Saturday, October 25, 2008

Kurashiki and Small Update...

I know I made promises to post some pictures of my house, but I keep forgetting so you'll have to settle for some pictures from my trip to Kurashiki instead. Let me say, if you ever come to Japan, you absolutely MUST go to Kurashiki, it's one of the most peaceful cities I've ever been to, and thats even with the tourists and on an overcast day. The historical district is filled with some great galleries with Bizen pottery work and some nice museums ( at least from what I read in my book ). I was too captivated with my surroundings to spend the day in museums, so I roamed around the historic district, walked up to a beautiful temple that overlooked the city, and roamed around the ghetto. It's a lot of fun just wandering around with no destination, especially because its so easy to just ask somebody where the station is. Even with my terrible Japanese, I can still figure out where something is no problem. On my way back, I asked this one woman where the station was and she ended up noticing I was going the wrong way and caught up to me on her bicycle and walked me right up to the gate. Pretty tight.

Anyway, the historic district is lined with some amazing trees and has a canal that runs all the way through it, complete with gigantic white carp and swans. The stonework on the canal is great, and the end result is a place that you could just sit and do nothing for hours on end. I'll definitely go back there to take in the sights when its sunny out, and for 10 bucks there and back, its not pricey at all. Even the train ride is fun because you can actually draw on a train and there a lot of crazy people that ride it. It gets even crazier when you can buy sake and beer at the train station, where I've noticed a lot of older men swarming.

About the pictures, some of them aren't the greatest but I thought I'd upload them anyway just to share. Also I want to say that I taught my first kids class today and had to wear a frankenstein mask and have a Halloween party. I was sweating so bad, and by the end of class I really started to smell because the deodorant here doesn't work at all. It just smells like hairspray and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. I asked Hiromi about it the first day I got here since I forgot mine at home, and she said that men here don't use deodorant. Not only are they geniuses, but they never smell bad either. Oh, to be Japanese.

Some Kurashiki Pics

Here are some teasers, I set up an album so I wouldn't take up the whole blog with pictures so check it out for the forty or so flicks I took.

From Kurashiki = Ill

From Kurashiki = Ill

From Kurashiki = Ill

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The last post before more pictures

So I don't have my computer with me today, but I'm going to wait to post pictures because tomorrow I'll be going to Kurashiki to check out the old merchant section of town. I guess its filled with traditional architecture and some good museums, and its only a thirty minute train ride from my station so I figure its a good way to spend my day off. I'll post pictures of the trip, and of my apartment on Saturday or Sunday depending if I have time. Today I met some Koreans at the International Center who are want to do a language exchange type thing where I'll help them out with English and they help me with Japanese. Also, at the International Center there are Japanese language classes for only 200 yen (about two bucks) because the government subsidizes them, so I'm going to try and start going three times a week before work. It shouldn't be a problem, because since I've started sleeping on a futon on the floor, waking up isn't too difficult.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finally... INTERNET

It's taken a while to find internet access since I've moved into my apartment, and even harder to find a place that I can actually upload images, but I've finally been told about an internet cafe that I can pay 60 yen to plug in my laptop. This is a huge post, since I've been trying to write everyday, but I'm definitely skipping over a lot of things that have happened. I'll try to keep the blog more up to date from now on, and once I get a scanner I'll post some more sketches. I need to catch the last train, so check back in a few days for some more flicks and a little update on life in Oyakama.

The BIG post

Although things haven't totally set in that I'm actually in Japan, I couldn't be happier that I am where I am. The past four days have been incredibly hectic, allowing me only a few hours of sleep through my entire traveling period. Like I posted before, I needed to go to Chicago to get my finalized visa, but the time I spent there turned out to be really enjoyable. I've never even been to Chicago and didn't realize how much the city has to offer. The architecture is great, the food wonderful, and the people were really helpful. Even better was that I got to see my cousin who I rarely get to see, and we spent the night first at a bar on the 96th story of some building that offered amazing views of the city and some excellent martinis, followed by a restaurant who's food made the whole trip worth it.

The bus rides were pretty uneventful except for on the way back there was some high black guy that kept hitting on every girl he come into contact with, even ones that were asleep. But once I got back, I was lucky to get picked up by a few of my good friends who cared enough to see me before I took off for the great adventure and we had one last late night meal at Mickeys. So Kyle, Casey, and Brandon even though it's cheesy I just want to say thanks for doing that, it meant a lot.

Once I got back home around two in the morning, I still needed to pack everything so I ended up going to bed at around 5:00, having to wake up at 7:00 to get to the airport early and make sure all my tickets were in order. I hopped on the first flight to Vancouver where nothing exciting really happened. I met this guy from Portugal who was pretty cool though, and we talked for a good part of the trip except for the times I needed to fuel my puttering brain with some Sudoku or David Sedaris. I know absolutely nothing about Vancouver, but judging from what it looks like from the air, it seems like a pretty good place to vacation, or even live in. The city is huge, sitting right on a bay and surrounded by really lush forests and mountains. I wish I had had time to explore it a little, but instead I stayed in the airport and drew people for an hour or two. The time finally arrived to get on the plane to Osaka and once I stepped on the plane I already knew it was going to be a good flight. For one, international flights are very accommodating and provide free meals and an unlimited supply of booze for the passengers. Second, the first class seats were egg-like pods with little blue lights and leg rests. I pictured my seat with a down pillow and a comforter, and while it wasn't nearly as lavish as first class, it was a huge step up from how I'm used to flying. There were head rests that wrapped around my head, allowing me to rest my head against something without straining my neck, as well as nice screens on the seat ahead of me for watching movies. I also lucked out and sat next to the emergency exit so I got a lot of extra leg room. It's too bad I didn't have anyone to talk to, but the good selection of movies and strong drinks made the flight really enjoyable even though I didn't get any sleep.

Five movies and a few cocktails later I landed in Osaka, met by the infamous Flemming Lord. He's not what I had pictured at all, he's not even Japanese. He's a tall and lanky Englishman who spoke so quietly I barely understood anything he said. He had spent the last fifteen years in Osaka, but still seemed pretty unsure about how to go about doing anything. He was nice enough though, and helped me out with the money issues that popped up in the Osaka terminal. My last paycheck from the freelance work I was doing bounced, and since it was a huge check, when I checked my balance I was about $ 350.00 in the hole. Either it was the lack of sleep or the excitement of being in Japan that kept me from freaking out, but everything ended up working out just fine. Flemming bought me my bus ticket to Okayama City and gave me some pocket money to get started and then went his own way. Taking the bus was kind of a blur, as I came in and out of consciousness for the entire trip, and after four more hours of traveling I finally arrived at Okayama-Ekimae Station. After retrieving my luggage I was met by two women, both named Hiromi, who worked at Nova, my place of employment. They were really nice, and it was fun to joke around with them after the long trip, even if they didn't fully understand everything I was saying or my humor.

There's a lot that I've taken in starting from the first step in the city, and it's hard to organize my thoughts enough to try and type everything I've been thinking about. Just on the walk from the station the night I got here, I saw where the red light district was and discovered the greatness of beers in vending machines. There are also cigarette vending machines, but they require a card verifying that the buyer is over 20. That's not an issue for alcohol though, and even still for cigarettes, you can just go into a store and they would sell them to you no questions asked. Also relating to vending machines, there's a restaurant I've been going to quite a bit because its cheap and good, but you buy your meal through a vending machine and get a ticket and within 2 minutes you have your meal in front of you complete with a bowl of miso soup. Food can be really cheap, and I even found a place close to where I work that I can get a bowl of udon for 105 yen, which comes out to be just a little over a dollar. Wandering the city has been really fun, but sometimes I wish that somebody was here experiencing it for the first time too. I don't mind too much, but its a lot of stimulus that I can't really express in words and sometimes I want to glance over and get a look affirming that what I'm experiencing is as unbelievable as I think it is. I'm beginning to meet people though, so I'm sure this will all change as I start exploring the country a little more.

Since my visa didn't get processed until the day before I came here, I don't get my apartment until Friday so I've been staying in hotels. The first one was nice, and had a good breakfast. I knew that rice was eaten at every meal, but my breakfasts lately have consisted of pretty much only rice. This first hotel only had really good meatballs soaked in a thick gravy with rice and the hotel I'm at now has the best miso I've ever tasted served with baklava shaped rice things. However, my room in the hotel I'm at now is so small I don't have space to do anything. My luggage takes up 3 / 4 of the available floor space and I barely fit through the bathroom door. It offers a great view of the city though, overlooking both the train yard and the opposite side of the station. The photo taken at dusk is from my window. My apartment is a fifteen minute bike ride from the station so while it's not right downtown, it's close enough that I can easily get there. Plus there are restaurants, bars, and shops sprawled all throughout the city, it isn't really separated into different districts or anything. The apartment is called a 1k apartment meaning that there is one room plus a kitchen. I think that it's about 200 square feet but it has a balcony and a washing machine so I'll be happy. I guess I'll have to wait and see how I really feel about it but I'm excited to have a place to call my home.

My second day of teaching here went much better than I thought it would, even though I still messed up quite a bit. Before the teaching even started, I roamed the city to register myself as an alien to Okayama, but instead of finding the city office building, I found an enormous arcade named Joypolis, located in Joy Town. It's funny because a lot of stores have something to do with happiness. The day before I shopped at a supermarket / everything store called Happy Village and I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous posters and signs labeling the different aisles and special sales for the week. Anyway, this arcade was run by Sega, and I was surprised to find that almost the entire bottom floor was dedicated to claw games. I asked my manager Tom about it and he said that claw games, as well as gambling games, are more popular than video games. A lot of the prizes were Dragon BallZ action figures or bug eyed smiling animals giving the peace sign so I stuck to the video game section. I'm really glad I found this place because I haven't been to an arcade forever, and to just mash buttons with no idea what I was really doing felt pretty good. Once I get more confident I hope to take out the local fighting game champions and earn a little respect around here. Back to the teaching.

My first day was pretty rocky, and I wasn't ready at all for what I got thrown into. The first thing I taught was the activity section of the lesson, and me, not used to lowering my word count to give directions, thoroughly confused all of the students. Luckily Tom was there to help out when things went awry, and the second lesson I had to teach later that night went much smoother, mainly because there was only one student. Today though, I had to teach the entire lesson to a group of four, and everything was going good until I stopped the lesson ten minutes early because I misjudged when the lesson was supposed to be over. I'm glad that these students could speak alright English, because I almost got up and walked away before one of them told me that there was still a long time. Besides that little mishap though, I feel pretty good about how things are progressing, and tomorrow will be a new challenge: teaching back to back classes.

I've finished my training so from this point on I am an official teacher of English at Nova schools throughout Japan. While I was kind of looking forward to teaching in my own style, the Nova approach to teaching English will be a good test for me to accommodate what I think is right for what needs to be done. There is a pretty strict lesson plan, and the only variation really comes in a few areas with a couple different choices. What I do hope is to treat the students not like pets, talking in a higher voice and much slower, but like I talk normally. I tried it on the last day of training, and it not only made me feel more comfortable in the classroom, but I think the students felt more comfortable when they could tell I wasn't putting on some kind of act. I had today off, but tomorrow I start my first full day, teaching eight full classes. I think I'm ready, and I know that from here on out I'll only continue to improve.

Work is going good, but I'm still having some difficulties dealing with the change in lifestyle. I moved into my apartment yesterday and I kind of knew that it was going to be small, but I never imagined that it would be THIS small. The kitchen has a fridge that is barely bigger than a mini fridge, one burner hooked up to a gas line, a big sink, and a washing machine. There isn't even a counter to prepare anything on, and with only one burner my cooking options are pretty limited. Connected to the kitchen is my bathroom, that has one of the smallest showers I've ever seen and barely enough room to even sit down on the toilet. And then there's the main room, where I do everything else. Hiromi borrowed me one of her extra futons, and I couldn't help but laugh when she brought it over because it was hot pink and had leopard print on it. The futon takes up about half of the main room, so once I get a desk, I'll have to fold it up and put it in the closet so I can walk around a little. I was pretty bummed today when I woke up really sore from sleeping on the floor and realized that I didn't have any basic living items. No shampoo, no soap, no toilet paper, no clothes hangers, etc. It was my day off so I thought I would just go find some shops and pick up the basics, but my search ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. The first dilemna popped up when I realized that I didn't have any yen and that I couldn't use the one ATM that is by my apartment. After pacing the streets for a while trying to figure out what to do, I finally just went to the train station and drew out my situation for the guy at the ticket counter. All my pictionary skills paid off and I got on the train for free and once I got into Okayama station I got some money out. I thought things would be easy from this point on, but not being able to ask anybody where anything is makes finding anything ten times harder. After some walking around I found shampoo and face wash as well as an iron. I still didn't have toilet paper or any clothes hangers which I really need since my work has a strict dress code.

I'm still finding out new things about my apartment. For one the entire bathroom is considered a shower. Because there isn't any space, I just have a drain in the floor and in the bathtub, and I'm supposed to stand outside the shower to wash myself and then jump into the tub of clean water once I'm all done. I haven't tried it yet, but it makes sense since there's no place to put a shower curtain and the toilet paper has a protective casing around it. There's also gigantic creepy looking spiders all over the place and today I tried to kill one that was hanging out on my balcony, only to have it curl up in a ball and then spring at me. I thought I killed it on three different occasions but the same thing happened every time. Supposedly its bad luck to kill the spiders here, and even though I didn't kill this one, if I see another one in my apartment I know its little secret now and it definitely won't get away.

Last night I went out with the two Hiromis from work, two of the teachers and one of their girlfriends, and two of Hiromi's friends. To put it simply it was awesome. We went to a restaurant where you sit on the floor and eat and I had a few beers and some really good food. It was a lot of fun just because everybody, even with pretty high language barriers between us, was talking like we'd been friends for a long time. I think the biggest difference between the Japanese and Americans lies in how the females act. Whenever they talk, they sound like they are saying something really important and are excited to get the news out. This applies to when they react to what you say too; everything is an exaggerated expression but it seems to be more of a genuine fascination than being melodramatic. The whole night made it seem like life here will just continue to get better once I make a few friends, and even with the demanding work schedule, the times I have to relax, travel, and meet people are really exciting to think about.

Just a few flicks for now...

I haven't had the chance to take too many pictures since I lost my camera charger, but I just got a new one so there's a lot more to come. This should give you a little overview of where I'm at though.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Something big coming...

So I've made it to Japan but have failed to update with anything because I've been staying in a hotel for the last few days and the keyboards here have really tiny spaceboards and enter keys so typing anything takes about twice as long and gives me finger cramps. I move into my apartment tomorrow so hopefully I can find internet easily and steal someones wifi, otherwise the big update will take a little longer. Anyway, Japan is tight and I'll update once I get a little more settled.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nothing is ever simple

I leave the country on Friday, and the guy who has been helping me out in Japan just emailed me asking if the thing I got in the mail was a real visa or just a certificate of eligibility to get a visa. I've never worked outside the country, so after filling out visa applications and stuff, I figured that I had a visa. WRONG. I guess after you apply for a visa you then need to send this certificate to a Japanese Embassy to get a visa. At first I tried to change my flight to a later date, but my one way ticket DOUBLED if I did. So now rather than staying here for my friend's birthday and relaxing before the trip, I get to take a nine to ten hour bus ride to Chicago, turn in the certificate, spend the night at my cousin's house, then wake up, get my visa, and hop back on a bus. This is going to be the craziest few days. And here's a WIP of the zombies that I was trying to get done before I left. We'll see if it still happens. Suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Findings and Some Sketches

I had a little free time today and since I'm in a good mood I thought I'd write a little update and post a few sketches. I've decided I want to start playing the ukelele. I've been learning Beirut songs on the guitar but it just doesn't sound the same and I think ukeleles are just awesome. Also, its come to my attention that according to typography specialists, you aren't supposed to double space after a period. GASP! Why were we taught differently during school if the correct way is supposed to read much better and save space?

Today I bought my first pairs of slacks and my travel book for Japan. It was interesting to find a whole section dedicated to the history of anime and how it is one of Japan's major industries. In Tokyo they have a whole shopping area that is dedicated to manga, anime, and animation, and they even have animation museums where you can watch Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Crazy. The book had a little about my area too, and I really can't wait to get there. The first little trip I'm going to do is a five or six kilometer bike ride through a countryside scattered with old burial mounds, temples, shrines, and gardens. It's a few bucks to rent a bike and then I just take the train back to Okayama. Sounds pretty fabulous, hopefully I'll find the time before it gets too cold.

I was wondering if I could get any comments / critique on the zombie sketch. I'm making it for my friend's band and I just want to get some feedback or any ideas for filling in the background or for color schemes.