Tuesday, 29 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon One Year

I arrived at Narita airport in Tokyo exactly one year ago today. After a sleepless 20 hour journey starting from Edinburgh airport I walked off the plane and was immediately greeted with "Mista Hanta? I'm afraid your cases have not arrived." That was a bit of a kick in the teeth considering I had paid about £200 extra because my cases weighed a whole 27kg (7kg over the limit). Also, the British Midlands woman stole my debit card details and bought mobile phones and booze with them. That was a good start to my life in old 日本.

After a few jet-lagged days in Tokyo I was sent in the direction of my small town in one of the most rural prefectures in Japan. It was unbearably hot and I had to wear my suit whilst meeting people from my office. I had lunch at an Indian restaurant with three Japanese people and some American I didn't know called Noah. I remember being lost in the conversation immediately and I really didn't want to eat a curry. Even then it dawned on me that my life for the next year would be interesting if not a bit of a struggle. So, how has it been? Well, for starters... I now love nothing more than ordering the Larka set at that restaurant and stuffing my face. Here's a small breakdown of the rest of the year:

August: Everything was very interesting and exciting to begin with as is usually the case. I had moved away from home and was ready to adapt to this new culture etc. I got to meet lots of Japanese people and made friends with the other foreigners. There were summer festivals and I had time to study Japanese before school started. All bright eyed as you'd expect. Although it was unbelievably hot and I didn't really know what to do.


My first day at work with my first supervisor. Typhoon waves in the background.
Releasing balloons at the 7th inning whilst watching baseball in Aki.


September/October: These were some of the more enjoyable months of my time here. The weather started to turn really nice around this time and I was feeling a lot more settled in the town. I had lots of parties and barbecues around my house and lots of visits to the city. It was still pretty exciting to be living in Japan. I was nervous for my first few classes at school but by this time I was already into the swing of things. We had a pretty decent Halloween party in town too.


Playing frisbee on a very sunny, October day. Posing with the Aki guys at Halloween.

November: This was a good month too as I went on some long weekend trips around the rest of Japan. I had a great time visiting Tokyo one weekend and then visiting Matsuyama and Hiroshima the following weekend. It was still lovely weather and I actually studied Japanese a lot during this time.


An army of people crashing after a night out in the city. Messing about in Hiroshima.

December: Along with the weather, things began to cool down a bit in December. I remember the month really relying on a Christmas/New Year break at the end of it. I did have a few good nights out in the city. I remember waking up one morning in the fancy clothes I had worn for a film festival and not really knowing where I was. I ended up at some friendly Americans apartment and spent 2 hours hiding under the table trying to shake off the worst hangover of my life. I do kind of miss those big drinking nights out in the city. I had an okay Christmas up in the mountains and a had a nice meal at a nice cafe/restaurant on the cliffs. I spent New Year travelling around Osaka and Kyoto. I quite liked visiting touristy places on my own before meeting up with a Japanese friend and the some foreigners from Kochi. Kyoto was a really excellent city and I'd like to go back to see more. I'm not the biggest fan of Osaka ever since that trip though.


Downing pints and belting out karaoke with Andrew in Tokyo.

January/February
: These two months were pretty miserable. I broke my leg playing football at the start of January just as the weather and misery were already starting to kick in. Indeed, the break was symbolic for my change in mentality and life here that still lingers occasionally. Everyday was a bit of a hassle and it wasn't unusual for me to be starving at weekends because I couldn't be arsed to go out in the rain to buy food. Although I did get pretty damn good at Pro Evolution Soccer on my Xbox360 and I ate my weight in Oreo cookies. Looking back on it, I think I coped with the situation pretty well. I never missed a day of work and I still managed to teach my classes with a smile of my face. This was probably important in a country with a "get on with it" attitude. If I really wanted to extort some sympathy then I could describe how I spent my 22nd birthday. I hobbled about in the cold, showering in the pitch black because the light bulb had blown, spent 12 hours in work teaching at school and at my adult class. Eventually I went home and had toast for dinner.

March/April: These months were also miserable but with little reason because my leg had healed. I figured out that breaking my leg had actually postponed my expected period of culture shock by about 6-8 week because I blamed everything on it. Then I realised that everything was still woe and work/life was just as dull and dire as it had been. It didn't help that all my friends spent their time doing this musical practice at weekends and I hardly really socialised with anyone for a long period. I did have a trip to Tokushima that was rubbish on paper but was an appreciated break from the four walls of my apartment. Japanese study was exceptionally bad during these four months. Also, I enjoyed growing a really bad beard during this time as seen above.


Just chilling with my twin Mike Miyagi in Tokushima. Group photograph at top of the city hill.

May/June/July: Things began to pick up again during the past three months but there was also an element of life turning a bit mundane. Nah... they were good months where I became more sociable and upped my game at teaching a little bit. We had a successful day camp in town. I had another fun weekend in Tokyo. I had an unusual but somewhat enjoyable weekend trip with some Japanese old ladies. The football tournament in Awaji was one of the better weekends of the year as well. Despite being a bit ill this month I've really come to appreciate living here again and I am looking forward to next year. I've really relaxed and mellowed out in the past few weeks and my holiday home should be really beneficial.


Good old Aki karaoke in May. Sayonara Party in Kochi City with the Muroto guys.

My apologies for the long entry but it was something I forced myself to write since I have lived halfway across the world for a year now. Last night I went to the Indian restaurant again for dinner with my friend Andrew. We chewed the fat about.... the moon, video games, going home on holiday and how hard I was to understand when we first met. On the way home I stopped the car to admire a thunderstorm out on the ocean. I listened to Sigur Ros on my iPod whilst watching these lightning strikes light up the pounding waves. It was great and made me all philosophical and what have you about living here. Here's to another year of blogging about my ups and (mostly) downs. Cheers. I'll upload some cheeky pictures others have taken during the course of the year.
Monday, 28 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Good Japan: Festivals

Festivals

It's about time I gave Japan a good old slap on the back for something. In my previous post I mentioned I had been to two different festivals last week. I already mentioned that I like the atmosphere of walking around the narrow, old streets of a small town. A lot of the stalls sell food/drink that is similar to village fairs in Britain and carnivals in America. The sickly sweet aroma of Anpanman cakes being baked replaces that of candy floss and popcorn. There is also a number of games which children can play in order to win a Nintendo Wii or something similar. The women of all ages wear their traditional gear as they walk around drinking 2 litres worth of coke out of a plastic carton. The streets become すし詰め ('packed like sushi', a similar Japanese idiom I learned the other day) which greatly contributes to the already crippling heat and humidity. Despite this... the usually empty and dull streets become alive with people of all ages. Families and friends fill tables and drink lots of beer and eat lots of noodles and grilled meats. It is this community aspect that I enjoy watching from afar and with a hint of envy that there was never such an event in my neighbourhood back home.

Some negative aspects are that everything closes up shop at 9pm. There is also a hint of mundane organisation that plagues all Japanese events and the non-traditional bands onstage usually suck beyond belief. Still.... good job Japan.

Akaoka Festival. It got a lot more crowded up the street.

A typical selection of stalls. They sell the same old rubbish but the kids love them.

Trying to scoop up goldfish with some paper. I thought about giving it a go.

PostHeaderIcon I left Scotland one year ago

It appears I lost interest in updating my blog after being fairly productive with it. If there is a large gap in posts then it usually means I'm pretty content and have nothing to complain about or... I'm really miserable and don't want to complain too much. I'm pleased to say that I have been in a fairly good mood recently and was off work for a few days. It was probably my second longest period off work to date actually despite me only taking about 3 days holiday thanks to a public holiday and some half days on Friday. I used all my saved up hours from my English class too so I still have about 18 days of holiday next year even after my 3 weeks trip home. Old Craigy boy played a blinder with his holiday days.

However, I was feeling pretty unwell for the first half of July. I can honestly say that I've been more ill and injured in Japan than in the rest of my life combined. It was a strange one this time around though. I had a dodgy stomach for a few days which was replaced by being lethargic as hell. I spent most of that time sitting under my air conditioner and watching films. I then went deaf in one ear for a few days before that disappeared last week just as I was considering a hospital visit. I like to think that my dislike of Japanese hospital visits forced my body to fix itself.

must have finished work on July 17th and spent most of that weekend hanging out with my friend Andrew. That consisted of playing video games and going to a festival in a small town called Akaoka. There was a famous painter from the town called Ekin and his interesting and disturbing paintings were on candle lit display around the streets:

An Ekin painting: Death, blood, samurai, katanas and general weirdness.

He was sent into exile due to his said part in some political plot. His feelings of injustice are said to be represented in these paintings. That's a bird stealing a baby by the way. It's one of the tamer paintings.

His characters always have these creepy eyes. This guy was just sitting there whilst a samurai butchered everyone else in the room. I like his work.

I do enjoy the atmosphere of the Japanese summer festivals despite getting a bit bored of them after a few hours. I like the ones in the small towns because there is an element of community that I have (sadly) never experienced in Britain. I think lots of the younger people come home for them too and hang out with their family and all their old friends. I went two nights in a row and met some other JETs on the second evening. My friend Sarah from England is leaving this year so I went to say goodbye to her. It sounds a bit harsh but I'm not that bothered about a lot of the people leaving this year apart from two or three. I liked and got on with a lot of the leaving but some lived just too far away to form anything more than good acquaintances. A lot of the people nearer me had already settled in here so I didn't see them as much either.

I think there should be some new people arriving in the area next week or the week after. I'm the only person in the east coast that isn't leaving or won't be on holiday when they arrive. I signed up to this 'big brother/sister' thing that was made to help them settle in and that. It is a lot to take in when you arrive and a lot of people here are placed out in the countryside. So hopefully I can be of some help in the first week or two if they have any problems. I never really expected to be hanging out with the other foreigners as much but it's just something that happens. There are very few young Japanese people and it can be hard to communicate even if both parties are good at the language. Sometimes you just need to have fun with people with the same language and a similar culture. Plus, you're still interacting with people from around the world.

I went to another festival last Tuesday with my other English friend, David. This time it was a Shinto shrine festival and it had some performance acts with fighting dragons and all that. It was hosted by one of my eikaiwa students who also teaches/taught Japanese to some JETs. She is really kind as well as being fluent in English. We were both welcomed into her home for dinner and that was a nice, friendly experience. Also, she really helped me out last week when I had to go for an interview to get a Japanese driving license. That's a bit of a pain in itself but I'm lucky I don't need to sit a test like the Americans. Although my sympathy is somewhat diluted when I realise their driving test at home consists of driving around the neighbourhood. Baring in mind that the rest of us had to pay a fortune to drive about streets with broken glass in Pollockshaws (crappy area in Glasgow). Anyway, I need to go back in 2 weeks which means I won't be able to drive for a week as my international license expires in a few days. After that bought us lunch and we visited a paper museum which was a lot more interesting than it sounds. Most of my 'holiday' was actually doing boring paperwork stuff like that. I had to pay about £600 so I can drive my car next year as well. The woman that helped me with that was nice too and it was a lot easier than I expected. So yeah... bit of a boring week off but there you go.

I left home a year ago today actually. It doesn't seem that long ago when I think of the day I left Scotland but when I think of arriving in Japan then it does seem pretty long ago. I'm not actually that desperate to go home on my holiday just yet. I still feel like I need to go home for a mental and physical break but I'm glad I decided to stay here for a second year as well. I'm even getting used to the heat and humidity. Always a bonus.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon I type loud because I am important

The guy that sits next to me in work can be a bit irritating at times. He does nothing wrong though and it's me that has the problem. I get annoyed at the way he answers and speaks on the phone... at his own work... in his own language... in his own country. However, I've decided that he is at fault over the way he types on his computer. I'm typing fast at the moment but you don't see me smashing every, individual key. Also, I don't inhale and exhale with a sigh of despair every minute to show just how hard I am working. Recently I've noticed that when he has no work to do he will pick up a newspaper and every so slyly glance over to my computer to see what I'm up to. Just because I'm playing sudoko or reading every single news article available doesn't mean I'm not working hard my good man.

Anyway, I managed to last until 11am this morning until I put on my headphones to block out the smashing. I can still hear him despite listening to the rather loud 'Queens of the Stone Age'. I woke up late again this morning and I finally figured out why this keeps happening. My right ear has been completely blocked for three days and it is honestly hard to hear. It turns out I sleep on my left side and therefore covering up the only ear I can hear with. Yes, I am complaining about hearing and not hearing.

I've started to plan for my trip home to Scotland in August. Since coming to Japan I've realised that I hardly ever left Glasgow in the 4 years I was there at University. This was mainly due to having no money, working for the whole of the summer and wanting to escape to somewhere sunny instead. However, I've come to realise that Scotland is actually a pretty rocking country for visiting and I'm looking forward to being a tourist. Japan is great and everything but after a year there are only so many shrines and temples you can visit before getting really bored. Of course, this is just a realisation after spending a year away from home yet constantly being asked/telling people about it. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do yet. I'm thinking I might go to the Edinburgh Festival for a few days then hire a car and drive about the Highlands. I fancy visiting some of the islands too... possibly all the whisky ones in the west. There are loads of history sites that I studied and want to visit as well.

I'm really looking forward to the weather as well which might sound strange to any Scottish people reading this. The weather in Scotland is pretty terrible but as long as I don't need to live through it (especially the endless winter) then it's all good. The prospect of a drizzly/breezy August sounds great. Ahhh I can't wait to breathe in that fresh air and admire the mountains/lochs och aye och aye.

Anyway, I'll write something better about Japan and all that when I can be bothered. Possibly something positive.
Wednesday, 16 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon I'm unprofessional

My alarm clock didn't go off this morning but I managed to wake up naturally at 8:07am. I usually need to be in work by 8:15am so I threw on some clothes and drank a pint of water. They've only just put on the air conditioning so when I first arrived it was stuffy as hell and I wanted to die. Once I had done the usual morning meeting stuff I made a cheeky exit back to my apartment where I showered and ate breakfast. I then came back to work 25 minutes later and nobody had noticed or really cared.

This reveals many things about my life:

1) A lack of supervision/direction/work means I can do stuff like this without feeling guilty.
2) As long as I turn up to work at 8:15am and clean the office at 5:30pm then nobody knows or cares what I do in between.
3) Living 30 seconds from your office has great advantages.

It's the last week of school and I taught the last of my classes yesterday. This means I have literally nothing to do until the start of September. Do be do be do do. I think we have curry rice for school lunch today. Usually this is cause for celebration but the elementary classes are so hot that they make me feel faint. I can moan about the weather if I want so shut up. Time to play some sudoku.

Update: Lunch was surprisingly good today. There was a nice breeze in the classroom and I had curry rice, fried chicken, my favourite crappy salad and apple jelly. It was an absolute feast of epic proportions.

My right ear is now totally blocked and I can't really hear out it. Three times today I've been in conversations where I can't make out what people are saying to me. If it lasts another day then I'll need to make a dreaded trip to the hospital.

My friend Joey just swung by to drop off his hamsters. I can't really be bothered but he's off to India for about 3-4 weeks. In fact, I might even meet up with him in Osaka the night he comes back and the day before I leave.
Monday, 14 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon I hate the Japanese summer

Good evening.

I think I bored myself with my last blog post. I've not got much more to say because I'd just complain about how ill I am and how I hate every single day of this season. Guess how many mosquito bits I have on one toe? That's right... on one TOE I have three bloody bites.

Guess how I've been entertaining myself tonight? All my thousand of pounds worth of technology? Nah... sudoku. I've been playing away like a madman and I'm actually looking forward to work tomorrow because I can play as much as I want.

I spent about £70 on a frisbee tournament this weekend up in Osaka which I didn't attend because I was still ill. Instead I watched about half a dozen films that I 'acquired' off the internet. I watched the twin films about Iwo Jima which were directed by Clint Eastwood. 'Flags of our Fathers' was crap and rolled out the same old yanky doodle rubbish. The second one, 'Letters From Iwo Jima' was from the Japanese perspective and was much better. I might ask my eikaiwa if they've seen them... get a bit of awkward conversation flowing.

What else?
Yer... I'm the only foeigner in town now because my friend Noah naffed off back home to America on holiday. I'm dead jealous actually as I would really like to leave for mine right now. Also, I passed my JET Beginner's Language Course! Wooo..... nah it's not impressive and I did all the tests in one week. I somehow got forced into signing up for the next course because I didn't want to explain to my supervisor in Japanese that I didn't want to do it. I need to get a driving license this week too... it's so much fun not understanding anything.

I'm aff tae my bed. Goodnight
Wednesday, 9 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: The Sun

The Sun



What colour is the sun? Yellow? Orange? Somewhere in between? I don't feel we really have a 'set' colour for it in the West but they certainly do in Japan. Here's a hint:

Yer... it's red of course. Just like the Japanese flag. Don't ever make the mistake of referring to the colour of the sun as anything other than red to a Japanese person. Especially a bunch of high school students who will tear you apart for your Western stupidity. The sun is red in Japan.

The official name for Japan's flag is the Nisshoki (日章旗) or 'Sun Flag' but it is often called the Hinomaru (日の丸) or 'Sun Disc'. It translates as that into English anyway but the kanji mean a few things. I suppose this is as good a time as any to explain my limited knowledge of them a bit. The first kanji is 日and this represents: the sun, sunshine, day and is the counter for days. It's not too difficult and it is a simple kanji that you will find in many other ones. However, like all kanji, it can be read in many ways such as 'hi' on it's own. This changes slightly if it is read with something else like 日本 which is the kanji for Japan... which reads as 'ni-hon'. Also, it is used much like 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th are used for English dates. Today is the 9th so that is 九日or 'kokonoka'. It is read as 'ka' for these first few dates and 'nichi' in dates past the 10th. So next week will be 十六日 or 'ju (10) roku (6) nichi'.

The kanji in the 'Sun Disc' consist of 日+の+丸. The first one is the sun and is read as 'hi'. The second one is not a kanji character but a Japanese hiragana character that always reads as 'no'. It is used to show possession in this particular case much like an apostrophe would be used in English. Therefore, the first two characters read as 'hino' and can be read as Sun's.... I guess. The last one has just one reading of 'mura' and can mean: circle, full (day/month), perfection and purity. Therefore, we have hi+no+maru which I guess can mean Sun's Circle, Full Sun or Sun's Purity.... maybe... I really don't know. I'm not sure where the 'disc' comes into it as everything I've read said 丸 just mean circle. However... there is another widely used kanji that means circle 円. This is also read as 'maru' when it is referring to a circle BUT it is also read as 'en' and is the Japanese kanji for Yen or ¥. I'm not sure why the 'y' is dropped in Japan. There used to be a hiragana character for 'ye' but it vanished after WW2 I think when the laguage was revised a bit.

Deary me... I'm blabbering on a little bit. Anyway, my main point was the use of 丸 instead of 円 in reference to disc or circle. It could be the case that they do actually represent different meanings of the shape. However, I was wondering (and like it to be so) if it was more the case that the other also contains the meanings of perfection and purity? I'd put a cheeky bet that this was the case but I'm also incredibly out my depth when I talk about kanji. That was really the point I was trying to reach with all that kanji muttering. I quite like the Japanese flag despite it occasionally being accused because of its associtation with WW2. I like it because its quite unique comapred to others in the world and it is very relevant to the history of the country's name.

Nevertheless, I have one more small mention to do with the sun. I've already mentioned in this post and others that the Japanese name for their country is Nihon*. H
ave you ever wondered why Japan is often referred to as the 'Land of the Rising Sun'? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. There is no surprise that it is another reference to the kanji of 日本. I'm more used to reading the second kanji as 'book' because that is used more often in everyday life. However, it also means origin, source, base or root. So in English it can be read as 'Origin of the Sun'. This name and kanji were actually given by some Chinese bloke in the 7th century in reference to the fact that the sun rose in Japan first because it was further East. Personally, I find it all very cool. When I first came here I asked someone (4 years of Japanese study/1 year study abroad) what the kanji in the name meant. At first I was wondering why sun and book were together in the name. They weren't really interested for some reason. Although they mentioned that it also meant root and so I asked again if that was all linked to the rising sun thing. Surprisngly... they didn't really care. It confused me because I wondered how someone could have an interest in the country and language yet not wonder about the history behind it? It's the most interesting thing about.

I only intended to mention the bit about the colour of the sun being red but it evolved into a bit of a messy and possibly incorrect post. There is one more thing that makes me laugh: Japanese women are terrified of the sun. They'll do anything to protect themselves from it such as carrying umbrellas, wearing white silk gloves up to their elbows and wearing the most ridiculous shaped hats I've ever seen. I think they're scared that they'll get a bit of a tan and look Chinese...

Also, you do get some cracking sunsets here. The picture at the top right is the 'Daruma sunset' that occurs in my prefecture in the Winter. Ocean currents/change in temperature give the illusion of the sun with a neck as the light is refracted. Even tonight the sky was looking excellent from behind the mountains. I've only witnessed one Japanese sunrise and that was last week when I got up early to watch the football. In the summer it rises at about 4am but it gets dark at about 7pm. I kind of miss the lingering sun and the late nights of a Scottish summer... and there's never any of this bloody humidity back home.

*I recently read (in my book about the British Empire) the reason why the rest of world calls it Japan. The Portuguese traders somehow got the name of Japan from one or two areas of China who use the same kanji but read it differently. They referred to the country as Jipangu, Cipangu, Zipangu and so forth. Here is a great map I found on wikipedia that shows one of these names. It was made in 1492 and completely misses out the Americas because Columbus was just discovering them.

Monday, 7 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: G8 Summit

G8 Summit

The G8 Summit is being held in Japan at the moment. As usual, it is being hosted in a world class hotel in a picturesque town somewhere. This year, all the prestigious world leaders are sitting around a table on top of a hill in Hokkaido (the large island in the north of Japan.) The island is usually covered in snow in the winter but the summers are meant to be very pleasant. Anyway, apparently there are 40000 riot police stationed there just now. This may not seem immediately surprising to you but I'm trying to figure out who they are guarding the resort from.

It's different if the summit is held somewhere in Europe because hundreds of thousands of dirty, lefty students can easily travel to the host country. However, Japan is an island with only China, Korea and Russia as neighbours. I can't really see many of them willing to travel or put up with documentation just to go and protest in Hokkaido. Are all those lefty European types willing to pay for a flight to get here? There could be a fair few Japanese citizens who will attend it but they are (generalisation warning) just a.... reserved and calm group of people. I just can't see hordes of masked Japanese anarchists hurling Molotov cocktails. There are so few foreigners in Japan to begin with and the majority of them will probably need to stay in work or are saving their holiday days. So... why do they need forty THOUSAND riot police? I just don't understand. I reckon it's a case of Japan looking at the other summits and trying to get on that bandwagon without realising that only about a dozen students from Sapporo (Hokkaido capital) will turn up and do some synchronised clapping.

I always find that the selection of each location is becoming a bit of a competition. It's understandable that they'd pick a beautiful area to try and show off their country but at the same time it's kind of disgusting and hypocritical. There always seems to be a big announcement or a pledge that seems full of promise and ideal but turns out to be a load of rubbish.

Anyway, the other main reason for this entry was an article I read on the BBC news website. On the front page there was a quote from Gordon Brown in reference to rising food prices around the world. He told British citizens to "stop wasting food" and that "unnecessary" purchases were contributing to price rises, and urged people to plan meals in advance and store food properly. Cheers Gordon. It certainly doesn't read like some thrifty old woman's advice in the 'Life' section of any Sunday newspaper. Thanks for telling the world about your revolutionary idea.

The article did explain that millions of pounds worth of food are wasted and I'm sure that's the case. However, did he really need to make this his big statement on the international stage? Couldn't he have just said something about stopping the use of bio-fuels or pledged that the poor must be supported through such hard times? Nah... just freeze your leftover bread and make sure you store your food in plastic containers. I believe you can buy 3 for 2 in Woolworths.
Saturday, 5 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon 19:50pm: Turn off yer gas

Every night I need to listen to an annoucement from the town hall from the fire brigade. It tells me to turn off my gas and not to start any fires. I've got used to it but occasionally it will really annoy me for some reason. Do they need to announce it every single day? Why is at ten minutes to eight? Nah... who cares really? I couldn't think of a title.

Not much of an update but I want to keep up the momentum of writing as much as I can. I'm actually on a bit of a downer today because I should be at a beach party with everyone right now. It's a 5 hour drive away out on the other coast and it's meant to be a great spot. Some of my friends hung out at my apartment last night with some beer and video games in preperation for heading off early this morning. However, I got another good old dose of crappy luck and was up half the night being sick. I decided a 5 hour drive in a packed, roasting car would not have been the best move. Now I'm just bitter and twisted and shouting at loud speakers.
Friday, 4 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon 8:30am: 32°C

There were a number of English exams I had to help with at junior high school today. I was running late so I was rushing about trying to get ready. This meant I had worked up quite a sweat in the journey to school. The moment I opened my front door I was hit with the heat and humidity in the air. I noticed this right away but was too busy trying to get in my car and flooring it to school. Once I had sat down in the office I began to notice just how terrible the heat was. I wanted to run outside and jump in the swimming pool but instead I had to walk about and speak in an energetic voice. It was pretty uncomfortable and I've been in a terribly lethargic mood ever since.

I actually quite like hot weather. However, I am not used to the humidity that accompanies it here in Japan. Furthermore, I'm usually sitting by a pool with a nice cold beer rather than teaching in all my black gear. Also, there is no air conditioning in the schools. Most of the students look as if they're about to pass out. At least I have the option of running away to hide in the shadowy goodness of my apartment once teaching is over.

Ahhh air conditoning and numerous bottles of water from the fridge. I don't want to go back outside. Bring on the drizzly August in Scotland I say.
Thursday, 3 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: Insular Mentality

Insular Mentality

I really wanted to write another positive entry about Japan but I read a news article this morning that annoyed me. It reminded me of all the times I've been so frustrated watching television or talking to someone. Sometimes the people are just so narrow minded when it comes to the rest of the world. So many conversations are just about Japan... Nihon this... Nihon that... Japan is so special and unique. I've just deleted a large part of my entry that gave numerous examples but instead I am going to edit the article I read. You should probably read that first.

No chips! British athletes forced to adapt to Olympic menus

LONDON -- Britain's Olympic athletes are leaving nothing to chance as they prepare for the Paris Olympics.

Chefs at Britain's National Training Center have prepared a special Olympic menu that simulates the one British athletes can expect to encounter at the Olympic village.

A notice board at the training center in London promises British athletes a taste that isn't familiar to home.

Chips and tomato sauce have deliberately been left off the menu.

Some of the items on offer include baguettes, cheese and ham. The Olympic menus will be offered every Wednesday until the end of July, officials at the training center said Saturday.

Instead of British potatoes, meals are prepared with potatoes from Germany and Russia and athletes have been told to prepare for a lack of knives and forks.

Some, however, weren't completely won over by the Olympic menu.

Roger Milton, a weightlifting coach, said he intends to pack plenty of tomato sauce for the trip to Paris.

Alright alright. Did you get my very witty comparison? If not, I was comparing how ridiculous it would sound if Britain was taking Japan's undermining stance of complaining about how different things will be in a culturally similar country just across the water. Apparently, Japan is the only country in Asia to eat rice, use soy sauce and use chopsticks. Oh oh oh wait a minute.... didn't you steal all that from China to begin with Japan? And didn't the ever popular Japanese foods of ramen and gyoza originate in China as well? Of course not... let's sweep that under the carpet and get ready to weep when Japan wins nothing because the poor athletes couldn't get some crucial miso soup.

You might be sitting there thinking that they have a point. The conditions will be different. They'll need to adapt to Chinese food and eat it with plastic knives and forks (apparently). I'd argue that along with Korea, they've actually got a small advantage over all the other countries. They complain about the smog but everyone else will need to put up with it as well.

If you think I am overreacting then I bet you wonder why this article did irritate me so much? Well, I watched a television report from Beijing last week. They had the usual attractive yet idiotic 20-something reporting from the Olympic village kitchens. It turns out that world class chefs will indeed be making food that is particular to each participating nation. Our brave reporter was presented with three Japanese dishes; miso soup, some fish thing and some other slimey thing. Anyway, after much laughing and mocking of the Chinese (I guessed) the woman began to eye up the bowl of soup. After approaching it and holding on to it like a live grenade... she took one of the most tentative sips I have ever seen. When she approached it I was almost shouting out "It's miso bloody soup love!" To her credit, she responded with a surprised "Oishii" which really translated as "Mmm not bad indeed."

There is honestly so much more I could talk about in reference to this and I might do it one day. Also, miso soup is alright I guess. It's made from soy bean paste and you throw in some tofu and seaweed stuff. Along with a bowl of rice, they have been the backbone of the Japanese diet for generations. All my students at school still have them both for breakfast despite having access to all the Western garbage.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: Christianity

Christianity in Japan

I've labelled this post 'different' as it is neither good or bad. I always find that Japan is constantly being labelled as "wacky, crazy and weird" by the rest of the world. This is occasionally true despite the saturation of "what will those Japanese think of next?" style youtube videos. However, I'll usually post about things that strike me as unusual and I feel this title is sufficient enough. Ironically, this entry is about something which has dominated Western culture for thousands of years but I feel it is still relevant.

A few weeks ago I was cycling around my small, rural town when I noticed a crucifix on top of a building. I've cycled down that road many times but I've never spotted it. It took me by surprise because my town has 3000 people in it and it is pretty far out in the countryside. I was aware that there were Christians in Japan but I didn't think there would be a demand for a church out here. It was certainly a small building and I doubt it's going to be packed on a Sunday morning but it's still there.


My previous knowledge of Japanese Christianity consisted of:
  • Portuguese missionaries landed in the west of Japan. They tried to spread the Jesus love.
  • They angered a lot of people. Some Portuguese died gruesome deaths and Christianity was banned for hundreds of years.
  • Christians got killed in Nagasaki at some point. It survived underground there for centuries and then a nuclear bomb was dropped on them.
I actually learned most of that in half a lecture at University a few years ago. It was on how successful the Dutch trading was around the world in the 15th/16th centuries. The Japanese liked the Dutch because they just wanted to trade some stuff rather than trying to covert them all. A favourite thing I remember on that course was how valuable pepper was in Europe at this time. For example, if you refer to someone as a Pfeffersack (a bag of pepper) in Germany then you are calling them wealthy. The first Dutch traders were in search of such Eastern spices when their knackered ship found itself washed up in Kyushu. They were a few decades later than the Portuguese and would instead export ceramics from Japan. Anyway, Christianity was banned after the missionaries were fairly successful and angered the local rulers. The Portuguese were told to "get tae" whilst the Dutch were allowed to stay and trade a bit more.

the end of the century they had failed to win over the elite who were cautious of the foreign influences. Despite there being numerous churches in Nagasaki they did not have the power to stop the rulers. Quite a few priests or what have The Portuguese missionaries arrived in Japan in 1549 and byyou were executed in Nagasaki. I read some of them were lowered into pots of boiling water, crucified or burned alive. That was the end of that then. However, for some reason that totally bewilders me... Christianity survived underground for over 200 years without any outside influence. Just to give you an idea of this length of time: Napoleon was prancing about Europe in 1808. It turns out that the religion did evolve and change over the time and some have called it nothing more than a cult to their ancestors. The idols soon evolved into those that were similar to Buddhist and Shinto ones and the prayers soon changed mean. They were given the name Kakure Kirishitan or Hidden Christian. Christianity in the country was aided after the Americans opened up Japan again in the middle of the 19th century. The Meiji Restoration that followed a few years later cemented this. I don't know what the deal was with it during WW2 but I imagine it wasn't looked on too kindly. Apparently the levels of Christians haven't risen too much since the end of WW2 but there are still around 2 million in the entire country (the population is about 130 million).

Although I find the history quite interesting and unique in its formation, I still find it unusual that Christianity survived in the country and that there are still so many practicing it here now. There is a woman in my English class who is a Christian. I discovered this when I was talking about Christmas a way back in December. I mentioned that to make it an easier transition for the converted pagans... the day of celebration was moved nearer to the winter solstice festival on December 21st. She freaked out a little bit and was asking me all these questions that I didn't know how to answer. I was too busy trying to figure out how this very Japanese woman could possibly be Christian. It could be the case that I'm the one at fault as I link Christianity too much with old Europe and its colonies around the world. A practicing Christian in a country that has no cultural or historical link makes me feel a little uneasy for some reason. Possibly because I just can't comprehend the situation.

It's possibly wrong for me to judge people like this but I can't help it. It's just the same when some bloke back home says he's a Buddhist. I see all religions in terms of their historical background rather than their... spiritual pros and cons. Each country or area in the world has been affected by a religion and many elements are deeply entrenched within their culture. Indeed, religion has played a major role in creating many nation's identities. Therefore, I find it unusual when a person strays away from this and starts to weigh up religions against each other before picking the most 'suitable' one for them.

History is amazing though. I'm just cycling down a street and I can pass something that makes me think how it got there. There's over two thousand years worth of history stored in that simple cross. I'm so profound me.

The top left hand picture is the very cross in my town. I tried to get some of the Japanese roof tiles in for a bit of contrast eh eh? The Japanese writing down the right hand side is:
日本(Nihon/Japan) and キリスト (Kirisuto/Christ)
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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.

Shashins