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!
Related Posts with Thumbnails

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.