Today is two weeks to the day since I moved into my new apartment here in Sakuragawa. Its also my first day of work as an ALT! This is quite a relief, as I was going a bit stir crazy around here. Thats not to say that life is bad, though I've had a couple tough days, but this is not big city Japan. The only people who can speak half decent English are the Japanese teachers of English, and even then it can be a struggle. Since my Japanese has a long way to go as well, there are a lot of short sentences and checking of dictionaries. I'm also the tallest, whitest, gaijin-ist person for miles, so I feel super conspicuous everywhere I go, particularly when I'm running along Sakura-gawa (Sakura river, after which the town is named) or practicing rope dart. People out here are definitely not used to foreigners, especially weird ones, so they are a little bit standoffish at times. Most of my interactions have been great though, a smile and some effort goes a long way!
I'm also finding out how frustrating it is to be illiterate. Man, does it suck not being able to read. Sometimes you don't realize how great a gift is until its gone; this is certainly one of those times. Labels and simple instructions can up half an hour easy, and the instructions for my rice cooker? Forget it! The thing has more functions than Apollo 11. I'm working really hard on it though, really digging back in to kanji practice and chugging through my manga with a pencil and my dictionary. Kanji, as it turns out, is not the hardest part of Japanese. They make sense, and once you get it, you get it. Theres just lots of them. The real difficult part is katakana- the syllabary used for loanwords brought into Japanese. Not only are the loanwords not always from English, often they aren't, they can be odd portmanteaus, or shortened like slang, sometimes both! For example a convenience store is called a combini (コンビ二) and a computer is pasocon (パソコン）. Those I have, but katakana will pop up in random places, like the grocery store, on signage or packaging, on TV, and sometimes its really hard to figure out what they're trying to say!
I have to say, the language barrier has made it a little lonesome out here; thankfully Im working now and finally getting traction in this town. Today was basically a throwaway day at Momoyama JHS (桃山- Peach Mountain). The day began with the introduction of the new teachers, myself included, to the returning students. After that assembly, I checked out my desk in the teachers room and flipped through the textbooks we'll be using for the year. They strongly reminded of the French textbooks we used in school, so I have some sympathy for the kids. Hopefully I can bring a spark to it and really get them excited about practicing English, using my tall gaijin, urban boy cool factor! After about an hour, we all filed back into the gym to greet the first year students. The formal procession and opening ceremony took a little over an hour, and the gym was packed with the parents of the youngsters looking proud that their broodlings had made it halfway through the education system. The kids themselves were really cute. They wear uniforms at school here, so everyone was dressed alike, but there were more than a few ill-fitting outfits- parents hoping the kids will go through a growth spurt, I guess! The parents were also dressed in their finest. Among the women I saw a couple gorgeous kimonos, a few smart skirt and blazer combos and a few nice but simple outfits. The men were all in suits, of course. Apparently white shirt with white tie is very fashionable in Japan right now! After we were released from the entrance ceremony ( SO MUCH BOWING!) I had another couple hours in the teachers room, where I got to chat with a couple of the teachers over lunch and try out some Japanese. It wasn't awful, and most everything was communicated pretty well, so that is a relief!
After school, I took advantage of a brilliant sunny day to do some running, rope dart and yoga. I'm finally getting my distance back up on my runs, which I'm very happy with, and is very important because... I've started kickboxing at the local gym. The owner, Yamazaki-san, doesn't speak any English at all, so my workout was mostly show and tell, with bits of Japanese thrown in. The best part is, I'm pretty sure he wants me to teach his child English in exchange for training, with is OK by me! Not that I can't afford it, but would be a super perk nonetheless! Yamazaki-san is also a seriously tough dude... I'm gonna learn a lot! After an hour hitting pads and working on technique I hit the showers and am now icing down my shins.
Anyhow, thats all for now! Check out Facebook for some photos of the houses around here and stay tuned for my next report... the joys of driving in Japan!