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There’s No Cure Like Travel March 27, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Travel.
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Just a short one to say that tomorrow (Friday 28th), I’m off to Shimonoseki for a night, so I’m closer to the airport for Saturday morning. Then, I’m off to Kuala Lumpur, staying for a night in Hong Kong on the way.

Expect a full update upon my return – 8th April.

Till next time!

Bring On The Men March 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random.
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Gone are the days of Imperialism and the samurai culture, where masculinity wasn’t innate and a guy had to work to prove his abilities as a man. Gone are the days where raging hordes would clash over land disputes and infringements of honour. Ask any foreigner living in Japan about the state of its male population and you’ll see a surprising trend – they’re one of the most effeminate nations. Of course, I can only speak in broad, general terms, but men just don’t seem to be very…well, manly. Most of my male students will happily sit in each others’ laps, maybe even running an odd finger through their friend’s hair. They fool around with each other. They sit in a darkened room together singing love songs on karaoke machines. In England, these kinds of children would be outcast by their peers, but here, walking with your arm around your friend is positively encouraged.

Ironically, the women, despite their lack of breasts, are also ridiculously feminine. Giggling and doubled up with laughter, these women don’t even need to be pre-pubescent to emit high-pitched squeals of delight when confronted with something they find amusing. No longer does one hear the boozy, gravelly belly laughs of a 80-a-day-smoking cleaner from Bolton, but instead a girlish screech or loud exclamations of “kawaii“, an all-purpose word that is, more often than not, issued at something one finds cute.

Japan is facing a crisis. The population is greying and the birthrate is steadily decreasing. The government is so worried that there is now a ministry post tasked with helping to raise the birthrate. If this doesn’t happen, there will be a labour shortage and Japan, in general a fiercely homogeneous country, will be forced to open itself to an influx of foreign workers, rather like postwar Germany had to. One has to wonder if their population is not merely greying, but also becoming more pink.

There are a group of people in Japan referred to as otaku, which, try as I might, I can’t separate from “sad geek who lives in their mother’s basement”. The term applies initially to those who enjoy manga and anime. This, in itself, is far from condemnable. However, some otaku prefer these fictional worlds and characters and play with the figurines, dress up as their favourite personage or even fantasise about them. Just as an aside, I’m not talking about children here. I’m talking about middle-aged men who can get their rocks off to cartoon sex (in some cases).

The reason I mention the otaku is because I have just read a newspaper article about boy-love manga. These are comics aimed at women that deal with the idea of homo-eroticism. So popular are these, that there is now even a cafe dedicated to a classic comic about life at an all-boys boarding school in Germany named Edelstein. The waiters are all chosen for their effeminate appearances and the women who frequent it play the role of wealthy benefactress. The ‘boy waiters’ talk about their fictional homework, extra-curricular clubs they are involved in and serve the ladies tea and cake.

The words “only in Japan” are formulating in my head. I didn’t think it was such a common occurrence for a woman to be turned on by relationships between two men, but apparently Japan has broken the mold. There have been theme cafes aimed at men for quite a while here – mostly the waitresses are dressed, rather stereotypically, as French maids or the like. But this cafe caters only to the women who enjoy the “classic” Edelstein story.

Anthropologists say that the popularity of anime and manga is attributable to the rigid social rules in place in Japan and that, through such cafes, people can escape the extreme social control innate to this country.

But one can’t help but wonder if the birthrate would be in considerably better form if women stopped fantasising about gay men and, in turn, men became, you know…men.

My Junk March 21, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.
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I’ve decided to share with you a list that I’ve been keeping of things that people have looked up through various search engines and stumbled upon my blog. I think you’ll agree that I write about a whole host of weird stuff.

  • gene splicing
  • squirrel testicles in kanji
  • Charlie had a pigeon
  • statue of a minger
  • chav girl
  • Kieran is a chav
  • cute Japanese doctors
  • inventions gone wrong
  • tanuki girl
  • tanuki balls
  • blogspot para baixar big mountain (yeah, I’ve got no clue either)
  • how to dispel chavs from your apartment
  • cute rat
  • people with big teeth
  • why is it not nice to say bad things?
  • do halogen heaters burn a lot of electricity?
  • find teacher in Kikugawa
  • beside you in time
  • gone wrong rat
  • massage parlour Narita
  • really good shark pictures
  • what do Japanese people do for a living?

All in all, quite strange things, I’m sure you’d agree. I don’t know who it says more about, them or me!

I’ve just returned from eating lunch and, having read the board telling me (in Japanese) what we were eating, I was shocked to see that hijiki was on the menu again (cf the last post I wrote). I was even more shocked when confronted with the offending item in a salad that I know I’ve eaten many times before. Therefore, I’m now unsure as to the levels of arsenic in my system…a comforting thought, I’m sure you’d agree.

This weekend sees me play host once more. Phoebe’s dad and brother are over from England to visit and they’re using my place as a base for a couple of nights. A trip to Sanzoku (the restaurant that serves the best chicken and gyoza ever!) and Hiroshima is planned, so it should be quite a fun few days. Then it’s back to school for the last days of the school year, followed by a jaunt to Hong Kong and Malaysia. I found out today that I will need to take some days off because they expect me to come into school and sit through incomprehensible meetings in Japanese as of 3rd April. Luckily, I’ve not taken too many days from my allowance and they don’t make a note of them even if I had. Might just take a whole week off rather that two days so I can recover somewhat before returning to school. Oh, I’ve just thought – I’ll miss the opening ceremony. That would be a dire shame, I’m sure…

Till next time!

I’ll Show You A Thing Or Two March 18, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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I’ve eaten weird things since I got here. I mean, not that weird. There are horror stories about drinking blood in some places in Japan and I’ve not done anything like that. But I have eaten whale. I’ve eaten poisonous blowfish. And today I ate hijiki. This is a type of seaweed that apparently contains an incredible amount of inorganic arsenic and the British government has warned its citizens not to eat it too regularly. This was my first time with the offending item and so I’m probably not going to die or develop cancer any time soon, but I think I’ll avoid it if presented a plate of it at a later date. That said, when I told my teachers they told me not to worry and that it was, in fact, very nutritious. And will kill you, but I shouldn’t focus on that too much.

My kids are getting more confident talking to me in English. I asked one of them how he was today and he looked at me and said “I’m sleepy. I want to die”. Then, as I left the lunch room and kid cornered me and whispered in my ear “Do you like sex?” I refused to answer and asked him the same question to which he replied an indignant “No!” Given that he’s about 14, I suppose he’s probably just getting over the whole I-hate-girls thing. He also asked me if I liked “bus”. When I looked at him, confused, he pointed about nipple height and said “Bus. Bus.” I left, shaking my head. Later on he asked me if I wanted sex to which I replied “Not now, thanks”. This is the first instance of this, and something tells me that this kind of questioning is going to continue. Oh well – bring it on. I’m sure I have stories that could make their hair curl…

I’ve just got back from playing in the class match. Every so often, towards the end of a term, the boys and girls of each class go head to head at a certain sport. Today, the boys were playing softball. I was told I would be playing too. Having never played softball or baseball or the like ever (I’m not sure that rounders is entirely the same) I was more than a little apprehensive. Some of the kids threw a ball around for me to practise catching with the glove and then I was on my way. On the teachers’ team. With all the sporty, athletic PE teachers whom I used to despise when I was at school. One thing I should just add in now. It was kind of overcast, but sunny enough that the sand that covered the pitch was really bright and I couldn’t stop squinting and because I couldn’t stop squinting, my eyes kept watering. Luckily, I had anticipated this and brought along my sunglasses. When I put these on they were met with laughs, but mainly exclamations of “カッコイイ” (kakkoi), which means cool. There were also comments on the hairlessness of my arms. Not that I understood them, but I know for a fact that one of the PE teachers joined in the speculation. Luckily, he was the first up and was bowled out. Ha! Look at me using cricket terms. Basically, he had one too many strikes and was expelled. Then, some arsehole decided it would be great fun to put Mitchi-sensei up next. So I grabbed the rather heavy metal bat and headed over and stood on the white thing on the floor. Wrong! That’s the base and you’re not supposed to stand on that. I sheepishly edged off it and raised my bat in preparation. I knew I wasn’t going to last long against these kids, baseball being one of the new national sports of Japan. The kid who was pitching (almost wrote bowling!) is a little shit in my classes and so I expected trouble. I glared at him, knowing that he couldn’t see my eyes through my sunglasses. He threw. I swung. I hit! The first hit of the game was the tubby foreigner who was new to the game. I ran for first base. I reached first base. There were a couple of laughs, probably at my ungainly, girlish run, but I made it. There was a moment of silence where I worried that I had done something wrong and actually now my team would be forced to commit seppuku, but no. It was fine! The next teacher up hit it, so I legged it to the next base. This malarkey is easy, I thought. The next teacher got caught out (it’s called a fly ball) and so we swapped with the other team. This was where I was going to have to prove my mettle. Fielding, pitching, whatever, is not really my strong point, me having the upper body strength of a paraplegic. Also, it was at that time that I noticed that my left shoulder had completely seized up, the bat being kind of heavy and me not being used to strenuous activity round about there. I ran into the outfield and hoped that the ball would miss me. It did and so everything was fine.

The rest of the game passed relatively easily. I got to bat twice and managed to hit it both times, but the second time, I was beaten to first base, thus being the first person out. The next teacher got caught out and so we ended up losing, but all in all it was quite fun. The teachers and students seemed really pleased that I had joined in (I missed the last ones because I was at elementary school). That said, the next ones will be in July and they won’t be pretty, if I have to take part. There’ll be sweating. There’ll be swearing. There’ll be a red faced gaijin running around the school. But it’ll be a nice way to say goodbye to the kids.

Till next time!

Bow And Snap March 12, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan.
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As you are all no doubt aware, bowing is quite important over in this corner of the world. That said, I think it may only be limited to Japan as, when I was in Vietnam, I got the weirdest looks when I bowed at someone; it now being routine.

At the beginning of the class, the kids have to all be paying attention, stood by their desks, ready to start their learning. There’s is a short speech said by a preordained student, everyone says Onegai shimasu (which is sort of like thanking someone in advance. I think the literal translation is “Do me a favour”, but that doesn’t really fit it all the time) and then they bow.

Following the 45-50 minutes that a lesson occupies, the students again rise, thanking you for what you have done and this is followed by another bowing. For both events, the teacher also joins in, therefore initially telling the students that he/she hopes that they learn something from what they are about to experience and then thanking the students for their attention (or at very least, their presence) during the class.

At a recent gathering, I remarked that I found this quite nice. The students must stand there and, for those few minutes at least, pay attention and respect their teacher. It just seems to me to be polite – even though they may not be going through this thought process, it’s almost as though they’re thanking you for having prepared a lesson for them. Obviously, school kids think different, but I still quite like the premise behind it. Another English teacher there commented that he felt the whole debacle was disingenuous and, on the whole, a farce. He said that if the kids wanted to bow to him, then fine, but the fact that they are forced to doesn’t sit well with him.

I’ve been pondering this on and off for a couple of weeks now and decided that I really needed to put this down in words. When kids are growing up in England, they are taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Even if you’re not very grateful for something, etiquette dictates that you say ‘thank you’. It’s just the way you’re brought up. When you’re older you’re allowed to make your own decisions as to your responses to things, but when you’re younger the default through which to teach is politeness. You can never be too polite.

And so this man saying that making the kids say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ isn’t right, doesn’t quite ring true to how he himself must have been brought up. At the end of the day, it is just politeness; instilling respectful behaviour in kids. It’s what we do in our ‘civilised’ world – we grit our teeth and we act nicely to those around us, even if we can’t stand them/will ignore what they’ve said/resent them for having done something (delete as applicable).

What’s The Buzzcut? March 10, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Spring has sprung. At least, I hope to God it has. Too long has it been cold and dreary, requiring several layers of clothes just to stay alive. On Saturday, I was at school for the graduation of my 3rd graders. It took place in the unheated gym where we shivered, froze and tried not to fall asleep, scared that we wouldn’t wake up. All in all, the ceremony was nice and afterwards everyone lined up outside and waved the leavers off.

Today, however, has been the very picture of spring. In fact, it was so warm, I had to take off my jacket and was much more comfortable, wearing one of my summer jackets. There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky and my spirits are high. I’ve taken the bubble-wrap off my windows (it apparently acts as insulation, but I didn’t really notice any difference) and spring-cleaned my house this morning. I had today off in lieu of the fact that I had to spend the vast majority of my Saturday at school doing very little.

Yesterday, I decided to go into Iwakuni and get a hair cut. I’d seen a cheap little place near the station and just wanted to get rid of the mane I had been sporting for a while. I can assure you that the aforementioned mane is no longer in existence as I have had possibly the closest cut I have ever had. The hairdresser presented me with a variety of razor guards to determine how long my hair would be when he turned the cutting implements on me. Being a 2 or thereabouts in England, that was the one I chose. Stupid Mitchi-sensei. 2 here obviously means it leaves 2mm of hair as it goes. 2mm. Stopping the man mid-buzz, I was horrified to see skin. Head skin. My head skin. I was bald in one spot. Unfortunately, without looking like a complete asshole, I had to allow him to continue his scalping and to make it look as acceptable as possible. Consequently, it now looks as though I’ve had a buzzcut, therefore making me look like a marine. Being in Iwakuni and being white means people regard you as a marine anyway, but as I was walking along the street, two actual marines walked past and the look they gave me said “Why don’t we recognise you? You’re obviously one of us”. Even the marines think I’m one of them. The worst thing is, as I’m obviously not a marine, it means I now look like I’m trying to resemble one.

Other than that, not much is happening. The school year is winding to an end and the teachers are just looking forward to finishing with the awful textbook, New Horizon. Then, come the end of the month, I’m off to Malaysia. I’m hoping to get a suit made for me whilst I’m there and other than that, I’m just going to have a relaxing 10 days of seeing Kuala Lumpur and catching up with Hiza, with whom I lived for the first two years of university.

Anyway, will sign off now and continue with my West Wing marathon.

Till next time!

Mitch the Marine

Easy To Say March 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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It’s almost the end of term and things are starting to draw to a close. At elementary school, I’ve bid farewell to the 6th graders as they go on to bigger and better things. That said, a hell of a lot of them are going to end up as my 1st graders at Junior High so it wasn’t like it was a tearful event.

This Saturday I’ve got to be in school by 8am, all suited and booted and ready to say goodbye to the 3rd graders at Junior High as they really are leaving – they’re off to Senior High and so I probably won’t see them again. Unfortunately, I’ve not spent as much time with them as I’d have liked, but I still chatted with them when I could. It’s not going to be emotional by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll still be nice to give them a good send off. That said, I’m in Japan. The aforementioned ‘nice send off’ will be riddled with speeches, presentations, speeches and tradition. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: I’ll get to catch up on my sleep…

When I was standing in front of my 2nd graders at elementary school the other day, I realised just how much potential one of these kids has. I have two 2nd grade classes at this one school and they’re both by far the most absorbent classes I see. They remember things that we covered from months ago and they’re still able to use it with very little outside help. Some of them do speak in painful katakana English, but that’s forgivable, seeing as I write in katakana on the board, them not being able to read Roman letters just yet. But not only do they pay attention in class and do everything I tell them to; they speak to me outside of the class. I was walking around the playground the other day and this little boy was just standing around and when he saw me, he came over and said “How are you?” When I responded and reflected the question back to him, he was able to say (with more fluency than students 5 years older than him) that he too was good. It’s little things like this that make the job rewarding. I decided against teaching my kids inane things such as “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” or the sounds animals make, just because of what one of the elementary school teachers said to me. “I want my kids to be able to speak English.” Being able to speak English isn’t knowing that your elbow is called your elbow and not your foot. Being able to speak English is being able to communicate with people to find out about them or to tell them about you. At least that’s what it is here. So I like to think of myself as giving the kids the basics in communicating. They can do it in Japanese (although recent studies are showing that a lot of kids here are awfully stunted in their Japanese abilities) and they’re getting the foundation blocks of another language that doesn’t seem to be seriously challenged at the moment as the World Language.

So all in all, I’m having a really good stint at this malarkey. I’m still not about to sign away the rest of my life as a teacher but, compared to that day I wrote the blog about the aimless 1st graders at Junior High, I’m loving it. Japan is brightening up as Spring approaches and to be honest, I’m ready to shuck off my winter clothes, lose my winter weight and start to prepare to come home. I had a dream the other day that I got back to England and regretted coming back as there was so much that I hadn’t done whilst in Japan. But thinking about it, what’s left to do that I haven’t already done?

  • See the Sakura (cherry blossoms) – well, I might be in Malaysia whilst they’re in bloom, but hopefully they’ll still be around by the time I get back.
  • Go to Okinawa – when my Mum and Dad come to visit in July, we’ll be heading down there to spend a couple of days on the beach.
  • Go to Tokyo again – I’m going in May.
  • Go to the North of Japan – I’m going in June.
  • See a live, cultural event – I’m going to see some yabusame (archery on horseback) when I get back from Malaysia.

And that’s pretty much it. Most of the things I wanted to do when I first arrived have been done and so, hopefully, I can return to the fatherland with no regrets.

Anyway – I’m going to sign off and carry on reading. Am working my way through Steinbeck’s East of Eden at the moment. I will, no doubt, give you my opinions on it later. I can tell you already that it’s in a totally different league to Marian Keyes and *shudder* Cecelia Ahern.

Till next time!