Tuesday, 5 October 2010

PostHeaderIcon New Blog

Hello faithful readers or search engine strangers.  I am moving my blog to a new site.

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Thursday, 30 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon Sports Day: Destroyer of Weekends

Symbolism... sports day... prison... witty caption

There's a strong possibility that you've read me complaining about the school sports day that occurs every September.  I'm sure you think I'm whinging over nothing as an afternoon of sprints and relays is nothing.  However, the sports day in Japanese schools is taken exceptionally seriously... well, by the P.E teacher who is in charge of it anyway.  The whole month of September is saturated with afternoon practices and more often than not it is the English class that gets booted out the curriculum.  The worst thing is that it is always held on a Saturday or Sunday so that weekend is pretty much written off for most JETs.  However, the real crime committed by this celebration of physical activity is that some sports day are held on a national holiday.  Indeed, this is usually a Monday so any plans for a long weekend trip are subsequently wrecked as well.  The day itself starts from about 9am and doesn't finish until about 3-4pm.  This year there were 23 events.  The opening and closing ceremonies go on forever as well.  All the students walk about marching, waving flags and then warm up to Celine Dion music.  Sports day is a living hell.
I usually spend most of the day under the teacher's tent sitting in a terribly old chair next to some terribly old people.  However, I just couldn't handle another day of such a soul-crushing atmosphere so I wandered around the outside of grounds and talked to some primary school kids and their grandparents.  Despite the event being on a Sunday a small majority of the student's parents don't bother their arse to show up.  This means that I've often been asked to participate in some joint parent/student events in the previous years.  However, in the past two years I've always had to do the three-legged race with some kid half my height and double my weight.  I wasn't really in the mood for smashing my face into the dusty ground again so I wore my sandals and hid under a tree all morning and let the other teachers fill the gap.  As is the case with most town events, I am persistently asked to come along but then I am subsequently ignored by everyone when I get there.  I sat in the teacher's tent for two hours and not one person said a word to me the whole time.  The only person who approached me that day was a bloke from Cambodia.  He actually startled me to begin with and I thought he was just a bit of a mental local.  I hate to say it but the majority of people who approach me to communicate in Kochi (and Japan I guess) can be a little bit eccentric.  It's better than nothing though so I can't really complain.  Anyway, he spoke about two or three words of English and I knew straight away that he wasn't Japanese as he was far too good.  Also, I have obviously met fluent English speakers in Japan but they tend to retain their Japanese accent or sound American (I always prefer the former).  I had a very enjoyable conversation with him and we alternated between English and Japanese which was quite an interesting situation to be in.  He had studied Japanese for two years in Cambodia and was now on a three month home stay in Tano.  I gave him my phone number in case he needed any help with anything in the future or if he wanted to hang out.  Now, I often rant about what's wrong with Japan and the like but I take no joy in saying that it is the most normal conversation I have had with anyone in Tano.  There is just something forever present in the Japanese mind that means they struggle to communicate with a foreigner.  I don't exactly know what it is but it appears to be a mixture of them getting flustered/nervous at the prospect or even taking the condescending view that a gaijin and a Japanese can't possibly communicate.  There's also an ever present barrier in the middle of the conversation that the Japanese person uses to make sure both parties know exactly that they are different people.  I don't know... in a few minutes I was talking to the Cambodian about normal things that didn't involve bringing up the differences in our nationalities.  It's sad to say that I've only rarely felt like that in any of my offices or schools.  I've met a few friends who have managed to drop the "gaiin elephant in the room" attitude but the majority of them introduce themselves under such an umbrella.  I'm sure there are other foreigners living in Japan who disagree but these are my feelings regarding my time in Kochi.
I returned in the afternoon with a flask of gin and tonic.  I decided that the previous three years of being a responsible ALT at such events was enough service to the JET cause.  I wanted to have a relaxing time since it was a Sunday and I still had three hours to sit in the baking sun feigning interest and excitement.  Therefore, I sat on a log under a tree and preceded to drink the best tasting drink I've ever had.  I think I was feeling a bit drunk so I went and got some fureido poteto and ended up buying about ten bags for all the first grade kids at primary school.  It was the best sports day I've ever been to.  I left before the cleaning up was due to start which felt good.  The question is... how many Japanese people does it take to take down a tent?  The answer is twelve.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon 高知県の火山

I have been living in Kochi for over 3 years now.  One of my favourite things about Shikoku is the raw nature it provides.  I never get tired watching the changing colours of the sky, mountains and ocean.  This is far from the most spectacular view I have seen in my town but it took me by surprise as I walked quickly to buy some Red Bull and a salmon rice ball before studying and teaching my adult English class.  I talked to my German couchsurfer for about ten minutes yesterday but she passed out before I got home from my work.  She was very nice though and wrote me a note apologising for sleeping and said she hadn't been in such a relaxed environment for a week or so.  She'd been walking about 30-40km a day or something.

Also, the title just says 'Kochi's Volcano' and I only did it in Japanese in the hope that some Japanese person types it into google one day and stumbles across my racist ranting.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon Two Japanese Adverts

Good evening.  I'm going to try and update my blog every day from now on.  Sadly, that means they'll be more of these stupid posts like everyone else does who has a blog.  I'm more of a fan of going on a long rant once every few weeks.  Nevertheless, I give you two adverts that amused me in the past week.

 It seems apparent that models are treated harshly in Japan.  Those girls are freezing in that photo studio.

"I'll have a whisky and an ice-cream please for I am an older and therefore wise Japanese man."

There's not much to say about these other than I have my doubts over the authenticity of that bite out of the parm.  They're both very standard adverts for products in Japan.  The Japanese lassies are looking sultry and sexy as they attempt to sell shampoo, shaving cream for their arms or glue for their eyelids.  The silver haired alpha male is another classic used in promotions for more manlier products such as bitter canned coffee, pisswater Suntory whisky and a marker pen for their bald spot.  
Monday, 27 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon French Strangers and Japanese Doctors

I signed myself up to the couchsurfing website a few months ago.  If you don't know what that is then it's a global network of freeloaders.  Well, you let people crash at your house and then they can return the favour... or you build up a good profile so strangers will let you stay at their house.  I don't know if I have any desire to sleep on a stranger's floor myself but I thought I would make my spare room available for anyone passing through my town.  I didn't think there would be many takers since Kochi is isolated and my town is an insignificant blip along the coastal road.  I anticipated I would get the occasional foreigner who decided they would do the 88 temple pilgrimage before really planning the massive journey and expense of going through this prefecture.  I had seen some occasional foreigners walking along the road looking miserable and exhausted so I thought it would be nice to let them use my house as a resting point between Muroto and the city.

I had to turn down my first request because I was going away for the weekend they were due to arrive.  My second request was due to come one day but I never got a phone call and they replied a week later saying they just got the bus straight to the city.  I was getting a bit bored of the process before I got an email from a French couple who were touring the world for a year.  They decided to cycle around Japan for a month and were heading down to Shikoku.  I was surprised when I actually got a call from them and so I went to meet them at the train station near my house.  The initial conversation was as awkward as you might imagine and I embarrassed myself with my awful attempt at speaking French.  I showed them around my house and left them alone for an hour or two so they could shower and relax.  It was nice to be nice as they were both exhausted and I could tell they were getting a bit weary of Japanese hotels and valiant attempts of communication.  The language barrier between ourselves was non-existent as they both spoke excellent English.  I think it's a result of being surrounded by completely appalling English ability (even by those with degrees in English) but I was shocked by how fluent they were.  Indeed, when I started talking to them I continued my use of simple, slow and pronunciated English.  I dropped that after the first few minutes and just talked to them like a native speaker.  I took them to a great restaurant that serves fried pork that evening and we drank a few cans and had a good old talk about various things.  They walked into a funeral home by mistake one day as they thought they were statues.  The staff were so excited by them that they gave them lunch and the manager talked away to them in English. They took a photograph of them and put it on the front of their website.  Ah... being a foreigner in Japan is great.

Anyway, I guess they were enjoying my apartment and the rest as they ended up staying for about 3 nights.  I liked them so they were more than welcome and I told them to make themselves at home.  Another reason they were taking a break was because Elise had damaged her knee/thigh the day before they came to Tano.  She wanted to go to a doctor to see if she should continue cycling or not.  I think it was about this point that I realised they significantly overestimated my Japanese ability.  I looked up a few body parts in my dictionary and we all headed off to the hospital in my town.  I knew the experience was going to be a massive pain in the arse but I was slightly motivated by this new found degree of responsibility I had over my European cousins.  Therefore, we continued the 700 year Auld Alliance as a united front against the Japanese and headed off on the two minute journey to 田野病院.  I approached the receptionist and before I could even begin to speak about five members of staff turned towards us and started to laugh... some nervously and some just laughing at us.  The older lady at the counter muttered "I don't understand English" to which I replied saying I knew some Japanese.  I replied with a sarcastic "don't worry" but my meaning was lost.  As I anticipated.... we were asked their name (it was excruciating trying to translate French names into Japanese) and then their address and phone number.  I told them they didn't live in Japan and they were friends visiting me.  This caused a lot of panic.  I knew they were going to continue this unrealistic demand so I offered them their French address and number.  This caused a look of shock.  I asked if they were needed and I was told they were because they had to make a card for them.  In the end I just wrote down my details and didn't tell them.  They were just satisfied that it had been filled in.

We were then directed to the waiting corridor where I had spent every Friday afternoon when I broke my leg two years ago.  A nurse came up with a clipboard with a buzzing nervousness.  She asked Guillaume if he spoke any Japanese and his glance towards meant that she leapt into my face.  She handed over the clipboard and asked if I could understand.  She gave me about twenty seconds to glance over an entire A4 sheet of Japanese before she decided I couldn't.  She then attempted to ask the first question in terribly broken English before I asked her to show me it again. Eventually, I managed to leap over these hurdles by just telling them what had happened.  We were then told to come in and see the doctor almost straight away.  

I was slightly nervous because I knew I was going to be in the middle of this international exchange.  It was certainly an unusual experience to begin with.  I kept wondering how it came to be that I was acting as a translator with French strangers in a rural, Japanese hospital.  However, things were about to take a far more absurd turn than I could ever have imagined. The doctor was sitting down and looked all three of us up and down.  I began by explaining about her painful leg and asked if she should stop cycling.  Personally, I would not have gone to a foreign doctor and would probably have decided myself if I could carry on or not.  Nevertheless, I only expected the doctor to perhaps roll his eyes and reluctantly take a look at her leg.  What was to follow can only be described as ludicrous.  His attention turned away from myself and he began to stare intensively at Elise.  However, his expression was not one of concern or even curiosity.  Indeed, his eyes soon collapsed and his gaze was replaced  by a stare more vacant than a glass eye.   He continued to do this in a silence which was only broken by the ever increasing sense of confusion and fear in my French comrades.  I gave them a glance that suggested I was just as shocked as them before I repeated a question in order to get some kind of response out of him. He continued to stare at me in the same way as the mood in the room turned to... well, I don't know.  I looked at the nurse who was also present in the room.  She looked even more concerned than Elise and so I asked her what was wrong with the doctor.  I did this in some vain attempt to shame him into getting his act together but it never worked.  Instead, he turned towards the French, filled his lungs and proclaimed "Paaarrrddddooonn".  I was aghast and stunned into silence.  They asked if he could speak French before I called him an idiot in Japanese and told them that we were leaving.  A nurse followed us outside and tried to mention something about paying the bill when I called her an idiot as well.  I then went on a small rant calling the doctor rude and the like.  I think she was making some excuse about him before she panicked and ran off inside again.  The French were in shock and I was livid.  I struggle to remember an incident whilst living in Japan that has made me so angry.  I can forgive xeonophobic old farmers and the like but to go to a hospital and have a doctor act in such a manner is totally absurd.  I was going to tell my work or someone and demand that action be taken but my temper calmed down in the following hour.  Also, I remembered that this is Japan and I'm just rude foreigner who doesn't respect the oracle that is a Japanese sensei.  In the end, I had to drive them to Aki hospital the next day and repeat the whole experience.  Luckily, the doctor this time wasn't an escaped mental patient and gave Elise some medicine.  We enjoyed the rest of our time together drinking lots of beer and eating some Frenchy cuisine.  Also, I got exceptionally ill and had a terrible fever the next day from something I caught at one of the hospitals.  Hurrah.  A middle-aged German woman is due to stay tomorrow.
Friday, 10 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon Hotto Hotto Samma

There are times when the weight of expectation... or assumed expectation... to update this blog gets too much for me to handle and I force myself to sit down and update.  I feel like I've had no spare time to ponder or complain about something recently.  The majority of people would see this as a positive thing in everyday life but my angst is the precious fuel that I burn into these glorious words.  If the truth be told, I've sat down and started a new post numerous times only to suffer what I imagine is writer's block.  I even begin to get nervous that I've forgotten how to write and start to get paranoid over my terrible grammar and spelling mistakes.  Nevertheless, I've been trying to accomplish things this week after a period of lethargic contentedness.  That has mostly been consigned to cleaning and washing clothes which is a surprisingly long and exhausting procedure in my humid, Japanese mansion from dusty hell.  The worst task is easily cleaning the turtle tank out.  Actually, I don't think I've ever mentioned them on my blog since I got them with Naomi last year.  They're called Alba and Éire after our respected countries.  My one is  a moody little bugger who leaps off his rock into the water when he hears the slightest noise.  Anyway, they've been growing at an alarming rate which means I've had to make them a new tank out of a massive plastic storage box.  I did a pretty good job at it if you ask me.  I might try and make building pet homes my new profession when I return home to the dark despair of the dole queue.  Well, that sweaty face is indeed my own and is a result of cleaning out the tank at 6pm with the air conditioning on.  

Since I got back from Australia last week I've been sweating constantly and it occasionally feels like I've just jumped into a swimming pool.  I read this week that it has been the hottest summer in Japan for about 120 years.  In the same article I read about hundreds of thousands of Japanese going to hospital because of heatstroke.  There appeared to be a considerable jump in the figures from the first day of September.  I'm going to tell you why this was the case with a wild yet accurate assumption.  Did you know that the first day of September is autumn?  Maybe you did.  I don't even remember how our seasons breakdown at home anymore.  Anyway, most people in the rest of the world will have similar "official" days but only people who make calendars would give any attention to them.  However, people in Japan tend to take these changes with a serious approach.  The first dawn of the ninth month means that summer clothes must now be replaced by autumn ones.  Indeed, in some prefectures it may even be the designated day that the air conditioning is switched off.  Yes, I'm afraid to say that this is the life that about 130 million people follow.  "The clothes you wear are not dependent on the weather.  It's September!  It's time to wear long sleeves for goodness sake!  I suppose we can make an exception in your case, what with all that barbarian fur on your arms.  The air conditioning should not be related to the actual temperature in the room you moron.  Don't you know the government pays important people to work out the days we need it?"  

Therefore, there is a nation of conformist and traditionalist fools roasting alive in their homes and offices whilst the drones on television advise the nation to drink lots of green tea (a diuretic) and eat umeboshi (dried plums) to fend off the heat.  Of course, we can't forget the poor students of every school in the country who must practice themselves into oblivion for sports day this weekend.  I could go on a rant about the stupidity of the marching and flag waving and non-sports and the removal of any guessing of who will win the race after 20 practices but I'll focus on this small fact.  It has been around 37-39 degrees in a lot of Japan this week and these kids are expected to run about during the hottest part of the day... everyday.... with only flasks and flasks of green tea to hydrate them.  Keep up the good work 日本.  Here are some pictures of my turtles.  I took better ones but I forget to upload them.  You can't see the wonder of my new tank.  Also, I forgot to mention that catalyst in the writing of this post was an experience with a mukade in the shower.  I just started to wash my face when I felt a quick scuttle brush by my toes.  I absolutely collapsed and my whole body became nothing more than a shell of fear.  That was until I jumped backwards and nearly broke my bloody neck.  I killed it with boiling water and it made me angry enough to sit down at my desk.  Goodnight.
Both of them are now a lot bigger than the bridge.  
The dark one fits on top of that rock.  (Eire left, Alba right)
We bought a kid's pool to get them out in the sunshine.  
That's a tuna treat right there.  I bought them live shrimp to eat once.
Friday, 3 September 2010

PostHeaderIcon Back Soon

Greetings.  I don't like to address and open blogposts with the admission of a being absent for a period of time.  However, I've been away from a computer for about two weeks or so at a JET conference and then my holiday in Australia.  Both were fun.  Both have taken it out of me.  I was planning to update this as well as clean, wash, clean... study mountains of Japanese homework... but at the moment I feel a bit like this.  I'll try and upgrade the blog with numerous bells and whistles in a week or two.  Cheerio for now.
Sunday, 15 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon Return to the Summer Festival

I arrived in Japan just over 3 years ago.  One of my first memories of my time here was the summer festival in my town.  I have been home the last two years so I haven't been able to attend the festival in my town since then.  It turns out I wasn't missing out on anything and my fond recollection of the festival must have only to have been due to the initial excitement of living in Japan.  Also, I think an important factor was that I spent tonight walking about on my own and my only communication was with the students I teach.  It speaks volumes about the relationship I have with my town and work where I can't comfortably go up and talk to people I have known for years.  Personally, I don't think my town is friendly and a number of individuals walk about with a face like a smacked arse.  I have continually felt more welcome when I go to the neighbouring towns of Umaji, Nahari and Muroto.  I blame myself to an extent because I've not taken the initiative enough to involve myself in town events since my first year.  Still, there comes a point when you realise that the people in my town are old women and young families.  They don't want to socialise with a foreigner at their summer festival.  They want to drink with neighbours and their briefly returning children.  I like Japanese festivals and like to drink beer and stuff my face.  I'm also envious of the community aspect of them as every town in Japan (or at least Kochi) tends to have their own.  I always find it a shame that such events are a lot less common back home.  It was a bit of a boring and depressing evening though.  No worries though, I have tea and I'm watching the football online.  I included the picture below because I like how he didn't care about anything but cooling himself.  Also, far be it for me to mock people with the balls to perform on stage but the bands and  karaoke singers were truly awful tonight.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon Saturday's Shopping

I placed all my shopping on my kitchen table like this because my life now revolves around my blog and I thought that it would make a good picture.  Also, it's one of the few times my Saturday breakfast and lunch hasn't consisted of pizza and gyoza.  This trip to the supermarket was exciting because they had some lemons and onions imported from New Zealand.  I can buy both here but they're locally grown and a change is always nice.  Incidentally, it is almost impossible to find limes in the supermarkets in my area.  They are the true treasure of a Japanese countryside supermarket.  Also, C.C Lemon is the best fizzy drink that Japan has to offer.  It's a better alternative to coke and my poor replacement for my beloved Irn-Bru.  More importantly, it has 70 lemons worth of Vitamin C in every bottle.  The small can is a Yuzu drink from the town up the road.  Yuzu is a local citrus fruit that is sort of between a grapefruit and a lemon.  I bought some tuna and teriyaki sauce for lunch.  However, I also put a bit of teriyaki into my omelette mix.  There's a little secret for you all.  When I say secret... I mean... copy me and then praise my culinary genius please.
Thursday, 5 August 2010

PostHeaderIcon The Japanese Samaritan

Naomi took these two paparazzi style shots last week in Tokyo.  We were riding the train back from Yokohama after we had another fun dinner with the Japanese side of her family.  The carriage we were in was quite empty apart from these two young lassies.  The drunk girl slowly slid down until her face was planted in her friend's lap.  Things remained calm for a few stops but it suddenly became apparent that their journey was coming to an end.  When the train stopped the conscious girl attempted to wake her friend by giving her a quick shake.  It was a token gesture as she must have known a more valiant effort was required.  She immediately stood up to let the comatose head collapse onto the seat.  The next course of action was an attempt to lift her up.  Both of them probably weigh less than a bag of sugar but such a weak frame meant that the girl struggled to help her friend off the train.  Eventually the drunk girl managed to stand but she moved with the agility of a mad cow.  There was a brief period when it looked like they were both going to make it off the train but then the girl vomited all over the seat and floor, before collapsing on the latter.  It was at this point that Naomi and I moved to go and aid them both but we were reasonably far from their door.  Also, we stopped because a few people sitting and some new passengers entering the train looked like they were about to help but then decided to step back and avoid them both.  It's a typical scene that I've seen far too often in Japan.  It's like the Japanese brain is in a constant process of conflicting thoughts.  All of the passengers initially stepped forward to help the girl when she fell to the ground.  However, as always, I noticed a small switch labelled 日本人 flick in their head and they lunged back into a frozen glare of uselessness.

I'm not exactly sure what it is with this country but there is a strange culture of people not wishing to get involved in other people's matters.  I don't think it is exactly them being cold hearted or mean but rather something built into their mentality that they should not interfere in a matter if it is outside of their responsibility.  A strange example of this I've heard a few times is that someone might see a person drop their wallet at a crowded station and instead of chasing after them and making a scene, they'll just send them it in the post.  A number of my friends have had this happen to them and they were returned with absolutely nothing missing from them.  If the same situation happened in Scotland then I  assume that most people would chase after and hand the wallet back.  However, I'd say a large minority who found a wallet on the ground would either steal it or take the money out before sending it back.  Personally I would hand it into the police... more because there is a chance the post office workers would steal it themselves.

There is no doubt that this honesty is an excellent virtue that the Japanese have but it is part of the same mentality that means that nobody will come to the aid of a drunk girl collapsed on the floor of a train.  A few days later we were at Fuji Rock and the ground had become quite slippy and muddy due to the rain and masses of people.  Naomi was leaving the Muse gig when she slipped and fell on the ground quite badly.  She told me there was about half a dozen Japanese guys staring down at her with vacant expressions as they watched her pick herself up.    I think Naomi made sure they knew how she felt about their actions.  Incidentally, last year she driving and noticed an old man fall off his bike and struggle to get up again.  She watched a number of fellow Japanese walk past him as he did a fine impression of a turtle stuck on its back.  Eventually she had to stop and get out her car to help him herself.  I was walking across a pedestrian crossing in Kochi City once and I noticed that an old lady's shopping bags had burst in the middle of the road.  Again I witnessed about twenty people avoid her and her desperate attempts to gather her things.  Sadly, it was only myself who stopped to help her.  I even went into a shop and asked for some spare bags.  She was very thankful but I think she was embarrassed at the incident and that an illiterate foreigner was helping her.

It raises a lot of questions about the initial incident with the girls.  For example, was the girl's friend helping her because she was concerned and cared about her friend's well being?  Or was it more the case that this fell into the category of her responsibility?  Indeed, is this even different in Japan or do girls just react exactly the same back home?  I'm not exactly sure what I think.  I'd say on the face of it they are exactly they same situations and I'm well aware that I've had to help vomiting friends in the past because they were my friends.  However, I can't help but feel there is a little bit of a different mentality in other instances.  I could be wrong and racist of course but I can't help but feel they are more consciously aware of their actions in these instances.  It's like they initially go to aid someone as they act on human instincts but then they are held back by something.  This could also be said about the situation of finding a wallet.  Does a Japanese person originally think "Wow 50000 yen" before succombing to their 日本人 as honesty is what is expected in Japanese society?  I tried to imagine the same situation in Scotland if two drunken girls started vomiting on the train home.  I wondered if I would be so ready to help them or would I have some prejudice towards their idiotic, binge-drinking, orange tanned nedness?  I might be more reluctant to help some rough Glaswegian lassies but I'm pretty certain I'd still immediately help them when it was apparent they required it.   I've tried to understand and explain why Japanese people act like this but it can be hard to see beyond the fact that the vast majority more often than not act like cowardly arseholes.  You may think I have topped myself again at failing to understand the differences in cultures and what have you but if you're Japanese and reading this... perhaps you should help the next 80 year old you see in trouble.

I really wanted to make a pun about the Japanese having a samuraitan soul or something but I couldn't quite work it out.  I'm not entirely comfortable with my wild assumptions and generalisations in this entry but I'll post them anyway.  Also, I remember reading the story of a JET who had just arrived in Japan a few years ago.  She was walking over a bridge in a busy part of her city.  As she was coming down the stairs she went over her ankle and fell down to the bottom.  I can't remember the details but I think she ended up breaking an arm, some ribs and was covered in blood.  Anyway, streams of Japanese people flowed past her without acknowleding her.  She had little Japanese and was not sure how to call anyone for help.  The saddest part of the story is that the first person who helped her was another foreigner... a good few minutes after she had fallen over.  Also, just to add another example to this increasing list.  I broke my leg playing football with some Japanese guys in my town.  I tried to walk away before realising I couldn't walk and sat down at the door clutching my leg.  About ten of them walked past me as they went off to have a smoke break.  Who was it that helped me that night?  A foreigner and my supervisor... probably because he felt he had to.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon Ikebukuro

Good evening. I'm writing my first ever blog post live on my iPhone. The reason I am doing so is because I'm sitting in the bar of my hotel on my own ad it feels better to be interacting with something. I would go get my book but there is a strange lad sitting in the darkness singing along to rap music. He was kind of hiding in a tent made out of bed sheets. This situation also means that I will probably be here drinking for some time. The beer is 600 yen a pop but they have a fantastic selection so everything is grand.

I've been totally bored out of mind since I arrived in Tokyo this afternoon. There was a traffic jam in Kochi which meant I just made my flight. Then there was another one in Tokyo which meant I didn't get here till about 6pm. That's okay but it means it was a seven hour journey from my house which is absurd when the flight takes an hour or so. Yep Japanese cities and Tokyo are still fin to be in but the novelty has worn off. This is especially the case when you're on your own because you can't go at a nice restaurant or do karaoke or something. I had nothing to do do I wentto te cinema to see Inception which was great. Thankfully being a foreigner in. Packed city means the stigma of loner cinema goer is not so apparent. I could attempt to talk to the other single travellers but instead we will probably just stare at some screen until the beer we are all nursing runs out. At least the Chinese prostitutes have stopped bothering me.

Still tomorrow will e fun times and I'm off to Fuji Rock on Friday. It's going to be great. Goodnight blog.
Monday, 26 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon Kureigu Hanta's Big Day Out

Nakaoi Valley is one of the strangest places I've been to in Japan.

School has finally finished for the summer holidays so I had nothing to do at work last week.  I've taken advantage of this time to get out of my office as much as I could.  Still, I was still at my desk a few days last week which isn't too bad as there is air conditioning and I can read wikipedia.  The American guy who I work with is meant to be a "Coordinator of International Relations" but instead has changed his duties to staying in his house all day playing video games when he's meant to be in work.  To be fair... he did come in once last week at 3:30am for about an hour or so.  By work I mean he proceeded to eat a bag full of Japanese fast food from the supermarket.  My boss doesn't notice at all so I'm left  trying to maintain a degree of professionalism in the face of such unofficial holiday.  I've took the middle route which is to use my overtime holiday liberally and take a few days off.  Still, last week I spent my time driving to the city for Japanese lessons and getting a new visa in my passport.  Since I got my new car I've been enjoying driving about Kochi in the sunshine listening to music.  Therefore, I planned on finding one of the many waterfalls scattered throughout the prefecture.  One of my friends here is very into such things along with abandoned theme parks and the like.  Such things interested me as well but I'm quite lazy and he looks like a Viking.  Nevertheless, I checked a google map he made and noticed he had marked one not too far from the city.  I had to get back in time to meet Naomi so I couldn't go on a longer expedition.  Therefore, I drove north-west from the city and headed to Nakaoi Valley.  I was expecting a beautiful waterfall that I could take a swim in but things turned out a bit different from my optimistic imagination.
Jurassic Park 2 was actually filmed in Kochi.
This suspension bridge had the most rust I have ever seen in my life.
 A traditional thatched house was in the town.  I've only seen one before and it was partly a museum.

I drove along a river for half an hour before I took a smaller road up into the mountains.  Once again my iPhone proved to be the most useful thing in the world as I got lost and managed to remember the map before I lost the signal.  The road got increasingly narrower and I had to avoid the occasional old person as they just walk out anywhere without the least bit of attention.  I don't think they've fully acknowledged that such things as cars exist yet.  Eventually I reached a car park and assumed that the waterfall would be close.  There were a surprisingly high number of other cars there and so the initial sense of having wandered into a time warp began to subside.  This apparent abundance of other day tourists meant that I sought out a toilet to change into my swimming gear.  I found a concrete bunker around the corner.  It was covered in vegetation and so I prepared myself for the company of some insects.  I stuck my head in the men's door and saw two mukade roaming along the far fall.  I wasn't surprised in the slightest and quickly changed half inside the toilet.  No innocent Japanese children should have to witness my hairy arse.
A possible swimming location despite the collapsed and rusting walkway.

I ventured down the path where I passed a man sweeping some leaves and another with a massive camera.  The strange thing was that neither of them glanced up at me as is the case every day where ever I venture.  I was expecting everyone to stare because I really was in the countryside and was dressed for a trip to the beach.  I wasn't exactly sure where I should be heading as there were streams and rivers in every direction.  I approached a collection of houses that turned out to be the remains of some economy bubble tourist trap.  A lot of the buildings had obviously been left to rot but they looked like they could have opened at any minute.  It's strange to see a deserted place that is covered in tourist signs, shops and restaurants.  However, this area was like a miniature version of other such abandoned resorts.  There were some tiny ponds, bridges and picnic tables that wouldn't look out of place in a reasonably sized garden back home.  As I was trying to listen for the crashing of water in the distance, a man drove past me in a golf cart.  There was a teddy bear in the passenger seat.  I followed the path he took and passed a topless old man who was cooling himself with a fan.
I ventured passed two empty houses and what appeared to be a retirement home of some description.  I finally came to something that resembled a waterfall despite it looking quite hard to access.  The rocks had a number of dodgy looking bamboo ladders as you may be able to see in the picture above.  I decided that I was too hot and sweaty to not have a swim so I dumped my bag at the bottom of the first ladder and began my assent.  The sunshine must have been getting to me because the ladders were far from secure and was head was frequently going through leaves covered in spider web.  The trees soon vanished but the new problem that faced me was the increasing reality that I was climbing a dodgy ladder above some dangerous rocks. As I reached the top the ladders were replaced with a flimsy rope bolted onto the rock.  I didn't trust it so tried my hand at a little bit of amateur rock climbing.  As I collapsed onto the side of the rock and slowly inched my way over to the lovely, cool water... my sunglasses fell off my head and crashed down a gap in the rocks.  It was at this point that I thought to myself in a calm and collected manner "What the fuck am I doing?  I'm in the middle of a deserted village of the damned clinging to a rock".  This train of thought only intensified when my right foot began to slide off a moss covered part of the rock.  I handled the situation like Indiana Jones himself as I made a small yelp and quickly pulled myself up as my legs flailed about like a cow with BSE.  My endeavours were rewarded when I stopped to admire the top section of the waterfall.  The rest of it was fast flowing over some steep rocks but above that was totally different.  The waterfall crashed down into a flat circled pool of water a few inches deep.  In the centre of this was a massive vertical rock that looked like it could be at Stonehenge... there was even some caves.  It looked exactly like an area you'd find in a water park or crazy gold course in a holiday resort.  It was magnificent.  I sat there for a few minutes and had a brief look in the caves but I had to keep reminding myself to be careful because I'm scared of nature.  The solitude began to frighten me and so I made my way down from my own private pool.  I'm pleased to say I handled the descend very well.  I'm sure you were all hoping to read another tale of my possible death... where my corpse would be left for months before another foreign tourist came for a swim.  Who else do you think all those cars belonged to?
On the way out a monkey in a cage jumped at me.  I've never noticed how much like people they look.  The eyes and teeth are identical.  I wanted to set him free but I was worried he would scratch my eyes out and eat my ears.
Sunday, 25 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon White > Yellow

I said a tearful goodbye to my faithful Suzuki Alto this week.  The last legal day of its life was on Wednesday evening.  I drove down to Muroto for the last time in the wee beast.  I got a bit nostalgic when this picture was taken but then remembered why I was getting rid of it when I started driving. So noisy... like a bear was stuck in the engine.  I'm surprised we lasted 3 years together.

Here's my new machine of future Route 55 domination.  It's an early 90s Toyoto Corolla... one of the few car names I know. It has working speakers, doesn't shake when I go over 70kmh and the backseat is big enough to fit a real life human being or two.  Also, the interior is maroon.  SOLD.

It was essential that I transferred these stickers of diplomatic immunity.  How will the Japanese people know that I'm not one of them?  I'm sure they will all recognise the saltire and the lion rampant and stop calling me Igirisu-jin and Amerika-jin.  Did you even know what I said there?  Naw ye didnae.  It's like those "Baby on Board" stickers but I'm being nice and warning the locals that I'm a foreigner and that I will get angry when they do something stupid on the road... which is every day.

This is the shed in the picture a few pictures up.  My town cut down a small forest, concreted it over and put this shed over it in the space of one weekend.  The sign says that I shouldn't park my car infront of it on the weekend.  They didn't tell me about the building or the sign so I'm playing stupid.  I don't think they've  opened it yet.  I nearly pulled it off when I needed to get my police parking certificate but it was like one of those annoying stickers that won't come off in one go.  Maybe I should spray hot water over it.

PostHeaderIcon Tomorrow

I will write FIVE blog posts


If I do then this will be deleted and if not then this will be my only update
Wednesday, 14 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon The Death of a Kei Car

I'm getting a new car this weekend.  Well...when I say new I mean I'm buying a 15-20 year old Toyoto Corolla off my friend for a cheap price.  My current car is a 20 year old Suzuki Alto that sounds like a lawnmower and can just about fit two passengers.  I bought it three years ago because I was desperate for a car and so I got the first, cheap offer that came my way.  I thought the maximum time I would stay in Japan would be two years so I wasn't too concerned with aesthetics or the lack of speakers and radio.  I have renewed its life once before but there is a good chance it will be finally put to rest on July 22nd.  That is the day that its two year sha-ken finally runs out.  This is a compulsory vehicle inspection and it is often quite an expensive procedure to insure that your car is safe enough to drive.  They tend to be very pedantic about it and I had to buy four new tyres last time because the tread was about a millimetre over a red line despite them looking fine.  Anyway, this process generally means that old cars are pretty much worthless and the value of buying one can be reliant on when the sha-ken will expire.  This is especially the case for a car like mine, which is called a Kei Car or yellow plate.  This means that the vehicle is a glorified go-kart with a tinfoil shell protecting the passengers from certain death in a crash.  Also, I don't know if it is a law or something but every yellow plate car is only available in white.  The other type of car is called a white plate and is what any developed country would refer to as a normal car.  It's interesting that a country that is famous for its car industry has a population where the majority don't own a car and those that do are usually poor people in the countryside.

I hope I managed to explain the very exciting details well enough for you there.  The reason for this post was to complain about another fantastic idea introduced by some old men in suits.  These yellow plate cars tend to live a fulfilled life but eventually the time will come for it to be sent to the great parkingu in the sky... a magical, spacious place where it doesn't cost ¥500 an hour or few thousand a month to rent.  In the majority of places in the world you might expect to get a few pennies in exchange for some of this scrap metal.  At the very least you would expect the process to be free.  However, in Japan it will cost the owner about ¥10000 (£75) to get the vehicle destroyed and for someone to push the appropriate paperwork through.  It isn't the worst thing in the world but what I don't understand is that these skint farmers have been driving a cheap and efficient vehicle until the bitter end because they can't afford anything else.  Therefore, they are left with predicament to be a good citizen and dispose of their car in the proper manner at their own personal time and cost.... or they could abandon it in one of the many vacant areas of the beautiful Japanese countryside.  It is therefore no surprise that every spare patch of land in the small towns of Kochi prefecture are littered with the discarded, rusting shells of yellow plate cars.  The picture above is from a piece of open ground in my town between a community centre and a wonderful traditional style Japanese house.  If you drive along one of the numerous endless and unnecessary mountain roads then your journey will be peppered with some kei-car graves along with the trees, temples and shrines.

What I don't understand is why this problem has not been rectified when it became obviously apparent that a lot of people were not willing to pay to scrap their car.  The moralistic dilemma aside... the countryside folk will continue to dump their old trucks and cars all over Japan for years to come.  I just fail to see how this process can be justified any longer.  Surely removing the charge is worth the price in comparison to decades worth of metal and rubber slowly rotting away in the bosom of Japan's ever cherished mother nature.
Thursday, 8 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon Cough

I'm almost always thinking that I should write a blog post when something interesting happens but then the moment passes and I forget about it.  There a dozen or so mildy interesting stories from the past week but I have little time this afternoon to write about them.  I've been sick with the flu since Sunday evening and have somehow managed two afternoons in class since then.  I might add that the classrooms are about 30 degrees and I am constantly coughing inbetween super funtime games.  I only went because it is so much easier just to turn up rather than talk Japanese to a Japanese person.  The whole country has been angering me in the past week but there's no point stressing my sore head about it.  That's all I've got to write at the moment as I need to print some things for a meeting and then catch the train/bus to pick up my car!  Eurgh public transport.  Pictures.. pictures..

This is from my taiko bbq party in the misty mountains.  It was more of farewell for David and Huw.  I stayed sober and we played bingo.  It was fun.  I'm not even being sarcastic.

How many foreigners can you squeeze into my living room?  I think we had 12 of us in there at one point.  The last few weekends have been spent drinking too much and watching the World Cup.  It's a shame the majority of the games we stayed up for were rubbish.  Although I did have a Korean bloke around the other week to watch them play Uruguay.  They lost but it was fun to watch.  I've tried to get a shot of tequilla per goal going.  I think we've went through 4-5 bottles so far.

Touch Rugby tournament in Tokushima.  We actually did worse this year because... we did better.  We won the best of the worst last year but managed to creep into a higher league.  It was a good weekend and we ended up down on the pitches doing ceilidh dancing courtesy of Naomi sensei.

That's all.  I'm sick.  Shove it up yer arse.
Thursday, 1 July 2010

PostHeaderIcon Eigo Wakaran

Good evening faithful readers of my blog.  My festering rage and resentment has settled since last week so this entry should be more light hearted.  It's just coming up to 1am and I'm unable to get to sleep because my sleeping pattern has been destroyed since the World Cup started.  There were only six games available on free Japanese telly so I had to get myself a satellite dish installed.  It was a long and gruelling process with lots of forms and Japanese.  Still, with the aid of my socceroo buddy, the pair of us have had access to every single game (there have been some awful games so it hasn't been all good). At the last World Cup I quit my job, moved home for the summer and didn't miss one match.  Sadly, with the time difference and a day full of entertaining students in boiling classrooms... the lack of sleep has started to catch up with me.  I spend every early morning and late afternoon in a complete coma of exhausted apathy as a result.  I was hoping that I could catch up on sleep today and tomorrow as there is a break in the tournament.  However, my mind is still busy and I needed to clean my house because I have some French couchsurfers coming to stay tomorrow.  I was hoping for a day or two of peace and quiet but I've found recently that I'm more content when I have a lot to do.

Anyway, the point of this entry was nothing more than a classic, personal blog post.  I was kept quite active today as I had to drive to Kochi City to get my new visa application started.  After a few meetings in the morning I set off on the 3 hour return trip.  I listened to some barely audible podcasts about the football and only stopped to check for directions.  I then bolted back for the end of work, headed off to Muroto to get help with my new car details and then went straight to taiko practice.  As I was driving back tonight in the silent darkness on the deserted coastal road of route 55;  I realised that I hadn't spoken a single word of English for the entire day and I still haven't.  It's not uncommon for this to happen I guess but it was only today that I noticed it.  On a weekday I'll occasionally talk to the other foreigner in my office, talk to the other English teacher at school and often see Naomi and some other friends in the evening.  It's quite a strange feeling not to have spoken your native language all day but the majority of people living abrod in English speaking countries probably do it all the time.  The most surprisng thing about today was that all of my Japanese was easy enough that I spoke it in an almost natural way; from the immigration worker to the petrol station bloke.

It's the first time in a long while that my brain has had so much time to itself.  I guess when I was a student I had a lot of time to sit in silence and study.  It's actually in my nature to sit with a cup of tea and have a think whilst reading a paper or a book.  Perhaps that is what has been missing in the past few weeks as my free time has been lost to many interesting things.  In saying that, the lack of anyone to talk to and release the pressue in my brain has made me feel somewhat lonely today and this evening.  I must have driven and sweated for about 4-5 hours in my car today and despite enjoying the views it was quite boring.  I had a rubbish dinner and my scrubbed the humidity diseased shower until I couldn't move my arms above my head.  That's about it for my day.  Here's a picture of me in my kilt again.  The girl with the broken arm has been asking me every week since March when I was going to wear my skirt.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

PostHeaderIcon Paperwork Despair

I've not been in the best state of mind recently and I'm often feeling exhausted and irritated after work.  I'm sure the late nights watching the World Cup and the humid, sluggish days have not helped matters.  Still,  I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past few days after it became apparent that I've turned into a miserable git.  I'm not entirely sure why this is the case but an experience at my town hall two minutes ago has led me to diagnosis the culprit as Japan.  It's not so much the country's fault as it is with my long vanished patience with dealing with the people and the language barrier.  I find it increasingly difficult to communicate with my work and when I require their help it usually involves exceptionally difficult Japanese.  I have been trying to deal with the process of extending my visa for another year.  It means I need to get the following forms completed and processed before I drive to the city twice to get a stamp or two:

依頼書 ---> 契約団体マニュアル?

That probably looks more intimidating than it is to non-Japanese speakers but it's still bloody difficult.  The only parts I can remember myself are 証明書 for certificate and マニュアル for manual (most katakana is English already).  Luckily, some people on JET sent an email around to tell me the things I require so I don't have to try and translate lots of information on an immigration website.  However, I still had to find all the Japanese terms and write a letter to my boss telling him what I require.  Incidentally, the forms I can get at the town hall are probably the easiest part of the process.  The most excruciating part is trying to get a written contract and statement of earnings from my employers.  My Board of Education is so loose and lazy when it comes to the paperwork for my job.  In previous years I've had to print pages out of the JET handbook and demand that they give me a re-contracting form or some form of contract.  I have yet to receive a new one since April when the new year started.  I told my boss (I'm the only JET I know without some form of designated supervisor) that I actually need them to stay in the country when he started to Aaaaah and Hmmmm about the paperwork.

I have a free morning at work on Wednesday (which I usually use to update this) so I decided to take the plunge and get my forms from the town hall.  I always feel nervous before any situation in Japan where at least an intermediate grasp of the language is required.  I set off with my notes, pen, dictionary, signature stamp, foreigner card, pension book and some tax form.  I was pleased to see that the usual desk staff of Arsehole Akira and Miserable Minami weren't there.  Sadly, there was a woman of about one hundred rotations of the sun infront of me.  I didn't mind and sat down expecting to be held up for about forever as she argued about a fence or something.  As I was sitting there another woman came in and walked straight over to another part of the counter.  Another worker ran across the office in a series of welcoming greetings.  I was a bit pissed but I assumed she was expecting her or the other staff member didn't see me.  I waited patiently until either of the women finished their business and I would be next.  It just so happened that both of them concluded things at the exact same moment but both of them lingered at the desk shuffling paper.  I became concerned about the way things were going as the madness of this rural bureaucracy descended into chaos.  One of the staff members retreated from her position and went to process some piece of paper.  At this moment, a citizen strolled right into the town hall and took up half of the free available space at the desk.  Just as I was about to stand up and take the other position the new woman was told to come over to the other desk by the only remaining staff member.  This is when I started to get angry because I was so close to the desk that she had to squeeze past me.  I eyeballed the staff member who basically ignored my existence but she didn't even nearly make contact.  I decided then that I wasn't going to be polite about things so I stood at the available space at the counter.  It just so happens that the other staff member never returned in the remaining ten minutes I stood there.  Instead I stared at a massive office of about 25 people and hoped that one might come and help me.  During this time, another old woman from the street sat down in my old chair.  This made me feel awkward because I was wondering if I was not standing at a defunct and non-operational counter.  If I bottled it and sat down again, would she now take my place in the invisible queue of life?  I stood my ground and hoped that the rough sounding woman beside me finally sorted out her car details.  Things became worse when an elderly couple came in and took the two remaining seats facing the counter.  I was stuck on a lonely island of social awkwardness... that was a metaphor about my predicament although it is quite relevant to Japan as a whole.  Anyway, my exciting trip to the town hall concluded when the one remaining staff member confirmed her foreigner blindness by ignoring me completely and went straight to the queue of corpses on the seats.  I could and should have been more assertive but it was the last straw in relation to paperwork and interactions with Japanese people.  I could feel my brain rage as the last drops of patience evaporated from my bitter shell of a body.  I could have said something in Japanese or English but it would have been rude of me to do so.

The next task of today is to phone a language school and berate them.  They specialise in teaching English since... it's rural Japan.  There are only a few people in Kochi who want to study Japanese and they are spread out.  However, I heard this one school has personal Japanese lessons.  Since I have not been taught one hour of the language in the 3 years and I have nobody to talk to, I decided to spend a fair bit and attend a few hours a week.  The problem is that the company don't want to respond to my nice emails, even those that I wrote in Japanese.  I asked them last week if I could come this morning to set up some lessons.  They haven't replied to that or another I sent on Monday.  This is another fine example of my patience and effort vanishing into the humid skies.  I am actively trying to study Japanese.  To do so I need to drive a two round trip to attend the school.  The lessons will probably cost me £15 an hour... or about £75 a week.  I am taking time off work to learn the language of the country I live in.  The main reason I am doing this is because I have no friends or colleagues to comfortably converse with.  I sent an email in Japanese about studying Japanese to a language school and they won't reply.  I'm close to giving up altogether and developing a case of Tourette's Syndrome where I spend my days shouting swear words in English at everyone I come across.  Trying to be Japanese about things is a failure.  It's time I start foreigner smashing my way through life.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: Lobotomy Posters

I thought I would take advantage of the old bile I felt this morning.  I've been meaning to write about this ever since I saw the woman above in my school office.  I can't explain the irritating anger I felt when I stared at her face every morning.  Look at how absurd she looks.  It's like a 6 year old girl threatening to beat up her teddy bear for not playing nicely.  I have trouble translating the direct meaning of this poster but I think it's some fire safety advice.  I'm guessing that it says that until a fire is extinguished you should keep an eye on the origin of the fire and move away slowly.  Basically, I have no idea.  My bad Japanese isn't the important point here though; I'll get onto it in a minute.  Here is another picture that I took at my nearest store:

The two posters above are of a similar meaning but they are not the only examples I have seen of a lobotomised Japanese girl being exploited in such a manner.  I feel sorry for them.  Look how confused and vacant they look.  It's a possibility that they put a stupid looking girl on the posters to draw attention to the safety advice.  Perhaps it's suggesting to the general population that you should be on your guard because you might need to save some stupid lassie from a fire.  There is also the argument that they're using an attractive young lady because they're easy on the eye.  Indeed, there is no need to put Takeshi the fireman on the poster as it is the strong, alpha males who need to take on these important messages of safety.  I'd say these women are considered attractive in the "girl next door" sort of appeal.  Personally, I think they look exceptionally plain and boring.

It certainly appears to be the case (as in the rest of the world) that young women are used to sell things.  However, the way they are portrayed or expected to act in Japan really makes me annoyed.  If you look at the women in the posters you can see they have similar traits.  Firstly, they need to look young, cute and vulnerable.  The last factor is something that is greatly more apparent in Japan than anywhere else.  When these women are on television playing (overly impressed) second fiddle to an alpha male host they need to act dumb-founded and amazed at everything.  In television dramas the women are constantly type cast as weak and innocent young kittens who need to find comfort in a man (preferably one who grunts his way through chewing the scenery).  However, by far the most annoying thing is the repeated occurrence of the sickly sweet cuteness that oozes out of them.  Look at their stupid, pouting faces.  They're always trying to pull these faces that make them look like a cross between an anime character and Hello Kitty.  It's very popular to pull poses in photographs that make their hands resemble paws or something.  The most annoying thing in the posters above is the pose.  The weak fist clench goes hand in hand with the bastardised English word of fight.  In Japanese, it becomes faaiitooo and is an awful attempt to translate ganbatte.  This basically means to try your best, to persist towards the goal, keep going in the face of adversity and to protect the emperor with all your might from the barbarians.  It can get quite annoying to hear the constant choir of screams at a sports day but it is quite good verb to use.  However, some bastard decided that the English equivalent was 'fight'.  This means that you get Japanese people telling you to ganbatte... before trying their luck at English... waving their arm in your face and saying fffaaaiiiitttoo.  I really wish nobody ever does it to me ever again.

PostHeaderIcon A double dose of excrutiating annoyance

I would be lying if I said I wasn't in an absolutely livid mood this morning.  Indeed, I probably wouldn't have found the energy to update my blog today if the rage of injustice was not pulsating throughout my body.  I'm trying to forge a connection to make an informative entry rather than just ranting irrationally.  I recently booked flights to Australia for my summer holiday.  The reason I had to book these so far in advance was because Japan has conditioned me to organise myself to death.  If you don't conform to this then you suffer the pain of things being fully booked or tripling in price.  The reason for this is because August (and Golden Week) are the only times when ALL Japanese people decide to travel abroad.  As I am a teacher, it means all my holiday opportunities are in sync with everyone else in the country.  Therefore, I quickly established that I should book some tickets on a budget airline before things got messy.  A return ticket from Osaka to the Gold Coast was about 80000 yen (£600) which is expensive in one light and exceptionally cheap in the other.  I'm skint and trying to save money but the biggest bonus of JET is being able to travel to all these places so far from Scotland so I like to take advantage.  It's usually a case of making the most of the available holidays and selecting a country to visit before you're really sure what you intend to do there.

As I am not allowed to own a credit card in Japan because I'm a foreigner; I had to use my home account to pay for the tickets for Naomi and I.  My bank account here has a Tom and Jerry picture on the card so I can't use them and my home bank keeps forgetting I live in Japan and blocked my card.  However, I managed to overcome these minor details and emptied my home account of my abysmal savings.  Everything was going well with these plans until Monday morning when the pain in my wisdom tooth forced me to visit my first dentist in Japan.  The problem I faced was the fact I had literally (I use this word with its proper meaning) no money in the entire world.  My account here was drained at the weekend because I bought lots of tequila, beers and wine for watching the World Cup.  Naomi has nothing as well and had to borrow money off me to pay for flights to Tokyo for a JET conference.  I don't get paid until next Monday and I had less than the minimum withdrawal amount for my foreign card (£80 is usually the minimum and I only had £50).  Therefore, I was almost considering driving to Aki to sell my Xbox games... in order to pay for the bloody dentist.  I couldn't believe I found myself in such a position but I managed to figure out that if you turn on the Japanese language at the foreign ATM then it lets you withdraw anything you want.  In the end ,I managed to scrape about 6000 yen together and hoped that my dentist trip would not exceed it.  JET has a great health insurance so I only had to pay 30% of the bill but I was still nervous I'd have to explain I had no money to pay them.  

My experience with the dentist was a blog post in itself but I'll try and cut it short because I actually need to go and teach soon.  There are about three or four dental surgeries exceptionally close to my house.  It's all the more interesting when each one is serving a town of about 3000 people.  It tends to be the case in rural Japan that things like clinics, barbers and opticians are abundant.  The majority tend to be exceptionally old and provide a service to... the old.  However, occasionally there will be one in a building that wasn't built in the early 70s.  I managed to find a new dentist in the town of Yasuda which is next to mine.  I have no complaints and instead have nothing but praise for the staff, ease of appointment, slow and easy explanations, ease of follow up appointment and generally excellent customer service.  This is in contrast to the dreary and dismal NHS dentist I went to in Scotland, where it is impossible to get an appointment and the staff look and sound like they should be working in a bar.  I even got an X-ray of my jaw and they showed me it on a television screen as they explained it.  My wisdom tooth had an infection or something and I needed it cleaned and was given some antibiotics.  It's alright now and I'm going back later today for a talk about my initial check-up.  I surprised myself by how good (adequate) my command of the Japanese language was that day.  I just wanted to book an appointment but the nice lady decided to ask me a variety of questions about insurance details and the like.  When I got there I was handed an A4 sheet of paper covered in questions.  Now... baring in mind I would need to concentrate when filling in a similar form in English... it was difficult.  I managed to do the majority of them but had to be talked through some of the others.  I think I managed to fool them into thinking I was quite good.  This always backfires though as they'll just assume I know what they're saying and I'll end up getting a wisdom tooth pulled out without an anesthetic.

My initial rage has subsided although the waves of my discontent are still occasionally lapping against the shore of my rationality.  I am angry this morning because I need to change the dates of my holiday.  Naomi has become a prefectural advisor which means she's in charge of helping people and organising conferences in the city.  She specifically asked the dates of the August conference for new people before we booked our holiday.  She was told that it was on the 12th and 13th.  Therefore, we booked out holiday for the 17th August to September 1st.  I thought we would need that much time to see the basics of the east coast and was quite happy with the dates as it gave us a day off before work starts again.  Anyway, I got an email from her this morning that said that the conference had now been pushed back to the following week.  She has to attend it so it means we now have five days cut off our two week holiday.  To make matters worse it is now going to cost more money to change these dates.  Furthermore... I have no money in my account at the moment so I won't be able to pay this additional amount and it may now sell out or increase  in price (as Saturday 21st already has).  Indeed, all this is based on the hope that this budget airline will let us change the dates as they tend to be quite strict on such issues.  Personally, I am angry because I'm paying +£600 for about 10 days in Australia.  I'm angry because it is my last, big holiday on JET and I probably won't be able to afford anything like it in the future.  I'm livid because we actually planned ahead and checked the dates so this would not happen.  Instead, whatever arsehole decided to change the dates is being entirely non-Japanese.  I can't ever fathom established dates for a Japanese conference for Japanese people in the holiday season would ever be changed.  We are basically being punished for conforming and being Japanese.  Indeed, all that seems to have been offered by those in charge is a "sorry!".  Well, I personally think that it is entirely unacceptable and unprofessional to pull such a move.  I don't care if I sound irrational.  I promise to write something better after the dentist today.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010

PostHeaderIcon The Death of a Mukade

Mukade roughly translates as 'spawn of the devil'.

I was cleaning my dishes on Saturday morning before I started to make breakfast.  I stuck on some music and whistled away to myself as the lovely rays of sunshine illuminated my kitchen.  I had almost finished and all that was left was a chopping board at the bottom of the pile.  As I lifted it I saw something long and black.  For some reason... my first assumption was that there was a fat worm in my sink.  As I tried to process this my rational mind caught up with me as I saw numerous flickers of red as it moved within an inch of my hand.  I always anticipated that I would scream or faint whenever I encountered one of these sickening creatures.  However, the sudden change from a relaxing weekend morning to possible death had shocked me to my core.  Instead of screaming, my body recoiled backwards in horror as all the air emitted from my lungs left me with nothing more than a silent wail of pure fear.  Without uttering a sound I went in search of the insect spray.  I hadn't been forced to use it since about last September or October.  As I returned to the sink my nerves were calmed by the realisation that the little bastard was stuck.  Still, there was still an element of fear present as it ran around the edge of the sink like a bullet train from hell.  I must have sprayed it for about a solid minute or two.  Not since the trenches of the Great War has so much chemical warfare been witnessed.  It eventually succumbed to a slow, twitching death after a valiant effort to battle on.  As it slowly left this beautiful world alone from its evil menace, the body and legs began to curl up.  This left the corpse looking a lot less threatening and more like a caterpillar getting ready for their cocoon.  Don't be fooled by the picture above as they look like this when they are on the go.

In Japan, the poisonous centipede is called a mukade.  It's usually written in katakana these days but the kanji is 百足 which means one hundred and legs; the same meaning as the English/Latin.  Their bite is not lethal but it is apparently painful and the area swells up quite a lot.  A student in my class got bit on the leg the other day and had to go to hospital for an injection.  I've heard that it's quite hard to kill them by hitting them with something as it takes a few attempts and then can retaliate in the process.  Also, if they are cut in half then they can run about and chase after you like zombies.  Japanese people say the best method to obliterate them is to boil them alive with a fresh brew of green tea.  Personally, I can't understand how anyone would have  the nerves or time to do that.  I'm afraid we are all human and the natural instinct for all of us is to  go "Arrrgggh kill it kiiiilllll it".  Another tale told to me by Japanese housewives is that the mukade hunt together in pairs so even after you kill one you are still living in a nightmare.

It certainly appears to be the season for all things bug related as another incident later on Saturday evening  proved.  I went to get some more beer out the fridge when a cockroach jumped out from the handle.  For the second time in a day my fingers barely missed contact with such filth.  I won't even mention the episode in the toilet the other night.  I hate summer in Japan.
Wednesday, 2 June 2010

PostHeaderIcon Sayonara PM Tamanegi

I wrote a post about three months ago talking about the absurd life expectancy of the Japanese Prime Minister.  It is with great sorrow that I report to you today that my favourite onion-man has stepped down from office.  The reason for Hatoyama's resignation was because he failed to live up to a campaign promise to get the Americans to move their military base in Okinawa.  That is the main reason but his coalition government has been deeply unpopular in recent months.  I must say that I'm surprised because he won a landmark election and had a 70% approval rating only eight months ago.  Far be it from me to call the Japanese population fickle in regards to politics... but the number of resignations and near constant low approval ratings is just ridiculous.  Who knows what the problem is.  Are the politics of Japan really just run by old men hiding in the smoke filled corridors of parliament?  Are the population so apathetic that they need this constant scapegoat and booster shot to appease the slowly emerging reality of their democratic system?  Who knows.  Personally, I think the campaign pledge was absolutely insane.  From what I've read... there was never any proper plan to put into the practice and the Americans were never approached to get feelers.  Understandably, the Americans did not exactly like this move and have snubbed Hatoyama and the Japanese government in recent months.  It's another matter to argue about the legitimacy of the American bases but surely you'd need to confront the manner with a great deal of respect... especially since America has been Japan's best buddy for a number of decades.  Incidentally, there are a few Japanese  people who (a bit stupidly) like the bases because they're terrified of China and North Korea but the majority want to get rid of them.

Anyway, I went off on another tangent of saturated assumptions so I'll end this brief political update with a funny picture.  And to link this with the overall post... here's a young, (possibly) homosexual version of Winston Churchill.
This taste has landed in Japan!
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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.