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I Should Tell You…Part III October 31, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.

1. Apparently, Japanese men don’t wear underwear. I’ve been searching in vain for somewhere that sells underwear that doesn’t look like something a grandad would choose to die in. But nothing. Nada. My searches have proved fruitless. I even wandered into Zara, sure of some quality merchandise, only to be rebuffed by the salesman who politely informed me that they don’t stock underwear. How on earth does the male population of the country survive, without some sort of covering underneath? They all seem to have a veritable horde of vests and other undergarments to keep them warm during the winter, but their tackle down below seems to get left to the mercy of the Japanese seasons.

2. Japanese people don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between “in tune” and “so out of tune a dog just voluntarily jumped in front of a van to stop the screeching”. I sat through my school’s culture festival and was subjected to the singing contest. Somehow the judges managed to pick a winner, but I’m pretty sure that in the lunch break they pinned each of the groups to a dart board and whichever one was hit first was the winner. The thing is, they made all the students sing, regardless of whether or not they could carry a tune. That was surely their first mistake. Maybe I’m being too harsh and they can indeed distinguish between good and bad, and perhaps it’s just the famous Japanese politeness gone mad.

3. The epidemic of カタカナ英語 (Katakana English) is rife. I just had a class where I spent a good deal of time laughing at the kids’ pronunciation. Of course, that is what I’m here to rectify, which I duly did. I told them nicely that we don’t say things like “My favourito curu isu redo” because it makes us sound like dipshits. Instead, I emphasised that we (most of us in England (none of them in America)) spoke properly and enunciated our words, finishing them where they finished, rather than adding on superfluous vowels willy-nilly. They seemed to be able to laugh at themselves, which is good, because I certainly don’t stop myself, and then they seemed to be trying their hardest to get out of the habit. One class down – 87 to go.

4. Just when you think you’ve got used to how bizarre this country is, something happens to make you realise that you’ve only just started scratching the surface. Take, for instance, the incessant music. Once, whilst sat in a meeting at school, twiddling my thumbs as I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, I heard the dulcet tones of an mp3 of Edelweiss. Blasted across the town. I turned to another of the English teachers at my base school (we’ll call her Geraldine) and asked what was going on. “Well,” Geraldine mused, “It’s because it’s 10 o’clock”. That was it. No further explanation was proffered and I was left to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. This random music playing also occurs at 5pm and 9pm, just to inform those townsfolk who are without clocks, that it has now passed a certain hour. But they don’t stop at Edelweiss! I’ve also heard Moon River. And at 9pm something scarily Gothic like The Phantom of the Opera scares me witless. I’ve already decided that I’m going to petition the local government to include some other hits that I can readily enjoy, such as Born Free or, looking towards this century, Toxic. I can just imagine the hordes of commuters returning from wherever it is they disappear off to each morning, to the sounds of a lyric-less, tinny version of Britney’s classic sounding out over this sleepy idyll I call home.

5. I learnt this is Germany, but you can never be fully prepared for the questions English learners will ask. There are some that I just can’t answer, but know that I really should know. Why are there two different ways to say “a”. You have “ey” and “uh”. What’s with that? And then the – is it “thee” or “thuh?” Answers on a postcard, please…

6. Japanese bureaucracy seems to be much easier to deal with than that of their German counterparts. I had to go to Hiroshima to get a re-entry permit, so that when I return from Vietnam, they let me back in the country. I got to the office (having had to recruit numerous Japanese civilians in my efforts to track down the elusive building), bought the revenue stamp that I needed in order to hand over my (not so) hard-earned cash and proceeded to the right department. Once there I filled out the two forms required, handed them in and no more than 5 minutes later, was leaving the building with a brand new Japanese stamp in my passport, adding to the numerous ones there already. Compare that against a 3 hour wait just to de-register as a citizen of Cologne – a measure that, as it turns out, I needn’t have taken because it’s not all that important, and Japan comes out on top.

Anyway – enough of this character assassination of the country that is showing me (in some cases: reticent) hospitality at the moment.

Till next time!

…OK, Thank You. Thank You So Much October 25, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I am sat composing this on the rusty and decomposing laptop that has sat on my desk since I got here. At first, the staff was unsure whether or not it could actually work and on further inspection deemed it deceased. However, when I got into school this morning, I thought that I’d give it a second chance. I’ve been here nearly 3 months and so why shouldn’t it work. Sometimes miracles happen. Why not in Kuga.

Needless to say, it works, as, if it didn’t, how would I be able to write to you? But enough about that; let’s move on…

This Saturday is the school’s Culture Festival. On Monday I got into school for a meeting and was told that I would be taking part in an audition. First of all, if you scroll back a little, you’ll read about how I was told that I would be singing. It turns out Julie lied, and before I was let loose on a Japanese stage, I needed to be vetted.

Cue an impromptu audition. After a cursory rehearsal with my backing singers (dubbed ‘The Mitches’ apparently. It turns out they don’t realise how funny that almost sounds…) we went into a rather capacious music room, with a row of stony faced teachers sat at one end. You might as well just have added Simon Cowell, it was that daunting. So we performed and, if I’m honest, it was pretty crap. However, I was sure we’d get it because of one deciding factor – me. Now I don’t mean, in this instance, that I’m just so darn good that they couldn’t help but say yes. I mean, I’m a foreigner. And, more specifically, I’m their foreigner. How could they say no?

It turns out that that was quite easy. An official programme of events was left on my desk this morning. Any sign of my name, emblazoned in a nice font across the front? No…

Any mention of Over the Rainbow, our signature tune? No…

Any slither of foreignness about it? Apart from the charming use of オープニング ダンス (opuningu dansu), no. No, no, no, no, no.

Excuse me if I have a hissy fit, but I was under the impression that this was a foregone conclusion. First of all I’m told that I’ll be singing, despite my attempts to thwart them with lies. Then I’m not even granted the luxury of choosing my own song, forced to endure an audition and after all that I don’t even get the gig? Travesty! I think it was a fix. I wonder who you have to sleep with here to get to sing…

Once I actually sit and think about it, I really don’t care that much, because now on Saturday I get to sit and watch the performances and cast judgement on all my pupils (and the teachers that were successful at the rigged auditions).

Other than that not much has been happening. The weekend that has just passed was spent shopping for my costume to my Chav party that will be taking place on the second weekend of November. I’m going as Gangsta Chav, as I feel I’ve moved on from the Council Estate Asbo Holder I was at the last Chav party I hosted.

Will sign off now as otherwise I fear I will waffle (more so than I’m wont to do normally).

Till next time!

UPDATE: Have just been told that we were in fact successful, thus nullifying the above blog entry. However, in the process of contradicting everything I’ve just said, I have shown just how little communication there is between my school and me. It was casually dropped into conversation that I would be expected to stay late today in order to rehearse. “Rehearse for what?” I enquired
“The performance, silly! God; mind like a sieve, or what?” answered Julie.
Unfortunately I am unable to attend due to a prior engagement. For someone who made such a fuss earlier on about not getting through, I’m now resolved to be the most apathetic performer there. Goodbye to my day of judging. Goodbye to any dignity I possessed in front of my students. Goodbye!

You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When No-One Listens) October 18, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General.

Well, cheers guys. A paltry four comments on my last blog where I asked you just to show yourselves. I know some of you have already commented on previous blogs, but I know for a fact that there are more people reading this blog than that. I won’t dwell on it, but let’s just say that there’s a reason that I’ve not written for a while…

Anyway – chastising over. Last weekend saw the Sake Matsuri in Hiroshima. Matsuri is the Japanese word for ‘festival’. Not that it’s got to the point where I have to insert random Japanese words into conversations, I just thought I’d try to educate you all a little. The festival took over a park in a town called Saijo on the outskirts of the main city and every region of Japan was represented. You were presented with a small, china sake cup and given free reign over the park. Copious amounts of sake had been stocked into this one area and the gates opened at 10am. Needless to say; by the time we got there at about 2pm, there was a plethora of passed out Japanese people who just couldn’t stand their booze. To give us our dues, we stayed till pretty much the end, hardly ever stopping drinking unless it was to queue up to use the loos. This has got to be a first as well: the line for the guy’s toilet was longer than that for the women’s.

We then got back into Hiroshima where I promptly broke the ticket machine at the train station. After the debacle had subsided and I’d extracted all of myself from the mangled remains of the once hi-tech barrier, we trekked to The Shack, where service was slow and I can’t remember the quality of the food. Having sobered up by the end of the meal, I retired back to our hotel, where I had a fitful night’s sleep; not least because I was woken up by James at 4am who was stumbling around in a drunken stupor looking for something to sit on (despite the obvious presence of a chair and, not least, a big double bed).

The next day, after everyone left, I stayed around town with Katie and we went shopping. I managed to find a water filter, having looked for a while for one (the water in my apartment gives me a headache when I drink it). Then we went on a search for white underwear. I’ve come to the conclusion that men in Japan do not wear white underwear. We even tried Zara and they didn’t sell it at all. Even a huge department store was left wanting. I left, water filter in hand, but otherwise empty.

This week I’ve been jumping about all over the place, in terms of work. Whether it’s been one of my elementary schools or my Junior High School, it seems there isn’t a moment’s peace this week. To be honest, I quite like not spending an entire week at one school – it mixes things up a bit.

This Saturday, I’m actually staying in Iwakuni. This has got to be the first time in a while. But Brooke and I are going to a really nice sushi restaurant and then to some kind of language exchange meeting. I’m not really sure what goes on there, but all I’m hoping is it’s not some kind of Rosemary’s Baby-type cult thing. Then we’ll go to the Tex-Mex restaurant that we all love, chat with some marines and retire back out to the inaka (that’s Japanese for “out in the sticks”. As an interesting aside (interesting to me), in German it’s “wo sich Fuchs und Hase ‘Gute Nacht’ sagen”. This blog is so educational, I should start charging…)

On Sunday we’re going to pop into Hiroshima (I love that it’s so close that we can do that). My teacher researched the bus into town and so we’re going to try that, rather than keep using the train where we have to change. This one, we can just sit on until it takes us to where we want to be. We’ll be shopping in the myriad second-hand clothes stores for our costumes. Yes, the second weekend in November heralds my second party of the year. The theme? Come dressed as the social parasite we all love to hate: the Chav. We’re having to educate the Americans on the subtle differences between Chavs and White Trash, but most of them are quite quick and so there shouldn’t be too much of a mix up.

Oh – before I forget, I’ll let you all into my Christmas plans, because they’re a little bit exciting. On 21st December, I will be flying from Fukuoka airport to Hanoi, Vietnam. Once there, I’ll be meeting with Phoebe and Louise and we’ll join a tour and climb a mountain. Now, as my mum so rightly noted, mountains and me don’t mix. But who can say that they woke up on Christmas morning, halfway up a Vietnamese mountain, looking out over Laos and China? I figure I’m probably never going to get this chance again and so might as well grab it with both hands.

Following my descent back down from the dizzy heights of Mount Fansipan (I kid you not; that’s what it’s called), I’ll be bumming around Vietnam until 29th December, when I get a flight to Tokyo, arriving on 30th, when I’ll meet Richy. We’ll spend New Year’s in the capital and then drive back to Kuga (I anticipate about a 10 hour drive), taking in a lot of the country as we go. He’ll stay for a couple of days down my neck of the woods and then get the bullet train back to Tokyo for his flight out. It all sounds very fun and go-go-go. Not too much time for relaxing, but what the hell?

Anyway – I hope this blog has relieved the tension you’ve all been feeling, waiting in painful anticipation for the next instalment of my life. I’ll promise not to leave it so long again, if you all promise to comment once in a while!

Till next time, y’all!

Tell Me Something October 4, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General.

Today has been classed (by all the cool bloggers) to be de-lurking day. This means for all of you who just read my blog and never comment, you should show yourself. Throw off the restraints and talk to me! It’s nice to know that people are reading (I’m told by my Blog Stats that there are some of you out there). But comment. I want the feedback. And the conversation. Also, it’ll make me look more popular on the blogging scene!

The Bitch of Teaching October 2, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Rantings.

I’ve not made it too much of a secret that I don’t intend on teaching. Ever again. I decided in Germany that it wasn’t really for me. A stint of teaching German in England confirmed it and Japan must just seem like overkill to make sure that I definitely have made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of positives about being in a position of power. I’m somewhat of a celebrity (although not as much of one as people seem to think I would be. I’m a tall white guy with fairer hair than the Japanese – I should be a rock star, apparently. Alas, I’m not!) and at the same time that some of the kids revere me, most of them are just scared that I’m going to blabber on in English. To be fair to them, in lessons I do. But, also, being the out-of-place foreigner, it means the school can wheel me out on special occasions to show the entire town that they have one of my kind in captivity. This was true for the school Sports Day and will be repeated when the school’s Culture Festival rolls round towards the closing days of this month. The other day, when I was at the Speech Contest, one of the English teachers (we’ll call her Julie) turned to me and asked me if I could sing. One major thought flitted through my mind when I heard this question: Say yes and run the risk of constantly having to sing at school events, in lessons, whenever they can think of a reason to get the weird foreigner to perform. “No, I’m really sorry, Julie, I can’t sing at all. Why do you ask?”

As it turns out, some of the girls in the school band (I think the band sounds really good, but I’m told that they’re poor in contrast to other local bands) want to play an English song and have a couple of teachers sing it at the Culture Festival. In front of the school. And the rest of the town. Thank Christ I told them I couldn’t sing, right? Wrong! I was handed a sheet of paper with a list of songs (all in Katakana, for the record) and told to pick one.

Me: “But Julie! I told you I couldn’t sing!”
Julie: “Look, there’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight. Want to do that one?”
Me: “I honk like a goose. I’ll ruin the festival. People will leave and I’ll be burned at the stake as a foreign witch”
Julie: “I’m going to ask you not to choose Whitney, because that may be too hard”

So apparently I’m singing. Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Part of me hopes it’ll be the Eva Cassidy version because that suits my voice better. Then I wonder why I care. But, actually, I do care. Just because I’ve been roped into it, despite protestations on my part, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it well. As it happens, I can sing. Without meaning to sound arrogant, it’s possibly what I do best. So when I take my first tentative steps out onto that Japanese stage, I’m going to do it, head held high, and rock their split-toed socks off.