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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!

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