Monday, August 28, 2006
The cute Japanese couple are the Yoshidas. Ridiculously generous and sooooo sweet. Their kids have grown up and moved away and they take new JETs under their wing and take care of them. They know some English but they are so easygoing and try so hard that we muddle through pretty well. They live near my friend Leigh and they drove us out for a short hike to see a lighthouse and the sunset over the Tango coast.
They prepared a huge spread for a picnic dinner- chirashi, sushi, pears and watermelons, homebaked bread, etc. They were even prepared with the burning mosquito coil which didn't prevent those little pests from biting up my whole back and arms. Argh. There were supposedly monkeys out there but we didn't see any. However, there were many spiders and these gigantic bee/yellowjacket type insects that were disconcertingly buzzing around our heads, and they would actually fly into us!
Hey everyone, sorry for not posting/blogging in forever. Been wildly swamped....
Happy reading to those who have the patience. There's a few fun stories but you could just look at the pretty pictures too.
So, I don't need a TV- my kitchen window is like National Geographic. I was too disgusted to take a photo of the giant cicada hanging on my curtain right above my bed but here are some of the creatures who hang out on my kitchen window.
Karaoke and drinks with the local crew: Eric (US), Bryn (NZ), Tim (Aussie), and special appearance by Ilona (UK) from Kyoto.
Also have met some fun Japanese friends through "soft" volleyball practice (the guy who runs it used to be friends with my predecessor) and insisted that I play- he wouldn't believe me when I told him that I'm not very good at sports... and still insists that I play even after I got smacked in the face with the volleyball. No, my contacts surprisingly did NOT pop out and the ball is maybe slightly harder than an American red rubber bouncy ball.
This past weekend my friend Leigh and I decided to explore a local beach, about half hour train ride away. It was one of the few cities out here that was mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide Book, so we figured it had to be pretty nice. There was supposed to be a bike rental place where you deposit like 1000Y (about $10) and you get it back when you return the bike so that you could ride around the bay and out to the ocean.
Unfortunately when we got there it was like a ghost town. There was no one around anywhere and we walked for awhile trying to find a place to eat ("Wrath of Cheung" was approching). Finally we came across a fast food joint on a main road and asked for directions to the beach. This took about 15 minutes to explain using gestures and our limited vocabulary. It was a husband/wife joint and they were both freaking out- apparently the bay is pretty close, but the beach/ocean is like an hours walk away. So the husband insisted on driving us to the beach!!! it was hilarious. we were like- man, if they can't give you directions, they'll just drive you because they want you to get there so bad!!!
So we're at the edge of the world, at the Sea of Japan, and it's blazing hot, and the beach is beautiful, and there were Japanese surfers (!), and we're a million miles away from the train station. We figured, well, what the hell, we're here, might as well enjoy the beach and figure out how to get back later!
When we were ready to leave, we found these two teenage girls and asked them for directions- again, it took awhile to communicate but eventually they led us to a bus stop a little bit away. But, apparently the bus doesn't run on the weekends!! What??!! so that's when we decided we would hitch hike back to the train station.
The girls felt really bad so they walked us back to the main road, told us to wait, and disappeared. A few minutes later, they come out with a woman- one of the girls had gone home and asked her mom if she would drive us two strange foreign girls to the train station!!!
We were floored- like what is with these people??? They are soooooo nice- like WAY OUT OF THE WAY NICE.... so we got their address and when we got back to our town, we bought a nice japanese cake to send to them. But when we got to the post office, they said it was undeliverable because there wasn't enough information on the address- like there was no house number, no phone number, and no last name. At least the girl had sense enough not to give her complete address in the fears that we would come back and try to stay with her or something!!!
Anyway, adventures continue!
Miyazu High School has a 20 year tradition of going out to Miyazu Bay to clean up the day after Obon. So I was out there with several hundred students picking up garbage. I got to hang out with a few of the girls from the International Club which was cool. They seemed to be less shy outside of the classroom.
One thing about the small towns- you have to SEPARATE EVERYTHING. Everyone has like 7 trash bins- some towns are so strict that you have to write your name on your garbage bags and if you don't separate correctly (burnable, styrofoam, recyclable plastics, non-recyclable plastics, paper, ceramic/leather/metals, and plastic bottles) they will bring it back to you and make you resort it.
No wonder I have no time to do anything here. I spend half of it sorting my garbage.
Throughout the festival in Miyazu, the locals dress up in traditioinal costumes and perform folk dances (I joined in along with a few of the other local JETs!!).
As you can see, it's fun for the whole family, and then some.
Miyazu Lantern Floating Fireworks Festival
The Obon festival is celebrated on August 16 every year. This festival was born of the ancient practice of welcoming ancestors back to the human world with lanterns.
The main feature of the festival is the great lantern display and fireworks show on the final evening. Miyazu Bay is covered with burning spirit ships, lanterns, and thousands of floating candlelit boats, as the fireworks fall into the Bay.
Ate and drank all kinds of wonderful Japanese snacks and beer with local JETs Bryn, Jannie, Leigh, Harry, Jamie, Tim, and Adam (my predecessor) and Bonnie, who came up from Kyoto. We joined in the traditional Obon dance with the locals and were quickly humbled by our inability to move gracefully in our western clothing.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The wonderful thing about travelling is that you can be SO spontaneous!
I met some cool JETs who told me on Friday night that they were heading to Osaka for a big music festival on Saturday morning so we decided to join since, among those playing was DJ Shadow, who is totally, like, my favorite dj ever, and I also got to see Massive Attack, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, and Secret Machines.... It was a 2 day concert with a pretty sweet (if not eclectic) lineup including: Tool, Linkin Park, Mum, We Are Scientists, Nelly Furtado, Puffy Amiyumi, Metallica, Hoobastank, Scritti Politti, Daft Punk, Flaming Lips, The Cardigans, Phonix, and Devendra Banhart... Anyway, I was happy to see DJ Shadow play but I was floored by Muse. They are my new favorite band.
Made it back to the train station for the last train back to Kyoto (phew!). Otherwise, we would've had to wait until 5am for the first train out!
Group Photo: Colleen & Lliam (S.Africa), Eric (US), Adam (UK), Jason (US), me, and Ilona (UK)
I was in Kyoto for a JET orientation last week with a bunch of the other high school AETs for a few days... Due to the O Bon holidays,
I got 3 additional unexpedted days off! My orientation roommate, Ilona, lived only a few stops outside of Kyoto, and she invited me to crash with her for the weekend and our days off. And this is how friendships get started.
So fireworks are big at this time of the year... We went to Uji, a nearby city, where tens of thousands of exceptionally well behaved Japanese gathered to watch the fireworks, eat, and celebrate. It was amazing to see the full regalia of the "yukatas" (summer kimonos) out in full force. At one point, the police were stopping people to keep them from overcrowding the train platforms and still there were no riots or stomping on eachothers toes. In America, there definitely would've been a few shoves and definitely a few words exchanged...
Monday, August 07, 2006
Kitchen in the middle with a living room and a bedroom (each 6-mat rooms), toilet room, shower room, and a little area for a bathroom sink and the washer/dryer.
It's like a little kitchen in a cabin. Basic and utilitarian. The big white thing at the upper left is my gas water heater. The water that comes out of the metal tap is just regular cold water. (Of course, if it's been a hot day and it's the first time I use it, the water that comes out is scalding hot!)
I turn a little knob to allow gas to flow and push and light the gas stove. Kind of like a propane barbecue.
Ahhh.... the toilet....
so in the past, there wasn't that plastic bowl and seat thing- it was just a porcelain receptacle- you just straddle it with your feet firmly planted on the blue tiles, facing the window, and "go". I guess the yellowish/greenish thing in the corner used to work and it flushed the toilet.
Even though I now have a "western style" seat, it's really not that much more different. The little white sink in the corner was put in to bring water into the bathroom- after you "go", you fill up the cup with water, and pour it down the toilet to "flush" it.
As you can imagine, with this awful heat, the smell is pretty unbearable. I'm actually kind of grossing out just thinking of it.
Every 2 months or so, I have to apply and pay for a company to come by and change the chemicals / clean out the sewage tank behind the house. Ahhh.... village living!!
Yoshinori, Mayu, Kanako, Naomi, Kayoko, Megumi, and Takashi- the first 3 are in Grade 1, the little small girl in the middle is in Grade 3 (!), and the last 3 are in Grade 2. (Grade 1 is like our Freshman Year, Grade 2 is middle, and Grade 3 is Senior Year). Yeah, very young looking students!
The Welcome Party consisted of chips, pocky sticks, cookies, apple jelly candy, and soda. Basic high school junk food, if I can remember that far back! ha ha.
They hang out and learn about different countries, but mainly are there to improve their English through conversations, games, etc. So I told them about where I was from, what I do, about my family, etc. and then we enjoyed a game of Pictionary. It was pretty awesome to see the total looks of confusion when they picked up the card and had to draw something like "beard" and then see them change to huge smiles when their team mates guessed correctly.
It was like 90 degrees in the classroom and they were great sports in their little uniforms. Although they are high school students, they seriously look like they are like 12 years old!! And oh my god, they are SOOO polite to eachother- and it's NOT on purpose!!!
And they bow to me! I could definitely get used to this.
Those are the infamous rice fields and the Sea of Japan in beyond. Amanohashidate is the long skinny green "bridge" in the middle of the water.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Miyazu High School is only a few minutes walk away. This is my view at the end of the day when I walk home.
The rice paddies smell so wonderful right now- they are all flowering and the pungent smell of rice permeates the air. The rice is almost ready for harvesting in about a month!
My apartment is about right in the middle of the photo (but it is not visible from the street).
Thursday, August 03, 2006
So as Tokyo is intense, Miyazu is as serene... for the most part...
About 15 of us who are going to be spread throught Kyoto Prefecture took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto, which was as cool as it sounds- fast, smooth, and sleek. We were really fortunate to have unusually cool dry weather in Tokyo (like 70 degrees) because Kyoto is just as disgustingly hot and humid as the worst New York summer days. Not to mention that there is a pretty conservative dress code here so no exposed shoulders (gasp!) lest we distract any teenage boys. This is the first year that many of the Kyoto high schools got air conditioning so I'm super grateful. However, it is located only in the administrative offices and teachers'staff room (where I spend most of my days these days because it's summer vacation). Classrooms and hallways (and my very very rustic apartment- more on that later) are not insulated or temperature controlled. Mrs. Tanaka (or Tanaka-sensei), my daily supervisor/translator at Miyazu High School, wisked me away from Kyoto Station and we took a spectacular 2 hour train ride back to Miyazu together. Crap, I left my camera cord at the apartment, so I'll try to upload photos next week.
We arrived in Miyazu just in time to meet a few of the faculty, the vice principal, get a quick tour of the school, and then head over to my apartment, which is only a few minutes walk away. Mrs. Kusuda, my landlady who lives next door, is old and sweet and always wearing an apron and a smile. We had cold green tea in her rock garden- fortunately, Tanaka-sensei and Mrs. Kusuda's daughter were there to translate. Kusuda-san has hosted the last 8 or 9 JETs in the apartment and always prepares a special curry dinner for each new JET. It was so good to have a home cooked dinner!!
Finally I was able to go to my apartment to settle in. Not traditional at all- corrugated plastic awnings and lightweight aluminum sliding windows. I have a padlock to close the front door. Not sure how I'm going to endure the brutal winter since the front door doesn't really close all the way and the paper thin walls and windows are uninsulated. In any case, it was like an oven in there. The bedroom and living room are each 6-mat rooms (tatami) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/, with minimal furniture and sliding doors. There is a shower room and a separate toilet room (used to be a squatter toilet but a plastic "Western" seat and bowl have been placed onto it to "modernize" it. It's kind of like a port-o-potty where a company has to come by every couple months to empty the tank and change the chemicals. (Yes, it STINKS, and I'm trying to deal with my OCD). However, I have a great view from the back of the apartment- I'm at the base of a mountain covered with dense towering trees. Almost all of the other houses around me are beautiful old traditional homes with the black tile roofs. My apartment and a couple others are the eyesores. Out my front door is a road with rice paddies and a view of blue and gray mountains.
Yesterday (Thursday) was my first full workday which consisted of painfully formal introductions to administrators and faculty at school, Tanaka-san transporting me around town and getting paperwork completed at the City Hall, the post office, opening accounts at the bank, cell phone company, etc. Then, off to buy a new futon, basic necessities (SOAP!!) and some groceries. It was exhausting. Tanaka-san drove me to all these places, but from now on, I have to ride my bike- yikes- it's been like 10 years since I've gotten on a 2-wheeled ANYTHING. Well, if I ice-skated this year, I'm sure I'll be able to ride a bike, I think. The unlit roads are like 10' wide with 4' ditches on either side, if not a rice paddy. The main street to the sea is a little more modern though, lined with small shops and ending at this monstrosity of a building called "Mipple"- a 5 story box like a K-mart that sells groceries and baked goods on the 1st floor, household and sporting goods, a 100 yen store (like a 99 cent store), clothes. It's wild that the ugliest (albeit useful) building has such a prime location right at the edge of the sea.
I won't have a cell phone for another 2 weeks until my "Alien Registration Card" comes in but I will have internet access at school. I'm not supposed to be using it for personal reasons but since today is the first day I have had internet access and it's summer vacation, I think they are being pretty cool about it. I am holding my breath that I'll get internet access at home.... Sorry this was such a long post, I guess I was dying to get some stuff out.
The next posting will be all about etiquette and rules and expectations (apparently the act of picking up chopsticks is a 3-step process!!)... Overall, it's been an emotional trip- good and bad, but anytime you're taken out of your comfort zone, there is a good deal of frustration. I've exchanged a few emails with fellow JETs and we're all going through similar experiences in our villages. It can only get better!!!
Hope everyone is well and please send supportive comments!!
P.S. Apartment address update- slight revision:
Apartment 202, Takiba 244-1
Miyazu Shi, Kyoto Fu 626-0034