Son of Mummyboon

Right then, time for a bit of a re-think methinks.

Its become painfully clear by this stage that the schedule I set for myself originally simply isn’t going to work, especially now that I’ve taken on more commitments in the evenings. Between starting a Japanese language course and needing to complete an essay to get re contracted my free time on an evening is significantly more limited. The official goal now is to get a blog post up on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a possible bonus post Saturday/Sunday. Hopefully if I’m limiting myself to set posting days I won’t feel so tempted to just bunk off and not bother.

As for where I’ve been? Well I’ve had computer troubles recently, all self-inflicted and all now thankfully in the past but nonetheless really frustrating. If my computer breaks I’m cut off from my Cd player, telly, DVD player, games console, word processor, access to the Internet, phone and radio. Other than books (and books are English cost mucho moolah over here) that’s all my entertainment options removed from me in one go.

But to make up for it during the days I have been doing EXCITING THINGS! mostly involving travelling and taking lots of photos.

So to make up for being so crap at blogging and apologise to my fans (or at least fan, hello Uncle Dave) this week I aim to have a post up every night and next week We’ll be switching to the new schedule.

So enough apologies what’s this about EXCITING THINGS!

EXCITING THINGS 1: HIKING TO SUMA

It seems that all the best things that happen to me in Japan happen entirely randomly with no planning from me or indeed any idea that I’m doing it until a few hours before it happens.

Both seeing the danjiri and going to Yamasaki would fit into this category of “what’s happening, oh that’s cool”.

And so it was last Wednesday when, quite randomly, I went on a school hike up a mountain and to Suma temple.

It wasn’t entirely random, I did know the ichinensei were going on a hike but as I teach all three years and had 2 other lessons that day I assumed I couldn’t go.

However on the day before the hike through various circumstances I found out that all my lessons for the day had been cancelled, so I got told literally moments after I finished work to bring a lunch and sports clothes to work because I was going up a mountain.

So in the morning I got sent off to follow some students with no map, a hastily scribbled itinerary, most of which didn’t make sense to me and no idea where I was or where I was going.

It all worked out okay though, I just followed some students and hoped they knew what they were doing. This is pretty much my technique for getting anywhere. My sense of direction may be worse than any human being on this planet and my map reading skills aren’t much better. I was more than comfortable entrusting my fate to a bunch of 12 year olds.

I was amazed that the school just lets the students loose like this. Admittedly they had to follow a specific route and be at checkpoints by certain times but they were literally given a map, dropped off in a city and told to get to the top of a mountain. In England that would be the last the school ever saw of most of those kids, either because someone abducted them, they wandered off to a chippy, went home or in my case got hopelessly lost and started planning how I was going to live in the woods forever. But the kids all made it up the mountain, no stragglers, no missing kids, no one gone home. I was amazed.

The day was unseasonably hot, this was November 7th and the sun was blazing down and both me and he students had unwisely chosen to wear jumpers. But other than the heat it was a really pleasant climb. The mountain, when we got to it, had wooden stairs cut into it so it was a really easy climb. Steep, a long way and very tall with big steep, certain death drops on either side of the path (again which unaccompanied students were walking on) but not difficult to climb. And it was absolutely beautiful. The woods were simply stunning with the bright sun shining on them. It made great shafts of light appear in the distance and lit up the canopy so it was a really vivid kids crayon green. It looked like a cartoon forest, it was almost too perfect.

The view from the top was magnificent as well. Stretched out before me was pretty much the whole of Kobe city at once and off in the distance was the nearest island, Shikkoku, the next major landmass of Japan. I was mesmerised and spent so long simply staring at the view that I was soon left behind by the troop of kids I had joined and had to wait for the next group passing to figure out where I was going.

The harbour was absolutely teeming with ships too, hundreds of them. Alas my photos don’t really capture the ships that well but it was really fascinating to just sit and watch them. I could have sat there all day just staring down. Indeed if I didn’t have to follow people to have any chance of getting home I probably would have.

But the best part of the day was just talking to my students. With no distractions around and no JTE to help them cheat my kids really tried to communicate with me. And they did it excellently. No books, no teacher, no assistance whatsoever and we had honest to god conversations. I was so proud of them and really happy, it made the walk infinitely more enjoyable.

The usually pattern of conversation went like this.

Students go into a huddle muttering Japanese and English trying to figure out what to say. I pick up quite quickly what it is they’re trying to ask but wait patiently.

One student finally is nominated by the group who asks me a question.

I answer and ask that student a question back.

More huddling.

The answer to my question.

I then ask the rest of the group.

They answer.

We walk.

After a bit the huddling starts up again and they figure out the next question to ask me.

Not exactly deep conversation but it passed the time.

When we finally got to the top there was a picnic ground and a building. The students sat down and ate and made me eat with them (and unlike when I tried doing this at school they actually bothered to talk to me). They all seemed very surprised to learn that I had made my sandwich myself. Now this is something that always throws me. I know that Japan is a lot more gendered than the West and most Japanese men either get their wife/girlfriend or mother to make their meals but there is a phenomenally large amount of Japanese men living on their own. They must be able to cook something. But every Japanese person I mention that I cook to seems slightly taken aback.

Anyway my kids got to chatting and I set off to explore the mysterious building. It was, alas, shut, presumably to keep the tribes of children converging on it from wrecking it. What I did manage to work out was this.

The building was split into 3 levels.

The top floor was an observatory, a sensible thing to put at the top of a mountain and was full of high powered telescopes to let people look across the harbour to Shikokku.

The bottom floor was a café, again a perfectly sensible place to put a café which, when its open would provide sustenance and drink to any weary hikers. It had a distinct 1950’s feel and a had a Jukebox filled with famous and obscure 1950’s bands including many from Japan. It also had a window filled with 50’s and 60’s record sleeves.

But then the 2nd floor was an arcade.

An arcade.

Up a mountain.

A mountain only climbable on foot.

Who climbs up a mountain to go play computer games?

This is a curious habit of the Japanese, putting useful things at the top of mountains so it is difficult to get to them. The same thing occurred in Yamasaki where at the top of a mountain (which admittedly could be reached via mono-rail) there was an adult education centre hosting some gardening class.

What is the thinking behind this? Well I can sort of reason the Yamasaki building, Presumably they built the strange eco hut to show off and to have a place for hikers to rest and refresh at the top. Having built it someone somewhere went; “right, now what’s it for” and someone decided to use it to host evening and weekend classes.

But why an arcade? Who is the customer for this? Imagine this conversation.

“Hey do you want to catch a train into Sannomiya to go to one of the incredibly high tech arcades.”

“Nah, I’d rather walk up a mountain for 40 minutes until I’m knackered and go to a much smaller and older arcade.”

Actually I reckon I know the target audience. Kids dragged along on hikes they do not want to be on who need entertaining whilst their parents recuperate in the café below.

At the bottom of the building was a bunch of old kids toys that my students set to playing with immediately. I managed to impress them by playing a ring toss game. While they struggled to get even one ring over the hoops I managed to get every single one of mine on hooks. I’m guessing my abilities had more to do with the fact that as I’m 6ft I can basically just lean over and drop the hoops straight down but I wasn’t going to let them know that.

Ah and we saw a dead cat……..and had an impromptu burial for it. Which was a little bit odd I must say.

Anyway cats aside refreshed and rested we set off on the next stage of the hike, down the mountain, always the best part.

This time around I got sucked into following one of my JTE’s, Kosuga-Sensei and my kids were a lot less eager to talk to me. Anything they said they just translated through her. This is the most frustrating thing about being a teacher. It’s not that students can’t do things they think are difficult if they try, it’s that they’re all lazy little gits.

Irony of Ironies of course when I attached myself to an adult what happens, why we get lost of course. Instead of taking the lovely scenic planned route we ended up tramping through very dark and imposing forest and emerging by the side of a dusty and noisy motorway. Still we couldn’t get too lost when the general route is “downhill” so we eventually met up with everyone else.

I’d like to take this opportunity to complain about Japanese spiders. Now the problem with Japanese spiders is not that they’re deadly or scary or anything like that. The problem with Japanese spiders is that they build webs higher than the height of the average Japanese person but right at fucking face height for a European. During the hike through woodland I walked into no less than 6 cobwebs. 6! Think how many cobwebs you’ve walked into in your entire life. Unpleasant weren’t they? Well imagine doing that with stronger and bigger webs 6 TIMES IN THE SPACE OF HALF AN HOUR!

Bloody spiders.

Moving down the coast we stopped off at a couple of smaller temples on the way to Suma. One of which is in the picture below. This is the grave stone of a famous warlord from the area (though not famous enough that anyone I asked could remember his name) and the shapes represent the 5 Buddhist elements. From bottom to top Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Air (sometimes given as Heaven).

Eventually we got to Suma temple and I can honestly say I was impressed. I’ve been to some of the bigger and more famous temples in Japan but I really liked Suma. There was a lot to see and lots of little things of interest. It was, insofar as a Buddhist temple can be so, quirky.


Super-Buddha

My particular favourite thing was a row of Buddhas all in really happy poses. One is doing the peace sign that all Japanese people do in photographs and one is starting a Mexican wave.

Other items of interest are a famous hill nearby that was the site of a historic cavalry charge. 2 families fighting for the right to rule Japan fought in Kobe and the winning family executed a cavalry charge down the hill winning the battle.

There was also a kind of prayer mill. Basically a tower on wheels filled with pieces of paper. The thinking behind it is that people write prayers to Buddha on pieces of paper. They then hand these to the temple monks who memorise them. The next day the monks place the paper in the mill and turn it chanting the prayers that were given to them yesterday. This action sends the chanting to heaven where Buddha will hear the prayers.


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Whilst at the temple I managed to cause a small scene with the ladies running the fortune stand. Japanese temples and shrines are notoriously mercenary and sell a huge variety of stuff, from scrolls and wooden sticks you can write prayers on to fortunes to generic horrible tat like keychains featuring little plastic chibi-buddhas (which I bought naturally).

Anyway the ladies at the fortune booth overheard me talking in English and were really amused by this. They kept trying to get my kids to ask me questions in English and translate Japanese for them, most of which was waaaaay too advanced for my first year students. Eventually they decided to give me a fortune for free because I’d amused them so much and handed me one of the most mesmerisingly ugly things I have ever seen in my life. Just look at it.

I mean I have seen uglier things in my life but for some reason this thing captivates me. What is it? Why does it scowl so? Why would anyone want one?

Inside was a fortune that was waaaaay too complicated for my kids to translate (the best they managed was “snowfall”) but which I was assured was a fantastic fortune so I had to keep the thing and take the fortune out of the temple to take the luck with me.

I promptly lost the fortune of course and have no idea what it says.

So other than the fun of rounding up a 100 kids (and we did finally lose some, we found them eventually) that was my hike to Suma.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Tomorrow I nearly get skewered by wild deer in Nara*

*not really

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