Culture

Once again I find myself coming into school on a Saturday, but after getting a Monday off (and looking forward to another Monday free) it’s really just like having a five day work week. Also, including yesterday, the actual work among the teachers is pretty minimal as once again it’s mostly in the hands of the students to get everything done. Although, instead of finding myself outside working out on a bright sunny day, I found myself inside playing on a rainy humid day.

Yes, in fact, it was the antithesis to sports day. If last week was for the brawn, this would be for the brains. It was: Culture and Arts Day.

Again, I’m astonished, not quite this time at the amount of work the students have put in, but more at the amount of school time devoted to these events. Coming from a country where most public schools have been eliminating Arts and music courses across the board and even argue against recess, it’s relieving to see that at least some of the world’s youth get a chance.

It starts on Friday with about two hours in the morning where each class, of twenty-three total, received two canvases (about 3×5 feet) and in groups painted a mural. At first it seemed like such a short time, but as I wandered among the halls and classrooms checking out the classes, the students were well at recreating a smaller sketch they’d already decided on. I don’t know if there is some larger life symbolism because they made almost exact replicas of their tinier murals, but on a whole it seemed pretty simple work for them.

After that we had an assembly in the gym, where the student organizers took center stage and performed various skits. They even introduced some video where they pulled pranks on various teachers, and it was all interactive and pretty awesome. In the end, they even incorporated the skit with the main act of the day: a performance by a local singer, Seri Kana, who graduated from the school. It was all quite the production and pretty exciting, especially for the students, and it offered a different look at their behavior.

Seri Kana perfomance

The level after that basically continued all day, as lunch was served out of the classrooms pseudo county fair style. All the third year classes were responsible for transforming their classrooms into food-stall-cafe where students could order food via tickets they purchased. Early in the week to save money for the holiday (and overall scrounging) I decided not to buy any tickets and I was kind of regretting the choice now. I still got to share some bites offered from the kids, and it was just an experience to see it all happen on the bottom hallway of our school. I’ve been told these two weeks are the greatest of the year, and I can see why. This whole time I’ve felt like I did back in my summer daycare, some of the fondest nostalgia I can muster, where you’ve got the freedom of summer but the community of school. It’s really a happy feeling.

After that I grouped up with what can now be called my favorite class: a group of second years with a good amount of rowdiness, but enough English effort to make them admirable. Granted I’m not trying to get into favorites so early, I knew eventually it would happen, but it seems less of my favoring them and more them favoring me.

So, after teaming up with them during the talent show, I got dragged around to each classroom on the second floor where the first years were putting on various games and activities for the rest of the day. Imagine each room getting turned into a thirteen year old’s capacity for a Japanese game show using only cardboard and duct tape and your practically there. We had bowling with plastic bottles as pins, basketball shots with newspaper balls, and skee ball with super balls and paper cups (and those are just the easiest to describe).

dancing during the talent show

Altogether I’m not quite sure what this day was about, but maybe it was just a retainer for the amount of lackluster the following day would inhabit.

Not to say that Saturday was all bad. Although, imagine being a parent of a seventh grader (maybe you are), and then going to their school choir concert because after all you’re their parent and you sort of have to because it’s on a Saturday and you know, their cute when they’re up there because they’re terrible singers but they try anyway so you can sort of enjoy it. OK, you got that in your mind? Now imagine that, after you kid gets back from the front of the stage, another group goes up, and then another, and just for good measure imagine that they’re speaking in Swahili, a language that you really don’t understand but can chime in every time someone says Asante sana (but really, that only makes you think ‘squashed banana’ and then as you imagine Zazu singing that to Scar in the Lion King you realize that you’re supposed to be watching some school choir concert that you haven’t been paying attention to for the past half hour).

There was a slight intermission in which the school band set up shop in front of the stage and I with Coral, the other ALT, and several teachers got up and danced to a song that is known for its origins in parody and antics (for good measure, it’s called てぃてぃてぃてれっててれてぃてぃてぃ). We’d stayed until 7:30 the night before trying to learn the dance, and on my part it was a slight–but hilarious and thus successful–failure. Incredibly, once we left Friday night it seemed that we might even be some of the first to leave (that’s even including the students). At first I was eager to do it because I wanted to feel involved with the students, but after it really highlighted my involvement among the teachers. I got to talk with some I hadn’t met before, and really became friendlier with a couple I’d already favored.

dancing on stage during culture festival

Honestly, even with the silly dancing, one of the most amusing parts of the day was to be sitting on the sidelines and watch as the students (who brought their classroom chairs into the gym) slowly drooped their heads and closed their eyes and tried to keep their neck from dropping lest the nearest teacher slowly approach them and make sure their friends knew they were asleep in a bright red blush of embarrassment as they finally snapped back to attention only to repeat the process in another five minutes. It was quite the spectacle in spite of its subtlety.

That night, like last week, once everything was done and cleaned up, we had another work party within walking distance to the school at a Chinese restaurant. I’d consider this one even better, perhaps because the teachers weren’t fatigued from the sun and cheering of Sports day, or maybe just because I’d gotten a little more closer to each of them. Still, this time through a random process, I sat next to my advisor and Coral, which I didn’t mind too much despite wanting to get away for English. It wasn’t long before Coral got up and started commiserating, and my advisor got up in search of more beer. There’s this great, albeit dangerous, tradition in Japan that you don’t fill up your own drinking glass, and thus everyone around must tend to its fullness out of respect. It really helps drive everyone to drink, but also muddles with keeping track of how much you’ve actually had. Eventually I was probably buzzed, but I don’t think I had nearly enough to get tipsy. When it was time to leave, though, I still wanted to rally and enjoy the night. Even though it was closing on close to eleven, I remember getting back so early last time and wanting to go out.

A group of teachers, only one of which, another twenty-three year old guy, was an English teacher, decided to go out to nearby karaoke. (I put that in italics because the conditions of karaoke in Japan are pretty unique and they pronounce it ka (like car)- row (like had a row)-oh-kay.) In the end their were eight of us: the English teacher and me, a now devious duo, two teachers I’d yet to even hear speak (one of which sang metal), two teachers who I’d marked as the best dressed (one of which made me sing Bon Jovi and the other who loved Bill Withers), and the schools two music teachers (both of which trumped any other karaoke performance I’ve ever heard).

I got back to my place a little after one thanks to the graciousness of another English teacher who picked us up. Ready to start my weekend, and procrastinate on planning my Tokyo trip. I went to the bus station today thanks to another ALT and his Portuguese girlfriend who speaks native Japanese fluently, but they had already sold out of bus tickets (presumably because it was a special weekend) so I’m kind of in the zone to wing it. I guess we’ll see.

Weather

As a Minnesotan, I must say one of my bad habits–especially when stalling out when conversing with a stranger–is talking about the weather. It’s a tad ironic that we tend to diver to weather as the main topic, since Minnesota typically only has two types of weather anyway: bad and worse, but alas, it’s a fundamental social tactic for me. By now I think I’ve been able to fully appreciate the mundane movement of the clouds and the banality of a midsummer’s day. As such, I’ve also come up with plenty of ways to look at weather under a unique lens. Words like: brisk, searing, and tranquil start to crop into my vocabulary, or at the extremes: sultry, blazing, and deluge. I don’t know if I mentioned early on, but the first days settling in Fukui were a torrid mix of sweat infused days and balmy nights.

That type of weather seemed ceaseless, at least in levels of humidity, even when the clouds started blocking out the sun. Now, only a month later and still in the wane of summer, it’s hard to remember those days when wearing anything more than your thinnest t-shirt seemed absurd. After we went to the BBQ a while back, my neighbor and I went scouring around the greater Tannan area to each Book-Off (a used manga, book, and media store). I mark it as the last day I wear a tank top in Japan, or at least until next summer. As the day wore on and the clouds moved in to rain, I felt pretty exposed stuck with bare shoulders (a social rarity) while wishing I had a jacket.

The changing has kept up, despite various assurances that whatever threatening typhoon has either dissipated or passed us by. It’s been pretty nice to have in school, since it’s the only sort of air conditioning we get, though, at home it gets to be a nuisance. As someone who still has no furniture, internet, books, or distinct form of entertainment in their apartment, watching the clouds go by (yes, an occasionally fun pastime) only reminds me that I’m stuck inside. Also, without a car the decision to walk to the grocery gets solved pretty quickly with a potential downpour.

One thing I guess I can say, is Monday morning–the day we had without school–turned into the day I finally figure out how to get my washing machine to work. I woke up habitually pretty early, at least before eight o’clock. The night before I determined that I would do laundry in my place after finally receiving a washing machine from my advisor used in his college days. When we had gotten it in the apartment and tried setting it up, the nozzle wound up spraying water all over whenever it was connected. I had looked around at other people’s machines and figured I needed a new part for my spigot. However, the Home-Depot-esque store that was the closet (half hour) walk away didn’t open until 9:30 like most stores, so I figured I’d putz around to see if I could actually get it to work.

I unscrewed plenty of things, twisted off tubes and nozzles, and after dousing the walls even went over everything with a borrowed hair dryer to make sure I wouldn’t get mold. By the time I planned to start walking to the store, a bit of rain rolled in and I decided it’d be better off on me and my wallet if I spent more time trying to figure it out on my own. In the end, I got a load of laundry going, and after a momentary shutdown and more unscrewing on my part, finally got everything working consistently. I did laundry for most of the day, starting at noon and going into the evening. After repairing the dry-wall in my old apartment from the wholes I drilled to mount my TV, I’d say I’ve probably achieved handy-man skill level 2 by now. Although, let’s hope it stays at that level for a while.

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That picture is actually a bit misleading. It was taken at 7:30 in the morning over the weekend, but by 9:30 all the fog had disappeared and lead to a sunny and almost clear sky. A couple of sun showers and rain pours flocked in throughout the day, but it seems that’s just more for me to talk about.

Sports

So it’s been a pretty unorthodox first week, but still to the level of excitement and to some extent excitement that I had on the first day. Like I mentioned in the last post, though, this week was not ordinary in that everyone was preparing for this amazing thing called Sports Day. I think it’d be safe to call this a national phenomenon, because I’ve never heard of an American track & field day going to such great lengths. I mean sure, we had the three legged races, the tug of war, but never to the extremes that these kids basically missed two days of actual classwork in order to participate in these activities. On top of that, you have to keep in mind they’ve probably created some of their team ideas (like the posters and group dances) over their summer vacation because they’ve only been in school for a week.

I really wish I could show you some of the pictures of the games they played, but hopefully I’ll do half as good in describing them. Of course, we started out on the field promptly at 8:00 in the morning. Remember this is a Saturday, and as the most important school day of the year, I’d already been awake for a good two hours. (Thankfully, I also had the time to make a great-fried-egg-hash-brown-jam-and-bread-yogurt-V8-breakfast.) Despite some questionable weather in the middle of the week from one of the recent typhoons, the day was clear sunshine and windy enough for that not to be a nagging annoyance. I quickly found the green team tent, on the edge by some shady trees, and watched as the group organized and made it through the opening ceremony.

Somewhere here I think I started to understand the awful reality of someone who takes up this job without speaking a lick of Japanese. I definitely felt it myself by the end with my limited vocabulary used up, but to be stuck out there the whole day trying to communicate purely in gestures in broken English would probably change my perspective on Sports Day. As it is, I thankfully retained enough Japanese to get by and was able to fulfill the boredom between games by learning about the day from another teacher or making jokes with the students.

Back to the point: imagine every fun camp game that you think would be fun to play at school, but would never be able to because it’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen, and that’s Sports Day. Each group had a section of each year represented, for the first and third years (read: seventh and ninth grade) it meant their entire class of thirty people, while second years got mixed with other seconds years from different classes. That way the games could not only be split between the eight teams, but sometimes involve just a certain grade or classes.

For the beginning we started off pretty tame, with a giant jump rope and crew of about 20 students trying to jump over it at the same time. Against my expectations and maybe misconceptions that all Japanese people are great at working with each other and would be super efficient at this game it actually proved to be quite the feat to get down. But once a group did get the right rhythm, boy could they go. One of the groups got over twenty times around before tripping up. Imagine it for a second: ten boys, ten girls, side by side in their purple and white gym uniforms, jumping in perfect sync for half a minute. To some extent downright mesmerizing.

From there the games only got more creative. The next was a sort of race, in fact, I think it could be classified as a relay, because even though there was only one runner about 15 people participated. It starts with four of them, crouching down to form a sort of stairway with their backs, while the runner–typically the smallest–runs up to the top step/back and the rest of the people start forming a pathway with their own backs. When the runner steps off whatever back their on, the person crouching over shuffles to the front of the line to continue the path. The person running, again a tiny and weightless first year, wears a helmet and has someone holding their hand to help, but still, their a good four feet off the ground, and certainly a couple fell more than once. They way they moved, though, really looked like a single person running over a fluorescent blur of centipede like human legs, and they made it fifty yards, around a cone, and back in under a minute.

Next up came a short bout of tug-o-war, a stranger version than what I think I’m used to, in which strategy (or what little there would be in tug-o-war) was completely given over to brute strength (or what little raw power there would be in an average Japanese junior high student). Fun, painful to watch, but all around less exciting.

I think they were just having a break to ramp up to the next activity: マジク・カーペト (the magic carpet). This was perhaps my favorite of the day. They laid out tatami mats and went in rounds of seven people (gender specific, like all the games), where one person would lay out on the tatami, while the other six would gather around and lift the mat. They then would carry them down around a gone and back as quickly as possible, and almost certainly dropping them one or more times. I saw some crazy stunts, The people bringing back the tatami would drop the tatami while the next person would jump in the air and slide onto it. Other riders would be brave enough to stand up and ride it like a surfboard. All the time, I don’t think anyone had reason to not be smiling.

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We had a short intermission for lunch and recovery before it was back on the field for the classic fun game which they were calling “Candy Crush.” Now, I’ve never played the digital game, but I wonder where the name comes for this version, because the candy part, if there was one, was minimal at best. It starts off with your classic person spinning around a baseball bat for however many times or seconds, and continues with the person being tied at the ankles with a partner and completing the well known three legged race. Where it deviates, however, is halfway down the stretch where the pair, along with another couple, has to dunk their head in a tray full of flour and search around with their mouths until they can procure the elusive “candy” piece, and then race to the finish with mouth, hair, and vision caked over to ghostly perfection. Quite inventive, if not a bit disgusting.

The next was perhaps the biggest moment of the day when each team got to perform their own original dance. If you don’t remember, this was a Saturday, and before you might’ve asked yourself why they would make everyone come in on a Saturday instead of just doing all of this over a Thursday/Friday sprint. Well, I briefly thought about it, but by one o’clock on this bright day I quickly understood through looking over at the packed tent set up on the side of the field designated specially for parents. Actually, more impressively was the mention by another teacher that plenty of elementary school teachers and vice-principals would also show up to cheer their former students on. I mean, what more could you want to say F-yeah to?

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Each dance had its own surprises and originality. While some got really serious and martial-like, others made a story and added bits of comedy. For example, pink in Japanese can come from the westernized ピンク or momo, which translates to peach. And if you were lucky enough to be an Asian-studies major at your private liberal arts college, you probably read Journey to the West (Monkey) at some point and would be able to understand why some of the students on the pink team dressed up like characters in the story. Sometimes it’s the little things that reassure me the various dollars in debt I have is well worth it…

After the dances came the pinnacle game in creativity: bakudan, which basically translates to bomb. Think foursquare and volleyball, and then instead of a ball think of the type of ball an Elephant might balance on at the circus. Granted, the balls we were using were filled with air, but still, size-wise I can only imagine four student probably fitting into one of the balls. The teams had to volley the balls into another teams area, over a net, without letting it fall onto their side. If it did, they were out, and the nets would move around to three, and then two courts. My team was pretty successful, making it to the second place for both boys and girls., but then again, one strategy that seemed to work was just try to avoid getting the other team to pass you the ball in the first time.

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They followed up with a class relay, a spin on tug-o-war where they raced to the ropes, and ending in a twenty-legged race of each class which would either end triumphantly or in disaster. All in all, the day seemed like it could go on forever–but in a not so bad way–and by the time four o’clock came round and we were lining up for closing ceremony I was sort of hoping it would. Following the ritual of lining up, accepting awards, and superfluous bowing the groups met back under their tents for closing remarks. The green team ended up getting the second place, not that the point count for anything, but you know, bragging rights and all.

For the third years, this would be their last time doing Sports Day with the junior high, and to some extent with the extreme childlike fun that divides Junior high from the later teenage years. Early on in the day I think I made a joke about how it’d be a time when all the girls would break down and cry and one of the other teachers, without catching my sarcasm, nodded in agreement at the sentimentality of it all. I wasn’t sure if I’d be stuck in begrudging the situation until our team leader, a boy with a knack for cheering and competition, got up and made his speech. Flanked by the other third year leaders, he made it only a bit into his speech before pausing. At first I didn’t catch on to what he was trying to do. It looked like he had to cough, or maybe was at a loss for words. In someways I guess both were true, but as soon as the others started cheering for him, “gambate,” it was pretty clear he was starting to tear up. This is when everyone else started breaking down, and I must say I was pretty moved by the scene. After all, I was part of the group, cheering at times with the loudest voice, and the exhaustion and effort of the whole day probably wore on everyone. At the end, they ended up encircling him and tossing him into the air a few times.

By now it should be no wonder why it is such a big deal among Japanese schools to have a positive Sports Day. I don’t think I ever allowed myself to have a truly loathsome attitude at coming to school on a Saturday (especially since we get Monday off), but at the end of the day it was really no question of how else I’d want to spend my weekend. When I got home I went for a run through the mountains behind my apartment (the so called “backyard”), and felt more energy coming back than I had leaving. Not to mention that we had an enkai later on in the evening, where I finally started to branch out and get to know (or at least talk to some of the other teachers at the school). I’m really starting to wonder if this is what they call the honeymoon period.

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School

Years ago, when I was twenty and in my prime, I went out on a strange and oft not seen limb and applied to join the Marines. I went through the entire process, but inevitably it was something that I couldn’t commit to. Occasionally, while slumming around in New York, or looking at what I was doing in Northfield some appeal came out of the what could have been. Alas, today I’ve discovered that working for the college admissions, or at some climbing gym, or an officer in the Marines being a liaison for different squads across the world, or as an IT worker tinkering with computers or web design, or even an artist in New York trying to hustle prints and t-shirts, all pales in comparison to how much I’ll enjoy this job.

Honestly, almost from the moment I walked into class today, I’d had the most fun I’ve ever had while working.

It was phenomenal to teach. I worked well with the English teacher, Mr. Sato, and my presentation came off flawlessly with only a little bit of improv, and the worksheet I created for the end used just enough time to keep them busy and allowed me to get to know them. We started with conversation about good points and bad points for the summer. Mine were pretty obvious, coming to Japan and slicing open my foot, but Sato-sensei also injured his leg so it made for good comparisons. After discussing among themselves and responding to us, we moved into my presentation. When I was making it I had a bit of a tough time changing around the sentences to fit their level. For example, sentences like: “Have you visited other countries?” which works well for third years has to become: “Did you go to a different country?” when talking to first years.

Nonetheless, I sparkled through the presentation with these second years, and adding plenty of opportunities for interaction. Mr. Sato even mentioned that when I saw they couldn’t understand I quickly switched my approach so I’ll mark that as first compliment of the year. At the end of class we passed out my worksheet and Mr. Sato had them each line up and ask me a question about my self. I got plenty of the usual, but also a variety of “What’s your favorite…” and “Where do you want to go in Japan?” My favorite part was returning their questions back to them and hearing their answers. Mostly the expressions on their faces were the best, like they were surprised I was interested to know about them. I actually felt guilty about when I missed asking them a question back.

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The rest of the day was spent mostly standing outside in preparation for sports day. It’s pretty incredible to see the amount of discipline and ceremony these barely teenagers can hold. From what I’ve been hearing it’s basically one of the top three most important days of the year (which is why I’m coming into work on Saturday), and from what I can tell they’ve been rehearsing basically the same ritual they’ve been doing since elementary with the addition of brand new dances and cheers for their respective teams. Just when I think Japan efficiency has met its ceiling it keeps going. If anything like this even tried to get established in American schools (let alone public school) not only would the kids be truant, but the uproar it would cause with the parents would be staggering. It seemed all the clubs–be it sports, band, art–heck, the whole school stayed until 6:00 including the teachers, including Coral and me. Anyway, there’s a lot about liberty and expression I miss from America, but the amount of dedication and selflessness make this a great country to live in.

BBQ

The past week I started to put up my school bulletin board, but once I glued the final touches of my name in cut out fluorescent orange bubble letters I realized since I didn’t have access to a printer or any art supplies my job was put on hold there. Instead I focused on the beef of this month’s work: the jikoshoukai, my self introduction. Being that it’s what I’ll be doing for each class the first time I visit, and there are three years, and eight classes per year, I’ll be presenting my self introduction roughly 24 times. Except, due to sports day festival and silver week, there are only 14 days of class this month. In which case I’ll be performing my self introduction at least two times a day, each taking up roughly half an hour, meaning I’ll be spending at least half a day introducing myself, and the other half answering questions like: how tall are you? What do you want to do in Japan? and of course, do you have a girlfriend?

So even though I got the layout of my presentation completed, I was still lacking in which photos to add and and even what software I would use. I was determined to finish it up over the weekend, but after waking up to a temperate and sunny Saturday morning I decided it could wait just a bit. Instead, I cleaned thoroughly for the first time, moving plenty of things around, sweeping the floors and organizing my closet. Really, it wasn’t much of a challenge since the only furniture I do have is a fold out futon mattress that goes into my closet. Still, it was nice to put things away and imagine what I’ll be doing come next paycheck. I keep going between a desk, chair, and monitor, or a couch; really, the conflict is do I create a space for myself to work and play, or a space for others to relax and socialize. For now, I’m leaning toward the latter, but also my lack of internet might be skewing what I’ll really want to have time for after a ten hour work day.

Anyway once the place was clean, I pulled out my iPad where I’d downloaded those Japanese textbooks, and spent some time studying and waiting for one of my neighbors to wake up. We had planned to drive to a nearby town where the local board of education and international club were hosting a yakitori at a local park. It’s weird to think that this was the last weekend I’d be having as part of summer vacation (especially since I’d been working most of the day for the past two weeks), but I really wanted to enjoy it.

We got to the park a little after the barb-b-que had started, but were welcomed by the people there. It was cool to see some of the ALTs we knew but also get introduced to a plenty of Japanese folk. A couple spoke very fluent English and started to pass raw cuts of meat our way.

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They had what seemed like an unlimited supply and the most ultimate of awesome secret sauces produced from a local restaurant. I gorged myself, with the thin strips of beef, chicken, and pork taking almost no time to cook (it gives me wonder to how I was vegetarian for five years). On top of that we also had a couple of bowls of yakisoba, some sort of slow roasted pound-cake, and a prawn and rice dish served by this awesome guy who owned his own miso shop and spoke English perfectly from living in Toronto for three years. Before we left with promises of future events we said we’d be visiting his shop and I really hope that I can soon because he seemed like a sweet person to get to know and enjoy the area better.

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That night after much internal debate, I decided to join a party of ALTs in the area for karaoke. Initially I was on the fence because of last week’s hangover and an overall lack of sleep that I’d be getting this week. I knew I needed to get into a better sleep schedule in order to feel good for school, but I figured I should take the opportunities that are given to get out and not be stuck in the shell that is my apartment. In the end I had a good time, but we stayed out way past midnight. My Sunday started early with the hope of carpooling to Costco some 2 hours away. Alas, no one else woke up early enough to make the drive before I met my adviser at 2:00 to get his old college washing machine. Kind of bummed, but hey, I saved what was probably a lot of money, and I finally have a washing machine… well, I do have the washing machine, but I still have to figure out how to hook it up to the spigot without having water spray everywhere else. All in good time. First, I’ve gotta set my sights towards the first day of school.

Functional

This week was pretty unremarkable in the long run, and it’s actually to the point where I can’t remember what I did for the first half of it. On Monday I finally got my refrigerator from a second hand shop, a bit sketchy a bit wonky–and that’s after spending almost a month without one–but it didn’t smell and after plugging it in and slapping it a couple times it doesn’t make too much noise either. Alas, I don’t really have an efficient way of hauling groceries around yet. I’m in the market for one of those collapsible rolling carts that I’d always see elderly women use to haul groceries around when I was working in New York, but even those seem a rarity at the most basic daizo. Instead, I’ve been relying on the kindness of my neighbors and trying to make my trips to the grocery store line up with theirs. Everyone likes to carpool right?

Needless to say I’m finally in the market for a car. I can’t really afford it with all the credit card debt I charged getting over here, and the continual student loans I’ll be paying off (for the rest of my life), but I think I’ll be able to save up enough by the time snow falls and I really want one. The thing about Japanese cars is they’re dirt cheap on a whole. The thing about those kei cars, is that they’re made out of cellophane and dirt bike motors. It doesn’t help that I’ve got dreams of grandeur and a lust for the Fast & Furious franchise, meaning I’m only in the market for something that will boost my pride. Luckily enough, without a car I’m not going to be going out and spending money as much, and my salary has enough of a contingency where I think I can set enough aside for multiple savings.

One thing I did learn this week was how to send money over to my American bank account. Because of the aforementioned loans (and probably heavily on the fact that Japan is a cash based economy so my cash card is almost entirely limited to ATMs) I still have to keep my bank account open in America. Unfortunately, through living alone, paying off loans, and making the move to Japan, I wasn’t able to save… well, let’s just say I did the opposite of saving and now that American bank account is pretty low. Thus, I have to send over money from my salary every month to keep up with those payments. Really, it’s something I could have fixed with a little more planning ahead (i.e. starting a savings back in November when I first applied), but alas is still a habit that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Thankfully I’m great at making a budget, and have only recently started becoming good at adhering to it. Anyway, enough of the Pity Party.

The point of the above story, is that I tried to figure out how to send money home. The easiest and cheapest (although by cheap I mean ¥2500) way to send money home I’ve found is through the post office. In the grand scheme (now that I’ve done it) it really isn’t too hard, but being I went to the post office alone twice (to get the form, and return it) my confusion rate got double the dosage. Eventually I figured it out–with some help from my advisor–but really it’s starting to wear me out. It’s the same thing that happened when I was in the hospital getting stitches. Then I was lost when they were asking me if I had any allergies, and here at the post when I was sending ¥80,000* (a meager $572 due to an American economy that just doesn’t want to give in to a crumbling China) I was running in and out of understanding if I could confirm my bank account number. Between my health and wealth, a small misunderstanding could have really screwed me over and I think it’s really the best motivation for me to start studying Japanese.

(*back in 2012 when I first visited the exchange rate would’ve put that at $912…)

And that’s actually what I’ve started doing. I almost lost sleep over it, one night not being able to fall asleep, scanning Amazon,jp for the books that I used in college, and almost walking to the nearest conbini to pick up a gift card so I could order them by the end of the week. Ironically, after finally making the debate to ignore the impulse buy I randomly found that I had a complete set of my first and second year textbooks and workbooks downloaded onto my hard drive. Thank goodness, I’ll only be spending my Amazon points on hedonistic materialism.

Speaking of which, perhaps the highlight of my week was not getting a refrigerator, nor was it spending another hour at Nitori (my second favorite place in Japan), or even making my plans for the end of September holiday to go to Tokyo. No, the actual highlight of my week was Wednesday evening and the arrival of my Amazon wishlist. I think I mentioned before how (along with peanut butter) I’ve been longing for some emotional stability through playing high quality music loud. Well, wishes fulfilled as I unwrapped: audio technica headphones (because I left my last ones at home, not even near my suitcase), a bluetooth speaker, and among other things, a desk clock, an iPhone wall charger (previously left at the airport), and unbelievably itchy scalp relieving shampoo.

The first thing I did was put on the headphones and cook dinner from dry goods. They stayed on the rest of the night and I could physically feel my dopamine levels increase.016

Recuperate

This weekend was absolutely indescribable. So much money spent, so many freshman mistakes. I can only be glad the ceremony and party was on Friday so I had both Saturday and Sunday to recover. First, the ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance that I went out and finally bought my first pair of dress shoes since the winter formal of my sophomore year in high school. Another couple of expenses for cool biz apparel and factoring the party for the night and I’d already broken in an eighth of my paycheck. Needless to say we’ll gloss over the night I don’t remember (apart from the two Japanese women who gratefully drove me home from a piece of torn off paper Emer had given me with her address on it).

The next morning was fantastically (and deservedly) cruel.

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It took us all a little while to get moving, the picture was taken at 1:00, but for me it was especially tough. We had an exquisite breakfast made by Emer and Ashleigh which I got to participate in towards the end. In the late afternoon we finally accomplished our goal of leaving the apartment and starting the day. We went to a bunch of stores to deplete our paycheck even more, but I was a little more stingy (with the aid of a kei car full of people and luggage). We went out to dinner after the errands and I finally felt lively, I was disappointed that I was finally coming to. As Atmosphere raps, “mad that I gave half the day to last night.”

Sunday I did little to nothing, except for visiting the dollar store and finally buying some essentials for the house (all but a refrigerator) and finally placed the order of my Amazon wishlist consisting mostly of American amenities and above all a nice pair of headphones. I don’t know if I mentioned that I left mine at home (like, didn’t even bring them to the airport), but it’s really had a subtle impact on my overall emotional state to the point that every time I get in a car with radio I can feel myself becoming more calm. It’s kind of like peanut butter, too. Magically, in this backwards land that has yet to discover peanut butter, Emer was able to find the smallest of jars at God knows what supermarket and shared more than a spoonful with me. You really don’t know what types of things you miss until you realize they’ve been missing from your life, and apparently peanut butter holds a huge place in my diet.

One thing I don’t miss about my Midwest of America is the overall lack of bugs. I didn’t ever think I’d say this, and actually it’s not true, but really the mosquito isn’t so bad compared to the excess of spiders, dragonflies, cockroaches, and various other creeps. For instance, this gal who just decided to post up outside my doorstep.

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Stitches

On Monday I finally got my stitches cut out. It hurt entirely like it did when I got them put in, but after only a couple of hours I could finally walk normally. It was a pretty nominal week for the first couple of days. It was really good to be able to go into work and have things to do, but I’ve just been correcting a ton of compositions which after a while can start to melt the brain.

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Thursday though we got a break (somewhat) to attend a conference in the city. It had a lot of useful moments and introduced me to a lot of people, sweet lesson plans, and really make me question why they did so much initial orientation in Tokyo. Granted I met some awesome people, but really, most of them I’m probably never going to see again and I’ve a much better experience spending time with the people who are living around the prefecture.

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Plus, whenever I’m around them it seems life is just always throwing new experiences our way… like jumping the battery of a car that wouldn’t be legal on American roads while all the cable instructions are in Japanese. Because we had to be back in the city the next day for our Contract Signing Ceremony I planned to stay with Emer, an awesome Irish native, in her (mansion-sized) apartment. I was down to my last yen, quite literally, but I wanted to spend the night in a good way (plus were getting paid the next day) so I decided to indulge and spend the rest of my money on the meal. It was a grand idea in the end as we went to this tiny hole-in-the-wall Malaysian restaurant with delicious cheese mochi and chicken roti.

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By the time we walked back to her apartment, I and the other Irish guy next to me, we crashing hard. It didn’t take Aiden too long to fall asleep, but on the thinnest versions of borrowed futons and a decent amount of snoring Emer and I were up on and off all night. Not too much of a problem considering we’d be able to sleep in, but when it came to the Signing Party the next night it seemed we be up all night, so not such a great night.

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Fireworks

At some point between Saturday and Sunday my foot felt supremely better. Still slightly limping, but at least able to put pressure down on my foot completely. I decided that today I’d put amends to my lack of excitement for the week and end my holiday with a bang. In the afternoon I got a ride to what I’ve been told are the biggest (and therefore) best fireworks in the prefecture. Honestly, the only bad thing about today is I had to stay on the beach and couldn’t actually get in the water (oh, and it rained a bit, but apparently that isn’t a problem for Japanese fireworks).

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By far the largest fireworks show I’ve seen. It was pretty cool because they went in stages. too, with various announcements and dedications in between each one. One was even set to a Joe Hisaishi medley,and another synced to rad girl j-rock. Makes me wish I had a little bit more time to explore before school actually starts, but  I’m already going into work, so I’ll have to wait a little longer before I have time (and money) to actually adventure.

Incarceration

This past week has been probably one of the ways I would least want to spend my third week in Japan. On Monday I went into school and gave a small introduction speech in front of the entire school– all 684 students in the overheating gym. It was incredibly painful, both physically and emotionally. First, I tried not to limp, which was a problem because I definitely needed to limp with my fresh stitches. Then I had to introduce myself using both English and Japanese, but clever as I am, I wanted to try and make some sort of joke. I think I actually did OK, but I probably sounded like an idiot. Anyway, by the time I bowed and got off the stage my shirt was soaked through, my mind was exploding, and I was probably bleeding through all my bandages.

I took next two days off, and then there was a Japanese holiday for the rest of the week. Apart from the fact that I’m still getting settled into my apartment, it was probably one of the worst weekends to miss in Japan. It seems like every night there was some type of fireworks festival going on. Very tempting, but in the end completely not doable with my limping abilities. Instead I was stuck to Miyazaki films and Friends marathons while I lied on my futon cursing my luck. In the end it was probably a good thing since (after visiting the hospital three more times to get my foot still without health insurance) I am down to my last 2,000 yen.

I did actually have some fun Wednesday night going out to perhaps the cheapest Karaoke I’ll ever find, and singing my heart out with a group of other ALTs, former JETs, and friends.

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We ended on Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA, which only seems most appropriate. It’s weird, the Karaoke was so cheap because it was BYOB, and even though I only brought a conbini mixed drink (like a 9% Mike’s Hard) and a smoothie version of that which came in a pouch I felt a deeper sense of buzz. Definitely helped that on the way back we stopped at another conbini and I got some sort of phylo chocolate baklava desert and karage chicken. Not a bad highlight for the week.