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E-mail to Anna
August 26, 2002: Sumo and Island Hopping

I'm sitting here in the quiet office, still trying to fit myself into the office and figure out what is expected of me. It's improving and I'm beginning to gain a rapport with my supervisor, "the man of few words". I have also begun to figure out what I might teach my students. Any ideas? If anyone has great ideas or creative materials, let me know. Website suggestions would also be appreciated!

This weekend was my first solo traveling adventure in Japan. I was given Friday off and had planned on traveling to Nakadoori island (one of the larger islands in the Gotos) to meet a bunch of other JETs and go to a Children's Sumo festival. The trip started out in vagueness—I am definitely not used to traveling this way. First of all—on Thursday I was to board a ferry at our ferry port and get off at a destination that is not listed on the printed schedule, although I was assured it existed. At said arrival place, somewhere in the countryside on an unfamiliar island, I was to cross the street and wait by a drink machine for the bus to come. No one knew when it might come, but I was to wait there. At that point I was to get on the bus and go north. No one really knew at the time where I was to get off. So I was a bit nervous about the venture, but excited about what the uncertainty might hold.

A peninsula on Nakadoori.

As I was waiting to board the ferry (after figuring out that I had been issued the wrong ticket initially), one of the English teachers from the school runs in. He hands me a note with kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing) scribbled all over it and the following: 16:00, 30 minutes, 600 yen. Clutching the piece of paper and with 600 yen in my pocket, I boarded the ferry. It was an absolutely lovely ride. The ocean was calm and sparkling and there were tiny islands dotting the bays (imagine seeing many mountains—not in a range—but a mountain floating in the ocean).

I disembarked and walked to the soda machine where I had a very broken conversation with an elderly Japanese woman. The bus arrived, but I realized as I was boarding that it was going in the wrong direction. I quickly leapt off and crossed the street to a small wooden shack that apparently marked the other stop. Getting on the bus, I repeated my destination to the driver, who looked a bit confused. At one point he pulled the bus over, walked back to where I was sitting, looked at the chicken scratches I was holding and wrote 16:02 600 yen. Right next to where it had already been written. Very helpful. Anyway—I got off at the correct stop (I rang the bell and the bus driver looked at me as if to say "Yeah, I know, dumbass—you showed me the paper twice already!"). I was to meet my friend Vanessa at this high school. I walked to the school and it was deserted. I slipped on the standard issue inside shoes and found someone who worked there. We had a mutually confusing conversation, but he eventually led me to the phone where I called "Banessa-sensei" (there are no "b"s in Japanese).

Arikawa Beach on Nakadoori Island.

So the weekend began. We went out for Korean barbecue (where I again indulged in tongue) and chatted with one of her co-workers. The next day I met up with a bunch of other gaijin and went to the beach—white sand, turquoise waters—it was delicious! That night we had quite an adventure of meeting up with 15 other foreigners at this restaurant/bar owned by a very colorful Japanese man who does his best to be "American"—he played a lot of hip-hop and rap music and used the F word freely and with abandon. Karaoke was sung, sake was consumed, and at 2:30 am Vanessa, Christina and I ended up walking the hour home in the midst of thunder and torrential downpour. We were quite a sight.

The next night we ended up at this bizarre barbeque—it was more of a family reunion with a bunch of random JETs. The food was really tasty, although we encountered one unpleasant surprise. The first food we were offered were skewers that had been fried. We were all super-hungry and began to chow. As we were finishing, someone broke the cardinal rule: Thou Shalt not Ask what one has eaten. It was whale. Yeah. I was not at all psyched about that and had in fact engaged in a discussion earlier that day about how whale was a delicacy that I would not want to try. The only thing that could have made it worse would have been had they included another delicacy—baby seal. So I have made up my mind: I will definitely only ask what I have just eaten if it is atrocious. In that case, I can know how to identify and turn down noxious delicacies in the future. Anyway, the rest of the barbecue was more enjoyable. We chatted with the people who were there, played some games, and ended up trading songs a cappella for awhile.

Then yesterday was the big event. The Children's Sumo Festival. It was quite the event. 200 small (and not so small) children running around in their outfits (imagine a thong with a wide belt) and engaging in sumo matches. Never have I seen so many bare asses in one place. It was quite interesting and humorous. I can't wait to get back the pictures.

So I came home this morning. I rose at 5 am to catch a 6 am ferry back to my island. But it was not to arrive. Apparently, in that very reliable and precise Japanese way, it comes exactly on time every morning—except the fourth Monday each month. Lovely. So I jumped on a bus and rode back to my drink machine in the country and waited with a dozen or so slightly surly Japanese men for the 8 am ferry.

And here I am. Nothing too exciting in school today although I was asked to introduce myself to one of the classes this morning. I was paraded in, said 6 short English sentences and was marched back out. It was a bit like being a trick horse—with only one trick—introducing herself in the simplest terms. I'm glad to be back in Naru. It was really nice to catch up with other people but I realized how happy I am with my placement. I can go off and visit other people when I want, but I have the opportunity to retreat when I want to. I seem to be the only one with Japanese friends so far—everyone else hangs out with other English-speakers all the time. That's not why I came. So it will be nice to get away sometimes, but I'm pretty content here now.

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2002 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475