Wednesday, December 9, 2009


When I learned I was moving to Kyuushuu, the southernmost island of Japan, I laughed about the placement with my family. Due to being only about 56 miles from Nagasaki and 210 miles from Hiroshima, I was certain I was doomed to grow additional appendages. Well, last week, my fears, once proclaimed in jest, came to fruition-I am now the proud recipient of two crutches, or, as I prefer to say, I'm walking around on four legs, as I've suggested in today's title, "The Legend of the Four-legged Sensei."

Last week, I slipped on a huge bump in the pavement while walking to the grocery store. It was quite dark out and a car's hood had been covering said bump. I didn't see it at all. My ankle turned completely and I fell slightly under the hood. I flipped out thinking the driver didn't see me. I raised my arm and tried to stand, but couldn't. I repeated the attempt, but it was an exercise in futility. So it goes. But, fortune was on my side in the most unlikely of times and places! The driver got out of the car to check on me and helped me over to a railing next to the driveway I had fallen in. I realized I couldn't walk more than the few steps I had and seriously wondered how I would get home. I live here by myself. I know few people and do not have a car.

I looked up and realized, however, that the driveway I had fallen in was that of the local hospital! Well, holy mackerel... As far as inconveniences, you do not get more convenient than that. The driver happened to work there. He called and asked if someone could see me, then drove me to the front door. It was so kind of him. After my appointment, I emerged on my shiny, new (okay, well, moldy, old) pair of crutches, then caught a ride home with one of the few people I know here; another kindness I was so lucky to receive.

Working on the crutches has been interesting. Of all the things I would miss from home, I never thought that ADA regulations would be one of them. All of my schools are two or three floors and there is no elevator. In one of my schools, the bathroom is in the other building. Alright, well, there is a teacher's bathroom right by the office, but that is an eastern-style one. So as not to take up more of your time, I'll let the great and powerful Wiki ( tell you about those. While I can, have and will use those if there is no other choice afforded to me, with other options available, I opt for the western-style, which is unfortunately across a long, outdoor walkway, another stretch of a hallway, down the stairs and then about 500 feet. -_- It's a quick, little jaunt walking, but hopping on crutches, not as such.

Of course, those of you kind enough to read my adventures know how I got my extra legs, but the kinder at my schools do not. They understand that I was attacked by a zebra. The students have adjusted to my wacky madcappery and broke out with laughter. I then pointed out the pinstripes on their uniforms and pretended to be frightened at the reminder of my attacker. They lapped it up. It was fantastic. Throughout the day, one of the kinder would occasionally ask me "It was a zebra?" if they saw me in the hall. I would reply affirmatively and remind them that they should always be careful of zebras, since Kyuushuu is rife with them and is a very dangerous place. Of course, as Kyuushuu may not even have a zebra in a zoo, this was an excellent, yet surprising way the students and I could have fun together.

Some of the kinder were unbelievably sweet. If they saw me going up or down the stairs and trying to hold the crutches in one hand, while grabbing the railing with the other, they would instantly take and carry them for me. A few were kind enough to hold doors as well. I did have a couple of little jokesters who gave me my very own onomatopoeia, though! Apparently, walking with crutches sounds like "K'chonk, k'chonk, k'chonk." It's quite nice to know that.

I have not been able to go anywhere farther than work or the nearest convenience store since my accident. For work, I've had to spend an obscene amount on cabs (I fear for my budget!) and for the latter, I've resorted to hobbling there on my crutches. Despite growing up watching The Simpsons quite faithfully, I had no desire to do all my grocery shopping at the local Kwik-E-Mart as they do. It's rather expensive and they have a lack of foods with a cromulent nutritional value. (Fortunately, due to my obsession with broccoli, I was more than well-stocked previously). I was at least lucky to have that as an option, though. Having tired of (read: gone mad from) the Kwik-E-Mart food, I took a cab to the grocery store a few nights ago.

Even by cab, going to the grocery store has not been particularly easy. Sure, the cab drops me at the door, but then what? The carts here are about 1/4 of the size of shopping carts in the States. They are sized to hold the hand baskets. Hence, when I went to put one of my crutches in the cart, I had to put it on it instead–diagonally across. Now, what to do about walking without using my foot? I had the other crutch still under my left side, held the shopping cart with my right hand and stood only on my right foot. Then I slid the cart slightly with my right hand while hopping on my right foot. Then, I propelled myself with my left crutch. I slide-hopped around the whole store. It was hilarious, but a bit less fun than you might think.

To my surprise, while slide-hopping about, a person I'd never met before stopped me and asked if he could help me. When I hesitated, he insisted. He took me around the entire store, then bagged my items for me (in Japan, you bag your own groceries). He took my bags out and asked me where my car was. When I told him I came by taxi, he offered to drive me home. He also stopped at the drug store because there was an item I couldn't get at the supermarket. He did this without my asking him to do so. Then he walked everything up to my door for me. I was overwhelmed by his kindness. I never imagined a complete stranger would have gone so far out of his way for me.

I look forward to being rid of these cumbersome things and should be soon.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Forgive the pun... I titled this entry "Lost in translation;" I've actually never seen the movie, but it seemed to apply greatly to today's adventures. (I so love a great pun...) I found myself in Fukuoka today. The main purpose of my trip today was unfortunately postponed; it's starting to be something I'm wondering if I'll ever accomplish. When my original plans fizzled out, I resorted to shopping around Tenjin Station, as I had no desire to have wasted a trip to Fukuoka entirely.

It turned out just fine-it's not as if I ever mind shopping in Tenjin. I began looking for New Year's cards to send home. Amidst those and the generic Christmas cards, I found one that was rather unusual. It's a house which says "Season's Greetings" on the roof. There are four windows, two of which feature very Christmasy items-Santa and a wreathe. There's also a pig in one, which just confused me. The remaining window, however, had... a menorah?!? Come again? Yep, that's right, folks, nine branches. Well, 8 and the shamas. (Shamas=lead candle). That'd be a certified Chanukah menorah. Well, color me surprised. I was more than a bit shocked, but would be willing to bet it was a coincidence. Either that, or Japan has taken OC reruns a bit too seriously and is thinking "Chrismukkah" is a new trend.

I took a short walk around outside the station. I laughed when I saw the Hush Puppies sign. I know American brands are everywhere around the world and certainly in Japan, but Hush Puppies just don't seem like the mark of glamour that other brands might. As I got closer, I saw that it was also partially a Foot Locker. Well, actually, not quite... The sign actually read "Foot Lock." I took out my cell phone to take a picture of the sign and someone from the store was curious as to why. I explained. He was shocked and thanked me. I apologized and bowed, then moved on.

On the way back to the subway, I needed to ask a station attendant something. I waited in line behind two Japanese people, as often happens, so, at first I wasn't paying attention. Suddenly, I realized that the two Japanese people were speaking in English to him–with American accents. Realizing that they were Japanese-American and didn't speak Japanese, and still seemed to be lacking information from the attendant who was really trying hard to help them, I decided to step in and try to be of assistance. They reminded me of my first trip to Japan. I was in high school and spoke some Japanese, but very little; my parents and I stood there trying to get help from the attendant in English-I certainly empathized.

When I jumped in to help, everyone looked a little surprised. You could kind of hear that "one of these things is not like the other" song from Sesame Street going on in their heads. It was amusing to all parties involved.

I get a lot of mixed reactions when people know I'm about to speak here. I imagine it's the same for foreigners anywhere; this is just the only place I've lived as a foreigner. Sometimes people assume I couldn't possibly comprehend this language or be understandable, others fawn all over me, saying that even the simplest word I've said has been skillfully done (that's actually quite insulting) and, of course, there are plenty who just take what I say as it comes, like I would hope anyone would do anywhere. Tonight, before I grabbed one of my trains, I stopped to grab a quick bite to eat. The waitress was one of the nervous types described in the first group. Suddenly, I saw a smile on her face, as she saw that I passed all rungs of my order without any mishaps, additional work or frustration on her part. I found it somewhat amusing. Cut to my train ride immediately after. Finally in my seat, a Japanese woman asked me if the train was going to my stop. I was so shocked at first that I didn't say anything. This was because I rarely get asked for things like directions by Japanese people. Immediately upon my pause, she switched and asked the question in English. Surprised again, I said yes, in Japanese, then said "日本語で良い!" (It's okay to [to ask me] in Japanese!)

Monday, November 23, 2009


There is an extremely famous, and equally stunning, temple in Kyoto called 清水寺. (Kiyomizudera–Kiyomizu is the temple's name and dera is temple in Japanese. They are put together as if you were saying Kiyomizu Temple in English).

For some reason, my little town Ogi has not one, but two such named temples. I still do not know why. When I first learned I would be living here, I researched the area as much as I could. One of the high points I found was Kiyomizu. I was so excited to see its beautiful waterfall and whatever else might be within. About three weeks after arriving, I found a sign that said "清水." Excited, I rode my bike there, walked around, spent two hours exploring and taking photos. While I found a beautiful temple right in my town, about half a mile from my grocery store, there was no waterfall. I was rather disappointed.

After discussing with co-workers, I discovered that Ogi indeed had two. I had been to the other. Imagine the absurdity of going to "the other temple named Kiyomizu..." I had to laugh. While still determined to find my intended Kiyomizu, I hadn't the foggiest on how to get there. I consulted my friend the internet. It told me that it was difficult to get there without a car (I do not have one) and that there is no bus service or train there. My friendship with the internet was at once on the rocks.

About two weeks later, I accidentally discovered it. Riding my bike around town, I saw a sign that indicated "Kiyomizu Waterfall." "Hmmm..." I thought. There was only an arrow pointing straight out, with the not so daunting "3km" next to it. "I can do 3 kilometers." I reasoned. I asked a woman standing on the street for directions beyond ↑. She told me "No, that's really all there is to it, just go straight, but, I don't think you can do it..." I do a lot of biking, though, so, such a distance seemed small; I just thanked her and rode on.

I didn't realize why she thought I wouldn't be able to ride there until I was peddling up the mountain. I hadn't quite realized it would be all the way up a mountain. I did manage to climb to the top on my single-speed bike, however, when I tell locals, they are usually flabbergasted–and sometimes my students think I rode my bike all the way to Kyoto... I had quite a sense of accomplishment. Kiyomizu is my favorite place I've found in Saga Prefecture thus far. Beyond that, while riding up the mountain may have been a bit of a challenge, riding down it... Well... That was the best ten minutes in recent memory! That's right, 3km in ten minutes! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Tonight was the last of Ogi's festival in Kiyomizu. For the last week, they have illuminated the temple at night. Having bus service for the occasion was a bonus! I was thrilled to return. The fall colors lit up with the backdrop of Kiyomizu Falls was spectacular. My town is tiny and quiet, but has this gem hidden deep within.


When I arrived in Japan nearly three months ago, I said "はじめまして" (hajimemashite–nice to meet you) seemingly infinite times. Now that I'm finally setting up this blog, I'll say it again. はじめまして。

In late August, I boarded a plane in Detroit for Japan's southern-most island, Kyuushuu, hoping that two suitcases was enough to hold all my worldly possesions. I am now here on the first in a series of adventures on which I'm eagar to embark; this one is teaching English in three high schools in rural Saga prefecture. Who knows what the world holds next?

Since I've been here, I have learned to live, work and pay my bills in my second language. I have been loving things about Japan that I missed greatly when I returned to the States after studying abroad; I have been missing things about the States equally while here, as well. I have been able to travel more here and look forward to every additional occasion I can do so. I have met wonderful people in my little town here–all in all, I am quite enjoying my time on the "other side of the world."

I hope you enjoy following my days in the life.