It’s been an eventful two weeks in Japan! As my friend Claire would say, “Let me tell you a story.”
Meeting the Minamiboso ALTs—Wednesday, August 1
On Wednesday night, Victor called me to invite me to dinner with all the other Minamiboso ALTs. He said Ebony and Kim would pick me up at the Tomiura train station (which if you remember from the map is only about a five minute walk from my house, maybe closer).
They were a little late picking me up, so I was sort of worried that maybe I was late and they had been early. I wandered around the outside of the train station a little. I checked out the bathrooms—they were Japanese-style toilets! They had them at the airport, but I still had not used one. Luckily, I was just exploring, so I didn’t have to use one… yet.
Ebony eventually pulled up, though, and we drove to Ken’s, a steakhouse. (You know, the Japanese version of steak, which basically looks like a burger patty.) The other ALTs were already there, and two ALTs from Kamogawa were there, too.
Everyone is really nice, but I’ve been told that the ALTs in Minamiboso don’t really hang out together very much. In other cities or prefectures, ALTs tend to get together more often, but in Minamiboso, everyone pretty much does their own thing. Kim, the CIR, says that they’re hoping to change that this year, but I don’t know who “they” are.
Anyway, everyone is really nice and fun, so I hope that we do hang out!
I’ll take this opportunity to list everyone in Minamiboso.
- Ebony—2nd year ALT from New York.
- Jeff—new ALT from Minnesota.
- Kim—new CIR who transferred from Asahi (up north in Chiba prefecture). Originally from Ohio.
- Melissa—2nd year ALT from Wisconsin.
- Mike—new ALT from New Jersey.
- Sam—ALT that I haven’t met yet.
- Victor—2nd year ALT from Alabama.
After dinner, Melissa and I exchanged numbers, and Ebony took me home! The dinner was fun. I got to see everyone together.
The strangest thing about paying for a meal in Japan—it seems that you have to bring the check to the front counter and pay for it there. Splitting the check is easy because you just tell the cashier what you ordered and they charge you for it. The service is different, too; your waiter doesn’t constantly come back to your table to check on you. It’s not a completely unwelcome change; sometimes waiters come back too many times in America and I get nervous.
Waiter: “How is everything?”
Me: “IT’S FINE. IT’S FINE!! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”
Going to the Beach—Saturday, August 4
On Friday night, Victor called again to invite me to the beach. He was planning to go with Mike, Jeff, and Ebony to the beach in Chikura (where Nate and Mike are, but Nate was out of town that weekend).
Chikura is on the other side of the peninsula, on the Pacific Ocean side, so I had to take a train for twenty-some minutes. Victor gave me directions—pay so much yen for a ticket and ride until Chikura—and he would pick me up at the station with the other guys. When I went to the train station, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I used the machine to buy a ticket—I could change the language to English!—but then I wasn’t sure where to go or how the trains worked. Victor said my train would leave at some specific time, but I wasn’t sure how many tracks there were or anything.
I went to the man at the ticket booth and told him I wanted to go to Chikura. He told me that the train would arrive at the time Victor told me, and that I needed to go across the bridge to board the train.
I was so confused! I didn’t know what bridge he was talking about, but eventually I found it. I felt embarrassed for being lost—it wasn’t that difficult to find, after all.
On the dot, the train arrived and I hesitated, because WHAT IF IT WAS THE WRONG TRAIN. But I figured that since there were only two tracks, and Victor said the trains don’t come very often, this couldn’t possibly be the wrong train.
It wasn’t, and when the train arrived at Chikura station, the guys were waiting right outside for me. We drove to Mike’s house, which was actually walking distance away from the train station, and waited for Ebony to arrive.
At Mike’s house, we discovered that Jeff has never had Kool Aid.
Victor had been teasing Jeff about being negative and hating everything—Jeff does say he “hates” things often—so when we discovered this, Victor burst out, “NO WONDER YOU’RE SO MISERABLE!”
There were a couple other American kid pop culture past times that Jeff hadn’t experienced—popsicles, ice cream, some cartoons—but I think the Kool Aid one was the biggest deal. We hypothesized that once Jeff had some Kool Aid, he would be the happiest damn person in the world.
(When I went home later that day, I found Kool Aid packets in one of my drawers. This has to happen.)
We walked to the beach and ended up at our own private beach! There were more people a little further down the way, so we headed that way, because we decided it would be more fun to have other people around.
We tried to set up the beach umbrellas, but we were having some trouble setting them up until a man ran over with a shovel. He dug two holes for us, and the beach umbrellas stayed in place. It was so nice of him!
We played Frisbee and walked up and down the beach. I couldn’t go in the water that particular day (for reasons), but I found a large stick and I entertained myself by writing kanji in the sand and drawing a line behind us as we walked.
I am this many years old.
Ebony, Jeff, and I had an interesting conversation about people who go to Japan with the goal of getting a Japanese girlfriend—we agree that it’s a creepy goal. Really—that’s your goal? I think if you consciously think about going anywhere to specifically get a girlfriend, it’s kind of creepy. (Not that anyone we knew was like this, but it just came up in conversation.)
After the beach, we all went out to dinner at this place called Gusto. Victor was still feeling sick after his impromptu eating contest with Nate at Wednesday’s lunch, so he was “fasting.” He didn’t order anything; instead he ate vicariously through Jeff.
Victor: “Aww yeah, Jeff. Eat that steak. Soak up that sauce.”
Jeff: “You are so weird.”
I feel bad about it, but we teased Jeff a lot during dinner. I think it was at dinner that we decided that whenever Jeff said he hated anything, we would assume that he liked it instead. It was pretty funny, but Jeff may have been annoyed…
Victor and I both want to be writers, so when Jeff told us that he did some writing for money (and his most recent job was editing law textbooks, which—boring, but at least it’s editing) and that he hated it, we both were shocked and somewhat amused.
Victor: “No, you didn’t hate it. You loved it.”
Jeff: “I hated it.”
There were some kids in the table next to us, and after a while, Victor started to become suspicious that they spoke English. He told us to tone down the cursing—because, naturally, we fell back into our sailor-mouthed American ways around each other—and when the kids left, we said good-bye to them, and they said good-bye back.
They totally knew English.
Dinner was incredibly entertaining—I remember laughing so hard throughout. It was like watching the Avengers movie.
Matsuri—Sunday, August 5
On Sunday, Nate called to invite me to a matsuri, which is just Japanese for “festival.” The guys picked me up at the train station again, and then we drove to Victor’s house—which is a damn nice house—in Shirahama. We hung out for a while until the sun started to go down, and then we walked out to find the matsuri.
I really wish I had pictures, because the decorations were gorgeous, but I didn’t have my phone yet, and I’ve never had a camera.
I’m not sure what the festival was about, but people pulled around these huge wagons—about the size of a Hummer—that were decorated with (electric) paper lanterns. There were taiko drummers sitting on the wagons, and they played taiko the entire night through while people on the ground pulled them around in the wagons.
I say wagon, because it was like a kid’s wagon—it had a steering pole to change direction and pull a little. Most of the pulling was done with ropes.
I didn’t know this until later, but apparently, usually they don’t let outsiders pull the wagon. Only people in the local community are allowed to participate in the festival, though everyone can watch.
We walked alongside one wagon for a while, and suddenly, a man walked up to me, said something in Japanese, and led me over to the wagon. He put a rope in my hands, and with Nate and the people already pulling the wagon, I helped to pull the wagon down the street.
After that, I got all the free alcohol I could ever want.
The people participating in the festival were all wearing these blue towels on their heads—for the sweat—so when we stopped so our drummers could challenge another wagon’s drummers, Nate and I were given blue towels. The wagon stayed stopped for a long time, so they also offered us beer. Because Nate was driving, he said he wasn’t drinking, so at first, they gave us nonalcoholic beer. After a while, though, they were handing us (everyone except Nate) beers and cocktails, and they wouldn’t stop until we were holding one in each hand.
Drunk people pulling a wagon is friggin’ hilarious.
We ran into some of Victor’s students, and they made fun of me for being sort of drunk. Whatever, man, their dads were drunker than me.
Something awkward: Every time I was standing next to one of the guys, someone—everyone—asked if we were dating. Actually, the way many of the younger people put it, it was just raising their pinky and saying, “Girlfriend?”
-____- Le sigh.
Eventually we pulled the wagon all the way to a temple, where we ate watermelon and had more beer forced on us. The next time I helped pull the wagon (which I had been doing pretty much all night anyway), everyone began to run while pulling really hard, and I totally ate it.
I had a drink in one hand, a bag of onigiri from 7/11 in the other, and I was trying to pull the wagon and run, and I tripped on the road and fell. I rolled a little, and then I felt about six people’s hands started trying to pick me up. It was hard to get up surrounded by all those people, but eventually they pulled me to my feet and I jumped back in line. I was kind of embarrassed, but at the same time, everyone was so helpful and welcoming that I felt pretty damn accepted. I don’t know if that was actually the case, but I’m going to pretend it was. |D
We finally stopped at the Community Center and sat down to eat and drink some more. I was invited to sit with everyone else, and about halfway through the meal/thingy, I realized that I was the only woman sitting in the circles. There was a small circle of women outside of the main eating area.
I guess I was eating a lot—I don’t really think I was—because the old men sitting in our circle across from me commented on my weight. I didn’t understand exactly what they were saying, but Jeff and I surmised that they were saying that I was going to gain 5 kilos.
It surprises me—and maybe it shouldn’t—but people in Japan talk about their weights a lot. Several of the teachers I work with tell me that they are dieting, and my weight seemed to be a popular topic of discussion amongst those old men. I’m actually pretty damn proud of my body—I’m starting to embrace the shoulders—and I don’t need anyone telling me that I’m going to get fat if I eat. I love to eat, and so far my metabolism is fast.
Besides, I’ve been eating like the poor person I am for the last two weeks, so… Not really worried about gaining weight.
That, and I love to swim like no other fish in the sea.
It was a fun night, and I believe it was that night that Mike and Victor decided to begin calling Jeff “Jazzy Jeff.” (“Jazzy” for short.) Because, you know, of his upbeat personality. ;)
Victor: “Jazzy! Hey Jazzy!”
Jeff: “I despise you.”
Me: “You mean you love him.”
Jeff: “Shut up.”
Tanabata Festival—Wednesday, August 8
Victor called to tell me about the Tanabata, and a few teachers asked me if I was going to Tateyama to see the hanabi (fireworks), so I had something to do on Wednesday night.
By the time the Tanabata rolled around, I finally had my phone. I think that’s why Victor didn’t bother to have someone meet me by the train station, but as it turns out, I don’t know how to use my phone, so when I arrived in Tateyama by train, I wasn’t getting any service and I couldn’t call him.
The train station at Tateyama was crowded, and there were a lot of girls where yukata. Kim left me a yukata, but I didn’t know how to put it on, and I didn’t have time to look up instructions on Youtube before I left home. The shoes were also tiny! They’re almost half the size of my foot.
I have big feet. :(
I followed the crowd out of the station, and then I had no idea what direction to go, so I kept following the crowd. They led me right to the beach, where Victor said he and the others would be, but there were so many people, I couldn’t find them anywhere. I was a bit worried, but after a while of not seeing them, I kind of gave up.
I had my phone—which has a camera—so I decided to just enjoy myself by myself and take pictures. I took some videos, too, but I don’t think I can upload them onto this blog.
I wandered around for an hour, watching the fireworks and the people, taking pictures, and still passively trying to find the others. I was standing near a bathroom that looked like a lighthouse when suddenly, someone stood next to me, really close. When I turned, it was Jeff!
Apparently, he had been wandering around for an hour looking for the others, too, and he just happened to see me standing there. Apparently, Victor had told Jeff (who didn’t have a cell phone yet) that he and the others were near a lighthouse-shaped bathroom—the one I was standing next to!
When I looked at my phone, I miraculously had reception! So I called Victor. He stood up on the crowded beach so I could see where he was. He was pretty far down the beach, and it would be difficult to navigate around all the people sitting there. Jeff and I walked around the lighthouse bathroom and lost sight of Victor again, but I took a chance and just starting walking between people down the beach. I caught sight of Mike and Nate first, and when I finally made it over to them, I sat down with Melissa and Ebony, who gave me their cell phone numbers and taught me how to use my elPhone.
Kim was there, too, but I didn’t get to talk to her much, and she and Ebony left near the end to get drinks and didn’t come back. The guys were pretty drunk, and I have a great video of the fireworks in which you can hear Mike yelling. It was pretty funny.
After the show ended, Melissa and I took the train together. I’m glad I found the group in the end. I was okay by myself, but I would have been disappointed, I think, if I hadn’t been able to enjoy the show with other people. Next time there is a fireworks festival, Ebony and Kim say they are going to invite me to get together and put on yukata, so they can help me!
Cast of Characters
Ebony as… a 2nd year ALT from New York.
Jeff as… Jazzy Jeff. A new ALT from Minnesota.
Kim as… a new CIR who transferred from Asahi (up north in Chiba prefecture). Originally from Ohio.
Melissa as… a 2nd year ALT from Wisconsin.
Mike as…. a new ALT from New Jersey.
Sam as… an ALT that I haven’t met yet.
Victor as… 2nd year ALT from Alabama.
Matsuri: the Japanese word for “festival.”
Kool Aid: A Very Important drink for young Americans. Drinking it promotes life-long happiness.
Taiko: Japanese drums.
Onigiri: rice ball.
Kanji: The Japanese word for Chinese characters. Japanese uses three writing systems, one of which is the Chinese characters. You can tell the difference between kanji and the other writing systems because kanji is so much more complicated. The kanji for “kanji” is: 漢字.
Tanabata: Japanese festivals that take place during the summer. There are a lot of fireworks, and everyone wears yukata.
Yukata: Summer kimono.
Hanabi: the Japanese word for “fireworks.”