Welcome to Otobe!

Super fancy manhole cover in town – the building is Akarenga (literally ‘red brick’), a historical government building in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital. Coincidentally, I took this picture two days before visiting Sapporo for regional orientation…part of which took place in Akarenga.

I left for Japan a month ago today, which means that this post is rather long overdue. My biggest difficulty has been taking interesting pictures that I can form a coherent narrative from. As a student in Japan it was easy to 1) carry my camera everywhere to snap candids and 2) create encapsulated posts focusing on small areas (it’s not easy, but possible, to summarize a four-month experience in a post or two). Now that I’m the main event at the most interesting places I go, it’s not like I can pause in the middle of the speech I’m giving and take a few pictures of the elementary school gymnasium or my workplace.

Though I will certainly try because it would be no fun to merely try and describe from memory twenty years from now the fact that every public building in Otobe seems to have a large mounted bear chilling in the front lobby. They’re certainly a good reminder to not go tromping into the woods alone (though I eventually had to explain that I was more likely to take up yodeling).

I’ve spent the last 3.5 weeks in Otobe, mostly at my desk in the Board of Education office or beating my house into a home. Let me explain about the office first:

Japanese offices (especially school offices/teachers’ rooms) are modeled on a common pattern – whoever is in charge has their own office, complete with seating area for receiving guests. My boss spends most of the day in there, though he often comes out in the afternoon when he has no appointments to chat (this seems to be a general thing – everyone is a lot more relaxed in the afternoon). At the head of the room are the two chiefs’ desks (specialties currently unknown). Then there are two columns of six desks each trailing towards the doors. I am at the end of one of these columns, sitting next to my supervisor and across from the office lady (who serves the tea to visitors and takes care of a lot of the day-to-day operations like mail and bills).

Due to a quirk of architecture, I am the only person visible through the door to the office when someone comes into the building. Especially in the afternoon, when more people are out running office errands, it can look like I’m the only person around. Town residents come in with questions about the museum (I should mention that our building houses the board of education as well as the town’s library, museum, auditorium, ballroom, and conference rooms), see me, and…hesitate. They start walking past the office, acting like they meant to head straight through to the playground out the back. Luckily, as they come past the door, the office lady and my supervisor come into view and the visitors veer inside, suddenly brave.

Another reason it’s harder to go around snapping photos – I’m no longer anonymous. I thought I stuck out in Nagoya, but there I had a shot at not being recognized. Here, everybody knows my name, and if they don’t, they can certainly put two and two together. That, combined with the fact that I’m basically now a monstrous combination of Japanese public servant/teacher/representative for all Americans, means that I have to keep close tabs on my public image. Thankfully I was always a bit of a goody two-shoes anyway.

What else? I’m kind of glad that I delayed blogging about the weather, because it’s been crazy unpredictable. It was…warm when I arrived, but quickly became pleasant, then murderously hot, then it gradually became more manageable, then it rained, then it was nice, etc., etc. It thunder-stormed this morning and was really cool, but warmed up and was super sunny this afternoon. I suspect I won’t have a handle on things until the possible choices become ‘cold’ and ‘really cold’ and ‘cold with snow’.

That’s all I have for now. I have another draft that I wrote a week ago that contains only barely comprehensible notes to myself that I should tackle now, before they become even more incomprehensible. A short post on my Sapporo trip is also upcoming, along with a more detailed account than I put on Facebook of a festival I attended, and maybe a before and after series about my house.

Other than that, I’m going to take suggestions right out of the gate – any questions you have? Want to send me on a photo quest? Ask away!



Filed under japan

7 responses to “Welcome to Otobe!

  1. Sus Baker

    Welcome back. Love the image of you as official greeter. Ideas for future posts: Food, How Otobe differs from your other homes in Japan. Classroom stories. Day-to-day life like shopping, getting around, negotiating being the resident special person.

  2. John Reber

    Comment to Maureen:

    Photos do sound a bit more challemging with your appropriate priority “focus”. You could fasten a videocam to one of your knitted creations to spin a “yarn” on the fly. I know, flies do not like sweaters or socks, but it would be another way to record images as you encounter them. Keep it up. Unc John

    • maurimoii

      I should get myself a button cam. So far, thankfully, there have only been two moments where I actually cursed about not having my camera on me – the first was last night’s awesome sunset, the second was a spinning contraption that my neighbor was using to dry hundreds of squid.

  3. Sus Baker

    Spinning squid. Now you’re really going to get Michael psyched to come.

  4. How about what your house is like? more about the town and the local area? oh, wait, you said you did have a before/after for your house planned. Good to hear from you again, btw 🙂

  5. I love those cats. I found some like the red one to send to my granddaughter. She loved them.

  6. Andrea Woodson

    Hi there , after quite some time on my part. I was really busy watching my grandchild and some knitting projects( not finished yet)

    So i hope you are doing fine.You asked if anybody would like you to make certain pictures, I would really like to see some parks and gardens with flowers if that is possible . Thank you if it is ;o)

    Greetings and be safe

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