By Christen McGregor
It was the summer of 2005 and two of my closest friends, Walter and Chris, were to leave for Japan for two weeks. The three of us thought it would be devastating – how could we be apart for two weeks? I didn’t know then that what followed after those two weeks would change my path throughout college, and beyond.
I remember the days shortly after their return being filled with stories of visiting Lake Biwa, eating okonomiyaki (a type of Japanese pancake), and a strange encounter with police because of mistaken identity. It didn’t take long for me to become enthralled with Japan through their stories.
What resulted from their trip were many late nights at Starbucks reading and discussing Confucius Lives Next Door, an amazing book written about the culture of Japan – from taking your shoes off upon entering a house to the moral ramifications if a Japanese person decides to steal. It was captivating and I wanted to learn more. I was to start college that fall and decided to take a path similar to that of my two best friends. I enrolled in a Japanese language course and a Japanese history course. This was only the beginning.
That was seven years ago. Today I live in Shiga Prefecture, the same prefecture that houses Lake Biwa, the lake that my friends visited on their first journey. For 1.5 years I taught in Junior High. It was challenging at times, but very rewarding. I ate lunch every day with my students, a group of boys in particular I’m close with and even now try to attend most of their basketball games. Teaching itself can be difficult, especially in the extreme heat of summer and dire cold of winter but the students and faculty make the experience worth it.
Living in Japan can be rough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that it’s all cute anime and Pokémon battles every day. I have dealt with obtaining a driver’s license, moving apartments, and going to doctor appointments on my own. The language barrier can be exhausting at times, but I can see that everyone I interact with at least appreciates I’m trying to communicate with them. Becoming active in your city or a small community will make you feel like a true member of Japan’s society. Not only that, but it will give you a chance to exchange knowledge of your native culture and language while learning about Japan’s.
Christen McGregor is a Teach Away teacher in Shiga Prefecture, Japan