It’s been about two months now since I’ve moved to Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. The prefecture organized a bus to take us from Tokyo to Fukushima this year, which took about 4 hours. We took a couple mandatory 10-15 minute breaks at a couple highway stops where we took bathroom breaks and had some food. In Japan, it’s illegal to have the driver drive for more than 2 hours without breaks.
Before I go further, there’s a couple things to know about Fukushima. When referring to Fukushima, it can mean either the prefecture of the city. Because so many parts of Japan are densely populated, people’s worlds and lives center mostly around their immediate area. If I were to tell you that there is a cat cafe in Fukushima, I would be referring to the city, not the prefecture. But if I were to tell you Fukushima has a few lakes, I am talking about the prefecture.
Hope that lessens any confusion. On we go!
Once we got to Koriyama, one of the two biggest cities in Fukushima (the other being Fukushima…!), we assembled into a room where all the supervisors from various areas of the prefecture were waiting for us. We all had a specific seat that we were told to sit in beforehand, and everyone took turns to introduce themselves. I met with with my supervisor, a tired and old middle-aged looking man. Let’s call him Mr. Super. We introduced ourselves amidst all the other excited introductions, and I instantly felt as if I had just met an uncle from my mother’s extended family. My mother’s family is so well connected that I was and am constantly being introduced to some new person who is a second cousin or relative, so I guess that trained me to have instant connections with people, especially Asians who can be my aunt or uncle.
After a while, Mr. Super took me to his car, a really nice Prius among many other nice cars, and drove us to Aizu-Wakamatsu. On the way, we talked more about ourselves, and he showed me Mt. Bandai. I drooled at the cleared paths, which would soon collect snow and become ski and snowboarding trails come winter. It took us about 45 minutes on the highway, so we had a lot of time to talk. Since there was still time in the workday, and this was officially a workday, Mr. Super took me to the school, where I met my Australian coworker, an ALT teaching the junior high part of the school whom I will call Ms. Ozzie. We then went to my apartment which was sparsely furnished, but I’m incredibly grateful for them because some of the teacher staff had moved big appliances to the 3rd floor, and Ms. Ozzie’s husband had done some DIY touch-ups as well. The electric and gas company also came by to turn on the gas and check out the stovetop (“gas table”), and reported that I had the wrong kind… No cooking for me! We planned our schedule the next day after doing a room walkthrough:
1) Register as a resident at city hall
2) Get a bank account
3) Get a phone
4) Sign my apartment lease
This took pretty much the entire 2nd day. There was lots of waiting, and explaining contracts, and trying to understand contracts, and stamping and signing. In Japan, contracts are signed with a personal stamp. It’s actually a lot of fun to press that thing on a piece of paper. Mr. Super and Ms. Ozzie were with me the whole time, and I’m so glad they were because I would have been so lost. And hungry, because without Ms. Ozzie and her hubs, I would not have been invited over for dinner.
On the 3rd day, Mr. Super and Ms. Ozzie accompanied me again to go to Nitori, a giant home furnishings store similar to IKEA, and Daiyu 8, a home center, similar to Target, to pick up some bedding, curtains, a new gas table, and other necessities. I also got my mama-chari bike! That evening, I checked out the grocery store around the corner to get rice so that I could have some sustenance, as well as bread and butter so I could have buttered toast with awesome fluffy and slightly sweet Japanese bread, something that I’d missed since I last lived in Japan. Because it was another long day, I didn’t have the energy to explore the market, read the labels, and get more interesting things to buy. There’d be plenty of time for that…
And that was my first 3 days of a whirlwind in Aizu-Wakamatsu.