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Loose Ends June 15, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time!


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!

Reviewing The Situation May 28, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random, Rantings.
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I mentioned in my previous entry this week that my employers were reconsidering their contract with the JET Programme and I was told today that I will officially be the last JET Language Teacher in Kuga. As of next year, they’re hiring someone involved with another programme, who will be paid for the amount of time they spend teaching. Even though part of me is reeling from this news, feeling that I might be somehow to blame for their change of heart, it does make more sense when I have plenty of time to perfect my playing technique of certain Internet games, read the newspaper and the BBC news website, catch up celebrity gossip with heatworld.com, write some emails, research my next trip away, send some text messages, listen to some music on my iPod and laze around a bit. If I was only being paid for the time I spent in the classroom I would 1) be a lot more pro-active in searching out teachers and making them take me to their lessons and 2) be a hell of a lot poorer, given that none of my schools seem to want me in too many classes, fearing that they’ll tire me out.

So yeah – I’m the last one. They also dumped a lot of papers on my desk and asked me to write up all my schedules as far back as I could remember. This may sound like a mammoth task but, in a weird foresight moment, I actually made notes of what lessons I was in, almost every week since I got here. The only ones I can’t write up are my elementary schedules as I throw these away after every visit. That said, I can’t be bothered to write up over 40 weeks worth of school timetables. So they can deal with my having written up those since April.

Tomorrow I’m visiting yet another kindergarten. There will be more poking and punching and headbutting, but it’ll be nice to have a bit more of a relaxed day around those kids than with mine. That said, my week so far hasn’t been too bad and I’m surprised at how quickly it’s gone.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend – I’m going to catch up with my laundry, clean my apartment and then sit and do nothing for the rest of the weekend. It’s going to be great!

Some of the teachers and all of the 3rd graders have just come back from a trip to Osaka and Kyoto. Even though they ignored my not-so-subtle hints that I wanted to go, they did bring me back some goodies and one of the kids assures me that he got me a present that he’ll bring to me on Friday.

Anyway, other than that, I have nothing to report. If it’s possible, I think this latest news regarding my job has made me lose the very last shred of enthusiasm I may once have had. I’m also really pleased that I decided not to stay for another year, as I’m pretty sure they would have shared this piece of information with me now anyway and I would therefore have had it hanging over me for another year.

Till next time!

The Ballad Of Mishima April 22, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random.
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In previous entries I’ve mentioned the Japanese author, Yukio Mishima and, having just finished a biography of him, I decided to share a little about him.

He was born Kimitake Hiraoka (公威平岡) and began writing ridiculously early. Even though his writing style began, and indeed remained, flowery and philosophical, the sheer fact that he was able to compose works so erudite at such a young age, is indication enough of his genius. In one of his first pieces of fiction, called Sorrel: A Memory of Youth, he told the story of a 6 year old who happens upon an escaped convict:

He took from his pocket a white ball and threw it high into the air…The sky clung to the ball, rose, then fell with terrible swiftness. He caught the ball and rejoiced, as if he had captured the blue sky. Then he breathed the air, deeply…It was more like eating than breathing. Into his mouth he stuffed the air with its strange taste and fragrance…
The man sighed…”I had a child. A pretty boy just like you…Now he is a seagull flying above the vast sea. And when he spies the silver glitter of scales among the waves he thrusts his neck into the water and he says, I was murdered on the grey evening sea. My murderer sank to the dark, dark bottom. Until he floats to the surface I must remain suspended here on these white wings in the low clouds of the sky…But the devil who killed that poor poor seagull has found his way up to the surface. And you know who showed him the way – it was you.”

I could quote interesting excepts from all of his books, but I realise that most people have neither the patience nor a tolerance for wordy, long-winded passages. But as a man he was also fascinating. In his life as an author, he never missed a deadline. His final tetralogy, collectively referred to as The Sea of Fertility, was in fact finished almost an entire year before the last installment was required. He had two very differing styles. He was able to write long, theological and philosophical novels that explored a whole array of complex emotions inherent in him, but also managed to turn out a popular, contemporary chick-lit novel once a year. He wrote many plays, his main expertise in resurrecting archaic kabuki-style language and tackling the task of updating traditional Nō theatre. He even wrote a ballet, titled Miranda. He was fascinated by the Ancient Greek emphasis on classical beauty and travelled there twice as a pilgrimage. He had a rather disturbing blood-lust that is made clear in his almost autobiographical novel (and the first released as a “serious” author), Confessions of a Mask where he indicates his erotic desire to murder his male classmates and eat parts of them. His sado-masochistic tendencies stayed with him until his death in 1970, when he committed ritual seppuku. He conceived the idea of the beautiful death and took delight in the bloody deaths suffered by knights when fighting dragons in fairy tales. He was enamoured with a picture in one of his childhood books of a knight riding bravely into a battle that had very little possibility of victory. When he discovered that it was actually a picture of Joan of Arc, he lost all interest in it, rejecting her femininity. He valued the masculine willingness to die for the Emperor and relished his chance to prove his support for the Imperial Family. That said, when he was required to take a physical exam to determine suitability for the Imperial Army, he faked a case of tuberculosis and was dismissed. By all accounts, he looked on that day as his gravest mistake. If he had been conscripted, the face of modern Japanese literature would be vastly different.

In general, most of his works weren’t greatly appreciated by the critics whilst he was alive. But there were certain novels that helped gain him the esteem he wanted and needed. Confessions of a Mask continued to sell about 50,000 copies a year from when it was published until he died. It would not be doubtful that this number rose following his very public demise. He did become a public figure as well. He was garish and favoured Western etiquette, even though towards the end of his life he became a staunch imperialist. He was quite hirsute for a Japanese man (I had to look up ‘hirsute’ when I first read it – it means hairy) and would walk through the streets of Tokyo in an open shirt, revealing his supposed masculinity. The thing is, he wasn’t overly masculine. He starred as gangsters in a few movies and even though his acting bettered as the years passed, critics all agreed that his features were far too gentle and so when the camera closed-in he was betrayed as lacking a certain manliness associated with such roles.

As his ideals became more and more extreme and Rightist, he set up a society called the Tate-no-kai, or Shield Society. Their role was to undertake military training in order to become the Emperor’s own army. Ironically, Mishima despised the Emperor (at that time, Hirohito) for his renunciation of his divinity, following Japan’s defeat in World War II. He idolised what he called the Emperor of Culture – the idea of all Japanese culture descending from the Emperor. Following the growing decadence of Japan at that time, Hirohito was apparently unworthy of this title.

As mentioned previously, Mishima was enthralled by the image of the beautiful death. However, he reasoned that death could only be beautiful if the dying body was beautiful. So he set about weight training and, for the last 15 years of his life, religiously trained 3 times a week, come what may. He neglected to work on his legs, however, and so became rather visually odd – he had weak, thin legs to support his bulky upper body.

With the Tate-no-kai, he found an outlet for his fanaticism. Tired and bemused by the new system of government, they planned to storm the training ground of the Japanese Self Defence Forces, enlist these men to help and then march on the government, determined to reinstate the divinity of the Emperor. Mishima desired a kirijini death. This was a warrior’s death in battle and so he was truly ready to give his life for his cause. The possibility of such a death decreased, the more the Tate-no-kai gained notoriety. Together, he and a select few planned their first and only coup. On 25th November 1970, Mishima and a handful of others barracaided themselves in the office of the Commandant, taking the man prisoner. According to the group’s wishes, the men of the Self Defence Forces were gathered below the balcony. Mishima intended to speak for 30 minutes, rallying support for their attack on the Japanese Diet (the government). He was drowned out by the boos and jeers from the crowd and cut his speech short after only seven minutes. He then retired inside and drove a sword into his side. Dragging it across his abdomen, he sliced open his stomach. He had intended to write the Japanese character for sword on a piece of paper in front of him, but the pain was too much. Instead, he gave the signal and his second swung his sword. Unfortunately, the blow failed to decapitate the author, increasing the unbearable pain. After a second failed attempt, Morita (the man Mishima named as his decapitator) relinquished his sword and another man finished the deed. Morita then also committed seppuku and the same man decapitated him too. The commandant was released and all present bowed to the corpses.

The author of the biography, John Nathan, speculates that the pain of the deed, besides being incredible and overwhelming, probably held an erotic desire in Mishima, who had spent all his life dreaming of this death and had actually been planning it for well over a year, with the help of Morita. In the words of Mishima’s brother “[He] always wanted to exist but never could.” Even Mishima’s mother dubbed the funeral as a celebration, as death was the only thing that he had done that he had truly wanted to do.

My Favourite Japanese Author

Bring On The Men March 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Junk March 21, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time!

You Could Drive A Person Batshit February 21, 2008

Posted by Mitch in Random.

I stand in front of a class full of first years. They’re either 12 or 13. Some of them shiver. Most of them have their eyes closed. All of them sit there sniffing at me. The teacher comes in and after the introduction, the lesson begins. As does their apathy.

The first year of my Junior High School is made up of sinfully boring human beings. Any attempt at a fun lesson falls flat. Flatter than a hermaphrodite’s chest. They manage to suck the energy out of the most enthusiastic teacher. They say they can’t speak English. They don’t even bother trying – they read somewhere once that it was kind of difficult and therefore they can’t do it. Plain and simple.

Welcome to the world of Japanese high schools. Of course, I can only use my own experiences, but if a week spent in first grade English classes here in Kuga doesn’t sap away any desire you may have to be a teacher, then you are superhuman. I dread being asked to go to the classes as they’ll inevitably be awkward affairs that seem unplanned and spontaneous.

I moan about the ESIDL, but 50 minutes with this life-feeding year is enough to send me back there full of the joys of spring. After a day at elementary school, I realise why people become teachers and entertain the idea that maybe, later in life, I could do it too. One lesson with this lifeless bunch sends me running for the hills and has me now sworn against ever becoming a teacher. I would sooner walk through the fiery pits of Hounslow and live my life as an unemployed leech than suffer at the hands of The Class That Never Was.

Today’s task was a simple self introduction. I can do it in Japanese and I’ve hardly been studying it at all, despite all my initial good intentions. These kids have had an exposure to English for at least 6 years. This one boy sat there drawing pictures instead of writing out his simple introduction as the rest of the class was doing. He’d cleverly written “wakaranai” (I don’t understand) in Roman letters. So I went over and wrote the first bit for him: My name is. All he had to do was write his name in Roman letters there. Seeing as he’ll have learnt these since the age of 10, this shouldn’t have been a problem. When I was handed the stack of papers at the end of the class to correct, I found his sheet. All it said was:

Wakaranai My name is

So I wrote in my best script (and in nice, bright red pen):

This really is easy. Perhaps if you tried it you’d realise that…

It won’t make the slightest bit of difference. The teachers don’t seem to get all that upset if a kid doesn’t do their work. How different teachers in England are. I can’t count the number of times I was hunted down for a piece of work at school. But here, it seems that his English education will not further itself at all and he’ll sit and fail all consequent tests. And it’s that part of this job that I find so demoralising. The lack of effort by the students. The apathy of the teachers. The fact that “I can’t do it” seems to be a warning to teachers to back off and not push the point. If every teacher gave up when a kid despaired “I can’t do it”, where would civilisation as we know it be?

Any flame of enthusiasm for this job that may have remained through the 7 months I’ve been here has now dwindled, sputtered and gone out, leaving barely a trace of smoke…

Unworthy Of Your Seppuku February 19, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan, Random.
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I really cannot believe that it’s a week since I last wrote. I keep resolving to write more, but I normally only have things to say the day after I’ve written a post and so therefore do not want to inundate you with the goings on of my fairly dull life!

This weekend saw my Sex Party. It wasn’t an orgy (at all, actually, seeing as it was my worst attended party so far), but the theme was sex. People basically interpreted the theme as they wished and so, on Saturday night, Kuga was descended upon by a horde of overage Japanese school girls, two hookers, a Junior High School student and a sperm. I’ve got to say, the fact that a whole lot of English teachers in Japan came as imitations of their kids is kind of scary. I myself came as a sperm, complete with egg and detachable tail. I think I won the prize for most inventive (and biologically correct, although, with regards to size, my egg was seriously lacking). Lots of alcohol was imbibed and the following day it was necessary to go and eat a whole lot of Indian food to abate the hangovers.

This week I’m at the good elementary school. Yesterday, however, wasn’t so good. My first class was my 4th graders. Stupidly, the school decided not to split the year into two classes as they normally do, but instead, there’s one class of 41 students. Therefore, there are very few lessons I can give to that class that go according to plan. The following class was a recalcitrant 5th grade class and by that point in the day, I couldn’t be arsed.

Today is going much better. I’ve just had two 2nd grade classes and they outshone yesterdays no end. They’re just so absorbent, and even if they can only manage katakana English (uwatto izu yua nemu?) they’re so willing to learn and give it a shot. When I asked one girl a question, I noticed right away the tell tale signs that she was about to cry. A lot of my kids cry – sometimes because of me and other times just because they’re kids. But this girl was going to cry because she didn’t understand how to answer my question, despite the fact that the teacher had done a pretty good job of translating the point I was teaching. So I moved on, because I didn’t want her to cry and told the teacher that I would come back to her at the end. So she cried. Because I didn’t give her the chance to try. Even though she was going to cry because all eyes were on her. I basically can’t win with students like that, so after a bout of asking the other kids questions, so she could see how they were answering and get the general gist, I went back to her. But she showed herself up once again, by proving that she hadn’t been listening to the other kids and so was still unable to answer my (rather easy, if I do say so myself) question. So she cried. Again.

The rest of the class went well, and the kids go absolutely batshit for the stamps I give out as prizes. I’m really not above bribing my kids to try. And they’re apparently not above accepting said bribes.

I’ve just come back from my class with the first graders who missed their lesson last month. The thing with that class is, they’re all ultra-sweet, but there are two boys with behavioural difficulties and so I never know how the class is going to be. Most times, they’re great and they do everything I ask of them. Other times, the two boys run around the class, kicking their teachers and screaming at the top of their voices. Needless to say, lessons that involve that never go to plan. But today there was very little screaming a no kicking. One of them tried to show affection by punching me in the balls, but that’s par for the course with young kids, I’ve found. Either that or they just hate my crotch region and want it to suffer.

Other than that, there’s not much to report. I’ve now finished all the chick lit I bought in Kyoto (4 Marian Keyes novels and PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern). Now Marian Keyes writes trash, but it’s enjoyable, well-written trash that keeps you guessing. Cecelia Ahern falls shamefully short of this yardstick. Her novel is, in a word, awful. It’s contrived and it reads like a GCSE creative writing project. The only thing worse than this novel, is the film of it. Any charm that the novel may have possessed is wiped out, stamped on and thrown in a furnace. The novel is set in Ireland. Everyone is Irish. The film is set in New York. Everyone bar the ill-fated husband is American. Why they chose Gerard Butler to play the Irish dude when he is, in fact, Scottish, is beyond me. I’m thinking his physique probably had something to do with it. In the novel, Holly’s family is supportive and there for her and a whole unit. In the film, Holly’s father disappeared on the family, thus blowing apart the whole family unit which, in the novel, feature in many subplots. The new love interest, Daniel, is played by Harry Connick Jr. I’ve got to say, I don’t remember the character being as idiotic or bumbling as the film portrays him as. So, in short, avoid the book and go to any lengths possible to not see the film.

I’ve now started on some Japanese literature. The book is called Forbidden Colours and it’s by Yukio Mishima. Mishima is quite a famous Japanese author and has been compared to the likes of Sartre and Proust. However, he is perhaps more famous for his death than his writings. He was a prolific writer who gradually became a fanatic follower of imperialism, denouncing Emperor Hirohito at the end of the war for renouncing his claim to divinity. At the age of 41, he tried to stage a military coup that failed miserably. He then committed seppuku. Seppuku is an ancient samurai act that supposedly protects ones own and ones family’s honour. It’s a form of suicide (the less formal term for seppuku is hara-kiri, often bastardised as ‘hari-kari’) that involves a person slicing open their own stomach. This in itself is a ridiculously painful way to die and so a second is normally nominated to slice off the dying man’s head. The true act should not see the head totally separated from the body, but the head should remain partly connected at the front. This was, apparently, to stop the head flying off at people that were invited to watch and confirm the act took place. Lots of times, samurai who were loyal to a defeated leader were commanded to commit seppuku. It has also been used as a form of capital punishment.

There was also a female form that is known as jigai. The woman would tie her legs together at the ankles so she could retain a feminine pose, even in death (as in, despite the death throes), and slit her throat. Quite often this was done when a town was invaded to prevent the woman being raped.

Kind of morbid, but so fascinating. No one here seems to want to talk about it, but occasionally I won’t take no for an answer and they are actually quite proud of the people who’s loyalty was so strong that they would give the ultimate to prove it.

Back to Mishima – his seppuku didn’t go quite to plan and the severing of the head went horribly wrong and after two attempts to behead him, someone else had to step in and finish the job. This man is now a Shinto priest somewhere on the Japanese island of Shikoku.

Following that, I think I better sign off!

Till next time!

Dude! What Is It? January 20, 2008

Posted by Mitch in General, Random.

Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday I was bitching about having to clean, and here we are, over a week since then!

The last two days of the week just ended were spent at The Elementary School I Don’t Like. However, I had possibly the best two days I’ve ever had there. My lessons went to plan, the kids understood it and seemed to retain it and I left feeling happy. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen often on days I’m at the ESIDL.

I also now have a cold. And it’s not a nice one. Not that many people would class any cold as a “nice” one, per se, but it’s not the lightest one I’ve ever had. Damn the Japanese and their insistence on keeping windows open, despite the almost sub-degree temperatures outside. I’ve heard rumour that it’s something about toughening the kids up. See what sort of a country I’m living in?

I also found out at the beginning of the week, that a guy I met at the Tokyo Orientation (almost 6 months ago now!), quit JET and has moved back to England. It was weird finding it out because, even though I’ve not been in that much contact with him since we parted ways in August, I felt kind of upset that one of the group of guys I was hanging around with had fallen by the wayside. That said, it also made me happy that I decided to continue, even though I didn’t feel all that happy with the situation when I first started here. I’ve had dips and peaks in my mood since then, but so has everyone. Some days you wake up and are really thankful that you are here, making the most of the mountains, the clarity of the days, the sheer weirdness of ‘being in Japan’. And then other days, you take advantage of the mountains, resent every day you have to spend here until it’s time to go home and hate ‘being in Japan’, where it’s apparently OK for someone to stop in the street and stare at you just because you don’t look like them.

But, at the end of the day, as low as I may feel, I know that the next 6 months are going to whizz by, just as the first ones did and sooner than expected, I’ll be packing up my things to leave Japan and will be sad. I know that it’ll be sad to leave my apartment (which, as far as I can tell, no longer smells as bad as it did when I got here), sad to leave my friends here, sad to leave the schools that I’ve so moaned about visiting. And then I’ll be back in England, searching desperately to get a job that pays a decent wage, an apartment that won’t take all of that wage, and a new life, pretty much.

On the subject of apartments, I was talking about the situation yesterday. When I get back to England and eventually find my own place, it’s not going to be ‘my own place’, because inevitably I’ll have to go back into shared accommodation. Can I do it? Having lived a year alone, will it be too much of a shock to the system to live in everyone else’s mess? I suppose only time will tell.

I also noticed (you’ve probably recognised that this entry is just a random stream of consciousness, so forgive the lack of structure) that the number of visits to my blog has steadily decreased over the months. It seems people are losing interest in how I’m faring in a foreign world, content to banish me to the back of their minds, resurrecting my memory over occasional beers with Uni friends. Here are the statistics of visits to my blog:

  • June 2007 – 103
  • July 2007 – 83
  • August 2007 – 405
  • September 2007 – 260
  • October 2007 – 249
  • November 2007 – 256
  • December 2007 – 179
  • January 2008 – 75

Now I realise January isn’t over yet, and a lot of the visits depend on how frequent the posts were, but it’s a little sad to physically see people’s interest waning. That said, I don’t know why I’m complaining to you, because, as you’re reading this, you’ve already logged a visit to the page, thus making me a little happier.

Anyway – I apologise for a non entity of a post, but not that much has really happened here. Since I got back from Vietnam, I’ve made no plans for travelling around and so have nothing really to report. But I promise, stick with me and it’ll be grand…I hope!

Till next time!

Have Yourself A Merry Little クリスマス December 19, 2007

Posted by Mitch in Random.

Twas the night before Mitch left, when all through the town,
Not a person was upset, no face had a frown
The clothes in the suitcase were packed up with care
In the hopes that the time to leave soon would be there
The children were freezing in their classrooms so bare
While the staffroom was heated, it didn’t seem fair
And Julie in her scarf and I in my chair
Will soon say goodbye and bid farwell with a stare
When down in a classroom there arose such a row
I sprang from my seat and thought “I want to leave now!
Away to Vietnam I’ll fly like a flash
I’d love to stay and do nothing, but I really must dash!”
Out over Kuga I gaze with a smile
I like this place, but I need to leave for a while
I’ll climb on a sleigh, with a driver so quick
Screw ANA pilots, I’m off with St. Nick
With his selection of fauna, I’m sure I’ll be game
As he saddles them up and calls them by name:
“Now Kyoko! Now Yūma! Now Risa and Daiki!
On Bertram! On Phyllis! On Mary and Mikey!”
Force their way through the town; they don’t give a damn
“Move out of my way, for I’m off to ‘Nam!”
We fly over cities and factories so vast
Over ocean below us, we’re moving so fast
I wave goodbye to a country so dear
“I’m off to climb mountains, I’ll see you next year!”
For Christmas this year, up a mountain I’ll be
Will I survive it? Well just wait and see.
Then off to Tokyo, a metropolis so great
I’ll be there to see in the first major date
The first of the first, I’ll celebrate in style
To find somewhere to stay, I’ll use all of my guile.
Be it hotel or motel, ryokan or cafe
I don’t really care – I need somewhere to stay.
Then get in a car and away we will drive
To Kyoto then home; I hope we arrive
’08 will be spent under the red rising sun
For experiences new, scary, upsetting and fun.
So prick up your ears and give heed to my rhyme
For tomorrow’s the day; gosh, it’s almost the time.
But you’ll hear me exclaim as I fly out of here:
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good year!”