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Monthly Archives: March 2008

Sorry about last week guys. Tuesday night I actually wrote the entire Sumo post but once I had finished it I was too tired to proofread it or sort out the photos and videos. I would have done that Wednesday or Thursday but my recently arrived Franny has been monopolising blogging time somewhat. Still after that minor hiccup we appear to be back on schedule. The current schedule is still subject to change in the next few weeks (I think Monday/ Thursday is likely to be the new format) but until then bear with me.

So what have I been up to.

School’s Out For….About a Week.

Yup, that’s me finished at Fukuda Chugakko. I now no longer work there.
Well, actually I do. In fact I’m at work as I type this (future Adam: not anymore) and will be coming to Fukuda Friday and Monday, but all my classes are finished, the term has ended and the academic year has come to a close. In fact they had a whole ceremony to say goodbye to me. I had to deliver a speech to the two grades still at school and I could see some of my students were crying as they were sitting in the hall. Now that’s a bit of an ego boost. Afterwards one of the students (weirdly one who never talks to me much) came up and delivered a speech to me from the student body. The gist of it was

“We thought that people from England were cold and quiet but you are friendly and cool. You taught us all about England and said good morning to us every morning. You made us like English, thank you.”

And that is an honestly amazing feeling, particularly the part about changing their views about the English. That is exactly what I am here to do, educate people about other cultures at a grassroots level. There is no more satisfying feeling than to be told, you had a job to do and you did it.

I was very, very emotional I must say.

So with my first school now finished, my girlfriend in Japan and myself well and truly established I guess the first stage of my experience here has been completed. I haven’t really had the time to reflect on what I achieved and didn’t achieve in stage 1 but I think that will be a subject for a post very soon.

But bring on sage 2. April 1st, Iwaoka Chugakko, let’s kick some ass.

Akashi

Spring has sprung in Nihon and the plum blossom is dying off and making way for the cherry blossom and the traditional season for hanami (going to look at cherry blossoms) which will see the entire population of Japan all simultaneously decide to go to a park. The weather is getting warmer and I am resuming my adventures, starting with Kobe’s own castle Akashi.

Of course when I say castle I mean, remains of a castle. Not in the sense of the ruins we have in the U.K., what’s left are still whole buildings, but rather in the sense that nothing is still standing except the walls and the guard houses. This is what happens when you build out of wood, it gets destroyed, frequently.

So Akashi is mostly a big park on the grounds where a castle once stood with some walls and guard houses to form a focal point for the scenery. Hardly spectacular but nonetheless pretty handsome.

I took Fran and we spent the day wandering through parks, eating sushi in Japanese guards, gazing at scenery and at one point having a go on a pedallo shaped like a sea monster.

We had a great time but we were absolutely terrible tourists because by the time we finally got around to looking at the castle remains they were shut! Ooops. Not to worry as I expect I shall be back eventually (probably in the summer for a picnic) and it didn’t look like we were missing anything spectacular anyway.


(the reversed swastika is a buddhist symbol)

The real highlight of the day was these guys.

TURTLES!

Well alright they’re actually terrapins but the Japanese word Kame covers turtles, terrapins and tortoises so I am perfectly happy to call them turtles even if I am wrong.

How cool is that, I spotted one in the middle of a pond and was excited because, well how often do you see wild terrapins? Then Fran spotted that at the edge of the pond there were loads of the little blighters sunning themselves on rocks. About 30 or 40 in total I’d guess.

I’ll give Japan this, it has very interesting wildlife. Sure, some of it (hornets, snakes, bears, wild boars) can kill you, which is not something I am used to but Japan has the vast majority of cool British animals and lots of animals I have never seen in the wild before. Like monkeys!

Honestly I still can’t get over the fact that I live in a country with wild monkeys. MONKEYS!

Japanese Television

So last Sunday Fran made me watch Japanese television.
Now I don’t need to tell you about Japanese television, you all know what it’s like, it’s messed up. Having said that I don’t really watch much Japanese TV because I don’t get any cool channels and I don’t really understand the vast majority of what is on.

Fran on the other hand spent her last trip to Japan pretty much just constantly watching TV whenever she wasn’t visiting something.

I was made to watch a “dorama” (a drama but really more like a soap with a limited run than what we think of as a drama series) about a couple going through some kind of divorce/custody battle dealie in court. Now I am no huge fan of soap operas but take solace readers that the actors in British soap operas can to a limited degree act. In fact some of them can act very well.

The people in this drama didn’t act, they engaged in a constant to see who could be more and more emotional. With about 5 minutes to the end the tears were in such volume that I was surprised the judge didn’t need a snorkel. Combine this with the INCREDIBLY DRAMATIC MUSIC and the dynamic not at all appropriate for TV camera angles and you have something that was simply hysterical to watch.

After we finished that I caught maybe 10 minutes of a comedy that, despite not really understand what was happening, was actually brilliant. In those 10 minutes I saw a man wrestle a bear, then have a dream where sticks flew at him, then accidentally shoot a woman with a blow dart in the arse, then tell another woman’s fortune who was scared of men because when she was a child a boy did the fake hand handshake trick with her and now she is permanently scarred. So she needed to hide behind a bush whilst he told her fortune.

Fantastic.

Japanese comedy is mostly more about slapstick than Western comedy probably due to the nature of their society and language. The Japanese language is absolutely rife with puns but a lot of these are based on how kanji can be read in different ways and they are more clever and witty than particularly funny. Furthermore Japanese people are not sarcastic, they simply aren’t, and they struggle with irony too. So Japanese humour is more about slapstick and anecdotes, i.e. seeing something funny happen to someone or telling a story about something funny that happened.

They’re also a lot more comfortable with surrealism and surrealist humour than the west (Japan! Surreal! Never). This is ironic considering how much the Japanese love their systems and the “right” way to do something.

Add these together and Japanese comedies are surprisingly accessible even if you don’t speak the language. A lot of it is about setting up surreal or humorous images or situations (i.e. a man wrestling a bear) than about telling jokes and this particular show really tickled me. In fact it reminded me of the Mighty Boosh. I’m going to try and catch it again this Sunday and if I do I’ll try and find out what it is called and find some youtube clips.

Funny/ Interesting Pictures I Have Seen Recently

This is a hot food vending machine. You select your meal it dispenses it and then you have to put it in a microwave at the bottom of the vending machine. Not that weird but I do like collecting the different kinds of vending machines. Of this selection the chips and noodles look like they’d be pretty tasty if pressed but I would steer well clear of the takoyaki (octopus dumplings).

“I wrapped a light marshmallow in the mellow chocolate which I wrote down over-optimism in softly”

It had all started so well too!

I don’t think I want a violation hamburger. Especially not one that will make cry and insanity rym!

Baffling.

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My Sumo post is written and most of the pictures and videos are ready. However this was a bit of an epic and just typing it all took nearly two hours of work. There’s still lots more I want to add and a lot of proofreading and html fiddling to do before it is ready. So unfortunately you’re going to have to wait another day for fat guy action.

Thanks for staying with me though, trust me this one’s a corker.

Sumo wrestling poses a great question.

Is it an ancient and revered martial art that is adored by its aficionados and greatly respected in Japan? A true martial combat that is all about strength and manoeuvring; with participants that are honoured and respected individuals.

Or

Is it a sport where two fat guys slap and push each other?

The answer is it is both and it is fantastic.

Saturday the 15th of March (yeah, sorry it took so long to get this post up) I had the great privilege to watch a live sumo wrestling game in Osaka. I was immensely excited. Although sumo itself is not something I came to Japan to see it is exactly the kind of thing that I came to Japan for. Unique experiences of another culture that I simply couldn’t have anywhere else.

Sumo is a sport unlike any other in that it hasn’t become tainted by commercialism and the desire for money. Instead all the ancient rituals and pseudo-religious ceremonies associated with the sport remain intact and it is a much more arresting visual spectacle and a much more interesting sport for it.

The one concession I saw to commercialisation was that some wrestlers have endorsements. However even these are wonderfully arcane and ceremonial. Before matches begin several attendants walk around the ring carrying flags and banners on which only kanji and embroidery are permitted. This is all the advertising he is allowed and then the game resumes. There is something brilliantly ironic about a mobile phone company resorting to waving cloth banners around in order to advertise. Other than this though Sumo is the most ceremonial sport in the world.

And make no mistake, to the Japanese people sumo is more than a mere sport. According to Japanese legend sumo is part of the very origin of the Japanese people.

As legend would have it the Japanese were just one of many people’s living on the islands of Japan. The right to supremacy over the island was decided by a sumo bout between the god Takemikazuchi and the leader of a rival tribe. I know football is important in the U.K. but we certainly don’t have any legends of Viking conquerors winning fair albion off the Saxons in a penalty shoot out.

The intrepid explorers off to witness this most ancient of sport consisted of myself, Fran (my girlfriend), Ryan (well known to readers of this blog), Yuko, Farrah, Dustin North, Ovando and his wife Memery (whose name is quite easy to remember). We set off with high hopes and not much knowledge (bar Ryan who is a bit of a sumo –fan) to Osaka.

The excitement began long before we actually got inside the stadium because no sooner should we arrive than a taxi should pull up and out would emerge one of the most enormous men I have ever seen with my own eyes. The wrestlers pull up in cars and arrive at the front entrance as adoring fans take quick photographs of their heroes. This early in the day nobody truly important or famous was arriving but they were all still impressive sights. They are absolutely huge buggers, tall, wide in fact the most accurate expression is probably “great of girth”.

This provided the first laugh of the day as one taxi pulled up and an endless stream of enormous men emerged from it. Honeslty it was like one of thos clown cars at the circus. We simply couldn’t believe how many sumo wrestlers you can get in one taxi.

Their hair is also incredibly impressive. It’s absolutely rock solid and tied up in a kind of top-knot. Apparently this offers some sort of head protection in the case of falls but it is mostly intended to look fierce. Up close I can tell you it certainly does that.

Sumo wrestlers must wear traditional Japanese dress at all times in public. They can never just step out to a club in a pair of jeans and a shirt but must always wear Yukata and Kimono. This isn’t to say some sumo wrestlers don’t go wandering around in normal togs but it is highly frowned upon. This kind of dedication to your chosen profession, to the extent that it influences aspects of your life at all times, is something I think is uniquely eastern. Can you imagine if footballers had to wear their team colours at all times for example? But sumo wrestlers (or rikishi) aren’t just athletes they’re living emblems of the martial culture of Japan and the pressure on them is enormous.

We wandered into the arena and took our seats (good seats too right smack dab in the centre, shame it was on the wrong side) and began stage one of sumo enjoyment.

Stage 1.

Sumo bouts only last a matter of seconds but to compensate there are a lot of them. The tournament lasts 15 days and on the day we went matches were being played from 8.30 in the morning until 6.00 at night. The quality and rank of the rikishi progressed throughout the day and as the rank of the rikishi changes the nature of the match changes. The early wrestlers are all professionals but are fairly junior and a lot of the ceremonial aspects of sumo are denied to them because of this. This means that the junior matches are, if anything, even quicker, and a good 40 bouts flashes by in only a few hours.

Stage one of sumo enjoyment then is marked principally by sitting around with friends drinking and eating and having a laugh, punctuated by short periods of paying attention to girthy men hitting each other and then resuming the general amiable air. As ways to pass an early afternoon there are few finer.

Stage 2.

During Stage 2 concentration on the actual bouts become more focused as the quality of the wrestlers improves and the nature of the game changes dramatically.

Firstly there is the ceremony of the entrance of the rikishi, also known as the dohyo-iri. The dohyo is the area on witch the bout is played. It is a clay platform 18 feet square and 2 feet high. Bag of rice are buried in the clay to form a circle and 2 starting lines. Above the dohyo is suspended a roof that is made to look like the roof of a Shinto shrine (originally sumo was fought on the platforms in shrines). In each corner of the roof is a tassel denoting one of the four seasons.

In the dohyo-iri rikishi from the East and West teams enter the dohyo and form a circle facing outwards. The rikishi are dressed in the traditional garb of sumo. They are wearing a silken loincloth called a mawashi that is very similar to the fundoshi that I wore for the naked man festival. The main difference is that the mawashi is made of silk and has decorative strings dangling from the front. During the dohyo-iri the rikishi have a patterned cloth dangling from their mawashi like an apron. These are fantastically ornate things inlaid with embroidery and sometimes gold. The sight of all these brilliant ornate costumes is both colourful and impressive; two words that pretty much sum up sumo for me.

After standing around for a bit looking mean the rikishi do a very short dance (including one adorable bit where they all lift up their little aprons simultaneously, somewhat detracting from the warrior image) and then leave the dohyo so the FIGHTING can begin.

In a sumo bout both players start on the lines inside the circle in the dohyo. When both wrestlers are psychologically prepared they crash into each other and begin to grapple. A player loses if any part of his body except his feet touches the floor of the dohyo or if he steps outside of the circle.

However before this the rikishi engage in a short bout of psychological warfare.

First both players scatter salt (a ceremony known as shio-maki) to purify the ring. This is solely the right of the more experienced sumo and junior wrestlers are not allowed to do this. Rikishi will also wash their mouths with water and wipe themselves with a paper towel to purify their bodies.

Secondly both players stamp their feet on the ground to chase away evil spirits and do several gestures known as chiri-o-kiru to demonstrate to the gods that they have no concealed weapons.

Thirdly the rikishi approach the mark and adopt a posture of peaceful submission.

Fourthly when both players have reached the mark each player crouches low to the ground and prepares to strike. A rikishi may place one or both hands on the dohyo.

Finally when both players have touched the ground with both hands one player may raise his hands and power forward for the initial strike known as the tach-ai. If the player being struck does not raise his hands to defend himself he is deemed not to be ready and both players resume the procedure again.

The beauty of this ceremony though is that at any time between stage 4 and the tachi-ai a player can simply start the process again. Getting up to go scatter more salt, glaring fiercely at his opponent, deliberately charging early to unnerve him anything goes and it’s all intended to psyche-out the other rikishi and win before a single blow is exchanged. Well anything goes for 4 minutes anyway, after which time the match must begin, but during which time the crowd get psyched up.

As I say sumo matches are over in seconds, but what makes them so watchable is all the ceremony beforehand. A good rikishi is as much a showman as sportsman. Building anticipation until the crowd is in an absolute frenzy awaiting the tachi-ai.

Actual combat varies from player to player. Some favour grappling techniques, grabbing hold of the opponent’s mawashi and manoeuvring to throw him to the ground. Some simply use brute strength and force their opponents back or use their opponent’s strength against them leveraging his momentum into a throw (one guy simply stepped backward and the over-balanced attacker fell over). Still others favour a form of combat that, well my friend Dustin probably put it best when he asked why they were cat fighting.

As you can see above, it is a very slappy game.

Stage 2 of sumo enjoyment was marked by an increasing focus on the actual sport we paid to see but no less talking, camaraderie or drinking. However stage 3 was much more intense.

Stage 3

Up until now we had only been watching the very junior wrestlers and the lower ranked rikishi (known as Juryo). However now it was the time for the big boys, the Makuuchi.





The Makuuchi dohyo-iri was the same as for the Juryo with one marked difference. After the Makuuchi entered the ring it was the turn of the two highest ranked wrestlers in the tournament, in fact two of the highest ranked wrestlers in Japanese history. Hakuho and Asashoryu the Yokozuna.

To become a Yokozuna one must win two tournaments consecutively. In the 300 years since the formation of the Yokozuna class only 60 rikishi have ever been awarded the honour, and here we were lucky enough to see two of them on the same day. Oddly enough both Mongolians.

Being part of the Yokozuna class has two major benefits. Firstly a rikishi in another class may go up or go down a class depending on his performance. Do badly and you get demoted, do well and promotion beckons. However a Yokozuna is a Yokozuna (or grand-champion) forever and can never be demoted. The flip side to this is that if a Yokozuna is doing badly it is tacitly understood that he should resign before he embarrasses the sport. Fortunately neither of the two Yokozuna I saw shall be resigning any time soon as both won their matches with ease.

The second advantage is that Yokozuna have a special version of the dohyo-iri. Flanked by two attendants, one of which carries a samurai sword (katana) and dressed in a special mawashi with a knotted rope at the back and zigzag paper on the front the Yokozuna performs a special dance to cleanse and purify the ring.

You can watch Asashoryu do the dance above.

The Makuuchi matches were much, much more intense than the previous bouts. The arena had been largely empty all day but by this point it was absolutely packed and full of Japanese people screaming encouragement to their favourite wrestlers. The atmosphere before each clash was unbelievably tense and it was impossible not to get swept up in it all.

A particular fan favourite was this guy. Takamisakari also known as Robocop due to his strange way of walking. The crowd absolutely loved him, especially one little girl whom Fran thought was really cute, and he really got them pumped up. Won his match too.

Another fave was Kotooshu a Bulgarian also known as “the David Beckham of Sumo” which must be a little bit demeaning. Rikishi choose their own names when they become rikishi and Kotooshu as a Bulgarian chose “Black Sea”. Ryan likes him so much he got his picture.

Following the actual fighting a final ceremony is performed. This is known as the bow dance or yumitori-shiki. In anicent sumo tournaments winning rikishi would be awarded a traditional Japanese bow (known as a yumi). In gratitude for this prize the rikishi would perform a ceremonial dance with the bow. Now the dance has endured and has come to symbolise gratitude by those rikishi that were victorious this day.

Yumi are absolutely enormous by the way. Longer even than most longbows at a whopping 2 metres plus in length. The yumitori involves twirling the yumi round and making striking gestures with it as if it were a sword. This was actually one of my favourite parts of the whole day and it was really interesting to see such a huge guy move so gracefully.

Enjoying sumo Stage 4.

Leave, buy souvenirs, go into Osaka, argue about where you want to eat, eat huge and delicious burger, play taiko drumming game in Namco land, go home and generally enjoy a fantastic sport that I feel privileged to have seen.

All in all a pretty fantastic experience.

Not much to say today so hear are some funny things I have seen in Japan recently.


A sign on a train telling people not to put their make-up on the train. Why on earth this is prohibited nobody could work out.


Not to stereotype but I don’t trust the blue shadow men. I’m always very nervous when they’re around.


Ah that famous French dish, Cream Bluree.

And finally.

SOUP!

No really, that was written on a packet of soup.

Here’s the rest of them.





I particularly like the one about the milk boy.

No poker night this week but blogging time was monopolised by the recently arrived girlfriend. I’m sure you can all forgive me for skipping a post in order to spend time with my girlfriend whom I haven’t seen for 7 months. However on the off chance that some of you are sharpening net-axes and prearing to murder me would a sorry help?

My life, along with blogging, continues to be in flux as well. School is wrapping up and this Tuesday will be my last ever lesson at Fukuda Junior High School, however, joy of joys, I have to stick around until the 1st of April. Considering my full time teaching kind of wound down in the middle of February this is not a prospect I relish. Ah well, I expect there shall be many hours spent studying Japanese in my future.

Speaking of school I received confirmation today that I am going to be moving schools in April. Fellow JET Pete informed me that I’ll be taking over his old school. Apparently the letters have been sent out but typically my school hasn’t bothered to tell me yet (le sigh). Peter described the kids at his school as super nice, which will make a nice change. No seriously, the best part about my job are the kids. I love them all and they’re all great fun, but my school does have something of a reputation for misbehaving students. Having no experience of other schools I couldn’t tell you how bad they are but certainly I have struggled.

The worst part about my new school is that apparently it is the furthest away school that Gakuentoshi JET’s go to. Which is, obviously, not exactly ideal. I need to get both a train and a bus to get to work. I already have to get up at 6 to get into work now I’m going to have to get up even earlier!

Recently arrived girlfriend (or Fran to use her proper name) is in good health. On her first weekend here I showed her around Sannomiya and Harborland and watched her go “squee” whenever she saw anything cute. Although I have lived here for 7 months she was spotting shops I have never seen before! Apparently Fran has some kind of cute radar and can home in on a cute thing without even seeing it.

She started training today and this finishes by March 29th. Hopefully then I can book Japanese lessons and figure out a new schedule for blogging but until then you’ll all just have to bare with me.

Currently I’ve had no big photo opportunities or particularly exciting jaunts. However this is all due to change as this weekend I am going to watch Sumo wrestling, followed by a national holiday (in which i intend to visit Kyoto) and then a tea festival in Shiga the weekend after that.

However despite the lack of photos I do have news. Today was my san-nensei’s (third grade) graduation. Alas no pictures because I rather foolishly forgot to charge my camera but mostly there wasn’t anything to take pictures of.

The main hall was really elaborately decorated, there were red carpets, an ENORMOUS bunch of flowers and of course the Japanese flag. Highlight for the embarassing moment of the day was when I went in to look at it in the morning and one of the teachers told me that it was the Japanese flag. Now it’s one thing when my kids explain Japanese to me that I can already speak but it is quite another to try and explain the Japanese flag to me.

I am convinced that everyone at my school thinks I am an idiot.

the day started with the san-nensei in their classrooms getting ready and some volunteers from the other 2 grades helping to put the finishing touches on the hall. Since nobody seemed to have any work for me to do I volunteered myself for greeting parents that were coming in. My word some of the frocks had to be seen to be believed. There was one woman that looked exactly like Margaret Thatcher, only Japanese obviously. There was also a man with the largest beard I have ever seen on a Japanese guy. It rivals my Grandad’s for length and for width surpasses most of the beards I have ever seen in my life. It was an almost semi-circular projection from his face, quite extraordinary.

All the female teachers were dolled up too. Kosuga-sensei had a smart suit on, Nishi-sensei looked like an asian Princess Diana and one san-nensei teacher was wearing Yukata. Only a very unusualy yukata, more like the kind that priests in shinto-shrines wear than the kind I am familiar with. She was the only woman wearing Yukata on the day too but she looked very smart.

I do like that about Japan. At any formal ocassion you have a choice between western clothing or traditional Japanese and nobody bats an eyelid. You can wander round in something that is essentially the same item of clothing from 100’s of years ago (and in the case of some kimono’s this is literally true) and not seem at all out of the ordinary. It makes formal events so much more vivid and interesting to look at. Even if this particular style of yukata did have the unfortunate side-effect of making her look like a bell.

My concession to the day was to wear a tie. Yeah…

Eventually everyone was seated and I got the opporunity to practise sleeping with my eyes open. We had a speech in Japanese, an intermiable wait whilst students collected certificates, some music, another speech, another speech, another speech, anotherspeech and then some more singing followed by another speech and it was all over. 1 and a half hours of sitting in a hot room desperately trying not to fall asleep.

I did perk up when the second bit of singing started because the san-nensei sang everyone a song and then everybody sang the school song. I do like to hear my kids sing, they’re all wonderful singers and whilst I’m not keen on Japanese singing voices individually collectively they’re stunning.

It was quite sweet to see some of the students in floods of tears as they tried to sing too. And some of the teachers.

I did think it was a bit much pomp for only graduating year 9, however I realised that this is the last time the students will all be together. They will all go to separate high schools. And the teaching set-up is slightly different in a Japanese school, the teachers change grades every year. So for example Nishi-sensei taught
1st grade English, 2nd grade English and then 3rd grade English with these kids. So I guess it is a very emotional time, particularly for the teachers.

Fleeing the very, very hot auditorium (to the strains of land of hope and glory???) the teachers, parents and ichi and ni-nensei lined the road outside and we threw a parade for the san-nensei. Then I nipped off to where they finished up and said my goodbyes and had my photo taken many, many times.

I will miss some of my students. In particular Michael (who did a very un-Japanese thing and hugged me) and Maho who is easily the best English student in the school and one of my favourites. However I can’t say I was particularly sad, after all they have their whole lives ahead of them and it would be selfish of me to want to tie them to one place and time.

Besides a lot of them really were gits. Especially Michael.

Kids all done with I retired to the staff room for a fancy sushi lunch paid for by the PTA and then proceeded to do sod all work for the rest of the afternoon.

My girlfriend arrives in Kobe tomorrow.

Needless to say I am excited.

I don’t know how much that excitement seeps through in this post but it might help you to picture it if I tell you that I have to break off ever 5 minutes to do a cartwheel.

I have spent all week cleaning my house in preparation for her imminent arrival and now it is finally clean and tidy. Well except my game room but that is a whole other problem.

My San-nensei graduate on Wednesday, I had my last ever class with one of my ichi-nensei classes today and very shortly I will be moving to another school.

It feels like I am entering a new stage of my life. I had my bachelor period in Japan and my grace of adjustment and now it’s time to get down to business.

I had been getting into a bit of a routine and now it is time to spice everything up again and turn the process of being here into an adventure again.

In-Jokes

So last Friday my friend Ben was bored at work and decided to see if he could get a “You know you’re an ALT when…” meme going on via e-mail. I don’t know how much sense this will make to most of you but here is a list of some of the funnier ones including some contributed by myself. Annotations are in brackets.

The concept of teaching more than 16 classes a week sounds preposterous.

You wonder why Japanese people don’t get fat if they eat “Japanese food” like
you do.

You know the “Azuma Legend”.
(The azuma legend is about my “boss” azuma-sensei the head of the JET programme
in Kobe. Azuma-sensei is very softly spoken and friendly but he’s one of those
guys that inspires instant fear and respect. The Azuma legend is about the time
before he became the head of the JET programme when he was a general trouble
shooter for the Kobe Education Centre. Now it won’t surprise anyone who has
worked in one but riots in Japanese schools are not unheard of, particularly in
Kobe just after the earthquake when everyone was in a pretty bad state. In fact
one famous story about a school in Kobe is that a boy beheaded a student and
stuck his head on a spike on the school gates. My friend Damon actually works
at the school where that happened, although apparently it’s very nice now.
Anyway one day there was a riot out in a Kobe school. The teachers basically
barricaded themselves in the staffroom and called the KEC. Azuma-sensei came
down and walked into a class that was kicking off. One boy took a swing at
Azuma-sensei with a baseball bat he had for baseball club and Azuma-sensei
CAUGHT IT IN ONE HAND and smacked the kid down. I don’t know what happened to
the rioting kids but every ALT in Kobe knows the azuma legend.)

The only Japanese you know is: ichi, ni, san -nensei, Kyoto/Koucho-sensei and
Ohaiyougozaimasu.
(I entirely sympathise)

You find yourself bowing while talking on the phone.
(I do this too)

You can`t eat lunch without an audience (“No I don`t use chopsticks to eat a
sandwich or a banana.”)

You go to the toilet for a sleep.
(I have never done this but I gather that Dave does it a lot)

Students greet you in the corridor with “How are you I’m fine thank you and you,
ha ha ha ha hahaha haha!”
(Yes they do, damn textbooks!)

After an hour you realise that the only other person in the staff room is the
janitor. And he’s sitting in the kyoto sensei’s chair reading a newspaper.”
(barely a week goes by without this happening to me)

You spend 5 minutes, with san-nensei, saying “No, what’s the day…day…day…d- a-y. Not date. DAY. What’s the day today? Today… what…is…the…day? Monday
Tuesday Wednesday Thursday and ( ). Not the weather. You’re 14,
not 40. Not date… not daTE. No T, just day—-. Yes, it’s Friday, well done!”

The warmth of your clothing depends on the temperature and not the date.

I know I’m an ALT because I get letters that begin “To Mr Dabit, I like
spaghetti. What J-pop do you listening at?”
(obviously just Dave but it makes me laugh)

The laminator is your bestest friend. And you slowly start to realize almost
any small flat thing you own is now laminated.
(I love my laminator. Without it some days I wouldn’t have done any “work” at
all.)

You’re the last one in the staffroom and you have no idea why.
(this happens everyday)

No one, not even the English teachers, understand what your saying.

You have no idea what your bills mean , but you pay them anyway.
(yup, when I remember)

You’re the only one who thinks that insulation is a good idea.

You’re the only one that wants to spend a few bucks and TURN UP THE DAMN
TEMPERATURE IN THE STAFF ROOM!

You don’t own a pair of inside shoes.
(Japanese people usually have separate shoes to wear inside, I always forget to
bring mine and thus whenever an assembly is sprung on me my feet get cold as I
wander around in socks)

Kids notice you pass the classroom even if you creep by with ninja stealth.
(Entirely true, and yet if you sneak up behind them during break they never,
ever notice. Japanese people have ridiculously poor personal space perception.
It must be because the country is so crowded.)

Half the school is empty and the only hint as to why was given a two days ago
when someone said cryptically “Student make newspaper”.

Suddenly all your classes are cancelled and nobody told you until an hour before
they were meant to start.
(thus meaning that frantic rush job you did to get the worksheets finished or
the extra you put in the night before WAS COMPLETELY POINTLESS!)

You are not allowed to use the photocopier in the staffroom without an audience.

You have set answers to the questions “what Japanese food do you like?”
and “where do you go in Japan?” that you can reel off in seconds.

You have a burning hatred for the man responsible for the phrase “dondakee”
despite never once seeing his TV show.

You are the only teacher whose desk is covered in art materials. Even the art
teacher has less coloured paper and pens than you.

You hear the bell ring but have no idea if it is time to teach your lesson or
not.

right, and that signals my bedtime over here so short and a bit in-jokey as it is that’s your Thursday night post.

With poker-night and my recently arrived girlfriend the blog schedule is going to be in flux for the next few weeks. I’ll probably decide on a new schedule once I know what Fran’s schedule is going to be.

I do aim to try and actually increase the amount of posts per week too or at least get some better content than this last month.

See you next time.

So this blog appears to be developing a theme as yet again male nudity forms the basis of most of my post.

First up here’s a video I made at James’ recent cheese and wine party. I was attempting to record James and Adam playing some Enka (Japanese country music) and I did, however at first I got side tracked by a long conversation about Drew’s nipples.

Enjoy!

Secondly I’m not sure if this will work but my friend Kate put together a fantastic video of the Naked Man Festival that reallty brings the whole event to life. You can watch it here . However I’m not sure that link will work. If it doesn’t please comment on this thread and I’ll see if I can get the real video from Kate.

In other news today was the “farewell party” for my san-nensei. Basically a special assembley with videos, the brass band playing, the choir club singing and lots and lots of photos of the san-nensei. It was unlike most Japanese assembley type activities in that it was pretty fun and interesting. The photos in particular were hilarious and it was really cool to see what my kids looked like before they were my kids.

There were also a couple of photos of me in the display too which all drew big laughs from the kids. I’m not sure I know what’s so funny though.

The best part of the day was chatting with some of the san-nensei afterwards. In particular one girl who I’ve got to know really well from the letters we’ve being exchanging. She hasn’t sent me any for a couple of weeks now due to her exams but today she gave me a last letter and next week when they have the more formal graduation ceremony I’ll give her my last letter. I copied all her letters to me today and it’s a really fantastic souveneir of my first year and something I’ll keep forever.

She also gave me an actual souveneir; a phone charm from Kyoto of two frogs. Apparently it keeps couples together and stops you being in a car accident. So now I can finally get my driver’s license!

This would be the rewarding part of teaching. Connecting with and inspiring people.

The un-rewarding part is stopping boys from reading manga every time we go in the library. “Yes I know Black Jack is a cool series but this is an English lesson not a manga lesson.”

I did like the one boy who was meant to be researching Thomas Edison and was in fact reading a samurai manga. When I asked him what he was doing he looked at me with a totally straight face and pointed at a samurai and said “Edison.” Then he pointed at a girl on the page and said “Edison’s girlfriend.” When I flipped a page and pointed at a demon he pointed at it and said “lightbulb.” Massive props to this kid, if you’re going to dick aroudn in my lessons the least you could do is make me laugh whilst you’re doing it.

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