Thank You for Four Years, Tamaki!

 

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.

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Cherry Blossoms at the Tamaki Junior High School.

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Playground of Tamaru Elementary School.

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.

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Traffic in Manila is even more tiring than a full workday. Photo from iMoney Ph.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Marching Ahead

Just 10 days ago, I celebrated my birthday. It’s nice to be home and to be with the family to celebrate your special day.

It’s been my practice to look back at the year that has passed (May 2014 to March 2015). Here are the highlights:

May

Enjoying Indian food with Phinez somewhere in Tokyo

Me and Phinez enjoying Indian food somewhere in Tokyo. Our trainer, Cedric, treated us to lunch.

June

Me and Satoko in a phone shop.

Satoko accompanied me to my schools and helped me get a phone. It has been very helpful for me as I was very poor at directions and also didn’t have enough Japanese to ask around.

July

The first time I had a car accident.

A picture of my car parked in the Sun Mansion Attrait Lot

My first car accident! An old man hit my car and tried to intimidate me.

I also had a chance to wear a yukata (it looks like a kimono but is worn during the summer and is much lighter and not as complicated to wear) for the first time

Wearing a yukata (traditional Japanese clothes for women during summer) is much less complicated than wearing a kimono

Wearing a yukata (traditional Japanese clothes for women during summer) is much less complicated than wearing a kimono

August

After a week of staying indoors, I got bored out of my wits. I was lucky enough to be invited by my friends in Kobe to spend the summer with them. I went to Minoh Waterfalls and enjoyed hiking.

They also brought me to Tokushima. I enjoyed the long drive and was able to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) for the first time.
Sitting near the TV in a ryokan

We visited a flower shop famous for its orchids. It reminded me of my grandmother who loves orchids and has been growing them for years in her own garden. I just had to take a picture of the flowers so I can show her.

In front of the flowers

Loved the flowers in this shop! They’re quite pricey, though.

September

After a few months of driving, I started having more confidence in exploring and driving to nearby places.
Wading in the water before exploring the wedded rocks

Posing in Meoto Iwa

Amused by the Gigantic Pillars in Meoto Iwa

October

I enjoyed watching the Peace concert organized by the International Community Center in Ise.

It was great to work with the volunteers and performers.Group picture in front of Misono Heart Plaza

November

The colorful leaves outside Tamaru's English room

Experienced autumn for the first time. Loved the colorful leaves

December

I started to feel I’m making progress in building relationships at work. One of the teachers I worked with invited me to her dance performance.

It was awesome to watch the (flamenco) dance performances. I was surprised that my co-teacher is an excellent dancer

It was awesome to watch the (flamenco) dance performances. I was surprised that my co-teacher is an excellent dancer

Starting to feel like one of them. I was greatly impressed by Kato-sensei's (the one holding the orange paper bag) performance

Starting to feel like one of them. I was greatly impressed by Kato-sensei’s performance

To add to my list of many firsts, I was able to drive to my friend’s house for more than two hours. I finally met her baby and her family members. It was good to be able to attend a church in Japan with my family in Shiga.

Me and my friend's family members in church

My confidence grew after being able to drive for more than two hours. I didn’t feel as lonely during winter break because of my friend and her family members

January

I thought I’d be spending New Year’s Eve at home so I was pleased when my friend Satoko invited me and another ALT to her house. I enjoyed eating crab claws and nabe. It definitely beat staying home.

Dan & I enjoying dinner at Satoko's house

Dan & I enjoyed spending New Year’s Eve with Satoko and her family.

We then went to Ise Shrine to welcome the new year. Imagine my surprise when I learned how Japanese people celebrate New Year. There were no fireworks, no gun shots, no noise. It was even quieter than most evenings and the whole affair seemed serene.

For some time, I’ve been dreaming about going to Nara. So it was like an answered prayer when my friend suddenly invited me to a JET event. I decided to drive since there will be two of us and it will be cheaper to drive than to take the train. It was perfect because I didn’t have much money and I also needed to practice driving.

Posing with Nara's Mascot. Isn't he cute?

Posing with Nara’s Mascot. Isn’t he cute?

February

For one month, I lived with a friend from Seattle. I’m blessed to have very helpful and generous friends. At the same time, I learned about the challenges of having to move very often.

When we get busy, we easily get distracted. But He's always there to remind us that He's in control and He cares deeply for us

March

I love this month!
The kindest principal I’ve met and some of my co-teachers in Tamaru organized a gathering before spring break. He even gave me some snacks to take home to my family.

With my two favorite Japanese teachers. They're the sweetest!

With my two favorite Japanese teachers. They’re the sweetest!

Blowing the candles

Who doesn’t love their birth month? It’s all the more special when you celebrate it with the ones you love.

Now, who’s afraid of getting old?