Thursday, October 28, 2010


I got acupuncture yesterday for the third time in Japan.  Here’s how that started:  Around the time I got to Japan I started feeling pain on my right side around the area of my hip.  It felt like sciatica, which I have had on my left side.  The stretching, heating, and resting that helped my left side was not helping my right side, and it was getting worse, to the point that I was limping and moaning in pain every time I changed position.  The pain was really draining me.  I couldn’t pick Knox up and I spent several different weekend days sleeping most of the day away.  The pain exhausted me and continued to worsen so that it felt like I pulled every muscle from my spine, across my butt and hip, and down my thigh.  I could even feel the nerve pinched in my ankle. 

My discomfort was obvious, and the teacher who sits next to me asked me about it.  That’s when she told me that her father is an acupuncturist and that I should go to see him.  She speaks limited English and, it seems to me, that she wants to talk to me but doesn’t have a lot of interest in speaking English, so she wanted me to have an interpreter.  We set up an appointment and I went to see Yamaguchi Sensei (Doctors are also called “sensei”) with a posse.  Those attending included myself, Yamaguchi Sensei (daughter of acupuncturist and desk neighbor teacher to me), and Miyazaki Sensei, who I teach English classes with and who was recruited to be my interpreter. 

The driving time between my apartment and my school is only about ten minutes, and the place where the Yamaguchi family lives and has the acupuncture office is in between the two.  Carrot Coffee is across the street from the office.  We went to Carrot Coffee first to while away the interim time between school and my appointment.  They had caramel parfaits and I had an iced caramel latte.  We talked and I heard a bunch of dirt about the school and my predecessor, which I wish I hadn’t heard, but I can tell you about that later.  Everything is about six bucks at this café, from the plain drinks to the fancy parfaits, so you’re kinda screwed if all you want is a coffee.  The building and the furnishings are gorgeous, collections of magazines are in perfect lines along the walls, and little cars inconspicuously sit in modern white and glass table cases.  The lighting isn't bad, either.  I have been there three times and the party I’m with is always the only patronage.  I don’t know how they stay open.  Probably thanks to the suggestive little symbol they have.

We walked over to the office from there.  We changed into the indoor slippers, I changed into Miss Yamaguchi Sensei’s pajamas, and I laid myself out on the table.  I was pretty nervous before the first session because I hadn’t thought to ask about the needles.  In the states they have to use disposables, but Japan is not the the states.  It turns out that they do have to use dispo, as they call it, but he doesn’t use them for family, and during my second session I know there was a metal needle in my wrist.  Oh, well.  Miyazaki Sensei worked fast and furious on the electronic translator.  Yamaguchi is not only an acupuncturist, he must also be a psychic.  He feels your pulse at first and at intervals during the session.  Just from feeling my pulse he knew that I had gall bladder issues and that my perseverance was very low.  Yesterday, when he felt my pulse, he knew that I have been having trouble with will power (which I know is true because I have been gaining weight), and that I have been wearing cheap shoes.  I am seeing this crazy psychic Japanese acupuncturist, which is awesome, although it’s a good thing because I am in bad shape.        

Back to the pain...  I had also been going to a chiropractic massage place and had gotten a Thai massage to stretch and relax.  Both places were great, but the acupuncture is the only thing that helped the pain.  The first time I went to acupuncture, the pain got better, but it was still unbearable.  The second time, about a week later, improved the situation enough that it took me about a month to go back for the third session, yesterday.  I had still been able to feel the pain, but not enough to be a big issue.  Now it’s gone, but I feel repercussions of barely moving my leg for two and a half months, mainly loss of flexibility and stiffness. 

As for the acupuncture itself, his technique is definitely different than that in the states.  For the most part, he pokes me but doesn’t leave the needle in, and it’s kinda dramatic.  He does it really fast, and it’s accompanied by a grunt and a move, as though he’s coming out of a ju jitsu move or something, and he does a quick little rub down of the spot.  There is a nice warmer on my feet during the whole process.  When I flip over onto my stomach he does more poking, but leaves some of the needles in.  This is the point at which I get set on fire.  That’s right.  Fire.  He puts these little spongy herbal balls on the tips of the needles and lights them.  They are fragrant, very hot and smoky, and he puts cardboard boxes over them to keep the heat and smoke next to me.  The first time I walked into the office and smelled it, I was a little incensed because I thought it was cigarette smoke, but I realized later that the smoke was part of it.  I’ll add pics of this next time I go.  Then he cleans me up, cracks my neck and my back, blow dries me, and I’m done.  Yeah, he pulls out a blow dryer and winds me down.  I don’t know why, maybe to make me warm.  It’s really nice to be blow dried.   So, I know this all sounds like a lot of hocus pocus, but doing this has reduced my pain dramatically.  I've tried so many other things with no result, but the first time I got off the acupuncture table, I felt remarkably better. 

So, I am a bit of a mess right now.  My back and neck are always uncomfortable, Knox wakes me up at all hours of the night almost every night, the days are so short I feel like I don’t have time for anything… I am still finding ways to exercise here, but haven’t done a very good job of it, and I’m miserable without exercise… the sleep loss and the lack of exercise are really taking a toll on me.  Oy.

From Japan,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our Daihatsu is the Bomb

We have a black Daihatsu Mira with a manual transmission.  It's super tiny.  It was only $500 and it runs fine.  My supervisor said that he would not have let me buy a five-hundred dollar car if we hadn’t known the previous owner, another JET and her husband.  We were asking around for a car and I was hooked up with Caitlyn.  She moved out of our building with the last JET exodus.  Apparently, she had stopped by and knocked on our door to see if we wanted it, but we didn't answer.  From hearing the details of the story, I think we were home, but didn't hear the door (we never hear the door).  

So, we went to the dealership down the hill from our place and found her car.  This dealership has about 20 cars parked in one line and sits on a lot that tapers off between the road and the hill.  They have two cats and a half size trailer where paper work is done.  We test drove the car and then slipped our shoes off before stepping into the trailer.  A couple of car salesmen, an insurance salesman, my supervisor, Peter, and Knox, joined me in trailer.  I put my inken on all of the important papers and paid.  The only thing left was to wait for permission from my building manager.  That's right.  To buy a car in Japan you must provide proof that you have somewhere to park it.  One of the car salesmen had to go to my building and talk to my manager before we could take the car home, which I did the next day. 

If I may interject, some JETs are not allowed to have a car, and some have to wait weeks and weeks to get all of the required permission slips from school.  I was lucky, but I heard that a JET in recent years got in a pretty bad accident and didn't have adequate insurance to cover the damage and the medical expenses.  This caused a lot of grief for the school that employed him, so they started making these rules, even though all they have to do, as they did with me, is make sure you have full coverage.

I had to be the driver at first because Peter didn't know stick.  Driving this car for the first time, for the first few days, stressed me out to a crazy degree.  My head wanted to explode the first day, driving stick on unfamiliar roads, driving on the other side of the road, with the turn signals on the other side of the wheel, and the wheel on the other side of the car.  "No, It’s not raining, I’m just an American trying to turn, and that is why my windshield wipers are on."  The 2nd day it was better and by the 4th day it was okay.  I figure I built a bunch of brain pathways this way.  Hopefully it will make up for all of the ones I’ve killed.

Next, I had to teach Peter how to drive stick.  I seriously thought we were going to lurch off of the side of the mountain a couple of times, but he drives like a pro now, no worries.  Well, besides a little tailgating, but that's to be expected.  He is a man.  

My neighbor bought a brand new Nissan March for about $12k and is shipping it with her to her next destination.  We want to, but it might not be worth it.  But how cool would it be?

From Japan,


The Way It Is, Is The Way It Is

I was sitting at lunch the other day with two English teachers and another teacher who knows some English.  We were discussing differences between the US and Japan.  They said that they enjoyed talking to me because I told them something new about American culture everyday.  I told them that it wasn't such a big deal because as an American, living in America, I also learned something new about Americans almost everyday.  This surprised them.  In Japan you can pretty much assume what other people are doing and how they do things.  I told them that you can't say any one thing about every American.  They don't get it.

Knox with Oita Nishi Students at the School Festival in September

The homogeny permeates everything.  It's an experience.  In the United States I have rarely been in the minority, and even in those rare circumstances I have almost never been the only white person in the room.  In Japan, there are Japanese people in the room.  That's it.  Most Japanese people only know other Japanese people and maybe a foreigner or two.  The customs go back thousands of years and stay pretty much the same.  And Japanese people do not like change.  It constantly comes up - I say it and the foreigners around me say it, even Japanese people say it, "This is the way it has always been done, and this is the way it will continue to be done."  I even saw blatant evidence of this concept in an advanced reading exercise that I was helping with yesterday.  The paper was about Minamata Disease and told about the history of the disease as a result of industrialisation.  It was documenting a report done by a third party outside of the government and the victims, and went on to say that there should be a review of the criteria needed to recognise someone as a sufferer of the disease.  The Supreme Court agreed and called for more lenient treatment of the disease victims.  The Environmental Agency's final decision stated that any change in the criteria would sow too much confusion and delay relief.  So, things would better if we changed, but it would be too hard, so we will stay the same.

This perspective is obvious everywhere.  I was driving home around ten one night.  My neighbor and I were noticing that, despite the light traffic, every light we came to was red and we had to wait.  They don't change the light cycles.  Ever.  They are on a timer and that's how they stay.

The consistency does have an element of comfort.  It's nice to know what to expect.  Who's to say which perspective is better?  They all have their goods and their bads.  As an American, however, I value change and thinking outside the box and I wouldn't be here if I didn't have strong convictions about dreams.  Not goals, not aspirations, Dreams.  There is something ineffable about this complacency.  People are not accustomed to change.  For instance, I mentioned one day that I donated my hair last year, and my partner teacher wanted to know all about the organization that accepted hair to make wigs for cancer patients.  He said that there are so many organizations like that in the US.  He liked that.  He said there weren't so many things like that in Japan, where someone starts an organization because they want to change people's lives for the better.  They have a different, more practical mindset on dreams, I think.  These students have practically decided what they want to do with their lives when they enter high school at 15 years old.

There are several kinds of high schools, but the reason you choose a high school is because you already know where you are going to end up.  There are technical high schools full of kids who will not go to college.  There are other high schools that you go to if you will go to a community or local college.  We are all randomly placed, and I work at one of those.  If you want to go to a top university, you have to get into, at age 15, a top high school.  I think it hard to ask a 15 year old to make such an important decision.  There is wiggle room.  A few students change their minds and work very hard to change their course, but I don't think it happens very often.  I talked with a fellow teacher about this to try to understand better.  She said, "If they don't like studying then they choose to learn how to do a job instead."  I don't think 15 year olds should be given that option.

There are different worlds out there, and I am here to learn about this one.

From Japan,


Getting Caught Up

The Teacher's Room From My Desk
            I teach at a high school called Oita Nishi Kou Kou, or Oita West High.  High schools here cover 3 years of education, and they call it 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year.  Confusing at first what with the language barrier and the obscene levels of faith with which one must start their life as a JET.  It's equivalent to the sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school for us from the U.S.A.  They get their grades by taking exams given about once a month, as far as I can tell so far.  Teachers do not grade daily activities, and there doesn't seem to be any system of accountability for daily effort.  I think it leads to cramming and lots of students making no attempt to do daily assignments.  I never taught in the U.S. and I took honors classes that were populated with more studious kids, but there seems to be a lot of sleeping and full on ignoring of class here.  There is no motivation, especially for my assignments, since my classes are not geared directly toward an aspect of the test, though if they paid attention it would help them a lot.  I think my presence is valuable and does motivate them, since I give them a real reason to need to speak English, even if it’s just out at the drink machine or during cleaning every day.
            Speaking of cleaning, this is how we do it in Japan:  Every student and most teachers are assigned to an area which we spend 15 minutes cleaning everyday.  I am not assigned to an area, but I think it contributes to a good feeling between the other teachers and I that I do participate.  At the beginning of the term, after summer vacation, we spent an hour or so cleaning, and before an open school day we had last week, we did the same.  I think it's wonderful.  These students feel a sense of responsibility for their school and learn the habit of tidying and cleaning.  No one thinks about it, they just do it.  IMAGINE telling students in the United States that they were assigned to the bathrooms for the next 6 weeks.  I would be shocked if there wasn't a lawsuit brought up. 
             The teachers have a staff room and the students have homerooms that they have most of their classes in, so instead of the students moving around to, say, the Geography classroom and then to the English classroom, they stay in their room and the teachers go in when it's time for their class.  The staff room is completely open to the students who are in and out all day talking to teachers about various things.  I think that aspect of school here works really well.  The grading, not so much.  
              The other teachers are nice and many of them speak English very well.  It’s really interesting to talk all the time about how we do things in the USA and why we say certain things and such.  Like the other day I was playing this word game and I wrote a sentence on the board – “Whenever I see your face I want to jump up into the thin air and yell, ‘Red Bull!’”  It was just a bit of nonsense I made up for the game, but the teacher wanted to know what it meant, how you could say 'thin' before ‘air,’ what ‘Red Bull’ meant, etc.  It's fun.  
               I hardly ever see the principal - Kocho Sensei, but he has a phatty office with this long wooden table surrounded by 10 cushy armchairs.  I went in there one day to give him his omiyage - a present from the USA - and he was at the far end of the table with his socked feet propped on it, laid out in the armchair, reading the paper.  I get the impression that he has paid his dues and he chills a lot, but I could be totally wrong.  I see the vice principal a lot - Kyoto Sensei - and he is very nice.  Those are titles, not names, by the way.  He doesn’t speak much English, but we make it work.  どうにかしましょう. One day when my work day finished I went down to meet Peter and Knox and Kyoto Sensei was standing there with them.  We all seem to feel a great sense of happiness and accomplishment when we are taking 20 minutes to exchange the few words we each know in our respective languages. 
               It always scares me when I hear my name surrounded by a bunch of Japanese that I don’t understand.  I hear “waratagaguhi Tiffany hibanukiodesuka?”  I’m sitting at my desk thinking, “Oh, jeez, what did I do?  What are they going to ask me to do?  Am I going to have to face the school Samurai and fight for my honor?”  Yesterday, Kyoto Sensei said my name, then came over to the English teacher that sits across from me in the teacher room and I heard my name again, then she got up and the two of them came around the desk and walked toward me.  I had a moment of fear, but the little meetings are always innocent.  He asked me about honors and AP classes at my high school in the United States and this is how the conversation went after that:
Kyoto Sensei:  "Wasunitonagamestu C3PO tonistukyu R2D2."  (Blah blah C3PO blah blah R2D2.)
Tiffany:  “Star Wars?” 
Kyoto Sensei:  “Hai.  Arigatoo.”  (Yes.  Thank you.)

Then he went away.

From Japan,


Welcome to my web log!  Yokooso!  If you don't know me, I'm Tiffany, and this blog tells tales from Japan about me, my family, and friends and strangers along the way. 
So, I hope this first part proves interesting and not slow, because I wanted to go back and recount at least a bit of all the things that happened that led to us being in Japan.   

Knox, Peter, and Tiffany at the Keio Plaza in Tokyo
I should have started this blog a year ago in October 2009 when I began the process of getting to Japan.  I didn’t have much faith at the time that I would end up here, so never would have even thought of documenting the experience.  I came to find out that approximately 4% of the applicants for Florida were accepted.  I’m glad I didn't know stats going in. 
Back then I had only a few ideas in my head about Japan; I had a feeling that “Japan,” the idea of Japan and all things Japanese, were somehow serendipitous to my life.  Why did I take Japanese in high school?  (I don’t know, because it was different I guess.  I have always liked anything that was different.)  I continued on with Japanese in college since I already had a decent start.  I worked at Starbucks in downtown Gainesville while I went to UF, and I have always wondered at the knowledge that two people I worked with at Starbucks were fluent in Japanese, one of which went on to get a master’s degree in East Asian Studies from Stanford, and two other people I worked with at Starbucks went to Japan on the JET Program.  Yet another Starbucks coworker took Japanese after I left and has JET ambitions.  When I worked at Warner Bros. in California I was always given the groups from Japan, even though I hardly remembered a word of Japanese.  I considered applying for JET from California, but something stopped me.  Finally, in October 2009, I began the application process, which was tedious and time consuming and worry inducing.  I turned my application into the Embassy in Washington, D.C. in November, heard that I got an interview in January, went to the Consulate of Japan in Miami in February for my interview (which was really cool, by the way), and found out about my acceptance in April.  Whew.  It was hard work and a lot of waiting, but it turned out to be worth the effort. 
Then the packing began.  We started selling stuff on Craig’s List and E-Bay in April and lived without most of our furniture for 3 months.  I was nervous that if we didn’t get started we would end up giving it away and getting nothing for it.  We had a major garage sale, took 2 or 3 car loads to Goodwill, and took a moving truck to my Mom’s house.  In the meantime, we knew that on July 31st we were boarding a plane to move to the country of Japan, but we didn’t know what island or city in Japan until late June.  I remember getting my contract in the mail from Japan with the kanji all over it and the postage stamps indicating from how far that envelope had come.  It was cool.  I felt important.  I was someone who received express mail, delivered to my door from Japan.  My supervisors from the Board of Education and my school e-mailed me, finally, but I did not get much information out of them.  When my predecessor e-mailed me I started to actually learn something about the place that I was altering my whole life to experience.  The pictures of the apartment eased my mind because they made the place look pretty spacious, but they also made me cringe a little because the kitchen looked like a Greasy Spoon.  When we arrived in Japan I was surprised at the space; We had another room not depicted in the e-mails, and the kitchen wasn’t so bad after some cleaning, rearranging, and a dash of “getting used to.”  We found out our address, what our rent would be, what my school was like and what kind of people I would work with…  Every piece of information was precious.  Some unfortunate new JETs were never contacted by their preds.  Some even-more-unfortunates learned that their predecessors were charging them between $200 and $3000 for the furniture, etc.  I got lucky.  All my pred wanted was for me to pay his Internet bill of $40 when it came in September. 
I knew I should've started writing then.  I can hardly remember all of the harried tasks of getting my physician's report in to the consulate, waiting for my FBI background check to arrive and making sure NOT TO OPEN THE ENVELOPE, calling and calling the IRS to ask where my 6166 was, which I had submitted a 8022 application for, taking Knox in for his checkups, revisiting the impossible vaccine issue, finding a home for our precious kitties, changing our car insurance over, facilitating the sale of our home, saying goodbye again and again, getting the dry cleaning done, and, as is our custom before any trip, waiting to pack until the night before.
From Japan,