My New Home


Aya sits at the computer across from my desk. She has guided me through the process of obtaining my gaijin card as well as my bank account. Her English comprehension is quite good and, I’m told, her speaking has improved considerably. She is the best translator we have in the office and serves as the liaison between the speakers of the two languages here. On Monday, she gets a gift.

The fan oscillates and the brief second it is pointed in my direction is far too fleeting. In truth, the heat is bearable and I shouldn’t complain. The humidity makes life more interesting, but overall, I’m not dying (as I was sure I would that one day in Ghana when thermometers were popping). Life at my new home isn’t too bad because I can wander around in next to nothing and I don’t have to share the fan with anyone. Ah, the single life’

There goes that fan again. If this were not Japan and I was in a more relaxed office environment, I would turn off the oscillation and point it in my direction just to see how long it was before anyone noticed. But I doubt such harmless hijinks would be especially well-received here. Who knows? I may be underestimating their senses of humour.

I could probably joke with them about turning the fan my way, but to actually do it would no doubt be some terrible faux pas. How gauche! Laughter is all too uncommon in the office. I must think of ways to alter that trend without offending everyone’

I left off describing yesterday. Sarah and I chatted all the way to Ichinoseki and she graciously answered all of my questions. She will, no doubt, be the person on which I rely the most in my early time here. She’s very helpful and kind and her desk is next to mine in the office, so what could be more convenient?

When we arrived in Ichinoseki, we first went to the office where I was decidedly impressive with the four lines of Japanese self-introduction that I fumbled through in front of the office. I met my co-workers and was shown my lovely desk. Sarah and Aya had decorated it with a large ‘Welcome Darby’ sign that currently sits below my computer. I will have to take a photo before I disassemble it.

Everyone seems very friendly and genuinely excited to have me here. From what I’m told, Polly, my predecessor had been stirring trouble here and was wearing out her welcome. The office seems happy for the change and the men seem content to have a change from all the female ALTs that have been occupying the office for so long.

The short stay in the office lasted until 4:15, the set time at which I am permitted to leave. After that, I was driven to my new apartment. Now, this is my first real apartment to myself, so it’s a rather exciting time for me. The location seems unproblematic though my view isn’t all that spectacular (I really can’t complain about that in Japan though). Basically, I am immediately behind Ichinoseki’s largest department/grocery store, Saty. Getting food will never be a problem.

I’m on the second floor, middle apartment. Stepping inside the door is the foyer (whose proper Japanese name, I’m forgetting) where shoes are placed before entering the room. Then comes the kitchen in all its hardwood floor glory. Boxes are scattered throughout and will make for a fun weekend of unpacking. To the right of the kitchen is a washing area including the commode, the shower, the washer/dryer and a mirror/sink area.

Past the kitchen, the left room is my living room space with a love seat, table, shelves, closet, television and boxes a plenty. It’s a nice enough space, but despite its relatively small size (by Western standards) it feels rather vacant at present.

My bedroom is to the right. It feels even more vacant. A bed and some linens were all that greeted me there. I also have a balcony that opens out from the two back rooms and looks onto another apartment block behind me.

Sarah took me shopping for breakfast foods at Saty, put me through the grocery store paces, then walked me home. I must confess I got a bit giddy after being shown around the place. After everyone left, I started playing Tom Waits’ ‘Big in Japan’ and dancing around in my underwear. I mean, what else was I going to do?

After freshening up a bit I was dragged off to my welcome enkai. Sarah wanted to have it next week after I had settled a little and wasn’t quite so tired from the journey, but no luck. We went to a small restaurant where an incredible assortment of bizarre vegetarian dishes was paraded in front of us. To give some sense of how strange they were, even the Japanese people at the table were surprised by the contents. The effort that went into finding an entirely vegetarian menu was not lost on me and I very much appreciated that the rest of the staff was going to give a meatless meal a go. That lasted all of ten minutes before they ordered fish.

Nearly a dozen of us sat and kneeled around the table. I had a good view of the fish tank, which is always a bonus for an animal lover (even though their fate is pretty much sealed – being fish in a Japanese restaurant and all). My supervisors and co-workers watched my every bite with eager anticipation for my reactions to the foreign flavours. Each new dish sampled was a new smile for them as they gauged whether the gaijin liked these odd concoctions.

Their friendliness was infectious. Each of them desperately wanted to try to use English and when they were successful, rousing cheers and applause erupted. And each time they understood something I said was like opening a Christmas present. With every new phrase, they repeated as much of it as they could, replayed gestures and laughed uproariously. I can only hope that the same joy in attempting to learn a new language is as prevalent in my future students.

I would list off some of the dishes we had if I could. I know there was some wonderful tempura and tasty soba noodles (which were presented in a cute little box made of sticks – at some future date, I’m sure I will be able title them properly and not have to resort to ‘sticks’ for identification purposes. Other dishes included a nice tofu and daikon, some vegetables topped with mayonnaise (mayo, twice in one day!), an unidentifiable jelly, soup with who knows what in it, a dish that may have been eggplant and many more similarly alien culinary creations.

As a parting touch, they offered me a sour plum that usually seems to send foreigners into fits. I munched on a small portion and, whole it wasn’t a nice thing to have in my mouth, I have had to eat some far less tasty treats in my life. I didn’t gag, but I may have made a bit of a face. I offered the rest to the man sitting beside me and he gladly wolfed down my leftovers.

All this must have cost a fortune – innumerable dishes sat before me at the end of the evening. I think everyone had a good time and enjoyed trying to make conversation and jokes with me. Sarah said it was a good enkai; it didn’t get out of control with the drinks and everyone’s spirits were still high.

I walked home with Sarah and Aya. We stopped briefly at Sarah’s favourite bar. Near home, we crossed paths with two other Iwate JETs, Jo and Brent. They cheerily welcomed me to Iwate and we chatted about all things Ichinoseki. And after some time spent at Sarah’s I ambled home where I experienced a minor emergency – I violated one of the cardinal rules of moving into a new apartment: make sure you have toilet paper. A quick shower solved that problem, but I had to shake my head at the novice error.

I eventually arranged myself for sleep, but I fought with the futon through the night. This morning, my back was not especially pleased with me, but it loosened up as I awoke and got on with my day. Again, I rose too early and I’m now feeling the fatigue because of it.

This morning saw me meet the mayor (who received my Calgary calendar). The meeting was brief and didn’t involve any cameras (as Sarah’s did). Then I met the prefectural board of education and one of the other Ichinoseki JETs, Kurt who later joined us for lunch. The morning’s other errands were to fill out the necessary forms for my gaijin card and also stop at the bank to open an account. Lunch was with Toru san, Aya san, Sarah and Kurt at a place just around the corner from city hall. I must have been spoiled last night since today’s small portion of spaghetti with tomato sauce had, of course, a couple pieces of ham on top. Surprise, surprise – even though we asked for no meat.

And as you may have guessed from the length of all this, I haven’t had much to do in the afternoon. After cleaning up my desk, I was left with nothing to do. I get the impression that I will have more than a few of such days, but once I get some of my personal projects on the go, that shouldn’t be too much of a worry. I suspect my years of training in boredom prevention will come in handy here.

My impression of Ichinoseki and the relatively insignificant portion of the area that I have seen is that I will enjoy my time here. I can very much see myself spending another year unless the teaching aspect of my work is abhorrent. The beginning may be difficult, but I suspect it will get easier with time, so I’m not too concerned. I’m comfortable, the people are warm and the area offers so many opportunities for exploration. Unless I’m miserable, it would only be logical for me to stay.

Though Ichinoseki itself isn’t especially vibrant or attractive, it sits in the heart of a wonderful area and it will serve as a good place to call home.

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