Eigo Kyoshi… Tan in Tokyo

Standard
008

A student named Mayu, January 1993

Someone once told me if you went traveling the world and you came home with money you did it wrong.

He clearly didn’t know me.

Or the Me of back then.

An independent, confidant, somewhat-naïve and uptight young woman who didn’t want to worry about money during the rest of her well-planned future.

024

Summer of 1992… okay, some of Me is still here now. You can’t take the Crazy out of someone.

I grew up hearing about money my entire life. I knew the value of a dollar and waitressed and coached figure skating so I could cover rent, tuition, car expenses and food.

I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a girl and we lived as cheaply as we could but I knew I wanted more out of life.

My fiancé was 20 thousand dollars in debt and I wasn’t about to marry into that. I knew we needed to make some money if we were going to have any type of chance in the world.

023

My castmates & I going out one night during my first show in southern Japan.

So I stopped school. I always knew I would return but it would be when I could afford it without having to work at the same time.

I took advantage of a good friend’s offer and packed up and joined the cast of American Ice Show at Mitsui Greenland in southern Japan.

At the time, 2 of my first cousins were living and working in Tokyo as English teachers and were doing financially quite well.

025

Embracing all that Japan has to offer! Showgirls and the owner of the bar… likely doing some John Denver or Neil Diamond…

I liked Japan from what I learned during the ice show and my cousin offered a room until I could get on my own feet so I went for it.

I flew to Tokyo on my 19th birthday in 1992 and began perusing the English newspapers and pounding the pavement looking for work.

020

My beautiful cousins, Jeff & Joanne and I at a train station in Tokyo soon after I first arrived.

My cousins helped immensely, especially without having to worry about a place to stay right off the bat and they helped guide me as to how I should portray myself.

Namely, as a 26 year old with a full teaching degree from the University of Vancouver (which doesn’t exist). I’m sure nowadays you can’t get away with that sort of thing but the Internet wasn’t available and I was keen enough to make sure I was convincing.

I phoned, I faxed resumes, I went for interviews with my briefcase, I carried maps, I got lost, I bumped into people, I got somewhat used to cramming onto a train with my body touching other bodies, I learned Shinjuku and Shibuya stations, I got lost some more but I just kept at it.

Within a couple of weeks I was working at Harmony Schools, 2 train rides from my cousin’s condo in Kami-Kitazawa.

It was a new start-up by a young man named Randy who was born in the states but had Japanese heritage. I liked Randy and I liked his ambition and I enjoyed the school.

021

Randy, myself and his girlfriend celebrating Halowe’en with Harmony Schools!

I liked the kids and I liked them covering my train pass but it wasn’t a full time gig. I wasn’t making enough yen to move out on my own.

I continued to pound the pavement and finally nailed a head teaching position with American Language Schools in Chiba (the “country”), which was 2 hours by train south of Tokyo.

The job was perfect! They had their own curriculum and textbooks, regular training with colleagues, several schools throughout the country and my own apartment within walking distance of my school!

Conpai!

002

My apartment as seen from the kitchen/bathroom/entrance/hallway area.

Now, don’t get too excited. We aren’t talking fancy schmancy or anything. I was lucky enough to have a Western toilet, at least, and a TV.

Not that there were any English channels.

And not that I could follow any of the bizarre Japanese reality-type of game shows.

But I had a kotatsu table and a single futon and eventually got a wardrobe to hang my clothes in.

007

Runa (perhaps it was Luna… to this day I don’t know) and Akiko!

And I had my school! My very own school!

And I worked 6 days a week and I dressed like a business-woman and I carried that briefcase and I wrote a letter every single day to my fiancé and I met coworkers and we had a lovely receptionist and I liked my boss so much and I learned a lot about what kids went through living in the highly competitive Japanese world of the early 90s.

011

Very stressed young women trying their hardest to get into the top universities in order to be successful in life. After a few months they began to smile but they always had dark circles under their eyes. Rena, in stripes, sometimes talked about suicide.

I had a class of 3 very intelligent young women whose families paid top yen to have them be conversational in English so they could get into the best universities.

Image was everything and your family was seen as successful if your kid got into the best school. Even if she was just a girl.

010

A more relaxed class of youngsters with their geigin teacher, Tan’iya-san.

I had 2 2-year olds I played with for an hour once a week just so the children heard spoken English at that age. Even my boss, Jun thought that was a bit much but she understood it.

Jun, herself was an incredible woman. A business owner! A woman! She owned 3 ALS schools and although she didn’t speak English very well she appreciated how that limited her in life. Jun was married but I never met her husband and she didn’t talk about him unless asked.

They all knew I was engaged because I talked about it frequently and everyone knew I wrote letters home to him every day.

014

My colleague, Will, visiting our school one afternoon.

Jun encouraged her teachers to hang out so Will and Charles became very good friends of mine.

Charles was there to see the world and make some money. He visited Thailand when we were there, drank wine and was a fun influence on me.

030

Enjoying supper with the boys… I think it was Chuck’s place and his Kotatsu. There is a heater under the table. Brilliant!

Will was pretty uptight and had some anti-American angst and was extremely sarcastic. He is probably still teaching with ALS.

But they were my friends and the 3 of us had some good times together.

013

Charles & I. The boys actually got me out to do some sight seeing one rare afternoon.

And I taught and I wrote letters home and I wrote in my journal and I read all about teaching and I memorized my REM and James Taylor cassette tapes and I tried not to think about the fact I had no idea what I was buying at the grocery store and I ate a lot of donuts and drank a lot of coffee and I tried to get used to the earthquakes and I avoided eyes with my Yakuza neighbors (who were probably more scared of the little independent white girl with big round eyes than I was of them, pinkies missing and all) and I lived like that for months.

006

Jun, in the navy blazer often took her teachers out. Charles and I were the lucky ones this night.

I look back at my chubby cheeks smiling away and I know that I was happy. I was doing what I wanted to be doing and I was making the money I was there to make.

But I missed a lot, too.

I could have gone to Thailand with Chuck, it was a cheap enough flight for the weekend.

I could have gone to more events with young, male students who wanted to practice conversational English in a public setting.

And I could have tried to find parks to walk around in instead of dreary train stations or paid for cable so I could listen to someone speak English now and then (Top Gun in Japanese was hysterical, though!)

005

looking out towards Chiba city from the Tsudanuma JR train platform by my apartment

But the Me back then isn’t the Me of now.

I’m probably less confidant now. I know that things can go wrong.

That fiancés become ex’s and you maybe don’t come home with tens of thousands of dollars.

That sometimes your entire life that you have mapped out for yourself at 19 changes. The train jumps the tracks and that briefcase spills your life out on the tarmac and you’re back in Canada without a clue of what to do.

A foreigner in your own country feeling lost even though you’re surrounded by people speaking the same language.

017

Akiko, our school secretary, Jun and the cutest assistant whose name I didn’t write on the pictures seeing me off at Narita international airport.

I am who am now because of who I was back then.

I don’t necessarily miss that young version of myself. I admire her courage and her ambition.

But I wished her well when the wheels touched down in Vancouver.

026

A fun afternoon with the boys. I love Chuck’s tie!

027

Students who were in college. We were all likely the same age but remember, Tan’iya San was 26!

028

A young-looking 26!

012

Walking around Harajuku one afternoon…. Gwen Stefani nailed that place on the head!

 

029

Selfies of 1993.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Sunrise of 1993

Standard

Happy New Year and welcome, 2016!

While 2015 was marvelous for so many reasons I am fine to shut the door behind it.

Not that the day of the week or the number on the calendar changes much.

012

View of the front yard.

Its still winter.

We’ve still got over 2 feet of snow on the ground.

The snowmobilers are racing around the meadows and the yurt-ski people are filling up the parking area at the end of one of our nicely plowed driveways and Alistair is still going back & forth to Bismarck and Loki has had a few more seizures.

013

Loki. Right now. Not seizing!

They aren’t very long- 10 seconds at the most.

I’m starting to notice a routine she has when they occur and maybe she seeks us out when she senses one coming on because I have been close by for the last 3.

She sits down or stands very still and then she starts bringing up a frothy bile-like foam (I’m not trying to gross you out. Its just what happens). Her medically-inclined Gampy and Step-Gammy think the pre-seizure phase is somehow making her nauseas.

Then the trembling starts.

346

Loki napping under the covers. Not having a seizure.

Twice now we have held onto her, stabilizing her with our own bodies and she doesn’t fall over and hasn’t actually gone into the full-blown seizure. Other times she goes down (gently if we are around to assist… thankfully she’s only 15 lbs) and she seizes.

Then she piddles.

Then she wakes up.

And after a little while of being held, talked to and what looks like a bit of general fuzziness she is back to business- eating, drinking, barking at closed doors, barking at the other side of the closed door, and prancing through the house like a little pin ball, gently bonking against a door here or a wall there.

Or a chiddy pat.

002

Boomer & Cooper back in May. When Boom was only 19.

Like Boomer.

Who, at 20 years old is pretty set in her ways.

I will say, she is still agile enough to make the effort to get out of Loki’s way now and she can still surprise the snot out of me with a rapid whack from her claws if I’m working on a hair matt.

BoomBoom gets twice a day methimazole for her over active thyroid. We’ve been at this for 2 years now. I didn’t think we’d last 2 months when we started.

But we did so we keep doing what we’re doing and another year has come and gone.

020

Beautiful New Year in our back yard in Montana!

I spent New Year’s alone (well, void of human company) which isn’t all that bad. I made it to midnight and reached over to pet the dogs, wishing them a happy New Year!

I got a couple of tail thumps from UB but that was about it.

014

Are you writing about me, Mummy?

Its not the first New Year’s I’ve ever spent alone.

The first one was saying goodbye to 1992 as 1993 came along.

I was living in Tokyo (Chiba, really), Japan and working as an English teacher for American Language Schools.

006

Me with some of my students… and Rhonda. Who will have her own story someday.

I was overweight, pale, engaged to the wrong man back in Canada, living within 2 tiny rooms in a cement block that was partly inhabited by the Yakuza, drinking too much Kahlua and cream at night, without internet, writing lots of letters, living for my cassette tape player and I had no clear idea of what I wanted out of life.

Thankfully a cousin who lived there introduced me to one of her students, Mr.Katsumata, who took pity on this poor young Geigin who was alone for the holidays.

He began with what must have been an incredibly expensive supper on Christmas day- a day that isn’t celebrated in Japan like it is in more Christian-based countries.

017

Mr. Katsumata outside of Omote-Sando Dori in Tokyo.

016

I look like a white giant here but I assure you I have never been tall.

Mr.Katsumata also wanted to share a traditional Japanese New Year’s with me, which I have forever remembered and appreciated.

001

Boarding the train at 2am. We had seats in the 2nd row!

We took the first train of 1993 to the coastal city of Endo-Shima to watch the first sunrise of the year.

Its a pretty big deal in the Land of the Rising Sun.

It is tradition (and good luck!) to visit many temples and snack amongst the crowds before, during and after sunrise.

002

Visiting one of many temples sometime around 5am in Endo-Shima, Japan.

We made sure to get as close to the shore as we could and among hundreds of Japanese we watched the sun rise above the horizon on the first morning of 1993.

003

There it is! The first sunrise!

It was beautiful to see and be a part of. Everyone cheered and hugged and I felt pretty special looking out over the waters that morning many mornings ago.

We kept going around to temples and Mr.Katsumata taught me about various statues and beliefs and we ate too much food and drank beer or tea and before long I was back in my little rectangle of a house as one very tired Geigin.

005

Hundreds of people visiting all of the temples after the sunrise.

I learned a lot that special day and it still holds deep meaning for me. I wasn’t traveling to Japan as a tourist and I wasn’t there with a group of North American figure skaters sharing the experience.

I was living there, trying to figure my way around a non-touristy community, immersed in a culture very different from my own as an obvious wide-eyed, pale-skinned, chubby outsider and yet this one man invited me to share his customs and traditions in a spiritual setting with me.

It was important that he taught me these things and shared them with me and it was equally important for me to experience a mere fraction of what being Japanese was like.

004

More temples on Jan.1st… excuse the crabby look on my face! I remember feeling really tired right about then but I got my game face back later on.

I’ve never seen the first sunrise on the first day of any new year ever since. I don’t think it would be quite the same.

There is much more to my adventures in Japan but I am smiling and feeling nostalgic and I need to work on our snow-shoe trail with UB and Cleopatra now.

I will leave you with the 3 ferrets and I with our latest Sing-Song saddle video we cooked up the other night.

Welcome, 2016. I still don’t know exactly what path I am on but I am enjoying the trail.

022

Working on the snow shoe trail this afternoon!

020

Come on, Mummy!