The Interac Experience Part Two – Settling In
Last Saturday I began a recounting of the tale of working for Interac and living in Japan. I wrote about the first week, the training at the Toyoko Inn at Narita, and the way everything was conducted. Today I move on to recounting how it was heading up to Iwate and settling in, the gap between the initial orientation and the first day of school. At the end of training, they move people on pretty quickly. Some may have stayed the final night at the Toyoko Inn before moving to their regional centres, but most, like me, were off the night that training finished. The company did provide a Shinkansen ticket which was nice, all the way to Morioka, where the regional office was and the Iwate capital, and then back to Ichinoseki a couple of days later where I was to live. The Shinkansen was, of course, fast and comfortable. After living a while in Japan you realise you have to save money and stop using the Shinkansens, which is a sad thing because really there’s no better way to travel, probably in the entire world! It took a while into Tokyo, but Tokyo to Morioka was less than three hours for the 500 + km journey. The group we had was around 10-13 people who were new to the region, plus our MC Bryan (great guy!) and one other teacher from Iwate. And then it was a bit of a reality check. The place was covered in snow, at the end of March. Well, it’s not normal at that time of year, but obviously very possible! It was very surreal to be honest, kind of beautiful but extremely cold, obviously! We were staying again at Toyoko Inn, Morioka this time. It was pretty late at night, around 11pm and we were all exhausted from the week. The next day, naturally, we had another day of training. Or maybe we had a day to ourselves, I think there was one in there. Training at the Morioka branch office was far less formal (although ties and suits are ALWAYS required at any Interac training. In fact, if you’re just stopping at the office they are required!) and of course smaller. We went through a few ideas for the classroom, and the company philosophy, but the most important part of this training was admin. The Iwate office staff were all on hand to take us through rental agreements for the apartments, the cars and the like. We got our Hankos as well – a little stamp with my name that I used instead of a signature – and also received a bunch of text books left by the person I was replacing, most of which I never used because my schools changed text books every year.
After two nights in Morioka, I was given my Shinkansen ticket to Ichinoseki. One morning I took an early train down to Ichinoseki where I met an ‘IC’ who would help me through my first day there. This meant going straight to my new apartment, which would be my home for the next two years. Boy did it look bare when I first arrived. A delivery came with the washing machine, fridge, bedding and other things as well, which I would rent whilst I lived in Japan although probably it would have made sense to buy them in the end. Gas was connected, which took a little while, and I had a chance to use my Hanko stamping forms here and there. Then we headed off to City Hall for some sort of registration and various other things like medical insurance. That took a while, and without the IC, it would have taken far longer. An IC is a local employed by your company to help out the foreign workers when they need help, especially in the first few days getting settled in. We went to the Japan Post Bank and created a bank account for me, albeit with the use of a minus sign instead of a hyphen which would cause me trouble up until just before I left Japan earlier this year! Then it was off to Homeac and the supermarket where I spent far too much money on things for around the home and food. We got back to the apartment at about six thirty – it had taken around 8 hours of serious running about. Just as we stepped into the apartment the building began to rock and shake! Yes officially, welcome to Iwate and Japan! My first proper Japanese earthquake. A decent one too, it was around 6.3! I had over two weeks before I was to begin teaching, which also meant about 3 weeks with no paid work which was a bit annoying, and not something I had been told before I went to Japan. I spent a few days organising the apartment. At least there wasn’t snow in Ichinoseki I should add. It was very cold at night, but no snow at the end of March 2012. The bed was a futon, and it was really really thin, so in the end I had to by a small (and thankfully cheap) mattress to put underneath it. I had the internet a day or two later which was good, I don’t believe it was connected in the building at that stage, but I got a wifi connection via a company called Asahi Net – the connection was not that fast, especially initially (the service improved in early 2013) but it was something. Most buildings have some form of cable or ADSL internet, which is generally much faster than any wifi service. My service was much faster when I took it down to Yokohama. Asahi net was canvassing for customers at the initial orientation at Narita, as were phone companies and the like. I advise people not to rush into decisions on services though, do your best (and in a foreign country it is difficult I know) to consider multiple options and find what’s best for you. I had to return to City Hall two days later for more paperwork, and with no car as yet (it would be delivered early April) I walked. Oops! I couldn’t believe it, I lost my house key on the walk home! What a horrid start! I had to ring the office in Morioka who rang the real estate company who contacted the landlord and anyways, in a few hours I had a new key (at my expense of course) and a very red face. My landlord was an old man who had obviously retired a long time ago. I think this is pretty standard, and he owned all the apartments in the building (8 units). Interac often rents places for staff through a company called ‘Leo Palace’, but I didn’t go through them. The landlord would often come around and just potter about the place, apparently doing very little. He didn’t actually live in the building. In fact, the elderly in Japan often appear desperate for something to do so they potter about around their houses looking at the street for hours or watching what everyone is getting up to. Whew. I think that’s enough for one Saturday! There’s plenty more where THAT came from, so I will return to the ‘Interac Experience’ in 7 days’ time! Until then – may the journey never end!