Koriyama Covered

Nature gaveth last week as she eased her whipping winds and warmed the air to an ideal Springy 60 degrees. Not surprisingly – or at least it should’ve been – she tooketh away, releasing an icy chill and snow hell over northeast Japan this weekend, what the papers are saying is the heaviest snowfall here in decades.

Just the beginning of the snow dump

Just the beginning of the snow dump

With her frozen fury, she brought frequent quakes, which in turn froze me on the spot; although I’ve been here a month to the day, I’m still not accustomed to what many of my students simply shrug off.

Koriyama has its simplistic beauty to begin with, but under a gloss of blinding snow, it takes on an even more gorgeous appearance, its gentle shingled red roofs turning bright porcelain and prettily dusted yew trees holding clutches of snow in airy shrine courtyards.

Shrine statues primed for the storm in their yodarekake (red votive bib)

Shrine statues primed for the storm in their yodarekake (red votive bib)

I’m pleased, too, of how much I myself have covered in the month since I arrived, and I can honestly say it can be wholly attributed to the company for which I work, freecom (lowercase f intended). As teachers are on a rotating basis between three different locations in the Fukushima prefecture – downtown Koriyama city, Koriyama Festa mall, and Fukushima city – I add a few new faces to my class load each week.

On Sunday, I traveled north to Fukushima, the first time on my own and in ill conjunction with the inclement weather, which effectively interrupted the local train schedule and left me in a panic at the station. I unwittingly purchased a ticket for the Shinkansen, or bullet train, and found myself in Fukushima in a mere 10 minutes, whereas the local track would’ve had me there in about an hour’s time.

Passing by in an impressively long blur from the train windows, Mt. Adatara lazes heavily along the periphery of the city, which itself has a population lower than Koriyama’s despite being the capital of the Fukushima prefecture.

A map of Koriyama on the planetarium floor of the city's "Eye" with Japan's 4th-largest lake on the left

A map of Koriyama on the planetarium floor of the city’s “Eye” with Japan’s 4th-largest lake on the left

Though I was on my own for the day – with the exception of the front desk staff employee, a more laidback Japanese 20-something with a heavily influenced American accent after having spent some time in Seattle – my schedule included some unfamiliar names with fascinating backgrounds: a Japanese wine shop owner, a disaster planner for the city of Fukushima, and a spirited young woman involved in designing devices to study brain waves during sleep.

My other students typically range from office workers and engineers at big-name Japanese electronics and power companies to housewives and students studying for the decisive and dreaded TOIEC test.

The foreign-born (gaijin in Japanese) teachers at freecom English school themselves are a motley crew: three Americans including myself, two Scots (one being the founder), one Brit, a bloke from Ireland, and a Frenchman. The Japanese staff, all of whom are far too accommodating and kind, include the quiet, behind-the-scenes string puller keeping a watchful eye on expenses and contracts and who also thoughtfully bought me a rice cooker during my week of gluten gastrophie.

A small park near a shrine in Koriyama

A small park near a shrine in Koriyama

And my current cast of characters doesn’t stop there, meine damen und herren. I’ve entertained irresistibly curious Koriyama natives in coffee shops – a smoking Nepalese with the peaceful/drunk smile of Buddha – the old man who provided mall dinner in exchange for some English exchange, and serendipitously helpful train commuters who all waved excitedly as we departed ways Sunday night.

The snow has stopped falling, but the remainder of my stay – however long that may be – and undoubtedly my as-yet undecided future will continue to have a colorful cadre float in and out of my life for as long as I don’t tire of the transience.



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