Here's what's different:
1)New schools. I had ten. They took four of my elementaries and gave them to other ALTs. Then they gave me four new ones even farther away, plus two alternative schools. Now I have 12 schools. I will die.
2)New staff. On April 1st Japan undergoes massive staff changes. A lot of it has to do with the school year ending in March and the influx of college graduates ready to earn a living. Usually transfers occur within a company or corporation. This means that my favorite buddy at the BOE got sent one floor down, one of the office guys at my favorite mountain school now works on the fourth floor, and when I walk into the six schools I already knew I don't know 40% of the staff. Awesome? Maybe, maybe not. I did get a great new teacher at Ikushin, which almost makes it worth the 40-minute transit on a bus crammed with giddy high-schoolers who think I don't understand the word for foreigner. I've only been to two schools so far; we'll see what the rest brings.
3) Socializing. I already said yes to almost anything to which I was invited. The difference now is that people without children my age are coming out of hibernation. Through a English conversation meeting I met a young guy and his Chinese wife. He had graduated from OSU in 1995 and currently spends half the year in Japan and half in China. He's a fancy pants kind of guy. He and Kim-chi (reminder: other Kameoka ALT) and I exchanged emails and went on our way. A couple weeks ago he and his wife invited the two of us out to view the cherry blossoms and barbecue. It was raining and chilly, but it was awesome. Even when they eventually switched to Japanese entirely and Kim and I just sat and stuffed our faces, it was fun.
I'm also reconnecting with other foreigners. A guy who works at an English school in the department store had a birthday. For his birthday a group went out to Maruyama park in the Gion are of Kyoto city. At night the more popular cherry blossom sites light up. Cherry blossoms at night are now on my list of must-sees for all visiting foreigners. Come at the beginning of April and you shall see. Oh, but you shall.
I had my first houseguest last weekend. The honorable Rachel Sreebny came down from the inaka to grace us with her presence. I lead a group of six JETs up to the restaurant where the aikido group had gone. We ate, we laughed, we loved. Margaret and I went into Kyoto with Rachel the following day for some cherry blossom picnicking in celebration of the evanescence of life and another chill girl's birthday. Note: if you say "chill girl" in a swallow-your-words Lady Catherine de Bourgh voice you'll see it rhymes.
This past Saturday I went up to the Ine area (think Lake of the Ozarks, but smaller and Japanese, then go more into the boonies) to visit Rachel in return. Her local BOE tries to make up for their podunk location by giving the teacher a whole two-story house to inhabit. It is the perfect size for slumber parties. Margaret and I hitched a ride up there with a JET who has a car, stayed overnight for some good clean fun, and socialized with some folk whose to-Kyoto travel takes a couple of hours. On Sunday afternoon I rode home with a Japanese couple who live about twenty minutes away. I got an invitation to a birthday party out of that ride, and heck yes I'm going. Then today one of the teachers at Ikushin invited me to a barbecue next Sunday. Not American style, don't get your hopes up. Japanese barbecues, I have found, involve small pieces of meat, cabbage, dipping sauce, and occasionally some large intestine. The last, by the way, has the texture of a lugie. Disgust. But the other meat and vegetables are absolutely delish. I am looking forward to that hearty party.
4) I've decided to change the way I post. Now that Blogger has handy Big Brother-style ways to post, I can update my blog without worrying as much about firewalls or internet access. Hello, irritatingly short mobile phone blog entries with grainy pictures and emoticons!
5) It's not cold anymore!
Spring is here and it is the best. Washington D.C, your cherry blossoms ain't got nothing on the abundance of sakura here. There is a phenomenon known as hanami, the direct translation of which being "flower viewing." Japanese people go more bananas over cherry blossoms than autumn leaves. They lay tarps under the trees, crack open a few dozen beers, and get loud. It's amazing. Trees that masqueraded as ordinary foliage suddenly burst into bloom, lining parks and walkways with pink and white and dotting the hillsides. Suddenly folk aren't so depressed about life and I'm feeling more optimistic about handling a dozen schools. People who I forgot existed had emerged from winter anti-socialism to ooh and ah at the beautiful blossoms. Within a couple weeks of blooming the petals start to drop in a storm of white. Spring time is windy time, and there are few things more picturesque than a whirlwind of petals skipping and gliding over a field of growing rice. The air even smells like cherries. I thought that cherry candy was a made-up flavor, like how blue raspberry flavor actually tastes nothing like a blue raspberry. Once the sakura bloomed I understood from whence the flavor came.
These pictures were taken just a little bit before the flowers were in full bloom at the local Kameoka moat. It was a castle before WWII, now there's just the moat and a cult. The last is from Maruyama park. When I was trying to find the area I was told, "We're by the big tree." I replied that there were a lot of large trees in the park, and may have added a cute little term of endearment like, "Doofus," or "Idiot." Then I came upon this sight and felt like a cute little term of endearment, myself.
Ah. The big tree.