Friday, 30 October 2009

This weeks' update

For Mondays session at Taiko I was 'upgraded' in a sense. That is, I was solely responsible for the beat drum. I suppose it wouldn't be a big deal if I'd been doing Taiko for longer, but with just a couple of months under my belt I'd like to think that quite respectable, nay, impressive. I've been a bassist for a long time now, and any decent bassist will tell you that you have to listen to your drummer! It was strange being relied upon for beat and timing after listening to someone else for so long. I have another performance next week, and then another in a couple of weeks. I know my group want me on one of the lead drums for the latter... I just hope I can get it downpat!

This Saturday being Halloween I decided to tell my eikaiwa group about the origins of Halloween and what westerners get up to around this date. Somehow we got onto the subject of idioms and proverbs, and I mentioned "the world is your oyster." Two of my group looked on fascinated, while the third let a puzzled look flash across her face before asking to "please explain." I tried to make it as easy as possible and said "it means you can go anywhere and do anything, there's nothing to stop you." Another puzzled look followed by "but an oyster cannot go anywhere." Haha! A wonderfully disarming response from a middle-aged Japanese woman.

Some weeks back I was interviewed and recorded for the local radio station. Today I was asked to write a self-introduction for the local newspaper. The guy from my yakuba took a picture of me, as photogenic as I am, and I proceeded to write a short piece about myself, why I came to Japan, and what my first impressions of it were (they always want to know that!). I'm now on the lookout for locals chortling on street corners, waving a photo of me in the air.

Tonight me and Marion drove north to Ina to check out a store that sells costumes. On Saturday we're having a Halloween party at Ben's place and we both were in need of inspiration. Marion found what she was looking for and so did I. It was a little more expensive than I would usually spend on a costume, and er... a lot tighter as well. But you'll have to see it to believe it.

Karate night! This evening we ran through the basic moves and the first level kata. I know it well now and will be going for my first grading in early December. This week we also ordered our gi's. It's a good job we don't wear footwear for it, I'd be reduced to plastic bags! My feet are a 30cm size, and the biggest (XXL / yeti) size here is 28. Ha!

Elementary school today. I'm freakin' knackered. Six lessons back to back of hyper kiddies! I introduced them to my handmade "Make-a-monster" game because it's Halloween tomorrow. Every class loved it, and the students were dragging me to their desks to make personal additions to their warped creations. I'm amazed the teachers also seemed to love it, and were 'ganbarimasu'ing to get theirs done before the end of the lesson. Awesome!

This evening I picked up a cover for the Japanese-style hot water bottle (essentially a big tin!) I found in my cupboard on Tuesday night, as well as 18 litres of kerosene for my heater, sold from the same pump I get my car fuel from. Crazy!

This week has been quite busy, and seemed to have lasted a long time too, but on the bright side my kanji count has just passed 100, I have a party tomorrow night, and next Tuesday we have a day off, so a few of us are heading to Matsumoto to do some christmas shopping! It's all go-go-go in J-land!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A very creative english lesson

My last lesson yesterday was an unexpected delight, as my harder-learning class wanted to spray-paint rather than learn english. It was an unexpected but welcome change, and so, ever the arty spadger, I plucked up some materials, plonked myself at a desk, and gave Neil Buchanan a run for his money.

How's this for an art attack? One stencil, infinite colours.

These now adorn my still slightly-bare walls at home, and a fourth is now on the wall at my school. Yay for productivity.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Russian cookies = nostalgic time capsules‏

I experienced my first pang of homesickness today. Nothing major, but it came out of nowhere and seemingly from nothing, as most homesickness does.

Morning break had swung around at school, and as usual, omiyage was available in the teachers room. Never one to pass up something sweet, I opted for a really tempting 'Russian cookie.' Ironically it was made in Japan with Japanese ingredients - I doubt it was even shown a picture of Russia before it was neatly packed in with a dozen others and shipped out. That's industry for you.

From the assortment I picked the sweetest and jammiest-looking specimen and scuttled away to my desk with a mug of green tea. The wrapper came away quickly - it wanted to be eaten! I bit halfway into it and even before I started to crunch it the doughy, nutty flavour punched a hole through my memories like my finger through a Japanese paper screen (dammit!).

My mind flashed back to when I was younger, when my nan and my ma used to make peanut crunch biscuits. I remember how excited I used to be when I arrived at my nans to smell a fresh batch baking in the oven. I would go outside to play, knowing full well that after I had thoroughly enjoyed myself, a further treat was in store for me when I returned. Usually the waiting would be too much, and I'd return early to press my face against the oven, drool, and receive 3rd degree burns. My nan would separate the batch, wrap the biscuits in clingfilm or foil - or sometimes a length of kitchen roll - and press them into my eager little hands. A moment would pass between us as she saw the delighted look on my little face, and if I was given extra biscuits an occasional "don't tell mum" look would pass, unspoken, between us.

And in an instant all those years (and miles) were bridged impossibly quickly with a cookie masquerading as something it wasn't. A Russian cookie that wouldn't know Russia if it was violently chomped by a vodka-swigging, tap-dancing bear.

I must be getting soft, a cookie almost made me cry.

Sunday's Taiko diary (performance 2)

Sunday's Taiko schedule went something like this...

07.15. At this unholy hour I dig myself up. On a weekday this would leave me struggling to get to work on time, but on the weekend it's when I envisage reanimated corpses should be partying in the moonlight, playing their rib cages like xylophones. I forgo the mandatory morning shower and breakfast, promising my unresponsive body I will tend to it's needs when I get back.

07.40. I arrive at my yakuba. A member of my Taiko group is giving me a lift to the venue, and for this I am happy.

07.45. The worn out road/track we drive along reminds me I'm still battling sleep, as my nodding head bounces off the window.

07.55. We arrive at the venue. It's bigger than I expected. My first performance was for a small event at a people's home, this one looks much grander.

08.10. The drums are into the venue foyer and we start to take them through. I'm startled to find we are playing in a giant gymnasium packed with people! I really should have taken more time over my hair.

08.11. I'm startled again as I realise everyone in the place is female. Aside from an organiser and myself, the place is devoid of anything remotely resembling testicles.

08.20. Still unsure as to whether I should be playing in what I'm sure is a womens team event, I change into my Taiko gear. I say change, I just take off my long-sleeve tee and replace it with a Taiko 'Happi', or 'short coat.'

08.30. The event starts it opening ceremony.

08.45. The opening ceremony is still opening the event.

08.55. The opening ceremony is still opening the event, but looks like it might start to wind down soon. I'm dozing off backstage, much to the amusement of my group.

09.00. The event opening ceremony's closing ceremony begins.

09.05. The event opening ceremony's closing ceremony is almost at an end.

Approx. 09.15. We take to the drums, rei, and begin song 1, Isamigoma.

09.18. I'm certain my arms are about to fall off. The burning reaches my back and I fleetingly - and quite desperately - wish I'd done warm-up exercises instead of sleeping before this performance.

09.22. Looks from the audience suggest they are wondering who this foreigner is, why he is playing at this all-female event, and why does he look like a ragged marionette on very eager strings?

09.25. We're about to finish song 2, Buchiawase, our last in this short performance. I can't feel my arms and my hands have stopped talking to me.

09.30. We're finished, packed up and ready to leave.

09.40. My right arm is still not responding. I vow a) to ask my absent sensei how I qualify as female, b) to warm up before every future performance, and c) to not drown in the shower when I get home.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Hilarious kids

Generally a day can't go by without my students saying something wonderfully funny, but when I'm teaching I try to keep the giggles to a minimum for fear of losing the students' attention. Today I broke my rule quite spectacularly when one of the ichinensei class jokers was asked to translate days of the week. My JTE held up various cards with the days of the week on them, and for some reason, this one student had me unable to control my laughter with the following:

[Monday card held up]
Student: "Kayoubi!" (Tuesday)

Student: "Wooosday!"

Student: "Fishday!"

I'm certain this student was actually struggling with the words, but on "Fishday" I felt my shoulders dancing and the floodgates opened and I couldn't control the mirth. Upon seeing my amusement the class went into hysterics. One of them even shouted "ganbatte, sensei!" - presumably "do your best, sensei, to control yourself". Sorry to my JTE for that!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Tenryu river

After getting back from my second Taiko performance this morning I realised I looked not unlike a big hairy dog, so headed out to get my mane cut. It was (is) a beautiful day here in the Shimoina area and I decided to take a few pics of one of my favourite places here on the way back from the hairdressers. Oddly, it's a big metal bridge coated in peeling orange paint - hardly the most picturesque feature in this area. I like it because every time I drive across it (which is often, as it connects my village to the city) I can look north and south along the river, and regardless of weather it is always really beautiful. The sun was shining, the wind was crisp, and the faint smell of woodsmoke was on the air. It was a nice moment.


Last night Iida block took to the bowling alley to try our hand at the ancient sport known as 10-pin. With a list of bowling names as dodgy and unoriginal as anything dodgy and unoriginal, we proceeded to gutterball as often as possible... at some point there was mention of a competition, but I don't recall us taking it further!

Check out this pic I took of a vending machine advert. Apparently K from Men In Black wants you to drink coffee. They're the first, last and only line of defense from the worst scum of the universe, but without coffee they're kinda cranky.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Typhoon Melor

My average of natural disaster experiences jumped to 1 per month this week as typhoon Melor hit Japan. Categorised as a class 1 super typhoon, it was the strongest typhoon in the world when it hit the southern Japanese coast on Wednesday.

The weather had been non-stop rain for days before as the typhoon worked its way north, and on Wednesday night it made its way to Nagano prefecture. I arrive home late after shopping to find an ominous handwritten note pushed through my door. Picture me stood there in the cold and dark evening, the wind whistling around me, and I read "a big typhoon is coming." It actually sent a shiver down my spine.

Throughout the night Melor crossed through Nagano prefecture and close to where I live. I say close, but it could have been a dozen or maybe several dozen miles away, but that didn't stop the wind battering my house for the entirety of the night, rattling my windows and keeping me awake. I could hear various objects scraping down the road outside and bouncing into firmer objects... it was quite eerie actually.

On my way to work yesterday I was swerving to avoid twig, leaves, branches, and at one point a fallen tree. School was cancelled for the students but all teachers weren't so lucky. In the afternoon we were all on leaf-removal duty (with brooms straight from the wicked witch's catalogue), and I joined them until I found a little frog to play with.

Seinaiji hanabi

This week has been a wet one as typhoon Melor approached the Japanese archipelago, but a few nights ago we headed out to Seinaiji to watch the impressive fireworks on show. The mist was rolling in off the mountains, giving the evening a very ethereal feel. Aside from the fireworks, a significant portion of the evening was dedicated to a team of lightly-dressed crazy people who insisted on dancing in the sparks and flames of various incendiary devices.

Nagano and Zenkoji temple

Last weekend Ben, Marion and me headed to Nagano city to sort our re-entry permits, visit Zenkoji temple, and party with Patricia, our lovely and ever-helpful JET-PA. In short, it was a great weekend, and Zenkoji was amazing!

Autumn is on it's way

Yes indeed, the leaves are starting to redden and the nights are getting much colder. Thankfully I have an electric heater in my house, as well as a blessed Japanese device called a kotatsu. This consists of a low table with a removal top. Attached to the framework is an electric heater. A thick bed cover or blanket is put over the framework and the tabletop put back on top of that. The heater heats the area under the table/blanket, and you can stick your legs or body under it to keep warm. Wonderful! I'm also currently looking for a clothes dryer - I hate the smell of damp clothes, and drying them will be a nightmare in winter!

JHS Sports Festival

So plenty of exciting things have happened since my last blog. Last Friday/Saturday I had my JHS sports festival. In honesty the event isn't much like our sports days back home, aside from the name. The two days is used to showcase students' work, play team games, enjoy the school brass band and watch the students perform rhythmic dances and mini plays. The entire event - down to the lighting, sound and direction - all appeared to be run by the students. My favourite part was the brass band. They'd obviously been practicing hard and it certainly showed. They were great!

Less talking!

More dancing!