Wednesday, 28 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon The Death of a Mosquito

The little bastard.  I woke up this morning at 6:30am to hear my town siren rattling out some sort of warning.  I was still half asleep and couldn't understand what was being said.  The Japanese started to morph into whatever it sounded similar to in English.  My initial analysis revealed that there had been a disaster in Italy and that I should be careful.  I assumed that this was in reference to a massive tsunami heading my way... from... the Mediterranean Sea.  This moment of rational thinking was replaced with a fear that a volcano had erupted and that the sun was about to be blacked out forever.  Then I heard the sound of the rain lashing against my window and I realised it was another warning about the floodgates in the mountain being opened.

I briefly enjoyed the relaxing smugness of knowing that I had another hour in bed.  Yet, this was soon replaced with the agonising realisation that I was awake for the day. I decided to get up and watch some football highlights from the weekend.  I made some breakfast and sat down on my lovely sofa.  As usual, I let my cup of tea cool down too much and ended up having to make a fresh cup.  I had a few initial gulps of my new brew and started to pack my bag for the day.  I returned to finish off my essential mug of the Queen's finest to find this devil's spawn attempting the breastroke.  One was not pleased.

Mosquitoes in Japan are one of the most frustrating things that I have to endure during the warmer months.  However, my problems with them are not confined to their bacteria ridden, love bites of hell.  The first problem arises when you try to use mosquito in a Japanese sentence.  The kanji for it is this: 蚊.  That is useful if you remember it and are using it to read or write.  The reading for it is ka which just so happens to be one of the most common syllables in the Japanese language.  It's almost impossible to refer to it unless you know the full sentence perfectly or you resort to pointing at the red lumps all over you.  The second irk I have is with a possible solution to this problem.  The popular use of English has recently elevated the dreaded mosquito to a common loan word.  However, it is pronounced rather differently.  There is nothing wrong with this and many words are altered to fit easier into the mouths of the poor, tongue tied Japanese.  For example, bus becomes ba-su.  Shopping becomes sho-peen-gu.  Beer becomes bee-ru.  I altered them a tad to help you read them correctly yourself.  You get the general idea though.  

A lot of English words have to adapt in order to work.  It's hard to tell the difference sometimes unless something obvious like the last letter becomes another syllable.  My name (Craig) should end with a strong ig sound but in Japanese it becomes gu.  The majority of English words end in this horrific extra consonant/vowel marriage because there is no other way to deal with it as the Japanese language is set in stone and incapable of divorce  That is until... you get a word like mosquito.  A word that ends with to and is actually pronounced exactly the same.  For some unknown and ridiculous reason they say MOSKEET.  I can't help but stand there shouting in my head for them to say to whilst they continue babble on about the mosukit mosukit.  I just can't believe it happens.  I have been left perplexed on other occasions when the words tomato and Toronto have appeared in a previously, innocent conversation.  The latter appeared in a second grade class after words like cat and what had been taught as caTOE and whaTOE.  "Let's all go to Toront and feedo tomat to thato cato."  I don't get it at all.

In conclusion, mosquitoes annoy me in many ways.  The ones in Japan are very fat and slow so there is a certain degree of joy in killing them like Mr. Miyagi.  Indeed, they actually share many characteristics with Japanese people.  That being that they cunningly hide until darkness and then stab you when you're asleep in your foxhole... oh wait.  Nevertheless, their existence can't be ignored and it is now time to spend thousands of yen on sprays for my little mushroom protector.  They cost a fortune but it is worth it not to hear those little gobshites smashing off my ear drum every night.  Sadly... it doesn't protect my morning tea.  I now know what Vietnam must have felt like.
Monday, 26 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon Apocalypse Golf

 St Andrews. Augusta. Nahari

I have a half day on Friday which I usually use to do sensible things like clean, pay bills and shoot Americans on Xbox Live.  However, this last afternoon wasn't sitting well with me and I realised that I was bored with this same routine.  I decided  that the only viable option was to go and buy some gin, download some new music and write a blog post so outstanding that all other foreigners would simply give up writing their awful books on Japan.  In the end, I took the maverick decision to go for a drive along the coast and get some ice-cream.  This objective evaporated just as fast as it had appeared when I passed the driving range in the town next to mine.  I made the sharpest turn in my lawnmower car and headed up the steep hill to the finest establishment in the prefecture.  

The car park was empty as usual.  I parked in one of the two available spaces.  I walked towards the entrance and was surprised to hear Japanese voices from within.  However, It turned out to be nothing more than a radio playing to the deserted shed of rusty, corrugated iron.  I picked up a pad with free tokens from a table that emitted an atmosphere of complete trust and honesty.  I collected myself an aging driver, 5 iron and a pitcher from the corner where golf clubs go to die.  In a somewhat typical fashion of my intrepid excitement, I forgot to put a bucket down to collect my golf balls.  I decided that I didn't want to pick up all the balls and since I was playing golf in such a lawless environment... I left them there.  How bold.  Who knows how I would react in a post-apocalyptic world.  
  Golf, Coca-Cola and cockroaches.  The only things to survive a nuclear winter.

I picked up a loose ball and placed it on the four inch tee of decaying rubber.  I desperately tried to remember the proper motions of a golf swing.  I racked my memory for any familiarity in my previous, brief flirtations with my nation's famous sport.  All I could remember was the various times I've played on a course by the North Sea where I was almost blown away and drenched from head to toe.  My first swing missed the ball completely.  I adjusted appropriately to compensate for my swing being too high.  My second attempt crashed into the mat and the pain shuttled up the club and attacked my wrist.  I was angry and took my twenty-something angst out on the next few balls.  I think one of them managed to go straight and another got a few feet off the ground.  The liberation of my isolation increased and I decided to try and hit all my appalling drives again since they were now on some actual grass.  When I walked out it occurred to me how much effort had went into creating the driving range.  The complete lack of any flat land on the entire island meant that they had to demolish half a hillside.  I felt a great sense of appreciation for such a place and I decided to treat everything with a bit more respect.  I returned to my mat and decided to pitch the next thirty balls because that's all I can ever do. 
 I actually posed for this with the full intention to post it on my blog.  I look a bit stupid.

I signed my sheet, paid my 400 yen and left the Nahari driving range feeling pleased that these old, rural folk care enough to build such a makeshift and woeful range.  They don't care that it's rubbish and either do I.  Also, I'm quite pleased that I'm probably the first and possibly last Scottish person to have played there.  I concluded my afternoon of leisure with great style.  I got some famous local chicken wings, drank a few gins and then fell asleep until it was time for taiko practice.  Golf truly is the gentleman's game.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon UK Election 2010: The view from rural Japan

There will be a general election held in Britain on May 6th.  Everyone knows that the most crucial demographic to win over belongs to that of the old women in rural Japan.  Therefore, I have written this long and fascinating piece to help the main parties direct their election strategies towards this essential ‘obaachan vote’.

The British people reading this will know all about the upcoming election due to the unrelenting electioneering that has been going on for about two weeks.  Still, the election campaign only lasts a month in Britain compared to America where it never seems to end.  Personally, I have been addicted to reading every news article and I’ll probably take the morning off work to watch the results.   This recent election is interesting because the two main parties of Labour (traditionally left-wing) and Conservative (traditionally right-wing) are deeply unpopular outside of their core support.  The apathy and distrust with British politicians is more apparent than it has ever been.  The main reasons for this have been with the British involvement in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Millions of people protested on the streets of British cities in 2003 and the Labour government ignored them and misled parliament.  Recently, the politicians from every party were found to be lying on their expenses and milking the taxpayers of millions for their second home swimming pools, £1000 chairs and private cleaners.  The biggest election issue this time is to do with stabilising and rebuilding the shattered economy.  Labour have a lot to answer for as Britain has been one of the worst affected in the crisis due to a heavy reliance on borrowed money.  Still, people remember the Conservative years under Thatcher where there was mass unemployment and heavy cuts to public spending so they are struggling to gain trust.  Therefore, there has been a recent rise in support for the third party called the Liberal Democrats.  The party in its current form has only been around since the 1980s and has been often mocked as being irrelevant as the British political system is structured for a two party system.  I wrote too much there but I thought I’d give you a semi-serious overview before I lead on to the next part.  Also, I just saved you reading an hour or two of Wikipedia if you had any interest in British politics.

Once again, I was running short on ideas for my advanced English class this week.  Instead of making a class that would benefit their English ability or improve their understanding… I embarked on another experiment to entertain myself.  I told them that they had to pretend to be Scottish for the rest of the class.  I was genuinely surprised when they accepted this without question.  Usually, a Japanese person would look at me with a terrified look of confusion and mutter “but… I’m Japanese” and then refuse to participate until I promised they could become Japanese again after the class.  To begin, I asked them if they knew who the current Prime Minister was.  They didn’t know.  I told them not to worry because a lot of British people probably don’t know either.  I then asked them to tell me anything they knew about British politics.  They remembered Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990).  I guess a solid decade of (destroying everything) power rewards them with such a fleeting memory.  Nobody remembered their dull and dreary successors of John Major (1990-1997) and Gordon Brown (2007-present).  Also, they were aware of the wars in the Falklands and Iraq.  As always, they talked fondly of Queen Erizaabethu.  I think she visited Japan in the 70s and won over a lot of people.  Also, I think they see a similarity between the British and Japanese royal families.  

Anyway, I explained the names and histories of the three main parties as well as the SNP (Scottish National Party).  They sound a bit racist but they’re actually a centre-left party and currently the minority government in the Scottish Parliament.   To start off the proceedings I asked them what they thought of the party names and symbols.  I then continued this trend of judgements based on nothing when I asked them what they thought of the leaders based on their name and face.

I had to explain the history of trade unions and their role in politics as they don’t really exist in Japan.  They liked the name because they said people who work hard are important to the country.  The symbol of the red rose (there is a modern version but I couldn’t find it) confused them.  I asked them what they thought it might mean.  My question was met with “It’s a flower”.  Eventually, one asked if it was a rose because that is England’s national flower.  This was a good observation but I told them Labour’s strong roots actually come from Scotland and Wales.  Their main opinion was that it was an English symbol used to show some sort of traditional values.  It actually made very logical sense to me.  Perhaps the Conservatives should adopt it.  On an unrelated note, Japanese people know too much about flowers.

Gordon Brown’s name did not go down well.  The main reason for this was because in the past few years there have been English teachers in this area called David, Nick and Alex.  There is always a sense of comfort in the familiar I guess.  They did not like his surname.  They thought that his hair should be brown rather than grey.  I used the PR picture of him and it went down surprisingly well.  They said he had a nice smile and looked friendly.  I told them that British people called him miserable and mean.  They laughed.  I told them he only had one eye and they all agreed that a Prime Minister should really have two working eyes.  I told them that many English people don’t like him because they don’t think a Scottish person should be in charge of them.  They said that wasn’t fair.  I asked them if they thought he looked like a potato.  My change in tone confused them and they did not reply.

The Conservative name was fairly straightforward.  They asked if they were another traditional party of Britain.  I told them they were the traditional party of rich, evil men.  They asked me what the party were conserving.  I told them they were protecting the money and interests of rich, evil men.  The party symbol did not go down well at all.  They just kept saying tree? ? tree?  They demanded to know what the tree meant.  I guessed and told them it was a traditional British tree which I’m pretty sure is right.  I told them they were trying to be appealing and that the party cared about the world.  They didn’t believe this.  Their main problem was that the tree was badly drawn.  They asked if a primary school pupil had drawn it.  I said I wasn’t sure.

David Cameron’s name was met with an enthusiastic response.  They were pleased because they knew two people called that.  I said it was one of the most common names back home.  Their analysis of Cameron’s face was the highlight of the evening for me.  They said “he is young and handsome but…. he looks cold and cunning”.  It just proves that you can judge a book by the cover.  I told them that he was educated at Eton and surprisingly they all knew what this meant.  I didn’t even need to explain the class structure.  I told them he cycles to work to save on his carbon emissions.  They liked this.  I then told them that he has someone drive his briefcase in a car behind him.  They said that he is not a normal person.  “He is not a Labour.”

The Liberal Democrats name was met with enthusiasm because there is a Liberal Democratic Party in Japan.  They lost power last year after over a half century of power.  The party symbol of a yellow bird in flight received the most positive feedback.  However, the concept of a bird flying into the stratosphere of pure liberty was not understood at first.  They just thought it looked the nicest and they liked the yellow compared to red or blue.

Nick Clegg had the most positive feedback from all the leaders.  I asked them why they liked him the best and they told me “he had a nice face”.  They continued to call him Nick because they struggled to pronounce his surname.  I then told them that there was a 90 minute television debate last week and that he had become very popular because of it.  I told them that a lot of support came from people who said “he had a nice face”.  They agreed with this and everyone was happy.  My only hope for the future is that a fascist party does not appoint someone articulate with a nice face.  They said that he looked young and honest.  I asked them if they thought he looked like a bank manager.  They said yes.  I told them that the other two parties often bullied him in parliament.  They thought that wasn’t fair.   I think this sympathy coupled with first name terms were major vote winners.

The SNP name and logo were met with confusion.  I could not find one good name/logo for the SNP on the whole of the internet.  They are usually bright yellow with ‘Scottish National Party’ written somewhere.  They were angry that the SNP symbol did not immediately mean anything.  I told them it was meant to be a mixture of a thistle (the hardest word for a Japanese person to pronounce) and the Scottish flag.  They felt the SNP logo had the strongest meaning once they understood what it meant.  I told them that a good logo should't need to be explained.  They thought that the SNP must not like English people.  I put this one down to the international popularity of ‘Braveheart’.  I think they thought I would appreciate this comment but I tried to convince them there was more to the party than independence.  They like independence because I have brainwashed them for the past two years.  They seemed to struggle with the idea that the SNP should stand for Westminister when there was the Scottish Parliament for them.

Alex Salmond was initially met with silence.  The first utterance came from a question about his surname.  To be fair, it does sound like the fish.  The next question asked how old he was.  I told them he was in his 50s.  The silence continued for a long time.  I was going to ask them if he looked like he had more cholesterol than a fried egg but instead asked them if he looked healthy.  They thought he looked fat and unwell.  They said that he must be intelligent if he was the First Minister of Scotland.  I said he actually had a personality compared to the rest of the politicians in Edinburgh.  The silence continued and I added Alex Salmond next to Gordon Brown in the pile of handsome Scots.

My next plan was to show them the covers of the manifestoes.  Ironically, the exact time I was teaching my class coincided with the launch of the SNP manifesto so they have been omitted.  It’s possibly for the best as I think their campaign slogan (Elect a local champion) is quite dreadful.  This segment of my class had a small element of English education as I could teach them how political parties manipulate and bastardise the language.
Labour:  “It’s red.  It has a sun and a family.  It looks hopeful.  It’s very soft and relaxing.”  I asked them if they thought it looked like an advert for butter.  They didn’t agree.  I decided against asking them if it looked like a nuclear bomb had just gone off.  The slogan was agreed to be short and to the point.  However, they didn’t believe it would be true.  The general opinion was that they were meaningless, empty words.
Conservative:  “Bad.  Not nice.  Very serious.  It looks like the cover of something bad… like bills”.  I asked them if they thought it looked like a rulebook that would shout at you when you opened it.  They didn’t understand but agreed.  The campaign slogan confused them and I told them not to worry because it was an appalling use of English.  They said it was like telling you to vote for them rather than asking.

Liberal Democrats:  “It has nice colours.  It is not too serious but has no pictures”.  They told me that the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan had exactly the same pledges on the cover of their manifesto.  The overuse of the word ‘fair’ appealed to them.  There was no surprise that they liked the ideas of fairness in taxes and children’s futures.  I told them I didn’t like the recent trend to use only the lower case letters.  They did like this because they said they forget to do it sometimes.  I told them they were wrong.  All of them noticed the continued use of the words: future, fair and change since the election of Obama last year.

Verdict:  A total victory for the Liberal Democrats and sympathy for the SNP.

I have written far too much about this.  Many of you can argue that I haven’t given a more accurate account of the main parties.  I mean… it isn’t fair to allow these old women to vote given that they didn’t know anything about the parties or leaders beforehand.  I made them judge the future leader of Britain based on such trivial matters as party name, symbol and colour.  Indeed, I made them base their preference of leader by revealing their name and showing only one picture of them.  I made them assess the suitability of a party’s policies by showing them the cover and slogan of their manifesto.  I was very proud of my English class as they handled such a mundane topic very well.  Still, given how I made them base their vote on a ninety minute lesson on the basics of British politics then we can assume that their opinion matters little.  I mean, we didn’t even get onto the serious issues of how attractive their unelected wives are.  I’ll tell you what though.  I’m glad I come from a country that looks beyond all these gimmicks.
Monday, 19 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon 200

Apparently this is my 200th blog entry.  Although that might count some rough drafts I never posted.  Anyway, it's a bit boring.

The internet connection at work is down because someone downloaded a virus on the network over the weekend.  This has saddened me greatly as I usually use the last hour of Monday to read all the football results from the weekend.  I’m pretty sure they suspect Alex or I even though we haven’t been into work since Friday.  Gaijin have many diseases you see. The severing of this vital umbilical cord to the outside word has left me lost in the office.  I’ve just realised that I live in Japan and I’m surrounded by Japanese people who are actually working.  I can’t even remember the last time I picked up my books and studied some of the language.  The lure of the internet with the facebooking and Wikipedia binges is just too much after a day teaching the same old, mundane textbook English.  Therefore, I am taking solace in Microsoft Word and using the time to keep up the entries in my faltering blog of doom.

I’m usually quite tired because I’m lazy and often stay up to 2am playing games or watching documentaries about the Byzantine Empire.  Still, I am absolutely exhausted at the moment as the past week was fairly busy.  After another weekend of heavy drinking I had my third taiko performance last Monday for Australian exchange students.  Then there was the usual midweek dross of English class before more football/taiko practice and getting my terrible 70s afro shaved off.  Taiko went well even though I made a mess of the very first part of the song.  I showed my English class a Scottish film from the 80s called Local Hero.  It’s a nice little film about an oil company wanting to buy a small fishing village.  I thought the pace and story would go down well but it was muzukashikatta as usual.  It made me feel a little bit homesick actually.  There is a bit in the film when one of the Scottish actors (Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It) speaks a little bit of Japanese.  It’s possibly the worst attempt that I’ve ever heard.  At one point he is teaching the girl katakana English which is basically English after being butchered by the constraints of the Japanese language. 

 I got my hair cut after about four months of untamed growth.  I always forget the inevitable outcome when I start to grow my hair out.  It seems to defy the laws of physics by not actually increasing in length but doubling in weight every day.  The woman who cuts it is actually really nice and is the only hairdresser I’ve been to here who doesn’t have a constant look of terror on her face.  I was in Tokyo last summer and the bloke just decided to shave it to the bone even though I told him in Japanese not to.  The first barber I ever went to gave me a shave and cut my neck so bad that he had to go upstairs to his house to get plasters (band aids yanks).  Anyway, my head is now exceptionally light and all the junior high school lassies think I look super cool again.

This weekend saw me play my annual game of football at Awaji-shima (the island between my island and the mainland) in the ALT tournament.  I’ve really enjoyed the tournament in the previous two years but this year was a bit of a letdown.  The Kochi team suffered the equivalent of two broken metatarsals in the pre-tournament build-up.  We usually take the biggest crowd of people and whilst losing every game we tend to bring the most banter and atmosphere.  Sadly, the truly dire influx of the new Kochi folk and a timetable clash with the JET musical scuppered all hopes and dreams.  In the end only four of us made the journey to the legendary venue where grass is said to have grown once*.  We ended up joining a team called Inter Hyogo who were kind enough to let us tag along and play the odd half as a substitute.  They were a good crowd of lads and it was nice to have a bit of football banter again.  We ended up losing every game on the Saturday… worse than Kochi last year.  They were all good players but the team just didn’t work at all this year.  It was quite frustrating getting only a brief run out but I enjoyed just getting a game.  I don’t think I contributed anything at all.  It’s a shame because in previous years I’ve managed to put in a good show.  Although, I guess playing in defence and left mid for the first time in a decade on a torn up pitch didn’t help.  Well, that and being an unfit pie.  Nobody came out drinking either apart from a Canadian girl (who had been to East Kilbride bizarrely), a South African called Zuwaeli (guess) and a Japanese lad.  My newly married mate, Peter, showed his athletic prowess by spending the evening hugging the toilet.  We managed to make the next day’s games despite the hangovers and continued to play awful and burn another layer of skin off ourselves.  It was a good weekend and I liked just striking up conversations and adding more acquaintances to the pile.  I reckon I’ll probably take charge of the organising and hopefully give the Kochi team a kick in the arse for next year.  I never thought I’d say this but I hope some big lads from home get sent to Kochi this autumn.  My forehead looks like a smacked arse at the moment.  I’ve been getting 日焼け(sun + bake) shouted at me all day.

Well, that just about concludes a traditional blog entry.  It’s never as good, is it?  How about I tell you about what I ate?  That’ll add to the boredom level.  I think I’m going to have sandwiches and soup for dinner.  I can’t handle making any more meals with rice or noodles.  I’ll probably have at least two cups of tea.  Actually, I forgot to mention the bloody gaijin musical.  We made it back just in time to watch the performance in my town.  I’ll be honest… every year the musical is performed I get a bit annoyed at everyone involved in it.  The JET community becomes this cliquey mess of impromptu dances and songs.  Still, there is no doubt everyone works hard and they put on a very good show for the old folk in the prefecture.  I think this year's was the best I've seen in the past few years.  It is very professional and well done for the scattered JETs who can only meet up at weekends occasionally.  My friend Michelle was exceptionally good in it.  She managed to sing some sort of gospel/soul song in Japanese which I thought would be impossible.  The musical itself is performed in the local dialect and it usually mixes a western and Japanese fairytale.  It does work even though I like to think if the opposite was to happen back home.  “Hey Scots!  Please come and watch some Japanese people perform in Glaswegian!”  Actually, that would be wonderful.  Right… work is finished.  Goodbye.

*There is no grass in Japan.

Edit:  I saw a second performance of the musical and it was fantastic.  Just incase anyone stumbles upon it and thinks I was too harsh.  It was very good indeed.
Friday, 16 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon Stupid Gaijin: Sakura

That's a lovely picture of some cherry blossoms, isn't it?  Look at them being all pink and pretty.  Before I begin my rant and descend into the usual depths of nay saying and misery, I must state that I like cherry blossoms.  The trees look wonderful when it's a blue skied, sunny day and I'm driving alongside the Pacific.  I like to walk under the trees... catching the petals in my hand and delaying their valiant suicidal attempt after a life that didn't even last a full cycle of our moon.  Oh how I adore the symbolism of their short and glorious existence.  It really reveals the deep emotion of the Japanese soul.  How comforted those young men and their families must have been during WW2 when they realised they were living parallel lives to that of their beloved sakura.  To die in a blaze of glory for the emperor... oh the envy that their peers must have endured.  Indeed, when the season is over and the loss of the sakura is still deep in my soul... I am never alone in a country where every second restaurant or karaoke bar is named after them.  Furthermore, when I pay my bill I can stare smitten at the back of my ¥100 coins and remember the good days.

I'm not sure what happened in the opening paragraph there.  I was trying to appear positive but then I started insulting Japanese culture again.  The cherry blossom trees are nice though.  It's quite relaxing to sit under them and join in the drinking parties and such.  That's about it though.  Indeed, despite being native to East Asia... there are cherry trees all over the bloody world now.  It's one of those things that I knew existed but didn't really think about it.  The only time I can remember noticing them was in my last year at University.  The streets near my flat were literally lined from top to bottom with them.  I was walking home one day when a massive gust of wind blew thousand of petals in my direction.  It was a nice little moment that I enjoyed before I went home to watch Channel 4 news and forgot about it.  That was until I came to Japan and I began to notice an obsession with them amongst Japanese and foreigners alike.  Japanese people have often asked me if there are sakura in Scotland.  I used to describe my story with great enthusiasm and over-emphasised the mild feelings that I encountered.  They would nod politely but they would retain this look... this look that they always have when you don't give the stereotypical answer they were expecting.   Deep down they are thinking "Aww look at the little gaijin thinking he knows things.  A Japanese man on TV told me what you're like little gaijin.  Don't lie now". Therefore, I play into the same old conversations and let them have their moment.  If a Japanese person had walked down that street near my University then I truly believe they would have killed themselves on the spot.  The reason for this being that they would feel they didn't deserve to live after seeing such beauty.  I went home and made a cheese sandwich.

This entry wasn't meant to be an attack on Japan.  I'll give them their love of sakura.  They can have it all and I'll even give them a hearty slap on the back for their admiration and enjoyment of a national symbol.  Also, I get to drink a lot because of them.  The people that get on my nerves when it comes to sakura are the other foreigners that surround me.  There is an interesting experience to be had when you live in the gaijin minority in Japan.  I'll talk about various factors another time but one of the differences is the various ways we approach Japanese culture.  I didn't really know anything when I came to Japan.  I thought it would be exciting to live in a foreign country and the JET Programme just so happened to catch my eye one day.  Therefore, I came off the plane as a completely fresh faced, open minded and miserable young man.  I feel my experiences of Japan have been completely unpolluted by growing up without an interest in Japanese anime, manga, films or language.  Indeed, even in history I always thought kings and feasts were far superior to samurai and fish.  However, these elements of culture seem to attract a large majority of the people who come to Japan.  A lot of them are alright but a few have grown up into something of a Japanophile.  Their whole life seems to have been directed to teaching English in Japan.  They all seem to major and minor in Asian Studies and Japanese.  I've met many who try to steer a conversation towards your favourite Japanese character... I shrug and say I'm only aware of Anpanman (like a teletubbie) and possibly Dragonball or something.  Then they'll give me a sad face because I'll "be wasted in Japan".  I feel sorry for them if they ever stumble across my blog.  These kinds of people are just as annoying when it comes to their reaction to the beauty of cherry blossoms.  However, traditional Japanese culture doesn't get their juices flowing as much as a cosplay (costume conventions) does so their reaction is somewhat muted when compared to the next group I'll talk about.

The main people I'm attacking are the types like myself who discover these cultural aspects in the course of their life here.  They tend to dive right into things and try to immerse themselves in Japanese life.  They're the sort of people who will have spent a month in their town and will start to slip Japanese words (with terrible intonation) into the conversation.  "Oh yeah.  I went to this great oootteeraaa in Kyoooottooo.  It was just beside the eekkkkiii."  They're the sort of arseholes who'll do some awful bow for every occasion.  Buying a coke at the shop BOW.  Borrowing a pen from someone BOW.  Watching the bin men collect their rubbish BOW.  It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't clasping their hands together and doing a bloody Thai wai.  If you're going to be an awkward pseudo-assimilating foreigner then get the culture right first  for crying out loud.  After bowing for every dish served in a restaurant they'll start to profess their expert views on Japanese life to another married foreigner who has lived here for about seven years.  They'll then get angry and upset when everyone else bitches about common foreign grievances because.... well, they've had the most ammmmaaazzzinng experience of Japan so far.  They're the sort of people who will study Japanese for about six months and pretend that they've forgotten the English word for something.  They are also the sort of people who spend the weekend going on sakura hunting trips around the prefecture and then clogging my facebook newsfeed with twenty photo albums, sixty pictures in each of the SAME picture.  There are only so many angles of a bloody cherry tree I'm afraid.  A cherry tree next to a mountain.  Oh here's one next to a river.  Oh here's one with a geisha taking a picture with her mobile phone hohoho what a contradiction.  They also take pictures of their friends taking the same picture that they had just taken.  All of them standing around with £1000 cameras... zooming in... crouching down to get the exact same shot as the one at the top of my blog.  If I have to endure another year of  them doing the same thing next spring then I may... may... have to delete them as a friend.

Positive conclusion:  I started to write this when the sakura were still alive.  The rain and wind have wiped them out for another year.  I have weathered the storm of facebook sakura albums.  I have won.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon Taiko: Cherry Blossom Festival

I had my second taiko performance last Sunday in a town called None (no-ne) on the other side of the Muroto cape.  I'm only writing this entry because there are some very lovely pictures of the performance with lots of cherry blossoms.  It was a lovely day and the festival was held down by the river.  It started too early so there was no beer on sale.  Therefore, we got the poor, designated driver to take us to a local shop and buy some.  My taiko sensei seemed slightly apprehensive about my drinking.  He shouldn't have worried because my performance was absolutely flawless.  I mean... I did start to play the wrong song at the beginning... but after that... perfect.
The full beginner group in action.  I was playing the right song here.
Look at that determination.  I was squinting because of the sun.
Super gaijin.  I've shaved my ugly face by the way.  I don't have any mirrors so rely on pictures.
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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.