To Japan and back

I have written this blog post to give readers (and possibly even myself) an idea of who I (Tom Orsman) am, of how I ended up in Japan, and finally of why in 2014 I started Shimaguni school teaching Japanese in Brighton.

The post was meant to be less than 200 words, but I got a little carried away.

Right, here goes….

I grew up in a small Devon village. Both the village and the area are beautiful. It was a great place to grow up, but there weren’t – and still aren’t – many jobs around, certainly not conventional jobs anyway.

When I returned to Devon from University, the first job I could find was as a tram driver on the local tourist tramway. After that I took a job as a grater at a nearby cheese factory. After a year of this, I decided I needed to escape.

So at 22, I went to Australia on a 1 year working holiday. Via 3 month stints working as a kitchen hand in both Melbourne and Sydney, I found a seasonal job as an apple picker on a farm outside Perth.

The advert for the job had been taped to the wall of a phone box. Seeing that advert would change the rest of my life.

The farm I stayed at for 3 months had a separate building for accommodating all the seasonal fruit pickers. Almost all the pickers were on the same overseas 1-year travel visa that I was.

Most of the fruit pickers were young, energetic Europeans and North Americans. The only exception was a large group of Japanese people.

I did not speak to any of the Japanese at first: I was far too shy, but I was very curious about them. They seemed so quiet and gentle compared with the sometimes loud and brash Europeans and North Americans on the farm.

The obvious cultural differences between the 2 groups was astonishing. The Europeans seemed to show a different way of living; the Japanese seemed to show a different way of being.

One man either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the differences. He was a very friendly, likeable, curly-haired New Zealander called Casey.

He regularly spoke with one of the Japanese in the group while we picked apples together. I always listened in, fascinated to hear stories of a world beyond my imagination.

Casey later told me he was applying for a job teaching English in Japan. He told me I should try applying too. I had never really thought about teaching as a career up to that point, not for lack of interest in the job but more because I did not believe I knew anything worth teaching. But if the job is good enough for Casey I thought, it is good enough for me. So I began the application straightaway.

After Casey left the farm, I finally plucked up the courage to speak to some of the Japanese on the farm myself. Some I realised were even shier than I had been. I ended up becoming friendly with some of them, so much so that thanks to the new craze of that time called e-mail, we were able to keep in touch and meet up again in Japan.

On my return to the UK, I travelled up to London for an interview for a Japan-wide chain of English Conversation Schools. A few months later at 24, I found myself moving to Nagoya, Japan’s 4th largest city to teach English.

At this point I had never eaten sushi, did not know what anime or geishas were, and I certainly did not speak any Japanese.

The only thing I really knew for sure about Japan and the Japanese people was that I had really enjoyed picking apples with them. And at that stage, that was enough.

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