Monday, September 25, 2006

Sports Day #2

Well, kitty almost found a new home. On Friday a girl at one of my schools said that she wanted the cat and that her parents didn't mind. I gave her my number and told her to tell her parents to call me so we could talk about it. No word. Then Saturday morning she called at 7:50 and told me to bring the cat to the school. I live in a different town, so I told her to meet me at 9:30 and to be sure to bring her parents. After a very stressful and expensive (taxi) journey, kitty and I finally got to the school. Wouldn't you know it, the girl never showed up. Instead, kitty and I sat in the sun and burned for two hours (my nose, kitty's ears) while we tried to figure out how we were going to get home. Taxi's are one way if you don't have a phonebook. Finally, one of the PTA members came by the school to prepare for Sports Day and ended up driving me to Shibukawa. My poor cat was so traumatized during the journey that she hid in my backpack half of the time.

Anyway, so I was so frustrated when I got home that I put the cat to bed and rode my bike to Ikaho. Oh, wait. Allow me to explain. Ikaho is 8 km away. Shibukawa is at an elevation of (I think) 150 meters above sea level. Haruna, the mountain that Ikaho is on, is ~1,500 meters tall. Ikaho is half way up the mountain. Translation: 8 km of serious uphill. Actually, though, up wasn't so bad. I finally decided to turn around at dusk. And then the decent began. My brakes were not designed for such a long decent. After about 2 km they became useless. By that time it was dark. Plummeting down a busy, steep road in the dark with no brakes was quite an experience.
When I got to the bottom, I had to eat. So I went to Mos Burger, Japan's In-and-Out. Mos Burger has the most bizarre Hamburgers you will ever see. This is a seafood tempura patty on a fried rice bun. Served with tea and onion rings. Actually, I recommend Mos Burger, just be prepared for a really small meal. Just after finishing this burger, one of the other foreigners invited me to dinner and karaoke. I went to Karaoke.
Sunday was the Sports Day for my other Elementary school. The weather was good, the students were excited, there were tons of people there and almost everything went off flawlessly. Here is Akagi-dan (Red) marching.
This elementary school has the best brass band in Gunma-ken, which is quite an accomplishment. If you want to hear excerpts from the music they played on Sports Day, click here and here. Here are the first year students.
And here is the school. Great day, as you can see. Why was the weather so good? There was a Typhoon approaching Japan, which seemed to suck away all the bad weather. I guess.
Well, Sports Day ended. We teachers and the PTA (which had about 100 members) packed everything up. Then the teachers had a meeting and took a group photograph. I am wearing black, in the first row, 4th from the left, in case you were having trouble finding me.
And then I went to another office party.
It was insanely expensive, so I was expecting a lot of food, like last time. Sadly, rather than being all-you-can-eat it was all-you-can-drink. Since I don't drink, I just ate everybody else's leftovers. It was a really nice party actually. I received huge compliments, which has really helped my self-esteem. I have been concerned recently that as I have become more comfortable and more outgoing at work I have been causing problems or being bothersome to the other teachers. Those fears were put to rest at the party. Basically, I get the feeling that the very fact that I can communicate and am eager to learn and adapt has really put the other teachers at ease. Allow me to be boring and explain. Japanese people have very little interaction with foreigners. There are very few foreigners in Japan to begin with, and, like every other place in the world, foreigners tend to stick together here. With so little interaction with foreigners, confidence around foreigners is very low. If you want to learn a language you need to speak, and to speak you need confidence. Thus, the greatest service that I can offer my students is to help them get used to foreigners and try to foster confidence around foreigners. I have been trying to do this in several ways. First, I always say "hello" and wave to my students anywhere I encounter them in the school and try to get them to say "hello" back. Second, I have been trying to make myself as visible as possible. When the students are not in the class room, even between classes, I make an effort to wander the hallways making small talk with people. If I am not teaching, I try to find a teacher that I can help so that I can remain visible. Third, I always participate in "cleaning time" with the other teachers don't do because it is the students' job. However, "cleaning time", I feel, is the most important time for me to be with the students because it gives them the experience of actually working with someone from another country. Also I get to show off how good I am at cleaning, and act like a clown on occasion. Much better then sitting in the teacher's room and drinking tea silently at my desk.

Here is the downside. Firstly, my behavior is not what is expected of a Japanese teacher. I don't fit into the office hierarchy, which might stress some of the teachers out. Second, doing things outside of the norm, especially the cleaning, might erode the respect that the students have for other teachers, which I do not want. Thirdly, time spent with students is time not spent with teachers. I worry that the other teachers will feel like I always goofing off with the students rather than working with them. Lastly, occasionally my presence can be disruptive. When I walk by a class room, class stops. These are the things that worried me before Sunday night.

On Sunday night the vice-principal, most senior teacher, school controller and the 2nd grade teachers all told me that I was the best foreigner they had ever met and that they loved what I was doing. The school controller, quite intoxicated, said he was going to get on the phone with the school board and demand that they give me a raise (which would be meaningless even if he was serious, plus, I don't deserve a raise, even though I am REALLY low on cash). The man who is, in my opinion, the greatest teacher in the school, said I was a "good guy" and was going to be a great teacher, even though his is the class that I bombed so badly I spent 10 minutes giving away stickers until the period ended. They even paid for Karaoke for me. By the way, I thought I was pretty good at Karaoke, but these elementary school teachers put me to shame!

Anyway, next day. Monday was the middle school English Speech Contest. I had to judge. It sucks to be a judge for middle schoolers. I mean, there were times where I was judged harshly in Middle School and just gave up. Now I was the one potentially crushing someone's interest in English. That wasn't the only depressing thing about judging, though. Our orders were to "be severe" with our decision. At the end, after the awards ceremony, we were told to give "critical remarks" in front of the whole group of middle schoolers who had participated. The other two judges really got into it, telling the assembled middle schoolers how they should try harder and pointing out the most common problems with the speeches. By the time it was my turn to give "critical remarks", I'd had enough. I stood up, gave everyone in the audience a round of applause, and told them that 1 year earlier I lost a Japanese Speech Contest in San Francisco, and that now I live in Japan. "Basically," I said, "how you did today means nothing, it is where you go from here that counts." Sadly, I delivered my words of encouragement in English, and I got nothing but blank stares from the students.

After the contest, I registered for the Gunma Marathon, and then began my training. I got on a bus to Ikaho, and hiked up the second half of Haruna. I took a tiny little trail behind the Ikaho shrine that it looks like no one has used in ten years, judging by the fallen trees and leaves on the stairs.
But the hike was gorgeous.
From the top I had a very good view od Shibukawa.
And Ikaho. Just as I took this photo, the 5 o'clock chimes went off in every town in the area. Since I was so high, I could hear them all.
There were no people on top of the mountain, even though it was built up. But, I felt like something was watching me the whole time. Not something bad, just something.
It's a shame that this is what has been done to the mountain. An unused ice rink.
Oh well. I will be going back to the top of Haruna. Because of it's high elevation, the trees are already starting to turn red up there. I may be the only person aware of that fact, since no one else seems to bother to visit the mountain. I not thrilled about fall right now. Fall means I need new clothes and a quilt to keep warm. New clothes and quilts cost money, which I don't have much of at the moment. Thank goodness for the 100 Yen stores and their $1 emergency blankets!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Weekend of Sports Day #1

Sports Day. Everyone I talked to this Saturday asked me "Do you have Sports Day in America?" I said "no". That was all I had the vocabulary for. If my vocabulary had been better, this is what I would have said: "No, Sports Day does not exist in the US for several reasons. Firstly, liability issues. With the amount of blood that flows from children on Sports Day, in America it is a sure fire lawsuit. Secondly, you couldn't get American kids to be this orderly and synchronized. Thirdly, there would be more people watching, and you'd half to have chairs." But enough about that. Here is my principal speaking in front of the lines of students.
Here are the first years throwing balls.
And here is the really dangerous hat grabbing fight. Dangerous by US standards, that is. This isn't that different from a regular day of Japanese school.
This was impressive.
This is me, the head teacher and the principal at the party after Sports Day.
And a very confused me with some members of the PTA that were REALLY happy to be able to talk to a young, male foreigner.
The cat is still cute, and still living with me. I am starting to develop an allergy to cats I think. That combined with the sunburn I got on Sports Day made me sick this weekend.
While sick, I decided it would be a good idea to go to Cainz Homes to get more Kitty litter. My map said it was only a kilometer away. But, wouldn't you know it, I got lost, ended up walking to another town, got more sunburned and finally headed home after walking for 5 hours. While sick.
At least I got to see Konyaku fields.
On Tuesday...oh, did I fail to mention that thanks to the national holiday on monday and the school holiday on Tuesday, I had a four day weekend? Too bad I was sick. Anyway, on Tuesday Keiko and I got together and went on a temple tour. First the giant Kannon-sama statue in Takasaki.
Then, self cooked Monjya. Monjya is very interesting, by the way.
Is this what you think of when you think of Japanese food? Probably not. You eat it off of a tiny spatula.
Then we went to 松林山 temple. Translated into Chinese: Shaolin mountain Temple.
But this temple had no warrior monks, just a lot of stairs that made Keiko very tired.
And lots and lots of Daruma Dolls.
Bodhi Darma meditated so well that he no longer needed to move to get food or water, so his arms and legs fell off from atrophy. Now, in doll form, he grants wishes.
Then, Keiko and I went to the Ikaho Matsuri, where I had been on Monday passing out fans. I saw this pile of turtles, which was really sad.
And also saw kids carrying Mikoshi up stairs at night. Ikaho is a cute town, by the way. When you all come to visit me, I'll take you.
Here are the kids.
Sorry this post is a little sparse on details. Kitty has taken to attacking my fingers while I type, so I am trying to finish before she wakes up. Aloha!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A "Typical" Day

Thursday. My day started at around 4:00, when my kitten started to pee. This wouldn't normally be a problem, except for the fact that her favorite place to sleep is on my shoulder. I run jump out of bed and run her to her litter box. For the rest of the morning she is too excited to sleep and spends the next 2 hours attacking a plastic bag on the floor.
5:30 My phone begins to play Celtic dance music to wake me up. Soothing change from the plastic bag. I fall asleep.
6:00 My second alarm goes off. I get in the shower.
6:15 I begin to watch the Japanese news and get dressed. I try to eat with one hand and keep the curious one from eating my food with the other. She finally just decides to sit on my shoulder for the next hour.
7:10 I begin my commute to work, which is in a different town. I walk to the station. It is raining, and I have begun to realize the downside of the 100 yen umbrella is that it is the size of a hat and only keeps one arm dry. At the station I sit down 2 seats away from a highschool girl. Her friends tease her for the next few minutes because she is closer to me than they are. They try to get her to talk to me in English. She is way to embarrassed.
7:35 The train arrives, at the same time as Brick, the ALT that used to work in my school. He is a nice guy, and we chat for the duration of the 4 minute train ride.
7:47 I arrive at school. On my way in I walk passed the Wolverine sized, nameless rooster who has spurs that look like dinosaur teeth. The earliest kids are starting to arrive. I say "hello" or "good morning" to everyone I pass.
7:50 After changing my shoes, I enter the staff room, wish everyone "ohayo gozaimasu" and proceed to show them kitten pictures in the hopes of sparking some interest.
8:15 Sports Day practice begins, I decide to go and help the green team today. They are learning their song. While they practice, I straighten up the pile of shoes at the door.
8:50 At the Vice principal request, I change into my "sports wear" (a horrible Aloha shirt, pajama pants, and borrowed bath slippers) and proceed to go and practice the 2nd grade dance for Sports Day in the Gym. I have no idea what is going on. Dancing is hard because my back still hurts from giving too many horse rides at the pre-school on Monday. And being kidnapped by the 4th graders on Tuesday. And being mobbed by the 3rd graders asking for signatures on Wednesday. At one point during the dance I am told "you are a lobster". It is heaps of fun, even though I haven't got a clue what I am doing. In the middle the Principal shows up with a guest and watches our dance. 100 Japanese 2nd graders in P.E. uniforms and one adult foreigner wearing the gaudiest clothes he owns. Plus bathroom slippers.
10:20 After dancing with the first graders as well, I go back to the staff room and reply to a fax asking me to be a judge for a speech contest.
10:30 Everyone is getting ready for Sports Day, so there is no English class. I sneak around the school looking for someway to help but trying not to be seen and cause a commotion.
10:40 No luck. I go back to the staff room and plan my next lesson.
12:20 Lunch. I help serve lunch in the staff room. I portion the rice so perfectly that there is no rice left after I have filled the last bowl. The other teachers make fun of me for the rest of lunch for giving them way to much rice. It turns out I am not supposed to fill the bowls to the brim. Also, I forgot my chopsticks box, so I borrow a spoon and put my name on "the List" of kids who forgot their chopsticks nd had to borrow a spoon. I am the only teacher on "the List", and not because the other teachers always remember their chopsticks.
12:40 After lunch I spend the next half-hour in the library talking to kids and reading out loud with them.
1:20 Cleaning time. Students are expected to clean the school, not teachers. I go to a 5th grade class room and offer my services anyway. With my years of experience cleaning the Art building at HPA, I have the class room clean in record time, which amazes the students. We spend the rest of cleaning time playing hockey with the brooms and a crumpled piece of paper (my idea).
1:35 I go back to the library and stay there till 3 talking to students, taping pages back into books, chatting with the librarian and showing kids pictures of my kitten.
3:10 I return to the staff room for a meeting. 10 minutes in, I realize that I am not supposed to be at the meeting, it is just taking place at my desk because my desk is closest to the coffee and the fridge. I make a silent exit and wander the halls some more, talking to more students.
4:00 I walk up stairs and hear a brass band. I walk into the band room to see what is going on, and everyone stops playing and looks at me. I apologize and start to leave, but one of the girls in the back gets her friends to start playing a song. Before I know it. The entire brass band is playing me "Bridge on the River Kwai".
4:30 Three songs later, I thank the brass band for the private show and head home.
5:00 I stop by Saty to buy some half-off sushi. And some Fabreeze. Kitty farts smell really bad.
5:15 I get home, and am greeted by a really cute kitten. She really wants my half-off sushi.
8:00 After finally finally getting the kitten tired, I begin to answer my e-mail.
9:00 I watch the Goldfish Scooping Championships on TV. Amazing. Scooping live Unagi with tennis rackets strung with rice paper! This sport has it all! Fish, skill, attractive announcers, tears, rivals, Buddhist temples, theme songs, action replays of when a goldfish breaks the paper! It is really exciting. I'm serious.
And then I started this blog entry.

Yeah, that is a fairly normal day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Very Eventful Walk

To start off, I had another fantastic day at preschool. But my back hurts from all the piggy back rides I gave. Preschool is great. It fills me with energy. In fact, today it filled me with so much energy that I decided to try to climb Mt. Haruna. I set off at about 5, which meant I had an hour and a half of daylight left. About 10 minutes into my run in began to rain very heavily. I ran at a very fast pace through pristine woods until I reached what looked like the end of the up hill. I saw a woman and a dog walking towards me, and I asked the woman where the summit of Haruna was. She thought for a while, then explained that I had 16 kilometers left to go. At that point I gave up for the day and walked with her down the hill. On the way down, a rang a gong at a Buddhist temple. The woman with me said it was for the health of my children.

I think the gong may have had a slightly diffrent function. Rather than protecting my children, it has given me one to protect. On the way home just as the rain was begining to pick up again, in the parking lot of a Pachinko parlor, I heard a strange sound. I looked down and saw a very wet, very young, and very thin kitten about to cross the wet and crowded street. Its mother was nowhere in sight. I grabbed it and kept it from crossing the street, put it in my shirt to keep it dry, and began to ask around in the area to see if anyone knew this kitten. So yes, long story short, I got soft and ended up with a cat. Crap.
I don't know anything about the ages of cats, but this kitten has clearly only had its eyes open for a week or so. It is still having trouble walking. And I get the feeling that its mother deserted it a while ago, because it just chowed down when I finally gave it some milk.
It is sacked out on me right now, which is why I am having trouble typing.
So, great. While I like cats, and I have always wanted one, this is really not the time. I can't afford the vet bills, cats aren't allowed in my appartment, and my place really would drive a cat insane. There is nothing for a cat to do in my appartment. Looks like I'll be taking some more cute pictures and trying to find it a home at school tomorrow.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I Meet the Local Gaijin

So there I was at Saty, cruising the aisles looking for the "half-off" sticker on perishable food items when all of a sudden, somebody right in front of me said "Hey, are you new to town?" I looked up and was astonished to see somebody who wasn't Japanese. Now, I have had hints that there are other non-Japanese people in town. Last Friday I heard someone speaking English outside my window. This Thursday I saw a clearly non-Japanese person off in the distance when I got off the train in Yagihara. I knew there are other ALTs in town, because every school has one. In fact, the board of education was even going to introduce us to eachother this coming Monday. Well, as it turns out, I met almost everybody on Friday. Within 1 minute of meeting Scott, the guy at the store, I had been invited to a party that night. Went to the party, met some people, played Taboo, and went home 5 hours later.
But not before being invited to a rave that was taking place the next day out in the mountains. Knowing nothing, I heartily agreed. What had my prior plans for the weekend been? Taking a bath and cleaning my house. Bath vs. Adventure. Adventure wins. By the way, I have been worried about meeting other foreigners in Japan. Most times people have a positive attitude, which is great, but I have met some people that live in Japan and just hate it here and complain about it constantly. These people depress me. I haven't made an effort to make friends with foreigners up until now, but I am glad I did, because actually, the foreigners in Shibukawa all seem to be really nice. Moreover, they all love in here. Shibukawa is great, after all.

So the next day I got up and cleaned house anyway. The rave wasn't going to start until 9, so I had lots of time to kill. The big fun thing that happened on Saturday day was that the police came by. Now, when the police showed up, it looked to me as if they were about to arrest someone. They showed up with purpose. Sternly getting out of their car and radioing HQ. They were jogging, and looked very serious. Then one of the officers got on the loud speaker to make an important public service announcement: could the owner of the blue car please come and move it? It was blocking someone's driveway. Japan is a serious country, what can I say.
Well, a guy named Josh picked me up at 8, and we drove for about an hour into the middle of nowhere. There, in a tiny river valley that was thickly forested, was the rave. There was a sprinkling of rain, but that didn't stop over 70 foreigners and, by my estimate, 350 Japanese people. I have never been to a rave, and I have never been to a club, but I think as far as raves go, this was probably a good one. There were people dancing with fire...
surreal lighting...
A very disorienting laser and smoke show...
3 separate dancing areas with multiple DJs for each area, 3 food stands, cabins to sleep in, a tepee, tons of fires, movie projectors, an 8 foot tall wall of speakers in front of the main stage, dimly lit paths through a beautiful forest next to a crystal clear river, and lots of very attractive people, many of whom came all the way from Tokyo, 3 hours away.
Well, it was sure an experience, and I had fun, but large social events really aren't my thing. I really think to either need to drink, or go with friends to have fun at one of these. I don't drink, and while I have met people, I haven't exactly gotten to know them yet. So, after 2 hours of dancing, I got bored, left, and camped out under the open sky in a deserted place with a beautiful view. I bought the blanket, pad and pillow for this bed yesterday at the hundred yen store. This basic camping set cost me the equivalent of 3 dollars. It wasn't bad, and I was warm, despite the minor rain.
When I woke at 6 am one of the stages was still going, 12 hours after after opening.
This is the view from where I slept. Very nice, but I'll need to get a better pad or check for rocks beforehand next time.
At 7 the Shibukawa group drove back, went to Yoshinoya (a meat and rice place) for breakfast, and then returned to our respective abodes to sleep. I'll be meeting everybody again tomorrow, when we will officially be introduced for the first time.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Am I Really Being Paid For This?

It was probably at about the point where I had two kids grabbing my legs, and one kid feeling my hair and screaming while I explained how the sun revolved around the sun to a 4th kid that I realized I am REALLY going to enjoy this job. This was after the relay race where I was wearing the frog hat, and after I demonstrated what I wolf sounded like via a puppet while having tape stuck to my back, but before we built the haunted house or sang the Hokey Pokey. I never even got to the lesson I had planned. I spent 7 hours yesterday preparing my lesson and practicing my "Baby Beluga". No need. Who cares.

Preschool was great. We'll see how grammar school goes tomorrow.

By the way, the other great thing about this preschool is that they have a garden! They gave me Goya (bitter mellon, it's really bitter, but good for you), tomatoes, and what I think was basil. Stir fry it all together with clearance beef from Saty (perishables are half price after 7:00!), garlic from the fridge and ta-da! 200 yen Champloo!

Saturday, September 02, 2006


At last, my Internet has come on-line, and good lord is it fast! Now that I have access to the internet again, everything seems a lot better. How people managed to live in foreign countries before the internet is a mystery to me.

Anyway, Shibukawa! My new home. And here I am in front of my new apartment! I was very pleased to finally have a place to live after days of not knowing anything.
Here is the view from my front door. Beautiful, isn't it! Mountains and rice. If you turn left from here and go about 20 meters you will find yourself in front of a cemetery. If you go right about 10 meters you will be on the rail road tracks. So yes, I live in between a cemetery and the railroad tracks.
But did I mention that the train hardly ever comes by, and that it is a CUTE train? And the cemetery isn't haunted (trust me, I can tell). So actually, I live in a really good spot that has been undervalued by its proximity to "undesirable locations". As a result, my rent is cheap. I think. I don't actually know what my rent is. No one seems to know. It seems the company already paid it for this month. I think it is going to be around $400 a month, though. This is the outside of my apartment.
As you can see it has a very stylish industrial look. Let's call it functional. Mine is the door on the left. I go in the door and up some stairs to get to my apartment. The entire size of the apartment is 26 square meters, including the stairs, which is just the perfect size for me. There is a bed and then space for storage under the bed. This storage space will be doubling as my bed when guests come to visit me.
Here is the bathroom. Very nice, but no shelves.
Actually, there is very little horizontal space in the apartment. That is my only complaint. There is no counter in the kitchen. If you want to cook, you either have to do your cutting and prep work on the bedroom table, or you have to do it on the floor. I opted for the floor for my first home cooked meal (squid udon) since the bedroom table is currently covered with important papers. As you can see in this picture of my new cell phone, which I have no idea how to use.
Oh, and here is the cute train that comes by my house.
Ralph, the benefit of living next to a rice paddy is you get to see a lot of cool, very healthy looking bugs.
My house, by the way, is about 250 meters from the "Heso Jizo", or belly button Buddha, which is the exact geographic center of Japan.
Now about Shibukawa. I was won over by Shibukawa, when the woman at city hall whose job is to make foreigner registration cards, left work and drove to the post office where I was to get some photos that I was supposed to have given her. I can't imagine an INS official doing the same thing in America, even in Hawaii. Basically, people are really nice here. Everytime I ask someone something, they are more than happy to answer my questions. When I say hello to people on the street, they say hello also. People are just nice, it seems. Now, who do I mean by people. Well, the town basically is populated by high school students, senior citizens and families with children under the age of 9. Seriously, there are highschool students everywhere. Here is my theory. Shibukawa is on the edge of the boonies. After Shibukawa, there are many villages, but no towns. A village will have an elementary school. It might even have a junior high school. But if you want to go to high school, Shibukawa is the closest place. Every morning (except Sunday) several hundred highschool students get off the train. Every evening they cram back on. I rode the train today (Saturday) and is was jam packed with high school girls off to an archery competition. It was actually more crowded than my commute in Tokyo. As I mentioned before, lots of senior citizens. This seems like a very good place to live if you are over 70. Clean air, quiet, one of the cheapest places in Japan, and a hospital on every corner. Seriously. There are hospitals and doctors offices everywhere. Like I said before, this is the last real town before it gets really rural, so if someone gets hurt they are going to come to Shibukawa. Same with beauty parlors. Tons of beauty parlors. Probably more beauty parlors than hospitals, but not by much. There seems to be a large variety of shops in Shibukawa, ranging from grocers that specialize in fresh produce, to Cainz Homes, which is like a mix between Home Depot, Target and Ikea. In fact Shibukawa seems to have everything... Except anyone between the ages of 18-26. I have counted only 8 young people who are not high school students in the entire town. I get the feeling that, while this town is a great place to live, quite a lot of kids get really sick of it and decide to go to Tokyo, either for University or work.

Anyway, enough about Shibukawa for now. On with my story. What do you say we skip the first 2 days. All I did for the first 2 days was move in and try to keep my sanity intact as I tried to do everything at once. September 1st, my birthday, was my first day of work. I showed up early. Way too early. One hour and 15 minutes early, to be precise. Elementary school in Japan doesn't start until 8:30, it turns out. Work went well. I didn't get to teach any classes, but I met many of the teachers and they were universally relieved that I spoke Japanese. Made a speech at an assembly where I taught 700 children to do the shaka. I had almost nothing to do that day, so my company sent me to the next school so I could introduce myself there as well. Well, when I got back to Shibukawa station, my brand new bike was missing. This made me very late for my next appointment and made me quite ticked off. Then it started to rain. I spent the rest of the day meeting people from three different schools, doing my best to be fun for the kids and re-assuring for the parents. All in Japanese. Exhausting.

Finally, I got done with work, went to my apartment, and tried to use the Internet to call mom and dad. But the Internet, my connection everybody from the previous 24 years of my life, was still out. So, brand new bike having been stolen, wet, lonely and tired, I went to the station. Work had been good, but now that work was over, I had no one to talk to. I sat on a bench outside the station and felt really depressed.

Just then, a man fat, jolly man walked out of the bathroom, made a bee line for my bench, sat down next to me and said "How are you, my son" (in what I think was Portuguese, the thing is I knew exactly what he was saying regardless of the language). He began talking (the rest of the time in Japanese), telling me about his trip to Brazil (he was second generation Brazilian, but spoke very little Portuguese), about his father and how his father came to Japan, what the weather was like in Brazil, and how he was amazed that I spoke any Japanese. Just as suddenly as he came, he left to catch his train. By the time he left my mood had made a 180 degree turn. I was smiling and happy. I went back to look for my bike, and there it was, in a different part of the parking lot! Just then, the man's train went by. David, if you made a short film with this story as the plot, I would say that it was un-realistic, but this actually happened to me. Life is strange.

Anyway, on Saturday I decided to go to Maebashi, the closest big city, to look for a helmet. Here is Shibukawa Station. After this there are no more stations, just platforms.
When I got to Maebashi I asked about a helmet, and was told to go to Cainz Homes. Cainz Homes didn't have helmets even though they sell bicycles, but I did find a specialty store that sold very expensive helmets. Here is the most beautiful thing I saw during my 6 hours of walking in Maebashi.
On the train home I decided to see what the stations after Shibukawa looked like. Big mistake. Trains come only once an hour, so once I got off I had to do a lot of waiting at this "station".
No one in Japan wears helmets when they ride bikes, but I plan to. I spent to much time, energy and money putting things into this head. I want them to stay there, no matter how stupid it looks. And boy does it look stupid. The safety gear I bought for the bike ended up costing more then the bike, by the way.
Well, 6 hours of walking, 1 hour waiting for the train and 1 hour of riding my bike. And all I had to eat was a little bit of bread at 10am. So, famished and on the verge of collapse I stumbled into this Yaki Manju (the specialty of Gunma) shop.
The old man and woman at the shop were very nice, and we talked for a long time. I told them all about my self and they told me about their grand children. The food was really delicious, so I ordered some Yaki Soba.
I was so grateful for dinner that, when I was leaving, I gave the old woman who cooked my food a pen from Hawaii. The two of them were very excited about this, and they gave me candy and the old man handed me his card. He mentioned that he was something for the area, but I didn't know the word that he had used. I looked at his card and noticed some unfarmiliar characters after his name. Upon reaching home, I looked up these characters. The dictionary gave their meaning as "National Assemblyman". I think I just met a very important government official by complete accident. Not bad for my 4th day in town.

So, yeah. Basically, things are a little tough right now, but I'm giving it my best shot. I can tell I am going to like this town.