-The flight over was entirely uneventful, save for the fact that the dude next to me spilled his cocktail on my pants and Game of Thrones was available through the in-flight entertainment.
-Orientation was about as riveting as one might expect.
-Jet Leg resulted in several refreshing afternoon naps.
After a few whirlwind days in Tokyo, they shipped us off to our final destinations--for me, this means Kurobe City in Toyama Prefecture.
Kurobe is undeniably a small town, but it's a good fit for me. There are plenty of things to do, and there are other towns close enough that if there isn't something going on in Kurobe, there's something going on somewhere else. There's an active community of JETs as well, so there are always people to go to if I need help, and it's impossible to feel lonely when there are so many fellow ex-pats around. (Ha! I'm officially an ex-pat. Maybe I should brush up on my Hemmingway.)
I made a short video tour of my apartment for anyone interested, so please click here if you'd like to see it. My apartment isn't very big, but it's really cozy and I quite like it. I have some fabulous furniture (courtesy of my predecessor) and it's all pretty well-stocked. The only thing I needed to go out and buy was a standing fan, since I'm pretty sure the gal who lived here before me relied on her air-conditioning more than I usually tend to.
The most intimidating aspect of life as an English teacher in rural Japan so far isn't teaching English (as one might expect) but dealing with the fact that the roads and the drivers are completely, utterly nuts. Places that would hands-down be a one-way in the U.S. are two-way fair game here. On top of that, there don’t seem to be any real laws for how you’re supposed to ride your bicycle, so bicyclists frequently pop out into intersections without any regard what-so-ever for their personal safety. Then there’s the whole “driving on the other side of the road” thing, which wasn't nearly as difficult to get used to as I thought it would be, surprisingly, but still poses a couple of interesting challenges--the biggest of which is that the windshield wipers are where the turn signal is in the U.S.
I'll leave you to take that to its logical conclusion.
All that aside, though, I’ve had some terrific support from the other JETs in town, who’ve helped me a huge amount. They took me where I needed to go, told me when things were going on, showed me the ropes at the grocery store—I’d probably be curled up in my apartment even now, lonely and starving, without all the help I got from everyone here. Not really.
(But actually, really.)
Like I said, there's usually something going on in my general area, particularly in the summer, so my first week here was packed with welcome dinners, beach shindigs and festivals. The night after I moved into my new apartment, we hopped on the train and went to a firework festival in Toyama City (the capital of the prefecture) where they allegedly shot off three thousand fireworks. They didn't have to worry about burning down the state, either, so they were huge and way closer to the ground than I'm used to. My hearing didn't thank me for it, but I had a good time. It was a somewhat rare chance to meet up with the JETs that live on the far side of the prefecture, too. Worth every penny of the train ticket!
Summer is busy because it's the big festival season in Japan. It gives the girls a chance to break out their fancy yukata and get all dressed up, it gives the kids something to do and it's a pre-fab date idea for anyone grasping about for somewhere romantic. Japanese festivals aren't really like anything that I've run across in America, but the best comparison I can come up with is a fair or a carnival. They don't have any rides, but people bring their kids and their dogs and mull around buying food and souvenirs from various street vendors. Each festival has some sort of central reason for its existence, whether it's something vague like a fireworks show (like the festival we're heading to en masse this weekend) or something more specific like a traditional dance or celebratory ritual. It's a good excuse to get out of the house and show yourself off, and I've had a good time at both of the ones I've attended so far.
We also had a couple of welcome dinners for all the newbies like me. The first was at a bar called Jirokichi’s—run by none other than (you guessed it) Jirokichi. He’s this little Japanese man with a love for crummy American movies from the 80s and 90s and a strong desire to win arm wrestling matches against the various JET men who frequent his fine establishment.
As a very minimal drinker, it’s certainly interesting to watch everyone around you slowly get more and more drunk. There was a group of young-ish Japanese people who came in a little while after us, and their party devolved into some interesting drunken shenanigans in short order. Some of the boys had perfected the dance move affectionately called “The Sprinkler” that looks more like a mannequin having a seizure than anything else.
Across the hallway from Jirokichi’s is another bar called Peyote (where Jirokichi is rumored to have worked before he moved next door and opened up some competition). Peyote is where the Welcome Party for the second round of JETs happened, but it wasn’t quite as eventful. It calls itself “Mexican” food, but I’m skeptical They did serve up French fries in a bowl big enough to fit my entire face, though, so that’s something!
There are so many other things I could go on about, and I'm sure there'll be many more to come, but I'll save them until later. The moral of this post?
I moved across the world and it was probably less stressful than moving across the country. I'm not starving to death on my floor in a lonely, depressed pile of blond hair. I'm hanging out on the beach, meeting a million and one people, and getting ready to teach the wee masses my native tongue. So far, I've had nothing but good experiences. Here's to hoping its a trend that sticks around!
-Japanese men like to wear nothing but their undies to the beach. And it's really obvious that they're undies, not swim trunks.
-Japanese woman are generally sun-phobic and will cover up with everything but the kitchen sink on their beach excursions.
-My students were drawing pictures, and one of the girls drew a picture of boobs and handed it to me saying it was a portrait.
-I was chatting with one of the teachers I'll be working with, and she said that the big statue in Brazil of Jesus is called "Christ the Redeemer". I said it sounded like the name of one of those professional wrestlers. We had quite the chuckle. (As a side note, I just googled that statue and discovered that having several dozen pictures of Jesus staring at you all at once is actually really creepy.)
-Corgis in Japan are just as adorable as Corgis in America.
Sorry I don't have more pictures! Everything was so crazy I really haven't taken many. I'll leave you with this snapshot of some of the local wildlife I found outside my apartment: