Life in Japan So Far...

2008-9 JET Program in Japan 0145.jpg

Colby ended 5 months ago so I figure it's about time I join Dang and give you and update on what's been going on with me since then. Many have you have been around for parts of it so apologies for the "I know, I was there" parts of the email but there's a long list of people in the "To:" line.

First, summer came and went pretty fast, with visits from Cory, Alex, and Rishi, and Sandy's extended stay. Ricky Gervais Live in NYC was fantastic, as was the company. And then Hande moved to D.C. once she was sufficiently sure that I would not be there ;). With the exception of some minor altercations with the law, it was a great time. However, the summer was always building up to me moving to Japan on August 1st. I made a list of all the tasks I needed to get done and things I needed to bring with me. I managed to cross about 2 out of 20 of them off before I forgot about said list and found myself on a plane to Tokyo. Sandy can attest that I started packing around 10 or 11PM the night before. Oh, such a globe-trekker I am, such a fearless explorer in these troubled times; but as the Moors once said, "He who does not travel does not know the value of men." Talk amongst yourselves.

The only thing I remember of the flight from D.C. (before I fell asleep) was avoiding the heinously annoying girl to my left and trying not to laugh at the Chinese man who asked, by way of introduction, "How many bowls of rice do you eat?" He was shocked -- "One is sufficient?!" I was sort of turned off by the entire nature of the journey. This group flight of randomly assembled American teachers, none of whom seemed particularly interested in Japan. There were multiple points at which we had to "check-in" with JET representatives. The whole thing just had too many training wheels, as if we can't navigate an airport. But I suppose when you have more than 1,000 people showing up for the first day of orientation, you want to keep good tabs on all of them. They put us up in one of the best hotels in Tokyo, so that was nice.

The Tokyo Orientation was 3 days and I would be demanding those 3 days of my life back had I not made friends with some other newcomers from D.C. and run around Tokyo instead of attending each repetitive seminar. I know my way around Tokyo, having worked there last summer, so I was feeling completely comfortable, and whatever Japanese I'd lost by not taking it senior year was returning to my brain out of necessity. The real journey began when I boarded the bus from Tokyo to Gunma, my assigned prefecture. Tokyo was easy. I knew the train-line, cool hangouts, etc. but I had never been to Gunma and I had been assigned to a town of 16,000 people within it. 

My supervisor, Mrs, Yamada, and the only other native-speaking English teacher in my town, Donald, met me at an all-too-formal greeting ceremony in the prefectural capital, Maebashi. They then drove me the 2hrs it would take to get to my town. The trip gave us time to talk -- mostly to Donald because Yamada-san doesn't speak a word of English and I think thought I did not speak Japanese. I asked Donald, "How long have you been in Itakura [my town]?" He sighed heavily and replied, "Oh, TOO LONG!" Well thanks, Sunshine. My nervous American ass just took a 13 hour flight, a 4 hour bus ride and a 2 hour car ride to go to this place so it's great to have such a rosey preconception for the next hour and fifty minutes of the car ride. When I got to town they quickly told me I'd have to say a few words to the Education Superintendent and the Mayor. This was something we were told we'd have to do later in the week so I had to just wing it. They also had told us to wear a suit, but when I showed up the mayor said, "It looks like this guy's from Ginza [the 5th Avenue area of Tokyo]." I was nervous again but doing an okay job of hiding it. The mayor was a little obsessed with Sequoia National Park, near San Francisco. In the end it seemed to go well. 

School was out of session so I just sat at the Board of Education for a couple weeks going through my Japanese books to pass the time. I learned that I'd be teaching Junior High for the first month; then dividing my time among 4 elementary schools and 4 kindergartens for the second, and a university a couple times a week. I also learned that despite the JET Programme's repeated assertions that I needed to wear a suit to work, I was okay in shorts and a T-shirt. So I had a closet full of suits, a couple T-shirts and no shorts. I'm glad I missed a bunch of the orientation -- it probably spared me more misinformation. 

I started up Junior High as an ALT or assistant language teacher, assisting 3 Japanese English teachers. Of the three, one speaks English pretty well and the others not so much. During the first week I gave a speech in front of the school and then gave individual class-long jikoushoukai (self-introductions) to each class. I had a powerpoint with pictures of my friends (you guys), where I come from, what I like to do, et cetera. For the second week I was basically a parrot, reading dialogues when directed so that the kids could learn proper pronunciation. As time progressed and the teachers got comfortable with me I got to do more and got to know the kids better. One of the teachers now sometimes just doesn't come to class and has me do it. The kids ask me a lot of questions -- "How tall are you?" "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Do you like Afghanistan?"

I've since switched to Elementary school where I run the classes. Daunting as that seemed, it's been going smoothly so far, apart from yesterday, where I had to stay home sick. Tuesday I'll teach my first university class, which ought to be especially odd. But I'm liking it so far, and it really doesn't seem like I've been gone as long as I have. 

Tokyo is only an hour away by train, and I've spent every single weekend there since I've been in Japan. I might go stir crazy without it so close, but as it stands I'm spending 40% of my time (and near all of my free time) in Tokyo so I basically live in 2 places. My old friend Kelly moved from Singapore to Tokyo with her family so I've been hanging out with either my fellow JET participants or with Kelly and her friends every weekend and it's been great. I am obsessed with karaoke; I saw a sumo match; I've gone to a bunch of clubs and concerts; and even discovered one of the 2 hookah bars in all of Japan. Though I must admit I'm jealous of the thriving Colby NYC social scene that appears to have sprouted. I'm already scouting potential jobs in NYC for next year before law school. I miss all of you a lot.

You're all welcome to come and visit. And I'm not coming back to the states until July, 2009 so get over here. Hell, Cory's gonna be in China (he's in Cambodia right now) so we can all meet up.