The following is a post from a South African JET living in Kawanabe.
The morning we were set to depart for Kagoshima prefecture, I was super early. Almost uncomfortably so. Going from “Africa time” to “Japanese time” had me overcompensating. ..
Upon arrival at Kagoshima Airport I was greeted by Yonemitsu-sensei (my supervisor) and Hosotaki-sensei. They took me for lunch at a classic Japanese restaurant. I was thrilled when the menu was physically big to accommodate a picture of every meal they served. I got to point and ask questions rather than go with a luck of the draw. I had udon noodles, for the first time, in a broth with nori and a soft poached egg. The udon noodles are a lot slicker than the soba noodles, which the teachers had (I should have taken it as a sign) and I feel like it was taking me ages to eat but they were patient and seemed glad that I was using chopsticks.
Little Kawanabe is about an hour and a half from the airport.
On the road to Kawanabe, I was mostly conversation staring – one of my more regular activities here that I hope will (relatively) soon fade to actual conversation participation or at least understanding – but I was also just staring out of the window. The landscape here is gorgeous. You can’t believe that there are regular towns in this sort of setting. The types that aren’t providing employees for fishing farms and mountain lodges. It is just hills and trees and rivers.
And farms. They farm tea and sweet potato. Kagoshima-ken (Prefecture) is actually the second highest producer of tea in the country and is growing in popularity due to many different tea plant cultivators producing a wide range of different flavours.
I learned their other crop is sweet potato. Kagoshima-ken is in fact the highest producer of sweet potato in the country! They also decided that they cannot possible eat all of this sweet potato and they make a liquor out of them called Shochu. A must-try they say.
It was straight on to the school where I was shown to my desk in the staff room. The staff room is nothing like the lounge-like getaways that teachers have back home but is rather an open plan office that seems to breed ultra efficiency. (One of the panellists at Tokyo Orientation said that this is a facade and that there are some watching YouTube videos… Stepping in here, I am not convinced…)
Later, we bustled back to the car and were off to order an inkan. Here, you very rarely sign anything but you rather use a stamp of your name. Just about nothing can be done without it. Even if you do sign for whatever reason, you still need to stamp. Since they will only be ready the next day, the only thing to be done today is to register me at the City Office with my residence card. Standard bureaucracy. But there was this glasses box, you know, in case you forgot your glasses at home and need to fill in a form! Because, shame, the population is getting old… Died from the adorableness…
Next they took me on a little ride around my little town. We stopped at AZ Store – a megastore that is opened 24 hours a day. Think about baking Makro (Walmart) and Pick n Pay Hyper (Costco) into a cake and then icing it with Builder’s Warehouse (Lowes) and sprinkling it with SupaQuick (auto-shop)… Although not mind-boggling massive, it is pretty comprehensive.
And Back Again.
Back to school for some time-passing Japanese study and then off for dinner with the department.
There are 5 teachers – 3 male and 2 female – and they seem very easy to get along with.
Because my flat was being cleaned, I couldn’t move in immediately so I was sleeping at Hiraoka-sensei’s – one of the female teachers – house for 2 nights.
Most the teachers at my school actually in live in Kagoshima-Shi (City) and commute in everyday. On a good day, this takes about 40 minutes – Mostly due to winding roads and a highway speed limit of 80km/h (town is 40 km/h – this is going to take some getting used to…) Hiraoka-sensei lives in a quaint neighbourhood with a park in the middle and neat gardens, the epitome of Japanese suburbia.
We watched a little bit of TV – news, a cooking show and baseball (possibly my first outside of a movie!). I learnt that Kyushu has just one baseball team – while the general trend is that each prefecture has a team – and we are the Softbank Hawks.
Sleeping in a home environment did me wonders!