Meeting My School

As we stepped off the bus at the entrance of the prefectural office (the Kencho), we headed into a large conference room with our luggage somewhere on the 20th floor. There we would meet our supervisors.

We had a brief welcoming ceremony conducted by the head of the Board of Education. Once the introductions began, we were then asked to go to our supervisors. Some of the JETs shook hands with their supervisors, while others hugged their supervisors. It seemed like some of them were very close but I wondered how? I barely had any contact with my supervisors before this day.

As soon as I met my supervisors, she and her partner (another English teacher) said lets go and have lunch. I thought we were going to have lunch with everyone else in the building but as it turns out we were exiting the building.  I wanted to stay behind for a bit and say goodbye to the other JETs but it seemed like we were in some kind of rush. So I grabbed my luggage and headed out with them.

As we entered into the elevator, we had very little conversation with each other. However, as soon as we entered the parking garage, my supervisor and her partner got excited and explained the awkwardness. It turns out they hate gossiping with the other JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English). I laughed, they laughed and we immediately started to like each other right there. They asked why all of the ALTs had to wear suits and ties, its the middle of the summer! I loosened the tie and we headed off to the nearest family restaurant.

As the restaurant, we talked further and this is when I realized the English ability fo the teachers was limited. When in engaging in small talk, all seemed fine but when engaging in more complex conversations they were struggling. I understood right there on the spot why the prefecture needed JETs. They needed us to help them hone their skills. I had to remember that I am there primarily as a cultural ambassador and not a teacher. I think many JETs on the program failed to realize this.

After lunch, we headed to the school for me to meet the principal. It was a half hour drive and I was sweating like a pig because my supervisor’s air conditioner did not work. She kept apologizing as her car was old but I didn’t mind, I’ve been through worse.

As we entered the gates of my high school, I was awed at the size of the school. You see, in the U.S. or at least the school I attended, the highest structure was 3 stories. This Japanese high school that I will teaching at for a year was 5 stories high. It included a baseball field, a soccer field a track, pool and a couple of martial arts dojos all within a small area. I was amazed.

As they showed me around, I was taken to the principal’s office. I was greeted first by the principal’s secretary and ask if I wanted tea or coffee. I asked for tea and told me to grab a seat while they would prepared the tea.

As soon as the tea was ready, the principal came in and greeted himself in Japanese and it seemed he was more nervous that I was. My supervisor was translating what he was saying and with a smile I said “arigatou gozaimasu. Korekara mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” The principal and the supervisors look surprised that I can speak Japanese and said I was good. I told them I studied my ass off before coming here but to be honest,  mostly memorized phrases for such an occasion. They proceeded to speak in more Japanese and I admit I was overwhelmed partly because I didn’t even formally introduced myself yet. Well I played on and tried to pick up any words that I can understand. I remember the words “korekara, kyoushitsu, and ginko”. In order, korekara means “after this”, kyoushitsu means “teacher’s room (office)”, and ginko means “bank”. With those clues one with commonsense shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out what they were saying. So I put it all together in my head and figured that after this meeting we will be going to the teacher’s office to grab something to go to the bank. I said “hai” meaning I understand. They again freaked out. Then all the questions started pouring in. Nihongo wa doko de benkyou shimashitaka? (Where did you learn Japanese) and “doushite nihon ni kimashitaka?” Again, I picked up a few words… nihongo, benkyou, doushite, nihon! It was a shit storm for me as I was sweating like hell. But this is what I came for.  I responded with a smile that “daigaku de benkyou shimashita” (studied in University) and “benkyou no tameni kimashita” (I came to learn). My answers were vague and simple response but it was appropriate.  I can tell they started to like me more and more and the principal invited me to his house that night. I think I was going to get a heart attack as I wanted to sleep in and relax but how can I refuse such a request. The only thing I can say was arigato gozaimasu!

We shook hands (I still haven’t even introduced myself yet) and left. Went up stairs and grabbed some documents. It turns out that we were not going to the bank but going to the city hall to get me registered as a legal alien. Once I’m officially registered, I can then make a bank account.

I have to mention that as fun as I had in the principals office, I didn’t really have a warm welcome as I entered the teacher’s office. Because it was the summer, there weren’t that much teachers in the office but those that were there just looked at me and didn’t say a word. I even said konichiwa (good afternoon) as I entered the room and they didn’t even respond. WTF? Then my supervisor stepped in for me and introduced me. Then I heard one guy laughingly said “Nice to meet you!” in broken English and I immediately responded “Nice to meet you too!” The nearest teacher to me said I was buff and asked if I played sports while another one said I had nice teeth nearly at the same time ( this was in Japanese). Again, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t even know what teeth was in Japanese but I picked up the word sports.  I said in body language with my arms I did  swimming! I couldn’t even speak that well and as soon as it started it ended with a simple “See you” and I added “later.”

Here I am sweating like hell in the humid summer hear worrying about my first impression in front of the co-workers I was supposed to be working with for a full year. But why worry, you can’t just expect some dude from a different country to act a like Japanese. I all have to do is think positive and open. I just had to get through the first day.

So we grabbed some documents, a seal with my name on it, which is called a hanko, and off we went to the city hall. As we entered the city hall, we took a number and took a seat. My supervisor was saying this is where we go to get everything done from birth/death certificates, marriage, and all kinds of registrations. As soon as I called up, I was handed a document that I am supposed to fill in. Couldn’t read a single thing on it and asked my supervisor for help. She said write your name here and here. I don’t remember much but I remember having to show my passport with the intructor’s visa on it. About 15 minutes later, I got my “Registered Alien Card” and my supervisor said let’s go to the bank.

Along the way, my supervisor changed her mind and she explained we would not have time to go to the bank. I said, “it’s only 2:45 in the afternoon.” and she responded, “banks in Japan close at three. We will go tomorrow.” I was like are you for real!?!? No wonder why banks don’t get robbed here like they do in the US. We just laughed and she asked would you like to see your apartment. Hell yeah.

My apartment was on the third floor of a building where the first floor, contained a restaurant. From the outside, I can tell the apartment looked old. As I brought my stuff up, my supervisor opened the door and took me in. To be honest, the apartment wasn’t what I expected. It was dark and small. it was a 1 bedroom 1 living room apartment but the living room was more of a division from the kitchen. It was divided with a Japanese sliding door. My supervisor’s partner probably noticed my reaction and she kept saying nice things about the place as to convince me to stay. I really think she was trying to be convincing because she didn’t want to deal with me moving. I asked how far the school was from here and they said it’s not so far. They told me that my predecessor and two other JETs before her lived here. I didn’t know the place that well but I remember in an email sent by my predecessor that the apartment’s location was close to everything such as the supermarket, high school, train station.  I looked out the window and I couldn’t see jack because a building adjacent to the building was blocking the view. I looked at a different window and I could see a mountain range a dozen kilometers away but still didn’t see a train station, supermarket, and etc.

My supervisor and her partner started to appear uncomfortable as I seemed not to pleased with my place so I said, “its nice!” and settled my luggage on an old tatami floor. I inquired about the supermarket and the school and they said its not that far away. I then ask, how do I get to the school from here and the supervisor’s partner said didn’t we just take you there and I said “I’m sorry but I’m not so sure how to get the school because you took me there from the Kencho and not from my apartment.” For some reason I felt some kind of animosity coming from my supervisor’s partner but I just kept my cool and my supervisor grabbed a napkin and pen and drew a map. She said “here’s the train station, here’s the supermarket, make a right here, a left here, go straight, cross the bridge, and etc.” I said thank you and she said something to her partner in Japanese that I didn’t understand.

They said if you have any problems with the place don’t hesitate to call. That’s when I was hit with the problem. I said I don’t have a phone and they were surprised but pointed to my apartment’s landline which was still connected under the former JET’s account. I checked it and it still had a tone. It seemed like she forgot to disconnect it.  They asked why I didn’t get a phone and I said I wanted to look around for the best deals and my supervisors and her partner said they thought all the JETs had to get their phones at the orientation in Tokyo. I was at this point thinking were we supposed to get phones at the orientation. As they decided that everything for the day was handled, they told me to show up to work tomorrow before 0830.

Anyway they told me they would be leaving for the day and left me on my own. I asked if anyone would be accompanying me tonight to have dinner with the principal and they said you were the only one invited. When I heard that, I swallowed the biggest load of saliva my mouth can produce. I told them about my concerns not being able to communicate and they said don’t worry you’ll do well as they left the building informing me the principal will call when he’s ready to pick me up to bring me to his home.

Thinking of it, I went through a lot that day. This was the day I left the Tokyo orientation and took a bus ride to the Kencho. Later I had lunch with my supervisor and her partner. Then I proceeded to the school met the principal and some teachers. Then we left to go to the city hall get my alien card. Then I got to see my apartment. Now I’m going to have dinner with the principal. As overwhelming as it sounds, it was fun. I didn’t even feel a bit tired at all. What a day!


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