During the last days of training, my company asked if I'd be willing to move to Fukushima for three weeks to cover for a teacher on paternity leave. Since my company would pay for my apartment, transportation and some other fees, I saw it as a convenient way to travel a bit and learn about a new area of Japan. I eagerly accepted.
Some of you might remember hearing about Fukushima after the 2011 earthquakes and the subsequent nuclear power plant melt down. Fukushima City, which is where I'm living temporarily, escaped most damage from the earthquake. Japanese engineering excels at guarding against earthquakes, and the city is too far inland to be at risk from tsunamis. Additionally, the city is fairly far away from the contaminated zone around the power plants, so there's little or no danger from radiation.
Fukushima City is located about 200 miles north of Tokyo. Traveling by shinkansen, or bullet train, the whole trip took less than two hours. Shinkansen are fairly luxurious modes of transportation. They seem to float and glide along the tracks-- I didn't feel any bumps, sharp turns, or jerks. For the first ten or fifteen minutes I gazed out the window admiring the speed at which the train traveled and the passing landscape. I could see Mount Fuji dominating the distant horizon. The whole experience was so tranquil that I fell asleep fairly quickly.
I woke up maybe an hour later and saw everything covered in snow. We'd traveled far enough north that snow stays through the winter (it's somewhat rare in Tokyo). We were also nearer the mountains. I recall passing through several tunnels, always speeding along. I had barely gotten used to the new landscape before we were at my station, and I was getting off. One of my Japanese co-workers met me at the gate. She drove me to the housing office to pick up the key to my apartment, then we went to my apartment to wait for my futon set.
(As a side note, the lock and key to my apartment look like something out of Star Trek. When I have better wi-fi I'll upload a video. The whole thing is pretty neat.)
Most Japanese sleep on a futon, which is a thin mattress, placed directly on the ground. My apartment isn't furnished, so my company arranged for a futon to be delivered to my apartment. It was supposed to arrive at 3:30, but it never showed up. My co-worker had returned to work, so I was all alone in my empty apartment. Just when I was feeling lonely and thinking I'd try to go to sleep I received a call from the school I'm working at.
"Hello? Jeshi?" my new co-worker asked. "Are you busy? We want to bring pizza and have a party. Can we come over?"
"Sure, but I don't have any chairs or places to sit."
"Ah, so so so. That's ok. We'll come at 8:30."
Suddenly feeling much less lonely and a bit excited to meet my new co-workers, I waited for everyone to show up. They arrived right on time and with many treats. They brought seafood paella, three pizzas, snacks, fried squid, beer, soda, juice, and perhaps the most thoughtful, eight cushions from the school. They were worried that I wouldn't have something soft to sleep on, so they brought enough cushions to sit on for our party and for me to sleep on later. Needless to say, I immediately liked these people.
We had a nice dinner, got to know each other, and in general just had a good time. After they all left I tucked into my sleeping bag on top of the cushions and had a nice night's sleep. Fukushima is pretty awesome.