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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Life In Ohtawara: I Can See Clearly Now

I'm still at a convention for work - burned out from all day shaking hands and kissing babes, er, babies.

But... I haven't missed a blog yet in the past four plus years, and despite being tired, I'm not about to start anew.

For many people going to Japan to teach English, you might expect to work in a big city and work at a fancy school or cram school or learning center.

Now... despite me being in a small city - Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken - for three years, the city was quite spread out... and included three schools (of my seven junior high schools) in what can only be considered a more rural locale.

These were Chikasono, Kaneda Minami and Sakuyama Chu Gakko.

While Chikasono was a very old school around 100 years old and made of very flammable wood, the other two had recently been rebuilt as larger, brick buildings.

While all three were essentially situated within farms in the city, while the other two were mostly rice farm areas, Sakuyama had fruit farms - specifically apple and pear trees.

Aside from the Chikasono area, these farmers were relatively well-off. Chikasono might have been well-off, too, but not according to the teachers who taught there... the kids being a little bit more rough around the edges than the other kids from a rural area - but I never saw that... they were all excellent young kids.

Above (very top) is the Sakuyama school.

I had decided I would be artsy and try my hand at black and white film photography, as no one had yet discovered digital cameras when I was there between 1990-1993.

I think if you are shooting vistas, with a blue sky in the background, everything pops... but when you are me, and it rains every time I bring out a camera, the background gets washed.

Anyhow... Sakuyama was a huge school, with the latest thing for the kids to use as a learning device - computers. This was in 1990.

Although I have had a computer since 1978, and have been on the pre-Internet since then, not many people outside of businesses utilized computers for anything other than as a glorified typewriter or video game app.

As you can see from the image directly above, there really was farm land all around us... and just my luck, the farms immediately surrounding the school were rice farms proving my above point moot. But seriously, the areas is better known for its fruit harvests.

In the photo below, the school has lots of room for the kids to play, with soccer nets (and field) being front and center, as well as a baseball diamond... but you'll notice that everything is mud... or when dry, dirt... no grass stains for the moms to wash out!

At least in my neck of the woods, school grounds were typically dirt, with no grass.

However, atypically, Sakuyama had a brand new ...

... swimming pool.

Once when it was incredibly hot one May day in 1991 after a nice rain in the morning, I had a spare, and was told that I could make use of the swimming pool to cool off and relax that hazy afternoon.

One of the teachers - a guy, thank Buddha, gave me a pair of swim trunks to use, and a spare towel.

I don't know how to swim, but dammit, it was stupid hot, and I was stupid... so I slipped in... the shallow end was around 175 cm deep... meaning I could stand with my feet on the slippery bottom and have the bottom of my eyes be just above the waterline.

But of course... I had to duck my head in and try swimming... I don't know how to do the crawl - swim and breath, but I can propel myself like a torpedo under the surface - stop - touch the ground - grab a breath - and fire myself through the cool water again and again.

Then I decided I would, while swimming like a torpedo under the water's surface open my eyes and take a look around.

Kids... if you wear contact lenses that are water permeable... don't open your eyes underwater unless you have goggles.

Because I can see amorphous blob shapes, I was able to slowing feel my way back to the school about 500 meters away... and explain my stupidity.

Without my glasses or contact lenses, I have 20/800 vision, which essentially means that what a person with 20/20 vision can see 800 feet (244 meters) away, I have to be 20 feet (six meters) away to see it. Apparently that is not good enough to be considered blind no matter what you might think.
Helloooo ladies! Ladies?... Ladies? ... anyone? Bueller?

Even though I know where all the parts are, if it wasn't for contact lenses, I would probably still be a virgin.

No one had a spare pair of contact lenses back at the school, not even the kindly teacher who had lent me his swim trunks and towel. I did have an extra pair, along with my glasses - but they were at home.

Mrs Gunji, the school nurse, drove me back home - 10 kilometers away, waited for me to get a new pair of lenses and then drove me back to school - just in time for school to be over... so she drove me back home again.

I was never asked if I wanted to use the Sakuyama swimming pool again... probably because they had to skim all my body hair out of the water.

Andrew Joseph

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