greeted by fireworks

4 08 2007

This is a prosaic post. Sorry.

A wise scientist (it may have actually been a high school classmate of mine) once said to me that if you spend enough time in a lab, everything begins to smell like agar. It seems as if you spend any time at all in my little town, everything begins to smell (and taste) like seaweed. I guess if you spend enough time anywhere, in some way, shape or form (no, thank you, I hate the Oxford comma), the place makes its way into you.

It’s been three days since I’ve arrived, and I am dying to explain what I’m seeing, given that I can only use words like good, pretty, tasty, or beautiful for my Japanese employers. I already feel like a broken record: I can stammer out a sugoi desu ne (pretty, eh?), or even more frequently, my introductory speech (which I still manage to stutter through like a set of trick dentures):

Hajimemashite (nice to meet you)
Watashi wa atarashii eigo no sensei desu (I’m the new English teacher)
Watashi wa zakku to moushimasu (My name is Zach)
Amerika no Chicago kara kimashita (I’m from Chicago in America)
Dozo, yoroshiku onegaishimasu. (It’s a pleasure to meet you and I hope our interactions will be favorable, or something like that)

I’m pretty sure my supervisor, Kodama-san, had hoped that by the time he introduced me to the mayor, I’d be able to talk without my Japanese-induced speech impediments. He was wrong. Regardless, I think the townspeople are genuinely impressed with my Japanese. It’s all undercut, unfortunately, by the JET manual where it says even if you speak really shitty Japanese, the response will be the same (nihongo wa ii desu/your Japanese is good). Ironic. The intended point of the JET manual was to allay fears of complete Japanese illiteracy. Instead it makes me feel inadequate, even though I’m finally at the point where it feels natural to make little Japanese responses (so so so so so). I guess I’m making some progress.

I was amazingly worried about moving to the inaka. I formed some great friendships while I was in Tokyo for orientation, and to be in the middle of nowhere, where my nearest English-speaking neighbor is miles away was a daunting change. I even had one of those Jack Shephard count-to-five-and-let-the-fear-take-over moments on the plane (everyone should watch LOST), and since I met Kodama-san (my supervisor) at the airport, I haven’t since seen a single gaijin. I’m all alone nested between mountains and ocean. How did it all smooth out so quickly?

This town has surprised me from the moment Kodama-san, in broken English, said “from here our town.” My apartment is homey, not tiny and unwelcoming. The land is beautiful, not the winter wasteland it was described to be. The people here are nice and lively; only a few stare, and my first night was greeted with kids playing with fireworks behind my house. I’ll have more pictures up once the possible typhoon passes (eep!), so until then, let me see where words will get me. I went for a run inland yesterday and saw forested mountains, rice paddies, strawberry and wheat fields, two rivers, a dam and horse-grazed pastures. Today was a torrential downpour and the scenes were still stunning—as I returned from a run up a short mountain (which sequesters a small Buddhist shrine), low clouds were pouring into valleys, leaving exposed mountain tops. The sound of the ocean travels almost far enough to be heard in my apartment. Talk about sugoi. Besides the grandeur of the sights, the people have been equally surprising.

Kodama-san and Sawai-san (another BoE staff member) have spent many hours taking me shopping and making sure I was settled in with bank accounts and post office knowledge and food. Oh, and how to use my rice cooker. Sawai-san recommended a Japanese breakfast of rice and seaweed (it was…interesting—like I said, everything tastes like seaweed), and one of the office managers overheard her mentioning that I cook and gave me some home-grown zucchini as a gift. Later on a woman stopped by the office, and after some brief words with Kodama-san, instructed me on the basics of playing the koto, a four-stringed Japanese instrument. Basically, use your left hand to played piano, and use your right to strum a guitar; now you’re playing the koto. I eked out “Twinkle, twinkle little star” with some effort, and the woman and her koto-playing entourage seemed surprised, but very pleased.

I got let off of work early today (and got to use the magic phrase osaki ni shitsurei shimasu) and thus had an evening with no plans; so, I went for a walk to take some pictures of the town (see below). I heard some weird Blade Runner-esque yelling and music and followed the sounds to students pulling floats of anime characters in preparation for tomorrow’s matsuri (regional festival). I’d met a few kids on the street, or while visiting schools, and people (not only students) I haven’t even met already know who I am. Even an old shop-keeper knew of me. This festival parade was an overload of more students clamoring to meet me, and the more students I meet, the more I want to teach them. They are lively and energetic, and I can’t wait.

So, amidst the lengthy writing, there should be some point, right? (A wise teacher said that this one should conclude any bit of writing thusly: “answer the question ‘so what?’”) My initial reaction to the town is that it is welcoming and I’m excited to be here for a year (or more?). I read somewhere about culture shock—I’m sure it was, again, in the JET materials that do little to assuage fears—and that the first stage is characterized by comparing what you see to your home, and eventually making generalizations like “people everywhere are similar/the same” (again, the manual seems ironic.) I didn’t do that, and probably wouldn’t have until I read the manual. Are the Japanese and I similar? Probably. Are we different? Definitely. I don’t want to draw any conclusions this early on, I suppose. But I’m here, and I’m well, so I’ll just let things be for now. Except for the whole tasting-like-seaweed thing. I’d like to lose that.

N.B. – I just realize that the agarose in agar comes from seaweed too. Coincidence?

PICTURES

Paper Lantern
Paper lanterns light the streets.
Kirin
Except here, where soda machines do the work.
Festival Banner
One of many banners for the matsuri. It reads アポイの火まつり(Apoi no ka matsuri/Mt. Apoi fire festival).
A FloatBack of float 1
Front and back of one of the students’ floats. The symbol on grandpa’s shirt, 金, means money or gold.
Gakusei
The students stand by their other float. Say hi to Pikachu.
Ka
Paper lanterns spell out the kanji 火 (ka, fire) on a mountainside.

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4 responses

4 08 2007
None

You are a fantastic writer; i had no idea.

4 08 2007
Shira

1. Long live the Oxford Comma. It is intelligent, useful,,,,, and highly necessary.

2. I’m so amazed…as “”None” said before, you are such a fantastic writer. I mean I knew you were good at everything, but jeez.

3. I don’t think I’d ever be able to do what you are doing. You already sound so comfortable, and I think I would be of the extremely homesick variety.

4. Disney’s electrical parade is put to shame by a group of school children. :)

4 08 2007
Olivia

“So what?” wouldn’t happen to be in reference to one Ms. Adams, now would it? As much as she nagged, I’ll admit she was useful…
Love this blog, glad you’re doing it.

-O

[EDITOR’S NOTE: It wasn’t Ms. Adams (never had her). Keep guessing.]

9 08 2007
Caitlyn

I second the fantastic writer comment. :)

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