Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Doug in Japan - More from the first month

As promised, more details and pictures - PICTURES! - from the first month of life in Japan.


First, a little about my town. It’s located in Nagasaki prefecture and is right on Omura Bay. Nagasaki is in the north-west of the island of Kyushu, which is one of four main islands of the country - Hokkaido is the farthest north, Honshu is the long main island that stretches a ways, and Shikoku is the little island just saddled under Honshu. Honshu is also where the mega-cities of Tokyo and Osaka are located.

Kyushu is an interesting microcosm of Japan. While it’s almost subtropical, there are also really big mountains - like the rest of Japan, it’s very hilly. Roughly 10 percent of the population is here, and roughly 10 percent of the GDP comes from here too. To make comparisons even starker, there’s one big metropolitan area (Fukuoka), a couple smaller ones (Kitakyushu, Kumamoto and Kagoshima), then a lot of countryside...just like much of the rest of Japan.

Obligatory rice paddy picture

Sorry for the geography lesson but it’s important to understand how that’s shaped where I am now. I’m not in the big, bright lights of Tokyo or Osaka; I’m out in the countryside, with rice paddies and tea fields galore. Nagasaki city feels like a really large town when in actuality it’s “only” 400,000+ people, which Portland trumps pretty handily. The city of Portland alone is a little bit larger but the metro area is over 2 million people, which is more than Nagasaki prefecture in total. Moreover, though the name Nagasaki has immediate impact to American ears, it’s not a major city within Japan; however, living a bit on the outskirts is pretty normal to me as an Oregonian. It’s home but hardly New York City or L.A.

This is Nagasaki city (not quite sure why it's so red-tinted, might've been all the firecrackers).


And let me say it again: My town is small. Tiny. Roughly 9,000 or so people live here. I joke with other Nagasaki prefecture JETs that it’s the low ebb of civilization on the train line between Nagasaki and Sasebo, and I’m not far off - the next town either direction is bigger, and they get bigger as one continues into either city. I haven’t lived in Sonogi long enough to really pass judgment, but it’s an interesting trade-off.


While Japanese geography has its charm I’m sure more people are interested in what every day life is like. First: it’s hot. Summertime is really hot (after a brief respite of days in the upper 70s it’s rocketed right back up over 90 degrees) and its pretty humid, too. Walking anywhere you feel okay but as soon as you stop moving you get what one British JET described as the catch-up sweats. You stop and it’s like somebody turned on the tap. Hell, I get them just walking to and from work; no wonder I’ve got the A/C on so much.

My apartment was super furnished when I arrived but it’s still taken time to adapt to living in it and making some improvements. Step 1: putting up the posters, pictures and stuff I brought with me. Step 2: getting my wireless adapter working after receiving my Internet modem last week. Let me know if there are aspects of daily life you’d like to hear about; I’ve adapted to so much so quickly already that things seem pretty normal already.

Importantly, most all of the Japanese people I’ve met have also been incredibly nice and accommodating so far. I still feel like I’m struggling a little with the language sometimes, but people help either to translate or simplify something so I understand. I’m coming out of my shell in terms of feeling afraid to make mistakes in Japanese or speak perfectly every time, which is good, because I botch what I’m saying all the time in English and it’s rarely such a problem. Importantly, people go the extra mile and help out even if I’ve just met them - already I’ve been driven home a few times after events. Maybe it’s just me cashing in all the times I drove people home over the years, who knows, but it’s a reminder of the nature of humanity and generosity.


Same goes for my fellow JETs, too, who have been welcoming straight away - both the other newcomers like me or the returning veterans. Apologies if I’ve said it before but it’s fantastic to already feel like a member of a community. I’ve been able to go out and be active every weekend, and even get together with others on weeknights from time to time too. It really helps that summertime is festival time, allowing ample opportunity to get together and share the whole "holy crap we're in Japan now" experience.


And that’s life in Japan at the moment. Beautiful spot of the world (weather aside), fantastic people, the opportunity to do something wonderful and to have ample time to explore and grow as a person...I’m incredibly fortunate.


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