From City To Middle of Nowhere

Today was my first day at one of my schools. The school is in a suburb of Kagoshima city, about 50 minutes by bus, or 40-ish by tram. One of the other JETs took me there on a practice run last week, and I was able to remember the way perfectly. The bus quickly filled up with students in several different uniforms, as the bus stop I get off on leads to about four different schools. I followed a group of girls in sailor uniforms to my own school, and every now and then they’d look back at me and giggle.

The morning was a bit confusing as I was passed off from teacher to teacher as they tried to get me in the right place. I met the principal, and he introduced me to the rest of the staff. Then was the 開校式 (kaikoushiki), or school opening ceremony. These ceremonies involve teachers giving lectures about how you should keep doing your best work throughout the whole year, the head-of-class students talking about their summer vacations and urging other students to keep studying hard, and of course the introduction of new teachers. First thing in the morning I was shoved on a stage in front of roughly 1000 middle school students to give a short speech. “I came to Japan as a teacher, but I also want to learn – I’m looking forward to studying alongside all of you,” was the general content of my introduction. It went as well as anything really goes at eight in the morning.

The kids are either shy or adventurous. That seems to be the bipolar norm of Japanese students when it comes to foreigners. One kid was told to greet me in English, and he did. His classmate standing next to him protested, in Japanese, “I forgot all my English!” Later, when I was sitting in the staff room, some girls peeked in the door when they got the opportunity and smiled at me. I waved at them, and they happily returned the gesture. Some kids would say hello in the hallways, others looked the other way when I greeted them. It’s always one way or the other. I haven’t had any classes yet – I was in the staff room all day – but it’s going to be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out. I hope I can coax something out of the shy ones.

When they day ended I went back to the bus stop. When I’d been guided to the school, we’d gone back by tram rather than bus, but the tram is a twenty minute walk from the school. The weather was a bit rainy, and I was feeling a bit lazy. So I got on a bus that said 天文館, Tenmonkan, the name of an area near my apartment.

I should have paid more attention. It had come from Tenmonkan. It wasn’t heading there.

Somehow I didn’t notice this until we’d been driving through the mountains for quite some time. I continued to sit at the back of the bus for a little longer after I noticed. Maybe the bus would turn around soon? Was I supposed to stand while the bus was moving, or should I just press the stop button?

When the fare got up to 700 yen, I pressed the stop button and went to the front to ask the bus driver what I should do. I thought he would just tell me which stop to get off at, but Japanese service people always go the extra mile. It was a bit embarrassing when he stopped the bus and hopped off to talk on his cell phone with another bus driver going in the opposite direction. I noticed one guy nearby was dozing off with his head against the window. He woke up after a few minutes, visibly confused as to why we were stopped. Several large and unpleasant insects flew in through the door that had been left open. The driver was on the phone for maybe five minutes, but I could just imagine everyone else’s annoyance, and so time stretched out.

The bus driver told me there was a stop coming up soon. When we got there he walked me over to the proper side of the road and brushed off my profuse apologies. “I told the other bus driver to look for a foreigner,” he said before leaving me in the middle of nowhere. The bus stop looked like this:

Semi trucks passed by barely a few feet away. The bench I was sitting on was made from rotting plywood. I had to wait 40 minutes. I sat around messing with my smartphone and sighing at the predicament I’d gotten myself into.

On my way back into town I was struck by how quickly the city turned into the middle of nowhere, and vice versa. In America things seem to change gradually, so it’s never a shock when you go from one area to another. Today, however, it seemed like one minute I was staring at mist covered mountains, and the next there were towering buildings and neon signs all around. I suppose Japan’s a small country, and that’s why things are like that.

Tomorrow I am sitting in the Board of Education again, so I’m not terribly peeved about getting lost. I didn’t have anything in particular that needed to get done tonight, and the view up in the mountains was pretty. Still, I hope I don’t make that kind of mistake next time.

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~ by megumiwasframed on September 3, 2012.

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