I cannot believe that I’ve been in Japan now for almost three weeks. The time has flown as I’ve settled into my new life here, got back into the swing of teaching again and adjusted to working in a regular 9-6 job, something I haven’t done for two years. And of course, I’ve spent the weekends exploring my surrounds with my camera.
I’m really enjoying living in Nagoya, a clean modern city of 2 million people, approximately 2 hours south of Tokyo by bullet train. I came to Nagoya straight from Narita airport and then two days later, travelled back to Tokyo for the induction programme with the 100 or so other new teachers. Then it was back to Nagoya and time to start earning my keep.
I’m teaching at Sugiyama University – an all-girls University, and am really enjoying my students. They are so polite, they work hard and speak only in English for the entire lesson, unlike my Russian students!!! I’m teaching English Conversation classes to approximately 40 students every day, so it’s a very different type of teaching from that which I did in Moscow or Istanbul. The campus is lovely and set in a really nice part of Nagoya.
After two years living in Moscow and not teaching until late afternoon most days, I’m finding it a bit of a struggle adjusting to a job that requires my alarm to go off at 6.30am every day. Rosie (my fabulous colleague who teaches with me at Sugiyama) and I have a 15 minute walk to the subway station, then we travel by subway for 30 minutes right across the city, and after a 10 minute walk up the hill at the other end we are there. Our first class starts at 9.10am and we don’t finish until 6.10pm, although we do have some breaks during each day.
I decided it’s time to get fit again so I’ve joined the local council gym – at the grand price of NZ$18 (£9) per month. I’ve been going on alternate days after work, which means I don’t get home those days until about 8.30pm – a very long day. Friday nights have so far been spent having a drink in a Japanese bar and catching up with other Westgate teachers here in Nagoya. Bars here are different from elsewhere – you have to take your shoes off at the entrance, and you’re escorted to a little booth with a black curtain at the entrance way, where you stay all night and order drinks and food on an electronic menu.
I’m living in a small single apartment in a block that also houses 3 other Westgate teachers. My kitchen comprises a 2-burner element and a sink tucked into a recess in the entrance hallway. I don’t have any bench at all, so I have to be very strategic in preparing and cooking my meals. My bedroom is supposed to be in a loft up a ladder above the kitchen but I decided on my first day here that climbing up & down the ladder each time I got into or out of bed was asking for trouble, so I’ve pulled my futon & quilt from the loft down onto the floor in my living area.
One thing that frustrated me has been my inability to get a SIM card for my -iphone. Unless you are Japanese or living here for 12 months or longer you cannot use your smart phone . You cannot get a SIM card at all and contracts are for 12-24 months. So I decided to rent a Japanese phone in order to keep in touch with my family using SMS texts, only to find after I’d got it home, that I could not send SMS texts out of Japan. Rosie and I have discovered however, that if you pre-register, you can use wifi at Starbucks, which has meant we’ve bought far more coffees there than I’d anticipated. So I now have a Westgate phone (which can only be used to call school related numbers), an i-phone that only works if I’m in Starbucks and a rental phone that only works if I call someone locally. Grrrr….
So what are the standout features of life that I’m enjoying here so far – tiny Japanese gardens with beautiful flowers, moss and sculpted trees tucked into handkerchief sized spaces in front of houses; toilets with heated seats with music; vending machines selling cold drinks on every corner of every street; immaculately clean streets without any litter; sunny hot days with a bit of a breeze; plastic models of meals on the menu in the windows of all the restaurants, amazing sushi and other wonderful Japanese food; and so many shops in Sakae selling fabulous funky clothing.
Yes, I’m working hard, but I’m having a great time living in this fascinating country.