Tuesday, February 21, 2012

THE END. -Or is it?

And so ends my first year in Japan! Congratulations to you, dear reader, who have managed to read a full 365 days of someone else’s life, a mere 65 of which were probably interesting. I commend you!




But the blog does not end here! The incessant daily slogging does, because I’m highly routinised (read: boring) from now onwards, but I’ll be returning to share stories and impressions, you can count on it. You literally can, because I have a full notebook on my trips to Thailand and Okinawa just quivering in my desk drawer. Until then! x

Last of July

July 25th and 26th Mon-Tues



A week of nothing at work. I have these notes on things I noticed during the day. One of these is the weird little race around the staffroom that teachers will do to avoid each other. It’s as if there isn’t room for us to possibly walk past each other, so as soon as they see me coming they’ll take the first corner they see at a run in order to walk around the opposite side. It’s something I’ve started to be guilty of doing too, but struck me today as looking hilarious and absurd.





Found somewhere in the school is a rotten bento. For some unknown reason it is brought into the staffroom. Every teacher stops to open it, inspect it, and make a comment on it. It smells.





As I’m marking, I lift up a sheet while eating and shake some crumbs off of it in order to continue. One of my teachers starts laughing and miming smearing food and making coffee rings all over his. The secret to adulthood is that there is none.





27th Wednesday



Only Muqing and I at Jodo, which is unfortunate as the Senseis finally get a good look at how awful I am at it.





28th Thursday



Extreme Kendo. “Today, we sweat. Tonight, beer.” He makes me keep going long after I would have given up, long after my body has started faltering. I like that he does this, and that I can do it.





After Kendo I go out to a work enkai. We drive for miles out into the jungle until we reach a tiny wee house in the middle of Jurassic Park. The entire meal is meat. I eat my first raw chicken, thinly sliced. It’s okay. Best not to think about it. Then they fry literal hunks of pork fat, called “collagen” -for your skin. We leave the place reeking of fried meat. My Kendo teacher comes and sits next to me and talks to me for awhile about Kendo. I understand basically nothing but try to talk back which is cool. We get the same car back to the city, and again converse in rando Japanese/English. When we communicate, it’s like, the fact that we are trying IS the communication. Nothing else really gets through, but it means a lot to try.





At the Nijikai, I drink shochu. When asked to sing I find “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker. What a blast from the past. This is a wonderful karaoke song, as it stays pretty much in one range the entire thing. When I have finished my kendo teacher comes and clinks my glass and makes everyone around me do the same. Haha. I love adoration based on fear.





29th Friday



To work. I’m hungover but there’s nothing for me to do anyway so it’s fine. I read from literally 8.30am to 4pm. At the end of the day I feel motionsick and disorientated. Reminds me of being a kid and spending weeks reading.





30-31st





Do stuff in the city. Not really sure what. Convenient time to fall off the note-taking wagon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Goodbye, goodbye

20th Wednesday


Finish work at midday and head straight to the city to finish my tattoo. It’s fine for the first few hours, but the last hour is bad as not only is he going over flesh already done, but I need to pee and can’t concentrate on both.




After this I get a coffee and a beer, meet Jords and direct her to an Indian place where we are served greasy wine and stares. I had been here before and liked it, finding the staring endearing, but it seemed worse this time. Not sure if it was because it was under different management, or our time in Japan has increased our fragility. I really hope it’s not the latter because I am in for a nasty shock when I move back to New Zealand.





21st Thursday



Go out for dinner with Kelly and Holly. We go to Gyutaro, which is a really sweet grilled meat restaurant in my town. Sometimes the owner gets drunk and wanders around the patrons. He has my number so sometimes he even drunk dials me to “come play” (Hangout in English only translates into asobi in Japanese, which retranslates back into English as play). He gives us free wine, free ice cream, and when I ask if he brews his own shochu, a free bottle of that as well. I love Gyutaro. Free ice cream not being enough, we go for parfait, and then home.





22nd Friday




Feels like a long day. I’m always done teaching by 10.40 on Fridays, which means I have to be creative to make the next 6 hours sing. I’m told about an upcoming medical check, which is called “Kensa”. I’ll never forgot how it went down last year, when, after the test, the school nurse came up to me with the results, brandishing an envelope and saying “Kensa (cancer)? Medical test. Results. Kensa (cancer).” Good lord. Partway through today, my Kyoto Sensei comes up to tell me “I am going to take my shirt off.” Uhh, okay. It turns out he has a stain and wants to rinse it under the tap, but didn’t want to surprise me by just whipping it off behind my chair. I love Japan.




Go to Kendo, and have an extreme fight with my teacher in which he gets right in my face, backs me into a wall and doesn’t let me out. Every time I try to push him out of the way he just moves closer. I eventually lose my temper, shove him as hard as I can, duck under his arm and strike his “Dou” point screaming. He just says “sou” (okay/that way) and moves away. Obviously he planned this but I’m elated anyway.



Tonight is Holly’s last night. We all drive up to Miyazaki City together to say goodbye. On the way, we are talking, and the car in front of us slams on its brakes on a quiet mountain road for no reason. Julian immediately swerves around it without thinking, and then we all collectively crap our pants when we realise he just casually saved all of our lives.




We get to the city, go out for food and drinks, where Holly and I order “beauty cocktails” which turn out to be fruit cocktails with COLLAGEN in them. It’s just lumps of jellyfat, basically. We drink them and feel infinitely beautiful. We learn some bad words in Japanese, drop off Holly at her hotel with a final goodbye, and then go to the bar for another drink to feel better. Shin sees me walk in and makes me a drink without even asking. Good man.




23rd July Saturday



Up at 6am. I go to Nichinan in the boiling heat to watch the log races. This is literally a log, in the water, with people sitting on it with paddles. Of course our team is the only foreign one there and we commence to make a spectacle of ourselves with team stretches, squats, and lunges. They get onto their log and Muqing and I cheer and chant. Loudly. By ourselves. We are told in Japanese to stop yelling, we agree, smile, and keep yelling. Shin stands up on the end of the log and pretends to paddle but instead just flicks water over everyone else. We are then filmed and waffle on in English about how much we’ve been practising (we haven’t) and how much this means to us and how we’ve been set back by our complete loss but won’t let it hold us back in the future.



Out for lunch, then home to bed.




At about 8pm I wake back up and get on the train to Aburatsu for the fireworks. As I bike down the road I see fireworks in the sky and realise I got the time wrong by an hour. I get on the train regardless, then a taxi which takes me up a dark hill because the streets are too crowded, where I walk down the other side and manage to catch the grand finale. And it is grand. Like dreams of Disneyland.




I meet up with Brian, Quill, and their girlfriends, we let off some fireworks, and then make the trip to Miyakonojo in Brian’s awesome spacemobile/people mover. They are super nice to me, even offering homemade snacks over the seats. It’s a really harmonious trip.




On arriving in Miyakonojo I walk to Sam’s favourite bar, Old Earth. (The jazz bar from a previous post.) Following this is one of my best nights in Japan. I have a two-man dance party with Sam, make friends with a Japanese girl spewing in the sink, and pretty much fall in love with the bartenders. Lilly and I have an extreme tribal dance to some bongos, stopping to duck outside for fresh air – forgetting, of course, that in Japan the air is generally thicker and hotter outside than in. Talking to Matt, we all head to another bar. The bartenders here are not the same chilled out “ee kanji” breed of Old Earth, but they are SUPER genki and we find it impossible not to stay on. We sing karaoke, play darts, and then in my notebook I have written: “Xander’s height. Matt’s inability to leave a consonant unpronounced.” So I believe those are important things to remember. When we come out, it is daylight. Oops. We all head to Xander’s to sleep, and all jump into the same (single) bed for top n tail, which seems like the best idea in the world. I wake up with a hairy leg on my chest and a foot nestled in my face. Not the best idea in the world.





24th Sunday


I catch the gossip van home with Matt and Lilly, (the gossip is all me, their characters are irreversibly pure), go for a family jaunt for ice cream, and then our final goodbye at Miyazaki station. (Matt is leaving.) Wept quickly in a station toilet but then someone next to me farted and it was okay.




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Student revelations and a TYPHOON

11th July – Monday


Today a teacher comes up to me. “Today is also an important day. Long ago, an important person was born on this day.” Me. “Who?” Him. “I was born.” Haha.



Tonight when I get home I get a call from my friend Holly, who is also leaving soon. Turns out her apartment lease ends two weeks before her job does, so she has nowhere to stay. I set up the spare room (okay I put one futon in it and make her bring her own sheets) and before long I have a new flatmate.



12th July


In my notebook in the space where there should be entries for the 12th, 13th, and 14th of July, there is instead this descriptive remark:



“Kendo x3, Jodo x1 Whitebait fritters.”



15th July Friday


Today is my student’s ball games day. We have to bring a bento from home, which I don’t know if you know, but I haven’t made my own lunch like, ever. When I had to as a kid I would get one frozen bun from the freezer and let it thaw in my backpack and eat that like a savage. So I made whitebait fritters with these tiny ass little fish that every foreigner in Japan seems to hate except me because I have no qualms eating little faces. So I mixed those up and they were delicious I can’t even pretend modesty on this front.



I watch the basketball for awhile, and then go and watch the boys play soccer. Some of the third graders seek me out and settle in for a conversation. One of the boys tells me he has no interest in soccer, doesn’t do school clubs, has no interests, has no dream, finds everyone boring, and doesn’t like school. I’m impressed by his English. Then he tells me he wants to be a heart-machine operator in a hospital and draws me a picture. Then they all crowd around and try to teach me Japanese (apparently “muchu” means “to be crazy about” but I must check this), then they try to teach me dirty Japanese, then they try to make me say bad things about their friends, to which I refuse and scold them, telling them to be kind, then one of them tries to make me punch him. Seems like teenage boys are the same all over the world. I’m kindof tempted, so I guess girls are the same too. As we were talking, one of my Kendo students who is really tall, kindof shy but gets animated about Red Hot Chilli Peppers, was standing off to the side offering one or two pieces to the conversation. Then he suddenly jumps in front of me and catches a ball that was zipping toward my face. Kendo saves lives.



When I get home, Holly has made a beautiful (giant) salad that takes two serving size bowls, and we sit on my verandah with our feet up having a drink and watching a giant moon climb over the hill.



16th Saturday


Long weekend. We had origionally been booked in for a wheelchair race down south, wherein we get into wheelchairs and compete against an old folks home. It sounded like a huge amount of fun, but unfortunately this was cancelled due to an oncoming typhoon.



So instead we head out for lunch. When we get to the restaurant Shin moves as if to motion me into my seat like a gentleman, then shoves me headfirst into the booth. It’s seven months later and it just made me laugh all over again. We get some beers and go for a lovely summer drive along the coast with my feet out the window. We stop at the river and I jump off a tiny dam after first hyperventilating a little bit, then Shin and Tommy jump off a HUGE bridge into a tiny river. Crazyasses. Such a perfect summer’s day.



We head back, muck around, and remind me of life in Taupo where we know we want to hang out, we just don’t know what to do. We go to an izakaya locally, eat a huge amount of meat, and try to converse in Japanese.



17th Sunday


Head to Kushima (down south). We go out, I get piggy backed home by my friend Tommy who is half my size, and then am discovered by Julian on his arrival home fast asleep on the verandah with a blanket on top of me and a full blown typhoon raging all around me.



18th Monday


Typhoon all day!



19th Tuesday


Typhoon day, so no students come to school. Funnily though, the teachers are still expected to do so. The river as I bike over it has entirely burst its banks and now rages thick and brown the width of the bridge, covering the walkways, the kiddies water park, and all the grass. As I bike up the hill toward my school, the road is covered in bits of trees.

Thoughts and Farewelly Functions

4th Mon



My classes are SO quiet today. It’s hot and noone wants to do anything, me included. I manage to get a couple laughs and shocked reactions to my lessons so I’m still winning as a teacher up until a student cries in her test. I feel horrible. Go out for ramen.





5th Tuesday



Lots of marking today, and Kendo which is painful but good – as per usual.





I see a student getting hollered at in the staffroom (this happens every month or so) and it makes me wonder if this has something to do with that ghastly silence that is the bane of every ALTs existence. I think this rigid strictness, yelling into children’s faces, and moving as if to hit them isn’t creating better students or ones who want to do better, but it’s teaching them how to mentally leave a situation. If, when peoples tempers are lost, they subject people to that sort of display, I think I would definitely start to just leave my physical self there to deal with it. These kids getting yelled at, they are looking the teacher right in the eye, but they are just mentally gone. The teacher will yell questions and they don’t even respond, just stare back. As teachers this infuriates us further, but at the same time I wonder if it’s just desensitising these kids to any sort of excessiveness, creating hollow receptors for anger or awkwardness or whatever else is thrown at them.





6th Wed



Heath leaves today. He has had the unfortunate luck of arriving at the height of humidity, business at work, and my own forgetfulness. Still, I hope he had a good experience.





Go to Jodo and feel sweat trickle down my arms and onto my Jo.





7th Thursday



After Kendo I am so sore I cannot even walk to the fridge. I feel fantastic though. I will never take lying prone for granted again.





8th



Good classes, but struggle through the afternoon until I can get on the train to the city. Tonight is the goodbye function for the leaving JETs. There is pretty much everyone there, so we flit around and manage to have a lot of good conversations for the time to people ratio we have available. I got landed at the vege table and had a plate of seaweed and cucumber but on comparing with Sam it looks like they had some kind of indiscriminate raw meat to deal with. I told Jackeline to teach me Spanish at which she taught me all I’d ever need to know, which is “O la papi!”





We carried on to a “reggae” bar in which I got to dance with my 3 colonial cousins with some sweet dance moves. We have a few shots and carry on to a hiphop bar, which almost seems like a real club! I suppose if you pack 20 or so foreigners into a small underground space it can’t help but not feel like anything but. I was wearing a tablecloth as a dress done up with a pin, which promptly broke, and I may have turned into a winged dance move. I have written in my notebook “so sweaty but in a good way. A communal way.” Alright then.





After a few thousand goodbyes, I head on to our hotel. I find the lobby computer on so use it for facebook, then when Jordy and Sam come in we recreate the very first night we spent out in Miyazaki City, which is with Sam on the top bunk of a hotel room we didn’t plan for. A complete circle.





9th July



Brunch of burgers with Sam and Jords. I hangout with Sam and we go to the river with our colonial cousins. We find a beautiful, beautiful spot. I borrow a book and sit on a rock and watch everyone swim feeling like a matron but not quite disliking it.





After this I get dinner with Sam and catch a ride with him to a festival and jazz bar night in Miyakonojo. He doesn’t have a stereo so on the way we sing “Stand by me” and I admit to Sam, two weeks before he leaves, that I don’t actually like Jazz. Our friendship takes a blow, being built on a lie, but was well enough to stand it. I think.





We just catch the fireworks and stand rapt with our mouths open like little kids. Japanese fireworks are really something. We meet Jack and two new English people who remind me of Rach and Martin (just in case Rose or my mum are reading.) We bond rightaway and walk to the Jazz bar. Despite my reservations this is a wonderful place with really sweet and chill bartenders and just a lovely atmosphere. I can see why it’s Sam’s favourite place in Miyazaki and admit it’s probably now one of mine too. Sam makes fun of my music tastes after I make the mistake of admitting I don’t like unpredictable music, to which he responds that I belong in the military. The singer actually sings a bunch of ballads which are perfect, even doing the opening from the Lion King for us!





I sleep at Jack’s because I’m allergic to Sam’s place, and have a wonderful kip. That’s English for sleep.





10th



A lovely morning! I wake up and have pancakes for breakfast with Jackeline. I love that I have real, honest to goodness friends here, rather than the welcome albeit temporary ones you generally make on travels.





We spend all morning looking in magazines at hot Japanese men with tattoos, then I catch the train home. I’m going to miss bouncing back and forth between these two houses like a pinball.



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Week of work and tattoo - June/July

27th June Monday


Some people come to take photos of me teaching. I’m actually testing students today so I have to pose in front of the class as if I’m teaching something life changing while they pretend to listen.



28th Tues


More spreadsheeting grades and data entry today. Two of the young maths teachers are playing with each other’s parabolas. We make a listening test in a tiny sauna of a recording room, which takes 2 hours and deletes itself three times. After this I go to Devon’s where we are worked on by a sadistic monster of a fitness instructor via the internet.



29th Wed


Cannot move arms. Spend all day convincing myself of the reasons why I do not have to go to Jodo, go anyway.



30th Thursday


Try to sort something out at the post office. Have no idea what I’m doing so just leave. Go for a run.



1st July Friday


To Holly’s place in Aburatsu! Had a lovely potluck dinner, games, wine, and a midnight swim in the ocean. The swim may have been solitary.



2nd Saturday


Up at 7am, go for a run in a day that is already sweltering. After this I head to the city with Julian to begin my tattoo. We chat for awhile, me being slightly nervous, and then begin. It’s painful but I soon settle in and it becomes bearable. Some areas require me to concentrate, but there is a good chunk where I can totally relax and almost fall asleep. Julian and the tattooist’s conversation in English and Japanese is very soothing and I even learn some Japanese!



After this we get food (my first Hotto Motto, which is like Japanese food but greasy), and I crash out from adrenaline. I’m excited to go back to the studio, even though it means four more hours, because the guy and his wife are so professional and chill.



3rd Sunday


Up early again. I’m destined to never get another good sleep as long as it is summer. Head to the beach and meet some of my friends, who have come down for the day. Paddle for a bit, play some terrible Frisbee and then we all go out for lunch. I go home and have a siesta with all the doors open and no pants on.

Week of work shennanigans, swimming and America Day

21stTuesday
Testing at work so stress. In my notebook I have a mild rant about a teacher who is also stressed, so I will not include it. Some of my students sit and stare at me blankly for the entire 3 minutes of the test. This is a long time to be stared at and count someone’s grade dropping away. I don’t know why there is this mule mentality but I am not inclined to change their grades out of awkwardness in deference to the students who actually prepared. Frustration and blame run amok, so I go for a run after work to solve stress. Doesn’t work. Run harder.

22nd Wednesday
More testing. Jodo. It’s unbelievably humid so we make ginger movements to avoid collapsing into puddles of sweat like witches. Go to Muqings, eat a carton of ice cream and about 40 cookies.

23rd Thursday
Begin a short walk in the sun. End up running up a mountain. A man stops in his car and offers me a ride, saying running alone is dangerous and once I get to the top I’ll have to turn around and come back down to the bottom. I agree, that is the idea, he laughs, and carries on. I carry on.

On my way down my shin splints grind terribly with every step and a muscle behind my knee pulls horribly. Limp the rest of the way down as it begins to get dark, wave to the older girls who waved to me on my way up, ice my legs, clean half the house and sleep.

24th Friday
A hilarious class today. I’m teaching Gestures, which is always interesting as I get to talk about interesting cultural things. The students understand a surprising amount - I suppose pulling the fingers at your classroom to demonstrate a point generally gets the message across. I mime my students doing Purikura and pulling the old inverted peace sign f*&ck you and my consequent shock, and they laugh uproariously. We play charades and everyone has a ton of fun. I leave feeling like a hero, but before this happens, the new Principal happens to walk in just as my JTE is waving his middle finger around. I lol.

Despite a wonderful class today, I still feel stressed so I leave straight from work to the beach on the train. I’m literally the only one there, apart from two men staring out in the water. I get changed, eat some sand-os, and jump in. The water is perfect and I paddle around for a bit, get slapped in the face by a few waves, and laugh in spite of myself. I enjoy having the entire place to myself, particularly that slightly lunatic tendency of being able to amuse oneself to the point of laughter, but can’t help but feel like the rest of the beach knows something that I don’t, which is why I am the only one there. I see a fish jump quite near me, get nervous that there’s something larger underfoot, and take my leave of the water.

I have a drink and some chips and go for a wander along the beach in the sun, which is dipping. A man comes up to me and tells me it is far too cold to swim even though I’ve quite obviously done just that, and is probably telling me the beach is closed but thankfully I look foreign enough to laugh politely, agree, smile, and continue doing whatever the hell I want. When I get back to my stuff a giant black raven has his head in my bag of chips. I watch the water, and some Indonesian exchange students come to talk to me. This is surprising but cool, and we end up communicating in Japanese because I don’t know Indonesian and they don’t know English. They invite me to play soccer but it’s time for me to leave so I get back on the train, wave to some students, avoid a stalker who has been following me since the beach (and I assume is just curious but find out later is an actual stalker - oops) and head home feeling good.

25th June
Go to Miyazaki City with my couch surfer, who has been living with me for a few weeks by now. We go out for lunch, stop for a beer and some crepe cake, and then meet Lilly at the station in order to head to Jordy’s place in Kobayashi. We proceed to make Loud Foreigner Corner of the train, but eventually tire of this and fall asleep on the seats.

When we pull up the boys are playing football, there’s a BBQ and decorations of American flags, balloons, and Uncle Sam all over the walls. We’re celebrating July 4th, or, as we would have it, “America Day.” We don’t know what exactly we’re celebrating but we wear wifebeaters and set off fireworks so it’s a good holiday in all. We celebrate so much that noise control comes, which is an experience in Japan as a. It never happens and b. To get to us they had to thread their way through an entire cornfield with flashlights. I have a lovely (albeit early) sleep in Jordy’s bed, waking up to guitars and snatches of singing.

At 4am I can no longer sleep, so get up and go for a walk. It POURS with rain. Like an entire continuous bucket has just been upended on me. I have never been so thoroughly soaked. This continues and by the time I get home the next day I’m biking through typhoon winds, thunder and lightening. Pretty much an old hand at it by now.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mostly just drinking

18th Saturday

Have a massive sleep in until 9am. Kelly comes over and we empty my slides (not dirty – Japanese closets) of junk and take it to the junk place. I’m expecting to pay about $60 for a 30kg load, it comes to 90 yen. That’s $1.50. Makes not getting rid of it seem criminal. I’m looking at you, multiple predecessors dating back to 2005.

One of the junk places isn’t open, so we have a nice drive and visit a pretty wee shrine. I get my fortune (outlook – good) and a wee turnip good luck charm. Go to a bakery and spend about $40NZD on cakes.

We take Heath to our favourite shrine in Nichinan, which is in a cave on the coast. The whole bottom of it is flooded, which is amazing and looks beautiful. Light some candles for some special people, and then head on out.

Grocery shopping with a car, so I can buy things heavier than what my bike basket can handle. Go to Ringer Hut, a Japanese fast food place. A “small” comes out as the biggest plate of food I have ever seen. The photo makes it look 10x smaller, as opposed to the opposite marketing technique in most countries.

Decide at last second (literally have 5min) to go to the city. Throw my clothes in a bag, and then Heath and I jump on the train. Don’t know why I bother with the clothes, it’s not like I ever see my bag again anyway.

On the train, I listen to some techno on my headphones to wake up, and mid-bop catch a Japanese girl’s eye. We give each other unexpectedly massive smiles. She has cool shorts.

Meet Jordy in the pouring rain like a romantic movie. We park her car, and while struggling along in our Japanese the lady behind the counter realises we aren’t going to get anywhere and launches into flawless English. This is very rare.

Put our stuff in a hotel and then head straight out. It is POURING. We get totally soaked to the point of not even trying to stay dry, and upon arrival give everyone sopping wet hugs, including someone I assume is my friend but turns out to be my coworker. If you are in my peripheral at hug time you WILL be touched. It is cool to see her there, she randomly stumbled on this bar with her boyfriend and, upon seeing foreigners, showed them a photo of me on her phone, and was told I was on my way. Miyazaki world is small.

Went downstairs to a house bar which is a bit sophisticated for us, so we have a shot called “snake venom” and carry on. Jordy and I need the bathroom so peel off from the main group and down an alleyway into the first doorway we see, which turns out to be a shochu bar. Every head turns. We rifle through our dictionaries, ask for their recommendations, and are each presented with a full glass of unmixed shochu each. Yummo. (People from my last trip to NZ will remember shochu as “Jilk”, “Japanese Rice Whiskey” or, “That Carton That Was Passed Around.”)

We managed to get through these drinks, making friends with literally every Japanese person in the place in the process. We got photos with all of them. They asked where we worked and of course knew people who went there. Even the glassie was an ex-student. Upon hearing this they instantly set up a date between the two of us. I, on my part, completely forgot about this until “shochu bar guy” showed up on my phone 3 days later. We were bought drinks, got to practise our Japanese, and had genuine fun. I want more experiences like this. It’s always fun in a group, but I think more concentrated times like this are so valuable.

We went on back to the Bar. Shin drew some shoes on me so I could dance uninterrupted, and I was (surprisingly) allowed behind the bar to mix drinks. Life dream – check. Your girl aims high. Spent the majority of my time here with a glass of milk in one hand and an energy drink in the other. Always been somewhat of a suspension of contradictions.

From here… Went with Sam to find an 80’s bar. Found instead chicken and a deep fried mashed potato cake. THEN the 80’s bar. It was about 5am by this stage but we were still on good form. I also found my couch surfer sitting at the bar, which was somewhat of a relief as I am a shit host and have left him places on numerous occasions.

Sat down, had an enlightening conversation on something, tried to make a vegan drink milk, left to go to a shot bar. It’s about 6am. Go instead for water, 17yrold whiskey, and a sleep.

19th

Cut to about midday Sunday. Yours truly is walking an hour in the wrong direction out of the city in the pouring rain, no money for an umbrella, before realising that a. she’s going the wrong way and b. she has a secret pocket of money hidden from Drunk Her for situations such as these. Bought an umbrella, (largely pointless now apart from lessening the stares) get my bearings (train tracks) and follow them all the way back to the main station in the city. See my train leave as I walk up. Go to bookstore. Stare at books. One hour later, return to station. Take train.

Bike home in rain, realise my couchsurfer has been here before me and tried to pick the lock, thereby jamming it. Stare at lock. Go downstairs, knock on neighbours door, who follows me upstairs and fixes lock and saves life. Fall into bed in numb exhaustion. Wake up 20min later by ringing doorbell. It’s my neighbour, with warm corn. “My wife cooked this for you.” Words cannot express.

More June + my favourite memory of Japan

12th June, Sunday

This is the day I pick up my Australian couch surfer Heath, who is going to be spending a month at my place due to my complete inability to function alone. Up earlyish, sweat my ass off cleaning, realise I’m late, throw down the vacuum and stride down the hill with pale legs in the sun, wondering if I’m too exposed for Japan. As I round the corner, I see two kids butt naked, prancing around in the middle of the road. They are streaked in mud head to toe from playing in the rice paddies. Imagine a childhood of growing up in rice paddies. It’d be like playing in the biggest mudpie ever. Except with snakes. Anyway, these kids come running past me, covering themselves and giggling hysterically. I say konnichiwa and they chirrup it back, with their mother laughing loudly in the background. I think this is my favourite memory of Japan. I hope I keep it forever.

Onto the train, which takes forever on weekends, and at the transfer point I wander around a small town looking for a toilet. I walk into a grocery store, follow the signs all the way through it, and then straight back outside, where they led. Sigh.

To the airport, have a mango juice and sandwiches. So unorigional. Get pressured into buying a necklace which is a real rose bud covered in resin. The saleslady tells me in Japanese I should get white because it would match my white face. Lol.

In the airport lounge I have a “daiquiri.” Anything in Miyazaki that isn’t shochu or beer I strongly suspect they just make up. Due to this I am given a glass of rum with a splash of lemon juice. I drink it anyway, feeling like a jetsetter/alcoholic.

Finally meet Heath, and have dinner at the airport. I get to use Japanese, and it feels inspirational to have someone else rely on it, rather than mine be the worst in a group.

To the city, then home. Exhausted. We stop at a conbini, where Heath asks what’s good, to which I can reply in total honesty that it’s all delicious. Sleep.

13thMonday

Go for dinner with Holly, Heath and Devon. Chicken nanban is heavenly.

14thTuesday

Kendo. Destroy self. My arm and leg get walloped in a shiai (match) but I don’t notice until I get home and see that I can tell where a vein begins and ends and then a big cloud of blood where it ruptures in the middle. Hope it doesn’t clot, go to bed.

15thWednesday

Take my couchsurfer to Jodo, where everyone blatantly doesn’t believe that he’s my cousin. Have a fun catchup, don’t do much else, come home to done dishes!

16th Thursday

In lessons we tell the classes they have a test next week. It involves me and the Japanese teacher asking a student questions in English. One of the students starts groaning and says in Japanese “I must sit alone with your two pressures on me?!” I find it quite funny.

My supervisor, when talking about me to himself, murmers “Tiffany-chan” under his breath and mimes patting a good child on the head. “Oriko-san.”

17th

My fun Friday class have their test and are very good. Yay Friday!

Go for yakiniku (literally – grilled meat) with the girls. Forget that in small Japanese restaurants “a wine” means “a bottle of” and not “a glass”. Drink it anyway. Accidentally drop fried intestines into my drink. The grease congeals along the sides. Pull my gigantic yakiniku bib (complimentary) tighter and drink it anyway.

Muqing mentions fried cheese and we go in search, finding another restaurant and eating an entire other dinner. Then we go for ice cream. In my town, there is a café with the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had. I am introduced to the “cake a la mode” – ice cream with 2 pieces of cake (for sharing on a date). Eat the whole thing.

Brisk walk home holding the swollen belly, bed.

JUNE

*NOTE** You may or may not have noticed, my blog goes from April to May to April. That is because I cannot tell months and the last couple of entries have actually been about June. Not another April.

6th(June)Monday

No Kendo so watch Bad Girls Club after school and feel less about myself as a human being for doing so. It doesn’t have a single redeeming feature, it’s just an awful show about awful people. I suppose one positive we can take away from it is it is inspiration to try harder, be braver, and not let our lesser instincts make us look ridiculous.

7thTuesday

No class or Kendo, went home and cleaned my life/apartment.

8thWednesday

Assumed I had no class today, until my JTE comes and stands at my desk when the bell rings. We’re both pissed off, we make it to class, but I’m so grumpy she doesn’t push it.

Go to Jodo, buy a new futon. Super excited. Go to Mosburger (Japanese fast food restaurant) with Kelly and eat everything. Bike home at 10pm.

9th Thursday

No class, but I do marking for another class. I generally enjoy marking. Go to Kendo, sweat everywhere. For a long time it’s just me and one other girl and we have a fun day.

10th Friday

Teaching Directions this week. It’s painful as hell but who cares, they will learn it. Rain. Loooooong afternoon. Go home, then back out for a teachers/parents dinner. I’m nervous to meet my new student’s parents, because it means a night of me pretending to know which student they are talking about. I hang with cool teachers which makes it better. One tall, older, male teacher finds a farty chair and for the next 20min we convince unsuspecting teachers to sit in it, giggling like lunatics. One of the younger teachers scolds another with “Sensei! LADY tonari desu!” (Sir! There is a LADY next to you!) Anyone would think we were our own students.

I sit at a table of ladies who scramble to fill my drink with tea and then shochu as they happily realise that I drink like a man, and try to talk to me in English. It’s really sweet. We all eat from a buffet, which I prefer infinitely to set places of pickles and salty soups. I do a self introduction on stage, which is always weird hearing yourself on a microphone in another language.

One of my teachers (the same one who found the chair and is a giant – even by NZ standards) talked to me for a long time in Japanese. He’s really chill, and I get a lot from our conversations because he speaks really slowly to me. He still says every word, but it’s slow enough that I can filter out enough that I understand to really get what he’s saying, even if it’s a complex conversation. By concentrating I realised he was saying exactly what I had been thinking at the time, which was that at events like this it is easy to become overwhelmed, because there is so much Japanese going on when I’m used to communicating in little pockets. It was really nice that he could make himself understood without gesturing like a windmill and sputtering disjointed words (as I do), and furthermore that he could empathise with my situation like that. Really cool guy.

Alrighty. From this dinner/drinks, I go out to Akabe (eating/drinking place) to meet Julian and Lisa. Lisa was my room mate in Tokyo, on my very first night in Japan. She is a CIR and so a huge spot of luck for me, who knew not a lick of Japanese. She was the one who took me to my first conbini (for plasters), sushi train (and made me order in my first functional Japanese) and sake bar (for toasting Japan). She also got to practise her CIR situation de-escalating and counselling skills (involving mostly cake) on me when I broke down in the bathroom over the weight of my suitcase. Fragile times.

Anyway, I was super happy to see her down in Nichinan, and also to see that the two of them had finished a bottle of shochu over dinner alone. Because they both speak Japanese, they both proceed to order my drinks, culminating in three arriving at once for me. Not sure how that happened. We stayed until about 12 playing drinking games at the dinner table (this is a restaurant). It seems my life in Japan to have waitresses running after me, slippers in hand, as I casually wander around in my socks.

Went to Daisy’s (a bar), for shots of gin and tequila (who am I?) and a hilarious conversation. I begin to fall asleep in my chair so we decide to go back to mine, bringing along with us one of the bartenders. We stop on the way home to terrorise poor Devon, who gets a carload of foreigners outside of her window singing/shouting “AmeeeeEEEEeeeriiiIIICA…” then slamming of doors and the car zooming back out her driveway. Why hello yes, we DO teach your children!

Back to mine, few more drinks, pass out with the fan on. Wake up with people all over my house, which is unnatural to me after so long living alone but feels good. My concentration feels split between rooms when a house is full, which is interesting.

11th June, Saturday

Julian is passed out face first on my rug in the living room. He wakes up and begins his day by eating a bento box of chicken that has been sitting out in 30C heat all night and is visibly sweating. I nearly vomit watching him eat it, and he DOES vomit, in a 7/11 bathroom twenty minutes later. Like water off a ducks back, we continue to pick up Holly, our English friend. We head to the city, Holly driving Julian’s car because we’re both feeling slightly green. We go to a sweet tattoo parlour, and with Julian translating, book my tattoo.

Pizza for lunch in a tiny alleyway, shopping in a mall I didn’t know existed, then to another mall where we run into Matt and Lilly. JET community is small. Places to hang are limited. Watch X-Men and am thoroughly satisfied with awesome freak powers. Have a flavour of ice-cream called “easter party” which is actually just sugar and meth in a cone. Buy nothing, leading to a sense of incompletion from the standpoint of being a female in a mall, head home and watch Boondock Saints two. Sleep.