Published: June 2nd 2009April 2nd 2009
So we made it to Japan in just about one piece! Surprisingly our flights were all on time and our baggage made it with us so we just had to survive one night in Tokyo before heading down to our new home of Iida. We attempted to sleep in the airport but at 11pm it started to close, and we were forced to make a quick exit.
We caught a train into Tokyo which took over an hour. We eventually stopped at ‘B-girl’ hotel, yes the name should have given it away but we were too tired to care and wandered into this love hotel to check in. A love hotel is a hotel aimed at ‘sweethearts’ rather than travelers, but after 10pm they let you check in for a whole night at a reduced price. This reduced price still set us back over $70; 14xs the price of a hotel in southeast asia!
We checked in and headed up to our room. It was basically a lovely hotel room with a few differences. There was the smallest Jacuzzi in the world, the room had only a red light, and there was a massive wide screen plasma TV, showing
a few choice channels!! The mini bar was also entertaining; along with overpriced cokes and beers you could choose between an array of adult toys!! Nevertheless, it was the best hotel we have ever stayed in!
On check out the next morning we headed to the bus station. Easier than it sounds. We first had to buy tickets for the train. In order to do so we required an ATM without a telephone and fingerprint scanner! They are very security conscious here! Eventually Dom’s ever increasing Japanese found us one and we were able to get to the bus station, this part was easy and we were on the bus to Iida in no time.
We got to Iida around 4pm and were collected by Shigeho, who had conducted our interviews over a year ago, and her husband Isamu. They took us to our apartment and helped us with Dom's box… mine hadn’t arrived. Shigeho gave me a letter she had received saying mine was stuck in customs and they needed my permission to dispose of the contraband. The letter was dated the 21st, it was now the 29th . But anyway we were informed that there was a
problem with our apartment (funny that!) and we couldn’t shower. So would we like to join Shigeho and Isamu swimming and then to the spa. We of course agreed. We were taken to an Italian restaurant and discovered that the Japanese are very talented in the art of Italian cookery.
We had the most extreme meal we have had in a very long time! Pasta, pizza, beef cooked to perfection, salad, breads and of course deserts. The meal cost somethign like $100. A month before we had actually haggled over paying ONE dollar per person!
Then swimming; the Japanese take their swimming very seriously, and find no reason not too involve their love of gadgets. I was given a pair of webbed gloves to swim with, making it near impossible, but hopefuly banishing the old bingo wings! And we watched with amusement as a man who had to be at least 184 participated in a water aerobics lesson complete with a wetsuit leotard. Dom and I retreated to the Jacuzzi and let Shigeho and Isamu complete there swim in peace. Then was the Onsen. An Onsen is a Japanese style natural hot spring where people relax after a
hard week's, or even day's, work. You have to remove all of your clothes and take an obscenely short towel into a large single sex room. You take a seat on a small stool by a sink/shower and vigorously wash yourself. You then slip into the Onsen and dream away all of your stresses. Yes it was seriously weird being naked with our new boss but when in Rome! Both Dom and I agreed that regular Onsens are a must in the future; they left us both feeling completely relaxed with seriously good skin and the weight of the world was removed from our shoulders.
The next day I attempted to make myself look as smart as possible, not easy due to the lack of luggage and me only owning scummy backpacker clothes, before our first meeting with the board of education and meeting with the other ELT’s (English language teachers). The meeting was not the most informative in the world, to the point where the chair/head/generally important man, fell asleep and went for a walk, and spent ten minutes chuckling to himself out of boredom. We would soon realize that this is the norm for Japan. The other
ELT’s (there are 7 of us) are all lovely, having been in our position 6months to a year ago, they are making us feel more than welcome. Japan feels like home already.
Our apartment is lovely, for a Japanese style place it is VERY big, we have a kitchen, bathroom and separate bedroom and living area, this is unheard of in Japan! So we are very very happy! We have futons on the floor and low chairs and cushions in the living room, it’s a great place to be. We also have the most amazing view of the city and surrounding mountains. The largest, mt Fuetsu spills in through our kitchen window, and from our balcony we have a panoramic view of the snow topped mountains which surround us.
The Japanese take work very seriously so the on April 1st (the official start of our contracts) we were invited to the giving of contracts. You basically stand in a room with all the other teachers who are new to Iida (Japanese and otherwise) and collect your contract when your name is called and bow, a lot.
We then had an opportunity to see our schools, they are
both lovely, Dom’s school Midorigoaka is about 20 mins away on the train and a large (800 pupils) Juniour high school. Kanae, my school, is 7 mins away on the train and a smaller less modern school who I have been warned do not like to turn the heating on, therefore I should wear lots of layers! (This was not a problem for long as it now in the mid 30's).
Dom’s school were having their Enkai and we were both invited along. I say invited but we both still had to pay 6000yen (about $60), and it was compulsory for Dom to attend so I went along for the ride. And Enkai is basically where the new teachers are introduced to the existing teachers and a time for the teachers to socialize with each other. It is also a time where a lot of beer, and sake are consumed. It began by a very formal speech from the principle introducing each new teacher in turn (he spent a long time explaining how happy he was that him and Dom share the same birthday!) and then he announced Kampai…at this point the drinking begins. And boy can the Japanese
drink! According to Japanese custom you should never pour your own drink so you wait for someone else to do it. Being the only two westerners we were never short of people wanting to pour our drinks which meant glugging down a few inches of beer every time someone came over.
Then out came the food. The food was magnificent, a steady stream of people were congratulating Dom and I on being able to use chopsticks and I was stopped mid chew by a concerned lady who wanted to tell me I was eating raw fish. She was more than shocked when I informed her that raw fish is my favorite food! When a few courses had been eaten (there were a lot of courses!) the principle announced that the new teachers were to all make a speech. As a lot of beer had been put away by this point this was no problem (I think the Japanese are socially very clever!) and the speeches had everyone in stitches, including me as the P.E teacher next to me attempted to translate with very bad, sake influenced, English; “he used to be one of the rescuers” (me confused as I
thought they were mice) “you know he uses big tube, you know fighter man” (an English teacher stepped in and explained he used to be a firefighter). Dom’s speech earned him a round of applause when he announced his favorite food was sushi!
The drinking went on until the food was finished, which was a long time! And then we all split into groups and headed to bars in the town. We were once again treated to the delights of Japanese food (I will never understand how they are so tiny when they eat so much food). Dom was star of the show when he demonstrated his Japanese skills, and everyone was equally impressed when he drank the largest beer on the menu without passing out.
The next day complete with hangover we headed to another meeting with the board of education; this time to discuss the new curriculum for the elementary schools we will be teaching at (Kanae and Tatsuoka for me and Matsuo and Shimohisakata for Dom). It turns out there has been a new textbook introduced this year and no one knows what to do with it, so we ELT’s are to be left to
our own devises, ideal! We are basically going to be allowed to teach our own classes! We spend most of our time in our Junior high schools which we assist an English teacher and occasionally take some of our own classes, and then we go to one of the elementary schools to teach grades 5 and 6 for 5 hours every Wednesday (although Dom has taught every single grade, even the tiny ones).
Well that gives you a brief look into our life in Japan so far, there is still the cherry blossom blog, the schools blog, fuji Q and taiko concert blogs to come!
There are more photos below