Wednesday, 16 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon Whale

'Endangered' in Japanese roughly translates into 'delicacy'*

I've got an hour left of work today and I reckon it's going to drag on so I thought I'd write a cheeky wee blog update. I was really enjoying my job the last two days as I was actually in the classroom and talking to the students. However, today has seen me back at the B.O.E and sitting with damp socks as it pours down outside. The weather is very pleasant here just now though so hopefully it will be all well and good tomorrow.

In other news, Noah's dad and step-mum are staying in town just now as they complete a tour of Japan. The people at my work hosted a really excellent enkai in Aki on Monday night for them on which I tagged along. They provided endless amounts of traditional/expensive/local Japanese food and drink for them to try so I happily stuffed my face as well. Also, I was presented with my first opportunity to eat whale. Personally, I don't feel that strongly on the subject of whaling so happily tucked in. I'm sure if you mention whaling to anyone then they'll first assume "ah yes, that's terrible" but really humans hunt and eat everything. My eikaiwa also told me last night quite passionately about the history and tradition of hunting whale in Japan. One good point they made was the Western countries used to hunt thousands of whales for their oil only whilst Japan had a use for everything. It may appear that I've been brainwashed but the Japanese kind of irritate me as well. I think it's borderline retarded to continue to hunt a species that has a chance of becoming extinct. Furthermore, breaking international treaties and antagonising other countries by fishing near their waters is just plain... rude. Lastly, using a loophole in the treaty and calling whale hunting 'research' just makes them look like dodgy gits. I also hold some views that the continuation of whaling is one small way that Japan can flex its power/nationalism/history on the world scene. With all this aside... whale is pretty tasty. The cooked stuff tastes like my Gran's roast beef and the raw stuff is some of the best sashimi I've had. I didn't touch the blubber because that made no rational sense in my mind.

Yeah so that was another successful enkai all round. I ended up drinking about 5-6 bottles of sake with the jicho (second in command at B.O.E) and some of my teachers. I think everyone enjoyed the evening although Noah was working hard as translator whilst I stuffed my face with delicacies. Coupled with my eikaiwa last night and work all day today, I'm feeling a bit sleepy right now. My eikaiwa (that's my English class by the way) kind of irritated me last night to be honest. The CIR in the next town cancelled his class because he's got a Japanese test coming up which is fair enough. However, some of the eikaiwa refugees have sought shelter in my advanced class. Now, my class is full of old women who speak near perfect English and whilst the news ones are alright they're miles apart. So now I need to simplify my lessons whilst the old students seem irritated that I'm doing this. This is along with the new students who seem too nervous to contribute and don't flinch when I ask them three times "What did you do at the weekend?" Another one got a bit angsty at me when I politely declined her invitation to drive her into the city so that she could see another 'Genki Musical' performance on Sunday. It made me wonder how my life has evolved into old Japanese women expecting such things from me.

I made a Japanese sentence up earlier in my workbook that I found slightly amusing:

keki o tabemasho. pan wa tsumaranai desu kara.
Let's eat cake, because bread is boring.

Oh wait, I should have ended this entry with something like "Let's eat whale, because it's endangered."

*That might be true.
Monday, 14 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon Electric Cherry Party

Hello. It's now nearly 1am on Sunday evening but I decided I should post an update before the new week starts. I haven't taught in so long that I'm actually a bit nervous to be starting up again tomorrow. Anyway, I haven't done much today other than cleaning and relaxing with some music and a book. Earlier this evening I realised I hadn't actually spoken to anyone for over a day so I called home. Although the main reason for this was that today has been the first day that I really missed my family. I put it in italics because I always miss them but today I really wanted to go home just for the afternoon and watch the football followed by a family dinner. So instead I made a montage of pictures of people/things back home and talked to my brother for a bit. I think we're both typical Scottish males with repressed emotions so we talked about football when really I wanted to tell him that I missed him... so I did it here instead.

I went to watch the Genki Musical yesterday (foreigners/local dialect/chairty thing) which was being performed at a terribly far 20 seconds from my house. I know a lot of people performing in it and I think they did a really good job. Everyone involved has put in a lot of effort over the past few weeks so I thought I should mention that. On the Friday night I had another enkai which actually turned out to be an excellent night. It started off pretty slow and frustrating but evolved into a fun night with good food and conversation. My Japanese was better than usual and I actually got my first ever positve feedback off of some people. I was walking home later that night and a Japanese man looked terrified when I wished him goodnight. I really think he thought I was going to kill him or something. The rest of the entry that follows is a few days old. The writing mood might be a bit contrasting.

It's Friday morning at work and that means I have nothing to do. I might be going on a school trip later today but as usual I've not really been told the details. It might be during my supposed afternoon off and whilst I'd probably enjoy it I'd still resent it slightly. Also, this past week I've found myself caught in the middle of a petty elementary and junior high school argument over school lunch. I usually eat at junior high on Monday and Tuesday and elementary on Wednesday and Thursday whilst having Friday afternoon off. I only have it off because I'm usually in work till 5:40pm the rest of the week... most other JETs finish around 4-4:30pm. However, elementary wanted me to eat there three times a week and this angered junior high as they went down to one. The end result is despite my mild hard line stance on my Friday afternoon off, Ill probably need to give it up to appease them both. This has angered me somewhat because I've found myself in the middle of the argument and was kind of bullied into agreeing to both of their demands. Considering I never take my designated 1 hour lunch break, it means I'll be working 5-6 hours over my contract hours a week. How worthwhile my work is during those hours is a separate matter...

This matter was discussed for far too long for my liking at my junior high school enkai on Wednesday night. This was another evening that turned out worse than I expected. They changed the venue without telling me so I cycled in the pouring rain to the opposite town only to find out it was right next to my house. I turned up late and was pretty much soaked through all my clothes. The fee is usually 5000 yen (£20-25) and for this I get to drink about 2-3 pints of beer, eat some cold fried food and struggle through conversation in a depressing neon-lit room. I did have a good discussion with a new history teacher (although he isn't teaching this year) despite our terrible attempts at each other's language. We talked about how some footballers are just businessmen whilst others play from the heart. Then we talked about stereotypes and views on each others respected country. I tried my best to explain that the Western view of Japan is really pretty positive and that the country is seen as a mix of traditional and modern. He then (surprisingly) went on to tell me that Japan is too traditional and that the people will need to change their views. He then asked if people stare and shout GAIJIN! at me which I thought was pretty funny. Then he brought up WW2 and inside my head I was going "no no no no no no please no argh the tension". However, he was trying to... apologise or something which made me uncomfortable so I tried to stop the conversation by just waving the matter away with "It's history. Now we're friends".

I have another enkai this evening which should be more fun since it's on a Friday night. Whilst these can be fun to drink and bond with colleagues, I find them more stressful and exhausting because of the language barrier. Also, because I work in various circles, I probably attend the most in the town and I'm scared to turn one down in case it angers someone. Also, it means that this week has been a bit too work dominated. Although on Monday I spent most of my time cutting my hair and making dinner. Last night was a bit better as I had dinner with some of my east coast friends and then just went to bed. I ate one of my favourite meals called Katsudon as there is a place in Nahari that makes an excellent one. I'll take a picture the next I order it.

Another main topic of my Wednesday night conversation was Hanami. Around this time of year in Japan the cherry blossom trees (Sakura さくら) come into... well... bloom. I didn't really know they were such a big deal in Japan before I came here but they are. Apparently they remind the Japanese people of life... as the flowers are beautiful but so short-lived. There might also be something to be said about them going out in a blaze of glory/their prime (ie. there are a lots of links with sakura being used as propaganda for kamikaze pilots/suicide etc etc). Japanese people don't like it when I tell them my street in Glasgow last year was full of cherry blossom trees. I lived in a great Victorian tenement flat and I remember walking home after an exam and the street was covered in pink. I told some people this and I could see them thinking "silly gaijin thinks he knows about famous Japanese sakura." There's no doubt that parts of Japan look beautiful during hanami and along with the parks they are also in the mountains that surround me. Hanami means 'flower viewing' and it is an excuse for families and friends to drink and eat under them. I saw lots of this when I went to Kochi City at the weekend and walked around the castle park. There were also a lot of decorations around the castle and it was a really nice atmosphere to walk about in on Saturday night. I took a lot of pictures but they just couldn't capture it the same. Indeed, for every sakura tree you see in a park there will probably be a Japanese person taking a picture with their mobile phone. Everyone in the country will have the same picture... myself included. I would have liked to have had a proper hanami but everyone I know is pretty busy with their own stuff at the moment. I met up with some other foreigners on Saturday night by chance and it was alright but I'm a bit out of that clique. Also, I ran out beer and the shops were miles away.

I actually booked a hotel room in the city on Saturday night which was quite unusual. The reason for this was I had been out on Friday night to attend an international music festival and had crashed at a friend's house. I didn't really want to go back home so I stayed in the city for the weekend but I was really tired and dirty so thought "Why the hell not?" I might just start doing this if I want to hang out in the city for a day or two. I'm always imposing on people by crashing on their floors and then just feel hungover and gargly from no sleep/shower. Yes, so Friday night I went to a bar to watch lots of people I know play music. There was a bit of a mixture with some rock, jazz, traditional Japanese and even a didgeridoo. The first band consisted of Noah, Andrew (Aki) and Andrew (Geisei) who covered the Foo Fighters and The Zutons. They've called themselves SNAS or 'Something Negative About Scotland' in some playful banter against myself. Also, they changed the lyrics of a song to make reference to me as well which was cool but I get anxious with any kind of attention. The opening lyrics made reference to my earlier months in Kochi when I told everyone that Scotland invented everything and that the Declaration of Independence was actually based on the Declaration of Arbroath. Also, it made reference to various Glaswegian insults that I'm a dirty skiver.

I think this just about brings me up to date. I'm not long back from paying an overdue electricity bill at the convenient store. This employee came to my house last night to discuss my lack of payment and it was really frustrating because I could actually understand the problem but he wouldn't stop talking. I misplaced a lot of things in February because of my broken leg so I must have lost my letter during that month. This must have been added on to March's bill which I was honestly going to pay later today but yeah I caused a problem. So anyway, the conversation went like this:

Him: Oh hello good sir. Are you perhaps Hanta-san?
Me: Why yes I am. What can I do for you?
Him: I am from the electricity company.
Me: Ah yes. Is there a problem?
Him: Blah blah blah blah bill blah blah
Me: Is it bill?
Him: Err yes. So the bill blah blah blah blah blah blah. Konbini is it? blah blah blah
Me: Konbini it is
Him: blah blah blah electricity blah blah tomorrow blah blah blah
Me: Electricity... dead is it?
Him: Yes, tomorrow.
Me: I understand. Sorry for my terrible attitude towards your company. Please forgive me.
Him: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
Me: Yes.
Him: Blah blah blah here blah blah over there blah blah blah
Me: Please wait one moment whilst I call my friend. He speaks Japanese.
Him: Blah blah blah blah blah electricity

In a further bout of my newly acquired incompetent nature I sent all my money home by accident. I'd managed to save up about £2300 over the months and noticed the exchange rate had started to climb just as I got my bank accounts established. I decided from my 5 minute study of the exchange rates that they go up one day and go down the next. So when it went up two days in a row I panicked and went to the bank. I was planning on keeping 50000 yen to see me through the month but I'd forgotten I'd paid for a trip to Tokyo. So... I sent all my money home and had to get a loan off Noah or I'd be screwed and have no electricity starting today. What with all my moaning about my life here and my constant mistakes I'm starting to think that it's actually me who IS the problem. What a revelation to end on eh?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon Stolen Pictures

Hello. Here are some pictures I've stolen off my friends on a social networking website. Most of these consist of me being drunk or hungover over the last few months. The timeline is a bit sporadic too.

Monday, 7 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon Boys and girls, be ambitious.

I attended the opening ceremonies for the junior high and elementary school today. I wasn't really sure if school started today or what I was meant to do. I felt a bit lost ever since I left my house in the morning to be honest. Without dwelling on it too much... I've increasingly found myself in situations where nobody has told me what to do yet everyone else expects that someone else has told me. This won't be helped by the fact I have a new supervisor who hasn't said more than two words to me this past week. Anyway, one small example of something that frustrated me was being asked by the principal "Don't you know where you've to sit?" at the ceremony. Then preceding to have a conversation with the three other teachers for ages whilst I stood like an idiot. In the end it was decided I should probably sit with the teachers this time but not in the first row of course. I'm sure a lot of it is my fault but little misunderstandings and lack of communication on a rainy Monday morning can aggravate my otherwise apathetic nature. I'm sure 9 hours of damp socks didn't help matters (in my top 5 hates) but alas... the sun came out later in the day.

Oh I forgot to mention the important thing. Like all things here... most of the ceremony was rehearsed to death and everyone just jumped through the hoops of what was expected. However, my boss (head of Board of Education) actually gives a proper speech at these events which I always enjoy. I don't understand a lot of it but I think I picked up bits about the students being brothers and sisters... or something like that. Then there was something about listening and learning from the teachers. Noah told me that he said the new 1st graders should look back on their kindergarten years and contemplate how much they've learned since then. After that he then broke into a few English words of "Boys and girls... be ambitious!" I think it may have had more of an influence on me than it did them. He called me a Viking a few weeks ago because of my hair and beard too which made me laugh. I shaved them both off today after work and it felt very liberating to say the least.

I had a very busy weekend but I shall save that for a separate entry that I may write tomorrow at work. Tonight I wanted to write a little bit about the film 'Lost in Translation' which I'm sure most of you have heard of. If not then it's a film set in Tokyo that stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen (probably spelt wrong, who cares) as two 'lost' Americans who meet and bond in a hotel. Despite it being released in 2003 and being critically acclaimed, the first time I watched it was about this time last year when it was shown on Channel 4. I had just recently been accepted onto the JET Programme and was pretty excited about moving to Japan. It might not be the coolest thing to admit but watching it did make me more excited about coming here. Anyway, I just finished watching it again and I really enjoyed it. It is an above average film in its own right but I do feel this weird sort of connection to it after living here a few months. Not that I see any comparison with myself and the characters but more the cinematography and the basic level of excitement that is recreated in me when I watch it. Indeed, if anything, I feel slightly antagonistic to the culture shock portrayed by the two leads as they're basically having a 1-2 week holiday and staying at a fancy hotel in Tokyo.

Nevertheless, I feel it is a film I will continue to watch every few months I am here to try and jolt whatever energy it has into me. I quite liked being able to understand some of the Japanese in it as well this time. There is a scene where Bill Murray is promoting the Suntory whisky and a Japanese photographer is barking instructions at him but there are no subtitles. This time I picked up that he wanted Bill Murray to know that: time is money Bobo-san, this is the number one brand whisky Bobo-san and treat the whisky like an old friend... Bobo-san.

Anyway, the music is really fitting and I have found myself listening to it a lot more. The closing song is 'Just Like Honey' by The Jesus and Mary Chain. It just so happens that they come from my home town of East Kilbride in Scotland. I told this to someone the other night and they had a mild interest I guess. It's hard to explain the significance of anything artistically decent coming from a post-war new town to someone who hasn't lived in one. I mainly just appreciate the link between this 1980s band from my town and significance they have with the film. Until tomorrow. Goodnight.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

PostHeaderIcon My partner in crime

Two updates in one day? Madness.

I just had a great 10-15 minutes interaction with one of the elementary 2nd graders. I took a break to look at this ink painting exhibition held in the large hall next to my office in which I was joined by said child. I actually knew some of the Japanese he was barking at me because he was just jumping about shouting "Fire! Water! Mount Fuji! Tsunami! Lighthouse! Tree! Cool huh? Oh great!" We both agreed that a wave crashing over a rock was the best picture so we went to get a voting form. Then he seemed to figure out that there were other notes and money inside the box so that got turned upside down much to my anxiety. In normal circumstances I would have told the child that this was nothing but theft and that someone had left it as a donation. However, it was too difficult to explain and it was only 200yen (£1) so I let him away with it. Then after thieving from said box, the child placed his vote inside... bowed and then tidied up the table... crazy. Then as I was about to say goodbye to him he called me over to the vending machine, asked what drink I wanted and then bought us both one with the stolen money. After much "mmm delicious, isn't it?" I parted my ways with him. I might put 200 yen in the box tomorrow.

PostHeaderIcon Salaryman


As I’m sure most of you are aware, it is April Fool's Day today. I’ve spent the last few minutes wondering if a comma was appropriate for the previous sentence. I then checked that sentence and I am now paranoid about my spelling and grammar. Anyway, at a big meeting this morning my boss made an April Fool’s joke to everyone gathered. I had only understood what he was talking about when he explained “April Fool” at the end of his introduction speech. So whilst I was smiling politely like an oblivious idiot, Noah was recovering from some kind of mild shock. Apparently the ‘fool’ was telling the whole room that President Bush has been assassinated just a few minutes earlier.

The reason there was a large meeting this morning was because everyone had to introduce themselves to the new teachers/office workers. The start of the fiscal year in Japan is met with the arrival of new faces that have been moved about departments. It’s quite a strange phenomenon but there is some system where people are rotated every few years. This means they have a few weeks notice to pack up their things and move to a new school or office. I find it exceptionally bizarre and everyone is in shock when I tell them no such thing happens to teachers back home. Can you imagine a primary school teacher in Bearsden (nice area) being given 2 weeks notice and being told they now had to teach somewhere in Govan (bad area)? Overall… I probably ‘lost out’ in the changes because some of the nicest people have been moved. I still don’t know which elementary teachers I will be working with but I hope that some stay the same. I have another new supervisor as well. He currently looks terrified as he’s getting intense training off my previous one. The new guy that sits next to me seems nice enough but appears to be talking to himself an awful lot.

The schools have been off on holiday for a few days now so I’ve been sat at my desk until further notice. I seem to be filling the hours with anything apart from ALT work or Japanese study. I read about Scottish Gaelic for 2-3 hours yesterday and considered studying it to aid its revival. I changed my mind of course because who wants to talk like a dirty Highlander? Last weekend I had a barbeque down by the beach in Muroto. The waves were really quite big and provided us with something interesting to look at. We even met this backpacker from Tokyo called Ken and we gave him some food and drink. I had another goodbye party at my house on Friday night to which about a dozen people came. It was for my Japanese friend, Yayoi, who lives in Muroto but will soon move to Tokushima for a new job. On Saturday I had a terrible hangover (possibly food poisoning) but went to the mock Monet Gardens in Kitagawa with my friend Nish. Kitagawa is possibly one of the most backwater and rural villages I’ve seen but for some reason has this modern attraction on the side of a mountain. I don’t understand who/why/what but it has some interesting flowery stuff to look at.

That evening I went to an ‘important’ enkai in Tano but it was pretty woeful in all regards. However, I did have one earlier in the week for the junior high school that was a lot of fun. It was on a Monday night though and I always end up drinking a lot because I need to hempai (Kochi custom of sharing sake with everyone). I’ve been trying to raise my fitness now that my leg is strong enough to run on. I bought an ankle support thing and went out on Sunday night. It was pouring down with rain but I always enjoy that if I’m exercising outside. It turns out my town is an amazing setting for running about. You can run along the coast, through the rice fields and even up in the mountains where you can get a great view. I overdid it though and now my thighs ache like nothing else. I bought a blender too and it is proving to be one of my finer purchases. I just throw in fruit and ice cubes and the result is a healthy and delicious snack. Today’s work has been researching new smoothie recipes.

I almost forgot to write about the thing that was the main reason I came here to write an entry in the first place. I found a link to a blog written by a fairly depressed and overworked Japanese salaryman. The term is assossiated with the average Japanese male who slaves away for a company in the city and hardly ever sees his family. It's usually a negative image assosiated with neglect and a life dominated by working and drinking. However, this guy has been writing a small English entry every day for about eight years or so. It's quite a sad read as you can see the man yearns to escape his stressful life. In between his telling you off his 16 hour days he likes to walk in the park to catch the cherry blossoms and watch Charlie Chaplin films. Here are some quotes that make me think he is a bloody good bloke at heart:

I took a day off today,because it is my wife's birthday.
And I would like to take a break,as I worked herd for two years.
I am exhausted honestly.
So I went to buy a bouquet for my wife to Kishiwada.
After that,I stopped by the tower of Kishiwada castle.
I could find cherry blossoms ccome out around the castle.
But they were not full yet.

Today's my birth day.

But I still had to work over time until midnight.
I felt a little sad although I had no choice but to do it every year.
When I was exhausted and arrived at home,I found a birthday present from my daughter.
I recovered energy a little...

Isn't that touching but also terribly sad? The guy just wants to spend time with his family and look at the trees. I used to view the salarymen as those who had willingly sold their lives to a corporation and cared about nothing else but moving up the corporate ladder. Whilst this may be the case for some... I think I now feel sorry for them. If anything I think there is not that much option for a lot of Japanese males. I wonder if things will change in the future now that younger males seem to be moving away from this path ever so slightly. I don't really know what I'm talking about though.
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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.