Yeah, Silver Week was so intense, it has to be broken down into two parts. I’m really doing this for your benefit; there’s a lot to cover O_O Alright…
Let’s do this.
So before Silver Week even began, I had to make it through Hokubu’s Sports Day. This is similar to America’s Field Day (or just Alaska if the lower 48 doesn’t do it) in about one way; physical exercise. However, Japan takes it to the next level. Here, they practice for each competition WEEKS in advance. Even months! When I came to the school in August, they were practicing for it already!
It was odd because I got to wear casual sporty clothing to school for the first time since I’ve been here. It was so strange walking to work in work out pants and a track jacket. Sadly, the it was cancelled. We had a torrential downpour hours before it was supposed to start. Which sucked because I got up super early to help out with assembling the tents and such. It started raining around 7:30 (I got there around 6:45) and so I had to run inside with a few other teachers and frantically pass out umbrellas to all the unfortunate ones stuck outside. We tried to wait the rain out by pushing the starting time to 9 instead of 8, buuuuut that didn’t work. So we tried pushing it to 10. Thaaaat didn’t work either. Now, coming from Alaska, I didn’t think rain was a big deal. I mean, puddle jumping could be a professional sport in Juneau. However, the grounds the event was supposed to be held on was just sand. Compact sand. And from what another teacher told me, there was something the boys were doing which involved them climbing on top of each other and doing that on top of mud and shifting sand is kinda dangerous… So we ended up cancelling it. Even though there was nothing we could do about it, I felt bad because we had special bento boxes ready and parents had taken time off work… all for nothing!
I hung around the staff room for the rest of the day flipping between researching activities and cleaning out my still not clean desk. Eventually it was time to go and I left to get ready for the staff dinner party, or ‘enkai’, that would take place at a hotel up the street from where I live later that evening. Honestly, the enkai is what I looked forward to the most. I saw it as a chance to get to know my coworkers outside of the school environment and for them to get to know me as well. When I arrived at the hotel, I was greeted by the 2nd year math and social studies teacher; they collected my money for the dinner (Yeah, it wasn’t free) and then let me take a number from a bag. The seating selection was lottery style, so I had no idea who I would be sitting by. I already knew none of my JTE’s would be attending so I was ready to spend most of the night in silence listening to my fellow teachers talk. I was the first one seated at my table, but I was soon joined by the 3rd year art teacher, the home economics teacher (who I sit by already at work), the school accountant, the 1st year math teacher and the nurse. To my surprise, the 3rd year art teacher knew lots of English! Well, enough to get by on conversation or translate my English when I couldn’t figure out how to say something in Japanese. We had a few small course meals which were amazing! My favorite was the squash soup which I forgot to take a picture of, but it was AMAZING.
After the first two courses, people started getting up to make speeches about school and the (now) upcoming sports day. I only understood parts of what I heard, but enough to get the gist of the mood. As I was taking a drink of water, I heard the MC say, “And now Miranda-sensei will say a few words.”
Embarrassing School Moment # 4: Spitting your water up all over your food and shirt because you just learned you had to give a speech in front of the majority of the staff body you work with. IN JAPANESE. I shuffled up to the mic and didn’t speak right away; someone thought something was wrong and asked if I was okay. I said to give me a second because I was trying to figure out how to say these things in Japanese. After collecting myself, I said something along the lines of this:
“Hi… I’m Miranda… and if you don’t know that already, I’ll bring a neon sign to school next week. (cue laughter). I’m going to apologize now; my Japanese isn’t very good, but I will do my best with this speech. (pause) I have been to Japan twice in the past, but never to Shizuoka or Hamamatsu. (pause) I think I am very lucky to have been placed in Hamamatsu because it is a beautiful city and I love the schools I work at. Hokubu is especially nice; the school is nice (small clapping), the students are great (louder clapping), and the teachers are wonderful (full blown applause complete with whistling). I look forward to working with you this year!”
Then I stepped down and made a beeline for my seat. This was one of those times where I was okay being showered with the “your Japanese is amazing” comments. Normally, it bothers me because I barely get two words out before the compliment comes out of someone’s mouth; at least let me work for it!
The rest of the night was filled with drinking; lots of drinking, but not on my part. The teachers I had been sitting with that night asked me lots of questions in either one of two ways: broken English I could barely understand and semi- drunken Japanese which I could not understand. I mean, I have a hard enough time hearing sober Japanese; how am I supposed to cope with that? At one point, I had said that my favorite Japanese talent (like, actor, singer, comedian) was Ken Watanabe. Two of my teachers thought that this was a great time to get into a veeeeery heated discussion over what movie was his best. I stayed out of it for the most part, only nodding or shaking my head to certain things, but I all but jumped out of my chair when the teacher sitting next to me yelled at the top of his lungs and slammed his hands on the table hard enough for my coffee cup to tip over. And cue frantic waiters and waitresses trying to clean up my spilled coffee while the other teachers asked if I was okay. I found it to be hilarious if anything.
Dinner ended and I hadn’t yet been invited to a nijikai (second party) so I gathered my things and left the hotel to head home. As I was just pulling out my iPhone to put some music on as I walked to the conbini, my Kyoto-sensei came up to me and asked if I wanted to attend karaoke with a group of them. Now, I don’t sing. Not well enough to sing with confidence in front of other people, but I really wanted to go because it would give me more bonding time with my teachers. So I said yes and frantically started to search my music library for songs I felt confident enough to sing.
We made it to Joy Sound, a big name Karaoke bar here and hit the ground running. Holy cow my teachers can sing. It was so fun! A few of the really got into it and I was serenaded to a few times. I tried to push off the singing as long as I could, but when they said I would go next, I panicked and chose to sing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” I did it because it was at a pitch I knew I could hit and it’s one of the only songs I like from her. After thunderous applause from that, I had a few songs to take a break and then the mic was back in my hand, except this time, it wasn’t my choice.
They made me sing “Let It Go” in English; yeah, I know. I mean, I didn’t mind, but half the notes Elsa reaches, I can’t. Halfway through the song, ALL of the male teachers that came (ages 24-60) started belting the song at the top of their lungs. I wish I had taken pictures because it was hilarious.
At the end, they invited me to a sanjikai (third party), but I declined on the grounds that I had an early bus to catch in the morning. They were okay with it and I left. I’m really looking forward to going to the New Year’s Enkai in December!
The following day, I got up REALLY early to drag myself to the bus station to catch my bus to Tokyo. My two fellow JETs, J and A were already there (J arrived Friday, we were staying with A) and planned to run to Disneyland that morning to get us tickets later on in the week. Well good thing they did because about an hour before I was supposed to arrive, they found out that the days we would be there (Sunday-Tuesday) were sold out for full day passes. Instead, we decided to do a Starlight pass that same day and just do what we could.
I SHOULD have gotten there at 1:30, but I was stuck in traffic at noon and then was dropped off in a part of Shinjuku station that I am not familiar with in any shape or form. I wandered around for near an hour because I figured out how to get to Tokyo. I made it to Maihama station (Disneyland Station) around 2:30 and all but ran to where the others were waiting for me; they had snagged me a locker to put my luggage in! And good thing too; I would not have been a happy camper if I had to drag around my suitcase all day. After haphazardly throwing all my things into the locker and changing my shoes, I went to get a Minnie bow to match J and A. We waited in line and we were off!
We decided to high tail it to Big Thunder Mountain because it still had a fast pass left and we managed to get passes for the last grouping. None of us had eaten, so we decided to have a sit down meal and formulate our attack plan. The food was delicious! Even though I’ve been to Tokyo Disneyland twice in the past, I’ve never actually eaten at one of their sit down restaurants.
To save you from me narrating our entire time in Disneyland, here’s a rundown of what we did:
-Pirates of the Caribbean
-Toon Town/Roger Rabbit’s something something ride
-Alice Tea Cups (which by the way, we could not walk straight after we finished)
-Haunted Mansion (We managed to see this ride for the Nightmare Before Xmas version! It was amazing! Even in America, I’ve never seen this one before!)
-Window shopping for later
-3 minute viewing of “Once Upon a Time” (I think this is exclusively for Japan; I haven’t heard about it for America before. Basically, the entire castle becomes a huge screen and snippets of all the Disney movies play on it. And fireworks.)
-Stiches Encounter (this was actually a lot of fun! You got to legit interact with a computer Stitch! The best part was when we had to direct him through a maze to escape Gantu)
-Big Thunder Mountain (so worth the wait, and the view from the top was beautiful at night! Again, something I’ve never done!)
And that was it! For having a starlight pass, I think we did quite a lot! We made the trek home and made a small game plan for the next day. I am going to stop it there though because this is pretty long already. So ends part 1! Part 2 will have the rest of Silver Week! Keep an eye out!