Thursday, September 07, 2006

Greeting from the Mountain...

As this is my first post, allow me to introduce myself. My name is David Blackwood. I was born in Kirkcaldy in 1983 and grew up around the town. I studied in Aberdeen and then last year I moved to Japan to teach English. My town is called Ena, in Gifu Prefecture, a beautiful and mountainous area roughly in the centre of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Ena sits in a river valley, surrounded on three sides by mountains. It has roughly 58,000 people, a little less than Kirkcaldy, but spread out over a larger area in smaller villages which have emalgamated with the town over a period of time. In the surrounding forests monkeys are often seen, and very rarely bears are sighted.

Japan, as many will be aware, is an extremely homogenous society. Long periods of isolation, from medieval times up until the end of the last century, and again after the war, have meant that immigration is minimal. The largest groups of immigrants are Chinese, Koreans and South Americans, - the majority are Brazilians - who mostly do low-paid manufacturing work and are kept at arms length by the Japanese community in general. Most of the non-Asian immigrants are centred on the urban areas like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, so you can imagine the regular Japanese persons confusion at seeing me wandering around in a small city up in the mountains.

Yes, when I first arrived I felt like a regular rock star. Everybody was curious, and they all invariably asked me the same questions: Do I like Japan, do I like Japanese food and what part of America am I from? Fortunately I had memorized the phrase "Watashi wa Amerika-jin ja nai" (I am not American) in case of this eventuality. The answers to the other two are more complex. Do I like Japan? - Yes, I do but sometimes it drives me up the wall. Do I like Japanese food? - Yes, but if I have to eat another cup of dry white rice I'm going to karate chop someone. Like its food, Japanese culture is often frustrating and confusing, but it's these differences that are teaching me day by day to be a more open and understanding person. I'm no longer scared to try new things - I've knowingly eaten bowel. And like its culinary counterpart you have to react the same way to the cultural opportunities afforded to you in this place - never refuse an invitation, never miss a chance to see something that could change your life. You have to take life by the reins and accept what it throws at you, and enjoy it, even if it did used to be part of an animal's digestive tract.

Fortunately for me, the curiosity has worn off now, and although people recognise me on the street, and I am pretty much an accepted member of the community, people mostly leave me to get on with it. At school I am comfortable teaching and interacting with the students, and my Japanese is good enough to get me out of most scrapes (there's still room for improvement though). I have a number of good Japanese friends, and a number of good foreign friends. I also have an awesome Canadian girlfriend. I know my way around town pretty well and often take long trips in my beautiful but filthy & dangerous car. I am very much in my element. Yes, life is pretty sweet.

With this blog I hope to give you a little insight into what it's like for a Scot living abroad - the various trials & triumphs, some facts, some outlandish anectdotes. Hopefully armed with those ingredients I'll be able to paint an accurate portrait of this unique experience.

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