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Posts Tagged ‘Kochi’

Summer Vacation

I’m back in Japan after a 3-week sojourn in my home country. I was, quite honestly, a little bit nervous about going back after having been gone for a year, considering I’d never been away that long, but I realized almost immediately upon stepping off the plane in Toronto that I really had nothing to worry about. It was like putting on an old, familiar shoe – just as one of my friends had already told me. She also mentioned that the shoe didn’t quite fit as well as you remembered, another point on which she was correct. I think the feeling has more to do with growing up than being in a foreign country, but I also admit that I saw things back home in a new light because of my time in Japan. I’m not going to rule it out completely as a factor in the vague out-of-place feelings I experienced.

A big part of it, of course, is that I’m seeing my home in a more objective light than I ever have. I noticed this in not only my family and friends (having been away from them for a while), but my own culture, language, and the daily life of Canadians. I now have another standard with which to compare them to. They were still amazing and I love them, but until you’ve experienced living in another culture I guess it’s just simply not something you think about.

Coming back, I packed two heavy suitcases full of new clothes and souvenirs, and I still had to leave some stuff behind for the mail. I was greeted instantly by the oppressive heat. It’s almost too easy to forget about it in the cooler, fresher air of Canada, but stepping out the doors of Osaka Itami Airport was like stepping into a sauna.  Everyone was walking about with fans and faces shiny with sweat. Although it was hard to have just said goodbye to Canada and come back to this, the kindness of the people here quickly warmed me up again. I was charmed anew by the clouds of fireworks seen from the train, and the clusters of girls in Yukata, colorful and femenine, with little delicate accessories jingling and swaying with each movement. And when I caught my first glimpses of Shikoku’s lush green mountains and misty valleys, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d returned home. What a strange feeling, to go from home to home, both familiar and foreign in different ways.

It’s not raining now, but this is the first time it’s let up since I arrived yesterday. Last night, the thunder woke me up several times, one deafening crash in particular scared me into sitting straight up in bed. I think the mountains magnify the sound. It stormed away all night long. My JTE informed me that it’s the tail end of typhoons passing nearby.

There hasn’t been much fanfare since I got back. A lot of people are simply not here, I guess on paid leave or summer vacation. Some were excited to see me, others appeared to have barely noticed that I’d even been gone. I can’t help but wonder if some of the teachers notice my boyfriend coming and going and look down on me for it. I don’t care about that so much anymore, because quite frankly he means more to me than they do, but that doesn’t mean I want them thinking poorly of me, either. No one has yet noticed that I cut my hair short while I was home. They did evidently enjoy the Coffee Crisp that I brought back for them, but haven’t yet broken into the Tim Horton’s coffee or Smarties. I have also only seen a handful of students since I arrived, which seems strange. They are around, doing their club activities, but the school seems extra quiet and empty compared to the usual hustle and bustle that goes on during the year.

Already I’m scrabbling for things to do. I’ll be glad when there is a routine and something for me to occupy myself with again.

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Earthquake!

Not really! I just experienced my first earthquake/fire-drill at school. The earthquake part of it consisted only of everyone ducking under their desks for a few minutes and grabbing its legs. I couldn’t help but thinking that, according to the videos I’ve seen, getting under a desk wouldn’t do a whole lot of good in the event of a major earthquake. Even though it’s hard to take the threat seriously when I haven’t felt a single Earthquake in the 11 months I’ve been here, the fact is that Japan experiences 20% of the world’s high-magnitude earthquakes (above 6). I could have sworn, when I stood in Tokyo for the first time, that the ground felt unstable underneath me. At first I thought it was just the heat, or jet-leg, but my boyfriend reported experiencing the same feeling. I can’t back it up, but I have been told that Japan has small tremors happening almost constantly, but people are simply used to them and don’t notice. It could therefore have very well been some small tremors that I felt that day, and not just my imagination. I haven’t had the same sensation since; I guess I’ve gotten used to it.

 Used to it or not, the truth is frightening. Kochi expects to get a HUGE and horrendously destructive Earthquake within the next 30 years or so. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 25 years from now. No one is sure. They call it the “Great Nankai Earthquake,” and it strikes Kochi every 100-150 years. It’s caused by the friction of the Philippine Sea Plate being pulled under the Eurasian Plate. Over time, the friction becomes too much, and the Eurasia Plate pops back up, causing a massive Earthquake and tsunami. Kochi’s Earthquake information website has some pretty scary-sounding things to say about it:

In the event of a disaster as massive as the Nankai Earthquake, damage will be far greater than any government could hope to cope with. Your ability to survive until government assistance finally arrives will depend upon your own preparedness and the assistance of family, friends and neighbors…I exhort you all to prepare for the inevitable.

Yes. Terrifying stuff, that. And yet, in spite of the fear, I have procrastinated to the point that I still don’t even have a first-aid kit in my earthquake pack, and not nearly enough food or water stored up. I look around Kochi some days and think to myself “one day I’ll hear about this on the news,” or “this landscape will never look the same again, after the quake.” Honestly, though, I can only sincerely hope and pray I hear about it on the news, and someone should probably beat me into better preparing myself. Just in case.

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Kochi City – check!

This week was, in a word, odd.

I started off the week with a nasty cold, that worsened to a fever, and so I ended up taking a day of sick leave on Tuesday. I’m glad that my school is laid back, because a lot of the time, Japanese teachers don’t take sick leave (they use their nenkyuu instead, which is basically paid vacation time). My friend in the next town over was told expressly that the teachers at her school never use their sick leave. I, on the other hand, was told at the time of my contract signing that the sick leave was there for me to use, and I shouldn’t hesitate to take it if need be. I guess it’s a classic case of JET’s tired old mantra – ESID, “every situation is different.” Despite these reassurances, I won’t pretend I didn’t feel a little anxiety this week, wondering if the others in the office were thinking poorly of me. The Japanese are so good at being subtle. I really haven’t caught onto the knack of deciphering what they mean from what they say.

Flowers at the Makino Botanical Garden

What made this week even more out of the ordinary (and an added reason for me to be anxious) was that I had also requested a nenkyuu for Thursday. I had plans to go to Kochi City and check out the Makino Botanical Gardens with an older couple who owns a local bakery (who I shall refer to as NY-san). Their bakery is small and adorable. The second time I ever visited there, the owner beckoned me to the kitchen where he helped me make a tiny crab out of bread with chocolate beads for eyes. I try to pop over there after school and on weekends whenever I can to chat.

So the two of them, their friend and little ole me headed to the botanical gardens bright and early on Thursday.  Makino, though, seemed like a truly fascinating guy. Apparently, he is world-famous for his contributions to botany. The gardens were complete with his biography and a life-sized wax-model of him in his old age sitting in a tatami room at his desk and completely surrounded by huge piles of books. It really was like something out of a fairy tale. It put me in mind of Spiderwick. I’d love to have met this guy. Too bad he’s long dead!

After having a tasty, if somewhat expensive, lunch (which NY-san insisted on paying for), we went to a nearby temple with a lovely pagoda. Unfortunately, I have clean forgotten its name. It was part of the Shikoku 88-temples pilgrimage, and I was thrilled to see some flesh and blood pilgrims paying homage at the temple.

Lastly, we visited Katsurahama beach, home of the Sakamoto Ryouma museum, an important historical figure from right here in Kochi. I was told upon my arrival that I would do well to learn about him.

I suppose I can justify this particular little vacation in that the JET Programme is supposed to be about cultural exchange, and it’s nice to allow other members of the community in on that as much as possible, not just the students. The students themselves were writing exams that day while I was off having fun, but at least it means I didn’t miss any classes! I will say that by the end of the day, I was still brain-dead from trying so hard to speak and understand Japanese all day. Phew. I’ll be so glad when I finally get a handle on this bloody language!!

Click here for more pictures.

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