by Anna Marshall
Greetings from Toyokoro, Hokkaido, Japan!
My name is Anna Marshall, and I am currently living and teaching in Toyokoro, Summerland’s Sister City.
For the past eight years, I have lived, worked and gone to school in Summerland. During those eight years, I have taken the opportunity to travel at every given opportunity.
I’ve always been drawn to different cultures, and the fact that at the core of everything we are all the same; that has inspired me to have a nomadic lifestyle.
Last October, I was offered a position to teach English overseas in Japan.
I was more than thrilled to accept this job, and now here I am. I am now away for the next year or more to teach English in the little town of Toyokoro at the junior high, elementary, and Kindergarten with adult classes one evening a week.
During my three months here, I have started to settle in as the euphoria of being in a new country wears off.
When I first arrived, I was really shocked about the similarities between Canadian and Hokkaido’s landscape and wildlife.
For those of you unaware, Hokkaido is the northernmost island in Japan. Toyokoro is nestled between the Hidaka Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean, so it keeps a cool temperature all year.
Many people tend to think tropical when they think Japan, but that is sincerely not the case up here in Hokkaido.
During the heat of the summer, and days when it’s not raining, Toyokoro rarely gets past 25 degrees, but with the humidity, it makes it feel much hotter.
Hokkaido winters are famous for their brutal dry cold, and fresh powder snow, and I have yet to experience this.
Even though the looks are similar, the feel is undeniably different from Canada.
Every day there is something that shatters the Canadian backdrop illusion, but it`s definitely in a good way!
The Japanese priority system is quite different from that of Canada`s for one thing.
Ceremonies, formalities, and hospitality are placed at a very high importance. My first day here, I was caught off guard by the Japanese hospitality or as they call it, omotenashi.
I had first hand experience of this from the moment I arrived here. I went from meeting three men at the airport to arriving home and finding six more men in my house, waiting to greet me.
That same day, one family gave a plethora of assorted gifts from cups to bottles of wine to crystal trays to me.
The next day I went through very similar treatment. I also went through my first Japanese ceremony experience the next day.
My first full day here I was astounded by all of the little formalities, and to be honest, a little confused. From the bows, to the different greeting formalities, it was all a bit overwhelming.
Before going anywhere, I had to meet, have coffee, and receive my official contract from the mayor, in front of many of the city workers and sister city members.
I went through a similar procedure for each of the five other places I was required to visit on my first day.
This, coupled with welcome parties thrown by each of my belonging establishments, made me feel incredibly wanted, and appreciated.
Each welcome party was on a different scale from casual to very formal, but they still had the same air of hierarchy and tradition.
Some unique things about going out in Japan are, you cannot pour your own drink, and you cannot start eating until everyone receives food wherein then everyone says itadakimasu.
At the end of these parties they do something called a “big clap” where the most important host (mayor, chairman…etc) makes a speech then everyone together says “yo!”, and does one in sync clap.
I think you can read everything about a specific culture, but no matter what, the reality will always catch you off guard when you get there.
That is really my first impression of Japan: hospitality and ceremonies. Thanks for reading!
Anna Marshall is in Summerland’s Sister City of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.