|L-R Kenny, Ms. Furuyama, me, Stephanie.|
Orientation wound down with my jet lag and up with my tension-- as much as I knew that these sorts of events inevitably involved the recital of the worst possible calamities that could befall me, it was hard not to worry at least a little about the extravagant scenarios that were spun out over the next few days. Apparently it was possible to be ignored by students, maltreated by teachers, fall critically ill, and then be arrested and deported for drunk driving on the way to committing suicide out of shame and depression-- as, we were told, had actually happened. Surely they didn't mean “to the same person”?
We were briefed once again on our assigned locations and in-country flight plans, and warned to carefully take note of our departure times the following morning. Not that it was particularly necessary-- my internal clock, still badly confused by the jet lag (and the fact that Japan Standard Time has no daylight savings and hence the summer sun rises over Tokyo at 4 in the morning) woke me well before my alarm.
Taken, at what should, by rights, have been dawn, from my room, I was led, along with the other Akita ALTs, in a procession (preceded by a hotel employee with a huge placard reading “AKITA”), to a line of waiting buses outside the hotel. We pulled away, waved onward by a line of two dozen bowing hotel staff, (including bellhops, chambermaids, and a gaggle of salaryman manager-types), and pulled on to the expressway, bound for Haneda Airport.
The flight north to Akita was less than half full, so despite my middle-row seat (on, of all things, a cavernous 777) I was easily able to see out the windows and watch the Japan Alps slide by underneath. Last time I flew north, the plane was filled with Red Cross earthquake relief volunteers and the peaks were snowy and ensconced in cloud-- this time, the slopes were a lush green and the seats on the plane not occupied by JETs seemed to be exclusively occupied by dozens of unusually pretty young mothers with unreasonably well-behaved toddlers in tow. One of these looked up from her designer diaper bag to bow slightly in recognition as she saw me mugging a bit for her grave-eyed 3-year-old son. Was it all a good omen? Some kind of coupon deal for Obon? This many young families headed to Akita didn't seem to gibe well with the fact of a population decline problem so bad that I picked up a weighty pamphlet last year, titled “Think About It! Akita's Low Birthrate”, which advertised local-government-sponsored group dating events!
|A little light reading. That tree's got itself a saucy wink, doesn't it?|
|So this is how you get married. At least, with the assistance of the prefectural government.|
The snow piles were gone from the taxiways at Akita's bus-station sized airport, but the formidable snowplows I remembered from my first trip north, mounted on 8-wheel-drive vehicles that looked like Scud launchers, were still parked on the tarmac in anticipation of a winter that could drop snowfalls measured in the meters. Driving in winter, as I'd have to do once the school year got into swing, seemed like an increasingly bleak proposition.
Ours was the only plane scheduled for arrival that afternoon, it seemed, but the vast number of expensive, gate-checked strollers to retrieve from the plane's hold seemed to have snarled the baggage claim process. I had a chance to roam around the claim area, reading the tourism posters that papered the walls. (A new campaign in progress seemed to revolve around punning their slogan, “Akita Vision”, 秋田ビジョン on the famous Akita-bijin、 秋田ビジン、the legendary beauties of the North). And then, carrying my bag, I stepped forward into the Arrivals lobby to find my pickup. They found me-- a short, motherly Japanese woman, presumably the Oga Board of Education's JET coordinator, Ms. Furuyama, and my new co-ALTs: a, beaming Englishman, Kenny, and my counterpart in the middle-schools, Stephanie, a freckled Australian, gathered around a hand-lettered sign reading “WELCOME TO OGA, DAVID!”
I really had arrived.