Monday, August 25, 2008

workin' for the man every night and day

Kristin and I spent a large portion of Thursday and Friday putting together a beautiful bulletin board for the English club (ESS). Pretty much, we are creative geniuses with construction paper. I promise photos sometime later.

On Saturday, we and our supervisor, Wakabayashi-sensei, had to judge an English speech contest here at the school. About seventeen kids from local junior high schools came to Sonobe and performed one from a selection of recitations, and we gave them points on delivery, English, and memorization. At the end, we gave out one first prize, two second prizes, and three third. It was an interesting experience, particularly since I hadn't even begun teaching yet. (Plus, since I had to come to work on a Saturday, I'll get a half-day off somewhere in the future! Hooray!)

Saturday evening, after a nice nap, wandered once again to Good Bar, now to meet Mike's replacement, the new Interac guy. His name is Timothy Vickerman (a.k.a. "The Vicar," a nickname we made up before he even arrived), and he's from somewhere in the north of Britain. (He didn't specify where, simply citing supposed "nomadic savages.") He's twenty-seven, likes a lot of the same music I do, and speaks about the same level of Japanese as Brad and I. We've heard there might be a Japanese language teacher somewhere in the reaches of Sonobe, and the three of us are thinking about going in for group lessons, if we can work it out.

Sunday I did a whole lot of nothing, if nothing includes watching the TV show "Spaced." (Or what I could manage to load of it, thanks to my neighbor's spotty wireless.) It's a really funny British comedy starring my beloved Simon Pegg, recommended to me by Brad. I think I owe him many thanks. (Most of it is on youtube, if you're interested.)

Yesterday was the official first-day of school here at Sonobe Senior High. There was an assembly in the morning, at which I had to give a short introduction speech in Japanese. The gist of it was something like, "Everyone, good morning! It's nice to meet you. I'm Anna Denson; please call me Anna. I am from Atlanta, in America. I've been to Japan before this, but I'm very happy to be able to return! Moreover, I'm happy to have the opportunity to teach you English and about America. I would really like to learn Japanese and about Japanese culture, so for both Japanese matters and American matters, let's work hard together!" Et cetera, et cetera. I think it went off without a hitch; Wakabayashi-sensei, at least, said it was perfect.

Then the principal spoke for awhile, I think about the Olympics, and they gave out some athletic awards to students, and some other incomprehensible speeches, while me and Kristin stood at the edge of the gym eying the students and getting sleepy. It was a long time just to be standing around!

Afterwards, there were a few afternoon classes. I had to teach my first lesson, to class 2-5. It was pretty much just a more detailed self-introduction (not to mention, in English), with a slideshow of photos and some maps and stuff. I gave them a worksheet to test comprehension, and let them ask some of their own questions (which ranged from "What is your favorite Japanese food?" and "What is your hobby?" to "What kind of boy do you like?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?" Nosy little things). We finished up with a name game activity that we didn't quite finish, but I think the whole thing went okay, overall!

No class today, but I'll probably have a few more before the week is out. Besides, there's ESS today and tomorrow after school, probably for approaching two hours. (We have a lot to do before the school festival next week, at which the junior high kids are singing a song from "High School Musical," and the senior high kids are putting together a video narrated in English.) Busy, busy, busy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Slam dunk!

My presentation went really well. Most of my feedback was along the lines of, "You've pretty much got it. You'll do fine." Boy, I hope they're right!

Moreover, the seminar was kind of fun. We got to pretend to be students in each others' lesson presentations, and I luckily got seated next to Sean in all the workshops and lectures! I swear, that kid is a trip. We were having a grand old time. Plus, one of the two recontracting JETs that worked with me and Sean on our lesson plans was this amazingly energetic and entertaining individual named Mark Miller, this big black Canadian guy with boundless enthusiasm.

After the Tuesday session, a group of us went and got kaitenzushi in Sanjo, and then explored a giant arcade for awhile. (In our business clothes.) After Wednesday's session, which ended at noonish, I grabbed lunch with Liz, Joanna, and Mike, and we took a turn through the Imperial Gardens. (Though they're really more like a park than real gardens. Still nice, though!)

There were plans for karaoke in the evening, so I wandered back to Sanjo to kill time until people were done with their various errands (or for the unlucky city kids who had to go back to school, until they got off from work). Funnily enough, I ran into Phil, Neil, and Alex Ma at the Sanjo Book-off (a really large used book chain), so we wandered around together. After awhile Neil went home and Alex went to Sean's for a bit, so Phil and I just shopped around Sanjo and grabbed dinner for several hours until it was karaoke time. I bought several things, including: a pair of earrings, two more punny stamps, a book about post-atom bomb Nagasaki, a Gackt CD, and some really helpful looking kanji flashcards.

At 8ish Phil and I finally met up with the gang and headed to a nearby karaoke place. Said gang consisted of us, Sean, Alex, Alex, Mike, Mike's friend TJ, Amy (our prefectural advisor), and Amy's fiancee Chris. Much silliness, perhaps most notably "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Anyway, we had a fun time, and a nice end to the Kyoto Seminar.

Today is back to work, and finally some real productivity!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Waving goodbye to summer hols.

Well, it's back to work tomorrow for me. I have the feeling we JETs are about to hit the ground running!

The vacation has been nice while it lasted, though. I didn't accomplish too much on Wednesday; mostly just did a bit of organizing and laundry in my apartment (which, despite my best efforts, is already messy again. Looks like more straightening up this afternoon!)

On Thursday, I and Nelis met Brad and Mike (the two Interac guys) at the station, and took the train to Yagi for the annual Yagi Fireworks Exhibition! (Yagi Hanabi Taikai.) Lerato joined us there, and we walked maybe a half mile through streets lined with various festival vendors, from food to children's games. Eventually we reached the river, along the banks of which thousands and thousands of people were camped out, waiting for the show to start over the water. Our group managed to snag a really nice spot on a nearby bridge, where we had a great view of everything!

The show got started with a bang, and we were soon joined by Brad and Mike's friend Yuki, and his friend Aya. They were both really nice, and Yuki speaks very good English! Anyway, the fireworks were amazing. All in all, the show lasted over an hour! Hands down the longest fireworks display I've ever seen. (Factoid: the Yagi fireworks show is super super popular, because it's the biggest one in Kyoto Prefecture! No wonder it was so rad!) I also made friends with one of the local police guys, who was apparently really into American baseball. When he found out I was from Atlanta, he was all, "WOAH! Atlanta Braves! Tom Glavine! Greg Maddox! Chipper Jones! Andruw Jones! John Smoltz!" He would also say, "You know Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies/et cetera?" and then start naming players from those teams. For extra hilarity, he kept doing impressions of the players he was naming -- but they were pretty much the same two impressions over and over again, consisting mostly of him miming out pitching or batting.

After the show ended, we all adjourned back to our various towns, and the Sonobe crew (myself, Nelis, Brad, and Mike) proceeded on to Good Bar, which is really one of the only places in town to hang out. The atmosphere is really nice, though, so I don't really mind! It's not a bar in the sense of noisy twenty-somethings getting trashed (thank goodness), rather catering to the thirty- and forty-something after work crowd. Envision Cheers, if you will; pretty much everyone who goes there is a regular, several of which I'm already getting to know. I think my favorite so far is Ken-san, a thirty-something guy with a great sense of humor, who owns a local sports store and a gas station. Really, they're a good crowd, and I look forward to hanging out with them more!

On Friday, me and the boys spent maybe two hours wandering around town (in the scorching heat) looking for the Sonobe Festival, which didn't actually exist. Mike gifted to me a region-free dvd player (of which he for some reason had two), though I'll have to go buy some cords for it before it can be put to use.

Around eight-thirty, there was once again a mass exodus to Good Bar, for Mike's goodbye party. It was a grand time! Lots of people came, and we were there for hours. Probably between six and seven hours, actually. It passed so quickly! I got some cute pictures, as well as some truly hilarious videos of Yuki singing. I think he'd been drinking a bit before he arrived, and apparently he turns into a jukebox when he's had a few! During some of them, I was laughing so hard I was in tears.

On Saturday I took the train into Kyoto (once again to the Sanjo area), for Daimonji! Our group was organized by Todd, a really funny recontracted JET who had met us all by helping out at Tokyo and Kyoto as an orientation assistant. We had a crowd of perhaps fifteen prefectural JETs, as well as a handful of unassociated friends. We staked out a spot on the banks of the Kamo River, where we could see the mountain pretty decently, and put down tarps and towels and such while we waited for dark to fall. Really, though the lighting of the giant mountain fires was cool, the whole experience was more about having fun with other JETs. Liz from Kameoka and I had some nice conversation which included the "resolution" to put together some sort of street-dance performance, Pat and I chatted about Paul Gross and regionalism in Canada, and me and Mike talked about religion and spirituality. Really, I want to make Mike, Sean, Alex and Alex into a posse with whom I hang out a lot. They are such great guys!

After the whole fire bit was over, we wandered for awhile in search of dinner. I spent most of the walk getting to know this really interesting guy named Sebastian, who is half-Japanese and half-Mexican! He is fluent in both Japanese and Spanish, as well as speaking really good English. (He went to an international school. Trilingual! I'm so jealous!) Funnily enough, when we finally found a place to eat, it was (much to my surprise) a Mexican restaurant. The portions were a bit small, but actually it was quite good. I had some pretty yummy chicken enchiladas.

I have also befriended a girl from New Jersey named Joanna (as opposed to "normal Anna," who is me). She is a self-declared New York Jew, and a barrel of laughs. "'What are you gonna do with your art history major?' 'Be witty at dinner parties and appreciate Europe more than you.'"

By some miracle (and some fast walking on our part) I made it on to a train back to Sonobe before they stopped running, narrowly avoiding the necessity of crashing at either Joanna or Sean's apartment. On the upside, now I have a better knowledge of the train schedule! If I can make it to Nijo Station for the 12:11 back to Sonobe, I'm golden.

On the agenda for today is preparing my self-introduction lesson, which I (and every other new JET) have to present at the Kyoto AET (Assistant English Teacher) Seminar on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

p.s. New photos up at webshots. Check 'em out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I managed, with much trying of my patience, to get some photos from Kyoto Orientation and Nijo-jo put online for your perusal! They can be found here. Let me know if there's any trouble with that link, but I think it should work fine!

Saturday was quiet, but on Sunday I met Fig and a friend from Wittenberg, one Megan "Megzatron" Hauser by name, for a delicious curry lunch and some shopping. I finally found a purse (patterned with a cute little bear cartoon called "rirakkuma" -- a pun that translates to "relaxing bear"), which is great, because I'd been searching for one since before I left the states. In the meantime, I was using the Daily Yomiuri bag they gave us for free in Tokyo, which was solid, but not stylish. :P I also picked up some other little stuff like earrings, an English language book about Japanese folktale monsters, and some rubber stamps with hilarious Japanese puns on them. Me and Fig spent a good fifteen minutes reading the selection available and just cracking up.

It might be hard to get the full effect for those who don't speak any Japanese, but in case you're wondering, the two I ended up choosing were: "Soo desuneeku" and "Shizukani." Essentially, "soo desu ne" means, "is that so?" And "suneeku" is just Japanizing the English word snake, so the combined caption had a big grinning snake on it. "Shizuka ni" means "quietly," and "kani" means "crab," so that one had a crab. I swear, they're funny if you see them. You'll just have to take my word for it. (Next time I go back, I plan to buy "Maachigattora" -- "I made a mistake" and "tiger.")

Meg eventually had to run off and meet her host family, but Fig and I got some ice cream and continued on shopping for awhile before heading back to the station. Though I needed to do some chores at home, we decided on a whim to go sit on the banks of the Kamo River for a little while. LITTLE DID WE KNOW! Despite my best intention to do laundry and dishes, Fig and I walked straight into a riverfront street festival! Complete with crafts, food stalls, fire-eating jugglers, free handouts, drummers, paper lanterns, and the fattest ducks I've ever seen. We wandered through and back over the course of maybe two hours, and had a marvelous time. Both of us bought these really pretty owl windchimes (which I just now my mom is going to try and steal).

On Monday, I finally met my JET coworker, Kristin from Canada. She seems quite nice. We spent most of the day chatting about various things, from JET advice to that beheading in Manitoba to the parliamentary system of Canada. (The last of which I now know a great deal more about. Minority government took a moment to get my head around.) I also met the teacher who is more or less in charge of our section, Hosoi-sensei, who just returned from chaperoning a school trip to Australia. He seems quite pleasant! In fact, he and Wakabayashi-sensei sent the two of us home early, just because it was hot in the teachers' office. (They said that the air conditioning had broken, but frankly, I didn't notice a huge difference from other days. It's always hot!)

Last night I discovered in the mail a care package from my dear Dr. Jones. (College roomie from this past year. Her name is Juli Jones, she wants to be an archaeologist, and she owns a brown fedora. She is my Dr. Jones, and I am her Short-round.) She sent me the last of those Stephanie Meyer "Twilight" books, "Breaking Dawn." I have already read the entire 752-page monster. It was a good day. :)

Today was the start of my four-day summer holidays, which all Kyoto prefectural JETs apparently get. No work until Monday, hooray! I'm not sure that the municipal JETs get summer hols, though, because Fig hasn't heard a word about it from her supervisors. Sadface.

Apart from reading "Breaking Dawn," I spent today doing laundry and dishes and even vacuuming a bit. I don't know if tatami mats are super easy to clean, or if this is the best vacuum ever, but I almost enjoyed myself, it was so effortless! Then Nelis walked with me to the grocery store, even though he didn't need anything, and kept me company while I did my shopping. The sweetheart even carried most of them home for me, despite my protests! (No, mom, don't get any ideas -- he's got a girlfriend in South Africa. Nelis is just a gentleman!) I picked up takoyaki for dinner, which has made me an extra happy Anna.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Kyoto Orientation

Was largely a success. Much cozier that Tokyo Orientation, having, oh...17 or 18 people, as opposed to 1000. Also, the information sessions tended to be less, shall we say, sleepy.

Upon arrival Wednesday we checked into our rooms and had a brief meeting about how the orientation would proceed, and then that was it. One large group went out to dinner, but I opted to go on a shopping expedition with Nelis, Lerato (the sweet South African girl who lives in Arashiyama) and my orientation roommate, Elizabeth. We headed via subway to the same shopping district Lerato and I had been to together for kaitenzushi with our respective predecessors, at Sanjo. There is a whole set of roofed shopping arcades; a whole network of streets, really.

The excursion was kind of fun, but there were a few downsides. A) On our way to the subway station, we got caught in a massive, MASSIVE downpour. By the time we finally reached the underground (which was some way off), we were all wet to the skin. B) Elizabeth, while a nice enough girl, is a little bit...socially unaware. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that by the end of the evening, all three of us were thoroughly frustrated with her. (Only I couldn't escape, since we shared a room!)

On the upside, I did manage to pick up a shiny new camera, as my dear old Charlie outright refused to take any pictures in Tokyo. It even matches my phone! *geek out*

On Thursday we had time-consuming welcome and appointment ceremonies, some decently useful lectures, and this time, I elected to go out with the main group, while Nelis and Lerato escaped on their own to try and buy laptops, and Elizabeth (who is evidently a picky eater) elected to just hang out by herself.

So about fifteen of us, plus prefectural supervisors, all piled down to an izakaya, where we spent a good two or two and a half hours just eating and chatting! I really like the prefectural JETs here in Kyoto, and am so glad I got the chance to bond with them! We had so much fun!

In fact, afterwards, my new pal Phil (who is from Boulder, CO, and is now posted in Kameoka, just a few stops from my town) suggested that we go do some karaoke! I was game, so we grabbed anyone who wanted to come, and headed out! The party ended up as myself, Phil, and five other guys, all of us piling into a subway train back to Sanjo. (It's the place to be, if you hadn't guessed.)

The other five guys were: Alex (from NY/LA), more different Alex (from Illinois), Sean, Mike, and Neil (who I met in Tokyo). They were all super nice and fun to hang out with, and I was really glad I decided to tag along. We sort of haphazardly exchanged contact information; I'll be sure to get it in more detail at our next seminar, in two weeks!

After singing such classics as Aerosmith, Metallica, 3 Doors Down, Soft Cell, Journey, and the Spice Girls, we managed to make it back to the Kyoto Rubino Hotel (our accommodations) in one piece, and all split off to bed. I had a bit of trouble, seeing as Elizabeth had gone to bed and turned out all the lights (ignoring the same courtesy of a lighted room that I had given her the night before), but at length I got into pajamas and off to dream land.

This morning was something of an early day, and it was all I could do to get up, showered, packed, and breakfasted before our 8:45 round up. We had a few more information sessions, this time put on by current JETs, and at last were released. Some people had to go back to work, but some of us luckier ones decided to make the most of our trip into town! I, Nelis, and Lerato were joined by Phil, his (and our) neighbor in Kameoka, Liz, and a blonde named Kate. We grabbed a quick convenience store lunch and then went to see Nijo Castle! (Or, Nijo-jo.)

I'd actually been to the castle before with my host parents when I studied abroad, but it was still amazing. (And I think there were a few bits I missed the first time?) Anyway, I took lots of pictures which will get posted someday soon.

After that, it was just the long ride home, and an afternoon trying to recover. We were all exhausted by the time we got back! Still, not a bad trip at all!

karaoke: Yes, this originated in Japan. In Japanese, it literally means "empty orchestra." Also, in Japan, you can usually go to an establishment of "karaoke boxes," which means you and your friends get a private room and two microphones with which to sing, so the rest of humanity doesn't have to be subjected.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

a plea for help

Okay, so this isn't totally related to Japan, but I wanted to start of with a message to all my buddies in the Atlanta area:

These guys need your help!

Alerted by my good friend, the Duke of Shonk, I am greatly distressed to come across this news. For those of you who don't know, Wordsmiths is, while not the largest store, an absolutely lovely place to be. Their staff is friendly and outgoing, their special events often and fun, and their hours unusually long. It's nice to know that if I've got time to kill on a Saturday night, there's somewhere I can go that is not a restaurant or a bar. (And I've killed a lot of time at Wordsmiths in the past!) I've seen plenty little indie stores come and go in the boutique monster of Decatur, but this is one worth saving. Even if you don't want to donate your money outright, maybe go have a look around and throw them some business. Every little bit helps.

Alright, and that's the end of my public service announcement. News from abroad!

I arrived home on Monday to find that Stephanie had done an absolutely killer job cleaning the apartment. Seriously. I wish I had taken before and after photos. She packed away a ton of stuff, did the dishes, vacuumed about a million times, even moved furniture! The feng shui is way better now.

I began unpacking a bit while she stepped out to post some packages, and got most of my clothes, toiletries, et cetera put away, as well as setting out a few framed photos I had slipped into my luggage. I think my favorite is the one of myself and Reid at my high school graduation (it's a seriously good photo), so I gave it a place of honor in its own little cubby on the TV stand.

When Stephanie got back, I let her bum some illicit wireless on my computer, and then we went and got takoyaki. (So delicious.) We watched "Death to Smoochy" to kill some time, and finally went to bed.

Yesterday was her last day in town. I got rescued from my endless language study to go with Wakabayashi-sensei and Matsushita-san, a really nice guy who works in the main office, back to my apartment for the realtor check. Mostly Stephanie and I just stood around while they talked to the realtor lady about the broken kitchen fan and getting my name put on the contract. I would like to take a moment, though, to remark on how funny Wakabayashi-sensei and Matsushita-san act together. For a good portion of the ride to my apartment, they were debating (in English) which of their cars was "scrap," and from there proceeded into really slangy Kansai-ben Japanese. Also, Wakabayashi-sensei calls Matsushita-san "Macchan," which is essentially a really cutesy nickname. Me and Stephanie just looked at each other and giggled when we heard it.

Afterwards, I got to kill more time by accompanying Steph and Wakabayashi-sensei back to the phone store to finish canceling her keitai, and then she and I went to lunch. (Once again at Bisque. Anyone who comes to visit me will get taken there, because it seems to be among the best restaurants in town. I really like it, anyway.)

Back at work, I did more of the same, though Tanaka-sensei thoughtfully brought over a Japanese sweet called o-dango for me to try. Then I got money and maps for my trip to Kyoto Orientation, and then we went to see Stephanie off at the train station. By then it was almost four o'clock, and I get off at four fifteen, so Wakabayashi-sensei suggested he run me by the grocery store and just take me on home.

I met with Nelis briefly yesterday evening to suss out our travel plans for today, but other than that, accomplished very little. We're meeting today around 1:30 at Sonobe Station, from which we'll travel together to the Rubino hotel in Kyoto for our prefectural orientation. Somehow, I'd almost rather stay here, but maybe I'll do some shopping while I'm in town.

Well. Wish me luck.

Kansai-ben: a particular dialect of Japanese spoken by people in the Kansai area (which is often co-opted by comedians, if that tells you anything). It comes across as pretty casual and slangy, with a lot of "-nya" sounds in it.

o-dango: a type of Japanese sweet made, I believe, from flour. It's got a chewy texture, almost doughy, and tastes a lot like cinnamon. I quite liked it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

tee hee

Okay, still at "work," but this is just a funny thing I wanted to share with you guys.

Everybody know the movie "Dreamgirls," that came out a year or two ago and made a big splash with the critics? The musical one? Well, I can hear my school's junior high band practicing next door, and guess what they're playing a suite of music from? :D

So far they've played the title track once, and that one about "Move, move, move on outta my life!" about ten thousand times. It just made me giggle when I realized why the music sounded so familiar.

Nothing else to report, really, except that I've spent a large portion of my late morning and afternoon filling in about twenty Japanese crosswords. (Decidedly for beginners. I'm not that slick.)

This keeping myself occupied business is trickier than it sounds. Alas, short attention span.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Monday, Monday.

I've only been in the office an hour and a half, and already I'm sleepy. (And a wee bit grumpy, as my back hurts. Must have slept in some funny position.) Excluding yesterday, though, I've been relatively busy since my last communique on Thursday afternoon.

True to my word, I got paid at four o'clock (already about five hundred dollars, and I'd only been on the job, what, four days?), and then we drove around town a bit. I remained glued to the car window, trying to fix the location of everything in my mind. I haven't gone on any long excursions into the wilds of Sonobe from the apartment yet, but I also haven't gotten lost yet, so I'll count that as a win.

Thursday evening, Stephanie and I hopped the train into Kyoto city to meet a few friends of hers for kaitenzushi. I have quickly discovered that I have an extra stomach just for sushi, allowing me to eat great amounts. Fortunately for my weight and my wallet, I managed to restrain myself from going overboard. (Though it didn't stop being tempting.) I was introduced to Stephanie's pals Nick and Jane, who both live in Arashiyama (another stop on the same train line as Sonobe, but much closer to the city). Jane is staying on another year, but Nick is leaving soon, and being replaced by a South African girl named Lerato. I recognized her from orientation, and we had a few nice conversations.

After dinner we wandered around a nearby shopping arcade for a bit, where I bought two pairs of lacy dress socks (huzzah dollar store) and a box of blueberry tea. When we went home, Stephanie got off with the others at Arashiyama. It was her last night to say goodbye to Nick, and they were going to set off some fireworks. I was really tired, though, so I went on home. By some miracle, I did not get lost in the dark during the twenty minute walk from Sonobe station to our flat, though there were a few nervous moments when I thought I had.

Friday at work was spent, like most everyday in the office so far, alternately brushing up on my Japanese or chatting with Stephanie and Wakabayashi-sensei. He is a trip to talk to, and we had some nice long conversations about law, and politics, and international relations. I was surprised to learn about the North Korean Mass Games, which somehow I had never heard of. That is some serious business.

Stephanie and I grabbed a large lunch at this really tasty restaurant called Bisque, and in the afternoon we went to get me a keitai and to have Stephanie's cancelled. It took two hours to get my plan and everything set up, and then have the phone activated, so we ended up getting off of work an hour later than usual. Poor Wakabayashi-sensei hates bureaucracy and paperwork, and he got stuck translating for me! (I think I'm going to give him some peach coffee I brought from home as a thank-you.)

On the upside, the phone is rad. Cute, pale pink, with an (admittedly not great) camera, text messaging, internet access (though I'll use that sparingly), et cetera. Through much trial and tribulation, I even navigated a Japanese website to download myself a fun ringtone; "Hikari no Machi" by the band TOKIO.

Friday night we went and met the other local foreigners at a place called Good Bar. The local foreigners mainly consist of: myself, Stephanie (who is leaving tomorrow), Nelis (the SA kid in my apartment block), Mike (an American here on another English teaching program, who is leaving soon), and Brad (a British guy here on the same program as Mike, but who is staying on). There's also Kristin, who will be working with me, but she's in Canada on vacation currently. Also, Mike is being replaced by some British person named Timothy Vickerman. I suspect he might hate us when he arrives, because we have already nicknamed him Vickers.

We arrived to find Good Bar closed, actually, but Mike just called the owner up, as they are apparently good friends. We poked around in the supermarket to kill time, and after fifteen or so minutes, the owner, Hiro, appeared to open the bar for us. I ate a decent ham and egg sandwich on garlic toast, and we all mainly got to know each other.

On Saturday, I woke up naturally around 9:30 a.m., and spent the morning laying around the apartment and finishing the second season of Dexter. (Whoa, by the way.) Stephanie had left before I awoke, off to visit her sister in Hiroshima for two days. Around 10:30, I received a text message from Brad, who was going into a local town called Kameoka for some shopping, and wanted to know if I'd join him. I got myself cleaned up and met him at the station at 12:30, only to discover that he was driving! So we piled into his little two-seater car, and hit the road.

In Kameoka, Brad mostly showed me some good shops to get used goods (called "recycle shops" here). I bought a cute pink umbrella, which I'm really tempted to use as a parasol against the melting summer sun. Then we went once again to kaitenzushi (it never gets old, I'm telling you), and headed back to Sonobe. As we approached town, Brad mentioned that there was a lake nearby, and did I want to see it? Neither of us had anything better to do, so off we went, driving on through Sonobe and up to Hiyoshi Dam. The lake was quite pretty, and we spent a good hour just driving on these nearly empty mountain roads around it, listening to KT Tunstall in the background, with everything all green and sunshiny and overlooking the water. It was a lovely time. Often we weren't positive where we were going, but we just followed the edge of the lake and rivers as best we could, stumbling across a little campsite, the town of Hiyoshi, and managing to accidentally find our way back to the Dam in the process.

At last on our way back, Brad was kind enough to take me by the grocery store, so I wouldn't have to lug my purchases home through the heat. I only bought a little bit to get me through the weekend; bread, jam, some truly good camembert cheese, Japanese rice snacks, and a bit of pre-marinated beef that didn't cook up so well in the end.

We broke for dinner at five o'clock, having had a four and a half hour adventure, and then made another short trip to Good Bar that night with Nelis. Poor kid had to work that day, even though it was Saturday, because his school was having an open house. He seems a bit stressed every time I see him, and for a variety of reasons; most of all, because this is his first time ever out of South Africa, and he doesn't speak any Japanese. I think he's beginning to settle in, though, and we're all trying to help him out where we can.

As for yesterday, I did a whole lot of nothing. I read some, sketched a little picture, and watched a whole lot of Japanese television. My excuse is that it's improving my comprehension. Yes.

Stephanie got home in the evening, and we cleaned out a lot of old food in the kitchen, and then, under the cover of darkness, she snuck a microwave left here by Kristin out to the garbage pile. Evidently, it would cost some 100 dollars to dispose of properly, which is why she was sneaky.

I also finally spoke to my parents via Skype, which was nice. I miss all of you guys in the States! Get this program, it's golden!

And this morning so far has been, continuing endlessly, studying Japanese. There is so much I've forgotten! (And also, I have nothing else to do, as Stephanie's last day was Friday, and Wakabayashi-sensei is in Mie Prefecture for the day. On my own, and trying to look busy!) Ah, well. Back to it, I suppose.

kaitenzushi: Literally, "revolving sushi." You sit by a counter, and a bunch of tiny little plates with usually two pieces of sushi each come scooting by on a conveyor belt. You just grab off whichever ones you want to eat, and then get charged for the number of plates you consume.

keitai: Japanese word for a cell phone.

Hikari no Machi: Literally, "City of Light." It's a good song, so check it out! :)

For those that have been asking:

Gurando Haitsu Sonobe E-mune 202
Oyama-nishi machi nomoto 13-2

Addressed to me, of course.

And if you people give me your addresses, I can send you post in return! :D