Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Fucking Christmas

I’m about to take this opportunity to ruminate on some things I hate about Japan. If you can’t handle some intense negativity, I suggest you skip this one because I’m in a really negative place right now, and even things that didn’t used to bother me much are becoming really grating. For example, I’m so fucking sick of seeing dorky white guys with cute Japanese girlfriends. I hate the smug sense of self-satisfaction on their faces as they chatter in some kind of pidgin English-Japanese with their terrible accents learned solely from anime and making out: “Tabenai, Yuko? Pizza ga suki?”

And those girls wearing giant puffy coats with shorts up to their asscheeks. It’s freaking cold, man. Put on some pants. I get it, though, they don’t have boobs and they have to show something, and they also have nerve damage from years of wearing school uniforms that expose their bare legs to the elements. But they should at least have the good sense to not look amazed and ask me if I’m cold if I happen to be wearing something short-sleeved under my coat.

At the moment, my major point of irritation is the fact that I live in a society that works six days a week and shops on the seventh. On Sunday, traffic is impossible anywhere near a shopping center. And it’s especially bad now because it’s Christmas, and television tells them they should be buying stuff for some reason. Not gifts for your family or anything, just general consumerism. I don’t get Christmas here. Everywhere you go, there are Christmas lights and creepy Santa dolls, Christmas carols playing on the radio, employees wearing Santa hats, but it’s completely meaningless. I’m not a religious person, and I don’t mind that they don’t know that the day is supposed to commemorate the birth of Christ. Honestly, I’m a cynical piece of shit, and I kind of dislike Christmas. I can’t get into the cheesy songs, the rampant clichés, the terrible television. So much about Christmas inspires so much crap. Of course, there’s the BUY THINGS! BUY THINGS NOW! spirit that’s also kind of sickening. But all of the Christmas stuff that goes on in America at least is in anticipation of the one day that we spend with our families, and exchange hopefully thoughtful gifts. In Japan, it’s not in anticipation of anything. Most people aren’t even sure what day it is, but when it happens, they may or may not eat cake. I’ve also heard it’s a popular date holiday, like Valentine’s Day, but I’ve never met anyone around here who observes it like that, and some of them aren’t even familiar with that way of celebrating it at all. They’re obsessed with Christmas around here, with no substance to back it up, just because they think all the things I find cheesy and obnoxious are fun.

Before you peg me as a total hater, I should tell you that I love Thanksgiving. I like the idea of being with your family and eating good food. I’m also a firm believer in being good to people, no matter what time of year it is. That’s why it kind of bugs me that people think they need Christmas as an excuse to be nice. Just be nice. I know the stress and the consumer frenzy often bring out the worst in people, but at least there’s the idea that you should be nice. In Japan, I don’t think that idea is there. You should buy things, because there’s a sale, but I don’t think you give them to people. I never thought I would find myself actually missing the spirit behind Christmas, but damn. They take all the shit and garbage of Christmas, puke it out over the shopping centers, and ignore the nice bits like not laying people off right before the holidays. Happy Santa Tree to you too, assholes.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Before, During, After: Part Two, now with a surprise ending

In light of recent events having nothing to do with my family, this is section that I have the least tolerance for writing at the moment. I could go on and on about the events of my family visiting if I were in a more neutral state, and hopefully when there’s a bit of time between me and these events, I will. But now, this section with all the cute cultural mishaps, the whole, “Oh, Japan is so crazy and lovable” shtick that’s been beaten to death since the late eighties, this is what I can't I bring myself to write.

It has the family reacting to me having Japanified myself without realizing it:

“Why are you always covering your mouth and giggling now?”

“I do not!”

“And you apologize all the time.”

It has me realizing how weird common things in my daily life are, like people wearing surgical masks on the street, the occasional woman walking around in kimono, teams of employees shouting “Irasshaimase!” at you as soon as you walk into their business establishment, and removing or changing your footwear multiple times a day in front of seemingly arbitrary thresholds. Also inviting people you just met to hang out bare-ass naked with you in a hot spring.

It has adorable experiences of my family visiting my pre-school classes. The one to two year old class, as soon as they saw three extra foreigners in the room, backed against the wall and stared in silent horror, and not even a round of the Hokey Pokey could bring them out of their shell. I advised my mom and sisters to take off their large coats to demonstrate they weren’t concealing tentacles or extra legs. The kids were probably intimidated by the number of them, because my family managed to leave relatively unmolested. Except Shunsuke grabbed my mom’s crotch.

It has everyone we randomly encountered being so delighted to see us. The little pottery village woman explained the designs of her plates with the few English words she knew: “Rabbit. Moon.” Then she sent us away with a ton of free stuff. Generally we went away from every local shop or stall we visited with free things, tea, our pockets filled with sweets and mikan. And my co-workers, my Japanese friends, my clients were so fucking kind. There were gifts and favors and flattery, and invitations to children’s weddings that were still at least ten years away. It was the kind of warm, fuzzy experience that reminded me why I loved Japan.

But it all quickly came to an end.

My action-packed week left me exhausted, and the night they left I came down with something bad. I don’t know what it was exactly. Cold-like symptoms. Nausea. Dizziness. Fever. But it was so bad I spent all of the next day in bed shivering and sweating and crying. In Japan, if you have any kind of ailment, it usually gets prompt and obsessive attention from your co-workers, who will likely call it a cold and ask if you’ve been to the hospital yet.

Colin told me that at his school, there’s a chart of all the absences due to illness for each day. Every absence is either categorized as cold or influenza, as if no other conditions existed. His theory was that any mild illness is considered a cold, while a more severe illness is considered influenza.

What I had certainly wasn’t a cold, so I made the mistake of calling it influenza when I mailed my Japanese tutor that morning to cancel our lesson. I hoped by the beginning of classes at five, I would be able to teach, but at around one I decided that was probably impossible and explained the situation to Yoshiko in a mail, once again foolishly invoking the “I” word.

A sidenote: I’ve had to call in sick three times in the past year and a half that I worked here. For a normal job, that sounds like a lot, I suppose. But each time was an extreme circumstance, and when you keep in mind that I teach different people every day of the week, it means I’ve never canceled on any class more than once. And one of those times, Sayaka reduced me to tears as I was calling in and I had to beg her to let me go home. She called me back a few minutes later to tell me that the mothers of my students were angry with me. Lots of crying in this entry. But lots of crying in this job, I guess.

Anyway. By the next day, I was feeling significantly better but still crappy. That’s when the calls started. Everyone was freaking out about my condition and wondering if I was still able to work, asking, “But how do you really feel?” I foolishly thought that this was because they were actually concerned about my health, and eventually admitted that I still felt pretty bad. Sayaka talked me out of doing my four o’clock, and told me that with influenza, you have to take three days to a week off. I sighed and rued the moment of cloudy judgment that I typed those words.

When she asked if the doctor had given me medicine, I responded, “I didn’t go to the hospital.”

“You didn’t go to the hospital!?!” She gasped at the other end of the line. My heart jumped a little at the angered incredulity in her voice.


“Then how do you know you have influenza!”

“Because of the symptoms.” My voice was losing strength, and I knew I was in trouble.

“The what?”

“The symptoms, um, the way I feel, the um,” I struggled to try to explain the word, but she interrupted me.

“Please go to hospital. If the doctor say you have influenza, you can’t work tomorrow.”

So I went to the stupid country hospital in my town, paid a thousand yen to have the doctor take my temperature and tell me that I don’t have influenza. I mailed Sayaka the news, and told her that I thought I felt strong enough to do my last class, which was an adult class and didn’t involve any singing or dancing or dealing with unruly fourth graders, but what will we do about the other two classes? I asked this thinking that we could reschedule them or just skip them since they’re my boss’s kids and their friends, so they don’t bring in any money anyway. Her response was, “Since you’re fine, please come.” That left me little choice.

A few days later, after Colin’s constant insistence I mailed Yoshiko to check up on the renewal of my visa, since it expires in early January and we suspected she had done nothing to move the process forward. In the past, she had given me plenty of guilt trips about how much money I’m costing them and how we all have to make sacrifices. But when I met her in September or October to discuss the status of the visa next year, expecting another guilt trip or reluctance, she instead acted like there was no issue at all and we would start the renewal process around November. Anyway, I got no response to my very polite mail inquiring about my visa renewal. A few days later I mailed her again, asking the same thing, still with no response. Then about a week ago, a Monday, she called me, asking if we could have a meeting at 2:00 the next day. I told her I had a class at 2:40, but she said that it was fine, it would only take thirty minutes.

At that time, Yoshiko and Sayaka told me that immigration had become strict, and you had to prove that you’re paying your foreign worker a living wage, so they can’t afford to sponsor me, or any other foreign worker.

“Until the end of December you’re still an Educo employee, so please do your best!” Sayaka said.

I listened to them being awkward for a while, and when Yoshiko asked if I had anything to say, I told her, “I wish you would have told me this two months ago so I would have had time to find another job.”

To which she told me there are no other jobs, which is a complete lie. There would have been other jobs a few months ago, when I still had a year to commit to one. They’ve completely screwed me over, and I’m angry with myself for trusting them. Yoshiko always showed an almost overbearing maternal concern for her employees’ well-being, so I didn’t expect their assholishness to reach this level. She’s left me without a visa, without a job, and with no chance to find one before my current visa expires. I should have known that with the many creative and passive-aggressive ways they’ve managed to mistreat me over the past year and a half, that they would have no problem doing this to me. I ended up tolerating it because of my students, and now I’m losing them too.

My plan is to try to stay in the country until August, and take as many students as I can with me when I leave Educo. I know for a few of my classes, it’s very important to the students to be taught by a native speaker. The ones who don’t have a long relationship with Yoshiko will continue with me. But I expect to lose at least half of my classes, if not more. The same students and families who readily took me in and made me feel welcome and valued and stuffed me with candy and gifts every week will readily cast me aside. Because how could they side with a temporary foreigner over their prolonged business relationship? After all, it’s just common procedure to treat your foreign teacher in such a way. It doesn’t mean anything.

I realize that this entry has completely devolved into an artless, semi-informative realm. It’s probably too confusing to even be informative. I wanted to write about the juxtaposition between bad Japan, good Japan, and bad Japan again once my family was gone. But that was before I realized how bad it would actually get. I can’t write what I was going to write before. It would be fake and forced. I wanted to mention something about how I found myself doing the exact same annoying things that people had done to me when I first came here. I found it hard to explain what we were doing to my family, why we were driving somewhere then leaving the car at an arbitrary location, taking trains, changing cars, or what was next on the agenda because everything is so fucking complicated. Back in the day, I would have given anything for my boss or co-workers to give a single sentence of explanation of these elaborate processes so every little thing wouldn’t be completely shrouded in mystery. Like my hosts when I was new here, I stressed out, I concealed the unpleasant bits, and I did whatever I could just so my family would leave loving Japan. I had willingly participated in the façade.

And now I’m wondering where that nice Japan went.