Sunday, November 18, 2012

Exploring the Town: A Letter to My Successor

This is from a solo trip up the mountain behind the elementary school.

Dear Successor,

Everyday after school I find myself with an open calendar. Since there are no other ALTs around, and because I haven’t yet been here long enough to have any long term engagements, many of my evenings are free. This is of course a good thing, because sometimes I fill them with exploring.

A sunset from the best overlook in town


The flowers inside a temple
Chizu is deceptively large. There is much to see and do here but hardly any of it is centrally located. On top of that, few streets are labelled, and the landmarks which have names are all in kanji, so I can’t read them. So the vast majority of the time I have no idea where I am going or what I will find when I get there. This (sometimes!) makes for the best adventures though. So far I have stumbled onto: the best overlook in town, two temples, one of which had a startled deer which then fled into the woods, several houses and landmarks older than America by over a thousand freaking years, a looping path which takes me through the mountains, by three sawmills then by a baseball field, the cutest kitten, several secret paths, “old town”, many small shops, neatly lit bridges and other curiosities and small wonders. Most days I strike out in a direction I have never gone before. This could be as simple as going left at the crossroad where I went right before, or sometimes as scary as striking up the dark lone road that winds into the woods just to see how far it goes.

Hm... what does that say.... 4000? 4000.. YEARS OLD?!

As a foreigner however, it’s very easy to be disconnected from the small town in which you live. Some folk feel hemmed in by the fact that it is hard to read anything, and that is it hard to talk to most people. It is much easier and less scary to create a tiny America out of your apartment and stay within the safety of familiar places and things. But this even further separates you from your town, because you will never find the neat things that will drive you to further explore your new home. This is why venturing out into your community is a must; it develops your town’s personality and ties you more firmly to it. If you don’t feel tied to your community then you won’t enjoy going out or living in your town. If you don’t enjoy your work and where you live, then you’re not going to be enriched nearly as much. You probably won’t be very enriching, either.


May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back!
This is my advice to you: get out there on foot and see your home on your own terms. I don’t mean rush out the moment you get here-- you won’t feel like leaving the house for the first few weeks. I didn’t. It’s all overwhelming in the beginning. Give yourself some space and when you’re ready, strike out into the unknown. Let the newness of your environment sink in. Let the age of this place really sink in. Become a part of it. Let it become a part of you. Remember, this is your town, and you belong here.

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