In Japanese public schools, the children and teachers clean the school. In the U.S.A. janitors are hired to do this job instead. In Japanese schools the teachers generally visit different classes however in the U.S.A., the students generally visit different classrooms. American students use lockers to store the books that they are not using at that time, but Japanese students keep these materials in their homeroom classroom. Japanese students have one lunch time, eat all together (all the grades) but sit with their homeroom class, adhere to strict garbage separation standards and are on a very timely routine. For example, You must take the labels off of bottles and dispose of the wrapping, rinse the bottles, and then put the cap in a separate place! American students eat at different times (according to their schedules), buy the school lunch or bring their own, eat with their friends, throw all the garbage in one bin (sometimes recycling bins are used, sometimes not) and are not in a hurry to finish eating. Japanese students have a morals class, where in the U.S.A. I have not found this to be offered on the public school level.
I introduced myself during the faculty meeting, and soon after began teaching. I found myself really enjoying the work because the students were and are so excited to see and talk to me every day! I am quite motivated to teach them English because they want to learn! They find my quirks and strange mannerisms amusing. Also, I am able to teach them about myself and act as a cultural ambassador, sharing US culture with them. Many of the teachers I team teach with are all for me talking about New York and so on. I get to experience many different teaching styles and produce different types of synergies with different teachers. I am also able to learn from the students! I have been able to pickup some oral Japanese, as well as learning the Japanese alphabet - hiragana and some kanji too! Along with becoming more fluent in reading and writing hiragana, I aim to increase the amount of kanji I know and learn the katakana alphabet!
I have also had the wonderful experience of getting involved in extracurricular activities. From learning the bowing ritual and the names of the throws in judo to watching an astonishing performance put on by the school band, I must say that my pride for the school and its students is soaring sky high!
I learned that volunteering my time and/or helping out with tasks is more effective in Japan then waiting to be asked to do something. I am also learning how much of a group-focused society it is here and how people really put an emphasis on working together. Thus, relationships are so important among coworkers. Such things as helping out when you are not asked to may not be verbally pointed out, but these actions are noted. It is not uncommon to stay later at work than required to get work done or socialize with coworkers. It also appears to be commonplace to strengthen relationships outside of work over dinner and such things as karaoke.
I eat lunch with all of the kids everyday and this is a great opportunity for me to work on my Japanese and help them with English. It is also a time to get to know the students on a more personal level!
Kids here are very disciplined and learn to be so at a young age. They clean the school (as mentioned earlier) and in most classes a few words are said before a bow takes place, both at the beginning and the end of the class. This is done to show respect. No kids ever play with their phones during class, nor do they go to the bathroom unless it is an absolute emergency as these behaviors are considered rude in Japan.
Communication is a challenge everyday as I am the only non-Japanese person in a school of over 700 students and 20 to 30 faculty members. Each day I am taking strides to lessen our language barrier by learning more of the Japanese language. However, the culture plays a role in our communication as well and the Japanese tend not to be as direct as Western cultures are. Thus, I hear the word "maybe" a lot more frequently than the word "no" and frequently must discern how the person with whom I am speaking feels based upon their body posture and gestures, relying sometimes less on the words than the mannerisms.
Such examples of people bringing me random gifts, printing out maps of Japan and labeling the prefectures for me, along with one coworker going so far as to buy me Japanese study materials along with a special writing pen exhibit the culture's "Kizukai" or "kindness and thoughtfulness towards others" as I would put it. On a side topic, I went for a haircut a short while ago and the gentleman took a lot of time making sure to do the best job that he could. After the haircut he covered my eardrums with a tissue while vacuuming my head for loose hairs, thinking that the noise might disturb me. Finally, after I thanked him profusely and told him what a good job he had done, he (perhaps knowing that my Japanese is not so good) gave me a "style card" which detailed the exact measurements of the haircut he had given me so that I could easily have it reproduced with little to no hassle in the future. I have never experienced so many people in one place who are so thoughtful of the feelings and concerns of others.
I believe that I enjoy the school so much because the principal is so involved in the matters of the school. Rather then solely dictating orders, he is at lunch everyday helping to collect folded up milk cartons and he was the first person I found shoveling snow the one morning that we had snow! He serves as a wonderful role model for the kids and the faculty alike. This motivates me to be more involved in my work! The faculty (along with myself) clean with the students during cleaning time, thus strengthening the relationships not only among faculty members but between the faculty and the students as well.
I am known for having my coffee with milk and sugar. Normal right? Sure, in the USA it is but try to convince the Japanese to try any coffee other than black coffee and look for the "maybe" I discussed earlier in this post. :) When I bought a carton of iced coffee with milk and sugar into the office to share with the teachers as a way of showing my gratitude towards them and their kind gifts, you should have seen the look on most of their faces when the coffee hit their lips, truly a priceless moment for me!
Lastly, I am proud to say that I have been able to improve my relationships with both the students and faculty alike by learning more of the Japanese language and more about their culture and hobbies such as reading manga and watching anime. They have seen my interest in their language and culture and in turn have become more receptive to learning more of my language and more about my culture.