Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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August 25, 2002

I'm finally in Nagaoka - and it's absolutely lovely! Where to start?...

Training Week
I made friends during training - 17 friends actually. :-) Below is a photo of all of us on our last day - I'm on my tippy toes in the back on the right. Some are American, some are British, Canadian, Australian... I think that covers everyone's nationalities. But all these folks are now spread out all over Japan. But it's nice to have a good start at a network. One is having a birthday party in Tokyo next weekend. I hope I can make it there, not sure yet because I'm not sure what's involved with getting there. In any case, I'm sure I'll keep in touch with many of them.

Spent my First Full Day in Japan at The John Lennon Museum
We went to the John Lennon Museum on our first full day in Japan - the company gave all of us that day off to adjust. Luke, the guy to my left, saw the museum from the train on our way to the training center from the airport - it was one train stop back from the training center. (Luke is a huge John Lennon fan and was very keen to go.) So pretty much all 18 of us set out together - our first day in Japan. Getting there was challenging, scary, exciting, frustrating, but we did get there and it was worth it. The museum was very well done. In the last room, there's a phone in the middle of the room. Apparently Yoko Ono calls that phone every once in a while, and anyone near by can pick up and talk to her. (She's the one who put the museum together in her home town - a Tokyo suburb.)

Local Town Festival During Training Week
One evening, some of us also went to a nearby town festival going on during training week. There was a big circle of Japanese folks, many in kimonos, dancing around a sort of tower in the middle of the circle. There were musicians on top of the tower. It was traditional dancing - each person followed the one in front of them as they moved around the tower. They were moving slowly, one step or hand movement every two beats or so. The people dancing encouraged us foreigners to try (they were very friendly and patiently tried to teach us). I consider myself a pretty good dancer, but I couldn't get the hang of it. I'm not sure why, but it was fun trying. Megan, the one in front of me, did very well! She picked it up in no time.

Stress Release
I think we all had our moments of stress release. Some drank every night. For me, I felt a lot of pressure to remember all the steps of a very complicated lesson formula, and felt very overwhelmed the morning we were supposed to give a test lesson to volunteer 'students'... to the point of tears. But I just dove in and did my best. I was surprised to find I did really well, and had fun once I got going. The students seemed into it, and gave very positive feedback afterwards. I felt really good. Besides, as it turns out, the teachers here in Nagaoka are not required to follow the process exactly - so I didn't need to worry nearly as much as I did. But I'm still going to do my best to include all its elements. Also, I don't actually start teaching until next week. Until then, I observe the person I'm replacing (Ryan) for the next first days, so that takes some stress off and gives me more time to adjust.

Astrid, one of the other teachers in my training group, had her moment of stress release just before we all got on our different trains to go to our 18 different schools all over the country. She and I were posing for a photo, when the person taking the photo needed to take a moment to figure out the camera. Astrid turned, looked at me, and burst into tears. She and I had become so close over the week - we all became close because we were all in the same boat not knowing anyone in a foreign country, all living in the same house, we all sat in the same room all day, many went out drinking every night (I didn't, I was too stressed about getting the process right.) I think Astrid was already feeling lonely at the idea of us being split up so soon. I think I just happened to be standing in front of her when it hit her. But I love the photograph of Astrid and I (to the left) that came from that moment. :-)

My New Environment in Nagaoka
My apartment is absolutely huge, in Japanese terms. My school is very nice and the staff seem very friendly and helpful. They even bought groceries for me so I'd have some things waiting for me when I arrived. Food was one of my biggest concerns, and I'm not worried anymore. I'm finding everything I need - with Conor's help. I've lost a little bit of weight these last few weeks, but I'm sure I'll put it back on in no time. I can see mountains from my windows, which is a bea-U-tiful thing. I have a little balcony just deep enough that I can sit down and look at the mountains. They are becoming friends as well.

I've met some of my students and they seem great. :-)

The Other Foreign Teacher
Conor, is from Ireland and we've hit it off marvelously. He's showing me around and we seem to have a lot in common. He likes sports and is planning on getting a baseball glove so we can play catch - so I've already found a catch partner. :-) And he like to ride his bicycle, and read, and listen to music, etc, etc, etc. It will be a very good year!

Last night Conor and I were invited to our landlord's home, Suzuki, for dinner. It was fun. I had sake for the first time. Wow - that's powerful stuff!

More?
I'm sure there's more, but it's not coming to mind just now. I'll save them for future entries. I get a cell phone in the next couple of weeks and I'm going to try to get one that I can hook up to my computer through a phone line so I can upload entries from my apartment. That's the plan. We'll see if the plan can be implemented or not. In the meantime, please keep in touch!

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