Living the dream

Hello again!

It’s been about a week since my last post, and much has happened my friends. Lets cover business first. It was not a very work-filled week to say the least. After the lovely rainy Monday, we had an exceptionally hot Tuesday. Coincidentally, Tuesday happened to be the day that we set off to physically discover where all of the schools we would be working at were located. The sadistically searing sun savagely scorched me during my travels, and I probably sweat out about a metric ton of water. But I found them all! No problems! So that was cool. After that I headed to the GEC to sit around and do nothing for the rest of the day. The next day was rather boring. We had no particular task other than to be at the GEC all day, so our work day was what we made of it.

Wednesday night, however, was a different matter. KAJET, which is the kyoto association of jets (prefecture, not just city) was having an even in kyoto starting at 6pm. Bar crawl kind of thing. I was unfortunately late for this event, but for a good reason. Mr. Joel Benjamin Crabtree was in dire need of assistance moving all his new (used) furniture from one place to another. So after work we both headed to Steffan’s (UK guy, pretty cool) place to pick up all the items. The game plan was to have the moving truck show up at 6, get the stuff over to Joel’s, then join the KAJET event later.

Cultural Time! Punctuality is extremely highly valued in Japan. Trains are not late. Buses are not late. You are not late for work. Delivery drivers are not late. LATE IS EVIL. That’s Japan punctuality in a nutshell, so you can imagine the surprise that Joel and I experienced when the truck did not show up at 6:00. Or 7:00. Turns out this guy thought he was supposed to be there the following day. Unfortunately, the one who arranged the pickup time was a former JET who was back in the UK at the time, who booked it using a person who called the transportation guy. Basically all communication had to go through 4 people.

So in classic Japanese fashion, we decided to bide our time by drinking and eating friend chicken from a convenience store. Anywho, the guy showed up with this tiny little japan excuse for a pickup truck, and we loaded it up. Joel traveled with the delivery guy and I took a cab over to his place. After being lost for a short time, I was able to meet up with Joel back at his apartment complex and we proceeded to move almost everything upstairs (we may have missed a piece [which Joel found the next day])

Isn’t it cute?

So anyways, we then met up with the team at a bar called Ing. There we met some people, drank some beer, and departed for my new favorite hotspot, the Kamo river (Kamogawa). At the river, I had the lovely opportunity of giving my first mini lesson in English. I basically helped a girl (who I now know as Kuna-san) with a statement of purpose for a job application. Fun stuff.

Thursday was just another day, I think I did some shopping after work (Bought an iron, ironing board, a rice cooker, and various odds and ends). Friday was pretty tame as far as work was concerned. We did some more paperwork, met some of the Group B people (the next batch of us new guys), and watched some helpful presentations about how to do our self introductions to our students.

So before I go into my weekend here, let’s once again visit the happy food corner of my life! This week’s culinary adventure began with Korean food. I had this stuff:
DSC_0097

The next day we went to a sushi place, where Darren (UK) was kind enough to trick me into eating tuna with wasabi. Thanks Darren. I also had some sort of fish eggs:

Who am I?

Who am I?

The neeext day (Friday now) we had Thai food:

Spicy McSpice. Brutal

Spicy McSpice. Brutal

Living the dream!

So Friday night. Blake (neighbor JET), Naoko (Blake’s wife), Patrick (neighbor JET), Kuna-san (That girl from before), and myself all met up at Uji, which is just south of where I live in Momoyama-cho. Uji was having a fireworks festival. They certainly do fireworks differently here in Japan. Unlike the 4th of July in the states where you can go anywhere to see them, people travel far and wide to observe fireworks, and deservedly so. This fireworks display was incredible! It literally went on for well over an hour, and they really knew how to put on a show. Did I mention it was crowded?

So..many...people

So..many…people

That evening I had some rice food thing, pineapple on a stick, and couple beers. After the fireworks we decided to give up on trying to get on the train at Uji (all those people in the earlier picture were taking the train too). Instead, we hoofed it over to the next stop on the line, boarded there, and headed for Rokujizo (a stop on my commute to my schools) to find a place to unwind a bit. We eventually stopped at a small bar called Zero, where we ate some Japanese bar food (like chicken heart and stuff) and had a few more drinks. I had the pleasure of trying a new mixed drink that consisted of Hermes Green Tea Liquor and Milk. IT WAS INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS! You should try it. I’ll be getting some for my stock here at my apartment.

Saturday was another roller coaster of a day. I woke up early and much to my joy, finally got around to doing a lot of cleaning that I was behind on. Yay cleaning. In the morning I got a call from a delivery driver from a nearby furniture store informing me when he would be stopping by (my first Japanese phone call!) to deliver my fancy new chair thing.

Oooohhh

Oooohhh, aaahhhh

Due to the early arrival of my chair, I was able to meet up with Blake, Naoko, and Patrick again for a trip into Osaka (for what I thought was just dinner…oops). We arrived around 4:30 pm or so and headed up to a Mexican restaurant during happy hour for dinner. The place is probably about as Mexican as Japan can get, which according to Patrick, isn’t all that great. The sauce for Blake and Patrick’s dishes apparently tasted like pizza sauce. I ordered a chicken quesadilla (obviously), which tasted surprisingly similar to back home save one detail. They put jalapeno on EVERYTHING. Seriously overboard on the jalapenos Japan, just because it’s mexican doesn’t mean it needs more jalapenos.

Anyways after I ate jalapenos with a side of quesadilla, we did a little bit of shopping. I found a music store and spend all my time there wishing I had a piano and a trumpet at my place, and screwing around with the Japanese dj software. I did manage to find a guitar stand for only 800 yen (8 bucks), so that was cool.

Post shopping we headed out to see the Osaka fireworks (which was a surprise to me). If you thought the Uji place was crowded….ohhh man. I’m pretty sure everyone in Japan was there. Here’s one picture, but please refer to the picture page on this website for more, it really was incredible.

People everywhere! And the Osaka Skyline

People everywhere! And the Osaka Skyline

Easily one of the most impressive fireworks displays I’ve ever seen, and it’s definitely in my top 3.

Near the end of the fireworks we met up with Naoko’s friend Yumi-san, who hails from Nara (one of the places I intend to visit). With her we went to a bar in Osaka to unwind again. We had a few drinks, talked and laughed, then headed home. It was a lovely evening to say the least.

So finally, I come to today. I did nothing important, and it was awesome. Woke up late, took a bath, played some games, watched a movie… amazing. I did take a short trip downtown to pick up various spices and dishes from another JET named Alan (UK). He had some leftovers stuff that a former JET left behind, so I got it for free, which is cool. After picking out what I wanted, Alan and I went to get some food. We went to some restaurant Alan liked only to find that they weren’t open yet. Plan B consisted of the other restaurant in the building which seemed to be….deserted. We seriously walked into this place, a loud speaker said the Japanese equivalent of ‘welcome’ and we couldn’t find an employee anywhere… It was almost like the place was closed and they just forgot to turn off the lights and lock the door. Weird. Soo we just went to some burger joint that had mediocre burgers and I headed home to continue to do nothing for the rest of the day. So here I am! That was fun, sorry for another crazy long post. Hope all is well!

Kyoto-shi Life

Well then, time to finish catching up on what’s happened so far. Here I am, it’s Monday night. Week 2 of Japan has begun! Pictures have been posted both on Facebook and here on the website on the ‘pictures’ page.

Up until now I’ve been getting a lot of work done unpacking, going through paperwork, organizing, buying stuff, socializing, and so on and so forth. The day after that where my last post left off was…Thursday. Thursday morning our boss came by to help us find our way over to the Kyoto City General Education Center (home base kind of). Time to explain the trains. There are a lot of train lines here in Kyoto-shi. We have the Keihan (private railway), the Kintetsu (private railway), the JR (public), and the Subway (I don’t know about this one). Here is the basic rundown of these:

The JR is your CTA style public transit system. Old cars, very crowded, low budget. The closest stop to me is Kohata (about a kilometer away). This is the train I board when I want to go to the central Kyoto Station. The JR is definitely the most expansive of them all in Kyoto-shi, and runs all over the place.

The next line (my primary) is the Keihan. This one is slightly more expensive than the JR, but easily worth the money. The trains are well air-conditioned, comfortable, beautifully maintained, and it has express lines which I frequently use. This line takes inner city transit to a whole new level. I’m talking plush seats people. (Some of their trains are almost as nice as the bullet train!

I don’t know all that much about the other two, I don’t use them much. Kintetsu does some stuff up north, and the subway is more inner city. I will be using the subway tomorrow when I travel to my schools for the first time.

So anyways, this is my commute. I walk a kilometer to the Keihan Kowata station (Not the JR Kohata)(These are confusing, they use the same characters and are a block away from eachother). At Kowata, I board the train bound for Chushojima (the 4th stop from me). From here I transfer to the limited express (or rapid express) northbound for Demachiyanagi. I take this line until I reach Gion-Shijo. (The next stop (Sanjo) is party-town, Japan). From Gion-Shijo I walk another kilometer or so until I reach the General Education Center (GEC). That’s where I go for work right now.

Anyways, back to Thursday. We spent all day getting bank accounts and registering our apartments with the city. The bank accounts took forever, because my passport only has V for my middle name, and as far as Japan is concerned, my middle name is V. The bank didn’t understand that, even though ALL of my paperwork has V on it. My passport, my residence card, my employment paperwork…whatever. So after that, it was phone time. I went with some others over to a store called Yorobashi Camera (it’s the huge downtown electronics store). There I mulled over which phone to get. The company Softbank came highly recommended, so I wanted to go with them. Sadly, they had no windows phones, and no Samsung galaxy s4. Obviously I didn’t want an Iphone, so I went with the Sharp Aquos Xx (203sh). Turns out this is sharp’s flagship phone, and they are a big manufacturer here in Japan. This phone is incredible. It’s got a 16 megapixel camera, it’s water resistant and dust proof, it’s got the snapdragon s4 pro in it…. It’s a beast of a phone. I hear it might even have a radiation detector build in.

Anyways, got my phone, it was tricky because I don’t really speak all that much Japanese, and the guy selling it to me didn’t speak English. Fortunately, Blake’s wife Naoko was there and was helping to translate (I owe her some drinks). I had to pay for the phone upfront, which was $700ish (Not happy about that). Since I haven’t gotten any paychecks yet, I was unable to prove that I was employed for a payment plan on the phone. They don’t have a two year discount here like we do in the states. Speaking of differences…. Japan doesn’t do text messaging the way we do. It’s all still technically email. Everyone here uses and app called line instead, which essentially does the same thing, but over data. My plan (about 45 bucks a month) has no minutes. I can talk for 40 cents a minute if I want, but there is no need. Basically this line app does everything. I can text and call over my 4g data plan, which is unlimited. Unlike the states, I get up to 7 gigs a month at full speed, then my data speed gets throttle down to 128 kbps. (I can pay more to be rid of that throttling if I want). When I told the Japanese people I only had 2 gigs of data back home the response I got was ‘eeeeehhhhhh?!?!?!?!!?’ fun stuff.

So after getting the phone, we went out for dinner somewhere, I don’t remember where.

The next day (Friday) was our first attempt at getting to work on our own. I met up with Blake and Patrick (the guys in my complex) and we headed into the inner city. I’m happy to say that we made it in time, with not too many problems. We did discover how slow it is to not take the express trains though.

When we got to work, a veteran Kyoto-shi resident and former JET (now works on his own as an assistant language teacher) took us on a tour of Kyoto-shi. A few current JETs came with for fun. The tour was pretty neat, we found the nightlife areas, good restaraunts, visited a shrine, and toured the shopping areas. When we got back to the GEC we went over our schedules and our school locations. After work I went to a store called Nitori, which is basically like the bed bath and beyond of Japan. There I finally got some towels and pillows. (Hooray!) I’ll be going back for more stuff later on.

Friday night I planned to meet Joel Benjamin Crabtree at a bar called ‘A Bar’. I gave up trying to find it after about 2 and a half hours of wandering the streets of Kyoto at night (alone). The last 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering included Convini stops and alcohol. I had given up trying to find the bar at that point. So instead, I decided to try my luck visiting Kamogawa (the river, we call it Kamo here). Kamo is a really neat pavilion by the river where a bunch of college students and foreigners kind of just… drink and hang out. I must have met about 100 people this night, from all over the world. It was awesome. I ended up taking a cab home around 3 or 4 am, which cost a little under $40. Lesson learned there.

After a morning of….relaxing and cleaning (did some laundry), I decided to meet up with Joel again. This time we met at a train station, and headed to A Bar as a team. It turn out I walked past it like… 5 times the other night, but didn’t realize it was on the second floor. Something interesting about Japan is that they really cram you into the tiny little places. The thing is, there are so many of them, it’s never overly crowded. Many places seem to have hidden bonus rooms just waiting for more guests, it’s kind of neat.

At A Bar we coincidentally ran into two more of the new JETs, Isadora and Cecile. Even more coincidentally, we met up with a current JET named Steffan, a former JET named Liz, and a friend of theirs. So we spent a fair chunk of time at A Bar sharing large beers in tiny glasses, then headed to Kamo. Kamo again, this place is where it’s at. We met a bunch of new random people, and had a grand ol time. After missing the last train home (intentionally, my last one leave that area at 12:01), we stayed out until about 2am or so. Cecile, Joel, and myself split a taxi back to their apartment complex, and I spend the night over at Joel’s place after we spend a couple hours on the roof.

Woke up super early the next morning, commuted home (about an hour or so), skyped for a few hours, and immediately fell back asleep, only to wake up too late for an even called a ‘Nomihoudai’, which is essentially a two hour long ‘all you can drink all you can eat’ extravaganza. So I hit up a small Café, had a small dinner, and joined up with the people afterwards at a bar called ZaZa. It was a pretty tame night in comparison to the others, and we headed home nice and early for work the next morning. Something that is stressed often to us here is to say yes to as much as we can. Well let me tell you, it can be exhausting.

So finally we come to today (Monday). I had more time this morning, so I made an omelet for breakfast (asagohan) and headed back to the GEC. We got our library cards today, and went over self-introductions. Apparently we were all so good at Japanese already that the people giving us the crash course really didn’t have much for us to do. We ended up spending most of the day with the other JETs just sharing experiences, practicing our introductions, studying Japanese, and going over teaching materials. After that I finally got my Guitar! (Yay!). Sadly, I had to walk home from the station in a downpour (they last a long time here), which forced me to expand my umbrella collection to ‘2’. Womp. Anyways, that’ll do it for now, sorry I haven’t been so great at updating this. It takes a lot of time, which is a bit scarce at the moment. Until next time!

-Matt

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.

Hi Tokyo

Good Morning from Shinjuku (in Tokyo)! It’s a lovely mix of hot and humid here, but hotel air conditioning seems to work just as well in Japan as it does in America, go air conditioning!

Last night we arrived in Japan around 4:30pm local time at Narita Airport. After about an hour of lines for customs and baggage claim, we followed a bright green-shirted trail of current JET’s (Japan Exchange Teachers) to the buses set up to shuttle us to our hotel in Tokyo. At this point, all my checked baggage is en route to Kyoto-shi, where my board of education hopefully decides to hold it for me until I get there.

Turns out from the airport it was about an hour and half long trip to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo where we are staying. I got to ride in my first Japanese traffic jam, which was a lovely reminder of home. On the bus we filled out our insurance forms and got our itinerary for the next few days of Tokyo orientation.

After a painless check-in at the hotel, I headed out with a couple friends to a little shopping area just a few blocks from our hotel, food was a must. So after debating going to McDonald’s (I wasn’t feeling all that great after the last airline meal) I joined my friends Cassie and Josh at some small fast food curry place. So…first meal of Japan; Chicken Cutlet with Rice and Curry (mild curry of course).

After some aimless wandering around in Shinjuku, and failing miserably at finding a cell phone company that has windows phones, I decided to cash in and head back to the hotel (I ended up sleeping around 10:30-11:00pm Japan Time).

So here I am, first full day of Japan, rocking some suspenders (America) and a crazy tie (also America) and ready to take on the world. Breakfast (Asagohan as the locals call it) was a delicious mix of eggs, bacon, sausage, veggy omelettes, assorted other veggies, fruits, salad, and so on…yum. I figured I would get a quick post in before heading down to orientation, which begins in about 15 minutes…

Pictures will probably have to wait a bit as far as this blog is concerned, but I will put a few up on Facebook when I get a chance.

The Last Morning of America

G’morning everybody! So today is the day, Jets to Japan. All I really have to say right now is HOLY CRAP. In standard matt fashion I have of course saluted my last night in this wonderful country with some of my favorite beers whilst socializing amongst international vagabonds such as myself…what a grand ol’ time. Last night’s menu included Lil sumpim sumpin, dogfishead 90 minute, and Deschutes chainbreaker, oh America.

As some of you may have been aware, yesterday was my pre-departure orientation, which was pretty much strictly business. We got our travel visas, luggage tags, flight information, schedule for today, a lovely story about how crazy the food in Japan is, and some inspiring words about our upcoming experience. Turns out I’m like…the only person ever who hasn’t been to Japan.

After that, we had a lovely dinner reception and heard some words from the head of the Chicago Consulate, which was nice (he had a great speech). Food on that menu (thankfully) was meatballs, chicken, green beans, and mostaccioli. After that, it was off to our rooms, followed by some bar time, which was usurped by cheaper alcohol at the local liquor store and circle of death in another JET’s room. America.

On a serious note; goodbyes are hard. Really hard. I had some really rough ones yesterday and the only way I’m really coping with it is by having 8 billion distractions and things I can’t forget. Thankfully they keep you nice and busy here. I want you all to know that I miss you and love you. So I guess I’ll update you all from the land of the rising sun eh?

-Matt

Packing

Well here we are friends and family. Bags are packed (mostly) and all that’s left to do is clean up the rest of everything. It’s been a riot running the gauntlet of parties, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people back home. I’ll miss you all immensely.

So here’s my schedule:
7/26 Show up for Pre-Departure Orientation
7/27 Go to Japan (whooaaa)
7/28 Get to Japan to participate in celebratory shenanigans and probably get lost somewhere
7/29 Tokyo Orientation (Maybe they’ll tell me stuff about what I’m going to be doing)
7/30 Tokyo Orientation (All the stuff they forgot the first day)
7/31 Going to Kyoto, but not very slow-to (See big bird). This will be the second dream accomplished on this trip so far, because of bullet trains. (the first being going to Japan)
8/1 I have no clue. Shopping? I’ll have my apartment by this point if things go close to not-terribly. Maybe I’ll try to make some Japanese pancakes or something.

Really it’s a bit like jumping into an ocean that you’ve spent years looking at and thinking ‘neato’, regardless of whether or not there are razor sharp rocks at the bottom waiting to meet you because hey, when else are you going to get a chance? Anywho, I’m excited for this opportunity as I’m sure I’ve drilled into everyone’s brain by now, and I can only imagine my excitement will increase tenfold when I get out there.

So gird your loins my friends, we’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.