Orientation Overload

Hello readers! I feel like a main character from some movie (like Julia and Julia or something). Blog posts…weird. So here’s the deal; Tokyo orientation was a magnificent, intensive, informative, well organized, and exhausting adventure. I’m ready for a little break (which I won’t get for a while it seems).

Here’s how the last week has gone down.

Day 1 of Orientation (Monday)

Early morning opening ceremony, very formal. We got to see our boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, which was cool. There were a few speakers, and an excellent keynote speaker who had many encouraging words regarding our future duties and living situations. There were numerous speeches and workshops that did an excellent job keeping me extremely busy. Team teaching, elementary school, junior high school, troubleshooting in the classroom, and pop culture dominate this day for me. It was very draining, and the jet lag did NOT help.

As I’m sure many of you know I’m absolutely terrible when it comes to eating food that is different from your standard American cheeseburger, grilled cheese, mozzarella sticks, pizza, or whatever else it is that I eat in the states. So let me tell you what I have been eating for the past couple days! I’ve already explained the magnificent orientation breakfasts that have been served to us, so I’ll skip that for now. Lunch on Monday was my first involuntary culinary adventure, where I got the pleasure of eating tofu for the first time in my life. It was bland (to be expected?) There was also this lovely cream of corn soup that I foolishly thought was sauce for the rice and tofu. Yay for being that American who put soup on his plate at the table with all the French people. Best. Ambassador. Ever. Anyways, looking past my terrible understanding of food that isn’t even primarily Japanese, let me tell you about the delightful dinner experience.

Monday night’s dinner was a welcome reception for us JETs, so it was in a huge banquet hall with massive tables full of various foods. I can’t really remember everything that was on the menu but I can tell you what I decided to fill my plate with: Spice Pork, Some weird chicken thing, whitefish (whaa?), salmon (Whaaaa?), some giganto-fries, mushrooms (Whaaa?), assorted vegetables, and some delicious fruits. As expected, the fish was…not my favorite menu item, but hey, when in Rome…

Tuesday! (Orientation Day 2)
Woke up, did some more orientation events (MEXT panel discussion), had lunch (see below), did more orientation events (Junior High School Team Teaching), did more orientation events (More Junior High School Team Teaching), did more orientation events (Another kind of Junior High School Team Teaching), did more orientation events (Lesson planning for Junior High School), and then adventured.
Tuesday lunch! Less exciting. I had some sort of veggie dish that was basically rice with tomato, beans, and peas (I should mention that every meal has rice). The soup of the day? Seaweed. Seaweed soup. Who am I?
Tuesday night’s meal was actually just some delicious beef, I’ll get there.
So Tuesday night was the night a few of the Chicago JETs and myself had planned to journey towards Tokyo harbor for a booze cruise. We failed miserably at leaving the hotel on time though, so we altered our plans (probably for the better). Result=Shibuya. If you’ve seen that Tokyo Drift movie, I thiiiiink it’s that intersection with all the people that they race through during the car chase scene. I have some pictures and a video from it… very cool stuff. This intersection is probably the most famous intersection in Japan, so I encourage you to look at the video once I finally get a chance to upload it (it’s very busy).

Before I get too far ahead of myself explaining the Shibuya adventure, let me tell you about the trip there. The train station was a few blocks away from our hotel, and I was absolutely blown away by how crowded it was. Imagine Chicago during rush hour, then triple the amount of people. Crazy. A fun note, each stop has its own unique little jingle that plays over the speaker when the train is approaching.
So after our insanely crowded train adventure, team Chicago+ (There we’re some non-Chicago folk there) drafted off the heels of on Mr. Joel Benjamin Crabtree (another Kyoto-shi Jet, very very tall, cool guy). He seemed to know where he was going, and took us to that massive intersection I mentioned, as well as some restaurant (the name escapes me). This restaurant was up on the 7th floor of some seemingly unlabeled building. So we hop in this elevator, go to floor 7, and there is just some weird looking door. Joel just walks right up, presses some secret button (wasn’t all that secret I guess) and the comforting waves of jazz music enveloped me. It was just some regular Japanese restraint, but they had steak, so I delved a bit into some comfort food for the night. It’s interesting to take off your shoes at a restraint. Maybe more on that later if I remember.
So after this dinner, we journeyed back from Shibuya to Shinjuku where our hotel was. We took a quick siesta, dropped off a few people, and then Joel, Michelle, and myself headed out for some more adventure. Stop One: Purikura. This is that stereotypical Japanese photo booth that has some incredible ability to pretty much doll up anything that it takes a picture of. I’ll upload some of the pictures from this later, but I’ll warn you, they’re very girly.

Annnnyways, we stopped in the Convini (little convenience store) and grabbed some beer. Turns out it’s totally legal to drink publicly, and a fair amount of people were doing it. Huzzah! I had some Asahi Super Dry, a Kirin, and then some 6%-8% ABV sugary drink… I can’t remember what it’s called at this moment. Then; it happened. Karaoke. Oh yes. This is pretty cool, basically you walk into the front room and order a room for a certain about of time and drinks. You get a room number, then take the elevator up to your floor where you’ll find a small hallway with many doors. Once you find your room, this place had two microphones, a TV, a really nice speaker system, and a little tablet computer in the middle. On the tablet computer you would select the songs that you would like to queue up, and they would play in turn order on the TV. We sang…for about 2 hours (all three of us) and drank… enough. Had my first Japanese mojito! 0 for 1 so far on that one, Japan. I’ve got a video of Karaoke, so look forward to watching that, I’m pretty sure I’ll regret putting it on the internet.

Wednesday!
Woke up pretty early, packed all my bags, and dressed in ‘Cool Biz’, seems to be the Japanese way of saying ‘It’s way to freaking hot out to wear a suit, so let’ dress down a bit’. Point Japan. After slamming a power-breakfast and fighting a mild hangover, I arrived in the hotel lobby to check out and meet up with my new favorite boss (whether or not he is as cool as my old favorite boss is debatable, big shoes to fill there), Matthew Hirakawa (Bald white dude, kind of looks like Billy Corgan, super nice), and we headed to the BULLET TRAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAJWKEJKAKLWJDF! It was awesome. So awesome. I probably care more than everyone else, but that’s because I grew up loooooving trains. BULLET TRAINS! Oh man that thing booked it. Copious videos and pictures ensued to say the least. So during this amazing bullet train experience, I got to see some of the amazing Japanese country-side. There are numerous villages that just kind of glue themselves to the side of mountains and Ravines. I tried to snap some pictures, but the train was moving very fast so we’ll see how those all turned out. It was too overcast to see Mt. Fuji sadly, but given that I plan to climb it at some point I think I’ll survive. (Side note, they had amazing bagel flavors at the train station… Green Tea with White Chocolate, Volcano, Curry… and so on.)

So when we arrived at Kyoto-shi, we hopped off the train and began this ridiculously long underground journey in the sweltering heat with all of the luggage that we had at orientation with us. I’m talking miles here, and lots of stairs. We took some JR trains (public transportation) bound for the Kyoto-Shi board of education, where we met some new people and signed the leases for our apartments, yay! Sad point, I don’t get internet until the 3rd of August, so if you are reading this before then, I mooched internet somewhere. I got my Hanko, which is this little stamp that basically moonlights as my new signature, and we received some little move-in essentials such as laundry detergent and one of each kind of dish. After this, it was off to our apartments! We split up into a few groups and my group headed to Momoyama-Minami, which is apparently what everyone calls the place that I live. It turns out that this location has no other JETs other than us new guys. Us new guys consist of a Los Angeles guy named Patrick, a Sydney, Australia dude named Blake (and his very nice wife from Osaka! She’s my language hero right now), and myself.

So here I am now, my apartment! Home! My first residence that is truly my own! It’s pretty nice too! I have two bedrooms, one is six tatami and the other is 5½. I think… Tatami are these neat little straw mats that are pretty much your bedroom floor. It’s different, and they have a distinct smell, but it’s not bad. So from the outside my place looks…alright, but the inside is much nicer (by Japanese standards). My living room is fairly large by Japanese standards, and I have a little laundry area, a Japanese style bathtub, and a western style toilet (yay). The tub is kind of cool. It’s very deep, but has this awesome control panel that regulates my water temperature, water level, and all other sorts of cool things. I just have to press a button, and the tub will automatically fill up to the level that I specify, then maintain the temperature until I get in. That’s awesome guys… so awesome. Interestingly enough, I don’t actually have regular hot water… at least in the sense that we use it. The control panel in my bathtub has a button that turn on this instantaneous water heater. It’s a bit different, but it works. I don’t really have to wait for hot water, and I could leave this button on all the time, but its best practice to turn it off when you aren’t using it apparently. I’ve also got this little stovetop, a kotatsu (which is a low table with a heater under it) and a futon. Pictures will obviously be posted when I get chance.

So after moving in and getting a crash course on Japanese apartments, I split off from my group, and for the first time since coming to Japan, I was truly on my own. Whoa. So after half unpacking, I decided I needed to go to the supermarket. Check out this super win… There is a supermarket that is literally under my apartment complex. Like.. Right there. Needless to say, it was very easy for me to acquire some living essentials and some food. Awesome stuff there. Shopping in Japan is pretty similar to shopping in America, save three things (so far). 1. There is a LOT of seafood. 2. People shout a lot (advertising and thanking people for coming…very polite stuff). 3. Everyone speaks Japanese. Other than that, it’s pretty similar. Bacon and eggs for breakfast tomorrow bwahahahhahaha.

After some shopping and some more unpacking, I got a ring on my doorbell, where I pleasantly found Blake, Naoko (his wife), and Patrick. We got some food. Foodventure. We walked closer to the train station that we took into town, where there are some familiar names. There’s a pizza hut there, a subway, a seven eleven, some pizza joint that advertises Chicago style pizza (wait till they hear where I’m from) and some Japanese places. We went to a Japanese place. So this time I haaaaad:

Okonomiyaki- This is an interesting meal. It looks a bit like a pancake on the outside, but it’s loaded with cabbage, a meat of your choice (I did beef (Gyuuniku), some shrimp, some veggies, and who knows what else. I’ll post a picture later.


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