First Day at a New Job

Last week I wrote about Trash talk and our Neighborhood Group… and this group theme has been on my mind.

Honestly, it’s been a new world since we started school a month ago, which has kinda shifted our local network and how we move within it.

For example, there’s a family that lives in our apartment, and they’re quiet folks. We saw them only in passing but we tried to be friendly toward them to open a door of communication.

Well, the door is now off the hinges, because we are both now part of our Neighborhood Group. We both have first grade girls this year… and though we could never get beyond much of a “hello” beforehand, now we see each other and small talk or discuss things in the morning while sending our kids off, and the kids often play together in the evening times in front of our building.

There’s a sense of acceptance of us, because now we’re bonded as part of the group.

This doesn’t have so much to do with us personally, I think it’s more to do with the fact that we all have to have a sense of harmony in the group.

But, nonetheless, it opens the door for actual friendship and community.

Next, let’s talk about what I’ll call the Orange Group. Our kids in our neighborhood area are subdivided into smaller groups (like the one I was talking about above). But we’re all part of the orange group– orange being the color of the little ribbon we had to sew on top of the kids’ hats.

We have a list of the people within closer groups and sometimes we need to communicate with them for patrol partnerships. And usually we all meet at a certain spot to meet the kids walking home from school. This is a group that I’m still trying to mingle with and get to know more.

But they all know me… and often times they know a lot about our family. I have another post I’m working on about that– about our fishbowl lifestyle.

Anyway, walking home from school, the kids all walk in a pre-determined place in a line. There’s a mom in this orange group who walks behind us. The first several days, I just spent the time chatting with my daughter (obviously in English) and asking questions to get a sense of what her new world is like and how she’s faring with new friends.

But on one occasion, this mom behind us invited another friend who speaks English to walk home with us so that we could all talk and she could get to know us. What a surprise that was!

And she was a bit surprised too to find out that yes, we do also speak Japanese.

Anyway, this has turned into her and her kids often stopping by for a bit after school to play in front of our apartment. That’s required a little adjustment in figuring out my schedule, but has been helpful in talking about church and being a Christian (again, fishbowl).

Others introduce themselves to me by telling me who I must be (“Oh, you must be so-and-so’s mom”)…. Whereas when they meet other Japanese moms, it’s not obvious, and they may or may not have heard of each other. We just seem to be an open book.

So, it’s taken a bit of mental sorting to figure out and remember all these new people and our relationships and how they all work… It’s kinda like your first day on the job, where you’re meeting all these people from all these departments and learning who’s who.

But I’m definitely looking forward to getting to know more people and learn from them… and hopefully be able to share my hope with them as well!

Daily Dispatches

There’s a special pink-zippered bag among my daughter’s school belongings that I’ve discovered is the most important item.

They call it the Renraku-bukuro (contact/communication bag).

But I call it “The Daily Dispatches” and approach it with a “Sir! Yes Sir!” attitude.

My daughter is the messenger, carrying all-important paperwork, notices and messages from the teacher neatly glued inside the renraku-cho (contact/communication notebook) and returning completed items and tasks the next morning.

But this renraku-cho has been my confoundment these last days.

It all began when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t entirely sure which was the front side and which was the back.

Both sides had a title. Both sides had a label for specific information.

Surely the side with the small bar code must be the back— which made the book Japanese style (binding on the right) as compared to Western (binding on the left). We do it both styles here, so it was a 50/50 shot.

On the inside(front, I assumed) cover, I was told to fill out information regarding my child, the school, and our job, which I diligently did.

At the ceremony, the lady in front made important communications regarding a special yellow paper to be put in the renraku-cho. I had heard of this paper and had heard of its importance. I sat up a little straighter.

She showed the yellow slip glued over the place where I had filled out the information on the front cover. And it didn’t look like she had any information like I thought I’d been told to do.

But what really tripped me up was that she kept saying, “glue it to the back of the renraku-cho”.

Now I was really messed up because she had clearly glued hers to the front. Is it a western book now? Was I not supposed to fill it out the information? Where did I go wrong? Which side is the back of the book?

Am I being gaslighted?

What is going on here?

I browsed my paperwork trying to read it more carefully.

Yup, fill it out and glue it to the back of the book.

Well, I wasn’t sure of the information to fill out on the magic yellow paper anyhow, aside from her name. I puzzled it out again later that night, figuring that I’d just have to find out the next day.

The next morning, I stuck the yellow paper in my purse, and took along a health card I had filled out with my daughter’s daily temperature readings and sleep times/breakfast confirmed eaten.

I asked a parent in our assigned group what to do with this health card. She gave me a look of panic and concern and told me to put it in my dispatch bag. She noticed the yellow slip was missing and quickly explained how to fill it out.

Happy to know how to complete it, I now asked her where to attach it.

“To the back of the renraku-cho.”

Great.

BUT WHICH SIDE IS THE BACK???

My daughter returned home. I demanded the dispatch bag, which contained paperwork to be completed.

I opened the renraku-cho to find a note from the teacher glued in. Sometimes homework comes in this notebook. Sometimes I stamp, sometimes I’m to sign it. At any rate, I now assumed that this must be the front of the book, confirming my original suspicion that we were dealing with a Japanese-style book.

I flipped to the back to glue in the yellow slip and to my dismay, found the health card (which I had thought missing) folded and glued on one edge like a fold out. Apparently the teacher must have done this.

Well, now what to do??

In the meantime, I sent a message to the aforementioned neighbor to confirm the information I was to fill out.

THANKFULLY, she sent a picture. And as I zoomed in, I looked for clues on the edges of the yellow slip to see where she might have glued it in.

And I think I figured it out guys.

The yellow paper was to be glued onto the back of the front cover of the renraku-cho– glued on the top edge, laying over the information I’d filled out.

I said I think… but that’s the way it’s going to be guys. Because I glued that thing in, washed my hands of it, and put it out of my sight for the evening.

I have the whole weekend now to finish the rest of my tasks and submit my Dispatches to the teacher on Monday morning.

First Day Frenzy

Yesterday we got an email from a fellow worker here in Japan regarding our ministry. It began like this:

“Sorry it has taken me a few days to respond… Things have been crazy this week with school starting back up for the kids and especially figuring everything out about my son’s new school as he just started first grade at the local Japanese school.”

I grinned, sighed and sent a commiserating nod across the internet wavelengths.

The evening after the entrance ceremony found me sitting among my kids’ bookbags, paperwork and uniforms sprawled across our bed. We had closed the sliding doors, effectively hiding the piles of “important things” from our neighbors who came over for a lunch celebration after our kids’ entrance ceremony.

Now it was time to deal with it.

I set all my preschooler’s items aside. I knew how to deal with hers and sort through her papers.

I tried to organize my first grader’s things into final details to finish up, needed items, things to be sent later and then took a quick flip through the folders and packets of papers. I kept referencing different papers and trying to decide what needed to be done first.

Meanwhile my preschooler was singing at the top of her lungs and my toddler stood, hanging onto the side of the bed, throwing papers with glee across our living room.

Eventually, I was able to pack the bags with needed items which were all adequately and sometimes doubly labeled.

As I labeled her gym clothes name tags with info I had just received that morning and ironed them on, I scorched the label on the shorts. I quickly called my husband who was out, asking him to run by the special store from which I had to buy specific labels. Unfortunately they were closed.

I knew my kid wouldn’t wear the clothes the next day but she still had to take them. So, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best until I was able to repair the damage.

After the kids went to bed (a bit later than I planned for!), I sat down with the stacks of papers and began reading, sorting and putting into my own system of comprehension and organization.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but in English, you can simply glance at something and within a split second understand it’s meaning and relative importance.

Even having lived here and spoken Japanese for years now, none of these papers completely do that for me. At least not that fast. It takes looking, processing, comprehending and deciding.

I’m rather like a computer that’s a wee bit old. You know– you click and the wheel spins and a few moments later it does what you want it to do. Or at least, you hope so.

But, at least I’m getting faster and not slower.

Anyway, this isn’t a one-time-and-you’re-done deal. Everyday needs checking and confirming, because everyday is different. For the time being until the kids get used to carrying all the text books back and forth to school each day, I have a list a different items to send with my kid each day and a list of what she will study at what time, on what day and what time she gets off school.

Well… we made it through the first day of class (a Friday, thank goodness) with only a couple tiny mistakes. I have paperwork to fill out over the weekend and then the real fun begins!

If you think of me, say a little prayer for me, eh? And for my guinea-pig daughter!

Nyuugaku

So the day I’ve been preparing for for months finally arrived– The Nyuugaku-shiki or Entrance Ceremony for first graders beginning elementary school.

The gymnasium was lined with thick red-and-white-striped material on the walls, flowers across the front, and a wide, high desk on the stage. Chairs were social-distance spaced, and overall, a guarded silence pervaded the room as we waited for the children to enter and the event to begin.

The actual ceremony contained the parts of a “ceremony” we’ve come to recognize in all meetings Japanese– an official declaration of beginning the event…. speeches from so and so…. standing, bowing multiple times and eventually an official declaration of ending the event.

This time we got to listen to the national anthem, which was moving.

At one point (all the parents were seated behind the classes), I smiled behind my mask to see all the little boys in row line swinging their little legs (some of which barely touched the floor) while the girls in the next row to them held still legs.

During the course of the morning’s activities, the children learned who was going to be in their classes, who their teacher was, where their shoe cubby was. They turned in paperwork and received name badges with colors and numbers that all meant something. They deposited items we had been told to bring to their respective places, received their text books and… so. much. paperwork.

Class pictures were taken with everyone in their finest, and families looked forward to their individual celebrations at home or in the home of a friend.

It’s a big deal here in Japan and the start of a new season for children AND parents.

Home and Heritage

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a book about raising healthy TCKs (Third Culture Kids). There are some wonderful benefits to raising your kids overseas (like an expanded global worldview, outside-the-box thinkers, an intuitive ability to empathize, etc.). But there are also challenges that many TCKs tend to face and that don’t often surface until their adult years.

So, I’ve been reading about them and some proactive approaches as a parent to help them.

One of the suggestions was regarding how we spoke about “home”.

In my mind, “home” is America. It can also be wherever we currently have our suitcases– but the key idea of “home” for me is in a little wooded street between hills, with a green house with a white porch, drafty bedrooms and ongoing improvement projects.

For my kids, “home” is Japan. Their passports may say otherwise, but to them, our corner apartment on the side of a busy street through town is where their life goes on. Trips to America are just that– trips– to a foreign country. Loved ones are there, but essentially it’s a country and a culture where life is different.

In the book I’m reading, the author recommends referring to Mom and Dad’s home culture as their “heritage” as compared to their home.

It’s an interesting concept! So, we’ve been taking the opportunity to explore things on our trip to America as learning experiences for the kids– “This is where Mommy comes from. These are some things I ate growing up. This is how people in this part of America do this.”

Even though we’re American (well, and Honduran too), having lived on another continent for so long– we’ve changed a lot. Our ways of doing things have changed. Our taste buds have changed. Our way of thinking and perspective on many things has changed. So, our culture at “home”–the one in Japan– is not necessarily American. It’s a little mix of everything that works for us.

Approaching things from a heritage perspective has helped me be more purposeful about things– pointing things out, having conversations. Granted, they aren’t in depth conversations since it’s a (almost) 7 year old and a 4 year old.

But it’s a start between bridging these worlds that are oceans, plane rides and life experiences apart.

Glimpses

So, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while of changing up the blog format to something that’s a little more feasible… and that’s just to give you short glimpses into the window of our little corner of the world. Hopefully this will let me post more frequently and not have to try to aim for clever blogs. 😉

So, without further adieu:

The Post Office

Like many places in Japan, the post office is a useful place. Not only can you obviously post things, but you apparently there are things you can do with insurance and savings and other things. I don’t know much about that, because I only frequent one window of the post office.

I frequent that window, and they know me. Not just me, but my kids too. Especially this sweet, short lady in her 50s with a short cut that curls under her round face. I got to know her during the Christmas season while I was desperately trying to attach stamps to a huge stack of cards destined overseas. The staff wasn’t able to attach them due to the quantity, so I stood in the back, rocking with my foot a baby stroller that contained a very unhappy little one. I was frazzled, and she had compassion.

She particularly admires my oldest child, has followed the course of my second and third pregnancy and was so excited to meet Ronja when she finally was out and about after lockdown.

And I never fail to confound them. Especially lately.

I had to go in to open a “Post Office” bank account. If you live in Japan, it’s likely that you’ll have to end up opening an account at a variety of banks. For example, my kids’ preschool only accepts bank transfer payment from Mizuho. The kids’ swimming class only accepts bank transfers from two or 3 banks. As Rosalyn is getting ready to go to first grade, the PTA payment is only accepted from the Post Office “Yuucho” account.

Thus I ventured in. I spent a good long time explaining to another lady behind the counter (and by default, to the entire room) why we’re considered self-employed even though we have an organization that is based in America. She took lots of notes, got lots of binders out and gave me a packet of papers to fill out and come back in a couple hours after she’d researched how to handle my case.

It ended up being pretty straightforward, and she was very kind and helpful and even apologized another time I came into the post office for the hard time it was to open the account.

Then, I came in to ask about the luggage delivery service to the airport. More binders. Asked to come back again. I came back and they had a clear understanding of “my case” and everything ready for me.

And back to that packet I sent recently. With this pandemic, which countries are accepting mail (and which type of mail) is constantly changing. I stood at the counter, knowing to expect a wait. My three ladies, including my main lady, were gathered, leaning into the screen, pressing buttons and conferring.

I stood there, watching them and smiling. I really love them. They know that.

They figured it out eventually. And I left with fond feelings of how sweet “community” is.