My first day of school. I’ll now admit that I had been dreading going back to high school for one more year, but I’ve learned today that what I’ll be doing is far from normal high school. Because I am already an accepted student at the University of Denver, the courses I take here at Bato KouKou are for no credit and are really up to me to select. The school is situated on top of a hill overlooking the town of Bato.
I was taken to the cozy third floor library of the high school where I got to arrange my school schedule after a very kind opening ceremony, including a whole school introduction of myself and Ms. Grace Lee (a North Carolina JET Program teacher who will be helping part time at the school this year). The librarian, Mrs. Oshima-San, offered me a warm smile and I stumbled through an enjoyable afternoon conversing with her in her broken English and me in my slowly growing Japanese.
Because the other students needed to take a “review exam” today, Oshima-San and two of my second year teachers had lunch with me in Oshima-San’s office. The four English teachers at the high school have proven to be a wonderful resource. They have truly taken me under their wing, helping to translate when I am completely lost. So has Mr. Kevin Blackburn. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for him here helping me out. After school he and the Ohkawa’s took me around town to run a couple errands before dropping me off at Sasayaso Inn again.
I had planed on a dull afternoon reading or on the computer until the incredibly kind thirty-something innkeeper Mr. Kazuaki Sasaishi knocked on my door. I answered it hesitantly and was surprised to see a whole crowd at my door. He and eight young kids, all no more than 10 years old, took me outside where we played soccer for a little bit. Soon he started to explain something in Japanese that was completely lost on me. Finally he said in English, “I drive, wait here.” I had no idea what was going on but sat on an old wooden bench in front of the inn with two twin boys who couldn’t be older than 4 or 5 years old. They didn’t seem to understand that I spoke practically no Japanese because all afternoon they continued asking me questions that I simply shrugged my shoulders to. The 10 of us all crammed into Sasaishi-San’s car (the 8 kids all in the back seat) and drove 10 minutes down the road and over the river to the Nakagawa Suiyuen (なかがわ水遊園).
It is an awe inspiring river and aquatic garden complex that caught me completely off guard for a town of this size. Situated along the Nakagawa River its highlight is a pyramid-like green house reaching several stories into the sky, enabling visitors to see it from kilometers away. Inside we laughed as the kids and I went through a top-notch aquarium, including fish from not only the Nakagawa River but also from all over the world. I laughed at the fact that they had one lonely smallmouth bass on display as a foreign fish. I would’ve thrown it back myself! We also spent quite a while feeding a pond of giant koi fish. At times they were so dense they practically ran onto the shore in their fight to grab the little bits of fish food we bought for 100¥.
It was an awesome afternoon! It’s comforting how welcoming even strangers seem to be here. I’m so glad I am in a smaller town than a huge metropolis where foreigners are simple taken for granted. I tried to pay Sasaishi-San back but he flat out refused, so instead I gave the kids two bags of Skittles and thanked them again and again. Now I’m off to take a dip in the Onsen (photo on left) before bed. Oyasuminasai.