Friday, November 14, 2014

One Month of Life in Japan

Greetings from Japan!
I have officially been in the country now for 4 weeks, and an update on my general well being is overdue. 
I arrived in one piece on 17 October, after a long flight from Toronto. I was able to sleep on the plane, and AirCanada served pretty decent food, so I was in relatively good shape when I landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Customs was a breeze, and I had no problems finding my bags. While waiting for my bus, a group of Japanese reporters bum-rushed me to ask me about why I was in Japan and I happily gave them what details I could. It would have been nice to see what my visage would have looked like on television with (what I imagine) a Japanese dub, but I then spent the next 3 hours on a bus slowly making my way through Tokyo traffic towards my first stop in Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi prefecture. From there, I took a commuter rail (I have yet to be on one of the bullet trains) to the closest town to my farm, Nasushiobara. I finally made it to the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) around 10 pm where I found my room in the men's dormitory and quickly got to sleep.
I did not really struggle with jet lag luckily, and I was able to wake with the rooster's crowing and try to make sense of the place. Most of the people here are from South Asia and Africa, and all speak some English. Everyone was surprised to see me at the morning exercises (we do weak calisthenics every morning--they really are quite silly), but happy to have another pair of hands for working. On Saturdays, the farm work only goes from 7 to 8 AM, so I found myself with an entire day to explore after breakfast. ARI has chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, and 4 large kitchen gardens where the 2014 class (arrived in March 2014, leave in December) grow their vegetables. Surrounding the campus are larger fields which the entire community works on--rice paddies, soy beans, yams, corn, wheat--but the 27 "participants" from across the world grow the smaller things such as chilis, various lettuces, eggplant, leeks, etc. in these kitchen gardens, which we tend to twice daily. After the earthquake of 2011 and the nuclear disaster, the cows had to be disposed off because Chernobyl taught the world that cesium and other radioactive elements remain in milk. The land here, however, is radiation free and checked regularly. There are three regular meal services, all made with the organic vegetables grown here and meat slaughtered not far from campus as well.
I am still struggling with learning Japanese, but English is the main language spoken throughout campus, so I have been able to make some friends. Together, we have been out in town to a couple of bars and a ramen place. Most of the participants come from rural, poorer areas, so the people who invite me out are the Japanese and Westerners who are considered "volunteers" like myself. Nasushiobara is a small town, so I do get some stares, but most people are well aware of ARI and the many foreigners who live here. All in all, however, I have settled down pretty nicely.

Until next time,

Joey san

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