Having nearly finished my time as a GAP volunteer (2 weeks to go before I start travelling), I`m required to write a report to give to Kataoka-san (Director of Cheshire Homes) and generally just talk about my experiences and the things I`ve learnt. It probably reads a little pretentiously, so apologies for that, it`s just me enjoying the use of unusual words and experimenting as usual ^_^.
しそう自立の家 － 6カ月レポート
Shiso Jiritsu no Ie – 6th month report
September 2004~February 2005
Life at Shiso these past 6 months has been an utterly absorbing experience. This being only my second time working with people with handicaps (the first being a week’s experience with children), I was ignorant of the quality of life afforded to them and, more specifically, the residents here at the Home. I’ve also found to be true what I’ve heard said before: with time you really are able to see the person and not just the disability.
Being one in a long line of successful GAP volunteers, I found it a challenge to bring something fresh to Shiso Home – not just in regards to the daily program activities provided however, but throughout the Home itself. The novelty of having overseas volunteers has long since evaporated, and a trust formed in place. Maintaining this, as well as performing the day-to-day tasks and care work, certainly tested me at various points in my stay.
As I imagine many people are at the start of such placements, I was initially awkward and hesitant in toileting and bathing the residents, and it took a month or two to build up a level of trust with them (not to mention just memorising all the names!) I also found it was far more fulfilling after the residents and staff learned to recognise me in return. Those bashful-but-amused grins Hinakura-san emanates when he sees me, or the unrelenting requests of Hashudo-san for my bag and camera at every given moment have become welcome rapport between us. It almost feels like a second home now – when I return to Shiso from a brief excursion to the city or such, there’s a definite comfort in knowing the people and place around me. I know I’ll miss the omnipresent background noise of certain residents, or the entertaining idiosyncrasies each person has when I leave, because it has become so engrained as a part of the place.
The volunteer work has only been one part of my life here. I’ve been living much more independently; what I hope will be a useful transition stage between living at home and University. Certainly, the self-motivation to do things has been as much a learning curve as the steep ascent of the language barrier. It’s been fun to try all the colourful varieties of food on show out here, although exercising restraint for that irresistible anko filling in sweet bread has almost proved impossible ^_^. Therefore I’d like to expel the myth that if you come to Japan, you will lose weight – certainly, if you develop an affinity for the Japanese cuisine it will be hard to do so!
Upon arriving at Shiso Home, I immediately became aware of the etiquette and diligence the Japanese have become renowned for. What I was also greeted with was an infectiously cheerful attitude by nearly everyone! It made such a change to be greeted every morning and to have wide, animated smiles shining between people. I believe I will get an abrupt culture shock when I finally return to the U.K and miss this dearly.
The staff do work very hard, and I’ve usually found them all to be inviting and kind to work with. They have made the time during work much more enjoyable, and really integrated me as part of the team. In fact, nearly everyone I’ve met in Japan has generally been very generous and helpful. The numerous dinners and outings I’ve been invited to, as well as the regular Tea Ceremony at Anyoji Temple and Kendo lessons just go to emphasize this. I gave English lessons to some of the staff for a while, and went on a few trips with them, including bowling and skiing outside of work, which I hope will remain as much in their memories as in mine. In short, I feel I’ve made friends.
Looking back, I suppose one of the biggest changes evoked within me has been the willingness to travel around more on my own. Before coming out to Japan, I would rarely have considered getting up and going somewhere by myself, but now it seems like no problem at all. Even with the language difficulties, what once were elusive things like booking airplane tickets, organising trips and using public transport (gasp!) have become far more attainable.
My Japanese has also improved a lot. I had lessons before I came out to Japan, and Maeda-san`s generous instruction and help along the way. I’m also grateful for all the help the staff have given me. I intend to continue learning the language throughout University so that I may one day be fluent enough to talk without whipping the silver device from my pocket. As every staff member will attest, my merciless questioning of everything they say and scrutinising the meaning of every word with my electronic dictionary has become something of a ritual! ^_^
I can’t deny that some days have been tiresome, and it would be lying to say I’ve enjoyed every moment, but the result of it has been far more rewarding. I’ve learnt much more having been challenged, and the knowledge gained is irreplaceable. Far back it feels like when previous `Gappers` where rhapsodising about the delights of a year from education, but it doesn’t seem too far away when I’ll be doing the same. Thank you for such a great experience! I hope all my successors will receive as much from their time here as I did. Indeed, the very fact that I’m extending my stay by another 4 months must be testament to this!
Things have been rounding up recently, as Jess, Lizzie and Christine are leaving on Monday to start travelling. Since my last entry, I`ve been to Maeda-san`s house again to have a small party with some friends of hers and their kawaii kodomo (cute children – there`s just no avoiding it, with their childish mischief and those brilliant grins they seem to have moulded into the very shape of their faces). We tried oden (a mixture of vegetables and fish in a light soy stew – it tastes so much better than it sounds) and takoyaki (balls of battered octopus, mmm ^_^).
Last Monday we had out soubetsukai (farewell party) with Kataoka-san, Washio-san (Head of Harima Home) and our own Jyoki-san, where we were honoured to sample kaisekiryori (Japanese haute cuisine – very expensive and fine tradtional Japanese food). It was a pleasant end to things I thought. Today we had a slightly early Valentine`s Day party. Well, everyone had McDonalds (delivered to the Home – much more appreciated by everyone than you would think, because the usual food they serve is so different – but far better tha fast food in my opinion), and in the afternoon we made sweet dishes. Each of the four living areas made something different. Mine (B living), made small glasses of trifle, which I`m about to eat right after dinner this evening.
Jess and I have a final movie night planned for this evening (we regularly watch and re-watch films we`ve bought, or the subtitled stuff on television, together in room 101 – we don`t have television sets in our own rooms). Usually we do so with accompanied `junk` – lots of anpan, chocloate and other stuff ^_^. We made a point last night of doing our long spoken of `Midnight Trip to Lawsons`, where we stocked up on far more rubbish than we can consume in one evening ^_^. It was very cold walking there, but we had a refreshing conversation and pointed out some of the constellations in the sky – the stars are so much clearer out here, so it really is a bit special just to look up in the evenings. It`ll be fun tonight, and I know I`m going to miss Jess`s company once she leaves for Australia and New Zealand. I still find it surprisng how well we`ve got on these past 6 months, with very few real arguments, so I`ve appreciated her comapny a lot. It would have been much harder if I was here alone I think.
I`m off to dinner now, so keep well everyone!
As a last note, I`ve recently posted letters to Wai-sun, Chris (Paine), Rob (Lindsay), Keiron, Simon and Jenni. Postcards still to do, but at least i`m getting there ^_^. Chris (Mepham), write soon if you can, as with everyone else. I`m here for two more weeks, so if you write now, I`ll recieve them before I start travelling. Otherwsise, I`m back at Shiso Home for 3 months from March 25th.