Ichinoseki, Finally

8:00 am

Ichinoseki. I’m finally here. And still, everything remains hard to believe.

I’m sitting in my lovely new apartment, tatami mats underfoot, paper screens diffusing the outdoor light. I am in Japan. Music from home playing on my computer is my only immediate reminder of my former life. Though I doubt I’ll forget who I am anytime soon, it’s good to have those reminders of where you’ve been and who you’ve become.

Yesterday, kept the group of Iwate JETs going through the paces. We had a mini-orientation in Morioka where some additional points specific to our prefecture were addressed. Then, each of us underwent brief testing of our language ability. I was among the first and the test consisted of them asking me two questions – which I’m sure were quite basic in nature – to which I had to reply ‘wakarimasen’ (I don’t understand). They said thank you and I was done.

While waiting around for the rest of the group to finish their testing, I was recalled for some reason for additional testing, as though perhaps I had learned some Japanese in that time. This time, they asked me to say the words for various numbers they had printed and I passed that test after having to count out loud a couple times. Next was some hiragana (or possibly katakana, I can’t yet remember which is which) that they wanted me to read. No dice. Then, they showed me a picture of a room and, I was able to figure out that they wanted me to point to some specific object in the room, but I missed the vital piece of information about which object it was. They bid me farewell once more, but at least this time I wasn’t completely incompetent with the language. I could count damn it!

After much waiting about, we then strolled over to the local chapter of Gusto, a chain of family restaurants in Japan that sell some Western food and actually have a non-smoking section (a novel idea!). Allan, April and Collin joined me at my table and we indulged in the drink bar’s carbonated delights then chowed down on our mayonnaise-covered pizzas. Yeah, mayonnaise. It serves as a substitute for tomato sauce here and I assure you the pizza was as appetizing as you might imagine. It was a fun time though. Definitely an adventure learning to use the bells on the table to call for service and get our fortunes read by the computer at our side.

After Gusto’s artery-clogging fare, we returned to the Hotel Ace for the ceremony where we would meet our supervisors. I actually met one of my co-workers, Torou-san, and a fellow Ichinoseki JET, Sarah. I was just freshening up in the lobby washroom and just as I emerged, there was a man in broken English asking me if I was Darby. Surprised to be meeting the man I thought was my supervisor in this manner, I casually introduced myself to both Torou-San and Sarah and we started chatting immediately. Apparently I fared well with the introductions though – Sarah later said that Torou-san suggested I seemed quite relaxed upon meeting him; I suppose that’s a positive.

We proceeded upstairs for the formal greeting and after a few more speeches, Torou-san and I shook hands in front of everyone and we were ready to go.
Bless the inventors of air-conditioning as the car ride back to Ichinoseki might have been a nightmare without it. The temperature, at present, is about as hot as I am likely to experience in Iwate.

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