Sunday, October 9, 2011

Doug in Japan, Month 2

It’s been a month since my last update, which was focused on my trip one month ago to volunteer in Ishinomaki. I really can’t believe how long that time feels, and that I’ve been in Japan for now two full months; it feels like six months have passed since I stepped on the plane in Portland. But I must keep my duties up and report on how life is here in Japan!


Hanami Walk, October 1, 2011.

While the volunteering experience was one gigantic chunk of travel and time away from (what’s now) home, since then I’ve tried to stay busy in much smaller ways. I try to get out of the house to meet friends a couple times every week, even during the working week; fortunately the train makes it pretty easy to get out of Dodge. Examples of this include meeting other teachers in Omura (the major suburb south of here) to go bowling on the cheap, going up to Sasebo to see another teacher perform her music live, meeting up to watch movies or just make dinner, and (yes) hanging out playing video games. It’s the little things sometimes that keep you from going crazy; for me in the small town it’s especially true.


Hasami Walk was a pretty fun and simple festival. Since it's a fall festival, scarecrows and rice paddies ready for harvest were all over the place.

Little things are nice but there have also been some bigger festivals and things the past few weeks, too. The weekend of my birthday was a walking festival through one of the nearby towns — little shops, stalls and things are set up as a path through a neighboring countryside town, and it simply provides a good reason to walk around and enjoy the countryside. Other ALTs who live in the cities or suburbs were definitely impressed.


Hasami Walk

Three weeks ago, we had a three-day weekend and it coincided with one of the big festivals in Nagasaki city, called Kunchi. I honestly can’t say I saw much of the festival — I went down to the big city on Saturday but I got out of the house far later than I’d anticipated, partially because I ran into a different event in my town…when they had the elementary and middle-school boys sumo wrestling. Yeah, you read that correctly. That same weekend was Oktoberfest up in Sasebo…where I finally had good beer in Japan. Bliss.


"Wait...what?!?" Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park in Japan, because that makes sense.

Another funny thing about this area is the local huge amusement park. It’s not just any kind of park, either — I don’t think it has much in terms of rides and roller coasters, trading instead on culture. How? Because it’s Dutch themed. It’s called Huis Ten Bosch and is…interesting. It’s like somebody watched a bunch of Steves in Europe episodes from Holland and mashed them into an amusement park. I’ve been a couple times – once to see fireworks on a weekend when admission was super cheap, and once for the yearly wine festival. Huis Ten Bosch is also where I’m going to be running a 10K next month that I’ve been training for pretty regularly…I can now run 3 miles, and I’m trying for 4 this week. Still a little ways to go to make 10K, unfortunately. Another reason why HTB stands out for the local foreign community: Imported foods, especially beer, wine and cheeses. It’s the little things sometimes.


Sasebo Yosakoi Matsuri, October 22, 2011

I’ve been somewhat regularly to both large cities in the area, Nagasaki city and Sasebo. I go to Sasebo much more often because it’s a lot closer to where I live – 30 minutes or so instead of 45 minutes to an hour – and because it’s a lot smaller and compact. I can get to the main shopping district in Sasebo within a 10-minute walk from the train station, so it’s much more accessible. I need to explore Nagasaki some more – especially the major sites related to the atomic bombing – but it definitely feels more urban than Sasebo. After living in the countryside for a few months, the cities are starting to feel a bit overwhelming, which is a thought I never imagined I’d have. I love cities and I love Portland, but it’s amazing how quickly I’ve adapted to city life.

It’s hard to think of much more to write because everything seems to still be such a simple, natural transition for me. I’m learning more and more with every day in the classroom, and adjusting to other aspects of life — food, transport, etc. — as well. I guess it’s good in a way that things are so boring.


The one part where I’m both extremely happy and surprised, though, is how quickly I’ve fallen in with the other teachers in the area. I guess the best example was for my birthday — which I hate to publicize too much, it makes me feel far more important than my station in life deserves. I had “Happy Birthday!” songs in every class that day (thanks to my wonderful teachers), a wonderful dinner with close friends that night (yet more “Happy Birthday” and a cake!), and a party with two others who have close birthdays on Saturday night (drinking, “Happy Birthday,” AND a cake!). It was all a bit overwhelming in such a positive way; I can’t ask for that sort of appreciation, but I’ll sheepishly accept it.

It's a celebration.

Overall I just continually feel lucky to have this experience and this opportunity. Between applying in 2007, applying last year and going through the process twice, I had many chances to think, “Is this what I really want?” I will still probably hold off being definitive with my answer but it’s pushing towards “Yes.”