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Flying Home August 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I’ve been at my keyboard for some moments now and the words are yet to flow. My time in Japan is over. Today is the last day of my contract and tomorrow I will board a plane back to England. This time last year, I was arriving in Tokyo for the Orientation Programme and now, with what feels like much less than a year behind me, I am saying goodbye to the country that has housed me.

It’s easy to get maudlin and reflect on how brilliant it’s been at times like this. My life is once again condensed into 3 bags and I find myself once again jobless and homeless. But Japan hasn’t been a walk in the park. It’s been harder than I thought it would at times, but much easier than I expected at others. It’s made me feel frustrated and impotent as there were many opportunities where hands were tied by etiquette or serf-like worship of occupational superiority. When I first arrived in Kuga, I cried and told myself that within two months I would be home. Add 10 to that and that is where we find ourselves today. Has it made me a better person? Maybe. Am I glad I stuck it out? Yes, indeed.

But life moves on. I’m writing this at just gone 7am, me not being able to sleep thanks to the copious amounts of adrenaline being shit through my system. This morning I will say goodbye to Brooke and Wakabayashi and board a train for Tokyo. The prospect of finishing packing with my bags as full as they already are is enough to keep anyone awake.

On Sunday, I joined Martin, my English teacher and his family for karaoke. His two daughters are in classes of mine at my favourite elementary school and so they both know me. Karaoke was fun, especially as there were lots of children’s songs being sung and I got to see the weird animation with which they entertain their kids here. Afterwards, we all went for sushi and I wasn’t allowed to pay for my share, rather directed to donate a pittance just for show. So an afternoon in good company with good food and entertainment cost me the equivalent of a fiver. A far reach from Gaz’s karaoke place in London where one is charged £65/hr for the use of a room, drinks on top of that.

Yesterday, having attended the official goodbye meeting with the Head of the Iwakuni Board of Education, I went into Kuga Chugakko one last time to see the teachers. It being the school holidays, not many were in, but I got to see a few. The school nurse sought me out to give me a present which lies still wrapped on my desk. The thing is, it’s a very small package and I want it to stay that way for the time being for packing purposes! What struck me most about this is that I’ve swapped very few words with the woman and yet she saw it fit to buy me a parting gift. Martin gave me letters from his two little girls that included photos of them for posterity. As I left school and made my way for the last time through the tennis courts, I was set upon my the boys tennis club, who always saw me off after every day at Junior High. It kind of made it real that it was over.

The thing is, I’m not sad. I know that to stay another year would be a huge mistake. But I also know that the idea of ‘the future’ is scary and unknown. I relish the challenge however, and hope that this year abroad has helped expand my horizons. Who knows what it will bring…


Mama (and Papa), Welcome To Japan August 1, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Travel.
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I’m a bad blogger. What can I say? It’s been almost 2 weeks since I last wrote, but I have been entertaining my parents like a dutiful son, so I hope you don’t hold it against me for too long.

My parents arrived on Saturday 19th July and I met them on the Shinkansen and brought them back to Kuga. They were tired, but we journeyed to Joyfull, a Little Chef type restaurant that sells edible food at incredibly cheap prices. It was there that my mum discovered a taste for a local tipple called umeshu which is plum wine.

The next day, we didn’t travel too far afield – into Iwakuni. We toured around the castle area and the Kintai Bridge. We had some sushi and that evening, a group of us went to Sanzoku to try the amazing chicken on a stick they serve.

Monday 21st was a bank holiday and we went to Hiroshima to pay our respects at the A Bomb Dome and visit the museum. We did a little shopping and generally strolled around and then went to Miyajima to see the Itsukashima shrine and the floating Torii gate. My mum got too hot, so my dad and I went off to walk around the mountainside town, taking photos of typically Japanese architecture. We got back to my house quite early, so we could pack for the next day.

On Tuesday, we were out of the house very early to get to Fukuoka to catch our flight to Naha, Okinawa. Okinawa Prefecture lies between Japan and Taiwan and used to belong to a Kingdom called the Ryukyu. At the airport, as my dad and I went to get my mum a drink, we saw lots of cameras and people crowding around the exit to an executive lounge. Hanging around just to see who it was, imagine our surprise when none other than the Emperor of Japan strolls out and boards a flight to Sapporo!

Anyway…Naha is similar to a lot of Japanese cities (which, on the whole, are ridiculously ugly), but it has a much more Asian feel to it. Everyone seems a lot more laid back than on the mainland and I now think I would rank it as one of my favourite Japanese cities. It was also where my parents discovered their secret karaoke diva sides!

The next morning heralded another early start. Our ferry left Naha Port at 8:30am, bound for Kumejima, a small island 4 hours off the coast of Okinawa proper. Along the journey, we saw a hell of a lot of flying fish and generally it passed without incident. We got to the hotel, checked in early and made our way to Eef Beach. Supposedly one of Japan’s top 100 beaches, we had a good time, but the beach was littered with coral debris and the water was very shallow, no matter how far you went out. That said, the waters were as clear as you could ever want and as warm as a bath. I did some snorkeling and saw a puffer fish and an octopus. All in all, despite a little sunburn, a great day.

The next day, we lounged around inside; the midday sun being much too strong for us to venture outside. Getting the free bus that our hotel ran, we went onto Ojima, next to Kume, to see the Turtle Conservation Project where we got to see baby turtles. We also visited Tatami-ishi, which are pentagonal and hexagonal shaped rocks that stretch out into the sea. Apparently it was caused where lava solidified and then melted and solidified once again. Either way, it was quite impressive and we swam off the coast from there. Everyone was agreed that it was better than Eef Beach. The sea was as warm as the day before, but this time we could stand up and the water would cover our shoulders. I did some more snorkeling and that evening we enjoyed another good meal at the Eef Beach Hotel.

The following day, the 25th, we were back on the boat and into Naha. Cue another meal out followed by karaoke. That was our last night in Okinawa and on 26th we made our way back to Fukuoka. On the train back, we changed at Tokuyama, where there had been some type of festival. The train was packed, but in true Japanese style, no one had enough courage to sit next to me, the foreigner!

We spent a lot of the next morning packing everything up as it was the last time my parents would be in Kuga. Loaded up with bags, we travelled to Osaka, saw the castle and the Aquarium and had an amazing meal out – sort of a Japanese tapas. The next day, Monday 28th, was a bit of a washout. It started brilliantly and we went to Universal Studios, enjoying the first 3 rides we went on. Then a thundercloud broke overhead and we were held for an hour inside, unable to throw off the guard keeping us there for our own safety. Eventually, having escaped, we found that most of the park had been shut down with no real chance of them opening anything back up again. So we spent about £50 for 3 rides. Not the best day of the holiday, if I’m honest.

Kyoto was our destination for the next day. We made the trek out to the west edge of the city to see the Golden Temple, Kinkakuji. Coming back into the central area, we toured some more and I bade my parents farewell and came back to Kuga. They have since made their way to Tokyo and will be on a flight shortly after I finish this.

Back here, I’m just wrapping things up – closing accounts, paying final bills, packing. I feel very lazy because I’ve not done a lot of that stuff just yet, but I know that I’ll have to get my arse into gear at some point and do it. Ah well – once Tuesday rolls round, I’ll be saying goodbye to Kuga and getting the Shinkansen up to Tokyo for my last night in Japan.

Till next time!

It’s All Over July 19, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Well, that’s it folks. Teaching is officially over. OK, so my contract is still valid until 5th August, but yesterday was my last day at school. Ever. They asked that I go in on 4th August, as it’s my last day in Kuga to say a final goodbye. But it’s finished. And I’m not sure how I feel.

I’m happy, because the job has driven me insane. But, despite the boredom, it has been my life for a year and a year is a long time and I’ve fallen in the routine. And I’ve met a lot of great people in Japan, who I’ll be sad to say goodbye to. But life moves on and I have to too, so bring it on, future.

On Thursday evening I had my final work party. They’re called enkai and, as far as I’ve been told, that translates as ‘drinking party’. The Japanese do love to drink, as noted in previous entries but, bless ’em, they can’t hold their drink. At all.

The party took place in a big hotel in Iwakuni, overlooking the Kintai Bridge (the only thing of interest in the city). The big banquet hall was reserved for us and the room was traditionally (but garishly) decorated. The food was good, including fish caught in the river that runs outside the hotel. In fact, there’s a show that goes on around about now, where you can watch Japanese fishermen using cormorants to help them catch the fish. The cormorants wear some kind of collar or something that prevents them from swallowing the fish that they catch. Apparently it’s quite a stunning show, so maybe my parents and I will give that a go.

Talking about my parents, having just checked the Narita Airport website, I can confirm that they are officially on Japanese soil. Now all they have to do is make the 9 hour train journey down to my end of the country. All hitches aside, they should be here by about 7:30pm tonight.

Yesterday was also my final speech to the kids. It had to be in Japanese, so I got a friend to write it. Everyone clapped, thinking I had been lying over the past year about not speaking Japanese. Then one of the 3rd graders read a speech in English to me and they presented me with a big bunch of flowers. A little different to the speech I had to give at the party.

They put me up with a microphone and I had to get a drunken English teacher to translate. I thanked them all for a great year and being kind and friendly. Then they heckled me. The drunk Japanese people heckled me! They asked me which of the students I thought was most attractive. Bearing in mind that these kids are between the ages of 12-15, I declined to answer. They also asked who my favourite students were and that I was able to answer.

And then it was over. The party finished rather abruptly, as did my time at the school. All of a sudden I just stood up and told them I was going. The flowers were wilting in the stuffy staff room and I didn’t want to hang around doing nothing for one last afternoon – I get sentimental, but not that sentimental.

And now my holiday begins. Today has been relaxing so far – sorting out beds and tidying things up in a last ditch attempt to make my apartment presentable. Then tomorrow, we’re into Iwakuni to see the aforementioned bridge. Hiroshima on Monday and then on another plane to Okinawa on Tuesday. This will probably be my last blog entry for a while, but there’ll be a big update when I return from my final Japanese adventure.

Till next time!

You Have To See It Through July 15, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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Well, the time has flown by. It’s now my last week at school. That said, I took yesterday off, so my last week at school will only consist of four days.

The weekend just gone was the Leavers’ Party in Hagi. Hagi is beautiful, but just so darn difficult to get to. Unless you want to brave the sporadic trains all the way up there, you have to take the bus. I’ve never been a huge fan of coach travel, but the buses that took us to and from Hagi weren’t very well air conditioned, which didn’t help me to like them more. But the party was good fun and, even though it was sad to say goodbye, the general atmosphere of the gathering was one of happiness at having completed quite a mammoth task. Some of those leaving have been here for 3 years and I can’t imagine a) why they stayed that long and b) how they are feeling about returning home to friends who have moved on with their lives and countries that have altered in many ways. I know that returning to England will be kind of hard – having done it once before, but I’ve been away for a year. My friends haven’t moved on that much and, those that have, have been in contact with me anyway, so there shouldn’t be too much to catch up on. People have been talking a lot recently about reverse culture shock. I’m not worried. I suffered it quite badly when I first got here and, even though I didn’t really mention it that much on here, there was a time when I seriosuly considered leaving. Packing up my things and throwing in the towel. This year in Japan has been full of experiences, both good and bad. Am I glad I stayed? Definitely. Had I not stayed, I might never have been to Vietnam, Korea and Malaysia. Had I not stayed, I wouldn’t have got to know the great people that I’ve got to know here. Had I not stayed, I probably wouldn’t have had plans to go to Sydney in 2010. Had I not stayed, I wouldn’t have had the experience of living in a country that is such a contradiction that I fear, were one to live here for a decade or so, one would invariably go insane. I’ve been dumbstruck by Japan’s beauty and the kindness of strangers. I’ve been shocked by the xenophobia and the rudeness of strangers. I’ve loved working with the kids at my schools. I’ve despised working with the kids at my schools.

Am I glad I stayed and saw it through? You betcha.

Don’t Cry Out Loud July 10, 2008

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Today is my last day at my favourite school, Kuga Chuo Elementary. Looking back over the past year, I can’t recall a lesson at this school where I’ve despised every moment. Sure, I’m not about to wax lyrical saying that it’s a perfect school – there are actually quite a few special needs kids here and so classes can be nightmares. But on the whole, it’s been my saving grace each month. There are more teachers here that can speak English (ish) than any other school (kind of including Junior High, as there are only 3 English teachers and most of the rest can just about utter a few words). They’ve always been friendly and welcoming and in fact helpful with my piss poor attempts to butcher their language. The librarian often sits and chats with me – she is one of the best travelled Japanese people I’ve met. She was telling me today about her trip to the UK, which included London, the Cotswolds, the Lake District and the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. She lived in Iran with her husband for a year too (when she first told me this, I thought she said ‘Ealing’ and so told her that that is where my brother lives. Confusion ensued).

Unlike the other elementary school, the classes here have presented me with books of letters at the end of each class, saying thank you and goodbye to me. Of course they’re in Japanese, but I would much rather have that that stilted, incorrect English. All in all, it will be sad when 3pm rolls round and I have to bid farewell.

I’ve written out goodbye cards and I got a Japanese friend of mine to write some short sentiments down that I have faithfully copied out – therefore they’re going to think I’ve been lying about my inability to speak Japanese, but at least this way they will know what I’m on about.

Yesterday, I strolled around the school, taking random photos. I then wandered over to the pool where the 5th and 6th graders were having a swimming class. They all wanted me to join in but 1) I didn’t have anything to swim in and 2) the kids really weren’t ready for what’s underneath these clothes. As I’ve mentioned in numerous entries before, Japan has not been kind to my waistline. I’m not too bothered about it now – in a few weeks I’ll be on a beach in Okinawa, tanning my flab and let’s face it – tanned fat looks so much better than pasty white!

I’ve been trying to focus on the negatives recently (my Junior High has been helping, unawares) because I know that I will be sad to leave Japan. I know that once I get back home, living with my parents with no real income, it’s going to hit me how cushty this life was. But I know in my heart of hearts that I do need to come back – another year here, doing as little as I do would be catastrophic, both for my mental health and my weight!

Anyway – I just thought I’d let you know that it’s not all hate hate hate here and that I do enjoy certain aspects about the job. It’s just that, as of today, those aspects have been ended and I’m feeling a little sad.

Still, I’ve got the Leavers’ Party to look forward to and then the arrival of my parents. The last 4 weeks (for I have just under that left here) will be unforgettable as I bid Japan a farewell it’s not likely to forget.

Till next time!

Once Before I Go July 8, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Time has really flown by this past year. I was reflecting the other day that it hardly seems I’ve been here a year, but then in other ways, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m worried that upon my return to England I’ll find everything relatively unchanged and I’ll get depressed at it all. However, on days like today, I long for my time here to end. The weather has turned again. Rainy season is at an end, officially. And now it’s just as it was when I first got here last year: hot, humid and impossible. The teachers all wander around, bemused looks on their faces, waving plastic uchiwa (fans) in front of their faces in a desperate effort to cool down and abate the inevitable sweats that mark their clothes in embarrassing places. Another reason I’m ready to go is the fact that for the past two days, I’ve had no lessons and very few people have even ventured to talk with me, meaning that I’ve had absolutely nothing to do and am slowly going mad. It’s just definitely time for me to leave Japan and return.

That said, tomorrow and Thursday I’m at my favourite elementary school and they’re my last days there. It will be sad to say goodbye to that school as it’s there that I actually feel like a teacher, have a good rapport with students and teachers alike and generally enjoy my time there. It’s on those days that I’m positive and full of the joys of Japan. But then I return to Junior High and it takes but an hour here to set me back.

The lack of air conditioning at school is also starting to wear thin. Once more the Japanese seem to take great pride in suffering through the weather whilst expending very little effort to make it easier on them. Take, for instance, the case of elementary school kids in winter. They have to wear their uniform, which is a polo shirt and shorts. In the winter. When it’s freezing, there’s no heating and quite often, windows are left open in order to “air out” the school. Only once they are ill are they allowed to wear long trousers, but once they’re well again, it’s back to the shorts.

Needless to say, the weather is not something I’m going to miss about Japan. I’m longing for the mediocrity of a British summer and can’t wait to have a winter where you don’t have to wear 18 layers of clothing just to go to work.

This weekend coming is the Leavers’ Party in Hagi. It’s a beach party (boo!) but will involve lots of good food, good company and good drink (yay!). It will be the last time I see a lot of the friends I made here and I’m sure it will be a sad event. However, it also marks the last weekend before my parents arrive. Once the Leavers’ Party is over, it means I have 5 boredom filled days left and then I will never again have to teach. Or sit in an un-air conditioned office (in England they have air conditioned offices, don’t you know), slowly turning insane. And then my parents come and I get to go to Okinawa and have a last explore of Japan.

It’s all coming to an end and, on days like this, the end couldn’t come sooner.

Till next time!

The Point Of No Return July 3, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Travel.
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Wow – how incredibley lazy have I been? It’s been a whole week since I last wrote a blog entry!

Well, last Friday saw Brooke and I waking up really early and trekking to the station through the hordes of my students on their way to school. Needless to say, it possibly wasn’t the best time to wear my new t shirt, emblazoned with the words “Baka gaijin”, which means ‘stupid foreigner’. The journey to Tokyo was relatively incident free. There were a few quick changes, but on the whole, we made everything and arrived at the time anticipated. The travelling is easy but long – it took about 7 hours for us to get there. And we weren’t actually going to Tokyo proper, rather Fussa, on the outskirts, where there is a US Air Force Base. Brooke’s cousin is in the Air Force and had booked us a room in the hotel on base. It was possibly the cheapest, nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There was a double bed in one room (given to me as it was my birthday weekend), a pull out sofa bed, a TV, a DVD player, a fully functional kitchen with an oven, a bathroom etc. The reason I mention the oven is because I’ve never been in a Japanese kitchen that comes equipped with an oven. It was great. And kind of scary – I’d not seen one in so long, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to work it. Luckily, the only thing we cooked there, was taken care of by Brooke.

So when we first arrived, we had to kill some time until JJ (Brooke’s cousin) had finished work so she could sign us onto the base as her guests. We strolled around the department store right by Fussa station and I bought some traditional Japanese sandals called geta. However, when I was practising walking in them the other day (they’re really weirdly shaped and actually quite difficult to negotiate), I forgot to take into account the fact that they raise me up by a good 3 inches or so and so cracked my head on the door frame. Not good. I also picked up a copy of 春の雪 (Haru no Yuki – a book by Mishima), in Japanese. Japanese books are relatively cheap and, even though I’m unable to read it, it’s still nice to have it in the original format, so to speak.

We met up with JJ at the Visitor’s Centre and had a chat with the two Japanese guards there. They were both amused by my t shirt, especially as I knew what it meant. They regaled us with stories about American soldiers getting kanji tattoos that meant nothing or, in worse situations, something rude. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and then went for dinner. Now, when I say the words Taco Bell to people from America, they go mental. It seems it’s somewhat of an institution there. However, for those in England who can remember when they were open on our humble shores, you’ll probably be reminded of chips covered with plasticky cheese, second-rate tacos and fried pig covered in cinnamon and sold as cinnamon twists. Needless to say, the presence of Taco Bell has long since disappeared from the UK. That said, I was still willing to give it a try, the Americans having made such a fuss. And it was good. Maybe not good for my bowels, but on the whole it was a good food experience. Not very Japanese, but, hey! I was technically in America (OK, it’s not America at all, but I was surrounded by American things – people, products, food – what’s a (fat) boy to do?). We then went over to JJ’s house where I met her dog, Rebel and her husband, Brian. The latter was kind of drunk when I met him and, when I asked for some Bailey’s (my first in over a year), he gave me a glass. Full. It took me a while to get through, but get through it I did. It would make my mother proud!

The next day, we were up early once again and on the road. Brooke and I travelled to Gotemba and then onto Yamanaka Lake, which is at the foot of Mount Fuji. It was a pretty miserable day, weather wise and so we didn’t get to see much of Fuji, save the very top on the way home. But we did go and do the thing I wanted to do – we went to the Mishima Museum. Now, it was small – very small. It was pretty much just one room, maybe a little bigger than my main room in my apartment. But there were original manuscripts and pictures and other such things that only a fan could take enjoyment from. Even though it took us 5 hours to get there, I was happy that I had made the effort. That said, it was great when we found that there was a bus almost directly home that only took 2 hours.

That night, I tried Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. The biscuits in the name refer to overly buttery scone-type things that you smother with honey. The chicken was ridiculously big. I ordered 3 pieces and was shocked to find that America must have some breed of mutant chicken. We also went to the cinema – again, my first time in almost a year. We saw the film Deception with Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor. It’s not bad, but the most interesting part of the night was the fact that the American National Anthem was played before the movie and everyone had to stand up for the duration of the song.

The next day, my actual birthday, was a little less successful. We went to Tama Reien Cemetery in order to find Mishima’s final resting place. I was told that his grave was in plot 13. How hard would it be? Well, given that Tama Reien Cemetery is about the size of China, very. We strolled around plot 13 for about 2 hours before the rain got to me and we gave up. We headed into Shinjuku where I bought myself a birthday present (a new external hard drive) and then travelled back to Yokota Air Base. Brooke and I sat in, ordered pizza and watched movies long into the night.

On Monday, we had to leave. Again, our journey back home was easy and we made all of our connections. In the hour or so we had to wait in Iwakuni, I headed to an electrical store to see if I could get a transformer so my hard drives work when I get back to England. I found an inexpensive one, but also found some hard drives stocked there that were a little cheaper than mine. I take comfort in the fact that my new one matches my laptop.

So that was my trip to Tokyo. I decided that I’m not actually a huge fan of Tokyo proper, but had a great time exploring the suburbs of the city.

This week has gone quickly since then. I’ve been at the ESIDL and am pleased to report that today was my last day there. It wasn’t a joyous occasion, but I wasn’t actually all that sad, especially as I wasn’t presented with an honorary plaque or at least a bunch of flowers. No kids cried. One kid showed me a dead baby bat. That was the only emotion anyone really showed. So I’m here at home now, cursing my other elementary school for the schedule they’ve just sent me. At that school, the 5th and 6th graders are one class ahead of the other kids and so I knew that I would have to plan another lesson just for them. But, looking at my schedule this morning, I see that they have put me in two more classes with each of those years, meaning I now have 2 more lessons to plan. As much as it sounds like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, the fact is, I like to teach my kids useful things that they’ll be able to use in conversational English. My lessons actually run together and they rely on the kids remembering what we’ve already covered. Which means that I now have to think of something else they can focus on, as I was just going to play games with them as way of a farewell.

That said, I only have 11 more days of school and then my teaching career is over. It’s really relieving to know that it isn’t that much longer before I can say goodbye to this profession that I hope never to come into contact with again.

Till next time!

You Take Out Lisaikaraburu! (Recyclables) June 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan, Rantings.
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This will be my last blog as a 22 year old. I was chatting with my dad the other day and I was speculating that I’m getting old. Now, upon reading that, most of you will roll your eyes and moan about the fact that I’m making a big deal out of turning 23. I know that the age itself isn’t old and that people who are that age or older aren’t necessarily “old”. But the only thing that it freaking me out is the fact that I’m turning 23. It just seems much older than I feel. I suppose that I’m going to have to get used to that.

School this week has been boring, but I’ve now taken to putting movies and the like on my iPod the night before school and watching them when I’m doing nothing. Today’s offering was Jurassic Park, through which I marvelled that it still looks as cutting edge as it did when it was first released 15 years ago. Tomorrow morning, Brooke and I are setting out early for the 8am train. Rather comically, we’ll be arriving in Tokyo at about 3pm. That’s how far away I live from the capital!

Today was only funny in the fact that it saw Julie describe the author of the textbook we use, New Horizon, as “a major league asshole”. It also saw me yelling expletives at someone who almost knocked me off my bike, only to see a big group of my kids on the other side of the road. Ah well – they get a real education with Mitchi-sensei!

I’ve not got much to report. It’s now official that my successor won’t be taking my apartment and therefore, Julie dropped hints that I should clean it ALL out. I can assure you, there is no way on God’s Green Earth that I’ll be tidying up all the crap that has been left in this apartment over the years. There are kendo sticks, cricket bats, two ironing boards, a cupboard full of weird stuff to use in lessons, wardrobes full of lesson plans and flashcards etc. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of teaching English paraphernalia. And I am quite unwilling to be the poor mug who has to bag it all up and throw it out, especially as Japanese binmen are the most picky people I’ve ever encountered. If you put the plastic label from a bottle of Coke in with the bottles, your bin bag will be left where you placed it; the binmen having refused to take it as you left the label on. You’re supposed to sort your rubbish in many countries, but here, you actually have to take it apart. When I first moved here, I purged my apartment of all the ashtrays. One had to be deconstructed because it was burnable (made out of wood), non-burnable (plastic bits) and metal (inner tray). Therefore, it had to be physically broken apart in order to be put in the right bags. It’s a royal waste of time and luckily, my bin men don’t seem to be as bad as others. In the past, if they’ve left my bags there, I’ve neglected to taken them in to reorganise them and they’ve eventually just been taken.

Anyway, I’m going to stop waffling on and go and pack for tomorrow’s trip!

Till next time!

Sunday In The School With Mitch June 22, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Well, it’s Sunday (a week before my birthday, too!) and I once again find myself sitting in a stifling staffroom, lamenting the lack of work I’m given to do. I knew today was going to be annoying, it being the weekend and all, but I was told that I would be in two lessons. I get to school bright and early (well, not so bright, actually – it’s grey and miserable) and am told that, actually, I’ll only be in one lesson. It’s a good thing I updated my iPod with some movies to kill the time!

The rest of this week should be fairly run of the mill. I have Monday off in view of the fact that I was dragged against my will into school today. I also have Friday off – I took a day of holiday because all that’s happening is the kids are getting tested so there would have been no lessons for me and I would prefer to spend more time in Tokyo! Yes, I’m off to Tokyo on Friday morning for a long weekend of literary pursuit! On Saturday I will be visiting the Yukio Mishima Museum at the foot of Mount Fuji (alas, it’s rainy season, so if it’s cloudy and rainy, I don’t think I’ll get a very good view) and on the Sunday I’ll be taking a trip to Tama Reien to visit his grave. Then, it’s into Akihabara, where that massacre was a few weeks back, to buy a new external hard drive. I’m not sure if I mentioned in a previous post, but I bought a 250GB one when I first got here and now it’s pretty much full, so I want another! Whilst electricals on the whole are about the same price as in England, it seems to me that hard drives are a little cheaper here than what I would expect to pay back home.

On Friday, I was supposed to be going into Tokuyama to buy my shinkansen tickets for Tokyo – if you buy them a week in advance, you save about £50. However, rainy season hit with full force and the torrential rain never stopped that day. So, because my train line is old and doddery, the trains were either cancelled or severely delayed. Luckily, a friend was on call to go and pick them up for me. Yesterday, the rain had eased off a little, so Brooke and I decided to make the journey. Usually, it takes about 45minutes to get from Kuga to Tokuyama on the Gantoku line. Yesterday, it was more like 2 hours. We met up with Daniel, paid him for the tickets, ate dinner and got on the train back, convinced that it would take forever to make the journey. Coming back it wasn’t so bad, but as Daniel had lovingly mentioned previous to us getting the train, that it seemed like I’d gained quite a bit of weight, the ride back home was a little subdued. I know that I’ve put on weight and it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that he had brought it up, even though it was a little unorthodox. The thing that got me was that I know that I’ve ballooned, but that I have absolutely no desire to do anything about it whilst I remain in Japan. That’s another reason why it’s a good thing that I’m leaving. Were I to stay here another year, I would probably get even worse. So, I’m just going to continue what I’m doing and worry about sorting it out later. The thing is, I know that I can dedicate myself to the gym once I get back (and have enough money to join one), because I did it in my final year at Uni. So it’s no an impossibility. But here, it is. The closest gym is about a 40 minute bike ride away and involves ditching the bike and hiking up a mountain, thus rendering any further workout superfluous. Also, the weather doesn’t help. It rains almost constantly and it’s hot as well, meaning that it’s ridiculously humid. If I don’t sit under an air conditioner, I soon dwindle into a sweaty mess. The other day in class I actually felt like I was giving a lesson in the Tropical House at Kew Gardens. It’s just uncomfortable all the time, and the only prospect of escape is leaving Japan.

In other news, all of my trip to Okinawa has now been paid for, as has my inhabitant tax. Even though this totaled almost £1000, my employers actually paid me the extra money. The irony is that the Board of Education in Iwakuni is a division of the local government, meaning that the government gave me the money, only for me to hand it back to them on the same day. But it’s paid for and out of the way. I’ve also managed to put aside over the months, the £300 I have to pay upon leaving my apartment in order to replace all the tatami mats and screen doors.

I was also contacted by a friend I met at Tokyo Orientation and have not seen since (but remained in contact via the Internet with) the other day, telling me that he is also flying out of Tokyo on the same day as me, just a little later. Luckily, we are both arriving in the city the night before the flights and so are going to meet up for a last supper in Tokyo. The only difficulty that may arise is the fact that by that time we will both have paid our final mobile phone bills and they will therefore be useless. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll find a way.

Right, I suppose I better get on and do absolutely nothing for the majority of the rest of the day.

Till next time!

Breezin’ Through Another Week June 18, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
1 comment so far

Aside from the fact that I have to work this Sunday, things are starting to look up. For the next two days, I’m based at my favourite elementary school, teaching the kids about hobbies and animals. On Friday, not only do I get paid again, but I get to pay for the rest of my holiday to Okinawa and book my train tickets to Tokyo for my birthday. Then, next week, I only have 3 days at school and I’m then off, gallivanting around the capital! Today, I was also given my final schedule for July. I have 6 more days at elementary (including 3 at the ESIDL, but I’m sure I can just suck it up and enjoy it for the last time). I’m also going to take in my camera and snap some of the little darlings.

The shining crown of the good things that have occurred this week must be the fax I received today. I now have a date for my return. I leave humble Kuga at 10:35am on the morning of Tuesday 5th August. Travelling via Hiroshima, I make my way back up to Tokyo. Strangely, the people who booked my trip thought it best I spend a night in Tokyo at my own expense, which was nice of them. So, bright and early the next morning, I will make my way to Narita International Airport and board a Virgin Atlantic plane bound for London Heathrow. I therefore arrive back in the homeland on Wednesday 6th August at 3:30pm. How great is that? The only downside (there always has to be one), is the fact that I’ll therefore be in West London, jet-lagged, tired and utterly gross from well over 24 hours journeying and somehow have to make my way back to Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire. It’s not going to be a pretty sight and I may collapse a few times along the way, but I’ll be back in England, breathing English air and living an English life.

That said, I was in class today and the enormity of what I’ve been doing for the past 11 months hit me. I’ve lived in a foreign country where I have little to no communication skills. I’ve survived a horribly humid summer and a bitter, heating-less winter. I’ve dealt with arsey kids and incompetent teachers. I’ve cleaned schools, I’ve done gardening. I’ve survived in a country that holds mystery for many people worldwide. And I’ve lived to tell the tale. To be honest, I don’t care if none of you lot are, but I’m proud of myself. I don’t think it takes any strength of character to live abroad, but it does take the willingness to attempt it, even if you fail doing it. I firmly believe that anyone can get off their arse and move to a foreign country, but it doesn’t prevent me from feeling proud that I was one of those who gave it a go. I know that I want to stay in England for a bit longer than I did in between my last stint abroad and now, but being here has told me that the world really is my oyster and there’s nothing to stop me from seeing a lot of it. I truly have caught the urge to travel, but my Grandmother tells me that this is simply in my blood – the Wilson travel bug, as she called it. My Grandfather was in the Royal Engineers and lived in many places, including Libya and Germany before returning to England and settling. However, even then they both went off on coach tours all over Europe. I know a person who used to work on a cruise ship and has consequently seen most countries with a coastline. I truly envy him for having seen so much of the world and I hope that one day, I can say that same. What’s the point of being on this planet when you only see that tiny square of it that you inhabit? It just strikes me as wasteful, is all.

Till next time!