This article is taken from "kids com" Magazine - for more articles,
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If everything in life was easy. - September 2001
In this month's article I've been asked to talk about some of the cultural differences that ALTs get surprised by in Japan. Well, this is quite tricky because even though we get told about all the big differences (don't blow your nose in public, take your shoes off inside, etc.), just about everyday we encounter something new or unexpected!
One thing is clothes! Tall guys and many female JETs often have problems finding clothes that fit!! Japanese clothes just don't often go up to Western sizes (and neither do the Bowling Alley shoes!!!). Hence the occasional trip to a big city is a great chance to stock up our wardrobes (or even a trip to Thailand where you can get a tailor made silk suit for 10,000 en!!).
Computers can also be a bit tricky. Obviously email is a necessity for most JETs, it costs a fortune to phone home (imagine if all your friends lived 10,000 miles away)!! Mind you, it would be a good idea to teach your ALT the kanji for "delete". I found it out the hard way after deleting a few too many important files....
But anyway, you see the big difference between being a JET and being a Japanese teacher is that when you finish work at 6 (or 7, or 8 or 9 ) o'clock, that's it, you go home and relax! But our job sort of lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Which is good, but can be a bit stressful at times! For example when I travel to Europe, if I speak the language and act like the locals, people quite happily treat me as one of them, and I can relax. But in Japan even if I speak perfect Japanese and follow all the social norms, people still look at me as something strange. As we are "ambassadors" of our countries we always have to be polite, smile and make conversation. Even if that means chatting for 30 minutes to someone we've never met before, when we're really tired and only popped out for a loaf of bread. So if you think that being a JET is easy, with a lot of money for only a few hours a day teaching, have a think about the bigger picture!
Many Japanese teachers wonder why ALTs take so many holidays. Many ALTs wonder why Japanese take so few holidays. If you want to go home and visit your family, many of you can do it everyday, or if not, at least when there is a long weekend. But for us to go home and see our families it takes several days just to get there and back! That's why long holidays are important. It's also a great chance for us to be in an English speaking environment, where we can get refresh our English after months of "Japlish"! We often find it strange that spending time at work is considered more important than spending time at home. Surely the reason you work so hard is to provide for your families? Why not treat your whole family to a long holiday, if you did you'd be more refreshed and work better than ever before!!
Of course when we travel around Japan we like to see the famous places. And most of us quickly realise that Japanese holidays are not the time to do this! A day before Golden Week and everywhere is deserted, the next day it's packed full of people walking round following other people with little flags. Not the most efficient use of one's holiday time, I feel.
Mind you there are also plenty of things that we should have in other countries. For example free glasses of water and oshibori in restaurants! They're great and I miss them when I go abroad!
These are superficial things that make life here "interesting," but there are some other cultural points that do concern JETs a lot. Attitudes to women in Japan are often seen to be somewhat behind those in the West. Having young females preparing tea or run errands for males is something that rests uneasy with many JETs. And especially at parties, some male teachers should realise that being drunk is definitely not an excuse to harass a female ALT or make lewd comments. It is good, however, to see the reactions in towns where the female ALT has actually punched the offending "attackers"!
There are probably a million little things that we have to get used to here (for example where to buy deodorant or thinly sliced bread), and most of them I bet you'd have never imagined! But that's part of the charm of the job and one of the reasons we chose to come here. So have a chat with your ALT about their daily lives, it'll probably change the way you look at Japan too!
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