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7/4/2012

It’s starting to feel like Summer has finally come to visit us here in Gunma. It was a rather wet and cool spring and most of June was dark (I even found myself  wearing a sweater for a few days), but finally in the past week the humidity-laden heat has come to stay along with the characteristically strong Summer lightning storms. In this weather I struggle to stay vigilant on my exercise plan. I have been practicing daily hill climbing on my bike around my town in preparation for a trip this August to a friend’s seaside home in Ibaraki (about 175km) after I return from my vacation.

Speaking of vacation, I am really looking forward to  going home to spend some time refilling my my burger, pizza, and taco reserves while being able to relax on the beach camping with family and friends for 4 days in San Diego. I will be turning 30 there and my family and I were planning a party, but I decided in the end it would be best to stop having parties after all. I feel somewhat ambivalent toward this particular age because it does carry a bit of social significance albeit an arbitrary number. Despite the artificially pressured situation I do think it is a good time to think about what I will do from now. I feel like it is important to have more hits than misses in things I do from now on, and I have been really considering my goals for the next 10 years.

In school related news it is getting closer toward the end of the year and classes are getting packed in to the slots where they can fit so my days are becoming busier and busier. But it is horribly unbalanced. One day I will have 6 classes in a row and others I will have just 2 for the whole day which leads to a cycle of stress and boredom. I’m glad there is just a few weeks left. One good thing is that I at one of my schools I got the rare privilege of having a Japanese American high school student to help me teach my classes. It is a really wonderful opportunity for the children to talk to someone closer to their age and closer to their background. These relatable qualities are one thing I will never have going for me as an English teacher so this is really a great opportunity to get my students to have an interest in learning English or even just traveling abroad. She has thus far proven to be very useful and it has also been nice to have someone I can speak English with in the workplace. I’m just sad I couldn’t have someone like that to teach with the whole time I was here!

I almost didn’t notice, but today is the 4th of July. At home I would have been looking forward to this day for a while… I should do something special… like raise a miniature American flag and light a sparkler.

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6/27/2012

The past few days went by quick. On Sunday I took an unplanned bike ride to a random place and found a cycling route which I followed until it ended. Was a pretty enjoyable trip until about 15km away from home I popped my back tire. Luckily, it was pretty much right in front of a mall which had a bike shop inside. However, the prices were pretty high, and a rainstorm moved in while I was waiting for it to be repaired. Needless to say it wasn’t the best of days which made transitioning into the work week that much more difficult.

On the positive side though, an outgoing JET acquaintance of mine invited me out to dinner for the first time in 2 years. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but she always was nice to me when we talked so I went. It ended up being quite nice and we had a great discussion about life after Japan. We are both turning 30 so it seems like we are both at the same point in our lives where we know we need to move on, but aren’t really sure where we will end up yet. It was such a nice time I wished we could have done that sort of thing earlier. I suppose though there is no sense in dwelling in the past though. A new crop of JETs will be here soon and this time I hope to be a little more proactive about meeting people.

A bit off topic but, it seems like it is getting harder to wake up these days. I certainly have not had a problem for at least the last 12 or so years. It used to be that I would wake up before the alarm even went off. Now I wake up all groggy and it takes a few minutes to even get upright. I’d guess it is because I am about a month away from hitting 30. I don’t know if I want to continue teaching young children when I eventually return to my country just because I don’t think I can keep up the energy level. It sure sucks getting old!

 

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6/23/2012

So I didn’t end up going to the farewell party last night because I Invited a couple of Japanese friends to come with me to help me feel a little more comfortable but both cancelled on me so I decided it would be best just to save money considering I have a tax bill to pay and also have to pay for my flight home which I booked yesterday for an amazingly cheap 109,000 yen at H.I.S. Travel (other travel sites like Orbitz and Kayak were quoting me around 130,000 and I had to take a detour to China making Tokyo to LA take 23 hours… no thanks!

Today I went out for a short bike ride today to test out my new brakes just randomly around my town and managed to find several new places I didn’t even know existed. The amount of smaller winding streets is truly staggering, and each one you head down seems to always hide pleasant surprises. Today I found some kind of Agricultural museum, a small temple, and a large number of fields containing various vegetables and fruits including one which was a grape vineyard. It’s amazing to me that I never knew those existed after being here for nearly 2 years! I really should go out on more random bike rides.

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The JET I never knew.

Tonight is the farewell party for the JETs (government employed English Teachers). Their contracts end in July and many of them have said their farewells to their schools and now must do so to the rest of their English Teaching pals. To be honest I am reluctant to go since I know very few of them in any other setting than our very sparse ALT meetings and training seminars.

It seems like there is a real divide between JETs and privately contracted ALT’s, despite the fact that we work for the same Board of Education. It is probably due to the fact that JET being a government run program has many more training seminars and special orientations that privately contracted teachers don’t get. Their contracts run on different periods as well, from Jutly/August for a year which seems to tailor to many foreign countries’ school systems since Graduation is often in June abroad. Of course here in Japan the school year runs from April to March so that means the JETs come and go during the middle of the school year. The Board of Education would rather have us come and go with the Japanese school year which is why private contracts and direct hires like myself are hired according to the Japanese system. JETs also get paid more than just about any other English teaching position in Japan and, consequentially can afford to go out and party more often. They also have their own Alumni associations and do homestays with Japanese families. They are privy to a wide number of support options that most private companies do not offer.

In contrast, My company was based in Tokyo though I was contracted out here in Gunma. I had one seminar with my coworkers the whole year and a half I worked there. I didn’t see my new boss (changed twice while I was employed) until I turned in my keys to the company car after my contract finished. So there was a real disconnection from any real sort of team work environment.

These factors combine to set the JETs apart from the rest of the English teaching rabble, and whether by design or not, has made me often feel unwelcome in their presence. Of course I don’t mean to say the whole lot of them are snobs, some are downright friendly at our various chance interactions. But the opportunity for JETs to get to know each other due to their closeness in their functions gives them increased opportunity to develop friendship bonds. Having those bonds in place out here in a foreign country helps to make one feel safe and more “at home”. Having already satisfied that need in their fellow JETs they are less needing of new connections and seem to seek them less among us outsiders since they already have formed their own “in” group (cliques). I suppose it is natural for foreigners though to seek their own tight knit communities in a foreign country, but I wish perhaps they could be a little bit more open.

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Haruna hiking.

So after a little time wallowing in my lack of luck and general depression the other day, one of my Japanese friends paid me a visit for a little drinking party at my house. It was nice to get to relax and talk for a while. My friend speaks English fairly well but as the night passed and we had a few more drinks the conversation degraded into Japanese and English which is always fun. Woke up the next day with a bit of a hangover but recovered fairly quickly.

I noticed that it was a rather nice day outside and decided to take advantage because it has been cloudy and raining for almost 2 weeks straight. I didn’t really have any plan to go anywhere special but I took a look outside and Mt. Haruna was looking especially green and inviting so I went up with the plan to cycle there. Those who know Initial D will know this place very well, especially the notoriously narrow roads with plenty of sharp curves for drifting. I am of the more sane variety of driver so that doesn’t really entice me, rather is a bit of a repellent since often I encounter people coming down that road right at me. But I managed to make it up unharmed.

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When I arrived, I noticed a path on the side of the road which appeared to be a walking course so I went and decided to see where it went. It is apparently tsutsuji (azalea) season in the mountains of Gunma, and this path was designated tsutsuji viewing path. The boards keep the path off the ground presumably to keep your feet from sinking into the soft ground during the rainy season. However the boards were pretty old and in some places weak or broken so it was a little tricky to make sure you don’t fall through.

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The tsutuji were really beautiful and worth the little side trip so I decided to go on the tour rather than cycle as I planned.

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The path itself is about a kilometer and a half long and at one point the trail splits off to a path that runs along the ridge of Mt. Haruna’s bowl-like shape. On the ridge there are a few temples including a famous temple built into the rock called Haruna Jinja. When I saw the path leading up to the ridge I decided that it would be interesting to see more than just tsutsuji and followed the trail up to the ridge.

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I’m going up there!?!? Yep.

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Takasaki City

The path itself was overgrown with bushes and low hanging trees in places so there was lots of ducking and dodging and plenty of bugs enjoying the weather with me. I also realized that the running shoes I brought with me were not suited at all to hiking that path, but I continued anyhow determined to see what there was up at the peak. Before long I made it to the ridge path and was treated to a wonderful view of Takasaki city.

As I continued up the path I realized I was headed toward a place called 相馬山 (Soumayama) and up there is a shinto shrine. The signs said it was about a 1.4 kilometer hike from the ridge so I decided that I’d give it a try. As I went along the path I realized parts of the path were starting to look like something from some kind of kung fu movie where the protagonist trains under a strict master and is forced to climb the 10,000 steps (though there were not that many here) up to a temple for some hardcore training.

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Now just imagine you are made to carry buckets of water up and down these 50 times.

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Path is a bit overgrown but still looks nice.

Eventually I was presented with a torii out in the middle of basically nowhere.

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The path was quite wet due to several days’ rain so I became quite nervous as I reached the area where the stairs stopped and path disappeared and suddenly I was rock climbing using chains and ladders placed on the rock faces. I wasn’t able to take any pictures in that area because the wind was rather high and there was slippery rocks to contend with. I only made it a few hundred meters up the rocks when I found a broken ladder. I couldn’t believe I went all this way and I can’t make it up the last part so I thought I would just climb the rocks without the ladder. But as I looked up I realized the clouds were getting darker and the wind was picking up. I decided that I didn’t want to end up in a storm on the mountain due to a previous experience caught in a thunderstorm on the very same mountain, so I gave in and decided I best head down. Making the peak of Soumayama will have to wait for another day.

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First, the truth.

Ever since I came to Japan I have had struggles with money. High cost of living, initial move-in costs, and a meager salary were to blame at first. But Before long it seemed to develop into a pattern as to where when I thought I would actually be able to save some and be able to travel more within Japan, something would come up. Something would break down and need to be replaced, I’d get sick and lose wages, I’d find out I have some new thing to pay like insurance, or there would be some office party I was begged to attend (probably the most enjoyable of these expenses).

Since I first came here I have gotten a much nicer job working for the city government as an English teacher in the same Elementary schools doing the same work I did at the private company, but for signifigantly higher wages. I thought this would spell and end to my money woes but it seems with mo’ money comes mo’ problems. My family wants me to come back for the summer so I have to buy a plane ticket, I had to pay a new apartment deposit and fire insurance fee, had to get a new car (previous one was a company loan), and the other day I got my first city and prefecture tax which was 130,000 yen.

Because of all this, after nearly 2 years In Japan I have still not been able to travel further than Tokyo and within my own prefecture, Gunma. Of course this is rather disappointing. I Imagined I’d be able to do much more dynamic travelling. Many of my fellow English teachers continue to make me jealous with tales of their journeys within Japan and around Asia. I hear about weekend travels to other prefectures, parties, and other activities which I am often not invited (clique people, why I end up hanging out with Japanese more than Foreigners) to and even if I were invited, would not have the money to do.

My weekends have become a time to sit around and try to conserve as much money as I can for the next random expense that will come my way, and so I sit around at home on most weekends playing video games, watching American TV episodes, and sleeping. This is of course not so healthy for one to do every weekend (though once in a while is not bad) and so it has developed into a kind of depression for me. High ideals dashed by the realities of life compounded by being alone for long periods.

It’s not that I have been totally complicit in this process. I’ve taken up running to try to get me out and about, but unfortunately the lousy June rainy season has pushed me back inside. I’ve forced myself to join in on some public events in the past  with my fellow foreigners, but always felt awkward at those occasions and never really made any lasting contacts. It has come to the point now that even if there is a rare occasion where someone invites me to do something I start off by saying it’s a great idea and I will go out and join them, once it comes to the time I start to think I’d rather just not go because I’ve started to like being alone. It’s kind of a scary thing probably for some of my family and friends to read, I’m sure but I’m not a crazy emo suicidal type of person. However it does seem to me that I’m stuck in this pattern and I’ve tried my best to break it to no effect.

Truthfully, this problem has been upon me for much of the time documented in the previous version of the blog, but I would stop short of saying it. This is of course a blog about Japan, so there is a bit of an expectation to keep it all relevant to Japanese things, but I think it should include the true emotions and opinions surrounding living here and my interactions with everyone.

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Reboot

After about 6 months without a new post I decided to take down my old hosted WP blog at http://www.blogginjapan.com and move it here to WordPress to save money since the domain renewal notice came up this month. The main reason I didn’t write much after the first year wasn’t so much because I was busy, but because I was trying my best to keep too many of my stronger feelings out of my writing. In doing so I didn’t feel that writing was doing much for me because I was restrained.

The move to the WordPress.com hosted blog marks the end to that. I migrated my old posts here from the old website just to keep them for posterity and give an idea of some of the the story leading up to where I am now (though admittedly not very detailed). My goal is to get around to writing at least once a week, and writing a bit more about how being a foreigner in Japan really makes me feel. I will warn you that it is not going to be all cherry blossoms and catchy anime songs (but I will not exclude that possibility). If I can actually meet my goal of writing like I want I may consider hosting my WP blog again at a later date. Until then, I will do my best to continue the story of a foreigner in a small Japanese town.

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