Monday, August 09, 2004

Working in Japan

Thursday, July 29th & Friday, July 30th
So I got up Thursday morning eager for my first day at my new job. I put on nice clothes, but I didn't have to wear a suit, which was a relief, since I hate wearing ties and it's like 95 degrees here.

Utani-san, who is my supervisor and a nice guy of 25 with some limited English skills, picked me up from my apartment (aparto) and drove me to the Board of Education about 6 or 7 minutes down the road. I had to give a short speech of introduction to my new co-workers in English and in Japanese. I basically just said who I was, where I was from and how happy I was to be in Taisha. With some nifty phrases I picked up from the JET handbook, I got smiles all around and a smattering of applause. Satisfied that my first attempts at internationalization had gone well, I was shown my desk and introduced more personally to my immediate neighbors. The BoE is a large room within a huge complex that houses a library, music hall and the town offices. Our room has one small office for Abe-san, the head man, and about 20 desks all pushed together in 3 rows where we all sit and do our work.
The only drawback on this arrangement is that my new desk is right by the break room, where the other workers are allowed to smoke in the back area. So I end up smelling like smoke when I go home every night. Almost everyone of my co-workers (about 16 men and 4 women) smoke, so I'm the odd-man-out there.

My desk was occupied by my predecessors and a large map of the United States is spread out under the clear vinyl desk-top covering and my predecessors each circled their hometown. Sara, my immediate predecessor, is from Iowa. Some of the others have been from Florida, Canada and even England. I'm the first guy in about 8 years, so we'll see how that plays out.

Thursday was more paperwork (getting my Alien Registration card, etc.) and some more introductions. I visited the local Jr High where I'll be teaching and a few of the teachers greeted me warmly. The kids are on vacation right now between terms, and the new term starts August 27th.
I also got to see a bit more of Taisha on Thursday as Utani-san drove me to the impressive IzumoTaisha shrine, dedicated to marriage and family. We bowed and clapped our hands in the ritual way in front of the entrance to the Shrine proper, and made a wish as we threw money onto an offering box.

Utani-san also took me to the larger city of Izumo, about 15 minutes away by car, where we shopped at the amazing 100¥(Hyaku-yen) store, which is like a $.99 cent store but way better. We also went to the local electronics store so I could buy an alarm clock, and it was the first (and so far only) place that I could use my Visa at. Japan is a cash society, especially out here in the rural area.

Friday was more intros and sightseeing, this time with Abe-san, the older head of the office. We went in his car up to Hinomisaki to see their famous lighthouse. Abe-san is in his 60s I'd guess, but he wanted to climb to the top, up the spiral stairs and look out over the Sea of Japan. We removed our shoes, put on some slippers, and began to climb. My legs are still aching. :)
But the view was stupendous and the cool breeze at the top helped stop me from sweating, if only for a few minutes. One of my elementary schools is up here in Hinomisaki, which is about 20 minutes by car from Taisha, so I think I'll be riding the bus to get to work on those days. As we walked back to the car, many of the locals greeted Abe-san and we even got to have a bowl of shaved ice with strawberry flavoring (like a snow-cone) on the house at a local shop.

Abe-san wasn't finished showing me around though. We drove all the way down the coast, along a road that resembles the 101 Pacific Coast Highway in California as it snakes past Malibu on its way up to the Bay Area. There is a beach near Taisha, but there are no waves to speak of and very little sand area.
I spent about two hours seeing local sights with Abe-san before returning to the BoE. He speaks very little English, so it was long periods of silence followed by short bursts of conversation as I remembered vocab I could use to ask questions, like kodomo is children, so I asked him if he has any kids, etc. He would then answer in full Japanese sentences where I would catch about every fifth word. But we had a good time, and he gave me a hat, like Gilligan wore on the TV show Gilligan's Island, that is way too small for my enormous melon, but that I wear almost every day to shield my head from the sun or rain.

I also got to meet the Principal of my Jr High, who was very interested in San Diego, as he had spent time in California back in his university days. He implored me to study Nihon go (Japanese) and take an interest in Japanese culture. He was also excited about the prospects of me playing sports with the kids. I'm not sure how to tell them that I'm really more of an academic than a sportsman, but I'm game for anything at this stage.

So my first two days were fairly easy, work wise, and my desk has this nifty little laptop with internet access so I can type these posts. Only annoying thing is that there is a key right next to the shorter-than-usual space bar that turns the type from English to Japanese, and I'm constantly hitting it and having to go back and re-type. Hopefully I will have internet access in my aparto soon and can type on my own nifty Apple i-book I got for graduation.

My first weekend in Japan was just around the corner, and then Monday I would have to give a speech in front of the mayor and the Taisha town council in both English and Japanese.

Next: Out on the Town with the JETs/What's for dinner?

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