Tonight Japan and the US are playing each other in softball. Go USA!
I have composed a few blog entries on my laptop back at the apartment, intending to upload them if/when I get internet to my apartment. Maybe I'll save them to disk and bring them into work so I can post them sooner. At this point, though, I feel like I'm e-mailing the same information to everybody, and I'm spending a lot of time doing it. So I will try to make this The Entry that Answers the Frequently Asked Questions. I may update it from time to time; I'll try to alert you faithful readers when I have done so.
- Where is Shimane?
On the main island, Honshu, at the western end, along the Sea of Japan. But I am farther inland, about 15 minutes' drive from Hiroshima Prefecture (though quite a bit farther from Hiroshima City, which has been nicely rebuilt in the last 60 years, in case you're wondering).
Here's a map. Here's another map.
- What's the weather like?
Hot and humid right now. Syracuse sees this weather from time to time, but usually not all summer. Today, actually, has been a bit milder. Most everyplace is air conditioned, which is nice. I have an air conditioner in my apartment, which is extra nice.
It's also rained from time to time. Nice, loud thunderstorms. There was a typhoon that crossed the island my first weekend here, but the mountains dampened it to something less spectacular than even a thunderstorm. It rained, and the wind blew a little, but when I woke up the next morning, there weren't even any leaves strewn about the road.
No earthquakes yet, either. Not that that's weather, but I thought I'd include it here.
- Does it snow in Japan?
Yes. The 1998 Winter Olympics were held in Japan, if you will recall. More specifically, it snows in my little corner of Shimane-ken. The locals were worried at first that I would have a hard time staving off the cold, but when they realized that Syracuse is at roughly the same latitude as Sapporo, Hokkaido (a fact that isn't really as meaningful as it sounds), and when they heard my tales of snow drifts as high as the ceiling, they were convinced that I'd be fine.
- How was your flight over?
Long and sucky. But I survived.
- Were you delayed by customs officials?
No. Which was good: they might have confiscated my NyQuil.
- How is your apartment?
Not bad. I'm on the second floor, with a nice balcony which runs the width of the apartment, and is accessible by sliding glass doors from both the dining room and the bedroom. The dining room and kitchen run together into one large room, and there's an extra room besides; right now it's holding all my semi-unpacked stuff, which is strewn about the floor. Japanese homes are typically smaller than American homes, but I think these apartments often accomodate families, so this one feels like a good size to me.
I have my own (small) washing machine, but no dryer, so I'm still getting used to this Fabric-Softener-Before-the-Last-Rinse-Cycle business. And also the Hanging-Wet-Clothes-Around-the-Apartment business. But I'll get the hang of it.
No oven, either. I've got a toaster oven, and one of these microwave/oven contraptions (it looks like a microwave, but it also cooks like a regular oven), but these are small. I have two gas burners for a stove. The sink is pretty normal, but low, so I have to bend over to wash the dishes. The refrigerator is small, but I don't need a big one.
I am also greatly relieved to have a western-style toilet. No squatting! It's still a little weird, in that it's got a trap-door function at the bottom, like I've seen on some RVs, but it conserves water.
I don't pay rent; this is unusual for JETs. So all considered, I've got a great pad.
- How do you like your job?
I haven't really started the actual teaching yet. The school year starts in April, and is arranged in trimesters. Between the first and second trimesters is summer vacation, so that's what's going on now. I alternate weeks between Nita and Yokota, and I report to each town's respective Board of Education each day, where I study Japanese and web surf (more and more of the latter, I fear). It hasn't been a complete waste of my time, since I've gotten to know some of the folks around both towns.
When I actually start teaching, you'll hear all about it, trust me.
- Does anybody speak English there?
A few. Probably more than I've met, and those that do are often initally shy about it. There's another ALT in Yokota, Mabel from the UK. She'll be teaching at Yokota Senior High School, which serves both Nita and Yokota. And there's a CIR, whose name I've forgotten (sorry!) who works at Yokota Town Hall. She's from Thailand, and speaks Japanese fluently. She's also very shy about her English, but really she understands quite a lot. We spoke briefly yesterday at the Yokota Coming-of-Age Day, where we each gave a small speech and were otherwise unsure about what was going to happen.
Almost everyone I've met under the age of 50 knows a few English greeting phrases. Many know more than that, but their English is more like a vocabulary list. As of yet, I haven't met any Japanese who are what I would call fluent.
- Is the field hockey game over?
- Who won?
- What was the score?
- How much Japanese do you know?
Not much. I've memorized the hiragana, which is the syllabary used for Japanese words. I've started working on the katakana, the syllabary for foreign words, which will come in handy at the supermarket.
Apart from that, I know a few greeting phrases, and a handful of random words. And Domo arigato gozaimasu, variants of which I must use half a dozen times a day on average.
- Isn't Japan an expensive country to live in?
It depends. For the most part, yes. Like I said, I don't pay rent, so that's one less financial burden, but this is unusual. Fruit is very expensive. When I can, I will upload a photo I took of some 6,800-yen melons; that's roughly 65 US Dollars; cheaper melons can be purchased for 1,000 or 1,500 yen. (I'm talking cantaloupes, here; smaller than a volleyball. I think watermelon is actually cheaper per each.) I've seen two peaches sell for about four bucks. I told my friend Sayuri that when they're in season, we can buy a kilogram of peaches for that price; she was surprised.
I can get Häagen-Dazs ice cream if I really want to; 300 yen for about half a pint. And as much as I want to get a car, I know it's going to be a big cash sink for me.
There's a gas station near my apartment, and I think I saw the price at about 100 yen/liter... but I'll check it again next time I go by.
On the other hand, there are these lovely, lovely 100 Yen stores. They're like 99 Cent stores in the States, but sooo much better. This is the Recent College Graduate's dream. I have another photo to upload of a bunch of stuff I bought there for about 32 USD.
That's all I can think of for now. If there are any more questions of this sort that you'd like answered, leave a comment on this post, and I'll include it on the list above.