Saturday, August 15, 2009

Part I in Tokamachi

So I've been here for about three weeks now. And things are very interesting. I have had my fair share of both exciting new experiences and frustrating moments. The town is indeed very rural. Although the population is officially around 63,ooo, the town is sparse and spread out, providing a challenging time getting around without a car. So first, lets go through the challenging and disappointing moments of my arrival and save the good stuff for the end of the entry, that way you'll all read all the way through :).  When I first arrived off of the train from Tokyo spirits were high and excited to explore a new place. However things quickly got off to a rocky beginning from the first few minutes after arriving in the town. Some say first impressions are everything; personally I'm not one to subscribe to that belief. However, sometimes they turn out to be correct, and in the case of my regional advisor here in Tokamachi, it proved to be just that. I'm not big on slander, (or in this case libel), so suffice it to say I have yet to be impressed with him advising the new JETs.  Shortly after meeting my fellow ALTs, I was told that my position had been switched without notice to either myself or the person I got switched with. So, she ended up with a new place and a convenient location with her school right outside her window. I on the other hand was lucky enough to take the place of someone I had not been in any contact with and was unsure of what to expect. As it turned out, my predecessor was not one for responsibility or cleanliness, and he left my apt in shambles prior to my arrival. All kinds of junk lying around, his trash, socks, towels, etc. etc., the walls were dirty and stained, the couch was unusable in my opinion due to uncleanliness, the light lamps busted, the kitchen had some kind of 'science experiment' growing in the dirty dishes, and the list goes on... SO, I have been spending the first few weeks trying to fix my place up. However problems have been encountered along the way; for example my ceiling was leaking water all throughout my apt a week ago when I arrived home from work, this was unfortunate. I managed to get it wiped up and cleaned the best I could. Yet, soon afterwards, mold started growing on the ceiling where it had been leaking...This all managed to occur in the middle of frustrations at work. So with all this going on I reached a point of frustration where I had to sit down and pull away from it all. I took some time to meditate, and gathered my thoughts. Well all this junk and unclean surroundings in my apt took a while to get figured out since the trash day system here is quite complicated for an American. There are about 7 different categories of kinds of trash that must be separated, burnables, nonburnables, differently colored glass must be sorted, boxes of different kinds of cardboard, etc. there are no dumpsters to get rid of large objects, you have to call and pay to have them removed. So, this cost me a pretty penny to get the trash and nasty furniture removed, a lot of which I still haven't been able to get rid of. Anyways all of this added up to a large hassle and I found myself frustrated with the board of education's (which is my employer) assistance after multiple requests. So the inheritance I received from my predecessor spurred a set of frustrating circumstances. But never fear because you just gotta roll up your sleeves and fix it, which is what I've done for the most part. Each time I have become frustrated it seems I have my music on and the familiar voice of Dave Matthews enters my ears and all of a sudden things become calm, and I am able to keep a positive outlook. So thats a little bit of the downside of things so far, now for the good stuff! (and if you've made it this far you are quite the trooper.) The countryside is beautiful and has provided me with lovely scenery. I have been lucky enough to find a couple of great little restaurants and have spent some time talking with the owners and had some great conversations, even though most of the time its just through gestures that we understand each other. I have gone for a few runs and they've been hot, humid, rainy, wet, and muggy, but great! The scenery is great and I've come across large hawks and other wildlife while running. There is an abundance of little shrines and toris and temples which I am very excited to take pictures of and explore. There have been fireworks, and kimonos and very friendly locals who smile and help with whatever they can. I have plans to get involved in a lot of clubs and hobbies as soon as I get transportation, (which is only a week away). I managed to see a couple youngsters playing baseball in their small yard (yards don't really exist here) and joined them, they had a blast and that was a tremendously enjoyable experience. I have made a few Japanese friends who speak a little english and have been tremendously helpful translating for me. I was asked by one of them, her name is Sanae and she is an english teacher at a middle school in a nearby town, to help with a private lesson. The girls were high schoolers and they cooked us dinner and spoke english impressively well, we had a great conversation and they asked me to come back. Sanae also took me out to the coast of the sea of Japan and to Japanese Oktoberfest! This was a lot of fun as well. My proficiency with chopsticks is rapidly improving, and my language skills are getting a bit of practice, though I'd like more. I have made connections to Keio University in Tokyo and am hopeful to try and meet the professors and discuss anthropological research sometime in the next year, as well as hopeful to try and get a piece published eventually in a Japanese Journal of some kind. My prefecture puts on a charity musical every year and I am amped to audition and hopefully get the lead role, and have a chance to perform on stage again, something I miss tremendously. But even cooler is the fact that its a charity for building schools in Papua New Guinea, and in March the play participants go there and build schools! So it looks like in March I'll be going to a tribal valley on P. New Guinea, a place where you can't get clearance to visit on any kind of vacation, the tribes have the local authority and only allow the group of Niigata JETs because they've developed a good rapport. This fall there is chance to help with the rice harvest, something I would love to experience. There are all kinds of festivals in or near my town and they have been great! I'm very close to finding a karate teacher and am hopeful he will give me private lessons. As for work, well its summer break here and classes don't begin until the 31st, so each day I spend at the education center doing absolutely nothing, I haven't even been taken to my school yet, that happens for the first time on Tuesday this upcoming week, so until then I have no planning to do, no lessons to make, and nothing to do at work except read. My prefecture produces the best rice and sake in Japan, and as expected its very good. There's a lot of familiar Japanese texts at the library which I am excited to get and begin translating into English as language practice. I'm going to buy some traditional Japanese instruments and take lessons at the local community center, we'll see if I can follow the teacher with my broken Japanese comprehension lol. All in all there are a lot of amazing things to experience here and I am very excited to begin experiencing them which should really begin in a couple weeks once school is in session and I have my work schedule figured out. Well that's it for now. I love you all and hope this update reaches you in health and happiness. 


  1. Sounds like you've had to struggle through a couple of obstacles but at least you've kept a cool head about it. Glad to be able to keep up with your travels!

    - Your cousin

  2. Thanks cuz, good to know my beloved family is keeping up with my travels.

  3. Kevin...I am so happy for you!
    This all sounds so exciting. Really experiencing travel and culture and mingling with the locals. Awesome! Sorry the humble abode was in shambles, but it sounds like you are handling it well. Clivers talks about you often and has a few pictures of you so that he'll remember your face. I bet the countryside is quiet bucolic. (I am studing for the GRE's and trying to expand my vocab so I'll probably try to use big words when I write on occassion and most likely they will be very unnatural and probably out of context, but bare with me). :) I love you tons and think of you often. I miss being able to call you on a whim. Take care of yourself and enjoy your time there. Lots of Love from all of us.

  4. I am really enjoying catching up on your travels. Please, post pictures whenever you can. Thanks for letting me know about your blog, I will be checking it along the way.
    I hope this experience turns out better than you could have ever imagined.
    I miss you.