Scooter vs Japan

My hanko has a first name, it’s O S C A R

August 13, 2015
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I’m a real boy!
I had this 80% written post about my apartment and some of the differences between Japanese and North American homes… and something happened and it was deleted. So today, you get rambling.

Adjusting
I’ve been in Kamikawa for about a week and a half now (Japan for almost two weeks). I’m adjusting pretty well. My shitty, atrophied Japanese is starting to cone back, but I’m going to need some hard studying to get back to where I was.

I’ve also started cooking and doing some normal things too. C, my pred, is staying for at least 2 more months to help transition me, but he’s been on “vacation,” so I’ve had a bit more time to myself which I’ve been using to explore a little and learn where things are.

My cell phone is set up, my bank account is open, and most of my apartment grown up-y stuff is done, save for my internet, which I hope to know more about today.

As mentioned in the titles, I have a registered hanko, which has made me unnecessarily happy. What is this, you say? Well, a hanko is a kind of stamp used for your signature in Japan. They are hand made so that the imprint is unique (except for super cheap ones used for play and informal uses). Anyways, you register the unique imprint of your hanko (also called an inkan) and get a little certificate directing parties to the imprint file so that you can start using it for official purposes. Essentially, my first name (in katakana) is my legal name in Japan, and I can properly sign for documents as a big person.

Work
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Random Japanese office, not where I work
Although I’ve been at work for almost a week and a half now, I’m at the Board if Education office until school starts again next week. Since I really don’t have any lesson planning to do or any other official business, I’m kind of just hanging out there and doing random slightly job related things.

Last week was almost entirely comprised of road trips, tours of town, and logistical info. But for the last few days, I’ve been doing things like reading JET articles, updating a wiki on the town, and reading/studying the kids’ story Momotaro. It’s pretty funny actually how I can fill my day and look busy while being surrounded by people probably doing real work. It’s like when you take your kid to work and they’re sitting next to you doing their homework or reading Harry Potter.

Things ramp up from here though. We have another day trip, this time to the mountain resort that the town owns. On Sunday, Buttons and I (you remember Buttons, right?) head to Sapporo for the JET Prefectural Orientation, after which I come back home and start in the classroom. I was also invited to a 2 day English camp a few towns over in October.

When going over my trip to Sapporo, I was told that the BoE would arrange my hotel for me and provide the funds upfront for my train tickets and a few other expenses. This was when the first crazy Japanese business thing happened; I was handed an envelope full of money. Seriously. That’s a thing here. So I have this envelope of cash sitting in my backpack to use for my travel expenses. Man, those gunshy JETs complaining in Facebook about carrying cash would have a meltdown.

C and I also talked about what the classroom looked like and what his role has been. In Tokyo, we were learning about some major shakeups in Japanese education, and it’s really interesting to see that at work here. I’m trying to figure out how much of it is my pred not remembering things, how much is him being complacent or lazy (since as a 5 year JET, that is a thing and he’s openly admitted it), and how much of it is me being a genki, wet behind the ears teacher about to have his soul crushed.

But again, I start teaching next week after I get back, so we’ll have to see.

YouTube
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So I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel. When I was out on Sunday, I decided to take some video of my walk around town while I talked about living on Japan and some differences with Canadian life.

But since I know nothing about film making, video production, or YouTube, it’s taking a bit longer than I thought. Not that being gone all day and randomly at night is helping.

Anyways, once that’s ready, I’ll try uploading it and I’ll make a commentary/behind the scenes post about it.

What’s next?
The Board told me that I can spend a bit of time in Sapporo and do some tourist stuff. The orientation starts too early Monday and ends too late on Tuesday for me to head in and out, so I’ll be spending about 4 days there.

In preparation, I’ve been looking up sone things to do, both normal and nerdy, and I’ve either been marking them on Google Maps or noting them on my phone. Such sites include the elusive Shingon Buddhist temple nearby and the Yellow Submarine gaming store close to the hotel I’m at.

But I’m also looking forward to seeing my crew from Tokyo (also all Canadian) and seeing hoe everyone is settling. I’ve learned that there are 3 JETs in nearby Asahikawa and knew at least one other who wasn’t a million miles away, so I’d like to get in touch with them and plan some outings. I’m also going to gaijin smash the hell out of my tattoo though and maybe switch my earrings for the trip. Get it all out while I’m out of town.

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Posted in JET, Kamikawa-cho, Living

This Week in the News!

June 1, 2015
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These last almost 2 weeks (I got super delayed in finishing this post) has been rather busy, as one might expect. After I received my placement a little over a week ago, I spent most of the next two days (including some time while waiting to see my doctor) researching Kamikawa-cho, the surrounding towns and cities, and Hokkaido in general. I also christened my new travel gnome when I met up with a few other local JETS, did more research, and started speaking with my super cool predecessor. I also fired out some emails, started commenting on Reddit and Facebook posts by other JETS and hopefuls, and started trying to get ahead of some of my pre-departure.

I’ll be living somewhere near the top of the K… and nothing else

And you shall be Buttons

Let’s face it. Looking directly at a red panda is kinda like opening the Arc of the Covenant; it is just WAY too tempting, and your face is going to melt. This one requires a bit of a story though. So a friend of mine was living in Quebec for a few years, and me and another guy took a trip out to see him, ironically days before his job there ended and he was shipped home. This friend who was in Quebec is a big fan of the TV show Scrubs, and one joke from the show is that the two main had this stuffed dog that they use to troll people. Like turning it to face people when they aren’t looking, placing in front of the bathroom door, shit like that. Anyways, when we took a trip to a zoo and had our faces melted by the red pandas there, I decided to pick up this adorable stuffed toy of one, and then proceeded to leave it around my friend’s apartment a la the Scrubs dog. We had some laughs, and aside from my nephew trying to stealing it one time, the red panda mostly sat in my closet next to my puppet (more on him later)

Fast forward to recently. Year ago, my dad bought me a garden gnome who some previous co-workers named Mr. Wibbledrum. Since I was living on the top floor of an apartment building, I filled Mr. Wibbledrum with sand. Entertaining as that was, it was kind of a mistake, since it made him very heavy. He’s also pretty big, which makes traveling with him difficult. Going to Japan again, I decided that I needed a new gnome; something light, small, and not fragile. Like the speed force striking Barry Allen (NERD), it hit me; the red panda.

So my best friend sent me a message on Facebook saying that he was having a big get together at his place for his birthday and to celebrate what he later explained was his pregnant wife (I thought he meant she was sick so he was staying home, but whatever). Being a fan of whimsy and not wanting to pass up a chance to see my old game and potentially meet some of the local JETs, I hopped in my car with my red panda and drove south, taking pictures of him along the way. And a Facebook comment later, he was named. My travel panda gnome is now Buttons.

And now something not crazy and boring

Having made contact with a number of other local JETs through a Facebook group set up by one of them, I jumped on the chance to hit two birds with one stone and meet some of them over the weekend. I met with K and J, and we spent a few hours swapping war stories, telling jokes, and talking about JET. It was really great to meet them and I hope we and some other locals can meet up again before we all get ready to go. A few days after the trip, I also met with A, one of the JETs a bit closer than me and one of the JETs going to the sister town to the one I grew up in. It was at this point I was convinced that there is some conspiracy going on with our placements.

Buttons and some of the local JETs

Buttons, K, J, and attractive man who writes this

I also spent some time joining a bunch of Facebook groups, cementing the fact that I really need to start using this for more than planning Ghostbusters meetups. Between here and Reddit, I’ve been talking with some other JETs, sharing advice, and cracking out. I also started sharing some of my preliminary gaming research with the video and tabletop game JET group. Having done specifically this in Japan already, I’m hoping to help out some other gamers who don’t know what to look and may otherwise feel like leaving their dice at home.

Succession!

I also met my predecessor, who turns out to be C, a former classmate and study partner of mine from early in my degree. It would appear (I could be mistaken) that he removed himself from my FB friends list so that I wouldn’t make the connection, since predecessors weren’t supposed to be speaking with us initially. He opened with saying that he’s known for at least a few weeks already, and that he was mad eager to talk with me. He told me that he’s staying in Hokkaido at least for a short time after I try and eat his heart for its power, so we’ll have some time to both catch up and talk JET. Aside from reconnecting with an old friend, not having to ask every possible question is going to make things rather simple. I don’t need to ask all the fear questions about where this is or how to do that, since he’ll be there to help and show me around. He’s also said that there are a number of things he can pass on or sell to me, including a car and his duck shaped measuring cups.

He also explained why we sort of fell out of touch. He’s been in Kamikawa-cho since 2010, which means he graduated the same year I was at Gaidai. I’d been wondering what he’d been up to, and that certainly answers that question. But it also answers another question. He’s been a JET for the fabled 5 year contract. The Kamikawa-cho BoE (Board of Education) is receptive to keeping their JETs for a longer period of time. That isn’t to say that I will also be offered renewal after renewal, but it means that the option is on the table, rather than going to a BoE that flips JETs every year or two, despite the cost and training time.

What else did I wanna talk about?

I also started on some pre-departure work. I’ve contacted the three main universities near me and offered in invite to speak with any students traveling to Japan. I also drafted some other emails and started doing various other prep. I also started looking up various stores I know the names of, like Book Off, Tsutaya, and GEO, as well as the gaming store Yellow Submarine. While there don’t seem to be any such shops in Kamikawak-cho, I got a lot of hits in nearby Asahikawa and Sapporo. I’m actually very happy to see how much is in Asahikawa, including two climbing gyms and a possible gaming store (though the intell may be old). Lots of different options and familiar places to explore, plus every new opportunity.

What’s next?

As I get my pre-departure work underway and try to start begging for free stuff from the government, pretty much all of my time is quickly evaporating. If anyone is reading this, feel free to drop me a line on what you’d like to hear me ramble on about. I do have some ideas, but I’m totally pulling at straws right now. Do you have any questions you want answered about Japan? Any questions about JET? Do you want Buttons’ phone number? Let me know.


Acceptance!

May 21, 2015
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Artist’s rendition

While I waited on my placement notification, I was going to write about something. I was thinking maybe hobbies, or communication with the outside work, or even how much I hate cosplay. But I got my placement notification today, so screw that.

So I will be moving to Hokkaido, to the small town of Kamikawa-cho. This town, from my cursory search while waiting my my doctor’s appointment, is location into roughly centre of Japan’s Canada-Hoth analogue. I’m very excited to finally have some of my placement details (my contract and job locale are still to come), and I wanted to share some of the thoughts going through my mind in the roughly 3 hours since use popcicles started getting our placements.

The bad

I’d requested on my application for return to Kansai, the area I’d been to twice before. Comfort and familiarity aside, I know of English language supports in the region and felt like I could easily pick up where I left off. I also know people and social groups, be they professors, former exchange students in Canada, or friends I’d met at Gaidai, in the area. So that I won’t be returning to Kansai (at least any time soon) does kind of suck.

Additionally, I’ve always been a bit of an urban liver. Going from a lively and large city of over 1 million people to a boring barely city of 26 000 with no economy and nothing to do was a bit of a shock already. With Kamikawa, from my quick search this afternoon, it looks like I’ll be living in an even smaller 4000 person town that is largely isolated from the rest of Hokkaido and Japan. Some 2 hours and 10 000 yen away from Sapporo (the prefecture’s capital), it’s certainly going to be an adjustment. And even though there are JETs from Alberta who will also be in Hokkaido, it looks like we’re all pretty spread apart. So no dirty white people parties.

Of course, being this rural is going to have some challenges. Health reasons aside (like allergies), rural living may present some challenges to my rather unique set of hobbies and interests. Being so far from Sapporo means no more regular trips to Yellow Submarine for tabletop games or the video game and nerd shops my former proximity to Osaka allowed. I may or may not have access to computer parts in the same selection and capacity I had in both Hirakata-shi and Osaka. It’s likely that there is no climbing gym near the small town. It’s definitely going to be small town living, something I have not been terribly good at doing.

The good

Let’s start with those JETs. In a hilarious and almost ironic turn of events, a number of the JETs from around Alberta that I’ve been speaking with and hoping to meet are also going to Hokkaido. So not only will I know the JETs around me, but we all come from largely the same place. These are people that I share a language and dialect with, people I may have gone to school with or lived near. Not only are we all Canadian, not only are we all from Alberta, but that we share regional knowledge and experiences is really cool. And beyond simple comfort, this means that we could share notes and conversations about how to teach and promote Canadian culture. Having so many people around me with shared experiences is really cool. Plus they aren’t American. ­čśŤ

Now, if nothing else, I’m both flexible and resilient. While it’s a total bummer that I won’t be returning to Kansai, this does afford┬áme a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge about Japan. I understand that Hokkaido has a really fascinating local culture and many festivals, something that I didn’t get to experience when I was at Gaidai (the festivals part, anyways). I’m also a half hour from a famous onsen, something else I didn’t get to experience before. Being in Hokkaido is going to be a really wonderful experience and one that will be very different from my time at Gaidai. And the town also boasts to have the most delicious ramen in all of Japan, so that’s pretty cool too.

There also seems to be a rather interesting series of Canadian connections in Kamikawa-cho. The Wikipedia article for the town mentions that it is the sister city of Rocky Mountain House, which isn’t terrible far from where I live. The region also has something of a beef industry, thanks to Black Angus cattle imports in the 80’s, and the nearby┬áSounkyu Gorge onsen is modeled after Whistler, BC.

And for as much as I may be uncomfortable in a small town, there are going to be a lot of perks too. At just over 1000 sq. kilometres, the town is 1/6 the size of Hirakata-shi with a vastly smaller population. I walked EVERYWHERE in Hirakata-shi, so knowing that nothing will be far away will be quite charming. And having such a small population base, I understand that I will have quite the warm reception. I understand (if Wikipedia is to be trusted for even a second) that the Rotary club in the town is quite welcoming and has a number of Canadian members in the past. It’s also not unthinkable that I will get to know many of the families in the town and be welcomed into their homes, an activities that happens in cities but is far more overwhelming and uncommon. So I may feel like I have a family, and may have those wonderful and heart-filled JET experiences that all ALTs hear about.

Lastly, while I really, REALLY wanted to go back to Kansai, I did spend quite a bit of time during my application deciding if I wanted to request Hokkaido. Though lower on my list of places I’d love to visit and ultimately not in my placement requests, it is a place that I’ve been wanting to visit. Not knowing many specific places in Japan, Hokkaido was somewhere that did rank quite high on my expected travel plans. And despite my distaste for snow, I don’t expect I will have to cripple my wrists again trying to cool off with a fan during the 7+ months of brutal humid spring and summer (I will, however, have to find a tauntaun to sleep in).

So with the bad (or rather less desirable) comes the good. I am quite happy to be placed in Hokkaido, even if it wasn’t in my top picks. There will be challenges, but there is a lot to enjoy about it too. Although with 4000 people around me, I suppose I’ll have to not be so much of a dirty barbarian since literally everyone will be able to recognize me.


About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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