Wednesday, August 20, 2003

number two (I promise they won't all be this long)

originally an email

Wow. Hello Everyone.
I was just reviewing my last email and I realised just how long ago that really was. In actual fact, it was only 9 days ago, but so much has happened since then. This is going to be a REALLY long email. Get yourself a cup of coffee and a doughnut before you sit down and read this puppy.

More events of the week preceeding the last email:
a mostly uneventful taiphoon which killed 4 people nationwide (they were probably the sort of fools who go out in a taiphoon to watch the action), and there was a shack blown over in the next town. Our town's shacks were left intact.

Saturday the 10th was the Tokushima JET drinking party and buffet at the local beer garden. At 10am, Tera-san (who actually lives in Tokushima city) took me into town to a discount shop, then to the 100 yen store, then to his house to meet his wife (who gave me a ton of food and soap) and then he took me out for lunch before dropping me off at the station where I met up with some friends (other JETs).

That evening I met many of the renewing JETs that night, as well as the few newcomers I did not already know. There is a good pub we went to afterwards called the "Queen Vic." A little hole in the wall which caters to westerners is always a plus. I planned ahead to crash at the home of a Brit named Dan (who looks remarkably like Tim Sutherland). I left the third bar ('Bell's') earlier than everyone else, as it was getting rather raunchy. Dan gave me his keys, though he scarcely believed I would find my way back. I am gaining quite a reputation for knowing my way around.

Already, JETs ask me for directions within Tokushima city. I suspect I know my way around better than them simply because I spend far less time inebriated.

On the following Sunday, waking around noon, Dan was home, and so was another Brit named Tom, with whom I am becoming good friends. He lives in the same -gun (county) as I do; in fact, my town derives its name from his town's name. His town is called Katsuura, so called because it is on the Katsuura River. My town, Kamikatsu, literally means "Above Katsuura." I'm sure it could have been called Kamikatsuura, but that is just too long a name for a town. Anyhow, I chilled out with him on that suday afternoon. We ate at the sandwich shop run by an winnipegger (who also was an ALT in my town 10 years ago) whose name is Brad, and an American whose name and town I forget. Then we went to a used record shop, an antique store, the 100yen shop and a grocery store. After all this, Tera-san picked us up on his way home to Kamikatsu.

Tera-san and I dropped Tom off at his apartment (which is en route to Kamikatsu), and then we went to the Natsu Matsuri (summer festival). I asked if I could shower first, and Tera-san said okay, but be accellerated to make sure I had enough time to shower, and still arrive on time. Driving that fast along those mountain roads was as exciting as riding in any NASCAR event, and perhaps more dangerous. But Tera-san is the most skilled driver I have seen in quite some time, so I wasn't worried. He could give Visakhapatenum's Crazy Bobby a run for his money, and Tera-san is 51! But Tera-san has the distinct advantage of driving Motocross in his free time. He drives a 4WD diesel Toyota van with the back two benches ripped out so as to carry his bike around. In fact, Tera-san is his racing name. His bike says 'TERA' on it. Teranishi is his family name and Shigetsugu is his first name. Calling him Tera-san is kind of like calling me Shetts.

But back to the natsu matsuri...
It was kind of kitschy and quaint, but actually quite fun. It was held on grounds near the local onsen (hot springs). They also had their own Awa Odori which was performed with excellece. And the fire works were spectacular. They were low, they were big, and they lasted a long time. I watched one spark extinguish itself a mere ten feet above the crowd. In a word: spectacular.

The following monday I joined the school's sign language club's barbeque. We barbequed beef, pork, chicken, onions, corn, green peppers, sweet potatoes, eggplants, and a couple other things. The barbeques were oildrums cut in half lengthwise and laid out as pits, with crosshatch grills laid overtop. We barbequed over locally produced char-coal and let me tell you it was delicious. We ate for three hours. (We: a group of deaf and or dumb people, a bunch of junior high girls and teachers, and me.)

The following Tuesday (the day I sent the last email), when I went to the school at around noon, the teachers there were making takoyaki. Takoyaki are balls of dough and vegetables with a chunk of tako (octopus) in the centre. I tried my hand at making them, and showed up at least one of the teachers. They were all impressed; they were excitedly commenting in Japanese how my takoyaki were much prettier than those of the other teacher. I explained that it must be because my faculty in University was Fine Arts. Wednesday the 13th was a day off which I used to prepare for the 5-day orientation which was to begin the next day. I made myself a vegetable heavy curry and rice, leaving half for breakfast the next day. Unfortunately I was unable to fall asleep until quite late, and actually forgot to turn my alarm on. It's a good thing I was prepared.

Thursday, I had planned to get up at 6.30, eat breakfast and clean the dishes and leave the house at 7.00, giving me ample time to get to the bus stop for 7.08 when the bus comes for Tokushima city. Instead I woke at 7.00, realised I had not turned my alarm on, panicked, recovered, dressed, scraped the curry and rice into the garbage, filled the pans with water so they would clean easy five days later, took the garbage out so it would not stink five days later, grabbed my suitcase and umbrella (it was raining) and backpack and ran out the door, locking it as i went. I ran down the street, down the shortcut path (very steep and slippy in the rain) as quickly as I could in the rain, and along the road to the bus stop, a 3 minute run in total. I arrived just on time, but I got to wait a bit after all, as the bus was late. It was only then that I realised the horrible truth, I HAD LEFT MY NIGHTGUARD IN. For those of you who don't know, I wear a nightguard to keep me from grinding my teeth. Its case was up in my room and I had no time to go get it. Very sad. The bus ride took around 2 hours, getting me there for around 9.00. I needed to be at the TOPIA office for 10.30. The next bus from Kamikatsu would have gotten me there around 11.00. TOPIA is at the top floor of the station. At around 10.00 the department store accross the way opened and I was able to buy a little case to put my nightguard into. At the end of the weekend, when I returned home 5 days later, I discovered to my dimay that the nightguard had cracked. I guess the case I bought dried it out too much. It's still wearable, but it's very sad.

Anyhow, on to the orientation. By the way, TOPIA stands for something like TOkushima Prefecture International Association. It has a little English lending library and Internet access with western keyboard layouts, and they have Japanese language and English language courses there.
At 10.30 we had the opening ceremoinies (Japanese events always have opening ceremonies with distinguished guests who leave right after the ceremony) with two high ranking prefecture dudes who left right after the opening ceremonies. Then we had lunch, after which we took all of our luggage by foot to the hotel we would be staying at. Next, we changed into our yukatas (traditional robes) and put on our headbands, and met in a biggish room to eat, drink, and sing karaoke. This party lasted around an hour and a half. Then we hiked through the rain to an indoor venue where we danced the Awa Odori. From three in the afternoon at the hotel, until eight at night at the venue, there was a constant flow of free beer coming from back rooms. After one glass, i decided to opt for juice.

It really is a shame that it rained last thursday, because otherwise we would have been dancing in the streets. By this time I am sure you are asking yourself (or me), "What is this Awa Odori?" Awa is the old name of Tokushima prefecture, so it goes without saying that the Awa Odori is limited to Tokushima. However, that does not mean that it is a small event. Awa Odori is the Mardi Gras of Japan. Yet whereas Mardi Gras is known for alcohol, sex, and drugs, the Awa Odori substitues in more alcohol for the sex, and even more alcohol for the drugs. So, Awa Odori has alcohol alcohol and alcohol, and it has even more dancing than it has alcohol. Also, it's not quite a parade, either. The dancing troupes DO dance through most of the downtown streets, they also take breaks and chill out from time to time. They sometimes stop and the crowd forms a circle around the dancers, and they perform like that. They also occasionally pull people from the crowd to come dance, and there are certain areas where the crowd dances all night long. It's a four day festival, running from Tuesday to Friday, and though it officially ends at 10.30 each night, the drums and flutes can still be heard in the wee hours of the morning. In short, Awa Odori is a blast, and arguably the best festival in Japan.

On Friday night we all went out into the streets to enjoy the festival. I kept asking myself, "Where did all these people come from?" Eventually I asked someone else and was informed that Tokushima City is normally around 260,000 in population, but during the Awa Odori it swells to over a million. Yeah, "WOW!" is right.

Friday afternoon had been more lectures, the highlight of which was the one by Genki English: two guys who are pumped about the JET programme, and who talked about teaching to elementary aged kids. It was an encouraging lecture.

Saturday we left the Kenzan hotel (which by the way is a bizarre hole in the wall, going in the front felt like going in the back way) to go to Anrakuji temple, where we would hang out with some Jr and Sr high students, teach english, play games, write and perform skits. I was worried about the prospect of sleeping on Buddhist temple grounds, but I came under no spiritual attack that I was aware of. I suspect this was due to the fact that while the temple is still maintained by monks, it has become a rather commercial tourist attraction. It's on the 88 temple route.

The 88 temple route is a route of 88 temples that belong to a certain sect of Buddhism. Several hundred years ago, a monk named Kobo Daishi established the route as a neccessary pilgrimmage. Many Japanese desire to walk the route at some point in their lives, but most wait until after they retire; it takes two months or more to walk the entire route. The pilgimmage ranges accross all of Shikoku, starting in Tokushima. An essential part of going to a temple is paying money to the Gods. Thus, all of the temples which are part of the route are quite rich. The Head monk at anrakuji wore a silver bead chain around his neck, a silver watch, and on Monday he was wearing a cowboy hat, too.

So, it was commercialised. There was a souvenir shop, too.

Shikoku only really has two attractions that people come here for: the 88 temple route and the Awa Odori.

But back to the temple. The food was good, and I am getting more aquainted with Japanese tastes. On Saturday we arrived around noon and split up into groups. Each group was around 8 or 9 JETS, including a couple of -sempais (senior JETs). We had some time to prepare a few games etc and think about our skits we would have to create. Then there was free time, while the kids arrived between 2 and 3pm. Then was the opening ceremonies, followed by time with our kids. In the evening dinner and then the English Olympics, where all the teams competed.
Our only shower access was in the onsen (hot springs)

Sunday was: breakfast, then free time, then session one, lunch, session two, free time, dinner, ALT performance, enkai.
In session one, our kids worked on their performance for monday, and we came up with our skit and planned a form of scavenger hunt for our kids. In session two, we practiced our skit, and our kids did their scavenger hunt (they had to go find an ALT who ... and ask them to ... , all done in english). Our skit was about the source of genki. Genki is the word for healthy in Japanese, but it emplies being full of energy and excitement. We decied that the source of Genki was Pocari Sweat, which is a sport drink here which many westerners say tastes awful. It's comparable to Gatorade, in my opinion.
But Pocari sweat is funnier. Picture yourself drinking from a can labled "Sweat".

We ended with a song, sung to the tune of "Daylight come and I wanna go home." If anyone wants, I can type in the whole thing, but for now, the chorus, "Genki come when we drink Pocari Sweat."

On sunday morning all the kids performed their bits, and then we had the closing ceremonies. Our kids did "country roads" with the all the words changed to make it "Tokushima roads". Also, through the whole weekend kids came up to us to interview us (there was a competition for who could interview the most ALTs). After the interview, we would give them a 'purikura' which is an abbreviation for 'print club'. We made them on the Friday previous when we had free time.

Print Club are these instant photo booths which are hugely popular here in Japan. You find flocks of these machines at the back of arcades. For 400yen (nearly $5 cdn) you get four different pictures which you write on and add things to before they get printed out. Once they are printed, you separate the pictures using scissors. And guess what? they are stickers! Girls will go to purikura every weekend, and boys will go now and then as well. It's also a first date kind of place, apparrently.

After the closing ceremonies was some time to clean up and pack up, and then it was lunch. I had gotten to know one of the two guys from our group of nine kids, whose name is Katsuya. I ate with him and some other guys his age for nearly every meal. He always ate fast and complained that he was still hungry. A typical junior high boy. He was also always attempting to eat before we were permitted to do so. At Monday lunch we had curry. One of my favorite meals. I too was aching to get started. Katsuya and I sat accross from eachother, our hands poised over our spoons, waiting for the monk to say "Itadakimasu!" We did not say that we would race, but we each knew the other's thoughts. As soon as the monk said it, we dove in. I won round one. Katsuya was not far behind. We ate our meals so fast, some others thought we had started long before we were allowed. Katsuya convinced me to go for another plate. We got up, got more, sat down, and raced. I won round two, but in my mind Katsuya won the whole thing. You see, Two plates of curry and rice plus a bowl of salad is more than I could normally handle. Monday was no exception. My stomache later ached from being over filled. I ate two plates of curry and rice before most people were 2/3 complete their first plate. While eating that second plate, I recognised how much I would hurt later, and thought to myself, "You know, you could slow down now and let Katsuya win." There was a pause. Then I thought "No I can't," and continued to wolf down the food.

But it was fun, and though I say I will never do that again, I probably will.

In the afternoon, back in Tokushima city I chilled out, bought a wallet from Uni Qlo, which is like Old Navy, and sat on the most luxurious beanbag chair in Muji, which is like Ikea, but better.

Tuesday was a big day. I went with Tera-san and the JHSchool principal (whose english is better than Tera-san's) to look at cars and cell phones. Tera-san had a lead on two really good car deals, one of which I ultimately picked.

I will be buying a Daihatsu Mira next week Tuesday. I need all the money up front. It will cost 230,000yen, which is about $2,600 cdn. That is, including the insurance. Without any insurance, the car would have been only 140,000 yen. There is a mandatory insurance which covers the other vehicle and its passengers, and a optional insurance which covers my car and its passengers. I am getting both insurances. If you saw the kind of roads I regularly have to drive, you probably would, too.

After that, we looked at cell phones. The only significant things about the cell phone I will get are that it has english menus, a digital camera, and the phone itself will be cheap. $1. The plan I am getting will set me back around $50 cdn per month. For that I get email and around 50 minutes, but all incoming calls are free. In Japan, you only ever pay for outgoing calls, but you always pay for outgoing calls, even from home.

We had come in two vehicles, so at that point the Kocho-sensei (principal) left, and Tera-san was going to take me back. But first he invited me to his house for dinner. Both daughters have moved out by now, but both happened to be home. One, whose name means hope, is a piano teacher like her mother; and the other is a university student in a different prefecture. I can't remember either of their names. Dinner was teriyaki chicken and pork with daikon (massive radish, which tastes like your average lettuce or celery) and rice. Dessert was pears and ice cream. This was not a special meal, they said, just regular food. It reminded me of home. In fact, the Teranishi family is starting to feel like family away from family. Tera-san is practically the same age as my dad, and like my dad is still playing aggressive sports, and is somewhat of a joker. It's nice.

Yesterday I was given a better feel for what school is going to be like. Nakanishi-san (the JTE: Japanese Teacher of English) and I planned the first lesson or two, and I helped a student correct some of the grammer in her speech for the speech contest.

It's bizarre, though it is summer break, there have been students around the school, in uniform, every day I have been here. I understand that it is nearly second term (out of three) and that some of the third years (grade 9s) are preparing for High School entrance exams, but why are there first and second year students here?

Tonight I will pack to go to my last orientation this weekend. I hope that I will not have to write an email this long again. If you have read this email in one sitting, kudos to you! Even I have taken a period of two days to write it. I suppose that shows, eh?

So, goodbye for now, and if you need to get a hold of me, email is still the best way. If you did not get "number one", let me know and I'll send it to you.

jya, mata ne?