Thursday, March 31, 2005

Presumably served in a dungeon. S&M comes to Okayama city. Or not. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Overcoming the language barrier

Now, I started learning Japanese almost two years ago, the pace has been slow, and I have a hell of a way to go, but I am still frequently surprised at how with my little Japanese or with someone else's bit of English and some gestures, it is fairly easy to communicate with people in this country. In a whole variety of situations. And boy do I mean a WHOLE variety of situations.

Take monday for example. The town's board of education is merging with 5 others from local areas, so we had to pack up and move. I was doing my best to be helpful, but I am not well versed in the Japanese vocabulary necessary for moving house, so it was a bit difficult, until one of the senior members of staff began to point and gesture. Not only did he clearly signal what he wanted moved, and where to, we all found it quite hilarious and laughed a lot.

Another example is saturday. I was in the city, I'd had coffee with Fiona and done some shopping, and had some time to kill. So I decided to explore. Naturally this means going somewhere you haven't really spent much time in, so I headed to the city's red-light district. My my. It was daytime, so nothing much was going on, although it was still, clearly, a bit seedy. And as I walked down roads looking around, the last thing I expected was a man to jump off his bike and start talking to me in Japanese. He was a bar owner. And he wanted to tell me about his bar. In Japanese. With a few English words. It turns out his bar has girls. Well, it wouldn't be much use in the red-light district otherwise. Apparently the girls do something, but I don't understand the word. Oh, hang on, it's gesture time. He's making fish mouth. Oh... And now he's getting on his knees so his head is at about crotch level to mine (thankfully at safe distance). Eh? . He is pointing to the picture of the girls and makes the fish mouth again. And he rocks his head backwards and forwards... oh... OH! 10,000 yen for 40 minutes (I understood that bit, no diagram needed). And then he stands up and starts thrusting his pelvis, gesturing "no" at the same time. Yeah, you don't have to worry mister. They will not be coming into contact with my trouser area or any other of my areas thank you very much. I made excuses- "I have to meet my friends" only for him to show me a picture of an Italian woman who didn't quite have a fishmouth but had silicone bosoms and an excess of make-up. And hopefully some mouthwash. Managing to escape after a quick fire round of friendly questions to the foriegner I headed back to the city centre thinking of nice things like flowers and puppies and OH!

The rest of the weekend passed without event. An evening in Kurashiki with LeeJay and her American guest, more shopping on Sunday and then the fun bus home. You can't really top fish mouth in the street in the daylight, can you? Lord, I hope not, because if you can, I'm sure it'll happen here. To me.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Springtime in Katsuyama. If it gets any warmer it'll feel like winter. Photo taken this morning at 7:25, 25th March 2005.Posted by Hello

Springtime comes to Katsuyama

Or at least I'm told it does. No-one seems sure when though. It's bloody well snowing. Again. The weather's yoyo-ing like Oprah's weight, and next week temperatures will allegedly be between 15 and 18 degrees, as opposed to the 4 degrees it is now. And then it'll snow again. Probably. It would have been nice to have some sunny warm weather as both LeeJay and Amy have visitors from America who arrived yesterday to a snowy Okayama greeting.

This week has been rather busy, with a tuesday-night dinner-and-movie session at LeeJay's (is she trying to seduce me? Not with 'Bring it on'...), then wednesday night at Amy's with LeeJay and Amy's friend Reiko, where I cooked dinner and we then pilfered things and helped throw things out as Amy is leaving in 6 days. On wednesday I bought lots of veg, made a monster curry and Christine came round to help me eat it.

Katsuyama is merging with nearby towns to form a city, so from March 31st we will be living in Maniwa city. The city without a city. So all Katsuyama residents got a commemorative book in the mail (50 years of Katsuyama- don't know what happened before) and a purple rayon cloth. Neither Christine nor I could figure out what to use the cloth for, other than as a funeral shroud on March 31st. Bye bye Katsuyama!

And speaking of goodbyes, today is the last day of this school year in Japan. And all the schools play musical chairs with the teachers. I think 5 of mine are going, but I really don't know for sure. I'll find out in 2 weeks when someone else is sat at their desks. But one thing I do know is that in bars in Japan they put vodka in with gin and tonic, which I why I keep getting nasty hangovers. Must be a mafia thing. Bloody Russians.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Riverside shopping centre, Kokura. Situated directly opposite the castle. I can't tell which is more beautiful... Posted by Hello

Akamu-Jingu, Shinmonoseki Posted by Hello

Kokura castle Posted by Hello

I feel the earth move under my feet

I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down. Except not really. I did feel the apartment move under my hands and knees and thus also under my feet, but fortunately the sky didn't come tumbling down. That may have been too much excitement for one morning. At least two questions I had previously pondered were answered for me, the first being are earthquakes scarier than typhoons? The answer is a clear cut "yes". Yes. Yes. YES. YES. The second question, "will a tremendous shock cure a hangover?" The answer, unfortunately is "no". Although you don't really worry so much about vomiting when things are falling off tables and shelves around you. I will explain this chain of events later ("what's to explain?" you ask- "the earth shook, you shook", but there is more...)

The week had been a good one. No lessons at school, so it was all very quiet. A couple of nights in, and a Thursday night St-Patrick's-Day birthday celebration for AbSlance. I had spent the day indulging in Choclit as did LeeJay as she drove us to Shingo-cho where MsLance lives, and we troughed till the sun went down and beyond. Phil and ChoLyn came too and we had a Japanese smorgasboard (except we didn't really as no such thing exists. We really just ate lots of types of Japanese food) and as I squeezed copious amounts of mayonaise onto my yaki-udon noodles, I realised that a surplus of fat in my diet may be causing the surplus of fat on me. Oops.

Thursday night was a long one as I did not sleep. At all. Whenever I stood up I felt exhausted. Whenever I lay down I felt agitated. Whenever I did a gymnastics/ yoga style bridge, I felt the floor. "What fun!" I didn't think. But I did think, "I can't go to school today" as it was Friday by this point. And so I didn't. And I slept from 9am to 3:50 pm (strangely, 12am to 6:50am UK time. Hmm.) And in the evening LeeJay and AbSlance and I went to RayVon's for a night in.

Saturday was a big travelling day, as I met up with 3 other ALTs from my area, Amy, D and G, and we went to Shimonoseki, where Amy used to live. Shimonoseki is on another Japanese Island, Kyushu, whereas we now live on Honshu. We met up with her friend Yuka, and later also Rod, and started our sightseeing with a trip to a port in Moji where we ate dinner and then to a bar, and then onto a karaoke marathon. Midnight till 6am. Too much drinking, and too much singing later we were at home passed out. I woke up at 10:30 on Sunday morning wondering why I had yet another hangover (gin never did this to me in England) and lay there between sleep and consciousness (or whatever else you call being not asleep). And then at 10:50 it all went very odd. The apartment where we staying (on the sixth floor) started shaking. Badly. And it didn't stop. The five of us were suddenly all looking at each other, each with the same expression on our faces, one that read "what... is ... happening....SHIT!" and we all stayed where we were with pictures sliding off walls and things slipping off tables until it finished. My first earthquake. There's one for the family album. 2 things. (1) Later news reports stated that if that earthquake had happened in Tokyo, 12,000 would have been killed. It measured between 6.4 and 7 on the seismic scale, but fortunately the epicentre was 70km from where we were and was in the sea, although 16 houses on one island were destroyed, one person killed and 400 injured. (2) The apartment we were staying in was Yuka's boyfriend's. His name is Matt and he was away. After the earthquake, Amy picked up one of the pictures that had fallen and showed me Matt. Who I recognised from university. He had dated a friend's housemate for a long time. It's a small world after all...

Anyway, we had to cancel some of our plans (I had vague plans to visit Fukuoka, but all public transport was closed), and to be honest Amy and I were too hungover anyway. So in the early evening we drove up a mountain and saw a beautiful sunset and took photos. And then went to a beautiful temple that was near the seafront and took pictures. Then we went for dinner and saw Bridget Jones 2. And we didn't take pictures. But the next morning, I wandered round the grounds of Kokura castle and took pictures. And then as I took pictures in the Riverside shopping centre (beautifully modern) I managed to delete all the others I'd taken. Bugger.

The drive home was a long one, and we got back around midnight. Another interesting weekend over. Next weekend sees the astonishing return of my old best friend- Choclit. I shall not be reporting hangovers next week, instead it will be minor heart attacks and diabetes as I over-indulge once again. Yay!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Roots. Not just an award winning drama series. Now a canned drink. Posted by Hello

granny bike of evil intentions Posted by Hello

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hello God, are you trying to tell me something?

Last week's river-falling-in-while-on-bike incident came as a slight surprise to me, and made me think perhaps someone's telling me not to get too cocky (I'd just emailed an aunt informing her specifically that I could now ride a bike and wave at someone without steering in the wrong direction. Obviously this is now not true- sorry Aunty El!). Now I'm beginning to get what's really going on, although this might start to sound a bit thought disordered and psychotic. Last night while on the phone to me ma, the topic of sleep came up and I said, "yeah, I'm sleeping better than I have done since I arrived here", and as if on cue, I didn't get to sleep until 4am. Whoo. Not. And again today, as I get on my bike thinking I'm fine and biking's not that hard, my foot slips off the pedal and straight into the spokes of the moving front wheel. Ow. Ow. OOOW! I wonder, am I taking things for granted? If so, I figure these must be gentle warnings. If they were harsh warning I'd have broken my arm in the river last week, not slept at all last night and broken my foot this morning. I really don't think it's fair though. I haven't eaten chocolate since 1864 and I certainly am not fornicating (chance would be a fine thing) so I haven't a clue what to do next. Other than stop taking things for granted before my microwave reduces my apartment to a lump of molten plastic and my bike goes kamikaze on the mountain road to Kuse.

Other than these concerns things have been fine. The weekend was a busy one as it was an early celebration of the birthday of AbSlance (a St Patrick's day child, although one that has nothing to do snakes or any other such reptile). Dinner and lots of drinks at the restaurant where we bonded in August and then onto the Red Moon bar in the red light district which was surprisingly nice and had a good, wide range of drinks. We made a show of ourselves (again) by dancing alluringly/ stupidly (depending on where you were watching from) and then drank some more.

Saturday was a busy shopping day for me while the others recovered and our plans to go to the cinema had to be aborted thanks to a huge traffic jam which made me wonder if I was in Japan or at junction 7 of the M25.

Sunday was haircut day when I finally found the elusive/ mythical English speaking hairdresser, who scored instant points by getting excited because I am British and then scored bonus points by giving me the best haircut I've had since I arrived here. And then AbSlance and I made our second cinema trip in Japan to watch the Phantom Of The Opera. I've seen the musical and thought it was great, but I enjoyed the film too. While the musical wins for atmosphere and just sheer force (producing the music live, the stunning effects) the film wins points for having men with not too much make-up on. It also loses points for a large part of the Phantom's hair disappearing and a big strawberry birthmark suddenly extending itself once his mask is cruelly ripped off by that greedy little slattern Christine. I've been dying to use the word slattern for ages.

I think my computer may have recovered from it's sudden hatred of my DVDs and it's desire to kill them all through death-by-scratching. Thanks to my brother's advice it appears that this hatred may actually have been towards sesame seeds lodged in the DVD-drive, but I shall wait and see before I make my final judgment, and if Buffy series 3 disc 2 soon stops working, I shall dash said computer against the rocks. Or maybe buy a new DVD drive. Whichever works out cheaper...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Busy Katsuyama. Spot the young person. Posted by Hello

Kanba no taki- loads of monkeys and it was a lot greener than this picture shows. Posted by Hello

dolls in a beercan setting Posted by Hello

dolls in a palace setting Posted by Hello

dolls in a red setting

dolls a Posted by Hello

And it was only after I'd said "Ohayo" and waved hello...

that I realised the front wheel of my bike had left solid ground and was plummeting headfast down a 3 foot drop into water. Oops. Not the way to start a tuesday morning. The reason that I left the pavement and fell into a stream (not my shoddy cycling of course) is that I hadn't slept well, was too slow to make breakfast, and so had to buy something at Lawson's which led me to the Board of Education where I saw the cleaner and waved hello with my left hand and steered off the pavement with my right. That's co-ordination for you. In a shock of movement, I scrabbled off my bike grabbing bag and gloves from the granny basket and landed on the pavement. Still, as I said to my supervisor "the day can't get any worse". And it didn't. I had a great day at elementary. The tumble must have shocked me as I agreed to play with the kids at lunch time (I forgot how much fun it is playing six-year old's games! Up that climbing frame, ho!) and then played funny French sports in clubs after school. And I enjoyed it. Therefore I must have some psychotic disorder and am checking into hospital this weekend.

The week had been a good one too- a few nights out including a trip to karaoke with Christine and LeeJay and then at the weekend, Doll Festival (O-Hina Matsuri- no, it's nothing to do with the Irish).

Dolls are big in Japan. Not in the size way- they're traditional and all girls are given dolls when they are born. A firstborn will get a big set based on the heirarchy of the old Japanese Imperial system- emporer, his wife, kids, servants, courtiers, stalkers, benefit fraudsters, drunken chauffeurs (oh hang on, that's the UK royal family), etc. And my town found a way to milk it! Yay for enginuity! From the 3rd to the 7th of March every year, Katsuyama's shops and houses display dolls in their windows amongst various other places. Many are old (we saw some from the 1930s), many are home made (little cloth ones hanging from trees like rapists in redneck land) and lots are hideous (the bigger they were the more they'd been molded out of plastic using the ugly stick). So with such a tempting proposition facing them, our friends Busty, Cho-Lyn and Claire came to visit Katsuyama.

They arrived on Saturday afternoon to be greeted by traditional spring weather (rain) and we looked around the town. It was great for me and Christine as often the shops appear to be closed, or simply their doors are shut, so we never knew what was going on. But at doll festival we were able to have a good old poke about. Some were great (the light shop where all the shades are handcrafted from metal and glass) and some were crap (the agricultural supplies shop- home to the world's biggest witch's brooms). Well, you can only look at dolls for so long, so we went and had tea in a shop that I thought was a house. And then Nao-chan met us and took us to Kamba waterfall (Kanba no taki). This was one of the most beautiful places I have seen in a long time. Still very wintery, it had tonnes of character, not to mention around 200 monkeys which were feeding, fighting and mating (as monkeys tend to do when people go to watch them). And to increase the "isn't it purdy" factor, it snowed thick and fast. Beautiful!

Nao chan then took us to Katsuyama's castle which was shut. It also wasn't exactly a castle, more a sturdy gift shop with old wooden fencing attached. I had been expecting archaelogical excitement and history, so Nao chan laughed when I commented "Is this it? It's not very old." Apparently the fences are 300 years old. My Dad needs to come and investigate. His fences rarely last 10 years. And in our now underwhelmed state we headed to a party at Nao chan's. 6 of us westerners, 5 Japanese and lots of food and drink in a very nice house is now my idea of a good time.

Sunday was a lazy day, LeeJay had tea at mine and then Monday we did revolving sushi and Karaoke. I think the whole cycling into the river may have been punishment for Karaoke on Monday night. I made my friends listen to me singing "no limits" by 2 Unlimited. Hell, I'm surprised they didn't push me in the river themselves...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Capsule life. Complete with radio and TV and nice sliding shutter. And porno TV brochure. Posted by Hello

Christmas in Osaka. Oh, hang on, it's february 26th. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hey hey hey! Wait a minute!

Isn't it funny how sometimes you really don't know what you're saying. For a long time now I have said "oi oi" as a kind of exclamation (despite my not being Jewish), and this continued in Japan. When people said things I was mildly surpised at, they got an "oi oi". Well, it turns out "oi oi" is also a Japanese phrase meaning "what!? Wait a minute!". Apparently it's a manly term (what else would you expect from me?) but this doesn't help the fact that I've been using it to Japanese people without thinking. I have told my supervisor to "wait a minute" on numerous occassions as well as his boss and his boss's boss. And probably half the town.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

shiza shistasu, pod-life and rabid labradors

Yay! Mania mania mania!

By the time last Friday came I was worried I would be too exhausted to enjoy the Scissor Sisters concert, having had only 3 hours sleep for 3 nights in a row, 5 the night before that, 3 the night before that, etc... (you get the picture). And then I found out I had to get the bus to Osaka at 7:18am- AM! I nearly cried! So after another crap night of sleep and a 3 hour bus journey I arrived in the city. A few hours mooching around shops and cafes later, we'd all met up and were on our way. Part of the deal with this trip was that it was Saddam's birthday, and she was probably the most excited by far although we weren't sure what to expect. Well, being Japan things were done differently. The concert was in a small club (size- 800 people) and the doors opened at 6pm. Early, we thought. And when we got there we were told that you had to queue in order of your ticket number, so we made a vague attempt to find our place in the queue and then some nice people just let us push in. So we got in, got a drink, started dancing to the really cool music the DJ was playing (all electroclash stuff), bumped into people we knew from the Tokyo orientation (there was a heavy western quotient at the concert) and at 7pm, the Scissor Sisters came on.

Now I'd not heard the Scissor Sisters album before the concert. I had heard their singles way before they were popular and liked them, but somehow missed out on buying the album. And I didn't hesitate in buying it after the show. They were amazing. I thought I'd have a good time, but the two leads, Jake Shears and Ms Ana Matronik were charismatic, cool, and obviously having a real good time. And the small club made it feel like it was one big party. The Japanese crowd was excellent too. A lot of us wondered how they would react, given our stereotyped images of Japanese people, but they were crazy and really got into it.

And then it was 8:45 and it was over. In my head it felt like 11:30, but it was only 8:45. So we went to a cafe place that sold western food (sandwiches, fry-ups, and the like) and it was good. But too small for our group, so many had to stand. From there we went to a nasty bar full of hungry looking western men and western girls dressed like hookers who made an effort to look especially cheap and trashy. No, I didn't like it. And I wasn't the only one. Yay! Then it was onto a club where, it seemed, lots of people from the bar had gone. Fortunately the company was great throughout, otherwise it would have been horrible. A few of us left around 1:45 and headed back to the capsule hotel. This was hilarious. A 6 foot long pod (maybe 3 feet high?) with radio and TV (complete with "adult" channels- and I don't mean CNN when I say that) and a nice roller-blind door. You put your stuff in a locker which contains towels and nightwear (a Japanese robe) and shuffle around in indoor slippers. They have an onsen-bath, showers and a sauna, you can check in at 3 and you leave at 10 am. All for the bargain price of 12pounds and 50pee. Cheaper than a youth hostel. I'll be back.

After a day with Kathleen on Sunday and a sleep filled bus journey, and then 8 hours of sleep in my own bed (hurray! Hurrah!) it was Monday night and time for dance. AbSlance picked me up on the way to Johanna's via Marui supermarket to buy food. Leaving Marui we drove past a restaurant car park where a woman was slumped on the ground and a dog was standing around her, as if protecting her. And people were looking from their cars and doing nothing, so we pulled up and ran, thinking she needed help. She wasn't unconscious, and somehow I managed to ask in Japanese, "do you need an ambulance" while AbSlance started dialing. She didn't. The dog had moved away, but was now barking, and then she said something and it made sense. She was scared of the dog who must have pushed her to the ground and she stayed there to play dead hoping he'd leave her alone. So, realising the dog was far enough away, she stumbled to the restaurant to alert someone. Meanwhile the dog (it was a lovely black labrador) came back wagging it's tail with a big raised strip of hair on it's back. Ooh, it's angry. AbSlance realised before I did that the dog wasn't best pleased- I was too busy smiling at it and making stupid noises. But I think that may have helped because it barked and came right up to me but didn't actually do anything to me and then lost interest when I was walking away slowly. As we got back in the car some men from the restaurant cam out and tied it back up- it had broken free from where it was chained.

After that bit of excitement dance class was a good way to relax. And yay! I slept again! Except I overslept, despite my alarm going off at 6:50am, I pressed snooze so many times it decided it had had enough, and then I woke up at 7:50. Oops! 10 minutes late and feeling exhausted. What a way to start the day!