Part 4: "I just exchanged messages with your head trainer, and he has confirmed there's no way you can pass training after today."
My room mate arrived the next day after I had spent hours upon hours of scrubbing my hands bloody and raw trying to remove the slick layer of grime from the apartment.
Among being Australian, tall and similarly aged, Stephanie had a head of short, bouncy brown curls, and dark-oak eyes which were lit with enthusiasm as she explained her reasons for coming to Japan. Turns out she was a well-travelled expat who had jumped aboard a plane the moment she graduated university, and had experienced teaching English to second-language students in countries I hadn't heard of.
When I pointed out I had spent the day cleaning the bathroom, she had enthusiastically asked, "We have a bathroom? I haven't seen one of those in months!"
I liked her easy-going nature, and a friendly face was what I sorely needed in a time of life transition. Our Australian traits complemented each other, and we were quickly up to mischief once training started; cat-calling each other during presentations, diverting every conversation to characteristics of drop-bears, and - if time permitted - daring each other to eat mysterious food during lunch (or ganging up on our American fellow teachers in training to try snacks we knew to be down-right awful).
Training was every bit draining and torturous as people had described; we were expected to be at a training classroom on the other side of Nagoya city by eight o'clock every morning (though, by day two we were arriving before seven-thirty - a five o'clock wake-up without breakfast), lunch was a combini (convenient store) scramble as we woofed down onigiri and bread in order to rush off to observe afternoon classes, and train transits were spent catching up on sleep instead of doing the pages of reading we were supposed to complete every evening. We easily clocked-in sixteen to eighteen hours a day of training, homework, and teaching.
While the majority of my training sessions and observation classes with veteran teachers in their schools were not too demanding (most of the veteran teachers were laid-back, very kind, and often joked about their cultural mishaps), there was one session which truly pushed me to the edge.
Hiding from Japanese Ghosts' Experience with Kiyotaki Tunnel
I first heard about Kiyotaki Tunnel years ago from a friend, suggesting 'we visit the tunnel everyone says is haunted'. I had read the reports, stories, and articles about Kiyotaki Tunnel. This is by no means an unknown ghost spot - there are articles and sources in a range of languages, and it is a popular reference for media and bloggers to brag about their bravery.
Every newbie teacher had to stay in a training apartment near the head office in order to complete two weeks' worth of education bootcamp. This bootcamp was notoriously strict, and almost every comment and blog post I read while researching the company had designated the bootcamp "...two weeks of unbelievable hell and torture."
"The training apartment will be kept pristine at all times," the manager told me sternly. He was sweating in a business shirt and tie as he heaved my broken suitcase up the three flights of steps. "It is your responsibility to maintain and clean all of the rooms. Any damages will come out of your first paycheck. Don't even think about having a party."
Before my departure to Japan, I bragged to anyone who would listen about my awaiting job. I wasn’t stupid - I had read the contract carefully, investigated online about the company well in advance of the interview, and braced myself for any slight mental tweaks I’d have to make in order to successfully adapt to Japanese culture.
Part 1: "Start packing your bags and brush up on your Japanese. I am 99% sure you will be perfect for our company."
The interviewer had shaken my hand promisingly with a wide grin as he said that to me.
I had politely smiled and returned the handshake with a firm grip like all the how-to guides on job applications had told me to, making sure my other hand was positioned over my pant’s broken zipper (the tape had burst apart that morning while I had hurriedly been getting ready for the interview). After muttering a few extra thank-yous and gently refusing to wait for the bus in his living-room, I was wandering the streets back towards the bus stop, silently congratulating myself on achieving the greatest goal of my twenty-one year old life.
Teaching in Japan.
Hiding from Japanese Ghosts
Ghost stories are the least frightening thing about Japan when facing culture clashes, mystery food, language barriers, and - scariest of all - marriage.