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Welcome to Himeji!

30 Apr

This post is primarily intended for the five new ALTs preparing to come to Himeji. Congrats, Briana, Roxanne, Cole, Debra and Sean! You have a lot of preparations to make, but don’t stress out over it!

I went out today and took some pictures around Shirasagi, as well as around places I frequently go to, just to help give an idea of how to find things. I did want to do more but it started raining. Nevertheless, feel free to ask me or any of the other ALTs about anything with finding things or otherwise getting prepared.

So, here’s the first floor hallway coming in from the west entrance (hey, I didn’t say this would be an exciting tour). To the left is the entrance to the main classroom; the library is the next door down. On the right are room entrances. At the far end you can see where our garbage bins are, and to the left of there is where you’d find the elevator and stairwell.

Here are the apartment doorways. Yep, those are doors alright. I am an amazing photographer. I like to put a lot of crap on my door – not a prerequisite though. Definitely a choice thing.

Here is the classroom I mentioned above. This is where we teach the community lessons in between school terms. We also have parties in here!

If you were to come down the hallway in the top picture and turn left, you’d find the north entrance like so. This one leads out to the parking lot, but we’ll take a look out there a little later.

On the second floor we have our own personal garden – another place for parties. You also get a nice view of our neighborhood and nearby Mt. Hachijoganzan, which is definitely an easy to remember name.

Another view from the garden. This one is pointing north. Though you can’t really see it, up the street is a nearby stop for the #13 bus.

So let’s jump into that parking lot I was talking about. Here you can see where we keep our bikes. You can also see the garden above, which I was just taking pictures from. I hope I’m giving you some sense of bearing in how things are laid out.

Hey Jude! Out in the parking lot I’ve run into one of our resident Adelaide ALTs. There is nothing the residents like more than having random pictures taken of them after they’ve gotten back home from running errands. Nothing.

Continuing on, here is the west face of Shirasagi Residence. If we were to follow this road southward (to the right, from this perspective), you’d eventually reach “castle road”, or rather the road that goes to the castle. I should mention that in Japan, they name intersections, not roads. We’ll head down this way because there’s some neat stuff.

Let’s get back to the opposite side of the street, first. Right across the street from the west entrance, there are some local vending machines. Even ones with beer and sake, whooo! Get used to seeing these because they’re pretty much everywhere.

Right next door to Shirasagi (yes I’ve crossed the street again) is a bakery. I’ve only been here once but they’ve got some pretty good stuff.

And across the street from that bakery is, well, another bakery. Specifically this is a bread store (the other one is more dessert items; cakes and donuts and such). Our friend Michelle says the baguettes here are really good. I wouldn’t know because Michelle is always buying up their baguettes.

Just to the right of the bakery is a road that splits off and goes behind the store that has the vending machines out front. This is where the #12 bus stops, which a lot of residents take to get to the train station because it comes more frequently than the #13. The bus stop sign is that blue and white circle on a post to the right of the road – kind of hard to make out here. In the distance is good ol’ Mt. Hachijozangan.

Going down the main street a little more, and next door to the bread bakery, we have two more places of interest. First there’s Steakhouse Hiro; a little pricy but you can get some fine kurogewagyu steak (but not today since it was closed). Next door to that is Amane, the newly built wine shop. Definitely a place you’ll want to visit to pick up gifts for teachers. Or, if you just like wine. They also have a small but decent selection of imported meats and cheeses.

Continuing southward, we get to an intersection. You can’t really see them, but to the right is Eneos gas station (which you’ll probably never need to use but it’s an easy to recognize landmark with its bright orange awning, and to the left is Hakuro Taxi. You can barely see one of the taxis there. Just for reference, the taxi costs around ¥1100~1200 to get to the station, and not preferred to the usual ¥200 bus ride. But if you’re in a hurry or out later than the buses run, the taxi is what you have.

If we keep going south/forward we’ll get to castle road, but let’s go left for a moment.

Nothing really of interest here. Somewhere to the right is a hair dresser where some of us get our hair cut. It’s called Delight – a little pricy but the two people who run it are really nice and do a good job. Plus you can get some discounts for being a regular customer. Going down this street a little, we’ll take a right. It’s where the bus is at –  a bit hard to see though.

Having gone right, we head a little south down another street. This takes us to a Family Mart, a convenience store. Convenience stores in Japan actually are very convenient, because besides snacks and stuff, you can pay a lot of your bills here. This includes ticket items for things you buy online. It’s about your only option since it’s nearly impossible for foreigners to get Japanese  credit cards.

If we kept following this road, we would still get to castle road. But let’s back up to the intersection above, and head straight this time.

So now we’re heading down the main road again (the one Shirasagi is on). Not gonna lie, this road can be a little perilous to travel. It keeps getting narrower as you go, but it’s always a two-way street. Approaching the T intersection of castle road, if two cars come up going opposite directions, one will have to pull to the side to let the other pass. Just pay attention to the road and you’ll be fine. Also, let’s look to the right real quick.

The blue awning marks the spot for Fresh Shinzaike, a local grocer. They don’t have the same selection as the bigger chains, but they do have cheap and fresh vegetables. Also inside is a dry cleaner that I highly recommend. They are closed on Sundays, however.

Here, we’ve finally reached the T intersection, and castle road. The castle is actually a ways behind us, from this perspective. Across the street here is a Sushiro, one of many “kaiten sushi” (i.e. conveyor belt sushi) restaurants. These places are great, and even if you don’t care for fish (like me) they’ll probably have something you like. Most sushi plates are ¥105 a piece. We’ll head down this way just a little.

Pretty much next door to Sushiro is a MaxValue. This is one of the major chain grocers. Pretty typical grocer, all the staples can be found here. Truth be told, though, every grocery store seems to carry something a bit different in it. Even the same product will come in different varieties depending on the store, and these varieties change frequently. It’s actually a little annoying – you may find something you really like, a kind of of snack or drink or something, and then a couple weeks later it’s just gone. Even more standard things, like fruits and vegetables, change in stock depending on whether or not they’re in season. But at least it’s a good excuse to keep trying new things.

Anyway enough of this. Let’s turn around and head towards the castle already!

Here we are heading towards the castle (I’m on the opposite side of the road now, the side Sushiro and MaxValu are on). Nothing really of interest here, just a pretty spot. To the left you can see a little of the castle wall on the other side of the road.

And here we have Himeji Castle, in all its boxy glory. The road ahead is the road we’ve been on. I retreated a little into the shops and recreations area to get a good shot of the castle. It really something having a World Heritage site less than 10 minutes by bike southeast of you. Anyway, we’ll get back on castle road and head down a little more.

The show’s about over, and my pictures aren’t doing such a good job of indicating the whereabouts of things. But supposing we continued a little down castle road, past the Castle, and then took a right at a big intersection called Otemaedori. We’d be looking down this road here, which goes all the way to the JR and Sanyo train stations, as well as the bus station where you’ll be visiting soon to get your bus pass. This is also essentially downtown Himeji, with all kinds of stuff to see and do. I could pretty much write a whole post on just that… and maybe I will. For now though, let’s just take a left at the intersection we happen to be at.

This rather spacious area is the Egret Center. A lot of festivities happen here, including cultural events and even a circus for a few months out of the year. Also, inside the center are Japanese classes you can go to to brush up on your skills. It’s basically a big cultural/community center.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope you’re looking forward to Japan. If you want to know about or see anything else, just talk to any of us on FaceBook!

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I’m not dead

30 Apr

I just suck at blogging.

Back to the grind

23 Jan

I’ve been working at Aboshi JHS for two weeks now, and overall it’s a good experience. There are a number of differences, some for the better and some for the worse. Because it’s a bigger school, it’s not as easy for me to remember the students and their names. They also tend to goof off more, though by no means would I call them bad (as some others have hesitantly described them). They get mischievous and don’t always like to work, but I get no sense that they hate me or anything. Just English.

The school is also a little more formal in routine and regulation. They do not allow me to bring my laptop to work, and while they do provide a laptop for me, it’s pretty outdated and crappy. At least ten percent of the time that goes into making assignments is just waiting for the computer to catch up to what I’m doing.

On the other side, I do have more control and initiative in the lessons in class. I’m not just standing and reading passages, and being quiet the rest of the time. They let me make assignments and work with me to get things done. More teachers also take the opportunity to just chitchat with me, even though I’m not very good at it. And they let me leave early on meeting days so that I don’t have to awkwardly leave in the middle of meetings.

Still, I do miss some things from Okishio. I do miss the simpler nature of the school, and the amount of downtime – I may have complained about it in a sense of not getting to work much, but it did allow me to take care of other things and have more free time at home. I miss the students. I miss my cross-language lessons with Miura-sensei.

Aside from work, another thing I’ve been devoting more time to is learning Japanese. I am beginning to get to the point that I can read new vocab and grammar and it generally sticks better. Some of the teachers are also impressed by my ability to retain pieces of language that I just hear in passing. These are all good signs, though I still feel like I might be woefully unprepared for the level 3 JLPT. I still also have the problem of not giving myself many chances to use real-time, functional Japanese, so as much as I learn I still stall way too long in actual conversation.

明けましておめでとう!

2 Jan

Happy New Year! As sort of expected, I’ve really let this blog grow cold. My most recent entries were a bit “journaly” and I’ve never been keen on keeping a journal. Simply writing about things that I’m doing is really boring for me. So I’m going to make a greater effort to post more about interesting things in Japan (which was sort of the idea to begin with).

Oh look! I got New Year’s cards from some of my students! New Year’s is a pretty big holiday in Japan; compared to the US anyway, where largely it’s just another excuse to drink and party. (Granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if that aspect is here too.) But on New Year’s day, many Japanese come out in droves to their shrine of choice for 初詣 (hatsumoude), i.e. the first shrine visit of the year. At the shrine, you put some money in the collection, ring a bell, clap your hands twice, then hold your hands together and pray. I don’t know if there’s anything people pray for in particular on hatsumoude; it’s not really the same sort of sense one might think of praying in Western religions. Well, I don’t know, I don’t understand Shintoism at all!

Next week I start working at Aboshi JHS, and I’m going to visit the school this Thursday. I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime, we have community lessons here at are apartment, which is interesting. It’s two classes in the morning that are free to attend. I think it’s part of the agreement we have since this complex is provided by the government. The lessons are interesting, since you have to make them up and present them yourself. But then there’s really no restriction to what you can do; it can be about anything you like, so long as the attendees like it. They rate the lessons and give feedback.

As for today, I’m heading to Osaka again to visit my friend there. I didn’t do a good job at saving up money to do anything fancy, but I love visiting Osaka so it’s fine. My friend works at a certain company, and we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about coming up with something new for a certain product. I have to leave it at that, I’m afraid!

Anyway, until next time.

Looking Ahead

15 Dec

My term at Okishio is nearly coming to an end; next week is the final week. I’m definitely going to miss this school. I can’t help but feel dismayed that I’m having to take off when I started finally feeling a groove and a place. I finally got to learning the students’ names (or learning to read them at the very least). And I’ve made some good friends that I’m going to miss seeing every day.

Nevertheless, I am also excited to see what Aboshi will be like. Granted, I think it will be a little rough going through the whole “getting used to things” routine again. It shouldn’t be as hard since, from my experience, Japanese public schools are ran pretty much the same. I also imagine I will be a bit busier, since Aboshi has, I believe, somewhere around 500 students, whereas Okishio has just 180.

I believe I always have the option of returning to Okishio for my new term next year, at least if the school wants me back, so there is that. Also, if I go to the same elementary schools the next term (which I ought to), I can always pay a visit on the days I go to Okishio Elementary.

Aside from that, things have been mostly quietly lately. I tend to lack energy these days, which I just attribute to the winter season. I’m by no means unhappy but I feel less like taking care of things after I get home. I still have some Christmas shopping to do but it’s coming down to the wire!

Kyoko never responded to my apologies and I haven’t seen her since, so I think it’s a safe bet that’s through. I suppose, it’s an unfortunate lesson in interacting with people here. Ah well…

There have also been a number of events lately. I got to play Santa Claus at a preschool, and in the same day we held a Christmas activity party for elementary school students at Joken ES. I also went to Kyoto last weekend and visited a temple for the first time. Those pictures are on my Facebook page, and I intend to get others up soon.

So yeah, overall things are still going fine. Hard to believe I’ll already be 1/6 into my term pretty soon. Time is going by too fast and I feel like I still haven’t made the most of it yet.

#*@$%

1 Dec

And if that all weren’t bad enough, the vending machine across the street stopped stocking Honey Lemon Fanta.

Lights Out

1 Dec

Happy December, folks.

Originally I intended this post to be a report on my visit to the Kobe Luminarie, an event currently going on where they decorate a park with an immense number of lights, with Kyoko my language partner. But said to say, this did not happen. I should warn now this is going to be a personal annoyance story rather than some interesting thing in Japan. I really hope it’s not getting to the point that I use this blog just to vent.

So the plan was to go to Kobe, eat dinner and then see the Luminarie. And I think we were going to meet in Himeji and go together? I’m actually not 100% sure if that was definitely the plan. But regardless, Kyoko mails me and tells me she’s not coming to her Himeji English class today, so we should just meet in Kobe at 4:15.

Well that’s already a problem. As it turns out, the elementary school I was visiting today scheduled me for the last periods, because of an athletic test or something going on in the morning. So I’m not guaranteed to get out until at least 3:30. Ultimately it ends up being closer to 4 – this is the last time I’ll visit this school until next year so I’m saying my goodbyes and thanks. Also, the teachers were so impressed with how I read a Christmas story to the class, they wanted to record me reciting it so they could use it for other classes.

But I don’t let this go unknown. I mail Kyoko early on, saying it’s unlikely I’d get to Kobe until at least 5. This somehow gets inferred I will definitely be there at 5. Well I don’t get out til 4, don’t catch a train back til 4:15, and don’t get home until 4:45. Granted, I could have just hopped on another train straight to Kobe. But I really did want to go home just quickly to drop off my school stuff and change clothes. So anticipating all this, I contact again, MAYBE I’ll get there around 5:30. If I really haul ass. This gets inferred I will definitely be there 5:30.

Ultimately I don’t even manage to board the train until 5:30. Kyoko is already waiting for me at the station in Kobe. So I’m letting her know this; that I just got on the train. I don’t even mention an estimated time of arrival. This gets inferred I will definitely be there at 6.

But here is where everything breaks down. I get on a local train. Local trains stop at every stop, whereas the special rapid trains only go to major stops. Had I ever ridden a local train before, I might have known this. I mean, I guess I always lucked out before and came by when the special rapid trains pulled in. There’s no difference in price or anything, you just buy a ticket and board the train you want. I don’t see any special rapids coming soon, so I hope on the local train. Maybe it’ll be 10 minutes slower, give or take? It’d probably even out in the time it takes to wait for a special rapid, right?

Well, not right. Turns out there’s a heck of a lot of stops between Himeji and Kobe. But I figure, what the hey, I’m on a train. I’m getting there. It’s a nighttime event so there’s not too much time to waste. Granted, had I realized sooner the trip would literally be twice as long, I would have probably mentioned it.

At any rate, I stop checking my phone until pretty much when I finally arrive at Kobe. I practically fell asleep on the train, I’m so tired of running all over Himeji for the day. As I come off the train, I see a mail from her with the subject “Can we cancel today?” This subject is kind of a ruse, since the contents say that she got tired of waiting and went home. And this has come pretty much at the exact time I get to Kobe.

So obviously, I’m feeling terrible initially. I feel bad about making her wait around and not being more forthright with what was going on with me. But then I notice there’s another mail from her about five minutes before. I guess I should write this verbatim. Uff, I really don’t want to even pull this up again…

“Where are you? You are supposed to get to Kobe, I think you should announce the time you arrive.”

See, it’s the last bit that strikes me as funny. Granted, English is her second language, and although she’s pretty proficient I could be reading into it wrong. But I don’t read that as “Tell me when you arrive” since obviously, it should be expected I would. To me it comes off more as “You are in Kobe and not telling me for some reason.” Like… as if I were doing this intentionally to screw with her? I guess?

Why do I assume that? Well she already had strict preconceptions when I ought to have been in Kobe. And if she were going to wait around for me to tell her when I arrived, she wouldn’t have taken off five minutes later.

Now, I guess what I don’t know is if she’s mad at me over it. I apologized profusely and attempted to explain what happened via email. She has yet to respond, so maybe she’s mad? But at the same time, maybe she truly was just exhausted. She had said she skipped her English class because she was very busy with work. That’s reasonable to assume.

The thing is, I’m mad. Not only did she spend the money and time to go out to Kobe to ultimately make nothing of it, she made me do the same. I mean she knew I was coming. Even if she was tired, is it so much to ask to wait for me? If something happened that I just couldn’t come, I would have said so. Unless, like, the train derailed or something.

And I really don’t think any of my actions in the past times we’ve met would suggest that I would willingly waste her time, like it was something to do for fun? So I find it hard to envision she’d read this as me being a prick or something. At the same time, I certainly don’t get women, regardless of culture.

I offered to see if she wanted to try again next week, and I could better sort out my plan of getting there. But if it’s the case she’s holding this personally, as a grudge, well, I’m not really going to care. Unaccounted things came up in my schedule, I made some mistakes in getting around. I really did want to go to see the Luminarie. If she honestly thinks I did this maliciously or nonchalantly, I think that says some odd things about her reasoning.

Bluuuuuuuhhhhh. Writing about this stuff is supposed to make me feel better, but thinking about it is just making me ornery again. I feel like I deserve an apology, but I don’t have the eloquent wording nor, frankly, the cajones to explain rightly how I feel about it to a woman who doesn’t speak English as a first language. Digging the hole deeper would only be my fault.

I guess I’ll just do my best to gauge her sentiment next time we meet. If there is a next time.

EDIT: I do want to reiterate that I really would be shocked if Kyoko thought bad of me. In our meetings before I always got the impression of her as a kind and outgoing person. She would often bring me little gifts. At the very least, I would think of her as a very good acquaintance. I mean we don’t have terribly similar interests. But I really kept meeting for her sake of wanting to practice English. 80% of our conversation, at least, tends to be in English. So despite my anger I do still feel pretty guilty.

After relating the story to another resident here, he told me a lot of Japanese women can take it personally when, as a foreigner, you don’t come through for their engagements, because they tend to view foreign men as playboys. I… guess? Thing is, I really never got the impression Kyoko saw me anything more than a friend, and I certainly don’t see her as more. Nothing even approaching that ever came up in conversation. I guess if that’s the case, though… well that’s weird.