Friday, 30 July 2010

Well, I'm back

It's over, I've left Japan. Here begins my life after JET.

The end was nice. I got to say goodbye to almost everyone important before the end, and felt that if I wanted to make it happen, we could meet again in the future. I'm sure I'll get the chance.

I was expecting the end to feel like a tragedy. Sad and dramatic. Kind of like this:

But really it felt more like a celebration. More like this:

Is it a bad thing that I can only thing of the big events in my life in terms of fiction?

Anyway, I still have some stuff from Japan to blog about. Then I have to work out what to do with myself. Finally, the point of the blog sharpens to a....well, anyway.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Last day at school

Tuesday was my last day at school. I took the remainder of my contract days off since I had a surplus of nenkyuu (paid holidays). The most nerve-wracking business of the day was giving my farewell speech to all the students and teachers at a farewell ceremony in the gym. On paper it shouldn't have been any scarier than the one I did at Kagikou two weeks before, but at Tokusho I know more of the students, more of the teachers, and the place has been more of a home since Higashi closed.

The ceremony, like all Japanese ceremonies, was complicated and confusing. I had to sit down in a chair at the front of the room at the end of the regular end of term ceremony. Then the student guidance teacher harangued the students about discipline in the worst possible way - that way teachers talk in assemblies without having anything written down, and they just cover the usual cliches with lots of pausing while they work out their next line. Then the career guidance teacher gave a spiel, this one at least prepared. Then the teacher in charge of school business gave another speech about things the students needed to be aware of over the summer. Finally, I was announced, and I went up to the stage where the Principal spoke briefly about the wonder that is me. Then I gave my speech, which despite its hasty preparation the morning of, my forgetting it at home and even hastier rewriting it in brief memo form, went off quite well. At the end I took out my concealed camera and took a picture of the students, to better communicate what it's like to stand up in front of everyone:
After my speech, the head of the student council said a few words and I was given a giant bouquet of flowers. The students sang the school song at me and I descended the stage, and walked out with the students clapping and the teachers bowing. It was a nice moment.

I stayed at school for most of the day, and some students dropped by to say goodbye and give letters or gifts. I took pictures with them so I would remember them if I ever saw them again. I think I probably owe these kids more than they owe me for being their teacher.

On Tuesday evening Ada had a farewell party, which was pleasant. I made Mario order Uma no karaaage (an inside joke from our Momotaro musical of two years ago), much to the consternation of the waiter. I found it, and still find it difficult to feel really sad about leaving, even though it's less than two days away for me, but maybe I'll fall apart before the end. We can only hope.

Day 3 - Mountains again, Gandalf

On the last day of our trip - Monday - we decided to head back to Miyajima to take the ropeway up to the top of Mt Misen.
First was a four-person gondola:
Then a larger cable car the rest of the way. Not satisfied with the views from the transportation, or from the top of the ropeway, we steeled ourselves for climbing the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. But first, we took at look at the warning signs:
Luckily for our luggage (less so for my camera) there were no monkeys out that day. Perhaps it was too hot. It was certainly too hot for any sane people to be climbing a mountain. Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. Not that I'm English.

We made it to the top after much sweating. There were many views to enjoy. The looks out over the Seto Inland sea towards Shikoku, "our island" (though I don't think you can see it here).
After making it down in one piece, we headed back to the mainland, back to Hiroshima city, and timed things perfectly so we could jump on the fastest Shinkansen this time, the Nozomi, which was a first for me. The Nozomi apparently can reach speeds of 300km/h over this stretch of track. We did the journey back to Okayama in 36 minutes, a cool 25 minutes faster than we did the same distance the day before.

With little time until our bus back to Tokushima, we rushed to the town of Kurashiki, which is famous for its preserved historical quarter. I wish we'd had more time to spend there, as there are so few places in Japan where the old isn't encroached upon by the new on all sides.
We literally had just enough time to walk out to this area, do a lap around it, then head back to the station. I feel like I'm cheating when I take photos of a place I haven't properly investigated. Ah well, maybe another day. Far into the future.

We got our bus back to Tokushima, which despite the rail link seems by far the best mode of transport between the two prefectures. On the bus I nabbed some sunset pictures. Behold!
Who needs rose-tinted spectacles when you have a digital camera, eh?

Day 2 - Trains, trams and boats

On Day 2, we got up fairly early and went to the station to find a way to Hiroshima. After concluding every other option would be too long and boring for words, we decided to use the shinkansen or 'bullet train'. The took the next available one, which was a Kodama, the slowest of the three shinkansen services, due to the fact that it stops at all stations on the line. Still, it was only around an hour between Okayama and Hiroshima, a journey which takes up to three hours using local lines.

In Hiroshima, in deference to Lesson 4 of the Voice Oral Communication textbook "Show me the way" we went to all the places the characters talk about.
Hiroshima Baseball stadium:

The A-bomb dome:
And the rest of the Peace Memorial Park:
Not in the textbook, but still of interest to me since I like castles, was Hiroshima castle.
I got another pin badge at the Peace Memorial Park tourist shop, and one in the castle, bringing my trip total to seven. I've never been so successful on such a short trip before.

After Hiroshima Castle, we decided to head to Miyajima-guchi, where our hostel was. Miyajima-guchi is the station beside the ferry port to Miyajima, another place in the textbook and a World Heritage Site. After stopping by our hostel and dropping some bags, we jumped on the ferry.

Miyajima has a large population of deer which welcome visitors by prying into their bags and trying to eat the contents.
Emily and I were eating special Hiroshima nikuman - meat dumplings - and were shocked to find a deer defying its vegetarian upbringing and trying to get at them.

Miyajima is so-called because of the shrine on the seashore on the north side of the island. The torii shrine gate is a famous Japanese image. Here are a couple of my photographic efforts:
After calling it a day at Miyajima, we followed some inaccurate directions to a cinema to see Inception, a film I didn't dislike, but fail to understand why everyone is so enamoured with.

Last travels - Day 1

Last weekend was a three-day weekend, Monday being a national holiday. Not knowing what else to do, Emily and I planned a trip to Okayama and Hiroshima. And we didn't plan it very well. We booked accomodation at about 8am, an hour before we got on our bus. (*addendum by Emily; more like we didn't plan at all, and just did everything perfectly the first time round)

We got lunch at a place in the Okayama station building, during which I noticed not one, not two, not three but FOUR pin badge machines. It was a very exciting moment for me. Each machine was different, so right off the bat I got four new pin badges (obviously I could have gotten more, but I have rules). Only one of the pins was actually an Okayama pin, so my hopes were high about finding more on our travels.

Our first stop was Okayama castle, much like any other castle in Japan except for being black instead of white. Here's how we got there:
I love trams. I think they're tram-endous.

Anyway, here's the castle:

The castle's interior was along the lines of Osaka castle, in that it was basically a museum with little of the original (or at least restored) interior. I prefer my old buildings to be properly old inside and out. But you can't expect much in Japan. A lot of old buildings were bombed to bits during the second world war and rebuilt after, and others were knocked down because there wasn't the money to maintain them. However, the trip to the castle was fruitful in other ways. Or one other way, I should say. I got another pin badge from a machine at the top. It was a different kind of machine to the others, so I didn't break any rules.

We got a combination ticket to the castle and nearby Korakuen gardens, which turned out to be a very beautiful place. See attached beauty:

It was extremely hot, however, so we had to keep stopping for drinks and shaved ice treats. We also found an area where you could cool your feet in a shallow pool. Eventually, having seen them from atop the castle, we became determined to venture out onto the moat in that most dangerous of vessels, the swan boat. Upon crossing a very sketchy bridge over to the docking area, we had the mad old man warn us of the dangers of the river's current, and he drew us a map telling us where not to go. Unfortunately, the map was basically two lines and didn't include any landmarks, so we pretty much had to play the thing by ear.
The steering was about as responsive as Mario Kart Double Dash, and to get anywhere at all you had to paddle at extreme speeds, which, with the blistering heat, meant extensive sweatification. After endangering our lives in this manner for a while, we returned to the dock where the deranged old man overcharged us and sent us on our way.

In the evening, after watching some Japanese TV featuring a guy with a pet monkey, Emily insisted we eat at a place advertised in the Lonely Planet. So we did.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Three more parties

Last Wednesday evening, we had a Higashi Kougyou reunion party. Since Higashi Kougyou (Tokushima East Technical High school) closed in March 2009, the English teachers who were working there towards the end have met up every now and then for dinner, to chat and reminisce, and complain about our new schools. Myself, Mrs Templemarsh and Mrs Paddyriver hadn't been at Higashi for that long before it closed, and we were all moved to the new school formed when the Higashi students merged with those of the main Tokushima technical high. Mrs Goldmarsh, then head of English was moved to Emily's school - Johto, an academic high. Ms. Wildriver, who hasn't passed the difficult employment test required by all high school teachers in Japan, was only working at Higashi on a contractual basis, and was replaced by Mrs Paddyriver after one year. She'd apparently only been filling in for a teacher who'd had some kind of breakdown, though I was never told the full story, and didn't think it polite to ask.

Even though I was only at Higashi for its final year and a half, I understand the desire to memorialise the place. Mrs Templemarsh once told me it was known among teachers as the last paradise of Tokushima. The atmosphere was relaxed, the classes were relatively small and the students were generally friendly and well-behaved. Because the teachers weren't as busy with school duties, there was more time for teachers to socialise at work in free periods, and because the teachers really cared and were really helpful, I had the best teaching experiences while I was working there. It's been over a year now since I left and I got used to things not being as good as they used to be. Still, I remember.

Anyway, aside from it being about time that the lot of us met up again, this was a kind of a last chance for us all to be there, since I'm leaving Japan next week. We went to Mrs Templemarsh's house and had yakiniku. Ms Wildriver brought a cake as well, with a message for me:
We ate, we drank, and we said goodbye, knowing that the four of us probably wouldn't meet up again. At least, probably not for a long time.

The next day, I had another farewell party with two of the same teachers. Thursday was my Kagikou farewell party, and as I said before, two of the Higashi teachers were transfered to Kagikou along with me. Actually, at the party only one of them was present, because Mrs Wildriver was kept at school due to homeroom matters. One of her students had shaved the eyebrows off another student, so she had to deal with that situation while the rest of us were eating lunch at a classy restaurant. Also in attendance was Dianne, the other ALT working at Kagi. She graciously took nenkyuu (paid holiday) to be there. It was a pleasant gathering, and at the end I was given presents of a Japanese style t-shirt and jinbei - traditional Japanese summer wear, kind of like pyjamas, but meant to be worn outside. People often wear them when they go to festivals. When we got back to school, Mrs Templemarsh made me put the jinbei on and come back to the staffroom to take pictures. It was kind of embarrassing, but it was funny to see once again how talented the Japanese are at not engaging with the elephant in the room. I passed a few teachers on the way from the changing room to the staffroom and while their eyes momentarily betrayed their confusion, they acted as if it was perfectly normal for the ALT to be walking to the staffroom in casual traditional summer wear and sandals with fake snakeskin straps. I was quite sad when I left school that day, as I was applauded when I left the staffroom, and accompanied to my bike by two of the English teachers.

The third party was the following evening, this time a general end-of-term party for Tokusho. I had to give a speech on the stage, before which they gave me a gift, which threw me off because I had my script in my pocket and I couldn't get to it with the gift in my hand. I ended up just spouting it from memory, albeit with a couple of alterations when I couldn't remember what I'd written down. It impressed well enough, though, and when the vice principal got up to say his part afterwards he commented that he was nervous to be speaking after me, because he wasn't sure if he could speak as proper Japanese. Aces.

Everyone was really friendly throughout the evening. I haven't spoken about Japanese staff parties before, largely because I haven't been to one since I started this blog. When they're held in the event rooms of hotels, as they generally are for high school, there are many courses and unlimited booze. Of course, this being Japan, a large number of the courses tend to be fishy, which puts me at a disadvantage, especially with all the beer flowing. It's traditional to fill the glasses of your colleagues and friends rather than your own, and if someone else is carrying a bottle and offering it to you, it's good form to accept, and if your glass is already full, to drink some of it to make the task worthwhile. Since it was a good while before I was served anything I was able to eat, and half the teachers coming over to offer me beer since it was my farewell, and me having to keep drinking so there was space to fill the glass further, I was worried I was going to pass out before the evening was done. Somehow I made it, however, even though my appetite was ruined by being asked to sing karaoke on the stage in front of everyone. Preferably a Japanese song. The Me of three years ago would have secretly wanted to, but would have been held back by doubt and fear. The Me of now, however, has braved scarier things, and was luckily full of alcohol at this time, so I acquiesced to their request. It didn't take long to think of a suitable song, since there's only one Japanese song I know that is guaranteed to impress and entertain a room of tipsy Japanese people, both through its subject matter and it's relative obscurity. Japanese people don't know how I know this song, and the truth is until I found it on youtube earlier tonight, I'd never actually heard the original version. It's a song myself and former JET friend Rob heard people singing at Casanova, a karaoke bar in the city, and we kind of appropriated it. After practicing it a few times, we had it down pretty well.

Here is the song, "Sugoi Otoko no Uta" by Miyoshi Tessei:

The lyrics to the first part translate like this:
Pass the beer around
Drink down to the bottom
You're Number 1
I'm Number 2

There was once a great man.
Upon meeting him by chance at sea
A shark was brought to tears, and apologised.

Pass the beer around
Drink down to the bottom
You're Number 1
I'm Number 2

Suffice to say, it was well received. After I'd finished, Mr Underricefield, whose face turns red at a drop of alcohol and acts sort of drunk even when sober, came onto the stage and kind of forced me to be the straight man in an impromptu manzai (Japanese comedy double act) performance, where he went on about how great I am at Japanese, and how I must be wearing colour contacts and have dyed hair, that I'm really Japanese in disguise. It was awkward and silly, but I think everyone was drunk and merry enough to enjoy it by that point.

After the main party, some of the male teachers, all of whom came to the school either this year or last, took me out to a nijikai (second party) where we sang more karaoke (including a lot of anime songs) at a snack bar run by a simpering hag of a woman, then we went to a gyouza (a kind of Chinese dumpling) restaurant and stuffed ourselves while drinking more beer. It was really nice of them, and they paid for everything. I think they wanted my last official party in Japan to be memorable, and it was. I stumbled back to Emily's place afterwards, as once again we were getting up early to go gallavanting. More on that in the next post.

Kinky Kinki Sunday Conclusion

Okay, I've been terrible at updating recently, partly due to having a lot on, and partly from taking too much holiday time and then thinking I have all the time in the world and then getting nothing done. So finally, here's the conclusion to our trip from last weekend.

Our other purpose on this trip, aside from going to Takarazuka, was to do something interesting in the Kansai/Kinki area. In the end we decided to try to see the silver temple of Kyoto, Ginkakuji. Mario said it was very beautiful, and he's right about most things.

We got a train to Kyoto, which didn't take long, but after eating and sorting out bus tickets (Emily gave the wrong ticket back to the driver when we got off in Osaka) it was getting on a bit, and it was after 4 already when we arrived in Kyoto. The temple, according to the Lonely Planet, was only open until 5, so we would have to be quick to make it inside on time. After dashing around the station area trying to get the right bus, eventually we found the one for Ginkakuji and got on. Unfortunately, due to poor weather and heavy traffic, the bus took forever to get to the Ginkakuji stop. I'm pretty sure under normal circumstances we could have made it there in under half an hour, but instead it took close to 45 minutes, and when we got to the temple entrance it was already closing.

Then, as if the heavens decided our fortunes weren't low enough, it started to piss down.

Luckily, there was a souvenir shop selling soft cream and umbrellas, and when the rain calmed down we walked around a nearby shrine, which had a very Spirited Away feel, enhanced by the moody weather conditions.
Afterwards, we walked the Path of Philosophy - a riverside walkway passing various temples and shrines. We took a bus back to Kyoto station, and decided, since it was getting late and needed a way to make our trip to Kyoto seem meaningful, we went up Kyoto tower.

Now, Kyoto tower doesn't have the height or size of Tokyo tower, but what it lacks in scale it makes up for in voyeuristic potential. There are about ten large binoculars around the tower's observation deck, they're all free, and all of them can see into people's homes. At Tokyo tower, you have to pay for the binoculars, and the surrounding area isn't residential. From Kyoto tower, using my camera up against one of the eyepieces, I got this picture:
In reality, the view from the binoculars was much clearer and you could see this family sitting down to dinner, about a kilometre away. Emily had a particular knack for finding people in their homes in view of the binoculars, but at one point she stepped back from one set shocked, saying she'd just seen a man take his pants off. I took a look a few seconds later and saw him, in the words of Jack Donaghy, "making passionate, angry love to himself". It made me wonder if any of the people living in the vicinity of the tower are aware of just how visible they are to anyone willing to shell out the 770 yen to ride the elevator to the top.

Shocking images aside, the tower, and the beauty of the Kyoto night skyline made up for our failure to make it to Ginkakuji, plus I picked up a pin badge (more on them later), so we were more or less satisfied when we got our train back to Osaka, and our bus back to Tokushima.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


The BBC News website's new layout is giving me existential angst.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kinky Kinki Sunday Part 1

We arose early to the dim and cloud of Sunday morning. Our bus to Osaka was at 7.30, which is an hour earlier than I have to get to school on work days. After witnessing a dog sexually assaulting a cat while its owner looked on, we headed off to the station and jumped on the bus.

Our trip's primary purpose was to fulfil a wish I'd been carrying around for over a year and had all but given up on until Miss Wildricefield, who sits beside me at Tokusho, sent me an email last Tuesday. The wish was to see a show by one of Japan's famous all-female Takarazuka troupes, and this teacher had some going spare. The show was Romeo and Juliet, and if you've ever wondered what that might look like without the men, then do so no longer:
The one on the left is Romeo, in case you were wondering. The smaller picture at the bottom right is Tybalt.

The production in question was a Japanese translation of a 2001 French musical called Roméo et Juliette: de la Haine à l'Amour. I'd never heard of it before, not being up on my contemporary French theatre. In a sense the performance promised two firsts; my first exposure to this musical, and my first chance to see grown ladies dressed as boys dance around and sing.

When we queued up at the Umeda Arts Theatre to get our tickets, we noticed a large posse of young to middle-aged women wearing green and white striped scarves. Leaving Emily in line (we were told only the person with the exchange pass should stand in line, as they were running out of space), I wandered off to the side where the side door was, and found all the girls with their scarves lined up beside the road in an orderly fashion. A short while later, one of the actresses showed up and was politely applauded by the crowd, and some took photographs. There was no stampede for autographs or physical contact. It was all very orderly and proper. Later, Emily told me about the wikipedia article on Takarazuka, which describes this kind of thing in the "Fan Clubs" section. It's always satisfying when you witness a textbook social phenomenon, especially when you didn't go looking for it.

Anyways, we grabbed some choco cro (Saint Marc Cafe...great chocolate croissants) as a kind of brunch before the performance. I grabbed a program, which is full of nice shiny pictures of ladies dressed as boys, and we took our seats. Eventually, this appeared:
A little later, there was some VO narration, then characters representing "The Poet" and "Death" started dancing around, and the story began. The production was very impressive. Pieces of set representing various streets would revolve around the stage to reveal Juliet's balcony or Friar Lawrence's chapel. The two families' colour-coded costumes - Montagues in blue, Capulets in Red - were stunning, and made the big group dance numbers all the more dazzling. The female stars, as you would expect, were adept at conveying masculinity, or at least what passes for masculinity in the realm of Japanese popular entertainment. It wasn't difficult at all to suspend disbelief over the characters' genders, even though the only physical difference between the male and female parts was that the men were the only ones wearing trousers.

Despite my great respect for the production as a whole, for me it was the music that let the show down. I was optimistic at the outset after the first song, "Verona" (English version here: but with the exception of a few other group numbers, I was disappointed at the repetitive whiney tone of the musical numbers. It seemed that every character had to have his or her own solo, whether their own actions impacted greatly on the plot or not. Most of the time it seemed that they were just singing about how they felt about what was going on with everyone else. It would have made as much sense if I'd gone up on stage and started singing about how I didn't have enough leg room and that I wanted to stretch my legs. A lot of the time I just wanted some dialogue to break the monotony, but all too often there was only one line between songs, or none at all. Seriously, this musical has more songs in one act than most English musicals do in the whole show.

I did say there were a few songs that I did enjoy, so I thought I'd make mention of them so I don't come across as a negative nancy. The scene of the Ball where Romeo meets Juliet had good music that was a mix of modern and traditional that everyone danced to while Juliet tried to escape Paris, and the Montagues evaded Paris. Perhaps the best song, however, was "Kings of the World", sung by the Montagues in the first act. Here is the original French version:

More Sunday action to come.

Sayonara Senoritas

Saturday was the official Tokushima JET Sayonara party, held around some cabins by the river in the mountains of Kamiyama. It had been threatening to rain all day, but the weather didn't get any worse than a bit of cloud cover. We paddled in the river and fought over seating around the barbecue to cook the food that we'd brought. It was strange because while I got the impression that the people who were staying were sad about those leaving, I didn't feel sad because it still hasn't fully sunk in that I'm going. I know it as a fact, I even worry about it as a state of affairs in the future, but I have yet to feel the reality of it.

Though I was at the party for five hours, it seemed like no time at all. I might have stayed the night, as many of the others did, but Emily and I had big Sunday plans, around which the next post will revolve.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Thumbless Ramen

Some nights, and especially in the summer, a man sets up a ramen stall by the river beside my apartment building. In my three long years here I had never been to this place; partly because I have a habit of not taking advantage of things nearby, and partly because I never really crave ramen. It is, after all, oily soup with noodles and highly suspect meat.

A while back, after finding out where I live, one of my tattoo men told me that the ramen place near my apartment was supposed to be pretty good. However, he added gingerly, it was said that the man would often have his thumb submerged in the soup when he handed it over. This in a country that is particularly anal about sanitation, especially when it comes to food, would surely be unthinkable, even from a street vendor.

Anyway, at some point I mentioned this to fellow Tokushima City-ite Mario, who is somewhat of a ramen connoisseur, and we agreed to go at some point. This was probably two months ago at least. Finally, last week, realising that neither of us have much time left here, I suggested we try to go on Friday, if he was open for business.

Mario contacted me from work at around 6 - his clocking-off time, to ask if the man had shown up yet. He had not. Mario thus decided to first go home and change. After doing so, at around 6.30, he contacted me again. I checked the street from my balcony and could see that his van was there, but he was not yet open for business. Mario came over a little later and I played games badly on his iphone until the trademark 中華そば (Chinese soba noodles) lantern was illuminated, then we headed outside.
Here's the van.

We each ordered a small regular ramen (no extra meat) and waited in anticipation of thumb action.
Disappointingly, no thumbs were forthcoming. When the man brought us our ramen in little styrofoam bowls, his thumbs were at a safe distance above the soup line.

Most ramen tastes more or less the same to me, but it met with Mario's approval, so it must have been above average. This is what Mario's approval looks like:
 The ramen itself was Tokushima ramen, which Mario reliably informs me is a mix of traditional ramen bases pork bone and soy sauce.
My finely-honed aversion to seafood is bad enough that when the aonori (seaweed) disintegrated, I couldn't finish the soup for the taste of it. I should have extracted it at the start and thrown it in the river.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Farewell parties 1 and 2

On Tuesday, we had the farewell/welcome party for the English department at Tokusho, but since the part-time teacher who left this year didn't come, and nor did her replacement, I was the only one coming or going. We had a classy multi-course meal (in my case fish-free) at Kaikatei, a restaurant that seems to specialise in European cuisine. It was mostly fine, until everyone started ignoring me and chatting away in Japanese, which I largely ignored, being in a beer-induced dreamlike state. At one point, however, the conversation turned to my successor, and the concern that how could she possibly ride a bike to Kagikou half an hour two times a week. I mean, she's a girl! Never mind that I've been having to do this for a year and a half now. Never mind that there are students that cycle further than that every day.

Really I'm just bitter because when Higashi, which was 5 minutes from my apartment, closed down, I suddenly had a much longer journey to school on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I wanted the board of education to get me a new apartment. They refused. Fail.

Anyways, the best part of the evening was not having to pay the customary excessive party fee, I suppose since the thing was held partly in my honour. Hooray for that.

On Wednesday, I had a farewell party with my Japanese teacher and her other ALT students - T-rex, Sarah and Emma. The Fourth was absent. We went to Paparina, the Italian place between my teacher's house and Kagikou. Afterwards we went back to her place and chatted and ate cookies and took pictures. She wanted us to write letters to ourselves, which she'll send off in a year along with a note from her. Sarah and Rex wrote theirs then and there, but I wasn't in the mood and so I'm planning on going back next week and dealing with it then.

Incidentally, here's my teacher's dog, Nonchan:
She's a year old toy poodle who likes eating plastic and still isn't house trained. Just before we left she peed on the carpet after eating large volumes of watermelon rinds.

After saying a probably final farewell to Sarah, I headed home.

Now, the 7th of July in Japan is a festival of sorts called Tanabata. I never see much hooplah about it here in Tokushima, but it's traditional to write wishes on pieces of paper, hang them on bamboo branches, then sometimes to light them on fire. I'd never done it before so I wanted to do it on this, my last chance while an ALT in Japan. The problem was that after the party, it was about 10 o'clock, and I didn't know where to find any bamboo. I couldn't find any on my bike ride back home, and was about to give up when Emily, who I'd called earlier, told me there was bamboo in this little garden/grove area near my apartment. I wrote a wish on a piece of manilla envelope and took it downstairs.

The problem was that though in my head I could readily believe there was bamboo in the grove, I couldn't actually find any. At least, nothing that my brain recognised as bamboo. It didn't help matters that there was no lighting in the immediate vicinity. I had my camera, however and tried taking flash pictures to locate bamboo. Like this:
Anyway, time was running short, since if I was going to light the thing, I had to do it at midnight, which was fast approaching. I more or less gave up and hung the wish from the most convenient branch of whatever this is in the picture. Then I used an Ingrid's International lighter to set it on fire.

I don't know if you've ever lit a manilla envelope before, but unlike regular white paper, it doesn't smolder slowly and go out at the slightest breeze. It sizzles like magnesium and instantly erupts into a large flame. I panicked, since I didn't want to become known as the ALT who burned down a garden. I blew on the flame, but they were so strong that they just went brighter. I didn't know what else to do, so I just kept blowing, and eventually, just as the last bit of paper burned away, the fire went out. Crisis averted.

After all that, I just hope the wish comes true now.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Taking a break from all that nothing

Yesterday, having no classes (ever again) and little to do except work on my scrapbook, I took a leisurely lunch trip to fancy restaurant Pacific Harbor with Emily. You can get a multi-course lunch set for just 1000 yen. It includes a salad (which I don't eat, but appreciate that a lot of other people do), soup, one of two possible main dishes, and a drink. If you pay an extra 300 then you can choose two desserts from a tray of delights.
I got these two. The one on the left is (western) tea-flavoured jelly on milk pudding, topped with gold flakes. The other is a chocolate gateau with cream an almonds.

Good lunch times plus skipping the tedium of uneventful school is WIN.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Bizarro World

Last night, I went to tai chi for the first time in two weeks, having missed it due to rafting and then getting ready for Ingrid's birthday. After the tai chi class was finished, I talked to teacher, Season Woods, who's Chinese and likes chatting with me and testing a few English phrases on me. He asked me how I was, and I said I was a little sad. He knew I was leaving so he said he understood. We talked a little longer, and then out of the blue he hugged me close with one arm. I was taken aback and didn't know what to do. I'm at least a full head taller than him, so I felt oversized and didn't know where to put my hands. But I appreciated the sentiment and it made me feel sadder in a way I hadn't expected to. My eyes watered up again. We were soon interrupted by one of the other staff members at the gym, whose attention was caught by the elephant-in-the-room style PDA. He asked what was going on, and I told him that Season Woods was feeling lonely because I was leaving in a month. Then Woods went over to talk to another guy who was working out, and I spoke to the staff guy about going home and ending my gym contract.

The feeling of sadness didn't go away, though, and as I tried to get to sleep last night I had to stop myself from thinking about it because it was too much. I suppose I see Woods as a friend I wont have the chance to have. If I'd been around longer, or started going to his classes sooner, I'm sure we would have started meeting up outside of class and becoming friends. Now there's not really time for that. I think that's why I got so depressed over it.

Then again, this is just one more case of me getting teary over saying goodbye to something here. I have the horrible feeling I'll be spending my last month here with all the emotional stability of a pregnant schizophrenic. On speed. I suppose I expected to be sad about saying goodbye to my friends, my teachers, my job. But it's more than that. I'm saying goodbye to a whole life. A life I've carved out and lived for three years. So many things have changed in that time, but I've always been here, living a familiar existence. A happy existence. And I'm leaving it all behind. When I leave, the whole colour and flavour of my life is going to change. I don't know what it's going to take to come to terms with that. I might be back here on the next flight from the reverse culture shock.

In lighter news, I got rid of a heap of crap in the form of clothing at a Stuff Swap organised by other ALTs today. I took the chance, with Emily, to go to the Starbucks that opened by the station last month, the first Starbucks to appear in Tokushima. The place is so popular that we had to line up for about ten minutes to get served. It was so bustling and alive that I felt like I could have been in an actual major city. A major city anywhere in the world. I've never been at any cafe or restaurant in Tokushima that seemed so busy. Maybe in a few months everyone will remember where they are and it'll die down.

I got a Tokushima mug and Emily got a tumbler. I kind of wanted the tumbler, but I objected to it on the grounds that the only thing unique about it was a piece of paper rolled up inside. At least my mug's Tokushima design was glazed on.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

This is the way the classes end

Not with a bang but a whimper.

I had my last class yesterday. It was pretty much a regular class, except the JTE told the students it was my last one right at the end, and, after finding out I could write kanji last week, they wanted to hear me speak Japanese. I said a short goodbye-and-thank-you after which they applauded, and after the bell rang some of the girls demanded to take pictures with me. It was nice to feel appreciated in a class that was good, but with whom I didn't feel a strong connection due to there being no class clowns or particularly talkative students.

Also, last night I finally booked a flight home. I had a sort of messed-up situation where I thought I was expected to wait for the board of education's decision about giving me the money for the flight I'd previously investigated. As it turned out, because of how long their decision was going to take, I was supposed to book the thing before the price changed. I didn't realise I could book it without paying for the whole thing, and even if I had, it didn't seem to make sense to pay a deposit (which I assume I could lose) for something I don't know if I'm going to be reimbursed for. What with having to pay the massive resident's tax bill I got last month, I don't have enough money in Japan to pay for a flight.

Anyway, after being told I was supposed to have booked already, I got a bit panicked and went back to the travel agent, who told me the price had already gone up, so I was screwed on that front. My only option was to try to get a cheaper one online. It was too late to ask for more money from the BOE. After looking online and considering a few options, I decided in the end to go for an Air China flight, which is a little cheaper than my original plan, but is a little tricky because I have to change twice - once in Beijing and once in London, and because it's so early in the morning that it's not possible for me to get the the airport two hours before take-off. I just hope an hour and forty minutes will be enough time to get through check-in, security and customs. I would get a hotel, but the only one that seems available at the airport is mega-expensive.

Anyway, the date is now set, so all I have to do now is pack.