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Arrival in Koga-shi

March 30, 2012

Okay, so I feel I should make one thing clear before we continue with the blog. Don’t worry, you readers aren’t in trouble or anything! It’s just me making sure you understand when I write things like “Koga-shi” vs “Koga City.” When you write out the Japanese characters for “Koga City,” it’s written as 「古河市」and read as Koga-shi. So, whenever I write “-shi,” I mean “city.” Perhaps eventually I’ll just end up writing “Koga” only, but right now it’s a good way to make sure it’s the correct “Koga” in Japan.

Anyway, Koga-shi! I’m here! We had to wake up bright and early to be down in the hotel lobby at 7:30 Sunday morning and got on a bus at 8:15 that took us back to the airport. The plan was to take a Skyliner, which is a faster train that runs between Tokyo and Narita to Ueno Station, and then go to our respective placements from there. We had time before our train arrived so we received directions that we would be separating into certain groups to go to our placements. Each group would be led by one of the staff members. I was part of the group led by Peter, the new trainer for the branch, to our train. The whole group rode from Narita Airport in the direction of Ueno (a part of Tokyo) on the Skyliner. One group got off a stop early, but the rest of us went on to Ueno. Once we got off, the final few groups had to leave the Skyliner train station and cross the street to the JR station so we could get onto our train that would take us all the way to Koga. Before we split ways to get onto our respective trains, we had one more group chant, yelling, “一番 (ichiban)!” In Japanese, this means “Number One!” and we say it because we’re Tokyo Branch 1 (and number one, obviously).

Although Peter couldn’t ride with us all the way he was able to stay with us for about half the ride, which gave us a chance to ask him questions. Peter taught with Interac for two years before applying for the trainer position, so we were able to get a good idea of what to expect in our futures. It was really easy to talk with him because he was so close in age to us. He was also nice enough to let us know that he is working on a Japan Survival Guide for us that will have things like, “What does that kanji on my remote control mean?” What a neat idea. I have a feeling that I’ll be referring to that guide fairly often regarding the controls in my apartment! Thanks Peter!

After Peter got off the train, the five of us had a fairly quiet ride to Koga. Once we reached the station, we met our guides who would help us get to city hall to apply for our Alien Registration cards, open banks accounts, and get cell phones, among other things. My person is named Suzuki-san, and she is such a patient and helpful person! She drove my friend Tyler and I to our hotel, where we would be staying until our apartments were ready, and dropped us off at around 11:30 before taking Samantha to her apartment. She and I made plans to meet up at 10:00 so she could take Samantha and I around to run the aforementioned errands. Anyway, Tyler and I weren’t able to check into our hotel until about 3:00 on Sunday, so we left our things at the front desk and went out to explore. We ended up walking around a good part of the city, and ended up getting lost for a good while.

During our journey we stopped inside a small bookstore and talked to the old woman who owned it. We talked about the countries she had visited, among other things. Eventually I mentioned Shounen Jump, which is a monthly 漫画 (manga) magazine, and she had this wide grin spread across her face. It turned out that the next issue of Shounen Jump was due to be released the next day, but she always set it out a day early. So, I got to buy this month’s issue of the magazine a day early! It was pretty neat. After buying the issue, I had a great idea: what if I got an English version of Shounen Jump for my students to see? I mean, this is a monthly magazine that they all read. It would be fun if they got to see an English version too! Later on, we walked by an elderly man walking a Great Dane, and he stopped and said, “Oh! Are you Americans?” It turned out his Great Dane was the offspring of an American champion, and we got to talking about dogs for a short while.

We finally made it back to the hotel at 4:30. We went to go rest our sore feet in our rooms after agreeing that we’d meet up at 7:00 to run to the コンビニ (konbini), the convenience store, to grab dinner. I spent that time getting caught up with things online and reading my copy of Shounen Jump. The コンビニ was about a five minute walk from the hotel, and it took a short while to decide on what to buy. With food in hand, we returned to our rooms triumphantly.

At 10:00 the next morning (Monday) I was picked up by Suzuki-san and Samantha and we went off to run our errands. Boy, did we take forever! First we went to apply for our Alien Registration cards and enroll in the National Health Insurance program. We then went to open our postal accounts (sidenote: post offices in Japan also have their own bank) and then went to AEON, which is this huge shopping plaza, and checked at the cell phone area there whether or not I’d be able to use the cell phone that I had while studying abroad in Kyoto in ’09-’10. My thought process was that I could use the old phone but have a new plan for it. Luckily, it was possible to implement that idea, but they weren’t able to do so at AEON. We had to go to an actual store to get that carried out. While we were in AEON, though, Samantha used that time to grab a few things she forgot for her apartment and I took note of things to pick up the next day.

Before going to our next stop, we stopped over at a 回転寿司 (kaiten-zushi) place called かっぱ寿司 (Kappa-zushi) for lunch. 回転寿司 is often referred to as “conveyor belt sushi,” in English. You sit at a counter while a conveyor belt rolls by in front of you with all sorts of goodies. You pick a plate of food off the belt and dig in! Usually the plates are color-coded by price, and they count up how many plates you ate for your bill. As many of you know, I am not the biggest seafood enthusiast, but I sure love vegetarian sushi. So, after getting stuffed on かっぱ巻き (kappa-maki) and いなり寿司 (inari-zushi) I paid my bill and we were off once more.

The next stop on our list was to go to the au store (lowercase letters are intentional). au is one of the bigger cell phone companies in Japan, and is the company that I used while studying abroad. So, we sat down with a representative and I began filling out the paperwork and choosing what I want for a plan. I decided on a plan that gave me an hour of free talking a month — beyond that I have to pay — and an unlimited e-mail plan. Rather than texting, Japanese cell phones each have their own e-mail, which makes it easier for me to get in contact with people if I so choose. I chose the unlimited plan because who knows how often I’ll need to e-mail Interac when I don’t have my computer handy! We hit a snag, though, when it came time to start processing the paperwork. It turned out that they required my Alien Registration card, which didn’t make sense because people had been able to get cell phones without their Alien Registration card. It turned out that we didn’t receive a sheet of paper that acts as our temporary documents until we can go pick up our cards, which won’t be available until the 16th. Oy vey.

So, back to city hall we went and we soon left with our temporary documents. Since I already had a shot at getting a cell phone, we decided to head to SoftBank (another cellphone company) to see if they could issue a new SIM card for Samantha’s iPad. After forty-five minutes talking with a representative in Tokyo over the phone, it turned out that it was impossible. We ended those discussions and began talking cell phones for Samantha. She bought the cheapest cell phone possible, with no e-mail capabilities or anything. However, it took so long for that process, and for a while it seemed like they wouldn’t accept Samantha’s brand new temporary Alien Registration documents. Suzuki-san ended up calling Interac right then and there and passed the phone to the SoftBank representative so Interac could let them know that yes, it was possible, so could they just go and call the main branch and get told the exact same thing? I’m exaggerating. Interac probably used much more formal language. Two and a half hours after entering the SoftBank store, we finally were able to leave, though Samantha had to go back in two days to pick up her new phone.

The next day (Tuesday) I checked out of the hotel and Suzuki-san picked me again in front of the hotel. Our first order of business was to head to the au store to see if I could get my cellphone. Everything went through, but they needed an hour or so to get everything set up on the phone. So, we took off and went to check out my new apartment! We had to wait a little while for the gas man to come and connect everything, so we busied ourselves by setting up my Internet and making a list of things I needed to buy for the day. Once my gas was connected, we went back to the au store to pick up my phone and then headed to AEON to begin the shopping extravaganza. Once everything was purchased, we went to a ラーメン (ramen) shop nearby to get some lunch. The last item on my list was to buy a printer that could photocopy things, so we quickly popped over prefecture lines into Tochigi Prefecture (I live in Ibaraki Prefecture) to an electronics store. I managed to find a printer that scans and copies for about 5,500 yen, which is pretty cheap! Once that was purchased and in the car, our last stop was at the grocery store near my apartment so I had food for dinner and breakfast the next day. After that Suzuki-san brought me back to the apartment and I was left to my own devices to unpack everything! My large suitcase finally arrived that night at around 8:00, and luckily I had my bedding set out by then so I could unpack my pajamas and curl up in my new bed and relax the rest of the evening.

I think I’ll leave the post there. Coming soon, photos of my apartment and my car! Stay tuned!

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