Let me start off by saying that so far I have loved living in Japan. They warned us that someday the "honeymoon phase" would end, and there would come a time when we'd hit the low of our culture shock. While I have certainly experienced culture shock in many forms, it hasn't diminished my enjoyment of this country. Honestly, I've been waiting for "the other shoe to drop" as it were, but so far it hasn't. The people are friendly, I love where I work, and I have lived comfortably for the last 2 months.
But it is certainly different, and where this is most apparent is at work. I am currently working at a very small school with about 8 teachers. All of them are extremely friendly, and most try to talk to me with the limited English they know. But Japan is a very homogenous society, and as much as I try to be a part of the faculty, I'm still the English speaking outsider. Not that they treat me badly. It's more like I'm this cute pet they have around. I'm interesting, they like having me around, and so they tolerate me with general amusement. I don't have too many classes during the day, so I frequently visit other classes - Art, Music, Japanese class. I enjoy watching the other teachers teach, even if I don't know what they're saying most of the time. I love visiting the elementary class, and Mr. Yamanaka, their teacher said I can visit any time I like. So I go by once a day, and the kids always welcome me with waves and smiles. Mr. Yamanaka is a great teacher, and tries to use English in his class whenever I'm around.
So what's the problem? The problem for me is that I want to talk with these people! I enjoy watching them teach, and want to know more about them - how long they've been teaching, are they from Sapporo, do they have any kids - but I can tell that most get nervous when I speak to them. There's also lots going on at the school right now with the School Festival just a week and a half away. All the teachers and students are scrambling to prepare their music/theater/performances, and I can do little but watch. I've offered my services to help in any way, but I just get a smile and a nod. The theater teacher in me is going crazy right now - watching all the students prepare their shows and I'm not even helping!
So I help when I can. Usually just putting myself out there and offereing whenever I see something that needs to be done. And they seem to appreciate it. But it's frustrating when, try as you might, you're never gonna really be part of the group. I could probably live here for 20 years and speak fluent Japanese, but I'd still be a "gaijin". I think I should just embrace my gaijin-ness - I've never really minded standing out in a crowd anyway.