Tuesday, 27 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Do you have television in Scotland?

Ahoy hoy

Just thought I'd pop online before bed and let you know I'm not dead (hey, it rhymes).

I have lots to write about but once I start I'll be here all night and I'm a bit sleepy yawn yawn. I still have to talk about Tokyo (16th-19th) and also this last long weekend in Hiroshima (23rd-25th). Both packed full of good times.

I was eating school lunch today at the junior high and was being forced to do an impression of a Japanese comedian. This guy dresses in a nappy and is on television all the time shaking his shoulders and repeating numerous catchphrases. I made the small mistake of doing an impression last week and everyone went insane and now demand it. Anyway, I got asked (translated of course) question about Scottish television. It basically consisted of junior high kids (and some middle aged staff I might add) asking if we had television/shows in Scotland. At first I wondered if they meant the same kind of comedy show or even if the comedian was popular back home. Nah... they wanted to know if we had actual televisions. Some dormant Caledonian defence mechanism kicked in at that very moment and I proudly declared that we INVENTED the damn thing. This was greeted with gasps of "EEEEEHHHHHHH"... a sound the majority of Japanese make (with added facial expression) when they hear something shocking.

Another quick link to things back home.

"Get yer 'Big Issue' 'ere"

I was walking through the centre of Tokyo last weekend with Andrew when I spotted a man selling 'The Big Issue'. This being the magazine sold by homeless people back home and in my mind creates the image of a cheeky Glaswegian man trying to sweet talk middle aged women into buying a copy. Yeah... so imagine my surprise when I saw it in Tokyo.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: Calendar


I was studying some Japanese this morning and I rather embarrassingly forgot some days of the week. So I decided to turn my attention to those instead since it's such an obvious thing to know. Whilst revising I also practised writing the kanji for them as they are pretty basic and useful to know. It is actually fairly interesting in that the first kanji for each day of the week has an elemental meaning, as seen below:

曜日= Sunday = Sun Day
曜日= Monday = Moon Day
曜日= Tuesday = Fire Day
曜日= Wednesday = Water Day
曜日= Thursday = Wood Day
曜日= Friday = Gold/Metal Day
曜日= Saturday = Earth Day

It's more fun to remember the days by thinking "Hmm what day is it? Oh, it' FIRE DAY" but the similarity to our western calendar got me thinking. We have continued to use the "seven planets" that the Ancient Greeks and then the Romans used. These being the seven visible planets from the Earth (Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars and Mercury). Sunday and Monday remain obvious whilst Saturday is named after Saturn. The Romans Gods were named in turn after these planets but Saturn was the only deity adopted by the Anglo-Saxons who instead replaced the rest of the days with their own deities of similar attributes. I just so happen to know what they replaced them with:

Now class... these are the planets in our solar system. You'll notice that Pluto is no longer regarded as a planet but it always will be to me!

Tuesday =
Tyr's Day
Was a god of combat in German paganism. Named after Mars (Roman god of war) and can still be seen in French as
mardi. French is as close to Latin as you can get and is where the original days descend from.

Wednesday = Odin's Day
I can't remember much but he was high up in Norse mythology. Named after Mercury and can be seen in the French

Thursday= Thor's Day
Everyone knows Thor! The Germanic God of THUNDER who would smash you with his massive hammer. Named after Jupiter and can be seen in the French

Friday = Frie/Frig's Day or something
Germanic goddess of beauty (like Venus). Named after Venus and can be seen in the French

Damn Germanic tribes messing up the lovely Romaness of it all.

Although now it is easier to see the connection to the gods and therefore the seven classical planets. So this got me thinking about the structure of the Japanese week. Surely it is no coincidence that a completely different culture on the other side of the world just so happens to have seven days. On top of that, they have corresponding days named after the Sun and Moon and the rest of the days have a corresponding attribute like those of the Roman gods. My first thought was that the Japanese may have adopted the seven day week when they first came into contact with the Portuguese in the 16th century. Possibly accepting the Sun/Moon and choosing to up their own meanings for the rest of the days. They kind of hated the Portuguese though and it just didn't seem to make sense. Then I thought briefly about when the Americans came in 1854 and forced Japan to open up to the West but that didn't seem 100% right either.

After this I started to wonder how the seven day week came into such common use. It's such a simple question that I've never really thought about. Well, I did a little research and it isn't that difficult after all. It appears that the classical seven planets were recognised by ancient astronomers in Mesopotamia and Egypt and over the centuries spread across the world. It was first adopted by those in the Middle East and Ancient Greece. It was then adopted by the Romans in the 1st century and somehow made its way to China by the 4th century. The Chinese elements were then attributed to the days and subsequently picked up by the Japanese when they stole... ahem borrowed lots of Chinese culture in the early 9th century. The Chinese planet names largely died out and when modern Western influence came about they introduced a new system. The Japanese system on the other hand was not widely used but when they were pressured into harmonising their working calendars with those of the West in the late 19th century... it was ready to be picked up and used. To this day the first five planets in Chinese/Japanese are still named after the elements like 'Fire Star' and 'Water Star' just as we use the Roman gods.

History is awesome.
Sunday, 11 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon I saw the greatest thing in the world today

A man riding a penny-farthing

Isn't it brilliant? If someone asked me this morning to name something unusual that I would witness today then I can honestly say I would never have thought of this.

I had a really good night in the city on Friday. Lots of foreigner types went out to dinner and then hit some bars/clubs. This Japanese girl called
Sawa is moving away soon so it was an excuse for everyone to get together for some big city fun. I've only known her a few weeks but she was cool and slightly crazy... but in a good way. For dinner I had proper meat and red wine which is pretty rare in Japan and my backwater prefecture in particular. Then I hit the tequila with some people and went dancing. I was pretty rough the next day but had to come back to Tano for the junior high school culture festival. Some of it was really good like the brass band but other parts went on too long like the same 5 minute song being sung about five times in a row by each grade/teachers. People always expect me to attend these things without telling me about them or even acknowledging me when I turn up but I did actually enjoy seeing all my students doing stuff. Last night we headed up to Nick's in Kitagawa but I took it easy and everyone watched a film. Today Andrew, Noah and I headed into the city and walked about the beach for a bit before getting some dinner. Now I'm back home about to play with my new 80GB iPod and then go to bed.

p.s Next week I'm heading to Tokyo wooohooo!

As a special present... here are all my pictures from October and November so far.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Horizon

Ahoy hoy

I am using some spare time at the junior high school to write this latest entry. I don’t usually bring my laptop to the school but I was told in advance I wouldn’t be doing much in terms of work this morning. I taught most of my classes yesterday and today I’ve been hanging around in the classroom helping out occasionally. There is a class going on right now but for some reason I wasn’t allowed to go to that one. Who knows… surely having an ALT doing nothing in the classroom is better than me sitting here typing away about it? The English teacher is great though so I’m sure she has her reasons. I just came back from the 1st grade class there and it went quite well. There was one game like ‘battleships’ where an English phrase was said and if the corresponding square had something in it then they lost points. I was helping some students out and I was talking to one kid who had the 100 point square safe. He was asking me how to say the phrase which was “(1) My sister and (2) lives…”. So I walked away and then the teacher read out that phrase and all I heard behind was a cry of sheer anguish from the kid. It was honestly much funnier than it sounds and I was trying not to laugh. At the end of the lesson they had to read out these difficult phrases at random. They obviously didn’t listen to the instructions and I could see some were thinking “Oh on, why didn’t I listen? What’s going on? I hate English.” Then the bell rang and everyone cheered which I found amusing too but I had to keep a stern professional face on. I do quite enjoy being in the classroom actually. Ironically I’d like to have a bit more control of the classes at junior high and a bit less emphasis put on myself at elementary. They are two completely different styles of teaching and have varying degrees of responsibility.

I just remembered something amusing that happened at elementary school lunch last week. I was sitting with the 5th graders and had finished slightly early because I left this disgusting little side salad of bitter mush. I usually eat it all but I truly loathe that particular dish. So I had tidied away all my stuff and was sitting talking for a few minutes. Then the teacher passed the tray of dishes and got the attention of the class. I could see he had my dish in his hand and I knew what was about to follow. He was talking away in Japanese but I knew he was saying “Who didn’t scrape ALL the food off this bowl?” with two slithers of pickle stuck to the side. I rather sheepishly admitted it was myself and then excused myself in a half joking/half embarrassed manner. I then put my head in my hands saying “argh sumimasen sumimaen” to which everyone erupted in laughter. It actually worked out alright and the teacher is cool so we laughed about it. I give everything a damn good cleaning now though.

I was pretty stressed when I wrote my last entry last week. I kind of wish I didn’t write it now because it comes across rather negatively. Also, it doesn’t give a fair overall view of my situation here but rather of a few days last week. I think the problem last week was I didn’t get enough sleep and after work I didn’t really give myself a break. On Thursday night I took the night off from football practice, got some dinner with Andrew up in Aki and then came home and watched a DVD. It was awesome and I felt so much better after just sitting for an hour or two. My job isn’t really that demanding at times but the days can be long and before you know it… it’s morning and back to work. I took it easy this weekend too and spent most of it doing boring housework but also just sitting watching DVDs and eating unhealthy food. I did go to Aki on Friday night for some dinner and karaoke but that was me for the weekend. The next morning we did find this excellent place for breakfast called ‘One and a half view’. It’s this modern (anything that isn’t from the 1970s is good here) restaurant/clothes shop that hangs out over a cliff. The view was fantastic and the food was brilliant and reasonably priced too. Honestly, I’ve said it before but you pay very little extra for eating here than buying and cooking everything yourself.

The weather was really nice this weekend so on Saturday I went out for a walk and later a cycle along the coast. I drove down to Muroto for about 5pm to meet Joey, Wenjun, Mark and Karl for a festival down there. It wasn’t really a festival though and lasted about half an hour. However however however, the lighthouse was opened to the public for the only time in the year and we got to watch the sunset from it. I can honestly say it is the best sunset I have ever seen in my life. The lighthouse is in the perfect position as it is right on the cape/point at Muroto… on a high cliff… overlooking nothing but the Pacific. So the entire view is just the perfect straight line of the horizon. The colours of the sky were outstanding and it lasted for ages. I might even go as far to say that I felt even slightly… dare I say it… spiritual as I gazed out upon the world below me. After that it got dark and I went to dinner with Joey and Wenjun before driving back to Tano fairly early. I got stuck behind a truck going at about 40kmph which is stupidly slow but this did mean I noticed a shooting star because the roads are so dark and I had nothing else to concentrate on. That was pretty cool and marks the second one I’ve seen as I saw the first one in Spain a few years ago.

Going off on a tangent again but bringing the focus to my car. It doesn’t have a working radio or cigarette lighter so I can’t get any music. Sometimes this is quite good because I can think away to myself when I’m driving but I do miss it. So when I have passengers I have devised a way to create entertainment. Are you ready? Car-aoke. That’s right… make your passengers sing away. Although I don’t think anyone has actually sung after I have explained my idea... though Noah has played his guitar in the back once or twice. I’m a great entrepreneur though and I am going to patent the idea to have mini machines installed in all cars. NOBODY STEAL IT! This brings to the sad news that my iPod has died after three long years of service. I was listening to it yesterday and it finally passed away. The screen even showed a little caricature of an iPod with crossed out eyes on the screen and www.apple.com/support written under it. So last night I went out driving in the rain to buy a new 6th generation, 80 GB colour/video piece of wonderfulness. Sadly, the big electronic store never had any but I did see the Kochi University man who came to watch my class last week. He was on the news I think and I watched it on one of the massive televisions. It’s quite easy to recognise him because he looks like a Japanese Lenin.

I drove in search of another shop but I got hungry so stopped at Masala (Indian restaurant) and had dinner there. I like Indian food a lot more here than I do back home. I think I’m allergic to spices or all the colour dyes and processed rubbish they use in Britain (or I just have a terribly weak palate). Anyway, they were are proper guys from India and I could see one of them giving me a nod so I stuck my head around the door and was all “Hey that was delicious. Goodnight”. The Japanese girl serving me looked in shock that I had crossed ‘the line’ into the kitchen. I’m such a big, hairy obnoxious foreigner sometimes. I never found an iPod by the way. Yes, I live in a prefecture in Japan where I can drive for 90 minutes and find one electronics shop that doesn’t have anything.

Back to Saturday night. I got home and watched three films in a row before going to bed. I started off with ‘28 Weeks Later’ which was good but lost a bit of momentum after the initial excitement of the return of the rage infected ‘zombies’. The best bit was at the start when it showed a flashback of what Robert Carlyle’s character was doing during the time period of ’28 Days Later’. I then continued with ‘Sunshine’ which was directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting/28 Days Later). This started off really well and was filmed really well but the plot was weak. It seemed like a mixture of Event Horizon (which it seemed to copy a lot from) and 2001: A Space Odyssey. To continue the trend… I watched another Cillian Murphy (Irish bloke in 28 Days Later/Sunshine) called ‘Red Eye’ but that was bloody horrendous and I think I fell asleep during it.

On Sunday it was the Tano town sports day. Yes, another one with the same events that last all day. Nobody really mentioned it to me but deep down I knew I was expected to go. I participated in a lot of events from my part of the town (west side: pink) but everyone is really old. However, we did win the three legged relay race which was the highlight of the day by far. I genuinely cheered like I was at a football match and my team had just scored. That night I went and watched the sunset down by the coast whilst listening to some music. It was nice and relaxing as usual before I headed out to a small enkai held by our local neighbourhood. It was quite nice to talk to some young families… especially when you see the kids you teach with their parents or you find out which ones are brother/sister etc. There was other stuff going on this weekend but I think I enjoyed just taking it easy this time. I still really like socialising and doing lots of things with other JETs but sometimes I think it is important just to bum about and get some sleep.

I think I’m done writing for now. I should go hit the Japanese books before lunch. I was going to write a big entry on my overall thoughts after three months in Kochi but I’ll save that for later. I’ll upload all my October pictures later on today… but you’ll know that because I’ll post them at the same time as this and the link should be right about… here. Nope, no pictures tonight I'm afraid.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

PostHeaderIcon Turn Left


I'm just out an hour long meeting at work which was held to discuss the teaching of English in the Japanese elementary curriculum. Traditionally English was only introduced at junior high school but in the next few years this will be extended to all elementary schools. My town in Tano has been teaching English to the younger children for a few years now. I teach the 4th, 5th and 6th grade who range from 8-12 years old. Anyway, I had a lesson with the 4th grade today and about 10-15 people turned up to watch me. I wasn't as nervous as I thought and more than anything I felt it was a nuisance to have them stand around and expect a natural lesson. It just so happens my class was with the teacher who I find it hardest to communicate with and he had picked a hard lesson plan to make fun. This was frustrating because all the comments I just received were about things I do in other classes (such as my 5th grade last week). I was told there would be a meeting this morning to discuss my lesson but it was a lot larger and more formal than I anticipated. I basically sat for an hour and tried to look interested as about fifteen Japanese education types dissected my lesson. It just made me feel like a useless moron even though I know it was not about me but the education system in general. They said some other things that made me feel a bit crap too... maybe this teaching malarkey isn't for me? I try my best for each lesson but the lack of communication is starting to irritate me, especially when people rattle off important information to me in fast Japanese without the least bit of effort to see if I understand. It usually results in me/them needing to ask poor Noah to translate again.

It has been quite a stressful week in general so far. Through my own fault I never got enough sleep at the weekend and most days have been full of classes and preparing for the Halloween party we had last night. On Tuesday some of my classes were recorded and sent off somewhere to be torn apart. My usually energetic students stared at their desks for 50 minutes as I tried to get them to respond in some manner.
Ach aye ach aye.

The Halloween party Noah (and I..a bit) organised was held last night in the Board of Education. It turned out to be really difficult to plan... mainly because we had about 1-2 hours to clear up a conference room and decorate it. It turned out really well in the end though and there were about 50 elementary/kindergarten kids who had a good time. We even carved a pumpkin which was fun.

Man... I'm even tiring myself out with all this complaining. I couldn't be bothered doing any work or studying after the meeting so I think I'll use this opportunity to update my blog. Actually, it looks like... yep I have returned from 15 minutes of filling in insurance forms. Well, I pretty much just copied Noah who found an envelope on his desk but nobody told him about it. Ach aye bloody... work. Yeah, I'm so useless in general. Loads of ALTs don't even have a CIR who can speak Japanese so I shouldn't be complaining. If it wasn't for Noah then I'd just be walking around in circles smashing my face off a wall.

Maybe I shouldn't post my rant? What with my irritation now subsiding into a sleepy melancholy. I might get into trouble if someone reads my blog too but I couldn't figure out how to change the security settings.


The last time I updated I mentioned a Japanese girl called Marika was crashing at my place for two weeks. It was kind of uncomfortable at first but we got on really well and it was nice to talk to a Japanese person about stuff. Me, Noah and Andrew all hung out with her quite a lot and we had some good banter going on. It was actually a bit sad when she left because it's rare to find a cool, young Japanese person who wants to talk to you out in the countryside. Anyway, she left for Hiroshima a few weeks ago and we might go visit it her sometime. I had another party at my place about two weeks ago for her leaving function and we had a good crowd come around to say goodbye.

Lots of stuff happened last week too I'm sure but I've forgotten about it already. A bit of culture shock kicked in last week it wasn't so bad. Having an enjoyable weekend is essential to surviving I think. Working from 8ish-6ish during the week and then being stuck in Tano (we don't have a bar/karaoke/restaurants) for the weekday evenings means you need to get out somewhere. Last Friday, Karl from up in the mountains was meant to be having a surprise party at Rock Green Cafe but it fell apart at the last minute so we had it at mine again. His Japanese girlfriend (Norico) and another Japanese girl from Muroto (Yayoi) cooked up an excellent meal mmm mmm. We all just chilled at my place and them someone shaved a mochican into Noah's head... there's hair everywhere argh.

Saturday was the big Halloween party that I mentioned. We were in the city drinking for a good number of hours and met a lot of other people from the prefecture. I've decided that everyone from the east coast are the best out the lot as we made the party what it was... maybe... nobody can remember. I went dressed as a Scottish vampire. This means I was too lazy and bought a vampire costume and stuck my 'see you Jimmy' hat on. The following day we failed to play frisbee, find any Halloween decorations and then were attacked by the spider in the car.

That sums everything up for now I think... thank goodness. I can tell the grammar and structure are everywhere but I don't care at the moment!

I might be going to buy a video camera after work actually. I wanted to enter the film festival held in December but I couldn't work out the older camcorder I borrowed. I've wanted a video camera for a bit actually so here's my excuse to get one. I might even upload video diary stuff onto my site. Alright, I'm going to go study some Japanese.
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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.