Well, I’ve been in Japan for a little over a week now, so time to write a blog post! I won’t bore you with the details of the orientation; I will say that it was informative and a little overwhelming (if you DO want the boring details, let me know and I’ll fill you in). Before I get into the main part of the post, let me give you some highlights of the past weekish:
- I’m driving!!! I also added my mark to the garage – was backing in and put my side view mirror right through the dry wall
- I am in love with my apartment. It is VERY big by Japanese standards and has a great view of the mountains.
- I am the first female ALT in my city! I’m sure this is only adding to the number of stares I’m getting on a regular basis. I was driving the other day and passed this guy walking on the street; he actually stopped, did a double take, and stared at me the whole time I was going by him.
- Had a wonderful encounter with a Japanese family while at the Togakushi Shrine; more on that later 🙂
Let’s jump right in!
While I did not experience jet lag when I studied abroad two years ago, I had it BAD this time. I barely slept on the plane, and I didn’t get a full nights sleep until I got to my prefecture three days later. My roommates and I woke up at exactly 2:30 AM two days in a row and then couldn’t sleep past 6.
Tokyo is kind of one big blur (again, if you want the details, let me know); the few times I went and explored were after a long day of sessions and workshops, and since I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t stay out long or travel very far from the hotel. My favorite parts of Tokyo were meeting lots of new people/making new friends and going to get okonomiyaki with the other JETs in my prefecture. Okonomiyaki is probably my favorite Japanese food, and going out to eat it in Tokyo with a bunch of really interesting people was lots of fun.
First day in Nagano
After Tokyo, I headed to Nagano prefecture! We stopped for lunch at Lake Suwa before heading on to the prefecture office in Nagano city. I was picked up from Nagano city by my predecessor, the other ALT in my town, and two people from the Board of Education (BOE) in my town, one of whom is like my caretaker. After that we headed to Shinanomachi, heading even further into the mountains.
The rest of that day was ridiculously chaotic. The first thing we did was stop at a 711 (apparently that’s the custom, so says the other ALT), then we went to the BOE to sign paper work and pick up the rest of my luggage. Next *gulp* we went to the school where I’ll be teaching.
I arrived on the last day of school before summer break, so everyone was still at school when we got there. We waited for the students to leave *phew* then my predecessor gave me a tour. The school is three stories tall, and is both an elementary and a middle school. Apparently there used to be quite a few elementary and middle schools in the area, but a few years back they consolidated the schools into one single building. The building itself is beautiful; there is wood everywhere, and it makes the place seem inviting (not like a lot of schools in America….). Once the tour was done…… it was time for me to introduce myself to the staff. While I was on my tour they had all collected in the staff room, and there were probably around 60-70 people total.
Information for anyone who is thinking about doing JET, or otherwise going to have to do this exact same thing: During JET orientation, they go over this moment a LOT. They tell you this is a super important moment. DON’T RUIN IT. Here is what to say, here is how to say it. English is ok, Japanese is better. Don’t mess up, bow the proper amount of degrees, and tell them about your hobbies. Well I am here to tell you to CALM DOWN. When I got in front of all those people and it was time for me to speak, I completely froze. Japanese left my brain. The speech I prepared on the bus to Nagano flew from my head. Introducing yourself in America is one thing; doing it in a language other than your native one, is terrifying. So, I stuck to what I know. I said はじめまして。ジェイロンと申します。どうぞよろしくおねがいします。Nice to meet you. My name is Jayelon. I look forward to working with you. And guess what? It was fine – they didn’t shun me because I didn’t tell them what my hobbies are, or where I came from. The building didn’t collapse, frogs didn’t fall from the sky. Just breathe, and do whatever is comfortable for you.
That night was honestly kind of terrible. Once we left the school, I was taken to my apartment where my predecessor and the other ALT showed me around the place. After that, I had dinner with both of them, as well as the two people from the BOE that picked me up, the superintendent, and the principal, vice-principal, and head teacher of my school. I pretty much just sat there and listened to everyone else speak Japanese. I could understand little snippets, and sometimes they tried to talk to me, but it was usually them asking my opinion on whatever they had just been talking about (which I couldn’t understand so I couldn’t answer their question). It. Was. ROUGH. I left that dinner feeling extremely overwhelmed and wondering why I applied for this job, and I spent the rest of the night stressing and freaking out.
the rest of the days have been much better (all of the highlights have come AFTER that night). School doesn’t start until August 24th, and I am not required to go into school at all before then, so I’ve been doing a lot of exploring, both by myself and with my predecessor and the other ALT. They’ve shown me all of the cool places in the area (everything is beautiful here), some hidden gems, taught me tips and tricks, and taught me how to drive! I also went to a fireworks festival a couple of days ago that was lots of fun; I met some teachers from my school there, and they were super nice and friendly. It really helped me get over my fear from that first night.
Today was my first solo driving adventure, and I went up to Togakushi. My predecessor took me there a few days ago, but we weren’t able to explore much; he showed me a path to take to a shrine that was lined with huge cedar trees, which I wandered down today. It was breathtaking. I have never been surrounded by trees that big before, and to see them lining the path was beautiful! Near the top of the path was an offshoot that went to a difficult hiking trail. Maybe one day, but not today. I continued on to the shrine, and sat on a bench at the top to people watch for a bit.
A few minutes after I sat down, a boy came up to the shrine with his grandmother, who immediately told him to say hi to me. He got all nervous and shy, so I looked at him and greeted him first. His eyes got wide, he smiled, said hello and waved, then turned back to his grandmother. A little while later, his mom came up with his little sister, and she told him the same thing: go say hi! He explained what had happened earlier, and said that I was nice 😀
Once they were done at the shrine, they grouped together near my bench and started playing and messing with each other. At one point I started laughing a little at what one of them had said, and the mom saw; she pointed at me and said in Japanese, “you understand Japanese, don’t you? You understand a little bit?” I said I did, and she chatted with me for a while in both Japanese and English. She was very patient and kind, which I really appreciated, and she made her son practice a little more with me before we said goodbye.
The kids ended up passing me on the way down (they were running), and the boy stopped and talked to me for a second in Japanese. Then he said “bye bye!” and got his little sister to do the same. It was so cute!
So there you have it! An extended look at my current lifestyle. An English teacher without students, going on random adventures and befriending random people. And also studying! Can’t forget the studying.
Until next time!
That okonomiyaki looks delicious, the views are gorgeous, I’ll be there soon 😀
What a grand adventure!
Amazing! Wonderful! Beautiful! – You are
Japan’s nice too. I love reading about your adventures!
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Sounds like a great adventure, keep us posted.
I wish I could have seen the huge trees and shrine as well!!!!!!!
Beautiful photos. I had one of those savory pancakes and it was fun to watch them being prepared. So big I could not eat the whole thing.
I am so excited to read about your great adventure in Japan. Love seeing the beautiful pictures, and your honesty is so refreshing! Your Aunt Leslie and family is praying for you, and we hope to come visit before your 2 years are up!
Jayelon!!! Wow, you are in Nagano!!!!! I just heard this morning that you are back in Japan, and was somehow able to find your blog. We were also in Nagano when I was an ALT, not far from where you are, in Yamanouchi-machi. You’re in a wonderful part of Japan. We’ll look forward to following your adventures there! Gambattene!