Holy Chopsticks Batman!

Let’s just all pretend last week never happened. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a bad week by any stretch of the imagination and gave me lots of blogging fodder but events were very complicated and blogging got left behind.

This blogging fodder? How does 2 trips to Kyoto sound to you?

But first let’s get the biggest and most important story out of the way, namely


So I am now working at Iwaoka Chugakko, my second junior high school in Japan.

Iwaoka is a pretty nice school so far and there are two main things you need to know about it.

It is very far away.
It is really, really far away.

In fact it is so far away it is very nearly not in Kobe at all but rather in the nearby city of Akashi.

I mean it, it is far. I have to catch a bus and a train and it’s an hours commute to get there. Okay that doesn’t sound too far but compared to my colleagues it is absurdly far.

And it’s nearly triple the length of commute as my old school.

And it is astoundingly rural. It’s not the most rural of schools (that I believe is Kande) but it is still pretty far out in the sticks. The surrounding area is full of rice fields and immediately next to the school is an enormous pond.

It is so rural in fact that as I was walking around the school grounds I saw this guy.

I was merrily minding my own business gazing at nothing in particular and barely registered the snake in my presence. Then it suddenly hit me what I had seen and I literally did a double take. A bloody snake! At school!

Further investigation reveals that in all probability the snake is poisonous. Not a mambushi (the most poisonous in Japan) but still not something you want to mess with.

And I nearly stood on it.

The school grounds are pretty nice though. The playing field is flanked by a row of sakura trees and it’s a much more scenic setting than my last school.

So far the people seem nicer than at my last school too. Last week I had two enkais (dinner parties) one after the other, the first with my new school and the second with my old school and the contrast between the two was really clear. The teachers at Iwaoka are much closer and friendlier with each other, they told more jokes and played more games at the enkai. For example, everyone had to make a speech and also do something entertaining. Since I hadn’t really prepared anything I just did my karaoke standard (Crocodile Rock by Elton John) but I know it went down a treat becausewhen I sat down and the outgoing ALT Peter said “that was rehearsed wasn’t it?”.

They also played a game where everyone had to eat a choux-pan (like a profiterole) some of which were filled with chilli powder. Mercifully I was exempt from this game but watching the contorting faces of surprised teachers was hysterical. I demand red hot chill choux pan Russian roulette become a televised sport immediately. Actually knowing japan it probably is.

In contrast the Fuluda enkai was nice but much less raucous, no games or singing and a lot less laughter. Mostly I had a chat with some of the teachers I will be missing and also kocho-sensei (who having steadfastly ignored me for a year decides that the very last day is the best one to make friends). Taniguchi-sensei gave me some bookmarks that my nakayoshi kids had made me and it was so sweet that a tear very nearly came to my eye.

Of all the things I will miss about Fukuda the nakayoshi kids are definitely the one that I remember most fondly.

One fantastic moment must be recounted though and ranks amongst my most surreal experiences ever.

After the fukuda enkai some of us went for a drink at an Izakaya (Japanese pub). I wasn’t asked to come so much as ordered by my noticeably tipsy Kyoto-sensei.

He then proceeded to get absolutely steaming and try and explain Shinto to me. Being drunk he didn’t really realise that he wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know despite me repeatedly telling him this. He was trying to explain to me that in Shinto people worship nature as containing gods (which I know) and he was doing it in the following fashion.

Kyoto-sensei: (points at a pair of chopsticks) This, is god.

Me: Yes, I know.

Kyoto-sensei: No, no, (points at a pair of chopsticks) This, is god.

Me: Hai, Kyoto-sensei, wakata. (yes Kyoto-sensei I know)

Kyoto-sensei: No, listen, (points at a pair of chopsticks) This IS god.

At that moment my brain kind of had to step back and try and appreciate that I was being lectured by a drunken Japanese man telling me a pair of chopsticks were god.

I was worried about the staff at Iwaoka because I was told that there weren’t many English speakers there. This seems to have changed though. There are a lot of new teachers in addition to myself and most of the new teachers speak some English. The new Kocho-sensei, social studies teacher and maths teacher all speak good English. There is a new English teacher, one English teacher with phenomenal English and a home-economics teacher who lived in Kenya and speaks good English too. More importantly even the teachers who don’t speak English seem to want to talk to me more. All in all I think I will enjoy the staffroom at Iwaoka a lot more than fukuda.

The kids at my new school seem really friendly too. They are eager to talk to me and smiley and forward. They are however still little gits. When I met the baseball club on Friday I was treated to this exchange.

Me: Hello my name is Adam.

Kid: Hello my name is vagina.

Now as opening conversational gambits go this one was a masterpiece. I was absolutely floored by the bare faced cheek of it all and he knew it. I could not let myself be outfoxed by a child with only one utterance but If I didn’t recover the conversational high ground I would be in this kids power for the rest of the year. But honestly how can you come back to “my name is vagina”? He already compared himself to a vagina, where can you go from there? Any insult I make is irrelevant because he already called himself a vagina, and no joke is going to get me out of this because the word vagina has already been uttered and to a teenage boy nothing is more hilarious than a vagina.

As it was I think I did okay.

Me: (points at his lunchbox) What are you eating?

Kid: Egg.

Me: Oh, so vaginas eat eggs. I didn’t know that.

This got a big laugh from his friends and I think I have developed a new funniest thing in the world for teenage boys, the concept of vaginas as separate organisms that can eat eggs. Having made our positions clear we could move onto different topics.

The second time I met this kid he told me his name was vagina again, said “penis go in vagina?” and then later tried to grab my crotch to see how big it is. Clearly I have a nemesis at Iwaoka.

In general the English level seems a lot lower than Fukuda (students answer hello with konnichiwa for example) but the students seem happy to talk to me and I’m pretty confident I can raise their confidence.

A good example of the difference in levels is how the kids ask me where I am from. Now at Fukuda the kids just asked me “where do you come from?” or “where are you from?” Here it seems to be a guessing game where the kids tell me every country they can think of and I say yes or no. Weirdly the most popular guesses seem to be Canada, Russia and Italy. I can see Canada, they’re last ALT was Canadian and I do look sort of Italian (though much less so since I shaved my curly black hair) but honestly Russia? England was embarrassingly low down in the list of guesses for most students after Russia, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Chile (???), Spain, Australia, New Zealand and China (which came from a kid who either has a very cosmopolitan worldview or has no idea what Chinese people look like).

Weirdly nobody ever suggests America.

And while the English level is lower Iwaoka is phenomenally good at sport. The amount of trophies the school has amassed is quite breathtaking. The baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer teams (the former soccer coach is now a professional coach for Vissel Kobe) are all very strong and the girl’s volleyball team is the number one team in Hyogo and competes at a national level.

These spears are given to winning sports teams sometimes instead of trophies. The names of the members of the winng team are on the ribbons that dangle from each spear.

Another thing I like about the school is that a lot of the students ride bikes to school. Like nearly everything else in Japan there is a uniform and a proper way to ride a bike so all of the students wear the same helmet and they nearly all have identical bikes. Today was the first day of school for the students and some of the teachers had to check to see if their bikes are safe. Hundreds of gleaming highly polished bikes lined up in the glorious spring sunshine is a pretty impressive sight I must say.

So snakes and vaginas aside I am pretty happy with my new school.

I would be happier if it was a little nearer though.


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