羽之助の帝紀

Thursday, August 25, 2005

我が帝國に到着致した。

Let my first true blog post since my arrival in Japan begin. Let there be light!色んな事について書きたいから今回は多分英語ばかりで書くと思う。大変ご迷惑かけてしまいましてお許し下さいませ。 I am here safe and sound!

After arriving in Japan much later than I thought, thanks to us taking special buses and not express trains to the Keio Plaza Hotel and the top speed limit being 80 km/h, I quickly dropped off my bags and ran to Kinokuniya, my favourite bookstore in the universe simply because of its name - "House of A Nation of Records" or 紀伊国屋. Not to buy books, but to meet my penpal of five years, since we were both in high school and I was a goddamn otaku - the Race Queen herself, samurai descendant, model, and law student, the one and only Kaori. She was stunningly dressed, of course, but the thing that surprised me was just how TALL she is for a Japanese girl! Still shorter than me, of course, but it's nice to talk to someone and not bend down to make eye contact. We went to an izakaya and had lots of spicy Korean-style food, where I discovered that she loves to drink and so I introduced her to Kahlua, which was a success. We proceeded to meet every night after orientation, even going to the Canadian Embassy party, which was unairconditioned and blah. The Race Queen also has virtually no accent when she speaks interest. Those in the know will think of Tsugumi if they meet her.

I suffered through orientation, which did have a few high points, such as the English teacher Mr. Takenoshita, or as he put it, "Mr. Under-the-Bamboo. Apparently my ancestors led very exciting lives". It was basically a rehash of everything I had heard at the Toronto orientation. It amazes me that everything I did to make sure I got into a spot on the JET Programme - study Japanese like crazy, do educational work, learn as much about Japan as possible before going - was apparently completely unnecessary, given all of the information that was presented to us in Tokyo. Perhaps they only wanted to be thorough. I was surprised at the amount of people who packed the "Advanced Japanese" session though, which delivered an all-Japanese lecture on how to pass Level 1 of the JLPT, which I plan on taking next year because there's no way in hell I could do it this year. Another thing I tried to do in Tokyo was get in touch with Sonomi-Sensei who was there on semi-vacation. However, her phone number didn't work ... 残念!On the final morning of orientation I met the prefectural advisor for Iwate and we headed out to Tokyo Station to take the Touhoku Shinkansen up to Morioka, the capital of Iwate.

After staying overnight in Morioka for a day or two (I forget how long it was), we did more orientation that was basically a repeat of Tokyo and Toronto. The highlight of the time in Morioka was being evaluated for Japanese ability. I joked with the teachers and had a few laughs before answering a few questions, like reading double-digit numbers. COME ON. I then met Mr. Suzuki, my supervisor in Ichinoseki, along with Sarah, my co-worker. We then drove about an hour south, and we went to the Board of Education building where I was introduced to everyone. Mr. Suzuki then took me to my apartment, which was hot as hell due to being shut up in the middle of huge heat wave that seemed to stretch all across the world. Switched on the gas, switched on the electricity, and that's it - time to unpack the luggage! I would meet Sarah the next morning on the corner on my bike and we would go to the BE Building together, it was planned.

One great thing about my aparment is that it is next to a grocery store. Due to this fact I can make whatever kind of food I want, such as yummy chicken curry and yakisoba. It also has a department store on the upper floors so I am pretty much set. A 90-second run brings me to a bus stop that goes downtown at reasonable times - three times an hour on average. There are a total of six apartments in my block. I don't know if anyone lives in the ones to either side of me, but downstairs I have an older couple who may have had kids who moved away, whom I met when they backed over my bicycle. The middle guy, looks single and drinks a lot of beer and is probably lonely, I met when my laundry overflowed and dripped from his ceiling. The apartment on the left is filled by an energetic family, who have a five-year-old daughter who is as cute as a button. Not as cute as My Princess Saori, but still, she wants to learn English. She's five. FIVE, for God's sake. Quite baffling to her mother, who appears to be an overworked housewife who is nonetheless grinning and bearing it. Perhaps I should invite them all to my apartment for a small party.

The inside of my apartment is cool. Kitchen, bath, laundry, toilet, and 2 tatami rooms. The toilet is interesting, however. Apparently my apartment block is not connected to an actual sewer. This is common in Japan because the bloated government takes more pride in building ten million roads to nowhere rather than making sure its citizens have running water. Anyway, the previous guy was a bit unlucky in that they didn't empty the septic tank before he moved in, so one day poo exploded over the downstairs apartment's front step. Fortunately for me they called the "Poo Truck" as Sarah has affectionatedly named it before I arrived, so I should be safe for a while. However, I am now incredibly paranoid about using it, and am tempted to run to the supermarket everytime I need to go. The place actually isn't all that small, and for roughly $500 per month it is quite a deal considering its amenities. Oh yeah; I also get the BBC on the TV for some reason. Speaking of TV, the NHK guy came to my door and requested money to process my television license! Bastards! And if you say you don't speak Japanese, they come armed with multi-language pamphlets. Bastards! He was a really nice guy though; I guess he has to be, since his job is not unlike a traffic constable.

So on the second day of my life in Ichinoseki, I was driven to City Hall to a) meet the mayor, since I am employed by the city and b) to register for my 外国人登録証明書、otherwise known as the Gaijin Card that all foreigners must carry with them at all times because we are incredible threats to Japanese society. Meeting the mayor was fun, as he is a nice old man who was puzzled as to why I could speak Japanese and why I was giving him a bottle of Canadian maple syrup when instead of whisky, which is what everyone thought it was. Hmm, whisky mixed with maple syrup. It just might work. I call it the Sir John Eh. A favourite on Canada Day and during constitutional debates. Annnyway, after that we did other stuff like setting up a bank account and so on, and I spent a few days getting to know the staff at the 一関市教育委員会 Board of Education, and cleaning out my desk. There was a LOT of crap in the desk that was completely unnecessary, but I went through it all because hey, you never know what might be useful. So here's a picture of what my desk looked like after I finished organizing it.
Got that? Cool. Now here's a picture of the desk of the Japanese guy who sits next to me. Sorry for the cluttering but I've just got tons of pictures to supplement my post, which should make up for the complete lack of posting until now.
A few days after I moved in, Sarah asked if I wanted to go out to dinner and meet up with Omar and Anhty, the other two ALTs who work in Ichinoseki (they work for the prefecture, not the city). It was the first day of the Ichinoseki Summer Festival, and they had hung squid-like streamer things from the lamp-posts in the main street, 大通り. Every five seconds we ran into one of Sarah's students, including one who jumped out of nowhere to attack us with English. One family gave us free beer and roasted corn, and the city officials seemed to delight in blowing most of their budget on fireworks. I met a few of Sarah's acquaintances and also learned some Iwate-ben, what used to be the local dialect. One word is cute, めんこい, which has no kanji, but I've assigned 免恋 to it. Don't know if it'll catch on or not. In any case it was a good night. Later I asked about the origins of the festival. Apparently just after the war the Iwai River (磐井川) that runs through the city changed course and wiped out most of the town. To lift everybody's spirits, the city government ordered a summer festival. Turned out to be a great success.
Sooooo I must retract my earlier statements about Ichinoseki. It actually isn't that bad of a city; it is big enough, has a more open feel to it than other Japanese cities, has a Shinkansen stop, friendly people, forested mountains within reach and lots of rice fields. Much better than Seto. If it was situated along the Tokaido (東海道) near all my friends near Nagoya, it would actually be a perfect little place. Oh yeah, anyway, as we were going home after the festival, I was asked by Mr. Abe (阿部) if I wanted to particpate in the "Kuri-Kuri Odori" that would be taking place the next day. Since I would get to wear a yukata, I of course volunteered. So the next day I danced through the streets with other City Hall (市役所) employees, and got nicely sunburned on my nose. Afterwards I tagged along to a small izakaya (居酒屋) and met lots of people, and endeared myself to one old man by showing off my knowledge of old war songs (軍歌), specifically The Japanese Continental Army (日本陸軍). Bloody hell, I speak horrible Chinese too and my interest is the Meiji (明治) Period, I'm allowed. They then asked me if I would be interested in carrying an omikoshi (お神輿) or portable shrine around on the next day of the festivals. I had kind of done it before at the Setomono Matsuri, so I volunteered. I showed up the next day and changed into shorts and happi, and went out with setta (雪駄), which is a sandal, I guess you would call it.
What followed was three days of utter pain and suffering. This thing was so heavy that thirty men were not enough to carry it, and we rotated through as fast as we could. I tried to look my best for the TV cameras but as soon as they were gone I resumed my grimacing expression of exhaustion. More than two weeks later my feet are still sunburned and you can easily see where the strap of the 雪駄 provided the only respite from the sun. My legs and shoulders pained incredibly, providing pleasure and amusement to everyone around me for the next few days. I still joined in the drinking party after the festival though. It is incredibly disconcerting to see the people running the city get blasted drunk on blue canvas in the parking lot of the city hall! They liked me though because, thanks to Dad's French genes and, as much as Mom refuses to admit it, her Scottish ones, I can drink a hell of a lot more than I should. I did manage to find my way home though, thanks to the guy who sits next to me, Mr. Onodera (Small Field Temple, 小野寺). He cleaned his desk, as you can see. For the next few days I went though my desk some more, sorting everything, which was incredibly fun and exciting. I did manage to start a few lesson plans, though. I'm going to be incredibly evil and start teaching the alphabet and phonics to the first graders. They are MY kids now! BUWAHAHAHAHA! I've got twelve elementary schools to cover, and there are only two that I go to reasonably often to make a solid impact - I'm not going to be too harsh on the kids from the schools that I visit like twice in the whole year.
So anyway, it was now time for my welcome party! We went to a nice yakiniku place downtown, and then Mr. Suzuki, Mr. Abe and some other nice guy whose name I unfortunately can't remember went to the After-Party Party, or nijikai (二次会) at a small bar called Paper Moon which had a) Kahlua and b) cheese! It is doubly incredibly disconcerting to see your supervisor get plastered, forget the way home, and point gleefully at a prostitute's ass while biking home! Oh yeah, if you go close enough to the station there are LOTS of スナック and Filipino hostess bars and Chinese "massage" places. Iwate is the most depopulated prefecture in the country so a lot of men try to recruit Filipino women to marry them and help on their farms. Mr. Suzuki stayed home the next day, the lucky man. It's enough to drive one mad!
Obon, the summer festival where the dead come to visit the family home in a kind of macabre homecoming which is thoroughly enjoyed by all, was coming up soon and thanks to Sarah's warm radiance with the staff I got two days off instead of one. Because sometimes I have these flashes of brilliance, I chose Wednesday and Thursday as my Obon days, during which I would go to Tokyo to see Kaori and then come back for Friday, go to work, then have a weekend off. Yeah. Pure idiocy. So I put in a request for a vacation day and had a five-day weekend. I still don't know if my request was approved so I may be in deep Poo when I get back. I think I can talk my way out of it though.
While I waited for my departure, I helped some middle school, or junior high or whatever the hell you want to call it, it's 中学校 dammit! girls prepare for an upcoming speech contest. They are hilarious. One is nervous as hell when talking but spends her other moments sticking out her tongue and practicing her pronunciation. Another's face never changes from innocent sweetness but she happily says "Pond of Blood!" and "Hey, you sinners!" as she recites her speech. It was during this girl's practice that the Massively Fun Earthquake happened. Now, I like earthquakes. I also like typhoons. Thunder I run and hide under the covers. Anyway, the school started sliding back and forth, and I was confused for a few seconds before we figured out it was an earthquake. So instead of standing in a doorway or going under a desk like we're supposed to, we both ran to the open window and looked out. My partner (Hiroko, I think) wasn't too scared, but she was a bit put off by the length of the earthquake - I'd say a little over a minute. I was having a great time as the building shook and computers fell over. Apparently in the other room one of girls never even stopped reading her speech! Whoo!
So yeah, I went to Tokyo and had a lot of fun with Kaori, but I arrived late because the Shinkansen actually STOPPED the day of the earthquake because power lines and rails snapped and split, and they weren't repaired by the next morning. So that meant all the buses were full and all reserved seats for the next day were also full. Fortunately the Shinkansen (usually) has non-reserved seating called 自由席. Man, it was PACKED! They even had the white-gloved door pushers out. I really thought they were only a myth! Yeah Japan! I did manage to get to Tokyo, and the next day I went to Fujikyuu Highland, this awesome amusement park about 1.5h outside of Tokyo. Kaori loves haunted houses so we waited for like two hours to go into an abandoned-hospital themed one that was actually really good. Japan aims to scar you psychologically, as its horror doesn't really depend on blood and gore as does American standard. We didn't get a chance to ride the super jetcoasters like the Fujiyama or the DoDonPa - we'll have to do it next time! So I left Tokyo and came to Nagoya, where I met up with Akiyo and Tony, and also the Suzuki Family, of course! I wish I could have spent more time with them. After getting back to Tokyo late at night, I found that the bus back to Ichinoseki was full and the Shinkansen had stopped running, so I was stuck ... so I went back to Ueno where I stayed the first night and got a room (?) at the capsule hotel next to it, which was much cheaper! Full of weird older guys, though. I did manage to get back to Ichinoseki the next day, though, and then proceeded to go up to Morioka the next day (Monday) for the weeklong orientation.
So here I am, at a net cafe in Morioka updating this blog, finally! I bought a Mini SD memory card and was able to upload a lot of the pictures that I took with my phone. Which has TV on it, by the way. And I'm downloading so many songs. Take that, Rogers! It took me about four hours to write this bloody thing, but I'm sure everyone has had an entertaining read. I'll probably (?) come back to this place tomorrow as it is very close to my hotel and I want to let everyone know I am alive, still, despite the tectonic plates' best efforts. Missed meeting up with Akage no Megumi (赤毛のめぐみ、from Nagoya) and I have been in intermittent contact with the wonderful China Girl, Jiemei. I am tired and sleepy tonight, however, and I still have a letter to write ... well, hopefully I can put something up tomorrow. Oh, and if you can, download Globe's "Asian Night". Kickass song.

9 Comments 論評:

  • a very good read!

    Glad that you're alive, can't wait to join you up there...

    2 years. :(

    By Blogger Chris, at 8/25/2005 10:00 PM  

  • God damn, man, I can't wait to be done with this and heading out there. Just the two semesters to go, if all goes well. And then praying for the whole JET thing to work out. God, I hope it all works out.

    By Anonymous Madmartigan, at 8/26/2005 1:07 AM  

  • cool stuff I tell ya!
    I did not know Tony and Akiyo where down there too...
    nice...

    take good care dude!

    By Anonymous Alex, at 8/26/2005 5:25 AM  

  • 楽しい記事を詳しく書いてくれてありがとう。やっとあこがれの香織ちゃんと会えて本当によかったね♪

    地震は大変だったみたいだけど、臨機応変に対応したから、あまり影響を受けずに済んでよかった、よかった。

    又、日本での生活やJETプログラムの様子、詳しく書いてね。楽しみにしてるよ~。

    By Anonymous 美爾依, at 8/26/2005 9:23 AM  

  • うん、詳しく書くともりだよ。でも、他のJET達がこのブログも読んでいるから秘密のところは書けないかもしれない(笑)。

    Alex, I bought the new Globe CD. Awesome. Do you have the Lights album? They have tons of them at Book-Off so I might as well pick up a copy.

    Madmartigan, you are almost there. If you pick Iwate you WILL get in to the program. Just be prepared to die tilling rice. And I must remind you that given some of the people I've met here so far you should have no problem getting in.

    Chris, throw yourself into your studies and become chummy with all the profs! Life in the Exotic Orient awaits you!

    By Blogger 羽之助, at 8/28/2005 10:18 AM  

  • The EXOTIC ORIENT!?

    I hear all the women are sexually promiscuous!

    By Blogger Chris, at 8/29/2005 1:16 PM  

  • >Chris, ・・・and become chummy with all the profs!

    Yes, absolutely! Especially with the Japanese professor(^^).

    By Anonymous 美爾依, at 8/31/2005 2:14 AM  

  • Why yes, and the men are all inadequate! That's why no Asiatic can resist the charm of a Whitey!

    By Blogger 羽之助, at 9/02/2005 10:50 PM  

  • Geez, I think Mr. Anonymous has it in for you. If I ever meet him I'll be sure to give him a right good ass-stomping! Oh, and you need to stop taking nude photos of yourself. I saw enough "Natural Patrick" on our trip to last me a lifetime!!! LOL, cheers. I couldn't be more jealous of you right now.

    By Anonymous Marc, at 9/26/2005 11:18 AM  

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