Monitors of the pitohuosphere will remember that a couple of years ago, on this very blog, I longed for a job and a change and other starry things, and that some of these happened. I did find steady work, and after two years, it is being shifted.
I will back up and elaborate. For the past two years I have been employed as REM (Resident English Monkey) at a junior high school in a neighboring prefecture. It has been simultaneously the best and worst job I’ve ever had. For a period of a few months I was nearly convinced that my coworkers were flesh and blood and not taciturn, uncanny likenesses of actual people snapped fast into the grid of Japanese society, shambling back to their stainless energy pods after a day’s work to recharge and forget. But I was wrong and, being human, was never fully accepted by the faculty.
Elsewhere in the school I was discovering affable reciprocators in the forms of the students themselves. Here I was free to goof off with people much closer to my own mental age, which proved to be by far the greatest fun I’ve ever had in my five years in Japan. At long last I was recognized for my animal impressions, my deadpan stupidity, my doodles, my pun grandmastery! Here’s a sketch of me if I were an octopus, or an expectant mother, or a surly car! Here’s my impression of a sloth, expertly preventing a real teacher from opening the door! A student drops a popular mascot keychain on the ground, and I drop to my knees yelling “FATHERRRRRRR!!!!”
But after two years, the other teachers, or the principal, or the board of education (or all three) decide they do not want a manic duck for an assistant English teacher, and last week I find that my contract will not be renewed, and that even the company I represented has been abjured for a rival outfit. For a week or two I was despondent and combed over job listings like mad.
In the end, it seems that (miraculously) my company will offer me a new contract with a different school district closer to home. This is certainly a blessing to my commute situation, but it saddens me to leave behind so many of the kids I entertained over the past two years.
This is [Robin Williams voice] great, fantastic, wonderful. And I’ll be at another junior high school, which is the age group that I most resonate with; too old for outright nonsense and tantrums, yet too young to be completely and utterly conditioned by Japanese society to be the bland, humorless instruments that they are culturally ordained to be. That will come after college. For now, they’re in Alex Territory.
No, the real problem here is that this job (as much as I enjoy these aspects of it) does not align with my career path. I have lived in Japan for over five years, and in this time I have accepted that my future lies neither in the video game business nor the teaching business. So as an Alex in Japan, where the hell does this put me?
アイ ドント ノー
Over the past two months, I’ve put down over 30,000 words in a Word document on my laptop at school detailing exactly where I’ve come from, what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and where I’m going. It has been an enormous help in delineating the various branches of Alex. But up until now it has only served to instruct me on what I do not want to do. I mean, I knew this stuff deep down, but it took a glorified diary to cement it, and I’m fine with that. The next step is pushing these branches to bear fruit.
My Japanese right now is middling. I haven’t actually studied since I graduated college outside of a brief stint with kanji flash cards and hundreds of hours of bar conversation. My conversation is great, actually! Guess how many companies are hiring dudes based on their conversation!!
I’ve never admitted this before, but I took and failed the JLPT3 in 2004, as a student at Chubu University. I thought “So? I’m a student! I’ll have plenty of time to-” WHOOPS NOW I’M 28 AND WHAT IS GOING ON
I am going to use this extra year to finally study and pass at the very least JLPT3. The first time was eight years ago, but the test has been revised since then (there are now five levels instead of four) and I need to start with something. This is an insane and mortifying thing for me to admit, to my panicky mind. I was just out the other night drinking with dudes who are translators and fluent and younger than I am, which is part of the reason for this outpouring. Ever since I got here I’ve been terrified of turning into one of those dudes who lives here but doesn’t actually have to use Japanese to function, because I’ve worked with dozens of those guys and they’re all bitter and deluded and grey because all they do is teach eikaiwa. It was the very engine behind an energetic English guy I knew; who needs to speak the language when I’m uber-charismatic and look like David Beckham and hey have another beer and let’s go to karaoke!!!
(In fairness, he was a nice guy who ultimately left Japan to move back home, so I can’t be angry at him. I was, however, constantly annoyed that he coasted along on near-zero Japanese and a smile while I was making an attempt to use mine and being ignored the majority of the time by our mutual Japanese friends.)
The worst part about this is finally stretching a toe down into the inky depths and feeling a lumpy careery something and having no idea at all what it is but knowing that I want to latch onto it and let it carry me deeper.
The next year will be spent begging the blob beneath to toss me some hints, or at least some dry shorts.