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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simple and Complicated

Working in Japan has opened my eyes towards how I feel about work. I think I’m a happy person. As I sat in the teacher’s office, I saw many serious faces. It was usually quiet, but I assumed that was because that was how white collar people acted. I have been fortunate to have a job that has required my ability to play the guitar. This meant that I had permission to practice songs as I needed. I often practiced in the teacher’s room. Actually, I made it a point to practice there. The old timers had grumpy and serious looks as could be expected. The younger teachers looked down at their computer screens with no expressions on their faces. I thought that it was taboo if they started to sing or clap to a song that I played. To my surprise, I found that the teachers were not made of ice. Their faces showed no emotion, but I could see that they were quietly tapping their feet to the music. Yesterday, I made a breakthrough. One of the Vice Principals asked if I would play a song. She was fond of the Carpenter’s, so I played, “On Top of the World”. Smiles and laughter broke out in the room. After a brief round of applause, the mood quickly changed back to serious. I continued practicing, and many of the teacher’s feet quietly tapped to the music.

What has made this an interesting experience was the fact that I’m American. Most of these schools had no idea how to treat me. I come to school and sit around playing guitar. I smile a lot and laugh with the kids and at the teacher’s seriousness. I’m sure they are wondering why I gave up my country and career to come to Japan. The Japanese are not accustomed to radical changes. My guess is that they think I lost everything when the housing bubble burst in the U.S. and I escaped to Japan. The thought of giving up a life of luxury to teach kids in Japan must have seemed absurd to them. Indeed, it would seem crazy to most people. I have been giving this a lot of thought, lately. Why am I here? The answer is simple and complicated. I wanted to do something else with my life. I was tired of “stuff” and I wanted something more valuable…happiness. I tried for many years to find happiness. This is where it gets complicated. The happiness I was looking for did not involve money or things. I craved a happiness that had a real substance to it. I wanted to wake up each day to feel…happy…grateful to be alive. I recently read a book about finding happiness. I can’t remember the title, but it was featured on an Oprah show. The book stated that the number one factor that affected happiness was…guess what? Health? Wealth? Status? Family? Nope. The number one factor was where you lived. I found that this idea rang true for my life. When I lived in California, I complained about the neighbor on an hourly basis. I moved across town. I complained about the long commute. I moved to Seattle and I had a short ten minute commute. I complained about the traffic near the house, the backyard neighbor, and the weather from hell. The place that I called, “Home” affected how I looked at each day from when I got up until I went to bed. Home was a constant reminder of how I was living.
Welcome to Tsukahara! I must be happy because I don’t have any neighbors or traffic to complain about. My commute isn’t too far and my work has been rewarding. Hey, nothing’s perfect. I wish I could work where I live, but I’ll have to work hard and be patient for that.
George

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