Monday, 21 June 2010

Canyoning ( take 1 )

Yesterday we got up at stupid o' clock to get to Gunma-ken for bungee jumping and canyoning. While Marion and Bryce threw themselves to their doom from the only bridge-bungee place in Japan, Ben, Kasumi and I looked on with a mixture of doubt, amusement and horror.

After that we drove to the canyoning place where we were given a safety talk and struggled into our three-layer wetsuit, plus socks, boots and helmet. We were out in the water for just 20 minutes before a thundercloud arrived, the heavens opened, and mother nature put an end to our fun, damn her leafy backside.

We managed to get some video and some pics, which I'll post here soon, but we're going to reschedule another trip to get the full experience, hopefully within a few weeks. Expect a more thrilling account of canyoning in weeks to come...

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Nagashima Spaland

Last Monday was a day off for us teachers because we worked the Saturday for sports day, so members of Iida block moseyed down to Mie-ken to sample the delightful theme park called Nagashima Spaland.

Steel Dragon! (image courtesy of the website I linked it from)

The day was very overcast with some rain, and being a weekday too there was hardly anyone at the theme park. It was as if we'd hired it for the day! So within the first 10 minutes of being there we'd been on the first rollercoaster twice, plus a tall ride that you are strapped into and shot skyward in (Ben's screams will never leave my memories).

The highlight of the day had to be the Steel Dragon, the longest rollercoaster in the world and the 5th highest. It was darn quick too, bringing tears to the eyes. Great fun though! I had to try it again... and then again...

After that we headed to Nagoya for Mexican food (yum yum yum!) then headed home, once again to the delights of She-Wolf and many other 'classic' hits, courtesy of Ben's ipod.

Los Tacos, Nagoya. Strongly recommended if you're ever in Nagoya! (image courtesy of the website I linked it from)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Sports Day

Last Saturday was the Shimoina area sports tournament. All schools in the area compete across a range of sports including football, table tennis, Japanese archery, Kendo, basketball, baseball, etc etc. The various sports took part across many schools, so I chose to visit Takamori for table tennis, then return to my school for football.

My schools football team consisted of three 3rd years in defense, the rest were 1st years. The team was awesome to watch, and kicked a local team 3-0 in their first match.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Bug City

So now Japan is starting to heat up, and it wouldn't be summer without bugs. Nowhere does giant, mutated bugs like Japan, it would seem. Although I've never really had a problem with insects in the UK, I'm starting to develop an aversion to the Japanese ones, which not only look like they could hurt, but also look like they could steal your wallet and car keys while they're at it.

Today I came home to find two big black "bee-like" things circling my front room. Thankfully the doors to it were shut, trapping them in (finding one of those on my pillow wouldn't be the best way to get to sleep at night). I managed to trap them one after the other and propel them from the window. I then double checked all small gaps in the wooden roof panelling, poking pushpins into the gaps in the hope that's where they came from.

Later in the evening I was startled by a third "bee", which seemed to materialise out of nowhere. Again, I have no problem with European bees, but these things are big and noisy! The little git refused to be caught, so I reluctantly splatted the thing with a chunk of cardboard.

I'm now going to bed in the hope that the push pins are in the right place!

*Update* Turns out the "bees"(actually just flies) are called "toilet bees" here, because they are usually found in toilets. That's just lovely. Does that mean my front room smells like a lavatory?! They are harmless though, thankfully (but that won't stop me smashing the blighters if they come back!).

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Moo when you flush

I had a rather amusing conversation with the members of my eikaiwa last night. One of them brought up one of the very many "it's strange to foreigners" facets of Japanese culture... the toilet that sounds like it's flushing, but isn't.

As my eikaiwa explained to me, in Japan it is embarrassing/shameful/undesirable for a woman to be heard using the toilet for, shall we say, "number 2." Now admittedly, if I find myself in a toilet where the likelihood of someone being disturbed by me is high (ie, the toilet has thin walls, a common occurrence in Japan) I engage the toilet for an initial flush to mask any initial sounds. A secondary flush moments later neatly concludes my business.

Now, to a Japanese person, this is quite rightly a waste of water. Obviously the initial solution was to design a flush system (which almost every toilet here has installed, including mine at home) a two-way flush system, big and small, dependent on your requirements. But presumably this wasn't enough. Yes, women were able to mask any sounds they may have made, but unfortunately it was still considered a waste of water. The solution? A toilet that plays a sound recording of a toilet being flushed at the push of a button, masking any initial noises. Afterwards a "real" flush will remove the offensive material. It's an amusing thought, but nonetheless does solve the water wastage problem.

The eikaiwa member in question told me he considered it something unusual and unique to Japanese culture, and asked me my opinion. I told him I agreed with him but had to conclude that it saved water. However, I decided to take this opportunity to suggest a slight modification should I ever be in the toilet manufacturing business in Japan in the near future.

My idea is very simple: the flushing noise should be replaced with something far more comical. Turn the embarrassing/shameful/undesirable situation into one everyone can laugh at. After all, we're only human. My suggestion of animals noises (ie "Moooo", "boooook bok bok", and "baaaaa") were met with an alarmingly large amount of laughter, side-holding and tears. I must admit to feeling rather pleased with myself at bounding across the cultural barrier to deliver a joke which received such a reaction.

So if any Japanese toilet manufacturing representatives are reading, the next time I'm out in a restaurant and need to relieve myself, I want the other patrons to believe a farmyard animal has stopped by to use the restroom. Thank you.

Shimojo trekking

On the weekend I went for a drive and a wander around Shimojo with Ben. We found an abandoned shrine and waterfall, took a nice walk along a little river, and visited a temple, which although at first was closed, we were soon invited in to look around by the family who looked after it. We were then fed and given tea! Only in Japan!


Abandoned shrine

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


On Friday I headed up to Nagano city for the Disorientation and to say goodbye to the JETs who are leaving. Although I don't know many of them that well, I have shared laughs and drinks with them at the various JET meetings over the past year, and I will be sorry to see some of them go. It goes without saying that I wish them all the best, and I wonder which ones I'll get to see again in the future...