Notes From Japan 1
Ohio Gozimas from Asagiri-Cho, a small farming village of 18,000 people on the southern
Japaneses island of Kyushu. This is then end of my first week here and so far everything is great.
I left NYC last Saturday around noon and arrived at Narita Airport at 4pm on Sunday (14 hours).
After walking through customs, there was an army of JET program volunteers in orange shirts
every 5 feet or so to point us toward the various stations in the airport for checking in, shipping
luggage and boarding the buses.
Driving into Tokyo is quite an experience. The majority of the 2 hour trek into the Tokyo city
center is through the Tokyo metro area. The city is huge with large buildings and sky scrapers
stretching on for miles. The city is massive, yet the cars, trucks and buses are on a much smaller
scale than what I am used to seeing in the States. I am not sure which is larger Tokyo or NYC, but
Tokyo sure is big for a little country.
The 2 day orientation went quickly. Current and Former JETs, Government ministers, speakers
and the people who administer the program all had about the same message, "You may have a
difficult time, it will be rewarding, Japan has the lowest rate of spoken English in the area (China,
Korea, Afghanistan, former Soviet block states, etc. all have more spoken English than here), you
are here to help us change that. Make sure you teach Spoken English, NOT grammar, that is what
Japanese English Teachers focus on for the exams, but no one can speak English, that is what
you are here for, teach spoken English, be communicative."
After 2 days of conference, we departed for our host cities. At the main domestic airport in Tokyo I
realized how important it would be to learn some Japaneses. This was not the big city where
everyone spoke a few words of English. I walked into a store, I think they were selling some sort of
food, but I could not say for sure, the sales person greeted me and said something, I looked at her
with a not-so-clever look on my face and waited for her to offer the message in English. When it
became clear that that was not going to happen I did the only thing I could. Bowed and got the hell
out of there.
Landed at Kumamoto airport and went through the gate where a throng of school board officials
were anxiously awaiting the arrival of there new Jets. For Asagiri-Cho, they sent our supervisor, a
translator and another member of the office staff to greet us with a big sign they had made. After
we met they took us out for a quick sushi lunch and then took the 2 hour drive down to Asagiri.
Once in town I dropped my things off at my host families house and proceeded to the Board of Ed
Building to meet our new co-workers.
At the BOE we had a brief meeting with our supervisor and the superintended of schools (who is
also my host). In that meeting we were told that what is needed is for the children to pass the
mandatory English exams, therefore they must spend as much time as is possible learning English
grammar, not spoken or communicative English. As the meeting ended, one of the translators
said, "In Japan we try to keep harmony in our relationships, therefore our instructions to you
should be vague enough so later there will not be disagreement." Right.
Next we were whisked away to a park where our welcome BBQ was just getting under way. About
25 folks from the BOE and the Mayors office came to the party, met the new foreigners, and
proceeded to get wasted. The party was quite festive and People kept giving me cups of beer and
Sho-Cu (some sort of rice wine/whiskey they make locally) and plates full of food (since they knew
that I am a vegetarian, they had plenty of fish on hand). I met a lot of very nice people and had a
The next day we did the formal introductions, where the three of us were paraded around to every
government office and introduced to everyone who works in the local government (about 200
people by my count) there is a traditional way to be introduced then to bow and say "dozo
yeroshqu onegaisimas" which is roughly translated as "we will be working together and please
take care of me"
Then there were more meetings and more things to do. Hiromi, one of the women I am working
with had prepared a map of the town where she had indicated the schools, buildings and houses
we needed to know in English along with a ton of other useful items. We also set up our desks and
started working on the Japaneses language books we had all received.
Later we took a ride, and my boss let me drive for a while. I can tell you what fun is; deep irrigation
canals on either side of the narrow road, and me driving a mini-van on the left side of the street
while enjoying the remnants of jet-lag.
I purchased a car today. It is the the most units of currency I have ever spent on a car, \180,000.
However since the yen trades at 112y to the $1 USD, it is also the cheapest car I have ever
purchased at roughly $ 1,600. It needs a little work (included in purchase price) and has the
inspection tax paid for the next 2 years. Yes, I have responded to MUCH higher gas prices (aprox
$4.50 per Gal here) by getting myself a K-car.
The car buying experience was truly something. Yesterday me and the 2 other JETs came to the
mechanic shop with one of our translators. He tried to have us look at a magazine with pictures of
cars in it, while they explained the subtleties of Japaneses car tax and insurance laws. But I
wanted to actually look at cars. I went out into his "show lot" (read: not a real show lot but rather 4
cars under a shady tree) and picked out the one that looked best. Then we sat and had ice tea
with him and his family for an hour or so. I briefly played soccer with his son who is about 7 and
may be in one of my classes. It was decided that we would return today.
Today we looked at more cars he had brought from a big town. They were nice, but I decided to
stick with my little blue Mazda. The entire shopping experience took several hours between
yesterday and today. Being completely illiterate and unable to communicate even the most basic
thoughts make it difficult to get any information on things like crash test safety ratings or Mile per
Gallon, especially when they don't use either miles or gallons here.
I am staying at the superintendents house with his mother, wife and son. I use "house" loosely
because it is actually a beautiful suite of rooms built above and around a Buddhist temple. Both
father and son are Buddhist priests. Everyone here is exceptionally hospitable and go out of their
way to make sure everything goes smoothly. Every meal here is excellent. Yesterday I learned
that there is in fact a limit to the amount of sashimi I can eat when I left some delicious fish on the
plate because I could eat no more. Tonight the trustees of the Temple came over for a meeting
and I was invited to the dinner that followed.
I found out today that I will actually be staying with my hosts for one more week, my predecessor
will move out of my new house on Tuesday. and there are some major repairs needed to the rice
paper in the sliding doors and the traditional tatami mats. It would not be proper for me to move in
until these matters have been attended to.
Lastly for those who have been waiting with baited breath the results of the Alfred "Mendel" West V
IDT lawsuit are in. (This is the suit I sat on as a Juror for 5 weeks before being excused the day
before coming here) After what is reported to have been 2 grueling days of deliberation, Mr. West
was awarded $1,500,000. The IDT lawyers were right to filibuster until I left. I would have tried to
push for 3-6 mill if I were there.
Well that's all for now, I gotta get to bed, to those of you I still owe personal letters to, they are
coming, the slowness is due to a lack of computer time and a lack of sleep combined with my usual
slowness in getting letters out.
Wishing everyone all the best.
PS Photos and maybe even a web page coming soon!
PPS I put your email address on a list of folks I will send updates on my travels to from time to
time, if you would rather not receive these notes, just drop me a line and I would be happy to take
you off this list.
PPPS, David - I learned the secret to making square shaped scrambled eggs (the ones used in
sushi). You make a scrambled egg, and then role it up with your chop sticks while it is still cooking
in the pan, then you put another egg in and repeat the process. It all cooks together and in the
end looks like a square.
PPPPS, Adam, I met one of your friends from Taragi, but have forgotten her name. She is one of
the English teachers you told to look out for me.