This doesn’t bode well for the week

I’m off to a great start on this trip so far. (No sarcasm whatsoever.) I got to the bus terminal at 7:52 for my 8:00 bus, and went for my wallet to buy a bottle of water–only to realize that 1. my wallet wasn’t in my backpack, and 2. the bottom-most zipper on the front of the bag, which opened onto the main section of the bag, had fallen open.

I managed to get a refund processed on my bus ticket JUST in time–as I talked to them about it, the Kobe-bound bus pulled in. I retraced my steps back to the apartment, wondering what I would do if someone had made away with my wallet or where to look in case someone had found it and turned it in.

In an incredible stroke of luck, it had fallen out in my genkan (entranceway to my apartment). I can catch a 9 AM train to Okayama and a shinkansen over to Kobe and arrive only a half-hour after this bus would have, and still not be in any danger of missing my flight.

It sucks, because I was hoping to get 3 solid hours of sleep on the bus (or as solid as you can get on a bus ride) after pulling an all-nighter to clean my apartment, and now that I’m back I’m fading fast. But I can sleep for an hour and a half on the train to Okayama, keep myself awake for 3 hours to get food and get myself to Kobe Airport, and then I can sleep another 2 on the plane to Sapporo.

Have a good week, guys!

Going effing crazy

I feel like pulling my hair out for not starting on all of this sooner. I have 1.5 days left to pack everything up and clean clean clean clean–AND I have to go to school in the morning for speech contest help, AND I have plans with Sally tomorrow night (postponed from Friday); it’ll be the last time we see each other.

Today’s going to be very long. I need to unplug my ethernet cable so I can listen to music without getting distracted by the web, especially since I sent out the mass “hi, I’m returning home so here’s my contact info” e-mail and have gotten 10-15 responses so far. Those are a great way to say hi to people you may not think to talk to otherwise, but replying each message also takes 5-10 minutes, so…

General checklist of stuff to do…

  • generally pack my suitcases, so I know what I have to ship still
  • pack boxes, ship them (I’ve sent 2 large boxes of winter clothes and 3 medium-sized boxes of stuff and 2-3 boxes of books so far, as well as my futon via airmail, and I’m still not done. Oof!)
  • hit up the 100-yen store in Mikamo (since our new one doesn’t open till Monday, which is when I leave for Sapporo–I almost wish I weren’t going!) to get new cheapie plastic stuff to replace the cheapie plastic stuff that has miraculously lasted these past 2 years but is grungy and cheapie enough that I can throw it out guilt-free
  • vacuum and dust, scrub the kitchen counters and sink, tackle the bathroom, clean off the porch and washing machine
  • make sure all my important documents and papers (like my pension book and info on how to get my pension refund) are somewhere safe and accessible, and packed into my carry-on
  • consider shipping my smallest suitcase back to the US, unless it’s cheaper to just check it as an extra piece of luggage (I have 2 big pieces of luggage to be checked, and two carry-on suitcases, and my laptop goes in one–AND my violin, which I will not under any circumstances check)
  • find a cylindrical cardboard tube so I can roll up my posters
  • take down artwork and cloths off the wall, but photograph the apartment before I do!
  • buy a “housewarming” gift for Kanno-sensei, one of my Japanese professors from my Georgia Tech days; I’ll be staying at her house (with her mother and brother) for two nights in Sendai
  • pack for my 8-day Hokkaido/Tohoku trip next week (shit, I keep forgetting about this)
  • copy Lonely Planet Hokkaido/Aomori/Miyagi pages, bring plane and bus tickets
  • find people to claim my spices and lentils and stuff
  • toss out perishable goods
  • sort non-burnable trash and toss it into the bin, since Wednesday is moenai gomi day
  • pack stuff I don’t have time to ship or deal with into the car, because I still will have a week in Tokushima after I get back, spent crashing either at Brian’s or Julie’s
  • stop writing this freaking list and GET STARTED!

Oh, yeah. MOM! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send me that list of things you’d like soon! I still have no clue where to find a doll, and I need to know what size tea strainer you’d like!

Okay, one quick note before I go…it has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that I open the floor to questions. I regret not doing it earlier, but I hope you knew that you were free to ask me questions anytime, and many of you have done so!

If you have any questions about the JET Programme, Tokushima, Shikoku, life in Japan, life in Japan as a foreigner, life in Japan as a woman, life in Japan as an Indian-American, or anything else, ask away! I’ll answer them eventually. I’ve answered many of my friends’ questions already, but I’m of course always up for answering more! I just don’t know when I’ll respond, but I swear I will.

Two endings in one day

So yesterday, the two-year anniversary of my arrival in Japan, also marked the end of my JET Programme contract, as well as being the day I read the final Harry Potter novel, on loan from my awesome JTE. (Don’t worry, there are zero spoilers in this post. I was completely spoiler-free leading up to yesterday, and I definitely wouldn’t spoil anybody who doesn’t want to know anything yet.)

It feels…strange. The work that brought me to Japan is nearly complete–it’s officially complete already, but I’ll still be going in to my junior high to assist with speech contest stuff (and to give thank-you presents to the staff), and I may have to go by one elementary school to ask if they could try putting their photos of the closing ceremony on my USB drive again because the versions I have are incomplete. And I may get to take Caitlin around and introduce her to the shougakkous–but I really don’t think we’ll have time. She arrives on the 8th, the first several days will be spent securing her gaijin card and contract and apartment stuff and cellphone and the car transfer and everything else, then she’s off to orientation for 3 days, and then I leave.

I think I should take the time to go on my own just to photograph the schools, though. I didn’t really do that before. I may also ask if they’d be okay with e-mailing me class photos for the schools where I wasn’t able to take a group photo of our English classes. I also will be going back to my junior high this week to help with speech contest stuff (it’s been essentially all on me to translate the speeches: one kind of made no sense because half the content, including the title, was totally irrelevant; the other had some pretty complicated Japanese and dealt with some very serious themes, so we want to talk to the kid to make sure we get exactly what he’s trying to say as I/we translate his speech).

I have five days to finish packing and cleaning. At this point, I’m not sure if I have more or less stuff than I anticipated. I definitely will have to send at least 3 or 4 more boxes home, probably more, in part because the boxes available at the post office aren’t very big. Hamza suggested visiting a liquor store, and I thought he meant that I should drink to make the process speed along, not that I should see if they have particularly big boxes–whoops! But it’ll be good to get it all done with by the time I leave for Sapporo on Monday, and to know that I won’t have to rush to finish it all up until the day I leave the country.

I also talked to my landlord yesterday about the end-of-term stuff, and to my boss. Water, gas, and electricity are all taken care of. I need to go to the local DoCoMo cellphone store to make sure I know the process for canceling my phone at Kansai Airport. I also need to figure out what to do about my land line and internet access. And today will be the day that I finally trek (or drive, heh) over to the KuroNeko Yamato takkyuubin (package delivery) place to inquire about shipping my futon. I feel bad for putting it off so long and hope it won’t be too late.

I’m meeting Kirsten and Sally for dinner tonight–it may be the last time I see Kirsten, and we both came in together, Group A in 2005, and sat down next to each other in the Tokushima section at Tokyo Orientation in the massive ballroom where all 1000+ new Group A ALTs were sitting. We haven’t seen each other a ton, but she was definitely the person who got along with everybody. She’s already stated that she’s taking a tour of the US and would like to come visit, so I’ll be looking forward to that. It’s…weird, associating these people with non-Japanese settings. Kirsten will always be the Handa ALT to me, since our 2 years have overlapped almost precisely. Genna was always the Yoshino ALT (since I wasn’t very close to her predecessor, though he was a nice guy). Last year, Joe was always the Nishi-Iya ALT. Ben and Julia were the Anan folks. Ellie was the Miyoshi ALT. But instead, I get to associate them with Southampton and Kansas City and Toronto and Vancouver and Edinburgh.

Something that’s definitely changed–the idea of flying 4-5 hours across the US to visit friends on the other side of the country doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. Considering how much closer they’ll be stateside than they have been for the last 2 years, I’ll welcome it!

It’s also strange how the end of the HP books has coincided with the ending of my time in Japan. (Book 6 came out a week before I left for Japan, and Book 7 has come out just prior to my return.) This almost feels like I’ve caught the Hogwarts Express (a.k.a. two Northwest Airlines flights that are ~14 hours cumulatively) to come here, and I’ve learned all these strange and fascinating and wonderful new skills and facts and languages and cultures…and now the year’s ending and it’s time to take the Hogwarts Express (a.k.a. two United Airlines flights that are ~14 hours cumulatively). There was no great enemy to try to defeat, other than culture shock and intolerance, but the way I felt after finishing book 7 in the week hours of the morning really parallels and acts as a foil to how I’m feeling about leaving Japan. Funny how that happens.

A day of many tears

Today’s been very emotional, and I’ve shed many tears, but it’s not quite over yet.

This morning were the final ceremonies at my primary and secondary base schools, my junior high and 1.5-day elementary school. They had a separate ceremony from the end-of-term ceremony in my honor at my junior high, including all the students forming a massive arch for me to go under. The 3rd-year teachers came together and bought me a present on behalf of all the teachers, and the principal presented it to me, but it turns out the 1st- and 2nd-year teachers haven’t actually seen it, so I’m bringing it to our enkai today. It’s this beautiful brocade of cloth…though I have to admit that I’m not sure what to do with it.

Immediately after that ceremony finished, I ran to the elementary school. This went more smoothly, in part because it turns out there was another teacher who’d only been here for a year as she filled in as the 2nd-grade teacher for a teacher who was on maternity leave but who’ll be returning in the fall. I also played the violin at this one–I ended up playing for the whole school and for the preschool kids and for their parents. I’d played at all my other shougakkous and didn’t want to leave these kids out, and it ended up getting bigger as time went on. I did five songs on my own, four from various Studio Ghibli films (Tonari no Totoro, Mononoke Hime, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, and Hauru no Ugokushiro, and one piano-violin duet with the other departing teacher. The teachers afterwards presented me with a gorgeous indigo-dyed cloth and purse.

I spent my afternoon hanging out at my junior high (I must’ve been pretty unobtrusive, because my JTE had told me she would call me if I was out with the details of our enkai tonight, and suddenly my phone rang and it was her, so I look up, straight at her, and go, “Uh…Sensei?” She lifts her head and stares at me for a couple of seconds, and then our whole cluster of desks bursts out laughing), then getting started on my pension paperwork, which required me running home, and then I picked up some cookies for the 1.5-day shougakkou (since I kind of forgot to bake them a cake) and went back in, where I had a great conversation about music and communication with the principal there. (I love her voice. She has such a calming, melodic voice and demeanor.) We then had our “saigo no aisatsu,” our final farewells, where the principal spoke on behalf of the gathered teachers, where I said a few words (and of course thought of many more I could’ve said as soon as I left), and then, blinking back even more tears, I stepped out of the staffroom, took my indoor shoes with me, and left.

And now I have to go get ready to be picked up in just under a half-hour for our junior high enkai, where I’ll be expected to give another brief speech and where I know I’ll start crying again. Hopefully this’ll be better than previous enkais. I’m actually looking forward to it.

No longer in danger of mooching off my parents

I’ve been in the middle of an interview process with a company in suburban Atlanta. The interviews have gone pretty well so far, and we’ve had some good conversations–they seem like a great group of people with a lot of mutual respect, and it’s a successful company as well.

I had a day-long headache yesterday that just refused to go away (I took a half-day off work and had to skip the enkai of my 1.5-day shougakkou, which I honestly regretted), and when I was well enough to finally get up and make and eat dinner, my stomach started bothering me too. When the time for the interview came around, I had to ask the guy if he was up for rescheduling, which he was very cool about.

I woke up this morning (after sleeping about 10 hours, which means I’ve slept around 14 hours out of the last 24), and had an job offer in my inbox! They decided the fifth interview wasn’t necessary after all, after how well the four so far have gone. I’ll be calling them tonight to discuss the details of the offer.

I’m really glad I’ve taken today off to get my affairs in order. I’m planning on packing a lot, going in to my BOE to discuss stuff with my boss, and driving out to the city to ship some packages (and treat myself to something very indulgent), before I make the call about the job. YES!

I just finished my last class ever. It was with my chuugakkou 1st-years, the kids I became pretty close to in elementary school. I cried at the end…this feels very strange.

Rocking out

Just checking in to say that the major earthquakes that struck northern Japan today did not have any effect on us. We didn’t feel a thing here, and the first I heard about this happening was from Ethan, who IMd me with, “hey – you rocking the earthquake? it looked like it’s not very close to you”.

I have no idea how long this link will be valid, but dang, check this out–I’ve never seen anything that impacted so much of the country like this! Apparently they felt something in Takamatsu/Okayama-ish, but that’s all that Shikoku would have felt. (And if you look back at previous earthquake images…it looks like Niigata got very minor earthquakes every 10-20 minutes all day today. Wow.)

I really am curious as to whether I’ll feel anything moderately strong while I’m in Hokkaido/Tohoku in a couple of weeks, since a lot of stronger quakes seem to be centered in and around Tokyo and north of there. It’s rare to get anything big in western Japan.

In other news, there was a small festival and a fireworks display in Ikeda today, and I went out to the festival with Julie, Chalice, and Ashley, and Sally and her dad joined us (and we saw a TON of our students there, but especially the Ikeda ALTs in particular). I had to miss the fireworks, though, due to my two phone interviews this evening. I was able to catch a bit on the balcony before the first interview, though, and it was nice to at least see that much. Afterwards, I went straight to the Okinawan restaurant and met the crowd for about an hour, though Sally, her dad, and Ashley had to leave before too long. It was good to unwind after 1.5 hours on the phone–the interviews/phone sessions went pretty well, I think, but I still have three more to go. We’ll see how tomorrow and the day after unfold.

A dramatic farewell

Forgot to include this one before, but now that I’m back with bread and groceries to get me through the weekend, I can sit down and dash this one off.

Genna is now hopefully on her plane back to the US. She got a job offer from the lab where she worked pre-Japan, and they want her to start this Monday, so she gave plenty of advance notice and booked her flight for today. I’d offered to hang out with her last night, to help her tie up any loose ends and finish cleaning, and just keep her company and hang out with her one “last” time.

And then came the news of the approaching typhoon.

She got a call from her board of education at 3 PM yesterday, saying that they didn’t want to take any chances with the Shikoku-Honshu bridges closing, and that they wanted her to be ready to go by 6 PM, so they could put her on an airport bus that night and put her up in an airport hotel.

At first I decided that I should stay out of the way and not come out. Five minutes later I realized that that was a stupid decision, and I told her I’d be there as soon as I could after work. I ducked out about 5 minutes early and got to her place around 5:20-5:25. She greeted me with a hug at the door, and I conducted a quick inspection of her place to make sure nothing was forgotten or unclean, before we settled down to grade one last batch of papers. Kiet, Eric, and Kiki all came out to see her off as well. (I was amused that her male board of ed staffer refused to let me handle her heavy suitcases, but then immediately asked Kiet to carry one down the stairs.)

It was strange and it was sad, and the whole thing had this big epic feeling of some dramatic and climactic storybook encounter, but more than anything else, I’m glad I could be there. She was far more composed than I know I’ll be when my day comes. We all gave her big hugs, and we waved and waited and watched until the van was out of sight.

Afterwards, the four of us went out for dinner for a couple of hours, and then on my way home I messaged Julie and Brian about a possible typhoon sleepover for tonight. Julie called me a little while later, asking if I wanted to go do karaoke with them. I was 20 minutes from Brian’s house, so I met them there (and met Brian’s adorable new kitten, Souichiro–what a sweetie!) and we had a good couple of hours in Mikamo, digging up a lot of oldie-but-goodie songs, and agreeing to call each other to figure out today.

The weather’s been rather mild today, just with rain (and now the wind is starting to pick up and howl), but apparently it’s been stronger in coastal areas, which Kansai Airport definitely is (they built an island just to house it!). I don’t think she should have had a problem with catching her flight. I hope she has a safe journey, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to the inevitable phone calls we’ll have once I’m back next month.


Did I mention that we have a typhoon coming through? This is the one that’s made news over the last day or two, as it smashed into Okinawa. It’s now knocking Kyushu around, and it looks like the eyewall is making landfall right on Kagoshima (my former college roommate, the one I saw in September, is a Kagoshima ALT, so I hope she’s okay!). The articles say it’ll probably make its way to Tokyo, but of course they overlook everything in between, which is several hundred miles’ worth of cities and islands, including the entirety of my island of Shikoku.

This is a typhoon that sank a ship and has overturned trucks and done a ton of damage so far. I’m pretty nervous–because of the mountains enclosing our town pretty snugly, it’s easy to forget that we’re on an island and that you’re never more than 75km/50 miles from a coastline; in our case, the nearest coastline is only 25km/15 miles away, on the Seto Inland Sea. I think it may lose some of its intensity today as it makes landfall on Kyushu, but we’re still expecting winds over 100mph. I just did a load of laundry and am going to take it to the laundromat and dry it there while I go to the grocery store for a supply run.

At the same time, I have no idea how the mountains will affect how the typhoon hits western Tokushima. They create a separate weather system, which I was able to witness within the last month. Dark and ominous storm clouds were piling up here, but when I drove just 30-40km east of here, the sky was clear. I also drove north through the mountains on a cloudy day once, in search of one of the pilgrimage temples to our north, and the skies were clear and beautiful when I emerged on the other side–when I turned around to look at the line of mountains, I could see the clouds piling up over them, and nowhere else in the sky!

It should be an interesting day or two. Sally’s dad is in town and we’re meeting them in Ikeda for dinner (well, theoretically I will, if my stomach is feeling up to it; it’s been upset the last couple of days). We might be having a typhoon party out west or something like that. It’ll be nice to have some company, I think.

Feeling domesticated

I was up till 1 AM cooking hasty but tasty curry. (I came up with that inadvertent rhyme when starting a blog post last night to kill the time.) Now I need to get a vat of rasam started. Today brings our final eikaiwa classes, and we’re having potluck parties in each.

Had a phone interview-of-sorts last night, which I feel like I sort of stumbled through, but it went well enough that the gentleman is going to have his team contact me for further phone interviews soon!

Last night, pre-interview, I ran to Mikamo’s 100-yen store (because ours closed!), and it started pouring rain like crazy. I was soaked in the 10 seconds it took me to sprint from my car to the store, and again when I went back. I decided to swing by Paparagi on my way back–and ran into Julie and her eikaiwa! We ended up hanging out there till almost 9. They were a really cool group–it’s very interesting, having a mix of skill levels and of ages. I love my eikaiwas, but it really would be nice to have some younger people in there, too.

This week I’ve been playing the violin in my final shougakkou classes, but I didn’t yesterday, just because I’ll be at this school next week, I didn’t know their schedule, and the 1st and 2nd/3rd and 4th grade homerooms are next to each other and essentially open-air, and I didn’t want to distract class. In our 3rd-grade class, the cool teacher suddenly bust out his guitar and started playing the unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” quite well in fact. Feeling inspired, as soon as class finished, I went to the teachers’ room and asked if I’d be able to get all the students, or at least the students I teach, together to play some violin music for them. I’m now playing during the final ceremony next week.

And speaking of final ceremonies…my junior high’s ceremony runs from 9:30 to 10:00 (so they say–I’ve never attended a junior high ceremony that wasn’t at least an hour long!). As soon as that wraps, I have to run down the street to this ceremony, which starts at 10:20. Yikes! I need to get cracking on those speeches.

It’s raining outside. A hurricane’s coming, and not any of the “big rainstorms” we had last year–this one’d engulf a fair chunk of the country in one go. (Japan Meteorological AgencyYahoo! Weather satellite image) They don’t measure magnitude or have categories for typhoons in Japan the way they do for hurricanes in the Pacific, but this one’s been labeled as very strong. It’ll be here Sunday–which is lucky, because it was supposed to come tomorrow and Genna was panicking because she leaves Japan for good tomorrow.

I’ve also been invited to watch a traditional Japanese puppetry show that’s being held at this Thurs/Fri shougakkou. At this point, I’m still not sure if I’m going–I’d certainly like to, but we’ll see. Tonight I’m hanging out with Genna and maybe Kiet. This weekend, I need to pack a lot and run some other errands; we have Monday off, and I really should make use of that. Time is really running out–just a couple of weeks till I need to be out of my apartment.