Monday, August 31, 2009

For the Win

How could I have left out the best part of my Saturday excursion? Stupid katakana, distracting me…

Anyway, as the band concert wound down, I was starting to get hungry. I’d eaten a late breakfast and a scanty lunch (a bunch of raw okra, and seriously, it was awesome at the time), and so now that it was 4pm or so, I was ready for a snack at least. I began imagining what I would eat when I got home at 5, since the bus left at 4:30 from the stop near the school.

But the school nurse was there! And she said she also lived in my part of town (rather close to my apartment, actually), and offered to drive me home! Huzzah. People drove me home from school every day for about the first week I was in the office. It actually got kind of frustrating because I wanted to try doing it on my own, catching the bus, handling shit and all… but after two days of catching the latecoming slowish bus home, I began to really appreciate the rides, so I am now quite happy when someone offers to take me back to my side of town.

One of the ALTs back in Yamasaki had been texting me, so I was in a mild hurry, which only made me happier not to be taking the bus. I made broken Japanese conversation with the school nurse until we got about halfway back. Then she gestured to what looked like a grocery store over to the right and pulled in, asking me something. I shrugged to myself, figuring, whatever, if she needs to get a few things on the way home, who am I to complain, right? I’m still getting back sooner than if I waited for that bus. Then it occurred to me that a grocery store has food, and since I had money with me, I could buy a snack. Win!

As we approached the store, she pointed out a sort of takoyaki stand. Takoyaki is… well I don’t want to say “octopus balls” because that gives the wrongest impression I can imagine. But, that’s what it is. Some kind of batter with stuff like green onions and other savories, and chunks of octopus. Cooked up nice and hot and round in a sort of little dumpling. Yes. So my thought at this point is, screw buying an apple, I’ma get me some octopus balls!

But then I realize that our school nurse is trying to tell me she wants to buy me some. So far, most Japanese people I’ve met have been really curious as to how I’m handling Japanese food. Can you eat sushi? They want to know. Even with raw fish?! You can even use chopsticks? They don’t really know who they’re dealing with, right? That I’ll eat nearly anything. So I’m not sure whether she wants me to try octopus balls because, as an American, this will be new to me and exciting (and/or freak me out), or what. But she’s being so nice, and I really am hungry, so I let her. While they cook we glance through the store. When we get back outside, someone else is making taiyaki, which is like a waffle batter with redbean paste or custard cream inside. In this case, shaped like a fish. It looks and smells so good that I feel the need to buy one of these also. But before I can begin to voice that opinion, Utsumi-sensei asks for one of each (redbean and creme) for each of us, to go with our takoyaki.


There are those fishy pastries now. Yes they are on top of my new computer. What?

I bit into one of them as we got into the car, and the redbean paste was so freakin’ hot, it burned the hell out of my tongue (like, my tongue actually bled the next day.. I’m not kidding around and neither was this pastry). So I put it back in its little paper bag until I got home. To take these photos and enjoy my really really delicious afternoon.

IMG_2653 Here, we focus on the takoyaki.

Did I mention I love redbean paste sweets? I do. And these takoyaki were killer. When I get a car, I’m going to that stand. I’m taking all my friends with me.

My middle school band out-awesomes your middle-school band

Saturday, there was a summer concert. One of my English teachers mentioned this to me, but said he didn’t have information on when it would be. I saw a flyer later that gave me a vague impression (I can still read numbers.. just not words!) that it would begin at 2pm. Instead of asking someone about the flyer, I went silently on my merry way.

The brass band had been practicing every day two floors above the staff room. It was very easy to hear with all the windows open all the time. The music was from Pirates of the Caribbean, and made all of my paperwork significantly more epic. It also served to make things happening outside (various sports practices) more epic as well. There was also a jazzier number.. the only English word in the program was “Exile,” so I’m sure my more musically informed readers can find that.

On Saturday, I realized that I intended to go, and that it might be a mistake. I would have to take the bus, I didn’t know when it started or ended, I didn’t know if it cost money. Whatever. I decided it was a good idea. I had wanted to get involved in the life of my school, right? Well, you gotta start somewhere.

Concert attendance is something that I picked up at GHP as well. If your kids are in some kind of performance, you go, if you can. At least early on, to show love.

So, I took the 1:05 bus to my usual stop. One of the new high school ALTs, Jessica, happened to be on that bus, so we sat and chatted for a bit. She is coming to observe my elementary school class on Thursday (aka, my first day of teaching omg!).

When I arrived and began to walk up the drive, I was worried because I didn’t see cars everywhere like I would have expected of parents and kids and such. Problem was, I was taking the back driveway, since that is the way to the middle school, not the elementary school next door where the concert was actually being held. As I came alongside the elementary school, though, I saw a bunch of students with instruments in different classrooms. The whole side of the building is basically made of windows and sliding glass doors, so this sighting was easy.

About halfway up the building, I saw the school nurse from Minami. Then, I saw our band teacher as well. She basically jumped out of the window/sliding door when she saw me, and excitedly asked if it was okay for me to stay and hear the brass band. I lack sufficient Japanese to say “Well yeah, that’s totally why I’m here!” so I just said, “Yeah! Of course!” and worked my way around the fence to the inside.


They let me sit in the classroom on a tiny elementary school chair while they rehearsed one last time.

Seriously, this music makes everything you’re currently doing more fun and awesome.

At the concert proper, the elementary band played first, then there was an assortment of groups. Some of them were adult groups (two singing groups and a shamisen playing group), and some kids (elementary chorus).. they were cute, and the adults were cool. The other middle school (NORTH. My school is SOUTH. Please now envision a Sharks and Jets dance-off) did a sort of esoteric piece, which was interesting and probably took a lot of skill, but which was clearly lesser in the category of awesomeness than the music performed by my school.

My school went on last, and filled the stage, rocked the house, and I was very proud, despite having nothing to do with their success. After they played, we sang the town song, which I almost was able to understand, and with which I could sing along since it was printed in easy writing on my program. Something about mountains, rivers, rain, and wind. Yeah, that’s our town.


See that banner at the top? It says “Summer concert” in phonetic Japanese. Check out ka

takana here, especially if going to visit Japan. When you can sound out katakana stuff, it makes life a bit easier.. a lot of things in katakana turn out to be English words!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


This past Thursday was my second encounter with Salamander, the adult English conversation class. My first Thursday lesson with them was just my self-introduction, and this week was the welcome party at a nearby restaurant.



The only three that I know from the first lesson are the guy sitting to my left, and then two ladies across from me, one in orange and one in pink.

I’m sure you can pick out the other native English speaker in this photo. Yes, in fact, the red-haired white guy who looks like he could even be my brother.

This welcome party night was a great deal of fun. I love the “family-style” restaurant experience, especially because it often means I don’t have to make any decisions. The people better versed at menu-reading pick out food, and it gets brought for all to pass around and share. This takes both decision-making and food-envy out of the equation, actually, and is therefore a winner in my book.

I really enjoyed talking with these Salamander folk, and I look forward to introducing them to more grammar points as the year goes on.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Of course!

I’ve been hoping for a free moment to do laundry for several days now; I finally have the time, but it’s deluging again outside, for the first time in about a week, so laundry is a bad plan. Even when I dry clothes inside, the ridiculous amounts of moisture in the air make it difficult.

And the moisture is pretty ridiculous. It doesn’t bother me too much, and I’m pretty proud of that. It’s not worse than a bad day in Georgia. But every day is like that, because there is water, water, everywhere. So, while I can handle it, I don’t know how to live with it.

I just found out how often we are supposed to do things like air out the futon. I’m glad someone told me, because I would have just let it sit there. Allowing movement of air is essential around here, where water and insects collect in every unopened corner.

After the last great rains, spiders build me some nice screens over the windows that had none. This is actually kind of nice, because there are less other bugs around when spiders are on guard. The spiders in this town are also very on the ball. I left my bike at the BOE building for my orientation day in Kobe. By the time I got back to it in the evening, at least three spiders had constructed webs in the basket and under the seat.

I’ve been unexpectedly busy these last couple of days, only at home for short spells and sleeping. Thursday night, I got to co-teach my first volunteer adult English class with Lee. There were only three students present, one advanced and two beginner, but they seemed to enjoy my photos. My introduction to them lasted at least a good half hour, which was way more than I’d planned. Since it was my first time working with the adult class, Lee let me take the advanced “group”.. and since there was only one person, I just had conversation practice with him.

My time at work has become more active as well. At first, I would spend a lot of time reading materials from the previous JETs, and the handbooks and other materials given to me at various orientations. Because of this, I was quite familiar with the way of things by the time I got to visit my elementary schools. Recently, though, I discovered the four bulletin boards that are “English boards” within the middle school, so I’ve begun creating stuff to put up on them. It’s a challenge for me, because I’m trying to make them picture-centric with fewer words, although my mind tends more toward verbose.

Other than the boards and the ‘newspaper’ I’m going to be putting out for the middle school, I’ve been thinking about elementary school more lately. My visits to the schools have only served to continue my feelings that elementary school English is going to be fun. I was at first intimidated by the idea that I would be responsible for creating the entire lesson plan myself, but after meeting the teachers and elementary school principals and other people involved, I feel more energized to really get my hands on it, and make it my own. There is a textbook for the 5th and 6th graders, around which I will be building things, but the lower grades will be free-form, and at this point, I really like that idea; before, I was much more attached to having a textbook or some kind of guideline as to what the curriculum goals should be. But, if it’s up to me, then I can’t possibly be stepping on anyone else’s toes, and I have no other inputs which I am forced to consider. Sweet!

I still need to sit down and talk seriously with my middle school English teachers about what their goals are. I know that a lot of factors go in to designing a course and materials and plans, so I want to know as much as I can about the teacher’s point of view and own goals for the students. I think this will go okay, because the two English teachers I’ve spent time with are both very kind and helpful. Other teachers have been talking with me, too. It’s usually kind of a group effort to communicate, and if an English teacher is around, so much the better. But from time to time, we manage it without them.

The principal at my school asked me today if I had eaten breakfast, then told me that it was important to do so each day, as part of being healthy. He then declared himself my Japanese father-figure. The vice-principal translated this for me so I could laugh and agree that it was so. Yesterday, the vice-principal asked me some questions about my one-page self-intro, about Vandy and other stuff I mentioned about teaching experience. After ascertaining that Latin is not spoken in any country (except the Vatican, and no I am not hoping to go live there), he asked, quite classically, why I would study such a language. I was not prepared to have to answer for my major over here as well as in the States, but I managed to pull together my usual response (helps with English, Romance languages, study of ancient cultures and history is super important, etc.)…

I don’t think he meant to suggest it was useless.. I think he really was curious. The day before, he’d told me I don’t have a strong American accent when I speak Japanese.. that I pronounce Japanese words like real Nihonjin do. I was totally flattered, even remembering the way that if you manage to spit out any version of “Arigatou,” Japanese people will praise your language skills to high heaven. He assured me he was being serious (I guess as opposed to those other times when people are just putting you on?), and I was kinda proud of myself, though, because I do have a pretty good aural memory, and I try really hard to imitate sounds properly.

I live in the Kansai region, which has a different dialect than Tokyo. I’m sure to the people around here, my Japanese must sound really weird. Sort of the way I feel when Japanese people speak to me with a British accent or something.. they’ve got an accent, just not the one I expect. It’s been explained to me that the Tokyo dialect sounds very “proper” and sometimes “too polite,” in small towns like this one. There are even some words that are particular to this small town itself. Although I can’t really identify when someone is speaking laid-back Kansai and when someone is speaking highbrow Tokyo, I have noticed that it’s easier for me to understand my English teacher’s Japanese speech on the first go round, as compared to some other teachers. I wonder if being well versed in English makes their Japanese more enunciated or something? Or, possibly, they’re speaking “Tokyo,” which I spent a couple years hearing in the classroom and in McTizzle. I feel really silly when I have to take a moment to understand what words have been said to me; even when they are words I know, it takes a little while to compute, so I get to stare blankly while my mind works.

I really like the staff at my school. They’re all very kind, or if they’re not, I certainly have yet to discover it. When I was up at Lee’s house before the conversation class, I was in deep admiration of his living space. He has a lot more rooms, and a much more amazing kitchen. I was not actively jealous, but I did feel little tendrils of envy… until I remembered that it’s a whole package deal. I get one certain niche.. in this case, this apartment, this junior high school, and this job therein. They are all tied together. Even my volunteer position is basically inherited. And I know that Lee’s experience with his one JTE (Japanese teacher of English) is not a shining example of friendship and easy communication. So I think, I like where I am, and have basically hit the professional jackpot, even if my apartment is not large and awesome.

And, because the teachers rotate to a new school every set number of years, really this situation is quite unique. Even my predecessor did not work with this particular staff for all that long. The vice principal, for example, arrived in the spring. My JTE supervisor wasn’t there last year either. Knowing details like that, it’s much easier to believe that everything happens for a reason, and is just as it should be.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life in this Japanese town

      What is Shiso like? What about my apartment?

I’ll report more on this as I go, but let me give you a run down on what I know about Shiso, so far.

Shiso is actually a sort of conglomerate of four towns, put together to form one city. Yamasaki, where I live, is the largest of the four, and Ichinomiya, where I work, is the second largest. There is also Chikusa and Haga, more to the north of here. I live near the main road that connects Yamasaki to Ichinomiya. This is convenient because the bus stop is right across the street. It also means that I have access to a bunch of sweet restaurants and stores right within short walking distance. I can bike just about anywhere I need to go in Yamasaki, including the one department store, Jusco (the department store is sort of like a mall, with different stores inside, including a grocery store and a 100-yen shop!), and the post office.

My first impression of Shiso was the mountains. They remain a big part of the beauty of the landscape, surrounding us on all sides. These mountains aren’t particularly tall, but they are steep, and they are immediate. The other major feature is the river(s). The Ibogawa or Ibo river is at the center of the valley, and my apartment building is also right next to that. The main road actually follows the river, at least as far as my school.

This is the river that was causing problems when the typhoon off the coast of Japan was making it rain so heavily for so long. It was fine where I was in Yamasaki, but just up the road on the way to Ichinomiya, there were problems with flooding and even some rockslides. When I finally did go back to school, I saw that the look of the river had changed from the few days before, when I’d first seen it. A lot of debris got washed down, pieces of trees and stuff, and so it looks a little more dead and weird than it did before. Farther up in Ichinomiya, past my school, parts of the road had been washed away entirely.



This is a view of the river during the typhoon rains, as taken from my apartment terrace.


Another view from my apartment, in the other direction.


But aside from that, there is water everywhere. Along every road there is a ditch, and most of these seem to be constantly running with water. There are also smaller rivers that can be seen here and there. I love the way the water sound is so prevalent, especially when you get away from the two “main” roads of the town. I kind of wish I lived more removed, like Miriam and Lana do, but I suppose the convenience of access I have is important too.


one of those ditches


from along the mountainside


IMG_2433 One of our many water birds in the Isawa river, which feeds into Ibo


IMG_2441 duckweed and a little flower in part of the water system along rice fields

On my exploratory walks and bike rides, the landscape is filled with mist, mountains, water, and rice paddies. I also like the look of the old-ish Japanese houses to be seen along the way. The view from my bus window on my way to work is also fantastic. I’ve also passed by the gateways of a couple of shrines and temples, so I want to investigate that some more, too, as I get settled.


This is along the mountainside, a view of one of the many cemeteries I find so fascinating, because they’re not like the ones in the US.


Rice field, some of the regal roofs I like.

My apartment is pretty sweet in a lot of ways. I have a small backyard which is utterly desolate, so I’m thinking about trying to grow some plants back there.


No, seriously; this “yard” says, I’ve crawled in a hole to die.

IMG_2477This is the view from the street: my space is the extent of the first two sets of windows (see those two AC units?). Those aren’t windows, they’re sliding glass doors.

  IMG_2476 Here’s a view from under the stairs, alongside the street. Since I’m the end unit, I get a little extra space. Or something.

I have a sort of bathroom hallway, as the shower/bath, toilet, and then washing machine and sink are all in different ‘rooms.’ My kitchen/dining area connects my living room (which has airconditioning!) and my bedroom (which also has airconditioning.. I am told this is unusual, in my building). Both those rooms are tatami rooms, which means I have woven mat floors in them. I like the tatami, although I’m paranoid about messing it up.

I do have a gas stove, but I don’t have an oven. I have a big sink and all the essentials when it comes to kitchen ware. I suspect that my microwave does more than American microwaves, but I don’t know how to use it. My bedroom has a big closet complete with extra futon and tons of hangers. The living room has a little futon-couch just like the one I wanted to buy at Target two years ago. I have repaired the sinkhole in the middle of it (at least for now?). There is also a TV, DVD player, and a set of sweet speakers. And a rug and little table. There is also a fan which I move from room to room, in order to save my life.

I love Shiso because I really am just a small town girl, and my recent visits to the city have confirmed it. As the dingy city buildings gave way to mountainous countryside out my bus window on the way back to Shiso today, I became happier and more relaxed. I’d rather sink my teeth deeply into the life of a small city than try to wind myself around the coils of a large one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Other Shiso JETs

“We didn’t expect to like you so much,” Caitlin said with a shrug. It was a strange compliment, but I smiled.

Although Shiso is not a large town, it has a relative abundance of JETs. It used to be that there were significantly fewer, but a couple years ago, Shiso had an economic boom of some kind and they decided each junior high should have its own JET. This means, I’m not the only white girl in town.
I believe that there are ten JETs here, all told. Two of them are high-school, and the rest of us are junior high. High-school JETs are administrated by the prefectural Board of Ed (like, state), while the junior-high JETs are under the city BOE (at Tokyo orientation, we called ourselves “Muni”s, for municipal). So even though the HS JETs live in our town, we haven’t met them yet, because they’re almost part of a separate organization.

A lot of the JETs are starting their second year (I think their positions were new last year, or the one before). So far, I’ve met six other Americans who will be in my town for the rest of the year. On the whole, they’re a great group, most of whom live in Yamasaki like me. Two girls live in my building, Heke and Caitlin. Lana lives in an apartment sort of removed from the main street, and Miriam lives in a house near Lana. Lee lives in Ichinomiya. The other newbie (not counting our two new HS JETs) is named Ryan, and he lives in Yamasaki somewhere as well.

I get the feeling that my predecessor, Lara, was quite beloved by this cast of JETs. When I met her, I liked Lara immediately. It might have been easier if she weren’t so cool, and if we didn’t have so much in common. No one has yet put any pressure on me to live up to the ways of my predecessor, but now that I’ve spent a little time getting to know her, I’ll be putting it on myself.
Two nights ago, Lara, Caitlin, Heke, Lana, Lee, Ryan, and I all went out to dinner, with the intention of going to karaoke afterward. The place was closed for Obon holiday, though, so we ended up just sort of going our separate ways that night.

Lara and Ryan

Heke and Lara

But then, last night we had more of a girls’ bonding experience. Lara, Caitlin, Heke, Lana, and I all made taco salad and drank wine at Miriam’s house (Miriam, meanwhile, was in the US). We shared stories from our lives and in general had a really great time. Lara has such a great attitude and demeanor; my fellow JETs have a much richer and deeper past experience than I had any right to hope they might. I really think I’m going to make great friends here, which is such a comforting thought. One of the greatest treasures won from my semester in Rome was the friendships and time I spent and all I learned from those I got to know there.

All of these girls left today for a trip to Okinawa. Lara seemed apologetic that I wasn’t going to be included in their four-day vacation, but I just laughed because it’s really great that they all want to go on this farewell trip with her. That’s when Caitlin explained that they didn’t expect to like me so much. I know they’ll have a great time, and I kind of wish I were going along. It makes me feel good to think they already kind of wish I were going along too.
Caitlin left me her key so I could use her internet and water her tomato plants. Hence, my ability to post at all!

But I know there will be other trips. I’ll be setting off on my own tomorrow to go to Himeji and Kobe. Tomorrow night is the welcome new Hyogo JETs beer garden party in Kobe, and apparently it’s just as convenient to take the bus to Himeji, then train to Kobe. Himeji is famous for its old castle, so I’ll be sure to report on that when I return!

What is it that you do, exactly?

So far, not a whole lot. The students are on summer break right now, so I won’t be teaching until the end of the month. The Japanese school year starts in the spring and runs on a trimester system. I’ll be working in a junior high school, which is equivalent to grades 7, 8, and 9 in the US, although they call them grades 1, 2, and 3 within the school. Junior high is the highest level of school that is compulsory for students, and they have to take entrance exams to get into high school. They don’t go to high school based on where they live, but rather based on how they do on the entrance exams. High schools have different focus areas, as far as I can tell. But I’m not involved at the high school level in Japan.

My main school is called Ichinomiya Minami JHS, which is actually just “Ichinomiya South.” Ichinomiya is one of the four towns that make up Shiso, but I will get into that later. There are three English teachers, one for each grade level, and when I first arrived, it was the 2nd grade teacher who came with me to serve as translator while we did things like get my cell phone, sign my housing contract, etc. He explained that the different teachers will want me to serve in different ways. The 3rd grade teacher will want me to pretty much run my own lesson for his class each week. The 1st grade teacher will mostly do his own thing and include me as a resource. And the 2nd grade teacher will be somewhere in between. All of this makes sense to me, since third-year students can be expected to follow a lesson given entirely in English, while I wouldn’t make such a demand of first-years.
Once a week, I’ll be visiting elementary school. I’ve been assigned to two schools, and one of them is right next to the junior high (called Kanbe). The other, Somegochi, is further out. I haven’t visited these schools yet, mostly because the schedule got all screwed up with the typhoon rains. Then, it was Obon holidays, and the 2nd grade teacher who was going to take me left town.
In addition to these, I’ll be participating in other things. I’m not sure exactly what yet, but I’ve heard about Sports Day, which will be in September, which is like field day, but a bigger deal. I also want to participate with a club, if I can; I’ll also help with English speeches for the town speech contest. I’m not sure if I’ll just be coaching Minami students, or if I’ll actually be part of the contest itself. Finally, I’ll also be teaching an adult conversation class with Lee, one of the other Shiso JETs; the class has two levels, beginner and advanced. I met one of the advanced students, Naruo, the other night when several of the JETs were out to dinner, and he was very cool. These classes will be Thursday nights.
A typical work day, of which I’ve had a grand total to date of two, begins with me taking the bus from the stop just in front of my apartment. I walk up the driveway to the school and say good morning to whoever is there. It’s been sparsely and strangely populated, because not everyone comes every day, and those who are there are often doing things with their club activity students. I always see groups of students on the baseball field in front of the school, and also running in little packs.

This is the view toward the window from my desk. That's the baseball field outside, and the mountains beyond it.

The staff room, where we all have our desks, is grouped by grade level, mostly. My desk is in the first grade area, on the corner by the tea stuff. The front of the room has a bunch of boards covered with writing; they look like calendar schedule things, but of course, I can’t read them. Just in front of these boards, the vice principal has his desk. I really like the vice principal so far; he used to be an English teacher, so he speaks English really well. But he also speaks to me in Japanese, so I can practice. The principal doesn’t really speak English much, but he seems pretty cool too. They all even have a sort of laid-back demeanor, which I wasn’t expecting. I think they will be exacting about some things, and relaxed about others. I don’t know yet what those things will be. I still dress as formally as I can for work, because I want to make a good impression. This is a bit annoying because they don’t like to use the air conditioner; actually, they’ve used it now more often than I expected. I mentally prepared myself for a total lack of air conditioning ever. But they do turn it on when it warms up outside. At least the staff room is nice and cool. I really want to come off as hardworking and earnest in my endeavors, so I’ve kept pretty busy on the few days I’ve been in. I know I’m going to make mistakes, but I want to keep them to a minimum.

At work, I’ve been mostly going through materials left by the previous JETs, trying to get a grasp of how best to go about what it is I’m to do. Soon, I’m going to start trying to make myself more familiar with the staff room. I was given a chart of who sits where, and what they teach, but I want to be able to match names to faces, so my next project might be creating a photo map of the staff in the room. I want to do this electronically, so I might be able to put it up here. I still haven’t given everyone my omiyage, my American presents. I keep waiting for a good time, when a lot of them are around, but I haven’t seen it yet. I may just put stuff on their desks and call it even.

I have a great book with lots of lesson plan ideas, and Lara, the previous JET, left me a bunch of her stuff as examples too. I want to look through everything so I can plan as solidly as possible.

Next time: what about the other JETs in your area?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No work and no internet make Emi.. something something.

This post might feel disjointed, but if so, it does this in order to accurately reflect my state of mind. I feel very disjointed!

For the second day in a row, I’ve been asked to stay home from work. There’s been a typhoon off the coast which made it rain incessantly from Sunday through the end of yesterday. The river was higher than Caitlin, another JET in my building, has ever seen it. The vice principal told me that the transportation was “in a state of panic,” so I couldn’t take the bus in. Apparently, it’s even worse down in Ichinomiya than it is here. It’s not too bad here. The rain stopped sometimes last night, so I thought I’d get to go in today.

Yes, I said “get” to go. Although the other girls in my building say I’m lucky, I am not so sure I like it. I want to go to work so I can feel productive, even though there is not that much for me to do there. Being in the office makes me feel more compelled to do work. I will do some here, today, but I still want to explore all the materials left at my desk by previous JETs.

In my apartment, I have a lot of blank walls and appliances I don’t know how to use. Today, I did laundry (hey, I was up at 7, so why not?), and it took me a maddeningly long time of pressing random buttons to finally get the thing running. Now, I have stuff drying all over the place. The Japanese are very energy-saving conscious, and few people have clothes dryers.

Yesterday, I braved the rain to walk to the local video rental store to sign up for an account. Then, I rented The Kite Runner, since I’d heard it was good, took it home, watched it, and cried about it. I fixed the mini couch and picked out a bunch of photos that I wanted to print. Some of them are for class, so I can show visuals of where I live, my family, pets, etc. Some of them are just so I can have photos around the apartment. I printed off approximately one and a half craploads of photos, so I’m set, as soon as I find a way to display them.

Today, it’s not raining, so I might get the bike out and go down to the post office and to otherwise poke around town. My apartment has neither company nor internet, so I get weird and at a loss when I’m here. Both for social stimulation, but also as a resource, I like having my fellow JETs around. I’m not sure I would be able to use the stove, without them. I have a feeling my cell phone is really cool, and can do a lot of things. But I can’t even make the little you-have-voicemail icon go away. I’ll wait til the other JETs get home from work, and ask.

I think I may also crack open the kanji workbook that was left for me. I can use it to review the hundred kanji I’m supposed to already know. Did I mention I’m illiterate?

Being illiterate is incredibly painful. I get notices on my door and in the mail, and I have no idea what to do. I can’t read simple instructions on the back of food packages; I made myself some instant latte drink and had to just kind of wing it and hope for the best (it turned out okay.. I’m not sure it’s that easy to screw up instant stuff). Even if all of it were written without kanji, I might be at a loss, but kanji it is, and there is so much of it, and I don’t understand anything.

I haven’t been illiterate since I was like four years old. I have begun collecting things to present to my English-speaking co-workers for help, and I keep expecting to be able to see them soon. But, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t get to go to work. Not today anyway. Four day weekend! Which would be great, if I’d known in advance, and if I had something to do other than clean my apartment again.

Which isn’t entirely true.. I do have things to do. I brought Myst III with me, for whatever reason, and I of course have things to write about for this blog. I also have Japanese to study! I even brought my Italian Rosetta Stone disks with me.. but I think I left the setup disk back home, which is silly, because I for some reason brought the power cord of my old laptop here. I have books to read, and even one to edit. I should write the self-introduction I was going to type up at work. And I can go wander around town, of course. I want to see if the river is still raging madly along, like it was yesterday, and I have written a total of one letters to send to the US. Please write me letters! It will be $0.98, I think, to send regular letter-sized mail to me.

I apologize again for the scattered nature. I’m feeling restless. I think I ought to go now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In brief

It’s a rainy Sunday morning here in Shiso. The past week has been a whirlwind, so I’ll try to give a little rundown here:

The 31st, my parents and I drove to Nashville. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really time to visit the classics dept, nor the Parthenon (for me; I think they might have gone later). It was strange to be in Nashville, but not for a visit, nor for school. The Hutton Hotel was pretty sweet, ultra-modern. Pre-Departure Orientation was basically informative, and the reception was pretty cool.

Saturday the 1st, my Nashville cohort and I went to the airport at something like 5 am (only three hours before flight time). Our flight to Dallas was delayed, so we got to hang out in the airport for an extra hour. Luckily for us, they held the plane in Dallas. I think it had its own delays, as well. I spent 12.5 hours between a Taiwanese woman and a Nashville JET, watching movies and TV. I don’t watch a lot of new movies, nor TV, so it was kind of fun to get to see some stuff (House, 30Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and then X-men: Wolverine, Star Trek). We got fed a few times. It was basically 4:30pm local time everywhere we flew, chasing the sun across the Pacific. Longest. Day. Ever.

We arrived in Tokyo at, predictably, about 4:30pm (it was the 2nd of August, there). By the time we got through customs and to the hotel via bus, it was about 7. Most of us were tired beyond all reason, since 7pm Tokyo time is about 6am Eastern time. I half-consciously talked with Australian orientation leaders at the hospitality center for a while, looking for dinner partners until two British girls mentioned they were going. We wandered out into the streets near the hotel and ended up dodging raindrops into a sushi restaurant. I paid 600 yen (that’s around 6 dollars, give or take) for the best sushi I’ve ever had. It motored by on a little conveyor belt, and each mini plate indicated price based on its color. By the time we were finished, it was about 9, and I felt like that was a decent bedtime, so I went to join my two Nashvillian roommates and crashed.

I woke up the next morning at about 4. Monday the 3rd was day one of orientation, which to me quickly began to resemble AWA in a business suit. It felt like all these Japanophiles were milling about, going to panels in their classy attire, attending teaching demonstrations and functions while casually pretending not to be crazy about anime. Like AWA grew up and went to college; it was really fun to imagine that way. My roommates, though, (and I’m sure much of the JET population) seemed differently motivated to become JETs.

Anyway, that night was prefectural going-out night, at least for Hyogo JETs (that’s me!), so we went to a nearby establishment for nomihodai, or “all you can drink” time. At first I wondered why we had never taken to such things in the US. The cover charge was a bit high, and then there was a time limit on our party; I imagined what would happen under such circumstances in, say, Lawrence, and decided it was better we don’t have nomihodai there. I can just imagine someone trying to get his or her “money’s worth,” within the time limit. It can only have led to intense immediate drunkenness, most likely followed by sickness.

Either way, I managed to stay up later and wake up later because of it! Tuesday the 4th’s panels and teaching demonstrations seemed a bit more useful and interesting than those from the day before; all in all, orientation was simultaneously really helpful and totally useless. Unable to give anyone the particulars of their own situation, they had to just try preparing us for the JET experience in general.

That evening, since dinner was not part of orientation, Aasritha and I met up with Allegranzi and Ritsuko, friends from J-Hall at Vandy. We had a delightful dinner (whereat Ritsuko ordered for us all).

The next morning (Wed the 5th) we all went our separate ways. Hyogo JETs got to travel by shinkansen (bullet train!) to Osaka. The train and train station experience were great.. that thing is seriously fast. From Osaka, we took a bus to this centrally located educational training center, where representatives from our various boards of ed took us to our towns. Shiso was only about a 40 minute drive from this central location.

What’s significant about this particular transition is that it marked the end, at least temporarily, of my time with Americans (and Aussies and Kiwis, etc.), as well as with people who speak English as their first language. The pair who picked me up did not speak much English, nor does my supervisor at the BOE. At first, this was fun. Being at orientation in Tokyo, I’d not really felt like I was in Japan. I hadn’t yet gotten to practice my Japanese at all. But it soon became frustrating. My Japanese, while it could be worse, leaves a lot to be desired. I have a feeling that much of it is stuff I learned and then forgot, and that it will return fairly quickly. This doesn’t help on the first day, though. I couldn’t remember a lot of vocabulary, so expressing myself was not easy. I tried to have conversations with my drivers on the way (one of whom, Inada-san, was with me for most of the day, and the following day too), and happily, they indulged me with the patience to listen to my broken Japanese questions.

I was totally awed by the mountain vistas as we exited the highway. Misty cloudforms swirled around their tops, although I don’t think they are all that high. They are steep.

That day was tiring. We picked up a translator at the municipal building, then went to get my photo taken, then to get my registration card, and so on. We didn’t even get to the apartment til that evening. My BOE people (Inada-san and Matsue-san) had taken me to the grocery store, where I got food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. After they showed me around the place, they left me to unpack. I did a bit of that, but I went to bed really early.

The next morning, my BOE friends came to ride the bus with me to work. I got my first glimpse of my new school, and met the principal there and some of the teachers. An English teacher gave me a tour of the school. It’s summer break for them right now, but a lot of kids are still around, as they participate in club activities. They were all cute and seemed eager to greet me. Their English teacher, Kubo-sensei, had them say “good morning” to me in English as well. The rest of the day was for more errands, the apartment contract, getting a phone, setting up a bank account, internet, etc. It was incredibly wearing, even though Kubo-Sensei was serving as my translator. I’m pretty sure doing all of those establishment things in one day would be tiring, even if I were doing it by myself in English.

It was kind of stressful, interacting with my BOE contacts and co-teachers at times.. because I want to be professional with them, and even impressive, but at the same time, I am entirely dependent on them. It’s a bit of a fine line to walk, trying to be gracefully dependent on someone; they are so helpful and kind, and yet I do want to respect the boundaries implicit in a working relationship. At the bank, Kubo-sensei asked if I were tired, to which I quickly agreed. He then asked if I were alright, and I said I was. What else could one say? “No, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”? I was feeling pretty alone, despite their helpful presence.

When I got back to the apartment, I unpacked a little bit more, considered whether I should just eat canned pineapple for dinner (since it was left in the cabinet), and then took a nap of death from 6 until 9, when I was awakened by people at my door. The Americans.

Caitlin and Heke are my neighbors in this building, but I had been under the impression that they were both away travelling. Caitlin has just gotten back from the States, actually, and Heke will be leaving soon. They had come to see if I wanted to have a beer with them. I happily joined them, and even had some instant soup of Heke’s. It was kind of a relief to meet them, and know they’re there. Heke can even read Japanese, though Caitlin claims my Japanese is better than her own is even now, after her first year.

The next day, I was to go to my school by bus on my own, which was very easy, especially since I was the only passenger. The bus men helped me find the right stop. I spent most of the day in the office looking through all the materials there on and around my desk. I want to understand what I can and should do, and what those before me have done. One teacher had her daughter there, and she patrolled the office killing flies. We kept the windows open all morning, so she had her work cut out for her. Someone else was going to the nearby convenience store at lunchtime and let me come along so I could get myself some lunch. The vice principal, who can speak English really well, pronounced me “Emi-sensei,” and then decided to speak to me in Japanese only. I was actually pleased with this, because I do want to practice, but then if there are words I don’t know, it’s still possible to communicate. One of the other English teachers drove me home at the end of the day, by which time the office population had dwindled significantly.

Generally, my school seems friendly and even kind of laid-back. I think I’ll fit in pretty well, if it goes like this, because I’m pretty friendly and laid-back too.

That was Friday, and I went to dinner that evening with Heke and Caitlin at an okonomiyaki place. Saturday morning, I went for a bike ride around my town in the morning, and got thoroughly sweaty. The area is absolutely beautiful, though.

That afternoon, I went with Caitlin to Jusco, a sort of shopping mall nearby. We got some random effects, including Brita pitchers (designed to fit in Japanese fridges!) and groceries. When I got back with my groceries, I finally felt like my apartment was becoming more of a home. I think this happened to me in Kansas, too. Until you have food around, you’re just.. camping, or something.

That evening, Caitlin and I got sushi; another JET turned up just as we got back, and he turned out to be Lee, my co-teacher for the adult conversation classes (eikaiwa) I’ll be doing Thursday night. Caitlin had to go to a meeting, and I was on a mission to get soda water (to drink with our plum wine) for the evening’s viewing of Baby Mama. Lee went to get dinner, and when he and I had gotten back, he hung out in my apartment (which I was suddenly assiduous about cleaning) until Caitlin and Heke returned and were ready to watch the movie. It was nice.

And so here I am, on a rainy Sunday morning in Shiso. The rain makes it a lot cooler. While I was in Valdosta, I looked up the population and found that Shiso and Valdosta are similar in size. One of the RAs referred then to my new town as “Japdosta,” and it does feel like it in a lot of ways. The humidity and heat factor being one. There is much more to tell, of course, and I’ll be at it. I want to vacuum today, and try to get a bit more organized. Til then!