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Call Me "Tiger"


Wow, so much to write. I’m hoping to get down some of my impressions of my first day in Chikugo before they evaporate from my memory.


Like Tokyo, Fukuoka was hot, hot, hot. And humid. The temperature isn’t that high, but the humidity is brutal. I never want to hear anyone from Nebraska bitch about the humidity ever again. “Humid” just doesn’t seem like a strong enough word.


When all of us Fukuoka-ken JETs arrived (I think there were like 50 of us) I wish I had had my camera out. (I’ve wished for my camera a dozen times since I arrived in Japan.) We came down into the baggage claim area from the gate area, and standing just outside the sliding glass doors was a crowded mass of maybe twice as many people holding up signs with names. It was quite a sight, all of them crowded in a smiling half-circle waiting for all of us newbies to get their crap together and come out to meet them.


When I came out of the baggage claim area, I was met with this red-headed guy holding up a fan with my name and picture on it. He introduced himself as Shay; I had corresponded with him previously by email. He had arrived a week before me. Then my supervisor, Tetsuya Kinoshita, introduced himself. He is short and thin with his hair cut so short he looks bald. He has an odd-shaped head. But he is very nice and speaks very good English. He also has this strange, whimsical sense of humor. He was telling us on the drive that one of the kanji in his first name means ‘philosophy’ so naturally he is no good at philosophy. Then he told us a joke about the three rings involved in marriage. Afterwards we asked him if he had told his wife that joke. His eyes got real big. “Oh, no, no!” He likes English puns.


He told us that he loves to drink. I asked him what was his favorite kind of sake was. In Japanese, “sake” means “liquor”, not “Japanese rice wine.” So he asked me what kind of sake I meant. He said he likes cold beer in the summer and warm sake in the winter. Have I said how HOT it is here?

The drive to Chikugo from Fukuoka was fairly short, maybe 45 minutes. I didn’t get to see much of Fukuoka City, except for the airport and the freeway out of town. The drive was interesting though. We passed bamboo groves, rice fields, and tea plantations. The roads are about as wide as a single lane on an American highway, but this is wide enough because all the vehicles are so small. Its so densely populated that its hard to tell where one town ends and the next begins.


Kinoshita-sensei, as we call him, took us to eat lunch at a restaurant right after we arrived in Chikugo City, or Chikugo-shi. We had a lunch of curry rice at Co Co Curry. I had a deep-fried breaded shrimp patty with mine. It was pretty good, because you could customize your level of heat. I took a Level 4 out of ten and it was good and hot. I first picked Level 5 out of 10, but the others talked me out of it.


After that, we went to the office to meet everyone. We are based in an office with a bunch of other teachers. The ALTs (that’s me) will spend every Monday in the office making lesson plans and such. The other days of the week we will go to the various schools. Only the big boss has his own office. The rest of us are packed in rows of desks, even the vice-bigbosses. The five foreigners are grouped together. Then he took us to register for our Gaijin Cards, our Alien Registration Cards. Then he took us to the bank, where we all opened bank accounts. Our pay will be deposited right into them. Then he gave us our inkan (little stamps that we use on all official documents, instead of signatures). The stamp has an ink pad and little kanji on it. He took all of our names and chose the kanji for us. My Japanized name is ‘torabisu’. ‘Tora’ means ‘tiger’, so the kanji on my inkan is ‘tora.’
At the end of the workday, he brought us to our apartment building. My first impression was that it was really old and crappy looking. Well, it IS old and crappy looking. By American standards it would be called a tenement.








The apartment has a bedroom, living room, and spare bedroom. All of these rooms are about 10’x10’ and have tatami mats on the floor. The kitchen is about 8’x10’. The bathroom is small and the tub is about three feet deep but only big enough to sit down in. You have to fill up the bathtub with water, then turn on the water heater outside, which sucks in the water, heats it, then circulates it back into the tub. The toilet is a squat toilet with a raised seat on top of it. Its perfectly fine. The office, however, is a different story. No such seat on those. There ain’t no reading in the can!! The kitchen has a two-burner stove (no oven), and small refrigerator, and a big sink. I have a tea kettle, and a bunch of pans, dishes, and glasses. I haven’t found any silverware, though. And I have enough alcohol left in the cupboards to get drunk every day for six months. On the balcony is my washer/dryer, a very small device that looks just big enough to wash a pair of pants. The dryer is about the size of a coffee can. I haven’t tried it yet. Oh, and one more thing. All the rooms have several of these little tubs of powder, which give the rooms kind of a strange smell. It smells vaguely like insecticide, but its supposedly a kind of dehumidifier. They’re supposed to keep the tatami and things from getting moldy. I’ll probably need to buy some of them soon.


Below are some photos from the shrine across the street from the apartment building.



Here's one with the apartment building in the background.




The ancient sacred tree of this particular shrine.



The main road a couple of blocks away...



I ventured out into the neighborhood this evening in search of food and drink and wandered into a small clothing store/gift box shop. By gift box I mean a box of similar items like drinks, snack packs, etc, like Hillshire Farms. They came up to me and started asking me, in very broken English, much like my Japanese probably, what I was looking for. I had been sort of looking at these gift boxes full of snacks and drinks and decided that one of them looked pretty good. I was hungry and I was VERY thirsty. I told the young man which one I wanted and he took it over to the gift-wrapping counter. The woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted it for a gift for someone. In retrospect I probably looked pretty foolish buying a gift-box for myself, but they were very good-natured about it. The older lady even gave me a cup of iced tea, probably because I looked hot and sweaty. As I sat in the chair waiting for the young woman to bring me my change, they gave me a gift. I was very surprised to see that they were giving me a lovely tea set, a small pot and two cups. It was very nice. Maybe I should take them something later in appreciation.

After that I made my way around the corner to a convenience store, where I bought some chicken nuggets, a bag of some kind of snack crackers and a bottle of CC Lemon. So I carried my goodies back to my old apartment and ate my first supper in my new home.


* * *


At the end of writing the above, I got so tired, I fell asleep on my little floor couch, and woke up at 3 am. I was awakened by this strange sound. It was the cicadas in the trees outside. There must have been tens of thousands of them outside. I have never heard them so loud. The floor couch is kind of uncomfortable to sleep on, so I drug out the futon and tried it out. It’s not bad at all. I have a foam cushion about two inches thick that helps a lot.

It is now about 6 p.m. on Thursday. I am listening to Love FM 76.0 and there is a Shania Twain song playing. The DJs speak in both English and Japanese. I have also heard some hip-hop in Japanese. I have also heard the song from Totoro playing inside two different stores, once in a convenience store in Tokyo and once in a convenience store just around the block. They were both called Lawson’s. I wonder if that is significant.



Today was my first day in the office. Basically there is nothing for us to do until school starts again, so the other four ALTs sat and studied Japanese. I tried to better familiarize myself with my electronic dictionary and helped them with their studies. The only other ALT who knows any Japanese at all is Jennifer, who took a year in college.
My coworkers are all great. Meredith is from Seattle. She’s fresh out of college with an elementary education degree. Jennifer is from Michigan, and she studied Romance Languages. Shay’s full name is Seaghda, pronounced ‘Shay-uh.’ I told him he has too many useless consonants in his name. He’s my height, with red hair, pretty stout, looks like a rugby player. Daniel is a medium-sized, soft spoken guy from Auckland, New Zealand. He loaned me 10000 Yen to get my gas hooked up because I didn’t have enough cash, so that was nice. Jennifer, Meredith, and I took a trip to the bank this afternoon. I deposited the rest of my travelers checks into my new bank account. I found that I could make withdrawals from my U.S. bank account at a Citibank ATM in Tokyo, but I haven’t tried to use my ATM card here in Chikugo. I’m guessing it won’t work. After we got back to the office, Kinoshita-sensei called (I think he had to go to Fukuoka-shi for something), and told us that the Prefectural Orientation we were supposed to go to tomorrow had been cancelled because a taifuu (typhoon) is supposed to hit Fukuoka tomorrow. Weird. Not long after that it started to rain outside. I had to walk home in pouring rain. I had been forced to buy an umbrella in Tokyo because Tuesday night was very rainy and I wanted to explore the Shinjuku district even more. But the office is about a mile from the apartment, and that umbrella was pitifully inadequate in that kind of rain. Needless to say, when I got home, the only thing on me that was dry was my head. But the apartment is nice and cool now because I opened all the windows and doors to let it cool off. The wind was blowing pretty hard. It seems to have calmed down now.

Now there’s a Japanese reggae song on the radio.

I need to go grocery shopping. I have no soap, only a couple of hand towels, and very little real food. I have fruit! I also need an iron. There is a big department store/super market called Osada not far from the office. It’s kind of like a Super Wal-Mart, but Shay and Meredith say it is closing. Too bad, but the good news is everything is 20% off. I have not found food to be expensive at all. For about $4.00 U.S. you can get a lot of food. Vending machines are everywhere, usually two of them side-by-side, one with cigarettes, one with drinks. A can of Coke costs about 120 Yen, about a dollar, so they’re not so cheap, but a bowl of noodles or rice is very reasonable.


The closest thing one will find to a Wal-Mart-like discount store in Chikugo, Hyper Center Osada.



I ventured out again in the rain, which is less now, but still steady, and went into the noodle shop about two blocks away. It was pretty good. Then I stumbled across a drug store where I bought an aluminum shield for my stove and some soap and shampoo. The aluminum shield is to keep the flame away from the gas line, which runs like eight inches from one of the burners. I’m going to try the bath again tonight now that I have soap!


Friday August 8

Its still raining, but only lightly, and the wind is still blowing. I need a new umbrella because two of the points have already broken loose. That’s what I get for buying a ¥600 umbrella. The wind really came up last night, but it wasn’t hurricane force or anything. The walk to the office is about a mile and by the time I get there, I am soaked through with sweat. . Hopefully my last piece of luggage will come today with the rest of my clothes and omiyage.


One of the other men in the office just came up to me and introduced himself. He wanted to hear about where I was from, what Nebraska was famous for. I told him cattle, corn, and Cornhuskers. His name is Mr. Ueno.
Tonight we took the train to Kurume to meet up with about 20 other ALTs from the prefecture. There were a lot of very cool people. I talked most with Gareth, Nick, and Charlie, 2-3 year ALT and CIR (coordinator for international relations) veterans from England, and Callum, from New Zealand. In Japan, many bars have deals where you pay a set fee per person, say ¥2000 (about $18), and its all you can drink. I got my money’s worth. Beer here is pretty good. It’s a little higher alcohol content than American beer.




This is my hawg.



Rice field.



Tea field not far from the apartment building.



Rice field next door to the apartment building.