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.
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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.