While I was able to enjoy myself in between the mini-crisis that disrupted my Christmas holidays in Canada, it was good to get back to Japan and everything here. I had to hit the ground running as January is proving to be a busy month. I started off by writing a paper. It wasn't terribly long, only 14 pages including pictures, it was still a challenge to write, especially since my mind was still in English mode after my time in Canada! Then I had to write a mini-final exam. After that I was very excited to celebrate with my senpai (a Japanese term for somebody more senior to you, in this case a student above me) the handing-in of her MA thesis, and go away for a couple of days of soaking in a hot spring with my advisor and a group of students. We ate very well and soaked away our winter chills in the warm water and some very heated discussion.
Back in Tokyo I had plenty awaiting me. I worked a regular day at the museum, refiling old photographs. One of the things the curators are doing is upgrading the storage practices of many of the archival materials. This process has two steps: 1) creating new and improved document cards with a copy of and detailed information about the photograph; and 2) removing all of the photos from their previous somewhat questionable storage, and placing them in numbered specialized folders in archival boxes. After this relaxing day I then spent two much longer and more challenging days providing simultaneous translation for meetings with representatives from a museum in China and a museum in the United States. The three institutions are working on a collaborative exhibit to be held in the summer-fall of 2009 in all three countries. The actual process of providing translation to and from English was exhausting (and had my shoulders and stomach in knots) but being able to attend the meetings was incredible. I learned a lot about the process of planning a collaborative exhibit, and about differences in museum practices between countries, and a thousand other things that you just don't get in a classroom! While I have little confidence in my translation abilities, apparently those on both sides of my translating were satisfied enough to invite me to do the translating again at the next meetings in May. The best part, however, is that the next meetings are being hosted by the American institution, so that means an oversees business trip! The details are far from finalized, especially since as going will mean missing a week of classes right in the middle of term, but my advisor has agreed that going would be a very worthwhile experience and I am very excited! The director of the American museum is also a professor of museum studies and has offered to arrange for me to meet some of his students and learn about museum studies in the US. This, as well as special guided tours of museums in the area, are a unique opportunity to learn about my new field outside of Japan. yay! yay! yay!
One of the first projects I was involved with at the museum, over two years ago, was an exhibit that was about to open, the second half of a collaborative exhibit with a museum in the US. I was involved in a few steps of the project, and came to really like the American curator. I was, therefore, really excited to learn that she and the others I had met would be back again this month. They too were apparently excited to see that I was still there, and were even more happy to learn that I was no longer an English teacher, but was a student in museum studies. This got me to thinking about my time at the museum, can it really be nearly 2 1/2 years already? I thought back to the summer of 2005, when I was getting ready to head to Japan. I had a working-holiday visa and a friend had lined up an internship with a small museum in Tokyo. I was excited, but as my departure date drew nearer and nearer I became more and more nervous. What the heck did I think I was doing? How could I ever imagine that I would be able to fit in and work in a Japanese museum?! It was a crazy idea! I wanted to curl up in my bed under the covers and hide. I think I even did do that for a little while... What got me out from under the covers and onto the plane was the desire not to let anybody around me down. I arrived in Tokyo and was still terrified. I remember my first trip to the museum I was so nervous that I don't think I understood or took in one single thing anybody said to me! Luckily, however, that feeling passed. Now, no matter what else is going on, I leave the train station in the morning and start walking to the museum and a huge grin comes across my face. It isn't perfect - who/where is?! But on the whole the people I work with are great, there are always new and different things for me to do, and the best thing is the supportive atmosphere where even a strange foreigner like myself can follow her dreams!