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Jason Stoffel, Teaching in Japan

Domo,

I hope this email finds everybody happy, healthy, and productive. For those of you to whom I haven't yet wished it, I hope you're having a very good new year! It's been quite a while since I sent out a large distribution email, so I figure it's about time to remind a few of you that I still exist by letting you know how life in the Orient is going.

I've now been living in Japan for six months, and it's hard to believe my time here is halfway done. Sometimes it feels like I just arrived a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, usually, I do feel as though I've been here for 6 months. Life in Japan, while still very interesting and stimulating, has begun to feel a bit more routine, and my little apartment has begun to feel a bit more like home. In fact, it's because my life has become more routine that I haven't sent a mass email in quite a while. It seems to me that you wouldn't want to read about my everyday life. After all, it isn't an adventure everyday.

However, it has recently occurred to me that while my average, everyday life here in Japan seems ordinary to me, by the standards I held 7 months ago, my mundane, everyday life may seem quite interesting when viewed from a western perspective. I live a bit of a hybrid lifestyle entailing a mixture of American and Japanese customs. So I thought in this email, I'd write not about any crazy events, festivals, trips, or weird interactions. I thought simply write about an average day in the life…

…I hope you find it interesting:

SO, I wake up every morning at about 7 am in my typical Japanese Apartment. By typical I mean tiny—a little bigger than a good sized college dorm room. As typical Japanese houses/apartments don't have central heating or insulation, my apartment is usually just a few degrees above the outside temperature, which normally is just around freezing. The pajamas I wake up in consist of flannel pants, a tee shirt, a long sleeve tee shirt, and a sweat shirt. I don't wake up in a bed, I actually sleep on a traditional Japanese futon (Did you know that futons come from Japan?)—but it's not a futon like in the United States. It's an authentic, Japanese futon: a thin mattress just big enough for one person. The futon is set out right on the floor. There is no box spring, or bed frame.

After snoozing my alarm 4 times, I finally build up the strength to get out of bed, turn on my space heater, and run to my typical Japanese shower. What makes my shower typically Japanese is the plastic stool in it. Did you know there's a whole country full of people who sit on stools while they wash in the shower? I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to standing! Once I'm all dressed and cleaned up, I leave my apartment and head down to my typical Japanese car. By typical I mean very small—a touch bigger than a VW bug.

I began leasing my car in January. I really enjoy having it. However, my first day driving was kind of nerve-racking as the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. Also, there is a lot of snow here, and the Japanese snow removal service is a far cry from Minnesota's ever vigilant snow removal service. While roads get plowed here, it sometimes takes days to plow the side streets, and no salt or dirt is used. Thus, the going is slow and slippery during the winter. Nonetheless, after a few days I adjusted to Japanese driving and now have no problems getting around.

After getting in my little car and driving to work, I arrive at my typical Japanese middle school. Compared to the United States, Japanese middle school is very authoritarian. The children show up a little before 8 am, and many don't leave until about 6 or 6:30 pm. Classes go until 3:15 and then, as there are no janitors in Japanese schools, all the children have to help clean the school for about twenty minutes. After cleaning time, club time starts. In Japan, every junior high student must join a club. There are various options such as band, track and field, baseball, volleyball, kendo (Japanese fencing), judo, and table tennis. Finally, when club time is over, the kids go home, eat dinner and do their homework. As most kids are given a fair amount of homework, they typically don' go to bed until around 11:30 or midnight.

Everyday at school, like the rest of the students and teachers, I eat the school lunch provided by the school district. Lunch is typically very Japanese—made up of one to four of the following courses: rice, miso soup (google miso if you're curious, it's kind of hard to explain), fish, and/or noodles. It took a while to get used to these school lunches, but now they've really grown on me. I'll miss the Japanese food quite a bit once I go back to the United States.

While at school, I'll typically teach 3-5 classes a day. The English is fairly basic. This week, my 7 th graders are learning the past tense (jump – jumped, help – helped , and the ever-tricky go – went). My oldest students, the 9th graders are fairly conversational. As I am an assistant teacher, I am not actually given a lot of responsibility, so I have a fair amount of free time. I typically spend about 2 hours a day studying Japanese. I'm now fairly conversational, and can say some relatively complex sentences. However, I'm sure my syntax and grammar are still rather atrocious. I'm also slowly becoming literate in Japanese. Over the past month I've begun studying the 3 rd Japanese writing system, Kanji. For most Japanese people, it typically takes about 10 years to become literate to a advanced degree in kanji. However, by fifth or sixth grade, most are literate enough to read most popular literature. Over the past few weeks, I've just about reached 2nd grade literacy. I hope to be as proficient as a fifth of sixth grader by the time I leave.

After work I often go out to eat with friends. I typically eat sushi about once a week. Other than the many Japanese style restaurants, my city has a small handful of western restaurants as well. If we eat at a western style restaurant, we sit at tall tables, and occasionally even use silver wear. However, if we go to eat Japanese food, we can be sure we'll using chopsticks and sitting on the floor on tatami mats. These are soft mats made of reeds. Did you know there's a whole country full of people who traditionally sit and eat at tables that are knee high?

And, finally, after dinner I'll head back to my apartment, turn on my space heater, and read, watch a Little Japanese TV, or email for the rest of the night.

So there you have it, a typical day in the life of the Takanosu junior high school assistant English teacher. All in all, not a bad life. I hope it was somewhat interesting!

As far as other news, I went to Thailand over winter break. It was very nice to get leave the cold winter and head to the tropics for a while. I spent a week in Bangkok and a week at the beach. Bangkok was a zoo, and very cheap, and very exciting. The beach was beautiful and very relaxing. The trip was a nice refresher.

Well, as you're probably not reading any more, I'll cut this email off here.

I hope all is well with you,

I've attached a couple photos so that you can see some of the things I'm writing about, I hope you enjoy them,

Feel free to write back and let me know how life's treating you,

Jya Mata Ato De,
Jason