In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 2)

Friday, 29 September 2006

Friday, 29 September 2006, 12.45 pm JST

sotd: スキマスイッチ, ガラナ
cotd: SXE10 Toyota Altezza RS200 Z-Edition

So after making sure my apartment was inhabitable (which it is, for the most part), my first week was spent meeting various teachers (and forgetting their names), finding my way (i.e. being taken by car) around Tamba City, getting various important affairs taken care of (including the all-important 外国人登録証明書, the alien registration card otherwise and more simply known as the “gaijin card”), finding out where to shop for daily necessities and of course food, and in general finding my way around my area. Around my house.Walking was my primary mode of transportation in the very beginning, although I soon came into possession of a lovely red Japan-standard bicycle…which I haven’t actually been using very much.

On that first Sunday night, however, thanks to being informed by my predecessor, I was able to go out to a summer festival in neighboring Kaibara Town. There I met for the first time other JETs in Tamba, Simon from Canada, Aaron from Australia, Alethia from Jamaica and Marcela from Trinidad & Tobago, plus of Yay for fireworks.course my lovely predecessor Diana. True to summer festival style, there was a grand fireworks display (even for super inaka land) and about 10 million Japanese girls in yukata. And it was my first chance to ride an inaka train, traveling a whopping 2 stations from my home station of Kuroi over to Kaibara station. It took 10 minutes. Wow.

Immediately after this weekend was the お盆祭 (o-bon matsuri, or Festival of the Dead) in which everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, makes a mass exodus out of large cities to their original or ancestral hometowns to pray for the safety of their dead ancestors who have come back to visit for this one weekend. So on Monday I took my first of twenty days of nenkyu (年次休暇, or annual paid leave) because Taniguchi-sensei had invited me to go watch a baseball game at world-famous Koshien Stadium for the later stages of the national high school baseball tournament. (Which, by the way, is the biggest sporting event in Japan. Even bigger than the professional baseball tournament. Like, seriously.) Unfortunately, being Bon time and all, his wife and his mother DISALLOWED him from going to watch baseball. Harsh, ain’t it? So instead I got to participate in a real village meeting (in 篠山市東木の部, Higashi-kinobe Village in Sasayama City, which is the city next to Tamba) and experience O-bon in Japan. And then I got to have lunch at the Taniguchi house. And man, was it awesome. And his house is real nice too. And then we got Me and Taniguchi sensei at the Higashi-kinobe village watch the baseball game on TV anyway. (Fukuchiyama, who the Taniguchis were rooting for, won 4-0 but then got eliminated a couple games later. . .)  And then we went driving some around Sasayama, which is (a) bigger than Tamba and (b) has castle ruins. Where are our castle ruins? Sheesh.

Anyway, after that it was Tuesday and time to head to

3. Yashiro Prison

Not that Yashiro is a prison, by any means. It’s apparently what the place has come to be called by JETs over the years. It’s actual name, as I mentioned earlier, is the Hyogo Prefectural Institute for Educational Research and In-Service Training (兵庫県立教育研修所). I think I may have said the name wrong last time. Anyway, the point is, as it is located in Yashiro . . . thus we call it Yashiro. And yes, I had to leave my house at 7 in the morning to get there by 10:30. >.<

My route involved getting on a train at my station, Kuroi, and riding it to Tanikawa station until 7:29. At Tanikawa station, I get off the train and transfer from the JR Fukuchiyama line to the JR Kakogawa line and ride that train from 7:36 to 8:03. At 8:03 I get off that train at Nishiwaki-shi station because that’s only as far as it goes. At that time I need to cross the platform and get on another train even though I am staying on the same train line. And then I have to wait until 8:28 for it to leave, and then I stay on it until 8:37 when I get off at Yashiro-cho station. Now, at this point, it was all planned out where I would get off the train and get on an 8:40 Shinki bus (Shinki = 神姫, or the Kobe-Himeji region) and go up to the institute. Except for a slight flaw in Taniguchi sensei’s and my planning.THE 8:40 BUS WAS NOT RUNNING DUE TO A SPECIAL OBON SCHEDULE. WTF. And I did not discover this until I got to Yashiro. >.< So I had to wait in a little ふれあい室 (community room) that was sort of attached to the station. In retrospect, I’m very glad that room was there because the next bus was not until 10:10. So I sat in there, tried to read, played around a bit on a touch-panel internet console they had there. And waited. And there was no way I was walking to the institute.  So once the 10:10 bus came I jumped on and rode my way to the institute.

The Hyogo Prefectural ALT Orientation (the name of the event we were actually there for) was, per expectations, not extremely exciting at all, save for seeing familiar JETs and meeting lots of new ones, including Kristine’s and my new best friends Dylan and Heather who had come up to JET together but were in a very similar situation to us . . . in a very committed relationship, but with Heather placed way down in Akashi City and Dylan placed next to me at Kaibara Senior High School. Not so cool if you ask me. Or them. But なんとなく (somehow) it’s working out and we’re all getting along as well as we can and even having outings together! (I’ll get to that later.) So as I was saying, the orientation itself was half a rehash of Tokyo orientation, and half reading the Hyogo Prefecture Board of Education work contract word for word while we sat in the auditorium and followed along. Oh yeah, fun stuff indeed. Until after dinner, when the Yashiro kitchen staff put away their The Yashiro Kitchen Band makes their debut to the 2006 batch of Hyogo JETs.pots and pans and brought out their guitars and had everybody rocking out to assorted oldies sung in near-perfect English. And word on the street is they play at a bar very near to Dylan and me. Score.

The next day featured much of the same with the addition of a dressing down of all the members present because apparently someone had taken a fire extinguisher off the wall during a bout of drunkenness on the first night and set it off in one of the bathroom’s. Yeah, real smart, you drunken, immature idiot. Also, we got to sit through a boring (but somehow entertaining at the same time) skit-based presentation on how to behave at an 宴会 (enkai, or party). Take your shoes off when you enter the place, don’t drink before the toast, etc. etc. So I’ll include a picture. The enkai skit.But please note as a bonus the national flag of Japan on the left and the prefectural flag of Hyogo on the right. Woohoo!

So then that night, despite a slightly depressed mood because of the soon-to-become-notorious “2006 Yashiro Fire Extinguisher Incident” we nevertheless had a lavish reception banquet and a rocking dance party with the kitchen band. Until 9:00, that is, when we were promptly ordered to leave the hall and be quiet and not to disturb anyone for the rest of the night. The third day, Thursday, was more of the same, except we got to work with some Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs hereafter) on preparing lessons and such. On Friday was but a short lecture, lunch, and then time to clean up and check out. Unfortunately, with my timing being a little off, I was only able to catch a bus halfway (maybe not even halfway. . .) to the station, at which point I decided to walk to Yashiro-cho station with three other JETs, with my baggage and dressed in my finest. Needless to say, by the time I reached the station I was soaking wet and not feeling very well. Not cool. At all. And then I had to basically reverse the course I described earlier, which meant that I left Yashiro at 2 and was back in Tamba at 5. That left me with little to do except check my e-mail and figure out my key situation. See, my unit in the teachers’ housing is not the same unit that my predecessor lived in, but one a few units down. I had been told that I could take whatever I needed/wanted from that apartment and move it to my apartment. . .except that I was having problems getting in. So I arrived back at school on Friday to retrieve the key and quickly learned that there were no problems with the key. I had just made a mistake and was trying to get into the wrong apartment. Um. . .oops. So until the sun went down on Friday (as there is no working electricity in the predecessor’s apartment, of course) and for most of the day on Saturday I spent moving a whole ton of stuff four apartment units down. It was a lengthy, tiresome process and I felt pretty drained afterwards. But, on the upside, my apartment was now furnished! Or at least, it had a whole bunch of stuff in my kitchen and the neighboring room that I would now have to spend hours looking through and arranging how I liked. Oi. So although I wasn’t able to spend much time with Kristine over the weekend as had originally been planned, we had agreed at Yashiro to meet in Sunday in Motomachi (in the pre-keitai stone age era of mid-August), and so Sunday morning marked my triumphant return

4. To Kobe!

Of the three cities in the Keihanshin area (京阪神, one character each for Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe respectively, and unarguably my favorite part of Japan ^_^), Kobe is definitely the city that I know the least. No doubt because Kansai Gaidai and Hirakata City are located smack dab in the middle of Osaka and Kyoto, but also because there’s much more to do in those two than in Kobe. And it would have been more expensive to go to Kobe from Hirakata. I have since learned that it takes me about 2.5 hours to get to Osaka by train and about 2.5 hours to get to Kobe by train from my area. So, all things equal, I’ll probably be in Osaka a lot more. Going to Kristine’s house, however, and leaving from there, it is indeed quicker and cheaper to go to Kobe. So that might end up happening a lot too. So anyway, I The main entrance to 南京町got on a train out of Kuroi at 7:30 and was at Motomachi Station in Kobe at 10. I promptly took Kristine around to 南京町 (Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown) and メリケンパーク (Meriken Park, which is an open area around Kobe harborThe Port of Kobe, including Kobe Maritime Tower and includes a memorial to the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake).

After all of this we made our way around the harbor over to Harborland (just the name for that area of Kobe), which includes a couple of malls. I’m not so keen on the malls themselves, but Kobe Canal Garden does include my favoritest escalator in the world, and so I shall conclude with that for today.

My favoritest escalator in the world. For reals.Hell yeah.

Okay, that’s all for today, as I need to quickly leave school and pack up to head down to Miki. コメントちょうだい! (Comments please!)


In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 1)

Monday, 25 September 2006

Monday, 25 September 2006, 01.20 pm JST

sotd: Seamo, Lupin the Fire
cotd: USF40 Lexus LS460 Version S

So before (a) even more time passes than already has since I made it to Japan, and (b) before more time passes in which I don’t even update my new blog, now is the time to reach back into my memory and try (again, try) to explain everything that’s happened in the whirl of events since that extra plush JAL flight on the early morning of Saturday, August 5, 2006.

Why I love JAL.It feels odd to think that my last weekend in Hawaii wasn’t so long ago, yet it was spent so frantically that I can’t now remember everything that happened, everything that I did in those last few days before packing up and leaving home. It was even more nervous considering that I’m no longer doing wussy three-month trips to Portland and back, where accomodations and schedules were pre-planned and everybody speaks English. This time I was heading off to Japan, not as a tourist, not even as a foreign study abroad student with a host family that would cook for me and do my laundry, but as a full-fldeged government employee now employed by the Hyogo Prefecture Board of Education and teaching in a prefectural (read: public) Japanese senior high school and living in 50-year old teacher housing where more appliances run on gas than on electricity. But yet, it’s exactly what I wanted. It’s the single life event I have been working towards and waiting for since I first returned from Hirakata in December 2004. And now I’m here. And everything about it is absolutely amazing. But in order to trace everything to where I am today, let’s start at the beginning, with

1. Tokyo Orientation

Friendly Airport Limousine!Apparently we were lucky. Having arrived at Narita International Airport at 11 in the morning, we were able to get on the usual orange Friendly Airport Limousine and were at our splendid (i.e. could not have stayed there if we were paying for it ourselves) lodgings at the Keio Plaza Hotel in the middle of Shinjuku–literally across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building–by 1:30 or so.Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building As nothing was planned for that Sunday, we were free to do as we pleased for the rest of the day after we checked into our rooms. Quite a shame that some groups were arriving at 10 and even 11 pm when we were coming back to go to bed. So Kristine and I spent the day with Jamie and her roommate Leslie walking about the Shinjuku environs (新宿駅の周辺, I don’t make this stuff up, folks) and eventually settling down for dinner at a small okonomiyaki place. (In the middle of Tokyo, no less. なんでやねん?) Having not had the delectable egg-vegetable-meat pancake-like dish for some months, I was eager to chow down, but at the same time, adequately embarrassed when I couldn’t remember the simple procedure for do-it-yourself cooking that makes it okonomi (as you like) in the first place. But end of story, I got the Deluxe Special Mix Okonomiyaki (or something like that) and I was a happy boy after that. Yay for okonomiyaki with squid.

 JET Program OrientationMonday morning marked the official beginning of the 平成十八年度JETプログラム来日直後オリエンテーション (2006 JET Program Post-Arrival Orientation). A tip for the future, which no one in charge will read, much less heed: stuffing over 1,000 JET Program members into one hotel in the middle of Shinjuku, Tokyo and trying to run a major orientation program where every one of those members has to be at the same exact place at the same exact time while still maintaining normal hotel operations and trying to keep happy all of your routine guests = not such a good idea. But that’s how it went down, and consequently, at the same times of the day, 1,000+ people were trying to go downstairs to the 5th floor ballroom, 1,000+ people were heading to the same area for lunch, etc. etc. Not so fun when you have to ride the elevator up 30 floors just to go down 2.It's official! And not that there were any stairs you could take in place of the elevator. Trust me, we tried. Of course, there were stairs. And of course they were only emergency stairs. And of course if you opened it an alarm probably would have gone off and the whole thing just would have ended badly. So thus we were left to find creative ways of going downstairs from our rooms. And speaking of rooms, mine was great. There were three of us Hawaii guys there, me plus Nicholas (now in Aichi) and Brandon (now in Gifu) in a room on the 36th floor with a perfect view of Shinjuku station and Takashimaya Times Square. Shinjuku Station & Takashimaya Times SquareThe orientation itself was exciting but not very memorable. Most of the content delivered was either common sense or could be found word-for-word in the JET handbook. I did get to meet up with Audrey (the only other classmate from LC starting on JET this year!) and Natalie, whom I had met at Kansai Gaidai and not seen since then!

On Monday night, Kristine and Jamie and I went out and after many wrong turns met Kristine and Jamie enjoy the Hub.Taka at the east exit of Shinjuku station. He took us to the Hub and introduced me to the awful, awful Stairway to Heaven (note: absinthe is still illegal in the U.S.), and a little while later, Mayu met us there! Yay for mini-reunions. After hanging out at the Hub for way too long, we took Taka back over to the hotel and showed him around inside Me and Taka and Tokyo!for a little bit, but he left soon in order to make the train back over to Edogawabashi.

 Tuesday was more of the same, many lectures, many long elevator waits, and the like. One key difference, though. Here we finally got some Hyogo-specific information about our travel plans out of Tokyo and what would be happening once we got there. After all the fun was over, a large group of the Hawaii JETs went out to find food. We wandered into a restaurant alley near the station, and eventually split up. Due to some errors in communication and whatnot, the full group never merged back together, but we did end up hooking up with another Hawaii group that was going out…to the Hub. >.< It was quite a moment when we ended up there Me and Mari at the Hub!and realized we had just been there the night before. BUT, it was also quite a shock as we were standing outside and Mari walked up! Totally not planned. at. all. Talk about 偶然 (coincidences)! So we once again spent some time at the Pub and headed back to the hotel a little late.

Wednesday was a big day for all of us, and quite a blur, as we would be heading off in our separate directions. After getting one last crappy Western breakfast in Me trying to blend in with the Fukuoka of the hotel’s dining rooms, I grabbed up all my bags and took them to the central meeting room to await our imminent departure. After much waiting and some pictures with the Fukuoka Hawaii JETs, it was finally time to head

2. To Hyogo!(*)

We were finally led out of the hotel to a bus waiting in front, which in turn took us across Tokyo by way of the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station itself. Not my favorite station in Japan (I’ll address that later), but the front facade is to die for. From here we were rounded up, counted off, and led in a hurry (not to mention with ALL of our baggage) to the Shinkansen platform for a Nozomi train that would take us to Shin-Osaka station within Yay for a world with shinkansen trains.three hours. Yes, THREE hours on a train across half the country. (It takes me 2.5 hours just to get from my house to Osaka on a normal train, but more on that later too.) After getting off there, we were led through the absolutely sweltering heat to a mildly air-conditioned bus that led us to the Hyogo Prefectural Institute for Education and In-Service Training (兵庫県立教育研修所) in Yashiro Town, Kato City (hereafter referred to as Yashiro). Here we were introduced to our supervisors, or at least whoever was responsible for bringing us back from Yashiro to our schools. It was at this time I met Mr. Taniguchi Yoshimasa, my “go-between” (I’d explain this term, but even we here haven’t figured out exactly what this means), and Mr. Murayama Yoshio, the vice-principal of the school. After a roughly 45 to 50 minute drive out of Yashiro, they had finally brought me to Tamba City, Kasuga Town, to Hikami Prefectural Senior High School 兵庫県立氷上高等学校, where I would now be working at for the foreseeable future. I was That's my school way in the back there.first taken to the school itself to check in, see my desk, and meet the principal, and then was taken to see my lovely apartment in the 教職員住宅 (teachers’ housing).

I’ll pick up from there in the next installment, as some out there have been clamoring for a new post, so I’ll go public now instead of making this one huge draft. So until next time.

The first post is already overdue.

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Thursday, 14 September 2006, 09.15 am JST 

sotd: Tackey & Tsubasa, Ho! Summer
cotd: ST246 Toyota Caldina 2.0 GT-Four N

So. As a new stage in my life begins, perhaps a new weblog might also be appropriate. I had actually discovered WordPress by accident, but since I’ve decided to go with it, I hope I end up liking it. Naturally, the Xanga will continue to run since I still can’t find myself abandoning it after 4 years of ups and downs, but from here on out it will probably exist in a more limited capacity. Additionally, if you need to communicate with me more rapidly, e-mailing or checking my Facebook page are both viable alternatives.

Having already been in Japan for over a month, I’m already finding it difficult to envision transcribing everything that’s happened until today. But I will try . . . in my next post. I don’t get internet installed in my apartment for another month, so uploading pictures to this WordPress or to Facebook is going to be a challenge. But again, I will try.

If you know me and want to attempt keeping up with my exploits in the motherland, I suggest bookmarking this page. Like, NOW. I will actually try this time to stay on top of things, because (a) it will probably work better than mass e-mailing, and (b) you all know how I am about mass e-mailing.

So until I can figure out how I’m going to condense a month’s worth of activities and adventures into one (or possibly two) posts, stay tuned.