Saturday, December 13, 2008

First Few Days in Japan

I didn't sleep the night before I left, but I did manage to pack everything. After a lot of calculations I figured out that in order to go to bed and be able to sleep in Japan at a reasonable hour (midnight) I could sleep from 1pm to about 8pm Saturday on the airplane, 8pm being noonish in Japan... so I'd have 12 hours of awake time and then I'd probably be able to sleep comfortably when I arrived.

I waited 3 hours in Vancouver airport doing nothing much, though I did talk to some foreign guys who were going to Korea. One was from Texas and had lived in Korea for several years, first as an English teacher and then with aims to start his own business. He was on holiday in Whistler, skiing. The other fellow was going for his first time as an English teacher and didn't speak much Korean at all.

On the way to Korea I sat beside a friendly Korean guy who had been studying English for 7 months in Calgary and was returning home to his wife. I chatted to him and slept a bit. I was worried that I'd run out of things to do since I was almost finished my book and my laptop's battery had a tendency to die quickly. I also saw a nighttime Korea from the air, and some very pretty clouds.

My plane from Vancouver to Seoul was late in arriving, so I didn't have much time to walk around Incheon airport. It was nice enough but quite a limited view of the country.

I sat beside two Japanese women on the plane to Nagoya who had about 20 tons of shopping with them, but they were very sweet and helped me with questions about the papers I had to fill out. They even gave me candy. I gave them some chocolate in return.

I was picked up by my homeroom teacher and her cousin at the airport. Both were very friendly and answered all my questions and chatted a lot. When we arrived at the house after a drive of an hour an a half, I sat and chatted with my host parents and sister. My host father Katsunori was really surprised I could speak any Japanese at all and said he'd been studying an English phrasebook. My sister is called Hana and my host mother is Taeko. I ended up going to bed around 1:00.

I was considering using the name Hana while living here, so it was a bit of a surprise upon meeting my host parents that my host sister was named Hana. Curses! I had no other ideas, either. I discussed my thoughts about using a Japanese name with my host family and my host father's friend. He suggested Hana 2 as well as a variety of other bizarre monikers. I'm not sure I can trust him! He and his wife reminded me of my parents for some reason.

The following day I slept in, then went out for lunch with my host parents to a French cafe that had a few foreigners working at it. We went to the electronics shop to take a look at cellphones, but apparently the rules have recently changed in Japan and foreigners must stay for at least 3 months before they can get one. I'm really not sure why this is. My host mother was kind enough to give me her phone and buy a new one for herself. We also went to the grocery store, where I spotted some things of note.

First up was a brand called トルー バリュ, which for some reason romanized to "True Valu," also written on the ad. I'm not sure if that was deliberate or not. I also encountered my old linguistic nemesis the Crunky chocolate bar beside the Ready Meal section. Is it Crunchy? Was it meant to be Crunchy? Is it actually crunchy? Is this just a coincidence? Who knows!

I'm reminded that Japanese television is, in its entirety, expose-style news reports, wacky game shows, music programs, and sports. There must be quite a job market for people who can think up and program weird minigame ideas for Japanese TV...

The news programs boast movie soundtracks, strange close-ups, subtitles (to emphasize what people are saying), movie-like camera work, lots of graphs and graphics, and narrator-type voice overs. There's much more of a focus on entertainment and drama. In Canada the news is talking heads.

I've taken a few Japanese baths, which feel like sitting in an extremely hot hot tub. I'm not really a fan of hot water, so 10 or 15 minutes is about as long as I can bear. I remember that from last time, too.

My first day of school started with me getting my uniform and being led to the staff room, where I was told after 2 seconds notice to make an introduction to the school via the morning radio broadcast.

I then went to English class with my new homeroom and met 2 foreigners. One is an English teacher from New Zealand who has lived in Japan for 7 years with his wife and kids (she's also an English teacher) but doesn't speak Japanese very well (according to him). The other is a German exchange student named Louisa who's been here since August. She's quite quiet, though, and seems unsure of her English, since she's only studied it in school. I always feel a little bit awkward, talking with her.

It's kind of overwhelming sometimes to be around so many people all day and always have to make a special effort to communicate. For that reason, it would be nice to have another exchange student who spoke fluent English and grew up in a similar culture for company, like my previous exchange student pals. It was easy to joke around and get to know Jessie and Janie.

The other students made small introductions in class, forced to speak by their English teacher, but they all seem nice. I sit with a few at lunch. There are only 4 boys in the international class (out of 20ish students) and I haven't spoken to them at all. They keep to themselves and hardly ever talk with the girls.

A school hallway. The school's layout seems quite convoluted, with many staircases branching off from each floor and going to different places. I still get disoriented...

My school uniform. Socks instead of tights are also a viable option, but I don't think I could possibly risk being colder.

A comic drawn by my classmates.

For the most party the international class studies various English courses, but I'm also taking things like biology, math, gym, social studies, world history, and classical Japanese. So far the most interesting course has been Chinese. The teacher is a Chinese lady whose Japanese isn't perfect, and she doesn't have very good control over the class and doesn't make it very fun, compared to some of the English teachers. The subject matter is what makes the course appeal to me. I've spent the class trying to learn some pronunciation, but, to be honest, I don't know if I'm learning Mandarin or Cantonese.

The international class normally has 8 classes a day, extending from 8:30 in the morning till 5:30 pm. Because winter vacation is coming, school has been ending at 4:30 lately. The days are very long, leaving me no time to explore the city before it grows dark, and my host mother is uncomfortable with me being out at night. I don't know if I want to join a club unless I am able to change classes and go home at an earlier time, a possibility I've discussed with Ishiguro-sensei, one of the teachers facilitating my exchange here. It seems that it might be possible after winter break, but I'll keep you posted. The normal classes finish school at 3:30, and have more interesting courses like art and music. There are also 40 students per class, I hear. I think that would be much more fun. I'd really like time to enjoy Japan outside of school.

I try to spend some time with my host family every day, which includes taking the two dogs for a walk, watching Korean dramas with my host mother, and teaching some English. My host parents run a hair salon, so they frequently work late. However, I will go to Kyoto for a day tomorrow with my host mother and her friend. I think they want to go shopping!

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