Hello family, friends, neighbors, and maybe strangers!
I promised myself that I would blog about my experiences living and working in Japan, so here is my first post from my island-inaka* placement, Amami!
It’s been 10 days since I left the comfort of my home on the east coast. I can’t tell if it seems like it’s been more or less time since I’ve left. I had terrible jet lag in Tokyo and was homesick my first two nights on the island, but I have finally settled in and my apartment now feels like home. A lot has been going on in my world, so I’ve broken down everything day by day. I wrote everything in present tense to keep you all in the moment with me. :)
Saturday, August 1
I arrive at Logan Airport for 6 am and say goodbye to my parents, Corey, and Dunkin Donuts iced coffee until Christmas. I cry all of the tears until I make it past security. My checked luggage is collectively 20 pounds underweight (the Delta limit is 50 pounds per bag) so as a recovering packrat, I am proud of myself! We have about 15 hours in the air including the 1 hour plane ride from Logan to JFK. I barely sleep. I eat vegetarian airplane food that isn’t terrible. I watch lots of movies (Boxtrolls <3, half of Big Hero Six, Still Alice, BEARS <3, How to Train your Dragon (the first one), and the first half hour of Boyhood.) I get up every few hours and do yoga in the aisle.
Sunday, August 2
We arrive at Narita Airport in Tokyo around 1:30 pm. I’ve lost 13 hours of my life somewhere in space and time (Japan is 13 hours ahead of EST.) I breeze through customs, grab a huge push cart for my luggage, and then my fellow JETs from all over the world and I are ushered through a sea of Japanese people in matching lime green JET Program shirts who tell us where to go. Someone comments that this feels like we are entering platform 9/34. It totally does.
Sunday Night, August 2
After a two-hour bus trip from the airport to the Keio Plaza Hotel and a quick introduction to Tokyo Orientation and checking in, it’s time to BREATHE…and explore Tokyo!
It didn’t feel like we were in Japan until we walked into this random bar.
Tokyo First Impressions: Neon lights, assembly lines of humans, and narrow side streets that remind me of Boston. And it looks like the giant skyscrapers are closing in on us during daylight.
Monday, August 3-Tuesday, August 4
I am a zombie for all of Tokyo Orientation because of JET lag (get it?), but I listen to speeches from government officials, senseis*, and unicorns*, participate in senior high school teaching workshops, eat a lot of fruit for breakfast, and meet SO MANY NEW PEOPLE! The fruit is good. The speeches are inspiring. Everyone is nice and wants to talk. Tokyo Orientation is heaven for people with dog personalities. There are about a thousand other JETs at orientation, and the other thousand came with Group A a week prior. Group B is mostly Americans, Canadians, Brits, and a couple others. The elevators are SWAMPED. One day Ryan and I run up 19 flights of stairs just to avoid the mass exodus.
My Jet Lag Side Affects: Waking up at 3 am thinking it is 7 am, asking the same people the same questions over and over again, nearly falling asleep during my most important lectures, loss of appetite, and turning into a full-fledged zombie.
Zombie-status is all my fault. I go out exploring every night because I am in the inaka and who KNOWS when I will be Tokyo next so I need to EXPERIENCE! Being a zombie is worth it though because now I can’t say “gee, I wish I did this when I was in Tokyo…” Save for Tokyo Disney. I have an unearthly need to go there. And The Wizarding World of Harry Potter World in Osaka. I digress.
Fun Fact: I meet up with Abbi, my family friend who told me about the JET Program back in February 2014. It is totally a full-circle experience meeting up with her in Tokyo as she is on her way out!
Wednesday August 5
I fly out with everyone else going to Kagoshima Prefecture around midmorning. The flight is quick. Everyone who is placed in Kagoshima prefecture is scooped up by their supervisors at the airport and whisked away to their new town or city. That leaves Ching and I to ourselves in the airport for several hours. We feel like abandoned children. Up until this point everything has been spelled out for us by a friendly Japanese person and then we are left entirely alone! What do we do?
We find some free iced green tea, a complimentary foot bath, and some Miyazaki Merch that we definitely have to pay for me. Oh and I have sushi for lunch. All is well.
We have a quick flight to Amami Island from Kagoshima. I mumble my Japanese introduction to myself the entire flight. I am greeted by three teachers and my predecessor* and I only remember to say my Japanese intro to the teacher who is not my supervisor, but it is no problem at all. Everyone is so nice and friendly! All my fears about saying or doing the wrong thing melt away instantly. I can be myself.
Wednesday evening August 5
After dropping my luggage off at my new apartment and getting a quick lesson on how to use my new gas-powered shower, we go out for traditional Amami food. I promise myself I will sample everything. This includes foods I haven’t consumed in over a year. (i.e. pork.) I try pig hoof (gasp), squid ink soup, Amami radish, shrimp with EYES, and shochu* I also eat the most delicious pineapple. And shashimi. And many other things. A perfect welcome to the island. Kampai!*
Wednesday night August 5
And so I am left alone in my apartment. I have no internet, no working phone, and it is very hot. I am in a strange place and I realize it is my first night sleeping alone in several months. This night was rough, but a good life lesson for me. I can’t really explain why, but maybe I will be able to some day.
Note: I realize I’m rambling about my days. I’ll break up the next 6 days on the island by “Happenings” and “Mishappenings.”
Thursday August 6
-Arrive at school just in time for a moment of silence for Hiroshima and Nagasaki
-Introduce myself in Japanese to some of my new coworkers and my school’s vice principal
-Receive a tour of the school (my school is BIG, but I believe I will be contained to just one area of the school)
-Open a Japanese bank account (This is so legit)
-Register my inkan* and promptly buy a cute Hello Kitty case for it
-Receive my Islander Discount Card (high fives for discounts on flights and ferries!)
-Eat ramen for the first time ever (Oishii!*)
-Receive a passion fruit from a nice woman in a grocery store who wants me to speak English with her daughter (I love the locals for their endless generosity)
-Host my first Eikaiwa* with Dina. This will be happening every Thursday at my apartment and I am SO excited.
-Show initiation by introducing myself in Japanese to a fellow teacher only to find out I had already met this same teacher the day before
-Realize after the fact that the faculty bathroom also has a western style toilet
– Find out why my apartment is so hot my first night. I turned the heat on instead of the AC.
Still no internet or phone, but I sleep much better this night.
Friday, August 7
-I get a cellphone! I have a *new* iPhone 5s. I know it’s an older model, but all I need from a smart phone are a camera, What’s App, and google maps so I don’t get lost, and my Japanese dictionary so I don’t get lost with language barriers.
-I go out for okonomiyaki* with some students from the English Club at my school. I meet some of the students who had emailed me before I left for Japan and it was nice to put faces to the names.
-Students take me on a tour all around Naze (Thank the gods it didn’t rain) and I discover Mister Donuts, my replacement for Dunkin Donuts for the next year. It’s a donut buffet plus ice cream and coffee!
This style of donut is called a “pon de ring.”
-When the cellphone salesman hands me my new phone, I say “good morning” instead of “thank you” in Japanese
-I forget to take off my shoes at the okonomiyaki restaurant
Saturday, August 8
-I hop on my rusted pink bike and ride around downtown Naze with Dina
-I have my first Sushi Conveyor Belt experience!
-I go back to the kawaii* stationary store for the third time
-I marvel at the beauty of this place I now live in any chance I get
-I eat my first bento box
-I share donuts and stories with Megan and Dina Saturday night
-Not much this day other than the every day mishappenings of a gaijin* who doesn’t speak Japanese and lives in Japan. Things like miscounting my yen at the grocery store and not understanding what people are saying to me in Japanese. A man stops me on my bike and starts talking to me about sushi but I think he is yelling at me for biking on the wrong side of the road. I’m a silly gaijin. At least I provide entertainment. :)
Sunday, August 9
-Ride my bike from my apartment to school so I can learn my route
-Visit the Takachiho shrine in Naze. The shrine is closed but we see lots of cats and giant butterflies
-A trip to the 100 yen shop…the equivalent of dollar stores in America, but it’s exciting here because everything is in JAPANESE
-Bike to a curry restaurant and eat veggie curry with Dina, Megan, and Ching!
-Go out for coffee, matcha sundaes, and great conversation with Dina and a fellow JTE at Royal, a family-style restaurant similar to Friendly’s
-Not much again today. But someone honks at me for the first time on my bike!
Monday, August 10
–I go on my first run in Japan! Oh my god I am so sweaty
-I now have internet! Oh happy day! My WiFi card won’t arrive until 8/19, but that’s okay. I have ethernet and can sit in my spare bedroom (what?) with the window open and fans whirling and connect that way for now.
-One of my JTEs takes me out to lunch at this hidden gem Italian restaurant about 20 minutes drive from me. I’ll let the pictures do all the talking.
-I have my first homestay experience in Japan with a student’s family
-I fall asleep on tatami mats while watching High School Musical 2
Tuesday, August 11
-Have a lovely breakfast with my student and her family. I eat a pancake with mango jelly among other delicious things. It is the best breakfast I’ve had yet in Japan.
-I watch a video recording of the 2014 English Club singing Rent’s “Seasons of Love.” I tear up. If you know me, you know how much I love Rent.
-We visit the cultural center in Amami. There are Amami black rabbit and habu taxidermy and we walk through a takakura house*
I haven’t even been on my island for a week, and I am already in love with this place. My teachers, students, fellow ALTs, and the Amami locals have shown me incredible kindness and understanding. Amami is such a beautiful place. I can’t stop saying that. I am struggling with the language, but I don’t feel out of place. My teachers work with me and I am grateful for that. I feel like a helpless baby bird at times because I can’t do the simplest things like read a text or turn on my AC without some help, but I just laugh. I have to laugh. Mark my words though. I’m going to learn Japanese!
This past week has been a wonderful introduction to the island. Tomorrow I go to school. Most of you know how excited I am for that part of my experience to begin. I have so much to look forward to.
Fun Fact: I haven’t cooked anything in my apartment yet (except for toast) because I am terrified of getting bugs. I’ve had a few baby spiders, but if I happen upon a cockroach or a giant hand-spider I will scream so loudly I’ll likely be evicted.
-Two baby spiders
-One giant cockroach on the street (Dina killed it! Go Dina!)
Unicorn: Someone who has been on JET for 5+ years
Predecessor: A former JET who lives in your apartment and works at your school
Shochu: Alcohol made from sugar cane (It’s made from sweet potato in Kagoshima mainland)
Inkan: Official stamp/seal used in Japan in place of a signature for official documents
Eikaiwa: English conversation
Okonomiyaki: Japanese-style pancake filled with meat/fish and veggies
Welcome to the island! We’ve got water games!
*To the tune of Gun N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”*
-Living in a Japanese House
-Running in the Heeeeeat