Lessons from Tiny Failures

Even now, four days after the event, I still do not understand why I did it. It might have been because I had been off from school for a week and had forgotten the school rules, or maybe it was because I was so exhausted that my mind seemed to be blank, or perhaps it was caused by the fact that because that day was devoted to readying our room for the school festival, it did not feel like an actual school day to me. But whatever the underlying reason, on Friday, September 24th, I got in trouble at school for the first time in my life.

I had just spent two days absent from school vacationing near Yamanaka Lake, relaxing in natural hot springs while gazing up at the full moon, trying on heavy, ancient samurai armour for fun, and taking pictures of the gorgeous Mt. Fuji in the distance. So, of course, when the girls at school asked me what I had done away from school, I was overjoyed to explain. When there was nothing left to do, I had the grand idea to show them pictures of my visit that I had taken on my cell phone, since I believed the pictures would illustrate my two days near Yamanaka Lake nicely. But no sooner had I turned on my phone when I heard a voice call my name. It was Saitou-sensei, my homeroom teacher. In confusion and shock, I was led away to the teachers’ lounge and told that my cell phone would be taken away, my host mother would be phoned and that she would have to come get the phone the next day at a certain time. I bowed my head in shame and apologized, all the while feeling as if this was not really happening and that it was just a bad dream.

When another teacher came over to explain to me that foreign exchange students are punished in the same way as regular students at the school and that the fact that I was being punished was entirely my fault, since I knew the school rules, it hit me, like a ton of bricks, that it was not a dream and that I was actually in trouble. At once I was terrified and confused, since it was unlike me to be in this situation. I searched my brain frantically for a memory of something similar happening to me earlier in my life, but nothing appeared. Instead, the disappointed faces of my parents surfaced and just like that, I was crying. This development surprised the two teachers, but surprised me most, since it was the first time since I had arrived in Japan that I had let my tears fall. When I had waved goodbye to Daddy at the departure gate at O’Hare, I had held them in with all my might, and when I missed home more than anything in the world, I had bit my lip, had taken deep breaths and had tried to smile…and yet, there, in the middle of a crowded teachers’ lounge, in front of two teachers, I had finally lost my self-control and was entirely powerless to stop salty liquid from running down my cheeks.

I could not believe I was in this situation, for ever since I was a little, I worked hard to be a good girl. I studied hard to get good grades, did the dishes, took care of the chickens and goats, worked on the farm, and never purposely caused trouble for my parents. I looked down upon violence so much that my parents tell the story of how when I got angry at my brothers, I would lift my fist in the air to cry, “I’m gonna HIT you!” but never once could. Even now, the thought of me bringing physical pain to someone else makes me want to cry. As I grew up, I was taught that drugs and alcohol were bad and therefore never had the urge to try either. In short, if someone I trusted, like my parents or teachers, told me not to do something, even without explanation, I would not let myself do it.

Yet, there I was, faced with the fact that I had done something against the rules. Was I becoming a bad person? Would this lead to more breaking of rules? These thoughts scared me out of my wits. Coming to Japan by myself was supposed to be a chance to finally unveil who I really was. Was this the real me?

Now, four days later, after many thinking sessions on the train and at home, with my cell phone safely back, that initial hysteria has died. Yes, what I did was bad, but I am not a bad person for doing it. The world is not separated by black and white, good and evil. People cannot be perfect: therefore, there is not a single bad person in this world. If a person does commit a crime, such as murder, that does not mean he or she is incapable of good, but the opposite, and we must create a world in which they can be happy.

From now on, I have decided to trust my own instincts, instead of relying on others to teach me right from wrong.

When I first realized I was in trouble at school, I wished with all my might that I could rewrite history…yet now, I understand that thanks to this event, I am a little bit wiser.


  1. chasingyume says:

    Aww, thank you so much for commenting, Emma! I’ve heard about you from Saki-chan and Akiko-san, so I feel like you are a bit familiar…

    I’m glad that I am not the only one who had this experience…thanks for sharing yours!

    Japan is a very fun place to study abroad…and if you are studying here in college, it will be all the more fun for you, too! (…and we start college so soon, ahh!!)

    Let me know if you have any questions about being a foreign exchange student- I’ll be happy to answer them! 🙂


  2. Terra says:

    Would it have been a problem if you had opened a sketch book to show your classmates pictures you’d drawn of Yamanaka and Fuji? What you did was the technological equivalent of that — not “using your cellphone” in the normal sense — and a reasonable person would have understood that.

    That the school administrators live in a black and white world of Draconian and mindless rules shows how weak and fearful and immature they are. As people (or institutions) mature, they realize that the world is never black or white, as you say, but full of shades of gray. And the best thing we can do is deal with the gray, and be understanding and forgiving — even of teachers and administrators.

    Of course there are times when breaking a rule is absolutely the right thing to do (think of the Nazi resistance fighters and Martin Luther King). This may or may not have been one of those times . . . but it was a harmless thing and certainly not a sign that you are a bad person. Everyone who knows you knows that you are a good person through and through — and, to write about this, very brave and honest, too!

    1. chasingyume says:

      Thank you so much, Aunt Terra!

      Japan is a country made up of so many rules and regulations…so to ready youngsters for this, schools are administered in a strict way, is what I think.

      I am taking it all in as a good cultural experience. 🙂

      But thanks again for your comment! It made me smile! 😀

      1. Pete McCollum says:

        Hi, You don’t know me, but my daughter Colleen is doing her Study Abroad near Yokohama. Don’t feel bad about your mistake – you are under some pressures that you’re probably not used to. I think it’s a good thing that you were held to the same standards as the other kids (within reason). If you were given special treatment, the ‘very-homogeneous’ Japanese kids could easily be resentful. BTW, you didn’t explain exactly what rule you broke – was it just having your cell at school, or was it that you were actually using it? Enjoy your stay in Japan!

      2. chasingyume says:

        Thanks for your comment, Pete!

        I hope your daughter is having a blast!

        The school rules say that you may have your cell phone at school, but it must be turned off and out of sight. I got in trouble because I took it out and turned it on.


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