< class="pagetitle">Archive for the “Settling In” Category

I just had a man run his hands through my hair and tell me my hair color was beautiful.

One of the things I worried about when I came to Japan was getting a haircut, because I knew I wouldn’t know enough Japanese by the time I needed one to describe how I wanted it done. I realized it was getting about that time a couple of weeks ago, but wasn’t quite sure how to address it. While procrastinating though, my hair was getting longer, and I was getting more anxious.

Bringing in a picture of a model from a magazine or something just seemed silly, but then someone suggested I bring in a picture of myself with my hair cut the way I like it. I thought that was a smashing good idea, and realized that the head shot I took of myself when I was applying for jobs in Japan was taken right after my last haircut in Vegas.

Ms. Semba magnanimously agreed to let me print a full page of color from the office inkjet, and once I got over the name, I decided to visit the hair salon closest to my apartment. Yes, that would be “Hair Studio Rookie.”

I have never paid more for a haircut than I did for this one- but let me tell you, for the services I got, and not knowing how these things work in Japan, I was literally prepared to pay twice what I did. It was relatively painless showing the guy the picture and getting started. He knew enough English to get through without too much fuss, and actually complimented me on my hair color at one point (hence the lead-in). Rather than writing a paragraph about it, I’ll just give you a bulleted list of the services I received:

  • Shampoo & Condition
  • Scalp massage
  • Facial Mask (with “Bitamin Shee”)
  • Light facial massage
  • Old school shave (involving a hot towel, a boar’s hair brush, & a straight razor)
  • Forehead shave (??) (with slight eyebrow edging)
  • Haircut (obviously)
  • Neck shave (also with the straight razor)
  • Neck, shoulder, and upper back massage with an electric massager
  • Hair rinse (presumably to get rid of the clippings)
  • Style and gel

This was my first shave with a straight razor, and with my head flopped back on the chair, I was seriously hoping the man with the very very sharp knife at my throat was not a fan of Sweeney Todd (or epileptic for that matter). I also found out later that a forehead shave with a straight razor is normal with your haircut in Japan. Does that seem weird to anyone else?

Every time he asked me if I wanted something (I invariably said yes), I wondered how much more I’d have to pay for it. I had almost ¥10,000 (about $100) in my pocket, and was wondering where the closest ATM was in case I needed more. As you’d expect, he was very friendly and personable. Oh, and straight- his wife and their infant were also in the salon. I told him I was a teacher at a nearby English school as his wife was ringing me up, and he apologized for his English. I told him he was far better in English than most of the rest of the city, and he seemed happy.

Keeping in mind that you don’t tip in Japan and that I didn’t need to hit the ATM, how much do you think I paid for the best haircut experience of my life?

Give up?

Â¥3300 ($33)

Yes, that’s $33. And I got a punch card that earns me a free piece of low-end jewelry of my choice after ten haircuts. Not that I need a gold-plated rope necklace, but still. Can you believe it??

I know where I’ll be going for my haircuts while I’m in Matsuyama. 🙂

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Originally written two weeks ago. Sorry for the delay. 🙂

Today was a seriously good day. We had a brief rain in the morning and cloud cover all day, so even with the extra humidity, it was still nice and cool.

50 points if you know why I didn’t wait for the red car to get out of the way before I took this photo. 🙂

While making my shopping list this morning, I got a wild hair and decided I wanted to learn how to cook tempura. So I rode my bicycle down to the co-op, stopping to put on my shoes and grab my unbleached cotton bag on the way out the door. My aunt Julia would be proud. And yes, I’m totally serious; I have a reusable cotton bag that I use when I shop at えひめコープ (literally “Ehime Co-pu,” but they chose their own weirdness and write it “Coop Ehime”), whose 20th use will net me a coupon of indiscernible benefit.

I figured I would find the ingredients while doing my regular semi-daily shopping, but it took me a bit of dedicated searching to find the tempura batter and oil. Then I had to look at the backs of all the bags for the ones that had pictures, and try to piece together the process for making the batter and frying the food from there. That was my hope, anyway.

Here’s my now full refrigerator.

I got back to the house, put away the groceries, and decided to turn right back around and get back on my bike, destination unknown, just to explore while the weather was beautiful. Mindful of the recent adventure I had trying to find my way home, I chose one major road and decided to take it as far as I dared. I took Iyotetsu Road southeast near my place, and just kept riding. Along the way, I passed an indoor ice skating rink with an outdoor waterslide and pool complex, a Mazda dealership, a Nissan Red Stage dealership with a new GT-R in the showroom, and saw a lot of local flavor. The road started petering out after a while, and eventually became what turned out to be a secondary inter-city road. I took it about 13km out of town, to the outskirts of the next town, passing through increasingly light commercial and residential areas which became solitary homes, gardens, rice fields, and streams, and was surprised to see that it intersected with another major road that also runs (relatively) near my place.

There’s a pedestrian crossing bridge over the intersection of Iyotetsu Road and Route 11, about twenty feet above the road surface. I paused with my bike to soak in as much as I could. I really wish I’d had my camera with me, because there’s no way I can describe the beauty of what I saw. I love overcast days with a slight chill in the air, and I may be romanticizing a bit because of it, but the countryside I could see took my breath away. The rice fields are newly sprouting bright green right now, and the sky was this mottled pattern of steel grey and dark backlit blue. I had an interesting vantage of the surrounding fields, organically arranged against the hills and streams, all cut with the rigid lines of the highway, and the businesses popping in single file to line the road and catch traffic as it passed from one town to the other.

Reasonably certain it would get me where I wanted, I took Route 11 back to Matsuyama. Along the way, I found something that made me happy- a Subaru dealership. They were closed because of the string of national holidays called Golden Week, but that just gave me license to wander the lot unmolested. They had a number of interesting models, some modified with aftermarket parts, which you don’t normally see dealers selling in the US. Next door to the Subaru dealership, I discovered something else that got my heart going- a used performance car lot. Absolutely astounded at my luck, I wandered around looking at the Nissan Skylines, Mitsubishi Evolutions, Subaru STIs, Nissan Fairlady Zs, and many other high performance vehicles that have never been sold in the states. Some even had aftermarket parts that looked to be straight off the track, but not in a trashy, “body by Bondo” sort of way- the Japanese know class, and these cars were all put together really well. And I really need to start carrying my camera.

As I got closer to my part of town, I recognized a section of road I traveled while I was lost and had a silent chuckle at myself. I also passed a second Mazda dealership, as well as Daihatsu, Alfa Romeo, and Suzuki (automobiles, not motorcycles) dealerships. I guess Route 11 is something of an automall.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but when I got back to my apartment, I decided to not even go in this time- I just stayed on my bike and headed off to find a sembe (rice cracker) shop my manager told me about. I didn’t know exactly where it was, but I remembered the general directions she gave me. Her directions put me back on Iyotetsu Road of all places, but I still didn’t find the shop. This time I decided to follow Iyotetsu back to my neighborhood and call it a day.

Now I just had to tackle my dinner project. I won’t make a long story even longer by giving you the play-by-play, but let me say that making tempura is surprisingly easy. It turned out quite well, and here’s a picture to prove it. You can see the shrimp I peeled and deveined myself, with the red and yellow peppers and the asparagus (which I wouldn’t have thought to get but for the picture on the package). It all turned out really well (and with the mixing, prepping, frying, and eating, made a mess that positively consumed the kitchen), but I’ll probably wait a while to make it again. It’s a lot of work, and as light as tempura-fried food is in comparison to say, KFC, it’s still food that sits heavily in the stomach.

All in all, it was an exceedingly satisfying day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a food coma to sit out while I try to understand the evening news.

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Now that we all know I’m in Matsuyama, perhaps I should talk a little about the area in which I live.

Matsuyama City (松山市) is the largest city on Shikoku, one of the four main islands that make up Japan. Matsuyama is home to Japan’s oldest onsen (hot mineral water spring bath house), and is the birthplace to the poetry form now known as haiku. (Two semi-famous authors were holed up in a shack just out of town, a la Walden, and one started writing in the form while the other was laid up sick.) Matsuyama is also famous for its citrus fruit, which I just found out today is exported all over the world, and the quality of the fish available here. This last bit is great for sushi lovers like myself- you can actually walk into most supermarkets here and buy sashimi-grade fish.

My area of town is Kuwabara. I still haven’t figured out how to search for Japanese addresses using Google, but here’s a map of my neighborhood.

Here’s the post office nearest my apartment.

The Japanese postal addressing system doesn’t use street names and numbers as (the normal parts of) the US does. Cities are broken down into named neighborhoods, which are then broken down into numbered sections, blocks, and buildings. F’r instance, here’s the address of Matsuyama City Hall, from their English web site:

7-2, Nibanchou-4choume, Matsuyama city, Ehime, 〒790-8571 Japan

From widest to narrowest piece, this tells you that it’s in Ehime prefecture, Matsuyama city, Nibanchou neighborhood section 4, block 7, building 2. The T-looking thing (“〒”) is Japan’s postal mark, to identify a postal code. Basically, what all this means is that unless you know a neighborhood, trying to find an address is essentially a fool’s errand. They do try to give you some help by posting nameplates on the blocks and individual buildings, though.

Here is my block’s nameplate posted on someone’s fence near my apartment, and a closeup describing the information it presents. All you have to do to find an address is already know where a neighborhood is, then circle each block in that part of town until you find the nameplate of the block and building you want. Simple, right?

Anyway, the area around my apartment is pretty sweet. There are about a dozen restaurants, ranging from ramen shops to robo-sushi to nice Italian to pizza joints, the hair salon pictured at left, and a dry cleaner in the building next to mine (thankfully, because I don’t have a car to drive my work clothes to and fro). Ten minutes by bike will get you to two department stores, two home improvement stores, half a dozen pachinko parlors, half a dozen supermarkets, a local onsen, two shrines, and two car dealerships.

Fifteen minutes gets you downtown to those shopping arcades I visited right before I got lost (fifteen minutes one way, four hours the other ;-)). Everything you could want to buy is right there, including a really nice shopping mall, a movie theater, and a 10-story ferris wheel on top of a 10-story building.

From the left, there’s a shot of my apartment building (that’s my futon hanging out the window), a shot west along the street, an eastward shot taken from the base of the white pillar visible from the other two shots, and my rustbucket of a bicycle (the closest one in the covered parking area for my apartment and the juku downstairs). I just realized that last picture shows my building’s address plate on the wall below the juku’s mailbox, so there’s another example of that.

There’s always more to say, and I’m probably forgetting something important, so tune in next time for more of the ongoing story.


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The morning after I arrived in Matsuyama, Erin rode downtown with me so I could wander the shopping arcades at my leisure while he practiced the driving test for foreigners who want a driver’s license in Ehime. Ehime, by the way, is the prefecture in which I live. Japanese prefectures function almost exactly like states, but they’re closer in size to American counties than states (unless you count Rhode Island as a state).

Anyway, Erin left me to my own devices at about 10am. I found a restaurant that looked like it had been plucked straight out of some granola-eating Californian’s dreams, with salads made from vegetables and leafy greens with healthy amounts of avocados, sprouts, and tuna for good measure. Fortunately, I’m a granola-eating Californian, and I smiled at my fortune for not only finding this fantastic hole in the wall, but also for the fact that it had a picture menu to boot (common in Tokyo but rare in Matsuyama).

After wandering through a video game arcade (the Japanese seem to be peculiarly obsessive over rhythm-based games, BTW), a few overpriced clothing boutiques, and a five story bookstore, I headed for the apartment at around noon. I chose not to go back exactly the way I came with Erin because we took the scenic route down by the river to get downtown. I planned to take what I thought was the most direct route from downtown to the apartment, cutting out the section by the river.

I won’t bore you with a play by play of what happened next, because I have barely a clue more than you do what my ultimate path was, but suffice to say I became utterly lost in short order. Not “Shoot, I should have turned the other way back there” lost or even “Crud, now I have to retrace my steps and figure out where I went wrong” lost, but “Holy carp I’m in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and even if I did I don’t know my new address yet and I can’t read the street signs and I don’t know anyone’s phone number even if I had a phone or knew how to use a pay phone why do these streets all look the same and why aren’t they laid out in a nice grid pattern I wish I had a map” kind of lost.

Most Japanese neighborhoods have a koban (こばん – neighborhood police desk about the size of a photo booth), and I had to remind myself that I’ve never been one to panic when I realized I hadn’t even seen one while wandering around. I was hesitant to ask anyone for directions because between my very limited Japanese and the fact that I didn’t know where I needed to go, I anticipated more awkwardness than productivity, but I eventually stopped at a gas station and communicated the fact that I wanted a “mappu.” The entire five-person shift of recent high school graduates then tried to simultaneously ask me questions using random English words whose meaning they might have known at some point but were mostly senseless as used. I really didn’t even know where I needed to go, but I remembered passing Route 11 at one point while we were riding around the day before, and I know we rode along the river to get downtown, so I pointed to where Route 11 crossed the Ishite River. Makes sense, right?

So they drew arrows on my map and I started back on my way, quickly realizing that even though my route was marked on my map, I would have to identify the turns by relative sizes and distances of the streets from one another, rather than street names.

My heart sank when I eventually got to Route 11 and the river – I didn’t recognize the intersection at all. I decided to follow the river upstream and see if I recognized any of the path I’d followed to get downtown, but I hadn’t ridden the road in that direction in the first place, so I still didn’t recognize anything. It wasn’t until I turned around and went the same direction as I had that morning that I recognized a stretch of road I’d ridden with Erin.

From there, it was sort of a recursive pattern of riding a section of road in both directions for a ways until I found a familiar corner, then go a little further and repeat. I eventually made it back to the apartment exactly at 4pm, which is when my large bags were scheduled to be delivered from Yotsukaido. I arrived as Erin was about to call out the National Guard to search for me; as I arrived he actually had the phone in his hand, about to call the school’s manager to see if she could help search the city.

Here’s a picture of the note Erin left when he went out to search for me at 2:45. After he finished his driving practice, he returned (just after I left, actually) to where he knew I parked my bike that morning, then went home when he saw that my bike was already gone. He’d spent the last hour searching for me by bicycle, returning home a few minutes before I got there.

You have no idea what kind of relief I felt sitting down on the couch in the apartment that afternoon. It was one of those situations where I knew I’d ultimately be okay, but whose resolution had the potential to be far more humbling than it turned out to be. I’m so glad the police weren’t involved.

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Sorry for the delay. Because I don’t have my own internet access, I never know for sure when I’m going to be able to get online, and this last week added a couple new wrinkles.

Before I go any further, here’s a picture of the government building I visit to get online. You might notice two things about this picture of the Ehime Prefecture International Center (EPIC) that are pretty typical in Japan- there’s parking for more bicycles than cars, and that parking is covered, while the automobile parking spaces are not.

First of all, we had some serious rain on Tuesday. Sometimes in Las Vegas, it rains buckets of water but it only lasts for a few minutes at a time. It occasionally lasts an hour or two, and ends up washing away roads in Summerlin or floating cars through the Charleston underpass. I’m not sure if the typhoon off the eastern coast of Japan pushed it our way or what, but it rained like that here on Tuesday. In fact, I chose not to ride through that rain to EPIC to use their computers.

I thought when it started raining like that in the morning I thought I’d be safe by the time I had to ride my bike to work at 3pm, but that turned out to just be wishful thinking. Steering my bike with one hand and holding my umbrella with the other, I hadn’t ridden 50 feet before I could feel rivulets of water running down my back under my dress shirt. Luckily, I had almost a whole hour to dry off before my first lesson (I was still a bit damp). Incidentally, it stopped raining at about 4pm. Go figure.

I used to think that the huge washes and moat-like gutters lining the sidewalks here were overkill, or perhaps holdovers from irrigation channels when this area was farmland, but now I see that they serve a real purpose. Lest you think I’m exaggerating the rainfall, here’s a picture I took from one of the windows in my apartment. It may look like dusk, but I took it just before I left for work at 3:00. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it on the web, but in the full resolution version you can see coherent streams of water, as if poured from a thousand buckets. I can’t wait for the rainy season to start in a couple of months.

The other new wrinkle is a previously unscheduled student added to the front of my schedule. Instead of the 2 or 4 pm I’ve been used to, I’ve had to be at work at 1:30 every day this week, which gives me less time to ride downtown and use a computer before work.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite all my nervousness, my trip to Matsuyama was pretty straightforward. In fact, I was so prepared for one of the many pieces to fall out of place that it was almost a let-down. Buying a ticket for the monorail was a bit sketchy at first when the machine wouldn’t take my money, but I soon figured that you had to put the coins in from high to low denominations. I was also a little unsure of what to do when they were announcing boarding groups for the airborne segment of my trip and I couldn’t understand a word of what was said, but I just waited for what seemed like general coach-class boarding, and got on with everyone else for the half-full flight from Tokyo to Matsuyama. The Japanese transportation system lived up to its clockwork reputation, and I figured out what I was supposed to do through context clues and the occasional English label.

In Matsuyama, I was supposed to catch a “limousine” bus from the airport to Matsuyama station where I’d be picked up by a school employee. Instead, I was met by the school’s owner at the airport. I had no idea he would be there, but it was quite easy for him to call me out of the otherwise entirely Japanese crowd.

As we drove away from the airport, the first thing I noticed about Matsuyama was how clear the sky was and how much it reminded me of southern California. We followed Ishite River for a while, then drove through the downtown area and this cute walking street shopping district, and ended up on the street where the school is situated. Except for the fact that everything is in Japanese, it really could be San Diego.

Here’s a picture of my school and the building that houses it.

Teshima-san (the aforementioned owner) picked up Semba-san (the school’s manager) from school, and the three of us ate lunch at Bamiyan Chinese restaurant (think Applebee’s with pork fried rice) near the school while getting acquainted. Teshima-san is a busy man, almost never seen at school. Semba-san is also quite busy, but in contrast with Mr. Teshima, Ms. Semba’s life seems to revolve around the school. She preps the school to open every day at 2pm, and sometimes doesn’t leave until after 11pm.

After lunch, she drove me over to my new apartment to meet Erin Kourelis, the outgoing teacher I was hired to replace. Erin had checked out an extra bicycle from EPIC, and after I unceremoniously dropped my bags near the genkan (げんかん – shoe-changing entrance area) by the front door, we rode around the neighborhood in the waning light to acquaint me with the environ and shop for dinner fixin’s.

That night, as we talked over beef curry and rice, I got an idea of how much I had to absorb from Erin in the next three days until he left for New York.

I was to have about fifty students, spread over about twenty classes per week. Of those twenty classes, there are three pairs of classes with matching syllabi and lesson plans. Minus those, I was looking at preparing lesson plans and materials for about seventeen individual classes of varying age and ability levels each week. Oh. Okay.

When I was riding around the neighborhood and shopping with Erin, I didn’t see as much English as I had seen in the area around Tokyo. I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I need at least some English to make basic shopping and restaurant menu decisions. Erin’s lived in various Japanese cities for six years and learned quite a bit of Japanese, so it was basically a nonissue for him, but he agreed with my assessment, saying that Matsuyama is “pretty bad for English.” Oh. Okay.

Another thing I realized while riding around is that Las Vegas and its grid pattern are very easy to navigate. Matsuyama is laid out in typical “confuse the invading armies” Japanese style. So… Hey great, you have a map! Is there one with our neighborhood? No? Is there an English map of the city? No? Oh. Okay.

This last point proved to be an important issue.

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Another long post ahead. Maybe I’m making up for lost time. Maybe I’m just long-winded. =)

ALS new teacher training runs five days. As we were hired at about the same time, I was joined in training by Jonathan Nusbaum, an American teacher already in Japan hired away from Margaret’s English School. Day one (Tuesday, April 15th) was all paperwork and introduction to the company, its history, and its major players, as described and facilitated by HR Director Marie Verlingo, who walked Jonathan and me through all the paperwork and helped us wade through the sea of new names. That took place in the ALS head office in Chiba. Here’s a picture of the room in which I spent the day.

As you can see, I used my laptop to take notes- nine pages over four days, in fact.

Day two was in Yotsukaido, the Tokyo suburb where the company guest house is located, this time facilitated by Jack Stearn. Jack Stearn, for those of you who haven’t met him, is an incredible children’s educator. He doesn’t quite have enough notoriety to have a Wikipedia page yet, but he certainly deserves one. Originally from the northwestern US, he’s been teaching English as a Foreign Language in Japan for twenty years, and it shows. His lesson plans are beautifully crafted pieces of art, and his command of children’s psychology should earn him an honorary doctorate. He’s the teacher with the most tenure at ALS, and seems to have a finger in a few other pieces of the business as well. As you may have guessed, we talked about teaching theory, specifically as it applies to children. We also covered lesson planning and why it’s important. Here are a couple pictures of the ALS head office, by the way:

Starting from the left, there’s Junya Sasaki, the company’s accountant, and a friend of the company’s owner, Mr. Saito. Hired to clean house, Junya (as he prefers to be called) replaced two (three?) other full-time accountants, and works long hours to prove it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure of the woman’s name across from him, but I think it’s Sachiko, who handles internal logistics and travel. The eyes just peeking over the copier belong to Jon Clark. Jon is another excellent educator, though he doesn’t have quite the same tenure as Jack. He’s Canadian, though I promised not to hold it against him, as are Marie and Dominique. Jon’s forte is slightly older children, though I’d be hard pressed to find any student he couldn’t teach to write a treatise on War & Peace if he had a few weeks to devote.

Standing to Jon’s left is the aforementioned Mr. Stearn. Though I’m not entirely sure, I think Yoko Uekusa is the one closely studying the papers on the desk in front of her. In the back wearing the white shirt and short hair is Marie Verlingo. Marie is the one I spoke with on the phone for my second interview, the one that gave me the official “hire” decision. To the far right side of the frame, head in mid-spin, is Dominique Parker. Dominique is the one I spoke with on the phone for my initial interview. Marie and Dominique are both Canadian, which means almost half of the people that work in the American Language School head office are Canadian. Canadia is part of America too, so that’s okay.

Day three was also in Yotsukaido. The morning session was with Junko Yoshimoto, and focused on the *really* young children, aged three through five. ALS has an interesting program for kids that young. They call it the “Rhythmic Program,” and it basically consists of playing with the kids in English and singing songs in English, with maybe some repetition of basic English sounds. This happens in small groups with the parents and a Japanese teacher present, in a team-teach setup. I don’t know how much those “classes” cost, but they can’t be cheap. After lunch, Junko stepped out and Jon stepped in.

I’m going to stop my dry narrative here for a minute to let you in my head a little bit. Like I mentioned before, Jack is a seriously good teacher- intimidatingly so, in fact. Monday and Tuesday nights I was sent home with a video of an example lesson to watch (perfectly planned and executed my Misters Clark and Stearn). Add to that the fact that I’m a little afraid I’m going to permanently mess up some random Japanese kid (think “No more wire hangers!” from Mommie Dearest, but in my nightmares it’s me swinging the classroom pointer screaming “That’s an R, not an L! Are you retarded?!”), and you get a palpable amount of stress. What if little Mizuki goes home and tells his parents how the bottom of the instruction level fell out after I came on board? These are real kids in the classroom, not CPR instruction dummies with faces forever frozen in surprise, no matter how many cardiac “massage” beatings they sustain. No, if the children I’ve seen terrorizing Las Vegas businesses for the last two score years are any testament, you can seriously and permanently mess up a child. I hear they’re surprisingly so, but my problem is that I don’t have enough experience to know exactly how resilient kids are.

Jon Clark took that fear from me and made the job real and doable. He talked me through lesson planning for Junior High kids, and somehow I felt like I could actually do this. I’m not sure if it was his general pragmatism that did it or his simplification of the whole affair of teaching in the first place (“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong”), but at the end of the day my head was back on straight. Walking out of school that day was seriously one of those slow motion end of the movie moments for me, where the main character is walking away from the camera and you can hear the music swell and you know the credits are about to roll (I’m thinking Breakfast Club, but just about any John Hughes movie will work).

That night, we had a new arrival at the guest house. Michael Barker arrived from Thailand and moved in upstairs. He was scheduled to arrive on Monday and start training with me on Tuesday, but because he was flying standby at a peak time of the year (national holiday in Thailand), he was unable to get on a plane until Thursday. While I’m talking about Michael’s arrival, I might as well talk about Jonathan’s situation. He was hired to take over for an existing teacher (Deirdre Porter), as we all were. However, as Deirdre had already rather suddenly returned to Canada due to a surprise diagnosis of leukemia, he was not able to attend the second half of each day’s training because he was actually already teaching. (I hear Deirdre’s doing quite well now, by the way.)

Anyway, I brought my refreshed perspective to day four’s adult lesson planning, and it went quite well. The second half of the day was back in Chiba, and I had to navigate my way there without any help for the first time. Michael and I spent the latter half of the day with Marie back in the original training room talking about a few dry topics, as Marie apologetically pointed out a few times. We went over our transition schedules from training to teaching including transportation from the guest house to our actual teaching assignment, how to be a good employee, and signed our actual ALS contracts.

The last day of training was entirely observation of an established teacher in action. As my franchise owner had requested, I was in the classroom with Jack all day. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse, as Jack’s schedule was almost entirely comprised of lessons for young kids, with one private adult lesson at the end of the day. Not awful, but not wholly representative of my eventual solo teaching situation.

I felt like we should have some sort of celebration on Saturday night to celebrate the end of training, but Jonathan was already moving into his new apartment in the neighborhood (his assignment was based in Yotsukaido) and Michael was doing his own thing, so I was left to pack on my own and wonder if I was going to make it from Yotsukaido to Matsuyama without adult supervision.

I read and re-read this set of directions, hoping nothing went wrong along the way while I caught two trains, a monorail, a plane, and a bus to get to Matsuyama Station. Wish me luck!

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I know I promised a blog entry over a week ago, but I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for me to get an internet connection. More on that later; for now, let it suffice that I say it’s a pain. Also, long post ahead. I think you should just expect those from now on. 🙂

Let me start with a followup from my mention of the trash system from last time. At the ALS guest house in Yotsukaido, there are five refuse bins. The “kitchen”/organic/burnable garbage *must* be in a special yellow garbage bag. The other four bins are plastic (except bottles), plastic bottles, cans, and I believe the last one is paper.


Here are the bins and the poster describing the exact details of how you’re supposed to handle different types of trash.

I heard a rumor that they actually need the separate categories not for recycling, but to determine the temperature of the furnace in which the trash is burned, which supposedly explains why the greater Tokyo metropolitan area is so dusty. I sincerely hope they’re recycling it all and not burning it. Enough trash talk, though. (Ha!)

On Sunday, April 14th, Justin Ekins and his wife Misato Morita came out to visit me from Tokyo (Koto City, to be exact). We ate a great pasta lunch at a tiny Italian restaurant on the second floor of a building next to the Yotsukaido station. Here’s a picture of the three of us at lunch.

Then I showed them back to the guest house and walked them over to Ito Yokado, a department store chain in Japan. The parent company is “7+i Holdings”, and if you’re an American looking at the logo, you’ll probably know exactly where the seven comes from.

7+i logo

In case you’re not American or it’s not as clear as I thought, it’s from the “7” in the convenience store name “7-11”. Yes, 7-11 runs a chain of successful department stores in Japan. No, it’s nothing like 7-11 in the states. They sell everything from groceries to house wares to electronics to kimonos, and actually have an indoor playground in the children’s section that includes a balloon pit instead of a ball pit, which I thought was a neat idea.

Here are a couple of pictures of the walk from the guest house to Ito Yokado. The cherry blossoms had just fallen a few days before, and you can see them collecting in drifts along the path. Here’s a shot of the balloon pit.

While we were at Ito Yokado, Justin and Misato helped me order my hanko. A hanko, as I found out over lunch, is a rubber stamp with a cylindrical handle and the owner’s name written in kanji (or katakana, as the case may be) enclosed in a round circle about one centimeter in diameter, always used with red ink. They’re used in Japan in place of a handwritten signature for everything from initialing the employee bathroom cleaning schedule to signing for packages to signatures on legal documents. Justin had some criticisms of the hanko system, and while I could tell that Misato didn’t really disagree with his point of view, she seemed a little more willing to work with the system as it is. She mentioned that some people use knives to purposely put premature wear marks on their hanko to specifically identify them in case there’s ever a dispute over the legality of a “signature”. I suppose that’s about as hard to fake as a handwritten signature elsewhere, but that still doesn’t prevent someone from stealing the physical stamp.

Here’s a shot of my hanko (and free plastic case, replete with red ink pad!). It says “Heddo” written vertically. That’s as close as Japanese gets to my last name.

The next day I spent leisurely wandering around Yotsukaido. While walking around, I spotted someone’s answer to Japan’s dearth of parking spaces. It’s the only one I’ve seen in a private driveway (they’re common in parking lots), and I imagine it’s rather expensive, but I suppose your own parking elevator does double the size of your single-car driveway.

I spent a few hours walking, and while I didn’t know specifically where I was, I wasn’t truly “lost,” as I always felt like I could retrace my steps to get home without difficulty. I ended up walking in a big clockwise circuit around “downtown” Yotsukaido. I use quotes because it’s kind of like saying “downtown Boulder City.” Yes, it’s the center of the local economy, but is it really “downtown”? I really don’t know if anyone will be interested, but while walking around, I spotted a Nissan Stagea (it’s a wagon version of the Skyline, if you know what that is).

Anyway, it was one of those beautifully overcast days, where nothing has a shadow. A very fine rain began falling as I got back to the house, and I opened the sliding door onto the deck, sat in the living room, and ate the lunch I’d bought from a local bakery while watching the traffic pass by. It was one of those truly refreshing moments of solitude, where you feel the tension just drain from your body.

Japan seems to be infatuated with bakeries. They all have variations on a few main themes (standard doughnuts and danishes, hot dog-based breads, prefab sandwiches made from mini-loaves stuffed with sandwich fillings), as well as items unique to each bakery. You have to watch out though, if you don’t like corn or egg salad, because they’ll try and sneak it in there if you’re not expecting it. Seriously, who wants an egg salad sandwich with corn kernels sprinkled on top? Anyway, 90% of the stuff they sell is pretty good, in my humble opinion.

Something else Japan has a lot of is bicycles. Seriously, the country is supersaturated. Near the train station in Yotsukaido, there’s a two-story bicycle parking garage. No joke. I think they use monthly parking decals on the fenders to identify the bikes allowed to park there. But apparently that wasn’t enough space though, because there’s a three story bicycle parking garage right next door. In case you think I’m making this up, here’s a photograph of the two garages, right next to each other.

And in case you don’t believe the light grey building in the background is actually another bicycle parking garage, here’s a shot from inside the second story. Note that each story of the building actually has two levels of bikes, placed and retrieved by the use of ramps that pull out for each bike.

I think that’s it for this entry. Next time, I promise to get to the actual ALS training. I leave you with a snapshot of myself dressed for the first day of training.


– ヘッド

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There’s a real post about my training in the immediate future, I promise. In the meantime, here are a few pictures.

Just a second ago, I saw an ad on TV for Full House dubbed in Japanese. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. I didn’t think Full House could any get more ridiculous, but I never imagined Mary-Kate Olsen sitting at the kitchen table giving Joey the Japanese “Eeeeeeeeh?” I was rolling. 🙂

I forgot to mention it in my previous post, but the toilet room right across the hall from my bedroom has one of those crazy Japanese toilets that Shannon likes so much. In Japanese homes, they supply separate slippers for you to use in the toilet room (whose actual name I don’t recall). The slippers supplied for the ALS guest house were apparently either crafted by or for a “VIP FASHION CREATER” [sic].

I’ll talk about the five different refuse cans in the kitchen in my next post. Dustman is on the side of one of them, and in case you can’t read it, here’s what it says under his picture:

Dustman’s motto
1 recicle 2 ecology 3 smile.
Lets carry out
housekeeping smartly wisely

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