Hi everyone! I have a few minutes to sit down and write this morning, so you get another post. Wednesday morning bright and early we piled onto the bus that takes us to Gunma for the around 3 1/2 hour trip to Maebashi, the capital of Gunma Prefecture. It is only about 100km from Tokyo, but with traffic plus us stopping for lunch for an hour, it was a longer trip than it would be by train. I discovered a love for drink vending machines where we stopped, especially for a milk tea called “Gogo Koucha” or “Afternoon Tea”. Good stuff!
This is the Maebashi government office building, where we arrived. We stowed our stuff, then had a few minutes to kill before the meeting with our Contracting Organization Representatives, so we went up to the top for a good view of Maebashi and Gunma!
We met our representatives and some of the government officers, then without further ado dispersed to be taken to wherever we all were going. I met Mr. Saito and Ms. Kawata, who piled me and all my luggage into a van to go to Fujioka, which took around 20-30 minutes. I was preoccupied during the car ride, as Kawata-sensei wanted my advice on some English translations, so we were deep in discussion during most of the car ride. Kawata-sensei is wonderful and speaks English very well, and Mr. Saito is very nice, but only knows a few words. They work for the Board of Education of Fujioka, my technical employer. So we went strait to the BOE to meet a bunch of people, many whom I’ve forgotten! I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to put names to faces in the future. After that, we dropped my stuff off at my new apartment (pictures forthcoming!) and Kawata-sensei showed me how to use the air conditioner, microwave, hot water for the sink, and the shower/bath.
The Otera (Buddhist temple) across the street from my front door. I met a fellow JET later in the evening, and he asked, “So, when you saw the graveyard across the street, were you freaked?” and I was like, “No, my first thought was COOL!” I haven’t gotten a chance to go inside and look around yet, but they ring the big bell (not in the picture) every day at around 5 or 6pm.
I’m on the 3rd floor, and my apartment is small and mostly perfect, though I’m still getting used to it. I have a foyer to take off my shoes, and I’ve been wearing a pair for inside and outside, but I keep forgetting and wearing my “inside” shoes outside! I also have lovely “new” tatami mats in two of the rooms (actually they’re plastic, but that’s even better than real IMO), and sliding doors for the closets. I’ll post apartment pictures when I get everything cleaned and organized.
Wednesday evening, Kawata-sensei took me to the grocery store to get things for breakfast and snacks, as well as some basic supplies until we can do a big shopping trip. I’m lucky, because the BOE of Fujioka supplies a lot of things for the apartment, like a futon, a futon couch, tables and chairs, and a few misc. pieces. My predecessor also left a few things that were useful, so I don’t have to spend a ton of money on necessities.
I unpacked a little Wednesday night, then got a knock on the door… one of my fellow JETs Keisuke (he teaches high school and is employed by the prefecture, not Fujioka) noticed a light on and came up to say hi. I got to see his apartment, which is a mirror image of mine except less messy and much cooler, and then we went on a walking tour of Fujioka at night. I saw the train station, Joy Mart which is the closest store to the apartment, the used CD/Book shop A-Too and the Family Book CD/Book/DVD rental place further down, then we swung around to a small Izakaya (drinking/eating bar) for a late dinner. Kawata-san had taken me to a nice lunch and dinner, so I wasn’t terribly hungry, but the Izakaya owner’s son, Yocchan, kept bringing out amazing food, so I was stuffed. The place is only around the corner, and everyone is very nice and tolerant of my bumbling attempts at ordering, so I foresee my going there quite a bit in the future!
Thursday mid-morning we went to the BOE to meet a few more people I hadn’t had a chance to meet yet, then went and got my Foreigners Card applied for, stopped for lunch, and then went by Gunma Bank to open an account. Unfortunately, we hadn’t all the necessary paper work for that, so we went to Softbank to get a cell phone for me.
That was the most confusing experience I’ve ever had. And you thought dealing with cell phone companies was a chore in English? Let me tell you, its twice as bad if you can’t understand anything! I finally picked a phone that I’m convinced is smarter than I am, but pretty and shiny all the same! I’m also… not exactly sure how to work everything. I can watch TV on it! How cool is that! And it takes better pictures than my actual camera, I think. So that took about 2-2 1/2 hours.
After that, we went back to my apartment to wait for a few other JETs to get home. Amy, who is leaving August 6th, was the person who helped me the most with my questions about the city, so I was really happy to get to meet her before she left. We also met Brandt, who teaches at the elementary schools. We had a fun dinner, then I went home and crashed, only to be woken up (again) at 3am. It has become a habit, unfortunately.
Friday, Kawata-sensei took me for lunch to an adorable place called “Baraetei” which could either be the English word “Variety” Japan-isized, or a play on “Bara” (Rose) and “Tei” (Tea). The owner’s daughter was Kawata-sensei’s student, so we got to meet her, her parents and her sister, and got an amazing dessert on the house even!
After that, it was shopping time! I got a new desk and chair, a book shelf, and a ton of miscellaneous things for around the apartment for less than 200 USD, which floored me, since I was aiming to stay under around $500 for household stuff. I also got a bigger purse and wallet, since carrying all the things I need (like my camera and my Japanese-English electronic dictionary) are impossible in the small purses I usually carry. Also, Japan relies a lot more on coins than we do (they have the equivalent of $1 and $5 coins as well as smaller stuff), so I needed a change purse to hold them all. I’m still in need of some stuff, but things look much more home-y now that I’ve unpacked and arranged things. I spent all afternoon Friday unpacking, then met Scott, who was a JET last year, but has gotten a new job working with computers in the area. I met his wife, Naomi, at Gunma-bank, so we went out with one of their friends (also named Naomi) to another Izakaya in the area and got home really late, but had a fun time. And I didn’t wake up at 3am! It was nice!
Today I hope to go with Amy to the Takasaki Festival, so I’ll update later in the week. I don’t even go see my school until after the Gunma-ken orientation August 13-15, and Kawata-san is taking off to Canada during that time, so I have 2 weeks of free-time. Might take a trip or something, but I’ll keep everyone posted!