Long Time, No See

みなさん、こんにちは!元気ですか。長い間休んで、ごめんなさい。数ヵ月、色々なことがありました。旅行の後、学校に来て、忙しくなりました。私はALTをしていた学校の卒業式を準備しなければいけなし、英語の授業を練習しなければいけなかったです。

そして、最近、御殿場市から浜松市北区まで引っ越しました。御殿場市に比べて、このエリアは何もありません。御殿場はマクドナルドがありますが、ここに一番の近いのはバスで40分ぐらいかかります。マクドナルドがあまり好きじゃなくてよかったですね。

(Translation: Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m sorry I took such a long vacation. Many things came up after travelling and I became extremely busy. I had to prepare for graduation and review my English classes.

Recently, I moved from Gotemba to Hamamatsu’s northern ward. Compared to Gotemba, there isn’t really anything here. At least Gotemba had a McDonald’s. The closest one to here is about 40 minutes by bus (that I know of). It’s a good thing I don’t really like McDonald’s.)

I’m sure you were wondering whether something happened to me, but I promise you I’m very much alive.  During the last few months, I have been travelling. All places are listed below and will be addressed in their own posts (if I ever get around to doing them):

  • Yokohama
  • Odawara
  • Kamakura
  • Shizuoka
  • Mishima

Thinking now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of writing I need to accomplish in the coming days. Thank goodness for the pictures I take or else I’d have trouble remembering the places I’ve seen and the food I’ve eaten.

Backtracking, my turmoil began back in November when I planned what I thought was a harmless visit back home. It was my little secret, cloistered away in the depths of my heart. It was days before I could wipe the smile off my face; days before I could stop daydreaming of my parents’ reactions to my popping in unexpectedly. In the meantime, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Fate has its own agenda and I was helpless to stop it. Cue the last ALT meeting.

Surrounded by that tacky, office building interior with chairs that were too high, my trainer ominously beckons me over in that subtle Japanese way. “How would you like to move to Hamamatsu?” he asks.

“…what?” I blinked once, twice. What did I do wrong? What aren’t my teachers telling me? So many what-ifs flew around in my head. I was suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, we can’t keep you in Gotemba anymore,” he explained.

I handled the news quite well and, like a seasoned businesswoman, I asked, “Will the company pay for my moving expenses and will I have to come up with another apartment deposit?” Naturally, all my fears were laid to rest. Plus, the moving date wasn’t until the end of the school year.

I had nothing to worry about (or so I thought).

Reality came crashing down over my head when my credit card bill showed up. That meant time wasn’t waiting for anyone; including me. My secret was abruptly brought to light and it was imperative I tell someone in order to avoid any possible late fees. Who could I call? Who in my family wouldn’t bat an eyelash to help me…? Ah! Grandma!

How terrible of a granddaughter am I to rely on an old lady for financial assistance? Cynicism aside, she agreed and I was on the fast track to giving myself a heart attack. Without the absolute knowledge of my moving date or even where the hell I would be going, I was uncertain of whether I should start packing earlier or later. Even then, shoving things into boxes was double-duty. Not only did I have to make sure I was ready for my trip (without forgetting anything), I had to make positive I had my other things set up for the move (without forgetting anything).

Fast forward to Oh Shit Day and I was on a plane back to the desert. I thought I would be more excited to see home, eat Mexican food, and sleep under my glow-in-the-dark-star-dotted ceiling, but I wasn’t. I easily slipped back into the routine I was once a part of. My father even got some breakfast!

After a week of hanging out and being a fatty, I revved up my engines and went back to Japan. With the time difference, it was March 29th by the time I landed on the soil I’m quickly coming to call “home.” The rest of the week went something like this:

  • 29th: sleep in apartment
  • 30th: load up the moving truck, change addresses with the appropriate authorities, stay in hotel in Mishima
  • 31st: be homeless, register with the proper companies, and bum it out with a friend
  • 1st: attempt to locate the new apartment via Google Maps, get lost, have a breakdown

The day I got lost was the day I had never felt more foreign. Stuck in the middle of an area I knew nothing about, while it rained, with no knowledge on how to say, “I’m lost” was the most depressive state I’ve ever been in. I kid you not when I tell you my phone almost ended up in the gutter. Fear. Worry. Hunger. Hopelessness. It was all there in this ugly, knotted up thing lodged between my ribs.

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The Miyakado River. It used to be totally fresh but is now contaminated by the ocean after a large earthquake destroyed the natural dam that held Lake Hamana in.

Aside from a few odds and ends, I’m pretty much moved in and comfortable. There are other ALT newbies in the same apartment complex and I’ve been about as rude as I can be. So far, my only conversation with the lot of them has consisted of, “Hello. My name’s Ashley. Nice to meet you.” This love-hate relationship I have with people is going to see me as an unmarried spinster with plants and dogs clogging up my house in the future, watch.

I’m only sorry that I’ll be moving again after this school year.

…wait. What?

My new home is situated in Hamamatsu’s northern ward, quietly nestled in a field of rice paddies, surrounded by trees. The Miyakado River separates my apartment from my school and already, I’m enjoying having water close by. As the sun sets, I can see and listen to the fish jumping from the water. What’s incredible is that the waterfront is lined with cherry trees. This spring, I’ll have my chance to witness the epitome of Japanese culture every day I leave my apartment.

While my particular spot is famous for its oranges, Hamamatsu itself is famous for its gyoza, eel (うなぎ, unagi), music industry, and manufacturing. It was highly recommended to me to visit the unagi pie factory. They’re these crispy wafer-like cookies that are absolutely delicious. They’re often purchased as souvenirs.

Established along the Tokaido highway, Hamamatsu flourished with the constant flow of people coming and going. If you want to know more about the things that came out of this area, please visit the city’s website.

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An old photo. This is an older photo showcasing some of downtown Hamamatsu.

Recently, a drama was filmed here about a woman called Naotora Ii. Her original name was never recorded or never found, but she’s famous nonetheless. Born during the Warring States era and promised to her cousin Kamenojo (later named Naochika) in her youth, she was the only child in her family and unsuspecting of what life would give her.

As the political atmosphere heated up, Naochika was spirited away to protect his status as a potential heir. Because Naotora was left out of the loop, she thought he was dead and proceeded to be a nun. Over the course of 10 years, Naochika grew into a man of means, married, and had a male child: Naomasa.

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Promotional poster for the drama filmed last year.

This child was much beloved by all until his father was accused of rebellion and his family executed. Before the government could take Naomasa as a hostage of war, Naotora came out of seclusion, was declared lord of her clan and raised the boy. She sees him succeed as heir to the Ii clan before dawning her robes of religion.

The temple in which Naotora spent the majority of her childhood is about 20 minutes from here by car. It’s called Ryotanji. Every weekend, I can see the tourists gather at the Cultural Museum to get a gander at the historical artifacts… and buy some oranges. I’m sure they make their way up the hill at some point.

Overall, this is a town built for the quiet life and I’ll relish it (and the mosquitoes) until it’s time for me to start the next chapter in my life.

Home Sweet Home

Autumn has come to remind us that winter is not too far away. The wind and rain has become a bitter a lover – biting at my skin instead of caressing it. Lately, however, the sun has been shining. Like the bipolar weather, I too am experiencing times of happiness and times of bleak depression. Two times this week I have found myself in tears as I battle the raging torrents of self-doubt. Some days it feels like it will carry me away and I will give up the fight to find myself and what I stand for. The stress of wanting to show these kids I’m not an alien is really weighing down on me and has, unfortunately, caused me to come down with a cold. The fact that I have no Daddy or Mommy to baby me makes me all the more depressed.

To take my mind off of my tiny troubles, I will talk about what I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: my apartment. I live in what’s called a LeoPalace. They are a franchise that provides furnished apartments for single people. Each place is provided (basically) the same things: a folding table, bed with storage space, TV, mirror, two chairs, microwave, and washing machine. I was anticipating something that would fit in my bedroom back home but was pleasantly surprised. I will tip my hat off to the Japanese. They know how to utilize space. My only complaint is that I wish I had more cupboard/shelf space. This desire is even more pronounced due to the arrival of care packages from home.

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Thank you, Google Streetview.

My building is seemingly out in the middle of nowhere when it is, in fact, surrounded by several houses. There are just rice fields taking up the space in between. It’s a nondescript thing painted in blue and white stripes. Over time (with a bit of help from Toby), I have discovered the secret to the lights upstairs. One unit sits on the ground floor while the unit next to it is the one situated upstairs. It’s the door that’s on the foundation that leads upwards. My scaredy-cat self can only imagine what it’s like coming home in the dark of the night and having this spooky, gaping mouth staring you in the face.

Walking in, I’m greeted by the quiet stillness of the hallway. My shoe box is on the immediate right. The small doorknob that permits me access is often the place of rest for my wet umbrella. I used to have a pink rug edged in lace there until I got paranoid there was mold/bug eggs embedded in the carpeting. All of the floors, with the exception of the bathroom, are made of wood. I want to find the idiot that put the laminate down because he could have cleaned better beforehand. My parents already know how much the dust drives me crazy. What’s nice is that I feel a little more at home after noticing the dust bunnies behave in the same manner as at home.

After a few feet, you’ll notice the sorry cubbyhole that is my kitchen and pantry on the left and my laundry “room” on the right with the bathroom being immediately next to it. I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve stepped out of that place and almost killed myself slipping. In home improvement stores, I see small benches and chairs specifically for the bathroom, but I may just use one as a stepping stone from the tile to the laminate. At least the space is cramped enough I won’t have far to fall.

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Before the “remodel.”
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After the “remodel.”

The kitchen space, as previously mentioned, comes with a microwave, fridge and storage space. I don’t care too much for the storage because I’m used to such luxuries as a garage and mass amounts of shelving that allow me the opportunity to organize and avoid burying things that need to get eaten sooner rather than later. Microwaves cook hotter in Japan and they don’t light up when you open them. (I suppose I could count that as a blessing. I don’t have the chance to see the funk and gunk splattered on the inside.) At the time this picture was taken, I was recently moved in. Now, the following is crammed in there:

  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Tuna fish
  • Canned salmon
  • Sweet potato syrup packets
  • Instant miso soup packets
  • Pancake mix (I use this flour when I’m breading things)
  • Consommé soup packets
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Rice seasonings (ふりかけ)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Beef tomato soup

The fridge itself is very similar to an office unit but the freezer is more spacious. Unfortunately, during the writing of this installment, the fan on it decided to go out. The landlord was nice enough to offer English-speaking assistance and, between my company and theirs, my new unit should arrive this week. (I just hope my kitchen wagon still fits in its space. It’s where I store my dishes.) I’ve quickly discovered that, if I shop like an American and act like the world is going to end, things go bad in there startlingly fast.

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The infamous kitchen wagon.

I have issues with the cooking range and not because it’s electric. Coming to Japan, I didn’t realize I would be asked to go from a full four-burner gas-powered stove to a dinky two-burner contraption. Again, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because if a natural disaster happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stove blowing up on me. The sink is nothing special; nor is the tiny cabinet above it.

Across from the “kitchen” is the W.C. I can’t say bathroom anymore because the toilet room is definitely not where I would take a shower. It’s interesting how quickly I got over the novelty that is the Japanese toilet. All units differ in the options and features available. Mine comes with a sink that uses the water from the tank and a bidet that will clean my backside whenever I desire. My favourite feature is the heated seat.

After the short journey through that half of the apartment, we come to the anti-climax of my story: the bedroom. The only cool thing about this place is the outside monitor. It’s the “only window to the outside world.” (Did you catch that reference?) Beats peeking through a peep hole. Also, I hate the storage space under the bed. It’s dark and spooky and, when I first moved in, this was the spiders’ favourite place to hang out. I now have my luggage under there and make sure to move them around when I clean.

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This is probably the cleanest the place has been.

I do my best with what I have and can see myself becoming comfortable. Now, if only I can get over this cold/flu/whatever the hell it is. (Side note: nothing is scarier than looking for cold medicine when you can’t read the characters on the boxes. So, I’ve been treating with ibuprofen and vitamins.)

Catching Up

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Downtown Hamamatsu.

What a whirlwind adventure thus far! The downside to all of the panic and sheer loneliness is that I want to go home. I have sunk into this funk that has made me rather depressed.

In the States, I wasn’t so uncomfortable being around people I didn’t know. Now, not only do I not know the people, but I feel like a true outsider. I felt this keenly when, yesterday, the children were practicing for Sports Day. I was interested to see how this all went down so I slapped on my shoes and ventured outside. What makes me frustrated is that I’m noticing Japan has double standards. The day before the conversation went a little like this:

Me: “What’s Sports Day?”
Teacher: “The school has sport activities. It’s a competition and it’s fun. You should wear a T-shirt.”
Me: “I think I have one. Is it really okay for me wear it?”

After the attempt to include me in school matters on that day, yesterday was the wake-up call alerting me to my foreign-ness.

As soon as the teachers saw me, I was promptly redirected back into the teacher’s lounge and advised to watch from there. I was very much left alone and it hurt. It takes a lot to discourage me and that about hit the nail on the head.

I’m sure it would help if there was someone I could hang out with on a regular basis; someone I could direct my love and attention towards so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. Even my frog buddy has left the sanctity of my air conditioning unit (more about this later).

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Here’s the frog. He used to hang out around my air conditioning unit but he’s since moved.

Backtracking, I left Hamamatsu on the 19th to visit my Board of Education (BOE) in Gotemba and make the required introductions. I was presented to the US equivalent of a superintendent and was promptly asked about how long I’ve been “studying” Japanese.

I say “studying” because there have been times I could’ve applied myself better (like right now instead of writing this). Soon afterward, it was requested I do a 自己紹介 (jikoshoukai). This took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. My assumption was to only sit there, smile and nod. Apparently this went well according to my manager. He acted as the liaison between me and my Japanese superiors.

My last night in Hamamatsu was spent relatively in peace.

I walked around with a few more trainees from my incoming class visiting popular sites and eating good food. The portion sizes are another thing I’ve noticed that is one of those expectations vs. reality issues.

All this time, I thought Japanese food came in tiny portions that were easily manageable! If one was still hungry, they’d go get second helpings. Tiny portions my butt! There have been several times I’ve been served magnificent dishes that I just couldn’t finish. Soon, however, it was time for me to depart.

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Hamamatsu from the ACT Tower.

Hamamatsu was definitely more exciting in terms of things to do than Gotemba is.

On a bright and hot morning, I made my journey out into the spider-infested country. Already my attempts to impress everyone with my habit of showing up early failed miserably. Not only did I take the wrong train into Mishima Station, I boarded at the wrong time. I honestly thought all would be well because it was headed towards Tokyo. I ended up meeting my Independent Contractor (IC) over an hour later.

The next few days after that were a whirlwind of legal papers, shopping and apartment inspection. Let the spider hunting begin!

(Anecdote time! When I opened the window to my apartment, I heard something drop and hit the sill. Not finding anything immediately, I continued to push the window home. This time I was officially welcomed by a small green frog that dropped from… somewhere. I screamed and upset the gas man.)

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Top: Left view from my window. Bottom: Right view from my window. I look out onto a rice field. Birds often like to play there when it’s sunny.

Amongst the blur of activity, I was escorted to the two schools I would be taking over.

The self-introductions were repeated while the previous ALT flew off back to England and I was left with worksheets and flash cards only she understood.

Coming back to the present, the last two days have been a struggle. Working with children demands I have a magician’s bag of games and activities at the ready.

I questioned the ALT about the resources my company has available online and she said they were worthless. Maybe to her; I’m tempted to look to them for ideas. Never have I felt so lackluster and strange. At one of the schools in particular, I have 21 classes I need to present my self-introduction lesson to.

In my downtime, I’m expected to work on next week’s lesson planning. Lord, help me. Now I know how new hires faced with an impossible situation feel and I can’t quit.

In the meantime, I sit here listening to the soap operas on the TV and the rain-soaked crows cry on the power line.

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