I’m supposed to be living in a bubble. A wee little inaka (Japanese for ‘countryside’) bubble. And by and large it conforms to that stereotype. People sometimes stare, not in some malicious way just mild curiosity really. Old people from time to time will not sit next to me on the train, though this isn’t necessarily a phenomenon that occurs only in rural Japan. Or just in Japan for that matter… There’s an agricultural high school down the street and I walk past enough rice fields daily to never really forget where I am. It’s a beautiful place but there is something about the countryside that does on occasion drive me mad. It never seeks to engage in the outside world.
Or, at least I thought it didn’t. When I taught in Nagano-ken I used to take in these letters for my advanced students, particularly the high school kids. I’d had friends who’d lived in cities around the world write a page of clear but natural English about the places they lived. I wanted to show these young people that with a bit of courage there was a huge world to explore, that their options extended beyond their hometown and the 9 to 5 (more like 8 to 9) of working life in Tokyo.
They lapped it up. There was enough romance in the language, enough genuine feeling that these kids couldn’t help but want to see these places first hand. But for most teenagers thoughts of escaping their comfort zone don’t come easy. That desire is often tinged with a reticence, an understandable difficulty at the thought of leaving families and a tight knit community. In fairness if you’d have suggested to me as a teenager that I might one day live in Japan of all places I’d have laughed in your face; simply thinking it better to hide how terrifying a thought I actually would have found the notion.
But here I am and while I may find frustration with the older generations of Japan for only venturing beyond this isle on group holidays in a tiny Japanese bubble I’d be a fool to think it isn’t changing. Because while there are signs of Japan becoming far more insular, the case of a continuous decline in Japanese students choosing to study abroad being a worrying trend, some places are doing some wonderful stuff.
This morning I taught English at a nursery school. While much of what I teach may be in one ear and out the other in the long run at least the kids are getting exposed to English at an early age, in a way that doesn’t simply involve the drilling of endless grammar points. It’s all fun, games and storybooks. But that pales in comparison to what I saw as I was leaving today. The four and five years in the class I’d taught a mere forty-five minutes earlier were dancing. Flamenco.
Maybe one day some of these kids will venture abroad to an English speaking nation, but I’d put good money on a couple of the kids in that class having been successfully nabbed by Iberia before I can extol to them in their later years the joys of a wet and windy British Isles.
A dance around the maypole just doesn’t compete does it?