The plane roared down the runway, rattling and rumbling as it picked up speed. The flesh-filled monstrosity launched gracefully into the air, defying gravity as it rose above the city and angled away towards the Land of the Rising Sun -- the Japan Journey had begun.
Sunday through... well, till now, really, has been a pretty busy period. We had to get up at 5.30 on Sunday morning to get to the airport and leave on our 8.30am flight. One of my fellow Kiwis had managed to secure himself a seat by the Emergency Exit, so once the seatbelt lights had gone off, I promptly joined him, not once looking back at my former cramped location. Also, watching four movies will give you a headache :o
We landed without further ado, and proceeded to make our way to the trans-terminal shuttle at Narita airport. After clearing customs, the 24 of us made our way to the baggage claim and were directed by JET helpers sporting yellow t-shirts towards our JET check-in. After removing my suit from my large suitcase and sending it on to Kochi-ken, I gathered with everyone else to wait for our bus. We travelled for about an hour and a half to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjyuku, Tokyo. The sunset was amazing, and we were also graced with a lighting storm, flashes lighting up the sky as if to announce the arrival of 1,082 JETs from around the world.
Some of us -- most of us, most likely -- went out into Shinjyuku when we had the chance. Eleven of us took the subway to Shibuya (three stops away on the JR Yaminote line), then we split in two. Six of us walked around a bit (it took ages to find our way out of the subway station to the street!). We had meals at a small ramen restaurant that required us to get small tickets from a vending machine, after looking at the menu outside and choosing our preference by number. The service was incredibly fast, and the food -- my food, at least -- was great.
I was sharing a room with two of my fellow Kiwis: Mark and Tim J. Mark is now based in Shimanto City, which is about an hour from here. Tim J is in Yamaguchi-ken. Monday was our first day of orientation. Any meetings or workshops were considered to be business meetings, so we were required to wear our suits. We had the introduction ceremony and our first bout of information fired at us after breakfast. Imagine: 1,000 people sitting in a room, wearing suits, in 30 degree heat. I'm not sure there is an air conditioning unit on this planet that can counter that!
The next two days were filled with workshops of our choice, a prefectural meeting, and other keynote speeches. After I went to the AJET Information Fair at lunchtime on Monday -- having been handed a load of stuff -- I carried one of the fans I had received to every meeting. I believe that that, along with my trusty bottle of water, was what kept me alive. Suffice to say, most of what I attended was informative, if not well presented and entertaining. My favourite two workshops from the five that we had over ther two days, would have to be Driving in Japan and Understanding J-Pop.
Monday night was our prefectural night out. I got to meet most of the 28 people who are now ALTs in my prefecture of Kochi. I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone, or even to learn many people's names, but we did have a great time at karaoke and then at an Irish bar, where I met a Danish guy on holiday in Japan, with whom I chatted for ages.
Tuesday night was our NZ Embassy reception. I had the chance to talk to a couple of Japanese guys that work for a government branch -- foreign affairs, I think -- which was probably the most interesting part of my evening.
Wednesday came around pretty quickly, but all in all orientation was an intense time of information and material gathering. Even now I haven't had a chance to sort through everything.
On Wednesday, as some of us waited in the main hall in our prefectural groups -- everyone was leaving at different times for the airport, so there were about five or six groups in the hall at one time -- we had the chance to talk with each other more, in anticipation of heading out to our respective towns and cities. Matt Douglas, our prefectural advisor, whom I had shared ichiraku ramen with on our way back from downtown Shinjyuku early Tuesday morning, handed me a list for writing my email. I looked at the name above mine and felt my breath catch in my throat. It was the name and email address of my online friend Cammy (Charlotte), whom I've known for about eight years. I'd lost msn contact with her -- even though she uses the same email address -- and now here she was, not only doing JET at the same time as me, but going to the same prefecture -- she is in Shimanto City, which is not too far south.
Now that is something worth writing about. We used to talk a lot on msn after both writing for the same gaming ezine back in 2000/2001, and so I used to consider her to be one of my closest online friends. Imagine meeting a long time friend for the first time, completely inadvertently. The probability (and surprise!) is just astounding. I hope that we can meet up from time to time over this next year of teaching here in Kochi-ken; just as I hope that I will be able to meet up with some of the other JETs that are as new to this prefecture as I am, and with whom I exchanged some words over our orientation period in Shinjyuku.
Candice is the other new JET for Shimanto Town, but she is living in Kubokawa: about 15 mins away from my smaller town of Taisho. Kubokawa is slightly closer to Kochi City, but we are still a good hour and a half or so from there; maybe more. After flying into Kochi City, we were met by a Japanese guy from the Shimanto-cho Board of Education, which is based in Kubokawa and is Candice's new place of work. With him were Emily, Candice's predecessor, and Michael, the other JET for this area, who also lives in Taisho.
We went first to the Kubokawa office to meet the staff there. Michael and I drove to Taisho so I could meet the people in my own office. I promise to put up some photos of Taisho and the Board of Education when I have had the chance to take some. I actually walked around town today in the scorching sun, but only remembered my camera afterwards.
Since arriving here, I've been back to Kubokawa three times. We had some paperwork to sort out -- setting up a bank account, looking at keitai (cellphones), and applying for foreigner cards, which are compulsory but will take about two weeks to finalise. I've eaten out a few times and bought most necessities for my tiny apartment (which I also promise to take a couple of photos of some time).
Last night, I met my predecessor, Phil. We talked a bit, both at the izukaya (bar-type food place) where we ate dinner, and when he got back to his car outside the BoE offices. He dropped off a few bits and pieces for me earlier today, including a much needed rice cooker and some bowls and tea-towels.
My initial experience here has been great. Coming into this place with a positive attitude has really helped. It may be industrially isolated (mind you, there is both a lumber mill and a sake brewery here!), but it is peaceful (if a little hot and sticky) and the people are friendly.
Now all that remains is calling forth the dra- wait, wrong script. I do still have quite a few things to get, but I need to sort out a monetary transfer between my New Zealand bank account and my Japanese one before I can spend much more money. I may be checking out Michael's kendo class tonight as a matter of interest, and we are going into Kochi City tomorrow, which will be pretty cool.
Right now, there isn't much to do at all in the office. I have no immediate preparations to take care of in terms of the school term starting. I have things to sort out in my apartment still, and I need to get a bit more organised in terms of flash cards and my nihongo textbook to improve my language skills. But I do have plenty of time to get this all organised and sorted. Tosa-ben, the local dialect, could prove to be a hindrance to my Japanese language learning, as it is apparently quite distinct and difficult to learn; but I refuse to let that dissuade me from absorbing the language and being as immersed in the culture as I can be.
Well, back to twiddling my thumbs :p