry, I’m going by train. You want to see a country, you ride the rails.) What should my book be about? The questions are coming. And when they do, my co-workers won’t be able to get me to shut up.