Saturday, 8 August 2009

I'm living in Japan!

Finally I have internet! Finally someone has thrown a light down the technological well in which I seem to have sat for two days. Ok, perhaps that's a little melodramatic.

So 'what is Japan like?', I hear you cry! Right well, let's break this entry into a few sections to help me deal with the experience rollercoaster I've been strapped to this past week.


After a tense but uneventful 12 hour flight, all new JET ALTs arrive in Tokyo Narita last Sunday and were systematically ferried to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward, a bustling and vibrant part of the megacity. A 2 day orientation followed, throughout which waves of information - detailing how to get on in Japan, social faux pas's, expectations, customs, and so much more - were set upon us. During these two days we were turned loose on Tokyo in the evening.

Monday night was prefecturial night, so I got to meet all new JETs bound for Nagano, as well our PAs, all of whom are friendly and ultra-helpful. First we headed to a great restaurant for a selection of Japanese delicacies. If gives you a rough idea of how tall the city is when most restaurants are only accessible by lift/elevator. After food we headed to a karaoke bar, where our big group crammed in and sung the night away.

On Tuesday night UK JETs got to visit the embassy in Chiyoda-ku. Food and drink was provided throughout the evening, during which our host (the Vice-Ambassador to Japan) gave a speech and wished us well. We also had to the chance to sample Taiko - Japanese-style drumming - so naturally I stepped up and made some noise!


On Wednesday it was departure day. All Nagano JETs and PAs piled into our own coach and headed to our new homes. A big cheer ensued when we crossed the border into Nagano, and we soon stopped for lunch in Suwa, where our rest-stop lunch overlooked an amazing lake and mountain range. It was at this point it started sinking in just how wonderfully picturesque my new home was going to be. Aside from the views it became inavoidably obviously how incredibly humid the Japanese summers are. Stepping off the an airconditioned coach was like stepping into a blast furnace.

A short while later I arrived at my stop and awaited a representative from my Board of Education, my new employer. UK JET Ben and USA JET Nic - two guys I've met throughout this initial journey - are living in the area near me, and so disembarked at this point too. A few minutes later I was met by my Junior High School Principal - Makoto-san - and BoE Supervisor - Masami-san - and we left for my village in the south of Nagano.

JETs are often told they may be the only foreigner in the area they live and work in, and so may become somewhat of a celebrity among the community. I didn't realise just how true this was until I arrived in my village. I was immediately introduced to my BoE colleagues, the village Mayor and Vice-Mayor, school colleagues, and anyone else who happened to be walking by. Makoto-san and Masami-san seemed impressed I could manage a decent self-introduction in Japanese and so ensured I spoke to as many people as possible!

Masami-san came back to my home (up the mountains around my village) to translate the Japanese on my appliances and utensils etc, and took me out to get my first load of food shopping. At this point I didn't have the internet so I was feeling somewhat isolated and quite homesick.

On Thursday I met Bryce, my block leader here in the south around Iida City. To say the guy is a legend is an understatement. He helped me sort my bank account, personal papers, keitei (cellphone) and took me and Ben out for lunch and shopping in Iida.

Yesterday (Friday) I visited one of my Elementary Schools for the first time. You'd have thought Superman or Batman walked in when those kids turned around! I was an instant hit, with the kids pulling me around, wanting to play with me, and calling me Paul(poru)-sensei. I was then taken out to lunch by 2 of my BoE colleagues, Naoshi-san and Hiro-san, who spent the lunchtime helping me with my Japanese.

To conclude this first Japanese blog entry, I cannot express how incredibly lucky I feel to be here. Everyone I know is polite, helpful, and so wonderfully accommodating. Masami-san is a gem, and has been taking me out food shopping until I get my car next week. Her english is better than my Japanese, so between the 2 of us we manage to communicate in both languages. To top that off, I feel my Japanese improving already.

The area I live in is so breathtakingly-beautiful, I can barely believe it. It's like something out of a fantasy movie. Just the other day I came out of a supermarket with Masami-san and the view of mist pouring off the surrounding mountains literally dropped my jaw. I will post a blog soon with pics and video.

My home is Japanese-modern and really really nice, with the traditional entrance (take your shoes off!) and tatami-mat rooms. Again, I will post a blog soon with pics and video.

I'm so glad to be here!

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