About Me

maker, creative, living lightly, local, craft, minimalism, and taking joy in the small things

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Farewell Japan

I have arrived back in Australia now, actually I'm now back in Canberra, having spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne with my family. So I suppose I have had a good chance to reflect on my time in Japan.

To begin with I obviously learnt a lot. I had to learn a fair amount of spoken Japanese to get by everyday in my small town. I also had to learn how to use spare time. I don't think I have ever had that much spare time in my life, and I doubt it will occur again. I learnt how to hold my tongue, how to read people who say "yes" regardless of whether they mean yes, no or maybe. I learnt how to bow (and am having trouble stopping). I learnt how to choose my friends - wanting to avoid really sickly sweet girly girls. I learnt how to spend long periods of time without speaking English, or speaking at all early on in my year before I had learnt much Japanese. I learnt to rely heavily on the idea of 'it will all work out' and to trust people when they say they are going to do something to help - usually involving filling out forms for me in Japanese.

Of course, there are heaps of things that I am going to miss. I am going to miss the food, and the travel opportunities - a large part of that is that living in Japan can actually be cheap, cheaper than living in Australia! I am going to miss how safe Japan is, though I tried to avoid feeling too safe. There were other JETs who didn't lock their bikes, or their apartment front doors, but I tried to keep up all my good habits (coming from somewhere less safe than Japan). I loved my bike, and it's super useful basket. Also, I am definitely going to miss living on the beach, and the Japanese summer. I grew very used to the humidity, and in July just gone I was far more comfortable than I was in the August last year, when I had just arrived.

I am going to miss my friends, though I have great excuses to do some serious (english speaking) world travel. Carla and Melody, from Missouri, became my friends in winter, and probably saved me from being so down in winter. I really valued my Japanese friends who persevered with English for my benefit, rather than making me feel like they only wanted me around to practice their English. I loved having friends/pseudo-family who didn't speak English at all, and were patient enough to let me speak very slow Japanese. I found it far easier to understand them rather than reply, but it was great that they helped with my Japanese, without making me feel like an idiot!

I am not going to miss the Japanese winter, and their backwards ideas of heating. I did not enjoy winter, and being cold all the time probably made me feel unhappy to be in Japan. I am also not going to miss seeing the school kids and their crazy school hours. Really, I just feel sorry for them, not having a chance to have 'unplanned' time. I am also glad to blend in with people around me back in Australia. No matter how long a foreigner lives in Japan, how competent they become at the language, they will always stand out on looks alone. With only 12 foreigners in Hagi (population 50,000) I was always noticed. Whilst there were benefits, the disadvantages were pretty extreme (ending up on the cover of the local magazine was probably the worst moment).

I definitely want to return to Japan, for holidays, and probably to live. I really enjoyed holidaying in many big cities of Japan. My favourite was definitely Tokyo, but I would also love to live in Osaka, Hiroshima or Fukuoka. However, I think it's time to spend some time in Australia first!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Some TDL Love!

On our last night in Tokyo (for all 4 of us together) we went out to Tokyo Disneyland for the night. If you go out there after 6pm then it is only $30, as opposed to close to $60 for a full day pass. To be honest, I probably couldn't have lasted a whole day and night out there - too many screaming kids, though being Japanese kids they didn't really scream that much!

Basically we arrived at 6pm to make the most of our starlight pass, and rushed to a couple of rides after admiring the Disney Castle. Actually, TDL is an exact replica of the original Disney Land in America, so TDL is the 2nd happiest place on earth! We went on a Wild West rollercoaster, and then the Pirates of the Carribean ride - some of the animatronics were amazing!!!

After that the plan had been to find dinner - around 7.15pm by this time - but the queues for the parade were building up, so we grabbed a spot. Being Japanese, all the families had brought tarps to sit on. We, being foreign, had not, so a TDL staff member rushed over with maps of the park for us to sit on, rather than sitting on the clean ground. The best part about the parade was that everyone stayed seated! It meant that we could all see really easily, and that it didn't get too hot!

The parade is called 'Dream Lights' - all the floats are covered in thousands of LED lights so everything sparkles! The characters' costumes are also covered in the lights, as were the costumes of the dancers who were dancing in between each float. Where the character was played by a human being they spoke English - usually the actors are foreigners anyway - but the mechanical creatures that spoke talked in Japanese. It was so funny listening to Winnie the Pooh and Nemo speaking Japanese.

As the parade drew to a close we got up and RAN to the queue for Big Thunder Mountain - in the end we only had to wait 20 mins - we had checked out the ride before the parade and the queue was at least 80 minutes! After that ride we ran some more, pretty much across the park, to get to Space Mountain, where once again the queue was tiny - this time way less than 2o mins.

So in 4 hours we managed 4 rides and to see the parade, so I think we did pretty well in terms of getting value from the pass. Of course on the way out we had to do some shopping! The shops were so full that as people were taking things from the shelves there were staff members restocking the shelves! insanity! Katie and I bought Minnie Mouse ears!

Saturday, 9 August 2008


I was going to write about how awesome Tokyo DisneyLand was, but right now I am annoyed about checking in to get home!

So, MONTHS ago I booked a direct flight from Narita (TKY) to Melbourne, and paid for it. Then about 4 weeks ago my travel agent contacted me and said I had to be re-routed through Sydney, with 1 hour and 20 mins to make the connection, including customs/immigration etc. Was not happy, but Qantas aren't flying direct to Melbourne anymore apparently, or at least they weren't today or yesterday. So I said fine, and just hoped that the customs thing would work.

When I came to Japan we were allowed 1 hand bag, a laptop and a small suitcase as carry on luggage. Today, when I checked in, I was told I was only allowed 1 piece, despite the people ahead of me carrying on a pram and 3 bags between 2 people. She wanted me to pay $540 to check in the mini-case, as if! So basically I just was entirely unhelpful and appeared on the verge of a nervous breakdown and she kept making more suggestions that would be cheaper. Finally it got to the stage where I had to remove my laptop from its bag, and wrap it in a towel and put it in a plastic bag and promise to put it inside my mini suitcase at the departure gate. I had to put the laptop bag into my checked suitcase (making it 28kg!).

Also, I am not allowed to wear my thongs onboard the plane. I also had to promise to change into shoes at the departure gate. Obviously, my intention is to do neither.

However, now I feel I would be pushing it too far if I buy duty free stuff here, so may just get it in Sydney... But I may also just get it here and put it in my mini case - which does have room in it, rather than put my laptop in it!

Am also worried that when I check into my domestic (Melb to Syd) that they will crack it over the amount of luggage I have. Well they can just deal with it, after all I wasn't supposed to have to make that change!

Aaahh, so annoyed with stupid Qantas.

Tokyo, how I love thee

I really love Tokyo. Really. I would LOVE to live here. I mean, I do love BIG cities, but I think Tokyo is so much fun. Anyway, enough of that.

The girls and I arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon, after a 5 hour train ride (including a half hour break in the middle at Osaka). We easily found our hostel, given I had been here before, and Ange, Katie & I left Erin to sleep whilst we walked up to Senso-ji - the big Buddhist temple near here.

The temple was packed, as always, though in the heat people weren't lingering so long. After we saw the temple we went shopping! Or rather, the other 2 went shopping! We found a reused Kimono shop, where we spent serious time, and Ange spent serious money! Ange got a Kimono and a jacket, and Katie bought 2 jackets. I tried some on... of course, but didn't buy anything.

We went back to the hostel, and as usual had another shower, and then all 4 of us went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - free view over Tokyo. When you are up there at night it really feels like Tokyo is so ginormous, as the lights stretch so far!

On Friday we did some shopping in the morning. I know it sounds like we're doing a lot of shopping this trip, but we're browsing a lot of the time, really! Or buying things for other people! I promise!

Then we went to Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's restaurant. I had made a reservation ages ago, but no one on staff spoke much English the day I called so I wasn't able to get more directions that which subway stop to get off at. This meant it took us ages to find the restaurant, and once there we were hot & sweaty - what a surprise.

Katie and I decided to live dangerously, and ordered the lunch set meal, a menu I could only read about half of. The other 2 (avoiding seafood) ordered meals, and they were fabulous! Ange says Beef with Oyster sauce is ruined forever! Anyway, Katie and I had a 6 course lunch - small courses though! We started off with sea cucumber, which has a texture that is really strange, but the taste was so good that we just kept chewing! The other courses were: beef with miso paste, spicy prawns, mushroom soup, chicken with amazing oniony sauce & chilli tofu. Katie and I agree that the beef & prawns tie for number 1!

Our waiter was really funny. He spoke some English, but it was really strange, so I swapped over to Japanese, and just translated for the others. He was really worried that things would be too spicy, or something, or that 1 soup came out before the other (Ange's before K & I) even though K & I had the set, and the others just had ordered individual dishes! Then he offered to take a pic of all 4 of us together, and insisted on doing 1 photo with each of our cameras!

Oh, K & I also had a dessert course - some kind of jelly, but the spoon even came chilled!

After that we did some book shopping - for the plane - then headed back to the hostel, to quickly change for Tokyo Disneyland! However, that will be the subject of my next post, as I am off for my next adventure now!

August 6th in Hiroshima

Ever since Faye told me about her experience in Hiroshima on August 6th, I've wanted to go there for the Peace Day ceremonies. I had thought that I would go last year, but I think that was a bit optimistic - I had only arrived in Hagi 6 days earlier! However, this year I was determined to go - and told Erin, Ange and Katie that I was doing that before they even booked their plane tickets!

We got into Hiroshima the afternoon before (5th). I had had an easy run in from Osaka, but the other 3 had gone mental criss-crossing Japan (coming via both Himeji and Miyajima) so they were tired. Hence, the evening of the 5th was a quiet one. I suppose that wasn't bad given the early morning that awaited us.

We left the hostel around 6.30am, grabbed breakfast at 7-11 and headed over to the Peace Memorial Park to try and get seats in the shade for the 8am ceremony. Luckily the unassigned seats were under marquees, though ages away from the front (as would be expected). You weren't allowed to take photographs during the ceremony, but I really think that it is unphotographable (if that is a word). It's really about the speeches, and listening to the music. What surprised me was that both the Japanese PM and the UN Secretary General were there and there was practically no security. Before the ceremony we attempted to fold paper cranes to add to the pile - but the directions were a LOT confusing. All 4 of us eventually managed it, but they certainly weren't terribly attractive.

Probably my favourite part of the ceremony was when the doves were released. They stayed in their flock as they flew overhead, and it was quite beautiful. All the speeches, except that of the Japanese PM, were provided in the opposite language (Japanese-English I mean) so it was easy to understand what was going on.

After the ceremony we went into the museum. It was insanely busy. Seriously. Luckily I had been through before, and had only recently been to Nagasaki, so I knew a lot of it, but the other 3 took a while, so they could actually read the information at each exhibit. I just waited in a/c comfort, so I was fine.

Some shopping, and lunch ensued, and then we decided to go to Hiroshima Castle. Actually Katie wanted to go early in the day, but then was tired, as were the other 2, so I was going to go by myself, but all 3 of them talked themselves into coming! It was so hot in Hirosh, and we were so sweaty by the time we got to the castle - even though we only had to walk a few blocks from the tram stop. It wasn't even humidity that was making it uncomfortable, lately it has been really hot in Japan, and the sun is strong!

The castle was totally rebuilt, given it was flattened by the A-bomb. However, in their infinite kindness, the Hiroshima City Council (or whatever it is called) decided to build it down the bottom of a mountain, so at least we didn't have to climb up just to get into the castle. The castle is refurbished, vaguely correctly, for the middle floors (2, 3 & 4). The 1st (ground) floor is just the ticket booth, and on the 5th floor there are just seats and vending machines!

In the castle we dressed Katie up as a samurai, and she almost died from overheating whilst wearing it. I think it was all polyester, so it was sweaty when she took it off, so I saw no need to put it on!

We went back to the hostel, all sweaty again, and showered before heading back to the Peace Park for the lantern floating. We got there around 6pm and made lanterns, and set them off down the river. Then we just settled in to watch them, and all the people, as it got dark. Finally we rounded off the day with a great dinner - the highlight of which was some salmon sushi for Katie and I (the other 2 don't eat seafood, their loss!)

I am so glad I went to Hirosh for August 6th. Despite the ridiculous amounts of sweating we did, it really was a great day.

The only thing that remains unanswered in my mind is about the pilot who actually dropped the A-bomb. It's not that I want to send him hate mail, rather I am interested to know how it changed his life. Given most army (etc) people return from war changed in some irreversible way, I wonder how this event changed that pilot's life. I wonder if his family knows, what his kids think (if the has kids). However, for many great reasons, his name remains unknown.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Kyoto, you lose

Well, I spent less than 24 hours in Kyoto this visit. Already it has been demoted to my fifth favourite city in Japan. (1. Tokyo, 2. Osaka, 3. Hirosh, 4. Fukuoka, 5. Kyoto)

The blonde brigade (Geoff's name for them) and I played in the Kyoto station, and Erin coped with her fear of heights to go up and down the vertigo inducing escalators with us. Of course, her reward was a choice between the two 11 storey shopping malls attached to Kyoto Station. Once again, Angela got a bit 'spendy' but as she rightly points out, she has been waiting for this trip for a long time, and doesn't know when she will come back, so who cares if she buys a few souvenirs???

We went to our hostel, which was K's House Kyoto, the nicest one we will stay in the whole trip! I stayed just one night (Sunday night) and the other 3 are staying for a 2nd night.

Anyway, we went to the hamburg/ice cream restaurant that the boys & I ate at in Spring vacation. In Spring the boys and I shared 2 ice creams between the 3 of us, but we decided to have 1 each... maybe because we would never be able to agree on just 3 I guess! After ice cream we of course had to go and do karaoke! We managed to put it on a setting that gave us a score after each song, and Katie & I topped the list doing Ashlee Simpson! We got 92 (out of 100 we hope). Karaoke was also a good time for the girls to try some sake. Don't think any of them really liked it, but Erin said after a few sips it was drinkable!

Sunday, 3 August 2008


Angela was meant to come to Japan in the spring break with the boys, and had desperately wanted to go to Nara. When her knee surgery/blood clot meant she couldn't come, the boys and I nixed Nara from our itinerary. However, I am glad that we went this time! We only really spent a day there - the Lonely Planet recommends 2 but given that most of Nara's sites are outside ones and that it is so hot we really just picked the highlights.

At our hostel we had a palace! We had an 8-bed futon room for the 4 of us, so we were really able to spread out! It was a little out of the centre of town, but so was the other option, so we just had to take buses in and out for sightseeing and dinner. We spent most of our full day in Nara at the park. we started out by eating our breakfast along way away from the overly friendly deer! There were little carts from which you buy biscuits to feed the deer, but as soon as someone had purchased the plastic wrapped biscuits the deer would attempt to eat the biscuits plastic and all, and then the person's clothes, and bag! The other 3 girls all petted the deer and ended up with smelly hands, so I just looked at them!

In the park there are a lot of little temples and shrines. We stopped to look at the outside of most, but only went into Todaiji - which is where the big buddha is housed. The buddha is about 20m high, and there are a few other mega statues in the building as well. There is a piece of wood, like an oversized tree stump that has a hole the size of the buddha's nostril cut through it. You are meant to wiggle through and then get good luck! Of course, little kids were doing it left, right and centre, but Angela saw an adult manage it!

The temple I think is one of the largest wooden structures in Japan, if not the world, and it is amazing how long it has been standing - given most sites in Japan are concrete refurbishments following WWII bombing or earthquake damage!

In Nara I managed to introduce the girls to some more Japanese food - Omrice which is an omelette wrapped around fried rice and Umeshu, a plum wine! Also, for dinner on the 2nd night in Nara we found an Italian restaurant and I had pizza with capers, anchovies and OLIVES! I love olives... I think I have already mentioned it many times, but the first thing I eat back in Australia will be olives! And I'm not fussy, I will eat any and ALL types of olives! Hint, hint!

Nara was much bigger and more industrial/urban than I had expected, though the park does take up a large proportion of the downtown/central area. However, when you get off the train it does just feel like most cities in Japan.

First Stop: Osaka

Katie and I took a bus/train from Hagi - sneakily rode the Nozomi caerd despite the fact that Katie, with her JHR pass, wis not supposed to ride those super fast trains for free - the JR pass can only use the slow and medium speed bullet trains - not that they are very slow! We ended up at the hostel shortly after 4pm and met Erin and Ange who had arrived much earlier!

We decided to head off to Spa World. It is an 8 floor building at the top of which there is a 'family' swimming area - meaning that swimsuits are required! There are a couple of waterslides, a couple of rooftop spas and a big swimming pool - actually it's more like a ring of a pool - there are all kinds of toys/equipment to play with in the middle. It was really nice being outside in the rooftop spa whilst day turned to night. After we got out of the pool we weren't allowed to go into the locker room wet - they expected everyone to strip off in the elevator lobby (women on the 4th floor, men on the 6th) and then walk over to the lockers. Even the Japanese girls who got told to do it at the same time as us looked a little surprised! Katie, Ange and I got dressed there, but Erin was a hussy and walked through the locker room half naked!

Whilst in Osaka we also went to the castle, which has been immaculately restored on the outside, and then inside it is all airconditioned, and the exhibits are museum quality! Outside of the castle, so people could cool down, you could sit under a small marquee and have mist spray on you - so nice in the 35 degree weather! We also went up to the top of the Umeda Sky Building, which has an amazing view of Osaka/Kobe - no idea where one city ends and the next begins! The building has got such reflective glass windows that if you stand in the right place it looks as though there are 3 floating observatory decks! Getting up to the deck is pretty fun - there is a glass lift most of the way, and then the final 5 floors are ascended via a glass escalator that goes diagonally up between the 2 towers!

We also went to Amerika-mura - or as Katie likes to call it 'America World'. It's basically a Japanese interpretation of teen America, filled with crazy Japanese fashion! Out there was also the Rock n Roll museum - a shop with some pretty amazing rock memorabilia.

We managed to try some osaka style okonomiyaki, and we will have the hiroshima style once we are in Hiroshima.

The Osaka heat/humidity was a bit of a shock to Ange and Erin - Katie had already spent 3 days in Hagi by this stage so was vaguely acclimatised. But I think that they are dealing with it quite well! Of course, I told them how hot it would be, and how humid, but I guess they thought I was exaggerating! Although, I don't think you can truly understand a Japanese summer until you have lived through it, and as this is my 2nd I am dealing with it quite well!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

On my way....

Well after a year, to the day, being in Japan it is time for me to begin my slow journey home. Honestly, I have had so many farewell parties and last days at school that I have felt like I have been on the verge of leaving for a while. Also, I haven't really been sad yet. There are definitely people I will miss, and who I want to see again, but I'm not worried about missing them yet. I guess when I came to Japan I didn't have anyone who was waiting to see me, but when I return to Australia I have all my friends and family to look forward to seeing again. I also have developed a huge network of friends all over the world, so I am looking forward to using that as an excuse for some more travel! Though, when have I ever needed an excuse...

It was great to have Katie come and visit, I think it has made the leaving part really easy! I have been able to include her in a lot of final things, including the cleaning of my apartment!

Tomorrow she and I will get up, and wash the bedding for Lucie, the next person to live in my apartment, and once the gas, electricity and water guys have come so I can pay the final bill, we will be on our way to Osaka to meet up with Ange and Erin!

I guess I will be sad when I am on that last bus out of Hagi...

Monday, 28 July 2008

Katie does Ikebana (and so did I)

On Sunday I had my last ikebana class, which Katie was lucky enough to be here for. Obviously she was pretty much baffled by our teacher - but then Carla and I don't understand her all that often either! Kiyoko is so friendly and nice, but she speaks so fast, and uses language that I have no way of knowing - all about the flowers and plants.

Anyway, Carla and I both took it in turns to explain to Katie what she was meant to be doing, and it turned out pretty well.

Anyway, the upshot of Katie doing ikebana is that she has arrived safely. I thought she was going to die yesterday, her first day, in the Japanese humidity, but today she is coping pretty well. She hired a bike so we can get around easily and the brakes are super squeaky, in true Japanese style. So far she has eaten a lot of free dinners! As I am leaving Hagi in a couple of days I had arranged a couple of dinners with teachers who I am going to miss, and because Katie was here she got to come! I suppose it's an easy way to try a lot of Japanese food all at once!

Sunday, 27 July 2008


I have developed a bad of habit of just agreeing with people when they are speaking Japanese and I have lost the flow of the conversation. I just say "yes, yes" or take my cues from their face and smile or frown accordingly.

This meant that I told a guy who worked on the boat out to Mishima that I was married, and only managed to just catch myself before I said I had a baby!

Most recently I was shopping with my friend Eriko, who is Japanese. The shop assistant was talking to me about the prints of the bags they have - they are all special and limited editions and stuff. I was beginning to not understand, but I just kept nodding and smiling. Eriko though knows the limits of my Japanese so she knew I didn't understand the shop assistant anymore. So Eriko told the shop assistant - but I understood Eriko when she said it!

Friday, 25 July 2008

A letter of recommendation?

I asked my supervisor for a reference letter to use in that job hunt that I am absolutely not looking forward to! She has pretty rubbish English - she does try, but life can be very difficult, and conversation very slow. So after I explained the concept of a letter of reference (which apparently is unknown in Japan) I then informed her that the letter needed to be in English. You should have seen her face fall! I relieved her mind a little by saying that I would fix up the English afterwards.

So what she did was write a letter in Japanese, and then had 100 other people in the office check it. Not really 100, but the signatures that had approved the letter were numerous. Having received approvals she then typed the letter into an automatic translator which resulted in some humourous comments.

Often I was referred to as an 'it' or 'the Kate Price'. The whole letter was very formal "in the teaching of English in the elementary schools of Hagi City..." and apparently I possess an "ardor to work"! The best part was the way the computer program translated 'Hagi shi' into Bush Clover City - which is the literal translation of the kanji for Hagi but sounds hilarious!

The letter concluded by recommending "the Kate Price"

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Horror of Horrors

Scrunchies are cool again! All over Fukuoka and Nagasaki I saw J-girls with scrunchies in their hair, and scrunchies in all the shops! No!

My last long weekend

This weekend just gone I was lucky enough to wrangle a 5 day weekend - combining a long weekend with my final days of holiday leave. I decided to go to Nagasaki and Fukuoka - south of Hagi.

It took around 5 1/2 hours to get to Nagasaki on Saturday morning. Actually, one of the trains was really fancy - it had fake wooden floors, leather seats and glass paneled doors. Once there I was lucky to be on a tram with a nice driver, because I didn't have the correct change, but I turned up at the hostel too early! They were out on their lunch break, so I had to wait outside for a while, luckily there was a nice breeze and a chair in the shade.

Whilst in Nagasaki I went to the Peace Park area, and unfortunately I couldn't help but make mostly unfavourable comparisons to Hiroshima. In Nagasaki the park is a lot smaller, and looks less well cared for. The Peace Museum is a lot smaller, but has about the same number of displays so it is both repetitive and overwhelming. However, in Nagasaki there is a Rememberance Hall. 2 floors underground there is a hall filled with glass pillars which water runs down. The victims of the atomic bombing desperately wanted water but there was none that had not been affected by the radiation.

In Nagasaki I also walked around the Chinatown area - which was smaller than I had been led to believe - and I also went to the Glover's Garden. A Dutch family, unsurprisingly named Glover, lived in Japan briefly after it re-opened following the self-imposed isolation from the West. The family didn't seem to do much, so the restorations weren't that exciting! And it was just so hot! It was so much hotter in Nagasaki than in Hagi.

I had heard that the feeling in Nagasaki was decidedly anti-American but I certainly didn't pick up on that. I felt that the museum was balanced, as it is in Hiroshima, and there were no restrictions on where foreigners could go. On that point, across in Iwakuni there are plenty of signs up excluding foreigners from bars and restaurants as the foreigners are US Marines from the Iwakuni Base (and are unwelcome).

On my last morning in Nagasaki I wandered down Temple Road despite the rain. There is a major temple at either end of the road, various small temples along the way, and a seemingly continuous ceremony running behind all the temples.

In Fukuoka I went to the Asian Art Museum. While is has a large collection it only has a small space so whilst I enjoyed what I saw I would have liked to have seen some of the other works that I read about in the gallery guide book.

I also went to the Yahoo! Dome and saw a baseball game. First of all, I must say that I am still entirely unsure of the rules. There was lots of stuff that I imagined would exist in an American game - cheerleaders, mascots. But there was a crazy MC, a foreigner who spoke Japanese well but using English intonation so it sounded a little crazy! Then there were all these organised cheers and songs and dances. The craziest thing was that at the end of the 6th innings all the fans blew up these long balloons (but left them untied) and after singing and dancing with them they were all released and as the air escaped they all came back down. I really did think at the time the other 51,999 people in the stadium were speaking a different language and were probably from a different planet than me. I spent most of the game confused, but it was really fun.

Who is Kate Pnie?

Whilst I have been here I have gained many extra syllables, often referred to as keito puraisu san, or keito sensei, and I have realised that I quite enjoy having a short name, and have encouraged students to drop the 'to' from keito, trying to get them to just call me 'Kate'.

Often I need to spell out my name so I spell it out "ke" "i" "to" so they understand it. Japanese people tend to have problems with the pronunciation of an individual 'a' and if I try to spell it out 'k-a-t-e' and often they write 'k-i-t-e'. However, I have not had any problems with my surname, until now...

I received a copy of the PTA newsletter from Hagi Nishi JHS and there was my smiling face, proclaiming my ambition (from when I was in the 9th grade) and below my photo was my name. "Kate Pnie". I mean seriously, how long did I work there? Did no one actually know my real name?

Saturday, 19 July 2008


Last night I went to my ikebana teacher's house for dinner with some of the ALTs. She fed us an awful lot, and then we went to a karaoke place that she practically lives next door to. Of course, we were drinking with dinner, and most definitely whilst we were doing karaoke. In Japan there is no 0.5% blood alcohol - here it is zero tolerance, so I was a little confused about how we were going to get home, and get Shak's car home too (given he had driven us all to her house). I just figured we would get a cab between the 4 of us - making 4 stops - and that Shak and Matt would carpool out to her house the next day to retrieve Shak's car.

No. In Hagi there is a service called Daiko. When you have had a drink and need to get you, and your car, home, you call the Daiko service and tell them where you are. A guy comes in a cab and drives you home in your own car. It costs ¥1000 and though I rode in the cab I didn't have to pay any extra! Awesome...

Friday, 18 July 2008

Goodbye Messages

Over the last few days I have been collecting many letters from students at different schools. I thought I would share some favourites with you all.

Firstly, there was/is one message that leaves me entirely confused. "You are very bocis" - anyone who can explain/interpret that one gets a prize!

Otherwise, I have had many comments on 'big voice', something I say to the students a lot in a country where it appears they are actively discouraged from opening or moving their mouths whilst speaking. While this may work in Japanese - given intonation is nonexistent - in English class it is a big problem! So I picked up a habit from my old (favourite) English teacher of saying "big voice" to the students I couldn't hear. As a result I have received messages like "I like your big voice" or "I was impressed with your big voice" or just "Big Voice" written in large letters across the card.

Most kids say they won't forget me, but I'm not naive enough to believe that! One 9th grade boy wrote "I'll never forget you (Maybe)" and quite frankly I admire his honesty!

A few kids have written that I look "fine" - but I am not entirely sure if they realise what that means, aside from using it as a response to "how are you?" ("I'm fine thank you and you"). A few more have written that they love me - which is nice, but again I don't think they entirely understand it's meaning.

I do like the ones that are written to me but talk about me in the 3rd person, like "I like Kate" or "I will miss Kate". I especially like the ones who have directly translated 'sensei' and refer to me as 'Kate Teacher'.

Of course there are plenty of interesting grammatical mistakes, or straight out mistakes. I like the one that says "Kate's class is easy to under" - presumably 'understand' or "Thank you all very much" - that's right, the kids have decided I have multiple personalities...

Probably my favourites are the ones that are sincere - from the kids whose names I learnt (which is a big accomplishment given how many kids I have taught this year), and then the ones that talk about how difficult English is!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

End of School!

Each day I have been to a school in the last couple of weeks it has been the 'Last Day'. Some schools make a big deal - ceremonies, cooking, games - whereas another made all the students write me a letter then read it out in front of the class!

Today at Sanmi it was a good day. All the students had one final English class as one big group, and we had organised a treasure hunt. The kids were in teams of 6 and had to talk to different teachers, and run around the school, to get more clues. After the hunt the school captains made a short English speech and gave me some flowers. So that was pretty fun.

Then all throughout the lunch break the primary school kids filtered in with cards, letters and completely random presents! For example, the 4th graders either had to make me something (most of the girls made jewellry) or give me something they prized (one boy wrote a message to me on his baseball). For some reason some of the girls had written all over seashells to give to me!

The 6th graders had made me a photo frame (with a photo of me with the class in it) and had stuck little messages all over it. Finally, the 1st/2nd graders came in with a photo of us all together.

The schools that I have left so far I have been sad to leave. I have good memories of most days at these schools, so it has been nice to have proper opportunities to say good-bye to all the kids, and the teachers.

As yet, the new JET to replace me is undecided. The girl moving into my apartment is taking different schools, and the Board of Education hasn't decided who is taking my schools. So part of my leaving regimen has involved writing a letter about each school and leaving it there for whoever comes next! I am of course a little worried that no replacement has been appointed - though the schools are way more worried!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Leaver's Party

This weekend we had AJET Leaver's Party in Hagi. Most JETs from all over Yamaguchi-ken came up to Hagi to have a beach party - BBQ, beach olympics and a sand sculpture competition. For the sculpture our group buried Mika, the 8 year old daughter of one of the other JETs and transformed her into a Greek Goddess - complete with a seaweed dress and seaweed hair.

The party was supposed to kick off around 2pm, but of course it didn't. We may live in Japan, but it seems that none of us have picked up their punctual habits! Actually, I had 4 people staying at my place, so when they arrived in Hagi around 1.30pm we did get to the beach pretty quickly - better than sitting around in my hot apartment. So actually, we were on time, but when we got there only the organisers were already there! So of course we got roped into helping set up, and clean up the beach.

We had a marquee set up, and 4 BBQ's on the beach to cook enough food for the 40 or so people who were there! We had lamb & kangaroo burgers, various kinds of sausages, and some gross american hot dogs! Of course there was some vegies - corn, potatoes, salad and macaroni & cheese - once I mixed some wholegrain mustard into the macaroni it tasted ok.

The water here is quite clear, but full of seaweed! Also, there were heap
s of starfish just floating on the sand. Steve had brought his surf board, but given the beach is a bay with flat water he didn't get much use out of it!

After our team had come 2nd in the Beach Olympics we headed back to mine to shower, and then go to the party. Some of the JETs had formed a band, so they played, then there was some DJ time. Finally we were kicked out of the bar at 2am, some people headed to Karaoke, whereas my aparment people were hungry, so we went to a 24 hour restaurant for a late night snack!

The next morning we woke up and went back to the beach for a quick swim. It started raining quite heavily, so we left and went for lunch before all my guests took their buses home! After they left I had to vacuum all the sand out of my apartment! Although Dom (one of my guests) had already swept up the sand from my kitchen!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Goodbye Japanese Class

Well on Friday night it was time for the Japanese class farewell party. It was out at a big game complex - bowling, karaoke, video games, batting cages.... The party had originally been planned as a costume party, but I thought that idea had been shelved so I just went in normal clothes which was a mistake. One of the teachers was fully decked out in a kimono, another in a weird hybrid of hawaiian shirt & charlie chaplin, and the 9th grade assistant had on a duck suit! One of the ladies kindly lent me a headband with a snowman on it, and lent Alex a cowboy hat.

We had a big
room in the karaoke section, and after paying 4000 yen (about $40) they started bringing out ridiculous amounts of food, and drinks, and we had karaoke all night. Finally we ordered desserts. In true Japanese style the women ordered too many. Basically Japanese people always order too much food, and somehow manage to eat it all. I think it is the training from having to clean your tray at school lunch. Every party I have been to organised by Japanese people, there has always been way too much food, but the skinny Japanese people just hunker down and eat!

The Japanese class teachers did a lot of karaoke - they love singing all these old songs that are awful. They also love singing Carpenters & Beatles songs. I had never heard The Carpenters song 'Top of the World' but now I know the lyrics, without even intending to learn them. I even managed to sing my first Japanese song - with the 9th grade assistant - it's a song called PopStar, and every
so often there is a line in English which means I could catch up in the song when I got a bit lost in the kanji!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Last visit to Mishima.

From Wikipedia: Tanabata is a Japanese star festival, which celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.

Basically, at lunchtime we made origami to decorate the tree where the kids had already hung cards that had their dreams/ambitions written on them. The maths teacher, who speaks a little English,
made the kids each teach me a different origami piece (luckily there are only 4 kids). After school we hung the origami in the tree.

After the origami hanging we had a 'farewell ceremony'. The 9th grade girl had to give a short speech, and then each kid had to ask me questions about my plans are back in Austr
alia. For dinner I met the Elementary and JHS teachers at the restaurant that is open for dinner (the other one is open for lunch). We had a bit of a party - though didn't stay out too late because all the teachers start work really early (earlier than I get up most days if I'm honest).

Then today at the Elementary school we had a double English class. We started out by making fairy bread. The kids just PILED the sprinkles on to fat slices of sweet Japanese bread - all bread here is sweet, even if there is vegemite on it. One of the girl's thought she was making cake - so piled butter on top of the sprinkles for decoration!

After they kids had pigged out on sugar we made paper aeroplanes, and had competitions to see whose would go the furthest, and finished off the 'party' with a bunch of games that invovled the kids running around like maniacs - maybe not the best idea given how hot and humid it is everyday, but they seemed ok, though dripping with sweat afterwards!

These 'farewell events' were just the kick off to a long string of farewell parties to come. I am kind of annoyed that I couldn't just organise one party - basically people don't like to mix with people they don't know, as a result there are heaps of farewell parties. Also, I really prefer to have the farewell party and then leave - the string of parties makes it feel like it is still ages until I leave.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

It's Pool Time

I've started using the swimming pool at the local community centre. To get in you have to walk through a waist deep pool of water - their version of a pre swim shower. The pool itself is 25 metres long, and at its deepest point it is 1.3m deep, but only 1.1m at either end. So obviously there is no diving. Also, there are no lane ropes, or flags to mark 5m from either end, so doing backstroke is a little slower at the end of a lap than would be in a more equipped pool.

However, entry is free. You walk in, ditch your stuff in a provided basket and walk through the 'shower'. Then you have to sign a scrap of paper an old man proffers and then you can swim. I think the water is untreated - I certainly couldn't smell any chlorine, or taste any salt. There were a couple of 'ojiisans' (grandfathers) gardening around the edges, and 1 of them told me I was the first swimmer of the season!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I am not going to miss the staring. Of course, it can be cute when a 3 year old stops dead in her tracks and lets her jaw drop open as she unashamedly stares at me. However, anyone who is over 4 years old is not excused! There have been foreigners in Japan for at least the last 150 years, and there have been foreigners teaching in the public schools for over 20 years. Of course, the foreign population of Japan is only 1.6% of the population, so we are a rare commodity, however that doesn't mean we are freaks/animals in the zoo.

In Bangladesh we met people who had never seen a foreigner, who had never heard English spoken, and who had never had their photograph taken. Of course, they stared. We knew they would, and we weren't disappointed. People would stand less than a metre away and just stare at us (Geoff, Xav and I). I had my photo taken with random strangers, much like what happens in Japan.

I suppose I can excuse the staring in Bangladesh, given how few foreigners there are there. However, in Japan I am not so forgiving. I have pointed back, and replied "where" when older people have said "foreigner" whilst gesturing at me. I guess it's a small way to make myself feel better. I am looking forward to coming back to Australia because everyone is a 'foreigner', at least the way Japanese people understand it. I have tried to explain how there is no singular 'Australian' appearance, and have demonstrated with photos of my friends and sisters, but I don't think they quite understand.

My worst staring moment in June was when the new music teacher at one of my schools just stopped, pointed at me, and exclaimed the first time she saw me. I was so tempted to return the gesture...

And yes, I do live in rural Japan, but there have been foreigners here for a long time. In World War 2 the area was populated with New Zealanders, so even the older people can't claim that they haven't met many foreigners. Currently there are arond 12 foreigners, most of us teaching English, so a great many of the citizens of Hagi are exposed to us everyday but still they seem surprised when they see me at the supermarket or the post office. Students postively freak out when they see me at the train station, or around town. I guess they don't think of me existing outside of school.

At the end of the day, I will always be the foreigner, no matter if I am speaking English or Japanese, and despite the fact I have a name.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

I am "English"

I was talking to a previous student of mine, who has since moved to High School. We were chatting (albeit slowly) so I asked her, "Do you like English" and to my surprise she replied No. But she was happy to continue talking to me.

Usually, the kids who don't like English either ignore me, or spend the whole class being disruptive, generally yelling "Kato, Kato". If the kid likes English then usually they acknowledge me in the corridors, or when they see me out and about in Hagi.

I have one 9th grader who looks in the other direction when he sees me coming, and tries to hide under his desk when I come into the class. I try not to take it personally, and that extends to not taking pride in the kids who love English. I know it's not all due to me, and that most of them will forget me when I'm gone. I mean, the elementary kids say hello and run up to me around Hagi, but when I leave it's not like they will notice.

What surprises me the most, given the number of JETs who have come through Hagi, is that to most kids I am the representative of the english language, and how they respond to me is based on their (dis)like for english.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Work is work, fun is fun

I don't think that is a real Japanese proverb, but it was told to me as the way of explaining life in Japan. However, I entirely disagree. Everything is personal, and everything is business here. I suppose it has a lot to do with the work hours they keep, and thus the relationships that are established between colleagues, and the family relationships that fall by the wayside.

Most people go to work at inhumanly early hours (we all know I'm not a morning person though, so maybe not so bad for others) and stay until late in the evening. For example, most teachers are at school by around 7am and then are still there at 8pm, and then they go back on Saturdays and for at least half a day on Sunday. As a result, teachers develop strong friendships with each other - as do people generally with their colleagues. These friendships are far more important than they are in Australia, in my experience, as your work colleagues become your only friends. You should be able to imagine that it is hard to maintain friendships with people who work in other places, let alone in other professions. Teachers go on trips together - usually during the summer, then again a couple of other times each year on a long weekend. They all pitch in and hire a bus, or car pool and go skiing or shopping for a long weekend.

Also, many teachers end up married to other teachers. That does mean that you have to watch what you say - I almost started complaining about 1 teacher who leaves the room when I enter (to supposedly teach a class together) but the teacher I was talking to luckily told me it was his wife before I said anything... (surprisingly, the husband claimed the wife enjoyed english class!)

Anyway, back to the topic of merging fun and work. In Japan many marriages suffer because one spouse is relocated regularly - every 3 years - teachers, judges, many bureaucratic jobs. As a result, kids can spend half their lives living away from one parent.

Actually, kids spend so much time at school that the teachers become surrogate parents. Japan used to have some pretty draconian corporal punishment rules on the books, as well as classes on Saturdays. Now the kids only have sports on Saturdays, and pretty much all disciplinary methods have been outlawed. Now teachers practically 'mother' the kid over any small infringement. Kids regularly have meetings with their home room teachers to discuss any emotional problems, and they even have a class called moral education (which is not just sex ed.)
Teachers go to the students' houses once a term to check to make sure everything is ok, and are just really involved in their lives.

So when I was told that 'work is work and fun is fun' is the Japanese way I just nodded (now that is totally the Japanese way) and contradicted them in my head.

Monday, 23 June 2008

At the Dentist

I decided to brave the dentist. Having heard positive things about the dentist from Nicole (another JET in Hagi) I chose the "Dental Office Tojo", heartened by the English name really! Inside there were 4 cubicles, for 1 dentist, and about 7 dental nurses/hygenists. Basically the dentist goes from one cubicle to the other and does the work he is qualified to do and then he goes to the next cubicle and the nurse or hygenist does her thing - x rays, teeth cleaning etc. It is really a pretty smooth operation, though the dentist must change gloves a hundred times a day!

The other thing, Japanese dentists are really cheap. I was there for an hour, had 3 x rays and had my teeth cleaned all for less than $30. Actually, another JET had her silver fillings replaced with white ones for $6 per tooth!

The dentist's office has some cool equipment. Each seat has their own little TV so I watched Happy Feet (in Japanese) for a while, then the dentist stuck a light wand/camera in my mouth and took som photos. He showed those photos on the screen, and then he put my x-rays on the screen too!
However, it is a little weird that you can hear everything going on - not that I understood it though. When they raise the seat up (before they lay you back) you can almost peer over into the next cubicle.

The dentist speaks a little english - if I speak slow enough - and I managed to explain that I have a low pain threshold. I think they think that if they touch my teeth too hard I will scream in pain. Not that that is a bad misconception, I suppose it means that if they want to do anything major then they will anaesthetise me to the eyeballs!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Happy Birthday to me

(Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear me, Happy Birthday to me)

Well, in Japan birthdays aren't important. Basically they don't have parties, cakes or presents really. Often, they aren't even acknowledged. For example, I was out with a friend on friday night and she said it was her husband's birthday but that he wasn't invited out with us for dinner! So last Monday my celebrations were fairly limited.

I woke up a few mins early to open the cards and presents that had come from Aus (thanks everyone) but that was the most celebratory moment of the day! 1 teacher knew, and wished me "Happy Birthday" and then that night at my Japanese class (the informal conversation one where I go to a family's house) we had cake.

Each day, for the rest of the week, a card arrived in the mail, so it was good to stretch my birthday out! Finally, I had a small party last night. We went to a new Okonomiyai restaurant down by the beach, where you can cook your own, or they will cook it for you. The family used to have a restaurant in Hagi many, many years ago, and they are famous for their snowcones. I had a coffee flavoured one, and Carla had cocoa and milk! Mel's maatcha (green tea) snowcone had a red bean cake in it too.

After dinner we went back to Carla & Melody's house where we had birthday cake - Carla had made a chocolate volcano cake (as in the middle had kind of exploded). It was also my Ikebana teacher's birthday, and another friend's birthday (Yuka) during the week, so it turned out that the party was half guests and half birthday people!

Friday, 20 June 2008


That's how many convenience stores (Conbinis) there are in Japan. That number sounds high, and mathematically, it's about one Conbini per 3000 people. However, in Hagi there are about 7 conbinis (so that's 1 for every 750o people) and in smaller places there are even less conbinis per person.

When you walk around Tokyo or Kyoto you see where all the 'extra' Conbinis are, so when I read an article on Reuters which talked about efforts by the Kyoto Government to convince Conbinis to close overnight I was really surprised/horrified. Apparently the Government thinks that it will improve the views over the city, and reduce carbon emissions. The carbon emission argument seems futile to me - I mean, the shops will still have to have all the fridges and stuff on inside. I will be really surprised if the Government wins this one!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Teaching English to Students who actually understand!!!

Last Saturday I went to an 'academic' high school to help out with an English seminar. It was a real pleasure to 'teach' students who understand a bit more than "how are you?" and "how's the weather?"

Though, I use 'teach' loosely - we played a lot of games, all in English, and then had to cook lunch. As the main JET at that High School is American we were cooking an 'American Lunch' - hamburgers and rice crispy treats (which I think are kind of like the LCM bars you can buy in the museli bar section in Australia).

Hamburgers were easy - I had no intention of using my hands to mix the meat, but I was perfectly happy to let all the kids have a go AFTER they had washed their hands (I did have to eat the hamburgers eventually). The school had ordered in proper cheese - cheddar that tasted really good, not plastic sliced cheese, and we had some other salad fillings to put in the burgers. Someone joked that it was almost a balanced meal, and thus not really American... but I did explain that we weren't aiming for Maccas style burgers.

The rice crispy treats were easy to make - melt butter and marshmallows, stir in cocopops or rice bubbles - but aren't something I would hurry to make again. After all, Kelloggs makes a perfectly acceptable alternative.

After lunch we had a treasure hunt. There were 12 English clues to follow and then a sentence to de code. My team wanted to run - EVERYWHERE!!! Lucky I did that fun run training or I would have died! We actually managed to finish in the hour allotted - a feat only managed by another team - but came 3rd overall for the day.

The whole day ran smoothly, in fact I think they do the same thing every year, not that you would have known that from how stressed the English teacher was. In the week leading up he kept emailing us with all kinds of requests/suggestions. He wanted us to bring water because it would be hot (and apparently they don't have taps at the school), then he wanted us to bring towels in case we became sweaty, and finally he asked us to clip our fingernails for the cooking exercise.

Now, as many of you know, I have been a terrible finger nail biter forEVER. I am currently in a non biting stage, and have even been wearing bright nail polish to school and no one has asked me to take it off! So as you can imagine, I am quite enjoying having long fingernails, and was not about to chop them off! So I took off the purple nail polish and just tried to hide my hands all day - and as mentioned I didn't stick my hands into the hamburger meat!

Aah, Japan

Today I saw a grade 4 kid limping out of school at about 12 - before lunch. So I asked where he was going - I didn't think he was about to skip lunch, (a) he's a kid who says he is always hungry and (b) he's japanese, but I was a little worried about a little kid just deciding to leave school for the day. No, he was WALKING to the hospital because he had hurt his leg. Logical, ne???

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

New Bike Rules

The new bike rule in Hagi:

"Where there is a footpath, please ride on it. Where there is no footpath, please ride on the road"

What on earth was the old rule????

Sunday, 15 June 2008

I love the Post Office lady

On Friday I went to the main post office in Hagi to send a box of stuff home - a BIG box of stuff. I must say that most of the stuff is either not for me or boring winter clothes.

[Side note, I hate Australian airlines and their luggage limits. I was/am only allowed 20kg so Geoff mailed me my winter gear]

So I dragged my supervisor up to the Post Office - firstly I needed a car to transport the box and secondly I thought some language assistance may also come in handy. The box I had packed my things in was too big for the post office, so I asked my supervisor to tell the Post Office that I would run over to the hardware store and buy a smaller box and then return and repack. But then the Post Office lady pulled out her knife and started making the box smaller - given that the top was a little empty - and she managed to make it small enough to be acceptable!

I love the Post Office lady...

Saturday, 14 June 2008


When Geoff and Xav were here we went to one of my favourite cafes (Cafe Tikal) for a Hagi mikan cappucino! When Geoff was getting out his money to pay and he dropped 50 yen. We moved the cushions and the chairs around trying to find it, but we didn't try too hard given it is about 50c (Australian). Of course, the owners saw we were shuffling about, so I explained why. We didn't find the 50 yen coin, but no problem.

So that was in March. I went back to that cafe a couple of weeks ago (the first time since I'd been with the boys) and the Manager came over when she saw me, and handed me 50 yen - they had found it, and had waited more than 2 months for me to return so they could give it to me.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Someone's trying to tell me something...

There is a mini shoe shop set up in the staffroom! That's right, I came back from the lunch room to find a little old man setting up shoes for us all to try on... I think it is a message: "buy shoes... buy shoes...!" Not that I need an excuse!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Or was this the cover of the local newspaper?

This is the reinterpretation of the Hagi local newspaper. Just in case I didn't stand out enough...

Monday, 2 June 2008

Carla's Birthday

It was Carla's birthday about a week ago. In honour of that event, and my upcoming birthday, we both received letters inviting us to take a 'cancer test'. That's all the Japanese I could read on the letter, and Carla couldn't shed more light. I voted to toss the letter out.

Seriously though, she had a birthday party to celebrate. We started off with a dance party at her house, and then moved onto the bar on the beach for its monthly reggae night. Melody even made a cake with mix she had sent over from the US.

The reggae party was fun - though the music was kind of strange. Listening to japanese words sung to a Bob Marleyesque tune.