Tuesday, July 12, 2011

March 12th-17th. Exploring Obi, a goodbye, and a gift

*Continued warning - Still March, so still slightly shit


12

Got up early to show Tristan around Obi. Did the actual tourist tour, which I hadn’t realised was available (it being all in Japanese.) There is some amazing stuff hidden away in Obi that I did not even know was here. I had often wondered why, for a Samurai town, they had so little regard for the history (people actually live in the old Samurai housing with their kids and pets and washing lines). Turns out I had walked right past about 3 historical buildings, museums, and even the Shogun’s old house. So we managed to explore all of these, and I slavered over the old uniforms and armour. There were some incredible swords, and even a couple hideous weapons with hooks that made my nerves bundle.

We had a go at the archery, which was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. It was traditional, but not Kyudo, as it wasn’t the full body sized bow. For this one you kneel side-on from the target, and the bow is the same size as you kneeling. It took a bit to get the hang of, the feathers whip past your fingers with incredible speed and nip the skin off of them if you aren’t careful. But I managed to get two bulls eyes! Stoked. The man gave us a piece of Obi cedar each and we continued on.

The tourist tour also included food tokens, which you take to numbered shops and they give you little treaties. It was like a treasure hunt of deliciousness and I managed to find out about a bunch of cool little food-holes in Obi that I didn’t previously know of. All of it was incredibly traditional, rice paste and bean soup, sweet egg roll eaten in Samurai times, bean paste lumps, and sweet tofu sushi rolls. Can’t help but feel like Samurai had sweet tooth. Everywhere we went the TV was on, going over the tsunami disaster and we all chatted about it quietly. It was sobering to see how sad it was making everyone around us.

Tristan headed for home at midday, (he biked down from Saito which is like 50 million kilometres) and I fell asleep. When I woke up I got picked up by Julian, who took me to the city for a fundraiser for NZ (and now Japan) at Sean’s bar. This was a nice night, where everyone pulled together and supported each other, and Jordy paid about $80NZD for a jar of pesto.

Karaoke, late night (as in, 6am late.) Fell asleep on the floor at Jesses for two hours and then dragged myself back up at 8 to meet my Jodo Sensei at the station for a day of training.

13 - Sunday

Jodo training day. I was so unbelievably tired but it was actually really good just to have to suck it up and go at it. Good for the endurance. During the lunch break I had a sleep in Sensei’s car, and the rest of the day just generally zombied around striking things with my staff.

14

Bad day.

15

At the risk of boring my readers with emotional blather I will shorten this entry to the only part of importance, which is that I am going home for a holiday.

16 - Wed

Kimiyo Sensei who I joke with about our “high calorie diet”, Hidaka Sensei who I spend hours looking at postcards with, a favourite gym teacher I booze with, a tall funny teacher who I was going to go fishing with, the nicest art teacher who I love Tohoshinki with, and others are leaving. Every year, teachers are moved around to different schools by the government. Later I find out my principal who I sit with in bars picking my teeth, using superior Japanese, elbowing and cackling with, is also leaving. I am not one to complain about governments, but this news is bad. I struggle.

17

St Patty’s. Jealous of everyone in NZ who is having beer for breakfast while I am getting ready for a day of work.

After school today, two students were following me at a distance and giggling with each other. I assumed it was something along the lines of “zomg look how foreigners walk” but then they finally cornered me. One of them handed me a white box with my name on it in katakana and cutout silhouettes of sheep. I couldn’t believe it. They were so shy they just smiled and pointed at the sheep. I opened it and inside purple tissue paper was a gorgeous handmade white cup and a handmade inkan (stamp) with an “A” (for Allan) carved into it. One of my students had made it himself. As I examined the cup I had to bite back a smile, because hidden right on the inside was a little carved heart. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed and gave them both a hug, which now brings my student hugs up to a total of three. He tittered, said “warm” and they left. It was one of those perfectly timed gestures for which you feel like you can never show enough gratitude, and to keep trying would take away from it (+ weird them out.) I don’t think my students could ever know just how much they do for me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

29th Feb - 11th March

Warning* March wasn’t the nicest month

29th Feb

Found out about Christchurch last night. Eyes grainy. No-one asks. I kindof prefer this to the incessant “are you okay”-ing of other cultures. At 9.10am, there is an earthquake. The windows rattle and my chair rolls from side to side. I assume we’re going to die but it is only a “funka” (eruption).

Head to the city. Eat some delicious Indian and have a general conversation about debauchery. Partway through this the waitress comes and asks us in perfect English about our meals. Sigh. Got to stop assuming no-one understands me. We stay on late with a glass of wine and meet the chef, who LOVES Dreamtheater. This makes me so happy. He plays it over the restaurant for us and we compare favourite albums (they’re the same.) Don’t know why I haven’t been back there. I’m so glad I keep this blog – it’s so behind the times, I rediscover things.

1st March

Graduation ceremony. I barely fit into my suit and am afraid I’m going to explode out of it in a glorious spray of flesh and okashi. Ginger movements. I realize I have gained a full 9 kilograms since August. Without the troll-making aspect I have accepted of Kendo I’d be perturbed, with it I’m only mildly disgruntled.

Looking around the room (it is a full 2 and a half hours of wakarimasen), I am amazed at what has become normal to me. A man doing a speech in a suit and stripey slippers. Ladies in suits and bright white hi-top sneakers. My own hideous socks and sandals – totally accepted in this country of Footwear-That-Doesn’t-Count. People sleeping in their chairs. My own inability to keep my chin above my chest. Usually when I’m in a bored room of Westerners people get more and more restless, but here they sink further and further into oblivion.

A snap to attention. Everyone at some cue unforeseen by myself is suddenly sobbing. The man on stage doing his speech has totally broken down. I have a flashback of laughing at my biggest calmest teacher who asked me before the ceremony – “Your first graduation? …Don’t cry.” And then I am openly watering up. One of my favourite third graders who yells at me every morning from the third floor catches this and grins like he’s won something. My guess is a bet. The teacher who warned me starts mock-wiping his eyes and laughing. The students file out and I go and “get a cup of tea”.

3rd March

No real time to write any notes down this week, was super busy setting up a link between my school and Shirley Boy’s in Christchurch, at the request of my students. I emailed maybe two people, and then it somehow went viral and I ended up in a newspaper, on TV, on the phone to NZ, receiving a written response from the Minister of Education, and numerous emails from members of parliament. All because my students have the innate ability to capture hearts without even trying. They even did a ceremony where they all filed in and gave me one thousand cranes in lots of a hundred. Basically it was just a choking week all round.

4th

Still busy. Stayed late after school today to help two girls who were applying for an English university, having a massive chat to them and a JTE about communication issues, culture, and all of those things I find incredibly interesting. It was really good to hear about it from the perspective not only of Japan but students. These guys are so smart. I’m pretty sure I was having none of these wise observations at their age. It was also cool to have such a small group, because they plucked up the courage to ask me all the real questions which I love to answer, like thoughts on America, Japan, NZ, etc. We even talked about the smells of different countries?

Went to Kelly’s, watched How to Train your Dragon and ate junk food. Tried to sew my Jodo patch on my hakama and failed miserably. Biked home.

5th

Went to the city with Julian, to appear live on Sean’s TV show. Roughly 50million of my students saw it and gushed at the fact that I knew Sean. (He’s a NZer but speaks Japanese and appears on a Japanese TV show every weekend. Huge celebrity.) I ate a giant burger and accidentally said thank you to a coffee machine. Went home and watched Jersey Shore.

6th

Cleaned. Don’t feel like doing much after this sort of a week.

7-10

No class, filled in time somehow. On the days I did have class I watched “UP” with my students. Somewhat boring after the 1st time (I watch it a total of 10) but I don’t know what 15 year olds are into these days.

11th

Tristan arrives for the fundraiser scheduled on Saturday. About 10 foreigners are expected at my house, but at 5pm my JTE calls me. She is shaking so much I think that a student has died and prepare for my world to end. Instead she tells me the fundraising is cancelled. I’m not sure why, but it becomes apparent later.

Tristan and I turn on the TV. There has been a huge disaster. Earlier in the day, there had been a massive earthquake. 3 people had died. I remember thinking how amazing and fortunate it was that that was all. But it was shortlived. An hour or so later, the tsunami had hit. Thousands died. It’s so devastating that it’s hard to believe, even now, four months later. Everyone feels the same shock, fear, and sadness today, so I won’t rehash it. Needless to say, Japan is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and we all hope it’s not as bad as it seems. Tristan, Muqing, Kelly and I meet at my house to hangout and share company.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feb 25th - Kagoshima trip

Feb 25th

A full 4 months behind.

Left work early, to meet Julian and Naho and begin our epic Kagoshima road trip! Beautiful weather. Went with them as they checked into their hostel, which had (omg) ENGLISH signs and even English books in the communal section! It was a really cool backpackers, reminiscent of NZ ones, with bunk beds, communal dining and chilling out areas with incense. It was built in a tiny but high building, so you are walking up a maze of stairs to get to your dorm and your head is pretty much about a metre from the ceiling when you lie in your bed. Awesome. I really recommend them if anyone is traveling in that area, they are called Green Guest House and are really laid back and wonderful.

We sat in the communal area drinking wine and chilling out, and then caught a taxi to the Kagoshima JET ball. Japan is split into prefectures, (sortof like states) and each prefecture has events for the JETs inside of it. It’s cool, but it’s also weird, because I live closer to some of the Kagoshima JETs as I do some of the Miyazaki ones, but we still barely see each other because it’s easy to get tricked into thinking that they are separate. So, we decided to tag along to Kagoshima, and had a great time meeting new faces. There was actual dancing, even a dubstep song! Pretty dresses, a toilet that was shaped like a maze (this was not alcohol induced it literally had a lopsided hallway) and was just a great night all round.

From here we went to Karaoke, where I got tired (read: passed out) and then we went to get delicious ramen. I managed to drop my chopsticks three times in a row, and then they gave me a kiddy pair. Would have been embarrassing if it wasn’t so hilarious. Went to a conbini, and bought an entire other completely unnecessary meal and 3 kitkat chunkys because I was so ecstatic to find them. Went and ate on the roof of the hostel with a sip of wine, then went to bed. It was super hot, and because it was so similar to an Auckland backpackers, I had extremely vivid dreams of being there for a festival and all the dorm being filled up with friends. So really it was more of a memory but at night. Man I love summer communal travel.

26

Up earlyish, into the backpacker shower. Went up to the roof to get some fresh air and made friends up there with a Japanese lady having a cigarette, she was so chilled out that I felt like I understood everything she said and we managed to have a pretty good conversation purely in Japanese. I was pretty stoked with that. Then we pretty much like, gestured at the sky, which had lovely sunlight, said “kimochi” (literally means “feeling” but you use it when you feel like, at peace or good) and settled back into our respective chairs in comfortable silence. A nice morning encounter. I think it’s backpackers where those things are more likely to happen, which only increases my desire to stay in more whilst in Japan. It’s easy to forget there are people like you when you are usually at work. Went downstairs, checked out, while apologizing profusely for just coming in and crashing out when we had specifically planned for me to sleep elsewhere.

Went for a wander with Julian and Naho, and had no shit the best coffee of my entire life to date. It was an iced coconut latte. Bliss in a glass. Enjoyed our time at the café, which was a cool, spacious room overhanging the shops in the alley below.

Met up with Lily and some other Kago JETs downstairs, then went to a sweet steak place. This was probably my first steak since arriving in Japan a full 7 months ago. (Nothing I ate in San Francisco counts.) Gorged, then went to the beach. From the beach in Kago you are pretty much facing Sakurajima, a volcano island about a km away. As we watched, ash started raining down on our clothes and hair.

Went to the mall, after deciding not to go to the zoo because apparently zoos in Japan are quite depressing. Given the way many animals are treated here, I wouldn’t be surprised. None of it is malicious so I won’t get up in arms (particularly in a blog which is like being an anonymous chat room abuser), but it’s just like it’s never occurred to many people here that an animal may feel discomfort.

Wandered around some stalls, ate some delicious bean paste lumps which tasted like bran muffins, and then said goodbye to Julian and Naho. Went to Lily’s for caramel tea and biscuits! (She’s English.)

After a social chat and a spot of reading, we headed out for dinner to a bar/restaurant set up like a construction site. There was yellow tape and scaffolding and everything! I love Kagoshima’s themed places. I had taco rice for the first time, and met some more great Kagoshima JETs. I am now the Kagoshima-Miyazaki bridge. Also met some people from way down south, which was cool because they actually live closer to me than most of the Miyazaki JETs. We got to bond over being the very south of the very south, and ultra inaka. In fact, their town seems even more rural than mine. Mine doesn’t have a cat food factory. When they found out that I actually rode the mystery jungle train that trundles in and out of sight amidst the weeds and mountains they were shocked. Well, got social, as we do, and started talking to people at other tables. Some complete strangers, when they found out I was from NZ, asked me if I was okay after the earthquake and filled my glass. Beautiful, beautiful Japan.

Took us about 30min to vacate that area, in which we all stood outside quite literally applauding anyone who walked past. So much hilarity, so easily.

Went to karaoke, where we got a giant room. We shoved all the tables and chairs up the sides, and made a sweet dancing area. I even got a swing dance!

Time to leave, we again took our sweet time amidst general amochery. Met some sweet Spanish people, whom we had to communicate with in Japanese as I know more Japanese than Spanish. They did teach me some nice words though, and it was worth the not understanding just to hear their sweet croony voices. A drunken mash of three languages mid-street. Their names were Gabrielle and Diego, at which point I gasped in Japanese, “watashi no neko!!” I meant to say, you have the same name as my cat. Instead I literally said he was my cat? He took it in stride and said he was instead my tiger. And mewed. An old man joined our soiree, and began showing us Kendo and Karate moves. Of course this is caught on camera and looks like I like beating on Grandpas.

Onto Mr. Donut! I don’t know why, but 3am me likes themed food. So I got a donut heart and a bear. We started talking to some casual Yakuza (mafia), and they asked me about the earthquake. No shit, every person I met this weekend, no matter how drunk or badass, has asked me with real concern about the earthquake. I just need everyone to know how considerate this country is. I’ve gotten into the habit of just doing the baseball hand gesture for “safe”. I did this, and, satisfied, they then went on to talking about my breasts. Forgetting where I was, I laughed and pulled the fingers. Then I realized that I just pulled the fingers at Yakuza. Surprisingly, the guy looked sheepish and mimed drinking shochu. We laughed. Crisis/certain death averted! Then he started pointing at one of my new friends, saying “dangerous man”. I replied, “dangerous woman”. One of them leaned over, touched my bicep, and they all went “oooOOOOOOooooo” hahaha. Japan is hilarious.

Leaving Mr. Donut, the man we have started calling Nipple (because it’s one of the only English words he knows) tells us seriously, “This is Japan. You must not shout nipple.” He then tips his head back and does just that. Then he looks at us. “I am going to walk away now. You must not shout nipple.”

Of course we do.

27

Up earlyish, and onto the ferry to Sakurajima. It’s odd now, as I type this, to think that the weather was ever chilly. But chilly it was! Woolen hats and jumpers abound, we wandered around the volcano (which is what Sakurajima is) and cheered on every runner we saw. Met up with everyone who had finished, had some food and a quick catchup before taking a bus to a volcano onsen (naked hot spring). Because this one is mixed, you wear a white yukata (robe) INTO the water. I don’t really know what the point of this is, because it is white and flappy. But who am I to judge/care. This was the best onsen I have been in to date. It was so, so beautiful. Because it’s right next to the sea, it’s like being in a horizon pool. Except this one has a shrine, trees, geothermic water, and is formed naturally out of hollows of rock. Someone told us as we sat there that because of the minerals in the water, you could look down and see your aura. I’m not sure if it was an aura as much as just chemical reaction, but we all definitely had blueish rings around us. It was cool.

Okay, realized we only had 5min to get changed and onto the bus. Got changed so quickly we didn’t even dry ourselves, which was convenient as I had accidentally used my teeny towel to wash with, thinking it was a washcloth. It was that small. Squelched onto the bus and enjoyed the scenery with our subisubi (soft) skin drying against our clothes.

Ferry back – watched some rugby that was playing. It was a Japanese team but I definitely saw a couple Nzers in there. Maybe Aussies. They just have that look about them.

Hours of trains, foreigners I didn’t know at the station in Miyazaki which NEVER happens. Had a chat, then carried on.

Home. Saw all the Earthquake updates. Heart breaks. Don’t know what to say about this night because it was a terrible one.