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Cleaning House September 3, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.

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!



1. Magic Cochin - September 4, 2007

Green tea flavoured ice cream – the highlight of my trip to Japan. Absolutely delicious!!!!!!
Have you tried the sake ice cream yet?


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