Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The First Goodbye

It's done. After watching some students receive prizes for sporting and building achievements, and listening to the Principal drone on for ten minutes about the usual gumph, I was called to the stage. There was a sense of deja vu about the whole thing, since Mrs Templemarsh was standing beside me, as she had been when I gave my introductory speech three years ago. The school was different, and we were on the opposite side of the room, but there had been an awards ceremony then too, and the room was hot and the students were trying not to fall asleep.

In spite of myself, I could feel myself welling up when she announced me, informing the students that I was leaving after three years. I walked over to the stage, climbed the steps, bowed to the flag professional-style, then went to the podium. It went okay. I messed up a couple of times, partly from lack of practice, but mostly because my voice had gone all warbly. I didn't expect to be sad, and I didn't feel sad on the surface, but deep down some emotions must have been stirring. Like when Amy meets Rory again and starts crying though she doesn't know why.

I'm glad it's over. Still, I'm going to miss some of these students.

Not this crap again

So Mountaincastle-sensei, head of English at Kagikou, comes up to me this morning and tells me I have to give my goodbye speech to the entire 900-strong student body tomorrow morning. Yeah, thanks for the heads up. It's more notice than I got when I first came here, however, and had to introduce myself in the same fashion, back in the Higashi Kougyou days. The nerves haven't gone, though, despite having won a contest in the interim where I had to give a speech in Japanese for seven minutes. This should be a breeze in comparison.

Will report back tomorrow if I survive.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Enforced applause

This is my last week of teaching. Probably. Things are never 100%, and there may be a random class or two after exams that I'm asked to do. But basically it's my last week. Since I'm not needed (or wanted, rather) at my scheduled classes at Kagikou tomorrow or Thursday, I only have one more day of teaching. Probably. And one of the classes on Friday was moved to today, so I only have one more class before the end. Again, probably.

In my classes with my supervisor, Mrs. Mountainbase, she's announced to the students at the end of the lesson that it's their last one with me, and asked me to say something to the students. Yesterday I wasn't prepared for it and ended up waffling, and I'm not sure the students understood much of it. She had to tell them to applaud afterwards. Today I expressed myself more clearly, and managed to get them to applaud of their own free will. I was actually starting to well up towards the end of the spiel. Then Mrs. Mountainbase got the class leader to stand up and say something. All he could manage was, "I am happy." which I could take offense at, but I'm sure he meant he was happy to have had the chance to experience J-time every Tuesday and would be sad to say goodbye. Some of the girls chased me out the room to say goodbye after class, which was touching.

In other news, in a class I was in this morning, the homeroom teacher came in to take one of the students away (apparently to talk about a bullying issue). This teacher, Mr Ricefieldnorth, is perhaps the most intimidating-looking in the school. He has the body of the Hulk and looks like a yakuza enforcer. He came into the class and spotted one of the students from the Judo club, which he coaches (probably because there's no sumo club at the school), with his head down on the desk, apparently sleeping. He walked quietly over to him and slammed a rolled-up notebook down on the boy's desk so the sound startled the whole class. The boy lifted his head up in a daze, then the Mr Ricefieldnorth did it again. Perhaps he didn't think the boy looked alert enough already. In the meantime, the JTE and I just hung around the blackboard awkwardly. The atmosphere of the class had been quite jovial up to that point. After Mr Ricefieldnorth was apparently satisfied with the judo boy's state of wakefulness, he called the boy he had actually come to see, and they both left.

Even here, at the end, I'm having new experiences. Good times.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Poke Her Face

Saturday was Ingrid's Birthday Party. She holds a party every year and invites her bar regulars, which is a big mix of Japanese and members of the foreigner community. It's held at a bar round the corner from her's (one that has more space) and for your entrance fee (well, it beats having to choose a birthday present) there's a lot of buffet food to help yourself too. Emily and I didn't have very big appetites, however, as we had been invited to sing - along with many others - a song for the occasion, and were nervous about. Most people use the karaoke machine, but some bring along instruments and play. Emily had the idea of doing Lady Gaga's Poker Face acoustic version on piano, which I thought was a great idea. Ingrid's a big Gaga fan.

Emily has an electric piano at her place, and we practiced a few times there and once at the bar, trying to get the various vocal flourishes right. We'd got it down pretty well before we left for the party, but of course nerves kicked in in front of a busy room of people, and I forgot what the hell I was doing a couple of times. It didn't help that the atmosphere wasn't the best for any kind of performance. There wasn't nearly enough space for everyone to be sitting down to a table, so no one was settled and there was a lot of chatter. It wasn't too bad, however (at least I hope it wasn't). I know it can't have been as bad as some of the later efforts at any rate. The gruff Texan voice of Azart the Young on a couple of Beatles tracks was appreciated by those with taste, but wasted on the majority of the noisy crowd. Only Prickles was able to bellow melodically over the din of the guests to the delight of us, his juniors.

On Sunday, I was tired and didn't leave the house once (win!) and ended up sleeping through most of the afternoon. The rest of the day was mostly spent (in defiance of the fact that I am NOT a 14-year-old girl) working on a scrapbook, the only way I know to rid myself of the numerous ticket stubs, tourist information pamphlets and other bits and bobs I have accumulated over the last three years. Yesterday I drove myself mad trying to arrange a drawful of crap into groups according to when I got them. I finished the job eventually, but didn't get round to any glueing, which has to be the most fun part of the thing. Maybe I'll get round to it today.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Into the Dragon's Den

Last night, seven knights rode out to find their fortune. This is their story.

There is a beast that takes its lifeblood from the Japanese people. The monster tempts the vulnerable with promises of wealth, and then drains its victims dry. This creature is so cunning that it has insinuated itself into every city, into every town, and onto every highway in the country. Living here, one becomes so accustomed to being around it that you can easily forget it's even there. Last night, we decreed, "No longer."

It was Jedd the Bold who first suggested we try to face the beast. For three years many of us had been living around it, but few had dared approach. When the proposal was made, many brave and gallant men balked at the notion. The danger was too much, and the potential for loss was too high. But then there were the seven. With Jedd agreed to go Joff the Wise. When younger warriors hesitated, Job the Ballsy stepped forward as well. Responding to the call, Battrick the Kindhearted joined the fellowship. I, Jamm the Curious, answered thereafter, not wishing to be deprived of the glory that was promised. Thereafter Azart the Young became one of the fellows, youthful and eager to prove himself. Finally came Gris the Elder, known to his fellow paladins as 'Prickles' for his misanthropic nature, who joined the company to regain his lost honour.

At the seventh hour, our party gathered, and amidst a storm of high winds and torrential rain, we feasted on meats and bread to build our strength for the task at hand. When all were ready, we set off into the darkness to seek our fortune.
How merry we all were then! How little did we know our peril!

As we approached the lair of the beast and passed its threshold, our ears were assaulted by a thousand angry sounds. The distinctive clang of metal on metal was the first sign that we were not the only warriors to brave this task tonight. We took our places among the others.
The monster, that calls itself "Pachinko", takes on many forms, and uses these forms to tempt every sort of innocent citizen into gambling away their livelihoods. It was with trepidation that I sat down to my place beside Joff the Wise in an area where the tendrils of the beast had taken a distinctly nautical identity.
 Joff knew some of the creature's secrets, and explained that with careful rotation of a handle, we could control the speed of a large number of small silver balls within our contraption. If we were skilled, or lucky, we could strike the creature at its heart, forcing it to "spin" and reveal more of itself. If it was forced into revealing three identical forms, it would be relinquished of a large quantity of silver balls and with them, the hopes and dreams of a hundred brave soldiers who had gone before. That, simple as it seemed, was our task.

The creature would not give us access to any balls initially, however, without us first having to give something of ourselves. Worried about the precedent, I took gold from my coin purse and gave it to the machine. Despite my best efforts, I was soon forced to give up more of my wealth because despite being able to make the beast spin many times, he refused to show the same three forms. Many times he screamed out, "Reach!", as two forms had aligned and waited only for the third to reveal itself. Disappointment grew to frustration when my pairs of manatees or king crabs lined up two in row, then were joined by a shrimp, or an octopus.

Many of my fellow warriors faced similar fates. Prickles had mixed fortunes that turned sour when he lost all he had - enough for ale, weed and songs for two nights at least.
Battrick the Kindhearted, too, soon lost all he had, and resorted to taking debt from Joff, who had been a little more successful. I am ashamed to say that the temptation of wealth the beast promised was too much for me, and when my own coin ran out I ran out into the rain to draw more to feed the beast.

When I returned, I had somewhat better luck. I tried a different contraption to the one I had begun on. Finally, the beast showed its three identical forms, and I was rewarded with a message - "Super Lucky!". My wits, already befuddled with the noise and the stench of a hundred cigarettes, were further confounded by three sea dwelling creatures racing across a beach.
The outcome the race seemed uncertain, or perhaps irrelevant, as later a maiden - perhaps a mermaid of legend - appeared and was courted romantically by a yellow fish.
I had heard rumour that once one has attacked the beast in this way, it becomes weakened and subsequently more succeptible to further attacks. Indeed, a flap began to open and close near the beast's centre, which allowed more attacks to be successful. However, I was not so lucky in persuading the beast to line up three identical forms again. After many spins and many more "Reach!" moments, my silver balls, including those I had won from the monster, were back inside it.

But my news is not all of woe. There were those among us who, through their courage and wits, seemed to tame the beast like a cur. Jedd the Bold, who had organised our sortie, had already amassed quite a collection by the time I surrendered. The spoils of his campaign were placed behind him by servants of the beast, those who feign friendship but truly desire only the beast's final victory. 
Job the Ballsy, too, had managed to collect a respectable sum at his own place, and could return to his home with no stains on his honour.

However, it was Azart the Young who won the day for our fellowship. With an iron will hardened by years of compulsory dance lessons, and a dexterity of wrist tempered by the birthing of a hundred calfs in his native Texas, Azart kept his nerve to encounter "Super Lucky" moment after "Super Lucky" moment.

Soon, he was rewarded not only with a vision of mermaid, but with one of real, live princess of a far-away island country. She sang to him of her joy and gratitude in a voice so sweet that I, and Battrick beside me, could not help but shed a tear.

Azart's luck held out, and his princess visited him many times. However, at long last both his and Jedd's luck ran out, and the servants of the beast began to circle. They wished Jedd to use his newly-won hoard to win even more, but Jedd was wise, and stern. He would not allow the quest to have been for naught. Azart followed his example and instead demanded that the servants count his prizes and give him his due. They piled his treasure chests on a cart drawn by a mule, and he was taken to the counting area.
Here the balls were placed into another devilish contraption, and their number was recorded on parchment in the form of a bond. With this bond, the beast's true treasure could be recovered. We traversed the lair to meet more servants, here to trade a small portion of the winnings into sweetmeats, and then receive magical tokens for the remainder. We were then directed towards the darkest part of the beast's domain. As we looked upon the windows behind which hid our goal, uncertainty rose in our hearts. The heart of Azart did now waver, however, and he demanded his due from whatever lay behind. Riches the possibility of which neither I, nor Battrick, Prickles or even Joff were permiited even to dream of, were bestowed upon Azart then. Jedd and Job followed, and the glory and honour that shone out from them seemed to pass through the whole group and raise our spirits, even those of us who had lost much. We were all victorious in that moment, all kings of men. With joy and celebration did we march out of the lair of the beast - some more war-weary than others, but none with deep regret.

Our quest is over now, and I can leave this land knowing that the beast cannot do as it would without impugnity. It is not defeated, but it has tasted pain and for now, that it enough.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

First contact

I emailed my successor today. Maybe now it'll click in my head that I'm really leaving and need to actually start tidying and packing.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

White Fever

Last period I played Guess Who with the students. Rather than being original and using celebrity pictures to play, two years ago I scanned the cards from the board game and made 30 copies, then designed a sheet where students could cross out the wrong answers on a grid rather than messing up my nice coloured printouts. I make one student choose one of the pictures and have the other students ask questions and guess their identity. Usually the student who guesses correctly gets to choose next.

This time I brought some candies to add incentive to the game - whoever could give the correct answer the fastest would get one. However, this added a new problem - they started guessing when there were still three or four people it could be. This made the last stage of the game a bit of a farce. So I suggested to the teacher that we introduce a "batsu" (forfeit) for those who guessed wrongly. I suggested that the lively joker of a student who was currently "it" choose the nature of the batsu. After a while it was decided that if you guessed the wrong person, you would have to do this kind of pose:

As it turned out, a rather adorable, awkward sort of boy guessed the wrong answer. While it was clear to everyone sitting around the boy who was "it" that he had chosen Philippe because he resembled a "taco" (octopus), this awkward boy thought it was Herman. When called upon to do the batsu, instead of doing the UFO pose (above) he did this:
He also cried out something that, to the rest of the students and I, sounded like "White fever!" but was later confirmed to be "Night fever." As a result of this odd display, the boy who was "it" because non-functional with laughter, as did most of the rest of the class.

The Messy Process of Leaving

I mentioned before that I wasn't sure what was going on with my flights because the flight from the nearby Kansai airport was more expensive than the one from Narita airport, but that I wouldn't be able to make it to Narita on the same day because there's no flight that will get me there early enough from Tokushima. I asked if it was possible for the prefecture to pay for a night at a hotel, since it was for the sake of keeping it cheap for them that I said I would do the Tokyo flight. After what seemed like a begrudging and highly conditional yes, I tried to get another estimate for the whole journey from another travel agent, only to spend half an hour there and have them tell me they couldn't tell me the price for the domestic portion of the trip, since they only dealt in international flights. Why they couldn't have told me that when I asked for the full price when I first sat down, I have no idea.

Anyway, the school wants this estimate as a basis when they have some kind of budget meeting. They've told me it's not good if the estimate price differs from the final price, despite the fact that flight prices change all the time in my experience. I handed in the travel agent's estimate for the international flight, and told them to add another thirty to forty thousand yen to include the hotel and domestic flight. This wasn't good enough for them, so I had to find a travel agent who would give me a full estimate.

I went to JTB, another travel agent, yesterday on my way home from school to explain the situation. Again it took half an hour. Honestly, I don't know why people use travel agents at all these days when you can book flights in five minutes on the interwebs. Anyway, the international flight price that came back was pretty much the same, and again I wasn't able to receive a proper printout estimate sheet for all parts of the journey. So I got him to write the other parts on the international estimate sheet and hoped that would be good enough for the school. I gave it to my supervisor at Tokusho on the way home, who seemed satisfied with it, but really it's the office that has to decide if it's okay.

While I was at Tokusho, the head of English、Mrs Innerfield told me they were planning to have a farewell party for me during exam week. I was already asked about this at Kagikou, though they want to do it as a lunch thing during the school day. Apparently the Tokusho one will be a proper evening affair, so I don't have to worry about clashes, though I think I'd rather have them on two separate days. Mrs Innerfield also told me the date of the final school staff party that she, as a member of the party-organising-committee, was in charge of. It was the 16th of July, which is around the time I've been thinking of going Kanto for a pre-departure holiday. Some of the other ALTs are going to Tokyo Disney Sea on that day, and I was interesting in going too. I told her I would let her know if I could make it, and she instantly seemed slightly downcast, or even surprised. I wondered if she thought it was natural I would be making it to this, as my final chance to join in a big staff party (and I don't have to pay for these ones since I pay towards the teacher's club every month). I suddenly got the impression that I'd committed the kind of etiquette faux pas I've been so deft at sidestepping for the last three years. She was quite silent as I blabbed on about how I wasn't sure what my plans were so maybe I could make it.

I'm pretty sure I will be going to the party. It will be my last chance to talk to a lot of these people, and it might be offensive if I don't show up. I don't want to do the Japanese equivalent of mooning them as I disappear into the distance.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Murder Mystery Madness

Oh dear, I did it again.

So I told you about my Saturday, which was exhausting. On Sunday, I had planned a Murder Mystery dinner party using a set from the "How to host a murder" series called, The Last Train from Paris. I bought it from a marketplace seller on Amazon Japan, who then imported it and sent it to me. It was for eight people and I ended up going for a Sunday to host it because time is running out before I head home and everyone seems to be busy in July.

Now, I love these Murder Mystery dinners, but this one was a massive stress to organise. Aside from the difficulty in finding ingredients for the food I was attempting to cook, on my way back from rafting on Saturday I looked at my phone to find out one of the guests was sick and would probably have to pull out. I didn't know if I should try to arrange a substitute there and then or see if the guest could make it. However, with the party being less than a day away at that point, I had little choice but to ask my designated driver if she could fill in, since she was the likeliest candidate and was in the midst of making alternative Sunday plans. I felt really bad about arranging the replacement so quickly, especially since after the Rocky Horror Beach Party fiasco, I was really ill and missed a murder mystery party my friend had organised.

On Sunday, I woke up early, partly because my head was messed up from rafting and I felt like my bed was bobbing around on water. I made a cheesecake base then headed out to get ingredients for the coq au vin dish that was described in party guide. While I was in the import shop Jupiter, trying to work out where to get cognac, disaster stuck again. Another guest had fallen ill and had to drop out. This was now mere hours from the start of the party and I had no ideas. These things don't work well if one of the characters missing, unless it's from a set where some of the characters are unnecessary. I don't like those ones so much, as it's generally blatantly obvious that the characters aren't part of the plot. Luckily, Em was with me, and she had the phone number of an ALT who I thought would be well up for it, if only he was free. He said he'd get back to us, as he had some stuff going on. I left the shop to try to get a costume (this is how prepared I am) and try to find cognac somewhere, stressed and panicked.

I ended up getting a military style shirt for my RAF pilot character, which I later got Emily to sew a name tag into. She sent me an email saying our maybe-ALT was now in, so that calmed me down a little. I made the rest of the cheesecake and Emily came over and tidied my apartment while I tried my hand at French cuisine. I substituted cheap Suntory Japanese brandy for Cognac, since Cognac cost three times as much, and after adding it to the chicken I had to light it. I was afraid of doing this, but in the end it didn't explode so it was fine.

The guests arrived a little before six, with everyone dressed up to the nines. The story was very engaging. We were all on a train carriage from which a body was thrown at six o'clock, and we were the only possible culprits. Each round brought more sordid secrets to light until we finally had to guess who the killer was. I guessed correctly, though I admit I actually thought myself guilty. At the last round I served the cheesecake, which hadn't set like I wanted it to - probably too little or too much of something, but it tasted fine and disappeared in a few short minutes. The French chicken thing was also good - at least, it tasted much better than its reddish brown mess of an appearance would have suggested.

It was a great night, but it'll be a while before I put myself through all the stress of organising an event like this again.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Ikita Eigo

Sometimes in my 208 (smart) class I like to throw in some extra info since there's often a good atmosphere for it. Today, the teacher, Mrs Templemarsh, was asking me about the World Cup. I mentioned that as a Scot, it was customary to support whatever team England was playing against. She asked me to expand on this during the class, so I wrote this sentence on the board:

"If England wins, they wont shut up about it."

International understanding FTW.

Wet and Wild Weekend

Oh dear, it's happened. I've resorted to alliteration, the twelfth deadly sin.

I haven't posted for a few days, but with good reason. On Saturday, I was doing some of this:
And, more significantly, this:
These pictures were taken by our guides at Happy Raft Japan, a group that offers rafting and canyoning trips on the Yoshino river, the big river that passes through our island of Shikoku. The rafting took place way out in the far west of Tokushima prefecture, actually over the border a little into Kochi. This meant getting up before 5, to get a train to Ishii to get a ride with a friend the rest of the way. Unfortunately, we missed the train so had to take a taxi to the next town. Expensive, but we got there on time. It was a two hour drive to the Oboke/Koboke Gorge area, where we donned wetsuits, fleeces, helmets and lifejackets, and took a bus upstream.

We were given the usual sort of safety speech which told us what we'd be doing in the raft, what we'd be doing if we ended up outside the raft, and what to do if the raft flipped upside down. There was a lot of talk of going to one's happy place. We were shown how to bring someone back onboard if they couldn't help themselves, and what to do if we couldn't make it back to a boat and ended up downstream ahead of the rafts. We were also told that half the fun of rafting is spent outside of the raft.

This turned out to be true; in addition to punching through rapids, we jumped out of the raft and floated downstream in human trains and we got tricked into landing in the water by the guide a couple of times. We also did this:
I'm pretty sure this is me, but it's hard to be sure as there were about thirty of us and we were all wearing similar things. We stopped at some high rocks that divided the river in two, and climbed up to jump off. It was about six or so metres high. There are a couple of reasons why I think this picture is me. First, I was wearing a red helmet, red striped wetsuit and white shoes. Second, I was losing my balance as I was being counted down 3-2-1, so I ended up jumping just before 1, rather than after. You can see the guy behind me still has one finger held up. It was a little scary, but it was over in a flash.

Before lunch, one of the other rafts flipped on some big rapids. Suddenly paddles and peeps were racing downstream. I was able to pull in one of the victims with my paddle and then myself and a lady in my raft pulled her into ours. It was a great moment of camaraderie.

We stopped for lunch back at the rafting place then headed out for another 10km. During one of the bigger rapids, Emily's raft flipped. My raft had already passed this point, but the guide decided to take us back into the rapid so that the other raft didn't get all the fun. We didn't know what he was trying to do when he made us paddle into the rapid as fast as we could, then get down in the centre of the raft, and in fact nothing happened the first time. The second time, however, he got what he wanted. We flipped. I was vaguely aware of it happening at the time. The front end of the rafted loomed upwards and the next thing I knew I was underwater. I got off relatively easy, however. I had my eyes closed, and as I surfaced and felt the raft above me, I thought I might have ended up under the raft. Fortunately I was outside. I had been sitting in the back seat when we flipped, and I was just behind the raft when I surfaced. Others weren't so lucky. Wet and Wild Andre, our team mascot, got dragged downstream by the currents and took a while to get back to the raft, which the guide flipped back over.

Nearing the end of the trip, we stopped for another cliff jump. This one was more like 8 metres. I stupidly ended up as presumptive third to go. I was unable to go on my 3-2-1 countdown because it looked so much higher than the last jump. I steeled myself and went a little after the count. Just the thought of doing it makes me shudder. Whereas with the 6 metre jump it all seemed over really quickly, this time I was really aware of falling through the air. I'm glad I did it, however.

All in all it was an awesome, but exhausting day. I got home around 10.30pm, had a bath to get rid of the river water smell, and eventually went to bed. However, this was not the end of the weekend's adventures, as I will explain in the next exciting instalment later today.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Speaking Test

Today was my first round of speaking tests for the first years at Kagikou. It's all a bit of a farce, especially compared to the kind of speaking tests I had to do when I was at school - knowing the the test was on a particular topic, but not knowing exactly what would be asked and largely having to prepared by ourselves. We tell the students more or less exactly what they'll be asked, and help them prepare answers accordingly.

In the past, some of these tests have sounded like interrogations from my point of view. "Where did you go last weekend?" "What did you do there???" "What did you have for breakfast THIS MORNING!?!" etc. This time, it was more like I was the quizmaster on Mastermind and just waiting for them to give their answers so I could leap to the next part.

It's possible I misheard him, but I'm pretty sure one of the students told me he had a heart of glass, as part of the opening section where they have to say their name and two things about themselves. I didn't really know how to respond to that.

Evolution of a Ninetails Fox

Early colour:
Finished article:

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Better, stronger, faster

I've not been sleeping well at night lately. The temperature and humidity are rising and I need time to adjust. I end up tired during the day, then I get home from work and can't help myself from taking an overlong nap. Then the cycle continues.

But today I plan to put an end to it. And here's what's going to help me do it:
Lifeguard - the original Bionic drink. Tastes a bit like mountain due. Has a similar suspicious colour. Full of all that lovely battery acid your brain needs to stay awake and alert. I'll keep myself awake till bedtime with chemicals then air-condition my way back to a regular sleep cycle. I hope.

Rocky Horror Beach Party Horror

The rainy season has shown its rainy teeth at last. In Japan, tsuyu (rainy season) is supposed to be most of June. Until today, however, we'd been gettting off lightly. This week's weather looks to be miserable, which means I have an excuse to be miserable (as if I needed one). Seriously, look how depressing it is outside my window this evening:
Nothing too exciting to report of late, but the coming of the rainy season reminds me of something that happened this time two years ago. I don't like thinking about it, because it was such a complete disaster, but some day I'll probably forget about it, and regret doing so. So here it is, the story of the Rocky Horror Beach Party.

I think it was two (now former) ALTs from England who came up with the idea. It was a while in the planning, but it was eventually scheduled for a weekend in June. I have subsequently learned that planning outdoor activities in June, in the middle of the rainy season, is not a good idea, but hindsight is 20x20, as they say. The plan was to watch the movie, head to the beach, have a barbecue and some drinks, then camp out and leave in the morning. There were about ten ALTs in total who prepared costumes and took the two hour road trip south to Shirahama beach, Kochi Prefecture that fateful Saturday morning. The Rocky Horror soundtrack was blaring for most of the way, and, predictably, we felt obliged to sing along. We picked up meats and other foods to barbecue, and also took along a special guest - an effigy of Tim Curry, which was a blow-up lady doll that we stuck an afro on. Tim was inflated in the tiny car for part of the journey, much to the confusion of Japanese road users. I should say that at this point, though it had been raining earlier, it looked like sunshine wasn't beyond the realm of possibilities.

We stopped off at the home of one of the southern ALTs to watch Rocky Horror and change into our horror-wear. When the movie was over, we piled back into the cars and headed to the beach, which was another half an hour away. It had started to rain by then, but it wasn't too heavy. It was dark by the time we got to the beach, partly due to the foreboding cloud cover, and we used lamps to set up our tents, then make our way to the small covered areas where, at the Tokushima JET Welcome Party, we had the barbecue. This was where the first major hitch of the evening came in. There was no barbecue there. Now, I'd stupidly assumed that everyone knew that at the welcome party, it had been another ALT who had brought the barbecue - a large, primitive sort of half-barrel on legs with a grill over the top. I suppose that since the thing had been so old and rusty looking, the others had assumed it was part of the beach's facilities. My friend's Japanese boyfriend had to go to the beach hotel and beg the use of their barbecue. I wonder if they gave it to us out of pity, since it was dark, windy, and really starting to come down.

We set up the barbecue and began cooking our stuff. Some of the others went ahead with the games they'd planned for the event - beach Twister, which resulted in the spinny-thing getting soaked and becoming unusable - and what (if I recall correctly) was a three-legged beach stiletto heel race. I was hungry and didn't want to get soaked (ha!) so I didn't partake. Despite these frivolities, no one really wanted to party for long in this weather, so we started to head to the tents. It was possible, after all, that the weather would be fine and dandy in the morning, and we could have fun then. Oh dear.

The thing that really put a downer on my evening was discovered at this point, when we opened the tent to discover a conspicuous layer of water on the floor. This was caused, as I later realised, by the incorrect placement of the waterproof cover over the main tent. Only two of us decided to brave the tent that night - the others went to sleep in the car. I knew I wouldn't get any sleep in a sitting position, and I thought at that point that the water in the tent had just gotten there while we were setting it up, or while the door was open. However, on closer inspection, I realised that someone had actually hammered the peg for the waterproof cover into the ground in such a way that a giant flap was folded back on itself, leaving a gap for water to seep through. Looking back, it might have been better to try to fix it there, but the rain was so heavy at that point that I would have gotten completely soaked running outside to fix it, and I thought we might avoid the water by sticking to one side of the tent. I wrapped up as warm as I could and tried to get to sleep.

I've never been in trouble with the law before, but if I were to become a criminal mastermind bent on destroying the world, and I was captured and, ignoring the Geneva convention, they tried to extract information from me, there could be few contrivances less comfortable than being in that tent on that night. It was like Chinese water torture. I was trying to sleep with water constantly dripping on my face. I would roll over and land in a puddle. I could feel my clothes getting wetter and wetter, and I was getting colder and colder as I drifted in and out of very uneasy sleep. It was a nightmare where time seemed to stand still. I just wanted morning to come so we could get the hell out of there, but with the rain still pounding on the roof of the tent, the thought of having to take everything down and clear up in that weather made me shudder.

Morning did come, however, and in that odd way that seems to happen when camping, everyone seemed to wake up at the same time. Maybe it was just that no one was really sleeping to begin with. Somehow we got the tents cleared away (though not bothering to fold them up nicely) then rushed back to the cars. The ones who had borrowed the barbecue washed it with detergent in the sea...then returned it to the hotel. It was 5am.

The next hiccup was that our designated driver's old, rusty kei-car wouldn't start. Not at first, anyway. We sat there as she turned the key, and the engine coughed and spluttered and did nothing. It did start eventually, but since we can two hours of driving to get through I didn't allow myself to feel at ease quite yet. This was just as well, because after driving for about half an hour, we came to a road block. A road worker who came up to our car explained that the 55 - the main north-south road running through Tokushima Prefecture - was flooded beyond this point, and we would have to take a detour. We followed the car in front of us off the motorway and into the mountains. It occurred to us, as the road narrowed and got gradually sketchier, that the car in front might be heading to a house in the mountains and that we might therefore be going in entirely the wrong direction. To make matters worse, the rainstorm had caused some small landslides so the road was littered with rocks and debris in places. At one point we went over a rock that we barely had clearance for, and there was a nasty bumping sound from under the vehicle. Aware of the unreliability of this particular car, I was afraid the slightest knock might make the engine fall out, but the little thing held up. We saw a man by the road and decided to ask if we were going the right way. He was elderly and had such a strong Awa-ben (local dialect) accent that I could barely make out what he was saying, but he seemed to confirm that we were going the right way. We drove on through the windy roads under overgrown trees, dodging rocks and stones while the rain continued. It suddenly occurred to me how similar the scene was to the bit in Jurassic Park where Dennis Nedry is trying to escape in the rain after sabotaging the park systems. If a Pteradon had flown past it would not have looked out of place. When we finally made it back to the main road I was singing the Jurassic Park theme in triumph.

By the time I made it back to Tokushima City, the rain had cleared up, the temperature had risen, and the ground wasn't even wet any more. The sky was clear and you wouldn't have known to look at it just how much rain had just fallen. It hadn''t stopped from time we had arrived at the beach until we were driving home twelve hours later.

I was left with the blow-up doll to look after. I'm not sure what the reason for that was, now, but I think there was the suggestion we might need it again some day. We had noticed that seemed to be losing air, so I decided to see if I could find the hole. Since I felt like I needed a bath anyway, it seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. It's how the bike shop finds tyre punctures:
This is the only photographic evidence I have to show that any of these things really happened. I took it because, as I stood there in my little bathroom, forcing an inflated lady companion doll under the water, it occurred to me that if, for whatever reason, the police were to burst into my apartment and find me there, it would look like I was drowning a prostitute in the bathtub. The absurdity tickled me, so I sent this picture to my friend, who has since used it as blackmail material.

The blowup doll was not the only casualty of the Rocky Horror Beach Party. A few days later, I started to run a high fever, and later found out I had infectious enteritis. I was off school for three weeks and lived a terrible hermit's existence watching Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. And Allo Allo. It was my lowest point since coming to Japan.

Still, I can laugh about it now. Cry.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Regular teaching

I'm astonished to find that since the start of the first term in April, I have yet to have a week of regular teaching. By that I mean I haven't taught all fourteen of the classes I'm scheduled for in a single week. There have been countless causes for this - student meetings, health checks, exam preparation, exams, shortened school days to allow sports clubs to practice early etc.

I'm sure in the past I've done full weeks of teaching, but I haven't done it for a long time. Aside from just me ending up with less work to do, I think it highlights one of the key differences between high school here and back home. We rarely had a disrupted schedule when I was at school. On the rare occasion that we were missing classes because we were being taught about careers or condoms or whatever, it was like Christmas come early (or late, for that matter). The school couldn't just move your classes about, so that your third and fifth periods were swapped around, or moved to another day. It just wasn't done. I'm not sure what it says about the Japanese people as a whole, but I think it's down to a kind of unity of the staff and school that occurs in schools here.

Since teachers in Japan don't have their own classroom, everyone lives out of the staff room. Every morning there's a meeting with announcements about what's going on, and when classes start, teachers leave the room and head off to the various classrooms. Back home, teachers live out of a particular classroom, and if their classes were moved around they would probably take offence. I remember one maths teacher who used to get indignant about students who missed half a class because they had a music lesson. In the same way, with all the pressures of not falling behind the national curriculum, it would be hard to have events that disrupt an entire school day as often as they do in Japan. Since high schools in Japan set their own curriculum, maybe they have more freedom. But I maintain there was a feeling of every-department-for-itself at my high school that doesn't exist here. While it sounds nice, I'm not sure I agree with it. Probably because it engenders an attitude that classes aren't all that important, since they can be missed whenever it's convenient for the school.

There is another reason for all the schedule changes, which is another thing I think is wrong with the system here. Teachers aren't just teachers. Most of the teachers have countless other duties within the school, whether it be coaching sports teams, looking after cultural clubs, arranging school trips, giving careers guidance, appealing to employers and universities on behalf of the school or organising staff parties. The schedule is often changed because particular teachers will be out of school for part of the day on business trips. Teachers are chosen for positions in the school hierarchy at the start of the school year, and their duties in these positions often outweigh their teaching work. I wonder how many were aware of this when they chose their path after leaving school. I imagine if it was my dream to teach young people in a very optimistic "Oh captain, my captain!" kind of way I would be dragged down by the tedium of all the clerical work these people have to deal with. Worse than this, perhaps, is that you are not technically employed as a teacher, but as an employee of the board of education. This means that one year you may be transferred to a non-teaching job at the board of education, where you might as well have trained as a secretary. (Incidentally, the board of education is also where they send teachers who have misbehaved with students, as a way of covering things up.)

It kind of depresses me when I see the best, most enthusiastic teachers here given fewer classes than others because they have too much work to do organising school events. It's great to be an ALT here - we get off easy - but if I had to work as a regular teacher I'd probably kill myself.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Getting out of dodge

It occurred to me that I haven't really put down my reasons for leaving Japan, despite naming the blog in such a way to suggest the importance of this as an event. Actually, it might come across to name the blog 'Life after JET' because it implies my time on JET is going to define the rest of my life, despite it only being three years. For some, JET hardly constitutes an event in their lives - there are those who have no special interest in Japan before they come, and then only stay for a year. But then there are so many others that stay for the maximum duration of their JET contract, then get themselves hired privately by a board of education, or find work at a language school, or marry a Japanese person and set up their own language school. They never leave. Or, at least, they put off leaving for as long as possible.

I so understand this temptation - I used to think I might end up staying here forever. It's really easy to live here. But I realise that that's not enough. In a sense, I think it's getting too easy. I'm too comfortable. I don't want to be one of those people who never leave. One of the ALTs here, from England, talks about how he so doesn't want to go home and become a couch potato - sitting watching TV most nights then heading off to the pub and chatting to the same old crowd as always. I think the same thing happens here. I see them at the usual foreigner haunts - the long-term residents. They live exactly the same sort of life as my friend talked about - they've just managed to find it in Japan. What's worse here, though is that when you're a part of the transient foreigner community, you have to watch new people come and go every year. People who are living their lives faster and better than you. People who are able to move on.

I wanted something new. When it came time to choose to recontract (or not) for a fourth year on JET, I applied to change from an ALT to a CIR (a co-ordinator for international relations), which requires a high level of Japanese and doesn't involve teaching. I've been studying Japanese since I got here and I'd passed Level 2 of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) and I thought I'd be a strong candidate. I didn't even get an interview. In fact, no one got an interview. The Prefectural Office made a unilateral decision not to allow any ALTs to become CIRs. This struck me as an entirely idiotic principle, because this year both the CIRs responsible for looking after the new JETs that come to Tokushima are leaving. The CIRs that replace them will be brand new from overseas, so they wont have any more idea about what's going on than anyone else.

I didn't want to be an ALT for another year, since the good teaching experiences are often outweighed (in mind if not in actual instances) by the bad ones. I signed the form in February saying that I did not plan to recontract. Didn't know what to do with myself once my contract ran out, but I did want to stay in Japan if I could. At a conference for returning JETs in March, I heard about positions opening at CLAIR - one of the organisations that runs the JET Programme, and decided to apply. Again, this required a high level of Japanese, but since I'd got my test result saying I'd passed JLPT Level 1, I thought I could at least make it to the interview stage. I didn't. I thought I'd be a shoe-in, since I had my JLPT, had stayed in Japan for three years and I was British (we'd been told at the conference that they had no British people working there at that time) - so I thought I'd have a greater chance than the many American JETs there are in Japan, if only via a kind of affirmative action. But no. I got a letter saying I hadn't gotten past the first stage. I was so disappointed and so angry when read it. How dare they reject me - they don't even know me! I like to believe, for my own sake, that I've never failed at anything that I cared about in which I actually had the chance to prove myself. Well, I didn't get that chance here. I felt betrayed, in an odd way. I felt like Japan, and more specifically the JET Programme system that had brought me out of myself, cared for and nurtured me, had come out and stabbed me in the back. For what, now, had I been studying Japanese for three years? CLAIR so seemed liked the next logical step, but someone pushed a button and then all the steps turned into a slide and I went flying into a pool of piranhas.

Since there are so few job opportunities outside of teaching here, I decided the best course of action was to move on. If I can't do something new, better to go somewhere else. So that's what I'm doing.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Returner's Meeting

Yesterday was the prefectural meeting for JETs going back to their home country. There was already a conference in March that I went to, which dealt mostly with possible career choices. This one was about what you should make sure to do in the months (actually now less than two) running up to your departure. The most important aspect of the leaving procedure (at least from my point of view) is the return of the pension payments that are automatically taken from our monthly salaries. If you ask someone to be your tax representative before you leave, you can claim the full amount (20% is taken as tax if you don't do this). I was expecting to maybe get a months' salary all tolled, but it's actually more like three. Jackpot! Suddenly I realise I'm going to have a lot more money that I'd expected to have when I go home.

The other thing that I needed to sort out was my flight. I'm more or less set on going back on the 29th of July, which is the day my Alien Registration Card expires. If I were to stay beyond that date I would have to change my status to that of a tourist so I could stay up to another three months. But I don't really want to be around when all the new people are here and the atmosphere is exciting and fresh. I think I'll just feel depressed.

Anyway, I went to a couple of travel agents, and aside from the ridiculous difference in price between the two, and how illogically expensive a one-way ticket is compared to a return, another frustrating fact presented itself. Flying with crappy KLM (okay, they're not AWFUL, but they're not particularly great) from Kansai - the nearest big international airport - costs TWICE what it would cost to fly British Airways (usually a more expensive airline) from Narita, which is on the other side of the country. In an ideal world I could fly from Tokushima to Tokyo Haneda, then get the limosine bus to Narita. However, the one flight a day Tokushima does to Tokyo would arrive too late to catch the BA flight.

I must fess up that it's not the price I care about so much as getting a good airline and reducing waiting time. This is because I don't ultimately have to pay for it - my contracting organisation foots the bill.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Paint and Pie

For lunch (which was breakfast for Emily) at USJ, we went to Irish-themed restaurant Finnegan's. Here's a part of the drinks menu:
So you can have Half-Paint or Paint. And you can get a half yard of it. For food, we got fish and chips, which was two small battered fish nuggets with potato wedges. It was the first fish I've eaten since I went back home at Christmas, and possibly only the third time I've eaten fish in Japan in three years. Don't let anyone tell you it's impossible to get by in Japan without eating fish. Anything is possible.

We also had Shepherd's pie.
It looked better than it tasted. It was full of cheese and they'd put a slice of tomato at the bottom for no good reason. I can make better myself.

We didn't eat anything else substantial for the rest of the day, which probably explains why I crashed as soon as I got on the bus and was non-functional the following day. I did eat a cinamon churro, though - something I first tasted at Higashi Kougyou's school festival two years ago and have never seen back home. I'll be on the lookout for them in future, though.

The Waters of Tokusho

The students were all sent home during the 4th period today. Water-related emergency. But not like this:
During the morning meeting, the vice principal mentioned something about some of the toilets being out of order. At lunchtime, there was a lot of chatter in the staffroom, and when I went off to my fourth period class there was an instruction over the PA system for students to remain in their classrooms. The JTE and I had only gotten five minutes into the class when there was another announcement for the students to stay in the classrooms and for the teachers to return to the staffroom. We left the class and headed back downstairs. Another teacher ushered us to hurry along from just outside the staffroom door. It was like a bomb was about to go off or something. I started to wonder if they were trying to trap the kids in their classes before releasing poison gas on them. At any rate, if it was related to the water business, I assumed for it to be urgent enough for us to be rushed back from our classes, it would have to be at least
if not

Sadly, the reality was less interesting. Once all the teachers had made it back to the staffroom, the vice principal explained that now a large number of the toilets and other water-based facilities were not working. I think they had had some plumbers in or something, but their digging around had caused further problems. I think they must have hired some real
Anyway, since there was no running water in the school, they decided it was necessary to send the students home. I imagine this was to stop any nasty accidents caused by lack of toilet facilities.

Monday, 7 June 2010


Since we ended up cancelling our Universal Studios Japan plans a couple of weeks ago, we decided, on Friday, to get bus tickets for Sunday, when the weather looked okay. Unfortunately this meant getting up at 5.30am to get the bus at 7. On a weekend!
 Now, this is my third time to USJ in the short three years I've been to Japan. The first time, it snowed for six hours and all of the outdoor rides were closed. The second time was scorching hot. Between these two times I'd already done almost everything there is to do at USJ. Really, it's possible to do everything in a single day - especially if you get an express pass booklet which lets you skip a large part of the queueing process. Still, there are a few good rides and it's nice to hang around somewhere that's so totally artificial every once in a while. Plus, since the last time I'd been there they'd removed the E.T. Adventure ride and replaced it with something new, so I was curious how that would be.

Though Em and I splashed out on express tickets, the wait times for the rides never seemed to get as long as I had seen in the past. We went to the Spider-man ride as soon as we got in the park, and seeing that the wait was only about 25 minutes, we decided to join the regular queue and save the express ticket for later. I'm not sure if the park was less busy than it usually is, but we were able to ride stuff more times in a single day than I'd managed the previous two times. We rode Jurassic Park with the express pass once, then later went back and queued regularly (in my opinion, the ride is only worth it for the final drop, but it is quite a drop) for a second go. Then there was Space Fantasy. Ah, Space Fantasy.
This is what they replaced E.T. Adventure with. Now, E.T. Adventure was undoubtedly the worst ride that they had express ticketing for. I'm not sure what's worse - spending extra money for the chance to get on it faster, or actually having to queue for 50 minutes for the privilege. On entering a small foyer at the end of the initial queueing area, you would be greeted by a video of Stephen Spielberg (dubbed into Japanese in our version, of course) telling you how you had to help E.T. save his home planet. Or whatever. Then after a second queueing area during which you would give your name to a receptionist-type and get a 'passport', you would board a vehicle that looked like bicycles welded together which was suspended from the ceiling. Then you would move through a set of scenes that were straight from the climax of the movie, before moving onto E.T.'s planet, where you would be greeted by a bunch of animatronic aliens dancing around in an LSD-inspired landscape. It was like a lot of so-called 'dark-rides' you get at Disney theme parks, but the animatronic characters looked really lame and the ride's only redeeming feature was that E.T. would say (or try to say) your name as you left the ride - that's why they took your name at the reception desk.

So I was quite intrigued to see that they had replaced the mediocre E.T. ride with. When we got our tickets at the main entrance of the park, we were given complimentary express tickets for Space Fantasy (they replaced the E.T. express booklet ticket with one for Backdraft...which I'll get to later). When we got to the ride we were told we had to exchange these tickets at some other building to get the actual express ticket. When we gave our exchange pass over, we received something like a fast pass at Disney Land - you come back at a specific time and then you can skip the line. The time on our ticket was about fifteen minutes from the current time, so we waited around until they let us in.

The first interesting thing was that we had to lock our stuff away in a locker. I thought this seemed promising. During the queue, you have your photo taken on a green screen, though this is just to sell you a picture on your way out of the ride. After that, you come to a room with a sort of robot thing suspended from the ceiling that looked and moved like the ship's computer from Flight of the Navigator:
 This, along with a cartoony star princess inside a crystal (who explains that it's your mission to rekindle the dying sun) made me think the ride might be a little child-oriented and therefore dull, but this expectation was happily confounded.

Space Fantasy could so easily be described as a rip-off of Space Mountain. It's an indoor rollercoaster where you fly around in dark with stars on the walls. Actually, Space Fantasy isn't as long as Space Mountain, but it's better in a number of ways. Instead of sitting two to a cart and facing forward the whole time, the carts in Space Fantasy are vaguely circular in shape, with two sitting in the front facing forward and two in the back facing backward. The cart rotates as you rise and drop, spinning around planet with beautiful colors, so that sometimes you're whizzing straight ahead watching the comets and the stars coming at you, and sometimes you're watching them disappear as you're dragged backwards. I actually found myself shouting out "Wooooow...wooooooohooooooo!" in spite of myself. The best bit, however, is when these two buttons on the console light up, and the princess tells you to press them to activate the stardust power (or something) and so you're jabbing away at the button, not sure if it's actually doing anything, then you dive into a huge room with shiny, mirrored surfaces, meant to be the inside of the dying sun, and you keep pressing the buttons and the whole room explodes and lights up and you're sent zooming off to the end of the ride. I couldn't help but smile as a result of all the sensory input, which is rare for me.

Emily and I decided to go back on later, and it was even better the second time. It never feels quite the same any two times. I know because we went on a third time, when we saw that the line was only 35 minutes after getting off the second time. We might have gone on again, but the park was closing by then so we didn't get a chance.

I had one other noteworthy experience at the park. As I said before, the replaced the E.T. Adventure express booklet ticket with one for Backdraft - quite a cheap move when Backdraft isn't even a ride, isn't particularly popular and, due to only one group being able to go through it at one time, can't be skipped-ahead in the same way you can skip lines for other attractions. Anyway, we went there because we had the ticket and we thought we might as well do everything there was to do. Your group is led into a room set up to look like a warehouse, and you get an intro video from Ron Howard who tells you about making the Backdraft movie. Then you move into another room where they simulate a building catching fire, as seen from outside. Then they show you another film where actors from the film talk about their experiences. It was around this point that a toddler in the walkway behind us started bawling his eyes out. He only seemed to get louder when Kurt Russell appeared on screen. (Funnily enough, during the third and final room, where the whole place explodes with fire and you can feel the heat on your skin, and the roof above you starts to collapse, didn't seem to bother him at all). Anyway, while watching dubbed Ron Howard and dubbed Kurt Russell, I thought about maybe watching Backdraft when I got home. Except in my head, I was thinking home meaning Scotland. For a few seconds I forgot that I lived in Tokushima, and will be for at least another month and a half. I've had this sort of experience before at theme parks like this. Despite the fact that everything's in Japanese, the sheer Western-ness of everything can make you forget where you are.

Anyways, after our third Space Fantasy adventure we left the park and (after a stop-off at the new Shonen Jump store that opened in Universal City on Friday) got the train to Osaka, then the bus to Tokushima. I got back to my apartment around midnight, after some uneasy sleep on the bus. Then I slept through the night, most of the morning and some of the afternoon. Sleep is great. I should do it more often.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Chinese Gong-fu

In this evening's 30-minute post-tai chi kung fu class, we learned that you need to hold tightly to your opponent's wrist so they can't get away while you're elbowing them in the face. ELBOW!

Also, if you hold their wrist close to your waist, it's easier to force them to lose their balance (with the application of force to the elbow (ELBOW!)) than if you're holding them away from your body.

Failing to understand this second point initially, I ended up pulling a muscle I didn't know I could pull. It's in a weird place somewhere between my chest and my side. Feels okay now.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Alfie Hitchcock says...

This is up in the elevator in my apartment building. It asks us to keep the elevator clean of pet pee, empty cans and cigarettes.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Special needs in mainstream classes

I'm by no means an expert, so I hope I don't offend anyone with my meandering musings.

In some of my classes at both schools I've had some special needs students. Apparently in Japan it's up to the parents as to whether to put these students into regular classes at mainstream schools or not. This year at Kagikou I have one class with a student who has ADHD, and another with a student who I was told was autistic. So far, lessons have gone quite well in both classes. The ADHD boy has difficulty with English, but there are many students who have similar difficulties and aren't said to have special needs. The autistic boy is very friendly and, while he has a tendency to ask questions more than other students and says things that make the others laugh sometimes, he's very bright and is better at English than most of the others in his year.

But things aren't always this harmonious. Two years ago, in the last year before Higashi Kougyou closed, I had another student with autism. This student was not friendly or outgoing like the one in my current class, and he was the repeated object of mockery and bullying by his classmates, at whom he would lash out verbally and physically. Most of the teachers treated him like any other student, and punished him accordingly. I remember one stand-off in the staffroom, where he had been told off repeatedly for playing with his phone during class, and the teacher told him they would be calling his parents. He wailed repeatedly at the teacher, trying to persuade him out of this plan, shouting loud enough for the whole staffroom to hear. The other teachers whispered to each other about how ill-mannered and selfish the boy was. I was quite surprised to hear them talk that way. Before that point I had assumed there was a level of understanding among the teachers about what it means to have a condition like autism, one that was clearly lacking.

Two years later, I'm no longer teaching his class, but I was made to think about the situation when I spotted him on my way out the school gate yesterday. It was lunch time, and most of the students were either in their classrooms or in the cafeteria. He was standing by himself behind the sports clubhouses. I watched as he wandered around a little, grabbed a tree branch, let it go, wandered around a little more. It made me sad to see him so isolated. If it really was his parents' decision to put him through mainstream school, I'm sure this is not what they imagined. It's so understandable to want a normal life for your child, and you would think by letting students have contact with a student with difficulties and vice versa, you would foster an environment of mutual respect and acceptance, but clearly this isn't always the case.

I'm beginning to think that it's not always in the child's best interests for the parents to decide what kind of school to attend. Parents are always going to want the most normal life for their children, and while mainstream education can work out for the best in some cases, in others it leaves special needs students isolated, vulnerable, and unready to challenge the next stage of life. High school is the time when everyone is worried about fitting in. Those who don't are bullied mercilessly. Why would anyone subject a vulnerable person to that?

I don't think special needs children should be excluded from mainstream education. However, I think there should be advice for parents from experts in the field before any decision is made. Moreoever, in cases where a student with special needs is put in a mainstream class, his classmates should be educated about it.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Why teaching at tech high can be better than academic high

Mrs Underwood and I were chatting yesterday about how good the first years have been so far this year, and I asked her how she would compare the experience of teaching here to teaching at Johoku High, the academic school she was at before. I was quite surprised by one of the things she said. She told me that in academic schools, you can't severely punish students who exhibit bad behaviour because the principal will blame you, the teacher, for not doing a good job instructing them. She told me of a case where an academic school boy attacked another boy and hit him so hard (presumably with an object of some kind) that it left a dent in his skull. The attacker wasn't expelled.

Apparently, expectations at technical high are different to the extent that teachers aren't blamed so much for their students' behaviour. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It suggests that students who aren't as smart as others are naturally bad seeds, and if an academic student misbehaves it's a "nurture" problem.

Another thing Mrs Underwood said was that she could never get activities to work at Johoku because the students were sleeping all the time. To some extent this is understandable; many students, in addition to club activities and after-school supplementary lessons, attend "juku" (cram schools) to try to give themselves the best chance they can to get into university. This leaves them understandably exhausted. It's by no means unacceptable to sleep in class in Japan. Particular teachers may stop students from doing it in their own classes, but it's so common as to not be a thing to get angry about. In technical schools, however, because it's easier to fail students in a subject for their behaviour and attendance, they are often more willing to participate, especially if they are motivated to pass the course but their test marks are low.

I used to complain about not being placed at any academic schools, but I think I've probably been blessed with my position. It hasn't always been a barrel of monkeys, but it's been a generally worthwhile and rewarding experience.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Funny thing. Earlier today, the Principal comes into the staffroom and cries out, "Fushinsha!" (dubious person!) which in this context was the equivalent of calling out, "Intruder!". He called the teachers who are part of the seito-ka (student affairs division) to arms, to go and check out the situation. I was alarmed to find that my desk seems to be placed in amongst the seitoka, so that the ten or so teachers in my immediate vicinity - including Mrs Underwood, the English teacher who sits beside me - got up and marched out of the staffroom. The Principal stayed inside. Some of the other teachers gathered around the monitors that are rigged up to the CCTV cameras placed around the school, though apparently there was nothing to be seen.

A few minutes later, the teachers came back. I asked Mrs Underwood about the fushinsha, and she told me it was a blond girl (which of course means she was worthy of the label, since only those on the fringes of society bleach their hair), found hanging about the girl's sports club changing rooms. Later, I was told that it was a student of nearby Chuo High School, which is like the last resort of Junior High students who can't get into a better high school. The story was now that she had come to bring lunch to her younger brother at our school. Either way, I find the fact that ten teachers were mobilised to deal with this situation rather ridiculous.


My tattoo is done. At least I think it is. I had two hours today to darken the background at the bottom so there would be more of a contrast with the top half. The tattoo men took lots of lovely pictures of the tattoo, and of me standing with the artist and the owner, then with the artist and another customer who has tribal tattoos on his face. They said they would call when they had a hard copy of the picture, and I asked if they could email it to me as well, though I got the impression the artist wasn't very familiar with the process, as he questioned whether there should be an http before the start of my email address. Email prospects probably not good.