Entering the final stretch as an ALT

"Well, let's read." New poster in all the schools!

After the New Year holiday we had to be back in the office on January 4th, but we didn’t start back at the schools until the 12th, which means we (the 4 ALTs) sat at our desks all week with no work to do.  I studied kanji, made flashcards, and did some online shopping, and translated a couple of local legends. I know it’s not a bad setup to be paid to sit at a desk with no accountability, but it actually drives me crazy. It feels like detention, and it only takes three days for me to feel twinges of post-adolescent angst. Woe is me, but I have a hard time doing any creative work when I can feel the chafing of the chain on my ankle. I have only one more stretch of unscheduled time before my last day on March 30th, I think I can handle it.

Masks at lunch

I mean, I think I’m leaving in March. At least, I told my immediate supervisor in October that I would not be returning after the end of my contract. What has me confused is that there has been NO acknowledgment of that by anyone else in the office and the job has not been posted anywhere. I told them in October so that they could find someone to begin when I leave. It has taken them at least 6 months to fill every previous vacancy, and I thought it would help them out to give them a heads up.
But if there is anything I’ve learned in the past year and a half, it’s that common sense is culturally bound. The way things are done the office I work in is never quite how I expect it to be done. Things do get done, but I am often frustrated by the obvious inefficiencies and waste of paper and resources. One example- we have to fill in a mileage sheet to be reimbursed for our transportation. The form is in excel and it is set up to calculate the amount in yen based on the mileage entered. Yet we have to delete the values before we print it out. Then the office manager uses a calculator to fill in the values by hand-it’s HIS job. Okay, it gets done, but why does this guy work extra hours every day…. I know at least one way he could save time.

I asked to meet with the head supervisor tomorrow to make sure that they know I am leaving. I don’t know if I

caution! sign on a changing table in a bathroom

have to do any paperwork or something to make it official. I just wish they’d start looking for a replacement.

So I only have a few more months of this work. I am glad to be quitting but also not sure what it will be like to be self-employed. I actually find it easiest to be an employee and have to show up to work; I will have to work on developing a stronger sense of accountability to my ideas and projects that aren’t linked to a paycheck.  I am a little concerned about being more “available” to help out ba-chan (Jiro’s mom). Her condition is gradually declining and we have had to spend a lot more time helping her out and keeping an eye on her. I hope my well of patience is deep enough to deal with whatever unfolds.

Making miso

I have made a couple of Japanese friends that are easy to spend time with and  help me remember to laugh. Last Sunday I ended up spending way too much time with Jiro’s mom and was feeling pretty frustrated. The phone rang, it was my friend Myoho, the woman who runs the koji shop. She then stopped by with cooked soybeans and a bag of koji and told me instructions how to get a batch of miso started. It was the perfect antidote to a wasted morning and now I’ve got miso fermenting-it’ll be ready in a few months!

It was so easy! Mash the soybeans. Add the koji. Knead until it all holds together. Then squeeze out all air and pack tightly in a covered container. I have a feeling we won’t be buying miso much in the future, especially since we have a great source of koji.

Drying persimmons

Another friend, Minae, invited me to go hiking a few Sundays ago. We drove out to Kurosawa Reservoir at the edge of town. We found a sign marking the source of one of the main rivers of town and also saw a huge flock(?) of migrating mandarin ducks. We passed classic Japanese farm villages on the way out there. What a perfect afternoon!

Last Sunday night, one of the other ALTs in our office, a young woman from the States, invited me to join her and some other friends to attend a Tondo festival on Onyujima (a small island off of Saiki). Tondo festivals are held all over Japan to ceremonially burn all New Year decorations in hope for a prosperous year. There were also prayers by Shinto priests and a couple of ceremonial dances- a kagura masked priest with a long sword cut white strips of fabric that were strung across the “stage”. Another priest used two long poles with bamboo leaves attached to

Stirring the cauldron

the ends-kind of like cheerleading pompoms. He danced and dunked the leaves into a large cauldron of boiling water, dancing and hurling his head and upper body into the steam. He then ran around the crowd hitting them with the bamboo pompoms, blessing them with the water. He ran wildly back and forth between the cauldron and the crowd, and ended with lifting the empty hot cauldron over his head. Then the action shifted to the bonfire- the biggest I’ve ever seen.

I just finished translating a legend about Emperor Jinmu (1st emperor of Japan,direct descendant of Amaterasu- 700 BC) landing on the Onyujima island in search of water. He struck his bow in the ground and a water sprung forth- the spring- fed well (神の井-Well of the Gods) is still a sacred site. Water from this well was used for the steam dance at the festival.

Kai and Nina arrive on Saturday with a friend of Nina’s. can’t wait… It’s still cold, but I just noticed a 梅 (japanese plum) tree blossoming today.

6 thoughts on “Entering the final stretch as an ALT

  1. Charissa January 19, 2010 / 8:18 pm

    Hi Kate! And Jiro!
    Its so nice to hear you have found friends to relax with. I would love to know how to make Miso and Moshi-Coen LOVES both, as well as unagi. Cant wait until he is old enough to manage a trip to see you.
    Hugs to you

    • katezawa January 22, 2010 / 8:24 am

      It will be great when you are able to travel with Coen, Japan is a super kid-friendly place.

  2. dad January 21, 2010 / 5:48 am

    Dear Kato,
    You never cease to make me wonder; you are ever so adventerous and so observant—a dynamite combo, Couple that with an incredible sense of family—I’m so proud of you.



    • katezawa January 22, 2010 / 8:24 am

      It’s all in the genes!

  3. Nono January 22, 2010 / 2:17 am

    Kate I just finished a book that so made me think of you and your entry about your job really reinforced it. American Fuji by Sara Becker. Have you read it?

    I SO know what you mean about going crazy with not enough to do (I am at work right now with a library full of students none of whom need my help)

    Have a wonderful time with Kai and Nina, that will surely cheer you up.

    • katezawa January 22, 2010 / 8:23 am

      I’ll look for that book. I haven’t read it yet. Kai and Nina are due here tomorrow-YAY!
      Thanks for checking in.

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