Sink or Swim

One of the new ALTs from Kosaka and I went row boating at Lake Towada this weekend. It was quite a funny experience. First off, neither of us knew where the heck the place was.  On the first try, we missed the lake completely and took the road headed back home. A trip that was supposed to take fifty minutes took two hours. On the drive there, she mentioned she did crew before so I was confident with her boat maneuvering abilities. Hmm, well we quickly put those to test. In the States, when you rent out a boat or something they have a mini instructional and life vest to go with it. To my surprise, that does not happen here. We paid and the lady just walked us out the boat. Before coming out, I felt comfortable because I was almost positive I would at least be in a life vest  AND my friend would be a pro at this boat thingy. We hopped in the boat and had no idea what to do. Then, she proceeds to mention that with crew she was used to rowing backwards AND never rowed with two oars. In my head, I was like WHAT! I was sure we were not going to make it off that shore and if we did, we’d get stuck in the middle of the lake screaming help!  We spent the first ten minutes trying to figure out how to work this thing while these Japanese men sat and watched for a second. The lady gave use a push and we “rowed” ourselves right back to the shore. After the men saw that we were struggling and I’m sure they wanted to laugh, one guy came over and gave us a push again and began moving his arms and instructing us how to row. Neither one of us know much Japanese soo.. we cluelessly attempted to move our arms like he did. Nope, didn’t work again! We ended right back at the shore and here comes the man again. This happened about four times maybe before we figured it out. I was positive we were going to spend our whole hour on the lake trying to figure this out. Thankfully, we caught on rather quickly ( well… I’d like to call it quick). After we figured it out, we had an amazing time. The view was to die for and we learned so much about each other. Now that we are officially pros hahah, I see myself going back.

…. Not the end of my sink or swim day. So with the pleasant and delightful experience of the beautiful lake in mind, I cheerfully headed back to Kazuno. So far, I’ve been pretty good at getting back home and driving from Kosaka to Kazuno was a piece of cake. You just have to take that one road. Well in my glee, I forgot that one wrong turn on that ONE road could send you the opposite direction. On my drive to “Kazuno”, I was jamming hard core to Usher. Singing and bobbing my head and not really paying attention to signs because I just knew I was going the right way. After twenty minutes of driving, I noticed the other ALT and her husband driving in the opposite direction. I thought to myself oh cool, that’s so crazy I saw them. They must be going to Kosaka. Kept on driving and jamming, then I started driving around these boulders and seeing signs that warned drivers about rocks falling. This is when I got a little worried. I did not remember driving passing any of this on the way to Kosaka and I didn’t see any signs to indicate where I was. As I slowly drive near these scary boulders, I started praying hoping for a blue sign.  By the way, signage is the Japan, let’s just say there aren’t many signs on the road like in the States. Finally, after a five additional minutes of driving, now near panicking because the sun was setting, I saw a sign on the other side of the road. I stopped and looked back and there was my city Kazuno with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction. GREAT!  So where did I drive to… I entered a whole different prefecture (prefecture is like a state in the USA). I would have known had there been a BIG WELCOME SIGN!

There’s much more to Kazuno-Shi

Location Map of Kazuno in Akita Prefecture, Japan

Kazuno

There is more to Kazuno-shi, Akita-ken than you think

Rice field, rice field, rice field, STORE were the first things I noticed about Kazuno. I wasn’t sure what there was to do here given that rice fields and mountains made up half if not the majority of the city. So, my quest has been to figure out what makes Kazuno special TO ME.  So, here is a little about what I’ve learned about Kazuno so far and the things I find interesting and cool.

The Name/ Humble beginnings

The kanji for Kazuno  literally means “deer horns” . When I first heard this, I assumed  Kazuno was home of the deer.  Well actually, from what I hear there

are hardly any deer around here. I tried to look around to see if there were pictures of deer in obscure places ( because at home if something is popular in the town ( local football team, an animal, etc.. then you will probably see pictures everywhere) but no luck.  Kazuno’s kanji is “deer horn” because the shape of it on the map look like the horn of a deer. Take a look to see if you can see the horn.

Kazuno is pretty spread out. Forty years ago, Kazuno was five separate towns.  Now, the towns are one with a population of about 36,000 people. (Houston divided into 55,555 sections ) It is so small that stories like an Ostrich escaping a farm make it to the newspaper.  ( This happened during the first week. My boss at the city hall was in charge of hunting it down) In that aspect, it reminds me of how at Davidson the newspapers had stories about how squirrels in the electrical unit caused another power outage in some of the dorms.  Also, the roads are pretty narrow here, I assume because of the smallness. You are more than likely to run into someone you know (ie. my boss decked out for the festival haha) either in the store, streets, karaoke bar, or restaurants. Because I was in the newspaper, sometimes, I’ve walked into a store and the owner says “ Hey, I saw you in the newspaper!” ( in Japanese of course. Katrina, the other ALT helps with translation).  I aint gon lie, I feel pretty darn cool when that happens.

Nature

Great thing about Kazuno is that I have everything I want in my own backyard ( well kind of).  I am surrounded by beautiful mountains. The view is so gorgeous and it can be pretty calming sometimes. In the winter, I am looking forward to skiing on one of the kiddie slopes! I also have the option to go hiking. I don’t think I will be doing that too much though. I am not interested in messing up my hair or feeling dirty when a five to ten minute drive home could fix all that… AND, there are bears… nope not a chance.  In the surrounded areas, there is a famous lake called Lake Towada. It is about a fifty minute drive but it so worth going. The lake used to be an old volcano. I was told maybe it was too volcanoes. After the huge eruption, the volcano filled in with water. Where the water came from… I’m not too sure.   Oh, on your way to the lake you can stop take this SEVEN TIER waterfall called Nanataki. In Japanese “nana” means seven and “taki” is waterfall. Get it?  I enjoyed seeing that and outside of my house this has been the coolest ( I mean cool in its literal sense) place I’ve been.  The water is a bit chilly and you can feel the nice breeze. I can definitely seeing myself going there for some me time and to reflect.

Nanataki

Lake Towada

If you drive about ten minutes from my apartment, there are natural hot springs in an are called Oyu. You can smell the sulfur from the drives as you get closer to it. I still have not been brave enough to go there yet because you have to strip down in a spring full of other people of the sex most of the time. I’m fine with the same sex but I just don’t want to run up on a situation where it might be coed. I’ll make a quick U-ey back to my house.  If you are interested in the archaeological things, surprisingly enough I’m not so much ( don’t’ kill me other anthropologist), but there is an ancient stone circle. The Oyu Stone Circle is one of Japan’s most famous historical sites. It was built during the Jomon period ( Japan’s own Neolithic period). There has been lots od debate about the purpose of the stone circle, religious reasons, a clock, etc. so if you are interested in ancient eras definitely look into it. There is also a museum all in Japanese that talk about the Oyu Stone Circle.

Coworkers and I at Oyu Hot Springs

In the town near Kazuno, Kosaka, there is another famous lake called Lake Tazawa. It’s the deepest lake in Japan and it never freezes over. This is on the todo list. They say the water is so pretty and blue… I can’t wait to see it. Maybe another adventure with my Kosaka friend ( you’ll read more about her later).

Oyu Hot Springs

Home of the best PEACH ICE CREAM

Everyone knows ICE CREAM is my favorite dessert. If you didn’t, now you do!  Kazuno’s peach ice cream is the best according to my standards and because Kazuno is the only place I tried it. Anyway, peach ice cream is awesome! There is a cool plaza area called Antler where people can buy groceries. There’s an area for tourist and the most important, peach ice cream.  It is said that Kazuno is the furthest north that you can grow peaches. I got lucky with this one! I haven’t bought a peach yet but if they taste anything like the ice cream I’m sure they are juicy and sweet. Sidenote, I think it is so cute how they package the peaches. They have a little knitted holder for them. I chuckled when I saw them in the grocery store. Pretty cool!

Kiritanpo

Kiritanpo is a famous dish in Akita and is Kazuno’s mascot.. It is pretty much grilled rice on a stick. So Kiritanpo, cute little grilled rice on the stick with a hate. You know you are in Kazuno when you start seeing a bunch of pictures of her!

Speaking of food, the food here is so great ( there will be a post about this too).  If anyone knows me, I am a pretty picky eater. It is very hard to please me when it comes to food. Well, Kazuno has done a great job of satistfing my appetite.  I know pretty  several stores I can go to and get spoiled haha. The people in Kazuno are so nice and sweet. There was on spaghetti place where we went for lunch one day. I am not a fan of marinera sauce so I don’t really like spaghetti or anything with marinera sauce besides pizza. I was having a tough time trying to figure out what I wanted to eat. The owner comes over and tells me he will make a dish special for me… just tell him what I want. Long story short, he made me a very delicious dish and then before I left he said I can come in his shop anytime and ask for anything and he will cook it just for me. Boy did that make me happy, I love me some food and I now have a personal chief in Kazuno haha. I’ve meet some other sweet people who have restaurants around here and spoil me with kindness. The other day, I was invited in and ate snacks with that owner and her family. They were such amazing and I got to practice some Japanese ( not that I know much).  Overall, Kazuno folks have treated me with such kindness and been so hospitable.  It took a while to get used to but, I think I am finally settling in and feeling a bit more comfortable in my city. I’m looking forward to meeting my students next week and making the best out of my experience.

Can I get a sale please???

Prior to leaving for Japan, I knew  Japan was pretty darn expensive  but DANG, I did not expect it to be so much. I don’t even think SALES exist in Japan. Well. I did see an “on sale” sign but those prices did not meet my standards. My first jaw dropping moment was when I went  shopping at a mall in Akita, Akita. ( one of the big cities in Akita prefecture)  I walked into the tie section and noticed that a tie was equal to about $90-100. Oh my word! I proceeded to check out the pricing on other clothes. There was a BASIC shirt that was worth a little over $40. Now, I’ve seen $40 shirts in the States but most of the time the price is so high because of the brand. Um… BUT did not see a familiar brand on that $40 shirt in the Akita mall.  I made a mental note of these prices and came to the conclusion that I will not be shopping for clothes or anything related to clothes in Japan.  After  I finished window shopping, we headed to a restaurant to eat. I was craving some tempura, one of my favorite things to eat in Japan. My friends who knew kanji helped me figured out what to get. We were all under the assumption that this tempura was 630 yen.. which is a little over 6 bucks.  Knowing that I was saving a great deal on this meal, I happily chowed down on my two tempura and small cabbage salad. I chugged some water and popped out my wallet ready to pay. We get to the register and the lady rings up 1680 yen, which is a little over 17 bucks.  My jaw drops again, WHAT? Surely, the tempura was  not worth more than 6 bucks. I call over the guy who speaks Japanese and ask him to get some answers. I reach over to find a menu so that I can prove this lady wrong because I was NOT about to pay 16 bucks for two shrimp and cabbage strings.  Turns out, we misread the menu and that tempura was indeed 1680 yen. Second mental note of the day, no more $16 tempura! I haven’t gone serious grocery shopping yet, but I do know what I am staying far away from… TEMPURA.

Information Overload Ah!

 Information overload is the best description of my first week in Japan. I arrive for Tokyo orientation July 29. Immediately, I was met with long workshops and over 700 new faces, all of which I wanted to meet and get to know. Realistically, that was nearly impossible. However, the people I did meet were amazing. I met people from the United States,  Ireland,  the  United Kingdom, Jamaica, South Africa and more that I have a hard time remembering. Despite the diversity of culture, we all shared something in common. Whether it was a curious personality or a passion for education, each individual there was connected in some way to the person sitting right next to them. Although Tokyo orientation was quite overwhelming, on the grand scheme of things it was beautiful and fun!

After three days in Tokyo, I hopped on the plane to Akita prefecture. There I was met by my two bosses and two other JETs waving with smiling faces and  holding at huge colorful sign that said ” Welcome Leah”  . After a long flight, it was so heart warming to see them so excited to see me. We then hopped in the car to drive about 2 hours to Kazuno City. Along the way, we stopped to get one of my favorite Japanese dishes…. SUSHI!! The place was sooooo awesome. I wish I took pictures but I was too busy grubbing. The place had a huge 2 level conveyor belt in the middle of the room with tables set up around it. The conveyor belt had various kinds of sushi and sometimes juice and other entrees  but mostly sushi. Whenever  you saw a plate the looked very delicious, you could just grab it off the conveyor belt and devour the sushi roll or slowly enjoy every bit of the sushi. I DEVOURED IT! There were also touch screen menus where if you wanted something prepared just for you you could order it. I felt like I was in sushi heaven. I ate as much as I wanted and didn’t feel embarrassed when the waitress came to count my 11 plates. YES, eleven plates of sushi! ( I didn’t eat much in the airport) Also, my coworkers and predecessor sneakily encouraged me to try natto ( fermented soybeans) , a famous Japanese food. Apparently, many foreigners hate it. Welp, the statement was quite right. I did not like it at all haha. After filling my belly with wonderful fish and rice, we headed to Kazuno.

Upon arrival to Kazuno, my predecessor suggested we have a sleepover so that I wouldn’t feel lonely the first night and told me tomorrow will be a big day. Well, it was. I met the Board of Education and was officially approved to work in the office.  I went on to met the Mayor of Kazuno who encouraged me to try new things and learn Japanese. Finally, I was interviewed by several journalist in the town about my stay in Japan and what I was looking forward to in Kazuno.  Once the greetings were over, I went to set up a bank account, apply for a residence card, pay my rent, and lease out a car. YES, they made sure I had some wheels immediately. I got a chance to practice driving on the LEFT side of the road in the parking lot. The woman in charge of me ( Kodama)  was so kind to give me pointers and instruct me on how to navigate the roads. That was a lifesaver because I wasn’t as nervous. Oh, fun fact. The cars have the wind shield wipers and turn signals switched haha. I’m sure you can imagine what happened to me when I tried to make my first turn! Later that night, the Board of Education held a Welcome Party in the best hotel in Kazuno. My boss and various coworkers expressed their gratitude and then we all shared drinks and food. It was so fun and many of my coworkers are pretty hilarious. ( well from whatever is said to me in translation )

The next day, I met all the teachers in the city. There are 14 schools in Kazuno. I will be teaching at 7 of them. We spent the majority of the day greetings the teachers…. which translates to bowing, bowing, bowing, and more bowing and oh yea smiling too! I also received a copy of the newspaper articles on me. YES YES YES, that’s right I was in the newspaper. THREE (tr3) to be exact!  I felt super cool when I saw those.  In almost every school I visited, someone mentioned seeing me in the paper. When I went the store the owner said she saw in me too.  Despite the nervousness, I felt so special and like a celeb for a sec every time I heard about myself in the newspaper 🙂 🙂

Overall, my first week in Japan has been a success. Emotionally and mentally, it’s been tough. It’s hard to feel apart of the community. A lot of it has to do with the fact I don’t speak Japanese. I’m blessed because I have a translator but it’s not the same when you can’t say it yourself. This is by far the toughest thing I have ever done in my life but I know with prayer and positivity I will get over this hurdle. Until next time. Oh, if you have any questions about what I’ve said feel free to post. If there are typos… MY BAD 🙂 Can’t get all of them

-Leah