Thursday, August 26, 2010

JET Orientation: Round 497, and a Weekend Trip to Togane: Round 1

As I mentioned in the last update, upon leaving Jessica, I was headed to Chiba City for my prefectural orientation. All other new Chiba JETs and I united to hear yet another lecture on adjusting to life in Japan, preparing for the inevitable homesickness/culture shock, and discussing how learning the language will only help us…no kidding. I really appreciate JET looking out for us, I do, but at this point I probably could have taught the 2 day lecture.

During the day we heard from senior ALTs who spoke about various topics and in the afternoon we were placed in leveled Japanese courses to help us get as much as we could out 4 hours worth of class. There was a test you could take in case you weren’t sure what your level was, needless to say no time was wasted on my part, I checked that ‘beginner’ box just as fast as I wrote my name. During the one night that we spent in Chiba City we had a picnic in the park consisting of Costco pizza and beer; a meal that could bring even the greatest of enemies together. In case you wanted more information, yes Japan does have Costco, and though I haven’t experienced it for myself I have heard that your American membership will work. I’m assuming you’re all booking flights at this very moment based strictly on that last sentence aren’t ya? Well, if that is not enough for you we also have…drum roll please…IKEA!

When I was in 6th grade my parents decided to remodel our house. We spent every free moment at either the Home Depot or Ikea. I have since developed a serious hatred for fork lifts and the color orange, and an unbelievable affinity for colorful, cheap furniture. I have been dying to go ever since I got here, especially after learning the train stop plops you right there. I was expressing my love of this magical place that combines cheap furniture with $1 hot dogs, to Kim, remember her, the other new ALT from Wisconsin, when she said to me, “What’s Ikea?” WHAT!!! Before leaving her apartment I showed her the website and we were scheduled to go the following day.

Ikea in Japan, with it’s over grown grass welcoming you, is in fact, just as magical as it is of the 10 freeway in LA. The furniture is exactly the same, obviously, though the food is a bit different. Kim was able to get some furniture that she needed while I stocked up on decorations. I’ve been dying to make my apartment feel a little more like my own and Ikea helped me do just that. Also, adding to its magic were the people. Just when I was ready to blind some of the men in Japan for staring, I was met with the complete opposite reaction from others.
Living Room, pt 2...
we got new digital TVs yesterday

I decorated!
While Kim was off writing down item numbers for a desk chair, I was across the isle sitting in another chair on wheels, spinning in complete circles like the 23 year old I am. After going around a few times, I was finishing circle number 4 when I noticed a 3 people encroaching on my 
personal bubble. A mom was standing behind her two sons, her arms wrapped around their shoulders, posed like they were going to take a family photo, all eyes staring at me and smiling proudly. I jammed my foot on the ground and looked up and smiled. Their were a few seconds where we were staring at each other in silence; before the awkwardness went on any longer than it needed to I said, “Konichiwa,” with a smile and nod. She was thrilled and responded, in Japanese, with, “Wow, pretty!” I laughed and said thank you, at which point she heard my accent and asked if I was from America. I said, “Hai, California kara kimashta.” All three of them got excited over that one, and I swear took a step closer. I forgot what commodity being from California makes me. I hate saying that I’m from Los Angeles if I can’t further explain that I’m from a beach town on the outskirts of the city. Though sometimes just for fun, since I’ve been here, I throw in that I’m from LA, which always gets people pretty excited and I envision them thinking that I live next door to their favorite celebrity. Other times I say I’m from San Francisco, just to see what the different reactions are. Soon I should just start saying I’m from Japan and see how that goes over, they would probably think I didn’t understand the question.

After experiencing the magic of Ikea, which Kim now appreciates to its fullest, and reuniting with friends at orientation, a few of my fellow Chiba JETs and I made plans to reconvene in Togane. Togane is a city located, by train, about 2 hrs south east of me, it also is about a 10 minute drive from the beach, but most importantly the town houses a few of my favorite JETs. This past weekend 5 of us met there to enjoy a festival and some impromptu friends.

I, along with Nathan from Oregon, Amanda from Canada, and Mike from New Zealand, went to visit Trey from Tennessee in Togane. I’m listing where they’re from because a) I think it’s interesting and b) you may need to remember them in case they come up in the future. I, luckily enough have other JETs as my neighbors, but a few of these guys are the only foreigners in their towns, and I think by that point we were all dying for some ‘friend contact,’ especially them.

I took the train last Friday and upon arriving at Trey’s dropped my stuff and went with the other older JETs in the town to an izakaya. Think awesome Japanese food while you sit on a pillow on the floor. It was great food and a lot of fun to get to know some of the people I had only heard speak at orientation, on topics such as mold cleaner and cockroach spray. While we were sitting and eating, three Japanese men headed for their table walked past us. Trey for whatever reason felt the need to strike up a conversation with them, resulting in the natives asking the waiter if they could sit at the table behind us. We all started talking and long story short one of the guys, Shige (she-gay) offered to teach us how to surf the next morning! He and Trey exchanged numbers and the five of us had a 9 am date with our first Japanese friends!

The next morning we got up, got dressed, had a hearty breakfast at the ever classy Micky D’s. [Side note: I NEVER eat McDonald’s yet have had it, I’m ashamed to say, 5 times since I’ve been here. I’m gonna need to knock that off real fast.] Anyway, after that we went to the resale shop to buy the ugliest shirts we could find to wear as rash-guards, and we were off to Shige’s house.

He brought us 2 boards and took us out. The beach itself was great as it was 90 something degrees, who are we kidding, at that point I would have taken a slip ‘n’ slide on gravel if it meant I could cool off. We went back to his house and met some of his friends, BBQed stakes Trey had bought and discussed, what all conversations are about when you’re in your 20s, girls and boys. We talked about dating, they taught us inappropriate words, asked if I, the only single girl there, was attracted to Japanese guys…haha uhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and actually ended up inviting us to a party with them that night.

Nathan, Trey and I at the festival in Togane
We went back to Trey’s in dire need of showers and so excited to have met some locals who were so cool and so kind. There was a festival that night in Togane, which Trey was set to dance in, yukata and all, with the other local ALTs. Us visitors were just gonna go along to eat and support, but somehow got roped in to dancing as well. We learned the dance in 5 seconds and danced for an hour in one huge circle. It was so fun and an awesome experience!!! Then it was back to Trey’s to get the car and head to our first Japanese partaaaay.

We got to Shegay’s house to find it totally dark. Trey called Shige and was told to stay put as he was going to come get us. A few seconds later 6 cars pulled up, I wasn’t sure whether to be honored or terrified as these cars came to a halt and Japanese surfer guys appeared everywhere. Apparently the entire party left the bar to come retrieve us, man they’re hospitable even on Saturday nights! Shige swapped seats with Mike announcing that he was our navigator back to the bar, a bar which had evidently been rented out. Everyone in there was friends of Shige’s and was so kind to us, drinks were everywhere and we didn’t pay for a thing! They were so fun and we danced and talked, the best we could, for hours before heading home to recap on our night.

It was such a great weekend! Knowing that we could all get to each other without too much trouble as well as meeting some new native friends (courtesy of Trey) was an amazing time and as cheesy as it sounds, greatly empowering.

This week: I’m set to meet with the teachers at the 4 schools I’ll be working at AND get my gaijin (alien) card!

Latest Accomplishment: I have memorized all 46 Hiragana symbols and their sounds! I am kind of reading things now!! Not that I have a clue what I’m saying, but either way I’m making some type of connection. Yippee!

Mata ne!

Monday, August 23, 2010

J Brew is in the Hood!

This past weekend there was a roll of thunder, clap of lightening and squeals of excitement as I was reunited with the one and only Jessica Brewka! She traveled the 4 hours from the north by both bullet train (shinkansen) and subway before arriving at my local train station where I retrieved her. On our walk home we promptly stopped at McDonalds to feed little Jessica, as she has no fast food out in the boonies, before arriving at my casa to enjoy some wine and swap stories, syncing our experiences so were back on the same page again. All the while reminding each other that we get to spend 3 WHOLE nights together AHHHHHHHHH!!! 

My she's excited to be at the 100 yen store!
But then again, who wouldn't be?
Well look at youuuuuuu
Friday we slept in and did a few local things. I had to go to the BOE to sign something, well actually stamp it with my honko, so I took Jessica with me. They knew I had a friend coming and that she lived in Amori, a prefecture which even they consider far, so I think they were curious to see if she made it. After meeting a few people and explaining what we were planning to do this weekend, we were off on our bikes to the dollar store! Always an adventure in itself, we hit up the craft section and we left with paint and little wooden things to paint. For me a welcome sign to hang on my door and for J Brew a sign with her name in Japanese to stick in front of her house. As if everyone in her town doesn’t know who she is and what she’s doing everyday, that blonde hair might as well be a red blinking arrow pointing to her. What was after craft time you ask, well of course that would be Disney Sea!

Disney Sea

I was in charge of the map...poor choice
Me and Ariel hangin out.
I've loved her since I was 4.
They have cheaper tickets if you go after 3pm so that’s exactly what we did. The entire time we were there I was trying to figure out why it was called Disney Sea to begin with, and the only reason I could think of was that the park was laid out with water running through it, but other than that it was pretty much exactly like Disneyland. Everything was in English and I saw fewer tourists than I expected. It was pretty crowded so the lines were long and the excitement level of the rides were toned down significantly. Not that Disneyland is known for its white knuckle type rides, but we’re talking about a “roller coaster” only slightly more exciting than the tea cups. This roller coaster in particular had 1 loop in it, and they advertised it every 30 feet, “ATTENTION ATTENTION: 360 degree loop!!!” The sign had blinking lights and a drawing of a man sitting in his chair gripping the sides and every 10 seconds he would rotate in a complete circle. WE GET IT, the roller coaster goes upside down for 2.3 seconds…I’ll try to prepare myself.

There are actually women only cars during rush hour.
I know in one of my last blogs I wrote about how people stare etc and how I understand where they are coming from. Well I want to half retract that statement. I ONLY am understanding about their staring when it is out of curiosity, but when it turns in to the creepy “I want to do you stares” I am NOT ok with that. While we were in the 2 hour lines at Disneyland we got soooooo many gross creepy stares from men, mostly with wives or girlfriends to boot. I think most of it had to do with the fact that I was with Jessica and her blondeness, doubled by the fact that we are relatively young and were not accompanied with a guy or Japanese native. The stares that started at my feet and slowly moved up to my face where the men were met with a look of me wanting to kick them in their nether regions, really were ruining the magic of Disneyland. Yuck! it gives me chills just thinking about it.

Imperial Palace. Emperor doko desu ka?
But the rest of the weekend went great! We woke up early the next morning and took the train to Tokyo Station which essentially is a mall in itself, SAAAWEEET! We hit up Jessica’s favorite Bento place and took our lunch to the Emperial gardens and ate there before walking to Tokyo tower and hitting up a Buddist temple on the way. We then headed to Shibuya to have dinner with some fellow JETs along with some of Jessica’s friends as well. It was quite the crew!

Cleansing my hands and mouth
before entering the Buddhist temple.

Jessica and I wrote our fortunes
and wishes for the next year.

Tokyo Tower, it was a LONG walk from the gardens.

After dinner it was off to do what else, karaoke! By then the group had dwindled to 5 but great fun none the less. When Karoke was over is was about 10:30 pm, the last train back home was at midnight, and even if we left right then and there, their was no guarantee that we would have made the last local train. So we were committed to whooppin it up till 5am when the trains started running again. This is not uncommon by any means but it would still be our first time!
Karaoke! Pretty self explanatory I'd say.

The final clubbing crew came down to me, Jessica, Michael a fellow Chiba JET from New Zealand, and Trey another fellow Chiba JET from Tennessee. We started at a bar that we’re pretty sure were full of “ladies of the night” so we left there pretty quick and headed to an Irish bar where we were served by a Brazilian bartender who spoke perfect english…go figure. Then we ate ramen noodles before hitting up a dance club then finally hanggin at McDonalds for the last hour or so. As the sun rose we headed for the train station where we sat next to people who, lucky them, had gotten a full nights rest and were all suited up and headed for work. We made it home at 7:30 am where we promptly showered and napped until 1pm when it was on to our next event!
Ohayou Tokyo!! That is the sunrise you're witnessing.
It was time for the Obon festival! Jessica and I put on our Yukatas and headed to the train station where we met my neighbor and fellow JET, Kim, and Nagashima a lady that works in our office who was escorting us. We had tried to tie our Yukatas ourselves…poor choice. While we were walking to the train station mine kept blowing up basically showing my entire leg, exactly what the Yukata is NOT meant to do. We looked so disheveled and we were soooo embarrassed to be walking along the street like that! As we walked we joked that we were “shaming Japan with every step” which to be honest probably wasn’t too far from the truth. When mine blew up in the front I was like, “Oh my god! Did we just make our Yukatas slutty?!” This of course sent us in to convulsions making us look further and further from the proper Yukata wearing women we were supposed to be. Needless to say we were soooo relieved to see Nagashima who upon seeing us let out an, “Ooooo haha”. Great. Thankfully she took us to the bathroom and put us back together again.

Nagashima, Kim, me and Jessica at dinner prior to the festival.
We arrived at the house of the man who worked for the BOE and had invited me only after I was able to name the Cleveland Indians, remember him? He and his family were ever so excited to see us in our Yukatas and we ate and drink for quite a few hours before we headed to the Obon festival down the street to get our grove on!

We jumped in and danced in a huge circle and did our best to copy what everyone else was doing. The women looked beautiful and the taiko drums amaze me every time, I am dying to try them as soon as school starts, I am hoping their will be a club or something I can get into.

The big red dog is Chiba-kun, the prefectural mascot!
Can we all just look at the little boy hugging him?!
How cute it that!!
After dancing the night away we came home and passed out. The next morning I had to get up early to head to Chiba City for our prefectural orientation. I had to leave Jessica which I was ever so sad to do, but I left her with a key and directions to IKEA, their was no doubt she was going to have an excellent day.

All in all we had SOOOOO much fun and it was so good to see her! It’s nice to know that one of my closets friends is experiencing many of the same things I am. He Japanese is pretty amazing, she speaks enough to where people ask her if she speaks Japanese which is totally a testament to her! Way to go J Brew so proud of you!

Next it will be my turn to go visit her! After my first paycheck we’ll be swapping dates, no doubt, and I will head to the north to visit the country side.

Can’t wait!!

Jya ne!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Through talking to most of you via facebook, email, skype, or otherwise the same questions keep coming up so I thought I would take a sec and answer them for ya, wow I feel like Oprah, ok here we go.

How is it since you speak no Japanese?

Tricky. Many JETs don’t speak upon arrival, so this is not as though I am the first person to come on this program with this as a burden. I know a few basic phrases and try to use them as often as possible. Every once in a while I am able to grab the gist of a conversation which gets me pretty excited. Being at Reiko’s helped a lot! I can kind of ask questions, though then I have no idea what the response means. Luckily I’m generally around someone who can communicate in both languages so that obviously helps a ton. There is pretty much lots of smiling and nodding on my part, and I’m becoming a master of gestures. Oddly enough I am always eager to answer in Spanish, and compared to my Japanese I’d say I’m fluent in Spanish, which in reality is far from true. I think what I’m really lacking is vocabulary and that is the one thing I do kind of have a handle on in Spanish. Let’s review Kate’s vocab shall we? In Japanese, I know how to say…

Nice to meet you.
Good Morning.-both formally and informally, thank you very much
Good Evening.
Thank you
Thank you very much
Thank you for all you’ve done-I pretty much thank anyone and everyone who so much as smiles at me
1-10-which means you can basically count to 100 because of how their system works
Hello when answering the phone-yup it’s different
Cell phone
Eggplant-handy right?
Sh**-why do the bad words always stick!
Excuse me.
Train station
Japan, Japanese
American, American
I’m Kate.
I’m from SF, CA.
My hobbies are jogging.-Which is kind of true, though it was one of the few words I could say
I went to the University of San Francisco.
I’m ok.
Are you ok?
So it is.-Something they say as an affirmation during conversation, though I have yet to use it since I’m not quite sure what’s being said to begin with.
Itadakimasu-there is no English equivalent, said by all before meals.

That may just about be it, haha. I’ll see if I can add a few more to the list by the next time I write.

Are you going to take a Japanese class?

Absolutely. Singed up today. It’s self guided and free through CLAIR the program that backs JET, I forget the acronym.

Do you know how to use chopsticks?

Yup. Being half raised that the Namimoto household my have been my best preparation for this excursion.

Do you eat fish?

Not as a kid, but I do now! I LOVE sushi, though I have yet to have it since I’ve been here. I did meat some people at orientation who said they don’t eat fish, which is going to be a legitimate issue for them.

How’s living alone?

So weird! It’s quiet all the time! I can go for hours without saying anything, SO not like me. But I’m getting used to it. All the other ALTs live in the same apartment complex so it’s not like I have to go far to find other English speakers, though we are the only foreigners in town.

Am I homesick?

Honestly, not at all. Sorry mom and dad. I have only been here 11 days so everything is still so new and exciting. Though I’m sure as things settle down into routine, and the weather cools, I’ll wish I was with everyone at home sipping Starbucks. Except we have a Starbucks in town, so maybe Coffee Bean? J

Do people stare?

Not really that I’ve noticed. I am in a city only an hour from Tokyo, so it wouldn’t be as bad as if I was in the country. Occasionally I’ll catch an onlooker’s gaze and I just smile, as they don’t look away cause I’ve clearly “caught them”. I do find that kids tend to stare the most, and we all know kids do and say exactly what adults are thinking, which leads me to assume that the general public is paying attention to me whether I’m noticing or not. Today on my long train ride I saw literally ONE other white guy, and a gazillion Japanese people. With those odds how could you not stare?

What does your apartment look like?

Pictures are worth a thousand words so here ya go!
Walk in...
...Look left, kitchen table.
Walk through this door to the living room...
...hello living room!

Bedroom, yes I sleep on the floor
Everything was completely furnished, past down from other ALTs. All I’ve purchased thus far is food and few decos. I have AC and a floor that heats in the winter.

My Kate, things sound like they’ve gone so smoothly thus far, any big concerns?

I don’t mean to make it all sound picture perfect, but overall things have gone probably as smoothly as possible. Though everyday I do wish I could speak more, but this blog has actually kept me grounded in that sense. I find that I narrate what I’m going to write in my head as it happens, the more awkward the moment, the better the story. Thinking of all you back at home reading this makes me feel like I’m not the only Caucasian around occasionally getting double takes, when in reality, that is exactly the case.

Since I don’t start work until September I do have a lot of down town and I find myself wishing I had playmates. I am eager to create my own life here as well as my own group of friends, but meeting people isn’t too easy. The other ALTs have been here for a while and have their life pretty set. Sinapi has been sooooo sweet to let me basically join in her life and outings, and mingle with her friends. Though, there are tons of things I can get involved in that I most definitely want to take advantage of. For starters, Japanese class (a must), a soccer team I think, flower arranging (God I’m gonna be so domestic), net ball (kind of NZ version of basketball) apparently you don’t have to be good, the Japanese just use it as an excuse to drink…sold! I’m sure I could benefit from a cooking class as wellJ

Hope all is well to everyone reading! Thanks for taking the time to sit down and read about my life, I really do appreciate it!

Mata ne!

Kristin Namimoto

That’s right, her name gets to be the title. That is how significant the role is she has played in the last few days. For those of you who don’t know, I have known Kristin since birth and have grown up with her family, traveling and celebrating most major holidays together. Kristin has just completed 2 years on JET and has about a week left in Japan before heading home to LA to go back to work, bummer. But, we were able to hangout for 3 whole days straight!

My amazing hosts!
Kristin is currently staying in Yokohama at her Aunt’s house, spending some last minute quality time with them before her big departure. Lucky for me she was able to come to Kamagaya with her boyfriend for one night to see my apartment and little neighborhood. We had a grand night and the following day I went with her back to Yokohama, about 2.5 hours by train, to her Aunt Reiko’s house for what was essentially a home stay at apparently one of the best Japanese restaurants around. Her Aunt was an AWESOME cook! Her Aunt, Uncle, cousin Shinske (Shin-skay), and dog Cordon were amazingly welcoming! I stayed two nights there just hanging out, eating and skypeing our families. It was pretty neat that they got to see us together considering we are kinda far away. Her aunt and uncle don’t speak too much English and we all know I speak minimal Japanese, and that’s being generous. None the less there were lots of laughs and all in all it was a great time.
THE food.

Shinske and I before
I headed home.
Funny story: About 7 years ago, Kristin’s cousin, now 25 year old Shinske, came to LA to visit Kristin and the rest of the Namimoto family. Despite being southern CA residents the Namimoto’s are still very Japanese in a lot of ways (shocker!). Kristin’s mom, Mariko, wanted Shinske to experience and “American” home/meal. Enter the Bohans. I vividly remember him coming to our home and sitting next to Mariko, he wanted something at the table, bread I think, he leaned over to ask Mariko to get it and she told him ‘no’ and encouraged him to try and ask, which he eventually did and as a result was able to enjoy a roll. I remember feeling soooo badly for him, at the time I thought then that was pretty much the worst thing you could do to him. He’s come a long way since then! He speaks pretty good English now, when I walked in to their home I was greeted with a, “Long time no see!” pretty advanced if you ask me. He said that he remembered what we all looked like, and that we said grace and ate chicken. Sounds pretty all-American to me.

In preparation for the Obon that I will be attending Sunday, I bought a yukata!!! NOT a Kimono. A Kimono is made of silk and worn during the winter months, since it’s still pretty efffing hot here, the yukata is (in my mind) basically the summer version, it’s made out of cotton and is light weight. On my last night in Yokohama, Kristin and I put ours on with the help of her Aunt. Shinske put on his boy version of a yukata, at which point we took some winning pictures and skyped our parents. Mariko told me I blended right in, I mean didn’t it take you two glances at the picture to find the “round eyed” girl ;)

We also took purikura pictures, pretty much my new favorite hobby. I would like one of these machines in my home if anyone cares to make that dream come true.

Purikura: First you take the picture...

Then you decorate!

Accomplishment of the day: I took the train from Yokohama to Kamagaya all by myself and DIDN’T GET LOST!!! With Kristin and Shinske’s aid, we prepped me for my journey. Printing our directions, going over how to ask for a specific train and/or line. This may seem like NBD, (no big deal, that’s right we’re gonna make you hip with slang while you read) but the trains here, while impressive, are intense. My 2.5 hour trip consisted of 3 transfer points on 4 different train lines, as in 4 entirely different subway maps. While everything is in English as well as Japanese it can get overwhelming at times, especially being surrounded by thousands of brunettes who seem to know exactly where they’re going. But I did great, even using one of my new phrases, courtesy of Kristin, to ask for help once!

Upcoming News: Jessica Brewka, a former roommate, current resident of Japan, and all around one of my favorite people is coming to visit tomorrow!!! On the agenda, IKEA, Disney Sea (I’ll investigate and report back), a day/night in Tokyo, a trip the 100 yen store and the Obon festival. I’m surprising her with a yukata also, so with her blonde hair she can be as Asian as I. I CAN’T WAIT!!! Prepare yourself Kamagaya.

Mata ne!

Tours: Kamagaya and the US, Apparently

I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve written and already so much has happened! Everyday I am confronted with new experiences and challenges, and as a result I come away with batches of new memories.

Accomplishment of the day: My first solo outing to the grocery store! Didn’t get lost (that in itself is a feat for little Kate), didn’t fall off my bike nor get hit by a car.

I went with Toki and Nagashim to get the tour of the town and visited 3 out of the 4 schools I will be working at during the year. At every school I met some member of the faculty. With their English being only slightly better than my Japanese, I’m in for an interesting year J!

However, when I reached the middle school, Gochu, (Go means 5, this is the 5th and newest middle school in Kamagaya) I was in for a treat. Gochu is where I will be spending the majority of my time so I was very interested to see who I may be working with. I was greeted by one of three English teachers at the school. The guy walked out and goes, “Hey!” I couldn’t help but laugh as formality was clearly out the window for this meeting. The guy (I can’t remember his name…I’ll work on it) looked and spoke like he fell off Kauai’s North Shore. He was a super nice guy and we had a casual conversation about nothing significant, but I was caught off guard when he quickly told me he was 25 and ask for my age, then raised and eyebrow when I said 23 (dude, seriously?!). Considering I’ve been in Kamagaya for all of 3 days at this point, I’m pretty sure the last thing I need is any sort of scandal.  All in all the meetings went well, with every person I met, excluding 25 year old Kauai man, I was able to say Hello, nice to meet you and introduce myself, all while squeezing in a few bows here and there. After the first meeting as we walked away, Toki firmly told me “good”, then smiled, never for a second letting me forget that I am at work.

During the drive I picked up my now new favorite phrase, let’s go! (Iki ma sho!) I yelled it in the car between each school, and every time they chuckled and corrected my pronunciation. Clearly my personality is having no problem shinning through despite the language barrier.

Back at the BOE I started talking to a man in our office. He was telling me that he visited the U.S. 20 years ago and was clearly a huge baseball fan as all he was doing was naming major U.S. cities he visited and their corresponding MLB teams. When he got to Cleveland he kept saying, “Cleeevand, Cleeevand…” by that point I pretty much had a handle on the game and as soon as I figured out what he was saying, I said, “Indians?” You would have thought I just told him he won the World Series. Upon coming down from his high that I actually do know some MLB teams, I was promptly invited to attend an Obon festival. That answer was totally my ticket in. Being a newbie I am invited to all things Japanese as they want us newbies/foreigners to experience and appreciate their culture. I excitedly told him yes and we worked out the details. We’re meeting another girl from the office at the train station and she’s going to take us to his neck of the woods, where eating, drinking, dancing AND taiko drums will ensue, can’t wait!

Naval Base

Another one of my more interesting experiences thus far has been a trip to the US Naval base in Yokosuka. Sinapi, the ALT from NZ, is engaged to a US Naval chef from Chicago. He happens to be on deployment at the moment, but she kindly invited us to venture with her to the base for Friendship Day.

Friendship Day is the one day a year where the base is open to the public. The line to get in was nuts as everyone wanted to experience a taste of Little America. And Little America it was! On base they had Taco Bell, Chili’s, Nathan’s hot dogs, Krispy Kreme, Long John Silvers, Baskin Robbins, Subway and many more. Their were tons of booths selling water, hot dogs, hamburgers, press on tattoos, entire pizzas to take home, NCIS hats and just about anything else remotely American you can think of. There was a car show and fireworks and more non-asian people than I’d seen in a long time.

While these American’s were most definitely from the U.S. they struck me as different and I couldn’t figure it out until we left. I came to the conclusion that while, like them I am an American living in Japan, I on the other hand am immersed and accepting of the Japanese culture, and most likely a little less patriotic then they. I came here because I was curious about Japan, which wasn’t exactly the reason the base residents were there. They signed up to represent America in the most courageous way possible, Japan just happened to be where they were sent. For all intensive purposes they could still be in America if they choose to never leave the base. It was an interesting dynamic and an observation I wanted to share.
I asked if I could pet the dog, (DOESN"T IT LOOK LIKE BARNEY!?)
he told me he hadn't eaten and would bite...
Their was a Samoan dance performance.
This is Sara, I wanted to steal her.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kamagaya Here I Come!

After spending a few days in Tokyo and meeting quite few unforgettable friends, I meet with the other Chiba bound JETs and we left with promises to visit and little expectations for what was to come.

After another 2 hour drive, the 8 of us arrived at the Chiba City Woman’s Health center to meet and leave with our contracting organizations. We all headed upstairs for a quick ceremony. There are ceremonies for all things. We sat in the same room as our contracting organization representatives, the MC called forward our town and those who had come to receive us stepped forward, then our name was called and we went to the front for a brief introduction. And that was it. We were then lead away to the parking lot and driven to our new hometown. Now, I realize that what I wrote makes it sound like we were somewhat abducted, but it was kind of intense. By that point we had all become somewhat close, and I’m sure it will be awhile till I see some of those friends again.

Then it was off to lunch! In the car were 3 of the Board of Education (BOE) members and the other new JET, Kimberly from Wisconsin, who had arrived a week prior. It was amazing to have Kim there as she speaks both English and Japanese. Now what was for lunch you may ask, I’m sure you’re probably thinking sushi, udon, or some other amazing Japanese type food, but alas you would be wrong. We went to, I kid you not, a restaurant called Los Angeles (written in English) and I had, drum roll please…a pizza.

Kim & I at the ever authentic Los Angeles restaurant.
Then it was straight to the BOE to meet the other members and I sat down with a translator to sign my contract, talk about my pay, rent, bills and apply for my Alien card. Everyone was sooo kind and while our conversations were limited, LOTS of smiling and nodding, I am determined to learn how to speak so I can get to know them better. I also NEED to learn how to read, I hate that Ican’t. My next step is to label anything and everything in my apartment with index cards, that I bought at the 100 yen store (dollar store) today! After signing all kinds of papers I then rode my bike home while a few guys from the BOE drove my luggage to my new apartment!

When I got there I was greeted with mail, including a card from Carol J, 95 degree heat and the gas guy to help me set up the utilities.

Then I was left alone with my apartment to unpack and decorate! After some unpacking I meet the other ALTs, Sinapi a 3rd year from New Zealand, Richard a 2nd year from Ireland and Richard who is actually in SF & LA on vacation (weird right?!), will be going into his 5th year and is from England. Thus far I’ve been hanging out mostly with Sinapi and Kim, going to the store, playing Wii and watching movies.

Today I paid rent…in cash…at the ATM…by far one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I also hit up the 100 yen ($1) store, grocery store, and a veggie stand, all on my little red bicycle with a basket in the front AND back, thank you very much.

So far things have been great! Tomorrow I’m getting a tour of town from Toki (who works at the BOE) I’ll probably get to see the schools I’ll be working at! One middle school and three elementary schools.

I think that’s about it, stay tuned!!

Mata ne!

Taking Tokyo By Storm


I have arrived in Nihon!

After packing up the remainder of my first big girl apartment in SF and saying a tear filled goodbye to my roommates, I was greeted by my parents and airport bound chariot. The lovely grey Honda CRV was ready and waiting to escort me to my new life overseas. My parents drove me to the airport where I met up with up the rest of the SF crew as we anxiously discussed what was in store. My parents were able to park and sit with me a bit before I had to head through security and board.

The nine hour flight was completely full and rather uneventful. The food and service were AMAZING, leaps and bounds better than any US flight service I’ve ever had. As soon as we exited the plane we were greeted by a JET participant about every 10 ft pointing us in the right direction, it literally would have been impossible to get lost. All of them had a smile and an accent; it was amazing to meet so many different people from so many different countries in all of 30 seconds. We then boarded a bus from Narita to Tokyo, during the two hour drive we signed release forms and made some new friends.

Katie, one of my two roommates from the Bay Area
Finally we arrived at Keio Plaza Hotel and were placed with roommates from our departing city. The hotel was completely overrun by JETs. There were about 1,000 of us from certain parts of the US, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Singapore and New Zealand. Keep in mind that I was in the second arrival group, and this is happening a total of 3 times. That’s A LOT of JETS! Currently there are a little over 5,000 JETs throughout Japan ranging from 36 different countries. Pretty amazing huh?!

It was interesting to watch the dynamic of the future JETs as we got further and further from home. People were trying to hold on to where they were from all the while trying to find similarities with everyone else. At the SF consulate people were very proud of where they were actually from and quick to rattle of towns in the East Bay rather than have be assumed that they lived IN the city. But as we arrived in Japan, you would watch an SF person introduce themselves to a Seattle person and one might as well have exclaimed, “Oh my god you’re from the West coast too! Let’s be friends!” By the end of the weekend it was assumed that if you were from the same continent you were destined to be friends for life.

During our 4 days in Tokyo we attended various speeches and workshops to help prepare us for our new life. Needn’t worry though, I was able to go out at night, discovered some bomb Udon and Korean BBQ and 2 hour karaoke/all you can drink place, Uh, Yes Please! I explored Tokyo a bit with some new friends from Canada, we took the train to Harajuku, yes as in Gwen Steffani’s clothing line, and Shibuya, kinda the times square of Tokyo with the huge cross walk that has the cars stop completely while everyone crosses. A-mazing!

In Harijuku. Apparently this Japanese man saw us in these and
promptly purchased a pair, we should get commission. 

Shinjuku in Tokyo, across from our hotel.

In Shibuya at THE crosswalk with Trey lurkin in the background. He is also Chiba bound.
For those of you who are wondering, I was able to meet up with Kristin briefly!  Kristin Namimoto is one of closest family friends who just completed her 2 yr in JET and was at the AJET fair handing out information on building houses in India (Go KNam1!). We’re currently trying to figure out a time I can go met her Aunt and cousin before she heads back to the states on the 12th.

Proof to our mother's that we saw each other. 
After 3 days of orientation and learning more about the JET program, stages of homesickness, and Japanese etiquette than I could handle, I was ready to experience it for myself! The final day of orientation I met with the other 8 Chiba JETs to board a bus and head our new prefecture!


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