Year two

I’m about three weeks late on a “back to school” post, which is in fact a consequence of actually being back at school and busy again. But, solidly into my second year here in Japan, the calendar has begun to repeat itself.

The elementary school students have been in a frenzy of preparation since returning from summer vacation, getting ready for their sports day. In terms of preparation and exposure, sports days (undokai) are perhaps the most important of the year for elementary schools. The entire community, from parents and siblings to alumni and neighborhood swells, turn out for the festivities. Although nominally a “sports” day, the agenda calls for songs and dances in addition to displays of athleticism. The entire affair is elaborately choreographed and planned out to the minute.

Tomorrow is the big day, but since my camera is still on the PUP list, I can’t promise any photos. If you missed my post last year, there are some pictures here.

While the calendar is doubling back, I’m understandably in a different place to experience these events than I was the first time around. One of the reasons I came to Japan was to have new experiences, and in that respect, my first year here certainly delivered. Now, gearing up for take two, these experiences don’t seem totally new, but neither are they old hat. I’ve traded a measure of uncertainty and excitement for a little familiarity, and so far, it’s a trade I’m glad to have made.

In that vein, the school year is off to a smooth smart, especially relative to a year ago, when I was still trying to figure out what the expectations were. Like any job, there are occasional frustrations and disappointments, but I feel much better equipped to deal with them now because they are no longer a surprise. My Japanese has also gotten better, and though the improvements are mostly social rather than occupational in nature, every little bit makes life easier.

One big difference is how much busier I am now than I was this time last year. In addition to school, I’m now involved with extracurricular English classes two nights a week. I’m in the midst of applying to graduate schools. And, because I’ve gotten to know some people over the last year, my social calendar has gotten more crowded as well. By and large, these are all welcome additions to my schedule, but they have left less time for things like blogging.

Of course, at this time last year, I was also training for a marathon, which took up quite a considerable amount of time. Finally, after a two-week layoff that turned into ten months, I can say that I am back to running regularly. My injured knee, which sent me to four different doctors and a physical therapist over the last year, seems to be almost totally recovered. That’s not definitive yet–since I started training again three weeks ago, my mileage has been extremely modest, and I’m still experiencing occasional tightness–but the problem swelling is all but gone, and the sharp pains have disappeared completely.

I’m moving forward gingerly, but so far, I’ve got reason to be cautiously optimistic. My conservative goal is to be able to run the Unzen-Obama Half-Marathon in January, a race I registered for last year but was unable to compete in do to injury. If that goes well, I’m hoping to take another shot at 26.2 when I get back to the U.S. But, for now, baby steps.

Now, as I close in on 10 months left in Japan, I’m faced with a new challenge: trying to plan my schedule in such a way that I get to see and do as much as I can before I leave. I was in the neighboring prefecture of Kumamoto last weekend, where I finally got to see Kumamoto-jo, the huge castle that ranks among the most famous in Japan. You’ll recall I tried to go to Kumamoto-jo last year before New Year’s, but was rebuffed. This time, I got in without having to scale the walls, which would be pretty difficult, since they were built at an angle to repel ninja attacks.

It’s likely that more weekend trips like that will be in the offing this year. Partly, this is because I’ve now seen most of what there is to see on the Shimabara Hanto, but mostly, it’s because my Japanese has improved to the point that traveling no longer feels ripe with anxiety. (Though it’s not completely without its travails. We were unable to take the ferry back to Shimabara as planned because a typhoon grounded all ships. I was just fortunate to be with a friend who not only possesses a Japanese driver’s license but also the skills to negotiate a car rental.)

So, while such trips will hopefully make for quality blog material, they’ll further cut into my writing time. I’m not saying the weekly-ish posts you’ve come to know and love are going extinct, but that there may be stretches where I am delinquent. Please hold it against me, and feel free to let me know about it, since animosity is a powerful motivator.

Lastly, I’d like to add that for those who offered condolences in the wake of my last post, fear not. At 4:55pm on Thursday, the Chuck Town Deuce was recovered by chance, having been considerately abandoned at a bike rack near the bus station.

It’s clear to me now, after having two “stolen” bikes subsequently discarded at said bike rack, that the thefts in question are mostly of a joy-riding nature, which is strange, since both of my bikes are uncomfortable and hardly a joy to ride. Anyway, while a culture of liberal bike “borrowing” is preferable to one of out-and-out thievery, I will still be locking the Chucks up from now on. Reunited, and it feels so good.

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Meet the Chucks

On Friday, the worst fears of a nation were realized when the Chuck Town Racer–my faithful steed of 10 months–was stolen from the bike rack near Maehama Beach.

The next day, I went hopefully back to the bike rack, praying that Chuck’s disappearance was a mistake. Alas, he was still missing, and after a brief grieving period, I realized I had to get on with my life, so I bought a new bike.

Only today, it became clear that Friday’s larceny was probably a case of mistaken bike-dentity, because somebody had repentantly deposited the Chuck Town Racer approximately back where I had last seen it. I only noticed this because I happened to be cruising by on my new bike.

It’s pretty awkward to run into your old bike while riding around on a new model that is almost identical to the original, except for a bitchin’ 5-speed gear-shift.

(A note to would-be “borrowers” of anonymous bikes: try to return said bike the next day instead of waiting 36 hours. Also, FUCK YOU ASSHOLE, DON’T DO THAT SHIT.)

So, without further adieu, let’s meet the Chucks!

For those about to ride, we salute you.

Racer (right): The old dog. The wily veteran. Racer’s been around the hanto a time or two, and he ain’t got time for your demo, homey. All he’s bringing to the table is consistency, dependability, and the smoothest ride this side of Isahaya.

Deuce (left): The young gun. The new kid on the block. Deuce comes at you cocksure and reckless, in your face with an appetite for destruction. Questions about maturity abound, but even the haters can’t argue with young-blood’s ride or die attitude and ability to change gears at will.

BOOM. Ready the fleet, Admiral.