Sunday, December 12, 2010
Broken this weekend up into two entries, because this experience deserves one on its own.
So, from the river, we stopped in for lunch at a tiny isolated chicken place. Upon exiting the car we were instantly beckoned over by a group of people, who proceeded to place giant platters of sushi and Japanese food in front of us. Also, after determining the driver, beer. I find our status as foreign people in Japan is similar to that of escorts. We are fed, liquored up, and generally pandered to, in return for our experimental Japanese, rapid-fire English, and awkward eating habits. With only one competent Japanese speaker among us, we were, as it were, a group catch.
So many food demonstrations and bumbling introductions later, it came out that this party we had been so enthusiastically welcomed into was actually the two month anniversary of the host’s husband’s death. After the brief shock, I must say I was overall heartened by the idea of the event. It’s pretty much the same as when we drink and get onto the subject of funerals and losses in our lives, and reach out to each other as humans. Except, this way, it is organized, so you never have to feel guilty about “bringing the mood down” as it were. It’s a nice idea that while you will inevitably suffer alone, for one day a month you suffer together. To surround this widow with family and friends on what will possibly remain the hardest day of the month for years to come, is such a life affirming, humane thing to do. Among the alcohol, food and laughs, there is real tenderness here. Aren’t people just simply good?
Another thing I found interesting about the experience was that there was a snack mama there. These are a really interesting concept to me. Basically, instead of clubs or raging parties (as I have oft-lamented), there are hundreds of snack bars. They are run typically by an alpha female or male and are quite expensive to drink at, because you are paying for their company. They pretty much entertain you. If you are flagging, they bring out drinking games. If you are sad, they will joke. If you are lonely, they will ask you about your life. It’s like having an uplifting life of the party that never gets tired or falls into morosity or aggression.
What I’m assuming is that she was hired for the occasion, to keep some sort of atmosphere alive. It is a good idea, but, I can imagine, so exhausting. Imagine keeping an entire group up. When they need a healthy cackle about something ridiculous, like “boob shochu”. Or, knowing when to let them work as a group through their feelings. You have to be an incredibly charismatic, perceptive person and I admire them for that immensely. While also feeling that same sadness that here there is a niche for that sort of career at all.
I wasn’t really too sure on the mechanics, but at one point we got to cackling about something, and she gave me a healthy belt on the arm. It sticks out in my memory, because so many people are afraid to touch so familiarly. Then, when she showed me to the bathroom, she lent me her own hand towel. On the way back I used my crude Japanese to tell her she was very entertaining. What I meant was, you are doing well. Expecting another cackly slap, her reaction surprised me. She just stopped, turned, bowed and quietly said thankyou.
While we were there we got to see two giant birds of prey swooping down for raw meat the widow was throwing for them. Through this entire experience I am reminded of a poem where Bukowski repeats again and again, “people are just not good to each other.” Do I dare disagree with a Great? Perhaps my favourite? People are not good to each other, all the time. But they are good to each other.
Friday. Thought about staying home (it’s gotten cold quick) but decided at the last second to train into the city for John’s birthday. Went to a bar called The Bar, which is NZ owned. The owner is from Waitomo (closest to Taupo out of all the JETs) and seems very familiar, but probably just typical NZ mannerisms. There were heaps of little Kiwis and NZ flags all over the place, a sports screen, an actual bar, and a pool table. All things that have suddenly become incredibly rare and precious to me. It was also good to hear a NZ voice in a bar. We belong in bars.
From here we went to another place which was tiny but full of instruments. Everyone there seemed to know a little about music which made for a very hippy-ish sort of jam session. How nice to have relaxed talent. It’s not like work or pottery or something, but something you can bring to drinking to enrich it. Like sports.
Fell asleep in bar. No longer shocked by these actions. When the latest train is 10pm and the earliest is 6am, there’s not a lot else you can do. I think this is part of the reason there is no real violence in Japan, because none of the places you go are tailored for it. You don’t have big clusters of people elbowing each other on a dance floor. There are no bouncers. The music is soft, or karaoke. (I’m not sure, but I don’t think you can get into a fight while singing a song.) You don’t “go outside” because you can smoke inside. You don’t chuck your drinks back because after you have done so there is still nowhere else to go. You don’t go home from town pumping, skipping, hollering, you ease yourself gently into a taxi or onto a train and maybe get a nice hot drink and look out the window.
Nobeoka. Wine, cheese, and great company. I’m starting to think my constant gratitude for the company here is making seem like an empty phrase. In trying to think of specific occurrences to illustrate the greatness I have this gem of a memory: belting the NZ national anthem –English and Maori, with Jono (am I spelling this right?) who is so relaxed and wise he is called Dad even by JETs older than him. And Tracey, who cooks giant curries for her drunken brood and has endless upbeat music. These are the connections we are making and long after JET has finished I can imagine myself sitting at a different desk, maybe surrounded by heaps of people that are there and easy to talk to about our average lives, but not quite so special. Not quite calling them Dad.
Right, off to town. It’s crazy how much you can crave pounding music when there is none (except for that coming from the host bars, sigh). I even miss strip clubs, good lord anything for a good beat. We went to a restaurant and ate and drank with two Japanese people we met on the street. When it came time to leave, they adamantly refused to let us pay, despite us (quite literally, to my momentary shame and everlasting amusement) throwing money at them.
So we went to karaoke, two new friends in tow. We started out strong, I particularly enjoyed selecting dancing songs with Jack (who was on fine form and an excellent drinking accompaniment, might I add) and pretending we were clubbing. I discovered a magical drink called blue beach which is, I suspect, a cup of sugar with alcohol in it. Cue momentary hyperactivity and then rapid, rapid, decline into a sugar coma. Woken up at 4am to split the (20,000yen – 300NZD) bill, then to Lilly’s to sleep. Oh, exhaustion.
Absolutely beautiful day. Perfect views over Nobeoka. A lovely cup of tea with Lilly, complete with awesome piano playing and conversation on the merits of traveling, culture shock, etc. It was extremely interesting on the level that she went from an American culture to an English atmosphere (on exchange) and I had gone from a (somewhat) British atmosphere to an American one. It was incredibly world affirming to realize the things we had struggled with (appropriate levels of directness, reservation, expressiveness) had been exactly the same, except from opposite ends. These differences in interaction, though small, are all the more shocking because you do not expect them. It is easy to think that the same language would equal the same personality communication, when it is not always the case. I came away from this grateful to be in a position with people where we can see the world from a higher standpoint, to see past our reactions and to a wider view.
I want to visit everyone’s houses in Miyazaki, it’s always so good to see how they live and what they’re about!
Finding the river (somewhat of a Sunday returning home tradition) culminated in a moment for us that could have been a signpost for evolution. To my right, three scantily clad males quite literally throwing a giant rock to one another. Slightly apart from this, four females standing around talking about the intellectual facets of Japanese porn. There’s a message there, somewhere.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
My supervisor gave me an “early birthday present” today. It was a bunch of candy, 10 hand warmers, and a little reindeer pouch to keep them in. With these and the books he’s lending it’s like he knows my only 3 weaknesses. My elation was only dampened by my Western need to hug to show appreciation. (Don’t worry I didn’t). Just doesn’t feel like I can be grateful enough!
On my way home I stopped in for a haircut. Because it was so spur of the moment I didn’t have my dictionary so the conversation was limited to “sukoshi” (a little bit) “anata no kami kirei desu” (your hair is beautiful) and “Nihongo benkyou shimasu to kaerimasu” (I will study Japanese and come back again)
Today my supervisor comes up with a dictionary. He points to the word pervert. “parvart?” “pervert.” “Ah. There is a… pervert in the Nichinan area.” I express shock. “If he comes up to you” he mimes hitting someone over the head. “MEN!” (That’s my head strike yell for Kendo). He then picks up my soft toy Kiwi which lives on my pencil holder. He points to the Kiwi. “Pervert.” He walks the Kiwi along the desk. Then he makes it leap onto his body. He then picks up my pen and hits it over the head, saying “MEN!” He thinks for a moment. “Except, maybe lightly.” He taps my Kiwi lightly with a limp wrist. You say, “pervert!” After he has put my kiwi down and started to go back to his desk he turns suddenly. “Or, maybe, growl.” He growls. “Growl. Okay?”
After this instructional episode he and another teacher get into a conversation about Japanese and English terms for perverts, sexual offenders, and the like. I taught them the word for bestiality and explained trafficking. I love my office more than words can express.
In class today I taught with the same teacher. One of my groupwork tasks was on giving advice. I had previously explained to the kids that we call Kiwis Kiwifruit, and Kiwis are a rare bird. So you cannot eat a Kiwi. My task then was, “I ate a Kiwi. What should I do?” One girl stood up and said, in all seriousness, “you should return the Kiwi. From your mouth.” I laughed so hard I cried.
Last night I thought there was an Earthquake. I woke up because the whole room had been lurching and took note of the time so I could see what it was on the richter in the morning. There was no earthquake.
My supervisor came up again, this time with a meat pack ordering form. Before I can say anything, he says “the delivery date is our birthday.” (We have the same birthday). “I have ordered you a kilogram of bacon.” I express shock that he is getting me another present, to which he says “noone in the office will get us a birthday present. It is a present for me and you.”
I am kindof an experimentation board for English idioms at work. What’s cute is how hesitantly they are said, because these are intellectual people. You can tell they’ve looked up every word of the phrase “don’t catch cold” and know it doesn’t make sense and are like oh man I hope this isn’t just a big joke as they are saying it. I can’t bring myself to break it to them when the terms are outdated, like “hunk”, or “full of get up and go”.
I can’t remember if I’ve already put this in here but at work I am called “Oriko-san.” I couldn’t find it in any dictionaries, but in asking fluent speakers I think the general idea is what you call young kids who work hard. I’m the equivalent of a 6 year old who does all her homework.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Went home, then decided at about 8pm that I wanted to go to Miyakonojo. So I jumped on the train and 2 hours later was met by Sam at the station. His apartment is set up really well, it has a good stereo, fairy lights and about one million records. It was really good just to sit on the floor, have a drink and some music and a shit-talk. Reminded me of home.
We then went to a sweet 50s dinner, which is tragically always empty but it is such a cool place it really deserves to be bustling all the time. Because of the emptiness and the décor, it gave a weird sense of having gone back in time to some sort of ghost town. The owners were cool though, we had a chat to them and one of them pulled down a hot pink and black electric cello for a jam. So many random, awesome things happen here I can’t quite believe it. We also saw a record that read “Music to ruin any party. Good enough to make you shit in your pants.” Oh, Japan.
After this and a forced conbini stop for my ravenous hunger where I got caught out by a ridiculously flavoured onigiri (plum and leaf) and then a fish full of bean paste, we returned to Sam’s where my allergies proceeded to destroy the next 24 hours. Luckily Sam knows how to make an English tea which makes everything pretty much 100% again.
13th. After looking at flowers all morning (Sam is starting a garden and a teacher helped) which was actually really interesting, we went second hand store shopping. The first place was just this incredible assault on the senses. The outside looked like the entrance to a theme park ride, and the inside was the loudest, light flashingest, confusing place I have ever been. At the front door you are greeted by a dinosaur. Every different section had a different song blaring, so the whole place is just a cacophony of noise and stimulation. As awesome as it was, it was also exhausting and I was happy when we went to the next place for quiet time. This next place, though deceptively quiet, had the randomest shit ever. Sam ended up coming out with a singing, dancing, Saddam Hussein.
On the train further inland, to Kobayashi for Jordy’s birthday. She has a lovely place. Everyone was well on their way by 8.30 and by everyone I probably mean me. Highlights of the night include making human sculptures, the excellent group of people, making friends at a nomi, making friends at a hip hop bar (no dancing of course), making friends in the street. There’s never any instance of being friendly and it being ignored or thrust back in your face. There is absolutely no risk in the communication here.
My favourite part of my weekends here is always the next day group meal and drive home. We came to the conclusion that Lachlan and I are going to get hungry and have a grumpy-off, as we both have that unfortunate (endearing) trait of becoming mad when we are empty. This will be a grand moment in history.
I think JET really is a filter for awesome.
After a coffee and a positive group shit talk, with a day to kill, John and I went to a bookstore for the afternoon. I can’t get over the musical mindedness here, (among foreigners and Japanese alike). The closest I have ever come to something like listening to a friend play piano in a store is drinking Steinlager (fondly referred to as wife beater beer) in a barn listening to a heavy metal drummer and burning a sewing machine. (Which is still a beautiful experience).
Had my first okonomiyaki. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to discover. It’s like, everything satisfying, in a big fat cabbage pancake. Then for a nice walk in the park where I thought there were alligators. I think not knowing what to expect in Japan means I will believe quite literally anything. The parks here are really nice, they have lovely lighting and atmosphere and knowing you (probably) are not a target just by being there. In NZ I could pretty much imagine going to the police and them being like, was it dark? Were you in an open space? WELL THEN.
Day off, got up early and went to the city to get a re-entry permit for my trip to SAN FRANCISCO :D :D Got the buildings mixed up horribly and ended up on the second floor of a governmental building with about 5 people anxiously clustered around me. The one who knew a little English proceeded to lead me out of the building, down the road, and to the international building where another lady asked me (in blistering heat) are you cold? It’s very cold today isn’t it? Shoulder baring McSlutty strikes again. Pointed in the right direction, I finally got my permit which was a relatively painless procedure. While waiting for processing, who should walk in the door but the only other first year Kiwi in Miyazaki! Considering I had today off specially and both of us live at least an hour from the city, it was a coincidence of grand proportions. We also found NZ wine in a store. Fate. I had to stop myself at buying two bottles, as I would never have gotten the ideal number (all) home on my bike. Off to get coffee, it was hilarious to hear Jono’s NZ slang and conversation patterns next to the little patter of Japanese coffee shop ladies. It’s odd now, to think we were in NZ together, meeting up for orientations where Japan just still seemed like it would never happen, and then going to our separate homes and friends houses, and now we’re in Japan where we can’t do that at all and have actually become the friends whose houses we go to.
9th. Work. All I have written down for today is that I finish every lesson with a fine coating of chalk dust, and that every time I say “it’s a race” for a language game the teacher has to interpret that I am not saying “rice”. Oh New Zealand.
10. Today my supervisor sidled up to me and said, “I stole this from the sick bay. For you.” (I taught him sick bay instead of “room where students sometimes go and counseling is an option”. It was a heat pack! They are the best inventions ever. You shake them, and they’re full of some kind of magical sand that heats up for 24 hours. So, so lovely.
Today I had Jodo for the first time. While feeling incredibly guilty for not going to Kendo, I was also shocked by how much the instructor put up with from us. (The whole class is foreigners.) We talk, we muck around, we botch up every single bow. I think if I did this in Kendo I would get belted with a Shinai and pushed over for good measure. I actually took on the role of the Japanese person, inwardly wishing for the instructor “please understand they’re Gaijin!” Nevertheless, it’s a good class in that it is a lot slower than Kendo, and there is no real contact. It’s more about perfecting movement. I decided to sign up for every Wednesday. Afterwards I was nervous, not so much for breaking the news to my Kendo instructor, but to be seen by him in his town in a McDonalds.
Today in class a student gave me a mini-heat pack. I think there is some behind the scenes communication about my body temperature going on here. When I told my supervisor he was like, did she get it out of a little bear case? To which I replied, yes, she did. He nodded and walked away.
So many lovely things have been happening. Later on in the same day, he gave me a sheet he had printed with a very simple Japanese cartoon with a cat on it. And then, thrust two books into my lap, saying, “I never lent these to Ted.” I love my role here.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Learnt a backwards strike in Kendo. Extreme. Also started being attacked this week. (Up till now noone has been allowed to hit me.) It’s terrifying. To stand there with your sword up while someone screams and runs towards you, lifting their sword above their head, takes a bit. Then, if that is not enough, once they have crashed down on your helmet (which is loud and definitely still feel-able, it just spreads the blow and the first time it happened I nearly threw up in the grille) you turn on your heel to face them again, otherwise their momentum will send them crashing into you. I learnt this the hard way more than once. If you turn the wrong direction, they will hit you even harder. Once you feel like you’re getting the hang of being beaten around the head, they start aiming for your arms. The Kote (arm protector) is worn loose, so you can slide it on and off. So when you are hit, it’s essentially just flapping a piece of hard plastic onto your forearm. The stomach strike is the one you barely feel, provided they get you on the armour. I never thought I would get used to it, but already after a week I’m finding I don’t mind it so much. If there’s one thing of practical value Kendo teaches me, I think it will be how to take a beating.
5th. Dinner and sober karaoke for the first time ever. Time does not pass so magically. They are rooms designed for drunk people, I think. Still, good company. Constantly feel lucky for the people around me. Sickly, but that’s okay because I have work this weekend.
7th. 90th School Ceremony. Basically involved me getting up at 6am on a Sunday, going to school, and sitting in the gym with all the other teachers and students while people did one million Japanese speeches. To my horror, I startled awake halfway through and realized I’d fallen asleep in my chair. My startle startled a couple other teachers, so any hopes of not being noticed were quickly dashed. It worked out for the best however, because one of the teachers who has never spoken to me pulled up his chair after the ceremony and was like “I saw you.” Oh dear. But he turned out to be very cool and when I told him he looked roughly 7 years younger than his actual age we turned into friends for life. Then he and a student had an argument in Japanese over who talked English with me better. Kyoto Sensei took an interest and asked “which do you like better, Kuma or Totogawa Sensei?” To which I replied, “Onaji. Same.” And was met with “sugooooiii!” from all sides. Thankyou, I’ll be here all week.
The best part about ceremonies is that they are always followed by enkais. I didn’t even think to bring my camera, and we ended up at the flashest reception in the flashest hotel eating the flashest food ever. Goddamn. The custom here is to fill people’s cups to show your appreciation for them, and not your own. Because of my new friend, I literally would have my cup filled, and then he would look over twenty seconds later and squeeze another couple of milliliters in, without me having taken a single sip. Then when they asked if I wanted shochu and I mimed sleeping, he proceeded to collect every bottle of beer left on the table, and line them up in front of me. “Present”. Oh, you are very good.
Monday, November 29, 2010
My supervisor is so awesome. Case in point: on our way to teach our next class he pauses on the stairs, turns to me, and says, “we are going to feed the animals.” I never thought I would find Japanese humour as funny as I do, but it really appeals because it is so unexpected and deadpan. It’s like, they are aware it’s a joke, but they say it seriously, just in case you do not get the joke and so if you don’t laugh it’s not obvious that you missed it. Unless I’m just laughing at serious things they’re saying. That could very well be the case.
Day off for mandatory counseling. Went to the city, pretty much talked about how awesome life is, then sat in the sun in a pretty council garden reading a book and watching the giant carp clustering at my feet. At first they were really cool, but then I started eating a sandwich and looking at their giant fish bodies and felt sick. While in the garden I heard American voices, (very rare) so I emerged to find that (of course) I knew them! Which was a lovely coincidence because I got to end up hanging out with Tristan and Steph for the rest of the day. We had lunch (where there was a cheese pizza you would have loved Rose), explored, and went to the international store, where I ended up spending about $30 NZD on tea and biscuits. Worth every cent.
From here I went back to the French restaurant and threw around some more monopoly money. When you’re paying for things in thousands, it’s hard to know the value of things. Anyway, delicious food, wine, and company. As per usual.
Off to a French lesson! It was here I realized just how much of high school I winged and how lucky I was to pass anything. My lackluster pronunciation must have made my old teacher go home and cry at night. That or my habit of bringing in lunch, kicking back my chair, and catching up with my friends - content in the knowledge that I would never meet a real live person who did not speak English. I am so lucky my students are not me.
Brain suitably destroyed, it was to Sascha’s to watch Evil Dead. I haven’t seen an old horror in years, and yes I still suck at them. Hotel with PROVIDED NIGHTIES and onigiri/miso buffet (those were the options). Brief look at the science museum, where I got to show further my incredible ignorance of the French language by getting ridiculously excited over “strawberry coffee” which turned out to be strawberry milk because, apparently, a French word next to a flavour doesn’t always automatically mean a type of coffee or wine. Who knew?
Went for a gorgeous hike in Kitago in my work clothes, then exploration of Nango, early dinner and home. We manage to pack so much into our days here, one day off felt like an entire holiday away. It also unfortunately means we never actually rest, unless it’s between the bare minimum of mandatory sleeping hours. Then again, who wants to rest when there’s so much to do!
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Travelled with Akemi to Miyakonojo for the Halloween party. Man I love traveling. Found an awesome drink called Slat. Here’s looking at you, kid. Everyone’s costumes were so impressive. And hilarious. I re-made the Robin one from NZ, because I ALWAYS have a good time in that costume. Tonight was no exception. If you have ever been part of a Gaijin group in Japan you know what it is to be stared at. If you have ever done this in a group of COSTUMED gaijin, then you REALLY know. Our appearance was an affront on all Japanese sensibility. If that wasn’t bad enough, we proceeded to get excitable, loud, and stumbly also.
From the moment we got to the party I knew it was going to be a good one. The dance circle had already started, and the place was set up like a club. You have no idea how rare an atmosphere like that is in the dirty south of Japan. If I had known how grateful I would be for one night of something akin to Taupo’s T&G before midnight on a Friday, I would have spent a lot more time actually making it to town.
Special highlights of the night include:
Extreme dance circling
Jono the power ranger’s sick moves (NZ owned thankyou very much)
Everyone’s costumes, good taste and bad
Extreme drink circling
Learning Japanese “takusan nomimashita! Nomitaiiiiii!!” (I have drank enough/a lot. I want to drink.)
A childhood hero in a toilet
Wonderful friends (level achieved)
Learning 6 people spewed, one on his shoes – I belong here
I would include low points, but there weren’t any. Although I did decide over breakfast the next day I was settling down and starting a family. I’ll let you know when I’m accepting husband, children, dog and white fence applications.
Got a ride back to the city with Noah, Mari and John, with another sick sick conversation of the type I will always love. Stopped at the river, watched people swim, ate a strawberry that wasn’t a strawberry. Oh sweet nausea.
Sugar fix. Coffee. Conversation. Topics included but not limited to: sugar addiction, psychoanalysis, people, Japan, life situations, gaman, Japanese, Trash-ese, culture, nutrition, periods. We are nothing if not varied.
Sascha’s restaurant for dinner. Delicious food and great entertainment provided by a small child playing with love cuffs and doing action fight sequences. Still a little too fragile to partake.
Train home, complete with refusal to think about the very big elephant in the room, which happened to be that on my way up to Miyakonojo I had lost my keys. As in, the spare (and only remaining) bike key, complete with my apartment key (chained together in the futile hope that I would take care of it more if it was attached to something even more important). On my way up I had stressed, then entered a state of calm whereby I realized I could die that night and so keys would be of little practical value. Alas, the train ride home was harder to ignore my potential hotel booking/Devon waking/ outside sleeping options once arriving in Obi. And then next-day-Halloween-clothes-to-work-ing and bilingual groveling.
After a marginally uncomfortable hour, I arrived to find someone had found my keys and put them in my basket, complete with a big yellow note of (I imagine) irritated but indulgent Japanese. This act of kindness made my entire life and I think added something substantial to my worldview. World, if you had any doubt, you're going to be okay.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Shin and Miyuki came round tonight for a Nabe party. Because I am so far from anything, in the four months I have been in Japan I have had four visitors. And one was to hook up the internet so I am probably counting him against his will. Because of this I am reasonably certain I have forgotten how to receive guests.
So, we went to get Nabe supplies and I took advantage of the situation to get typhoon supplies also. (Scheduled for that Saturday.) I came home from this mission with prunes, chocolate koalas, milk tea, frozen dumplings and two bottles of wine. Survival is inevitable.
The preparation for Nabe was really interesting. Basically, it’s assorted food, in a pot. But so much more than that. It’s arranged like a big flower with carefully planned amounts of different ingredients for the best culinary experience. Then you eat it. Like, 5 bowls or so of it. (Each.) Adding more ingredients. Then, you use the rest of the soupy stuff for noodles. It was also really good to listen to Japanese, not from an understanding point of view but just to get used to the general rhythm of conversation.
After eating, Shin and Miyuki went through my kitchen cupboards, the ones I had given up on after my first day in my apartment. They found even MORE junky appliances that I didn’t even know existed, complete with food and ants from before moving here. I was so disgusted I just wrapped them all up in a plastic bag to throw in the rubbish. Whether they work or not means nothing to me, particularly considering my dinners consist of a sandwich and a rice ball eaten on my bike on my way home from Kendo. When did we start needing all this technology?
They then proceeded to go through my food and read me the directions on all the packaging. I am supremely grateful for this, because most of it I had bought and then forgotten about because I didn’t know the first thing about it. It was during this exploration that we realized the curry I had cooked a couple weeks back was grossly misunderstood. I had unknowingly bought a ten person block of curry, proceeded to mix it with one and a half cups of water instead of one and a half litres, and put it on top of mochi, or pounding rice, to eat it. Mochi is rice that is designed to be pounded into rice paste, of a glue like consistency. When they found out I had forced that concoction down my throat two days in a row, Shin literally lay on the floor of my kitchen and cried, he was laughing so hard. After this they MADE SURE I understood the directions on everything, even going through my freezer, told me next week we were having a CURRY party, and left, leaving me to live out the typhoon. On their way out, they mimed hanging up on me if I called them mid-typhoon dying of starvation. I love Japan.
29th: Typhoon. Didn’t happen. Thank goodness! During the week my supervisors had been printing out maps and weather images for me, drawing in our imminent destruction in red pen for my benefit. At first I was like, “zomg this will be my first typhoon XD!”, and then my supervisor was like, “if it comes. It will be a catastrophe for many people.” Anticipation of 5th birthday-like proportions for natural disasters is not good, guys. Stop it. It was horrible weather all night, I was sick, stayed indoors with vitamin C and wine, and listened to the rain. The next day, scheduled typhoon day, was bright and sunny.
Which means, halloweeeeeeen!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
So tired. Nothing a cup of tea can’t fix. Today I was told to dress formally for a staff photo. Realized halfway through the day that for me formal had = a little bit slutty. Looks like the Japanese scandalization has started seeping in!
I explained to the girls at Kendo what the English word “sweat” meant. There is a sports drink here called Pocari Sweat, so now they know why I find it so hilarious. Something I found interesting was more than their shock at finding out the meaning of the word, was their shock that people the rest of the world over didn’t drink it. They genuinely had no idea it was a Japanese thing. Indeed, a Japanese novelty that every foreigner wants to write home about or take a photo the first time they try it. (Just me? Okay.)
Also realized in Kendo we are only building up one leg. Every day a ladder is laid on the ground and we have to hop backwards and forwards over it, on our left legs only. One calf is going to be giant and I am going to have the maddest gangster swagger ever.
Accidentally let it slip to my supervisor when he caught me staring out the window that I am sometimes called a space cadet. We then looked it up in the dictionary together, discussed slang, and he taught it to his classes for the next week. Now students refer to me with it by name. He also asked me about my usage of “sweet” after I let it slip in the classroom. Now whenever I hand out a worksheet with a picture on it (I draw cartoons for my kids) he calls them my sweet pictures. Aww. One of the teachers who I don’t even teach with asked me to draw the answer for an exam question, and included it in the student exams with my name on it. Famous much?
Everyday I am given two notebooks from students who I don’t teach but want to improve their English. They write whatever they feel like, I make corrections, and write back. I love it. One of them is so wise. In her limited English she has managed to portray really intelligent concepts such as harmony with nature, the Japanese culture (and, how Japanese see their own culture) and the importance of connecting with people. I’m actually having real conversations with her, which is amazing. Also created a twitter account for my students, which I have tweeted on a grand total of three times.
One of my students said “I love you” in class today as I was walking between the desks. When I turned around they all acted like nothing had happened. Ah, I’m in a high school after all. They have also learned that if they make me laugh during the pronunciation test, I cannot pronounce the words. Makes for hilarious times and possibly the most self control I’ve ever had to exercise. On my way up the stairs after my last activity today I tripped, in front of 3 students. I think they were afraid at first to do anything, but I laughed my ass off so they did too. I don’t know how anyone can take me seriously as a shaper of minds.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Because my bike was stuck at the station without a key, I walked to work. I went to kendo, where my muscle memory finally clicked and things started to go smoothly. I even got told “good” which made the entire walk home in the dark worth it. Later on in the week the teacher who owns the bike gave me the spare key, so if I lose that I may as well go ahead and commit seppuku.
20th. Sore muscles from Kendo. Saw my first growling today! The poor student got bailed up in the staff office with about 3 burly gym teachers taking turns to get extremely angry at him. I’m not sure what it was about but one of them pulled his hair so it might have been about that.
Went home early on Friday. Had a nice night with wine in the bath and a jigsaw puzzle. Had there been Burger King I may very well have fallen deeply in love with myself.
On Saturday I got a ride with Holly to the city, where I went for a bit of a wander. Randomly saw Shin and Miyuki on the other side of the street. Japan is just like this, we are spread out hours from one another but still see each other everywhere. They showed me the English section in two bookstores over Miyazaki, a favour akin to giving me a firstborn in my eyes. I have never been so happy to see English print. I bought a bilingual book on the history of Kendo, a JLPT study book, a bilingual version of a kids manga (Doraemon), a book on the soul of Japan, and a book by Kurt Vonnegut which (like many of his books) was hilarious, tender and horribly depressing all at the same time.
For the rest of the day we kept randomly running into other JETs, so we decided to all meet up for dinner. The place we went to was Mediterranean, and I must admit I got quite a startle when the owner replied to our casual English conversation in English of his own. It’s easy to become complacent here, to talk about whatever you want whenever you want, in the misleading security of thinking noone around you understands.
Tonight was good in that I got to chat with a lot of people that I don’t see very often. Even though there are such a limited number of us, it is easy to chill with the same sub-sector. I enjoyed branching out and getting to know everyone a little bit better. Also, the mojitos were delicious.
Up early and off to a shochu factory in Takanabe that we had been invited to by Chris, a 5th year. Still not entirely used to the concept of doing things during the day on weekends that isn’t writhing around in empty McDonalds wrappers. This was a sweet potato picking place, and when we got there I realized the food cooked by “dutch oven” that we were going to eat was hangi food. Ohhhhhhh hells yeah. Also given beer. I think Japan is just asking me to be an alcoholic.
The best part about this event was the amount of kids running around. I teach at a high school so it’s easy to forget my novelty in a Japanese kid’s eyes. So we ended up with about 10 kids following us around in ranging ages, prattling away in Japanese and making fun of the way we talked. When we sat, they clustered around us. At first I was a tiny bit uncomfortable, I was a lumbering giant who does not know how to talk to children and afraid I would step on them, but their curiosity was just too endearing to deny.
I ended up making a good friend, I’ll put a picture of her on here later. She was about 8 years old and already knew about 300 Kanji. She was one of those kids who you can look at, even at that age, and think – you are going to go far. She sat down next to me and quite seriously taught me Japanese colours, telling time, and some new Kanji by drawing with her finger on the table. She managed to do all of this in expressive Japanese and the help of John, who rapidly became “translator-san!” and was often beckoned over by her hand. If I have a kid, that’s the kind I want. I really had to listen hard for this and it was good practice for me not to be able to fall back on the other person’s English. You think your knowledge of Japanese is nothing until you realize you’ve spent the last hour making yourself understood to a bunch of kids. I don’t know if I could teach elementary, because it was exhausting, but at least now I can see the definite values of it. You have to have thick skin though. The size of our noses, our wide mouths butchering Japanese words, our height, our love lives, all of this is subject to careful (and public) scrutiny. Through mime, if your Japanese is wanting.
24th. Took a terribly late train home. I got to spend it with Shin though, which made it worth it. I shared my multitude of train snacks, reinforcing again the fact that I do not stop eating in Japan. He taught me Japanese “mo mori, kaeritai!” which means, I give up, I want to go home! This phrase has come in very useful. We also opened up my JLPT study book for the first time. I was disheartened at first, because it has no English next to the Japanese. Shin quickly made it become clear though, and we managed to work through quite a few of the questions, despite my tiredness and awful student concentration. I can’t believe how much easier study is in a relaxed, social environment. I had a huge laughing fit when he mimed me falling asleep and my brains leaking out from studying. Then, in perfect timing, a fly landed on me as if I had died. We laughed so hard we cried.
This weekend was the Obi festival and probably my first weekend actually spent in Obi since I got here. Taking advantage of the proximity I cleaned my apartment and wandered down the road where the festival was taking place. It was set up quite literally within the ancient castle grounds (also just down the road – insert jealousy here), which was an interesting sense of history. The huge stone steps which had once been trodden over by warring soldiers were now lit up with fairy lanterns and covered in people milling around eating waffles and candy apples. I saw a whole bunch of my students, which was nice as I usually only see them hurrying to and from school. I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of holding a beer while talking to people whose minds I am helping shape, but apparently the drinking culture here is such that everyone does it, everyone understands it, and noone mentions it. I suppose as long as I am not sitting on the ground obnoxiously yelling at them, it’s the equivalent of a wine at the dinner table.
Well the festival closed down somewhat early so we milled for a bit, then headed over to Aburatsu on the train to a fun snack bar where we played, of all things, red black. A snack bar is somewhat expensive, but you are paying not only for drinks but entertainment. The people behind the bar do their best to occupy you by playing games, making jokes, asking questions, refilling drinks. It is an awesome idea, but also saddens me a little bit in that loneliness is so prevalent in Japanese society that there is now a massive marketing niche for it.
When it became time for home, I got a ride with Shin, Miyuki and Devon via McDonald’s. Here followed one of my funniest conversations in Japan. Among other things, two topics that come to mind are how I burn my toast without fail every morning, and came to Japan with a fat face. I’m not really sure how these became so entertaining except that instead of using my limited Japanese I use ridiculously contorted gestures to mime. In this instance it was of course the Tiffany Allan special of burning toast and, well, having a fat face. The latter began because we were talking about weight gain in Japan, and Shin told me I looked as if I had lost weight. We were trying to figure out why he would think this considering my time here has been one continuous meal, then realized that my ID photo, taken on my first day in Obi, shows up my swollen wisdom tooth in such a light that I do actually look like a rather plump specimen. I came home from this outing glowing from animated conversation and with a raspy voice. You know you’ve been obnoxious when your voice begins to lose range in the ‘yelly’ level.
17th. Up early with a hangover and the sunlight to see the Obi parade. It took freaking forever, as if they were sending each float down the entire length of the street before starting the next one on its way. In direct sunlight and chu-hi mouthed proportions, this is not the opportune activity it seems. Nevertheless, there were sweet traditional dances, geisha, costumes, and a SAMURAI ON A GIANT HORSE. I also saw a float made by my students and got to wave at all the teachers walking stiffly in their suits while I scandalized the elderly population in a summer dress. Physically unable to deal with the heat and vertical position any longer, Devon and I went to a nearby lunch place where I got my sugar fix and began to feel alive. We met up with Kelly, Muqing and Lola who had been in the parade and off drinking shochu, and proceeded to (once again) eat our way through the festival, which had resumed. I very nearly came home with a pet turtle. They had those goldfish tank catching games, presumably of the type which had been outlawed at carnivals around the world, not just with goldfish but with turtles. As in, you scoop one into a plastic bag and it is yours. A touch different from the $100 a pop household turtles of NZ.
As it grew darker I saw more of my students, who told me as I struggled to open my Japanese lemonade “Japanese boys know” and opened it for me. Then we watched an American enka singer who looks gangster but sounds Japanese. Very cool.
I also lost my bike key, so taxied home.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
13th Oct. Went to make eggs today and realized they were two weeks overdue. Now, I had been pretty sure that I had been buying eggs every week. Which leaves me with the burning question: What have I been doing in the last two weeks if it has not involved eggs or grocery shopping?
Ate them anyway. (With the overdue milk- I should not live alone).
14th. Lots of spare time at work today. Used it for writing and extreme study.
After work, biked to Aburatsu on two flat tyres, where Kelly pumped them for me. You’re supposed to do this regularly, I’ve learned. Who knew? Found this out from texting my little sister (in NZ – she is the guru) asking how to go about changing them. Naturally assumed that once they went down I needed to buy new ones. Relieved this is not the case and somewhat impressed by the human race as a whole for imagining such a handy contraption. (New friends may or may not realize what NZ readers already know, in that I have a complete ignorance of the world around me in startling contrast to the academic (and now working) roles I find myself in.)
15th, dinner with the Nichinan girls. Always nice to catch up. Saw a student I literally cried laughing at in class that week as he (earnestly) mimed actions from cards I had written. Professionalism for the win. Also saw my Kendo instructor, after Muqing bailed up his daughter in a 7/11 asking if she worked there after she had come out from the toilet. Guess I’m going to be getting a beating this week.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
One baby tequila shot later, we were back on the street to find another establishment. Two of the people we were with (Japanese so not culturally wrong) ran up and pushed over a stack of bikes like dominoes. It was so bad but so so funny. We wandered looking for a Purikura machine that would accommodate our drunk asses, but could find none so all piled into a 24 hour passport photo machine. I have no idea what happened to that photo but I bet it’s just magical.
Onto a random Russian bar at 4am for a night-cap. We were all starting to fade fast at this stage, and the serious conversation of the merits of hotel vs. waiting for the 5.30 train was entered into and discussed at length. Deciding on the hotel, we caught a taxi out to the smutty area of town (sex toy and underwear machine type smutty) to a love hotel. Our reasoning was that because of the anonymity (the receptionist is behind a curtain so she only ever sees your hands you dirty dirty partaker), if one person paid and 4 people snuck in silently behind them, we could get everyone into the same room. We made it all the way up the lift and into the room before the phone rang and they told us there were cameras. Sigh. Sweet photo though – their only free room happened to be the S&M one, complete with red cage in the corner.
From this slight failure we carried on to McDonalds, for a 5am breakfast and (for me) a tiny upright nap. Finally we got on the train at 5.30, after a night of epic proportions. Waking up in my station an hour later, sweaty, gritty and red eyed, I got to say a hoarse good morning to my students, who were on their way to school.
Collapse into taxi. Home. Sleep. Wake. Poop. Sleep. Wake. Eat. Watch Glee. Weep. Eat. Sleep. Day gone.
Takanabe! Went for a lovely walk in the sun. Met John, had coffee at an awesome Jazz bar. He’s right, you walk in and are instantly transformed by the atmosphere. There is no outside, no responsibilities. Just Jazz, coffee, chilled out hosts, and my terrible Japanese.
Onwards to the lantern festival! This was beautiful. I’m so glad I made it, it’s definitely been the prettiest festival so far. There were literally hundreds of paper lanterns, made into sweet patterns and all over the ground for you to walk amongst. We met up with a bunch of other foreigners and pretty much dominated everything. I ate a squid on a stick. The Taiko was the most intense I have seen yet, there is really no way to explain it without sounding like an aboriginal.
Onto the enkai, learning a sweet game to improve your Japanese. It is much like the next word with the same letter as the end of the first word game, except …Japanese. This was also the birthplace of the –tion game, where you pretty much excitedly drink whenever anyone things of a –tion word. If you don’t think this sounds like the epitome of fun then you are not really living.
Had been feeling a bit ill all weekend, so this outing probably did not much help. However, the best cocoa I have ever had did improve things greatly. It was so good it didn’t even feel real, like some sort of nostalgia for that time I lived in a kid’s book of fairy tales.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Today in Kendo I got my foot taped by a student who saw my blister (left foot, rip under big toe and half of top pad sliding around). She sat me down, got the scissors, cut off the entire pad of my foot and threw it in the bin behind her. Then she sprayed some intense freeze drying shit on the raw part, taped it over, and melted the tape closed with a gas torch. Then she gave me back my Shinai to train for two hours. Everyone gets that exact same blister though. Then it turns into a callous, or a permanent open part. It’s the same on your left hand.
Kendo is hard for me not only physically but mentally. Not knowing the language can make it supremely frustrating not to know what is expected in a sport where the expectations are so precise. Sometimes, when the instructor has to stride over and physically move me, it is hard to figure out why I am there. Even so, I can feel some sort of improvement. Today I was even invited to attack the instructor. He hits me and yells at me in Japanese, but (amidst the terror) I like that he forces me to be more than I’m willing to be.
I also have my first backlog of work. I actually really like my job. Today I had a post-it on my desk asking if a teacher could come and talk grammar with me third period. HECK YES YOU CAN. I think I’ve already mentioned in these grammar conversations, I don’t know how we can expect people to learn English. The rules are so obscure and fidgety. I read an interesting article on how becoming bilingual is like gaining another soul, because of the impact of language on life/world view. Unfortunately I have to know Japanese to know for sure. Will keep you all posted.
Later in the week.
I felt sorry for the students in today’s pronunciation test, as the distinctions were between words like “pool” and “pull”. Come on now. Every self respecting NyuZilnda knows they are said exactly the same.
I’m learning you can’t take it all too seriously. You can’t teach a student a word and then feel responsible for all future use of that word. I keep wanting to be like, yes, it means this, but it also means this. And in some situations it even means This. But don’t say it to this person on this given day in this given weather. I suppose I’ve just got to have a little faith, enough to let my children out into the world with what I have taught and trust the world to fill in the gaps, to understand. And if you don’t, I will consume you. Not really. But to see how badly these kids want to communicate, and then how easily they are put off, is really heart rending. In half my kids notebooks they express the wish to go to America, listing all the athletes, movies, foods and popular culture they are burning to see over there. But then they continue that they never will, because they cannot speak English. (In English.) How sad is that?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Of course the funnel arrived. Welcome to Nichinan funnels! They are so intense. Not just beer but cocktails, whiskey, food, plum wine, whatever is at hand. The mixed funnel of goodness. Learnt some awesome Japanese drinking games and re-played a couple good NZ ones with Julian’s help. Ah the memories. In my notebook I have written “I have never no longer such a great game.” Wise words.
From here we went to karaoke, where it was slightly outrageous. Someone (I will not name names) came back from the toilet wrapped as a mummy. Someone else fell off the table. What was he/she doing on the table? Setting the general tone I believe.
Well kick-out time means coffee and walk home time, which I got to do with Holly, always quality conversation. Then we all sat around talking about girls. And lay under the stars talking about peak states. A lovely end to an outrageous night.
The next day we all retreated to our separate holes to attend to our hangovers. I did my jigsaw puzzle, listened to music, and tried to make chips, which ended with me weeping into raw potato slices. The day/night improved however, with a touch of wine and a skype conversation with Rebekah. At about midnight, I heard noises outside my door. It sounded suspiciously like… puking. Of course such a thing was only a conclusion jumped to by an NZ mind and not fitting in Japan, so I passed it off as coughing. Then I heard banging, shuffling, leaning on my door, grunting and sighing. I passed it off as a wild animal or someone coming home from a tough jog.
The next day there was a pile of puke outside my door. Ah, nostalgia. The puke was like, solid. Like, porridge in the microwave too long. I actually felt sorry for the guy, to throw up something like that must have been like throwing up a sock. Rather than any sort of irritation, I was just somewhat relieved as I stepped over it that people are the same all over the world. Sometimes you just have to.
Off to the city. As I was in the station, someone approached me for a chat in English. This happens often, foreigners are so rare and some people are just dying to try out real live English on a real live native speaker. I absolutely love it. Anyway, in this instance, we chatted for a bit, and when I went to leave I got hugged. Now, this is a very rare occurence in Japan so I was very impressed. What was less impressive was that it turned into a slight hug rape, where it lingered and turned into some sort of swooping dive for the face. Thanks to clubbing in Taupo I used my extensive evasion techniques, bowed, and beat a hasty retreat, all without losing any semblance of ordinariness. Still, an incredibly odd thing to happen at midday in a train station in Japan.
From here I went for a wander. I think earlier on (much earlier) in this blog I mentioned that Devon took me to a tea shop where a man gave us fans just because we looked hot. I went back to this same shop today, and met the man‘s wife, who sat me down, served me tea and delightful English conversation. She told me about this incredibly rare coffee made from the poo of an animal that looks a bit like a possum. It selects only the best coffee beans to eat, then doesn’t digest them, and is followed around by some coffee experts with a trowel, I imagine.
After this I met up with John, and we went to Rebekah’s shop. This is an incredible shop. I am constantly impressed and surprised by the sheer variety of interests and places to cater to them here. This shop is focused basically on old French things. There are ancient christening gowns, tobacco tins, even postcards in French. So delightful. I even found a French version of Gulliver’s travels and an old grammar book. Ｌiterary geeks unite in all languages! How does she get all this amazing stuff? She goes to Paris. How fantastic is life. I was given a boutiquey hairtye with gorgeous beads. I wish I had more to give. My gratitude grows everyday.
Today I had my first rice wrapped in meat ball. I can’t remember what they are called but they are literally, rice, wrapped in meat, wrapped in cheese, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. 4 food groups – done. I was still recovering from this deliciousness (I dropped some on my own toes in my excitement) when Micah picked us up to go to a Jazz concert. Again, I am astounded by the variety of interests and things to cater. I think if everyone at home had like 10 interests and all the places to cater to them, we would be alright. As it happens, we don’t.
While I have been here I have been introduced to a lot of Jazz. It’s big here, not only for Japanese but among a lot of the other JETs. I can’t figure out why it’s such a small presence in NZ. To be honest, it is not what I would listen to often. I find it gets a little chaotic for my (slightly damaged) eardrums. But there are definite moments I enjoy and this concert was one of them, if half for the atmosphere. (And company).
Thursday, November 11, 2010
You are already great students. You are already great people. You can only be the best that you are because there is no one out there who can do it better. So you have already won!
I know at times school can seem hard. Try to keep your mind open and take in as much as you can. One day, maybe ten years from now, you will find yourself remembering moments from your school life and you never know what those moments will be. It may be the colour of your rugby spikes. It may be meeting your best friend for the first time. It may be three words of a chemistry lesson or you may suddenly understand those two years of algebra. It may even be (and I do hope so!) a couple words of English you can use on a lost foreigner. So much of what you learn here you may not think of again until one of these moments. But these moments are the ones that make your life and we as your teachers hope to give them to you.
There will come a time in your life when you no longer need to learn. You will be an adult, even if you don’t feel like one, and people will no longer try to teach you things. What I ask of you then is this: don’t stop learning. See High School as a foundation, a taste of what you can learn. If there is one word in one lesson in one day that interested you, follow it! You don’t just have to learn facts or music or sports. You can learn about people, about life, about anything. Learning does not have to be structured and it does not have to ever end. Keep an open mind; see every day as a chance to add to yourself. You never know when you are creating a memory and you never know when what you learn will become for a moment the most important thing in the world.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Not sure who’s energy I used today but there was a lot of it and it wasn’t mine. I probably sucked it from the universe right out of some starving kid in Africa and for that I apologize.
Didn’t have much written down today but at school a student came up to me after class to talk about music, (a massive breakthrough of extreme student shyness and language barrier smashing proportions). At Kendo I cultivated my first giant blister on the sole of my foot. On my way out the gate I called a student by name when he said goodbye (he’s a naughty one so I remembered it) and he just stopped in absolute shock. The look on his face and noise he made was worth EVERYTHING. As I biked down the hill another student yelled out “I love you!” Because it’s in English it’s like the way I use Japanese words, I have no idea of context so I just yelp whatever I’ve been taught and hope it fits. Entertaining.
Tired today. No class but SO MUCH marking. Felt awesome to finish the stack though. Cheap thrills. I also found that someone had noticed that I drank black tea instead of green and bought a sampler box of like 5 different types of black and put it in the tea cupboard. It was so touching I nearly got a tear.
Went to Kendo tired, which is a massive mistake, but got put into armour for the first time. My teacher took me to the mirror and was like “okay?” Then he tied a cloth on my head and was like, “today, this is you.” Good feeling. Still having to be pulled up on etiquette pretty much everyday.
The student I called by name yesterday turned up at the Dojo (training room) after his baseball club, wearing an ALL BLACKS t-shirt! I could imagine this happening maybe anywhere that wasn’t my tiny Samurai valley town. So of course we were both wildly excited at this connection but still shit at each other’s languages, but the communication was near perfect. He mimed giants, then made explosion noises on his muscles to describe our rugby team. Hilarious. I also got taught some local words (because I’m in the South the Japanese is a bit different to mainstream Japanese.) In Nichinan alone, the word for tired is “dareta”. The word for sick/feeling crap is “oyoban”. So now not only can I be misunderstood in English in Japan, I can be misunderstood in Japanese also!
I don’t teach this student, but now that we have spoken, every morning when I am at my foot locker changing shoes to enter the staffroom, I will hear a little cough from the top floor of the classrooms while all 499 other students are sitting silently. When I look up, he waves out the window. Every morning. This is why I love my school.
Tired again, my lesson went down well though. It was on gestures and body language around the world and took ages to research and make from scratch, but I’m glad I did it as it was 10x more interesting than my textbook. In the words of my anatomy teacher in Chicago, “be interested and your students will find you and everything you do interesting.” Excellent advice - not just for teaching.
Sore muscles, but no Kendo today. Went and looked at another teacher’s postcards, he loves to travel and buys 100 postcards from every destination he goes to. It made me want to visit places I never thought I’d want to see. Places like Turkey, Singapore, even Korea and China. It’s weird, (and horribly stereotypical) I never thought of those places before as being beautiful.
Finished my first notebook! Still over a month behind in the typed version.
Today was one of my supervisor’s birthdays. She sits next to me and we teach together 6 times a week. She is so sweet. I gave her a Paua, it was good to see it go to a good home.
Marking is so mentally draining. I don’t mind correcting, but when it comes to grading and trying to be fair right across the board I have no idea how teachers do it. I hate giving bad marks! And even though it’s written totally wrong, whenever a student uses a lovely word or has a lovely meaning, I have to hold my red pen strong.
Been reading a bit this week, really should write something amazing of my own.
Today some students came up to the office with a pile of marking and recited “Hello, my name is (name). I am from (Homeroom number). Please mark our handouts!” When they passed it to me I saw the first page was a literal transcription of this conversation, written by their teacher. CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN.
Day off. Spent the day cleaning, got one whole window sparkling! Well, the years worth of grime out of the runners anyway. Went grocery shopping for fun (and it is, there are still so many exciting things to try). Stopped at a shrine on my way home to eat my lunch on the steps. Was nice to have time alone, even though I usually need company to live. At the shrine I wasn’t sure how far in you are allowed to go, because everywhere seems private (even restaurants are like closed up little houses) but there is no real sense of “out of bounds” in Japan. And if there is, it usually has some sort of worker with white gloves employed specifically for the purpose of telling you just that. Anyway there was no one there so I ventured right to the back. (This shrine is like an empty house) It’s an odd sense of history. It’s like walking into someone’s house, kneeling at –their- alter, and recalling their prayers. There was a groove in the wood where people had bent their heads. Odd to have shared that, yet I may never find out what that shrine is for.
It’s nice that I can be so close to both forest and sea. At the beach there’s this feeling of being open, of enveloping the world, resting on other continents. In places like this shrine up in the hills it’s a feeling of being enveloped by the world, the leaves and trees closing over to give you a moment hidden.
Today at school one of the gym teachers was wearing a T-Shirt that said “Run with the naked”.
We also had an emergency drill. One of my supervisors came up to me totally deadpan and said “We will have a fire and an earthquake. In 25 minutes.” “A fire AND an earthquake?” “Yes.” At the drill I could feel everyone’s discomfort in that in an emergency you are not allowed to stop at your foot locker and change into your outdoor shoes. You also cannot go barefoot. Your only option then, is to wear your indoor shoes outside L. On my way out I saw many teachers sidling along the walkways, one guiltily wearing gym shoes, and a cluster reluctantly pressing their backs against a building as if just touching it counted as “in”. When the drill was over there was a collective sigh of relief and rush to the taps to cleanse the soles.
Tonight I headed into the city for my Japanese lesson, and had such a nice wander that I decided to stay until the late train. I stopped into a lovely French restaurant, where everyone spoke French, Japanese, and not English. Still, I had probably the best meal and wine of my life, and managed conversation for a good few hours in all three languages. Mostly English because their “no English” is better than my “one year of French and currently living in Japan”. Such a lovely family. When I looked at my watch and saw that the last train had left two hours previous, they called a hotel for me, and then their niece walked me to the hotel to make sure I got in safely. Japan what have I done to deserve you?
Woke up to a beautiful day in Miyazaki city. Went for a walk in the sun. I think the reason we love Japan so much is that we can trust it not to hurt us. The air is soft and warm (pollution jokes if you like). No one will yell at us or shoulder past or be aggressive in any sort of way. Everyone is thinking of each other, all the time. If you are afraid they are afraid for you. Even at construction sites there are people employed to stand out the front so that you don’t accidentally wander into a dangerous place. There are blind pathways everywhere. (Those knobbly yellow tracks on footpaths). For the one blind man out of maybe 100 people, a road anywhere. Your existence doesn’t end at the side of the road or where it forks. In Japan there is always a path under your feet, people to know where you are going even if you do not.
I don’t have it written down but I think today was the day I went out for lunch with Miles and Kate. If it was, it was superb sushi and delicious company.
After this Jordy picked me up and we went up to Nobeoka for the night to stay with Tracey, Lilly and Matthew. This was a wonderful girl’s night full of hair dying, wine, smack talking and hanging out. Nobeoka is a fantastic city made better by great company. Definitely refreshing to hangout with girls (and one ultra chill male sorry Matt) and a feeling of acceptance that depends on nothing. How refreshing. We also met a Russian mail order bride who depressed us endlessly but made up for it by scoring us a free pizza. Rectified in my eyes.
The drive home with Jordy was a late but awesome one. I got to listen to some hilariously insightful talk radio and have a dreadfully intellectual conversation. Also had Baskin Robbins ice cream OH HELLS YES.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Upon arriving in Aoshima I wandered for a touch, looking for the beach. Next thing an elderly man has pulled up next to me with his wife. They begin to speak to me in Japanese, and I, ever the enthusiast, begin replying in my broken Japanese English hybrid. What I thought was a casual conversation quickly turned to me being ushered into a nearby office, where they called out a poor woman to help them communicate with me. Of course she knew no English either, so for about 20min I was made to sit quietly while they discussed me in rapid fire Japanese, turning occasionally to stare at me until I uttered a meek “hai?” then they would turn back and continue. All I could really make out were the words “alone” “camping” and “no food”. I explained with some sort of vague hand waving that I was meeting others. At that, I was quickly ushered back out onto the street and into their car. Stranger danger! I assumed they were showing me to the beach, but we drove for about 20min AWAY from the beach, and stopped at a resort where they tried to book me a room. Suitably panicked at this point, I called another JET who told me the Japanese for beach. They drove me back the way we came, PAST the beach and back to the office, where I assume we were to have another “conversation”. At this point, touched by their earnestness, I was about ready to cry with frustration and when I saw a Gaijin couple exit the train station I pointed and pretty much shrieked “tomadachi!” I said a profuse thank you as quickly as I could in case they decided to kidnap all three of us, then went and pretended to talk to two complete strangers who had no idea what JET or the beach party even was. In point, I used them as a shield from the eager, touching, and sometimes terrifying nuances of Japanese hospitality.
From this encounter, leaving the foreign couple somewhat nonplussed, I continued on my beach finding exploits. (Straight line). It was well worth it. The beach itself was beautiful, like an exotic island. There was even a wedding taking place, complete with beautiful flowers. I saw for the first time, growing, real versions of those fake lei flowers we sling around at winter parties where we pretend it’s summer and drink ten times our usual amount because the cocktails are pretty and people get their grass skirts lit on fire. Although I had found the beach I was still feeling fragile so when I saw Sam and a couple of his friends I was never so glad to see some pasty foreign faces in all my life. I then had the best swim in the world. And got called a cheesy Kiwi. Sunshine cheeseburger strikes again.
The beach party itself was quite subdued, but in a good, we’re on a beach sort of a way. It was good to be able to talk to so many people. Miles and Kate (Australians) bought me a bottle of Australian wine, which was lovely of them! Also convenient. We had a lovely down under toast with all the Aussies and NZers. (One.) I got to bond with Jordy, an enabling substitute who is saved in my phone as “stain sister”. I also finally got to meet Martine, who had been sending me emails while I was NZ and was an absolute gold mine of information and reassurances for the trip to Japan. So grateful and so good to put that influence in flesh form.
Side note: Down the beach was a big international beer festival. Considering I am not supposed to have gluten this was slightly painful on the heart strings, but I did meet some NZ ex-pats there. It was great to see people who have made themselves a life here.
So beautiful and overwhelming to wake up and open your tent to the ocean. Worth everything. It was also a great chat with everyone as they emerged to bask in the awesome together.
Well, Aoshima over, I still had a spare change of clothes and a day off, so I went with Tracey and John further north to Takanabe. I was surprised and impressed by the car conversation, it seems hangover conversation around the world centers on the spiritual, the hilarious, and the downright taboo. I always thought it was a NZ (trash) thing, so I am glad to see it here.
On the way to Takanabe I had a weird experience in that we found a beautiful swimming spot at a river, like the clearest and most fern-gully-esque spot you could imagine, and once in the river I was terrified. Like, bone terror. Maybe it was the silence, the lack of visibility (high mountain walls) but I just felt this sickening horror. For some reason it centered on the realization that ohmygodIdon’tknowiftherearehipposorcrocodilesinJapanandI’minariver, but (although formidable) they aren’t exactly the most common panic inducing factor in life. I made myself stay in the water anyway. As I will always make myself stay!
From here we continued on, and once in Takanabe went to visit a shrine with a lovely clear little field of grass. You don’t realize how much you miss paddocks when all there are for miles are rice paddies and instead of front lawns people just have jungles. It was nice just to sit and be.
A big thing I was struck by this weekend was just how easy it was to hangout. I don’t know if we get along because we have to, or because we’re similar minded, but I am talking with these people as if we have spent years seeing the best and worst in each other. Perhaps it’s not a case of ignoring your interests for the people who are near but your interests taking you toward the people you should have been near all along. Also came up with a solution to World aggression which is oxytocin. There is an impossibility of anger with hair touching. Imagine if you will a bunch of soldiers before war lying around braiding one another's hair and resting. We don't feel like killing today.
After a lovely dinner out I got to fall asleep listening to John on the fiddle and Tracey on the guitar. Bless. There is something about string instruments and violin and cello in particular that just pulls me. After a healthy gluten free breakfast the next day and watching some hilarious British show that I have forgotten the name of, we went to see Takanabe beach. And oh my god. It’s exactly like Pukehina. So much so that it hurt a little bit. It was far too easy to believe my friends or family were setting up a barbeque and cricket just around the corner. I went for a walk and experienced probably my first substantial homesickness (amidst, of course, my supreme gratitude to be there). It was terribly hard to turn back and be in Japan. Luckily John and Tracey were waiting and they are just wonderful.
Well after this it was about time for me to take myself home. On arriving at Miyazaki station, a man saw me looking at the sign and helped me in his broken English to find my train. This kind of thing means so much to me. I also saw Shin, who makes my day everytime I just see his face. Some people just can’t help but be uplifting. On the train, with salt crusted hair, I looked out my window and saw Miyazaki city’s fireworks. I couldn’t believe my luck, it was so surreal. It was like the last grand finale of this cheesy 80s honeymoon movie that had been my weekend. All this country has done is cater to me, to an idea of perfection I didn’t even know I had and hadn’t even begun to dream.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Also, I’ve never been to Britain. This may be integral.
Sitting at work today, toothbrushing in the office finally began to make sense. When the majority of your meals involve seaweed, it stands to reason that public (nay, sauntering) toothbrushing around the office would become a natural part of culture. Being stabbed in the back of the head by ones vigorous brushing/schedule pointing is okay, because noone wants a sea monster breathing over their shoulder.
Saw a bunch of lizards today. I remember the learning as a kid about the concept of a lizard losing its tail in the event of an emergency, and realized for the first time it’s not a case of a lizard “losing” its tail. It’s not like, oh, wow I’m in trouble! Better drop this thing! As far as I know living beings can do a lot but they can’t decide to drop a limb on a cellular level. No, a lizard has to physically pull itself off of its own tail. That would be like, that man who was trapped under a rock by his arm, except instead of a knife he just pulled his entire body off. What the shit man. Lizards are the most extreme things out.
May have had a little too much time to myself today.
Today I had a suspicion the students were out to get me with their shyness. Luckily it only lasted a little while and I bounced back with a red pen in hand and a bunch of plural form marking. There is literally no time to feel sorry for yourself, a tremendously useful part of life here, because feeling sorry for myself is my all-time favourite hobby.
Hung out with Holly this evening, we went to a second hand store and got some sweet Japanese things for my apartment. I have a kimono, an old painting, and a Viking ship in a jar. Life is good. Also, had McDonalds for the first time in months. It was nostalgic.
Found a Kendo uniform in my apartment. Yes, we tried it on. And it was awesome.
15th. Classes went better today. Got a bit frisky with my Japanese at lunchtime with the ladies next to me, learning other teachers names etc. Also asked the Kendo coach if I could watch sometime. Excite! Took train by myself to the city for another Japanese lesson. Started sketching as a way to pass the time, it goes so quickly! I think I will always love trains.
Corrected more grammar today. A few of the English teachers approach me with questions, and it’s then that I realize how horribly ambiguous English really is. It has even culminated in me googling ridiculously obscure grammar rules and looking up shades of meaning in my dictionary. I think it’s somewhat reassuring to everyone to see even an English speaker get confused. Or horribly world framework destroying. Whatever. Still, it’s good to get into it. Bitching about grammar has become the new version of talking shit at work I think.
I have got to get out of this mentality of saving things for my memory. I caught myself today putting aside the post-it from a teacher asking if we can talk grammar. And the wrapper from my first rice cracker. What do I expect to do with all this stuff?
Kendo first day
This afternoon was my Kendo spectatorship. The instructor doesn’t speak English, so one of the teachers came to help. I thought I would sit at the back and watch, but I was given two swords right off the bat. The first is a heavy wooden Katana, which is used for warming up. (No contact striking). Then we use the Shinai, or a bamboo practice sword for actual training. I was shown a couple steps, and where to put my hands. Then I was given a steel mannequin wearing armour to work on. At first you are afraid to hit it, the sword is so light it feels like it will break. But they are built for it.
The hardest part about this was the Keie (sp?) – the yell, anyway. When you begin your attack, you shriek YA! And slide your foot forward. Then when you strike, you shriek the name of your target and stomp as hard as you can while simultaneously leaping forward and striking. Then you glide past with a specific sort of run with your sword out like a galloping horse, then use the momentum of the sword to swing you around at the other end while continuing your wail. It’s an effective and terrifying effect if you know what you’re doing, unfortunately in my case I do not. That said, hearing “so, so, so” (roughly equivalent to ok ok ok) after feeling like a galloping, squeaking, walloping idiot, quickly makes your life.
There is a ridiculous amount of etiquette to Kendo. Aside from learning the appropriate technique for Seiza (the painful kneel) there is a bunch of bowing, commands, hierarchy, drawing, sheathing, string (representative of blade) placement, onegai shimasu and arigato gozaimasu-ing to remember. And this was all in the first lesson. Tip of the iceberg, my friend.
After my wee go, I got to watch the others. These are my students, and they are terrifying. Their “games” are these ridiculously fast attacks and the sound of frenzied bamboo on armour and eerie shrieking is really something to experience. Watching them, I could not even dare to hope. At the end, because I’m a teacher, the students brought me tea and clustered around me for some words. (They are expected to do this with every teacher – because usually of course the teacher is more skilled or knows what is going on or Japanese) Of course, we all know I am none of these things so I just said thank you one hundred times and bowed my way out. I really don’t know what to do with all this respect. Where did it come from? How did it get ascribed to me?
When I went back the office, drenched in sweat and slightly traumatized, all the gym teachers (possibly the last stereotype on earth I thought I would ever get chummy with) were so excited for me and to know how I found it. Heartwarminggu..
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Last minute decision (after profuse bowing and no-thanking with my guests) to go to Miyazaki City. It seems whenever things are not going so well (see end of prior entry) I tend to get a little location reckless. Cue numerous awakenings in different NZ cities. It appears Japan is to be no different.
Anyway, met two of the Nichinan girls on the train, who were on their way to an international dance festival. I decided to tag along, and ended up being allowed into the parade. I was quickly bustled into a fetching green coat, a NZ flag thrust into my hand, a sweet dance demonstrated, and off we went down the streets of Miyazaki, dancing our foreign little hearts out en masse. By dance of course I mean sweat. A special memory is Muqing and I’s brief (but momentous) outrageous and excessive interpretation of the (already fabulous) moves.
After this we wandered past some stalls, Kelly was there so of course by wandered past I mean ate our way past- on our way to dinner. I’m going to stop saying the food was delicious and you can just assume that whenever I mention eating that it was delicious. 3 years of a BComm and my efficiency astounds me. There were some funtime international games, in which I received the pity prize at the end. Not to matter though, because it was a piggy bank in the shape of a COMBI VAN. (Not really it’s a post van but the similarities are there).
To accompany dinner was a sweet wee Irish gig, which spread out onto the street as we left. Also on the street were beer venders and a Micheal Flatley bastardization performed (minus leather pant) for you, Rose, and every time I insisted we watch Lord of the Dance instead of Bambi. I would say it culminated in that moment, but to be honest it comes out quite regularly. There’s nothing quite like tippy tapping away in your own (isolated) circle at a packed, shovey Taupo bar while your sister barrels people down with her techno lawn mower to your left. So Rose I can assure you, be it irritating a bunch of NZers who will likely follow you into a bathroom for some friendly reconciliation or alienating kind Japanese couples just trying to walk down a street, not a lot has changed in the area of inappropriate jigging.
Well, after this we went to a nomihodai at the same bar I (wisely) decided to leave after the orientation welcome party. It was here I realized sho-chu may have a similar effect to vodka, which, for those I may have lived with before, is a substantially useful piece of information and may very well save my life, if not at least a few bruises, scars, and broken bones.
Anyway, karaoke again. Why Sam, why do we always choose the most ridiculous songs we can? We tried to rap and it was exhausting, loud, and probably only hilarious to ourselves. Worth it. After leaving we went to an international food store (don’t ask why it was open at this hour, it’s like some magical land) where I found TIMTAMS. Also got asked if I was anorexic. Do I exude my town from every pore?
After this a few of us went to a tiny tiny bar. The bartender was shy but wonderful, an Italian trained Japanese chef, and does it all in a tiny kitchen setup smaller than my desk at work in the corner of a bar smaller than my hallway. We had some delicious drinks, then four of us continued on to the next establishment, karaoke. At 4am. Two hours of karaoke later, we emerged into the sunlight to chirp “ohayo gozaimasu!” to everyone we saw. By now it was me, Miles, Kate, and John. While the big parties are fantastic, it is also nice to concentrate on smaller groups of people and value their company as more than a pre-packaged set. (Which I am terribly grateful for, without the set I would have died of loneliness long ago).
After hitting up a 7/11 for a healthy breakfast, we went to the river to generally sit around. We found tied to a park bench a plastic bag of goldfish, which some festival goer had left. What a surreal, surreal life I now lead. Exhausted, we slept. Under a bridge. In the grass. I must have been tired, considering I’m allergic to most of nature, and spiders and snakes live there.
Giving up on sleep for the most part, we went back into the city some time later for lunch. For someone who is sick of talking about themselves I do it an awful, egotastic lot. (That’s not a typo I just made it). There’s that whole thing of moving and having the opportunity to recreate yourself, but I keep getting too excited about where I’m from and forgetting. Taupo, you’re like this big horrendously beautiful core that I love slightly more than I bitch about.
Anyway, it was nice to see the city in a dayish light, even if I had no idea who I was or where I was going. Finally, the train home. Most exhausting ride of my life. Again, coped. Body you are my best friend. In my notebook I wrote that as fried, and then (after scribbling) added, “I love you, misspellings and all.”
9th. Had a welcome lunch with the English staff today. I thought it would be all staff, so I wrote a thankyou speech in Japanese. They all speak near perfect English, but I read it anyway and they clapped. It is always a source of amusement (and mild frustration) how seriously people react to me in certain situations. Case in point: My supervisor told me “You are a very hard worker. Just don’t be so… Nervous”. I think there is a substantial group of people (most likely Taupo ones) who would fall over in shock at hearing hard work AND nervous in a sentence describing someone who once fell down a flight of stairs and off a bench onto a coffee table in quick succession. Work me and abrasive, uncouth me just can’t seem to reach a happy midway point. Still, I suppose a school is no place for a dinosaur.
Well I compensated for my easy lesson plan by making it ridiculously hard. We didn’t get through all of it, but I felt good about it anyway. A couple more tweaks and by the end of the day it was perfect! Ended today ridiculously relieved the students aren’t quite as shy as I had been anticipating, and besides, they are so obedient they do whatever you say anyway. Although I do have one student that whenever I ask him a question, he just says “NO.” But, at least they aren’t yelling puck you miss and throwing chairs.
My favourite area at work is the copying room. Clear your minds gutter children! Walking out of that room with 35 copies of a lesson YOU created is the essence of fulfillment. That is, if you are the excitable consistency of cardboard and easily pleased as I am. Also my first work pen ran out today. That means over 7 days I have written an entire pen. EXCITE
Tonight I went to my first Japanese lesson run by Paul, in the city, with Holly (new beautiful English friend). It’s cool now that when people patter away at you in restaurants and you stand with a blank smile, nodding equally blankly, with a fist full of monopoly money ready to thrust forward at the first opportunity, there is a chance you may know exactly what it is that is being said. Unless they deviate by one word, in which case, you’re back at square one, monopoly guy.
It’s almost bad how easy it is to get by with “kore o kudasai” and “arigato gozaimasu”. I don’t know the names of anything, because all I need is the magical phrase for “this please”, a dexterous pointy finger, and ridiculous levels of politeness. It’s the easiest way, but I also want to learn MORE, as I know how much it makes my day when people have a crack at English. Even the 7/11 guy who said thank you instead of the arigato spiel I was like YES. GOD.
Silly things happened at home this week, Taupo is as Taupo does. Hard to concentrate on life in Japan, but also brings in an element of gratitude for the place just for enveloping me the way it has.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Sports day 5th Sept and work drinks
Sports day. This was amazing. The opening ceremony involved traditional dancing, some sort of sweet karate dance, flag dancing, and team dances. During the team dances it absolutely poured. It was such a mixture of hilarity and sadness watching those kids dance in the rain in their gym uniforms. I really didn’t know what to think. So, I took photos. I had nice conversations with the music, language and art teachers, and generally stood around.
Watching the students actually brought me back to primary school, when you cross the line and are given a number to take to the tent and be written down. I think it only ever happened to me once, at a swimming day. Probably in the dolphin dives or something ridiculous like that. It was nice being on the other side of the desk though, giving other people those memories. Also, I got to hold the ribbon. Famous much.
Another thing that struck me was how upset these kids got. The red team lost, and they just cried their hearts out. The team leader who yelled ‘ICHI NI!’ the loudest during marching was just this silent, red eyed shell of his former self. Even through packing up all the chairs and stuff, it was like they had just received horrible news. Then again, I suppose any Japanese person in NZ would be equally shocked at our heckling, ref-abusing, “sports days are for fags anywayz” losing response.
Right. After sports day I had my first work party. There was ‘random’ seating, except I was to be placed next to an English teacher. (Thank god). The food was delicious. We were only allowed 2 beers each at this place, but 5 beers later people were still bringing them over. I was asked to say a speech to the PTA, and stammered out a ‘minna san um…’ before someone called out ‘Eigo!” So I got to prattle away in English about how much I loved coming into school everyday, and how grateful I was to everyone, while they all stared politely. When it came time for translation, the teacher next to me bellowed a suspiciously short rendition which got a suspiciously rowdy cheer. Another English teacher told me that he had translated my speech to “I am very grateful and I am going to drink lots!” If only he knew how prophetic this was to be.
Teachers started coming up and asking me questions, by which I mean they asked in Japanese, were translated, and then my response was translated. I think all these teachers were gym teachers. There was the remark that NZers drink much like Japanese people, which I think is entirely true. We drink to relax, for an excuse to be social. It’s not so much the alcohol that does it, but the environment and the shared consensus between everyone that it is okay to speak freely. Again, some form of conditioning.
After the dinner we went on to another bar. I did karaoke to ‘I love rock n roll’ and everyone cheered. When I realized what I had done there was a brief period of oh god. But I think because everyone else did it, it was the best thing I could have done. I also called the old PTA ladies “kirei desu!”, mimed passing out whenever anyone offered me shochu (they drink it straight or with water), and told my principal (at least three times) that I was in “the best school in
On the Monday when I walked into the school, the principal said “Tiffany! Saturday night” As I desperately tried to recollect and habitually braced myself for being fired, he continued “you ate a mountain of soba!” Apparently at our last bar I had eaten a huge bowl of noodles, to everyone’s admiration (shock and possible disgust). I am so glad that of all the foreign drunk traits that could rear their ugly heads, mine is the dinosaur.