Day in the Life of an Expat in Tochigi

April 14, 2017

Tochigi is a whole new ball of wax. My time in Higashi-Hiroshima felt like summer camp being under AEON’s tutelage; the tiny apartment combined with true culture shock and lack of Internet access for a few weeks certainly didn’t help. Even in Kagoshima, with a professional job and access to tropical islands, I felt far removed from the heart of Japan, Tokyo.

Here I have access to the big city if need be. Here I have a two-story apartment with Internet access and a smartphone SIM card ready within a week of my arrival. I’m already comfortable.

5:30-5:45 AM
If I’m lucky I’ll get up early enough to give me enough time to eat and digest breakfast before going on a run. If there’s one thing countries in Asia have in common, it’s that I’m usually unwilling to consume their particular style of breakfast… who eats kimchi in the morning? Or miso soup? I’ve only been in Japan a few weeks, but already had The Meat Guy deliver some breakfast sausage right to my door. Combined with fresh fruit, toast, and some oatmeal I brought from the US, and I’ve got a nutritious breakfast.

I’m still at the stage where I find comfort sliding the window open and looking out upon green rice fields and brown mountains greeting me every morning. My daily runs have been alongside rows of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

I avoid drinking tea and using the Internet because both those activities are readily available at the high school. After my run, there’s just enough time for a quick shave and shower before hopping on my momachari (mother’s chariot; the most common bicycle in Japan) and making the fifteen minute ride to work.

8:15 AM
I’ll try to be pulling up to the school to give me a few minutes to slip off my black shoes and into my indoor slippers. It’s a minor miracle I was able to find ones my size so quickly; I remember when I first came to Japan most stores didn’t stock shoes over 30 cm, but those days are changing. I’m required to wear a full suit – or at least a shirt, tie, and dress pants – but I don’t mind as much as I did before. It’s a job, after all.

After I illegally rode my bike while carrying my umbrella during a bad storm last week, one of the teachers chewed me out – rightfully so – and asked I always walk my bike on school property. I need a few extra minutes to get from the gate to the office, but it’s no big deal.

8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
My workday officially starts at 8:30, when the electronic bell chimes and all teachers rise from their desks, bow to the vice principal, and listen to the daily announcements. I can’t always understand everything going on, but my supervisor usually informs me if there’s any issue to which I need to pay attention.

The office is still getting used to the new principal, so they’re not sure if he’s ok with casual attire around the teachers’ lounge; most of us are still in full suits. I’ve got a NEC notebook to do word processing and lesson prep, but it’s been slow going; the first few weeks have been disrupted by class trips, testing and schedule changes.

5:00 PM
Even though my contract states I’m only bound to stay until 4:30 PM, it’s bad form to leave immediately at the end of a workday in Japan. My supervisor is still there when I finally leave around 5:00, though I might take off a little earlier if I see someone else go. I’m held to different standards because of the language barrier and just the nature of teaching English, not required to attend as many meetings, work as many classes, or do things I see in my coworkers: answer the phone, for example. However, I’m still asked to assist with the cleaning period at the end of the day and be on call for any teachers to ask questions about English.

5:30 PM
I should be home by now. Hopefully I won’t spot any bills pushed through the mail slot, or missing package notices. Depending on my mood, I might run to the convenience store and pick up a Sapporo or just pour a few shots of sake to relax. I’m still learning about restaurants in the area, but there’s an amazing Korean BBQ place five minutes’ walk from my apartment, and a supermarket open until midnight.

6:00 -10:00 PM
There are always options. There’s a public bathhouse (sento) just south of the school I may relax in. I’m signing up for a gym just a 12-minute train ride away. It’s not particularly difficult to go to the Premium Outlet stores at night, but I don’t see the reason to do so on my own. Most likely, I’ll just prepare some dinner myself, read a book or catch up on some shows. When the time comes, I’ll need to write my book, but I’m sick of staring at a screen at work.

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