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Flying Home August 5, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General.
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I’ve been at my keyboard for some moments now and the words are yet to flow. My time in Japan is over. Today is the last day of my contract and tomorrow I will board a plane back to England. This time last year, I was arriving in Tokyo for the Orientation Programme and now, with what feels like much less than a year behind me, I am saying goodbye to the country that has housed me.

It’s easy to get maudlin and reflect on how brilliant it’s been at times like this. My life is once again condensed into 3 bags and I find myself once again jobless and homeless. But Japan hasn’t been a walk in the park. It’s been harder than I thought it would at times, but much easier than I expected at others. It’s made me feel frustrated and impotent as there were many opportunities where hands were tied by etiquette or serf-like worship of occupational superiority. When I first arrived in Kuga, I cried and told myself that within two months I would be home. Add 10 to that and that is where we find ourselves today. Has it made me a better person? Maybe. Am I glad I stuck it out? Yes, indeed.

But life moves on. I’m writing this at just gone 7am, me not being able to sleep thanks to the copious amounts of adrenaline being shit through my system. This morning I will say goodbye to Brooke and Wakabayashi and board a train for Tokyo. The prospect of finishing packing with my bags as full as they already are is enough to keep anyone awake.

On Sunday, I joined Martin, my English teacher and his family for karaoke. His two daughters are in classes of mine at my favourite elementary school and so they both know me. Karaoke was fun, especially as there were lots of children’s songs being sung and I got to see the weird animation with which they entertain their kids here. Afterwards, we all went for sushi and I wasn’t allowed to pay for my share, rather directed to donate a pittance just for show. So an afternoon in good company with good food and entertainment cost me the equivalent of a fiver. A far reach from Gaz’s karaoke place in London where one is charged £65/hr for the use of a room, drinks on top of that.

Yesterday, having attended the official goodbye meeting with the Head of the Iwakuni Board of Education, I went into Kuga Chugakko one last time to see the teachers. It being the school holidays, not many were in, but I got to see a few. The school nurse sought me out to give me a present which lies still wrapped on my desk. The thing is, it’s a very small package and I want it to stay that way for the time being for packing purposes! What struck me most about this is that I’ve swapped very few words with the woman and yet she saw it fit to buy me a parting gift. Martin gave me letters from his two little girls that included photos of them for posterity. As I left school and made my way for the last time through the tennis courts, I was set upon my the boys tennis club, who always saw me off after every day at Junior High. It kind of made it real that it was over.

The thing is, I’m not sad. I know that to stay another year would be a huge mistake. But I also know that the idea of ‘the future’ is scary and unknown. I relish the challenge however, and hope that this year abroad has helped expand my horizons. Who knows what it will bring…

It’s All Over July 19, 2008

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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

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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!

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!

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.
1 comment so far

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!