So today was my first day of work at the new high school I’ll be teaching at this year. I felt like I was a student again, standing up in front of everyone for the first time.
I arrived early and walked into the staff room to be greeted by welcoming cries of “Ohayou gozaimasu.” I met some of the other new teachers and then we went to the main hall where they were holding the Opening Ceremony.
I stood in line with all the new teachers and then we proceeded to walk onto the stage one by one, bowing in front of the statue of Buddha with what are called Buddhist ‘rosary beads’ in our left hand. After taking our seats on the stage the Principal introduced each teacher and we bowed to the students.
Then came the part where each person walked up and introduced themselves before sitting down again. I was last and when I started to speak in Japanese, the entire hall erupted with cries of, “sugoi!” It seems my Japanese might be okay after all.
I certainly felt inspired after having so many people comment on how good my pronunciation is and also to apologise for their lack of English. There was no need to apologise; I’m in their country and therefore I have to live their way now.
Which of course, brings me to another point…
I have been struggling for months now with the concept of marriage in Japan and the lack of fidelity between husband and wife. After talking to many, many people, both Japanese and Western, male and female, I believe that a grey area does exist and my previously held view of black and white is shifting.
The history of marriage in Japan lends itself to arranged marriages and also, marriages of financial security and stability, rather than love. Although this has changed in recent times, the traditionally held beliefs of Japan still exist. It is difficult to change a society’s way of thinking when it is so ingrained and dates back to thousands of years.
My issue has been with my own views from Australia where love is the main reason people get married. As a foreigner I have brought my own values to Japan and when I come into contact with something I disagree with, I struggle with what I consider to be right or wrong. I once had a teacher who used to say, “It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it just is.” Maybe this is one such case. If it’s a commonly held belief and cultural value that marriage is not the same in one country as what it is in another country, it doesn’t mean it’s not okay.
Japan has challenged me in so many ways and I’ve grown so much as a person since being here. Of course I continue to grow and to change each day that I’m here. Change is not necessarily a bad thing and of course, it is inevitable in life. As a human being you are expected to change your views based on your experience, newfound knowledge and interactions with other people.
I have had conflicting feelings about a particular situation in my life for a few days now, but the apology from the vice principal showed me that I need to and indeed, that I want to live the way of the people in the country I now consider to be my ‘home.’
I have finally realized that I cannot continue to hold onto previously held beliefs that are no longer in line with everyone around me. In fact, the distinction between my own beliefs and those of the people around me is no longer clear. Perhaps this is because mine are changing and by trying desperately to hold onto something that no longer serves me, I am constantly feeling conflicted. For this reason I need to take a deep breath and release everything that I’m clinging to.
I don’t want to be the foreigner who judges everything and despite considering a place ‘home,’ still views things in light of, ‘me’ and ‘them.’ In order to change my views I must try to understand everything in its content. In other words, everything comes down to perception. Perception is twofold: firstly, it involves describing and then interpreting.
By reflecting on my own feelings and experiences thus far, I have come to realise that I need even more cultural flexibility than what I currently possess. A failure on my part to do this would mean that I also stop learning about myself.
Not only do I need to gain a deeper understanding of the people in Japan, I also need to understand that the meaning of words depends on culture. When we learn to speak another language, it’s also important to change our way of looking at the world around us and our way of thinking and interacting with other people.
This past year I’ve realized that even now, I am becoming someone different. The biggest problem I’ve faced and will continue to face are the limitations and restrictions imposed on me by my own culture from Australia. I am a product of the culture I was born into and grew up in and now I find myself, having to adapt even more to a new culture in the place I now consider ‘home.’