Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.


Hakodate Take 2

Every year after the Skills Development Conference in Aomori City, a group of JETs jump on a ferry and head to Hakodate, a city on the southernmost tip of Hokkaido, just a four-hour journey away.  It’s known for its delicious seafood, beautiful scenic views, kitsch burger chain Lucky Pierrot, and more recently as the place where I broke my arm in an unfortunate piggy-back accident.

Despite the many hilarious jokes about broken bones thrown in my direction, I decided to try again and accomplish what I couldn’t last year.  In Japanese this is called リベンジ (ribenji i.e. revenge): a classic case of Japanglish where it’s just… not quite.  Another example of this, which I came across the other week, was when I asked my friend how I could say “repetitive” in Japanese, and he suggested ワンパターン (wanpataan i.e. one pattern).  “This song is catchy but so one pattern!”  Hmmmm maybe not.

I find it interesting how English words make it into the Japanese vocabulary, and I get where they’re coming from but it probably wouldn’t directly be translated like that.  I wonder if we use foreign words like that and don’t realise that’s not how they’re used by native speakers??  Anyway, I digress…

This time in Hakodate I didn’t break anything and I got to see all the sights I wanted and eat everything I came for, including market seafood breakfast, Hokkaido curry, teriyaki burgers, miso curry milk ramen, gyoza, ice cream and crepes.  Parts of Hakodate made me feel like I was walking around Disneyland: the cobbled streets, the tram system, the pink winter sky at sunset, the pretty pastel facades and red brick warehouses, the tinsel hanging from old-fashioned street lamps, the bustle of people by the port… it felt Western but in a weird, nostalgic, not-quite-genuine way.  It’s probably something to do with how 150 years ago, Japan’s 220 years of isolation was ended when Hakodate became the first port to be opened to the public, which brought over many Western influences.  The pale blue and yellow paneling of the old British Consulate in particular felt like a Disneyland attraction.

One night before going on the ropeway to see the night view, we walked around a hilly district called Motomachi, which was full of churches.  We came up to the Russian Orthodox church just as mass was beginning, and we got to hear the bells ring.  They weren’t like any church bells I’ve heard before, and with the clouds lit up by the moon like smoke and the trees with their spindly branches looming over us, it made the atmosphere really eerie!  Alexander and I ruined it though by projecting shadow puppets onto the side of the church.

Highlights of the trip were my 2000 yen (£11) seafood breakfast in the market  which I had twice! (freshly caught sea urchin, cod roe, scallop, squid and crab on a bowl of rice), strolling around the waterfront at night, having Japanified afternoon tea at the British Consulate, doing karaoke in a tiny bar, having an evening of games, drinking and eating in our rented apartment, seeing the night view of Hakodate, and generally being with great friends and getting to know new ones.  I’m glad this time things worked out in my favour!!

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Back to normal(ish)

Today is my first day at work since 12th November.  Even though I don’t have any lessons today, which I’m sad about because I brought my Christmas reindeer antlers to wear, I’m really glad to be back after nearly a month of dossing about.  I could’ve been more productive with my time if I’d tried harder, but when you only have use of your non-dominant hand, it makes being creative a bit difficult… Or maybe I was just taking advantage of my masses of free time to catch up on good TV and films, including my most recent obsession Homeland, which is AMAZING.

So now I can finally type easily with both hands, I thought it was time for an update!  I came out of hospital on 1st December and spent a week at my apartment learning to fend for myself.  I thought I would miss being looked after and fed 3 times a day (I also miss loitering in the corridors at night trying to see my nurse) but actually it’s quite nice not being rudely awoken every day at 6am and forced to go to sleep at 9pm.  I’ve been given a brace to wear rather than a plaster cast so I can get my arm moving normally again, which isn’t too comfortable but it seems to be working!  Went back to hospital on Friday for an X-ray and the doctor compared it with the one from the week before, and already we could see a blurry bit forming in the break, which he said is the new bone growing.  The human body is awesome.

My bionic arm

Considering I could barely move it at all when I left hospital last week, it’s improving every day and I should be able to drive again after New Year.  Although I wasn’t due to be released until the next day, the doctors kindly let me go to the Thanksgiving party for all the ALTs in the Tsugaru region.  I was really glad I could go after assuming I’d have to miss it, and it was  good to see everyone and eat all the amazing food people had brought for free as I didn’t have a chance to make anything… there was so much left over though so I didn’t feel bad.  This is a beautiful video of the afternoon made by a very talented ALT called Essa:

Even though breaking my arm has had mostly negative consequences (my supervisor keeps telling me it’s an “experience”), mainly not being able to drive or go snowboarding this year, it’s opened up another side of Japan to me that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  Even though I had to spend 2 weeks in hospital, I didn’t hate it because the staff were so amazingly kind, despite them speaking no English, and by the time I left they felt a bit like family!  The ladies in my ward were also lovely, and I think I learnt more Japanese in that time than I have since arriving here.  I also saw another side of Japan that I found slightly more unusual.  Initially I was shocked when I heard that my BOE wanted me to stay off work for 6 weeks as it was too difficult for me to get to work, and that they would take the days out of my holiday leave, then out of my wages.  I kept thinking, what did they expect me to do alone in my apartment for 6 weeks?!  But luckily the doctor gave me the all-clear to go back to work and it was decided that one of the BOE staff would take me to work until I could drive again.  Upon returning to the office, I had to make a formal statement that ran along the lines of “I’m deeply sorry for my carelessness and for causing everyone so much trouble.”  Of course I didn’t intend to fall over and break my arm, but statements like these seem to be a good way of resolving situations in Japan so I just went with it.  My superiors were really nice about it anyway so it was fine!

When I was in hospital I was also surprised to find that my schools had each sent me a sum of money.  People don’t really send cards or gifts very much on occasions like we would in the UK, so it’s more common just to send an envelope of money.  However the recipient is usually expected to buy something in return at about a third of the value they were given, which seems a bit strange to me (why not just spend two thirds of what they intended?) but I suppose it’s a way of showing appreciation for the gift.  I think I’m slowly getting the hang of Japan…


…and after!