shichigatsu 12 (jul)
Although I'm forbidden to socialize with my current students outside of school, apparently a cultural norm, I met four of my favorite graduates from last year for dinner one night in the city. They are now in the world of work and talked about their new lives. This was a reunion for them as well, and a warm evening I hope we'll repeat.
After my lengthy tour of southeast Asia in April, I haven't felt as driven to travel during this last semester. I've made several day trips into Tokyo, but mostly I've been settling in to this nice little city, Fuchu, and cultivating some friendships. When a friend from the jazz club mentioned that she wanted to take the TOEIC test (Test of English for International Communication), which could earn her a pay increase at work, I offered to work with her one night a week. In return, I collect numerous questions to bring her each week about getting things done in Japan. My Japanese teacher took me to an Ikebana show, the traditional art of flower arranging. I was surprised at how sculptural the pieces were, as she said 'each one is a small world'.
My big project has been to find an apartment. Another jazz friend offered to accompany me to a real estate office to translate. This proved invaluable - without his help, which ended up being many days of follow up visits, reading contracts and signing paperwork, I would only have found the modern boxy high-rise apartments that advertise in English on the Internet. Although my new place is cheaper than my company apartment, there were a lot of up-front costs, including a gift to the owner (one month's rent), a fee to the agent (one month's rent), and an insurance policy to guarantee payment since I am not sponsored by a Japanese person (who would be responsible if I didn't pay).
I am now in a small but charming, two room Japanese style apartment. The living room/bedroom is only 6 tatami mats but has lots of light, big windows on two sides, nice woodwork. I slide my futon (really a folding mattress) into the closet for more space during the day. I am getting used to sitting on cushions on the tatami floor at my low table. You can actually walk around a bit in the kitchen, separated by a sliding paned door, although there's not enough space to sit and eat in it. There are separate rooms for toilet and bath with sink. It's in a quiet neighborhood, just a block from a little park, and 6 or 7 minutes from the train station.
When I moved in, one friend gave me two ceramic tea bowls as a housewarming gift, and said Welcome to Japanese life. Others were generous with their cast-offs: I now have dishes, silverware, a blanket and towels. Ive been told that its a Japanese custom to bring soba noodles to your neighbors. I met the woman next door when she rang my bell I had left my key in the door. After some thank you and introductions, I bowed slightly and handed her the noodles in a gift bag. She looked shocked and declined to take them, we talked for a few minutes more, then I offered them again. She accepted and we both bowed many times.
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