My first year in Japan (told through very bad haikus!)

March, 2020

Welcome to Japan!
The airport is so empty
and my hair’s a mess.

Two weeks in a hotel,
negotiating Japan’s 
unending bureaucracy – 

Banks will not open
an account for foreigners
before six months pass.

No address, no phone, 
you need one to get the other
and both for the bank.

I used the hotel 
address and phone number
to trick the bankers.

Signed the Japanese
contract to get my new flat.
Don’t know what it said…

Signed the Japanese
contract to get my new job.
Don’t know what that said…

Ordered furniture 
because I was scared to go
to the store and speak.

(PS – shout out to 
IKEA and NITORI
for delivering!) 

At the end of the month,
when I could finally breathe…
SAKURA SEASON!

BTW, masks 
that you need to shop for food
are sold out. Good luck!


April, 2020

This is not Holland. 
English speakers must adapt. 
I hired a tutor.

She is very sweet,
and very young, and hopes that
my kanji improves.

The government screams
Wear your mask and close business!
(for 3-5 weeks).

Semester delayed
for half a month, which is wise
because students = germs

Then comes the email 
to tell teachers: “Please prepare
fully online courses”

Spring flowers blossom,
cicadas start their chirping, 
and I am inside. 

My new colleagues are
excited to meet me 
(in 3-5 weeks).


May, 2020

The emergency 
is over, or so they say. 
We remain online.

Temps are rising up, 
alongside COVID numbers, 
and I am inside.

The students adapt, 
new colleagues email to say hi.
I teach, and I sleep.

I slowly decorate
with gifts and plastic flowers
to make things less bleak.

While I’m decorating,
I explore. The crowds are gone;
I buy a pink bike.

Tourists have vanished
but the traps are still open.
Mask on; wallet open

I walk in mornings
at the park near my flat.
There are lots of dogs.


June, 2020

Temps are still rising.
The scent of flowers is strong
I have a cough.

A Dutch doctor is
working in Tojinmachi,
so I make a call.

He finds some nonsense,
but not the dreaded COVID;
more tests are needed

Teaching online’s fine
but students aren’t used to it,
so I change my style.

Recorded lectures,
homework posted on moodle,
and quizzes online.

Teachers still meet
at the university,
but students stay home.

Socially distanced
lunch meetings are not
a good place for masks


July, 2020

Went exploring.
Found a dog cafe, a beach,
and a nice shrine

Met an injured crow
who was hit by a car
outside my building

He flew away once
he got his head back on straight
but it took a while

I stayed with him for
hours, because I had time.
Then I had to teach.

The semester end
is gentler than I’m used to…
The students don’t yell!


August, 2020

It is hot as balls.
I’m not going outside, no.
Air conditioning!

Mostly very sad
that I cannot go home
during summer break

Well, I could go home,
but Japan’s borders are closed
to all foreigners.

I can go home
only if I accept that
I cannot return

Homesick and lonely,
I want to hug my family
and see my dog.


September, 2020

Second semester.
Still online. The students reel.
And I am inside

I use the tricks
I learned last semester:
Teach the basics first!

As in: how to write
a sentence that makes some sense,
and how to check that.

Can’t speak Japanese.
I speak to the camera
hoping they get it.

Powerpoints are up
on Moodle, so students can
use Google translate.

Much more work goes in
online classes, when your class
may not understand –

And you have no way
of knowing if they got it
until their exams.

I spend my free time
embroidering bookmarks
and making more masks


October, 2020

I continue to
experiment with my food
cooking on the stove

Adding Aussie tastes
because I’m homesick as hell.
And I’m still coughing.


November, 2020

Temps are dropping now.
I miss my family, home,
and my friends back West.

I climb a mountain
and think of how much Edmund
would love these trails.

My Japanese is
still quite bad. My tutor tries.
But my mind won’t work.

Grey skies, cold mornings.
I still can’t go home. Not yet.
Foreigners are still banned.


December, 2020

Merry Christmas.
Enjoy your zoom calls with friends
and your family.

Japan doesn’t
celebrate Christmas; at least,
not how we’re used to.

There’s decorations
and sales, but most folks tend to
go on dates that night.

Christmas is for friends.
You work on Christmas day.
Unless you’re foreign…

They let us take it,
Even though foreigners are
still banned from the country

If I leave, I can’t
come back. We teach online but
it’s not worth the risk.

I would trade every gift,
and sale, and decoration,
to hug Mum and Dad.


January, 2021

First snow has fallen.
The Japanese are concerned;
snow is rare down here.

We take a week off
for New Years (a family time).
Then we’re back to work.

Students like online
classes, if it means they don’t
have to go outside.


February, 2021

Flowers are blooming
as quickly as the snow fell
last month, so that’s nice.

The doctor put me
on a new diet to try
to fix my cough.

Made a little bag
to show how I feel about
the year 2020.


March, 2021

So how do I feel
after a year? I am so.
Fucking. Tired.

I have adapted
to the ebbs and flows of this
different culture.

My Japanese is
still quite bad, but not as bad
as when I started.

My tutor is pleased.
I am not… but I am not
pleased in general.

I wanted to be
further along than I am.
But I’m still working.

Still puttering, still
slowly building up my skills
and learning what works.

I like to think that
last year did not count for me.
2020 sucked.

This year is the first
year that will be face-to-face,
though we still wear masks.

Classes are easier
when you can see your students.
So that will be good.

Japan is still not
letting foreigners in, so
I cannot go home.

Or visit my friends
in the Netherlands, or UK.
I miss them so much.

I do my research.
I plan my classes, and know
that this too will pass.

The last plague ended
and this one will too. But I
hate not having control.

I still have a cough,
Which is kind of passé now.
I’m working on it.

Flowers are blooming.
Spring is coming very soon.
The sun shines more now.

I seek happiness
in what I can control
and the little things.

I zoom call my friends.
I call my parents every day
and they show me Ed.

I look forward to
this new first year in Japan.
Round Two: Let’s do this.


PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee?  ❤

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