Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Week of 20th-26th April, a normal week at school

20 April
I recall being in a terrible mood this day. I have a new JTE but in the interests of professionalism I won’t say much about it except that it is taking awhile for us to acclimitise to each other. Awhile like it’ll never happen.

Things that made this day better:

- My supervisor asking me to rank the appropriateness and usability for different words for poo、beginning from faeces.

- Discovering a new drink which is, at best description, thick, fizzy soy milk. It’s about the most confusing thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. But not all in a bad way?

Still struggling with my JTE. The battle of wills rages on.

A new kid at Kendo, a first year so I also teach her in class. She’s friendly, confides in me completely in Japanese because she knows I don’t understand a word of it, and bashes my kote point (right fore arm) with mercilessness. I will have many a bruise from this girl from this day forth. Still, she’s sweet. Despite being able to possibly kill me if she wanted, she rests her head on my shoulder occasionally when practice has been tough, and pats my armour affectionately. Probably planning her next attack.

Today the nurse came into the staffroom, said something hurriedly to Kyoto Sensei, then he got up and beckoned me to come with them. We went to the top floor where a girl was unconscious out on the ground. Because I don’t speak Japanese I have no idea what actually happened to her, but we lifted her onto a hand-held stretcher and carried her 3 floors down the stairs. It was a scary feeling, to have someone who is obviously so ill relying on your grip and balance (i.e. so she doesn’t fall off) but it was also a good feeling, like I can be sturdy when it matters.

Also had a moment which made me smile, in which I was walking along a pathway, and got off it so that a teacher walking the opposite way could pass. Rather than take the path, he also hopped off, so that the path between us as we passed was empty. It’s one of those things that I’m sure has happened more than once, but I’m glad I noticed it today. This feeling of… Wanting to be even in terms of comfort. It dictates so much of what goes on in Japanese life and can be simultaneously touching and frustrating.

Nice weather. Went for a bike ride with Devon and got a sweet t-shirt shaped burn. Nice day though.

Packing, class preparations, teaching final classes, gritting my teeth against my JTE. At this stage it’s so close to my visit home that I can only find it funny.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week of 10th to 16th of April (pretty much half a year ago)

10th April

Watched 7 Samurai over the course of the day. It’s a long ass movie but good enough that I didn’t mind having pretty much an entire day revolve around it. (It, food and napping.)


Went to the city for shopping and a Japanese movie. This is the first time I have watched a movie entirely in Japanese. With a couple notes from Devon, I managed to understand most of it. It helped that it was a gorefest. (Gantz, if anyone wants to see it. I recommend)


Did my self introduction in Japanese in front of 258 students. I know it was that many because I have the class list in front of me. Over the course of a week I will teach all of these. Was super nervous but not really sure why, considering I make way more of an ass of myself in class. Probably because other teachers were listening to my Japanese. Got a taste of how my kids feel when I get them to stand up and speak in English. Was also introduced as a co-teacher of Kendo. HAH. Every student there outranks me by at least two dan (levels.)




Intense kendo today. Blisters and muscle filling back in after my absence. Got a nasty shock when I looked in the mirror and saw my neck is growing. It appears I need to make a decision on whether I can stick with this convenient “oh help me I’m a girl I can’t possibly deal with the travails of life with these little arms” image, or do things for myself from now on - before my body changes enough to render one of the options obsolete.


Out for dinner with new staff. My Kocho sensei has left, but it appears one of my JTEs is determined to carry on the tradition of tipping entire snack bowls into my purse. Went to the conbini with the new young guys for bean paste inside rice paste in the shape of a fish (common snack), and tea (got “my treat”ed by someone who looks about 12 but is actually double that) and then got a ride home… With his mother. It was so cute. She pulled up and her car was FULL of tiny soft toy pigs. They were all arranged to look out the windows. He was mortified, I was captivated with joy.


To city! Started out tired, went to some kind of hippy convention where everyone sortof stood and swayed and I fell asleep from incense poisoning, then woke up and went out partying and ended up in a standing shochu bar the size and shape of a hallway at 5am.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9th April Welcome Enkai

Everyday I mark a couple student English diaries. Last week I wished a student luck and explained the concept of crossed fingers. Today his diary read “I got good marks for my exam. It is thanks to your crossed fingers that I did well.”

Kendo was at 2pm which startled me into going. Had my first game in at least two months. Felt incredibly bumbling and slow. Vow to never miss so much practice again.

Kyoto sensei came over and invited me in Japanese to walk to tonight’s enkai with him. (We live in the same building.) After I agreed he said in English, “good listening.” We walked to school together and then caught the bus. I sat next to a giant teacher who is one of my favourites because he’s so chilled out. He began by telling me (in Japanese) that he was tired, but that he was like our bus and had an “alcohol engine.”

Sat next to the tennis coach for the enkai. We soon made friends and went together to the new teacher’s table in order to introduce ourselves. Introductions at an enkai are somewhat like a drinking game. To welcome a new teacher, you hold out a bottle of beer to pour into their glass. If their glass is full, they are obligated to drink some off so you can refill it and show how welcoming you are. Then, they pour some of yours. Then, you both kanpai (cheers) and drink some together. If they are younger and you are feeling boisterous/particularly welcoming, you can finish your glasses. (You both are expected to drink about the same amount so a cruel/awesome person could take advantage of this.) We had about 15 new teachers sitting in a line. We did this once each for all of them. By the time they have been introduced to everyone, we are drunk and they are generally shitfaced (remember they must do this with all the existing staff who come to meet them.) This is all done under the ceremonial welcoming guise. Needless to say I love it.

Of course this all happens before the welcoming speeches so they stand up, flaming red (from alcohol, not embarrassment) and generally forget their formal speeches in lieu of something like “I’m quite drunk. NICHINAN KOKO!” The exception to this was our new principal, who doesn’t drink and was forced to skull cups of fake beer. When the other teachers heard this, they turned dark and muttered things like, “he will be troublesome.”

We then had to introduce ourselves to the newbies in turn. We all took this as a kind of joke, so for the English department they chose me to introduce everyone. Of course I started rambling on in English amidst cries of Umai! Kawaii! Until my Kendo teacher told everyone to be quiet and listen to a speech which nobody understood. At the end I got hi-fives and pounds (god knows where they learnt those) all the way back to my seat.

We then continued on to nijikai (second party) to an underground bar in Aburatsu. My kendo teacher sortof looks out for me at enkais, and seems to be offended toward everyone present if my glass is empty. He took it upon himself to go behind the bar and refill it for me. I sat with a bunch of the new teachers, who are actually close to my age. Japanese males are funny, they are so shy like children, but with none of that children meanness. When I sat down they were literally like, “yay I get to sit next to Tiffany!” They put on YMCA, and I led everyone in the dance while they sang it in Japanese. One of the female teachers confided in me “I don’t like loud boys” when I talked to her, and I chirped obnoxiously “I do!” but was also happy because even though I’m the youngest in the office, I no longer seem like it.

I sat between a new teacher and my kendo teacher for awhile, and the new teacher asked me why I go to Kendo. I’ve been asked this before, sometimes in jest because it’s so out of character, and sometimes seriously. This time I gave the standard reply (because it can only be done properly in Japan) and he waved it aside and was like, why do you GO? So I said in halting Japanese “it makes me feel… strong.” He said, “mind?” and I said “yes, strong… inside” On my side my kendo teacher was like, looking down silently, and then he just quietly said thank you. I guess to really understand how it was, you have to see him as he usually is, striding through the office barely glancing at anyone, hitting me over the head when I’m too slow to sense an opening for attack, roughly gesturing me in or out of play. Usually at Kendo I feel like I’m a hindrance, and that I should be the one who is grateful. It’s a moment I’ll remember for a long time. He also made me and everyone at the table finish our drinks.

Hmm some flitting around, talked at the bar with the teacher who always pretends we’re rogues together, he told me when he was 8 years old Stand by me was his favourite song, so we tried to sing that, accidentally put on the fast version, and failed miserably. Ah well. We had a serious kanpai (cheers) of the type where you’re genuinely wishing for the other’s health instead of just slopping your beers everywhere. It was nice.

It seems my party trick in Japan is to wildly underestimate people’s ages and prove shocked by the truth. They love it.

Hmm more talk, this was a fun night I recall. Work enkais are forever cemented in me as my very best times in Japan. Someone even sang Livin the vida loca! No idea how he did it but it was good. I was sitting at one point with a JTE on my right and the tennis coach passed out COLD on the bar on my left. When I looked at him, my JTE said without a trace of irony, “he is very tired.”

BRIEF MOMENT OF EGO PUMPERY - My kendo teacher beckoned me over to a space he had made between himself and my JTE (like I say, he keeps an eye on me at enkais and even though we don’t understand a word the other says, thanks to him I am never left sitting awkwardly alone – something I am hugely grateful for) and we had a conversation which was largely lost in translation and my faulty memory, but I do remember him saying I reminded him of the movie 7 Samurai. Um, life win. Nothing horrible anyone ever says against me can compete with this. (It did occur to me after watching the movie he could have meant one of the sniveling peasants who employed said Samurai but it pays not to dwell on these things.)

Decided at the last moment against sanjikai (as if it could ever compete with ichi and ni) and went home deeply happy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

End of March, beginning of April, nature and stuff

30th March

Forced self to go to Jodo. Biked there, was bored, stuck it out, biked home. The pace is so slow compared to Kendo that the only reason I go is to chat to the Nichinan girls. Reminds me of the approximate time at which I stopped paying attention in school and started just going to be social. It seems I have to be terrified into doing much of anything at all.

1st April

As well as being swapped around from school to school, teachers in Japan have their roles tampered with as well. I’m still teaching with one of my JTEs, but the nicest one has been moved and I am with two new ones. Not sure at this stage how they’ll be, but they seem nice.

Had a lovely lunch under the Sakura (cherry blossom) trees today. They are all out in full bloom for about 10 days, in which time everyone scrambles for picnics. Still a bit of a chill in the air, but a nice sunny day. Japanese women seem to be terrified to have anything to do with the ground. Whenever I carelessly rest my bag on it, they’ll pick it up and put it on a nearby chair, or table, or even hold it patiently. Same with picnics. Everyone perches uncomfortably on a tarp, no matter how small, (of course making room for every person of the party) rather than risk touching actual earth or subjecting anyone else to the same fate. I suppose with all the giant ants and poisonous centipedes and such it’s probably warranted, but I can’t help but feel a little out of touch with the world– especially without having felt socially comfortable in bare feet in a year.

Went out with the Nichinan girls for another sakura picnic, this time a night one. We were a little early for the season, so we had the entire hillside to ourselves. There were still plenty of blossoms and paper lanterns strung amongst them, which really was beautiful. Stopped for a mediocre crepe, then to the new CO-OP (huge grocery store) that had just opened in our town, where I found not only PEANUT BUTTER but PORRIDGE as well. A glorious day.


Up early, chilling in sun. In order to receive sun from my abode I must take a deckchair out of my steel storm door, down the concrete steps, and into the far corner of the carpark. Where I sit, looking foreign.

Took the train to the city, met some friends for coffee, and a cardboard cut-out called Ruben. Went for a drink with Ruben. Started the night with a champagne all round, which was lovely and somewhat rare in this land of beer and rice whiskey.

Went out for dinner with everyone for a birthday, which started out quite sedate and even silent, which is rare for us, up until Matt asked, “So how do you all feel about the staff changes?” Dinner got a lot more lively after that, and I have written down in my notes “hangout with Lisa more” so I imagine she was an important part of that.

Went to a conbini (those magical lands of conbenience) where I spent my last 200yen on cider (equiv of $3.20NZD). Off to a small small bar with instruments that you could play, but also unfortunately had people drinking, smoking, and two screaming infants. Yay parenting! One $16 beer later, the girls managed to escape with cider into the Miyazaki night without the menz, where we promptly got lost.

Some time later we found the Bar, which is where we go to speak English and pretty much be in a foreign atmosphere. Not a good habit to get into, but sometimes necessary after weeks of a language you don’t understand. Milled around for a few hours, drank some banana milk, got a hotel with Jords.


Woke up with vertigo (gradually becoming worse) so went home early.


Don’t know what happened between 3rd and today. Assume dizziness. Went for a walk up the hill next to my school and managed to read under the cherry blossoms with petals landing in my hair. Beautiful day.

Small welcome party for the new English new teacher, good food and bad karaoke. Must have been pretty tired this week because that’s all I wrote about it.


Went back to Kendo properly for the first time since I tore my calf. Wasn’t too bad, but could literally feel the absence where months worth of muscle should have been. Had a great conversation with my students though, which, as always, makes my life. My kendo teacher also called me a word in Japanese which I looked up and meant “my deputy”. Oh ye swollen heart.