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

Maybe

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.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.

Shashins