Greetings from Kiryu City! My apologies for no updates! As I’ve already mentioned several times, I haven’t had internet in weeks. I’ve been writing this blog update in a document on the side in the hopes that I wouldn’t forget anything, but I didn’t even get to my computer for at least five days, so a lot of my first memories on The Program may already be lost.
Speaking of which, I’ve made some changes to Twisted in Tokyo, mostly in an attempt to keep my private life and my professional life separate. I won’t say what some of the changes were because drawing attention to them defeats the whole point, but I assure you they don’t affect any of the previous content on this blog and nothing content-related has been changed at all. Things that have been changed are, like… some names of people, or the omission of some names or locations. The only really obvious change is that I’ve taken my real name off the blog completely. I’m now going by the name Kita temporarily. If you remember what my real name is, just forget it, lol. It’s Kita for the moment!
Anyways, here’s the lowdown of what’s gone on so far. Before leaving for Japan, my friend MelJay, who was also joining The Program, came over to my home near Chicago the day before we had to leave. At that point she discovered that I hadn’t done much in the way of packing up for a year of my life, so that was interesting. The next day, we got up early and headed off to the airport to leave for Japan. The flight was only about thirteen hours, which really isn’t bad for a flight from O’hare to Narita. It was made even better by the fact that MelJay and I got to Narita before anyone else and managed to get two seats alone together in the front row. Hello leg room! During the flight, I watched Sucker Punch, which I thought kinda sucked. Good idea, terrible execution. Then I watched Jane Eyre, which was much better, except I took a sleeping pill during it and wound up tripping balls and losing the last twenty minutes of the film. Always try out a sleeping pill before you really need it, lol. The food was a combination of Western and Japanese, like beef and mashed potatoes and sushi. After a few hours of staring straight ahead like a lobotomy victim (MelJay practically had to unwrap my sandwich for me), we finally arrived in Narita. People from The Program were quick to help everyone get to where they needed to go.
We got to stay at a fancy hotel in Shinjuku for three days for orientation stuff. Here’s how that went.
Day 1: Went to karaoke. Realized my singing voice had gone to shit. Ate at Coco’s Curry and it was awesome.
Day 2: Boring. Falling asleep during orientation. Indies concert I wanted to go to was sold out. Too tired to Ticket Ninja (or move, for that matter). First ever concert fail left me irritable. Spent the night watching TV in the hotel with MelJay. Watched a show about a guy putting his arm in a jar full of mosquitoes.
Day 3: So sick of orientation I could scream. Snuck out of the hotel and ditched the entire afternoon of orientation and went to Shibuya with MelJay instead. Went up and down O1O1 (oh gawd, I swear the clothing has gotten even more awesome than ever before!) and ate dinner at First Kitchen. Fuck yeah shrimp burgers.
That was orientation. The following morning, I said goodbye to MelJay and she headed off to Chiba prefecture, while I headed off to Gunma. Bus ride was surprisingly short. Landed in Maebashi, which is a huge city. At that point, we had to go to the big city hall to do this formal welcome thing. Met the awesome man I will henceforth call Supervisor-san, as well as two other girls heading to Kiryu City. Supervisor-san took us to Kiryu by car, along with two awesome girls who were already veterans at the whole Program thing.
I finally got to see my apartment, which is huuuuuuge. And new (built in the last five years). At first I hated it because it seemed cold and empty and creepy, but I’ve started decorating (with copious amounts of pink and black) and the place is starting to look at least a little bit like a home. A home covered in garbage. I need to get on that. Honestly, the place is a little too big. I don’t actually know what to do with all of it. I think there’s going to be at least one empty room with nothing in it. Maybe I’ll store all the garbage in there, hahaha.
Oh, anyways. Um, the other two n00bs couldn’t move into their apartments yet, so they stayed with me. The next few days involved Supervisor-san taking us everywhere. I mean everywhere. We went to office after office, making bank accounts, applying for cards, speaking with real estate agents, meeting our principals, and lots and lots of shopping. Especially in my case, since my apartment was empty.
Let me give you an example of Japanese hospitality. When I needed to get a bunch of my shopping back home from downtown, but I also had my bike with me, Supervisor-san agreed to take all of it in a car back to my place. But what about my bike? I didn’t know how to get home yet. So Supervisor-san asked one of his staff members to take his bike and guide me to the train station and show me how to buy tickets and stuff. So that was awesome. He even waited on the train with me till it left. Then I figured I’d wing it from the station to my home, where I thought Supervisor-san was waiting. Nope. As it turned out, Supervisor-san was waiting for me right at the station and drove his car alongside my bike to make sure I got home! Japan… you are crazy. Awesome crazy.
So the other two n00bs had semi-furnished apartments. In fact, one of the girls pretty much had a pre-decorated, pre-everything-ed apartment. But not mine! There were no lights, no curtains, no clocks, no furniture… It was a sad desert of hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows exposed to the entire neighborhood. I should add that the view from my apartment is rice paddies and a cemetery. Yay Japan! I’ll post pictures once I get internet in my apartment.
Aaaaaaaaaanyways, I have lots of observations so far.
1. People in Gunma are very nice, but the women are definitely more intense than Tokyo women. Like, they’ll talk back to customers and stuff.
2. Many people in Gunma are… how do I say this? Um… fat. I read that 7% of Japanese people are overweight, and I’m pretty sure they’re all in Gunma. Is it because they all drive? Or is it because they aren’t as diet crazy as Tokyo? Who knows. All I know is, all the department stores and strip malls around here have plus-size stores or plus-size sections, and people are definitely shopping in ’em.
3. No one will greet you or smile at you unless you’ve been formally introduced. After that, you might as well be BFFs. Seriously. The n00bs and I walked through the Board of Education department and no one even glanced at us or smiled at us. Then we went to each section and formally greeted ourselves (shit like, “Nice to meet you. My name is ______. I’m from _______. I’m teaching at _______ school. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu”). After you do that, you can’t even walk by without everyone being like “Heeeey! How are you! Hiiii!”). At school, I’d been too shy to do the customary shout of “ohayou gozaimasu!” (“good morning!”) when I walked into the staff room. Then, one day, I decided to do it and a teacher who’d been kinda cold to me brought me green tea while I was at my desk. Damnit Japan. You are messed up.
4. There’s no unsuitable place for a rice paddy.
5. It never stops raining or being cloudy in Japan. I kinda already noticed that in Tokyo, but I thought I’d mention it again. I have actually seen lightning in a clear sky here, followed by rain with no clouds. Just cuz, I guess.
6. Lots of dogs in Gunma. And probably 50% or more are Shiba Inus. I kinda want one.
Anyways, yeah, recently I’ve been doing nothing but excessive shopping. Now I have, um… a small table. A single chair. Some curtains, but not enough of them. Uh… I have some cleaning supplies. Yeah, it’s not too exciting. I really want some internet. Seriously. Oh, but I got an awesome TV! I was at a Yamada Denki and this huge, gorgeous TV suddenly went on sale because it was the display model, out of its box and used, and they were switching the display. The TV was originally 75,000 yen, but I got it for less than 30,000! A crowd was forming around it when it went on sale, so I leaped on a sales employee and was like, “I’LL TAKE IT!” You should’ve seen the pissed/disappointed faces of the other people closing in on it, hehe.
So I’ve started going to school, which is… not very interesting, honestly. The principal is super nice, and the English teachers seem nice too, although they don’t actually seem to know much English. That, or they’re too shy to use it around a native speaker. I’ve been told when English teachers in Japan get drunk, they’re suddenly fluent in English, so we’ll see how it goes at our first enkai (party).
Anyways, the school is really big (about five hundred students) but the place is pretty run down. Nonetheless, it’s pretty well equipped for a Japanese middle school and the classrooms even have air conditioning (though I have no idea if they’ll actually use it or not). For the next month or so, I have to come in every day and sit in the staff room with nothing really to do.
Another lesson in Japanese Hospitality 101: When I told the first-year English teacher that I didn’t know how to use my microwave or laundry machine, she was like, “oh, well let me drive you home when you leave all super early and shit today, and I’ll show you how to use that stuff.” The problem is that my apartment is the most disgusting, garbage-infested thing you’ve ever seen right now, so that was super embarrassing. I offered her some free oolong tea in the hopes that drinking tea would distract her from the fact that my apartment makes me look like an otaku swamp monster. I assured her it would be clean by the next time she comes over, and she was all like, “yes, I would love to come over when it’s clean.” FML.
As for the students. Dayum. They’re pretty rowdy. Well, actually, it turns out my school has the lowest test scores in the city and the lowest English test scores in the whole prefecture (which has two million people, I should add). Sooo… they’re not exactly the most motivated creatures ever. But I was still surprised by the chaos they seemed to exude. At first, children who saw me seemed apprehensive. I got a lot of confused or worried looks. Then, while I was wandering aimlessly trying to find a front door that wasn’t locked, I passed a classroom full of girls who started whispering excitedly amongst each other. Then they started calling, “hello!” at me through the window. They must’ve sent some kind of Bat Signal through the school because I started receiving similar reactions after that. At one point, I walked into the gym and was watching kids doing gymnastics and basketball and stuff and a group of first-years spotted me. The next thing I knew, they came running over in a mad stampede and formed a semi-circle around me. It kinda went like this:
Gym Teacher: [in Japanese] This is the new English assistant! Formally greet her!
Takeshi (not real name): Hajimemashite, Takeshi desu. Yoroshiku onega-
Gym Teacher: [in Japanese] Use English, of course!
Takeshi: Oh! Uh… [looks helplessly at gym teacher] Hello… my name is… Takeshi… Nice to meet you too.
Gym Teacher: [in Japanese] You don’t put “too” at the end! That’s her part!
Takeshi: Oh! Uh… Nice to meet you too.
Gym Teacher: No “too!”
Takeshi: Hai, uh… Nice to… meet yooooooooouuuuuu.
Kids: [excessive giggling]
They’re like that. And they’re not particularly afraid of authority, either. My principal walked me into a club that was having a meeting and the kids didn’t bother to settle down while he was in there. They made an open display of not knowing kanji and didn’t even hesitate to scream or slap each other in front of him. Principal-san, for his part, just watched them with a small smile like a doting father. These kids will probably be a handful, but they seem pretty lovable. Some of the first years are sooooo tiny, though! Puberty hasn’t hit some of them yet, so they look like seven year olds! On the other hand, some of the third years are getting very tall and their attitudes seem to be growing with them. A lot of them are definitely trying to give off the “I’m a badass” vibe. Well, we’ll see about that!
Oh, and I was always told conservative dress is big at Japanese schools. Well, bullshit for my school during the summer. The entire staff is wearing Adidas track suits - even the women!
Anyhoo, for the most part, the time we Program people spend at school for the first month is painfully boring. I spend about six to eight hours a day sitting at a desk doing nothing. I should have internet in theory, but I haven’t figured out how to make it work yet. So… for the most part, I just sit here staring at books my predecessor left behind or doing things like, um… typing this blog. I’ve also been reading middle school ESL versions of famous books like Dracula. I need a life, hahaha.
I’ll have some more updates coming soon! I’ll should have a lengthy, picture-tastic post about Kiryu’s Yagibushi festival soon! And I’m going to more indies shows this weekend! Hurrah!