Before I came to live and work in Japan, I’ve never heard of Ise, much less Tamaki, the small town where I was to teach for four years. Barely had I gotten used to the usual demands of my job when I first desired to be reassigned somewhere – Tokyo or Osaka maybe, just not in this small town where it was so hard to make friends.
For some reason, my boss wasn’t really enthusiastic about moving me somewhere and I also have been praying for a sign so I decided to stick it out. Before I knew it, I met a true friend and some more. They reminded me that I would rather live somewhere slow and predictable than to move in a big city where people could be snobbish and indifferent.
Fast forward to four years and I’m still here with no plan to leave anytime soon. After staying put, I was reminded that I’m not really a city girl. I was born and raised in Bataan, which is somewhat like Ise, Toba, and Shima. We had beaches and mountains aplenty. While I lived in Manila for about six years to study and work, I stayed mosty because the best opportunities for learning and working were there. Other than that, I didn’t get excited at the thought of frequenting the malls that so many Filipinos like. I couldn’t see the point of finding delight in a huge box that people go into. I would much rather walk around my campus that are full of nature.
I hated commuting in Manila. If you weren’t worrying about making it in time because of the traffic, you were wary if there were any dangers awaiting you. Somehow when you out, there’s the risk of losing your belongings. That doesn’t mean there’s none if you stay home. I didn’t particularly look forward to falling in line for half an hour just to get into the MRT and escape road traffic. Getting anywhere is already one arduous task.
So when things calmed down and I felt more comfortable at work, I realized all of the good things that Ise had to offer. It has most of the conveniences of a city without the many hassles. Ok, so there’s no decent Mexican or Thai restaurant. But with the ingredients, it’s not impossible to try to whip out international cuisine yourself. Plus, Nagoya is less than two hours away and Osaka a bit more. It feels great to be able to have these big cities within reach and not to live there everyday.
I could go for opportunities in Tokyo or Osaka but now I’m choosing to stay here because I felt like I’ve been chasing something since high school. For once, I just want to move slowly, run steadily so as not to over exert myself and get tired way too early.
I’m thankful that on my last year in Tamaki, my Dad and two visitors from the US who love intercultural communication and connecting to Japanese people were able to pay my class a visit, learn more about Japanese culture and the small town we work at courtesy of my diligent students and teachers who practiced and prepared, and share more about themselves, their work, and lives.
They were overwhelmed by the warm welcome extended to them by my Principal, Vice Principal, teachers, and the students themselves. They said they never expected that the kids would be that sweet and welcoming to them. Even I was impressed. We have been conducting classes as usual weeks before my visitors came and they were able to hide the fact that they were practicing for a short presentation about the school and about Tamaki for that special day.
It felt great that somehow, the kids could meet people from a totally different background. It felt even better that my Dad and friends could see and understand what it is about Tamaki and its people that made me fall in love with the place.
Before the special visit, the English head delivered the good news that the Principal agreed for my visitors to come and interact with the kids. After that, she asked me why I chose their school when there are three other schools in Tamaki that I regularly go to. Without hesitation, I told her, “because I trust you and respect you.” I have known and worked with this teacher for four years. Even as a newbie, she treated me with respect, explaining things for me when I could barely speak Japanese (not sure though if much has changed), being enthusiastic in our classes together, and most importantly, giving me the benefit of the doubt and not judging me when others could have.
Almost a year has passed since then and I now have a different set of challenges at a different place (more on that later), but every time I remember that special school visit or see pictures of it, my heart swells and I’m reminded why all four years of my stay in Tamaki is so worth it.