My First Day in Shakotan

Bikuni MariniaOn Monday, April 25th, I was awake, suited up, checked out of the hotel, and waiting in the lobby by 6:00am. At ten or so to six, Harada-san arrived with a van to transport me and my stuff to Shakotan (積丹).  On the way, I practiced my self-introduction in Japanese, which Harada-san had me repeat over and over. The drive from Sapporo to Shakotan, which went down a beautiful coastal highway for much of the way, was expected to take about two hours, but Harada got us there in like an hour and twenty minutes.

We ended up arriving before the Board of Education was even open. We went to the convenience store (コンビニ) for some food and such. I got a seaweed onigiri (おにぎり) and bottle of water.  For the unfamiliar, onigiri is a rice ball (usually triangular in shape, actually) that has a pocket of something delicious in its center. It seems to be the quintessential Japanese snack and can be found at any convenience store in Japan for super cheap.

To kill some time, we looked around travel pamphlets at the bus station. Since Shakotan is fairly remote on its own little peninsula, there aren’t any trains that go there. The nearest train stops at Yoichi (余市) and then from there one has to take a bus the rest of the way. The bus station was right across the street from the Shakotan municipal building.

The city of Shakotan apparently has most of the local government organizations in the same three story building (Board of Education, City Hall, Mayor’s Office, Family registry, Public health department, etc, etc.) Eventually we went inside, and I was introduced to the Board of Education staff. One of the staff at the BoE, nice lady named Fujiki, apparently lives in the same apartment building that I was moving into. Everybody was super nice to me, despite the fact that I could only just barely speak any Japanese. As I had been told, no one in Shakotan speaks English.

Harada-san left the room to go do something for a few minutes and suddenly, without my interpreter, I was whisked around the building and introduced to so many people that I lost count. My self-introduction in Japanese, already rehearsed, got tons of mileage. Basically, I said the exact same introduction to everybody. Several people gave me their meishi (business card), which is standard procedure in Japan. I wished that their cards had included furigana (phonetic spelling in small print next to kanji) so that I could read the characters in their names. By the end of the day, I wasn’t going to know whose card belonged to whom, let alone what their name was.

After visiting the Board of Education, Harada-san and I went to Fuji Sushi, a restaurant run by same person who was to be my landlord. We were there to get the key to my apartment, but we decided to have lunch there. It was my first time dining on a Tanami mat floor, and the food was amazing. We had cold soba noodles and sushi. For dessert, I had the choice of ice cream or coffee, and I enthusiastically picked coffee. (For some reason, after leaving Seattle, I have begun craving coffee every day.) Eventually, my landlord appeared and gave Harada-san and I the key to my apartment. I was also introduced to Matsumoto-san, an older gentleman with an innocent, almost childlike smile. He appeared to be hard of hearing, but is all smiles and very friendly. He works at Fuji Sushi, and lives in my same apartment building.

The apartment was, all things considered, a fine plaMy Apartment in Shakotance to live. The setup of the bathroom was a little foreign to me. The toilet is in its own little room and the shower/tub is in its own separate room. The top of toilet tank actually has a little sink of sorts, which you can use to wash your hands after you flush. Basically, the water that fills the tank first goes through that faucet, so any water you use to wash your hands is conserved and used for the next flush. It’s pretty clever actually. What confuses me though is that I don’t know where I’m supposed to brush my teeth. Do I use the shower room and spit into the drain on the floor, or do I use the kitchen sink? I still haven’t figured out which I’m supposed to use, so I’ve just been brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink.

Speaking of the kitchen, it has no oven, and I when I first arrived, no stovetop/burners either. A man from the sushi restaurant was quick to install a gas burner for me, so I can cook food and boil water; I’m just limited to using a single burner to do so.

One glaring problem with the apartment is that there is no internet connection. (I had been told that the internet was hooked up and working.) From what I understand, the company that’s supposed to provide internet service out here in the sticks isn’t really providing any service yet. There was some speculation that it might be up and running by August. (!!?) This means that I needed to invest in some sort of mobile Wi-Fi service.  What’s really strange about the lack of internet is that all homes and businesses in Shakotan are connected by a local videophone network. This means that I can call the BoE and actually see who I’m speaking with on video, but I can’t check my email on my laptop. Weird, right?

Later in the day, a representative from the company arrived; delivering furniture for me that another ALT had left behind. There was a washing machine, frig, microwave, sofa, desk, TV, and even dishes. He was a real trooper, having driven this moving truck for three or four hours to deliver the furniture for me. Then he was a machine carrying appliances and furniture into my apartment with me. Unfortunately, the washing machine couldn’t be hooked up right away as the pipes needed some tinkering. Also, the TV didn’t work, so it will need to be replaced.

Around 6:30 or so, Fujiki-san and Yamazaki-san from the BoE arrived to take me shopping. Yamazaki-san also brought his two kids, who I’ll be teaching eventually.  Since I didn’t have my cell phone yet, Yamazaki-san let me borrow a phone of his. To make it easy for me, he had entered his cell number, Fujiki-san’s number, and the BoE’s number into the phone. (I’ve now made a couple (awkward) phone calls in Japanese, which is kind of cool.

We drove to the nearby town of Yoichi (the last place the train stops) and went to a store called Homac (ホーマック) which sells all sorts of home accessories. I ended buying a curtain, rice cooker, an iron, knives (just in case…), chopsticks, etc, etc… After Homac, Yamazaki-san took us to dinner.  I had “Neapolitan spaghetti” and curry rice. I must say, both were fantastic.

When we got back to my apartment, everyone helped me put up my new curtain (green, of course), and Yamazaki-san surprised me with a gift: a TV tuner! Unfortunately, the TV I had was definitely broken, so it was no use. Yamazaki-san was so accommodating that the next day he came to my apartment with a TV from BoE, which he said I could use until my broken TV was replaced. What a guy!

1 Comment

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One response to “My First Day in Shakotan

  1. Travis Sheldrake

    Great update Luke! Sounds like quite an adventure, but going to be a great cultural experience. Hopefully you won’t get too homesick and everyone makes you feel at home. Catch you later!

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