Japan: Week One

Oh my, somehow I’ve let two weeks go by without writing – sorry guys!

To pick up where I left off last time, once Tokyo Orientation had finished I gathered my things and left for the airport early Wednesday morning. All of my fellow Miyazaki JETs traveled together, and I got a chance to talk with a lot of really nice people who will all be living nearby-ish this year. There were around 10 of us all together, and even more had arrived the week before. Miyazaki itself has 75 JETs, 28 of whom were new this year.

On the plane I was seated next to another new JET and a man headed to Miyazaki to visit family. He spoke great English, had visited the US often for work, and told us all about what we should see, do, and eat in Miyazaki. He also spent the first part of the flight trying very hard to make sure we got a good view of Mt. Fuji as we flew past, which was very nice of him, and we really did get a nice view.

Mt. Fuji!
Mt. Fuji!

Once we landed in Miyazaki it was time for lunch and another mini-orientation, this time short and sweet and much more useful. It was also nice to be in a room with fewer than 100 people. Once the meeting was over our supervisors came in and accompanied everyone to their respective cities/towns.

A quick note about where I’m living now, because I really had no idea where Miyazaki was before coming here. Miyazaki is the name of a prefecture (sort of like a state) on the southern island of Kyushu. It’s almost as far south as you can go while still being part of the “mainland” of Japan (ie – not in Okinawa). It’s the 14th largest prefecture (out of 47), and from what I can tell it’s main industry is agriculture. In fact, Miyazaki is famous for having some of the best beef in Japan (the Kobe beef cows are raised here before being sent to Kobe to be massaged and whatnot for a year). It’s also known for amazing mangos, which I will probably never eat because they are ridiculously expensive, often upwards of $50 for a single mango.

Miyazaki’s prefectural mascots, the “Miyazaki Ken” They represent the culture, food, and natural areas of Miyazaki. Also, they’re really cute.

Now, within Miyazaki-ken (“ken” means prefecture), I’m living in a city called Miyakonojo. It’s the second largest city in the prefecture, and is equidistant between Miyazaki City and Kagoshima City (in neighboring Kagoshima-ken). The biggest city on Kyshu, Fukuoka, is about 4 hours away by train, and it’s a 1.5 hour flight to Tokyo from Miyazaki City.

My first meal in Miyazaki - "Chiken nanban." It's a regional specialty dish, and it's pretty tasty. Even the airport version was good!
My first meal in Miyazaki – “Chiken nanban.” It’s a regional specialty dish, and it’s pretty tasty. Even the airport version was good!

Anyway, after leaving Miyazaki City with my supervisor, we spent an hour driving through the mountains to reach Miyakonojo. The scenery was beautiful, and I’m excited at the prospect of exploring the area. Miyakonojo is in a valley, surrounded by two different mountain ranges (I think), which makes driving around the city on a clear day pretty nice. I didn’t get many pictures this time because I was talking with my supervisor and taking everything in.

My supervisor took me directly to my school (we had all been instructed to wear formal suits on the plane for this reason) and I met a few of the teachers and staff. In Japan, teachers do not get summer holidays, and are required to go to work every day. Even the students, who are supposedly on break, come in almost every day for club activities, though I didn’t see many of them my first day. After collecting my bags (which had been shipped from Tokyo) my supervisor took me to my apartment, which is just a 10 minute bike ride from school. I’m glad the route was easy (turn left, straight, turn right, you’re there!) because when we got in the car he said, ok, remember how we go, and come to work tomorrow morning! But even with my sense of direction, it worked out just fine.

The view from my new apartment
The view from my new apartment

Once my supervisor helped me set up my gas, electricity, and water I was left on my own to settle in. My apartment is in a very convenient spot, two minutes from a grocery store, second hand shop, a few 100yen stores (like dollar stores but 1000000x better) and several convenience stores, which everyone calls “conbini.” I set out to find food and on my way back I ran into a couple on their way out of my building, and learned that my new neighbors are from South Africa. It was really great to know that I had nice neighbors, and since then I’ve gotten to know them a bit and they are lovely people.

To finish up my first week in Japan I spent my first official day of work running around with my supervisor setting up my bank account, cell phone and Internet. By the time we finished up it was time to go home, and I spent the evening hanging out with the South African couple downstairs. Friday I went into work and Christine, the other ALT at my school, explained how things work. Because it’s summer vacation there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do, so I cleaned up my desk and read through old lesson plans left by my predecessor. Many of the teachers were also absent because it was almost Obon, a big Japanese holiday.

Gifts from the English club. Each piece of origami has a note inside from the students
Gifts from the English club. Each piece of origami has a note inside from the students

Before the week was up it was time for one more event, a local welcome party thrown by a few other ALTs. I walked over with my neighbors and had a lovely time meeting maybe 15 or so of the other foreigners living in the area. While JET is largely American on the whole, Miyakonojo actually has a really diverse group of people, with many coming from Australia and the UK. It was a lot of fun hearing all the different accents, and everyone was really nice. We had a few drinks and ended up playing a funny card game that was sort of like a mix between charades and cards against humanity, and before we knew it, it was 2am and time to go home.

Overall my first week here in Japan was a bit overwhelming, but also extremely positive. The people I’ve met have all be very nice, I’m happy with my living situation and my school, and I’m really looking forward to the year ahead.

My new home
My new home
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