Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome to Japan! My First Week!

Well, it has actually been one month since I arrived in Japan, but since I guess it's better late than never! I hope you enjoy!

Goodbye Portland! Hello Tokyo! July 31st-August 1st

Well, I finally left the United States of America for the wonders of Japan. At 2:15pm on July 31st, my new life officially began. Since Japan is so far ahead of Oregon, after a 10 hour flight, we landed at 4pm, Sunday, August 1st. After passing through immigration and customs, we were whisked away to our swank Tokyo hotel, the Keio Plaza Hotel. Once we were settled in our rooms, we went off to explore the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. It only took us 5 minutes to decide where to eat (CC Curry).

August 2nd, 2010 (Monday)

This is when my official job began. I started the Tokyo Post-Arrival Orientation with about 900 other JETs from around the world; I counted 19 different country flags on the stage, so there were quite a few languages spoken at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables. The orientation covered a lot of relevant information, but after about 11 continuous hours of orientation, I called it a night at 9:30pm, which was way too early considering I was in one of the most exciting cities in the world!

August 3rd-4th-5th, 2010 (Tuesday/ Wednesday/Thursday)

Well the orientation continued, and so did the continuous stream of information! On Wednesday, we finally left for our prefectures (similar to states in America). I headed to Gifu Prefecture (which is literally right in the middle of Japan) with 7 other new JETs (1 from Israel, 1 from US, 5 from Canada). We took the bullet train to Gifu City and had another overnight orientation.

Welcome To Mitake!

On Thursday, we all went our separate ways. Two gentlemen from my Contracting Organization came and picked me up. One of the men (let’s call him Mr. T) is my direct supervisor who helps me setup everything. The hour-long ride went by surprisingly fast after the three of us found out that I couldn’t speak great Japanese and they couldn’t speak any English. So after making small (more like small-choppy talk), we arrived in Mitake and let me tell you: it was NOT how I expected it to be and that is a GREAT thing! Here’s why, when I heard that I was going to be in the “inaka” or rural/country, I thought of Moscow, Idaho, where I spent 4 great years of college. Now don’t get me wrong, I lived Moscow, and I enjoyed my time there, but I enjoy bigger cities (like Portland). Mitake is more of a suburb to a suburb, etc. Its neighboring city is called Kani-Mitake IC and next to it is Kani. There really is no noticeable separation between the towns, which was a really nice thing to see! Now, don’t mistake me, I’m not saying I’m in a large city because I’m definitely not. Things close up pretty early and there aren’t a lot of things to do, but since it is near a larger city with big city amenities it makes the 10 minute drive or 7 minute train ride worth it.

Summer Festival: Mitake Style

My first weekend definitely had its highs and lows! About 8 straight hours on Saturday were spent cleaning and organizing my new apartment. This apartment is huge in Japanese and American standards for 1 person! I have a total of 6 rooms/areas: entrance, bathroom and washing machine, kitchen, a hardwood floor central area (with a desk and bookshelves), and finally two identical 6-tatami mat rooms, one of which is the living room and the other, my bedroom. The best part about the living room: it has air conditioning. Now, don’t get me wrong, air conditioning is nice in the Pacific NW for those days when it gets a little hot. But here in Mitake, it DOESN’T cool off at night, literally. I think the lows must be in the high 70’s (probably more like low 80’s). When you factor in the humidity, whoa, it is hot. So yes, the living room is my “everything” room, but most importantly, it is my bedroom until the weather cools down. And by the looks of the tatami mats in the living room, the previous ALTs (12 years+) spent quite a bit of time in this room and not the “bedroom”.

Here is an idea of the apartment layout (pictures will come later)

After the cleaning task, my supervisor’s supervisor picked me up and he took me to the “Natsu Yasumi” or Summer Festival. It has been a tradition in Mitake for a while, but it has been celebrated in Japan for much longer. The highlight was definitely the fireworks! They lasted 15 minutes in Mitake, but in Gifu City, the capital of Gifu Prefecture (about 1 hour by car, 75 minutes by train) I hear they lasted 2 hours! And I thought 15 minutes was good. There were lots of people partaking in the activities, from dressing up in “yukatas” (Japanese Summer Kimonos), to dancing with 50-75 other people in a circle around a stage, to eating really yummy food. The night was wonderful, I found my new favorite way of making (more like eating) rice. First you put the cooked, sticky rice into 3 separate balls, and put those on a shish-kabob stick. Next, dunk them in soy sauce (“shoyu”) and then BBQ them. These are the directions I got from my supervisor’s supervisor, but since this was all in Japanese, I could be totally wrong. But let me tell you, I plan on mastering this before I see everyone next, it was SO delicious! This lovely food is called Gohemochi.

{Here is a quick history on “Obon”. Thanks to Wikipedia! Obon (お盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori. }

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I will "let" you cook for me when you come home! Your apartment sounds very nice!