The Daily Grind

It has been one of those weeks, where Japanese life kicked my butt and every day felt like Groundhog Day. I’ve been living here for over two years now and sometimes daily life gets the better of me. It’s not the job…I really enjoy my job (once I learned to ignore the testing ways of the Japanese education system). In fact, my job as an ALT is probably my favourite thing about living in Japan. Well…that and the stationery.

No, it’s not the job…it’s those daily cultural differences that used to amuse me in my first twelve months here. Those things that I used to say ‘wow‘ to…the food, the customs and the people.  Everything that was so different to my home in Australia, and my second home in the UK. In my second year those differences weren’t quite so amusing…and now, in my third and final year, my tolerance for these things has decreased even further. I desire the comforts and familiarity of home a little more these days as I struggle with the daily grind of Japan…

7:00 – Wake up from a night of disrupted sleep with neck and shoulder pain from sleeping on a futon three inches thick.

7:05 – Have breakfast of oats shipped in from America (as oats are rare and expensive in Japan) with full fat, sweetened soy milk (because non-fat/sugar free anything is virtually non existent here).

7:20 – Shower using organic body wash shipped in from Australia (see reason for having oats shipped in).

7:30 – Dress in clothing deemed too tight/short/revealing by Japanese society (the exception being high school girls). Note: The same outfit would be called conservative in Western culture.

7:40 – Brush teeth using toothpaste shipped in from Australia (because Japanese toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride…and well, if you saw the state of peoples’ teeth here, you wouldn’t use their toothpaste either…).

7:45 – Check Facebook, Hotmail, Twitter and Instagram for signs of life outside of the bubble I live in.

8:05 – Cycle to school, receiving no less than five stares from locals. Stares usually result in some kind of near miss traffic accident…for me and the perpetrator.

8:15 – Arrive at school, to hear no less than three comments from teachers about either my hair, my clothing, how tired I look or asking why I’m not cold (because I am wearing a short sleeved shirt which is too revealing).

8:40 – 12:30 – Have two or three classes with students. Die a little inside every time a student says ‘I’m fine thank you, and you?’. Teach students awkward English from textbooks written by Japanese people.

12:40 – Have lunch with students. Despair at whatever horrible mixture of deep fried mystery meat/seafood salad/bamboo soup combination appears on the lunch tray. Reminisce of the days when I used to eat rice once every six or so months. Receive the usual questions from students: ‘Do you dye your hair?’, ‘Why aren’t you married?’, ‘Do you perm your hair?’, ‘Can you use chopsticks?’, ‘Why are your eyes blue?’.

1:30 – Cleaning time in the teachers’ room…where the tea lady watches and disapproves of my cleaning methods and follows me around, redoing everything after me.

1:50 – 4:00 – No afternoon classes, so Japanese study ensues. Have at least four teachers make comments about my kanji writing ability (despite it looking like chicken scrawl) and compliment me (falsely) on my speaking ability.

4:00 – Cycle home to the same barrage of stares as the morning commute.

4:15 – Go running wearing shorts, polo shirt (with collar popped so locals don’t see my tattoo and assume I am part of the Yakuza), sunglasses and headphones. Get even more stares than the daily commute and will hear from students/teachers tomorrow that I was spotted running, and that I wear shorts when running (because despite the fact I haven’t had any action for a long time, if I wear shorts, I must be promiscuous…).

5:30 – Cycle to the supermarket for dinner supplies. Despair yet again at the depressingly ridiculous cost of fruit and vegetables in this country. ¥128 (AU$1.70) for a single kiwi fruit and ¥597 (AU$7.90) for two apples. Curse Japan’s awful food for my weight gain over the last two years.

6:30 – Attempt to make a meal (without an oven…Japan doesn’t do ovens) using entirely freshish (though not organic) vegetables without a grain of rice in sight.

7:30 – 10:30 – Decompress from the day of Japanese culture with western world TV, talking with friends or family on Skype, writing Paperdoll or reading. All carried out from the discomfort of my apartment floor…given the lack of proper furniture in this country.

With this daily pattern of repeated tediums, I’m surprised it took this long for my Japanese life to feel like Groundhog Day. I crave the simple pleasures of every day Western life all the time now…the ability to buy and eat organic, free range produce…the freedom to wear what I want, when I want without feeling guilty…to live in an apartment with proper furniture which won’t leave me in constant pain…and more than anything else, to have anonymity. Sweet, blissful anonymity.

Less than a year, and all these wondrous things will be mine. Until then, it’s the weekend…so two days’ break from the daily grind to enjoy all the things I do love about my life in Japan…

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