accidently hitting the windsheild wipers

The Windshield Wipers: An Update on Work, Travels, and Life in Japan


How time flies!

I kept telling myself to make a post, to actually sit down for a while and write about my experiences so far, but I kept putting it off saying I’m too busy or too tired or simply not in the mood to write. Well, before my list of things to update gets any longer I’m writing a post.

As the title implies, I drive in my new town and I’ve finally gotten it into my subconscious that the turn signal is now on the right hand side of the steering wheel. I find this a rather important update as it makes me feel like I’m really getting settled in. During the last few months I think I’ve been in a sort of dream or stupor in which I realize I am in Japan and yet at the same time I do not feel like I’m in Japan. Whether that’s a result of having frequently imagined being back here, or that this small town I live in is more similar to my hometown than to Tokyo, for whatever reason I hadn’t felt very awake and settled until I noticed I didn’t hit the windshield wipers accidentally when functioning on autopilot. However with this renewed alertness to my surroundings comes waves of homesickness. Anyone living in a foreign country understands those times that creep up on you out of nowhere – you’re going along all fine and then something is said or seen or you’re just a bit too tired, and BOOM you’re on your ass wondering why the hell you left the comforts of home, almost regretting the decision to leave all the knowns behind for the unknown. Having lived in Japan before, homesickness hasn’t been as intense and some Japanese customs have been easy to re-adopt, but I’ve still had my moments since I’m not just a carefree college student anymore but a working, (usually) responsible adult. I manage to pull out of these ruts, however, by reminding myself why I made this decision, why I came back to Japan. I have goals that I felt I could only accomplish here – like improving my Japanese language ability since I’m a firm believer in immersion learning for foreign languages – so I can’t let myself mope around all day. Plus, work can be pretty fun as an ALT and there’s a lot of really cool places to see in this country.

As an ALT that works on the municipal level in the JET Program, my job is actually quite easy although it does test my abilities to think quickly at times. So far I haven’t had to worry about anything like lesson planning, I just have to listen carefully to my Japanese teachers of English (JTE) during class so I know my cue to speak (most lessons seem to happen without any discussion or prep between my JTE’s and I). It’s surprisingly not a disastrous way to do class, but then again I’m pretty much a human tape recorder when you boil it all down. That’s not wholly a bad thing though because I am human, not a recorded voice; I’m a living, breathing foreigner in my students’ lives. Some of these kids live in the mountains, so a blonde, white person like me is rare and they get pretty excited about that at times. Especially if I say “What?!” or “Why?!” because of some silly Japanese TV show (for those that know what I’m talking about…”why Japanese people, why?!”) – they see it’s real, not just on TV, and then start acting like little weirdos. As long as we don’t anger the JTE’s, it’s all pretty fun. Some of my junior high second year (8th grade) baseball boys are the most amusing – a couple of them compete with each other to see who can get better grades or repeat correctly after me the fastest. These boys make it hard to not grin through the whole class! Other students who seem to despise English class make me a bit sad, but hey there’s always going to be kids who are not appreciative of compulsory foreign language education. For my more shy but interested in English students, I started an English letter box project where they can write to me without worrying about grades, I’ll write back, and if they write me a certain number of letters I’ll give them a prize. I started this project about a week and a half ago during which one student has written me a couple of times, and even though she makes mistakes she’s definitely trying and I’m feeling pretty proud.  Oh my god when did I turn into a teacher?! 😉

Outside of my teacher transformation, I’ve been trying to check out the local areas as well as nearby prefectures. I haven’t been able to make any big trips just yet but soon! Until then, trips within the prefecture and to nearby prefectures offer plenty to see. Over the last few months I’ve visited Ishikawa prefecture’s capital Kanazawa, went on a business trip to the northern part of the prefecture known as the Noto, drove with friends to places like Mizushima neary Tsuruga in Fukui prefecture and the UNESCO World Heritage site Shirakawa-go, and took a day-trip by train with a fellow Komatsu JET to see Kyoto. These excursions have definitely added to the last few months flying by quickly and added to the colorfulness of my second experience in Japan. My various excursions to Kanazawa have ranged from adventures through history with Kenrokuen (one of Japan’s top 3 gardens), Kanazawa Castle, and the samurai district Nagamachi, to simply hanging out with other JET’s at the river side near the end of summer or at a craft beer festival followed by live music at a little cafe. The trip to Mizushima during Silver Week was, despite the kind of long drive, relaxing and refreshing filled with nice weather and crystal clear sea water. The business trip up into the Noto (even though the meaning was elusive to all involved) walking around the little town of Wajima, carrying a kiriko, making lacquer chopsticks, and then traveling to the nearby super countryside town of Shunran no Sato to stay the night was a very interesting and fun experience (and free!). Following the unusual business trip with a day trip to Kyoto may not have been the best way to recover the lack of sleep, but travelling a couple of hours by train to climb part way up Fushimi Inari mountain and check out some ancient temples was definitely worth the physical exertion! Shirakawa-go was my most recent excursion, but the road to it filled with all the lovely oranges, yellows, and reds of fall was perhaps the more spectacular part of that trip. Little by little I’m feeding my travel bug with the nearby delicacies! Now I’m trying to sit still a bit, save some money, and figure out how to spend Christmas and maybe New Year’s in Tokyo.

All in all, I take not hitting my windshield wipers on accident as a sign of getting truly settled in my new life with all the silliness of my job and the joys of travelling this beautiful country. Let’s see if I can manage to make more blog posts on my future adventures! With winter coming I should I have plenty of time hiding under the kotatsu, right? ;-D

Author Bio
Cassie Vander Meer

Cassie Vander Meer

Not quite getting enough of Japan during study abroad in university, Cassie has moved to Ishikawa prefecture to see what teaching mountain monkeys is all about. Outside of school, Cassie plans to explore the nearby beaches and mountains with camera in hand every step of the way!


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