I really hate March.

I didn’t use to hate it. If anything I was ambivalent. Easter happens in March. So does DST (in the States). Warm weather starts creeping in. Hanami (cherry blossom season) comes and goes.

Then I came to Japan.

All of those things still happen (though Easter isn’t a big thing here, and Japan doesn’t do DST), but there’s one more thing that turns the whole thing sour.

It’s the end of the school year.

Japanese school tends to start in April and ends in March, with a couple of weeks of spring break before the students dive back into their studies. For people who work at conversation schools, this usually means that they’ll have time to get training for new lesson types, a break from hellish kids’ classes, and an excuse to vent about work troubles under cherry blossom trees. Which, admittedly, are good things.

The thing I hate the most are the goodbyes.

March is the end of the school year, as previously stated, which means it’s also the end of the contract year for teachers. The end of some people’s lives as students and the start of their lives as workers.

Either way it means a load of goodbyes are happening.

Every year Sayonara parties galore take place; friends you’ve gotten close to have decided to move on, either to another prefecture or another country (perhaps their homeland). Students graduate, never to be seen again. Frantic coworkers push their old furniture on you so they don’t have to put up with trying to get rid of it using the stupid garbage laws here.

I get very attached to my students, adults and kids alike, so saying goodbye to these people who I’ve been teaching makes me want to curl up under my kotatsu, eat chocolate, and sulk for the entirety of the month, beautiful spring weather be damned.

Yes, you can keep in touch with some people after they’ve graduated or moved back to their countries or whatever. There are lovely things like Skype, Facebook, the postal service. I’m aware of this, and utilize these things with the people I’m particularly close to. But we all know that goodbyes signify a change in relationships no matter how well you try to stay connected, and you have to say farewell not only to that person, but that person’s current role in your life.

Student? No longer a student, but maybe a friend or just an awkward acquaintance you see at future graduation parties. Best friend you eat parfaits with? You’ll remember them every time you eat a parfait, but your relationship shifts to “that person I talk to on Facebook once a week and reminisce about sweets with”.

Not saying these changes are good, bad, or anything at all.

But excuse me while I go close the curtains on a beautiful day and say “bah humbug”.

I’ll get over it in April.

That’s a horse of a different color.

What do I get out of it?

I attend a taiko drumming school, as I’ve mentioned before, in the midst of my city here in Japan. Once a week I go to an hour-long class where we practice a particular song for six months. At the end of it, we go to a Culture Center in the area and perform for our family and friends. It’s all a very expensive hobby when you get down to it–the lessons are 2,500 yen per hour, the performance costs about 9,000 yen to take part in, and if, heaven forbid, you want a DVD of the experience, that’ll cost an additional 7,000 yen.

But there’s a moment when you’re on stage and raising the drumsticks over your head, anticipation pooling in your belly as you await the first “DON” that resonates through the room… the tension and excitement before you share this passion and excitement with people is something I’m starting to really enjoy.

From elementary school through university I took part in chorus groups, so being on stage is nothing new to me. What is new to me is using something other than my voice in a performance, and while I’ve only done it twice so far, it is rapidly growing on me.

People say when you live abroad you should do something that you can only do in that place. Now, mind you, I’ve looked up taiko groups and they are widespread throughout the world, whether it’s in the States or other Asian countries or what-have-you. But here’s what I get out of this experience I really appreciate:

  1. Being in an all-Japanese environment. Can the teachers speak English? Yeah, some of them! But the teaching is all in Japanese, which forces me to keep up with my language practice. By extension…
  2. The lessons push me out of my comfort zone. I’m learning something in a foreign language with foreign context, with references to things I might never understand. I’m the only expat in my taiko group, as well, and while others take part in the other classes we don’t often get to meet and chat about our experiences.
  3. Performing on stage with this background makes me feel all the more accomplished, because to me it means I’ve succeeded in more than just learning a 5 minute song on the drums (though that’s an accomplishment in and of itself!).

I’m a little sad right now because I’ll be switching classes in April–my work and fun schedules are clashing and I needed to change it up–but I’m also excited about what else is going to happen with a new taiko group and teacher.

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with the famous quote, “Do something every day that scares you.” While I think every day is a bit ambitious, I find that pushing myself to be out there and active in ways other than my job really help me make friends and have a better sense of community in my neighborhood here.

So go, do something that only you can do, only in that place. If it’s learning tea ceremony, or a martial art, or scuba diving, or whatever, get out there and do the thing.

Ten points to…!

I have a habit in my adult classes where I like to give arbitrary points for them doing something I approve of. For example, the first student to open their textbook to the correct page gets “twenty points”. The student who forgot their textbook loses “eight thousand points”. Whoever gets up and erases the whiteboard for me wins “two points”. There is no rhyme or reason to it, the students are aware it’s complete nonsense and most laugh politely at my silliness.

The source of this point-giving is thanks to my being a Harry Potter fan. I don’t like to say I’m a major fan but the longer I live on this earth the more I realize how much it’s affected my life. As a result, inevitably toward the end of the school year, when a student does something that pleases me, I’ll say, “Ten points to Gryffindor!” and wait to see what the reaction is.

This year, I said this to a younger student, a twenty year old man with a dark complexion, dyed red hair, and glasses. The student brightened, puffed his chest out, and looked expectantly to his classmates.

“Did you hear that? I’m Harry Potter!” he announced.

Thus spurred the Great House Conundrum where everybody in this adult class wanted to know what Hogwarts House I’d place them in, whether they’d read the books or not.

I want you to imagine a group of ten or so Japanese people, a mix of men and women ranging from eighteen to forty-five years old, all crowding around a blonde foreigner demanding to know their House.

Conversations mostly went:

Student: What about me? What am I?

Me: You’re a Hufflepuff.

Student: Hufflepuff! I’m a… what’s a Hufflepuff?

Me: …

It’s one of the little things in teaching that bring me joy, are these people who are so interested in even the dumbest things I have to offer them.