Well I have now officially been in Japan for a week…orientation is over and I have moved into my very own shoebox in Hitachiomiya…my home town for the next 12 months. When I say shoebox, I mean shoebox…try 23 sq metres on for size…!
Orientation was like reliving a combination of college/university and kindergarten all over again…learning everything from how to give a self introduction to the kocho sensei (principal) on the first day to how one teaches elementary school kids colours!
It was an exhausting 6 days in Narita with 102 new recruits from Canada, USA, Australia, South Africa and the UK putting in 10 hour days to learn about the culture and nature of Japan and our new positions as Assistant Language Teachers. Over the course of the week I bonded with my new adopted family…the 20 or so recruits who come under the ‘Hitachi Branch’ banner of Interac and will be living in my area. I was rooming with Nicole from Texas and I have JJ from Georgia and Nick from Tennessee actually living in Hitachiomiya with me. Canadian Kevin, South African VJ and English Jonny were among the group too and aren’t too far away either. It was wonderful to meet such a like minded bunch of people all so passionate about travel and new cultures, so it was hard to leave each other. BUT at least now we have a smattering of new friends all over Japan we can visit when school holidays come around!
Nick, JJ and I were greeted by the wonderful and patient Mieko san (supplied by Interac to help us settle in) when we arrived in Hitachiomiya and we have quickly taken her on as our adopted mother here in Japan. She has been helping us set up bank accounts, get our gas connected and tells us we ‘spend lot money’ at the hyakuen store (the equivalent of a pound store or dollars and cents for those of you playing at home!). The locals seem to like us too…as 3 of only 5 ALT’s in the area we stand out quite a bit…there are many stares and even more giggles as we try and navigate through the day to day exercises of life in a non-English speaking country. Everyone assures me though that our Japanese is amazing…all 10 words that I can speak!
I am learning every minute of every day which is a fantastic feeling…I am energised and even the most mundane of tasks becomes an adventure! You have no idea how challenging it is to write your name back to front or how much fun it is using a hanko stamp to ‘sign’ papers. Heck even a trip to the mobile phone store taught me the Japanese words for ‘1 year contract’!
The weather here is absolutely freezing and just to drive the point home, I will mention that it snowed today when we were out and about in town. I can’t say this bodes well for my enthusiasm towards cycling to school next week. I thought it was supposed to be spring here?! The cherry blossoms are just blooming here at the moment though so in the next few weeks it will be beautiful and I can’t wait to do a trip to Mito to see them in full bloom.
Today we visited our schools so we could see how to get there and have a sneak preview of what we are in for next week. Rather than scare the daylights out of me as I thought it would, I loved it! There were some kids coming out of class when we arrived and they all said hello and the girls kept telling me I was cute! I also got to meet one of the English teachers and he was lovely too…the other teachers tried politely not to stare at me from inside the teacher’s room…