Monthly Archives: February 2011

Destination Confusion

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After a little hiatus from blogging, I have returned. There have been quite a few variables floating around and a few have been pinned down recently so I can finally chat about them in confidence. From where I would like to live to where my schools actually are, it’s been a little turbulent.

There tends to be some frustration involved when dealing with people over long distance primarily via email. It has little to do with the people on either end and more to do with the fact that we have to wait till the following day sometimes to get a response. Thankfully, my contacts at Interac have been plugging away at making sure my needs are satisfied as can be. I ask a question, I get an answer. It may not be the answer I was looking for but hey, it could be worse. I’ll do my best to keep the next bits brief.

Shika is my city. Period. I believe my accommodation contact was trying to place me in Nanao (noted on the right side of the map) simply because that’s where they’ve had all the other ALTs previously. It is 45 minutes drive from Shika so you can imagine how far a drive that would be to  the 5 schools noted on the map. My dude is going to look into  finding a Leopalace in the Shika area but I’m not holding my breath. I did my own searching and found nothing. The closet building was in Hakui, about 30 minutes south. Unfortunately, google maps no longer lets me search for アパート which is just weird. Before I could pull up every apartment in Japan that was listed.

Click on the “View Larger Map” to see the actual addresses and such.

What happened originally was my dude gave me a call and we chatted about possibly having me move into one of the apartments that are currently occupied by ALTs that are leaving in April. This was a good idea in theory but like I said, they were all in Nanao and were way more expensive than the Hakui or Shika. Now it looks more and more like if I would like to get a place I actually want, it’s going to have to be on my own. A mightly daunting task, for sure, but a feasible one.

As you can see on the map, my schools are a little scattered. Three are well within acceptable distances (10 min, 17 min, and 23 min) but the two up north in Togi… a bit far. The saving grace is that I can take the cliff/sea-side highway and it’s about 45 minute drive to both schools. That will be just beautiful. The ugly icing on the cake? My base school is the Togi Jr. High. Of course, I mean why wouldn’t it be? It’s okay, I’m not really that bitter about it. It would have been too much of a dream to get the Shika Jr and Sr High schools like my placement guy thought I might.

Oh – and for anyone curious, I was originally just told I had 4 schools. That was it. I had to specifically ask for addresses. I assume they do this because things tend to change sometimes and it’s easier to give you all the information during orientation. But since I’m renting a place on my own, I want to have it reserved BEFORE my butt lands in Japan. In fact I may look at a couple apartments since they’re all so close to each other in the town. And then I sent another email asking that I please be notified should any of my schools change so that I can plan accordingly. Osaka Branch got back to me lightening quick to let me know I had another school (the 23 minute one). I guess it’s a compliment. They must think I’m pretty hot stuff.

The biggest issue now is how to go about getting a guarantor. For those that don’t know, this is something that most all apartment real estate agents require for any foreigner: a native Japanese to co-sign, essentially saying that you aren’t going to take off at a moments notice and are at least somewhat trustworthy. Though I could whip up more glowing recommendations than threads in a shirt… I don’t think it would get me anywhere. This seems to be one of those things in Japan that is simply unbending. Right now, my feelers are out with a friend who works in the state government of Delaware and with a friend in Japan who has recently discovered a fellow JET ALT who found a guarantor through her board of education of her prefecture. Hmmm…

That’s enough for now. I’ll do another blog soon about packing struggles. Since I’m a girl, I’m sure it’ll be unendingly entertaining.

With love – M

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Conversation test and expected stresses

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Oh the dreaded Interac conversation test. Japanese language proficiency call is probably a better description. My caller was adorable, as most I’m sure are. We had a little hick-up because I missed her first call (8:30pm my time) by a couple seconds and then when she said she’d call back, her son was sick and she had to stay home. But we worked it out and she was able to call me back last night thankfully.

I felt a little bad because I highly doubt I’m fluent enough to be considered for the extra money they offer (5000 yen per month). My goal was simply to get my feet wet with a real Japanese person I had never met before.  I surprised myself and did really well as far as understanding everything she said. A few of the sentences I just couldn’t respond to due to my low level of grammer and vocab. I mean, I only had a year and we didn’t even finish the first Genki book.

Now, don’t think I went into it unprepared. I absolutely studied my head off. My buddy Nathalie was great and helped me practice formulating some simple sentences like the all important “mouichido itte kudasai” or “could you say that again please”. She also gave me some questions she might ask, tho she ended up only asking of them, it was still really helpful just to practice listening skills. The best bit was a facebook link she sent me of a discussion she found about the calls.

“It’s not that hard. I had one.
They do start off pretty easily with very basic Japanese and eventually move into the more difficult levels of Japanese.

I can’t remember the whole conversation, but this is a good example of what to expect:
Firstly, she asked what my name was after introducing herself.

She asked me how the weather was where I live after that.
For how long did I study Japanese and where.
What I did yesterday, today, and what would I do tomorrow.
If I had ever been to Kyoto.
What my favorite Japanese food is, and where I go for it.
What I want to do in Japan.

There were more, but those should give you an idea.
At the end, we had some small talk in English for a couple minutes. She asked me if this was the first time I had spoken to a Japanese person on the phone.

That’s a pretty basic rundown– though the last questions were very difficult. Such as what interesting news I had read in a newspaper. Don’t worry– it’s not a big problem. You’ll do fine. :)”

This was the absolutely most helpful post for me. The caller asked almost all of these questions. In addition she asked when my birthday was and some other questions in response to answers I had given to the above mentioned questions. These were obviously harder because I had to think on the spot. But I survived. I’m really proud of myself for not stuttering and understanding all she was asking. Hopefully my sentence making skills will improve as my exposure to more Japanese people sky-rockets.

One last note:

Stress is starting to take it’s toll. The late night calls, lots of researching and reading, and studying the language have been my daily companions. But I also am working my part-time job during the day as well as finishing up my lingering personal projects (like getting as many kanzashi and painting done as possible). It’s all tumbling together in what feels like a giant snowball of doom.

BUT it’s all kind of awesome, too. I’ve had the opportunity to really perform in my job, assisting and doing a lot of duties in place of my boss who unfortunately has had to step aside for little bit.  I’ve been able to get experience in administrative duties as well as interviewing and event planning. And don’t even get me started on how much I love swimming around on google earth in Japan and reading other ALT’s blogs or surfing websites about the area around my placement in Shika.

It’s just something I want clear to any prospective ALT’s out there. If you don’t like stress, this job is not for you. However, if you thrive on the unplanned, the unknown, and the all around awesome that is traveling abroad, climb aboard, my friend.

With love – M

Placement: Shika, Hakui District, Ishikawa

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It would be smart to post where exactly I’m going… just maybe. I’m rather excited, though initially I was slightly put off because I’ll be so far from a close friend who’s currently over there already.

So this is me, or will be in about 8 weeks. My friend, Nathalie, is in Anan, Tokushima Perfecture. If you look at the directions, it’s roughly 8 to 9 hours of travel time between us either by train or car or whatever. It’s a long haul. Longer than either of us were looking forward to but hey, we’re looking on the brightside.

The areas about right between us are Shiga and Kyoto. What better places to meet and share a weekend? They’re big but not crazy big. This affords us cheaper food and lodging so we can spend more time enjoying the towns and less time fretting over costs. I can’t say from personal experience just yet but every single resource screams it at you “Japan is EXPENSIVE. Be prepared”. I think if I’m smart and turn down my princess meter a gauge or two, I’ll do just fine.

A little bit about Shika: It’s the boonies. There are no less than 15,000 people living there, limited stores and activities. BUT I have put my meager Japanese skills to the test and have been clicking away on Google Earth to find the goodies close by. Things like the Silk Beach in Hakui, 30 minutes south, or the confection museum in Shika (drool!), a type of hotspring/resort area  on a cliff in Shika, really interesting looking temples and natural made rock formations on the sea side, and (the best part) my very own locally grown farmer’s market with some 300 farmers there.

Of course, many natives have already told me that  the best way to see the true Japan is to get out of the cities, stay in the countryside. And I thankfully have Hakui and Nanao within an hour’s drive. Also, two hours drive gets me to Kanazawa or Toyama. I say drive because I’ll have to have a car for my town but once I get to Nanao or Hakui, I can pretty much take public transport anywhere in the country.

Then there’s the most awesome fact for me. The awesome of awesomes. I will be living near the sea. A large body of water which connects to other large bodies of water. I realize Japan’s an island, but I could’ve landed in center Nagano or Maebashi. I’m sure it’s great there but I’ll take waves over mountains any day. I am a ocean kind of girl. My name even means “gaurdian of many waters” or “ocean goddess”. Oh and when I say living near the water, I mean I have been actively searching and in contact with realtors about certain apartments that are as close to the ocean as possible. Oddly enough, these are also really close to the main schools in Shika.

So it’s not all bad, right? Somehow, I’ll survive… that was total sarcasm.

Anyone out there in the Ishikawa area reading this, you should let me know. The more friends I have before I get there, the better.

One last thing before I close – I received my email from my branch office, evidently in Osaka this morning. They have advised that I fly into Osaka airport and travel from there to the hotel for us, which also right next to the office for training. That’s all well and good except flying into Osaka costs a good 400-500 dollars more AND stops in Tokyo on the way, usually for a minimum of 3 hour layover. I am seriously debating flying straight to Tokyo and hoping on a shinkansen into Osaka for 200 dollars less and many hours less. I think after 16 hrs, I’ll be sick of flying for a while. However, all this is speculative based on a roundtrip ticket because the one way tickets… are almost exactly the same for Tokyo and Osaka. The roundtrip tickets are always cheaper but I have no idea what the holiday schedule is for my August break yet. Some schools let out the week before August, some the week after July. I just don’t know. Too much to think about.

I hope this was somewhat informative. If you have any questions, ask away. I may edit them into the post, even.

With love -M