The right to complain

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Does the phrase 'Every Situation Is Different' mean anything to you? This is the unofficial motto of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and describes how wherever you go in the country, you will be in a different position to someone else on the programme.

In my case, I was sent to Shonai town in Yamagata. I actually didn't have much of a clue what sort of place it would be like before I went because a google search pulled up nothing, probably because I got the spelling wrong (I added a 'u'), but one big difference between my situation and that of many of my fellow JETs was that I was given a whole three-story house, and my rent was fully subsidised by the town.

When I first got there, I felt like a king. The place was massive, and it had a whole floor of Tatami rooms at the top too, with a pretty cool view outside. But when winter came it was a completely different story.

Like many buildings in Japan, the place was built to very low insulation standards, in fact it's probably safe to say there was zero insulation in this building. Now, if I had lived in a tropical climate, like Okinawa, I wouldn't be complaining, but Yamagata Prefecture is so deep in snow country one town over recorded the heaviest snowfall in Japan in Hijiori Onsen (actually one time I remember AJET had a winter survival guide in their magazine, but it was written by someone living in Okinawa!).

Needless to say, this place is cold. The zero insulation coupled with sub-zero temperatures made for a very cold Tim. In addition, I tried turning the heaters (yes, plural) on, but the warmest the room ever got to was 10℃, and that was after having been on for more than an hour. The place was so cold, my toilet froze over multiple times, and even my shampoo.

But here's the kicker. As I said earlier, the rent is free. I wasn't paying for this place. Any time I raised concerns about my health, I was met with 'but your rent is free'. One time, even, the person at my Board of Education said 'Tim, have you seen the movie Oshin?' I later found out that Oshin is a movie about a little girl surviving the cold a Yamagata winter, but it was set in the early 1900s.

I even asked one of my colleagues why Yamagata didn't have as strict regulations for insulation and I was told because it wasn't as cold as Hokkaido (Japan's northern-most prefecture, which is basically Russia climate-wise).

So, what did I do? I of course complained and complained, and I eventually decided that I wanted to move out, even if it meant paying rent, but in the end I decided against it because I wasn't sure how much longer I would be doing that job. As it turns out, I quit the following year.

But, I learned a valuable lesson. If something is free, you can't complain. The whole be careful what you wish for. That's why sometimes I pay extra for things, so that I have the right to complain.

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

tim@timbunting.com

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