Back again folks, with another action packed adventure!
I was up early to head to Sakuragawa-shi (桜川市)in western Ibaraki-ken (茨城県). Sakuragawa borders Tochigi-ken to the west and is part of a small group of cities that include Chikusei and Yuki. The town is ringed with mountains and is famous for its stone work made from locally quarried stone. There is also a doll festival in late winter, but I've missed it this year so y'all will just have to wait!
My mission today was to meet the Board of Education and get settled into my new apartment. I drove myself on the highway from Mito to Sakuragawa, following my ALT coordinator Mieko. Highways in Japan are interesting in that they are all toll roads. When you're getting on the highway, you stop at a booth and take a ticket; when you exit the highway you go through a wicket and pay for your trip, determined by the distance traveled. Cars can be outfitted with an electronic device that pays automatically but I didn't have that luxury.
It was a lovely drive through the Japanese countryside, I got a nice dose of nature and really cool classic style Japanese architecture. Sadly I didn't have a chance to take any photos- two hands on the wheel!- but I'll make up for that later. Sakuragawa is apparently renowned throughout Japan for its large houses and gardens, and for good reason. Some things remind me of home, some of it is different, but all of it is heart-stirringly beautiful.
There seems to be a real push for sustainability out here as well; I saw a couple of wind turbines on a nearby mountain and several solar arrays. I'm a happy fox knowing that at least some of my energy use comes from renewable resources!
My meeting with the B.O.E. went really well, they like me quite a bit. School is on spring break at the moment and starts back up in a couple of weeks, so I will get to meet the teachers and have a formal introduction to the B.O.E. in the intervening period. After that, we drove to Oyama in Tochigi-ken to pick up the key for my apartment then back to the new den!
The apartment itself is very cool, I have a remote control heater/air conditioner, video intercom to the front door, insuite washer/dryer combo... lots of goodies! I made a a video tour which you can see here. After getting the internet set up and making sure that everything worked properly, Mieko left me to get settled in. I unpacked and made myself at home, until I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.
I headed towards the local grocery store, which is actually a short walk from my place, but I brought the car to get some driving practice and to help carry home the new pots and pans I was picking up. The store itself was pretty neat- vegetables are quite inexpensive, mushrooms are downright cheap. Packages of enoki mushrooms that go for 2-3$ back home are 98円. Soba noodles are likewise very cheap. A tub of shiro miso is less than half what you pay in Canada. The toughest part was reading labels on the spices and sauces... I'm going to have to make a friend or two to help me out with that, I think! Overall, however, I'm loving the food here!
The store also provides its old cardboard boxes to customers in lieu of plastic bags, which is an awesome implementation of the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' principle! I juggled my stuff all the way back to the car in the steadily increasing rain and was ready to get home and enjoy a nice sushi dinner- the grocery store sushi here is comparable to the quality sushi back home, at half the price (or less!!!!)- aaand.... nothing. The car wouldn't start.
I'd left the headlights on the entire time I was in the store and the battery was dead. Ooooh Foxxy...
Turns out, this hiccup was just the multiverse giving me what I needed. I've been really apprehensive about being a stranger in a strange land, especially approaching people with my limited Japanese ability. Now I had to, just to get my car home. At the first auto shop I found I bounced around through broken Japanese and broken English before I managed to explain my problem. Sadly, they didn't have the equipment to help me, so they wrote a note explaining my problem and sent me to the gas station down the street. By that time I'd worked out how to explain a dead battery a little better in Japanese (it turns out I'd been using the wrong verb!) and got help quickly. The attendant drove me back to my car and jumped it, making me the most relieved I'd been in quite a while!
I'm really happy with how welcoming and friendly everyone here has been... its refreshing and has definitely made the transition easier. I'm still a little apprehensive about making first connections, but if all the people are this friendly I'm sure I won't have any problems!