Books

For the past nine, almost ten months, I’ve been living without internet. Now that’s not to say I’ve been totally devoid of internet, I think this website makes that obvious, but as far as in the place that I’m living I’ve gone without. Perhaps you’ve noticed by the sporadic way I post here. And until recently, I was enjoying not having internet. Due to the fact I had other things to fill my time: I had a college of friends to hang out with; I had a TV and plenty of movies; I had enough art supplies to make due; I had a bike (a near perfect orange and pearl 80s Peugeot) to take me places–mostly the library–where I could use the internet for free, but then, even better, when I left the library I could take something with me: books. Since arriving in Japan I’ve purchased many books–mostly manga–at irresistibly low prices (I once bought 20 volumes of Air Gear at a Book-Off for ¥600), but in the end pretty much exaggerated the amount of kanji I thought I would remember. I suppose I knew when buying it that it’d be an investment, maybe even motivation, for something I’d be able to read in two or three months. Still, all of that means that I’m left without one of my favorite activities: reading. Not to mention that since about two weeks ago my external hard drive crashed(/was dropped on the floor) and I’ve basically lost access to all music, TV shows, and movies. (No more binge watching Friends episodes.)

Basically, I’ve had cabin fever which is why, as I prepare for my trip to Tokyo, receiving a package of books is one of the best things that could happen to me. I recently read an article the announced digital book sales were waning and printed books were back on the rise. I can very much see why. When I first popped over here, I decided not to pack any books due to the weight and size they would take in luggage, and I figured with an iPad I’d be able to download anything I really wanted to read. I used to criticize the cynics who bashed digital reading for not having the “right feel of a book.” Especially since some incredible percentage of our media is consumed digitally, I always figured words are words no matter where they’re placed. I guess I still believe in that last part, but I’m closer to the ‘real thing’ band wagon than I am to liking digital. I think it’s most due to the habit of me reading at night and the science behind staring at screens before you go to sleep. Although, maybe it’s the same reason I favor compact phones over smart phones; you can bash them around as much as you’d like and never worry about it breaking.

Anyway, I found this fantastic book cafe based out of Tokyo (www.infinitybooksjapan.com) which sells used books online for amazing value. After opening what could add to a billion tabs on my phone I finally narrowed it down to a diverse selection of renowned books that I wanted but had never gotten a chance to read. I think they’ll soon be getting a lot of my service, and it’s just another place for me to checkout this weekend.

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As far as the trip goes, I think winging it will be the easiest. I have yet to pack, nor do I think I’ll need anything more than a shirt and pants, I think I can rely on people I know living there for a place to stay, and I’m not quite sure how to get there apart from going to the train station. The fact that I get paid on Friday kind of helps this process, being that if I do land in deep udon than I’ll at least be able to pay for my way back, get any extra clothes, or at least afford a hotel. But at least if anything, I’ll have a book to read along the way.

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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.

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

Work

It’s the first week of work! Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve had to dress up and wanted to do it. I mean sure, I had to wear cool biz attire all through orientation, but I really didn’t want to be dressed up all that time and there wasn’t really anyone for me to try and impress. This was a whole new game.

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Still wearing the vans because I didn’t want to drop the money on ridiculously fancy shoes yet. I suppose that’s an inevitable, but hopefully once I’ve gotten a few paychecks. Plus, in Japan society you’re always sliding in and out of shoes that I was going to slip into my “indoor shoes” soon enough. Just when I though orientation was over, I completely forgot about the first day at work. It wasn’t very rough, but there were still plenty of things to try and remember. It was a little bizarre since a lot of the ALTs living around us weren’t required to go into school, and it seemed like we didn’t have too much to do. It would’ve been so much better to spend the day finally moving into my apartment and getting everything I needed in order (but I guess we did that eventually).

We went over the basics for the rest of the summer, and reviewed the lesson plans, cleaning out the desks giving to us. Then our supervisor took me to get everything sorted out at the housing agency so I could move in and another Japanese teacher took Coral, my ALT partner in English crime fighting, went to pick up her phone. We only had a half day, though, because we had a meeting half an hour by train in Fukui City for an overnight camp taking place the next two days.

It was such a dulling schedule to what would have otherwise been a day of excitement over finally being able to move in. Granted I did overcompensate that night with a couple of the other ALTs, but that is a story for another place. Otherwise, I literally opened the door, had the gas guy turn on my stove, and then locked the doors to an empty apartment for the rest of the day (because I still didn’t have a bed I’d be sleeping at Grace’s again). Not to mention the next two nights because I’d be gone on this summer camp–which was actually one of the better things I’ve done in a while.

At first I was a little skeptical. My group consisted of six junior high girls, which from my initial impression meant plenty of shyness and little skylarking. True, Tuesday morning the first gathering of the group was koi and had little interaction. Once on the bus my partner ALT for the camp and I started talking to them and I made the potential mistake of telling them I didn’t mind of they talked in Japanese as long as tried their best at the English activities. Then they took off with a race of what I could only guess to be introductions, likes and dislikes, and jokes. The whole first half of the day was a challenge for me to try and remember what they were wearing and how to associate that with their names, but I think by lunch I figured it out. Then after a bunch of pseudo-English related activities we finally settled down to the main portion of the day which was speech writing. We all scrunched together all the tatami mat in between their bunk beds and went to work around a tiny table in the center. For a while, it was silent with them all focused and then occasionally one would look to me or my partner to get advice or find the right word. It’s crazy how tranquil and close we’d become in just such a short time. In my opinion we were verging zen meditation. Then came dinner and questions about what I might be eating left unanswered. By that point all the stigmas I had about junior high girls had been obliterated, as my group was the first (and almost the only) to finish their meals and then scrounge around other tables for extra rice bowls and miso. It actually made me laugh and extremely happy that I’d be teaching junior high. It’s exactly what I wanted: old enough to think critically but young enough not to give a shit what other people think.

Anyway, at night all the ALTs had their first onsen experience since arriving, and it’s funny the moments in life where being on a college cross country team makes things that other American’s find unnerving completely comfortable. When everyone was done washing, we gathered in the top of an annexed building where the directors of the camp had surprised us with snacks and treats. It was a really good way to unwind, but the day seemed like it lasted forever and I was certainly ready to go to sleep. It was kinda weird because the room we were sleeping in looked so traditional, but the situation really didn’t feel so unlike being in a cabin at a summer camp.

IMG_1791Oh, and by this point you might be wondering why I haven’t posted any pictures of the camp or my adorable group, but that’s actually because it’s illegal to post pictures of kids online without permission (and actually, that might just go for anyone without permission). It might seem like a crazy law from an American perspective, but it’s also kind of ingenious and I think it can help shape a more conscious view of how the internet works.

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.