JET Program Reflections #9–The Last One

Pictured: The upper right corner of a poster from one of my elementary schools, featuring all the teachers’ photos and names. Yours truly is pictured hovering in the little UFO.

Here is the ninth and final of my Tuesday mini-series of reflections on my experiences in the JET Program, lazily culled from e-mails sent to friends and family at the time. This one looks to be from August 2004, written in recognition of my one-year anniversary in Japan:

As some of you may know, before coming to Japan I spent a year at a classy four star hotel conveniently located in the heart of Minneapolis’ financial district (as dramatized on my comic book Young Men of a Certain Mind). I worked in the capacity of a night bellman, arriving everyday at 11pm and staying until 7am. I spent my time helping the odd late arriver with their bags, shining shoes, delivering papers, or wandering around the hallways, looking for trouble.

But the life of a bellman isn’t as exciting as it might seem. In the course of a year I ran into only one couple having sex in the stairwell, only one naked man who got locked out of his room somehow, broke down only one door, and brought cereal to Janet Jackson at 3am only once. The television programs would have you believe that all this happens to a bellman nightly, but that’s just not the reality of the job. It’s actually pretty boring.

It’s hard for me to believe that the amount of time I’ve spent in Japan is just now roughly equal to the time I spent at the hotel. At the end of my year at the hotel, my bank account had a few more thousand dollars in it. That’s about all I have to show for the experience. In the same amount of time in Japan, my whole world has been transformed. I’m starting to slowly grasp some of the mores and ways. Signs aren’t just a collection of meaningless squiggles, they have meaning. And the conversations I overhear are no longer just complete gibberish, now they’re only 95% gibberish. Okay, granted, I still need another year to really get my Japanese to a true conversational level (I’m staying for a second year for those of you who didn’t know), but still I think it’s pretty cool that two years that I could have spent puttering around empty hotel hallways (or working as a graphic designer or whatever) will instead be spent reaching a working level of language and cultural proficiency. I dunno, it’s interesting to me anyway…

And on top of that, after planning and scripting it for a year, I’ve officially started production on my next comic book project. Not only is this comic more labor-intensive than any of my previous efforts, it’s also likely to be more than two hundred pages (my longest single narrative to date was sixty pages long). After slaving away for three weeks, I’ve managed to churn out about three and a half pages of finished comic. If I can continue at this breakneck pace, I’ll finish the whole thing in 170 weeks, which is juuust over my goal of finishing the whole thing in a year and a half, so… er… that’s good…

And that was it. 

Even though I stayed in Japan for another two years after I wrote this, that was the last mass e-mail I ever sent out. I don’t think I really planned it to be the last one, and I don’t know why I stopped writing them. Probably to devote more time to the comic, I guess.

The comic book referenced is, of course, Tonoharu. Tonoharu would go on to be  twice as long as I originally projected (at least), and despite my hopes, wouldn’t even come close to being finished before I left the JET Program. But oh well, that’s the way it goes.

It’s also funny to look at this old e-mail now and see that I thought I’d have reached a “working level of language and cultural proficiency” by the end of my second year. Ah, sweet, naive optimism…

But anyway… that’s it! The end of the JET Program Reflections entries. From here on out, the old blog will be updated just once a week on Fridays, just like the masthead says.

But I’m sure I’ll revisit the JET Program again in future entries from time to time, so I implore JET Program enthusiasts to continue to stop by on Fridays. Peace!

  • Kara

    What exactly are you saying in that UFO?

  • Lars Martinson

    Nothing exciting–Just:

    Lars Martinson-sensei
    Job: ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)
    Birthplace: USA, Minnesota State

  • So how did that “working level of language and cultural proficiency” work out?

    I’m four months in, and while having learned quite a bit of Japanese, I’m still far, far away from having that working level you speak of. Did you ever achieve it?

  • Lars Martinson

    I guess it depends on how rigidly you define proficiency. For me, I’d like to be able to get by 90% of the time without the other person needing to make allowances for Japanese being my second language. I’m sad to say that I don’t think I’m quite there yet. Some people are naturals at languages; for me it’s a constant struggle.

    But I continue to study Japanese everyday, and that constant effort continues to improve my Japanese little by little, so we’ll see. I’d like to learn a second language to fluency before I die, and I figure Japanese is my best shot at that, so. I figure I’ll get there eventually.

    Good luck to you!

  • Thanks for the luck.

    I’ll just keep on hitting the books. It’s not like I have much else to do at my schools.