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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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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.