Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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February 24, 2003

Special Week at School
Every seven or eight weeks or so, our school has a Special Week when we don't have classes as usual and the school offers something different to its students. I mentioned our last Special Week in the November 15th entry. This Special Week we are having a Valentine's Cafe. Students can pay so much money per day, and they come to school between certain hours and Conor and I basically hang out with them, play games, and chat. I felt bad taking their money for something I would've done for free, and it was difficult to come up with topics to talk about by the fifth day, but the students are really cool and it was fun! I taught everyone Crazy 8s. For those that don't know, it's a card game. They loved it. So did Conor.

Conor is being silly in the photo to the right. He's pretending to be intensely playing chess... with a Simpsons chess set. How can anyone be intense with a Simpsons chess set? :-)

Snow Festival in Tokomachi
Do you remember Tadashi? He and Tetsuya took me out my first week here, and I had them over to my apartment for a spaghetti dinner (see the October 23rd entry). And Tadashi invited me to his Year End Party (see the December 23rd entry). Anyway, Tadashi is from Tokomachi, a nearby town, and they have a snow festival every year. It's the oldest snow festival in the world. Well, we went with some of Tadashi's friends on the last day of the festival and as we got there everyone was shutting down their booths. It's such a bummer having this Tuesday-Saturday work schedule, because I keep missing out on Saturday day and evening things - when most social stuff happens. Oh well, can't be helped. I did get to see some of the ice statues, and they were lovely even in daylight. The best was a Pinocchio one which shows the head of the whale coming up out of the water and Pinocchio and Gheppetto are inside. Unfortunately, my body is blocking the view of the Pinocchio and Gheppetto in the left photo below. The right photo below was a sign in front of the ice statue. I can only imagine what they looked like at night with colorful lights on/in them. I saw them only minutes before people started tearing them down. They have to tear them down because if children play on them, they can get seriously hurt if they start to melt. Some of these statues took DAYS to make and hundreds of people to build, I can't imagine doing all that work and then having to destroy it on purpose.

There was a stage which was a huge ice statue. I guess the fireworks are shot off behind it, and there is singing and dancing on the stage - dozens of people at a time. That doorway in the middle of the stage is about eight feet high! Of course I missed all this because I had to work so late. But I got the general idea seeing it in daylight.

But the highlight of the day was hanging out with Tadashi and his friends. Before the festival, we all went to an Italian restaurant. Good food, nice conversation. Of course it was mostly in Japanese, but Tadashi taught me a little Japanese over the course of the day, and translated sooooo much. And apparently a famous Japanese television star came in the restaurant and Tadashi and his friends were so excited.

After the festival, our group went to Tadashi's parent's house for tea - it was RIGHT next to the ice stage. Tadashi said as a kid he used to watch the fireworks from his room. I drank lemon water because I could feel a cold starting in my nose. Tadashi's friends are really nice people and I hope to see them all again.:-) The left photo below is me and Tadashi. The right photo is me with his friends.

Valentine's Day in Japan
Well, Valentine's Day in Japan was interesting. It's switched here. In Japan, the women give chocolate to the men. There's something called 'duty chocolate' that women give to male co-workers. Then exactly one month later on March 14, there is a holiday called White Day where the men give chocolate to the women. I spent Valentine's Day in Tokyo for a work meeting - not fun. When I went online the next day I found a few e-valentines from some of you - thank so much for thinking of me!

Another Cold
I've had more colds than usual this winter. I think it's this chilly apartment and being in my small, closed classroom with coughing students. For the most part I've adapted to the cold apartment, but the fact remains I'm breathing cold air more often than not, so it's difficult to keep my insides warm. Anyway, I've been kinda incommunicado for a while with another cold. This one was pretty bad, but I made it through. My life was very simple - work, eat and sleep - work, eat and sleep - for many days. I have sick days, but not really because I can't really take a day off. They really need me to come in because there are only two foreign teachers (Conor and myself). I just hope I didn't get anyone else sick.

Belated Thanks
To my friends Kathleen and Jennifer - thank you for the holiday box that only just arrived today - 10 weeks later. Who knows why it took so long, another mystery of life in Japan. Thanks, guys!

English Books in Nagaoka!
Two of my students (Rieko and Noriko) took me to a bookstore today - they are the ones that planned the party for my discussion class (see January 26th entry). It was a bookstore right here in Nagaoka that has.... get ready for it.... BOOKS IN ENGLISH. A whole aisle of them! And some of them are used - so good prices. It's a bit of a ways, but I can do it on my bike when the weather gets a little nicer. Today Rieko drove us, which was good because it was rainy... the usual climate in Nagaoka.

Also, hanging out with Rieko and Noriko was fun - they are two nice ladies. Although, I found out today that Japanese do not like to be told they are nice people - at least not to their face. I'm not sure why, but Rieko explained very politely that it is a custom in Japan to not do that. So I'm going to try and stop doing it. It's difficult though, because so many people here ARE nice, and I wanna tell them so. That's the American in me. We were looking at books, and there was one called 'Living in America' - a book for foreigners in America. We looked at the table of contents and there were headers such as 'Directness', 'Openness', 'Showing Emotions', etc. I guess we Americans are pretty gosh, darn blunt - compared to other cultures. Rieko ended up buying the book because her husband travels all around the world for science conferences, and sometimes she can go with him. He's also a student, and of course, he's also very nice. :-) So Rieko might be coming to Chicago in December with her husband. I hope so! We joked about stowing Noriko away in a big suitcase, and when she went through the scanners, all they would see is her bones in the fetal position. :-)

Coming Home
I'm beginning to think about life after Japan. As I mentioned in my last update, I'll be coming home in August. And when I think about it, I can't help but wonder what it will be like. There will be what they call 'reverse culture shock'. I've gotten pretty settled into life here in Japan. There's still more settling to do, more to learn, etc. But my point is I can tell I've changed in the process of adjusting here, so I can't imagine what life will be like when I return. I'm good at adapting and readjusting to life in the US is just another adapting process. I know I'll be alright, but it is an unknown for me. I'm definitely not looking forward to starting up the job hunt yet again - particularly the way the US job market is. But something will come through, something always has. :-)

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing all of you - although I'll miss my Japan friends. Although, as I said, Rieko and her husband might be coming in December (with Noriko stowed away?) And another student Kenichi runs marathons all over the world, and he will be in the Chicago Marathon in October, I'm going to go and watch him run. :-) And Mariko promised to visit, but I don't know if she'll really be able to. I hope so. And Takahiko said he wanted to visit also. And I think Suzuki will come visit at some point too with one or more family members. So I'm going to learn how to be a good Chicago tour guide when I get back. (Constanze, do you have any tips?)

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to March 29, 2003