Japan is undoubtedly a favorite vacation destination among Filipinos. Every other social media account is flooded with photographs of sushi, cherry blossoms and kimonos.
But while taking a break in Japan is definitely Instagram-pretty, what I’ve always been curious about is actually living and working there. Fortunately, one of my friends from college has called Japan her home–well, second home–for the last nine years, and has been kind enough to satisfy my curiosity.
Carrie Besana Bucu has been teaching English in Japan since 2009.
On weekdays, she teaches kids in an after-school center. On weeknights and weekends, because Carrie is hardworking like that, she teaches business English to Japanese professionals.
Recalling her first few weeks in Japan, Carrie says, “At the start, I could not understand the Japanese language. In my first few weeks, every time I went out, I felt alienated.”
Fortunately for Carrie, she studied Chinese from elementary to high school. When she learned that the Japanese language uses Chinese characters, too, she found herself unshackled. Her knowledge of Chinese gave her the confidence to go around the city.
She adds, “It also helped greatly that I joined the choir at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Like in most countries all over the world, there are a lot of Filipinos who serve in this church. This community gave me a familiar and loving environment, whom I could be with every week.”
There are many things that Carrie has grown to love about Japan. There is, for one, the efficient and reliable public transport system. There are the mountains, for another.
She explains, “Mountains are my favorite places to go! I love being close to nature. Because there is a strong hiking culture in Japan, mountains here are safe and well-equipped. They also have well-trained emergency response teams. I enjoy the challenge of going up a mountain and the views can be breathtaking.”
Best of all is the feeling of peace and security.
“I love how safe Japan is. Once, I inadvertently left my purse beside an elevator at a train station. I had already reached my friend’s house which was 10 minutes from the station, before I realized that my purse was not among the many bags I was carrying. When I got back to the station, I found the train officer checking my bag for some identification. Someone had brought my bag to the station master!”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing which doesn’t bother her altogether in Japan, She says, “Most Japanese people work very hard, to the point of overworking themselves. I don’t like it that there are cases of karoshi, or death because of overwork. Everyone needs to keep a good work-life balance.”
Carrie adds that there are some things which the Japanese could learn from Filipinos, and vice versa. She says, “Filipinos could learn the promptness of the Japanese. They are such sticklers to time! This consciousness comes from being mindful of the value of other people’s time. On the other hand, the Japanese could learn to express their feelings more and support one another emotionally like Filipinos do. It will remove that feeling of alienation and improve family ties.”
Last but not least, my conversation with Carrie would not be complete without asking her where she’d take me when I crash at her place! Mwahahaha.
“First, I would take you to Hiroshima and Nagasaki because I’ve never been there, too. I think we would both be moved by the events in these two places and we would learn a lot about the grace of forgiveness, renewal and recovery.”
“Secondly, I would take you to Sapporo during winter season to see the Snow Festival. Since we are from a tropical country, it’s a totally different world where everything is white and the snow sculptures are gigantic but lifelike in detail!”
I’m loving it already! Looking forward to this adventure, Carrie!