Thursday, August 03, 2006

First Week in Japan

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, 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:
Laurie Cheung
Apartment 202, Takiba 244-1
Miyazu Shi, Kyoto Fu 626-0034


r.bean said...

i'm ready to visit ladysan is there karaoke? you will come back tranquil and buff from that bicycle.
i hope you brought sketchbooks! very exciting even though it's the period where you'll cry yourself to sleep for a while.

vaso said...

Cheung! Does this mean we'll ride bikes together next time I see you?
Keep it cool. Just think that the rest of us are still working like monkeys over here and have to ride bikes amongst mufflers, angry new yorkers dealing with the heat of the summer, and having to avoid doors, trash, taxi cabs.... i wish i had a rice patty to fall into.

anney said...

"i must confess", along with Vaso, I'm still not believing that you are actually in Japan, it has not been 'realized', as they say...I mean how do I know that you aren't just basking in the San Francisco streets, being mistaken for a Mandarin speaking fine piece of Asianness? ;) Ahhhh, Lauriesan, this is amazing and scary and wonderful, can't wait to see photos and to hear are an inspiration, remember that....

Loke said...

Laurie-san! 幸運! 私の英雄である! 私はよくし、大きい経験を有することを知っている。

What I'm trying to say... "Good luck! You are my hero! I know that you will do well and have a great experience." But I'm sure you would have translated that sooner or later...and then you would have pointed out all of my grammatical mistakes. ;)

I have to admit that I'm extremely envious of you. The fact that you are able to participate in this program is enviable. Such courage... Well, a visit would be worth it just to see you pick me up at the train station on your bicycle. lol Heck, if PS3 doesn't pan out, I might just join you in Japan. :P

I've added the RSS feed of your blog to my google page, so I won't miss any updates. If you need anything from the US, let me know. Happy to send out a care package. :)

giuli said...

you are doing great. its always great to learn first hand the truths and verify the myths and mysteries of a place. you have an open mind and good humor. the most important and once you meet the students i'm sure that it will be refreshing and relaxing! go bikes!!! you'll have no problems and pretty soon be racing your students from school!

laurie said...

I hear there's karaoke, but haven't done it yet... surprise, surprise?? Not really... Bean, I will master it and come back a karaoke queen!

I will be ready for bike rides too!

Thanks for the support you guys!