Friends in Hokkaido
Picture yourself in a white room, light snow outside, standing in front of a chalkboard, wearing business casual – a tie today, though, to look respectful – 8 desks, 7 uniform wearing students, a 40 year old teacher next to you, and thinking of all kinds of crazy ideas to get students excited, not just about language but about travel, culture, your own interests, and anything but the monotonous book you are paid to read out loud like a public announcement, sometimes on a daily basis.
“Make sure you say, ‘Thank You.'”
Well, you’re an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) of English in Japan. Now take this with a grain of salt, it’s one of many days an ALT experiences, but it is common to feel a bit restrained or to experience some downs.
What is not so common is the experience beyond the classroom, how people of different backgrounds find themselves in the same room, slightly different intentions but somehow they become interwoven.
“So why Japan?”
“I love the language…”
These are common answers. Another common and often brash answer that makes one want to step a bit to the side away of the person you’re talking is “the girls.”
Further answers that I think drew my group of friends together in my personal experience were answers like
In mid-winter, I sent Eric a message saying I was planning to visit his town to watch a Matsuri, or festival, called the Misogi Matsuri. 4 near-naked males, wearing only fundoshi (thickly wrapped cloth underwear), walked in snow wearing no shoes. Drums pounded, cameras flashed, and the air viciously bit at our cold cheeks. The honorary men of Kikonai, the Misogi Boys, proceeded to splash ice cold water on themselves in display of honor and, seemingly, a masculinity exhibition of mind of matter. It was a reminder that one can train the body to overcome any thing our environment or life threw at us. Eric and I watched in amazement and took a very short 1km night snow hike up the local hill. There’d be a lot more adventures to come.
Warmth of Heart and Sky
For myself, I had just decided to stop coaching with the local baseball team and take on my outdoor pursuits with some gusto. I had been an athletics coach for 9 seasons up to this point, but the Yama (mountains) were calling again. I experienced my own “culture shock” about a year prior due to parallels I was studying about the past genocide of the Hokkaido natives, the Ainu, and the native Americans.
“Does this happen worldwide?”