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Sunday, Sept. 3, 2000


Following in the footsteps of Lafcadio Hearn

"What's it like living in Japan?" my friends back home often ask me. It's a hard question to answer. So instead, I'll describe what I did today, a typical day in Japan for me.

In the morning, I wake up to the community alarm clock -- the chime. It wakes up everyone on our island, including the fish.

In the summertime, most people are up well before 6 o'clock so the chime is really for those of us who oversleep. Then I do what all the housewives in Japan do at 6 a.m., I sweep the front walk. This is such a ritual in Japan that I suppose Japanese people do it out of habit even when they stay at motels.

Indeed, the Japanese are great sweepers. Whether something actually needs to be swept or not is beside the point. Things such as front walks and spare patches of dirt should be swept every day regardless, all for the satisfaction of knowing you are taking a part in a tidy activity. Dirt should be raked clean of sticks or stray pebbles. Leaves should be swept away with a special type of broom made expressly for fallen leaves. Admiring my broom strokes in the dirt makes me feel extremely tidy.

At 8 a.m., I turn on the TV and listen to the cable news in English, Korean, Spanish and French, then English again. The English newspaper arrives at 9:30 a.m. Sometimes the print news and the TV news differ.

One morning I was watching the TV news and heard the sad news that the Empress Dowager had passed away. The same day, the English newspaper arrived with the headline: "Empress Dowager Gravely Ill." Hmm, who to believe . . .

At 10 a.m. the mail comes. Today I received a personal letter from the man at the furniture store who is helping me find chairs for my living room. He writes: "Dear Amy, I seek the chair. I wish you image the chair. I call up Amy on the phone. Bye, Y. Taniguchi."

Then I caught the ferry for Okayama city to teach at the university. Once there, I received an e-mail from another teacher instructing me on the grading procedures for the final grades for my English students.

One of my classes has three sections, each divided into levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. The teacher instructs me to give all the students in the advanced class A's, all the students in the intermediate class B's and all the students in the beginners class C's.

I write her a mail back, "Are you sure?"

She said, "The idea is that even though a student in the lowest class is the best in her class, when compared with an average student in the highest class, it is likely that the average student's level is higher than the student in the lower class."

I see.

Then I decided go get my hair cut. In Okayama City, there are many hair salons to choose from such as "Freak," "The Clap," and "Anti-Chic." I chose the latter, where a girl named Aki, who used to live in London, cut my hair.

When I came back home, there was a message on my answering machine from Mr. Taniguchi at the furniture store, "I seek the chair. Later, I call Amy." The other nine messages were from Japanese callers who hung up after getting their English listening practice in.

Today I was lucky and didn't have to cook dinner because Ueda-san, my neighbor, brought me one of her home-cooked meals. Soon after The Fish Lady came around and gave me some fresh fish her husband had just caught.

The people on my island not only rise at the same time, they go to sleep at the same time too. By the time the 9 p.m. chime rings, most people have already taken a hot bath and are ready for bed. Except for me. I'm still trying to "image the chair."

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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