Monday, February 25, 2008

A literal box and a figurative one

A couple of months ago, Professor Pilon, who coordinates the study abroad program and also the “Kuji job,” gave Liz and me a box to share.

There’s nothing special about the outside of the box. It’s made of cardboard, is slightly bigger than a shoebox and is labeled “Japan” in permanent marker.

But the inside of the box contains some pamphlets and brochures about Japan and Kuji that are helpful. At least, most of it is helpful — everything but the map, which is completely in Japanese characters, so I can’t even read it!

Browsing through the material taught me several things I didn’t know about Kuji. For instance, there’s a mountain stream in a natural park that is considered a tourist attraction. Kosode Coast is described as having “distinctively beautiful” panoramic scenery. I can't wait to see it!

I also didn’t know that Kokuji-Yaki pottery (whatever that is, exactly) has a 200-year history and is a symbol of a traditional art of Kuji City. According to one of the brochures, there’s "a pottery art festival every May that attracts many pottery fans from all over Japan.” I don’t know that I’ve ever really considered myself a “pottery fan,” but I’d definitely attend a festival;
sounds fun!

The Shin-Yamane Spa also sounds like something else I might want to go to while I’m in Kuji. I like the wording on the pamphlet about the spa: “It’s well-known to warm one’s body completely and gives a silky smooth sensation on the skin. At Shin-Yamane Spa, one can experience the nostalgia of Japan’s traditional scenery and its simplicity.” This could potentially be expensive, but it also could be worth it.

While I knew that Kuji manufactures amber, I did not realize that it’s actually the largest manufacturing district of amber in Japan! It has even gained world renown for its worldwide production of amber, in rank with the Northern Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic, where I went on a mission trip three years ago.

This new information that I've learned from what was in the cardboard box only begins to scratch the surface of what I’m sure I’ll learn about the city once I get "out of my own box" by moving there! But it’s a start. I’m excited to learn more about Kuji and the surrounding area. I just found a blog about Iwate, which is the prefecture (I’m guessing that’s like a county) where Kuji is located. I look forward to learning more about the area of my future home.

Sayonara for now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Japan will be my classroom

I mentioned in my last post that I've never intensely studied the culture of Japan.

However, during the last 16 years of life that I've spent in school, there have of course been times when I've learned a little bit about the country and its culture. My first memory of hearing about Japan is from a convocation I went to in kindergarten, where some Japanese people taught us how to count to ten in Japanese. It's just too bad I don't remember what I learned!

And I also remember learning about some of the history of Asia--including Japan--in my seventh grade social studies class. But again, I don't remember much of what my teacher said about Japan. After all, that was a long time ago, too!

Just last year, I took a class called Living Religions West, where I studied Buddhism and Shinto, the two primary religions of Japan. (I do remember most of what I learned; Professor Howald should be proud!) In fact, I wrote a 10-page paper about ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging flowers. Little did I know that less than a year from writing that paper I'd be accepting a teaching position in Japan!

So the point of this story is that I really don't know a whole lot about Japan besides its religion and its flowers! But I don't think this is a bad thing because I'll be able to learn a lot while I explore the country. I've heard it said that the "world is my classroom," and in this case, Japan will be my classroom. I am going to do some research about my near-future home before I leave though.

I've actually already begun my research. Professor Pilon gave me a box that contains information about Japan and Kuji, specifically. I've also learned some interesting information from books and Web sites about Japan. I'll share more regarding what I've discovered about the city of Kuji in my next post. But for now, I'll write a little bit about what I know about the country in general.

I know that Japan is slightly smaller that the state of California and is made up of more than 4,000 islands! There are four major islands, and I'll be living on Honshu, the main island. Like the United States, the climate in the southern part of Japan is much warmer than the northern part. T he weather in Kuji will be similar to what I'm used to in Indiana, with four distinct seasons that occur the same time as Indiana's. Japan has the ninth-largest population in the world, and Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. The government is a constitutional monarchy, but the royal family holds no executive power, and Japan has a parliamentary democratic system of government.

One of my favorite things to do is learn. So I’m excited about learning more, especially the first-hand learning I’ll soon be doing in Japan.

Sayonara for now.

Monday, February 11, 2008

About my first "real job" after graduation!

The “rumor” is true.

I really am moving to Kuji, Japan this summer to teach English to elementary and middle school students for a year, maybe even two! I’ll also be working a desk job at the Board of Education office.

Do I know Japanese? That’s usually the first question people ask me when I tell them my big news. No, I sure don’t. Well, I take that back. I know about six words. That includes “sayonara” (meaning “goodbye”), which just about everyone seems to know.

Do I have a love for the Japanese culture? Not particularly. I’ve never intensely studied Japan for the last 10 years or anything like that. I’ve just known that I want to live in another country for a while after I graduate from college. When I learned that Franklin College has a sister city in Japan and sends two graduates there every other year to teach, I thought, “Wow, that would be a great opportunity for someone.” And then I thought, “Wait. I’m a senior. This is something I could do!” I feel like this is the time in my life – before I start a career of family – to do something like this.

So I contacted Melissa, the Franklin alumna who is in Kuji now. She’s been filling me in on details of the job. Melissa has been extremely informative and helpful, and I joke that she’s writing me a book about Kuji. I’ll write more in depth about what she’s told me in future blog posts. But for now, here is some of the basic information I know:

  • Kuji is a town on the northeast side of the main island, Honshu, and is along the coast. About 40,000 people live there.
  • It is a paid position, and I’ll get 20 paid vacation days. I hope to use these to travel to other countries in Asia.

  • I’ll have a furnished apartment when I arrive in Kuji! (I’m just not sure how I’m going to pack a year’s worth of things in two suitcases!)
  • They’re providing a car so I can travel to different schools.
  • I’ll pay for living expenses and gas. Rent is 50,000 yen a month, which is about $450.

  • I’ll be teaching at 15 different elementary schools (!!) and three or four junior high schools.

  • I’ll technically be considered an ALT (assistant language teacher), so I won’t be in the classrooms by myself.
  • Each afternoon of the work week (Monday - Friday) will be spent at Kuji City Hall in an office.

Overall, I’m excited about this opportunity to learn about the Japanese culture and teach others about the American culture and English. It’s good to know that I won’t be the only American in Kuji. Liz Bassler from Franklin will live next door to me in the apartment building, and other English-speakers live in the town. I’ve heard that just by being American, we’ll have instant celebrity status! This will be an adventure, that’s for sure.

I'll be keeping anyone who wants to read about my adventure in Japan (and who knows where else I might travel to!) informed though this blog. Until I'm in Japan, I'll be doing weekly posts that contain updates of how the "getting-ready-for-the-big-move process" is going, more information about the job, general information I've learned about Japan/Kuji, as well as my excitements and anxieties regarding this grand adventure!

Well, sayonara for now.