Kyoto

The past week seemed to fly by. I was all aches for Monday and Tuesday still from the mountain trip, but my classes were very subdued. All the students have been studying more and more recently, focused on upcoming tests that Friday, so most other activities and classes were cut short. On Thursday and Friday me and my co-ALT had hardly anything to do except knock out revisions of the tests one by one. Of course it’s still mind numbing work, but in the swing of things it’s manageable and gives some leeway for me to spend time studying Japanese or be preparing for random lesson plans.

Come Friday, though, I was already looking forward to the end of the weekend.

In the beginning of October my school started implementing morning English lessons (improperly called “English Club”). In small groups of four or five I would ask the students, “where do you want to go in Japan?” I got some varying answers, but typically it came down to five places: Okinawa, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. These places were actually the most sought after that I would have uncanny moments during the conversation where my responses and their answers became verbatim to discussions I’d had groups before. Later I joked about this fact with one of the English teachers and mentioned that I had only been to Tokyo out of that group. He suggested that we should go to Kyoto sometime, maybe a weekend at the end of the month and I politely agreed.

You see, from what I’ve heard from the JET grapevine, invitations (in the future tense) to do things or see places operate in about the same state as Americans treat meetings among their acquaintances. The “let’s do this again sometime” adage comes to mind. You say it as an obligation, and although you probably wouldn’t mind to do it again, you’re just never actually going to have the time. Thus were my expectations with this. Something along the lines of “Oh, you silly American, you’ve never been to Kyoto. It’s so close and easy to get to, I will make you cultured and take you there myself.”

So come Monday I was a bit surprised when he (sitting in the desk next to mine) asked casually if I was excited for this weekend.

I tilted my head for a moment wondering and asked, “Why? What’s this weekend?”

“Oh?” he said, “We go to Kyoto.”

I flicked up the calendar on my computer to see that it was indeed the end of October and he was indeed being true to his word. Another Japanese cultural myth busted.

“Alright,” I said, trying to act like, of course, I’d known. “I’m excited.”

Yet, as the week went by, I got my salary and had enough to go, the feeling still remained like: are we really doing this?

After all, this is Kyoto we’re talking about, probably the second most well-known city in Japan my foreigner standards, and arguably the city with the longest history. But Sunday morning came and I was ready with a rain jacket and camera packed in my bag.

The English teacher, who I’m used to calling Isopp, is the same age as me a coincidence I’m pretty grateful for because we’ve got a decent amount in common. He’s the one who’s gotten me into League of Legends, and will be the savior in helping me navigate Japanese computer parts when eventually I can afford to build a computer. He picked me up at 10:30, a little later than planned, but we shot off to catch the train at 10:50. (So much for Japanese punctuality.) Apparently there had been some sort of volunteer group the teachers participated in to pick up trash around the local river, so he’d already been up for three hours. (Side note, there are certain things that go on at school that as ALTs we’re never bothered to be told about. I feel like had I known, I probably would’ve gone and enjoyed it. At least I know to ask.)

The round trip the train cost about $60, and again it only shames me to think of all the weekends I wasted in Minnesota, not deciding to cheaply travel elsewhere. Hopefully–at least the way things are going–one thing I’ll learn from living here is how to seize the location or get out and explore the world a little better. I’ve made the argument that American cities are so far apart from each other (L.A., New York, Chicago, D.C.) but that’s also pretty contrary to my socialist beliefs of supporting the local communities in between.

Anyway, the train ride takes a little under two hours on a Thunderbird train so I had plenty of time to think. We both were pretty tired so after a couple of ear popping tunnels we fell into napping.

Off the train, though, was completely awakening. Kyoto’s main station is huge by any standards I’ve meet. Sure, Tokyo Station is vast, but it’s still all underground, so it feels more like a labyrinth. Here, though, seems more like an airport. As we waited on the platform for our train, the departing passengers flew out like a swarm of locust, a mash of people coming and going on the narrow track. It’s always a strange feeling now to be instantly surrounded by so many people.

We stopped for a quick bite at a Lawson’s conbini. I got a nikuman, and a sports drink, although I could’ve eaten more. Had we not only had the day to spend there I probably would’ve forced us to get a proper lunch, but being frugal I was fine to be on our way. The sun was bright with clear skies and I was thankful being that it was a torrent of rain the night before (rain I got stuck in walking to and from the grocery store).

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The first place seemed to come out of nowhere. I still actually don’t know what it’s famous for, but it is a zen temple on the outside of town known as Tenryu-ji, or (based solely on learning certain kanji in my students’ names) I would guess it means heavenly dragon temple.

The temple actually takes up an extreme amount of space. From our entrance we walked along a long pebbled road, passing by various smaller huts and temples. We stopped outside a small Shinto altar and I learned the proper Japanese way to pray for a wish for my ¥5 offering.

We first paid ¥500 to enter a building with the sole purpose of looking at the dragon painted on its ceiling. Now, the dragon is pretty large, as you might see on the website, and it’s even pretty inspiring, but not only as someone who studied Japanese art history, but with the western values of the Sistene chapel I can tell you it wasn’t worth ¥500. Especially because there were no photos allowed. But, no matter because I was soon to find out that basically everyplace worth site-seeing in Kyoto cost ¥500. And as someone who earlier mentioned that I should have no problem supporting local communities (not that they need that much support) I put the cost of the trip behind me and decided to indulge.

Isopp with not Daruma

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The gardens of Tenryu-ji

The temple would actually be a great place to lounge around in the day, and the gardens surrounding it are beautiful, but I think it’s most known for its bamboo forest. Now I thought I had known what a bamboo forest would be like. After all, throughout my life I’d seen my fair share of bamboo fight scenes.

Tenryu-ji's Bamboo garden

There’s something overwhelming about the sheer size that bamboo to get to. I was thinking that a thicket would be all pressed together and smothering, but instead this forest was incredibly tall, easily reaching 15 meters, with each shoot a good stride apart from each other. If I went again I would suggest probably going in the summer when the bamboo is more green, and definitely on a day with less people (if that were ever possible).

Pose at the Bamboo Forest

Short on time I didn’t get to see if there was more to explore, but it didn’t look like it. We cruised back down the hill, I hadn’t realized how high up we were, and found an outlet along a river and popular tradition bridge. Eventually we walked to a different station with smaller old-style trains and got our ticket to head to Kinkaku-jiI, the golden temple.

The Golden Glory that is Kinkaku-ji

The approach to this temple is similar to Tenryu-ji, where it’s a long walkway to get to the actually entrance. After paying another ¥500, we were mashed with a line of people shuffling along the narrow road to the view of this temple. It was particularly cool to see it in real life after briefly studying it in my Japanese art history class. Despite the tranquil facade the pictures often elude to–an insolated beauty in the mountains of Japan–the place is over commercialized, and it’s pretty hard to really enjoy among the mass of people. The fact that it’s actually leafed entirely in gold, though, is pretty stunning in real life as it radiates a special shine in the sunlight. The rest of the park is actually worthwhile, too.
After rushing ahead of the school trip and Scandinavian tour groups, we decided to take a break to get some matcha (again for ¥500). There’s a specific way to drink traditional green tea, which I learned, and it was pretty sweet that our little sugar/salt/anko dessert came with gold leaf on top. The warm matcha was well worth the pause.

Matcha and sugar snack Making an offering Shrine at Kinkaku-ji

By now it was nearing four o’clock, and we still had one more stop out of the many options to go to. Apparently, it’s Isopp’s favorite place to visit in Kyoto, and seems like the general must see place. After flopping around to find the right bus, we finally got on the right one, cramped but seated, and made the forty minute ride across town.

That’s probably what surprised me most. Kyoto has its own subway system, but nothing near to the extent of Tokyo. Still, the city is spread out, and it can’t take a while to get from one side to the other. We got off the bus and found our way along a famous road full of a majority of shops selling omiyage and souvenirs. Seriously, not a place to spend a quick day. It was super effective in getting me to see what Kyoto has to offer, but I’m already thinking about what do to when I go back.

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A temple in Kyoto

Isopp orders crab

We took a brief pre-dinner stop at a random temple intersection. Once we got up the step and saw all the food stalls there was no stopping the hunger. Especially seeing the crab for (the trendy) ¥500. It’s been a long while since I’ve actually had crab (since a delightful dinner in Port Angeles, WA summer of 2013), and apart from the typical costs I don’t know why I don’t eat it more often. This was a great snack and lead us away from the busy street, almost magically, into 19th century Japan with the streets of Higashiyama.

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With the sun setting and the lanterns turned on, this place really felt like a different world. Around certain parts there weren’t many people, so even though we were getting low on time, I still could enjoy the feeling of being in the heart of Japan.

Of course, then we hit the final stretch up the hill to the famed Kyomisu temple and it’s iconic red pagoda. The streets were packed with stores solely selling omiyage and souvenirs, and people in kimonos, and foreigners afoot. It was bustling for a Sunday past 5 o’clock.

We made it to the temple with half an hour left to peruse what easily could’ve taken half the day. Isopp through some change to the ticket counter and led me up steps and past altars.

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“You can see it?” He asked as he flew strides ahead of me past the aforementioned pagoda.

“Yeah,” I replied snapping a quick and grainy photo.

“Good.”

We made it finally on one of the higher platforms past the main building when Isopp finally slowed down.

“This is my favorite spot. When I come to Kyoto, I always go to here.”

It’s funny, when something is so well known for it’s location and history it’s usually completely overlooked for the littler things it has to offer. I feel like during the day this view of Kyoto would’ve been neutral and mundane, but at night it really justifies the beauty of Japan was like. Among the places and the people I got to see a lot. Plenty of kimonos and old buildings mixed with school uniforms and souvenir shops.The country’s culture has evolved so drastically in the last century, yet it still tries to maintain the values it’s held for the last millennium.

View of Kyoto from Kyomisudera

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Routine

With only a week after speech ending, I’m back on pace for a more relaxing life. Really I’m still not doing anything too exciting, but it’s sometimes mundane that is the most enjoyable. I’ll try not to be vain while I write, but really this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to reflect on everything I’ve done so maybe an ego will peek through here and there.

Thursday last week I finally got the chance to go to the track club. It was something I’d been wanting to do since before I even landed in Japan, but couldn’t join because of the former obligations. It was super hardcore, compared to anything I’d done recently (working on hurdle mobility), and I was so happy to be back in action. For those of you suspicious about why there would be track club in October, don’t think too much of your American timetables. In Japan, most schools make club activities compulsory–in the form of athletic groups, science comps, art clubs–and those clubs go year round. By now, however, most of the third years have ‘retired’ from their groups in order to focus on high school entrance exams. It’s a crazy amount of responsibility, not to mention emotionally heavy perspective on flowing process of life.

So, I’d been practicing with only the first and second year (7th and 8th grade relatively), but was still finding it a bit to keep up. I was coincidentally placed at the school with the best track team in the region. My students are 13 year olds who can run 17:30 5ks, and 8th graders doing 9 minute 3ks. I knew there was a pretty heavy running community in Japan that plenty of people, even Japanese aren’t aware of, but I didn’t think I’d find it so easily.

Joining the practice was one of the better decisions I’ve made so far. There was definitely an urge to just walk home before the sunset, maybe run on my own, or make a quick game and scroll through Last Week Tonight clips on Youtube. I’d just finished Dune (well worth it, but very inconclusive) and started on the next project: A Brief History of Time. Plus, after second practice my legs were not happy with me. It’s being able to recognize students that keeps me going. Getting their names down is becoming easier, but recognizing who they are has been more important. For example, walking to school in the morning, there’s typically one path that everyone takes (meaning me and the students). Yesterday morning, on the turn that converges everyone on the same road with my long legs out pacing everyone else I started noticing things about the people I was passing. The way some of the girls do their hair is completely distinct. And you can always tell a first year boy because his uniform pants and jacket are too long for his limbs. I came by one boy who fit this last description. Out of my periphery I could make out his glasses, and the back of his hair seemed somewhat familiar.

I hesitated between mistaken identity, but decided to call out his name and see what happens. I think the biggest thing against me saying anyone’s name is getting it wrong. Not because I’m embarrassed (although, after two months I wish I could remember everyone), but more because I don’t want them to feel bad about me not knowing their name. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I get the sense that some of the students will blame their own self esteem for not making a greater impression with me. I’m struggling much with not having favorites already. So, I called out his name, bracing to get it wrong when he turned around and I saw I was correct; it was a first year on the track team.

All the students have a huge test (what I’d compare to school-wide standardized testing) so most of the clubs are on hiatus for the next ten days. We talked about my legs hurting from practice, how he felt about the test, and I encouraged him to keep running in his down time. I think we’ve reached another level on the great teacher ladder.

With ikujyo-bu, track club, cancelled, I was back to running on my own. Walking too and from school everyday, with the nights becoming exponentially colder once the sun sets, is starting to become a hassle, but so far I’ve stayed motivated. I just think of all the wasted time between my steeple injury in May and my beach injury in August to keep me going.

It is becoming the end of the month and I am running lower on funds. I’m thankful now that those types of Silver Week vacations do only come once every five years. I’m already planning a trip to Kyoto, but otherwise I’m going to focus more on saving and doing the things I enjoy that are free. Luckily that includes my biggest hobbies: running, reading, writing. Recently I’ve also been substituting my first favorite expensive past time, Magic the Gathering, with a new faster free MOBA that a fellow teacher recommended to me, League of Legends.

As the days become shorter I’ve been seriously waffling between getting a car. So far, though, there still isn’t a purpose a car would fulfill that I can’t really do on my own. I think I’m done making trips to my favorite store Nitori and soon it’ll be safe enough to buy ice cream from the grocery store and carry it home without fear of it melting. I do really wish I had a bike, but I’m as particular about a bike as a car. The most available thing in Japan are mamachari, which I absolutely refuse to waste money on. It’s pretty difficult to find a decent bike store outside of the city, but if I went to the city I’d be pretty tough to get a bike back. I could make a decent day of it by finding the right bike and cycling the 50km home, but without any training or English map that seems set up for disaster. So it’s just something we’ll keep in the back of our minds.

It hasn’t been much of a problem sleep wise, and I’ve managed a good 8 hours at least while still waking up at 6 in the morning. It’s really absurd that I’ve grown into someone comfortable with this schedule. It’s something a high school me would never allow. But I make a decent breakfast, iron my shirt, try to shave, and even get in a pod cast to pass the time (right now I’ve been keen on the New Yorker Fiction and The Moth). By 7 o’clock I’m out the door with toast and jam in one hand and a book in the other. Back in college I mastered the technique of reading while walking, and it’s come in handy on the way to work. Even the dreaded gaijin traps don’t scare me now. I basically conquered Dune this way and it’s how I’ve gotten halfway through A Brief History of Time (which are pretty ironic books to read back to back).

Weeks ago I wrote about how reading almost seemed a necessity, but I wasn’t quite sure why I felt compelled to read. Emotionally it’s done enough to get my brain thinking and active, but I think even more it’s helped stimulate my own writing. I can think back long ago, to the second grade perhaps before, when my first dream job was to be a writer. Since then I’ve added plenty of tags to that dream, but writer has always been attached and something I’ve always had an affair with. During my last job I had a lot of time working on my own where I could just think. I’d come up with systems to keep track of what I was screen printing by applying characters and plot lines to each process. In my head I’ve got so many different worlds, some that stand out with such defined arcs that I’ve been eager to get them onto paper. It’s been good to set apart some time to actually get that work in, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner maybe something tangible will come to fruition sooner than planned.

Apart from buying food and cooking it, which I plan on covering at a different time, I’d say the last part of my routine is watching the sunset (if I’m lucky enough to be home by then). When it comes to my apartment I still battle with the layout, not having a permanent bed, distinguished places to eat, relax, and sleep. There are other places in the complex bigger by an entire room that I can see are vacant. But every night (now around 5:30) I stop and stare and am always amazed at the extent of nature’s beauty. There’s no way I’m giving up this room for something without that view.

Autumn Sunset

Speech

For the past month I’ve been coaching a student everyday after school to give a five minute speech entirely in English about his robot contest. At the beginning it was quite simple, translating his speech, making sure it would all fit in the time, going over difficult words…

In the past two weeks, however, it ramped up to extreme levels. Particularly because my co-ALT also had a contestant who was working almost doubly as hard in his memorization and pronunciation, and through the properties of solidarity it meant that, even if my students standards were being met, we still had to stay as long. We even were asked by one of the other JTEs to come in on Sunday to work on it. It turned into such a glorious day and between my advising JTE and my student I think we were trying to work as quickly as possible. My JTE kept mentioning what a perfect surfing day it would be, so I really hope those days appear for at least the month. As a result, obviously, my blogging suffered, as well as my social time, running habits, sleep schedule, and overall enjoyment of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I now adore my student and all of his robot determinism, and even getting over the fact that he mixes up ‘r’s ‘l’s and ‘th’s should say something. But it came down to working almost ten hour days in what could’ve been done in eight that really got to me. The scary thing is I’m usually one of the first people out of the teacher’s rooms, even if I leave at 7 o’clock. To a lot of extent it just expected of teachers, and many workers in Japan, to stay working even after your salaried hours are filled, but I also think it’s due to the fact that on any given weekday night, myself included, there’s just not too much else to do. Especially when I didn’t have internet (btw, after hours of phone calls and a lot of help from my JTE I now have internet at my home), I was fine to stay later and use it to study Japanese and find out whatever news was going on back home (mostly, Donald Trump and the Presidential Race). Now as the days get dark earlier and I find myself with viable things to do–finish Dune, write my own stories, run, cook my dinner–getting the speech contest over with was the first thing on my mind.

Leading up to the contest, though, were some of the better times of all the work. As my student was saying his speech during practice I’d be mouthing along with him. Despite his “robots” occasionally being turned into “lobots” he had made such a huge transformation over the past month that I felt like I was teaching something a little bit more than English. When it came to intonation I taught him how to create a loud voice without shouting, and with posture I stopped him from slouching. The day before the speech contest was actually his fifteenth birthday, and so instead of having practice I went out and bought him a slice of cake (and cupcakes for the JTE and myself).

Then comes the morning of the contest and Coral and I drove early to the Cultural Center. Not only were our students going to be giving their speeches, but we also got the privilege of being the masters of ceremony along with another JTE. Complaints were minimal, but the whole time I was trying to figure out if I’d rather be in class teaching. Basically, with only two fifteen minute breaks, and lunch, we were sitting in the same spot for a good eight hours, introducing 58 speeches, each giving feedback for 29 of them. I must admit, it was pretty mind numbing, but only once did I zone out so much that by the time she finished and I realized I was the one who had to comment I completely forgot what her topic was about. As I struggled to grasp some blurred words in my memory I ended up saying, “Thank you for telling us about that struggle in your life, and I’m glad you were able to overcome it.”

I felt so bad, and it was a good enforcer of keeping me awake and paying attention to the remaining half, but also was a decent summary of every comment I could’ve given. There were some outstanding speeches and even better performances. We set it up so I could introduce my student and Coral hers, and I played it nonchalantly (while giving him a thumbs up), but I don’t think I could hide the bias in my voice after my speech. Granted, he wasn’t going to win, I think he knew that and at least had no expectations for himself. But his speech that day was far beyond the league of anything he’d done in practice. He said all the words–even those pesky ‘a’s and ‘from’s he was keen to forget. His pronunciation and intonation was on point. Best of all, he smiled through almost all of it, except for the part where he sold his acting skills by frowning and saying, “Actually, a week after this speech contest, I will compete in the robot contest…God help me.*

It garnered one of the few laughs from the audience of the day, and I could not have been more proud. Afterward I got to meet his mother, who explained she had no idea what he was talking about, but was so glad to see him up there. It really made all of the work worth it. Now, I’m realizing he was just about the first student that I met and it’s certainly sad to not get to interact with him as much every day. I guess I’m probably screwed once graduation comes in March and that feeling gets multiplied by two hundred.

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.

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.