Saturday, July 31, 2010

Heaps of Japan

If you enjoy 14 hour plane flights or more, Japan is a great place to visit. End of story there.

(Click on any picture to view the entire photo set on Flickr)

Arriving in Japan once again is exciting to an extent. Once through customs it’s easy to realize that the humidity is thicker and probably worse than the climate you left. Then life isn’t as fun for the time being. My pants were sticking to my inner thighs and constricting my movements. My passport warped because of the sweat permeating from the closed off pocket. Aside from this it was impossible not to run into less than 15 JET helpers before I even made it to my hotel room. There were droves of JET people outside the baggage pickup pointing and directing. Someone surely got lost and they decided it was in everyone’s best interest to over populate every possible area a JET might traverse. It was the same deal at the hotel. Needless to say, the program has its act together to organize everything. I can’t imagine the logistics nightmare for keeping track of a thousand new participants arriving within a day or so. I love bus rides from airports and things like that. My only complaint is that the sun didn’t cooperate and it was cloudy going into Tokyo. So much for my dreams of sunny rays splashing rice paddies and concrete Tokyo labyrinths. Cloudy weather really accentuates the urban sprawl and strangled life. No wonder people want to find a forest and jump off a cliff.

We got into the hotel in Shinjuku around 5 or 6pm. I can’t really recall what time actually because many people were in a haze. I think I had been up for almost 24 hours at that point because I never slept on the plane. I mean, how do people fall asleep when its early afternoon on the body clock. As the voyage to Japan went on I maybe nodded off for 30 minutes total but that might be generous. My tailbone felt like it had been gored by a Mongolian yak so sleeping was not in my interests. I have digressed too much into the flight which I aimed to avoid altogether. My circadian rhythm was probably having a melt down by the time I went to bed the first night. Even after being so tired and going to bed around 9 or 10pm, I woke up at 5am. I can’ keep any of the times straight and nor does it matter anymore at this point.


Orientation for JET is like any other seminar or workshop you attend in life. You don’t really want to go and you keep wondering how much longer it is until you can stand up and move. Some information is useful, other is not. It would be a travesty to mention much more of orientation here. I’ll save it for the day you want to talk about old times over a bowl of rice.

So this will throw you for a loop (depending on if you are my mother or not). The first night I went out to track down a post office ATM because I brought a total of 1,500 yen with me. That equates to about 15 bucks. Due to the fact 7-11 in Japan no longer takes a debit Mastercard I am out of luck at that place. 7-11 is like the only place you can use an ATM 24 hours a day, seven days week as other ATMs have specific hours during the week and weekend. The next best option is the Japan Post Office ATMs which you can use any card with. Thankfully there is one in Shinjuku close to the hotel we were staying at. Well to make this shorter and less boring, I tried to take 50,000 yen. Yes, I said TRIED in the past tense as if it didn’t work. It didn’t work. I never did get my pin number to use a credit card at an ATM either so no luck with that. If any ATM is supposed to work, this one should have. So it basically it meant no way of getting money. But we can just blame everything on the exchange rate. My card has a 500 dollar limit and 87 yen equal 1 dollar. Problem solved with simple math. 43,000 yen is less than 500 dollars when exchanged. Disaster averted. Money get.

Monday night our prefecture went out to karaoke. At 9:30 the bed felt so good but I figured I could be lame another night. Naomi, who is a prefectural assistant, took us out. She does the same job as us but has the responsibility of taking care of issues we might have or other problems. The best part is that she is from Ireland. Can’t you just hear that in your head? Eyerand. She summed up the fate of all Irish and Scots when she said, “It’s the Celtic blood that does it to me.” If you don’t quite understand you may want to look into Irish drinking culture…It was Nomihoudai which is all you can drink for the time you do karaoke. Most people also made sure to suck every last drop of cheap malted Suntory beer from the bottles. I guess it’s like scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get uhhh well, I wonder what was being scraped when this expression came into existence. After karaoke ended about half of the group went on to extend their night. I’m confident that their bleary eyes and aching livers are not anything I felt sorry for.

On Tuesday night I left the confines of the hotel to explore by myself and revisit Tokyo Metropolitan Building. It has a nice observation deck on the 49th floor that is free. If you want the best views of down town though, you have to fork over money for a meal in the restaurant occupying 1/4 of the viewing areas. I waited for it to get a bit darker to take some pictures but I wasn’t interested in waiting too long. My favorite part was the people who were using the flash on their SLR cameras to take pictures through the windows. I hope they enjoy those pictures…


On Wednesday we headed off for Kochi in the morning. We were flown from Haneda airport which is all domestic flights. The previous day we were told that they were lax on baggage weight. This was good news to me because I wanted to pack the 8 pounds of papers I got at orientation and other heavy items in my luggage. I guess I shouldn’t have done that because it weighed 24kg at the airport. The lady was like 20kg only. We asked if they could do 21kg and they said no. They were so torn it seemed, wanting to conform to business rules but make us happy. I had to dump a bunch of junk in my backpack that was weighed down by my brick of a laptop. Somehow I chose the right amount of stuff to remove and the bag came down to 20kg exactly. I was sweating bullets in my suit to get it all sorted. It’s the worst feeling to feel like a spectacle in front of people. I didn’t have to throw anything away so that was a plus.

Flight was about an hour. If you drove from Tokyo it’s probably longer than 15 hours just to get to Kochi City. It started raining soon after we landed. In the baggage pick up area, all the present ALTs were waiting for us. Lachlan told me I was getting the budget version of a welcome sign but by far mine was the best. I am sure everyone was jealous too. It sure helps he is an artist. Everyone thought it was so great. Another ALT and my supervisor were there to pick me up. They took me to lunch at a small café which was nice. For the price you pay (around 6.50) you get a ton of food. We then went to the Ino town office to register my residence, met some other people, went to a grocery store, stopped in at another place, and then headed to my town to drop my things off.

Basically I was dropped off at my apartment after grabbing the extra bag I had sent from Narita. Lachlan showed me around and gave me some brief info about everything in the house. Its more space than I know what to do with at this time. I kind of just walk around and wonder what to do. I lucked out because he forgot to cancel his internet so I’m still connected to the world up here for the time being. Actually all of August until I setup my own internet. I’ve got plenty of dishes, cups, and everything necessary to live. After Lachlan left I started to unpack my things and I tired to comprehend what it was I was doing 6,000 miles from home in a rural Japanese village. Since Wednesday I have been contemplating this situation. Every day will be new.

I spent my first two days at the board of education doing nothing mostly so I won’t really go over that aspect of work. I have visited some schools and met some of the staff as a formality but I will meet more people later. I think it’s going to be great fun being in this community. I like that you can really get to know everyone around you over time because you will see them more often than not.

More interesting things will be coming along. House tour, what my surroundings look like, my first dinner, and whatever else I come up with. I reestablished my flickr account so all my pictures will be going on there. I will put pictures in the blog and link them from my flickr account if you want to browse them all. I will update whenever so check back every few days to see what is going on.

So keep in touch and I won’t ever be that far away.