Tuesday, 25 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon merri kurisumasu

Merry Christmas ho ho ho

I had to go to work this morning which was a bit naff. I ended up cleaning the junior high school and then participating in a little end of year assembly/speech thing. It doesn't feel that much like Christmas morning so it wasn't all bad I guess. I worked on Christmas once before when I worked in a charity shop part-time a few years ago anyway so whatever. Everyone apart from my supervisor is off work in the Board of Education today which took me by surprise a bit... but their big New Year holiday is just around the corner. I've taken the rest of the week off and I only have 40 minutes of work left until the 7th January. Hurrah

I had a really excellent long weekend (had Monday off for the emperor's birthday... cheers) just there. I was a bit miserable last week at work and I didn't know what I was going to do but everything worked out pretty well. I went to this small Christmas shindig in Tano on Saturday for kids/old women and Noah and I sang some songs. I had one or two people over that night which developed into a little festive thing. Andrew and I went up to this remote mountain house on Sunday and had a good time. We went with some of the girls from Nankoku (Marissa, Erin and Hank) and met up with Yasuda David and some cool Japanese people. I cut up stuff with a hatchet, made a fire and picked some fruit the next morning. Me man. Me at one with nature.

Last night we all headed (along with others) to Rock Green Cafe for a big proper Christmas dinner. I thought it was just going to be some music but some people had put loads of effort into making an amazing Christmas dinner. I was honestly blown away and impressed by everyone. Turkey, Christmas pudding... damn right. The weekend has cheered me up and I opened my presents this morning before work so it's all good. I might be heading up to Nankoku for some drunken Christmas karaoke... we'll see we'll see.

I'm going to travel Japan a bit in the next few days but I have no plans. My friend Joey has inspired me just to head off without caring. He left a few days ago and didn't know where he was going or what time the trains were leaving. I'll probably hit Osaka ad Kyoto on my travels though and I'll probably get the bullet train woohoo.

I found the following Japanese Christmas card to be distasteful and exceptionally amusing.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Why don't you...?

Tuesday is usually my busiest day of the week as I’m pretty much out my house from 8:15am-8:45pm with just over an hour’s break all day. I’ve usually got a full schedule of classes and then need to prepare for my adult class in the evening. Today it’s the same length of time but with nothing to do. It sucks to be honest and I wish I did actually have all my classes today.

Although I’m pretty tired as I went to another end of year party shindig last night straight from work. This time it was for Nick’s (Aussie/Kitagawa/5 mins away) adult class and we share some students so I was asked along. Dave (Aussie/Nahari/3mins away) later joined us too straight from Okinawa. These things are always enjoyable but I find it draining at times and like to have an hour or two to myself after work. They’re pretty rocking old ladies though and I got to talk to the other guys who I haven’t seen in a bit. Noah was due to attend as well but he was too busy trying to cook the live crab he had in his apartment. It’s making me laugh thinking about it. I went around yesterday to check it out and when we took the lid off this bloody massive thing started moving about and opening its ‘Aliens’ like mouth. I wonder how he got on with that. Also, he gave me a present that his dad sent me from America which was really nice. He mentioned that he reads my blog so I thought I would give him a ‘shout out’ as the cool kids on the internet say… so cheers Noah’s dad.

I was looking in my bag just there and had totally forgotten about a really nice Christmas card I got from one of my adult students. I felt really bad about it because I should have put it up last week. She has a young family and is from the same part of town so I’ve talked to them a few times at events and stuff. I’ll take a picture of it later on along with some others I’ll add. I’ve realised I’m writing too much these days, pictures are always better aren’t they? As I was reading the card I noticed that everyone that knows me fairly well in town calls me by my first name Craig/
クレイグ instead of Hunter/Hanta/ハンター. I feel as if I have created my own little system of politeness in a country that already has it. I wonder if I’ve confused everyone with my name at times.

“So westerners use first names all the time unless it’s quite formal and then it’s Mr.?”


“Right… but you want us to call you Hunter? Does that mean you are Mr. Craig?”

However, if I needed any justification for this change then I got it the other day when I overheard something in the office. Someone at the front desk was asking what my name was and one of the guys replied with Kureigu (the katakana pronunciation). The man then went “eeeeh? Kure, Kuregi, Karagu, Kreegee” and it brought those first few weeks back. Ach aye, I do miss hearing my name in a rough Glaswegian tone occasionally.

It has also come to my attention this week that when a Japanese person is suggesting something to me then they say “Why don’t you blah blah?” I’ve realised I’m not used to hearing those words in that exact context. I think people usually say things like “You could do this/that?” and “Do you want to…?” There is nothing wrong with the English of course and I'm just not used to the hesitation after “Why don’t you…” You see, I’m only used to hearing it in the context of “Why don’t you… **** off?” so when my principal says those three words, part of me wants to shout out the remaining two out of habit.

Indeed, when I do go back home I might provoke someone I know just so I can hear them scream in glorious Glaswegian “Craig! Why don’t you **** off?”

It will be wonderful.

P.S I have managed to refrain from swearing thus far so hence the stars.

Yes, she is my student. It basically says "Craig sensei (that's me), please receive/have a fun/enjoyable Christmas".

My 'wee diddy' Christmas tree.

My 40 pence corner. Although I did buy the sake lampshade out the ¥100 store.

Monday, 17 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Empty here for relief

I taught a lot of classes at junior high school today as they all have something going on tomorrow and I have no classes then. I’ve been told that the 3rd grade have taken a turn for the worse in all of their classes because they’ve already received the grades they need for senior high school. Yesterday afternoon all the bad kids turned up at once and created quite a difficult classroom. In the first minute two of them had jumped out the window and another had emptied a bin and stuck their head in it. A lot of the teachers seem aghast in horror and embarrassment at their behaviour and keep apologising to me. However, I witnessed things about a hundred times worse at the secondary school I attended (on my first day of school someone threw a chisel at me) so it doesn’t bother me. Indeed, when I started to teach my bit in the class then they all shut up and joined in. This pleased me and some teachers have commented on my seemingly calming effect on the class.

Although this was far from the case in an elementary school class I taught last week. One of the boys in my 6th grade has learning difficulties (I have no idea what the politically correct term is these days). To their credit, the Japanese seem to employ a teacher to help these children even if there is only one of them in the whole school. I was playing this basic new game I devised where I shout some vocabulary/dialogue and then they need to race to the board and draw it. I then award points to each team for the quickest/best drawing and the winners usually get a prize. It’s quite a good way to end the lesson and they really enjoy it. However, until a few weeks ago I had been treating the 6th grade more like junior high school kids and the games had less running about. I decided I should probably make things more fun for them like I do for my younger classes since they have six more years of mundane English ahead of them. Yes, so it hadn’t dawned on me that this particular boy would struggle at the game. When it came to his turn he came last and then walked back to the end of the line. I didn’t notice anything unusual as I still had thirty other kids running about and screaming at me. Then I glanced up and saw the boy karate kick a double door off its hinges. The whole class went silent and turned around to stare in his direction. Even I was surprised but I managed to break the awkwardness of it all by shouting out a word on the board quickly. This immediately focused their attention back on the game and all was well. I’m a great teacher me.

P.S Nobody had taken my mystery coffee drink when I cycled past the machine this morning. If I was an angsty junior high student I’d put a sad emoticon face here.

Here are some excess pictures from yesterday.

You're a philistine if you don't appreciate this magnificent work of art.

A badly taken picture of my elementary school.

Entrance to the temple/shrine (sssh I still don't know what one it is.) Look how blue the sky can get here.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Ailen who live in Japan bought bike.

Good evening again. I've been feeling the desire to blog a lot recently and a relatively quite weekend has given me the opportunity to do so.

I forgot to mention in my last update that I got to make mochi at the kindergarten last Friday morning. If you were too apathetic to click on the wonderful wikipedia link I provided then I will explain what making mochi consists of. It 's basically the process of smashing the hell out of rice with a big mallet until it turns to goo (the scientific word for it). It was a lot of fun but I was quite nervous I'd miss the rice and crack the stone bowl or worse... smash the hand of the person turning it over after each whack. Apparently it is a very nostalgic event for Japanese people and old women and kids go absolutely crazy for the stuff. Indeed, apparently after New Year (when it is eaten in excess) there are news reports that count up the number of old folk who choked to death gorging on it as it sadly gets stuck in their throats. I got lots given to me for free (with sweet red bean paste in the middle) and gorged on it myself that afternoon. Last Friday morning I went back to the kindergarten again as they had a クリスマス/Christmas show going on. I was quite impressed by the level of choreography/wardrobe/stage management by a bunch of 4 year olds in a backwater Japanese town.

I went to my junior high enkai on Friday night and my predictions about the conversations were spot on. I'm not trying to make fun of them and is merely an observation of what happens. Each side is terrible at the other one's language so all conversation dilutes into the simplest of pleasantries. I did manage to get a bit of banter going with some of the teachers and even talk a little bit about history... in Japanese!. Mainly about the Dutch and Portuguese traders impact on Japan and why Japan is called Japan and not Nihon in English. Also, all foreign people tend to get insulted when Japanese people compliment them on their chopstick skills. Some snap back and say things like "Oh, can you use a knife and fork?" but not old Hanta. He genuinely accepts the praise whilst stuffing his face with fried shrimp. I always enjoy these events in retrospect but it can really exhaust your brain trying to process everything. Plus, everyone wants to keep drinking sake with me. There is a drinking custom distinct in Kochi called 'Hempai' which is when two people share a whole jug of sake whilst pouring for each other and drinking out the opposite ends of the cup. Everyone else maybe has one or two but everyone wants to do with the foreigner so you spend an hour drinking shot after shot. All the while making sure you don't do something to insult somebody. It was still a fun night to talk to all the teachers when they were being relaxed and opening up.

I then caught the train up to Nankoku for an 80's themed joint birthday for Erin and Hank. There's five female ALTs that all live next door to each other up there so there was numerous rooms going on at once. There was a voting thing going on too and I won 'Class Clown' and got some comedy glasses that I love. My costume consisted of a blond curly wig and a red bandanna... I think I got away with it. I'll steal some pictures off facebook sometimes to show you how it looked. Anyway, a massive crowd of us hit the karaoke later that night for two hours with an endless supply of alcohol (all you can drink affair). It was the best karaoke experience I've been too and we had a massive room to ourselves where we belted out song after song. I crashed on another floor before heading back east with Andrew and Matt that morning. I stood outside on the train for the first time all the way back which was fun. The tunnels were bloody freezing though. I've spent the rest of the weekend doing little but cleaning, washing and mainly sitting on my backside. However, today I went to buy a new bike because I miss cycling around Tano. I decided to take my camera and document my experience.

This is the view as I leave my apartment.

Turning right onto the stairs.
Turning left onto the street. That's my car!

At the bottom of the stairs. That little black thing was my friend the spider. He was living there for a few weeks. At first I destroyed some of his web as it used to get in my face. However, I watched him rebuild everything and let him live. I used to glance up every morning before work to see how he was doing. He's been dead for a week though, that's his corpse. This story has no happy ending.
That is the Board of Education in the distance. It takes me about a minute to get there.
I have no connection with this particular spawn of Satan.

When I walk about my town I usually hear "HAAANTA" shouted at me by all the kids. This was the first of many during the day. It's quite nice actually and it shows they don't hate me. I wish I could understand what they were asking me though.

This is the entrance to the 'Fureai Centre' where I work and sometimes teach.

One of the 'main' roads in town. On the left is the supermarket, on the right is the drugstore and hospital. Straight ahead is where my car broke down last week.

The supermarket has a number of these outside on the walls. As everyone knows, this one represents the famous delicacy of whale meat in a hollowed out watermelon.

The Nahari-Gomen train line is fairly recent and the Tano station is in the background. Each stop has a designated character drawn by a famous artist. Tano has by far the coolest one. I've seen people on 'station tours' taking pictures of every single one.

"For your safetly and comfort. If you are ailen who live in Japan. Please ask someone who understand this manual to make detailed explanation to you." Sold.

Recycling... joy.

The edge of town.

I started messing about with some picture editing stuff.

Whenever I cycle through Tano I always find someone new that I haven't noticed before. I used to cycle up the road to the left all the time to get to the beach and never spotted this. She's a beauty.

I thought I recognied one of the kanji but I don't. Failure.

We actually have a temple/shrine (I forget which ssssh) that I always forget about.

Too many people spend far too long playing pachinko in this town. The noise inside is what I imagine hell sounds like. 100 points if you can spot my reflection.

One of my favourite captures of the day. It seems all very traditional and sums up my town. There's even some rice still growing in the middle of December.

I can't even to begin to explain how symbolic this vending machine is. They are absolutely everywhere and I've become accustomed to seeing one every 50-100 metres. I might even start a collection of photographs of them. This is your standard Coca Cola variety but there's a rare one I've got my eye on just outside Aki on Route 55. A green Sapporo one... oh yes indeed baby.

A mystery drink? I don't think I've ever wanted to buy something so badly in my life.
(I'm also interested why katakana was used to write 'yen')

What a let down. A cold can of crappy coffee.

I left it in the machine as a gift.

They have these drainage channels everywhere. I fell in one of them once.

I made an omlette for lunch. It was quite nice.
Saturday, 15 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Open here for satisfied taste

I have played too much football on my Xbox today. Every since I was a kid I've had the urge to throw the controller when something goes wrong in a computer game. I used to play a game on the old Amiga called 'Sensible Soccer' in about 1993. It's still the best football game I've played but the computer used to cheat and I'd get frustrated. One vivid memory I have is spending about two hours guiding Scotland to the World Cup final. I was winning 1-0 and the game was about to end. I had the ball in the opposition's half as the last minute was ticking away and my victory looked secure. This was until the ball broke loose and rolled over the halfway line only for a German player to HUMP the ball 50 yards towards my goal. "No no no no WHY ARE YOU OFF YOUR LINE KEEPER... " I screamed as the ball went crashing into the back of the net.

I picked up my joystick and launched it at the wall, instantly
regretting the decision the moment it left my hand. It smashed off the wall and fell apart before it even hit the ground. As I stood there feeling like an ejjit I could hear my mum approaching the room, fully aware of what I had just done and ready to lecture me. "Well, if that's the way you treat your toys then you just won't get another one" announced my mother as Germany kicked off the first period of extra time and scored almost immediately. These days I just about manage to repress the rage through fear of breaking my toys.

I'm going to pick up the topic of memories tomorrow when I write a bigger post. Recently I've been remembering lots of memories from my childhood and most of them are quite random. I've also been remembering a lot of German.

ein ziel bitte

I hate having to call football 'soccer' as well. Even back in 1993 it used to irritate the hell out of me. I can just about bring myself to say the katakana (sakka) for it when I'm talking to Japanese people. My main argument is that people hardly every use their feet in American football. They're too busy hugging the ball like the big padded women they are. I watched the last Superbowl with my brother a few months ago. When I wasn't watching endless adverts I witnessed the ball being kicked about twice.

I really miss watching the football on television. It's like losing a limb. I always check the football match reports on Monday morning but you just can't get the same feeling. I've streamed some matches over the internet but they're pretty dire and always freeze when someone is about to take a shot. Also, for some reason I remembered Eric Cantona's goal against Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final and looked it up on youtube.

I think he's my favourite ever football player because "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown in to the sea."

One last gem of a story before I leave. I went to the supermarket earlier this evening as one does. As I was leaving the checkout this old man in a scooter/buggy thing was heading to the exit as the same time as me. He noticed me right away and had a good stare at the town foreigner as everyone tends to do. Unfortunately, he didn't keep his eyes on the aisle and ploughed straight into a stand of New Year rice cakes. I witnessed the whole thing unfold before me but I couldn't do anything to prevent it. Infact, I found it extremely funny but had to contain my laughter and go help out. This set off one of those horrible reactions where you know you can't laugh so the pressure builds up until you think you might die. I had an exceptionally good laugh when the coast was clear however. Ach aye, laughing at old people's buggy skills on a Saturday night in the middle of nowhere in Japan. Good times.
Thursday, 13 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon 私の車.... DEAD!

Evening all

I hurt my leg at football tonight. I hobbled home like a pirate early so I now have a whole extra 15 minutes in my schedule to update. I really thought I'd broken my leg at first but now it doesn't really hurt and I feel like a wimp.

I was making dinner after work earlier on this evening and I nearly had a far worse injury. I was cleaning up a board and sharp knife from last night's preparations. As I lifted up the board the knife started to slide off in my direction. The next few seconds slowed down as I contemplated the horror of what was about to happen. I was either going to castrate myself, stab myself in a major artery and bleed to death on my kitchen floor or slice off some toes. As the knife hurtled towards my groin I pleaded with the Gods to take all my toes... even a small nick in the artery would suffice. Luckily gravity took hold of the knife and it lost some of its horizontal velocity. However, there was still the matter of my right foot which was looking like a lamb ready to be slaughtered by a pack of angry wolves. There wasn't enough time for my foot to react and I watched the knife continue its trajectory towards the ground. It missed of course... otherwise I wouldn't have went to football and whinged about my little bang. I rate my dinner 6.5/10.

I have no idea what I've still to update on. The two weekends were the anchors of my memories... stuck at the bottom of a deep sea... that is my brain. Everything else is just a helium balloon tied to it, connected but still out of reach.

The week after Hiroshima then. Nothing much out of the ordinary that I can remember. I usually have quirky little stories each day but I forget them by the time it comes to write this. I did meet an old Tano ALT (Assistant Language Teacher = ME) during that week called Joanna. Apparently she had found my blog before she visited the prefecture again and had been reading it. I promised to write up an account of our meeting I believe. I think she left about 4-5 years ago. My predecessor was here for two years, before him was an Aussie called Ged (I use the stapler with his name on it) for a year and then Joanna. She seemed pretty genki (overused Japanese word for energetic/healthy) and so was my predecessor when I met him briefly... I'm not very genki boo. It was quite a strange and brief exchange in the elementary playground and she seemed let down by my lack of Glaswegian accent. It is now difficult to slip back into my natural style of talk because I can't bloody remember what it is. I now. need. to. pronounce. everything. like. this in the vague hope that I'm not called a barbarian by my students. I've been told she was Scottish too which makes me feel less special as NOBODY is Scottish over here. Although I think my town is the only one to openly accept non-English British people for some reason. Ach aye, it's hard to think of everyone in the last 10-15 years who has passed through my apartment. All going through the exact same experience thinking it is quite unique but only separated by a few years.

Yes yes yes, it all comes back to me now. I spent the majority of the following weekend decorating my apartment. It took me forever to drive about trying to find what I wanted but it now looks excellent. I spent a small fortune buying an Xbox 360, games and a small HDTV (called an HDMI here, 'Mi' means see/view). I've been poor for so many years (I had a brief affluent period of a few months once when I stayed at home in my first year of University) that I'm loving spending money. However, whilst I did buy all that new stuff I decorated the rest of my place on the cheap. I'm most proud of a little corner in my 'living room' which cost me about 40p in total. I had a free light that was too bright, free speakers from Mark and a 40pm sheet of bamboo type stuff. Problems = the light was too bright, the main music system looked ugly and the bamboo sheet wouldn't on my wall. So I covered the music system with bamboo sheet, stuck the light on top of the system and therefore created a nice light affected. I should take a picture of it but my camera is all the way in the other room. I got lots of free stuff out the electronics shop because I had a points card from my tv/wireless router. I got another kotatsu for my main centre of the house, some cushions and a carpet. I bought some cheap sheeting to cover the horrible neon lights, a new table for my kitchen and some nice couches for my living room. Half of the stuff was already reasonable and I found the places that has all the sales on. It looks bloody great and where I'm sitting now is my favourite seat in the world. I will upload pictures next time. I enjoyed tearing bits of wood off things with my BARE HANDS to create air vents and places for cables to go the most. Also, I bought lots of little bits and pieces out the 100 yen store to put on the walls and stuff. The kotatsu is my new favourite thing in the whole world. Houses in Japan don't have insulation or central heating so it can get quite cold at night. A kotatsu is just a normal table but it has a heater underneath it. So you lift off the table top, stick a massive blanket/duvet under it and then wrap yourself up in the warmth. It's amazing until you need to separate yourself from the cocoon to go to the toilet or work.

Yes, so my place is now nice and homely. I put up my Christmas tree last night which is the closest to the 12 days before Christmas I've ever been. I would call it a 'wee diddy tree' but I managed to make it look quite nice. For some reason, nobody in Japan wants tree lights that stay on so they only flash on every few seconds. I got creative again and covered an ugly drawer with a spare red futon cover that I bought with my new bed sheet. Stuck on the tree and put all my lovely presents from home underneath it. I even had Christmas music playing in the background too. I've been teaching Christmas lessons all week but I'm still not really in the holiday spirit as it just isn't the same (it's still about 12-15oc during the day). I was looking at the cost of a flight home last week but it would just be too much money/hassle at this stage. I'd still need to get myself to Osaka/Tokyo and then from London to Glasgow whilst taking an indirect flight to Moscow or something.

December has went so fast so far as well and I'm hammering my way through my lovely Cadbury's advent calendar. I don't have any good plans for the holidays yet. Everyone else has got all their own stuff going on but I'll probably head to Kyoto to meet my Japanese flatmate from Glasgow last year. We were never best friends but it will still be nice to see him if we do meet up. I'll probably be hosting a Christmas party at my apartment on the 22nd before everyone heads off so that should be fun.

Returning back to the weekend when I decorated. I must make another special mention as I promised Noah and Andrew I would. They went to an 'international basketball tournament' in the city which had mixed foreigners and Japanese teams playing. They came around on Sunday night and told me one of the greatest sporting achievements I've ever heard. Before the game they had mentioned doing this special move that used to be in an old basketball computer game. Whilst playing in a proper match, Noah managed to pick up the ball and both of them saw the opportunity present itself. With free space to move... Andrew went down on his hands and knees near the hoop whilst Noah ran up and jumped off Andrew's back towards the net and got the basket. I found this to be excellent news and if I was in the crowd then I probably would have cheered on from the sidelines.

I'm on the home stretch of this update, I can almost taste the light at the end of the rainbow tunnel. I want to talk a little more about the teaching aspect of my life but I don't have the energy to go into too much. Basically, I'm getting a lot better at my job and my classes have been going really well recently. My 5th grade class today went on for about another 20-25 minutes today as everyone was really getting into it. When everyone was leaving one of the girls went "Hanta hanta... supa fun" and then waved. Aww it made me so happy. I had an excellent experience at junior high school last week too. I turned up on Tuesday morning and was given an hour's notice to run an entire class by myself. The student English teacher was off ill and the English teacher's daughter had to go to hospital. So it was super ALT to the rescue. It probably doesn't seem like that big a deal because I get full control over my elementary classes but junior school is completely different. In theory, it's actually illegal for me to be unsupervised in a classroom and the lessons are mostly taught in Japanese before I pop up to speak some English. It was also the 3rd years who all the teachers always go on about how misbehaved they are. They like me though and I think months of talking with them at lunch meant that they gave me a fair chance to do my stuff even though they had the opportunity to go insane for 50 minutes. Everything went really well and I loved the new found freedom and authority over a class. I even managed to address the issue of katakana English which is always a pain. Basically, rather than teaching them the pronounciation of the alphabet they always give the katakana (Japanese for foreign words) letters for it. So the kids are basically reading English in the same pronounciation as the Japanese alphabet. If you've ever talked to an average Japanese person then you'll have noticed they'll add 'o' and 'u' onto the end of most words and substitute 'l' for 'r'. A few times I've played this game where I give hints in English and they need to guess what I am. I always start off with an easy one like "I am a food". For weeks this has been met my blank stares and one kid in the front row looking at me like I've just insulted his mother. I repeat it... not caving into the katakana until the teacher hesitates and then says "food....o". " AHHH YES NOW I SEE... FOODO. Stupid Hanta doesn't know English." The most bizarre situation that has happened was a few weeks ago when they were reading word cards.

" Bus... u "
" Outside...o "
" Toront... ... .... " (ie. Toronto in Canada)

Yes. They left out the 'o' for the only word that ended with it. I was actually shocked. Despite these small annoyances my classes are usually good and the teacher is great. I'm better of course. Super ALT, that's me.

I have one more story left in me. I set off in my car to junior high on Monday morning as someone stole my bike and I was running late as well as on the second day of my hangover.

I had been out at to a Film Festival last weekend and then did some serious drinking in the city that night. Some people in Kochi made some 3 and a half minute films about the prefecture and it was held in a traditional Japanese theatre. I dressed up smart including a tie and my fancy jacket. I was told to dress up but everyone else dressed like the dirty peons they are. Some of the videos were alright but I had more fun talking to everyone there instead. They had these really bad hosts and it seemed they hadn't practised playing the videos as nearly everyone started in the middle, started with no sound or they couldn't find the start button. Ah well, it's for a good a cause as the money raised sends Japanese kids off on an English exchange thing. I wanted to make a video but I couldn't get the right cables on time. I did strap a video camera to my bike basket at 7am one morning and bolted through the tight streets of Tano. I then came out at the sea wall and captured the lovely view. Boo... I wish I got it working.

Anyway, I digress. We missed our train into the city after the festival. So Noah, Joey, Erin (girl from Nankoku) and I set off trying to find a taxi. In the end Noah found this random and cool Japanese guy who drove us all into the city for free. It was quite a strange situation but I enjoyed it and it started the night off well. Everyone was out in the city and we had already drunk about 7 beers before the night started proper. I can't remember much about it but it was good fun. It's no good to boast about posioning yourself but I'm impressed by how much I drank that evening. I woke up the next morning (still in my coat) still a bit drunk and wondering where I ended up. Luckily I had crashed with Mark at Courtney and Dillon's (Americans) place in the city. I know I always mention random names but there you go. Yes, so I was still drunk but exceptionally hungover at the same time. Rosa (girl from England) was making some lovely greasy food but I couldn't bring my stupid body to eat it. I eventually took a number of train rides home. There was so much noise going on around me at all times, the sped up Christmas jingles in the shops nearly made me pass out. I then let everyone on the train before me to be all polite like... only to find I was the only one left standing and stuck under the speaker. Then I got home and realised I'd left my house key in Joey's car. I ended up walking about town for a bit (still dressed up) until I met some elementary kids and had a nice talk with them. I remember one of them handing me their kitten and not knowing what to do with it. I looked down and this little head stared up at me with terrified eyes and its claws digging into my jacket. One of the girls went "cute cat" which I had taught her last week! I was so proud.

Returning to my car.
I was still suffering from the weekend. As I was driving to school I noticed my car vibrating and making bad noises. I had to stop at the red light FOR AGES and I knew full well that it was going to die on me right there. I can't explain how goddamn long that light stayed on red and then the moment THE MOMENT it changed my car went DUUUR DUUUUR DUUURNNKKKK dead. The initial few seconds I just sat there staring vacantly knowing that the next few minutes of my life were going to be awful. I tried to start it up straight away with the orchestra of horns growing behind me. It was dead. I stuck on the hazards and tried to wave to the drivers to overtable but no... no they wanted to beep. I left it for a few minutes because I thought it might spring to life after a break. It didn't of course.


I then had to walk back to the office whilst trying to explain with my hands that my car wasn't working. Honestly, who would stop at traffic lights and then leave their car with any other reason? Yes, so I had to go get the help of my office comrades and we pushed that bad boy all the way home. Of course, the car started the moment I'd got them all out the nice warm office to push my tinfoil car about town. When I got to junior high later on I tried to explain my predicament to the office. After five months of Japanese study the best I could come up with was "watashi no kuruma (My car).... DEAD!"

Hurrah. I am now up to date.
Tomorrow I have an end of year enkai for the junior high school. This will consist of the men trying to drink more than me whilst the women will ask me if I know their names/ages, can I cook, can I use chopsticks and do I like Japanese girls? After that I am going to catch the train up to Nankoku to go to the girl's 80's themed party.

I'm going to bed.

Monday, 10 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Matsuyama and Hiroshima

Today is Friday and that means I only have one meeting before finishing at noon. It’s such a pleasing end to the week but once again I am neglecting my Japanese studying in favour of my blog. I figure if I get all this out of the way then I can spend my afternoon sitting on my backside playing my new video games.

In between weekends – 20th-22nd November

When I returned from my weekend in Tokyo I was feeling a bit rough from all the traveling, drinking, lack of sleep and had caught a pretty bad cold. I only had to work from Tuesday-Thursday but they were all pretty packed days as I had a full set of classes but hadn’t done a lot of preparation. Although feeling like death warmed up, I managed to dress up pretty smart for work that week and all my classes went well. I seem to remember the Wednesday afternoon at elementary being pretty rough though. I sat through lunch in a bit of a shivering and droozy daze whilst the kids were firing questions in Japanese at me with their mouths full. No worries though, I relied on the good old “Hai/Yes” in response to their queries.

On the Thursday night my big boss (Kyoikucho) at the Board of Education took Noah and I out to an izakaya after work. An izakaya is usually referred to as a ‘bar and grill’ and it’s basically a place to socialise, drink beer and eat pretty good food. The place we went to had just opened in Tano which seemed to make the locals quite pleased. Despite there being over 3000 people here there were no similar places in town and the nearest one was over the bridge in the rival metropolis of Nahari. My boss at work is a really cool guy and it’s always a pleasure to enjoy his company. I get the impression he’s the driving force between Tano having an ALT and a CIR. I think he sees our presence in the town/schools as important whilst some others seem a bit “Meh” at times. As I write this he is currently having a sneezing fit in his office. The last one ended with a defeating plea for it all to end. We got talking to a local guy as well who said he had grown up being told to hate foreigners but said he had changed his opinion over the years. He was talking away (well, to my boss and Noah) and then left only to return with two bottles of Shōchū for Noah and I which was really nice and unexpected.

Matsuyama and Hiroshima – 23rd to 25th November

The following morning Noah, Andrew and I set off again on another traveling escapade. We didn’t really have a plan but we had the day off and wanted to make the most of it. In the end we decided to head to Ehime prefecture in north-western Shikoku and so got the bus through the mountains to Matsuyama City. We walked about for a bit before heading in the direction of the castle. It’s on quite a large hill in the centre of the city and is one of only a few that is original and hasn’t been rebuilt. The sun was setting over the city as we reached the top and we got to see an excellent view.

Matsuyama at sunset.

That night we drank some whisky and played darts in a bar which was actually excellent fun. We then hired a pretty fancy karaoke room until 7am in the morning and after a few hours drinking/singing we crashed on the seats there before being thrown out.

We managed to haul ourselves across the city to reach the ferry terminal for the next leg of our trip. There is a ferry link from Matsuyama to Hiroshima that takes around two and a half hours. The journey is over the Inland Sea so there are hundreds of tiny islands to admire along the way. We had a ‘Thanksgiving’ breakfast of Pumpkin butter and bread that Noah’s mum had sent him from America. It tasted a bit dodgy to me but I was hungry and pretended I was celebrating Thanksgiving or something. We got the tram into the centre of the city and walked around for a short period. I think the other guys wanted to get a boat to Itsukushima Shrine which is the massive red Shinto shrine that gets submerged at high tide. However, I really wanted to go to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and it would have been a bit stupid not to have gone since I was there. I would have gone on my own but they came anyway despite visiting it before. It’s quite a bizarre tourist attraction as you usually visit places of natural wonder or those that celebrate some form of human achievement. I won’t talk about it much but there is certainly an atmosphere and feeling that humbles you when you’re walking around the Dome. Especially when you look at a photograph of the city after the explosion and wonder how such a new, vibrant place grew from its ashes.

The bomb was aimed at the 'T' shaped bridge I took this picture on.

I was already well read on the events so the museum didn’t reveal too much new information. Although some things that struck me were:

a) The level of censorship about the atomic bombings in post-war Japan by America.
b) The mayor of Hiroshima always sends a letter to the government of a country carrying out a nuclear test.
c) Russia had over 40,000 nuclear warheads at the height of the Cold War.
d) I read an account of two girls who survived the explosion in a bank. Their description of what the city looked like when they came out of the building was quite harrowing and hard to imagine.

I waited ages to get a clear shot but this is now my favourite.

Later on we went and checked out Hiroshima castle for a bit. Then we headed to the youth hostel to book our places for that night and crashed for an hour. That evening we met up with Marika (Japanese girl who stayed at my apartment for a bit) as she’s now working as a translator in the city. We went and got some Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki (It means ‘whatever you want… fried basically). Then we got some coffee to try and stay awake but ended up heading back at about 10pm to make the curfew. The next morning we were up at the break of dawn to make the same journey all the way back. I felt tired and dirty most of the way home but it was another excellent weekend of traveling.

Yes, the observant among you may have noticed I started to write this on Friday morning and it’s now Monday evening. Well done, if you were an elementary student I’d give you a shiny sticker. Also, ‘Guid Mornin’ is actually regarded as ‘Scots’ language and means I’m bi-lingual. Cheers.

More pictures from the two weekends.
Friday, 7 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon Washquake

I'm in the midst of writing a larger entry but I thought I would post this for now.

So, I'm making dinner in my kitchen earlier this evening. I had my music on quite loud but the album I was playing had just finished so things went quiet. All of a sudden I feel a rumbling and a large shaking sound in my apartment.

"Is this... an earthquake?" I think to myself in a reasonably calm demeanour.

I had actually convinced myself by this point that the tetonic plates beneath me were grinding and jerking away violently but at the same time I was suitably unimpresed by the sensation.

I then turned around and noticed my washing machine shaking about.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon November in Tokyo

A long period of good weather came to an end this morning and it’s now looking a bit rainy and bleak. It never fails to surprise me how nice my prefecture looks with sunshine and blue skies but when it rains everything turns to gray. Ah well, the weather has been great this autumn and especially on the two weekend trips I took.

I was about to type that I was going to take an opportunity of free time at junior high to write up my blog but I’ve just returned from marking about 100 books. At first I used to think “Hey, look at me marking away like I’m a real teacher” but after reading about 400 pages of the same paragraph it has made me go insane. I must have read this one passage about a bike falling on a little girl about 2000 times. It’s nothing to be taken lightly of course. The havoc this caused in the proposal of a bicycle parking lot to be built over an existing children’s park is intense. It’s had me on the edge of my seat for 3 months.

Tokyo – Friday 14th to Monday 17th November

Two weeks ago there was the CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) mid-year conference in Tokyo. As Noah was going to be heading up there anyway Andrew and I tagged along for the weekend to get the hell out of the countryside and taste the big city life. Noah studied at Waseda University for about a year so he knows the city quite well and has friends there. We crashed at one of his Japanese friend’s place just a train ride outside the main city centre. He was a really cool guy called Yohei who let Andrew and I crash for a few nights just because we knew him through Noah. His name is quite fitting to his personality I think. A very American English pronunciation could be “YO! HEY!” which is preciously the kind of English he speaks himself. He studied abroad in America for a year and stayed at a frat house so he says things in that particular manner.

We left Kochi in the early afternoon and after a brief flight we arrived in Tokyo only an hour or two later. We dumped our bags in a train station locker and then went out exploring around all the busy places you see on television like Shibuya (busy crossing) and Shinjuku but spent most of that night (and weekend) in the student section of the city called Takadanobaba. We met up with some more of Noah’s friends that night (and weekend) and they were good fun too.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling pretty hungover but I forced myself up as Rage Against the Machine tickets were going on sale at 9am. Noah and I trekked through the biggest city in the world searching for a (very popular) branch of convenient store that has machines you buy them on. Eventually we tracked one down and guarded it like the dirty foreigners we are. I’ll be off to see them in Osaka in February woohoo.

I forget the exact details of Saturday but it mainly consisted of doing a massive tourist trip around most of Tokyo. We went to the main shrine in the centre of the city in Harajuku called the Meiji Shrine which has something to do with the emperor. Harajuku is one of a few areas in Tokyo where all the weird/alternative/crazy nutjobs hang out. I can’t remember the exact structure of the social groups of Tokyo’s youth but each one dresses up weird. Let’s see, you have:

Anime = They literally dress up as Japanese cartoon characters.

Slutty = Self-explanatory but in such an over-the-top way it’s unique.

Angsty = Sulk about wearing black and white.

Failed Western = Either hideous looking girls in fake tan or skinny Japanese boys trying to look like American rappers.

Kawaiiiii = Is the Japanese word for cute that teenage girls scream. Imagine someone trying to dress up in extreme cuteness. It’s like Hello Kitty threw up on them.

That’s probably not very accurate. I know some have specific names but I don’t have Wikipedia to check it out I’m afraid. I prefer my labels anyway. In spite of this I reckon Tokyo as a whole is full of young, attractive, healthy, thin and fashionable people of both sexes. Although a small majority of them seemed far too materialistic and pretentious for my liking.

Yes, so the shrine in Harajuku. We walked about doing the usual shenanigans but were treated to seeing young families walking about in the traditional dress for some special day. Furthermore, we saw an old fashioned wedding taking place. I’ve been given the impression that these are fairly rare these days as more couples opt for the western style ones, as sad as that is. That was pretty nice but I can’t help but imagine how expensive that must have been. The biggest shrine in the centre of Tokyo on a lovely autumn Saturday afternoon… deary me.

After that we headed towards the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. It’s in memory of every Japanese person who fought and died on behalf for the Emperor of Japan. It includes all those who killed/raped their way across China and Korea. I get the impression that a few old nationalists visit it for certain reasons.

I just deleted a massive paragraph on Japan in WW2/reluctance of accepting war crimes/editing school history books but I think it’s for the best if I leave it out. I am a historian after all (haha that makes me laugh) so some things do irritate me about the government’s approach to it sometimes. In saying that I think it is almost primarily a minority in government that drive these things forward. After all, I’m a government paid employee on a scheme that wishes to promote cultural exchange and understanding. I still really admire the reasons behind the JET Programme and I can’t see it happening anywhere else in the world nevermind Britain. I’ve been made to feel welcome by everyone here and I don’t think a discussion on such historical things would do anyone any good (not that I really want to either).

Sheeesh that was a stream of consciousness and a half. Back to Tokyo we go. Yes, so after touring the city all day we met up with some more of Noah’s friends and some Korean students that Yohei knew. There was an Icelandic guy too who I talked to about Sigur Ros (one of my favourite bands from there) and being north-western European woo. We went to an area that could be called ‘Little Korea’ I guess and went to a rather authentic Korean restaurant. There was some outstanding barbeque food and I ate until my stomach started to creek with delicious despair. I was down at one end of the table with loads of people I didn’t know but I had a good time talking away to them. They all spoke excellent English of course whilst I just acted like the ignorant foreigner. There was one guy I was talking too and I had no idea what nationality he was. He was Asian but his English was so good that I first assumed he was an American student studying at the University. Then he started talking Japanese really well and mentioned a lot about Japan. I was stuck in two minds as to whether he was Japanese or American. Then I noticed he started to talk loads about Korea and how his mother used to make the best Korean food he’s had. Then after a few minutes it suddenly clicked that he was indeed Korean. I like Korean people. They have excellent food and can trick you by speaking lots of languages really well. I quite like being Scottish whenever I have these initial interactions with people. Most people are quite surprised and it strikes up an interesting conversation about how I’m awesome, my accent is weird and why Britain isn’t just England. (Igirisu in Japanese means Britain AND England…)

That Sunday we took it fairly easy in the morning as we were a bit rough and all coming down with the cold. In the afternoon we went and had a really excellent burger in a pretty nice spot on the roof of a building. Andrew went to meet a friend so Noah, Yohei and I headed to the massive park in the centre of the city. It was really nice and large enough that you can forget you’re in the middle of a bustling metropolis. We played frisbee until sunset and then met up with everyone for some more lovely meat and beer. That night a few of us hit the karaoke. This one had flashing lights and a variety of videos, which makes a nice change from the one in Aki which always has a woman standing frozen on a bridge.

By Sunday I was feeling pretty tired but still had a bit more exploring left in me. Noah had to head off to his conference so Andrew and I went looking around by ourselves. As both of us are a bit geeky we headed to the big electronics stores to admire all the new shiny goods. We generally walked about talking about how great the big city is, got some lunch and then went in search of clothes and the like. I got a nice coat out of GAP just because I felt like it. I think it’s the first time I’ve managed to break out of “poor student mode” in a number of years. “That looks quite nice. Meh I’ll just buy it. Cheers”. Then we went to Mr.Donut and watched a busy crossing in front of us. Usually pointing out all the other foreigner people.

It’s strange how being “the only foreigner in the village” can play on your perceptions of seeing others you don’t know. I’ve read before that after people who live here for a time develop a “MY JAPAN” personality. I’ve not really got that but I was able to pick out a) Obvious tourists b) Western people here on business and c) Depressing ‘Japanophile’ Americans who are only here because they like anime/manga (Japanese cartoons/comics) and want to marry a Japanese girl. Of course, I’m part of the cool, sexy and respectable d) Here to teach English.

I managed to get myself onto a plane that evening after fearing I would get lost. I had to head back earlier than the other guys as I was packed full of classes on the Tuesday. I was tired and cold when I got home but it was an excellent weekend. It was pretty cool that I could tag along with Noah and Andrew as we always have a good laugh. Also, it was sweet that Noah knew the city and loads of people in it. If I went to Tokyo on my own then it would cost about double, be half the fun and I wouldn’t have known anywhere to go. It was a good break away from the countryside life too which I needed a little bit. There were times when I was walking in all of the clichéd postcard areas of Tokyo and thinking to myself “Bloody hell… I’m in Japan”.

Right, thus concludes my massive update for today. I hope you appreciate this has taken all my free time up at junior high today. I’ve had to pick it up again after marking, teaching, cleaning and eating. Also, I’ve not been learning Japanese. I hope you’re happy with yourself internet.


The sun is out now. I wore my Scotland top but we still got beat 2-1 by Italy. It's now past midnight. Goodnight

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.