Ode to my First Month in Japanland

As has been true to my humble 25-years of existence so far, expressing some of the more profound and immersive points in life can be one of the most difficult things to do. Astonishingly, the close of August has come in the blink of an eye and I’ve yet to have time to sit down and fully digest what I have been seeing, tasting, feeling, in this rich place I now call home.

Within the past few weekends, I have already seen more than I could have imagined just a month ago. To recognize some of the different facets in Japan that create such an allure to those outside this island country within a span of three weeks is a serious realization and one that has left me (let’s be honest) a tad bit exhausted both physically and mentally! To be constantly astonished by the “reality” before one’s eyes can make living life in this country seem like a dream. I’ve felt humbled by my status as an illiterate resident, understanding for the first time the helpless feeling of having to depend on others for the most basic of things, and also felt incredibly exultant in being able to claim a thread of heritage in the rich fabric of Japanese identity.

Although undoubtedly, my readers would be curious about the tangible elements of my life, such as my apartment, city life in a place populated by as many people as goldfish and vibrant pictures of my travels in Kyoto, Koyasan, Kumano Kodo, Fujisan, and Tokyo, I intend on disclosing my reflections simultaneously as it is often by understanding the individual who filters these experiences that allows for a for a fuller and more honest understanding of what living in Japan for a year would realistically be like!

Without further or do, I will write separate postings on both segments of my trip to Koyasan (with a stay in a temple of the Shingon Buddhist sect) and Kumano Kodo (including a stay at Kawayu Onsen), and my trip to Fujisan (the Fujikawaguchiko lakes area) and Tokyo. Having just arrived back from Tokyo yesterday, I need to confess that I am quite relieved I live in a small city where all conveniences are within walking distance and yet it is quiet and peaceful. Quite a lovely repose especially when one is immersed mercilessly in new experiences every day! I’m pleased to say that returning back to my apartment yesterday from bustling Tokyo truly felt like a return home 😉

Before I go forth with my posts on my weekend trips however, i’d like to elaborate on just where home is! As I am a municipal JET (meaning I will be teaching at Junior High and Elementary schools only) with 16 schools to visit in total, my home base is not a school but actually the city’s Board of Education. My supervisor was generous enough to allow me to roam around town on my bicycle in lieu of sitting at my desk all day in order to figure out how to reach each of the 5 Junior High Schools. As bicycle is my primary mode of transportation within town, my apartment has been provided with two bikes, one of which is currently being lent out to another Assistant Language Teacher.

After spending an entire day riding my bicycle, through narrow streets alongside regular car traffic, I was both exhausted, sunburnt (amusing farmer’s tan and all), and wonderfully appreciative of Yamato-Koriyama city. I found myself deliciously lost amid rice paddies which have been converted into goldfish farms where thousands of orange, white, black, and spotted fish are cultivated (we have fishtanks in the city’s Board of Education) and you can find random tanks on the streets housing the colorful fish). The fields are verdant, the distant mountains create a lovely silhouette, and the clouds here are as voluminous and beautiful as those you can find in tropical climates (humid!)! At some point I was trapped in a thunderstorm, but I found myself smiling from ear to ear at this common everyday-beauty that surrounds me.

Yamato-Koriyama Castle, verdant rice fields on the outskirts of the city where you can come across small pools filled with baby, orange goldfish.

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Embarking on a journey!

Hello everyone,

I’m ecstatic to begin recording my adventures in Nara, Japan over the course of this year on the JET Program as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)! Although I officially embark on my journey on July 31, 2015, i’ll begin by running through my preparations and sharing my anticipation and excitement prior to the actual trip.

Just this past May, I was informed of my placement which will be in Yamato-Koriyama-shi (or Koriyama), Nara-ken, a small city of about 80,000 known for its goldfish industry (how did they know my first pet in life was a black goldfish?!). Koriyama also hosts the annual National Goldfish Scooping Competition! For those of you not familiar with this typical Japanese matsuri game that children like to play, it involves a small, plastic scoop with a paper net that rips extraordinarily easily when wet. Mind you, even adults like me never ever end up successfully scooping a goldfish. Here’s a photo project that a photographer did that is quite beautiful- www.http://pinktentacle.com/2009/03/battle-of-the-natsu-yasumi-fumio-nabata/

Luckily, Koriyama is located just half an hour from Nara City proper, an hour from Osaka and Kyoto. Inevitably, this will make for a great location to take weekend trips to some of the most well-known and celebrated cultural sights in all of Japan! Not to mention, extremely convenient for those friends and loved ones who are looking to visit me 🙂 Some additional short background on the city- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamatokōriyama,_Nara.

After much Facebook stalking, I successfully located my predecessor and proceeded to bombard her with questions! I feel so lucky that my predecessor has been so helpful in outlining practically every possible thing I would want to know– from my living situation (3DK apartment- meaning three different rooms in addition to my bathroom/ kitchen area!), teaching situation (I will be reporting to the local Board of Education and will be visiting 16 schools!), and even a helpful google map of various local spots that are unique! Some examples include a traditional, Japanese sweet shop that has been open since the 1500’s, a castle that hosts a beautiful sakura festival in the spring, and an indigo dye shop where you can go and try a hand in the craft! Over the course of our correspondence, i’ve learned in a nutshell that I’m quite lucky in my placement!

There are still quite a few things I need to prepare for my year abroad in Japan- varying from my visa application to purchasing knick knacks, omiage, small gifts, for my co-workers and supervisor as a thoughtful gesture. It still hasn’t hit me yet that I am preparing for life abroad and that I will be experiencing new things, something i’ve been yearning for for a long time. At the very least it will be an incredibly eye-opening learning experience and hopefully one that will color my life with memorable experiences!