You Are (Not) Prepared
     My first day as a teacher produced a moment straight out of an anime. The first day was for the start of the year ceremony. The ceremony was full of pomp and circumstance. City leaders, the head of the PTA and parents filled the school gym. The Chief of the City Fire Department presented high visibility vest and flags to the student reps. The First Graders were marched in and introduced to the school. They received there little yellow hats. It’s about the cutest damn thing you ever have seen.
     But that morning, before the presentations and the speeches, it happened. I had a big smile on my face as I walked through the school gates and headed to the front doors. A mixture of excitement and nerves filled my body. That’s when I noticed the couple hundred kids at the front doors of the school, waiting to be allowed in. I made my way through the crowd, saying “Good Morning” to the kids. I started to see their eyes widen and jaws hit the floor. As soon as I reached the door and began to make my way inside, it appeared that the students were hit with the realization of who I was. Then, as if on cue, the ocean of students let out a unison “Ehhhhhhhhh!” in a shocked tone. The questioning cry echoing throughout the neighborhood. I looked back at the students and waved. As I continued to the Teacher’s Office and out of sight, I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. They have had ALTs in the past. They had met foreigners before. But I was unlike the others they had met. I was taller, bigger and had a beard. Seriously, the population of us bearded men in Japan (not counting tourist) is probably around 20.
     That said, they were not the only ones ill prepared for the experience. To anyone out there looking to move to Japan to work: if you are told that you don’t need to know Japanese by your company, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you can’t speak a decent amount of Japanese from the jump, the everyday struggle is real. This not to say you won’t be able to communicate. The people of Japan have been insanely nice and accommodating to me. They will try everything in their power to try and communicate through simple language and gestures. I have also been blessed by Teachers who speak English very well and other ALTs who have gone out of their way to help me.
     “But Dekkai Sensei, they probably just meant you won’t need Japanese in class.” This is almost true. As an ALT, you try to use English with your student’s whenever possible. Is that to say you will never use Japanese in class? Of course not. You are in a Japanese school, teaching a class of Japanese students. Outside of class,

you may want to build a rapport with your students and the Teachers at your school. Some of that can happen in English, but the majority will be in Japanese. You will need to put in some effort to learn the language. And this doesn’t even bring into account outside of school. Things like going to the conbini, getting stopped by some Old Lady on the street to talk your ear off for twenty minutes (it happens more than you think), trying to figure out why your apartment supplied router keeps resetting and attempting to find a date. You probably want to be able to speak a decent amount of Japanese in these situations.
     I was not as prepared as I should have been. It’s definitely gotten easier as time has gone by though. Through practice and study, my Japanese is still horrendous. I can at least hold sections of a conversation now. And with rigorous scientific study (at least that’s what I am calling it), it has been revealed that my abilities and comfort with the language improve greatly with the consumption of alcohol. This may need to be studied further. We all must do our part for science.
     Much in the same way I was unprepared coming to Japan, I was just as unprepared when it came to falling in love with life here. A year ago, I could have never told you how much fun it is to be a teacher. I never in my wildest dreams would have said that Japan does fried chicken better then America. (Seriously, fresh karaage is better than any southern fried chicken I ever had. Now if only they could figure out how hamburgers and pizza work.) Akihabara lives up to the hype, as does the efficiency of the train system. The moment I always come back to though, is turning the corner on my way to 7-11 on a clear spring day and seeing Mt. Fuji in all its majesty. Even now, it makes me take pause and appreciate it. I sometimes forget I’m in Japan. More and more, things feel familiar and normal. Then I see Fuji, the symbol used to promote Japan in media far and wide. And I once again am returned to the reality of my situation. I am still a foreigner in a land not built for me. I still have to work hard to make up for how unprepared I was at the start of this journey. And then I smile. I may not have been prepared for Japan, but Japan was not prepared for me.   


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I had a big smile on my face as I walked through the school gates and headed to the front doors. A mixture of excitement and nerves filled my body. 
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Jeff Maack
 
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