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Just Don’t Pay September 30, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Well, it seems like it’s been a bit quiet on here for a while. It’s partly because I’ve had complaints that I write too much and it takes people some time to catch up with what has been going on. It’s also because I couldn’t think of what to write.

Last weekend was another long weekend because of another public holiday. However, I am in no way complaining. I went to Hiroshima. I partied with Marines. They bought all the drinks. I’ve got say, Hiroshima is very surreal. I’ve read about it in history books and have seen photos and know the awful things that the bomb caused. Being in a thriving metropolis and trying to imagine that not even 70 years ago, it was entirely flattened in the blink of an eye. However, I found that the Peace Museum seemed to gloss over Japan’s involvement in the initiation of war. OK, it’s a museum about the atrocity of nuclear weapons, but it almost seemed (to me) that they presented the situation as though they had done nothing to deserve an attack of any kind. I suppose it’s quite a controversial point, but I walked away with mixed feelings regarding the exhibition.

Thursday heralded the culmination of my helping some students prepare for a speech contest. Unfortunately, neither received any prizes, but we all had a good day and it ended with ice cream, which can’t be bad.

This weekend was my first party. Having burnt a significant amount of incense in my hallway, there wasn’t much of a smell at all and I was ready to receive guests on Friday evening. A small bunch of troopers turned up and we played drinking games, imbibed a healthy amount of alcohol and had a good time, including numerous games of Twister. On Saturday morning we all woke up a little worse for wear and made our way into Iwakuni. Having breakfast/lunch and then dossing about town for the rest of the day, we met up with lots of other people who were intending on coming to mine for the second night of partying. Let’s just say: when I throw a party, I throw a party. We got back to Kuga and waited for the hordes to turn up. And turn up in force, they did. More drinking games followed, even more alcohol was consumed (perhaps even more than was healthy, but hey! We live in the sticks – what else are we supposed to do?) and more games of Twister were played. Somehow, all 14 or 15 people managed to sleep in my apartment, just going to prove how big it actually is. They may not have been brilliantly comfortable, but it was somewhere to sleep!

So I’ve been a little busy on the ‘having fun’ side of things. But seeing as I have no real interest in the teaching side of my job, the socialising is the thing I’m here for. Next weekend I’m nipping back to Hiroshima to get a haircut and show some friends around. OK, I’ve only been there once, but they’ve never been, so I’ve got a bit of a headstart. And the weekend after is the Sake Festival. In Hiroshima. So basically, the city is going to be seeing a lot of me.

Right, will sign off – it’s been a bit of a short one, but following my rather hectic weekend of almost non-stop drinking, I can’t be thinking of anything funny to lighten all your days with. Sorry!

Till next time

P.S. I found possibly the funniest misuse of English ever:

(on a wrapper for a crepe) Please enjoy nice and smooth teste

I Should Tell You…Part II September 21, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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Right – time for another instalment of my attempt to blow apart the western view of Japan. Or, just ruin the reputation of what is actually a noble country.

1. Lunchtimes at school are almost always accompanied by music. The other day I was treated to the dulcet tones of Silent Night and other assorted Christian Christmas Carols. Not only is this surprising because it isn’t Christmas, but Japan doesn’t even celebrate the holiday! At Junior High School, they have a more eclectic range. On one of my first days eating there, Gracie Fields sang whilst we tried to keep down the swill placed in front of us. The other day Enrique’s Hero made an appearance and today I was humming along with “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”

2. Lunchtimes are interesting. In a salad, what I had initially thought were beansprouts turned out to be smoked baby eels. I’m looking into cancelling lunches at that school.

3. A lot of schools have special rooms where teachers can go for a sleep. As far as I know, no such room exists at any of my schools. Therefore I just have to make do with my desk. That said, sleeping in public isn’t as frowned upon as it is in England. Kids quite often fall asleep at their desks (not just because I’m boring, lots of other JETs have had the same experience) and I’ve noticed teachers nodding off during long, boring meetings.

4. Students aren’t disciplined. You can’t give a kid detention or suspend them. There was one case where a girl came to school, slaughtered a teacher and some other kids and after her borstal stint was over, she had to be accepted back into the school she had torn apart. Where they get their respect for authority and politeness from is beyond me. That said, it’s the same in Germany. Discipline in schools isn’t really ‘practiced’ as such, and yet they have this ingrained reverence of those above them. Maybe we’re doing it wrong in Britain…

5. Touching is fine. It may just be me being a British prude, but there is a lot of bodily contact between teachers and pupils. Teachers think nothing of smacking a kid round the head (I realise that I’ve just written about discipline and how it is non-existent- generally these actions tend to be more in jest or as guiding hands rather than an actual wallop intended to make a misbehaving child better). Kids think nothing of groping teachers. They also think nothing of congregating in a big group around the unsuspecting foreigner at school and each copping a feel of his bum. I am also constantly barraged with questions about if I ‘like’ the students. Now, apart from the fact that I hardly know them, it just feels a bit paedophilic to say “Yes, I do”.

Right – that’s enough for this instalment. More later! Till next time

Could We Go Again, Please? September 18, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Travel.
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Well, I returned last night from a little bit of a trek around Western Japan. On Friday evening I left my apartment in Kuga and travelled to Tokuyama. From there, I met up with Lucy and we had our first experience of the Shinkansen. Stopping and changing at Shin-Yamaguchi, Nicole joined us and we journeyed to Hakata in Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is on Kyushu which is the large island to the west of Honshu (the main island of Japan that is sort of shaped like a question mark). I’m in love with it. Leaving Hakata station, I was exposed to the first major city I’ve seen since Tokyo, all those many weeks ago. There were neon lights (not just on the pachinko dens, but just on general buildings). There were people. There were cars. There was an excess of life. In contrast to Kuga, there was no carpenter, no blacksmith, no dependence upon antiquated local trades. I was in my element.

Splitting with Lucy and Phoebe (who we met at Hakata), Nicole and I set off in search of the hostel I had tried to book on the internet. Getting there, we were happy to find that there was space for us, but we’d have to change rooms for the second night. At about £16 each for two nights, we were hardly about to complain. That said, when we opened the door to the first bedroom, there was a rather large cockroach on the wall. The lovely lady on reception handed us a can of killer spray, so we attempted to gas it. Then, a rather smelly, overweight Australian came into the room and stamped on it, smearing it across the floor. He left, having received tentative thanks from us, and we were left to clean up the mashed body parts and air the room of the stench of both the insecticide and the man in need of a couple of showers.

We dumped our bags and set off in search of food. I always thought that I would go out of my way to eat Japanese cuisine, but it really hasn’t turned out like that. In reality, the moment I see a place selling Western food, I normally make a bee-line for it. Being in Fukuoka made no difference. After a “Freshness Burger”, Nicole and I found ourselves supping liquors at an Irish bar. There we met a Japanese woman who gave Nicole a tea towel. Me being the cynical Londoner that I am, was convinced that she was trying to sell stuff, but in fact, she was just being friendly.

The next day, Nicole and I wandered around trying to find somewhere to grab some breakfast and, having been turned away from one place at 10.30am as they had “stopped serving breakfast”, we found Canal City (or, in the local dialect: Canaru City) a rather sizeable, labyrinthine shopping centre. Complete with a Zara, a GAP and a Lush. £20 later at Lush, and I knew I needed to leave, lest I spend all my money. We strolled some more around Fukuoka (in particular, the area of Tenjin) and found a Japanese branch of Harrods where they were handing out free samples of tea.

That evening, we met up with Phoebe and Lucy, had dinner and returned, once again to the Irish bar. The next day, we bade Fukuoka farewell and set off in search of more homely climes: in the shape of Shimonoseki, the largest city in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Another was added to our group in the shape of Kate, who we met outside Shimonoseki Aquarium. Walking through the door we were presented with English guides and set to seeing what they had on offer. They had a dolphin show, for one! It was very impressive, but left the girls in two minds as to whether or not they should have enjoyed it, the dolphins being in captivity and forced to perform and all. To be honest, my opinion on the entire matter is: they’re fed well, they’re kept well, they’re entertained and they have company in the form of other dolphins. I’m all in favour of zoos.

Moving on – we met up with Louise and Wakako that evening and had a really nice Italian meal. From there, we split as a group; Nicole, Kate, Phoebe and I heading back to Kikugawa; Lucy, Louise and Wakako staying in Shimonoseki. Once in the small township of Kikugawa, we forced the Antipodeans to watch Peep Show and then Phoebe and I sat up to the early hours of the morning chatting and mucking about on the internet.

Yesterday, we all left, making our ways back to the various corners of Yamaguchi. I stopped at Iwakuni, instead of Kuga, initially to go Christmas present shopping and bummed around until it was dinnertime. Then I got back to my apartment in Kuga only to find that having not been in it for 3 days had made it smell as bad as it ever smelt. I wasn’t too impressed, but I’ve started to resign myself to the fact that it’s probably never going to go.

Today I had my final day of elementary school for the month, having spent over a week at two different schools, dealing with really little kids that have no idea what I’m talking about and teachers who are pretty much in the same boat as the kids. At times it’s a lot of fun. At other times, it really isn’t and I’m longing to get back to the older kids who are cynical, jaded and embittered by the education system. They’ re more my cup of tea – I can relate to them!

What really gets to me about one of the schools is the fact that I’m expected to clean the school after lunch. So it’s apparently not enough that I have to create my own curriculum, sort out my lessons, deliver my lessons and hope to God that the teachers are able to translate what I want the kids to do, otherwise they’re just going to be sat there doing very little! No, that’s not enough. I have to go outside in the midday heat and on bended knee, cut the grass. By hand. The kids today were giving little scythes with which to trim the grass. It was indicated that I should just pull up mounds of it by hand. Oh, and there was a really large ants’ nest under this patch of grass and they were pretty pissed that we were making so much commotion. However, I refused to do anything until I was given a tool. They seemed to get the idea and I set to work. It was then that I noticed that all the kids were working at half the pace I started at. Instead they were having a chat, pestering the ants and generally mucking about. So I slowed down and taught them the word ‘ant’ in return for them teaching me the Japanese equivalent. Then, I went inside, red-faced and sweat-soaked and had to teach a lesson. It must be really attractive to see an overweight foreigner, sweating like anything, at the front of a class trying his best to get the class motivated enough to shout “Big Ben” at him, without transforming it into “Big Penis”. Where they learned that word from, I really don’t know, but I’m in two minds about whether I should chastise them or praise them for inventiveness.

The other thing about the elementary school that I was at today is: the food. I have been told that I have to eat with the kids and must pay for the pleasure. So far, all of the food I’ve had has been surprisingly nice, especially seeing as it’s given such a bad reputation by the other JETs. This school, however, lives down to this rep. Today I told them that I wasn’t very hungry and that’s why I left a lot of the food. Somehow I stomached the fried fish in lemon aspic, but I think that was only because I soon rid my mouth of the taste with the satsuma (mikan) jelly (advertised in ‘Engrish’ on the side of the pot of Mikan Jerry).

Anyway, the others here seem to have realised that I do a lot of moaning (most of it isn’t serious; I just hope they understand that!) and it seems that the end of this blog entry has ended with me back at what I’m best at. All I can say is: I’m British and that’s what we do. Somehow, methinks this will be a popular excuse this coming year…

Till next time!

And I Am Telling You I’m Not Running September 9, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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Today heralded the Kuga Olympics. The day started badly before Sunday even rolled round – the fact that I had to work on the weekend just before doing an entire week of teaching at primary schools put me in a bit of a mood. Especially as the rest of my base school get the next two days off as compensation, but I am afforded no such luxury. The day itself also started less than auspiciously when I was woken at 6am by four fireworks being set off in quick succession. Needless to say I wasn’t all that happy. However, I dragged myself along to the school for 8am and was ushered to my place in the teacher’s tent. I wandered around a bit and took some photos and then the ceremony started at 9am. There were far too many processions and speeches, but this is Japan. There’s a lot of tradition and so after being greeted by the Principal, some of the students, the Principal’s mum, her best friend and the man who lives down the street, some races actually took place. It was pretty much bog-standard sports day fare. There were relays. There were 100m sprints. Then there were other rather off-the-wall additions such as the girls’ tyre drag where the two teams ran at each other screaming, grabbed a tyre and then tried to drag said tyre back to their side, with the girls from the other team. The guys then had a game that looked like it could only end in tears and perhaps a broken nose or three. There were two 8 foot poles held up at either end of the field (when I say field I mean gravelly, sandy pitch) with flags in the top. Basically, the red team had to rush at the white team’s pole and get their flag out of the top and vice versa. Getting to the top of these poles consisted of running with such velocity, that you could easily spring onto one of the guardian’s of the pole’s heads and shoulders in order to shimmy up and grab the flag. Surprisingly, no one died and I didn’t see anyone with blood flowing profusely from any orifice, so I’m thinking it was a success. Then there were some gymnastic displays and a rather bizarre thing where some of the teachers were dressed up as famous Japanese characters and then forced to perform pre-prepared skits. I was told that last year it took 40 minutes and so everyone was hoping that it would be a bit more of a success this time round. Well, it didn’t take that long, but it was just a little odd, to tell you the truth.

All in all, I had a really enjoyable day. For most of it was sat under a tent, but without liquid it got a little hard at times. However, it was nice to see all the kids in one place and think “I’m going to be teaching you at some point soon”. Also, half of Kuga turned out to watch the kids and loads of other tents were set up so parents and other family members could sit round and watch their kids race. Everyone brought a picnic and all sat together with some members of the PTA selling shaved ice and other things in order to raise a ridiculous amount of money to fix the school clock (I think they should be putting it towards an air conditioner fund, but hey; what do I know?).

The title refers to my reaction when asked if I wanted to compete. Now, I was told that the other teachers were going to be racing with the kids and that I should join in, but I never actually saw any other teachers involved, so am glad that I declined. Let’s face it; I don’t run when I’m in England and the temperature is tolerable. I’m not about to run in this heat! They also tried to cajole me into taking part in the communal game of trying to throw balls into nets. I think they were kind of upset that I didn’t take part, but to be honest, I don’t want them thinking that they can suggest something and I’ll do it. So far, I’ve done everything they’ve wanted of me that hasn’t been work related (of course, when they ask me to do stuff for school, I do it, seeing as I’m being paid and everything) so I’m not too bothered. I suppose it wouldn’t have hurt me to take part, but then again it might have. There were no less than 4 children who collapsed, one of whom had to be stretchered off. Someone also hit the deck during one of the gymnastic displays but none of the teachers really seemed to care. Someone went and helped him, but none of the others even raised an eyebrow!

In other news, I am now the proud owner of a sexy new external hard drive. I was going to go wild and get the 120GB one, but when I got to the shop, they only had the 250GB one, so I had to ‘settle’ for that. Am slowly trying to fill it up and am downloading pretty much 24/7.

I’ve been invited out to a teacher’s drinking party tonight. I think that it’s going to take the place of my enkai (welcome party). Seeing as I thought I wasn’t going to get one, I’ve decided to tag along and spend an evening talking English to the English teachers and nodding at incomprehensible Japanese. Fun! Then I’m up early for my first day of proper teaching where I have to run the class, I’ve had to plan the class, and from the sounds of it, will have little to no help from the actual teacher. Be prepared for some more updates regarding that!

Till next time!

The Nicest Kids In Town September 5, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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I taught for the first time today. It wasn’t the holistic experience you might have imagined, where I really bonded with the kids and by the end of the lesson felt that I’d imparted wisdom that they had obviously absorbed and would remember for a long time afterwards.

Today was my first visit to a kindergarten. Now I was under the impression that it would be a meeting with the staff so I could find out what was expected of me, what sort of things I would need to cover. When I arrived and the place was overrun with hordes of screaming infants, I knew something was awry. There was me in my business dress, trying my best to at least give the impression of being organised. Then I get dropped in it. Totally.

Wakabayashi-san: “So, when you teach a group of 40 5 year olds for an hour today, maybe you should cover fruit
Me: “Er…come again?
Wakabayashi-san: “Draw a picture of an apple and then some other fruits. You know; that kind of brainless crap.
Me: (splutters a little)
Wakabayashi-san: “Right, let’s see how well you teach because I’m going to be sat at the back of the class watching every move you make and so help me God, one wrong move and I’ll cut off both your testicles with a pair of chopsticks

So I delivered a totally impromptu lesson. We were warned that things like this might happen, but I suppose I’d always thought it would happen to someone else. But no, I was placed at the head of the class, kindergarten teachers, my supervisor and possibly the owner of the kindergarten and told to teach. So I did what any self respecting person did. I lowered my expectations and decided to go with numbers. Everyone needs to know how to count in foreign languages. I can still remember 1-5 in Swedish for chrissakes. Yep, you guessed it; the kids had already learnt their numbers. And not just 1-10, they knew on into the twenties and everything. ‘Alright’, I thought, ‘Think you’re tough? Let’s play a game that has made grown men cry. Believe me, I’ve seen it in real life’. Now anyone who has ever played warm up games before a rehearsal should know Huggy Bears. It makes and breaks relationships. The caller shouts “Huggy Bears…8” and 8 people have to huddle together, hugging each other. It gets competitive when there are a couple of people who really want to win and will climb over their friends in order to do so. Alas, there was no such enthusiasm for my game. When they had organised themselves into circles of the desired numbers, my impeccably behaved kids would sit down silently. God, it was depressing. So I tried to up the ante and tried to teach them plurals. That promptly fell back on its arse. Running out of steam and wanting to rock back and forth in a ball in the corner, I resorted to a game only adults with a background in First Aid (perhaps even with St John’s Ambulance training) should attempt. Ladders. You know, that game where you sit with a partner, feet touching and everyone is given a number/name and when the caller shouts out your number/name you have to scramble over everyone’s legs and then round the sides and back to your place. See, you do remember. You still have the bruises and scars? Yeah, we all do…

Surprisingly that was more of a success. They loved it. Running around, treading on each other. Suddenly they were more like 5 year olds are meant to be. OK, so two of them ended up crying, but they were sacrifices I was willing to make to make sure the kids loved me. I think they did. A lot of them just looked at me, gobsmacked that there was someone in their presence that didn’t look like anyone they had ever seen before. Some of them took great delight in trying to play swingball with my testicles. A sharply issued “NO” on my part soon sent them scurrying. And they were impressed with my juggling. God, I can’t juggle for shit, but they loved the fact I tried. But I think by far the funniest thing was watching the looks of bemusement spread across their faces when they realised that I understood little to nothing of what they were saying. But I got a big chorus of “Harrow!” out of them and when I left they all gathered at the door and waved me “Bai bai”

The past two days (other than the trip to the kindergarten, of course (and I know I didn’t mention it earlier, but God, they were sweet. I want one. Just for a little while…)) have been mind-numbingly boring. Yesterday was mainly devoted to me trying to learn some more Japanese. By the end of it, I was getting some of the teachers to teach me how to write some pretty complicated Kanji (Chinese symbols that have been adopted into the Japanese language). Feeling full of the joys of spring, I decided to show Wakabayashi-san how well I was doing, feeling sure I would be receiving some praise following my skillful demonstration. I was left seriously wanting, if I’m honest. He took one look at my handiwork, sort of shrugged and then told me that my ‘stroke order’ was wrong. I’ve resolved to not even try and converse with him in Japanese again. The efforts I’ve made in learning the language have been met with a lukewarm reception at best, so he can struggle on in his stilted English for all I care. I wash my hands of it all.

That one negative thing aside, things have been going alright really, other than being bored witless and falling asleep at my desk a couple of times. My English teachers are still really nice and teach me new stuff every day. They also took me down to eat school dinners with the pupils. Now, they’re infamous for being bad and so I approached the meal with trepidation, fearing the humiliation of throwing it all back up again in front of the entire school. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t all that bad. I left the pickled salad with chunks of raw squid in it, because that wasn’t really floating my boat at that time, but other than that, it was quite a nice meal. And I got to sit with the kids, which is always a bonus. But you should see the organisation. After the meal was finished, everyone had their own assigned job and the entire lunch room had been cleaned and emptied within about 5 minutes. They’re just so organised. In England, the poor, put-upon Lunchtime Supervisors (read: dinnerladies) have to struggle through mountains of detritus, whilst being hounded by some snotty-nosed little bastards. Japan is just different. They’re weird. I think they may even respect each other…

I also had to eat at the kindergarten today. The meal was nicer and so much sweeter (as in the experience). I was sat with Lion Class (there is also Elephant Class and Squirrel Class*) and three of the little kids donned plastic macs and caps and gave out plates and cutlery to everyone, followed by a bread roll. Then all the kids sang a song before eating and when everyone was finished, they all tidied up together and sang some more songs (including the classic; Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes).

My afternoon today was spent doodling and dicking about on the internet. Then, just as I was about to ask if I could leave, a girl who I’m coaching for a speech contest came and asked if I could go through some things with her, which I duly did (it being my job and all). Trying to get her to distinguish between ‘chicken’ and ‘shicken’ was a bit of an uphill struggle, but we got there in the end. By the help of Pokemon. How crazy is this? We call them Pokemon, thinking that that’s what it is here. Oh, how wrong we are. Pokemon is actually called Pocket Monsters in Japan. I know! Sounds very Japanese, no? Well anyhoo, I told her to think of Pikachu. There’s a ‘chu’ sound, see. All she’d have to do is change the u to an i and everyone’s happy. This didn’t work out quite as well as I wanted, so we sat saying Pikachicken for a while until she seemed to get the idea. Then, when she was reading through the story, every time she came across the word ‘chicken’, you could see her roll it over in her mind, remembering not to come out with some bastardisation of a weird little creature’s name.

Who knows what delights the next couple of days will bring. There’s a party this weekend in Hikari, so there should be some fun japes to report at some point. Till next time!

*Listening to a Japanese person try to say ‘squirrel’ is possibly one of the funniest things. Ever.

Cleaning House September 3, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.
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Tomorrow is the month anniversary of when I left the not-so-sunny shores of England and flew to the other side of the world. Despite the homesickness and the feelings of wanting to go home, this first month has gone quite quickly, really. In a month, I managed to get settled, start making my apartment mine, I’ve met my teachers, I’ve visited my schools, I’ve made two speeches in Japanese and I’ve been to quite a few different places.

On Saturday, I had to go to school. Now, when I say I had to go to school, don’t be fooled into thinking that I was merely being diligent and went in just to show good form. I was there from 8.30am and was only allowed to leave at about 5pm. I realise that this will be my normal working day once work starts properly. But what soured my being in school for the day was the fact that it was a Saturday. Oh, and I did nothing. Well, not nothing, but as near as! My day started by cleaning the staff room. As it was the official opening ceremony of school, the first 15 minutes of the day were devoted to cleaning the school. Everyone was involved; as I walked through the corridors I saw pupils with brooms, teachers with dust cloths and even the Vice Principal turning his hand to some spring cleaning. So I busied myself by cleaning up my desk and exploring what had been left in the drawers. However, not even a seasoned slacker could have eeked that job out to last a full quarter of an hour. So I wandered into the kitchen. It was kind of scummy actually, so I rolled up my sleeves and grabbed a cloth. God, the kitchen is like a tardis when you’re cleaning, isn’t it? The more I cleaned, the more dirty surfaces I found. I started to regret my decision to bother trying, but then one of the female teachers came in and looked so surprised that the weird foreigner was cleaning, she just smiled and excused herself, embarrassedly. Then, all of a sudden it was over and I couldn’t really finish. I was ushered down to the gym where the entire school was stood. Yes, not sat, like British school children at an assembly. They were stood. One girl actually fainted, but the rest of them had to remain standing whilst various incomprehensible speeches were delivered. It was after I took in this spectacle that I could see the Head Master beckoning to me. So I had to follow him, in stockinged feet, onto the stage. I climbed the stairs, following the lead of the Head and bowing to the Rising Sun flag and suddenly realising that what I was about to undertake was madness. I couldn’t speak Japanese. I can’t speak Japanese. Why was I going to get up and chat to these apathetic Japanese youths in their own language, risking ridicule. So I did what felt right at the time. I started in English. “Hello!” I bellowed out into the microphone that was ridiculously too low for my western frame. Expecting a few giggles, my intention was to dazzle them with my linguistic wit, knowing that they wouldn’t necessarily understand every word, but knowing that the English teachers would find some of it amusing. I mean, I’ve been told I can be quite a funny guy. But no. It was met with a stony silence. I mean, even the cicadas stopped their incessant buzzing to listen to the gaijin fall flat on his arse in front of everyone. It was then I realised that speaking to them in Japanese would not be as mortifying as this, so launched into my pre-prepared speech that I’d already delivered to the teachers a couple of days before. Whilst I was ripping apart the simple poetry of the Japanese syntax, I figured that over the next year I’m going to witness the repeated rape of my language and so I might as well give them a preemptive dose of their own medicine.

After this debacle I was allowed to retire to the staff room for a good sit down. There I read the English newspaper that had been thrust upon me as I walked into the building and sat down to start learning some Japanese until they decided what to do with me. As it turns out, they never did quite decide, as I spent 90% of the day learning Japanese. I still can’t say anything more than I used to be able to, but I’ve got one of the alphabets down and the second is slowly getting there. They have three, you see: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters that Japan has adopted and so they have an individual meaning that you just have to know. I’ve not really started trying to comprehend them. However, Hiragana, I’ve pretty much got down. But that isn’t as impressive as it sounds, because, just because I can read it, doesn’t mean I understand what it says. Katakana, on the other hand, is used to write foreign loan words and so by learning that one, the chances are I would be able to understand the Japanified English words that they spell. For the record, here is my name in Katakana (i.e. how it’s supposed to be written in Japanese, it not being a true Japanese word):


In Hiragana, I think it looks a bit better, if I’m honest, but I’m not really allowed to write it like that. The Japanese would be able to read it and understand it, but it’s sort of like writing an English word with loads of foreign accents over the letters.


Apparently Hiragana is more complicated. I’ve found it the exact opposite. All the characters flow and are easy to write (you have to know the right order in which to draw the lines). Katakana on the other hand is much more difficult as they all look alike and so when some stores or products have their product’s names written in it, I get easily confused. Now, this isn’t me just being blonde. Here are a few different Katakana symbols. See how similar they look?


Now they’re the characters for u, ku, ke, ta, fu and wa. So basically, if I get one of them confused, it can completely change the word from making some semblance of sense to making none whatsoever.

Anyway, Japanese lesson over.

Yesterday, I spent a good portion of the day cleaning. I threw out a lot of stuff and tidied up the kitchen and the toilet. I also hoovered and did some washing. Boring as it may have been, it kept me busy and it needed to be done. Juggling the furniture around helped a lot as well – it feels more like my own place now. I also went shopping on my bike. It was my first venture out on it, and it definitely won’t be my last. In fact, I went out again. I didn’t really need anything, but went to the supermarket again just to have a stroll round. My 15 minute journey to the shops has now been shortened to 5 and so I can now afford to buy frozen goods without fear of them completely defrosting by the time I lug them back home. I’ve also managed to conquer the Japanese rubbish disposal system. When I first put out some rubbish to be collected, it was left because, foolishly, I had bought my bin bags from Hikari and not Iwakuni. The second time, it was left for some unknown reason, but when I checked on it a second time, it had mysteriously disappeared. But, last night I put my rubbish out and, low and behold, today it had gone! I don’t think I did anything different this time, so here’s hoping that I’ve got it sorted now.

Just as an aside, I tried a mini tub of Green Tea flavoured Haagen Dazs yesterday. All I can say is, I’ve never thrown away a near full tub of ice cream away at all, let alone one so expensive. It just wasn’t good. Wasn’t good at all.

I’ve got today off and have pretty much wasted it by doing nothing, but in a good way. I don’t feel bad, especially as yesterday seemed to go so well. And also, I took today off, because otherwise I would have been working 12 days in a row with no break. Yes, that’s right: they want me to work next weekend as well. Normally, when teachers are supposed to do that, they get the following two days off. My schedule is such, that I don’t get next Monday and Tuesday off because I’m visiting one of my elementary schools. So I was granted two days off in lieu. Therefore, I took today off and I’ve taken next Saturday off as well, and seeing as Lucy is having her birthday do on Friday evening, I think this was a wise choice!

Right, I’ve waffled on about nothing much in particular! Will sign off until I have something of import to say! Till next time!