Posts Tagged “Matsuyama”

This has been around for a while now, but I’m not sure anyone uses it regularly. I started it the first time I needed to see a doctor, using a list I got from MIC. Since then, I’ve added a few places I’ve found (and removed one when it closed). If you find any new places that do speak English or listed places that don’t, email me at David@DavidHed.com.

I even made a permanent home for it here on my blog, up there to the right. Here’s the link if you want to go there directly: http://www.davidhed.com/blog/english-speaking-businesses-in-matsuyama/.


View English-speaking businesses in Matsuyama in a larger map

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Matsuyama’s sister city in the US is Sacramento. It’s not a huge deal here, but most people know it because there’s a street named after Sacramento, and there’s a big plaque (albeit somewhat washed out now) in front of the main post office announcing that its sister post office is in Sacramento.

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Do you know how a sumo match works? Basically, the loser is the first one thrown out of the ring or the first one to touch the ground inside the circle with anything other than the soles of his feet. Now imagine for a moment that you’re watching a sumo match; except instead of a pair of 350 lb men, the competitors are 350 lb shrines carried on the shoulders of forty men. Now imagine that there are men standing on top of these shrines taunting the other team as they crash into each other at a full run. Does what you’re imagining look about like this?

This is a picture I took yesterday at the Matsuyama Mikoshi festival, just before impact. A mikoshi is a portable shrine, a spiritual vessel used to carry around the patron god of a normal Shinto shrine once a year when it’s paraded through the streets of the surrounding neighborhood to bring its inhabitants and businesses good luck.
Speaking of good luck, the chosen route for my neighborhood’s shrine took it right past my apartment on Monday night. I took this picture and video leaning out the window by my stove.
They’re louder than I expected, but I still have no idea what they’re saying.
The men’s shrine was followed shortly by these two teams of cute (kawaii!) kids carrying their smaller versions.
 
Surprisingly, they left the shrine in the empty lot next to my apartment overnight before the matches Tuesday morning. Here’s the team about to maneuver the shrine into the place.
 
Here’s the team actually setting it down.
 
And there it sat until morning.
 
So I took some more pictures.
 
Most of the actual matches took place early in the morning on Tuesday. The crowds were thick on every available viewing place.
 
What does it actually look like in action, you ask? Here’s a video I took of an actual bout taking place. You can see the initial charge with the whole team pushing on the backs of the men in front of them, the initial impact when the shrines hit each other, the teams slowly turning while each team is trying to push the other backwards (100 men in a giant disorganized pirouette…), and the shrines and teams pulling apart when the match is over.
 
The winners were happy enough to do some crowdsurfing from the top of their shrine.
 
After the bouts were all over, there was a closing ceremony with all eight of the shrines that were in the day’s competition.
 
There were also some food vendors set up to catch the foot traffic.
 
I bought a frankfurter on a stick and fresh french fries from two of the stands. Then, feeling rather weighed down by the grease, I stopped by a Lawson’s convenience store (it’s so much easier to just say “conbini”) and grabbed an onigiri rice ball and a drinkable carton of active-cultured yogurt. Walking away from the site, I was surprised to see some of the contestants and other event participants leaving in the backs of open-bed trucks.
 
Overall, a highly enjoyable and exciting festival.

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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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In early December of last year, I applied to the JET Programme, a program sponsored by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, a Japanese governmental organization. CLAIR places native speakers of English in private and public schools throughout Japan to promote English language skills and cultural exchange and understanding. Unfortunately, after going through the second longest and most arduous application process of my life (Las Vegas Metro Police being the first), I didn’t get an interview.

I was horribly disappointed but not totally surprised, as each year they get many times the applicants as positions they need to fill. To make it even more competitive, the application deadline was a month or two after Japan’s biggest private English language school, Nova, went bankrupt, so thousands of experienced, native English teachers, already in Japan, found themselves applying for work at about the same time.

I found out in late January they weren’t going to interview me, so I struck out on my own. I started by earning my TEFL certification in early February in one rather intense weekend from i-to-i International, a British firm that offers accredited TEFL courses in six English-speaking countries. With cert in hand, I started applying to private English language schools in Japan. I posted my newly-revamped résumé on job boards, applied for individual positions, and read as many forums and blogs and tips as I could.

One of the things I was looking for was a company that provided a good amount of support for incoming teachers. For instance, I would rather someone who knows the area find an apartment for me, so I paid extra attention to the job postings that spoke a few lines about the assistance they provide to incoming teachers. I found that in the company that ended up hiring me, American Language School. They provide a week of training on their particular way of lesson planning, separating students into grade levels, and how to use and integrate the different textbooks, workbooks, and supporting teaching materials that the school uses. After that, incoming teachers shadow the teacher they’ll be replacing for one more week, then they’re on their own.

I was excited when they offered me a second interview, and absolutely ecstatic when they offered me a job last Thursday, March 27th. The only caveat was that I needed to be in Japan on Tuesday, April 8th. Yes, that’s only a week and a half of notice to move across the Pacific ocean. So now I’m feverishly packing my house.

I’m really not that worried about teaching. I know I’ll do fine once I’m over there. I have a reasonably strong grasp of the English language, and I’ve taught plenty of classes with absolutely no supporting materials, so I think I’ll do fine with whatever they provide.

The position they gave me is the one I requested in my initial application, in Matsuyama. Matsuyama is a city about half the size of Las Vegas, and sits on the northwestern part of Shikoku island just across a channel from Hiroshima (kind of near Bunny Island, actually). My company-subsidized apartment is a five minute walk from the school, and I’ll be taking it over from the outgoing teacher, a New Yorker named Erin. The initial contract is a one year commitment, extensible in six month increments. I’m not sure how long I’ll ultimately be there, but it’ll be at least a year.

I just learned last night that I will be the only teacher at the school. Not the only American teacher or the only foreign teacher even, but the only teacher, period. I’ll have 25 hours of classroom instruction time per week, interspersed with prep time and paperwork time. Erin mentioned that the setup at this school afforded him a remarkable amount of freedom to teach how he saw fit, which is good in that I won’t have someone constantly telling me how they would rather do things, but a little unsettling in that I won’t really have much direction, or the experience to draw on to formulate my own teaching methods in the first place.

At the moment though, I’m more concerned with getting my crap in boxes and getting it to my mom’s house with my dog, car, and grand piano, so I can get my house rented. It’ll be a fun week, I tell you. In fact, I’ll be getting back to it right now. 🙂

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