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You Take Out Lisaikaraburu! (Recyclables) June 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Life in Japan, Rantings.
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This will be my last blog as a 22 year old. I was chatting with my dad the other day and I was speculating that I’m getting old. Now, upon reading that, most of you will roll your eyes and moan about the fact that I’m making a big deal out of turning 23. I know that the age itself isn’t old and that people who are that age or older aren’t necessarily “old”. But the only thing that it freaking me out is the fact that I’m turning 23. It just seems much older than I feel. I suppose that I’m going to have to get used to that.

School this week has been boring, but I’ve now taken to putting movies and the like on my iPod the night before school and watching them when I’m doing nothing. Today’s offering was Jurassic Park, through which I marvelled that it still looks as cutting edge as it did when it was first released 15 years ago. Tomorrow morning, Brooke and I are setting out early for the 8am train. Rather comically, we’ll be arriving in Tokyo at about 3pm. That’s how far away I live from the capital!

Today was only funny in the fact that it saw Julie describe the author of the textbook we use, New Horizon, as “a major league asshole”. It also saw me yelling expletives at someone who almost knocked me off my bike, only to see a big group of my kids on the other side of the road. Ah well – they get a real education with Mitchi-sensei!

I’ve not got much to report. It’s now official that my successor won’t be taking my apartment and therefore, Julie dropped hints that I should clean it ALL out. I can assure you, there is no way on God’s Green Earth that I’ll be tidying up all the crap that has been left in this apartment over the years. There are kendo sticks, cricket bats, two ironing boards, a cupboard full of weird stuff to use in lessons, wardrobes full of lesson plans and flashcards etc. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of teaching English paraphernalia. And I am quite unwilling to be the poor mug who has to bag it all up and throw it out, especially as Japanese binmen are the most picky people I’ve ever encountered. If you put the plastic label from a bottle of Coke in with the bottles, your bin bag will be left where you placed it; the binmen having refused to take it as you left the label on. You’re supposed to sort your rubbish in many countries, but here, you actually have to take it apart. When I first moved here, I purged my apartment of all the ashtrays. One had to be deconstructed because it was burnable (made out of wood), non-burnable (plastic bits) and metal (inner tray). Therefore, it had to be physically broken apart in order to be put in the right bags. It’s a royal waste of time and luckily, my bin men don’t seem to be as bad as others. In the past, if they’ve left my bags there, I’ve neglected to taken them in to reorganise them and they’ve eventually just been taken.

Anyway, I’m going to stop waffling on and go and pack for tomorrow’s trip!

Till next time!

Sunday In The School With Mitch June 22, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Well, it’s Sunday (a week before my birthday, too!) and I once again find myself sitting in a stifling staffroom, lamenting the lack of work I’m given to do. I knew today was going to be annoying, it being the weekend and all, but I was told that I would be in two lessons. I get to school bright and early (well, not so bright, actually – it’s grey and miserable) and am told that, actually, I’ll only be in one lesson. It’s a good thing I updated my iPod with some movies to kill the time!

The rest of this week should be fairly run of the mill. I have Monday off in view of the fact that I was dragged against my will into school today. I also have Friday off – I took a day of holiday because all that’s happening is the kids are getting tested so there would have been no lessons for me and I would prefer to spend more time in Tokyo! Yes, I’m off to Tokyo on Friday morning for a long weekend of literary pursuit! On Saturday I will be visiting the Yukio Mishima Museum at the foot of Mount Fuji (alas, it’s rainy season, so if it’s cloudy and rainy, I don’t think I’ll get a very good view) and on the Sunday I’ll be taking a trip to Tama Reien to visit his grave. Then, it’s into Akihabara, where that massacre was a few weeks back, to buy a new external hard drive. I’m not sure if I mentioned in a previous post, but I bought a 250GB one when I first got here and now it’s pretty much full, so I want another! Whilst electricals on the whole are about the same price as in England, it seems to me that hard drives are a little cheaper here than what I would expect to pay back home.

On Friday, I was supposed to be going into Tokuyama to buy my shinkansen tickets for Tokyo – if you buy them a week in advance, you save about £50. However, rainy season hit with full force and the torrential rain never stopped that day. So, because my train line is old and doddery, the trains were either cancelled or severely delayed. Luckily, a friend was on call to go and pick them up for me. Yesterday, the rain had eased off a little, so Brooke and I decided to make the journey. Usually, it takes about 45minutes to get from Kuga to Tokuyama on the Gantoku line. Yesterday, it was more like 2 hours. We met up with Daniel, paid him for the tickets, ate dinner and got on the train back, convinced that it would take forever to make the journey. Coming back it wasn’t so bad, but as Daniel had lovingly mentioned previous to us getting the train, that it seemed like I’d gained quite a bit of weight, the ride back home was a little subdued. I know that I’ve put on weight and it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that he had brought it up, even though it was a little unorthodox. The thing that got me was that I know that I’ve ballooned, but that I have absolutely no desire to do anything about it whilst I remain in Japan. That’s another reason why it’s a good thing that I’m leaving. Were I to stay here another year, I would probably get even worse. So, I’m just going to continue what I’m doing and worry about sorting it out later. The thing is, I know that I can dedicate myself to the gym once I get back (and have enough money to join one), because I did it in my final year at Uni. So it’s no an impossibility. But here, it is. The closest gym is about a 40 minute bike ride away and involves ditching the bike and hiking up a mountain, thus rendering any further workout superfluous. Also, the weather doesn’t help. It rains almost constantly and it’s hot as well, meaning that it’s ridiculously humid. If I don’t sit under an air conditioner, I soon dwindle into a sweaty mess. The other day in class I actually felt like I was giving a lesson in the Tropical House at Kew Gardens. It’s just uncomfortable all the time, and the only prospect of escape is leaving Japan.

In other news, all of my trip to Okinawa has now been paid for, as has my inhabitant tax. Even though this totaled almost £1000, my employers actually paid me the extra money. The irony is that the Board of Education in Iwakuni is a division of the local government, meaning that the government gave me the money, only for me to hand it back to them on the same day. But it’s paid for and out of the way. I’ve also managed to put aside over the months, the £300 I have to pay upon leaving my apartment in order to replace all the tatami mats and screen doors.

I was also contacted by a friend I met at Tokyo Orientation and have not seen since (but remained in contact via the Internet with) the other day, telling me that he is also flying out of Tokyo on the same day as me, just a little later. Luckily, we are both arriving in the city the night before the flights and so are going to meet up for a last supper in Tokyo. The only difficulty that may arise is the fact that by that time we will both have paid our final mobile phone bills and they will therefore be useless. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll find a way.

Right, I suppose I better get on and do absolutely nothing for the majority of the rest of the day.

Till next time!

Breezin’ Through Another Week June 18, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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Aside from the fact that I have to work this Sunday, things are starting to look up. For the next two days, I’m based at my favourite elementary school, teaching the kids about hobbies and animals. On Friday, not only do I get paid again, but I get to pay for the rest of my holiday to Okinawa and book my train tickets to Tokyo for my birthday. Then, next week, I only have 3 days at school and I’m then off, gallivanting around the capital! Today, I was also given my final schedule for July. I have 6 more days at elementary (including 3 at the ESIDL, but I’m sure I can just suck it up and enjoy it for the last time). I’m also going to take in my camera and snap some of the little darlings.

The shining crown of the good things that have occurred this week must be the fax I received today. I now have a date for my return. I leave humble Kuga at 10:35am on the morning of Tuesday 5th August. Travelling via Hiroshima, I make my way back up to Tokyo. Strangely, the people who booked my trip thought it best I spend a night in Tokyo at my own expense, which was nice of them. So, bright and early the next morning, I will make my way to Narita International Airport and board a Virgin Atlantic plane bound for London Heathrow. I therefore arrive back in the homeland on Wednesday 6th August at 3:30pm. How great is that? The only downside (there always has to be one), is the fact that I’ll therefore be in West London, jet-lagged, tired and utterly gross from well over 24 hours journeying and somehow have to make my way back to Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire. It’s not going to be a pretty sight and I may collapse a few times along the way, but I’ll be back in England, breathing English air and living an English life.

That said, I was in class today and the enormity of what I’ve been doing for the past 11 months hit me. I’ve lived in a foreign country where I have little to no communication skills. I’ve survived a horribly humid summer and a bitter, heating-less winter. I’ve dealt with arsey kids and incompetent teachers. I’ve cleaned schools, I’ve done gardening. I’ve survived in a country that holds mystery for many people worldwide. And I’ve lived to tell the tale. To be honest, I don’t care if none of you lot are, but I’m proud of myself. I don’t think it takes any strength of character to live abroad, but it does take the willingness to attempt it, even if you fail doing it. I firmly believe that anyone can get off their arse and move to a foreign country, but it doesn’t prevent me from feeling proud that I was one of those who gave it a go. I know that I want to stay in England for a bit longer than I did in between my last stint abroad and now, but being here has told me that the world really is my oyster and there’s nothing to stop me from seeing a lot of it. I truly have caught the urge to travel, but my Grandmother tells me that this is simply in my blood – the Wilson travel bug, as she called it. My Grandfather was in the Royal Engineers and lived in many places, including Libya and Germany before returning to England and settling. However, even then they both went off on coach tours all over Europe. I know a person who used to work on a cruise ship and has consequently seen most countries with a coastline. I truly envy him for having seen so much of the world and I hope that one day, I can say that same. What’s the point of being on this planet when you only see that tiny square of it that you inhabit? It just strikes me as wasteful, is all.

Till next time!

Loose Ends June 15, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random.
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Today I am 22 and 50 weeks old. In two weeks time, I will be in Tokyo, having visited the Yukio Mishima museum at the foot of Mount Fuji, enjoying my first meal as a 23 year old.

The week that has just gone wasn’t really my best, I’ve got to say. 3 of the lessons I was supposed to give were without a main Japanese teacher, meaning I had no way of communicating with the kids and therefore no real way to get them to do what I wanted. However, my apathy is such that I just let them do whatever they wanted, occasionally getting them to repeat random English words. If my school is going to dump lessons like that on me, I can’t be bothered to waste my time trying to keep a class in order when I can’t understand what the kids are saying and vice versa. Tomorrow is my last day at the ESIDL (the scene of the aforementioned ‘terror lessons’) and I’m pretty certain that it will be my last. As the term ends on 18th July, I’m not sure if I’ll be sent there again, given there’s not that much time left. However, if I am, rest assured that my lessons will be much more inane than normal, the final shreds of any loyalty/enthusiasm for my job absent by that point. I then have two days at Junior High, which will no doubt be spent on Facebook and heatworld.com, whiling away my time until Thursday and Friday, when I’ll be at the elementary school that I do like. The blight of the week to come? That would be next Sunday. For some reason, I have to go into school and I can guarantee that it’ll be for the whole day. It’s a parent’s day, which means the kids will be in lessons and I’ll probably be dragged out as the foreign monkey. That said, no one has told me what will be happening and so far, that means that it’ll be another day spent on the computer without air conditioning or a will to live. I do get Monday off as compensation, but it does little to calm me from having to split open my weekend to go and spend a non-day in the concrete shell that is my base school.

The week following this is slightly better. I have but three days at Junior High, as I’ve taken the Friday off. In fact, I’ve also taken the Monday (30th June) off too, so I have a nice long weekend surrounding my birthday.

I’ve not really got much else to report. I’ve been watching far too many series, but am now able to catch up with them all, what with most of them having finished recently (Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck, Ugly Betty, One Tree Hill, Lost, Heroes and the like). This means I’m able to catch up on things like Spooks that I missed since being in Japan. Other than lots of TV watching, my life has been pretty stagnant.

Yesterday, as I lay in bed, first thing in the morning, I heard someone talking outside. For a short, glorious moment, I thought it was someone talking in English, reminiscent of when I would wake up and hear people talking on the street or my mum talking on the phone, when I was in England. It really made me long for the familiarity of being home. I know that when I get back home and the novelty has worn off, I’ll long for my relatively carefree life in Japan, where not much was expected of me and I had a job and therefore money to do stuff. It will also be hard to go back to living with other people, as I’ve quite enjoyed the whole ‘living alone’ thing. But, I’m also excited about what the future holds. I’m actually longing to get a real job, most of my friends having left University and found gainful employment. OK, they may not necessarily be doing what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but just to have a job that they don’t hate strikes me as something brilliant. Most people’s first question when they learn of my imminent return to the UK is “What will you do once you’re back?” This question is starting to grate a little, especially as I have no clue what I will do. I don’t have a plan, nor do I have any aspirations as of yet. It’s kind of scary and I liken it to the reef in Finding Nemo. Nemo and his father live on the reef and at the edge of the reef is a shelf, where the reef stops and the deep ocean begins. Up until now, my life has been happily on the reef. But with my leaving Japan less than 50 days away, I’m fast approaching the drop off point into the abyss. I know that I will get a job, because things tend to fall into place, but it’s just the not knowing that gets to me. I know that I could stay here for another year, but that idea makes me want to cry, so that’s definitely out. I also tell people that I’m sick of living for the weekends as I do here, but what’s to say that when I get a job in England it won’t put me in exactly the same spot as I am right now?

Anyway, these are just a few of the thoughts flying around my head. Those notwithstanding, there are lots of things that I am looking forward to: my trip to Alton Towers, going to the Edinburgh Festival, seeing ‘The Last Five Years’ in October etc. Also, the other day, while bored at the ESIDL, I looked up mobile phones. Phone shopping always excites me and so looking at the funky new models that I can indulge in when I get back really made me long for home. People think of Japan as being a forerunner in technology, but it’s seriously lacking. Most mobile phones here are chunky and simplistic. I despise my phone and it often gets thrown around in my frustration at its general crapness.

But, once again, I find myself waffling. I promise that the next entry I write will be much more interesting!

Till next time!

Feel The Rain Fall June 9, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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There is a teacher at my school, let’s call him Thomas. His job is basically to be miserable and grumpy. I wish that I was kidding, but when I was chatting with Martin today, I mentioned that this Thomas seemed perpetually pissed off. Martin looked at me and explained that this was his job and it is, contrary to whatever I or anyone else may say, an integral role in the running of a Japanese High School. The only translation I’ve found for this man is: “The teacher in charge of leading the students”. From this, I’ve ascertained that he is there to show them how to be proper little Japanese people, making sure their bowing is up to standard, that they behave when they’re supposed to and that they can follow the military drills that are somehow part of compulsory education in this country. Earlier on, when we were outside in the baking sun, having just replanted the big concrete flower beds outside the entrance of the school, Thomas threw a total hissy fit because the kids, knackered, sweaty and muddy, didn’t stand up all in time with each other. They then had to practice sitting down on the sand because they apparently weren’t up to scratch on that either. I seriously want to go and tell this guy to take a chill pill, but I’m unable to find a suitable Japanese equivalent…

The weekend that has just passed was spent in Iwakuni. Brooke and I stayed with Matt and Sophie and we ate, drank and played Wii a lot. I got my hair cut and we went out for a meal, before exploring Iwakuni’s nightlife. We met some Marines and asked them if there was anything worthwhile on the outskirts of the base. Apparently not. They said that there was one bar in the centre of town that was worth checking out. So we checked it out. And found that it was closed. We all headed back to Matt and Sophie’s, where we consequently fell asleep. Before midnight. It was dubbed the Best Night Out That Never Was. We all had fun, but didn’t realy do much – it was just a relaxing weekend, all in all.

I’ve just been told that I will be heading back to England sooner than originally anticipated. My supervisor has told me that the chances are, I’ll be flying back on 2nd August. This unfortunately means that I’m going to have to cut my trip with my parents short by one evening so I can be back at my apartment in order to pay the final bills and sort everything out. It’s basically going to be a hectic last couple of weeks. And the thing is, I have most of my weekends from then until now planned, so it’s kind of worrying that there is so little time for me to, once again, pack up my life. And the other reason that it’s so annoying is that it’s not as though I can start packing up too far in advance because I still need everything in my apartment (other than my winter clothes).

On that note, it is definitely getting much hotter here. Luckily my air conditioner is now fixed, but we’re all just waiting for the rainy season to being. After it’s over, it will be much more humid, but I just hope that it’s finished by the time my parents get here. They get in here in about 6 weeks and the rainy season takes about that long to pass and it still hasn’t begun yet. Come on, rain! Isn’t it always the way – when you want it to rain, it never does…

Till next time!

I’ve Grown Accustomed To Japan June 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.
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June has well and truly begun and with it, the start of my wind-down towards my homeward return. I don’t have a full week of Junior High School at all this month, them all being broken up by visits to kindergartens (I have another one of those tomorrow) and elementary schools. In contrast to previous posts, I’m trying to remain positive about my working environment and thinking about how much I will miss being paid to do absolutely nothing all day. That said, the set up here is really starting to grate. The new Vice Principal that I mentioned in an earlier post, Steve. Well, he’s really starting to get on my nerves with his spontaneous requests that I go and teach his student. Just the one – she’s one of the girls at this school with special needs and I really don’t like being dropped into a class with no time to prepare. He asked Julie today if I was free to go to her class and I politely refused – thank God someone else had asked me to go to their classes. Don’t get me wrong – she’s a sweet kid and the lessons with her are easy (especially at the moment when all I have to do is teach her the alphabet). But, Steve swears that she loves my ‘classes’ when, most of the time, she sits looking out of the window or looking ridiculously bored.

Other than that, things are peachy. As I said, there’s a student teacher, Maggie, and today we have 3 classes together. She still hasn’t really told me what I’m going to need to do, other than show pictures of my family using “This is…” and “He/She is…” The rest of the goings-on in the class have been kept from me.

The weather here is starting to perk up – most days it reaches a balmy 26°C and my newly fixed air con has come into play a few times recently. I also tidied my apartment and rearranged some furniture and it’s getting ready for the arrival of my non-JET successor.

There has been a noticeable absence on my blog of “I Should Tell You” posts, and I would like to venture an explanation. When I first got to Japan, lots of things were new and weird. Now, they’re just old and weird and I don’t necessarily see them as noteworthy. One thing I am yet to get to grips with, however, is the WWII-esque air raid siren that goes off in some townships around here to indicate the time. Walking through Iwakuni and the peaceful surrounds of the Kintai Bridge a few weeks back, enjoying the peace and tranquility, I was suddenly wrenched from my stupor by a piercing signal that I associate with the idea of having to run for cover into a flimsily-constructed corrugated metal shed.

I have also been looking at places that I can take my parents to visit, when they make their trip out here in July. We’re going to spend a few days in Okinawa, touring Naha (the prefectural capital) and Kume, an island about 90km off the coast of Okinawa proper. We’re also going to tour Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka. The thing with Japan is, it’s a total contradiction to itself. On the one hand it has stunning scenery that has the ability to stop you in your tracks and reflect. Then, on the other, its cities are monuments to the short-termism of post Second World War. Concrete jungles that rise and swamp whatever ancient culture may remain, the cities are tangled messes of overhead wires; narrow back alleys, populated with hostess bars and food stalls, ranging from ramen shops to Western fast food; and matchbox houses, squeezed together on nameless streets. Kyoto, long considered the cultural epicentre of the country and former ancient capital is an ugly 50s abortion of drab greyness and vibrant shrines. I do really like Kyoto (having been there all of one time), but you don’t come to Japan for pretty cities. Gone are the Memoirs of a Geisha-like winding streets, filled with kimono-sporting geiko and pagoda-style housing. Instead, the city throbs around it’s myriad temples and antiques.

It’s not just Kyoto. Osaka has been referred to as having “Blade Runner style skylines” and Tokyo is a swirling mess of neon, department stores and grime. But, as I said before, Japan also has mountains and valleys that will stop you in mid-step. On the slow train from Kuga to Tokuyama, you pass through towns and villages such as Takamizu and Yonekawa and the vistas from the train are just awe-inspiring. The densely forested mountains stretch far into the distance and, dotted between the now flooded rice paddies are archaic little houses, spouting smoke from their chimneys, their owners pottering around their land. I once said that I had been lucky enough to get the best of both worlds: I live in rural Japan and get to experience daily life in such a community. But I can also get away and visit the big urban cities and experience that way of life too. However, had I been placed in Osaka or Kyoto, where would I start to go about exploring “rural Japan”? It’s much too vast a concept to even begin to try and break into. So it was my luck to be placed in Kuga, so I can leave after a year and say that I have lived in the real Japan and not just the ultra-modern, technologically-dependent portrayal that the West receives.

Till next time!