Back to School: A Teacher’s Tale in Japan

My alarm rings at 5am. I hit snooze. It’s winter and it’s cold. Where are my pyjamas, anyway? My body clock is still on holiday mode. I went to bed at 3am last night. Well – that was a bad idea. The last bloody thing I want to do is greet the day. But by 5.40am, I can no longer deny my infuriating alarm. I have an extended list of responsibilities that I must fulfil. 

My looong holidays are the envy of all my friends. And God knows I relished every second of my beloved winter vacation. Hey – I know how to live it up. But truth be told – I missed work. I missed being around my kids. I missed watching them grow, change and mature. As crazy as they drive me at times – I missed their company. They bring so much life to my life. 

By 7am, I am out the door and ready for that morning commute that I’ve seen play out way too many times. The usual suspects are at the bus stop. Normally, we greet each other with the predictable Ohayo Gozaimas Good Morning, but today is special.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the New Year – which is a very big deal in Japan. We say the New Year’s greetings, bow and ask the other person to look upon us humbly for the following year. When I get to school – I do the same.

As expected, there are A LOT and I do mean A LOT of omiyage on my desk. Omiyage roughly translates to souvenir, but it’s not quite the same thing. Omiyage is ALWAYS a beautifully wrapped small EDIBLE something from wherever you’ve just returned from. A magnet or t-shirt just won’t do. I add my little Taiwanese pineapple cake to everyone else’s omiyage collection. 

After the morning staff meeting, the day begins as it does. The regimented routine rears its head. I feel right at home once more. I catch up with my students – who regale me with tales of their holidays. They ask me how Taiwan was.

Bloody fantastic, of course. 

One thing leads to another. Apart from my 20 minute lunch, I don’t get a single moment’s rest.

When the work day is finally over –  I’m pushing and shoving my way into a very very VERY packed rush hour train at 8pm. I’m the only girl in a red coat in a sea of men in black suits. Rush hour in Japan is always a fight. I’ve survived so many times – but each time I wonder if I’m going to make it.


I’ve got my backpack with my laptop clutched in between my feet. I hope no one steps on it on the way out. I want to take my iPhone out of my pocket and change the annoying song that it’s currently playing, but there isn’t even room for me to move my arm. It’s very cold outside, but the windows are frosted over from both the heating and body heat. I’m even perspiring. 

Breathe. Just breathe. You can do this. When I finally get off the train – I’m relieved. I’m the girl who lived. Don’t mind the dramatics – I just finished reading JK Rowling’s The Cursed Child yesterday. 

It’s 930pm now. I’m fed. My stomach’s happy. Tonight needs to be an early one. Another LONG day awaits tomorrow. Till next time – sweet dreams. 

3 thoughts on “Back to School: A Teacher’s Tale in Japan

  1. I do enjoy your stories of life in Japan (and Taiwan). I was recently on packed subway trains in Tokyo and I know just what you mean about reminding yourself to breathe!


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