Lull

Miraculously, or maybe just because I haven’t adjusted to the time difference, I woke up early today and went for a run. Now, one of the few things wrong with Japan right now is that fact that it’s as hot and humid as Lil’ Jon’s balls, and sunny as all get out all the time, which makes it pretty difficult to run. That and I’m just a busy lazy fool who makes excuses at 6:00 AM and instead eats greasy tori-yaki for dinner. Anyway, I’ve really gotta get out of that habit soon and this morning was a good refresher. To a small degree of surprise there were plenty of people out, and not only elderly obaa-chans and ojii-sans. I found a path along the main river and saw a guy who looked like a high school student practicing his baseball swing, while another man was sprinting back and forth along a open patch. Despite the foggy haze and heat I actually had a pretty good time, which was a somewhat necessary way to start the day being we had another 6-8 hours of orientation.

IMG_2015Along with the heat, and the grimness of the city, though, having more orientation isn’t such a bad thing this time. I think my group is a lot closer, and we’re doing super well with our amazing leader Christen. She met us in Tokyo and took us out for izakaya and has basically been a godsend since. Seriously, it’s been way more comfortable getting through orientation this time around. Not to mention the Fukui JETs and community are just awesome in themselves. We actually had some time in the afternoon to have some more one on one with the veteran ALTs while walking around the city. The city has a lot to offer, and is pretty accessible by train, but I’m still pretty set on living more rural, at least where you can see the landscapes from the road.

DInosaurs

I realize that I won’t have many selfies up on this blog so I’ll take them when I can get them. Anyway, tonight we had a welcome party (even more fried food), beer and mixed sake drinks, and plenty of Japan-English conversation. Seriously, once I start living alone (/whenever people stop throwing food at me) I’m screwed, or at least will have to sign up for cooking classes ASAP.

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But until now, I enjoy, just like this little dude. CHYOU-KAWAII!

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Transit

fukui sign

The move from the hotel to our home prefectures came with joy and woe. On one hand, we were finally done with Tokyo workshops, moving on one step closer to our original purpose. On the other (at least for those of us heading to Fukui, and many others going much farther) it was just another 8 hours to tack onto the other hours we’ve racked up in such a short time. By the time I actually move into my apartment later on in the week I feel like I’ll actually spend a whole day of this week moving in a vehicle. I can’t be too critical about this moment though, as shown by my temporary roommate Grace, it was hard not to contain the excitement of finally exiting Tokyo.

Grace 1

As someone who’s only been in Tokyo and the greater metro area, I had little expectation on what it’d be like on the way to Fukui City (later Echizen). Really, my overall research has been pretty poor, and mostly futile. I’ll admit when I first read the email that had my placement I was a little disappointed, as I think many Fukui Jets are, in finding out I’d be placed in Fukui. Why not the Osaka, or Nagano, or Kyotos of my imagination? Was Fukui even a real place? A simple Google search leads to few English website, so I decided to go out with an optimistic view (at least I wasn’t in Ibaraki). By the time I finished with the Tokyo orientation, my viewpoint solidified. It sounded like I was headed to one of the best parts of Japan, and in no way shape or form should I worry about my situation.

IMG_2016The first views out of the city were like nothing I had seen before in real life, and I was only waiting for the landscape to stop. As we kept rounding corners and driving through mountains, the foliage and beauty of Japan countryside only increased, and I really couldn’t believe what the hell I had gotten myself into. The Tokyo version of Japan I’d been used to has its certain appeal, but after living in a town of 14,000 people for the past five years, it’s revitalizing to think I’ll be back in the countryside (definitely not something I thought I’d admit).

The end of the bus ride really wiped me out, so once we got to the hotel I passed out in my single room, almost missing the group leaving for the Izakaya. Seriously, I’m gaining so much waiting eating all of this greasy fried dark meat food thrown at me. I’m also not complaining very much, but I definitely need to find the time to start working out and really need to get some vegetables into my diet. Still, it was another good night to get to know some of the other ALTs living in Fukui-ken and finding out all of our backgrounds. Really, it’s not what I expected. So many people apply to JET for various reason and at different points in their lives which is also reassuring that I’m not the only one without a clue what he wants to do with his.

Orientation

Now for the longest three days in recent memory. I mean, not much can be said in terms of what I expected and what I definitely did not think about, but basically the JET orientation in Tokyo was a huge daze of information fed and repeated while we tried to figure out what exactly was “cool biz” appropriate.

Welcome Reception

But seriously, walking into the main hall for our welcome reception I think the biggest thing that hit me was just the fact that there were so many of us (not only keeping in mind that there are another two groups after ours). At some point we were told that there are about 2,000 JETs this year, and at least a thousand fit into this room.

We sat patiently through various workshops, lectures, and redundancy, while basically taking three things away from it:

1.) Don’t Drink

2.) Don’t Upset Your Boss

3.) You Represent Your Country

It’s all really just a big blur looking back on it, but I think I retained enough to come in handy when I really need it. That night there was a closing reception where I could finally meet all the people heading to Fukui prefecture with me, and I’ve gotta say: despite there being a bunch of us, I really lucked out in terms of having a cool crew to join me on this journey. I suppose only time will tell, but for now I’m doing alright.

JET sign

I think the most amazing part of being in Tokyo was the ability to see my long lost roommate and onii-chan, Yasushi. After a day like the one I had I was ready to pass out before 9 o’clock, but once I trudged down to the lobby to see him I became revitalized. It’s hard to believe that it’d been over two years since we’d seen each other, and it really didn’t feel like any time had passed since I waved him goodbye back at St. Olaf. We spent most of the night out, and it really gave me a sense of assurance that whatever does happen to me in Japan I’ll always find a home to go back to. Today was really the first time that I realized I’d be OK staying here for more than a year, or at least in the sense that I had nothing to fear about not going home after this one had passed. Although again, only time will tell.

yasushikun

Departures

Let me first start by saying it truly is a miracle that I was ready to go, but also admit that by ready to go I only include having my bags packed. The day I left for Seattle I was in no shape ready to leave, and despite having a couple of days still in America to sort things out before my trip, I really squandered any opportunities to set my life in order. In reality, though, I knew exactly how I would do things and feel (or hope at least) that any consequences will be trivial. Mainly, this first month in Japan may be a bit of an issue, but it’s nothing that my time spent in New York (and in some ways Northfield) didn’t prepare me to handle.

But hey, I made the plane at 6:50 in the morning, made it soundly through the three hour flight, and — while dragging two fifty pound suitcases, lugging another 40 pound duffel bag, and wearing my backpack — made it through downtown Seattle to find my way at my former college roommate, teammate, friend, and all around life-saver’s front door. When I made it back he was still in school, and so I had nothing to do but completely crash and take a nap until he came back from lab.

We went out that night for dinner and drinks, explore some of the more original parts of Seattle. It’s pretty strange for me to look back and think that those would be the most recent American memories I’d have to compare to the left I’m expecting, but on a whole I’d say the arcade/bar/concert venue we drifted into summed up all the good parts of young city life. We didn’t stay out too late that night because the next morning I had pre-departure something or other for my trip. I woke up fairly early, and after breakfast, moped around, dressing in business attire including a new sport coat bought specifically and necessarily for this trip. After too many times of checking my watch, and missing a bus stop or two, I made it to the consulate of Japan’s residence.

It was pretty unsettling the first time seeing everyone sitting in the basement and still a bit looking back on it. Like, here were 64 people about to embark to Japan to teach that I had no clue about. We shared so many similarities and were all too different beneath the surface. Most of all, past the following two day that we’d be travelling together, there was a strong chance that I would never see any of them again. It’s a haunting feeling that definitely shaped that way I behaved with most people this past week, and one that I’m finally moving out of.

The night it was decided that John and I would attempt to make one of the most American dinners possible for my last meal stateside. After a quick run along the river we decided on Mac & Cheese (a Midwestern delicacy) and while I packed and repacked my things John got the ingredients. I must admit right now that I have never seen someone more proficient in the kitchen than John and without any sense of a recipe he always makes the perfect meal. I think he gets it from his dad who once cooked traditional paella and fresh crab for me back to back.

John cooking

Anyway, we went out a bit late that night and ran into Stina Nesbit of all people who ended up being fantastic and buying a lot of our drinks — exactly what you want when it comes to a last night out. By the time it came to getting to the airport I had just the right amount of fatigue to help me sleep the ten hour plane ride off, but enough energy to keep me from having a very destructive hangover.

The airport was packed, but we got through security pretty easily. Once I got on the plane I almost instantly pulled on my eye-shades and plugged into a podcast, and apart from eating lunch, I slept for a good five hours. Two movies and a couple TV shows later, lo and behold we landed in Japan. From there it was another two hours by bus, but finally we arrived at the hotel. Five star, amazing and what not, right in the heart of Shinjuku. I went out with a guy named Thomas who’d actually probably become one of the few that I’ll see again, and after a very awkward stint trying to order ramen and find a bar we had what could only be describes for foreigners in our situation as a completely successful night. On a whole the day was definitely exhaustive, but how naive was I to think that the most difficult of the trip was finally behind me.

keio plaza hotel

Origins

This is something I’ve been waiting months for, but it is such a weird concept for it to finally be here. People–and by people I literally mean everyone: family, friends, co-workers, strangers– would constantly ask me one question first: “Are you nervous yet?” And despite the time already coming and going, I can honestly say at no point was I ever nervous to be here. Over the past couple of days I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve felt unsure of the moment, or felt uncomfortable about sitting next to someone who’s sharing the same experience as me but ultimately someone I would never see again, but  I never once felt weird about finally being back in Japan. I definitely wasn’t ready for the path I would take, didn’t prepare to the extent I should have, and procrastinated to the point that it’s uncanny I was able to get on a plane out here without fate stopping me and telling me to head back. Nevertheless, I made it to Japan, albeit am still a bit away from my final destination.

I feel a bit like I’m walking in an unreality. It’s hard, since in the past week I’ve spent more than 24 hours in transit, and another 24+ working inside hotels. Slowly I’m working my way towards the life that will be my life for at least (or most) the next year, and I guess the start of this blog is a good distinction to the end of my transition. At this point I may just want more to be able to wear whatever I want without having to dig to the bottom of my suitcase and repack my bags everyday, but I think truly I’m ready to unwind. Fukui prefecture seems to hold itself up to its reputation of the happiest life in Japan, and I hope I can do it justice as I keep track of what goes on in my life. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the city where I’ll be permanently based (though temporarily without an apartment, and indefinitely without a bed), and I suppose then I’ll finally be ready for it all.

No matter what happens, I have to remind myself of what I was left with just a week ago. Almost incredibly I moved out of my Northfield aprtment of ten months, flew to Fargo and Boston, and spent a week without sleeping in my own bed. In fact, since leaving my apartment I didn’t actually get a real nights rest and that may be one of the things later on that I regret most. To the point though, I started off the night before I left with my room (and my life) in the truest sense of bedlam. Through the night I didn’t panic–well, barely at most– and was able to tidy it up by the time the morning came. Truly, the fact that I took the room in this picture from shambles to liveable gives me at least some security going into whatever chaos becomes this next future.