Just West of the Midwest Chapter 3: Dazed and Confused

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Photo by acfrohna

At about 7 a.m., as I laid in my futon surveying my new surroundings, I heard some kind of nearby machine come to life in a series of clicks.

Followed by several bongs (and not the good kind).

And then a sickeningly sweet, yet strangely soothing voice of a woman who was wishing me (and from the sound of it, the remainder of the town), “Ohaiyo Gozaimasu” (Good Morning).

Still groggy from a restless night’s sleep, I couldn’t tell exactly where the voice was coming from, so I crawled from my bed and, assuming it to be emanating from somewhere outside, I opened the sliding door which leads out onto a small balcony overlooking the town.

I waited for the voice to speak again.

When it did, I realized that the voice wasn’t coming from the streets.

It was coming from my apartment.

So, I followed it until I found what I like to call the Clicky Machine mounted in the corner of the room just off the kitchen. The device, so I was later by Yamamoto-sensei, is used to warn the citizens of Shintomi of impending foul weather and such.

Foul weather or fair, it will act as a communal alarm clock each and every morning during my stay here.

So much for hitting the snooze button.

After slowly dressing and making some tea, I headed downstairs where, at precisely 9 a.m., Yamamoto-sensei arrived to take me to meet the mayor of Shintomi and more high ranking, local officials.

When we arrived back at Shintomi Town Hall, I was led into a reception room and there, with my introduction speech now soggy and crumpled in my hands, I waited with eight men and a local photographer.

Each silently watching my every move.

Shy smiles and nods of acknowledgement giving way to the only motion left in the room.

The clock’s second hand… ticking… away… the minutes.

Eventually,  we were led into the mayor’s office where I would be welcomed with a short speech.

Followed by my feeble, yet remarkably long-winded “thanks for having me here” speech in both Japanese and English.

Followed by several campaign-style photo-ops.

When the preliminary formalities were concluded, I was motioned to have a seat on the mayor’s leather couch and in doing so made some unfortunate sounds as my perspiring thighs rubbed against unsympathetic upholstery.

Rattled and red-faced, I smiled weakly.

Then I noticed that each man in the room had a copy of my bio.

Nothing in there is going to get us through this any faster, my friends.

Thank goodness, the day ended with Akiko-san inviting me to a jazz festival in the neighboring town of Saito.

It was the fist time since arriving that I remembered to breathe.

Initial Observations:

  • I’ve never been so excited; while at the same time so petrified.
  • So far, I’ve met the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, the governor of Miyazaki prefecture and the mayor of the Shintomi.
  • They’re all at least five inches shorter than me.
  • Japanese is not an easy language to learn. Think of everything you know about our native tongue and… forget it. It doesn’t apply. However, I’m studying hard (ok, I’m studying) and I should be able to face the general Japanese public by sometime early next year.
  • The people of Shintomi are lovely and thoughtful.
  • But they only drive little, white cars.
  • I visited my first store in Shintomi on my own the other day to look for a reading lamp to replace the overhead florescent lighting installed throughout my apartment. I found a lamp, approached the counter and nervously attempted Japanese, but ended up playing a highly animated game of universal charades instead. I somehow managed to purchase the lamp, brought it home and – feeling a strong sense of accomplishment – plugged it in.
  • It’s frickin’ florescent.
  • I might have a chance at “romance” here having already been propositioned by two men.
  • Sadly, both were thirty years older… and about five inches shorter than me.
  • It’s Saturday night and I’m writing to you instead of being out there looking for aforementioned romance, or at least a little fun.
  • It seems Japanese women aren’t allowed too much fun.
  • I’ll be playing in a community volleyball tournament next week. This might be the only time my height will be advantageous.
  • The Japanese seem to have a million different rituals, gestures, sayings, etc.
  • Customs precede your every move.
  • Kindness and respect are not considered special efforts but are a given and vital part of daily existence.
  • At first these “givens” seem a trifle overwhelming – the greetings and the multiple “thank yous”, the blessings, the bowing and kneeling – even eating and drinking appear far too complicated. But as I begin to find my footing in these new surroundings, I’m learning to appreciate the grace in each motion and every saying.
  • I went to Miyazaki for yet another unremarkable JET orientation and then went shopping with Sam. Miyazaki has some fantastic clothing stores.
  • None of the clothes fit.
  • The town bought me a satellite hook-up so I can keep in touch with the happenings in the world on the English-speaking station.
  • I’m starting to talk to the television.
  • Everyone I meet wants to know how old I am, why I don’t wear make-up, why I’m not married, why I came to Japan, why I wanted to teach rurally, what I like to eat, what color are my eyes, what size are my shoes, how long are my legs?… Christ… didn’t they read my file?
  • I miss you all terribly and vow that if you don’t write soon I’ll throw myself into a boiling batch of miso soup.
  • I probably won’t drown because my head will be 5 inches above broth.

You think I’m exaggerating.

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Author: Anne Celano Frohna

I am a writer, a mother of two girls, Eva (21) and Sophia (19) and wife to one husband, Kurt. I was mostly a professional writer and editor for 25 years for graphic arts and advertising, for publishers of newspapers, magazines, books, etc.,. Now, I have a blog where I post my creative non-fiction, short stories, a couple of illustrated children's stories and a comedy I wrote about two years I spent teaching English in rural Japan (NOT a story for a child.). I recently opened a shop on Etsy called ChannelingNonna where I’m selling the many vintage treasures I’ve collected over the years and continue to hunt down at thrift stores and yard sales. My husband and I both love to cook and to entertain and have welcomed friends and family to our home for over 20 years, so in 2016, we began hosting with Airbnb as the perfect (and most natural) way for me to continue to pursue my passion of writing, while at the same time help us pay for current and future college expenses. But the experience has proven to be so much more than financial gain. It has been life-changing in the best ways imaginable.

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