Japan · JET Programme · Life in Japan · Random

The Highs and Lows of the New Year

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been all that active here recently, and I apologise for that as I always aim to get posts out at least once a week. However, I think this time there are a few factors that are contributing to my recent lack of posts, and what I believe it really boils down to are the ‘blues’ that come with January and February. I experienced something similar to this last year, and I felt that sharing the highs and lows of the new year with you (especially to those aspiring ALTs or those who want to live in Japan) might give you some insight to the not-too-often-spoken-about issues that come with living in a foreign country.

Home for Christmas and Returning on New Years
The Highs
I returned home for Christmas last year and had the time of my life. Being around my family, friends, pets and delicious mommy-cooked food was perfect in every way. Even the allergic sneezing reaction I got from being around my cats (having not had any cat-love for the past couple of months) didn’t put me down. I was able to soak up some South African sun and stocked up on some essentials to bring back to Japan (Marmite, Bovril, Woolies tea, etc.). It was awesome!

The Lows
Returning to Japan on New Year’s day, in the dead of winter, straight back into the third term at school, and dealing with jet-lag really had me struggling through the first two weeks of January. I felt that I needed another holiday after my one back home (don’t we always?), and I had to mentally push any thoughts of homesickness into the back of my mind in order to operate at ‘normal’ levels at school.

A Year of the Monkey ice-cream from Baskin-Robbins

I presumed I would be okay in February, but it seems that delayed homesickness is only hitting me now – which is a strange feeling because it has been quite a few months since I last felt it. However, I think it was recently triggered with my brother’s birthday where the whole family was together to celebrate it this past Saturday, and here I was on the other side of the world, watching it through a Skype session – not my one of best of ideas as it made the homesickness even worse. Though on a high note, my brother did enjoy the birthday present I had delivered to him. 🙂

The Highs
As mentioned, January marks the start of the third – and final – term at school. By now the majority of students are quite relaxed with me, they know how my lessons go, how I teach, and are now quite confident to greet me in English when I meet them in the passages between classes. So all in all it is going pretty well, and with only a handful of classes left to go graduation is right around the corner on March 1st.

The Lows
Students seem to be a bit too relaxed now. It sometimes takes a heck of a lot more effort to motivate them to do activities – more so than last year. I suppose it’s that end-of-the-school-year vibes going on where some just couldn’t care less about English classes and would rather fool around and totally ignore the lesson. I am sort of used to that reaction by now (as it is a running theme in some of my classes), but I have found it harder to retain composure and a smile during this January/February period where I, myself, am running low on energy and motivation.

The Highs
January brought record snowfall to Onomichi – which had me grinning from ear to ear. It was fantastic! Japan is the first country where I experienced proper snow, and every time it snows (even just a mild flurry) I get excited all over again (much to the amusement of my American friends).

And now in February the plum blossoms are out – the first sign of spring!

The blossoms are out in my neighbourhood 🙂

The Lows
I am a winter person – I would much rather have cold than heat. However, after a while the cold does get to you – especially when living in a non-insulated apartment. Obviously when it is snowing I am as happy as panda. But without the snow there is just the minus-degree cold, and a lack of sun. I think it is a common occurrence to feel low during winter’s like these – but for me it’s a new experience (coming from a Cape Town winter where it hardly gets below 5 degrees).

It kind of gets to you when you can see your breath when in your apartment, and when you by mistake spill some boiling hot water out of the kettle and onto your hand (instead of into the mug you’re holding) and it doesn’t hurt because your hands are too frozen… that kinda gets me down. :/

Even though the plum blossoms are out, the days are still quite chilly – though not as bad as a few weeks ago. The sun is noticeably rising earlier and setting later, which is nice when arriving home from school and you don’t have to turn on a light immediately.

Culture Experience and Language
The Highs
The New Year in Japan comes with a lot of traditions and celebrations, such as visiting temples/shrines around the beginning of January, eating mochi (rice cake), sending and receiving New Year’s cards, and numerous festivals. There is always something culturally exciting happening in Japan.

For example, at the end of January I got to experience a ‘snow event’ at the Miwa-Higashi Culture Center in Mizokuchi. This event happens every year and is run by the Hiroshima International Center (HIC). It is open to all foreigners living in Hiroshima. You have to apply to be chosen (they take about 45 people) and this year I was picked to go. This was my second time attending this event as it was so much fun last year.

Briefly: it is a full-day event where you are bused up to a small town up in the northern area of the prefecture. You spend the day playing in the snow, watching traditional Japanese performances, and eating a whole lot of delicious food prepared by the locals and some foreigners (this year there was Indian chicken curry and Vietnamese spring rolls). It’s a wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed myself – and even some of the locals remembered me from last year’s event.

Having fun in the snow

The Lows
As much as I enjoyed the ‘snow event’ experience, what got to me is that I couldn’t properly converse with the locals in Japanese. It was all down to gestures and using what little Japanese I know.

I mean, my understanding of Japanese has vastly improved over the past year and a half, and I am quite proud as to how much I can actually understand. However, it is speaking Japanese where I fall short. I admit I have not tried as hard as I could of to learn the language, but foreign languages have never been my strong suit.

This is where the frustration of not being able to speak the language properly comes in. I can never engage in a deep conversation with my work colleagues (who are not my JTEs), and recently I have become quite frustrated at that fact. I grow tired of talking about the weather, and wish to engage in more meaningful conversations. Mind you, I do have some great conversations with some JTEs, though unfortunately those have been too few and far between lately.

As you can guess, these past two months have been difficult for me. A mixture of extreme highs and extreme lows has got my emotions all over the place and struggling to find the motivation to do things (like upload posts).

But looking ahead things already seem brighter. March is the “Month of Desk-Warming”. I have worked out I have about 6 days of classes out of the 23 days at school because of exams, graduation, and spring break. So I am already planning on how I can effectively spend my copious amounts of free time at my desk. Secondly, as of yesterday I have made solid plans for Golden Week (beginning of May), so I am very excited about that. 😀

Rest assured that the next post you read will be most likely be ‘normal’… like showing you crazy chip flavours, sakura-themed strawberries, sakura-flavoured Pepsi, and sake-flavoured Kit-Kat. 😉

These taste (and smell) delicious!

Thanks for reading and keep warm (or cool) wherever you are in the world!


4 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows of the New Year

  1. Wow – this was so awesomely described. I think that anyone considering JET would get really deep insight into what it takes, emotionally, to stick it out there. Your description of freezing hands and uninsulated apartment takes me right back to New Zealand in March/April 2009 where max daytime temps were around 3 or 4 degrees… and we were horribly unprepared. I haven’t forgotten about emailing you xx Hope things improve and you feel chipper again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the really sweet comment. Fortunately things are looking better again in a number of ways – and I am feeling far more positive about the upcoming months. I am more than happy to be leaving Jan/Feb far behind me.:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am right there with you on the winter blues. I also empathize with you entirely on not being able to communicate in Japanese with my non-JTE coworkers. Languages are not my strong point either and I feel frustrated and sad that I can’t talk about anything other than the cold, coffee, and candy with them haha. I am relieved to read about another ALT’s experience on language barriers so I feel less alone! I think you’re a fantastic writer, by the way. Thanks for posting this one. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am really happy that I am not the only one feeling this way – especially with the language barrier. Perhaps I should use all my upcoming desk-warming days to look at my Japanese language textbooks… though where I will find the patience I haven’t a clue… 😉 And thanks for the awesome compliment, I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

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