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.