Posted by: wesleysensei | October 9, 2008

Midterms and Japanese Indirectness

Here in Japan the school year starts in April, which means that October marks the half way point. Today and tomorrow therefore are midterm days for all the classes. In other words: I don’t have to teach. This translates to: “I have nothing to do.”

Getting paid for doing nothing is great and usually I wouldn’t complain; however, there have been many times during this job where I have not had anything official to do. One of the JET mottoes is “Every Situation Is Different” and this applies to most everything including how hard ALTs have to work. Some fellow JETs have no idle time whereas some have a lot of down time. Today during midterms I found myself bored with nothing to do, no responsibility other than having to BE at school.

Normally I might not feel bad about doing nothing and getting paid for it, but in this case I do. The JET program pays well (all the info can be found on their site which is linked to the bottom right) and on top of the Osato takes great care of me. So, in return I want to make sure that the town is getting the most out of me.

I have tried to be creative and useful as evident by starting the Idiom of the Week board, but I’m running out of ideas. Now when I have no official duties at school I am challenged to be productive. What makes things worse is the use of indirectness in Japanese culture. When I ask for things to do–which is already hard enough because I don’t speak Japanese–I never get a straight answer.

What baffled me today was that even with nothing to do I decided to stay past quitting time to show the other teachers that I am dedicated to working hard. First, my JTE leans over and tells me that it is time to go home and that I can leave now. I wasn’t going to fall for that move. I figured it was just Japanese indirectness and that she was just testing me. My reply was that I was too busy and had to finish up a project. About fifteen minutes later she said “Don’t you want to go home?” Another test.

Then my kyoto-sensei (vice principal) motioned to me and tried to tell me to go home in as many ways possible including slang and funny hand signals. I assured him that I was working hard and I returned to my seat. I actually WAS working on a project as I finally figured out a task to work on: I was making seating charts and translating the kanji of each student into hiragana. When I got back to work my JTE leaned over again and said, “Ok, now you go home.” I decided enough was enough, packed up, and drove home.

So did I fail the indirectness test? Should I have stayed longer? Did I improve my rapport with the office staff? Who knows! Thus is the daunting task of comprehending Japanese indirectness. Wonder what I’ll do tomorrow when again I have nothing to do…



  1. I probably would have dipped the first time I was told too…wouldn’t have caught the “test.” Then again, this is in the states… probably would have thought twice like you did in Japan.

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