Friday, 28 August 2009

Ohayoo World

Oh my, where to begin? My first twelve days in Japan have been unlike anything else I have ever experienced before. I have felt so many feelings, in such intensity over so few days.

I spent five days in Hiroshima as part of my Assistant Language Teacher training. Hiroshima made me feel strange; for a city that has witnessed such sadness and tragedy, it exudes so much peace. The Peace Memorial Museum and Park took my breath away. I went to see the A-Bomb dome one night and it was lit up so beautifully. There is a really curious paradox in the dome; it looks so fragile yet it is a symbol of such strength.

The majority of time spent in Hiroshima was taken up with training. I enjoyed training to an extent; I think I am going to enjoy using my mind in a different way through teaching. At many points throughout the week however,I felt so doubtful of my capabilities. I am not an extrovert by any means and I am so frightened that my quieter nature will be mistaken by both my students and colleagues as aloofness. I want to do the best job that I can, I really do.

Here are some snaps of my training group, they were nights I will remember forever.

So now, here I am in my new home. Marugame city is a teeny tiny city in the north east of a prefecture called Kagawa (the smallest prefecture in Japan) on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Marugame's status as a city is somewhat deceptive; on my first day, I followed the signs to Marugame City Center which led me to a small train station and a handful of shops. Feeling puzzled, I cycled a little further in the hope of stumbling upon the neon lights of Marugame city. No neon lights appeared. It was later confirmed to me that the train station is the city centre...

For the first few days, I felt so alone. It was a feeling I have never experienced before and it was not a pleasant one. Here I was in a tiny city nestled in the mountain. The little proficiency I thought I had in Japanese had been drowned by the feeling of complete and utter helplessness and I missed home and longed for the familiar so terribly. To make it worse, there was a problem with the internet connection at my apartment so I was spending a lot of money visiting the local internet cafe. Incidentally, the internet cafe in Marugame is called 'Funky Time' so I'm sure the Marugame folk were amused by the new foreigner in town bumbling around asking 'Funky Time doko desu ka?' From one comedic incident to the next....I was cycling around town a few days ago when I was stopped by a very wizened old Japanese man. People here are very quiet and reserved; I get a lot of curious looks here and so I was really happy that someone wanted to talk to me. We managed a few sentences (I need to study more) at which point, the man produced a camera and asked if he could take a picture of me whilst yelling to his friends 'Kate Mossu! Kate Mossu!' I didn't know what to do other than grin inanely...he seemed pleased with that. I wish I could have taken a picture of him too, he had a cheeky glint in his eye.

I also had an experience which really did warm my heart; I made a phonecall from a payphone on Tuesday and when I got back to my apartment, realised that I had left my notebook behind and it was too dark for me to make my way back to the phonebox. The next afternoon, I located the phonebox and there was my notebook in the same place with the book mark placed on the exact page I had been reading from. :-)

Since then, life is getting easier for me, mostly thanks to my wonderful mentor Kayo Minami. Kayo has helped me with getting a phone, setting up a bank account and getting my alien registration card. She has been so patient with me; every time we go to register for something, I usually forget one document or another. Kayo just chuckles,drives me back to the apartment and we start over again. Every day since I've arrived, she has insisted on buying me lunch and she explains things about her culture so clearly and well; I've learnt so much this week. Kayo is married but has no children and the other night, she said that to her, I was now like family. It brought tears to my eyes. We are supposed to have our mentors for just one week so yesterday should have been the last day. I truly think I have found a friend in Kayo however; tomorrow she is taking me to Ritsurin Koen which is a beautiful landscaped garden in Takamatsu city (the largest city in Kagawa) and next week, we are going to go to the hot springs together. Kayo is wonderful. <3

I've also been really lucky and have met some other ALTs living here in Marugame. It feels nice to have company already. One of the things that I've realised since moving to Japan is just how little I know about life. On the first day, Kayo took me to a 100 yen store. 100 yen stores are amazing - they sell everything imaginable and most items are 100 yen. That's the equivalent of about 60p. I love them. Anyhow, rather than stocking up on cleaning things for my home, I spent most of my time looking at rabbit shaped teapots and pretty stationary. Kayo had to eventually give me a gentle nudge in the direction of the kitchen cleaning products.

I start teaching on Tuesday. I will be teaching at two high schools here in Marugame. I am so excited to meet my students but incredibly anxious. I hope that I can do a good job and I hope that they like me.

My departure from the schools really made me laugh. It took me about fifteen minutes after saying goodbye to actually leave the building. Everyone was bowing,over and over again. Every step backwards was followed by a bow and a 'yoroshiku onegai shimasu!' Japanese people are extraordinarily polite. When I bought my phone today, the shop assistant walked Kayo and I to the car, opened the car door for me and waited until I had fastened my seat belt before handing me the bag. Even the waiters and waitresses in the restaurants appear so happy to serve you, they say hello with such gusto...well actually,it is more like giddy yelling but I like it.

All this typing is making me tired so I'll finish up for now with some more pictures The picture below is the view from the Seto Ohashi bridge; it is the bridge that connects Honshu island to Shikoku island. It was so beautiful to see so many little islands peppering the Inland Sea. I am looking forward to taking that train ride again soon.

This is a shrine about two minutes walk from my house. It was so peaceful there. A man took my camera from me and took a picture before bowing and handing it back, hence my slightly bemused expression.

Finally, this is the view as I come out of my apartment. I love the city but there is nothing more peaceful than having my iPod on and cycling on my lovely sky blue bike past rice paddies and mountains like this. :-) This mountain is a famous mountain in Marugame; the locals call it Sanuki Fuji.



Monday, 17 August 2009

Hello Japan

I have arrived, and what is more, with my luggage intact. I felt such enormous relief when I saw my big beribboned bag at baggage collection; I really don't know what I would have done had it gone missing so it truly warmed my heart to be reunited with it!

I find time difference such a bizarre thing and subsequently, it feels as though I set off from London about two weeks ago, when in fact, it was just yesterday. I was very tearful on my London to Hong Kong flight. At Heathrow, I felt really relaxed but when Mum started to cry, it really threw me. When I see others who I care for crying, I instantly do the same, it really is an instinctive thing. So my legs felt like jelly and I had a lump in my throat for at least half of the flight, made worse by the fact that I decided to watch Is Anyone There? It's such a beautiful film and combined with my recent goodbyes, I was somewhat conspicious with my puffy eyes and red nose!

The tiredness didn't really begin to hit me until I had to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka to Hiroshima. I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to see Osaka to Okayama; Japan is unlike anywhere I have ever been to. For miles and miles, all I could see from the window were concrete jungles. Houses and apartments are squeezed into the tiniest nooks and crannies and as a result, many are very oddly shaped. Once I glanced away from the concrete however, all I could see were the lush, green, beautiful mountains that almost seem to encircle the human life existing within the concrete puzzle. It is a curious contrast. Jetlag caught up with me after Okayama so I am almost certain that I spent the rest of the journey in my unsightly,embarrassing sleeping position: mouth wide open with a few body jolts when I wake up suddenly, gah. Why can't I sleep like an angel?

I've just been out for a sushi dinner with a few of the other assistant language teachers who I will be training with this week in Hiroshima. They seem like a nice bunch though at the moment, I am well and truly outnumbered by the Americans. I am yearning for some dry British wit. Isn't it funny how when in very alien/overwhelming situations, we crave to be around those who we share common bonds with.

I feel such a curious mix of emotions at the moment. Today, I experienced relief at having finally made it here (and getting my beloved bag), terrible sadness at having to say goodbye to my family and an enormous sense of anticipation. At several points, I have thought to myself 'what the hell am I doing here?'. A lot of people who participate in these kind of schemes are really into Japan. I suppose because Japanese culture is so idiosyncratic, it attracts the obsessives. My reason for choosing Japan is simply that it's very far away from home, I wanted a challenge so enormously huge and I wanted to experience a culture and language that are starkly different from my own. Sometimes, I wonder if that is enough. Who knows...

Training begins tomorrow so I am going to get some shut eye.