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A Wild, Wild Party January 29, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I went to another enkai (staff party) on Friday. The school has been taking part in a research survey for three years and it all culminated on Friday when teachers and educational service employees descended upon my main school in order to watch a series of team taught lessons. As I’m their very own foreigner, guess who was wheeled out and expected to perform in front of said onslaught of people in the know? Yep – me. To be honest, I really didn’t mind. What, after all, is my job about, if not team teaching? Three weeks ago, I was informed that I would be expected to be in the lesson, helping Julie with her lesson about comparatives and superlatives. However, Julie is a bit of a sly dog and so by the time Friday came round, the class we were showing off were on their seventh class of these grammar rules. So they rocked, basically.

However, for the first time, I was actively involved in a class at Junior High School. I had to give all the instructions in English to the class and, if needed, Julie would translate. I also had to take a good 15 minute slot of it, introducing some friends of mine in Japan. The kids had to get their heads around the names (“No, it’s Louise, not Luigi!”) and were then given information about them that they had to log in a table and then could choose to use these tidbits of information in their sentences which they would have to present to the class at the end of the lesson.

Ah, the table I made. First of all, it was just a table. Five names across the top, gridlines; nothing spectacular. Julie decided that this wasn’t enough. So I volunteered to miniaturise the larger pictures I would use in class and insert them into the grid as well. Once again, it wasn’t quite hitting Julie’s spot. She landed on the idea of my drawing cartoon versions of my friends. Needless to say, the (ahem) professional side of me baulked at the idea. Me? Drawing cartoons? Never! But the artistic side of me that has been yearning for something to do for the past six months jumped at the opportunity and I set about making my friends into characters. It actually came out much better than I had thought it would, with the final results actually resembling the real human. One of the kids, when he got to table, drew and extra picture on the end. I was interested to see who it was meant to be, but when I asked to see it, he obviously got the wrong idea because he ripped that section off the sheet and ate it. Yes, you read right: he ATE it.

Julie also had the idea that when the kids had to present their sentences to the group at the end of the class, they would write them down on sheets of card that were then stuck onto the board. The other groups in the class would then clap to decide who was the winning group. I was to bestow my honour upon the best individual. However, after one class, people were just clapping willy-nilly and when we tried to ask them again, the results were wildly different. So I offered the idea that maybe we could give each team captain a paper star that they affixed to their favourite group’s sheet, thus making it a lot easier to judge. Julie hurried away to make stars…

She came to me about five minutes later, telling me that everything she had drawn hadn’t looked very star-like and so hinted that I should offer to make them. Which I duly did – my creative side was wide awake by now and longing for some more activity. So I made some stars. Well, ten of them. And they each had different faces. It was then decided (by Julie) that they should be coloured. So, a quarter of an hour before the class that has, essentially, been being prepared for three years was to take place, I was sitting in the staffroom, colouring in cartoon stars.

The lesson went totally to plan. The kids enjoyed it. Their examples were great. I got to bribe them somewhat and the number of sentences about me soared. Such things as “James and Daryl are cool, but Mitch is the coolest in the world” were offered up as hopefuls for Best Individual. Ordinarily, in the other classes that we had rehearsed with, I had rewarded these insightful youths with old British stamps (don’t snigger – they’re the most desired accessory in Kuga Chugakko, let me tell you!), but in this class, I decided to bathe in the compliments with which I had been showered and went with the kids who had written really good sentences that hadn’t been about me.

All in all, it was really great preparing for such a class. That said, if I were a teacher and had to wait three years for every lesson for which I could be creative, it wouldn’t be so great a job, methinks.

That night, there was an enkai. A party. A piss-up. It was going to be carnage, not least because at the last one, the P.E. teacher, Alan, had expressed interest in challenging me to a saké drinking contest. I was seated next to the one English teacher in attendance and had some really nice chats with teachers whom I had never spoken with before, through him. Alan then stumbled over to me, pissed as a fart, asking me what I wanted to drink. Remembering his challenge and having the reputation of Britain on my shoulders, I proffered saké as an option. He jumped at it and all the other staff looked worryingly at me, either unsure of how I would deal with it, or certain the Alan clearly couldn’t. But I went ahead with it. I continued drinking even though the other table of teachers from my school had just upturned one of the tables, sending dishes flying. I continued drinking even though I could see that Alan was visibly wilting. I drank and I drank, for the sake of the British Isles. I drank for the Queen. I knocked back and thought of England. And, needless to say, I won. Outright. Alan was later seen wandering around outside, not looking for anything in particular. All together, a grand night!

Till next time!

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Dude! What Is It? January 20, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Random.
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Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday I was bitching about having to clean, and here we are, over a week since then!

The last two days of the week just ended were spent at The Elementary School I Don’t Like. However, I had possibly the best two days I’ve ever had there. My lessons went to plan, the kids understood it and seemed to retain it and I left feeling happy. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen often on days I’m at the ESIDL.

I also now have a cold. And it’s not a nice one. Not that many people would class any cold as a “nice” one, per se, but it’s not the lightest one I’ve ever had. Damn the Japanese and their insistence on keeping windows open, despite the almost sub-degree temperatures outside. I’ve heard rumour that it’s something about toughening the kids up. See what sort of a country I’m living in?

I also found out at the beginning of the week, that a guy I met at the Tokyo Orientation (almost 6 months ago now!), quit JET and has moved back to England. It was weird finding it out because, even though I’ve not been in that much contact with him since we parted ways in August, I felt kind of upset that one of the group of guys I was hanging around with had fallen by the wayside. That said, it also made me happy that I decided to continue, even though I didn’t feel all that happy with the situation when I first started here. I’ve had dips and peaks in my mood since then, but so has everyone. Some days you wake up and are really thankful that you are here, making the most of the mountains, the clarity of the days, the sheer weirdness of ‘being in Japan’. And then other days, you take advantage of the mountains, resent every day you have to spend here until it’s time to go home and hate ‘being in Japan’, where it’s apparently OK for someone to stop in the street and stare at you just because you don’t look like them.

But, at the end of the day, as low as I may feel, I know that the next 6 months are going to whizz by, just as the first ones did and sooner than expected, I’ll be packing up my things to leave Japan and will be sad. I know that it’ll be sad to leave my apartment (which, as far as I can tell, no longer smells as bad as it did when I got here), sad to leave my friends here, sad to leave the schools that I’ve so moaned about visiting. And then I’ll be back in England, searching desperately to get a job that pays a decent wage, an apartment that won’t take all of that wage, and a new life, pretty much.

On the subject of apartments, I was talking about the situation yesterday. When I get back to England and eventually find my own place, it’s not going to be ‘my own place’, because inevitably I’ll have to go back into shared accommodation. Can I do it? Having lived a year alone, will it be too much of a shock to the system to live in everyone else’s mess? I suppose only time will tell.

I also noticed (you’ve probably recognised that this entry is just a random stream of consciousness, so forgive the lack of structure) that the number of visits to my blog has steadily decreased over the months. It seems people are losing interest in how I’m faring in a foreign world, content to banish me to the back of their minds, resurrecting my memory over occasional beers with Uni friends. Here are the statistics of visits to my blog:

  • June 2007 – 103
  • July 2007 – 83
  • August 2007 – 405
  • September 2007 – 260
  • October 2007 – 249
  • November 2007 – 256
  • December 2007 – 179
  • January 2008 – 75

Now I realise January isn’t over yet, and a lot of the visits depend on how frequent the posts were, but it’s a little sad to physically see people’s interest waning. That said, I don’t know why I’m complaining to you, because, as you’re reading this, you’ve already logged a visit to the page, thus making me a little happier.

Anyway – I apologise for a non entity of a post, but not that much has really happened here. Since I got back from Vietnam, I’ve made no plans for travelling around and so have nothing really to report. But I promise, stick with me and it’ll be grand…I hope!

Till next time!

I Should Tell You…Part IV January 10, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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1. Schools don’t hire cleaners. They expect their kids to do it for them. And so every day at a certain time (it differs depending on the school), kids are handed brooms, brushes and a whole assortment of cleaning utensils and told to get to work. It’s not enough that they have to sit through 6 classes a day, diligently paying attention and making notes in classrooms that the schools refuse to heat. No. They then have to get down on bended knee and scrub. Most of the kids can’t be bothered with it and so, as a result, the schools are never really clean, thus proving that if Japanese schools want to look good, they’d be better off getting actual cleaners to do the job.

2. Students aren’t the only ones who are expected the clean. Teachers who plan lessons and quite often have about 10 minutes a day spare because they have to take on a multitude of miscellaneous tasks are also put to work, hacking back bushes or, in one case, plucking grass just because someone once said it looked unsightly. Julie, an English teacher, not only has to plan classes for the week, but has to maintain all the plants in the school, look after the lunchroom, help the students clean, organise things for the second years, run the art club and deal with sex education for the entire school. Why an English teacher has to be in charge of this last one, I’m yet to find out. Oh, for the record, Julie then has to go home and be a mother. I think it’s a bit rich for a school to employ someone as a teacher only to dump a whole lot of crap on them afterwards.

3. As you may have guessed where this is going, the third point in this edition of I Should Tell You is : I am expected to clean. Luckily, until now, only one school has asked me and I did it twice and have never done it since. However, my base school has now taken it upon themselves to volunteer my services. There is a new teacher here, Maria, who spoke to me this morning and asked me to join her for ‘cleaning’ outside in the school courtyard after school. I mean, I helped once before when the whole school was doing some kind of gardening thing – I did my bit. But my school have now taken to not giving me a timetable and instead asking me just before the lesson to join them. Today, off the cuff, I’ve had to be in 5 out of 6 lessons and will then be asked to go outside in the freezing cold and ‘clean’. Now some other people in Japan tell me that it’s a good way to bond with their kids. I laugh at these people – I speak very little Japanese. In many cases, they speak less English. How on earth will communication ever be a possibility. Also, if I take a look at my job title, I read “Assistant Language Teacher”. For starters there is no use for linguistics when one is put to work like a scullery maid and second of all – see that word at the end. Does it say cleaner? Does it say skivvy? Does it say Hilda Ogden? No. It says teacher. Someone who imparts knowledge. Someone who is supposed to provide these kids with an education. Not Cinderella.

Rant over…till next time!

Vacation’s Over, Back To Work January 8, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I am now back at school, my fingers stiff with the cold and wishing all the while that I was at home, roasting slowly in front of my halogen heater. Richy left on Sunday night and since then I’ve been feeling a little depressed, the prospect of residing in this country for another 8 months dawning on me. I realise that this is just another homesick phase that will pass and am trying to raise my spirits, even though I’ve now come to despise my job. Please don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy being in Japan, living life in the Japanese countryside and seeing more of the world. I just wasn’t cut out for teaching and it’s now starting to drag somewhat.

Anyway – to concentrate on happier subjects, Richy’s visit here was a great success. Having met him at Narita airport, we made our way into Shinjuku and explored Tokyo a little. Managing to find accommodation for that night wasn’t as hard as I had expected, but seeing as it was 30th December, I suppose it was less in demand than the following night. So we did something very Japanese and stayed in a capsule hotel. What an experience and what a comfortable night’s sleep!

The next day we explored more of Tokyo and went up the Tokyo Tower, watching the sun set over the Japanese capital for the last time in 2007. Meeting up with Brooke and her cousin, we had dinner and visited a few bars, seeing in the New Year in rather inauspicious surroundings. However, having been unable to secure somewhere to stay that night, we were rather at a loss with what to do. So we stayed up. We did karaoke. We visited an internet cafe. In fact, we slept at the internet cafe and so I lied a little when I said we stayed up. But the next morning we were up bright and early, waiting for the Shinkansen to take us back to Kuga.

On the way home, I received a phone call from England to wish me a Happy New Year, just as we whizzed by Mount Fuji. I then fell into a deep sleep, having been sleep deprived the night before. Richy, too excited about the prospect of being on one of the world’s fastest trains, refused to succumb to sleep.

To spare you the details, we all made it back to Yamaguchi Prefecture safely. Richy dozed, I caught up with my emails and then we watched some Family Guy before having an early night.

The following day we went into Iwakuni to try and hire a car, but to no avail. Three places all in all told us that they were unable to lease any vehicles on that day. So we went into Hiroshima and found a place that not only gave us a car, but spoke English and gave us possibly the nicest car ever. Deciding that we were still a little tired from the previous day, we returned to Kuga, had dinner at Sanzoku and watched a movie at mine, before getting to bed in preparation for our early morning the next day.

The next day was to herald a trip to the theme park Space World. We went on the expressway, which is a rather expensive toll road that runs through Japan, therefore spending money before we even got to the park. Imagine our shock then when we arrived, only to be told that the rollercoasters “weren’t running” that day. What sort of a theme park doesn’t run rollercoasters for a day? So we did what anyone in our position would do – we went shopping in Fukuoka.

The next day was a little more low key, the highlight being our trip to Hofu to see the Tenmangu Shrine. It was full of Japanese people making their first visit for the New Year to the shrine, but it was enjoyed by all.

The following day (Richy’s last full day in the Land of the Rising Sun) was a lot more hectic. We drove to Kyoto, a round trip of about 900km. But we did see a real life geisha, which made it all worthwhile. What also made me happy, was the fact that I was able to ask her in Japanese if it was OK to take a photograph of her.

So on Sunday we returned the car and walked around the Peace Park, choosing not to depress ourselves by trawling through the Museum concerning the A Bomb. Having said goodbye to Richy, Brooke and I made our way back to Iwakuni and I was finally alone, having not had a day alone with nothing to do since 20th December. Yesterday was therefore spent doing washing, tidying my apartment and food shopping, balanced off with a healthy dose of Will and Grace.

There we go – that should now be the end of me detailing the ins and outs of what’s been going on.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and good New Year’s celebrations. Here’s to 2008 – the year in which I return to England!

Till next time!