Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Home is Where the Wifi is

     Now I know a lot of you have been wondering where exactly I am on the other side of the world. Let me break it down a little for you. Obviously, as you might have already guessed since you are reading this, I am in Japan, although some people are still asking how "China/Korea/other Asian country" is. Hopefully this can clear that up a bit! Japan is the little island country, roughly the size of California, just West of mainland Asia. Within Japan there are prefectures, which are kind of like states with their own governing bodies and such. KEEP is located in the Yamanashi Prefecture. The big city here and capital is Kofu.

Yamanashi is in orange...the prefecture to the Northwest is Nagano, the site of the 1998 Olympics. The prefecture is only a five minute drive from KEEP, but Nagano the city is about and hour away.

     Once inside Yamanashi, there are a bunch of cities that I like to think of as counties within the 'state' of Yamanshi. I am living in Hokuto City, which you can see in the top corner in the pink on the map. It is a very mountainous area, which adds to the fun of living and driving here.

Nirasaki, to the south in bright green, is where the big shopping mall I go to is located.

     Once inside Hokuto City, Takane is the city I live in and Kiyosato is kind of like the village within Takane that is home to KEEP. To the North are the Yatsugatake mountains, like you can see on the map. You could say those are the mountains I live in since we are at a fairly high altitude and pretty much the only place left with snow and ice. To the East and West are other mountain ranges. Japan's second tallest mountain, Kita-dake is visible on the map, is located in this mountain range to the west. Then to the South is a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji. It gets dark here quite early, so the sun sets around 5:30pm. Between about 4:50 and 5:20 right now is my favorite time of night, because the colors of the sunset reflect off the mountains and create this glow that is just stunning. Not bad scenery for a place to live, if I do say so myself.

More in depth map of Yamanashi with natural landmarks included
     So think of it as Japan>US, Yamanashi>Indiana, Hokuto City>Marion County, Takane>Indianapolis, Kiyosato>Broad Ripple. At least that is how I keep it straight in my mind.

     Once you are inside Kiyosato, the biggest thing in town is KEEP. The town itself was created when the KEEP founder, American Paul Rusch, introduced the high altitude dairy farming and the idea of democracy to the region. Right now, most of the town is closed for the winter season, but up at KEEP you can see a few tourists here and there coming for lunch at the Farm Shop, staying at the hotel, Seisen Ryo, participating in the environmental programs, and, of course, stopping by the Jersey Hut for the famous soft cream. It's a weird feeling, but it already feels like I've been here for months. So now this is home!

Giant ice wreath they make every year with the founder of KEEP, Paul Rusch, and Mt. Fuji in the background.
My walk to the cafeteria and offices-those are the Yatsugatake mountains to the North

Families getting ready to go on a nature walk, one of the programs the Environmental Education department puts on for the public.

     A lot of people have been asking where I am living at KEEP. Unfortunately, I am no longer in the picturesque lodge, Seisen Ryo, but I can't complain about my new digs in the Lancaster dormitory. Being on the mountain, it gets extremely cold especially when the wind whips down and burns your face, so the fact that I've got a room to myself that stays very warm, I am a happy camper. I live with six other woman in the dormitory, with a shared living room, kitchen, bathroom and shower room. We are all on extremely different schedules, one girl works at the bakery and is up and at 4:00am and gets off at 1:00pm so our only interaction is hearing each other through the wall, and another girl works at the restaurant and works the lunch hour and into the late dinner hours, so it definitely doesn't have the sorority house feel, but when I do see people, they all are extremely nice...even if there is somewhat of a language barrier. After a day of work dedicated to Japanese customs and business practices, I think of my room as my little American oasis because it has wifi so I am able to text all my friends and get online and watch tv shows and such. There are a lot of hours spent on Buzzfeed and Pinterest and I'm currently working on how to get Game of Thrones to stream when it starts in March. It's nice that it's the only place I get wifi because I like to keep the two cultures separate. I don't want to ruin my experience here by giving into the temptation of constantly being in contact with everyone at home, but at the same time I need to have the time to myself and be able to talk to friends and decompress. 

Home sweet home Lancaster. Not a fan of the pack of deer that hang out around it, though.
The dorm is traditional Japanese and we all take our shoes off at the front door. Those are my Wellies, Uggs and hiking boots in the foreground. This is taking some to get used to.

The common room right inside the front door. Currently it's kind of under construction and I'm hoping to get some more seating in there so we can have a place for us all to socialize someday!

Our shared kitchen. Japan is hyper vigilant about sorting their garbage, even down to the different type of plastics, so that's also taking some getting used to.
The hallway I run down in the middle of the night to get to the bathroom, which is so cold because we each heat our rooms individually, not the rest of the dorm.
Yes, Harry Potter on the laptop. With all the overweight luggage, they were the only movies that made the cut. I do have to admit I have I accidentally turned off the wifi to the whole house before because that's the router in the window there...whoops.
My desk and tiny little dresser and vanity. It's interesting to try and do your hair while bent over while trying to look into the mirror.
     Once I got settled in, my coworker, Makoto Urakabe, took me to the Hokuto City office to register my residency. Because I am going to be here for over three months, I have to register as a resident, and subsequently I then lose my foreigner status to get Bullet Train-or Shinkansen-tickets at a discounted price. Bummer! In Japan, you also have to register for their national health care. I was a little hesitant about enrolling in that because of how tricky that can be in the US, but all I had to do was sign some forms. Urakabe translated for me, so I very well may have signed papers saying if I have a cold, I consent to them cutting me open to donate my organs. 

Hokuto City office---so official
It's official...Japan's version of a green card. No illegal alien here!  I can now give people my card now too!
You have to provide your own picture for your residency card....I only needed one, so let me know if anyone is dying to have one. I've got lots of leftovers!
The scenery of the Yatsugatake mountains, where KEEP is located, on the drive home on the main highway, 141. I've gotten lost enough that I have become very familiar with the area and different ways to get home.
     In my free time, I really enjoy going to the mall in nearby Nirasaki, which makes me feel like a total Valley Girl, but they play a lot of American music in the stores and having worked in retail for so long, it's somewhere that feels comfortable and relaxing, suprisingly. It's not a good habit for my wallet to be continually going there, but they really have some great stores. The mall has a "Hundred Yen" store which is just like a dollar store, but is 100x better, Muji, which is like Ikea meets Bed Bath & Beyond with clothes, and my absolute favorite, Uniqlo, which has the same price point and similar product to H&M, but again 100x better. So you can all rest assured I am not suffering 24/7. I will say, though, the radio is lacking. It is like one song for every ten minutes of talking, which of course I don't understand. If you're looking for a simple gift for me, mixed CDs for the car would be great! 

Laza Walk-the shopping mall, my stomping grounds

The English on the clothing here doesn't always translate into something that is coherent and is one of my favorite things to look at, but this store had a table of sweatshirts of some of the US's most picturesque areas...I'm gonna keep an eye on the Indy one and wait for it to go on sale and then snatch it up.
     There you have it. My little home on this side of the world. My next post I will go into what all I have been doing for work here at KEEP. This weekend we are celebrating the Environmental Education initiative's 30th anniversary in Tokyo at Rikkyo University, which has deep connections with KEEP, so I'll have lots of stories and pictures to report back. 

Until next time-


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