A lovely day in Kyoto
While teaching English in
Japan, Dana Batho is extending her horizons by studying extramurally.
She talks to Stephanie Gray.
Before her telephone interview with MASSEY Dana Batho closes
the sliding doors in her apartment against the overriding roar
of bullet trains coming in and out of Nagoya station.
The passenger service stops at midnight and from there the freight trains take
over. It’s a ceaseless soundtrack of life in Japan for Dana, a Canadian-Kiwi
Being near the station allows Dana a comparatively quick commute to the private
company where she teaches English to students of all ages.
Born in Wellington, Dana emigrated to British Columbia with her family at the
age of two. At 19, she returned to New Zealand for nine years before moving
to the Canadian province of Alberta, home of the Rocky Mountains. Dana says
her comparatively complicated reply to the question of her ‘hometown’ often
baffles the Japanese enquirer.
“ It’s still common for people to be born, live, get married and
die in the same town here, and to stick with the same company in their working
life. My experiences are, quite literally, foreign to them.”
Dana came to Japan three years ago, with a basic grasp of conversational Japanese,
and two niggling student loans. The language skills she learnt on the job at
a five-star hotel in the Rockies, and the loans accompanied qualifications
in theatre and fine arts.
After three years of teaching she has almost paid off one of the loans, and
is fluent enough to enjoy her subscription to a daily newspaper and socialise
with her Japanese friends.
Through Massey, Dana is working towards a Bachelor of Arts and this year is
studying international relations, oral and written Japanese, and Islam. Her
mother Pauline had studied at Massey, and the flexibility and variety of extramural
study appealed to Dana. She received an A-minus grade in her Islam paper, a
complicated subject she has enjoyed getting to grips with – on the train,
in her apartment, and during quiet times at work.
“The material is so interesting that finding time to study is not an issue.
I just have to stop myself sitting down watching 24 hours of CNN.”
Dana says the international news channel spurred her interest in international
relations for tertiary study.
“I wanted to learn about the history and politics of the countries in the
news. And there’s no better place to learn Japanese than Japan!”
Dana emails her lecturers directly and maintains contact with Massey classmates
via the online Web CT system which she recommends to other extramural students.
“We share our marked essays and assignments, for different perspectives
on the topic, and chat in web forums.”
At this time she is preparing her application to the Canadian army with the
intention to advance through officer training to intelligence services. She
can continue her study through the Royal Military College and the idea of guaranteed
employment appeals strongly.
Dana’s back-up plan to a career in the army is one in foreign service.
With that in mind she took up a voluntary position with the Canadian embassy
as the emergency system consular warden representative for Aichi prefecture.
Japan’s industrial heartland, Aichi is the home of Toyota Corporation
and most of Dana’s students work for Toyota.
She travelled to Tokyo for embassy training, and was delighted to dine on salmon
with expatriate Canadians and their comforting way of adding “eh” to
the end of their sentences (a linguistic idiosyncrasy shared by New Zealanders
In her first few days in Japan, which she describes as “overwhelming”,
Dana decided to start a blog – an online diary with the difference that
it can be read by anyone with access to the Internet. Of late the blog has
taken a back seat to exam preparation and teaching.
“I try not to write when I’m stressed or feeling negative. Like anyone
away from home, I go through stages of not liking where I am.”
In the same way a diary allows its author to offload anxiety, the blog helps
Dana come to terms with some of the more confusing aspects of Japanese culture.
“Writing puts my thinking into better focus. Once I start to describe something
I think about it in greater depth, and with retrospect.”
An entry headed “I am speaking Japanese aren’t I?” describes
the reaction of people in Nagoya to a foreigner who can converse in their language.
Japan’s fourth largest city, Nagoya sees only a fraction of the numbers
of foreigners who visit, or live and work in cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and
“Most people don’t speak any English and they tend to freeze like
a deer in the headlights when a foreigner talks to them in Japanese. They don’t
seem to click to that, and say, “I don’t speak English”, to
which I reply, “I am speaking Japanese”.
Her pet peeves include pervading cigarette smoke (smoking indoors in tolerated),
the vogue for micro-mini skirts in Nagoya, and the shrill sales tactics of
retailers. She admits to an aversion to crowds, and for this reason avoids
travelling during public holidays when people flock to places like Kyoto and
the price of transport and entertainment doubles.
The Canadian-Kiwi finds the concept of $4 individually wrapped apples as strange
as the sight of dishevelled salarymen reeling off the last train after a twelve-hour
day in the office and several more in a bar.
Dana’s conversations with the adults and children she teaches have given
her insights into Japanese lives.
“Japanese girls hardly ever see their working boyfriends, who work until
10 or 11pm, and fathers don’t get to spend much time with their children.
Adult students tell me their kids are a little scared of their father because
they hardly see him.”
Of gender differences Dana says the scene is slowly changing, but typically
married women stay at home to raise children. She teases her ambitious Japanese
girlfriend about “turning into a salaryman” for the hours of unpaid
overtime she works.
Dana’s blogs also pay tribute to the attractions of the country and its
customs. She raves about the food (in particular okonomiyaki, a meat and vegetable
pancake), and visits to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima.
The juxtaposition of her blogs, where one titled “Lovely day in Kyoto” is
followed by “Complaining about Japan”, illustrates the complexity
of life in Japan.
“You could never guess just how noisy and how crowded it is. You learn
about the politeness that is required but then people throw up in the street
in front of you and that’s okay. It’s not until you come here that
it sinks in.”
Paradoxes in etiquette aside, Dana says she has largely loved her time in Japan
and is determined to make the most of her last months.
“It helps to be a little crazy to live in Japan. If not, you’re going
to end up that way anyway.”
At the end of the interview Dana opens the sliding doors to let in a little
breeze, along with the sound of the trains, on a summer’s day in Nagoya.
Read Dana’s blog at: http://awanderinglife.blogspot.com