8/4/2010 7:32 PM
I have arrived in Miyagi Prefecture! As I sit here typing this blog post inside my apartment, I can hear the air conditioner working its hardest to keep the place cool, I can see the various news around Japan on the television, and I can smell the sweet aroma of the delicious food that my supervisor's wife was kind enough to prepare for me. Beside my tray of food is a letter from my girlfriend that arrived even before I did. (Isn’t she so sweet!??!? I love her! ^_^)
As I look around the room, I get a true sense of seclusion. As I look outside the windows, I get a true sense of the countryside. As I look around the neighborhood, I get a true sense of community. As I traverse through the country, I get a true sense of Japan. Yes, I finally feel like I'm here.
When I was at the JET Orientation in Tokyo, which took place in Keio Plaza Hotel in the Shinjuku district, I never quite felt like I was actually in Japan. It was more like I was walking around on a huge movie set, where all of the actors were speaking Japanese, but all of the extras were speaking English (or maybe vice versa). But something about it felt surreal, like I wasn't really here yet. When I was walking around Shinjuku by myself two nights ago, I did get the feeling of finally being in Japan, but it was a brief excursion in an unknown area at night with bright lights and loud signs, not unlike cities in the U.S.
But then I just went back to the hotel, and it was like stepping back into the U.S. Nearly everyone around me spoke English again, and Japanese was used only by those who had studied it or used it for an extensive amount of time. But I'm in the countryside now. I cannot step back. I cannot escape the challenges laid out before me. In fact, as I write this blog post right now, I do not have internet access. I hope to post this within the next day or two (hence my inclusion of a date and time at the beginning of the post). [Edit: Unfortunately, it turns out that I won't have internet access until about the middle of the month; so like, 10 days-ish. Doh.]
The challenges I speak of revolve all around communication; the very reason I'm here in Japan. Communication is both my duty and my goal. It is my responsibility as a teacher and my desire as a student of language. My purpose is to teach communication of English to my students, and the purpose of my living in Japan is to learn communication of Japanese. My challenges will follow me wherever I go; when I'm at work, when I'm at a store, when I'm on the phone, when I'm tending to my bills, and even when I'm just at home, not even watching television.
Today, I am grateful that one of the teachers who had lived in the U.S. for a few years was gracious enough to come with my advisor to meet me today and act as an interpreter. I did my best to use Japanese as much as I could, but too many times, my supervisor used words that I had never learned. And situations came up where I wanted to describe something, but I either did not have the vocabulary, or a complete understanding of the sentence structure to use it with confidence. In time, I will be able to understand him and also convey my thoughts with ease; I just hope and pray that that day comes very, very soon.
This morning, I had to say goodbye to JET participants I had met earlier this week. The goodbyes were not quite "sad," so much as they were simply filled with a tone of doubt; a feeling of uncertainty for what may lie before us. Most of the JETs are being placed in similar areas as me: out in the countryside, where English is barely used; and when it is, it is broken and almost incomprehensible. But some JETs I had met are actually going to be located in cities, with other JETs within a short driving distance. It seems as though the JETs placed out in the countryside have studied some Japanese, while those that hadn't were placed in the cities. Indeed, this makes sense, but I wonder about how people who cannot read Japanese will do when they have to travel about from school to school, or from town to town when they want to travel. It baffles me somewhat, that someone would have the guts to jump into a foreign country with a less-than-shallow grasp of the language. But for that I commend them. To any of those friends reading this: がんばれ！
Those of us going to Miyagi Prefecture were lead by the JET CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) from the hotel to the subway, which we rode to the shinkansen (bullet train) station. Carrying my two heavy messenger bags, I walked with the rest of my group (also carrying heavy items) through the station. We purchased a few snacks and drinks (I got Coka-Cola, coffee milk called Doutor Café au lait, some OJ, and a sandwich). The shinkansen ride was very quick and very smooth; the most comfortable way to travel such a far distance. The ride from Tokyo to Sendai City only took two hours, and costs only around $100. Definitely the way to travel, if I need to go south quickly. But my concerns are 1) How should I get to the Sendai Shinkansen Station and where would I park and 2) How do I navigate around the Stations themselves?
The reason I pose #2 is because the stations are seemingly more complicated than other stations in other countries I've been to. But that might be just because I was trying to read only the Japanese. Then again, there was barely any English on the signs. In any case, when we got to the Miyagi Board of Education office, we were quickly led to a room where we met the representatives of our prefecture. The meeting was simply composed of a few short introductory speeches; it wasn't even long enough for me to finish my drink of water. After the meeting, we swiftly grabbed our bags and went off with our supervisors. We didn't even have time to say goodbye to anyone. :-(
I was taken to a tonkatsu (fried pork) restaurant in Sendai. I ordered katsudon, which I occasionally order in the U.S. And hooooo boy was it delicious. After the food, we drove to the town where I'll be living and working. We went to the Board of Education, where I was introduced to everyone in the building (literally) and where I filled out various paperwork. The age range of the employees seemed to be extremely large, but it seems as though I am the youngest person there (though I could be wrong). A few of the office workers look like they might be in their early-mid 20's, but you never know, as us Asians tend to look younger than our actual age.
After the BOE, I was taken to my new apartment. At first, I got the same impression as when I moved into my very first apartment in Pittsburgh: wow, it seems small. But right now, as I sit and look around, it really doesn't seem that small. In fact, it seems quite large, especially for a Japanese apartment. I am lucky enough to have two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom/washroom. I think the apartment seemed small at first because the doors were closed, and the door ways are shorter than those in the U.S. And certain things around the apartment are smaller than the usual American size, like the fridge, desk, couches, TV, kitchen area; mostly everything around me, really. But it's suitable for just one or two people.
After looking around the apartment and trying to figure out the shower, I was taken to a local K-Mart/Wal-Mart-style supermarket called AEON. I didn't really need to buy much; just food, drinks, and paper towels/tissue. I'm grateful that my supervisor and the other teacher were willing to take me there, especially because it was after the normal work day had already ended.
When we returned, I was greeted by certain people from the BOE again, as well as the president of my neighborhood (I didn't know such a thing existed!); unfortunately, I was already told to change into casual clothes before we went shopping, so when I met him, I wasn't quite dressed properly. It didn't seem like such a big deal though, 'cause the guy was donning a white tank top, khaki shorts, and smoking a cigarette.
After we had brought in everything and everyone had left, I sat down and started to read the letter than my girlfriend had sent me. As I was reading it, someone had rang the doorbell; it was my supervisor again, but this time he brought his wife (I think it was his wife; he never really said), who was carrying a tray of warm food she had prepared herself. I'm not sure if it's because they felt bad for what I would have had to eat that night (some pre-made bento boxes from AEON), or because my supervisor noticed that I didn't have a microwave (I was wondering where it was, too), or simply out of generosity or Japanese custom. Whatever the reason, I was happy to accept the food.
My first day in the countryside has been long and arduous. From the metropolis of Tokyo to a quaint little village. It's a monstrous change in life-style; especially this first day, where I cannot even drive just yet, because the luggage that contains my IDP has yet to arrive from Tokyo. (I was told it would arrive tomorrow, so it's not a surprise. It's just a little hassle to walk to work; but thankfully it's not far, and I can take pictures along the way if I leave early enough.) But I look forward to the challenges that face me, because when it's over, I'll have grown up quite a bit, with a wealth of new experiences.
So yeah, I made it! I have finally arrived in the real Japan.
Word of the day: 田舎 「いなか」 "inaka," or, "countryside." Literally, "rice paddy" and "hut" or "house."