By Josh Del Pino
You made it! You are now a JET living and working in Shimane, Japan. You’re alone, slightly (or more than slightly) confused, sweating in places you never thought imaginable and maybe a little scared. 日本へようこそ＝ Welcome to Japan! Here are some tips for surviving your first month.
1. Get plenty of rest! This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. All of you are moving to a new country, starting a new job, and living in a foreign environment with a totally different climate, culture, and customs. You are away from your familiar network of friends and family and you might be jetlagged. With all of this change your body might end up becoming a weeeeeee bit tired. If you are a recent college graduate, it might be a shock to your body to have to wake up before 8am Monday through Friday. Try to get into a sleep routine at least a week before school starts. Some of you can function on 5 hours of sleep while others prefer upwards to 12 hours. Insider Tip – If you need complete darkness when you sleep it’s worth the investment to buy curtains – the Japan sun is intense and will wake you up at the crack of dawn.
2. Stay hydrated. Have you ever had heat stroke? Nope? I have. It sucks. And it’s dangerous! It’s like being sedated with a narcotic that leaves you with an intense feverish sensation all over your body for days on end. Try drinking a lot of juice and water – a lot! Even if people stare or ask questions about it, it’s OK to bring a water bottle with you to work, but you shouldn’t bring water bottles into the classroom. Early on, you might have a few welcome parties that you want to attend. At receptions like these it’s OK to say “No” to that 4th glass of Asahi beer! Walking home on your own two feet is much better than waking up in a field of dirt and weeds.
3. Reconnaissance. That’s right James Bond and Nikita. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to learn as much as possible about the people and the places in your neighborhood before school starts. Hopefully your predecessor gave you some good intel beforehand. Why? The more you know, the better. There is no need to over do it and feel like you have to know everyone all at once. Just be observant. Here is a convenient mission objectives checklist:
A. Recognize the kanji characters for the name of your supervisor.
B. Recognize the kanji characters for the names of your JTEs.
C. Find the location of a grocery store, a restaurant, a hospital, a clinic, a gas station, evacuation center, and the ways in and out of your town.
D. Learn the names, locations and distances of JET participants nearby. Get their phone numbers if you have a phone set up.
E. Learn the locations, distances and time it takes to safely drive to all of your schools.
F. If you have a car, go explore and get lost in the mountains of your town. You’re not really lost. You’re in Shimane. Now you know and knowing is half the battle. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.
4. Play house. Well, set up your house to make it feel more like a home – your home. Unpack and nest away! Your place may need a good cleaning, so take the time to scrub it up. Get your futon or bed in just the right place. If you have a futon, give it a good smack outside and let it hang on a balcony on a sunny and bright day (the traditional Japanese way of cleaning and sanitizing a futon). Wash sheets and blankets. Get that old funky ALT smell out, out, out! Stock your fridge with some of your new favorite foods, like natto and pickled onions. Yum! Put pictures up on the walls. Turn on some music! Lay down some bug traps, spray your tatami, and fill holes to keep the critters out (they will come in).
As you may know by now, trash disposal in Japan sometimes requires an advanced degree. So if you don’t have info about trash disposal, ask your supervisor about it. Each community has slightly different rules. Just an FYI, you may have to write your name on your trash. There may be a vertical rectangle on the bag with the characters 名前 which means, “name.” You can buy trash bags and recycle bags at grocery stores and home improvement stores. You thought your Introduction to Formal Logic class was hard? Try properly sorting trash in Japan.