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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.

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!

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!

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.
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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!

All Through The Night May 26, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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Another week starts. I’m back at Junior High School, I’m ill and I’m tired. This weekend was my friend, Steph’s birthday and we celebrated it in Fukuoka with a night out full of Mexican food, drunken Japanese guys and karaoke. The thing that made this event stand out, was the sheer length of the festivities and the lead-up thereof. On Friday, after kindergarten, I left Kuga and travelled to Shimonoseki to stay the night with my friends Anita and Daniel. We ate pizza, watched movies and generally had a good Friday evening in.

We woke up relatively early on Saturday and lazed around, eating pancakes and watching a Margaret Cho DVD. We made a relaxed journey into Fukuoka on the bus, most of which I slept through, knowing that the night ahead would be quite intense.

The group of party-goers met and we all made our way to the restaurant; El Borracho. The food was really nice, but the portion sizes weren’t really sufficient for most of us, so we ended up ordering a lot. Drinks weren’t too cheap either, but seeing as this is my one major weekend away this month (by month I mean 21st May-20th June), I figured I could deal with it. That said, as a group we managed to eat and drink our way through 70,000 yen’s worth of stuff – roughly £350.

We then made our way to the Happy Cock, an infamous International Bar in Fukuoka. It was my first time there and, as much fun as the evening as a whole was, it will also be my last. It was basically a sordid, fetid meat market where, if you weren’t trying to dry hump everything in sight, you were in a minority. We stayed there most of the night, gradually decreasing in size. At one point a small breakaway group of us ventured further afield, but returned to see the rest of the night out there. By this time it was about 4:30am and those who were left traipsed to the karaoke place near the Happy Cock. We sat around and sang for 2 hours, covering such classics as “Your Song” by Elton John, “Rooftops” by the Lostprophets and “Go Go Power Rangers”.

Having sated our signing desires and leaving the karaoke to be greeted with daylight and people beginning to go about their Sunday, I decided that enough was enough and so boarded a train and made my way home. I got back to my house just before 11am. Now, that’s the definition of an all-nighter!

Consequently I’m quite tired, but I napped a bit here and there throughout yesterday. The cold has been coming since Friday, so I figure I’ve probably picked it up from one of my kids – the perils of teaching, I suppose.

This week will mainly be spent at Junior High, with one venture to another kindergarten. Today, I met a new student teacher, Maggie. She’s really short and when I first laid eyes on her, I wondered why one of my students was wearing a suit to school. She’s 21, giggles a lot, but seems to be very genki (enthusiastic and up beat) in class, so it probably makes a refreshing change for the kids, who have got used to me.

I also heard tell that my area won’t be going with the JET Programme again. It’s not been confirmed, but I have a meeting about it later on today. If so, it means that I’m going to have to sell my stuff off to other people who are staying in Japan, lest I bequeath all of the things I can’t take home to a stranger for free.

Till next time!

Schadenpenis May 23, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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I’m just back from kindergarten and I feel violated. Never before has my penis been the object of so much anger and violence. I arrived a little earlier than expected, just so I could get some time in with the kids before my lesson at 10am. The moment the kids saw me they just went mental and started screaming and running around. Most of them eyed me warily to begin with, but once I had picked up one little punk and dangled him upside down for a little bit, they seemed to warm to me a bit. However, the fact that I was able to incapacitate them by picking them up/making them do whatever I wanted, this seemed to open the floodgates of Mitchell-based abuse. It started off with them trying to kancho me. Kancho, if I haven’t explained in previous posts, is the Japanese word for enema and it involves the kids trying to stick their fingers up your ass. I don’t know why they get so much pleasure from trying to do it, but I can safely say that my ass has never warranted so much attention. Ever.

This one little kid was constantly trying to pinch me and when he did, it was actually quite painful. As I was rubbing my bruised arm after another vicious attack, I thought of what had happened a long time ago. When my brother and I were little, we once pushed our way into the bathroom whilst my mum was trying to get some alone time whilst taking a dip. In came the dog as well and started to lick her face. When he got a little too zealous and bit her nose, it was the last straw and my mum grabbed the dog’s snout and bit him back. He never tried to bite anyone again.

I thought of this when the little kid refused to heed my warnings and my stern tellings off. So I reached out and pinched him. Hard. It didn’t seem to phase him that much, but whenever he pinched me again, he would get a harder one in return. He soon left me alone and I feel that maybe I taught him a lesson: Don’t piss someone off who’s 10 times your size.

So the onslaught of attacks on my penis began pretty much after my lesson finished. We played card games and ran around a lot and there was quite a bit of screaming, but I figure that it’s kindergarten, so if they aren’t running around and generally wrecking the place, then I’m not doing my job right. This first kid ran at me and headbutted me right in the crotch. Luckily, he was kind of small and so didn’t do much damage, but this illicited cries of “Chin-chin! Chin-chin!” (roughly translated as “Willy! Willy!”) which then led to more attempts to disable me. They tried headbutting me, grabbing me, poking me, throwing beanbags at me etc. But, when I say “at me”, I actually mean “at a certain part of me”. Them having small wrists and being kind of slow, I was able to deflect a lot of incoming fists and apparatus, but some really hit home. In the end, I just went and sat down and they all tired of me until I stood up again.

Then they climbed on me. This is pretty normal and I can deal with that. But, when one girl grabbed onto my t-shirt for the seventy-eighth time and I heard a sad ripping sound, I pulled her off me and left her to figure out that she’d pissed me off. So she hit me. She almost ripped the shirt off my back, but I was the one to blame. I got into the habit of just leaving them and going elsewhere. I knew if I didn’t, I was going to throw the big Thomas the Tank Engine toy at them and get asked to leave.

That said, I still had an amazing day and, even though I can’t really speak with the kids, when I’m drawing with them or playing games with them, you don’t need to talk. There’s an innate desire in them to communicate and so language is no issue. You just find a way. In fact, that’s been a lot of my time here – learning how to communicate without opening my mouth. It’s surprising how much you can understand just through gestures, facial expressions and someone constantly trying to punch you right in the testes.

Till next time!

We Got A Hot Crustacean BBQ May 1, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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It really doesn’t seem like almost a whole week since I last inflicted a blog entry on this site – how time flies when you’re doing nothing. That said, I had a great day on Tuesday.

We’re entering the period in Japan called Golden Week. This is when a lot of Bank Holidays are grouped together, providing quite a bit of time off. However, this year (typical! Bloody typical!) they’re not really grouped, which means that this week, we had Tuesday off, but still had to come into school on Wednesday, today and tomorrow. On Tuesday, a big group of English teachers headed down to a spotless beach in Yanai and had a barbecue. We were quite the attraction as we strolled through the small groups of Japanese families picnicking and the like. Luckily, no one had seen fit to claim the big pavilion at the end of the picnic area and so we took over. The grill was set up and we went about cooking the vast quantities of meat we had just purchased. All of a sudden, a group of Japanese people started to wander over towards us, bringing plates of food. As it turned out, they’d been fishing and caught too much, and so were giving it to us. They basically hoisted a huge bag of gutted fish onto us and some sliced squid. All very nice of them. When they brought over a whole squid; beak, shell and tentacles included, some people got a little squeamish. When I mentioned that I wouldn’t have a clue where to start with a whole squid, someone told me that we weren’t supposed to eat it – it was just supposed to sit on our grill and look good. So, nestled amongst our sliced vegetables and breaded chicken sat this squid, occasionally expelling ink and twitching whilst the other food cooked on. Eventually it just got burnt and was left to one side, doomed to the rubbish bin.

The beach itself was very clean, but the sand was full of broken up shells and was therefore quite painful to kneel in. Yes, kneel. I decided that I wanted to dig a hole so deep that if I stood in it, you couldn’t see me. Unfortunately, the beach had other plans. Being a man made beach, one could only dig 3 feet or so down before a layer of concrete was uncovered. The hole did get to waist height, but it fell upsettingly short of the mark. So generally, we just lazed around, tossed a Frisbee to each other and uncovered a nest of things that looked like prawns but jumped – we dubbed them water cockroaches. Then, as the sun began to set over the mountains, we settled down to another barbecue to finish up the stuff we didn’t get round to the first time. All in all, a very relaxing way to spend a day off.

Since then, I’ve been stuck at school doing very little. The only point worth mentioning happened yesterday. After school, I headed down to the supermarket and passed lots of my kids on the way. Some of them walk along with me and ask questions. This one boy, who’s English isn’t brilliant, asked me if I had a girlfriend. After answering him, I asked him and his friend if they did. Whilst he said no, the other looked kind of sheepish, so I focused my attention on him. I discovered that he in fact had 4 “girlfriends”. I told him that in England we would call him a slut and he seemed genuinely shocked. Knowing my luck, that’s a word they know in Japan and I’m going to get in trouble for being mean to one of my students. Oh well…

There’s not much else to report. I have tomorrow off because I’m flying to Seoul until next Tuesday. To be honest, I may have only just got back from one holiday, but I’m really looking forward to getting away again. School is so wearing, just because I don’t have anything to do! But once I come back, it’s almost into the second week of May, meaning that I have but 2 months before the school term ends and I have my freedom back! I’m sure I’ll be sad to leave the kids, but not the job. But anyway – got to ride it out till then.

Till next time!

The Morning Report April 18, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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So, the first week back at school is drawing to a close. To be honest, I’ve had worse weeks, so there’s nothing to moan about. I’ve been getting accustomed to my new place (where all the teachers watch me as I play games and ask me about the rules and kids wander in and chat with my friends (through me) on MSN) and the new faces. There’s a new English teacher as well. Joining myself, the ever-infamous Julie and the shy-and-retiring Martin is a new friendly face in the form of Karen. Karen used to work with Lucy, but the powers that be saw it necessary to bring her to Kuga Junior High School. In Japan, a teacher doesn’t really get the choice of where they teach. They are government officials and so, if the government in question decides that they want you on the other side of the prefecture, you move. You move job, you move house, you move responsibilities. Basically, once you become a teacher, your ass is theirs.

But Karen seems to be settling in well. She’s in charge of teaching the new first graders who I’ve been teaching for the past 8 months at my two Elementary schools (for the record, the ESIDL is actually OK, but I feel there’s a need to distinguish between the two schools and so the acronym remains). They like her and are getting used to her new classroom manner which, as they’re new, they would have had to do anyway. In our most recent classes together, I’ve been testing them on the things I’ve been going over for the past 6 months (the first couple of months, my lessons were absolute crap, where I fell back on colouring in and the like which, let’s face it, isnt’ very good practice in English. But, what can I say? I was new and had never had to plan an entire class myself – it took me a while to get a proper momentum) just to make sure they hadn’t entirely forgotten everything. I’ve got to say, the kids did me proud by, on the most part, remembering everything we’d covered.

There are quite a few new faces actually. I was formally introduced to one of the new Vice Principals the other day. His name is Steve and it was going very well and I was the epitome of confused, yet respectful gaijin (foreigner). It was then that he chose to reach out his hand and pat my stomach. All traces of formality dissipated and I felt like punching him in the face. Of course, I didn’t but, this being Japan, I’m not sure how the other people would have reacted. They may have just looked on with bemused horror, rather than rushing to restrain the violent, erratic white boy in their school.

Yesterday held no less than three encounters with Japanese nature for me. The first was the appearance of a mukade in one of my classes. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned them before, but mukade are the poisonous centipedes whose bites have been known to kill babies and old people. Apparently, if you wake up and one is on your face, you have to wait until it decides to scuttle off, lest it bites you. So one of those strolled into the class and caused a bit of a stir, not least because Martin is shit scared of them too. One of the boys got a ruler and flicked it out, managing not to get bitten in the process. The second encounter was with the giant wasp that decided to set up home outside my window. Brooke informs me that it takes less than 10 of these wasps to destroy a hive of 30,000 bees. So, for the past couple of days I’ve watched this wasp lay her eggs and attach it to my window. Even though it grossed me out, I knew I would have to nip this in the bud before an entire nest appeared and I was beset by killer wasps, so yesterday, frustrated with my Hamleteqsue procrastination, I grabbed a flip-flop and decimated an entire family. The third instance was as I was leaving my house for the station. As I opened my front gate, something fell off it and scampered underneath so I couldn’t see it. As I slowly eased the gate open I discovered that the cause of my vexation was a small, sandy-coloured lizard. It was actually quite cute, but had scared the bejeezus out of me. As it clambered my wall, I noted that it was, in fact, the exact same colour as the outside wall of my apartment. I don’t know if it was a colour-changing lizard or if it was naturally that colour, but I kind of hope it’s the former. I don’t mind having a chameleon-like neighbour.

Right, I’ve wittered on about nothing for too long now, so I’m going to sign off.

Till next time!