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Arma in Japan: April-May: Welcome to Ushiku

by Mr.RMA

Mr.RMA In this long overdue chapter, I try to summarize my experiences of the last two months into one compact segment. Here's hoping the next one doesn't take two more months. |'D
I’ll preface this latest journal with something of an apology. I did not expect these posts to go on a hiatus so quickly, but, then I also didn’t come to grips with just how much work I’d have to do in this new job until that point. Not that it’s overbearing, certainly not, but it took some adjusting to, and much of my free time came about when I had little brain power to spend. I certainly hope to be more frequent, though maybe making a weekly journal is wishful thinking. Nonetheless I’m going to do my best to make a more concurrent recount of my ventures in Japan. With that out of the way, now to begin week 2… and a whole bunch of weeks afterward:

I had a week to myself before my work began. Enough time to at least generally get familiarized with the part of town I lived in. My apartment is nestled in a corner of a street leading straight into the heart of the city, which has proven rather convenient, considering how many stores and restaurants are within walking distance. Not so convenient is the noise factor of course. The windows and walls of my room do little to muffle out any loudness indoors or out. Pretty much every thud, bump, siren, bird and slight breeze will emanate through the place as if I were living in the same room as everyone else in the building… outdoors. It’s not so bad once you’ve adjusted to it, but it definitely was jarring at first. I can’t exactly say I have the most experience with city life, but at the very least, I feel I’m getting the hang of it.

Once I was settled in, thanks in particular to some co-workers who helped me with the more complicated moving forms and the like, I was eager to see the cherry blossoms, and much to my good fortune, they started to bloom within that week. For a time, it seemed all of Ushiku was awash in a sea of light-pink pedals. It was a very pleasant welcome that I received, I must say. As I learned more about Ushiku, I noticed the abundance of images of the Kappa, a “Yōkai” that is said to live in various ponds and marshes. Apparently Ushiku is one of the cities to lay claim to the Kappa’s origin, and I must say, seeing this creature being featured all about has given me an idea for another writing project. We’ll have to see if that goes anywhere.

Although I certainly don’t mind walking around a lot, without a car I wasn’t going to be covering great distances in a day. Still, while waiting for my vehicle to arrive, I took the time to visit a local attraction. The Ushiku Chateau, was one of Japan’s first wineries, and in the midst of the blossoming spring, the grounds were absolutely stunning. Nearly every angle was photograph material, visual works of art… and the wine itself was pretty damn good too. Definitely another recommendation to put on the list for any future visitors to Ibaraki.

Nearing my first official day on the job, I was sent briefly to both Tokyo and a city by the name of Mito for business purposes, though much of both trips felt like vacations for a good portion, considering I was still quite new to both areas, or completely unfamiliar in the case of the latter. The Sakura trees were still in full blossom at the time, which certainly helped matters. Mito in particular looked like it was ripped straight out of a slice-of-life anime, with the perfect sunny weather to accompany it. Apparently it is the capitol city of Ibaraki prefecture, and though I only recently figured this out, it doesn’t surprise me in retrospect. The place was pretty huge, not Tokyo-level, but when you take into account the generally small or simple appearance of a lot of Japanese cities, at least in my section of Kanto, it really emphasizes the comparatively larger scale of a place like Mito. Suddenly you’re seeing skyscrapers jutting up from all around where you were expecting a three-story building at most. That being said, I got the business I needed done at both locations, took a few snapshots of the more breathtaking views, and there were a couple for each, and prepared for my work to really begin.

I’ve worked with children before, of varying ages, but even with that experience, working as a teacher is definitely something else. You’re essentially being hired as an expert on your particular school subject, educated enough to pass along the knowledge to another generation. It’s quite the leap in responsibility, but that goes without saying. After all, you’re part of the education system meant to develop these students into functional members of society. That’s a sobering realization when it really hits you. Thankfully there’s a fun side to it too. The energy that students give off can be contagious, and of course, vice versa. Going in with a smile and a spring in one’s step can hype the children for a lesson quite effectively. This is certainly good because the amount of prep work it can sometimes take to get a lesson off the ground, let alone a day’s worth of lessons, can prove exhausting. Spending so much time as a student, finally looking at it from the teacher’s point of view has been a perspective-changing experience. You always want all the kids to like you as a teacher, to look forward to your lessons and take something worthwhile out of each one, but it’s tough to tell if you’re succeeding in that endeavor. It makes every moment where a student eagerly says hi to me down a hall or reacts positively to my teaching all the more worthwhile. There’s a sense of real satisfaction when you feel you’ve taught someone something new and beneficial. When it’s a class full of people, that feeling’s multiplied substantially.

As good a feeling as it is when I have a nice day, no matter how said day turned out, I’m pretty wiped out by the time I return home. Occasionally I still get the energy to look around some more though, and the weekend helps too, provided I don’t end up finding myself sleeping through a good portion of the afternoon. Among the neat things I’ve discovered in these small excursions, there’s a fairly massive mall within driving distance, one of the many owned by the Aeon corporation, who seem to have a monopoly on shopping centers, judging by the fact that I see their name over nearly every single one of them. I’m not complaining though, they build good malls, but more importantly, malls with arcades in them. It has been so much easier finding arcades in Japan than in my corner of America, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, well, monetarily it’s probably not so good for me, but at least I’m having fun as I sacrifice hard-earned yen to a series of claw machines, rhythm games and Mario Kart.

Of course, I’ve also made sure to try some sushi restaurants in the area as well. I never really knew convenience until I dined at a conveyor belt sushi place. You have both a table and a booth option, with the conveyer belts moving along right beside every seat, and you order via a touch pad computer. If you order something specific, it comes down the line in minutes. Having been so used to having to call over a waiter if they happen to pass by, I felt this was a much more efficient means of dining out. I’m all about that computer food service, no contest.

While I enjoy sushi and other forms of Japanese cuisine quite a bit, I was nonetheless happy to find out just how much western cuisine seemed to be within reach as well. I’ve never exactly had the widest palate among my peers… or anyone over the age of 6, so having more familiar food like McDonald’s and Domino’s around has been something of a relief to me, despite the fact that it’s probably doing my health no favors. As a side note though, regarding Domino’s in particular, that pizza place has followed me around relentlessly wherever I’ve lived… From my old residence in Ohio, to both my family’s house and my alma mater in New Hampshire, there’s always been one of those stores around like the company is stalking me in particular… I’d thought that streak would come to an end upon moving to Japan, but, nope. There’s a Domino’s less than a couple blocks away. McDonald’s I expected to be an omnipotent, monstrous force of junk food, but clearly, Domino’s is the pizza representative of that greasy pantheon.

Towards the end of May, as I’d been fairly stationary in Ushiku for a while at that point, I decided to take a train northward on a particularly nice Sunday morning. Eventually I stopped at a beachside town and merely walked around a bit until I stopped at a shoreline, walking up to the waves and immersing my feet in the Pacific, looking forward, out to where my home country resided, miles and miles away across the sea. I hardly needed any reminders over just how far away from home I was, but that view and those thoughts really placed it at the forefront of my mind… and yet I wasn’t feeling any sense of fear or dread, and most surprisingly, whatever homesickness I had was minimal at best. Despite how much more I have to learn and adjust to things, I’ve really felt quite good about this whole adventure. Considering I used to be the little kid who couldn’t do much of anything by himself and cried for his parents every time he went to summer camp, I’ve been quite surprised by just how calmly I’ve handled this whole new experience. Guess it’s just a reminder that we’re constantly changing as we get older, even if we don’t always notice it.

These first few months have gone rather swimmingly, looking back at them. I’m hoping as I delve further into the summer season, things will continue to look up. With my sister coming to visit, and plenty of sights even in Ushiku alone I’ve yet to see, I’m sure I will have plenty outside of my workload to occupy myself.