Just West of the Midwest Chapter 1: The beginning

Long centuries ago, when the world was a shadowy mist, the islands of Japan were born of the sea. Among the many gods inhabiting the misty abode were Izanagi and Izanami.

One day, while they were standing on the Floating Bridge of Heaven, talking with each other, Izanagi said: ‘I wonder what is down below us?’ This aroused Izanami’s curiosity, and they began to think how they might find out.

Taking the Jewel Spear of Heaven, Izanagi lowered it into the air and swung it around in an effort to strike something, for he could not see through the dense mist. Suddenly, the spear touched the ocean. When Izanagi raised it, salty water dripping from it was dried by the wind, becoming hard, and forming an island in the middle of the sea.

‘Let us go down and live on the island,’ said Izanagi. And so they descended from the Floating Bridge of Heaven to live on the island.

~as told by Morton Wesley Huber in his book, Vanishing Japan, published in 1965

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Student/Teacher storyboard artwork

Dedicated to my girlfriends: Audrey, Caralyn, Catherine, Jean, Maria, Megan and Betsy, to whom I wrote these shared journals. Without their kudos (the best coming in the form of laughter) and encouragement (especially in rereading their letters twenty years later) I never would have been inspired to document the good, bad, brazen and bizarre experiences during my two years in Japan.
To my Shintomi Family, who never failed to share their love and their lives with me and, who never – ever – questioned the many hours I spent at the Board of Education Office writing these journals when I really should have been working.

And then, of course, to Sam, who helped me live it and then joyously re-visit it 20 years later.

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Photo by acfrohna

August 11 to December 13, 1990; Getting the Hell Out of Dodge

This is the first officially unofficial correspondence to all my dear friends back home since arriving in Japan just seven days ago. I’ve been here in Tokyo for an orientation with 1,500 JET, AETs (Japanese Exchange in Teaching, Assistant English Teachers) from across the English-speaking globe. Sadly, 100% of all the attractive, English-speaking men I’ve met here are going to be everywhere BUT the village where I’ll be employed. Even sadder is that this piece of news made top priority in the lineup of what is and what is not going on in my life. But I have to be honest in saying to all of you, I’m hoping the next year proves to be far more… abundant, shall we say, than the past male-starved millenium has been for me in Chicago.

Climbing our way back to higher ground, or at least to sea level… my time in Tokyo has been very interesting. I’ve only been able to catch a glimpse of this populous metropolis, this eensy-weensy economic powerhouse, but my first impression is that it is very glittery, very crowded, very, VERY expensive, expansive and a feat in organized chaos. Personally, I can see a weekend sourjourn here during the year to explore its darker “Blade Runner” feel, but after the past five years struggling to make ends meet in the big city back home, I’m looking forward to a little country livin’.

My rural haven will be south of Tokyo.

On the island of Kyushu.

In the prefecture of Miyazaki.

Shintomi Cho, the town where I’ll live and work, is a tiny farming village of about 19,000 people (“tiny” for Japanese standards) and is best known for the vegetables grown there.

It’s said that the region where I’ll be residing is where the Gods initially descended from the heavens and reigned over the country and I’m anxious to explore everything from the volcanic crater of Mt. Aso to the wild horses and monkeys roaming Nichinan Kaigan.

While in Tokyo, I’ve had a chance to see Graham.

If you’ll think back to the onset of all this, Graham (who was a participant in the JET Program during its first two years and is now living here in Tokyo) is the reason I’m writing to you from half-way across the world. As you well know, ever since the latter part of his tumultuous relationship with my sister, Mia, I had become his sounding board and, in turn, he was obligated to listen to me gripe about my miserable existence.

Graham knew I was struggling – working three dead-end jobs (the total income of which put me snuggly just below poverty level), trying to finish my Masters in English at DePaul University.

Dealing with past due bills.

And a fucked-up-friend-turned-temporary-roommate.

Wanting desperately to get the hell out of Dodge.

“Have you ever thought about going to Japan?” was how he began the conversation.

I hadn’t.

But leaving behind my insolvent, sexless, sorry-ass subsistence in the Windy City had me instantly thinking about it.

After all, I’d travelled.

Explored.

Why not Japan?

The next thing I knew, I was filling out my application to the Japanese Ministry of Education for a year’s employment in the JET (Japanese Exchange in Teaching) Program and crossing my fingers.

Admittedly, this exciting, new prospect made it very difficult for me to concentrate on all the books and notebooks piled high in my pint-sized apartment in Chicago. Be that as it may, in a few, short weeks, I was expected to take the comprehensive exams which would determine whether I would earn my M.A. in English, or find myself in exorbitant debt for naught – as us literary types like to say.

Despite the daunting task of cramming a Dickensian proportion of literature into my brain – while at the same time trying to keep my lettered ass above water on the reality homefront – I mustered up enough resolve to buckle down and concentrate.

I got through my exams and continued in my daily struggles (trying not to put too much hope on my getting into the JET program) until the day I received a call from a sugary-voiced lady from the Japanese Consulate in Chicago who informed me I had made the final cut and was scheduled for an interview.
This was it, my ticket outta here!

Don’t be nervous, I told myself repeatedly, don’t panic and whatever you do, Anne, for God’s sake…. don’t screw this up.

When the day of the interview came, I was led into a large banquet hall where, along the back wall, a long table with a starched, white tablecloth stretched from one side to the other. Behind the table with pens and clipboards, pitchers of water and stacks of files, sat a panel of (if I recall correctly) somewhere between 8 and 80 people, all reviewing my incredibly unremarkable dossier.
The next thing I knew, I was in the thick of it.

“Yes, I’ve travelled abroad.”

“No, I don’t think being far from home will be an issue.”

“I’d much prefer being located rurally. This way, I feel I could get to know the people, the culture and even the lanuage better.”

“No, I don’t speak a word of Japanese, but I’m anxious to learn.”

“I think international understanding is vital to the fabric of our global community.”

I was on fire!

And not just my stomach, which was smoldering with coffee, cigarettes and a steady diet of cottage cheese and baked potatoes (both filling and cost effective!).

I felt it.

They saw it.

I even made them laugh (or at least smile). I showed them a confiident, poised individual dedicated to a common cause.

I was a “Let’s Do This Thing!”, never-say-die, woman-of-the-nineties – which my research and pep talks with Graham assured me would go over well with the my Japanese interviewers.

It did.

I was accepted into the program soon after and started making plans to wrap things up in Chicago as tidily as posiible. My about-to-be-former, far-too-well-to-do-to-be-freeloading friend was told she needed to find other living arrangements.

I gave my notice to all my places of employment, started selling my furniture, packing up my life, and reassuring remaining friends, family – and myself – that all would be well.

At least better than what my life had become in Chicago.

Which left me so destitute that if it hadn’t been for the love and generosity of my Aunt and Uncle (my father, having his lion’s share of financials woes) I wouldn’t have had a penny until my first paycheck in Japan.

And so, here I am in Tokyo, staying in one of the top hotels in the city, where we are being treated – dare I say it – like media-hounded celebrities. (This program has received a lot of press in Japan – both positive and negative.)
It’s just too bad we’re having to endure a tortuous amount of terminally uninspiring seminars attempting to prepare us not only for our new jobs, but our new lives in this ancient, unfamiliar culture.

The good news is that I’ve found another workshop-challenged cohort in my new British friend, Sam, who’ll be living in the city of Hyuga, about 45 minutes north of me.

STOP right where you are my friends. Sam is short for Samantha and although she isn’t a he, she and I have instantly bonded and are happy to begin our adventure together as a “we.”

So what exactly is it that “we” have gotten ourselves into?

Sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the JET program was not only designed to promote international understanding (a lofty task, indeed), but even more important, was created to advance the efforts of teaching and learning English as a second language.

Most Japanese kids begin taking English classes very early on and are required to study through high school. The problem is that for as long as anyone could remember (at least since the American occupation in post-WWII Japan), Japanese students have been taught the language by rote – memorization and repetition. In addition to what most now consider an outdated and incredibly unsuccessful teaching method, the English being used in the textbooks is so awkward and archaic that it has little to bear on the real world or real language.

So, the JET program gathers English-speaking persons from around the world and scatters them among the classrooms of Japan where they work alongside Japanese English teachers in order to bring a new energy and inspiration to uninteresting, outdated textbooks and ineffective teaching techniques.

Some people love the idea, while others both openly and inaudibly (the Japanese don’t like to cause public scenes), yet indubitably express their disapproval – the quietest outcry coming from the teachers who only know the language as it reads in the textbook; and we were assured that each of us will likely encounter at least one of these “teachers by rote” in our roster of classroom partners.

The most valuable thing I came away with from the seminars we attended this week was that there is clearly a lot of work to be done and high expectations on all parts. On the whole, however, I think we can make a difference and I’m excited to get started.

So, onward ho.

To Shintomi-cho, on the eastern shores of Miyazaki Prefecture, on the largest of the southernmost islands, Kyushu.

My new home away from home.

I’ll write again once I’ve settled in.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 2: Just West of the Midwest

With the orientation behind us, twenty-three of us boarded a plane bound for Miyazaki City, the capital of the prefecture where we would be employed. After landing, claiming our baggage, and moving as a nervous pack of science rats through a giant maze, fellow participants in the experiment began to scatter as each found their respective town representatives, or (if you insist on continuing with this analogy) “pieces of cheese.”

After exchanging strained and anxious smiles with Sam from across the room, I found myself chin to forehead with Yamamoto-sensei (sensei, meaning teacher), who will be working with me at one of the three middle schools I’ll be teaching at: Tonda, Nyuta and Kaminyuta Chugakko.

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Me with Oki-Hosa (l) and Yamamoto-sensei (r)

He was joined by two other gentlemen (Oki-Hosa and Kuranaga-kacho) from the Board of Education where I’ll be stationed before the school year begins and where I’ll have a desk when I’m not scheduled for a school visit.

If anything can be said about this unexpected detour from a hot shower and a deep sleep, it’s that I now have the bowing and proper greetings down flat.

I found quick comfort in the fact that these men seemed as nervous as I.

Although the town had been assigned an American AET the year prior, she was of Japanese-American descent and far less, “exotic-looking” than what had just walked through the airport gates. And what did they really know about this conspicuously-sized American gaijin (gaijin, meaning “outsider,” though if you ask most tactful Japanese, they’ll attempt to make it sound far less insulting).

We made it through introductions (Yamamoto-sensei acting as translator) and before there was time for an uncomfortable pause, the entire JET entourage was led into a large room at the airport for a press conference.

Despite the unexpected arrival of “Aunt Flo” (who had just barged onto the scene with a bloody vengeance), the completely overblown media attention, AND the overwhelming desire I had to slither from the scene, the televised event passed without international incident.

Afterward, the two cars they sent for me (in case I overpacked…which I did) were packed up and I settled into the back seat of the lead car.

Breathing a long sigh of relief.

Knowing I was soon headed to my new apartment.

Where I planned to unpack, unwind and sleep for an exorbitant amount of time.

As we headed north to Shintomi, the surreal nature of everything that had happened over the past week suddenly began to fade and the reality of the situation became as clear as the spotless windshield I was gazing out of as the Japanese farmland whizzed past.

Holy crap, Batman. I’m here… and for a year!

During the half hour ride, Yamamoto-sensei restlessly thumbed through my file – which I have since learned was copied and given to nearly every member of the Town Hall and nearly every teacher/faculty member where I’ll be team-teaching.

Who subsequently shared it with just about every member of the village who is old enough to read.

Yamamoto-sensei attempted to break the ice by asking a lot of questions about my life – marriage being near the very top of the list. In other words, at 27 years old, why am I not?

As attempts were made to keep the driver and passengers from experiencing a moment’s silence, I smiled, answered their questions, and occasionally gazed out of the car window as we whizzed past the scenery of Japan’s Pacific coast.

Thick and green to its very rocky edge in one place.

Long stretches of desolate beaches a few miles further along.

As we left the highway for smaller, narrower streets, I saw the coastal scenery quickly replaced by flat meadows, thick with yellow, creeping to the edge of a river.

On the other side of which – more yellow, stretching to meet a range of misty mountains.

Down the road a bit, as my tired gaze grew more gauzy and my hosts more comfortable in the silence, we passed one rice paddy after the next, neat and tidy.

Perfect rows.

Perfect stillness.

Each patch perfectly reflecting the surrounding trees and tropics, sun and sky. Making my mind wander toward visions of patchwork quilts, windswept prairies, rows of young corn, “knee-high by the Fourth of July.”

Thoughts of home.

We passed fields upon fields of ripening vegetables – daikon and cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots, each pungent and promising; and one watery channel after another where, Yamamoto-sensei explained, eels (a staple in Japanese cuisine and Shintomi’s economy) are raised.

As we passed a moist, green pasture scattered with grazing cattle, I noticed buildings appearing in greater frequency. First, it was merely a weatherbeaten, old farmhouse or outbuilding at the side of the road, but soon the streets began to fill with tiny shops and modest houses.

Faded but orderly.

Well-groomed and practical – if not beautiful – schools and offices playgrounds.

Yet amid the unassuming architecture, I noticed everywhere shadowy shrines and inviting gardens – the elegant undertones of customs and colors – which made me want to wander aimlessly and as soon as possible.

As we wound our way through town, all of the gentlemen in the car pointed at places of interest and of use, but I wasn’t really listening.

My mind was reeling with how utterly unfamiliar this was going to be from the last five years I spent floundering in Chicago.

I’m up for a World of different.

However, at this point in my adventure, the only thing I wanted to encounter was my apartment.

And a pillow.

My hosts had their own agenda.

First, I was paraded through the corridors of Shintomi’s Town Hall.

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Shintomi Town Hall, photo by acfrohna

If anything could be said about this unexpected detour from a hot shower and a deep sleep, it’s that I now have the bowing and  proper greetings down flat.

And this is no easy task, my friends, for there are many complexities which make up the Japanese Office Culture.

This industry of industry.

This world of uniformed workers, where business cards are handed out like handshakes and three-tiered greetings, as well as ceremonious departures are as much a part of life as crew cuts, white shirts, green tea, exercise, ties clips, white gloves, parasols and sensible shoes.

Walking through the town hall for the very first time, surrounded by my pint-sized, Board of Education posse, I was led into a machine gun round of official, formal introductions with every Head Hancho from every department.

The final, official, formal greetings of the day was at the Board of Education office where I’ll be working. There, I met the Superintendent, a soft-spoken man who quietly arrived, presented the rest of his staff, showed me my desk and then quietly disappeared into the crowd of curious bystanders.

So there I stood in my new office.

This peculiar environment of pushed together desks with thick, yellowing, plastic desk-protectors, folders, forms and neatly stacked file cabinets.

My new bosses and co-workers hovering silently nearby as I swayed with exhaustion.

I was soon whisked away by an expanded posse of SIX.

Both little, white cars now filled to capacity.

Added to the evening’s entourage are Board of Education staff members: a young woman, Akiko-san, a middle-aged woman, Yoshino-san, as well as Hiejima-kakaricho, the office’s chief clerk.

Within moments of leaving the Town Hall, our tiny parade pulled up to Shin Machi Shin Danchi and my apartment complex, which looks about as welcoming as a cell block.

With no traces whatsoever of the simple, elegance of Japanese architecture I’d envisioned for months prior to my arrival, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

This disappointment was immediately vanquished when I saw I had little to complain about. My apartment is very spacious.

More room than I need, really, especially considering multiple generations of Japanese families regularly share one the very same size.

I have three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom which boasts (there is a God) a good, ol’ sit down, Western toilet. I’ve quickly discovered that this is more of a luxury than I had ever, in my wildest dreams, imagined. I don’t know if this applies only to the more rural parts of Japan, but nearly everywhere I go and have to “go” I am forced to practice the fine art of squatting over a porcelain hole in the ground.

Because of this ungainly position, it’s probably fortuitous that someone, somewhere in Japan invented a little recording device for public bathroom stalls. Devices which has been designed to play music to veil the potentially embarrassing sounds associated with relieving oneself.

I’ve even heard the recording of a toilet flushing used for the same purpose.

Go figure.

As unaccustomed to squatting as I am (especially where no tent is pitched), bathroom visits have also become a muscle-burning workout, during which time the grunts and groans one hears emanating from my stall might be seriously misconstrued.

The Western toilet, however, is about the only thing familiar about the apartment.

Two of the rooms, divided by a screen, have tatami floors where I spend most of my time. Not only because this is where I unroll my bed each night, but because this is where my heating/ac unit is installed and being a sub-tropic region with cold winters and hot, humid summers this will surely be my favorite fixture in the apartment.

It certainly won’t be the florescent lighting installed in the ceiling of every room – the turning on of which casts a morbid pall over my complexion.

And my mood.

… nor will it be the Japanese-style bathtub.

What could be so different about a bathtub, you ask?

Ah ha, my friends, this isn’t the long, low receptacle we’ve all come to know and love; where one soaks in hot water and Mr. Bubbles after a grueling day.

The official story is that you’re not supposed to wash off in a Japanese-style tub at all, but suds yourself up outside the bath (which resembles more of a box), rinse, and then step into the tub for a soak.

Before any of this can happen, the water must be heated.

That’s right. After I fill the large, plastic box with H20, I’ve been instructed to ignite the pilot light (situated on the side of the tub), turn the dial to the desired temperature… and wait.

About 30 minutes.

The water in the kitchen also requires heating.

And there is no oven.

Only a two burner stove top.

A rice cooker.

And an itsy-bitsy washing machine that might be able to squeeze in one pair of jeans.

The grand tour of my new digs felt like a scene out of Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run.”

Convicts chained together.

The entire Shintomi Board of Education shuffling from room to room.

I began to feel the weight of the past days on my eyelids and was trying to figure out how I could gently persuade my gang to ‘git.

What was I thinking?

The seven of us piled back into the cars and headed off to a local restaurant for a welcome dinner. It was here I met Junko-san, a quiet, apologetic type, who’ll be assisting me in teaching a series of adult English classes at the Community Center.

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l to r: Kuranaga-kacho, Yamamoto-sensei, Oki-Hosa, Yoshino-san, Akiko-san and Junko-san

She relieved Yamamoto-sensei of some of the translating duties as we dove into a feast of fresh fish and cold beer. This is definitely something I WILL NOT have to get used to. Every morsel and every sip of it was heaven sent.

Throughout the evening, I felt anxious glances greeting my every motion. Their unspoken curiousness and unasked questions were palpable. How would I handle hashi (chopsticks)? How long will it be before we can communicate with each other? How can she put away that much beer? How does someone of that size not collapse under the sheer weight of herself?

Actually, their genuine concern for my comfort was of great comfort.

The only instance that brought a moment’s worth of awkwardness was when I first sat down at the restaurant. As is customary whenever I sit on the floor, I crossed my legs.

Keep in mind, I was wearing shorts and tights.

I had failed to notice that all three women were sitting primly and properly on their knees, with their hands folded gently on their laps, and would have continued to be utterly ignorant of this unseemly, unfeminine posture had it not been for Yoshino-san, who approached me quietly from one side.

And slipped a handkerchief over my… how do I put this delicately?

Crotch.

Not a word was spoken about it (not that I would have understood it anyway) and I made an effort for the remainder of the evening to at least attempt sitting with my legs folded to the side.

I did try sitting on my feet in the same manner my female companions, but soon discovered that the leg flailing brought on by cramps caused by maintaining this position for more than 10 seconds would have proven far more embarrassing than an innocent, little groin shot.

When the dinner was over, I was relieved to learn that the women (Junko, Yoshino and Akiko) would be taking me back to my apartment, while the men continued celebrating my arrival at a local Karaoke bar.

The Karaoke bar, if you are not familiar with it, hails from these parts and can be found on nearly every corner of every community – large or Lilliputian.

They are usually small, dark establishments which serve (at least in Shintomi-cho) an array of alcohol – as long as it’s whiskey, shochyu (a local fermented beverage made from sweet potatoes) or beer.

A fixture in nearly every karaoke bar is the Mama-san. Usually in her 50s, dressed in a dazzling kimono or a baffling brocade suit (better suited for a sofa), caked in make-up without looking like it, this tiny, but near-terrifying presence lords over the bar with polite yet stern solemnity, making sure that patrons are well-served and, if over-served, rowdiness is kept to a minimum.

And then, of course, every Karaoke bar is equipped with music videos and microphones.

Now, the kind of music played here is not something a buck will buy you from an old juke box, but a series of sappy sounding, sing-along melodies played on a video screen, ranging from traditional Japanese ballads to obscure renditions of American Jazz standards.

At some point in the evening, each person (and EVERYONE is expected to participate) is handed a microphone and asked to sing their chosen song to a captive and politely captivated audience.

Sometimes you might find yourself standing on a small, spotlit stage and other times, you’re able to hide in a dark booth in the corner. Either way, you are socially obligated to belt out a tune.

For those of us not familiar with the traditional Japanese songs, most local establishments have a handful of Western melodies, such as “Yesterday” (Which, by the way, offers a five minute video of naked Japanese girls writhing on the screen); “My Way,” “Love Me Tender,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Moon River,” and the ever-popular, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

I wish I could say that I am able to perform this ritual in the unassuming shadows.

But that would be silly.

It’s become painfully obvious that I don’t go unnoticed doing anything – anywhere in Shintomi.

However, I’ve learned that the drunker my audience, the more appreciative they are.

And the drunker I am, the better I think I sound.

So I’ve learned to hold off on my song until the end of the evening.

With that said, my first evening in Shintomi finally came to a close.

As the men from my new office continued on with the celebration, Akiko, Yoshino and Junko brought me back to my apartment and after making sure I was settled in, left me on my own for the very first time since I set foot in Shintomi.

As soon as the door closed, my exhaustion morphed into nervous excitement.

I circled the apartment.

A few times.

I unpacked my things.

I called Sam, who was also feeling anxious and nervous.

Which made me feel much better.

So did a soak in the tub.

That’s right.

I soaked IN the sudsy tub for an hour.

Protocol be damned!

Then I tossed and turned on my futon until I heard a neighborhood rooster crow early the next morning.

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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Just West of the Midwest Chapter 4: The Finer Points of Flop Sweat

First thing this morning, I’m driven to the Community Center where, before the onset of their annual Tsunahiki (Tug of War), I’m to greet all 1,000 middle school students whom I’ll be teaching this year.I knew I’d be expected to say something to the young crowd, but I’d been so preoccupied with coming up with a speech for my meeting with the mayor and an upcoming conference in Miyazaki, that I arrive at the center completely unprepared.

Being August in this sub-tropic region it is sweltering and because of my very strong desire to cover up my psoriasis, I’m completely overdressed.  So, by the time I step foot into the packed gymnasium, I’m dripping with sweat.

I don’t mean perspiring.

I mean DRIPPING with sweat.

There are beads of perspiration pouring down my face. stinging my eyes, soaking my top and drenching my hair.

Leaving me longing for a handkerchief.

Or better yet, a very large bath towel.

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This is how my day felt… I’m the one with the horns. (Student/Teacher artwork)

As I stand to the side, trying desperately to pay attention to the speeches being given on my behalf, literally quivering with anxiety over what I’m going say, I look down to the shiny, polished wooden floor at my feet and am aghast to see an actual puddle of nerves.

I fidget with my damp shorts. I fuss with my wristwatch.

I feel the unrelenting urge to weep and long for a cool, dark place to hide.

Dizzy with heat, I hear my name. It sounds like it’s being spoken underwater.

Akiko-san (who’s been standing at my side, attempting to sooth my conspicuous distress with her sympathetic smile) gently nudges me forward.

Legs still wobbling, I step toward the microphone.

First step.

You can do it, Anne.

Second step.

There’s nothing to be nervous about.

Third st-

The next thing I know, the customary slipper I’ve been required to slip into before stepping onto the pristine gymnasium floor, is catapulting ahead of me into the first row of the surprised student crowd.

Some duck.

Others giggle.

I cringe as I retrieve my footwear from the first row and turn back to the microphone. It feels like I’m walking in the shallow end of a pool.

I search desperately for the very first words I’d speak to my students.

“Ohaiyo gozaimasu,” I stutter into the microphone as the sound of my shaky voice reverberates off the gymnasium walls, mocking me.

“Atsui, desu ne? [Hot, isn’t it?].” I stammer, attempting to laugh.

Nothing but silence.And a lot of staring.

I introduce myself in Japanese, apologize for my poor grasp of the language and stand there before the hushed crowd, trembling.

Grasping for words.

Even my native tongue evades me.That is, until I hear myself say, “I expect to see you all in class with smiles on your faces.”

At which point I bring my index fingers to the corners of my mouth and actually pull up a smile.

A freaky, sad clown smile.

What an idiot.

What deafening silence.

I quickly thank everyone and as I’m returning to my place… I slip on my very own puddle of flop sweat, just barely averting an ass plant, yet propelling the very same slipper into the hushed and bewildered crowd of teachers and administrators standing behind me.

So much for first impressions.

As the students disperse and regather into their tug-of-war groups, I make my way back to Akiko’s friendly, forgiving smile and signal her to lead me to the nearest bathroom.

There, I stick my head beneath the sink and unsuccessfully attempt to drown myself.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 5: All in a Day’s Week

Day in and day out, for the last six weeks, upon returning home after a hard day of teaching English to the young minds of rural Japan, there’s an unmistakable twinge in my stomach each time I approach the mailbox, a desperate, glimmer of hope that when I open it-

“Creeeeaaaaak!”

– there will be at least one letter from at least one person who dares call me friend.

Much to my chagrin, I swing the door open and bend down, sweat falls into my already tear-stung eyes and the only thing I find inside is the faint echo of my last visit.

“Damn – damn – damn…”

“No letters – letters – letters…”

And I walk to the stairs of my apartment, sighing and crying.

Crying and sighing.

Look, when we said good-bye in July, I didn’t think it meant, “Talk to you when you get back.”

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This is how I feel each time I approach my mailbox. Student/Teacher storyboard artwork.

The only other thing that has frustrated me as of late is the language barrier. My understanding and ability to speak Japanese has improved, but only slightly. I just have to stop being so inhibited and so worried about saying something truly embarrassing, such as “Show us your package,” as opposed to “A pleasure to meet you, Prime Minister Kaifu.”

I do find, however, that after a few beers I can convince myself that I’m practically fluent and the words (as well as the often intense intonations of the language) come flowing out. My office got quite a kick out of the fact that I responded to a recent comment with: “Eeeehhhhh?” (To say this correctly, the voice should gradually rise several octaves. It’s kind of like the equivalent of our “Huh?” but, quite honestly, far more effective.)

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At the Board of Education office with Akiko-san.

At first I thought that working in an office where no one spoke English was going to be rather difficult, but I’ve discovered it’s to my advantage. Being forced to learn the language is both challenging and a great way to build relationships.Akiko-san, the young lady who sits across from me at the Board of Education, is trying hard to use English – everyone is – while I struggle with my Japanese.

She’s advancing at a much faster pace than me.

Everyone is.

Nevertheless, I try not to get too discouraged and have to be content to learn a few new phrases each day. As it happens, going through my own struggles has made me better understand how I might be able to help my students learn English.

I’ve also been feeling rather lusty lately.

(Wow, where did that come from?)

As in most countries, the male populous of Japan has its share of toothless, pot-bellied, pock-ridden slobs who feel that if they’re going to take a chance on a woman it might as well be me, but man… some of the men here are so dang handsome.

Case in point, I met this incredibly good-looking elementary school teacher at a community volleyball game on Saturday who set my heart – as well as my lower regions – afire.

His name is Tanaka. He’s single, about my height (there is a God), and has a face that would surely launch a thousand sighs from you American women.

We met at a post-volleyball party as Yamamoto-sensei introduced me to each and every individual there. I was shaking hands, bowing, kissing babies and was nearly elected into office, before we got to this delectable, young teacher. The group he was with invited me to sit on the tatami next to him and although I preferred the idea of sitting on top of him, protocol forbid it.

Akiko-san snapped pictures while the hunky teacher and I chatted – or at least tried. He doesn’t speak much English. (Ask me if I cared.) Maybe I’ll send you all a copy of the aforementioned photo after I’ve had the negative blown up life-size. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll have it blown up a little larger than life so that he can be taller than me.

Many at the post-volleyball party departed soon after, including the man I now wished to father my children, so I spent the remainder of the evening eating and drinking and drinking and drinking with my employers, co-teachers and co-workers. Sam and another AET, Ted, arrived in Shintomi at about 6 p.m. only to find they were far behind. It wasn’t long, however, before their plates were piled high and glasses filled.

And kept filled.

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Yamamoto-sensei (raising his glass) at the Community Center volleyball tournament. photo by ac frohna

It’s a Japanese custom never to let a companion’s glass get less than half full and they take this responsibility very seriously.Following the post-volleyball party was, of course, a visit to a local Karaoke Bar. There is NEVER only one event to attend when you go out in Shintomi and, I assume, Japan. In fact, you’re often expected to go to at least two more places before calling it a night. Even then, the men are often on their way to a fourth and fifth place.

While at the karaoke bar, my bosses and co-workers had their first chance to hear Sam sing.

God love her.

The sweet, utterly tone deaf diva.

At one point, a newcomer to the party (oblivious to Sam’s previous, ear-splitting performances that evening) moved to hand Sam the microphone. To my great astonishment, I watched several of my companions – who, as Japanese, seem culturally and morally obligated to urge EVERYONE to sing – jump from their seats to grab the microphone before the lovely, but terribly tortured songbird had the chance, offering excuses on her behalf.

Don’t feel too bad.

Sam continues to perform, unabashedly and unapologetically, every chance she gets.

After a while, Sam, Ted and I splintered off to a different Shintomi establishment where we encountered a wedding party celebrating, and where, by the end of the evening, I attempted to teach a young man in the party a truly conservative version of the Lambada.

I think I made a new best friend.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 6: My Town of Shintomi Board of Education Family

Considering these are the folk I spend most of my time with, I thought it might prove helpful to offer a quick run down of My Town of Shintomi Board of Education Office Family: Kuranaga-kacho (above left) is the office’s section chief, a tiny, little, married man with coke bottle glasses. He is the “Papa-san” of the office. He has a devilish sense of humor and a HUGE heart. He is quick to smile, to test me and to tease me. When he and I spend time together, I’ve noticed his facial expressions vacillate somewhere between unabashed bewilderment and downright delight.

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photo by ac frohna

Oki-Hosa (above right) is the Assistant Section Chief. He is the family’s nerdy, forty-something uncle with a buzz cut, a big, persistent, genuine smile and an almost noiseless laugh – nearly imperceptible without seeing his facial expressions and body movements. Married with children in some of my classes, Oki-Hosa has a penchant for doing everything by the book and has made it clear that as Assistant Section Chief, I am officially HIS responsibility.

In his mid-thirties and married, Hiejima-kakricho (above center) is the Board of Education’s Chief Clerk. He is reserved in his words, his smile and his sense of humor. All of which are alive and well, yet wielded at the most unlikely moments.

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Yoshino-san (above right) is the office Mama-san, with a small but sturdy build, a boyish hairstyle, but a natural, feminine grace. She is single, thoughtful, quick to laugh and quick to scold. She is stern but nurturing and as loyal – and protective – as an old bulldog.

Akiko-san (above right of me) is the youngest in the office. She is single, has a slight frame and what seems to be common among Japanese girls and women, a page boy-style cut. She is sweet and soft-spoken, but has a sly, sisterly wit. She’s been my local tour guide, a kindly tutor in all things Japanese and an excellent friend. I surprise her often, frighten her a little and make her laugh. A lot.

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Tomioka-san (above with me) is Head of the Town Hall’s Computer Department. Even though he is not part of the Board of Education, Tomioka-san is a regular face in our office due to the fact that his office is just down the hall. He is the “cooler”, more laid back uncle, the family’s “black sheep” who shuffles rather than steps and always has a cigarette dangling from his left hand. He thrives on distracting people from their work with a joke, or a story. He always looks like he needs a haircut and would clearly prefer to be somewhere – anywhere – but at work in his office. He never fails to make me laugh.

I was given a load of praise from my bosses this week. They seem quite pleased with my performance thus far, despite the sleeveless top I wore to a recent school function. I’m quite sure my popularity has a little to do with the fact that Shelly, my predecessor, was apparently a very private individual. It seems she didn’t go out very often and, much to everyone’s chagrin, she also didn’t drink.

I do both.

Happily.

Not that that should matter. But if the truth be told, a little alcohol goes a long way to relax people, take down inhibitions and let go of experience-stealing insecurities; and honestly, even though this job is important to me, even more important is that I grab all the experiences I can while I’m here. What better way than to immerse myself in the lives of the people who surround me? So, when they ask me to join them, I do.

Otherwise… what’s the point of leaving your own backyard?

It’s a lovely feeling knowing that I have an entire community looking out for me (not just my office) and although the attention isn’t always easy, it’s never unappreciated. At least not yet.

Even though they feed me and feed me and feed me.

And then worry I might gain weight.

They praise me, encourage me and gently correct me when they feel I’ve gone astray.

They also guide me, direct me and lead me, for fear I might lose my way. If I have to go to the post office, someone accompanies me. If I have to meet an electrician at my apartment, two people tag along. When I had to go to Miyazaki for yet another orientation, Yoshino-san took the train with me, using the excuse she had errands to do in the city.

They do, however, let me go to the bathroom on my own. Ironically, this is where I would most like a female companion due to the fact that men and women share the same bathroom on my floor at the town hall. The women do have stalls, but in order to get to them, one has to pass by the urinals.

Go figure.

Thankfully, a new building – with separate bathrooms – is under construction as we speak.

But I’m truly grateful for the caring guardianship. It’s a far cry from what several of my JET colleagues have been going through. Poor Jeremy (a super lovely fellow from New Zealand), for example, has been having a really bad time with his host town. He and another AET, Janelle, have not only been systematically ignored by their office (hardly having a word spoken to them thus far), but are being given few school visits and are left with little to do each and every day. Add this to the fact that on the very first night of their arrival, the officials in charge dropped the two off at empty apartments, with no futon, no bedding, no furniture and, most certainly, no welcome dinner party.

Jeremy said his heart left for home that very night.

How could you possibly blame him? Very sad. I feel very welcome and wanted here. They make me feel as if we’re all in this together. Which makes me feel as if maybe I’m not that far from home, after all.

All in all, the initial fears I felt since all of this began have slowly melted away. We’re discovering that despite the vast differences in our lives, we come from the same world where people laugh when something’s funny and cry when something’s sad. Where the sun rises in the morning and sets at night.

The only difference for me is that around each corner, at the start of each new day, with the learning of each new word, I’m greeted by a new adventure and filling the void I’ve been feeling in my life for so long.

Not-So-Side Notes:

  • I began classes last week and found my students very noisy, but anxious to listen. Let’s see what happens after the novelty of my first few visits and the excitement of hearing about where I’m from wears off. I’m quickly learning how very important the teacher is to the fabric of the Japanese family. Parents look for guidance and advice from their children’s teachers and welcome regular home visits. Together, they talk about everything from behavioral and familial issues to future goals and expectations. Teachers are highly respected in Japan – revered even – and rewarded with high salaries and excellent benefits.
  • There is an undeniably military feel about the Japanese School system. Not only in how tighty things are run, but even in how things look. Especially with regard to the students.The typical boys’ elementary school uniform is black pants, a white shirt, white tennis shoes and a black Nehru jacket. Even their serviceman-style buzz cut reeks of the armed forces. Girls’ uniforms may vary in color, but the theme is always nautical in nature, complete with sailor tops, pleated skirts, as well as the quintessential Page Boy cuts.
  • Fascinating to me is the fact that all of my students are responsible for cleaning their schools. Each day, the entire student body grabs their assigned mops, buckets, rags, etc., and clean the classrooms, bathrooms, the offices and hallways. They wash blackboards, scrub floors, scour toilets, empty trash. I think it not only offers a sense of pride – ownership – of their school, but it also teaches one to respect the process and all it takes to make things work.
  • There is a strong sense of community, and an even stronger sense of conformity woven into the fabric of Japanese culture.Yet I can see inklings of revolt in the younger generations. Slight and more than slightly tinged with likeness. But change is coming and the desire for individuality, perfectly understandable.
  • I saw a rugby match last weekend. Pant, pant, pant. Grunt, sweat, grunt. (And that was just me watching from the sidelines.) I went to the event with Akiko and, afterward, we chatted with her Rugby friends who invited us to a party. It was at that very moment that Akiko helped me to understand something I read about the Japanese culture before arriving, but was not sure I understood.Their reluctance to say, “No.” I jumped at the party invitation and turning to Akiko, asked if she wanted to go. With a look of absolute terror on her face, she said the word “hai” (or yes), but was shaking her head “NO!”  I was confused. I was stymied. Eventually, I took the international symbol of frantically jerking one’s head left to right, then right to left, and so on, as the stronger of the conflicting responses. Afterward, as we climbed into Akiko’s car, she let out a nervous giggle. Followed by a reeeeeeeally looooong sigh of relief. I knew then I had made the right decision.
  • I went to a Benneltons in Miyazaki and saw lots of cute clothes. Unless I can amputate 30 pounds and several inches from my body, I won’t be buying anything of them.
  • I received word from DePaul University. I passed my comprehensive exams and officially have my Master of Arts in English. And there was much rejoicing.
  • Sam and I decided on either Bangkok, Singapore, or Burma, for our two weeks off during the Christmas break. Wherever we go, we hope to find long, deserted beaches, stores that carry clothes our size and men who know how to follow through on flirtations.
  • I attended a Kendo (Japanese fencing) lesson because I thought I might be interested in learning this ancient art. I quickly learned I would be consistently hit on the head with a bamboo pole. Maybe I’ll try Kyudõ (archery).
  • If anyone cares to send a care package I would love to have a decent sized towel. The ones I find here barely wrap around my head, let alone any other part of my body. Also sparse in these parts: decent toothpaste, effective deodorant, ingredients for pasta sauce, good music, Woody Allen’s “What’s Up Tiger Lily?” AND, of course, LETTERS!
  • I’m desperately trying to get used to having to constantly remove my street shoes (be it school, office, or someone’s home) for a pair of incredibly unattractive rubber slippers which I regularly launch ahead of me into the path of innocent bystanders.
  • I met a Major based at Nyuta Baru Air Force Base here in Shintomi and he’s invited me to visit. Let’s see… me and hundreds of American Fly-boys. What to do, what to do…
  • Although I don’t have to make a decision until December, I’m thinking I might sign up for another year.
  • I went to the beaches of Kojima with Sam and Ted where we saw wild monkeys. When the tide was out, the three of us walked out to the island where the monkeys live. Beautiful, but slightly stressful knowing our adventure had to be timed with the tides, otherwise we’d be spending the night with our primate pals.The beaches were stunning and almost completely deserted except for a very kind and generous family who shared their picnic and their jet ski.
  • I was recently invited to a chicken farm where I was gifted a dozen freshly laid eggs. The gesture brought a tear to my eyes. Or was it the tons of pungent chicken shit wafting through my nose?
  • How about that crisis in the Middle East?
  • Also heard about Stevie Ray Vaughan… bummer.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 8: If This Is a Day to Celebrate My Birth, Why Do I Feel Like Death?

Before I begin reporting what’s been going on here lately, I have to send a super thanks to Catherine, Caralyn and Audrey for their much appreciated contributions to the “When in Rome – beg for care packages” Fund.

Not only did the contents bring a smile to my face, a sigh to my stomach and a twinge to my heart, but now I can hold my head up high each time I go to work knowing I’ve got my Dick Tracey “Glamora Girl Kit” to make me feel confident about being a real woman.

The first week of my third month in Japan has been so busy that my only plan for the upcoming weekend is to lock myself in my apartment and sleep. If I do have to go out into public, where there is little doubt that I’ll be the object of far too much attention, I plan on donning a very clever disguise so as to go unnoticed by my many fans here in Shintomi.

I plan on disguising myself as an old Jewish jeweler named Saul.

Wish me luck, or should I say, “B’Hatzlacha.”

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My birthday celebration at Kacho’s home during the Harvest Moon Festival.

Last Tuesday night, everyone at the Board of Education office was invited to Kuranaga-Kacho’s to celebrate Shukakutsuki, the Harvest Moon. Japanese legend is that if you look closely enough at the moon during this time of the year, you can see a rabbit mixing a bowl of rice for rice cakes.

His doing so is supposed to ensure a good season of crops.

It was a truly magnificent evening as a cool breeze made its way across the fields of rice and vegetables surrounding the house. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen and high, high, high in the sky sat the blue-white moon.

A bright, solitary eye set there to watch over the evening’s festivities.

We arrived at Kacho’s at dusk and found laid out on the lawn of his lovely home, a feast fit for the Emperor himself: fruits and fish, vegetables and meats, spirits and sake (much of which I’d never seen the likes of before) crowded the long, low table.

As we spent the next few hours indulging in the lavish dinner before us, which was the traditional and exceptionally delicious dish of Sukiyaki, I could sense secretive glances here and there and couldn’t help but wonder what my companions were up to. As their secret smiles became more and more obvious, especially after Kacho disappeared into his house, I guessed that they had planned a little something for my birthday.

They had.

Not only had Kuranaga-kacho’s wife baked me a cake, but she and her nieces (some of my students at Tonda) presented me with two lovely potted plants, which I hope to keep alive for the very first time in my less than stellar experiences with house plants. The folks at the office also chipped in and bought a cassette/cd player for my apartment.

Their continued kindness and generosity really got to me and in the middle of thanking them, I began to cry.

Embarrassed by this sudden outburst of emotions, I looked away from the long table of friends to Yoshino-san, sitting to my left. She, too, was crying.

When our teary eyes met, we both began to laugh and the happy evening was back on track.

And the birthday celebrations didn’t end there.
In fact, they continued on for quite a few days, during which time I was given:

  • lipstick from Yoshino-san and Akiko-san
  • earrings and a scarf from Oki-Hosa’s wife and daughter
  • rice bowls and hashi (chopsticks) from a girl that works in the computer room down the hall (whose name I’m sorry to say I don’t even know)
  • a birthday cake from the kitchen staff at Tonda Junior High
  • pajamas and towels from Sam
  • an ugly doll from one of the Masta’s (owners) at a Karaoke bar we frequent
  • a bottle of wine from Tomioka-san’s wife,
  • a bottle of champagne and roses from Tomioka-san
  • fruits and nuts from Junko-san
  • 27 pinks roses from Toshi and the other fellows who work in the computer room down the hall from my office, whom I’ve gotten to know during cigarette breaks
  • and all the students at Tonda sang me Happy Birthday

What on earth am I going to do when I return to being a nobody back in the States?

Who cares.

And the celebrations didn’t end there. (Even though, in hindsight, they probably should have.)

Samantha came down from Hyuga over the weekend to help continue the celebrations and after a few beers in my apartment, we headed out to a local karaoke bar. Now you might be asking yourself why we seem to be addicted to making asses out of ourselves with microphones, but the sad fact is, that we have no other choice in Shintomi.

It’s either karaoke or nothing.

There are no quiet, corner pubs or dusty ol’ saloons, no cozy wine bars, or lively juke joints – just these dark, windowless, characterless, little sing-a-long spots.

The first one we walked into was nice and peaceful.

Sam and I were enjoying the lack of attention.

Please understand that it’s not overblown egos at work here. The simple fact is that as one of very few female gaijin living in the area, we tend to get noticed.

It also doesn’t hurt that Sam is a tall, beautiful blonde and I’m… well….I’m tall.

However, we soon found the quiet atmosphere and only the two of us to look at, rather unappealing and decided to call it an evening. We were resolutely steering a course for home when we heard strange cat-calls from the third floor of a building just behind us.

At first, Sam and I continued toward my apartment.

Indignant and disapproving.

But, almost simultaneously, we looked to one another, shrugged, and with a “What the hell?” headed up the staircase.

At the top, we found a group of men who had apparently been imbibing for quite some time. It was clearly a celebration of some sort and the focus was a young man who wore a painted-on beard, with a scarf and belt wrapped around his head – sheik style.

We never did find out what that was all about, but we did find ourselves in another Shintomi karaoke bar previously unbeknownst to us. This one, however, was packed to the brim with men.

Hallelujah!

From the moment of entry (maybe I should rephrase that), our glasses were kept filled and we were treated like starlets aboard a Navy destroyer that was on leave for the first time in 12 years.

I also met an older gentleman, a local businessman, who said he’d been wanting to speak with me since my arrival. It seems he’s interested in finding an English teacher for his employees and although I explained I was under contract and kept quite busy with my present job, he urged me to consider something for next year and handed me his card.

Eventually, this large group of men left the establishment, en masse.

Sam and I, however, stayed.

And drank.

A lot.

Which I am now dearly paying for with a headache the size of Godzilla.

And a smoldering stomach which Yoshino-san keeps force-feeding green tea.

Each time the evening’s libations threaten to reappear in a fiery flame of vomit, I  lay my head down on my plastic-coated desktop and curse the day my mother gave me life.

My office wants to me to go out with them again tonight. All I want to do is crawl into the fetal position from which I sprang.