I am still having massive internet problems; it looks like it’ll be another two weeks at least, maybe more. It blows. But for right now, I have a bit of time and am able to write a decent blog entry.

So, basically, I am living in Ryugasaki, a smallish town, about 80,000 people, 50 minutes northeast of Tokyo. It’s about the size of New Albany. This is a bit deceiving, though, as Japanese towns are almost right next to each other. Ryugasaki actually used to be five different towns, and just ended up merging. This is not uncommon. It’s already really difficult to tell where one town ends and the other begins.

I am teaching at three schools. The main one is my middle school, Nagayama Junior High, or Nagayama Chuugakkou. I teach there Wed-Friday, have 3-4 classes a day, and manage to teach one class to each of the students in the school per week. I also teach at two elementary schools, Nagayama Elementary (Mondays) and Matsuba Elementary (Tuesdays). All of them are really close to each other — Nagayama E is 5 minutes walking from my house, Nagayama JH is 10 minutes, and Matsuba is 15-20. Everyone is incredibly sweet and wonderful to me.

Teaching so far has been very light, because I came just as all of the schools were gearing up for their sports festivals — they are called taikusai for junior high and undoukai for elementary, but I have kind of been using them interchangeably, because I am an ignorant American. Now, these things are unreal. They’re unlike anything I had growing up. Every single student in the entire school gets involved in this giant track-and-field show, forming human pyramids and jumping rope and coming up with their own dance routines. The elementary school undoukais are pretty much a dog-and-pony show, but the junior high taikusai is INTENSE. They get split up into three teams, and compete in around 18 different events, for points. Everything from relay races, to cheer contests, to three-legged races (with around 10 people tied to each other), to forming human bridges and making the smallest classmates run across it as fast as possible. The losing teams cried. So did the winners. They couldn’t even do their speeches. I uploaded some pictures, but I also have video, which I’ll try to upload at some point.

After the taikusai, all the teachers went out for a drinking party, also called an enkai. This was great fun, and everyone tried their damndest to get me drunk. I was getting there, but Japanese alcohol is pretty weak, or at least, the stuff I’ve had. We went to karaoke afterwards, and they insisted I sing English songs. I told them, I really only like to sing angry songs, and they were fine with that… so, in front of a bunch of old Japanese men in business suits, I did my most gutteral Linkin Park. They got really into it, clapping and jumping up and down. Some of the younger teachers moshed a little bit. It was… weird. Fun, but… weird. The rest of the teachers were singing old anime theme songs — like Doraemon, Gatchaman, Fist of the North Star, Akira, and Rurouni Kenshin. It was bizarre.
There are five other foreigner teachers in my town, and they’re all… full of character. In order, they are:

  1. Daryle. Filipino, mid-20s, has already been here a year. Incredibly nice, gets along with pretty much everyone. Pretty good with Japanese, has helped me get my utilities and everything set up already. Very easy-going, pretty much the glue that holds us together. He’s also the only one with a car, so we’re always riding around in it to some bizarro adventure or another. A well-balanced person, and I look up to him in that regard.
  2. Katie. White, mid-20s, has already been here a year. Katie is very excitable; the sort of person who uses way too many emoticons and exclamation points in her writing. Occasionally a bit ditzy, but I can’t hold it against her. She’s really earnest and sweet, and willing to try anything once. Evidence: she’s actually getting into manga, at Daryle’s insistence. She’s pretty new to Japanese, but is trying to get better. A nice gal, and we get along fine.
  3. Amy. White, 22, just got here. Amy is completely insane. She is almost exactly like Eve from Digital Domain, to those of you who remember that whole thing. She has tuberculosis, a kidney disorder, and no immune system. Her upbringing was borderline abusive, she didn’t talk until she was five, she eats something like 8 pieces of cake per day, and she already is well on her way to having a yakuza boyfriend. She has four tattoos and, because of that, can’t go into Japanese swimming pools (they think she’s yakuza, cause only they have tattoos in Japan). She’s incredibly loud and outgoing, knows every piece of Japanese slang a foreigner possibly could, and generally just lives like she is going to die tomorrow, because, in all likelihood, she probably is. Recently she had a friend visit, got her piss-drunk on purpose, and was punished for it by her other friend, Mistress J, who is a dominatrix. Mistress J decreed that Amy could not have any sugary food for a month. She has been complaining about it ever since. Amy is also a drag king. Despite all that, Amy`s a great teacher and awesome with kids. Very good at her job. Amy’s taken the position of everyone’s precocious little sister here. I am counting down the days until she causes an international incident.
  4. Shawn. White, 26ish?, just got here. Shawn is vegan, kind of emo, but generally a good guy. Let me tell you, Japan is about the worst place on Earth to be vegan. You have to understand, pork is a vegetable here. McDonald’s french fries have pork in them. EVERYTHING has meat in it, and they don’t understand the concept of vegetarianism, let alone veganism. Shawn is a nice enough guy, decent at Japanese — probably around my level. I worry that he will have to be shipped back to the States in December, when he can’t get any vegetables (supermarkets are incredibly fresh and incredibly seasonal, so winter means there’s no fresh fruit/veggies). To be honest, I don’t have a great handle him yet.
  5. Don. White, late 30s, has a family, totally fluent in Japanese, has gone pretty well native. Not a JET — privately contracted with the city. Don takes a bit to warm up to; he’s got a very blunt and borderline aggressive manner to his speech, and it feels sometimes like he looks down on JETs. I gather that he’s a bit repressed, and is involved with some clubs/organizations outside of work to vent aggression. All in all, a nice guy, you just have to understand him. He and Amy get along like gasoline and fire.

Basically, I have been giving my self-introduction steadily to all my classes, which has been the plan for almost every single class I’ve taught so far. I managed to get almost everything onto my computer, so I do an iPhoto slideshow, with my reel as the final part. Parts that the kids go wild for:

  • A baby picture of me being about as big as a cat.
  • Jeremy’s picture. I can’t figure out why yet.
  • The fact it takes 4 days to drive from LA to Louisville.
  • The Terminator mannequins in the Stan Winston Studio Trophy Room.
  • The fact that I was even minorly involved with X-Men 3.
  • The size of mom and Henry’s house.
  • Our insane number of cats.
  • The fact that there are deer there.
  • The fact that we have horses.
  • The fact that we have a boat (this one they find quite literally unbelievable).
  • The fact that I climbed Mount Fuji.
  • Some of my weird physical abnormalities (which I showed off when one kid asked if I had any special skills), like bending my pinkies back to my hand.

Bizarro questions I’ve been asked so far:

  • Am I half Japanese? (because my eyes are brown)
  • Does everyone in America wear glasses?
  • What is my blood type? (this one I expected)
  • Do I know Colonel Sanders?
  • Is Colonel Sanders Japanese?
  • Is my brother Ricky a movie star?
  • Is New York in America?

Alright, gotta run, hopefully that’ll tide y’all over.