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It’s All Over July 19, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Well, that’s it folks. Teaching is officially over. OK, so my contract is still valid until 5th August, but yesterday was my last day at school. Ever. They asked that I go in on 4th August, as it’s my last day in Kuga to say a final goodbye. But it’s finished. And I’m not sure how I feel.

I’m happy, because the job has driven me insane. But, despite the boredom, it has been my life for a year and a year is a long time and I’ve fallen in the routine. And I’ve met a lot of great people in Japan, who I’ll be sad to say goodbye to. But life moves on and I have to too, so bring it on, future.

On Thursday evening I had my final work party. They’re called enkai and, as far as I’ve been told, that translates as ‘drinking party’. The Japanese do love to drink, as noted in previous entries but, bless ’em, they can’t hold their drink. At all.

The party took place in a big hotel in Iwakuni, overlooking the Kintai Bridge (the only thing of interest in the city). The big banquet hall was reserved for us and the room was traditionally (but garishly) decorated. The food was good, including fish caught in the river that runs outside the hotel. In fact, there’s a show that goes on around about now, where you can watch Japanese fishermen using cormorants to help them catch the fish. The cormorants wear some kind of collar or something that prevents them from swallowing the fish that they catch. Apparently it’s quite a stunning show, so maybe my parents and I will give that a go.

Talking about my parents, having just checked the Narita Airport website, I can confirm that they are officially on Japanese soil. Now all they have to do is make the 9 hour train journey down to my end of the country. All hitches aside, they should be here by about 7:30pm tonight.

Yesterday was also my final speech to the kids. It had to be in Japanese, so I got a friend to write it. Everyone clapped, thinking I had been lying over the past year about not speaking Japanese. Then one of the 3rd graders read a speech in English to me and they presented me with a big bunch of flowers. A little different to the speech I had to give at the party.

They put me up with a microphone and I had to get a drunken English teacher to translate. I thanked them all for a great year and being kind and friendly. Then they heckled me. The drunk Japanese people heckled me! They asked me which of the students I thought was most attractive. Bearing in mind that these kids are between the ages of 12-15, I declined to answer. They also asked who my favourite students were and that I was able to answer.

And then it was over. The party finished rather abruptly, as did my time at the school. All of a sudden I just stood up and told them I was going. The flowers were wilting in the stuffy staff room and I didn’t want to hang around doing nothing for one last afternoon – I get sentimental, but not that sentimental.

And now my holiday begins. Today has been relaxing so far – sorting out beds and tidying things up in a last ditch attempt to make my apartment presentable. Then tomorrow, we’re into Iwakuni to see the aforementioned bridge. Hiroshima on Monday and then on another plane to Okinawa on Tuesday. This will probably be my last blog entry for a while, but there’ll be a big update when I return from my final Japanese adventure.

Till next time!

You Have To See It Through July 15, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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Well, the time has flown by. It’s now my last week at school. That said, I took yesterday off, so my last week at school will only consist of four days.

The weekend just gone was the Leavers’ Party in Hagi. Hagi is beautiful, but just so darn difficult to get to. Unless you want to brave the sporadic trains all the way up there, you have to take the bus. I’ve never been a huge fan of coach travel, but the buses that took us to and from Hagi weren’t very well air conditioned, which didn’t help me to like them more. But the party was good fun and, even though it was sad to say goodbye, the general atmosphere of the gathering was one of happiness at having completed quite a mammoth task. Some of those leaving have been here for 3 years and I can’t imagine a) why they stayed that long and b) how they are feeling about returning home to friends who have moved on with their lives and countries that have altered in many ways. I know that returning to England will be kind of hard – having done it once before, but I’ve been away for a year. My friends haven’t moved on that much and, those that have, have been in contact with me anyway, so there shouldn’t be too much to catch up on. People have been talking a lot recently about reverse culture shock. I’m not worried. I suffered it quite badly when I first got here and, even though I didn’t really mention it that much on here, there was a time when I seriosuly considered leaving. Packing up my things and throwing in the towel. This year in Japan has been full of experiences, both good and bad. Am I glad I stayed? Definitely. Had I not stayed, I might never have been to Vietnam, Korea and Malaysia. Had I not stayed, I wouldn’t have got to know the great people that I’ve got to know here. Had I not stayed, I probably wouldn’t have had plans to go to Sydney in 2010. Had I not stayed, I wouldn’t have had the experience of living in a country that is such a contradiction that I fear, were one to live here for a decade or so, one would invariably go insane. I’ve been dumbstruck by Japan’s beauty and the kindness of strangers. I’ve been shocked by the xenophobia and the rudeness of strangers. I’ve loved working with the kids at my schools. I’ve despised working with the kids at my schools.

Am I glad I stayed and saw it through? You betcha.

Don’t Cry Out Loud July 10, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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Today is my last day at my favourite school, Kuga Chuo Elementary. Looking back over the past year, I can’t recall a lesson at this school where I’ve despised every moment. Sure, I’m not about to wax lyrical saying that it’s a perfect school – there are actually quite a few special needs kids here and so classes can be nightmares. But on the whole, it’s been my saving grace each month. There are more teachers here that can speak English (ish) than any other school (kind of including Junior High, as there are only 3 English teachers and most of the rest can just about utter a few words). They’ve always been friendly and welcoming and in fact helpful with my piss poor attempts to butcher their language. The librarian often sits and chats with me – she is one of the best travelled Japanese people I’ve met. She was telling me today about her trip to the UK, which included London, the Cotswolds, the Lake District and the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. She lived in Iran with her husband for a year too (when she first told me this, I thought she said ‘Ealing’ and so told her that that is where my brother lives. Confusion ensued).

Unlike the other elementary school, the classes here have presented me with books of letters at the end of each class, saying thank you and goodbye to me. Of course they’re in Japanese, but I would much rather have that that stilted, incorrect English. All in all, it will be sad when 3pm rolls round and I have to bid farewell.

I’ve written out goodbye cards and I got a Japanese friend of mine to write some short sentiments down that I have faithfully copied out – therefore they’re going to think I’ve been lying about my inability to speak Japanese, but at least this way they will know what I’m on about.

Yesterday, I strolled around the school, taking random photos. I then wandered over to the pool where the 5th and 6th graders were having a swimming class. They all wanted me to join in but 1) I didn’t have anything to swim in and 2) the kids really weren’t ready for what’s underneath these clothes. As I’ve mentioned in numerous entries before, Japan has not been kind to my waistline. I’m not too bothered about it now – in a few weeks I’ll be on a beach in Okinawa, tanning my flab and let’s face it – tanned fat looks so much better than pasty white!

I’ve been trying to focus on the negatives recently (my Junior High has been helping, unawares) because I know that I will be sad to leave Japan. I know that once I get back home, living with my parents with no real income, it’s going to hit me how cushty this life was. But I know in my heart of hearts that I do need to come back – another year here, doing as little as I do would be catastrophic, both for my mental health and my weight!

Anyway – I just thought I’d let you know that it’s not all hate hate hate here and that I do enjoy certain aspects about the job. It’s just that, as of today, those aspects have been ended and I’m feeling a little sad.

Still, I’ve got the Leavers’ Party to look forward to and then the arrival of my parents. The last 4 weeks (for I have just under that left here) will be unforgettable as I bid Japan a farewell it’s not likely to forget.

Till next time!

Once Before I Go July 8, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Rantings.
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Time has really flown by this past year. I was reflecting the other day that it hardly seems I’ve been here a year, but then in other ways, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m worried that upon my return to England I’ll find everything relatively unchanged and I’ll get depressed at it all. However, on days like today, I long for my time here to end. The weather has turned again. Rainy season is at an end, officially. And now it’s just as it was when I first got here last year: hot, humid and impossible. The teachers all wander around, bemused looks on their faces, waving plastic uchiwa (fans) in front of their faces in a desperate effort to cool down and abate the inevitable sweats that mark their clothes in embarrassing places. Another reason I’m ready to go is the fact that for the past two days, I’ve had no lessons and very few people have even ventured to talk with me, meaning that I’ve had absolutely nothing to do and am slowly going mad. It’s just definitely time for me to leave Japan and return.

That said, tomorrow and Thursday I’m at my favourite elementary school and they’re my last days there. It will be sad to say goodbye to that school as it’s there that I actually feel like a teacher, have a good rapport with students and teachers alike and generally enjoy my time there. It’s on those days that I’m positive and full of the joys of Japan. But then I return to Junior High and it takes but an hour here to set me back.

The lack of air conditioning at school is also starting to wear thin. Once more the Japanese seem to take great pride in suffering through the weather whilst expending very little effort to make it easier on them. Take, for instance, the case of elementary school kids in winter. They have to wear their uniform, which is a polo shirt and shorts. In the winter. When it’s freezing, there’s no heating and quite often, windows are left open in order to “air out” the school. Only once they are ill are they allowed to wear long trousers, but once they’re well again, it’s back to the shorts.

Needless to say, the weather is not something I’m going to miss about Japan. I’m longing for the mediocrity of a British summer and can’t wait to have a winter where you don’t have to wear 18 layers of clothing just to go to work.

This weekend coming is the Leavers’ Party in Hagi. It’s a beach party (boo!) but will involve lots of good food, good company and good drink (yay!). It will be the last time I see a lot of the friends I made here and I’m sure it will be a sad event. However, it also marks the last weekend before my parents arrive. Once the Leavers’ Party is over, it means I have 5 boredom filled days left and then I will never again have to teach. Or sit in an un-air conditioned office (in England they have air conditioned offices, don’t you know), slowly turning insane. And then my parents come and I get to go to Okinawa and have a last explore of Japan.

It’s all coming to an end and, on days like this, the end couldn’t come sooner.

Till next time!

The Point Of No Return July 3, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Travel.
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Wow – how incredibley lazy have I been? It’s been a whole week since I last wrote a blog entry!

Well, last Friday saw Brooke and I waking up really early and trekking to the station through the hordes of my students on their way to school. Needless to say, it possibly wasn’t the best time to wear my new t shirt, emblazoned with the words “Baka gaijin”, which means ‘stupid foreigner’. The journey to Tokyo was relatively incident free. There were a few quick changes, but on the whole, we made everything and arrived at the time anticipated. The travelling is easy but long – it took about 7 hours for us to get there. And we weren’t actually going to Tokyo proper, rather Fussa, on the outskirts, where there is a US Air Force Base. Brooke’s cousin is in the Air Force and had booked us a room in the hotel on base. It was possibly the cheapest, nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There was a double bed in one room (given to me as it was my birthday weekend), a pull out sofa bed, a TV, a DVD player, a fully functional kitchen with an oven, a bathroom etc. The reason I mention the oven is because I’ve never been in a Japanese kitchen that comes equipped with an oven. It was great. And kind of scary – I’d not seen one in so long, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to work it. Luckily, the only thing we cooked there, was taken care of by Brooke.

So when we first arrived, we had to kill some time until JJ (Brooke’s cousin) had finished work so she could sign us onto the base as her guests. We strolled around the department store right by Fussa station and I bought some traditional Japanese sandals called geta. However, when I was practising walking in them the other day (they’re really weirdly shaped and actually quite difficult to negotiate), I forgot to take into account the fact that they raise me up by a good 3 inches or so and so cracked my head on the door frame. Not good. I also picked up a copy of 春の雪 (Haru no Yuki – a book by Mishima), in Japanese. Japanese books are relatively cheap and, even though I’m unable to read it, it’s still nice to have it in the original format, so to speak.

We met up with JJ at the Visitor’s Centre and had a chat with the two Japanese guards there. They were both amused by my t shirt, especially as I knew what it meant. They regaled us with stories about American soldiers getting kanji tattoos that meant nothing or, in worse situations, something rude. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and then went for dinner. Now, when I say the words Taco Bell to people from America, they go mental. It seems it’s somewhat of an institution there. However, for those in England who can remember when they were open on our humble shores, you’ll probably be reminded of chips covered with plasticky cheese, second-rate tacos and fried pig covered in cinnamon and sold as cinnamon twists. Needless to say, the presence of Taco Bell has long since disappeared from the UK. That said, I was still willing to give it a try, the Americans having made such a fuss. And it was good. Maybe not good for my bowels, but on the whole it was a good food experience. Not very Japanese, but, hey! I was technically in America (OK, it’s not America at all, but I was surrounded by American things – people, products, food – what’s a (fat) boy to do?). We then went over to JJ’s house where I met her dog, Rebel and her husband, Brian. The latter was kind of drunk when I met him and, when I asked for some Bailey’s (my first in over a year), he gave me a glass. Full. It took me a while to get through, but get through it I did. It would make my mother proud!

The next day, we were up early once again and on the road. Brooke and I travelled to Gotemba and then onto Yamanaka Lake, which is at the foot of Mount Fuji. It was a pretty miserable day, weather wise and so we didn’t get to see much of Fuji, save the very top on the way home. But we did go and do the thing I wanted to do – we went to the Mishima Museum. Now, it was small – very small. It was pretty much just one room, maybe a little bigger than my main room in my apartment. But there were original manuscripts and pictures and other such things that only a fan could take enjoyment from. Even though it took us 5 hours to get there, I was happy that I had made the effort. That said, it was great when we found that there was a bus almost directly home that only took 2 hours.

That night, I tried Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. The biscuits in the name refer to overly buttery scone-type things that you smother with honey. The chicken was ridiculously big. I ordered 3 pieces and was shocked to find that America must have some breed of mutant chicken. We also went to the cinema – again, my first time in almost a year. We saw the film Deception with Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor. It’s not bad, but the most interesting part of the night was the fact that the American National Anthem was played before the movie and everyone had to stand up for the duration of the song.

The next day, my actual birthday, was a little less successful. We went to Tama Reien Cemetery in order to find Mishima’s final resting place. I was told that his grave was in plot 13. How hard would it be? Well, given that Tama Reien Cemetery is about the size of China, very. We strolled around plot 13 for about 2 hours before the rain got to me and we gave up. We headed into Shinjuku where I bought myself a birthday present (a new external hard drive) and then travelled back to Yokota Air Base. Brooke and I sat in, ordered pizza and watched movies long into the night.

On Monday, we had to leave. Again, our journey back home was easy and we made all of our connections. In the hour or so we had to wait in Iwakuni, I headed to an electrical store to see if I could get a transformer so my hard drives work when I get back to England. I found an inexpensive one, but also found some hard drives stocked there that were a little cheaper than mine. I take comfort in the fact that my new one matches my laptop.

So that was my trip to Tokyo. I decided that I’m not actually a huge fan of Tokyo proper, but had a great time exploring the suburbs of the city.

This week has gone quickly since then. I’ve been at the ESIDL and am pleased to report that today was my last day there. It wasn’t a joyous occasion, but I wasn’t actually all that sad, especially as I wasn’t presented with an honorary plaque or at least a bunch of flowers. No kids cried. One kid showed me a dead baby bat. That was the only emotion anyone really showed. So I’m here at home now, cursing my other elementary school for the schedule they’ve just sent me. At that school, the 5th and 6th graders are one class ahead of the other kids and so I knew that I would have to plan another lesson just for them. But, looking at my schedule this morning, I see that they have put me in two more classes with each of those years, meaning I now have 2 more lessons to plan. As much as it sounds like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, the fact is, I like to teach my kids useful things that they’ll be able to use in conversational English. My lessons actually run together and they rely on the kids remembering what we’ve already covered. Which means that I now have to think of something else they can focus on, as I was just going to play games with them as way of a farewell.

That said, I only have 11 more days of school and then my teaching career is over. It’s really relieving to know that it isn’t that much longer before I can say goodbye to this profession that I hope never to come into contact with again.

Till next time!