Thursday, July 31, 2008


The last day of Tokyo Orientation was not so great. A bit of stress, a lot of sleeping. I woke up to a thunderstorm at one point, which meant a sweet view of the lightning from our room on the 36th floor. I slept through dinner, woke up to Briana returning at midnight, and watched two episodes of Dexter on my computer before crashing again.

Wednesday morning was check-out and get out. All the Kyoto JETs met downstairs at 9:15, hopped the train to Tokyo Station, bought lunch and then boarded the shinkansen just after 11. On the two-hour ride I sat between Fig and a nice girl from D.C. named Christine, who reminded me just a bit of the indominatable Jen Roust. Then we hustled through Kyoto Station, up two thousand escalators with all of our orientation luggage, and into some sort of international center. As we waited in line to be let inside, I met Cornelis Van Staden, the South African guy who is living in my same apartment complex. When we realized how close by we lived, we agreed to travel to next week's Kyoto Orientation together. (These orientations never end!)

Finally we went into a small meeting room. Inside were a bunch of Japanese people wearing business suits: the supervisors from our contracting organizations. Waiting for me was a friendly middle-aged man named Wakabayashi. After a short ceremony and some introductions, we were sent off to our various towns. Wakabayashi-sensei and I boarded yet another train out of Kyoto, northwest until we hit Sonobe, my new hometown! Along the way I learned that Wakabayashi-sensei is a kind and funny human being, who has done a lot of traveling and loves fast cars and guns. (Both of which surprised and tickled me, considering that this is Japan. Apparently he goes to a shooting range, and is a pretty fair shot. Also, he owns an Alpha Romeo, an Italian car of which only 1000 were made. He drives it on a closed course.)

Our first stop in Sonobe was at Sonobe Senior High, my new workplace. (Being ogled by students all along the way. Boy, we surprised some girls in the train station.) I met the principal, Mr. Mori, and a thousand other staff members whose names I'm working on. Also, I finally met Stephanie, my cheerful kiwi predecessor, with whom I've been exchanging emails for some time now. She strikes me as a lot of fun, and has been very patient and helpful so far. Too bad she has to leave just as I arrive!

The apartment isn't huge by American standards, but is very reasonable for Japanese. Three rooms plus the bath; kitchen, sitting room, and bedroom. All in Japanese style, with tatami and a futon for me to sleep on. There's sort of stuff everywhere, as Stephanie is just in the middle of moving out, but I think it'll be nice when I finally unpack properly sometime next week.

I and Stephanie were also kindly taken out to dinner by the principal, along with Wakabayashi-sensei and another English teacher named Takemura-sensei. She seems very sweet! The meal was delicious, and we had a pretty decent conversation -- half in English, half in Japanese. Back at the apartment, Stephanie and I watched Knocked Up and hit the sack. (We're sharing the apartment until she leaves.)

This morning Stephanie and I walked to school, and she showed me around me a bit and gave me a packet of information. Then Wakabayashi-sensei and I went and got me some passport-sized photos taken, and applied at City Hall for an Alien Registration Card. (For which I needed the aforementioned photos.) Coincidentally, we ran into Cornelis and his supervisor, who were there doing the same. It was nice to see him again; I hope we can become friends!

Next we stopped by the apartment to pick up a tax form I'd brought along from the IRS, which we gave to the office lady, whose name may or may not be Takaya-san. Stephanie and I braved the abysmal heat to go get lunch, a fried-chicken bento from a little stand run by two middle-aged ladies. It was quite good, but I couldn't eat it all, because my stomach was a bit queasy. (I think from being overheated. I drank a lot of water in response, and now feel much better.)

After lunch Wakabayashi-sensei took us to the local bank, where I opened an account, and Stephanie closed hers. And that's up to the minute! At four o'clock or so I get to go pick up my very first paycheck, for the five days I'll have spent here in Japan, and then we're going to go poke around town. (In Wakabayashi-sensei's car, thank goodness. It really is unbearably humid. Makes me feel faint!)

To make a long story short, I'm optimistic. Sonobe is small, but it seems like a nice enough place! :D

shinkansen: the bullet train! It goes 300 km an about 170 miles, maybe? Anyways, it's super fast, and costs almost as much as a plane ticket. Thank goodness I didn't have to pay!

sensei: the Japanese word for teacher, used in place of san

tatami: woven mats used in place of rugs or carpets

futon: a padded pallet placed on the floor and slept on instead of a western-style bed

san the Japanese equivalent of Mr. or Ms.

bento: quite literally, a lunch box. A plastic carry-out box of assorted foods, that usually come in pre-determined sets.

Monday, July 28, 2008


So. We're here! It was a long and grueling trip, but we made it. Somehow.

As I wrote out this story, I discovered that a lot of Japanese words had drifted in, which not everyone may be familiar. So, for your reading pleasure, all words in bold are defined at the end of the post. :P

Friday afternoon was the mandatory pre-departure orientation, after which Fig and I went with my parents to our last dinner in America: delicious Lebanese food at Mezza. Then it was all packing all the time at my house, with only a brief one and a half our interlude in which we stepped out to say goodbye to a bunch of my friends.

We packed until all hours. I took a brief thirty-minute power-nap at 3:30, and then took a shower and finished getting my biz together. We were out of my house by 5:30 (a.m.), and at the airport by 6.

Checking in didn't take long, so we spent a good two or two hours sitting at the gate with our group of sixtyish JETs, all just chatting about the trip. Two-hour plane ride to Detroit, a three hour layover, and lunch at a place called the Jose Cuervo Tequileria. Goodbye, Mexican food.

Then the exhausting and uncomfortable twelve hour trip to Narita airport. I sat between two other jets; a 27-year-old guy named Jacob, and a black chick named Christine. We chatted a bit, I did something like eleven crosswords, watched two episodes of Dexter on my laptop, and tried unsuccessfully to take a nap.

Finally, sleep-deprived and slightly crazed, we landed. Breezed with surprising ease through customs, picked up our luggage, and were escorted by a veritable fleet of current JETs to a bunch of buses. We shipped our big luggage on to our host organizations and took our carry-ons with us to the buses, which then loaded up and proceeded on the two-hour drive to our hotel in Tokyo.

The Keio Plaza Hotel is a four-star, super-fance building in the middle of Shinjuku, a popular district on the west of Tokyo. Our room is really nice, with all manner of amenities, from a heated toilet seat (that automatically runs water when you sit down...boy, did that surprise me), to free hairbrushes, toothbrushes, slippers, and more! (The slippers, of course, have already disappeared into our suitcases.)

My roommate turned out to be Briana, a girl from Atlanta whom I just happened to know already. (We got in touch over the Atlanta JET forums online, and went to dinner with John and two other guys in June.) After briefly settling in, we met Fig, John, our friend Mari Christmas from the orientation, and a couple other kids in the lobby. The whole massive group of us caravaned into the Shinjuku surrounds, seeking dinner. We settled on a quick and cheap noodle joint, where I got curry udon better than any I ever faked in the states. Mmmm!

Then back to the hotel, where Fig and I met a different girl named Mari, who was a friend of ours at Wittenberg, and happens to live just south of Tokyo in Yokohama City. We went to a nearby izakaya called Watami, and had a few drinks. I learned that "blue apple" and apple-mango are both delicious flavors. Mari kindly picked up the tab, as a dual-purpose "Welcome to Japan!" and "Thank you for always treating me in Ohio!" gesture.

At long last, we stumbled back to Keio and our beds. It was by then 11:30 here, which would be 10:30 a.m. Atlanta time. (Meaning that I had been more or less awake for almost 48 hours.) I and roommate Briana watched the last bit of a Mythbusters knock-off show, and then finally, sleep!

Today was lots of sitting around listening to people talk. We were shepherded into a decently sized rooms, and divided to sit amongst the other JETs in our prefecture. The chairs were really uncomfortable and really close together, so we were hot and our bottoms began to hurt very quickly. On the upside, many of the presenters were pretty funny, so at least the morning sessions were interesting.

Lunch was a fairly nice affair, apart from the somewhat unpleasant faux-beef made from soybeans, and I met a very nice French girl. She suggested, quite cleverly I thought, that when approached by some undesirable (read: desperate host), you simply reply in nonsense Japanese. Her example: "Nihongo o tabemasen!" ("I don't eat Japanese language!") That way, they really think you have no idea how to say anything. If you try English, on the other hand, they'll probably just try to speak to you in that. The other option being to speak in an entirely third language. Upon reflection, I was pleased to realize that I can probably say that I don't speak Japanese in Polish.

The afternoon session was less entertaining, though the panelist from South Africa was pretty adorable. Already I was getting sleepy, and on several occasions closed my eyes because they felt sore. At last we were released, and after stopping by the AJET Information Center and being bombarded with free objects and flyers, Fig and I wandered about in the Shinjuku streets for a bit. I bought a cute little pocket notebook to write down anything important, we ogled some cameras, and bought a snack of onigiri.

Dinner was a crowded sort of a reception, with a welcome toast and more meeting of the prefectural JETs. I've met several very nice people in Kyoto-fu so far: Neil from New York, a guy from Canada whose name I forget, Liz who may or may not be from Colorado, Crystal from...somewhere, a cute guy from Scotland who has a very nice accent, and Todd, the guy in charge of us newbies, who has gauged earrings and recently married his Japanese girlfriend. (Shout-out to Reid: Todd is from St. Louis, and we had a nice chat about Ft. Leonard Wood, and why it was smart to be an MP!)

After dinner we finally changed out of our business clothes, and Fig and I set off into Shinjuku to meet our friend Alicia from Wittenberg, who has been living in Tokyo for two or three years. We were supposed to meet her at the station. Of course, we didn't realize until we were out in the streets getting not-quite-lost that there are something like four different train stations nearby with "Shinjuku" in the name, and we didn't know which one Alicia would be waiting at. After wandering for thirtyish minutes and making a few educated guesses, though, we finally found her! It was great to see her, and she's looking good. Tokyo (and a Japanese boyfriend) have really treated Alicia well.

We wandered into Kabuki-cho for karaoke, which was much fun. I had my first takoyaki of the trip, which made me a very happy Anna, indeed. As we left, Alicia and I were waiting for Fig outside the bathroom, and two Japanese teenagers in a karaoke booth were squatting on the floor and staring at us through the glass door. So I waved, and they waved back in great excitement, much to my and Alicia's amusement.

Afterwards, we moseyed a bit farther and stopped in an arcade to take purikura. Turns out the first machine was broken and wouldn't print, which was too bad (those pictures were cute!), but we got to use a different machine for free, and they turned out pretty cute. Fig and I dropped Alicia off at the train station, made promises to get in touch again today, and headed back to the hotel. On the way we coincidentally acquired John Neal and a drunk guy, who was a new JET looking for the hotel. His name was James, I think, and he was from Melbourne, AU.

When I got back to my room, Briana was hanging out with a very nice black guy from London, named Deji. He also had a great accent (there are a lot of them here!), and the three of us talked until 1:30 a.m. about politics and racism and the media in the US and Britain.

And that's about all so far! More orientation today, to be reported on later. :)

curry udon: thick wheat noodles usually served in soup; in this case, a spicy curry sauce specific to Japan

izakaya: sort of a Japanese tapas bar, where you order little plates of snacks to go with your drinks

host: a decently attractive young man who works at a host bar, where his only job is to sit and flirt with female customers, making them feel attractive and convincing them to keep ordering drinks (to spend money at their establishment, not for any creepier reasons)

onigiri: rice balls wrapped in crunchy (and delicious!) seaweed, usually with some kind of protein-based filling in the middle

Kabuki-cho: an area of Tokyo that abuts Shinjuku, and is known for its abundance of host and karaoke bars

takoyaki: delicious, delicious balls of fried dough that contain a bit of octopus inside, and are topped with a tangy sauce (among my top three favorite Japanese foods, fo' sho'!)

purikura: little photobooths that print out photo stickers, which you can decorate in a fashion somewhere between photoshop and mario paint

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

no kidding

I am in super pack mode. So many clothes, so little luggage space!

Fig has arrived safely in Atlanta, and we are entering the final maneuvers in my long campaign to prepare for this trip. Oh god, I feel entirely unprepared. Alas, deadlines!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

total insanity

That's the inside of my brain right now. This week has been super busy so far, and it's only Tuesday.

...But, then again, on Saturday we ship out. So I guess we're pretty close to the finale!

I've been emailing back and forth pretty regularly with my predecessor, a lovely New Zealander named Stephanie. She's been very bright and chatty, not to mention exceedingly helpful. I'm a little bummed that she'll be leaving just after I arrive, because she seems very lovely! (On the upside, we'll be sharing the apartment for about a week, and she's offered to show me around town and introduce me to people. What a sweetie!)

So, new info:

* Stephanie confirms that Sonobe is, in fact, an hour by train from Kyoto. Rad!
* I'll be working with a Canadian girl name Kristin who also seems nice.
* There may or may not be a South African JET living in my same apartment complex?
* The apartment is within walking distance of both the school and a grocery store.

Also, I have been productive!

* registered with the U.S. Embassy
* bought a pretty fair amount of omiyage
* half-heartedly began packing
* amassed a fair amount of business clothes
* bought toiletries, classroom tools, and tabasco (it's important!)
* copied important dates into my new planner
* ripped a lot of cds to my computer
* saw "The Dark Knight" far (I definitely count that as productive!)

Last but not least, the updated to-dos:

* buy a new camera
* finish transferring files from my old laptop
* set up a GoLloyds account to transfer money home
* continue packing, now and forever
* try and see people to say goodbye

High-fives to Allison Maier, who always throws me a party. As Joanna good-naturedly commented last night, "We always have parties for this girl, whenever she does something! Anna's going away, Anna's coming back, Anna's graduating, Anna's got a haircut!" And it's true. But our friends like any excuse for a party, and I'm happy to oblige! :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

my favorite kiwi

It's late, and I'm crazy for being awake, but I just want to brag:


Brag brag brag brag braaaag!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


With a slightly awkward timing that I should have expected with my usual luck, my placement info finally arrived last week. I say that because it arrived in an e-mail the morning I was leaving for almost a week's (internetless) vacation, when I needed the few hours standing between me and the airplane to finish packing and post officing and other such things. Of course, with my standard level of willpower, I completely ignored the pressing nature of all of those things, and instead spent an hour dicking around on the computer, looking for (and largely failing to find) info about my town.

Here's what was tricky. The letter they sent said, in essence, only this:

Hey, Anna, what's up? You're teaching at Sonobe Senior Highschool. Raaaaaad.

(Paraphrased for your convenience.) But, so, they didn't say where this school was. So I googled it. And found one page, written by a former JET some fivish years ago. Fortunately the school sounded neat, and it had an address, so I went looking for the town in said address - Sonobe.

And I looked. And I looked. Google, Wikipedia, Google Maps, Diddlefinger. Nothing but a train station of the same name. After forty-five minutes, I was feeling kind of crazy, until finally, in some tiny corner of the Wikipedia hive, I found this sentence:

"On January 1, 2006, Sonobe merged with the neighboring towns of Yagi, Hiyoshi and Miyama to form the new city of Nantan."

NO WONDER. Essentially, the town I was searching for no longer exists. >_<

But, I found a little bit of info on Nantan, which seems to be medium rural and pretty nice? I'm guesstimating that it's an hour or so by train north-west of Kyoto. Now I'm just waiting to hear about accommodations from my CO (contracting organization), and any info my predecessor wishes to dump in my head. Let's hope it's good.

In other news, I continue to be almost productive.

* mailed in my yakkan shomei
* mailed in my visa application / passport
* applied for a credit card

But there is a whole bunch left to do. I've gotta see about making a To-Do list.