Moved into the new apartment. Spent the first day and a half cleaning. Lots done, lots still to do. Will post pictures soon.
Took a train for the orientation in Kumamoto City. Kumamoto is a thriving metropolis of over half a million people, so this is the Big City. It is only about 2 hours from my house so its similar to taking a train from my house in NJ into Philly.
I had lots of orientation sessions with current ALTs. It had a much different feel from the Tokyo orientation because it was run by JETs and not the government ministries that run the big conference. After the sessions we had a big party on a roof top Beer Garden and then went bar hopping around Kumamoto.
Japan continues to impress me. I got out of the shower in my hotel and the section of the mirror above the sink was completely fog free. They have some sort of heaters built into the wall that are activated when the shower is on to make sure you can watch while you shave and brush your teeth after showering.
Had a day long Japanese language workshop with a YMCA instructor. This is the only way to learn a language. Just like in Israel with the Ulpan classes I took every day for a few hours. It is very difficult to learn a language in 4 or five hour classes each week and even harder (from my prospective) when there are no classes and you have a book to study yourself.
After the lessons I had an hour to kill before my group met to head to the train station. I took a quick tour of the Kumamoto Castle. I believe it is one of the largest in Japan. The castle is located in a central park in the middle of Kumamoto city. I climbed up about ten stories and reached the top where there is an awesome observation deck. You can see for miles to the
distant mountains on all sides.
I returned to the YMCA and our group took off towards the train station. On the trolley we met up with some old ladies who would be taking the train with us to Asagiri-Cho. They were supper helpful as none of us knew which track to go to or how to change when we got to Hitoyoshi. The train ride is really beautiful as you travel along a river, then through mountains and valleys.
We arrived in Asagiri-Cho at 8:00 PM after a 2 hour train ride. My boss met us at the station. After dropping off Yasmine at her home, he took Molly and me to the mechanics shop where we had picked out our cars. They were ready and evidently so were all the papers for tax, insurance and whatnot. We then spent about 2 hours hanging out there translating, “I hope you drive safely”
and “can I get a receipt for that 100,000 yen” We were actually free and done when I noticed a sign for JAF (AAA in Japan) and asked to sign up. This took another half hour or so.
Everything here takes time. You need to be very patient and need to understand that things here happen very slowly.
Finally, this day has arrived. I have a car and nothing on the schedule. This promises to be a nice relaxing day.
Woke up around 9 and had some breakfast. Cleaned the house some more and set up a little.
Decided to exercise my new found freedom and try out the car and my sense of direction. (Baltimore*). It takes a little getting used to driving on the left side of the road. I will remind myself out loud which lane I need to turn into when I am at an intersection.
Drove from my house to the BOE building where I work. So far so good. Then I found a gas station and filled up the car. As the car was filling up the attendant took three cloth rags. One he handed me to clean the dashboard and inside windows. He used the other 2 to clean the outside windows and body of my car (just like they do in Jersey, right). Next I found the A-Coop, my local supermarket where I got some OJ and a few other items that aren’t't available in my neighborhood farm stand/bodega. Then I decided to head home. I followed the roads I thought lead to my house (Baltimore), but wound up driving all around the valley for about an hour and a half. I wasn’t terribly worried and was enjoying myself. I asked directions a few times, but to no avail.
It was only dumb luck that I saw a sign in English that pointed to the sports field near my home, and only dumb luck that I made all the correct turns to get home from there. (yes Dad and David I know – Baltimore!)
Took a quick nap
On the trip home I noticed an Onesen (public bath) and decided to give it a shot. It was about 10 min by bike. I paid 300 yen to enter and 200 for the towel. (just knock off two zeros for the approximate value in USD) Then I was directed to the dressing room. I put my clothing into the locker and walked into the Onesen. The towel is used for washing, drying and “modesty”. The
towel is about 4″ x 6″. First you are expected to shower, as this is a communal bath and they don’t want dirty people dirtying the water. Then you go to the first pool which is about 100 Degrees. I stayed in this one for a few moments then moved on to bath number 2.
This one is a bit warmer. I sat down on one side and a man motioned for me to go to the other side close to where he was. As I approached I felt a strange tingling in my hand. I realized there was electrical current running through the water. There are 2 devices that direct electricity into the water. I sat down in front of one, as the other man was doing and the electricity ran over my back. It was somewhat relaxing. While sitting there another man came in and started asking me lots of questions in broken English. At one point he asked if I was well equipped. I wanted to say, “Were sitting here naked in a tub and you are asking me about what? What in the hell is wrong with you buddy?” But of course, I just pretended not to understand the question. I have been told by other JETs that super personal and inappropriate questions (this one in particular) are just par
for the course here in rural Japan.
Once or twice the female attendants came through to change the towels in the sauna. I grabbed for my washcloth but the Japanese men didn’t cover up at all. They thought it was funny that I would want to use the modesty towel in the presence of women.
Lastly I went to the cold bath for a while then the Sauna and back into the cold bath before I showered and left.
After the Onesen I biked home very much refreshed. As I pulled into my driveway my neighbor came over and invited me to his party which was in progress. I stayed for a little while. When I explained that I did not eat meat, one of the women went out and got some fish which she then barbecued for me. I went home at about 8pm when I got a call from one of the JETs from the next town. He was going to a nearby festival with some of the other JETs from our Gun (county) and
invited me along.
We arrived at the festival and found seats about ten seconds before the fireworks started. (Every festival this time of year has at least some fireworks.) These fireworks were ordinary, but they were exciting because they were really close. Figure about 20′ High and only a few feet out. After the fireworks the band invited us to sing a few songs. I soloed on “The House of the Rising Sun” And sang a few others with the group. After that we were like rock stars with people buying us
food and drinks until the festival ended and the lights were turned out.
Later we went to a Karaoke bar and hung out for a few hours in a private room. There were about 10 of us and about 10 random Japanese people joined us. I think I got home around 1am or so and I am finishing this section at 2:30am on Sunday morning. Every day there is so much going on and so many new experiences. So much for my relaxing day, maybe tomorrow.
Hytoyoshi Festival – Tomita san with Canoe (left) and Yuka (wild)
After work there was a festival in one of the towns near me. My boss, Tomita san and his family took me. He has two daughters, the older one (7) is more reserved and likes to sing. The younger daughter, Yuka (4) is a little bit crazy. She holds onto the rack ceiling in the car and then jumps onto the seat, her sister or me (seat-belts for children, or anyone in the backseat are not so
popular here. I am usually questioned when I put one on.) We went to Mrs. Tomita’s brother’s house and walked to his office, where we had a rooftop view of the fireworks and a picnic dinner.
Because of something in my contract I can only work 20 days per month. As there are 23 work days in August, today was my first day off. I took a long bike ride then came back to the house and lazed around for much of the afternoon.
Helped with an adult class today to get the feel of it for my classes which will be starting soon. One of the women remarked that she was thinking about skipping class this week to watch a TV show with a Korean star she is fond of, but was glad she didn’t because she got to watch me instead. Got to know an English speaking intern who was also helping out with the class.
Friday & Saturday 8/19 – 20
Joined the Boy/Girl Scouts group for their overnight in an Asagiri Cho park. After dinner I taught the kids a song and then entertained them with some magic tricks. Later they taught me a game where to people hold a rope, and race to tie a knot and pull the other person off balance. Good fun.
Some things I cannot quite get used to here. Scout leader sits in a meeting with the scouts and is smoking the entire time, later the responsible adults start drinking while the children are going to sleep.
Not much to report on this side of the world. In Maryland my friends Ariel & Lauren got married today. Wish I could have been there.
I am now practically a real person here. I have a keti (cell phone), ADSL Internet connection, Guyjun (alien registration) card, bank account and a health insurance card.
Had some more meetings with the elementary and junior high schools today. Tomorrow morning a first grade teacher and I will run a demonstration class for about 20 of the teachers at the elementary school. This weekend I will be in Hytoyoshi on Friday and then Kumamoto on Sunday and Monday.
The word on the street is that we are due for a Typhoon this week. Will keep you up to date.
The weather has been cooler lately because of the rain we’ve been having.
Asagiri, Kumamoto Prefecture