(wonk uoy naht noitceffa erom deen I)

(Ten points if you get the reference in the subject line.)

The Utada Hikaru concert in Matsuyama tonight was fantastic. The music was amazing, the visuals were stunning, and the company was awesome. I actually recognized at least half the songs, mainly because I’ve been listening to “Ultra Blue,” her latest album, a lot this week. She was fairly pitchy, though, and her vocal-cello duet on “Be My Last” was a huge disappointment. But she sang some songs off her English album (“The Devil Inside,” “You Make Me Want To Be A Man”) which make really want to give that a listen now. I now definitely consider myself a committed Utada fan–she’s incredible, and I adore her voice and style, and the versatility and dynamic evolution her style has demonstrated over all these years.

What made this evening especially memorable for me was that it was my first time driving legally in Japan. I wasn’t driving my car (I can’t yet, but hopefully I can go next week to the Land Transport Bureau to finish the transfer/registration!)–Saori and Julie picked Brian and me up–but Saori’s been ill lately, and she started feeling ill not long after we got on the expressway, so she pulled over and I (as the only other licensed driver present) took the wheel and drove us all the way back to my apartment, and it was just fine. If only those test proctors could have judged me based on my driving tonight…”anzen ja nai”/”abunai” driver, huh? I’ll admit that I was really tense the whole way, and constantly looking between my mirrors and the road to make sure I wasn’t going too far to one side, because the road was fairly narrow and Saori’s car was a little wider than I was used to, but it was completely fine the whole way home, and it was a real thrill to know that I was driving in Ikeda. Nearly-empty expressways at night really are the best way to jump in and get started.

For whatever stupid reason, I thought we’d be home 2 hours ago–my boss knows I’m at the concert (my entire BOE is thrilled and jealous simultaneously; I didn’t realize what huge Utada fans they all are) so they’ll understand if I’m a bit late tomorrow, but even then, I still should get to sleep. I couldn’t help it, though–I stayed up trying to figure out the line in the subject, and I even went so far as to grab a clip of this line and reverse it to hear the English words properly. It sounds really cool, actually.


All in all, this has been a good birthday–low-key, very casual, giving me the opportunity to not dwell on the fact that I’ve been alive for a quarter of a century. I’ve had some time to reflect, though, and really, what’s the point in feeling disappointed about what I haven’t done? There’s a lot I have done, a lot I’m proud of…and I can use this next year as a step-off point to determine where I’m headed for the next quarter-century and beyond. That’s still a lot of pressure for this year to really measure up, though…but grad school will be the biggest thing. Once I get that started, retake the GRE, get the applications and personal statement and recommendations going and out of the way, I should be good.

(I’m still not completely convinced that I shouldn’t apply to programs in either geology or animation, though. Two rather far-flung dreams…but at least my enthusiasm in both will never die. This is the perfect country to fuel both, too!)

So I started yesterday off by sleeping in, which forced me to take 2 more hours of paid vacation on top of the four I was taking to go to the drivers’ license center in Tokushima/Omiko in the afternoon. I did ultimately get my driver’s license yesterday, just barely…it’s a story I don’t want to recount because I’m still stunned as to how they didn’t flunk me after I screwed up the driving test so badly–but better not to question it. I spent the afternoon and evening in the city (after getting a ride from the cool guy who took his test at the same time as me–Aki, a 23-year-old from Aizumi who went to university in Texas and speaks awesome English; if he weren’t on his way to Nagoya today, I would’ve gotten his contact info and invited him to hang out with the ALTs), treating myself to a nicer dinner at Capricciosa and actually buying dessert (something I do very rarely), and staring out over the Shinmachi River for a while and just thinking, reflecting on my last hours until the clock finally shifted and I was finally entering my 25th year of life.

But you know, when it comes down to days and hours, after over 24 years of waiting, I was already pretty much 25 a week ago. This is just one of those numbers that’ll make me blink and go, “Wait, is that for real?” every time it comes up.

Hamza asked me to call him at his apartment in Auburn at midnight my time, and we talked for about an hour. It felt really good to talk with him–it’d been a long time, and I hope we can talk more often. I really do miss him a lot, and he and my other close friends are my major reasons for wanting to go home in December, though nothing’s decided yet. My parents, brother, and grandmother also all called and wished me this morning just before I left for work, and I talked with my brother for the first time in months…I felt horrible having to cut him off so I could run to work. After I arrived at the office, Donna, one of my best friends and a Ph.D student in Boston, called my cell and we talked for 10-15 minutes as well. It had really been a long time since I talked to her…hearing, “Hey, is this Smitty?” on the phone in response to my, “Hello, moshi-moshi?” (my usual greeting when I don’t recognize the caller) was surprising, because nobody here calls me that, and it took me a second to grasp that it was Donna in Boston calling me. That was a really pleasant surprise.

Work was uneventful–I bought myself some tiramisu with lunch (the best way to celebrate your birthday is to fatten yourself up, huh?), and about an hour after I got off work, Chalice, Ashley, and I picked up Julie and Brian (I’m still not entirely certain how the five of us squeezed into a Daihatsu Mira, but we did it) and met up with Kirsten, Christine B., Rob, James, Christine M., and Gilly at the Sri Lankan restaurant in Yamakawa–which was truly a lot better than I remembered it being. Once I start driving for real, I’m going to be going there a lot more often. They were out of potatoes, so I got dahl, papadam, yellow rice, and Ceylon chai for dinner. It was every bit as low-key as I could’ve hoped for–just hanging out, eating, chatting, watching and making fun of the Bollywood music videos playing in the background, and vague mentions of birthdays only coming up occasionally, like when Christine and I got into a shoving match at the register because she refused to let me pay for my dinner, and when they sang to me and had me give a small speech.

And now…I’m here, and I’ve survived. August 29th has come and almost gone, and though I was sure I’d be depressed and weighted down, I’m all right. It’s just a day–not much different from yesterday. It’ll take me a while to get used to actually saying I’m 25 years old, and then not flinching mentally as what I’m saying actually sinks in. 21? “Sweet, I’m legal!” 22? “Ugh, getting into old territory…” 23? “I’m how old?” 24? “One-year till the quarter-century…” 25? “…” I was telling Donna on the phone that this really is my year to establish myself, like I mentioned earlier–while I’m in Japan, I can’t really impact my future as actively as I could if I were in school or working in a job relevant to my area/s of expertise. That’s what next year will be for–I have to live up to my age and use this year to make the years after this really count, which, in turn, will make this year really impactful. I hope it’ll be a good one.

I’m ending the day by listening to some Michael Jackson. Happy birthday to him, Dante Basco (the voice of Prince Zuko on Avatar: The Last Airbender, my current animation obsession), Bae-Yon Joon, Robin Leech, Richard Attenborough, John Locke, Ingrid Bergman, and many others. I hope it was a good day for my fellow August Virgos; it was certainly an enlightening one for me.

Birthday generosity, concerts, and geckos

A lot’s been going on these past couple of days.

On Friday, my beginners eikaiwa class threw me a birthday party–one of the students owns a “snack bar” (more like a karaoke bar that serves snacks, and not one with actual women, I don’t think, since he and his wife run it together), and we had coffee/tea, egg sandwiches, kuromitsu ice cream, and a chocolate cake he baked for me! Three of my students also had their watercolor teacher paint me a really beautiful, one-of-a-kind Awa Odori themed fan. It’s truly lovely, and they all are as well.

For the next class, we didn’t do much (besides discuss unsettling and uncomfortable topics related to how unsafe the US is–seriously, they brought up the Halloween Incident with the Japanese exchange student, they talked about getting robbed and how they were surprised that I’ve never touched a gun, and even atomic warfare came up–holy freaking crap, what a strange class), but I went out to lunch with three of my students at my favorite Italian restaurant in town, and the ladies insisted on ordering several slices of pie, which we split amongst ourselves.

I hung out with mainly Brian last night (everyone else was tied up except for me, so I headed to his place, then Jordan/Saori picked us up and we met Ashley/Yuki (her friend from Tokyo) for dinner, and then we split up again)…I ended up crashing there, and he insisted on making me a special early-birthday breakfast this morning! Jordan picked us up and gave me a ride back today (as he and Brian went to meet up with the Iya guys to have a guys’ day out–except they went looking for a kitten for Brian…that’s as masculine as you can get, right there!). I really don’t know what it is about me and bonding with gay Canadian Sailormoon fans (some of my longtime friends may remember a guy in Niagara Falls I was really close to in high school and into college)…they just rock.

After 3 hours of playing IM tag with Q and struggling with Kelly’s non-booting-up computer (in one word, ARGH), I met up with most of the folks from out west for dinner and karaoke in Mikamo. We sang our blessed lungs out, and it was a lot of fun and a good evening.

Oh, and I’m now going to see Utada Hikaru in concert on Wednesday in Matsuyama! I’m going with Julie, Saori, and Brian, and maybe others–Julie and Saori already got actual seats, while Brian and I and whoever else may go are standing. I was really indecisive about it for a while, in part because it’s a work night and in part because the massive amounts of train travel for my Kyushu trip next month isn’t going to be cheap, but now that I’ve decided, I’m really getting excited about this.

I’m sitting here right now and contemplating what the best way is to get the tiny, terrified gecko out from behind my fridge and out of my apartment. I mean, granted, of all the things that could have found their way in here, I will gladly welcome a gecko over something worse–but it just can’t stay in here, you know? Any ideas?

Travel musings

My speech contest kid rocks–with prompting, she was able to recite her speech from memory! She doesn’t have it down yet–this was just a test to see if she could do it–but she’s progressing so quickly. I’m really proud of her. Rock on, Chisa!

Tatami Timeshare also rocks–I sent out my e-mails last night and got 2 offers for places to stay, and advice about how to go east from Unzen, instead of having to go west to Nagasaki and then north and east again. Thankfully, at least some of the people in last year’s are still here this year. It’s crazy–I’ll be there in three weeks! I’m so excited about this.

The latest itinerary:

Wednesday, September 13: head up to Imabari after dinner, nap at the train station (heh)
Thursday, September 14: catch the westbound ferry from Imabari at 1 AM, arrive in Oita in northeastern Kyushu at 6 AM, head southwest to spend the day in Aso and Kusasenri, have dinner southwest of there in Kumamoto (there’s supposed to be an Indian restaurant there) and spend the night south of there
Friday, September 15: travel south to Kirishima, do some hiking there, head on south and either crash in Kirishima-shi with a TTSer or in Kagoshima-shi
Saturday, September 16: visit Sakurajima, catch 4 hours’ worth of trains north and west to Nagasaki, spend the afternoon/evening there
Sunday, September 17: travel east to Unzen, catch a ferry to Kumamoto Prefecture…hopefully find my way back to a train line and head east to spend the afternoon/evening in Beppu and/or Yufuin, possibly spend the night with a TTSer in Beppu
Monday, September 18: (holiday!) catch an early ferry from Beppu to Matsuyama, spend some time there, find the Indian restaurant I’ve heard about, then head back to Ikeda

At least one ALT had expressed interest in tagging along for at least part of it…but right now, I’m really not sure it’ll work out. It’s such a fast-paced trip that it’d just be far easier to go alone. I could take nenkyuu Wednesday and spread it out a bit, but I’d rather not use that, especially this early into the year.

I’m also thinking about winter break already–it’s early, but if I want to travel internationally I have to book my tickets really soon to get a good deal. I want to go home…but I just don’t know for sure yet. Dad’s encouraging me to make the most of my paid leave and where I currently am and do some traveling on this side of the world, which is honestly sounding tempting now…but I really want to see my friends as well. I don’t find myself leaning one way more so than another, though.

Alive, with my face in one piece

So far, so good–I’m mukade-free, for now, at least; none have fallen on me in the middle of the night and chewed up my face. I was positive there would be something skulking around in the pile on my floor consisting of my suit and winter jacket, which I want to take in this week to be dry-cleaned (especially since I need the suit next week, for Friday’s opening ceremony–strange that the summer’s already over), but thankfully, there was nothing at all.

NHK aired The Parent Trap–the Lindsay Lohan/Dennis Quaid/Natasha Richardson remake–tonight. It’s one of those cute, sweet movies that makes me laugh and tear up without fail, and it was in English with Japanese subtitles! That was a pleasant surprise. I was in the other room throwing together okonomiyaki (it came out surprisingly well, though I made way too much–I included corn and chick peas, along with the requisite egg/cabbage/batter) when I heard it come on. Pretty cool.

As of today, I’ve scheduled my driving test, and it’s indeed happening this coming Monday afternoon. My boss lent me her Japanese-language book of driving rules, which’ll mainly just help with the 10-question written test. There’s no possible way I can translate everything, but I can at least skim, I guess.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time planning out the logistics of my trip to Kyushu–transportation will be the most expensive part of this trip, especially if I can use last year’s Tatami Timeshare to secure housing with other JETs at least part of the time. There’s no really logical way to visit everything I want to see without looping back on myself at least twice, because it’s not set up to facilitate my making a circle easily, which I’d hoped to do. Still, though, I don’t mind lots of train travel. I really need to come up with contingency plans in case weather prevents me from hiking/sightseeing around the volcanoes, or in case a typhoon hits or something.

Oh! Thanks to Ethan, I’ve figured out VirtualDub, which let me resize and compress my video files just the way I wanted them. As a result, I’ve re-uploaded all my video files, and then some…there should be a lot more now, including quite a few from this year’s Awa Odori here in Ikeda, and they’re all much smaller than their former gargantuan incarnations. Don’t direct-link them, only post a link to the directory, yadda-yadda.

All my Awa Odori photos (or rather, the selected, non-blurry ones) are up at Flickr as well. Click the image thumbnail to the left to check them out.


Today I served as tech support, resident Star Wars geek, and confidant of cute kitten encounters. It made me feel better about things.

I also struggled through a couple of phone calls with the unten menkyo center, and I actually had the option of taking my driver’s license test tomorrow. Because I had to work and would have panicked for the rest of the day, however, I’m opting to take it next week. I have to call them back tomorrow and confirm that I’m in for Monday afternoon. (I hate how, when I’m flustered, I keep saying tabun–the guy kept saying, “No ‘tabun!’ When can you come in?” which made me flail mentally even more.) I’m still panicking silently, though. With any luck, I’ll pass it on the first try. After that, once I’m able to go to the Land Transport Bureau to do the title/insurance transfer, I’ll be good to go! But I have to get the freaking license first…

Oh, and as far as I know, unless one’s skulking somewhere just waiting for the right chance to strike, I’m still mukade-free. So one crawled onto Ashley’s pillow yesterday morning and greeted her when she woke up, and one freaking passed my apartment yet again to enter Chalice’s, and somehow I’m still mukade-free. I know it’s only a matter of time, and I’m trying to not let my guard down, but I’m not as flat-out floored with “ohmygodohmygodohmygod” running through my head as I was yesterday.

I turn 25 in a week. I’m definitely feeling the weight of such a momentous birthday. We’re having dinner at the Sri Lankan place we went to last year, and at least seven people are coming so far, which is awesome, considering it’s a Tuesday night! My beginners eikaiwa class is throwing a party during our 10 AM class Friday (one other student has a birthday this week as well).

I feel like I have a lot going on, and I guess I do…how is it that I’m able to kill so much time so effortlessly, though? I really don’t remember where this afternoon and evening went. That’s kind of a strange feeling.

Weekend update

Chalice and Joe got back from Tibet yesterday. She came by tonight and we talked for a couple of hours–it feels like she’s been gone for ages, and not just two weeks! So much has happened in these last two weeks, I guess, with all the new ALTs arriving, the orientations, and everything else. I’m glad she’s back–I’ve missed having her around. She had some really amazing insight to give into what it’s really like in Tibet–it sounds incredible there, and I really would love to go. It’s strange that I’d like to go to off-the-beaten-path places like Tibet or Mongolia, as well as Australia and New Zealand and Indonesia (Merapi, Bromo, and Anak Krakatau!), but I’m not that interested in visiting southeast Asia or Korea, where a bunch of other people have gone since coming here.

I have a ton of photos from Awa Odori, and a ton of video clips–now that I finally know how to use VirtualDub (thanks, Ethan!), I can resize my videos and put more of them up without eating too much of my space up…I just need to decide which ones to put up. Same with the photos–unfortunately, a lot of mine were blurry, since it was at night and they were, well, dancing.

Saturday was the day for the senpais to give the first-years a tour of Tokushima City. I got there early so I could drop my bow off to be re-haired–since I don’t have a separate bow case, I brought my violin along, but I couldn’t find a big enough coin locker to fit it, so I just held onto it for the day. I also bought tickets for Brian, Jane, and myself to see The Marriage of Figaro in just over a month. Not all the senpais showed up, but not all the first-years did, either, though many of them did–we split up into three big groups with 2 senpais each, and ours (Kelly’s and mine) was a group of 8+1 (8 first-years plus one non-JET boyfriend), and while we didn’t get to go everywhere we’d intended, we did have fun at least showing them stuff close to the station. We split up in half for dinner, and our group ended up returning to Masala in the station–where the other two big groups were. As usual, the Indian staffers were happy to see me, and the food was good as always.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few vegetarians or mostly-veggies in this batch! It’s amazing–I was so sure I was the only one (until I found out that Yusri was essentially veggie himself, and Claire had been veggie for a long time, but gave it up). Hopefully there’ll be others who’ll stick it out–there are folks who eat fish or started to eat fish before coming here (that’s a shame, because I’ve survived fairly well, though I’m sure I’ve eaten fish products by accident more times than I want to think about…but if it’s what they feel best about, then more power to them). It’s cool to know there’s a veggie support group of sorts this year.

We’d rented out P’s Paradise, one of our regular bar/club-type places, for the night for the first-years…by the time we finished dinner, though, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the place and then get back to the station in time to catch the last train home. (I didn’t want to deal with staying in the city when there would be tons of people looking for places to crash.) I also was worried that I’d get us lost. Luckily, though, we ran into the other half of our group emerging from a restaurant not even 10 minutes from the station, and I sort of dumped my girls onto Kelly and headed back to the station with Victor, the new Itano ALT, who was catching a train that left 20 minutes before mine did. After his train pulled out, I ran into Brian, Daniel (a new city-ish ALT), and…Daniel’s girlfriend (a new ALT just north of the city), whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. They were all training out as well, Daniel and his girlfriend just a few stops west and Brian all the way out west, so it was nice to have company for most of the ride home.

So that was the weekend…I had an embarrassing moment this morning when I got to school and nobody had told me my speech contest girl was waiting for me, so I sat around and killed time for 30 minutes, wondering what was up, and finally went wandering, only to find her sitting in the nurse’s room (where we usually meet) waiting for me! That was awful, but she didn’t seem to mind too much. My dad also let me know this weekend that they finally shipped my box, and it should arrive in a week–YES, more food and my favorite shirt and my other pair of capris and all those books I’ve really been dying to read! I’m totally looking forward to that.

Okay, I’m going to change the subject abruptly and talk about poisonous bugs and how much I LOATHE them. Brian has a mukade (poisonous centipede) infestation at his house. Chalice found one in her apartment a couple of months ago, and Ashley woke up with one on her pillow this morning (with yellow legs–definitely poisonous). Chalice may have found another one today. WHAT’S GOING ON? I’d much rather be back in my tiny, cramped apartment from before than deal with these things–they really scare me, the idea that something poisonous enough to kill me in my sleep may be skulking around my apartment. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep easily tonight, knowing that we’ve had more mukade sightings today.

The week in review

It’s been a while–sorry about that. Life’s been rather eventful this past week.

Friday through Sunday was our English Camp down in Anan, at the YMCA there…the location was gorgeous. It was right on the coast, which totally lifted my spirits because the coastline is still such a new and marvelous thing for me to see. The camp itself went pretty well–I really enjoyed getting to hang out with the first-years and put names to faces after all these weeks of approving random people. There were some negatives…not enough water (only lukewarm tea, because Japanese people honestly don’t drink water–just coffee, tea, and sports drinks, pretty much), some miscommunication and a general lack of knowing what was going on (I felt like I was 2 steps behind several of the other senpais the entire weekend, because I had to miss the one major planning meeting since it meant I’d have had to miss at least two classes, and because I assumed there’d be copies of the hour-by-hour schedule available like there was last year). There were also some moments that were not so great on a personal level, but I won’t get into that. Kirsten and I had a cool group of ALTs and an equally cool group of kids, and we played a bunch of totally successful games and threw together a cute little skit based on a Japanese folk tale that managed to involve Harry Potter, samurai, and a queen.

Sunday brought our participation in Awa Odori in Tokushima. Awa is the ancient name of Tokushima, and Odori means “dance.” (This is the obligatory explanation that every website and every blogger gets into when mentioning Awa Odori, so sorry if you’ve read this already.) It originated in the 16th century, ironically from a bunch of drunkards who made this dance up, and it’s known as the Fool’s Dance–its motto is, “You’re a fool if you dance and a fool if you don’t, so why not dance?”

The new ALTs were automatically signed up to dance with Arasowaren, the foreiger dancing group in Tokushima City, and returning ALTs could sign up to dance as well. I had so much more fun this year than I did last year–instead of the happi coat, I wore the traditional women’s costume, though it actually fell way too short on me (above the top of my tabi socks), but I didn’t even realize it until after I saw the photos I asked people to take of me, so no self-consciousness there. The dress was like a variation of a kimono, with the really tight obi (I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe properly, but I got used to it), the straw kasa hat, and the wooden geta slippers. One of my slippers chipped near the beginning, and my hat would not stay on my head despite nearly a dozen last-minute adjustments…but it all worked out well in the end, and I had such a blast dancing! The feeling of dancing with such a massive group in the company of friends and with spectators cheering you around from packed stands is like no other. The city was packed, and it felt truly transformed into a lively, energetic place…we took the same route around the dancing venues that we did last year, and I recognized where all we went this time. I hope I can do it again next year, if I have time before grad school starts.

Monday, yesterday, and today were Awa Odori here in Ikeda. Just Ashley and I went out Monday, Brian (and, briefly, Andrew and his friends) joined us yesterday, and nearly everyone out west (Brian, Julie, Jordan, Saori, Sally, Nate and his dad, and Sean) came out tonight. The town was completely transformed–the sleepy feel was gone, and it was just alive and kicking in a way that it just never is at any other time. Granted, Ikeda’s Awa Odori is far smaller than the city’s, with just 30 or so dancing groups instead of over 900, but this feels far more personal and less stadium-like. A ton of my students were dancing, and nearly the whole town was out, as well as other regional groups–even the younger (for this town, anyway) guy from the ¥100 store came up and shook my hand.

And now…it’s over. There was so much anticipation, all the weeks and months of hearing the Awa Odori rens practicing in the afternoons, and now that’s it until next summer. I’ve finally learned how to dance it, at least–I wouldn’t mind more practice to get it perfect.

I spent three solid hours chatting with my boss at work today–it wasn’t intentional, but it just sort of ended up that way. She welcomed the distraction, in part because she went straight from the BOE to help at Awa Odori, and she actually may still be working on cleaning up right now! She’s obviously taking tomorrow off to rest up. I made sure to stop by and see her tonight, at least briefly. (I then got drenched from the thundershower we were having…we have a typhoon apparently moving in at the tail end of this week.)

Anyway, though we talked about a ton of things (including but not limited to the car, etymology and linguistics but particularly the etymology of Portuguese and other Latin-derived languages, and the British terror plot last week), part of what we talked about was my proposed Kyushu volcano tour next month–I brought my copy of Lonely Planet Japan to work and spent an hour going through it, jotting down notes, and formulating a plan. This trip is going to be extremely, extremely ambitious…and not only will it eat up my two days of daikyuu (vacation you receive in compensation for working outside of working hours–my two days at English Camp earned me two extra days of vacation), but I may have to dig into my nenkyuu for a day as well. Right now, I’m hoping to head west to Matsuyama and catch the ferry to Beppu, and make a circular trip from there, hitting up Aso-san and its five major peaks, Kirishima National Park on the northern Kagoshima border (a 15-km hike which lets you scope out seven volcanos–SEVEN!), Sakurajima, and the Unzen area, and also visiting Nagasaki. It’s a lot of traveling, but it’s also a lot of walking. It’ll be my first time attempting something of this scale completely on my own–I’m hoping to run into Michelle in Kagoshima-shi when I’m there, and hopefully crash at her place at least one night (and rely on Tatami Timeshare for most, if not all, of my overnight accommodation for the weekend), but besides that, it’ll be all me.

I’m getting pretty sleepy, so I’ll sign off here. If I didn’t specify anything or made any egregious errors, please let me know. Good night!

Planning and practicing

It never fails to crack me up when I have to call a Japanese person about something I’ve talked to him/her about previously, and at my first “ano, sumimasen…” s/he immediately recognizes that I’m a foreigner, and at my second “ano,” s/he knows exactly who I am. It’s happened so many times before, and it just happened when I called Art Records to reserve 2 tickets for the Marriage of Figaro performance at Tokushima’s Bunka Kaikan next month.

On a less amusing note, I found out yesterday that the JAL birthday flight fares can only be used on flights that depart within a week of your birthday. CRAP. There go my plans to fly to and from Kyushu during that long weekend in mid-September! And I thought for sure I could score low-priced domestic airfare for a change; I had the travel agent check regular ticket prices for the weekend, and it’s over ¥50,000 (around $500 USD). I also checked on Skymark Airlines, the one discount airline I know exists in Japan, and it only services flights to or from Tokyo-Haneda. I’ll have to investigate other modes of transportation, like the trains and the ferry between Matsuyama (western Ehime, in western Shikoku) and Beppu (eastern Kyushu).

Speaking of planning, my boss and I played phone/keitai-email tag for several hours today as we tried to figure out how all the area ALTs were getting to Tokushima for orientation tomorrow. I’ve also been playing e-mail/phone tag some folks about their arrangements, but it’s all settled, and all the Deep Westies will be able to get there somehow. I kind of like this senpai thing, actually–I like being able to help people and answer their questions, and I actually seem to know what I’m talking about when it comes to a lot of stuff related to Japan, which still surprises me sometimes.

Today, I brought my violin to school and ended up giving an impromptu lesson to several of my teachers as I let them hold it and bow a few notes and (attempt to) play some fingered ones. After lunch (and my first session with this year’s speech contest girl–she’s doing surprisingly well so far, only stumbling over words which truly are difficult, and there are a couple I have to consider replacing…”reexamined” and “thoroughly” are maybe a bit too much), I took over the music room in the afternoon–the kids come in during the summer for club activities, but they start at 8:30 and are done by noon–and practiced for nearly 2 solid hours. It felt awesome. I actually wanted to try to throw together a lineup to play at the impromptu open mic they’ll be having at the English camp this weekend, but ended up spending at least an hour on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens, one of my favorite violin concerti ever. It’s really tricky, and I played it extremely slowly…but you know what, I actually think I can do it. I’ve been struggling with some passages in the Barber violin concerto that I’ve just learned sloppily and can’t figure out how to un-sloppify (er–you know what I mean), but the Saint-Saens is still virtually untouched, and in some ways it’s a lot less daunting, because it doesn’t have the staggering emotional weight of the Barber (particularly that second movement, whew). With the exception of the double/triple-stop chord passages, I’m pretty sure I can work the rest up to speed, albeit slowly.

Anyway, this is it for the next few days–in the morning, we’re off to the Anan YMCA for several days of working with junior high and high school kids, teaching the 41 new ALTs what’s what, and dancing Awa Odori in Tokushima! I guess I’m not dancing Awa Odori in Ikeda after all, which is happening Monday through Wednesday, but that’s okay. I’ll definitely be content with watching.

Getting the car process started

This is an aside before I even begin the post–but I discovered today that I share my birthday (August 29) with Yon-sama, the name given affectionately by Japanese women to the insanely popular South Korean actor Bae Yong-Joon. I almost blurted out, “Oh my god!” (and not in an excited way) at the BOE when I came across it in a backissue of Teamwork Tokushima. Great…Yon-sama and Michael Jackson. Who’s next? (At least I also share my birthday with Dante Basco, the voice of Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. That’s kind of cool. There’s also John Locke, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Slobodan Milosevic, Ingrid Bergman, and Robin Leach (of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame)…and, according to IMDb, quite a few p.orn stars, too. Lovely!

Anyway, I took this afternoon off and went into the city to go the unten menkyo center to hand over the necessary documents to set me up to take the driver’s test. A 75-minute train ride and a 25-minute bus ride later, I was there with time to spare before my appointment time.

I had my translation of my US license, my US passport and driver’s license, and my alien registration card. There were some issues because they were confused about how long I’d been a US citizen and asked if I still had my license from India (ha! A 2-year-old behind the wheel…), and then they needed me to point out the stamps in my passport from my trip to Italy with my family in 2003 to show them that I didn’t leave the country in between, proving that I’d been in the US for at least 3 months. Once that was straightened out, they ran me through a questionnaire–they even asked me the name of the driver’s school I went to in Georgia and how much roughly it cost me (though they understood that it was long enough ago that I just had no idea–I barely remembered the name of the school).

Then, after joking with two of the officials who actually turned out to be really friendly and very familiar with the ALTs (they remembered Chalice from when she took her test last week, and they even knew the name of the JET Programme–I guess they’ve seen it on our documents and Japanese visas over the years), the first guy pulled out a map of the course and went over it in extreme detail. He even suggested ways I should turn the car to make the most extreme turns. But he laid out every single area very thoroughly–bear left here, put on your blinker and check behind you here, turn here, slow here, look both ways here, everything. The only thing I’m truly concerned about is the tight turn–I “lied” and told them I’d driven a few times in the past year in Japan, when I actually never have, but I also added that I drove daily in Atlanta and even practiced a lot when I went home a month ago. He also let me know that we’ll go around the course once in the car (which they provide–a Toyota Prius, automatic transmission), and then I’ll start my test, and then he gave me the sheet, which I jotted down copious notes on afterwards.

He also pointed out, on my way out, that I had to wear real shoes–no “surippa.” I was wearing a pair of my Old Navy flip-flops (which have really saved me this summer). I have to call in 7 to 10 days to set up my test, and I need to come back and do my eye test as well. I was watching some other people do it, though, and it’s an extremely quick process.

All in all, a very not nerve-wracking process–very easy, smooth, and actually almost fun. Afterwards, I caught a bus back to the city–it was 3:15 at this point–and finally had lunch (I’d had a late and light breakfast, and then a snack between arriving in Tokushima and catching my city bus) at Masala, where I discovered that the friendly guy’s name (he even greeted me with, “How are you? Hisashiburi desu ne!“) is Arjun, he’s from New Delhi, he speaks Hindi and has been in Japan for 3 years, and he was very surprised by my age and my marital status.

I then did some shopping, wandered around and killed time, inquired about tickets for The Marriage of Figaro next month, and caught a train home…I actually fell asleep within a couple of minutes of sitting down. It was the strangest thing–this fatigue came out of nowhere and hit me really hard. When I forced myself onto my feet when we arrived in Ikeda, I felt exhausted, sluggish, and parched–I was really dehydrated (oh, that’s another thing–Tokushima Station doesn’t have my lost Nalgene bottle…but Laura’s is on its way!), but I guess my blood sugar had crashed or something as well. It was just a strange sensation. I put on Muse’s newest album, though, which woke me up (I love you, Supermassive Black Hole) and got me through some mandatory grocery shopping and my walk home.

Anyway, I’m back now, catching up on the day’s events. I picked up some couscous at Sogo, so maybe I’ll make myself something light but filling as a late dinner. It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve cooked–yesterday I gave Julie a violin lesson and we made Kraft macaroni at her place (and then met up with Brian and had dessert at MiniStop), and I did make something for myself the night before (I think?), but this week feels so strange and disjointed that I’m just not at all sure what’s going on. We’ll be provided with food from Friday through Sunday, though, while we’re away at English camp/new ALT orientation. And speaking of which–with the exception of Group C, all the first-years are here! I feel so weird that I’ve only met two of them this past week, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re so far away from everything. I’ll be meeting everyone this weekend, though, and I’m really looking forward to it.