Yes, this was the question.
My first “teaching” job was back in 1987. I had just landed in Japan for the first time and decided to take the train from Kuwana, where I was living with a host family, to Nagoya. A friend had told me of the Nagoya International Center where there was a noticeboard for available jobs. I found a few and made a phone call to the first on my list. I was wearing jeans, jumpers and a coat (it was winter). They said to come in straight away for an interview.
Oooo! So inappropriately dressed and ready for questions to answer in my broken Japanese, three gentleman, who were dressed appropriately, told me in English to give a self introduction in English. WOW! This was difficult! I did, and then they gave me the job. Just like that! S’pose the fact that I was Caucasian and a native English speaker with a working-holiday viza was justifiable for them to hire me. I was teaching English conversation to office workers who worked for a medical supply company in Yokkaichi and Tsu cities 3 times a week.
It was that easy. All you had to do back in 1987 was to BE a big whitey round-eyed Caucasian whose native language was English and you landed a job! Sadly, this is still the case with a lot of native English speaking “teachers” in Japan even now. Back then I had no idea whether this teaching thing was my thing. I enjoyed it, but was it for me? In those days all you had to do was walk in a remote suburbian area, which was where I was living, in Kuwana where there were NOT very many Aussies and people would approach you. T’was a bit scary, but one of the neighbours came to my house and talked to my frend’s mother about having me teach them English. Cash in hand, once a week. I accepted, and then the word spread like wildfire and by the end of my 3rd month I was also teaching 3 groups of Japanese housewives English in thier houses and getting paid cash in hand. Not bad. I didn’t realize at the time that this lady who approached my house would be the person who was able to set up my one year job teaching in 1989!
Truly, it’s not what you know but WHO you know that mattered.
Thus I was packing my bags to return to Japan in 1989 to work in an English juku. And I still had NO teaching certificate or qualifications. hmmmm.
I truly believe that it’s the teachers that make subjects so special. Looking back at my own student life, I can truly admit that I never REALLY studied. Well..I never knew what “study” was…put a pen in my hand and I changed personality. This doesn’t mean that I don’t remember anything at all…I s’pose. I remember trying to make it work with my biology teacher in Yr 11, but I ended up dropping the subject during the middle of the second semester. As a teenager, though, I gather we all look at the teachers connected with the subjects, obviously. I honestly believed that my biology teacher looked like a stick insect with thick glasses. However, having my first Japanese teacher as Miss McKenna, I got to know her more than just my teacher of this very different Asian language. In my first year of high school, the worlds of my Japanese teacher and I sort of collided. My father was at that time in Rotary and our parents were councillor parents for a Japanese exchange student from Ibaraki Prefecture that year. Just by fate, I would call it, due to one of her host mothers’ illness, our family hosted her for 3 months and she occupied the same room as I. Being only 13, easily distracted and praised at school by Miss McKenna for having an excellent grasp of Japanese pronunciation, I would often listen to her talk about her life in Japan. I always wondered what it would be like to travel to such a different place. During that year too (it was a busy year, for sure) her parents travelled to Brisbane to see their daughter. We had one evening together. Since her parents couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Japanese, my mother asked Miss MsKenna over for dinner for a free meal, and to help with any times of being lost (in translation). It was a wonderful evening and I really got to hear more of the language, and try out just one sentence I has prepared with Miss McKenna. The exchange student’s father was a real character, plus he couldn’t stop grinning at me! He boldly said, right there in the middle of the meal in front of everyone, that he wanted to take me back to Japan and marry me!!! It was after this evening, that I had secretly decided that, no matter what, I would go to Japan and (not marry him..of course) speak to him and his wife again ALL in Japanese.
It wasn’t until I turned 21 years of age that, after graduating from a unversity in Brisbane, majoring in Japanese, I hopped on my first plane flight and headed to Japan and eventually did meet him, his wife and the entire family. He was so happy to just sit with me talking about anything and everything that came to mind, all in Japanese. He showed me around the place and town he lived in and pointed out all of the small Japanese pubs where he would often go (he had his won whiskey bottles with his name on them in each place). He showed me every place that meant everything to him. He even had a huge party, invited all his mates and wanted me to pretend I couldn’t speak Japanese. (I wondered what Miss McKenna would’ve thought then.) He planned it so that at a specific time he would nod to me to start speaking Japanese, and sit back to watch his friends all look in amazement. He really was something. I said my goodbyes and travelled down to Yokohama with his daughter. We received a phone call that same night to return to Ibaraki asap. He died two days after this.
His liver had given way. The doctors had predicted 10 years, naturally almost 10 years ago to the day. I didn’t know any of this, until I returned to his home. Here I was: washing the feet of a man whom had I had first met at the age of 13, helping prepare the body for cremation.
Looking back on my first ever trip to Japan seeing him, and the first time I had tried my one Japanese sentence with him, I consider myself extremely fortunate and blessed. It was those special meetings with a special teacher, a special exchange student and a special man all those years ago that make my journey with Japan even more special. Thus at the wonderful young age of 21, (oh, so naive!!) I began my next step toward creating my own path connected with Japan.
We all have different tastes, distastes, likes and dislikes blaa blaa blaa, however having a fascination about something tends to be a tad extra than the usual, I believe. I have been “fascinated” with this country I call me second home, Japan, ever since I sat in my first Japanese lesson at the age of 13. This is a fascination, which extends beyond being a student of the language to being an actual teacher of Japanese, is still deep here within me even now 30 odd years later. Curious. I can still remember my very first Japanese lesson, where I was sitting, what time of the day it was…I can see my Japanese teacher, an Australian woman who not only taught me Japanese, but also German, Math and was my HomeRoom teacher to boot! She was great! Miss McKenna was her name. I was NEVER a good student. In fact, I DETESTED my school and never really wanted to go. But as for my Year 8 (Queensland, Australia education for High School starts at “Year 8”) Japanese lessons…well…they were THE best.
I suppose that’s when and where my “fascination” began.