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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Opening Ceremony & The Dawn Of The First Day

Once again there are no pictures to accompany this moment but I felt like I should make note of this before too many other things passed.

As the title alluded to, today was the opening ceremony for the second term of my junior high school. As ALTs we arrive in the middle of summer vacation so it's more likely than not that we won't have much to do for our first few weeks. It actually works out for the better I suppose because it allots an appropriate amount of time to get used to our new surroundings while also providing a buffer in which we can take care of all the important paperwork that needs doing.

So that being said, I had moments of spare time interspersed with sudden bursts of things to do. I think my initial advice for the next ALT (hopefully years from now) will be: prepare to have nothing to do until you have too much to do.

(editor's note: I had started writing this at my apartment yesterday but was too burned out and a bit fatigued from having the long day and small head cold to finish it up.)

So the day of the opening ceremony was interesting for me. I'd like to think it went off mostly without a hitch. I got to work dressed and pressed (minus the jacket because: seriously) on time then sat for a while before I was asked to move to the gym. Sono-sensei was kind enough to guide me there as well as explain what was happening to me. All the teachers lined up on one side of the gym while all the students sat on the floor in the middle. Normally the teachers circle the students - evenly spaced on all sides - which I had seen before while volunteering in Kofu, but today was a special day.

The principal gave some remarks, which were followed by the vice-principal's remarks as to what was going to happen next. There was an odd mix of formality for formality's sake and lighthearted jabs from the principal every now and again towards the ends of his speeches. Even though no one was there to watch the event, just students and staff, it was all orchestrated as though we were being filmed.

Not too long into the speeches and announcements, the vice-principal (hereinafter Kyoutou-sensei) walked up to me and said that we'll walk together to where I need to be next. He took me to the other side of the gym across and told me that they would signal when I was to walk up on the stage for my speech.

Eventually that time came and I was beckoned from across the way. I scaled the steps and almost made it all the way to the podium before I heard Kyoutou-sensei's voice telling me to stop, and to sit in the chair next to the podium. Apparently I wasn't to speak just yet. Kouchou-sensei (principal) came up on the stage and offered a few more words - though he had just done so - on my behalf before I was told to get up on stage and speak. The speech part (the part I was worried about) went off without a hitch, and I think everyone was very happy with how I spoke.

I started walking off the stage and was once again being talked to from across the gym. This time it was because I was taking off too fast. Apparently I was to stay there while another student came up to the front of all the students and spoke in English and Japanese to me. It was their small introduction speech to match mine as read by this one particular female student. Though we were both required to make speeches to one another I cannot help but feel that we captured every ounce of sincerity that we could within the confines of a planned task.

The ceremony was basically over after that. A few more words from a few more people. We all filed back into our offices and rooms for a day of testing and no classes.

Or so I was told.

As I sat in my chair planning out what I would do for the rest of the day Fuketa-Sensei (Science teacher) came to me and asked in Japanese if I was ready to do preparations. For what, I inquired of him. To show all the movies about your home later today, he replied in kind. I was so not ready for this because I thought I would be showing movies and doing lessons the day AFTER this one. And as much as I insisted that I didn't have anything ready, only small things, he felt that those would be okay.

The lesson in this situation if there could be said to be one is: don't try to be diminutive of your non-work. That being said, he seemed like there were more preparations made for this moment that I had anticipated so I immediately jumped into my laptop - which I had brought that day so I could work on what I was planning to show the next day. I pulled pictures, videos, and recycled a powerpoint presentation that was meant for an English Camp but would work well enough for this occasion. I emailed my brother and asked him to take some quick videos of our house and send them via email so I could try to slip them in. The videos I wanted to show to the kids however weren't exactly the kinds of things that Fuketa-sensei had in mind.

I had dug up footage of Disneyland, which came out upside down on his laptop (thus useless) along with footage from things around my neck of the woods. I would've shown it on my laptop but I didn't bring the cables and adapters to plug it in because I hadn't planned (nor was I told)  that I would be doing something like that, that day. Disneyland aside, I tried to pick interesting things like the Red Bull Flugtag event in Long Beach.

While doing my preparations Fuketa-sensei saw it and said, "Is this... your hometown?"

To which I responded, "No, but it's in Long Beach which is very close to where I live."

Turns out this is not what they wanted, interesting footage of stuff that goes on where I live. So I scrambled once more to find a video of something that was partially, tangentially, related to me. It was a bit hectic that first day. Running downstairs to plug in a flash drive dump some stuff I got in an email from my brother, then running back up, putting it on Fuketa-sensei's laptop, videos being upside down, trying to install VLC so I could flip them, that not working, rinse, repeat, so on.

In the end I pulled it off by the skin of my teeth. I spent the rest of my day preparing more poster boards because I wanted to use those for the rest of the self introduction lessons. I didn't want to let anyone know about videos until I was absolutely ready and prepared to show a properly cut video of things I wanted to show.

That was the first day. I left without my bento (which I didn't eat because I spent my lunch hour trying to piece together a presentation) so I had to walk back to the school afterwards and get it. I wouldn't be able to eat it the next day because I would be eating school lunch with the students from that day on.

In other news I found out that my office has rats. Cool.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Maybe Jet Lagged, Definitely Backlogged

Too much has already happened and in an effort to not fall further behind I'll do my best to quickly hit the major plot points of my first couple of days as a JET participant

The place where all journeys begin

I arrived at LAX sometime before 1PM and found a ridiculously long line that could only belong to our flight on Singapore airlines. I saw some familiar faces as I made my way to the tail end of it, which seemed daunting at first, but moved at a very brisk pace largely due to the coordinated efforts of all the JET program people involved.

After checking in my bags (which were thankfully not overweight) I sat down with my family on the upper floor of the terminal where all the food courts are. They got up to get something to eat. I told them I didn't want anything, probably because I was full of anticipation more than anything else. I watched the table while they were away and that left me ample time to stare out into the sea of people who were destined for anywhere but the place we all stood.

I'm a fan of people watching in general. But there was something altogether different about the way I was looking on at the activities below. Today I wasn't mindlessly viewing random people. I was thinking.

As I paused and leaned over the railing I saw many things.

People reuniting. Families saying goodbye. Friends embracing. Lovers kissing. Farewells. Long time no sees. Excitement. Tears.

Everything that had once seemed mundane before had suddenly become magnified. Today was different. Today I was one of those people. As I looked on, I felt as though I were a part of something bigger than the program even. Whatever it was, I was glad that I felt it. Airports fascinate me for reasons such as these.

Skipping ahead a bit to the flight, I sat in the middle seat (which normally would be the pits) next to another JET named Matt Frazier. Matt is a super awesome guy who if memory serves me correctly flew in from Kansas City to Denver to have his interview and come time to leave the country he made the same journey once more: Kansas City to Denver then Denver to Los Angeles and naturally LA to Narita. He told me there were 40 people at the Denver Bon Voyage meeting, which adds up to the other numbers I had heard floating about in the weeks leading up to departing. Apparently there were 138 people accepted from LA, but the total number of people leaving from LAX was going to be 178. So there you go. Matt and I talked for a long time during the flight about all kinds of stuff. Hopefully we'll get a chance to hang out sometime when we're all traveling.

Not too many JETs in our section of the plane

Here's an example of how first class I am: We were given this zipper pouch before takeoff and Matt and I looked puzzled. What was inside we wondered. I unzipped it and discovered a couple of items.

Mysterious complimentary zipper pouch

Okay, the first thing I did was try to stick them on my hands. I admit it! And I thought to myself: These are the stupidest gloves ever! For shame.
Hah! Socks! I get it now!

 So I dug deeper into the bag, and this time I knew exactly what I was pulling out. A toothbrush and quite possibly the smallest tube of toothpaste ever. 

For when you need to scrub on the go!

After a while Matt decided to watch a movie, and I saw they had some games. As soon as I saw Earthworm Jim 2, I knew exactly what I would be doing for an hour or so. Or so I thought. It was buggy, slow, and after the first level it thanked me for trying the game. IT WAS A DEMO! DEMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It would've made my day had they not been demos
So after we land and get all our luggage sorted out we decided to walk outside for a bit to enjoy the incredibly hot and humid summer Japan has on offer. 

On a humorous side note: My predecessor's name was Ian, Mitsuko's was Kyle. My two roommates were named Ian and Kyle respectively. 

That night as Brianna, Ian, and I rode the elevator down we ran into my new buddy, Morgen, who looked super burned out that night and just wanted to catch some sleep. Poor guy. There was a mix up with luggage so had to take care of that. 

You can't see it in this picture, but this is me holding up an Ajitsuke Tamago in front of the Lawson sign, which was located about 3 minutes or so from the hotel. Ajitsuke Tamago how I've missed you!
I'll bring you another one when I visit Keiko-san! I promise!

Ajitsuke Tamago in all its glory

So we all went to sleep horribly that night, despite our best efforts. Oh well, at least tomorrow was only going to be back to back meetings. Meetings all day. All day long meetings.

The orientation book was nicely designed at least

 I couldn't help but shake the feelings of how important and seriously Japan treated our arrival when I walked into the main room where we had our preliminary keynotes. It was impressive to say the least.

That's not the 25th year of the program. It's the 25th year in Japan Emperor Years.

After all the meetings we went out again that night to see Akihabara. Even though most of it was closed by the time we got there it was still pretty cool. I'll have to go again though, during the day when we go on a trip to Tokyo apropos of any official plans. 

Here's some more pictures for you:

A little inside shot of the Yamanote Subway Line
Ian flexing his guns.

A karaoke place

After the next day's meetings we went out again for our last hangout as a group before we'd split up and sent all over the country. That night we were: Brianna (radiantly smiling too), Morgen (the visible gentleman in plaid); and behind them, Yeelly, Therese, Euan. We went out to Harajuku, and walked from there to Shibuya, had some food and drinks at an Izakaya, visited some wacky arcades, and ended the night with a ramen shop.

I wish we were all closer together. But we do get to visit all kinds of other places now

Here's my dinner that night.

We all squeezed together in there and enjoyed each others company

The next morning we were all set to depart to our various locations. I was shipped off to Tottori airport, where I was picked up by my supervisor Tanioka-san, a super nice guy, and another BOE member named Iwafune-san. We talked the whole ride back as they were super relieved that I could speak Japanese to them.

So that was the first couple of days in a really fast overview. I'll try to post as much as I can as soon as things settle down.

I know there's more story to tell, but this will just have to do for now! I think my next post will pick up with Tanioka-san and the first day(s) in Kotoura-cho.

Also, I mostly took videos of all the places I went to so I'll have to make a quick video later that highlights all of that.

Until then!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Joshua In Japan Episode 2!

Okay okay, I realize that I'm a little bit behind on the posting. I haven't even written about Tokyo Orientation or even those first few nights in my own place yet! It probably seems like I'm jumping the gun. . . but I couldn't resist the opportunity to get the second episode of my show out there!

Here's some show notes for you:

We open at first by returning from a weekend in Kofu-cho where I was able to say hi to many of the people I met while I was volunteering. Now that I've become a "sensei" by way of the JET programme I was met with congratulatory remarks which I humbly cast aside. In all honesty I was just happy to be back in Japan, a place that had already made a huge impact on my life more than once.

I made sure to come back to Akasaki this past sunday though because I was told there would be a summer festival that included: food, song, dance, an eating contest, and of course fireworks.

In the video I called it the Hakuhou Matsuri, but that's a slight mistake. It's actually known as the Hakuhousai. It's the same kanji, but I got the reading wrong. I apologize for that.

In any case, a literal translation of the event boiled down to: The White Phoenix Festival. Which is absurdly cool.

I captured a few things here and there, but the highlight of the evening was certainly the fireworks display. I managed to record the entire thing! So sit back relax and enjoy the long overdue second episode of Joshua In Japan!

I'll also throw in some pictures of the food I ate as a bonus for you out there.

Steak Stick: I wanted another one so bad

Churro: That cost me 350 yen. It wasn't bad but I could've paid for another steak stick

Takoyaki: I love takoyaki. Mitsuko and I shared this one

Squid: I'm always up for fried squid. A guy I met at the town office worked a booth that sold this one

Melon Shaved Ice: With two pocky! This was a lot better than I thought it was going to be