In a few weeks I will have been living in Japan for two full years. This is the longest I have stayed in one place since I was 17. In honour of this anniversary, I thought I would post my reflection on my first year of living in Japan. This post was originally published in the 2012 Welcome edition of the TRAM, Toyama AJET’s magazine/blog. (Side note: I am now an editor of the TRAM. You can check it out here!)
Confusion: My First Year in Japan
When I was asked to write a reflection on my first year in Japan I hesitated a bit. I would love to write an essay about all the things I learned and the epiphanies I experienced. However, the truth is that I really don’t know what happened that year. It whizzed by in a big ball of confusion. I don’t just mean that I was confused; I was like a host for confusion, spreading it around like a virus. Anyone in my vicinity was susceptible.
I managed to confuse the entire school during the fall term’s opening ceremony. I walked up to the microphone and started to deliver my self-introduction flawlessly. Unfortunately, it was the principal’s turn to speak. I had to return to my seat and try again a few minutes later.
Outside of school presented an entire world of bewilderment. In the winter I got influenza and went to the pharmacy to buy a thermometer. I remember standing in a feverish haze, staring at a wall of thermometers, trying to figure out which one went where. Finally, I grabbed a thermometer and approached the till. I mustered up my courage and spat out “Sumimasen… doko?” while miming placing the thermometer in my mouth and underarm. Thankfully the lovely lady at the till stopped me before I had to mime any other potential locations. Still, she looked appropriately horrified a she pointed to her underarm. I thanked her and she rang me up. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when she went home that night. You will never believe what happened to me at work today . . .
Despite the confusion – or perhaps because of it – I managed to carve out a comfortably strange niche in my school and neighbourhood. The teachers at my school were so kind after I screwed up the opening ceremony that for a few moments I actually believed it could have happened to anyone. My students were a bit more skeptical of my brand of weirdness, but I was able to win over most of them within a few conversations about K-pop or soccer. As for the pharmacy, every time I return the clerk gives me a huge smile and slips some freebies into my bag. We are basically BFF.
I would like to say that I make fewer blunders now that my Japanese is improving. However, I recently learned that I have been confusing the Japanese words for “girlfriend” and “subway” every time I used them. (No, they sound nothing alike.) So I am sure that this next year will bring with it many more grim “Meagan in Japan” stories. So it goes.