Sunday, May 31, 2015

‘Of New Life and Lava’

Due to the high volume of death threats recently for not updating in nearly two weeks, I’ve decided to bless you all with one. You’re welcome. My reason for not updating is actually pretty solid - I didn’t have internet. While I somehow COULD get on Facebook, Gmail, and YouTube - I couldn't get on anything else. This includes Blogger. I only got internet a few days ago.

So as of May 18th, I’ve been living in Numazu. The best way I can describe this place is think of Cape Cod as a small city and filled with Japanese people and mountains. The two things Numazu is really known for is fish/fishing/sushi and medical research. Even though it is by all means a city, many Japanese people refer to it as ‘the country’ due to it not having a ridiculous population density as say Tokyo. It doesn’t feel too country to me but compared to the only other Japanese city I’ve been to (Nagoya), I suppose it’s pretty country. It also comes with its very own Idol group because, Japan. There are billboards and buses with ‘Orange Port’ all over them.

So, yea, the Mt. Fuji is pretty amazing. I already have plans to hike it come August with a group from school. If you’ve been following my photos, I’ve been pretty obsessed. After living in flat Florida for so long I just can’t help it. To get to Numazu I took the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). After traveling through a tunnel for a few minutes you just appear in the valley. Staring me right in the face was Mt. Fuji. I know it may sound corny, but damn, it was majestic. I was sitting at the window seat and it was just so mighty standing in full view. I don’t think I’ve felt that way about a natural land mass since seeing the Grand Canyon in person. Most the times the building in Numazu block site of Fuji but every now and then you can get a powerful glimpse of it.

The first week of work was rough. Not for anyone particular reason but every particular reason. As most new jobs, there is a lot of front heavy memorization and work that goes into it. With only a week of training, I was thrown straight into the fire after two mostly observing days. Keep in mind, none of this is a complaint. For this type of job, the best way to get better is by practicing and doing. One of the reasons I came here was to challenge myself after all. The baby bird either learns to flap its wings on dies from the fall. The second week was soooo much better. Once I became more comfortable the job became actually fun most of the time. I think my sleeping problems came from nerves and not any sort of mystical jetlag. The last few days I’ve been sleeping straight through the night.

I have to admit that much of my ease with adapting to this new lifestyle and job has come from the staff at my school. I really lucked out. Every single member has gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable, helped me overcome hurdles with language/cultural boundaries, helped my buy stuff and set up my apartment, and really just made me feel welcome. If not for them as a collection, there is no way I’d be as happy or comfortable as I am now. After leaving somewhere where I had godly group of remarkable friends, a big fear of mine was moving somewhere and having nobody. Hell, the day I moved here I was invited to go to an Izakaya with the majority of the staff which was a great introduction.

In the three weeks I’ve been in Japan I’ve survived a typhoon and an earthquake. Granted, both were small time. The typhoon was far and translated into a single day of rain. The earthquake happened yesterday and had to be pointed out to me. It felt like being on a cruise ship going over slight choppy water. I thought it lasted for a long time but apparently the buildings here shake with the earth so they don’t topple. The ‘extra’ quake I felt was just the building returning to its normal positioning. I was told that in a matter of fact way as if to make me feel better about it all. All the news talks about is how a volcano near Fuji could erupt. Since this mountain is connected to Fuji, there is a chance Fuji may erupt - yea the volcano which hasn’t erupted since like 1700’s. I’m pretty sure if that does happen we all just die due to proximity. So, I have that going for me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Shrineing Moments

Saturday night was the last day of training. The six days were both draconian and educational. While I’m happy these days are over, I feel like another week would better prepare me. I now have lists of my schedule, classes, and students and it's all becoming more and more real. Today is a traveling, moving, and errand day. I’m finally moving to Numazu and setting in the place I’ll be living for at least a year. I've been waiting so long for the opportunity to see this apartment.

Saturday night, after the last training, was an evening of celebration. This involved another outing and finally some drinking. Kirin may not be the best beer I've ever had but if it has to be the Japanese staple, I’ll take it. After getting our bellies full of chicken wings and beer, we seeked beer. A street side hole in the wall did fine. Beer was drank, conversation had, rice balls - fire eaten, and broken Japanese was spoken to a new Buddhist Monk friend. The night was delightfully simple, delightfully fun.

Sunday, our first day off in a week, became another day of exploring Nagoya. What started as an errand to get our inkan (stamp with your name on it), turned into a whole ton of exploration. We explored a few shrines, checked out an electronics shop, ate at a Fridays, saw some high fashion, and sort of watched an outside rock concert (Another World).

The Fridays was hilarious and so damn welcomed. Don’t get me wrong, I've been enjoying the Japanese food, but American food has also been missed - it was a darling reminder. You know, with decor of baseball bats, red/white/blue lighting, a soundtrack of Coldplay to country, and bars lined with Jim Bean.

The shrines were beautiful and as mesmerizing as you’d imagine. Just these pockets of Shinto culture smack dab in the middle of a huge sprawling city. Once again the juxtaposition of old and new strike me in a delightful way.I’ll scour Numazu for them as well, preparing me for the day I hit Kyoto.

More than a week in my life here in Japan, I have to say I've been challenged. My attempted escape from mediocrity has been brutally successful thus far. Minus the days off, each day has been stressful and nerve wracking, While I’m finally moving today, teaching and executing all the techniques learned this last week sit heavy in my mind. Tuesday and Wednesday will be mostly shadowing previous teachers but by Thursday it’s full on. Everything is moving fast and I realize that can’t last forever, but right now it’s quite intense. This is all a good thing though and not a complaint. This is exactly what I wanted.

Leaving today means saying farewell to the people I've become close to this last week. While these are sad times, they will all be an hour (?) away by train. These aren’t goodbyes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Ate Horse

Since Monday, my days have been dominated by the nine hour training sessions and attempts to sleep. These days are long and brutal but effective and necessary. In a week’s time we’re to learn to be proficient in teaching among several other business tasks for the company - no easy tasks. Yesterday we taught our first self-created lesson to actual Japanese students while getting heavily critiqued by the trainers and peers. This was an important and challenging moment for us, one I’d say we all accomplished. Not without flaw of course, but as to be expected for our third day of training. The growth is already clear.

At the end of training on this monumental day, each of us trainees were given a present. These gifts were hand crafted letters/postcards from the school we’ll be joining in a week - from the area we’ll be living in a year. I have to admit, the amount of work, humor, and sentiment that went into this was really touching. The teachers and staff from the school really gave me a true sense of welcome. Their goofy poses, kind words, and how the paperclips holding the card shut were hearts were all just such sweet touches. Getting over this leap of completing my first lesson and then receiving this card all in one day, really boosted morale during these hard training days.

My fellow six trainees were all feeling similar feelings. We all just felt relieved and well, happy. Thus, we all went out. None of us knowing where to go exactly, we just walked the streets of Nagoya. There was an arm of a typhoon that hit yesterday so the night was warmer than usual - nice though. We ended up finding this hole in the wall bar that, to my surprise, had two more floors above it. We ended up getting the entire second floor to ourselves. The decor had us all sit on mats on the floor where we all sat at one long table. A waitress/waiter would come when called, we’d order alcohol and food when we wanted, and it just felt really good to let loose again.

While beers and sake were drank, our Australian compatriot’s eyes went wide when he noticed something on the menu - horse. Yes, horse, like the mammal. He ordered it, fully knowing it was horse. As it was served we just watched. Not only was it horse, it was raw. It was raw horse. We watched him eat raw horse. So, I too ate raw horse. It was admittedly horrible. I can’t say if it was the horse meat or the fact that it was raw. Since, you know, I never eat meat uncooked. The texture was unflattering, sort of slimy, and it didn’t offer much taste. He described it at first as sort of a tasteless jelly - I’m not sure I disagree. For reasons unknown, we were the only two to try it.

As if we just didn’t just fill our bellies with food and booze, there was one more stop on the way back to the dorm. As we passed a Takoyaki booth, another compatriot sprung an order for all of us to try. Takoyaki is a desert food, octopus puffs/balls. You can get it covered with a takoyaki sauce with option of mayonnaise. I had heard of this before, but certainly never tried it. So, I tried it. Easily not the strangest thing I’ve eaten this night, it was better than I thought but not necessarily something I’d pursue. They come out alarmingly hot.

After our gluttony, we checked Karaoke prices for a future celebratory date and headed back to the dorms. It was a good day. It was the first and ideally the last time I could say my stomach was filled with both horse and octopus simultaneously. Three more days of training.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Making the Everyday Better"

After landing in Nagoya, I took a train to the training facility. I was accompanied by two fellow trainees who arrived around the same time. We all agreed that since tomorrow (Sunday) was a day off, that we’d go explore Nagoya together. The facility itself is from the future and my dorm room borderlines something from the Jetsons. My toilet is automatic and I think part robot, the switches on the wall glow green when off (confusing), and the entirety of the dorm’s power involves me putting the key to the room into a wall socket. The three of us took our first trip to local 7/11 (which are everywhere and the grocery stores here) for some questionable sustenance. One of my food choices said in English, “Making the Everyday Better.” Well said burrito(?).

The follow morning I met up with my two fellow trainees with the addition of two others. Without a real plan or destination, the five of us set off to:

1) Get something to eat
2) Explore (get lost)

I’d say we nailed both of these two things fairly well. After searching for some not expensive lunch cuisine, we ended up getting okonomiyaki. I consider this my first real Japanese food since moving here. It’s basically a pancake with all sorts of foods mixed within it. The one I got had egg, pork, and squid. I know what you’re thinking, I ate squid? Yea I did. If I’m living in Japan I'm going to have to get use to some seafood at least, this was a solid introduction. It was pretty good and filling. I wanted some water to go with is but I ended up buying soda water. I swear I’ll get use to this.

My suggestion was to go to the Nagoya Castle because, well, it’s a giant awesome looking Japanese castle. Another suggestion was a park. Luckily, Nagoya Castle is in the center of a huge park. The group was delightfully diverse and we all got along pretty well. There is nothing like walking to a castle with a group of people you’ve never met before to build bonds (social links). This group consisted of three Americans, one Canadian, and one Australian - all of them awesome people.

We walked around using this thing called a “map” that was like a large piece of paper with the image of the city on it. None of us had our phones set up in Japan yet thus we lacked GPS machines. The combination of different people’s direction sense, intuition, and fluency in Japanese got us there surprisingly easily.

The castle lived up to the hype. The thing was both massive and beautiful. The inside has been turned into a museum so we got some knowledge bombs mixed in with massive allure of this goliath. This elderly Japanese man with solid English ended up befriending us and becoming a sort of non-official tour guide. He stayed with us far longer than I thought he would and had an answer to about every single question we could fire off at him. He did say that I "looked American" which I don't think is a good thing but I also don't think he meant any harm by it.

The jet lag ended up conquering the majority of us and after we headed back to the dorm. On our way out we came across the Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-tai (Nagoya Samurai Greeters) performing so we had to watch that for a bit. It was some sort of mix of armes play mixed with dance? The crowd was into it and it was definitely entertaining. Check out the link for the end of the performance.

The rest of the day involved studying, reading, ironing, and a late night 7/11 run for dinner and breakfast. I start my first day of training today and am exciting to see what it’s like. I’m a mixture of nerves and excitement.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Elderly Man in Fishing Hat Behind the Counter in a Small Town

This post will be entirely on the travel aspect of my trip here to Japan, after Toronto. What can be said about a thirteen hour flight. Well, it was long. Easily longer than any flight in my life. My seat was a center aisle with the seat to my side being vacant - pretty rad. All announcements were in English, French, and Japanese. For literally the first half of the flight I slept. How tired I was ended up working to my advantage. I’d awaken to eat the meals offered and then pass out again. I can’t complain about how fast time moved at first.

Then time stopped moving fast and I still had half a trip left. For ‘lunch,’ we were given a Cup Noodles which I thought was a joke at first but soon learned that it was very very real. Good think I like those but man, unexpected. Alcoholic beverages were free and the man in my row on the other aisle sucked down Jack and Gingers whenever humanly possible. Good man. There was so much space for belongings and with the people who needed it, the trip reminded of a train scene in a kung fu movie - unfortunately missing Jackie Chan.

What better way to pass a huge chunk of time than with one of the Hobbit movies? I saw the first one and this was the third. I don’t felt like all that much was lost skipping the entirety of the middle film - something about a dragon I suppose. Why was Gandalf trapped in a Dark Souls elevator? It held my attention, entertained, and most importantly swallowed a bunch of hours. The rest of the trip involved more sleeping and audio-books.

As predicted in the previous post, it was after this flight landed that I hit my biggest and most stressful snag. For how big the Boeing 777 was, it cleared out fast and landed 15 minutes early. I only had roughly more than an hour to do a lot so I was already in a high gear mentality. The Tokyo airport was extremely accommodating with English on all the signs which made life possible. I had to wait in short line to receive my residency card and to take some paperwork.

Now I had to gather my luggage. Unlike the US, the baggage carts are free and I used the hell out of them. Unfortunately, my HUGE bags were among the last to come out - the whole time I’m watching the clock. After receiving both, customs was a breeze and I’m now in the international part of the airport. I got a bit lost for a moment but then found my way to the place to give my bags over for a domestic flight. The line was moving pretty quickly but then as I was the next person at bat, the two people that were getting helped had problems. I’m not even being dramatic here, they each took 10+ minutes to help. Guess what, I needed to have these bags checked 45 minutes before departure and missed this window due to those folk ahead of me.

The woman apologized and said I’d have to go to the domestic terminal. This is where panic occurred. I had 20 minutes to get to an entirely new terminal with all four bags of my luggage. To top that, I had to take a free bus to get to that other terminal. I stayed cool and just went through the motions. I found the bus, loaded ALL four of my bags onto it and sort of cradled them in my arms as I took a bus ride of unknown length. I remember the woman said “Terminal 2” so I just kept my eyes open for that. Luckily, the announcements on the bus also came in English. The bus ride was longer than I would have liked.

So the bus rolls up, I have less than 10 minutes until boarding, hope is gone. The whole ride I’m thinking what can I do? Someone is going to pick me up at the next airport and I have to contact them somehow AFTER getting a new flight. I could call them? I look at my phone - doesn't work in Japan. I’m in a bad place.

The moment the door opens I grab my larger bags, leaving my carry-on on the bus still so others can get out. As I turn to go back in to grab the bag this elderly man in a fishing hat, who was on my previous flight with his wife in a pink cowboy hat, has my bag and brings it to me. I thank him. Without saying anything else, he starts pushing one of my giant bags towards the door and I grab the rest. He points at a sign that says departures and motions towards the escalator. I sort of just follow him in awe.

He asks where I’m headed - I think. I show him my ticket, he flags down an employee and translates for me so I know where to go. He tells me but then starts pushing my bag again. What can I do, I follow. There is of course a line where I need to go but this elderly man is not having it. He flags down another woman, explains what I assume is the situation, and she takes me to front of the line. I’m sweaty and out of breathe but she smiled at me and told me "You'll make it, you have 5 minutes."

I thank the elderly old man in the fishing hat at least a million times, I believe I got through to him how thankful I was - at least I hope so. If not for him, a complete foreigner stranger, not even on the same flight as me, went through so much trouble just the help me is so unreal. I feel like I cashed in every bit of karma I've ever earned right there and then. If this is a sign of how the Japanese are, I made a wonderful decision. That man is and will always be my hero.

Being extremely touched doesn't get me to the flight though. I had 5 minutes to through security and make the plane. More running. There was no one else in the security line and the people working it were actually nice and didn't seem to hate their lives. It went quick. I followed to signs to my gate but boy was it far. I ran, rested on the moving platforms, then ran more. Dripping in sweat and smelling what I feel was fairly awful, I make it. I board the plane, sit at my window seat, and crank the air to max. I can’t believe I made it.

The flight from Tokyo to Nagoya was only about an hour. I was served a single strawberry candy which was delicious and screens came down that showed images of abandoned mines all across Japan for reasons unknown. Before you take off and when you land, the grounds crews wave all at once and then bow all at once. Pretty amazing. No longer stressed out, I finally go to the bathroom which I was too scared to do before based on time - which was actually the right decision, grab my bags, get greeted by the man meeting me at the airport, send my huge bags off to my future school, and meet the other two trainees who arrived at this time.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

One Step Ahead of Darkness

Let’s face it, no where in my heart did I think I’d actually sleep last night. Granted, I only gave myself a 3 hour window to do so, yet here I am in Toronto with about two hours of sleep under my belt. I have the luxury of this darling five hour layover here but such is the way of savings. After the thirteen hour flight to Tokyo is where the true terror begins. In an hour and a half time I have to get off the giant airplane, navigate my way through the Japanese airport, find my bags (?), go through customs, return my bags to a belt (?), navigate to the domestic terminal, and board my plane to Nagoya. Easy… right? People will be waiting to pick me up in Nagoya which makes all the timing that much more critical.

That’s far away from now though. Let’s talk Toronto. Although I have been here once before, I’ve never been to the airport before. In the land of Toronto, Tim Horton is king. As a former New Englander, I understand the advertisement abuse that comes with coffee chains. I get it. Timmy boy may just be more prevalent than the double D’s here.

Something I’ve found to be alarming at YYZ, is Blondie. Yea, the musical artist. You know the song ‘The Tide is High?’ The one where Blondie constantly reminds us all that she will be our number one? Yea, that one. Well, I’ve heard it twice in the three hours I’ve been here so far. Once, forgivable. Twice, a crime. Three times? My own personal hell. For you Blondie lovers out there, I’m not hating on your girl - just questioning my sleepless sanity.

Despite the questionable music choices, YYZ has been treating me well. My current set up borderlines on god tier. I’m going to attempt to add a photo to this post to show it. My phone and laptop are charging, I have a marble table to work on, the internet, a bar in eye view, and a complimentary iPad and credit card reader which allows me to order drinks without moving and have them delivered right to me. Isthisreallife? Best five hour layover or BEST five hour layover? I’m so tired.

My proficiency at people watching has made me start questioning my integrity. I’m going to chalk it up to being extremely tired, but maybe I’m a terrible person? Nah, probably not. It is entertaining though. That's all.

The title of this entry is actually pretty neat concept someone mentioned to me. Since I left right at sun rise, have this long layover, am traveling far west, and arrive at 6:00 PM (Saturday) - it’s like I’m running from the darkness. During this day(s) of traveling, it's going to be like I’m one step ahead of the night the entire way. It’s just one of those things to think about when you have all the time in the world to think.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Last Day In America (dramatic)

Numerous people has asked (threatened) me to start a blog about my adventures of living and teaching in Japan. Despite the strong armed advice about the topic, I was planning on doing it anyways. So yea, here it is. Due to the contract I’ve signed and a few other reasons, there is to be a whole bunch of vagueness in certain areas but thus is life. While this is the first post and I leave tomorrow, I won’t be in my apartment until May 17th - I think. So, I’ll be very reliant on free wifi until then for a post #2.

The very title of the blog comes from one seriously hardcore think tanking session during my going away party at my previous job. During the later, less sober, hours of the night - someone dropped the “Japandrew” bomb. It basically writes itself. It’s one of those cases of a suggestion being so perfectly bad that it just has to be so. Certain car wrecks you just can't turn away from; the title and this blog will be two of them.

So why Japan? It may be a bit of a juvenile answer but “why not?” I’ve never had a solidified answer to this question other than some sort of mystical and cliche calling. As someone who has never left North America, doesn’t speak Japanese, and doesn’t like seafood - the opposite side of the world seemed like the perfect place to move. The juxtaposition between the honorable work culture to tentacle porn just seems like a place I wouldn’t be able to say no to. On a more serious note, the environment, geography, culture, festivals, people, food, games - you name it - are all pretty damn enticing.

My good friend said it the best, “You always play things safe, this will be different and good for you.” Sometimes those who know you the best end up knowing you better than yourself. It sometimes takes that sort of obvious bluntness to really see the ‘forest between the trees.’ I have a problem of being too logical. While that may sound good, it really can be quite a headache. If you spend too much time puzzling out illogical or foolish ideas - you’re going to end up being, well, predictable. So f@#$ it. With a masters in education, no teaching job in America, and no overpowering roots - dare I say that this isn’t even that illogical. There I go, I’ve done it again. Since I’ve chosen teaching as my career, this will get the ball rolling. It’s definitely out of the ye old safe zone though, and that’s what’s important.

Saying my farewells to friends a week ago and saying farewell to family now is a pretty horrific experience I don’t wish on anyone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the most touching and tear jerking experiences imaginable. I’m not ashamed to say I cried nearly every time getting in my car after a personal goodbye and for half of the drive out of Florida on my way to Massachusetts. So many of my friends changed their Facebook profile pictures to an old photo of them with me that I had people messaging me making sure I didn’t die. Others performed what another friend called “eulogize the living,” where they poured their hearts out to me, talked about certain memories, or the long history of our friendship. I’m not sure if you can become dehydrated from tears, but if so, I had to be close. I'm drinking lots of water.

I will miss all of you savages. Part of this blog will be for my own hubris, for my “future Japanese babies that will love looking back on it one day” (quoted by my sister-in-law but thought by everyone - this will be a future post in its own), and for the people I care about to actually keep up with my awe, descent into madness, confusion, amusement, wonderment, beauty, and tentacle porn obsession (kidding, as of now). My phone number will be disconnected soon so the best way to get a hold of me will be Facebook, email, and Skype - if you need any of those, message me.

There is definitely something surreal about writing this my last night in America for at least a year. Getting rid/donating the majority of everything you own and handing over your car keys to someone else is unreal. My nightmare right now is my luggage and weight restrictions. Once they are taken care of tomorrow morning, I’ll be able to switch to what should be on my mind - Japan and teaching. I’m too stressed to even be sad right now.