A lot of people complain about how “useless” the orientations are, because they just throw a lot of information at us and we pretty much are forced to stay up for three days straight (with the effects of jet lag).
But I actually am really glad that we had so many orientations and that they forced us to do so much.
I’ll start with the pre-departure orientation, which took place on the Friday evening before we left—that is, July 27th at 3:00PM – 8:30PM.
The week preceding this orientation, I was home in Torrance, and I was having a hell of a time. I had just left Santa Cruz for good, then I’d left El Cerrito (and Michelle and Kazumi), and then I’d gone to my friends’ wedding (a rollercoaster ride in itself) and pretty much promptly left them, too. I don’t know if my mom and my sister actually noticed, but I was pretty much bawling in the car when we hit Sherman Oaks on the 405. I know they noticed when we got home though, because then I tried to text my friends in the kitchen and I was still crying. (The text took a while to go through; there’s terrible reception at my parents’ house.)
I’m going to be honest: I did not want to be in Torrance. I wanted to be with my friends, I wanted to be home in Santa Cruz, and I was getting damn scared of Saturday. I hadn’t cried yet for graduation or anything, so this was it: the end of an era. It was hard. Nothing was going to be the same again.
And as the week continued, I felt worse and worse.
First, I still had that nasty wound on my leg, and it only seemed to be getting worse. My mom made me go to urgent care, and there the doctor gave me a prescription for Keflex and some Neosporin.
It didn’t really get better for a long time, and it even got bigger—but to the shape of the bandaid (meaning the bandaid was probably just irritating my skin). I went back to the doctor, and he said it was probably just an allergic reaction to the bug bite, and it would be fine.
Second, I needed an international driver’s license. That turned out to be a piece of cake though—I walked right into AAA, waited for 20 minutes, signed a paper, gave them some passport photos, and whambamthankyouma’am, I got an international driver’s license.
Third, I needed some omiyage (gifts) for my supervisor and principal and everyone…
I could probably go on longer, but just know that I had a LOT left to do. And I was getting scared, and my mom was nagging me (rightfully, but god, did I just not want to hear it constantly). I was just not having a good time.
The only good thing was that my aunt and cousins were visiting, and I had not seen them in a really long time! It was really nice to spend time with them before I left for Japan. I missed them a lot. (They are the ones that moved from Southern California to Texas.)
But a lot was going on, so I still didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I think I would have liked.
So on Friday, when the pre-departure orientation rolled around, I was feeling totally shitty. I did not want to go. I just felt like lying in bed and sleeping forever. I needed some time to relax.
I also had to drive to the orientation, and I hate driving, so that sucked. I got lost and had to circle around the Sheraton hotel a few times, but I finally made it inside.
And boy, am I glad I did.
That orientation was the best thing that had happened to me all week. I ran into Judith, a girl I’d met at the first orientation (June 30th, Alhambra), and soon we found Susie, someone else I’d met before, too. We sat together at dinner, even though I think we were technically supposed to sit with people from our area.
The dinner was very nice, and it was great to be able to talk to other people in the program. There were a few speeches, some “traditional” toasts (we just stood up and said “kanpai”), a Q&A (in which people mostly asked about what they could/couldn’t pack and how big the luggage could be – over and over again), but I think the most valuable part of that for me was being around people who were going through the same thing I was.
It made me feel so much better.
Judith was incredibly helpful—she had gone abroad before (and more specifically, to Japan), so she knew what would and wouldn’t get through customs, what to pack, what to just do.
I went home after the orientation feeling totally refreshed and kind of ready.
That orientation was a lifesaver.
The plane—Singapore Airlines—was set to leave LAX at 3:45PM (PST) on Saturday, but we were asked to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of time.
At the pre-departure orientation, they suggested that we exchange our money before we leave, so on Saturday morning, my mom and I ran all over town trying to exchange some dollars for yen.
I won’t go into detail, because it sucked, but basically, it was a hassle. The exchange rate sucks, but finally I just opened a bank account at Union Bank so we could exchange money there with their most excellent rate:
73 yen to 1 dollar.
That’s bad, for those of you who don’t know. That’s a damn awful rate. But it was better than any of the other places that would even let me exchange money without an account. (Or at the exchange place in the mall, where the rate was 68:1. That’s bloody awful.)
(Ideally, the exchange rate would be over 80 yen to 1 dollar.)
After all that craziness, my mom dropped me off at the airport. Rather unceremoniously. It would have been nice to have even a semblance of a send-off, but…
Well, we’re the Reasors. What’re you gonna do.
I found Julian, the adviser for the Los Angeles JETs, right away and checked in.
And then I found Judith! It was quite the coincidence. She walked with me in the check-in line and helped me arrange the tags on my bags. She’s seriously a lifesaver. She said good-bye to her family, and then we went through security together, no problem.
(I should mention at this time that my medication for my leg wound went through LAX security and Japanese customs just fine.)
(Also, I’ve just gotten fond of calling it a “wound.” It’s not actually that bad.)
We had to wait quite a while to board the plane, and then the plane was actually in a remote gate, so we had to take a bus to the terminal! That was pretty exciting.
The atmosphere was just brilliant—everyone was talking and smiling and loud. I could not have had a better time.
When we boarded the plane, the flight attendants, who were so friendly and helpful throughout the flight, were wearing these amazing outfits.
Judith and I were assigned different seats—in different cabins—so we parted ways. When I found my seat, it was totally awesome. I was in the front of the cabin, in the middle rows, so I had hella leg room. There was also a small television—and since the flight was going to take 10.5 hours, I took advantage of that tiny television.
During the flight, I watched 2.5 movies. First, I watched The Hunger Games (2012), since I had read the books recently. I thought it was pretty good—I think I feel the same way about the movie that I did about the book. I wanted more character development for the other characters, but with all the social/political content, the characters kind of took a backseat to the plot/intrigue. I like the themes and social/political statements, though, so I’m really okay with that.
Second, I watched The Incredible Hulk (2008). I had never seen a Hulk movie, and I’m glad I finally watched one! I liked it a lot, though I think I’m really attached to Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner now, so I had trouble adjusting to Edward Norton. I like Norton, though, so it wasn’t a real problem. I didn’t expect to see Liv Tyler! I kept wondering where her elf ears were…
And the third movie I watched (but didn’t finish) was The Avengers (2012). I already saw it in theaters, so it’s okay that I didn’t finish it. It was just as funny the second time! I only got to the part right before Banner turns into the Hulk for the first time. Oh, Loki, you manipulative bastard…
Other than watching movies, I talked to some other JETs on the plane. They were really friendly and fun. One guy had about five glasses of wine. I bonded with more people than I thought I would about comic book films.
I never went back there, but apparently (according to the guy who had five glasses of wine) in the back cabin, everyone was standing around and talking, holding cocktails, like it was a party. Later, at orientation, when I told someone about this, they said: “Leave it to Los Angeles to have a party cabin.”
It was strange to spend 10 hours on the plane and see the sun the entire time. A lot of people pulled down the shades on their windows, but a few open ones showed that the sun was still a-shining. It was weird.
I was told that the best way to stave off jet lag is to not sleep on the plane. I wasn’t sure if I believed that, but even if I wanted to sleep, I don’t think I would have been able to. There were too many people to talk to, and too many movies I wanted to watch.
When we landed at Narita Airport, we still had a long way to go. We had to trek across what felt like the entire airport, through customs—and there were over 700 of us arriving, so we had to stand in line for a very long time—and then all the way down and into the parking lot to the buses that would take us to Tokyo.
It was a LONG FUCKING WALK. I mean, I’m from Santa Cruz—I’m used to walking. Walking is fine. Walking and me are tight.
But this is walking with all of my luggage (granted, I only had two bags and a laptop shoulder bag; others were worse off) when I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours straight. (According to my watch, which was still on me time. I woke up at 8:00AM on Saturday, and according to my watch, it was about 6:00AM in the morning on Sunday, at least for my body clock.)
We piled onto the buses, and some volunteer JETs ran us through some information and collected our insurance paperwork as we traveled the hour to Tokyo.
One of the volunteer JETs, Jeff, had a UC Santa Cruz hat on. When he was done working, I told him that I went to UCSC. He said he lived just off Escalona and that his friend lived in the Pacific Apartments. I was ecstatic that someone else knew places in Santa Cruz. I’m such a Californian.
We got to the hotel at 9:30PM (Tokyo time), and I know a lot of people went out to explore Tokyo, but I was dead tired. And in case I haven’t already told you, here are my priorities:
- Everything else.
So I showered (and had to rush downstairs to buy a comb, because I forgot mine!) and pretty much fell into bed.
Before that, though, I found Judith again. We received our hotel keys—only to discover that we were roommates! It was an amazing coincidence.
The next morning, we had to wake up for some orientation stuff at 9:00AM (earlier, if we wanted breakfast, which—ch’yeah. Refer to my priorities list). I barely had time to take in that I was actually in Japan already. I hadn’t seen much of it so far, and… everyone spoke English.
I did have time to realize that we were in a damn nice hotel, though. Right in the Shinjuku district.I should disclaim—none of the pictures in this entry are mine. I didn’t have a camera when I was in Tokyo, and I haven’t contacted Judith for the photos that she took. I will, though, and I will update this entry with them.
Breakfast was—interesting. Apparently, they think Americans eat French Fries for breakfast. Every day.
There weren’t only Americans there, though, and we weren’t the only Americans that would be coming through the hotel over the next month. With the Angelinos, there were people from Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Minnesota, Australia, New Zealand… and probably quite a lot of other places.
On Monday and Tuesday, I spent a lot of time in the hotel, going to workshops and seminars and information sessions. I learned how to drive in Japan (okay, just the rules), how to do self-introductions, what kind of schools I would be going to (1 junior high, 1 elementary school), what I could expect once I got there…
And probably a lot more, but to be honest, I don’t remember a damn thing they told me. I was tired and jetlagged, but I don’t think it matters that I don’t remember anything.
I think the most important part of the orientation for me was the people I met and the great network of support that I witnessed. I wasn’t going to be alone, and there would be a lot of people I could ask for help. There were so many resources for us—and luckily, they wrote them all down for us.
I don’t care how “useless” it seemed to a lot of people. I really appreciated having it at all. I think I would have had a lot more difficulty adjusting if they had just thrown me into Japan right away without any preface. This way, I got to spend time with some English speakers, while also looking around Tokyo a little bit at a time.
On Monday, I met all the people who would be in my prefecture—Chiba. Our orientation leader, Mike (a New Zealander, I think), arranged for a karaoke night that night. When the evening dinner reception rolled around, though, everyone was tired. I was exhausted, but I really wanted to hang out with people from my prefecture, so I decided to go (whether I liked it or not).
At 8:30PM, I went down to the lobby, where Mike set as a meeting place, only to discover that… it was everyone else’s meeting place, too. It was crowded!
I found Michael, a new ALT from New Jersey, and then Rochelle joined us. NZ Mike finally rushed up to us (he was on “New Zealand” time, said NJ Mike). He talked to some friends for a minute, and Susie walked over to see where we were going. She didn’t really have anywhere to go, so I invited her to come to karaoke with us. NZ Mike had booked a room for twelve at the cheaper karaoke place, and since there were only four of us so far, we had plenty of room! So Susie tagged along, and we set off into Tokyo.
We walked for a while, and if it wasn’t for Susie and NZ Mike, I would have totally gotten lost! As it was, sometimes NZ Mike and NJ Mike got too excited and began to walk too fast for us. I was afraid we would lose them and get lost, but Susie seemed to know where she was going.
Karaoke wasn’t what I expected. To be honest, I didn’t think I would like karaoke very much, but karaoke in Japan is very different. For one thing, each group gets a separate room—instead of singing to a crowd of strangers, you get to just sing with your friends.
We ordered drinks and picked out some really great songs—these people had some great taste in music. Queen, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, some classic 90s songs that were just fun and nostalgic, some classic karaoke songs (It’s Rainin’ Men), and NJ Mike sang “Sexyback” and a Japanese pop song. Then everyone sang the theme song from Neon Genesis Evangelion (an anime).
It was really fun, and only 1200¥ per hour—and all you can drink for that flat rate. So I imagine people can get pretty trashed at these things.
Before I forget, here are some pictures of the hotel. It was beautiful! I got these from the hotel’s website: http://www.keioplaza.com
On Wednesday morning, before we parted for our separate prefectures, Judith, our other roommate, and I took some pictures in our hotel. (I will post them later when I get them.) Then we went to breakfast and separated. I won’t see Judith for a very long time, probably, but I hope to visit her in Kyoto someday! I’m glad I know some people there, because I definitely want to visit that area!
That’s all for now! The next entry will be about my arrival in Chiba and Minamiboso. In the mean time, please leave a comment tell me what you have been doing!
Cast of Characters
Judith as… a super awesome person from Chino. She is living and working in Kyoto.
Susie as… an ALT from San Diego. She is also in Kyoto. She’s very friendly, and she was a lifeguard, too!
Michael as… someone who I’m going to call “Mike” from now on, because that seems to be his preferred nickname. He’s the new ALT from New Jersey.