About Me

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

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The Sounds of Japan

In a previous post I have mentioned that music coming from the speakers out the front of City Hall so blind people can find the building! However, there is so much music/noise in Japan everyday.

- The traffic signals
I think it depends on the orientation of the crossing, but at some crossings when the green man lights up a bird noise sounds.

- The midday noise
At midday there is always some kind of signal. Out at some of the rural schools sirens sound out - actually, on my Island school the siren sounds like it is coming from everywhere! In Hagi I don't notice it very often because there are other noises of people going about their lives, but there is always some kind of music.

- 9pm
Every night at 9pm in Hagi I can hear some music for a minute or 2. No idea why.

- The music in the supermarket/most shops

Coldness an addendum - for the love of Kairo

No, I haven't misspelled the Egyptian capital! I have recently been introduced to kairo by some elementary school children. Basically, it looks like a tea bag, and is filled with iron shavings. So they come individually wrapped (so Japan!) and when you take it from the plastic and put it in your pocket for a couple of minutes it heats up. It stays hot for a few hours... it's like carrying a mini hot water bottle in your pocket!

So most days at school I have one that I carry around! Apparently, the Junior High kids are not allowed them, but a few students have gestured that they are carrying kairo too! Apparently you can get kairo that you stick to the inside of your clothes (if you stick it to your skin you may get burnt) I haven't tried them yet, but I have no doubt I will progress to those very soon!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A selection of soy sauce

So the other day I had to buy soy sauce. Up until now I had been using what Jo left behind, but it ran out. I didn't think to take a photo of the bottle (or the bottle itself) with me because I thought it would be easy!

However, as you can see, at Sun Live there is a LARGE range of soy sauce. I stood in front of the shelves for a few minutes, but I couldn't figure which to buy. So I grabbed a guy stacking shelves and said to him "korerano bottle wa shoyu des ka?" (are these bottles soy sauce?) and he indicated yes. So I said "onaji" (all the same?) and again, he said yes. So finally I summoned my reserves of Japanese and said "kono shoyu wa ichiban des ka?" (which is the best?) so he wandered around, and said "cooking?" and I said yes, so he chose me a bottle. Then he pointed to himself and said "ichiban des" which i think meant, "I am the best!"

I was amazed that he had been so talkative, and then made a joke! Most Japanese people are a little (or a lot) scared of foreigners!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

The politics of the car park

Next to my apartment there is some kind of office, and behind it, a car park. The car park is full most of the time, given Japanese people tend to work ALL the time.

However, some mornings I see the cars arriving. You notice that they all just park each other in, so there must be some serious negotiation at the end of the day - who wants to go, and who is trying to impress by staying the latest... I seriously don't know why they don't just mark lines, and give each other some access!

In Japan it is really important to be seen to be busy - Japanese people often talk about how busy they are, while they are sitting in the staffroom drinking coffee. Or they do this funny run/walk - moving their feet quickly but not moving anywhere fast! And, all the staffrooms are packed full of 'work' (piles and piles of papers). So I suspect parking the car closest to the building is a sign of working the hardest.

No option to be ex-directory in Hagi

So this is part of the Hagi Street Directory. What you are looking at is a really zoomed in melways - all the buildings are individually marked, and the kanji on each block is the (male) owner's name!

The ALTs were invited to a Christmas party, but there was no address on the invitation, so at the Board of Education we used this map to find the house!

Can you imagine how much effort it must be to make this??? So obviously my name is not on there - but my building is marked - right next to 'Gusto' (a Japanese fast food place).

As Shak remarked, I suppose there is no 'unlisted' option in Japan!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Famous Hagi Half Marathon

So today was the famous Hagi Half Marathon - 22km run starting at the Wellness Park (love Engrish!) and finishing up at the stadium. So I went down to the arcade to watch them run through - almost the halfway point actually. I like to think of it as the Champs Elysees of the half marathon!

Brent - pictured - was probably somewhere in the top 100. He's an American exchange student at a Hagi High School. There were well over 2500 runners though - and a fair few foreigners, not from Hagi!

Actually, there were some beautiful outfits - totally 80's style. And one Japanese man was sort of dressed as Santa. Some of the runners were totally focussed as they ran past, some with music playing, but others really enjoyed themselves, high-fiving and waving!

The Japanese Club Christmas Party

On Saturday I rolled out of bed to get up to City Hall for chorus rehearsal – the Japanese class is meant to be singing Christmas carols at the party from 12.30. So no rehearsal, no one was there (well Alex and the Japanese organizers were) so I just sat near the heater! Finally ‘rehearsed’ around midday.

Anyway, there was flamenco dancing, our chorus, random games (I won some tomato flavoured Korean biscuits) and then the JETs from Yamaguchi City had to talk about Christmas in their hometowns/countries – China, Spain and the US. The Yamaguchi City JETs are the ones who can speak fluent Japanese, so I didn’t understand what they were saying – could guess though. Spanish girl talked about Christmas Eve, American about all the food, and the Chinese JET simply said, we don’t celebrate it! Food was good, though. I was surprised that more of my students weren’t there – perhaps a good thing given our ‘chorus’ – for the record, we did Rudolph (at breakneck speed for some reason) and White Christmas.

Possibly the worst part were the Japanese people who, having been encouraged to talk to the 'friendly foreigners' by the MC at the beginning of the party, decided that 'talking to me' meant listing all the places that they had seen me in the last week. Stalker much?

Friday, 7 December 2007

Kent came for dinner

I met Tsucky down at the HH Eki, and shortly after Kent’s bus arrived – we took him to the hotel, then straight to dinner. Rather, Mrs Tsucky drove us around, then dropped us at the restaurant.

We ate a magnificent Japanese spread – and in true Japanese style we got about 4 mouthfuls of everything, all on separate, beautiful plates! Drank some hot sake too…

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Latest Ikebana creation

My latest creation... did you know that in Japanese the flower is called 'Sutorechia' - you learn something new everyday.

The worst christmas present idea ever!

I swear, if anyone gave me this...

And can you believe that its almost $30 for this laundry christmas gift pack!!!!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

My Japanese "Class"

Well I got to Jap Class, and it wasn’t really class! We were in the tatami room and the Hagi Bunko group were there to play – shamisens, taiko and ‘trumpet tritons’ – 200 year old ginormous shells! They played for about 10 mins, and then we got to run riot – playing all the instruments and dressing up in the costumes! Playing the shells was really hard! Managed to make some noises come out of it though. The drum was heaps more fun!

The worst part was, that at the end of the night, we all had to make comments on how we felt! Then we had a ‘party’ – a whole bunch of edible omiyage.

Also, this is a good time to remind you that the rice harvest was a J-class activity! I promise we occasionally learn Japanese!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Naked Part of the Name is a Lie

So today was Naked Man Festival Day. Phoebe, Dom and I had planned on participating in the shrine carrying but Dom got shingles, so Phoebe and I decided just to watch – we had no idea where to go to participate even if we had wanted to! Ran into a whole bunch of ALTs from the Ken. Also met Georgia for the first time - a CIR who is therefore excluded from the ALT stuff, which is why I hadn't met her.

So we went and watched the women in the early afternoon. There were 3 different shrines being carried around – I think if you had an aerial view there would have been a pattern to see, but obviously we couldn’t see that!

We were given some Amasake to drink while we watched – like creamy, sweet sake with bits of dessicated coconut. Not so nice really. Anyway, there was to be a bit of a wait before the men started, so we headed to the mall for some Baskin & Robbins, and shoe shopping. We collected some more ALTs and headed down to the festival. There were so many teams carrying ‘shrines’.

The women had been carrying things that looked like mini temples, but the men were carrying wheat barrels, draped in branches or tinsel. And these ‘shrines’ were like sedan chairs – long planks of wood coming from a platform on which the ‘shrine’ rested. And on each plan there were several people to carry it. The aim, for the men, was to carry it down the long street that leads to the temple, and drink and dance in the street. Then when they reached the temple they had to run up A LOT of stairs still carrying the wheat barrels. Once inside the temple they would smash the ‘shrine’ – no idea why.

Anyway, this activity is called the Naked Man Festival. Complete lie. No one was naked. But in the street leading to the temple, and in the temple itself, there was so much to look at and do that I am over the lies. There were so many stalls – it was probably the best festival I have been to yet.

Once all the little shrines have been brought to the temple and destroyed the teams form one mass of men and have to carry 2 bigger ‘shrines’ down the stairs and a pair of wheels that apparently weigh 2 tonnes. There were so many people, and apparently people have died in the past. We did the ambulance sirens a couple of times, but the injuries were minor. We really couldn’t see what was going on with the wheels – we saw them go over the stairs, but have no idea how they didn’t crush everyone and everything within its path.

Back to the train station – and I managed to miss my last bus to Hagi. I had a timetable which said the bus was at 8.30, but when I left the waiting room for the bus platform the timetable there said the last bus was at 8.15. So I had time to make it, but didn’t because of the timetable change! Called Phoebe, who emailed me Georgia’s details – thank God I met her today, and Georgia was kind enough to let me stay at her apartment though, so all good!


It is cold here. We went from a long summer into winter pretty quickly, so I have had very little time to get used to the cold weather.

Not coping with it very well, as I am sure many of you can imagine! The school classrooms are cold, and the hallways even colder. Luckily they turn the heaters on in the staff rooms! Also, houses/apartments aren't insulated, so they are difficult and expensive to heat. Finally I have set up my kotatsu - a table that you plug in! Basically you have a futon on the ground, and a futon between the 2 table tops, and plug it in and it gets all warm under the futons. You can also get a heated carpet - something you layover the tatami and plug in!

And of course, there is the trusty kerosene heater. Yes, seriously, I have a kerosene heater. I have no intention of attempting to use it - would most likely asphyxiate myself in the process!

So I complain about the cold. What really irritates me is when people respond with, well where I am from it is snowing/10 degrees colder. All that means is that that person has no reason to complain about this weather - in fact they should be exclaiming how it is positively warm! However, I don't come from the German Alps, so I will complain about how cold it is!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

My goodness I am helpless!

So after school I went to the BOE, to get Tsucky to come and change my light bulb, but he wasn’t there so I had to leave a message. In the mean time Shak said no seminar tonight – woohoo!. Tsucky called and he said, yes there is a seminar! Bugger. And he said he would come over and organize the light bulb issue. So he came over, and couldn’t reach the light bulb – in the kitchen – and asked for a chair. But I don’t have a chair! He was incredulous, but had a look around and couldn’t see a chair so had to believe me. So we went up to Sueshi-sensei’s apartment (she is a teacher at Hagi Nishi JHS who lives in the apartment above mine) and borrowed a chair! She must have thought we were crazy. And it was a rolling chair so I had to steady the thing while Tsucky removed the old light bulb. He then went and bought a new light bulb, and came back to put it in. Then had to return the chair, and Sueshi-sensei was suitably amused once more. Poor Tsucky! Then for the rest of the night, at the seminar he kept complaining that his back was sore from all the effort!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Weirdness at Nishi

This week I spent 2 days at Nishi - both of which had weird aspects.

To start with, on Tuesday I arrived to find students welcoming me, and everyone else. Really not sure what is happening. I suppose it doesn't help that I can't read Japanese!

Any ideas?

Secondly, on Friday afternoon there was a meeting of all teachers of Japanese from Yamaguchi-ken. So as a result school started earlier (though no one told me) and then everyone could go home at 12, but the students were meant to stay in their homes until 4pm. So to ensure compliance different teachers were assigned to check different areas in Hagi. I went to one of the supermarkets that has a video game parlour too. We didn't find any students, but when we were leaving the carpark we found an 8th grade boy. One of the teachers started hitting him, somewhat gently. Then she told me to tell him off! Great, telling him off in a language that he doesn't understand! The whole situation was a little ridiculous really.

Everyday Japan surprises me!

Ikebana again!

Today at Ikebana I made a couple of creations - both in the Shoka style, but the one on the left is the more modern shoka style.

Now they are both decorating my apartment!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Tears over English

I did 3 self introductions today – only found 1 student out of the almost 90 who sort of liked the vegemite! None of the teachers liked it either! It is quite a nice school – the teachers speak a decent amount of English for elementary teachers, and the kids were nice.

However, I managed to make 1 student in the 5th grade cry. Actually I don’t think I had anything to do with it. The teacher had prepared all the students to give mini self introductions – My name is, I like X and my favourite sport is Y. Well 1 kid, a boy, got through sentence 1 and 2 but then had a minor meltdown. He just could not say his favourite sport, and the teacher was harassing him in nihongo, and then finally I caved and said well done, sit down etc. He sat, but burst into silent tears.

This is my first experience of tears in English class. I maintain I did not cause the tears, but it was still an unsettling experience.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Samurai Festivities in Hagi

On Saturday, I met Carolin up at the post office, and we wandered around the festival stalls. As the token foreigners we got roped into many things – pounding mochi, posing for photos with costumed Japanese people, participating in ‘quizzes’ and taste testing a million different things.

The festival was pretty big – they had so many weird things on sale. I bought a base for ikebana, and some souveneirs, for whomever I decide later on. Also there was a couple of stalls selling goldfish of different sizes, ranging from tiny fish for Y100 and mega ones for Y5000.

Some of the hagi omiyage was delicious – I will buy it closer to the date of my return to Australia
so it stays fresh. However, some of Matt’s high school students kept bringing me things to try – most of which were disgusting! Also, there was so much air-dried squid – and the smell was a bit overpowering. Did eat some sweet potato fries for lunch – thought they were going to be just a slight variation on the regular kind, but rather they were covered in sugar!

On Sunday I met up with Carolin again, and Carla and Melody.

We watched a whole bunch of different parades – school marching bands, people dressed up as all kinds of characters in Hagi’s history and then a whole lot of Yosakoi dancers. All the stalls were there from yesterday, as well as some more food choices. Last year some of the ALT’s got dressed up as Samurais – but we weren’t invited this year. No big deal, because Flick said the experience was less than comfortable.

We watched heaps of yosakoi dance teams – at the end it turned out that they
were in a competition, and there were some really quality prizes on offer – bags of rice and boxes of daikon. Quite strange really.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

My own (sad version of) Melbourne Cup

Anyway, I did a class on cell phones on Tuesday – riveting stuff really. However, I had been given carte blanche with the ‘game or activity’ so Melbourne Cup, here we come. My justification was that last year a Japanese horse had won. So we did an information gap exercise – thrilling really, and then a sweep. When we were doing it I don’t think the students really understood what the point was. But then I told them I would be back just after 1pm to give prizes, and suddenly the lightbulb went on.

So after my 1 class for the day I went to the staffroom, and wasted the time away, until the race was on! Then I jumped on the internet, and waited for the results!

Back in the 9th grade I announced 1st, 2nd and 3rd – and they all got Australian omiyage – clip on koalas etc, and then the loser! Well I had announced that the person whose horse came last would get vegemite. I had earlier made them all eat it, in a previous lesson where I did a self introduction, and knew NONE of them liked it, so that was going to be great! One of the speech contest boys won, and he was so unimpressed! Everyone else laughed so much though – it was totally worth sacrificing a little vegemite!

Monday, 5 November 2007

My latest ikebana creation

No comments on the last one, am going to assume that meant it was awesome and left you all speechless :)

Anyway, I did this one yesterday, and it is currently brightening up my living room. This is 'freestyle' which means no rules! Actually that makes it difficult, and requires more thought! Given the weekend I had had (and the little sleep enjoyed - see below) I was not at my best. Perhaps that is why I am staring off into the arrangement, hoping for some inspiration???

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Party in the Inaka

Shak and I met up with Mitch and Phoebe in Shim, and did some shopping and they ate lunch. Mitch and I also had a crepe – ok, but a bit boring because the toppings weren’t all the way to the bottom of the rolled crepe. Highlight – the mega Hyakuen on the top floor of DeoDeo.

We grabbed a train, then a cab out to her house, where a few people were waiting. Just enough time for a G&T (actually a Gin & Mitsuya Cider) then headed off for a fairly long walk in the cold to the only izakaya in Phoebe’s inaka town. The food was fabulous – okonomiyaki! Then off to do some karaoke – where we found Daryl!

We hit the karaoke pretty hard, partying for well over our 2 hour time! The drinks bill for the 10 of us was Y22000 – a fair effort!

Back at Phoebe’s we had some more drinks, and snacks before I finally hit the bed just after 3am. Paid for it this morning, when I was up before 7am to get back to Hagi for my ikebana class!

Shak's Confession

So as some of you know I was quite unimpressed at seeing some of the American JETs come over here with over 50kg of luggage, whereas we were only allowed 20kg.

As a result I carefully weighed my suitcase many times while I was packing it. Our travel agency had drummed it into my head that I would have to pay a lot of money if I was 1kg over the limit. In my caution I forgot to pack any shoes in my suitcase (though I had 3 pairs for Tokyo, so I wasn't entirely shoeless!) I know some of you will find it hard to believe that I did that, but it's true.

So I was wearing an old pair of sandals everyday, and they weren't the most comfortable things ever... and I was hanging out for the box of stuff Geoff was going to mail over to me.

Now I made sure everyone in Hagi knew I was desperately waiting for my thongs to arrive! However, only yesterday Shak told me that he was entirely baffled by my desperation, and that I would share it with him! When they arrived he finally realised I meant 'flip flops'.

Aah the English language is a beautiful thing!

Monday, 29 October 2007

Space World!

We met at 9:30am down at Higashi Hagi Eki – Flick, Shak, Nicole, Eki and I. Then we drove to Tsucky’s house to pick up Mika and Tsucky. We took Eki’s car – a massive 8 seater people mover! It was just shy of 2 hours to Space World, including a stop just before crossing onto Kyushu.

We got there, and rushed straight onto the rides – neither Shak or Flick had been on rollercoasters before, so they surprised everyone by going on all the available ones!

We went on the Titan – a 60m drop that was awesome, and then to the log flumes – you could pay Y100 for a poncho, but we decided it was unnecessary, and were proved right! Most of the Japanese people had bought them but though we made a big splash when we came down the last ramp we remained relatively dry! We bought souvenir photos, which were a bargain compared to every other theme park/tourist attraction I have ever been to, and there is an absolute stunner of Flick!

Hit the rest of the rollercoasters, and some other rides, before the fabulous (read: crazy) four: Nicole, Shak, Flick and Mika climbed aboard the Zatern. This ride is insane – 135km p/hr, 65m drop at 89 degrees! Nicole and Shak enjoyed it, Mika wasn’t thrilled by it and Flick literally kissed the ground when she got off!

After all our hard work we decided we had earned a greasy hamburger lunch! Again, not as prohibitively pricey as in other tourist attractions. Feeling a bit full, especially Shak (as he had ordered 1 burger but was half way though eating one when they brought him another – apparently they had given him the wrong thing!) we went to the 4D theatre – a silent cartoon – well no dialogue, so easily understandable! Our last activity was the Mission to Mars – a simulator. We went to buy omiyage on our way out, and met a parade – didn’t seem to have much of a theme. J-girls as Ballerina Cowgirls, the 4 characters of the park (no idea what their names are) and some J-boys dressed as cartoon Elvis’!

Hagi Nishi's Cultural Day.

This morning I was at Hagi Nishi by 8.30am – just! It was the School Bunkasai (Cultural Festival). I had seen some preparations at Nishi, but no rehearsals, earlier in the week, so I was vaguely looking forward to the whole shebang! I say vaguely, because I knew it was all going to be in Japanese, and that I would have pretty much no one to talk to all day.

Firstly, the Mishima kids had to get up on the stage and introduce themselves. My goodness, they must have been freaking out! They are used to 10 people in the room at any one time for a ‘crowd’ whereas there are almost 400 students at Nishi, plus a sizable collection of teachers and parents also there, all staring at them! To their credit, they did pretty well on the self intros, and then later when they gave a short presentation about their lives in Mishima.

So firstly each year level presented sort of ‘a year that was’ - except for the 7th graders, who have only been at JHS for about 5 months! Then came the choral competition. Each year level had clearly been assigned 2 songs, and each grade had to sing each of those songs… Let’s just say that sung Japanese is not the most attractive noise! Or rather, Japanese sung by 7th and 8th graders is not pleasing to the ear. The 9th graders were actually decent!

Lunch break – ok bento, better because I didn’t have to pay for it! Then back to the warm, dark hall (some may say perfect for sleeping, and I would have to agree – I had to get up and stand near the open door for fresh air to stay awake). Each grade presented a ‘play’ – rather the 7th graders did a play, and each the 8th and 9th grade had made videos. I didn’t really understand a lot of it, but I did gather that the 9th grade video was about bullying.

Thankfully it was almost over – because I was in serious danger of falling asleep!

I must say, ‘Cultural Day’ to me conjured up images of a school fete – different food, and shows. However at Hagi Nishi I was proved wrong. 2 of the speech contest entrants did their recitations, and at the end the word ‘thank you’ was uttered in 8 different languages. Not quite sure who was being thanked, nor what they were being thanked for.

I suppose it would be hard to celebrate ‘culture’ in terms of multiculturalism – that simply does not exist here. Obviously I notice in the classrooms that everyone is Japanese – contrast it to an Australian classroom where students come from everywhere. But today’s event really brought home the idea monoculturalism, and how prevalent it is here. That may explain why people find us Gaijin so interesting – looking in our shopping baskets, questioning our eating habits and congratulate us on our chopstick usage (“hashi jozu”).

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Just for Sars - the reverence of G-town

This is an ad at uniqlo - i suppose the J-version of target - for cardigans that are made of Soft Geelong Lambs Wool - wow sars! did you ever imagin that G-town would be so revered here?

My not so secret desire to be a flower arranging housewife!

Today I went up to City Hall to meet Carla, who had brought Carolin as well, for some ikebana classes.

Ikebana – Japanese Flower arranging
“In contrast to the massing of blooms typical of flower arrangement in western countries, Japanese flower arrangement is based on the line of twigs and/or leaves, filled in with a small number of blooms. The container is also a key element of the composition. The structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on a scalene triangle delineated by three main points, usually twigs, considered in some schools to symbolize heaven, earth, and man.”

So we had a lesson for about 1 ½ hours in one of the rooms at City Hall – apparently Kiyoko-san’s apartment is absolutely miniscule! It was Y1050 for the flowers, which seemed like a good deal, and then she let us take a vase and the flowers home to recreate the magic! We just have to bring back the vase when we have our next class on November 4th.

I did shoko style, and the other two did free-style – we will swap next time.

Shoko involves 3 groups of branches/flowers – the shin, the soe and the tai. There has to be an odd number of flowers/branches in the vase OR ELSE! Seven is ideal, but nine and eleven are both ok too.

Anyway - comments on my creation?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Some time in Hiroshima, to drink sake

I stayed at Mitch's place on Friday night, with Phoebe and Lucy and we left there by 9am and we were at the A-bomb dome by 10.30am. It was amazing to think that the bomb exploded only 600m above it, and so much of it was left standing. The Peace Park is beautiful – very lush and well cared for. We wandered down to the paper crane exhibit – for Sadako the Japanese girl who tried to make 1000 paper cranes to cure her leukemia.

At some stage some weird guy hooked onto us, and even though we tried to ditch him politely he couldn’t take a hint, so we lost him in the hyakuen shop! Enjoyed some shopping along the arcade – bought a cardigan in the mens section, which is becoming too common! We ate Mos burger, stole a coaster, and dashed to the station to meet the other ‘Guch JETs.

Got out to the Sake Festival after a long train ride to Seijo. Y1500 for a little china sake cup, and all you can drink. We started off intending to work our way down Japan – from Hokkaido. But the queues at Hokkaido were hideous, so we gave up on that plan! Rather, we just joined the shortest queue, and then went to the Kyushu tent because we had been told it was good.

Mitch and I met a weird girl, who wanted our opinions on whether she and her fiancé should circumcise their as yet unconceived son. Strange. And she was still sober, not sure if that makes it better or worse.

As the day turned to night, and the Japanese became drunk, thus more confident in their English ability, we started getting approached by randoms. We made friends with some, took photos with others, and ignored the complete crazies!

By this stage we were stationed by the Yamaguchi end of the Chugoku tent and drank all their good sake. By around 7.30pm we had cleaned them out of all their good stuff, so we headed to the train station to find our hotels.

I ended up sharing a room with Dom, which worked out well. Basically we checked in and then rushed out to dinner, given it was close to 9pm by now, and everyone was starving!

We ate ‘American Food’ at The Shack. Never again. I’m not into it enough, the burger was nowhere near Grill’d quality! But it was a fun place, and we just all sobered up a bit with the food.

This morning (Sunday) we woke up, and ate the sumptuous hotel breakfast (really it was good, and had a huge selection) before checking out and going to eat at Subway. It's so typical, over here, living in our small cities and towns where foreigners and 'foreignness' is minor, we get pretty excited seeing stuff from home. And I don't even eat Subway back in Australia!

Anyway, made it home alive, with all my belongings, after a great weekend.

I will definitely go back to Hiroshima for some more sightseeing next time! There are 2 albums on Facebook - 1 of the Sake Festival and the other is from the little bit of sightseeing in Hiroshima we did.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Japanese Toilets

So of course you can buy toilets in the home stores, but have you ever seen such a choice of lids!

And that's not the only choice to make! When you sit down you can experience a range of delights, utilising the buttons on the side!

Honestly, I only use the flushing sound noise, I'm not really game enough to try any of the others....

The Joy of Cleaning Time

So at all the schools in Japan the students, and some teachers, have to help clean the schools. Usually when I arrive at a school early enough I find teachers and students gardening. Then at some stage throughout the day, depending on the school, there is inside cleaning time.
At Hagi Nishi the kids turn up in the morning, and sweep the staffroom, and then get down on their hands and knees and polish the floor with face washers.
At Sanmi cleaning time happens just after lunch, when The Carpenters 'Sing A Song' comes over the loudspeaker. The kids clean until, when at the end of cleaning time, the song is played twice more.
But my all time favourite has to be Mishima JHS, where they save the weirdest cleaning times for me. For the first couple of times I was out there I ended up weeding the unused oval. The justification was that the sports festival was coming up (even though the sports festival was being held down at the elementary school). But the best was to come, last week when I was out there cleaning time was picking up rocks from the same oval we had earlier weeded. No justification was given this time!
Possibly the best part of this is when the kids ask me about cleaning time in Australia, and they are flabbergasted when I tell them that students in Australia don't clean the schools!

Monday, 1 October 2007

The rest of Geoff`s trip to Hagi

Basically, Geoff spent a lot of time eating in Hagi - checkout the facebook photos for the evidence! Curry, donuts, a variety of Japanese food... Geoff tried it all! We hired him a bike, and while I was at work during the day, he spent his time exploring Hagi, and eating by the sounds of it.

He also got to come to the welcome enkai - the party the Board of Education had for us. It was all you can eat, and all you can drink, so Geoff was in heaven!

I actually managed to get him to do some karaoke - with the help of Flick, Shak and the all you can drink he had already consumed! He did sterling job of Wonderwall, but the proceeded to butcher Cosmic Girl!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Geoff comes to Hagi and gets to ride a Combine Harvester

Today Geoff and I had to get up early to be at Sun Life at 10am, to meet the Japanese class, and the teachers, for our rice harvest. We drove for about 20 minutes, and came to Nishimura sensei’s rice fields – we were apparently still in Hagi. I’m not sure how many fields he had – somewhere between 2 and 6, 4 of them were at the sprouting stage, and the other 2 were ready to be harvested. So we were given hand held scythes, and instructed to clear a 2.5m square in each corner – then a combine harvester came along and did the field!

After the combine harvester had done the first field we had a BBQ – we made onigiri (rice balls), and then bbq’ed meat and vegetables. At some stage Nishimura sensei pulled out a fishing rod, and caught a tiny little fish – maybe 6 inches long. I’m sure in Australia you would have to throw it back, but here they packed some salt in its gills and threw it on the grill, and we watched it die. The worst part was that no one actually ate the fish – which I had assumed was the aim.

After the BBQ the combine harvester was back and we each had a ride on it – we actually had to drive it – around the 2nd field.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Long Weekend 1 - Yamaguchi Ciy & Shimonoseki

On Saturday morning I got up quite early, to get the bus down to Yamaguchi City. Flick had drawn me a map, but the bus didn’t exactly work out – it didn’t stop at the bus stop, but kept going to the station. So I got off there, grabbed the timetable for the way back, and wandered off in the rain to the shopping area.

I wandered up and down, and did some shopping. I managed to stumble into Autumn Fashion Week at the department store, where instead of the standard fashion show, the store had hired a geisha girl to perform to some taped shamisen music. On the 3rd floor there was a western toilet (yay) and the man in the optometrist store made admiring noises over my glasses, and then offered to clean them! Up on the 5th floor was an amazing market with all kinds of omiyage for sale.

There were some really cool shops in Yamaguchi-shi. A rather large shop that sold vintage clothes – the only one I have ever seen in Japan! (and for that matter, the only vintage clothing store that I have heard of in Japan.) There is also a Muji – yay! Bought some things, of course.

The next morning I had to get up even earlier for my Shimonoseki train, than the Yamaguchi bus! I raced down to the station for a train that left just after 9am! The train ride was really beautiful – all along the coastline. It wasn’t even that hard – just a few “sumimasen (destination)” at various places to make sure I got there! I arrived in Shimonoseki just before midday, and had a wander around the mall, before finding a bus to the aquarium.

Out at the aquarium I met Mitch, Lucy, Phoebe and Nicole just after 2pm. It was Y1800 to get in, and there were levels of cool stuff. Jelly fish, heaps of different species of puffer fish, and a whole range of other speciments, including a finless porpoise and sea angels – mini jelly fish with neon pink centres. We watched the dolphin show in the rain. I mean, there was a roof, but the rain was practically coming in sideways! Then the dolphins started doing huge dives and making mega amounts of splashing so we moved a few rows back to avoid some of the water!

We were all kind of hungry, so went for a wander. The renowned kaiten sushi place (train sushi restaurant) was closed, so we went to the snack place, and got some fish on a stick – plain, herbed, squid and fish and spammy tasting fish. Edible, but less than brilliant. So we wandered around to SunLive and got ice cream!

Met up with Louise, and her friend Wakako and we had a great dinner – I had awesome pasta: sundried tomato, chilli and anchovy, in an olive oil based sauce. So delicious! Wakako drove us out to the station as it was still raining, and we got a train to Ozuki, and then a cab to Kikugawa – Phoebe’s inaka town.

Phoebe’s apartment is awesome – it’s almost like a house, but still in an apartment block. And she has heaps of rooms – her bedroom, a spare bedroom, kitchen/dining, lounge room, laundry, shower, and toilet. Nicole and I had the spare room – I had a super thick futon, and Nicole had the bed (nice change for her).

Monday morning Mitch, Nicole and I got on a 10:55am bus to Ozuki. Mitch took a train to Iwakuni – the nearest city to where he lives and Nicole and I went to Shimonoseki. Nicole and I got lunch from a French bakery, bought our train tickets, and then got on our train home. Even though it was raining a lot, the train ride was still beautiful.

And then, because I couldn't think of a better way to end a long weekend, I agreed to go to Koshigahama to do speech contest practice! Saito sensei (the english teacher at that school) picked me up at Higashi Hagi and took me out to Koshigahama for speech contest practice – we did some run throughs with each of the girls, and then a practice in the gym, so they would have an idea of what it will be like on the day.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Hagi Nishi Olympics

The 9th of September was the Undokai (sports festival at Hagi Nishi, my base school. I arrived just before 9am, in time to grab my seat to watch the opening ceremony. During which we saluted the flag, encouraged each team, and various community members gave speeches. Thrilling stuff really. However, there were a couple of highlights – there was a torch runner, and he lit a fire, Olympics style, and the ‘robot running’. Basically the kids have to bend their elbows so there is a 90 degree angle there, and start running on the spot – right, left, right, left – before they run anywhere, even when they are running up to the lectern to encourage their team.

In the morning the kids had a variety of races. All the kids have to run – and they have continuous starts, as in before one race ends the next one has already started, on the same track. Then they did a cool obstacle race – they had to race under a net, over a beam, lucky dip for the number of hurdles they had to take, and then take that number of hurdles. The kids then did a vault, over a pommel horse, and then had to pick up a baseball bat, spin around 5 times, and then attempt to run to the finish line – more than a couple of kids ended up sprawled on the ground, or running in the wrong direction.

The next event was the statue race – actually, it probably wasn’t called that at all, but that is what I will call it. Basically the teachers sit on planks of wood that are suspended between bamboo poles, and the kids carry them around the track, often the teachers fall off, so the kids have to try and lift them back on, because the teachers are meant to be statues.

Then it was the PTA/parents/teachers races. I joined in the mukade (Japanese killer centipede) relay with the PTA mums. You have to tie your ankles to a rope and run together in a column. We came last. We also had a tug of war – it was meant to be men vs women but I managed to find 6 year 11 boys who were at the sports day just watching, to pretend to be women, and we managed to win!

Lunch break! The teachers had special bento, which were ok. So I sat in the staff room and ate that. Then it was back to the `real` events. The girls did a tyre scramble. So there is a whole bunch of tyres in the centre of the field, and the girls have to run and fight for them, against the other team, and drag the tyres back to their side. It was quite funny – they were getting pretty aggressive. Then the boys came out. I was really confused. Every 4th boy was shirtless and shoeless. It turned out they were about to play `horse and knight` - or as we might say, they were about to do piggyback fights. So in groups of 4 there were 3 boys carrying the fourth. And they had to charge at other groups and wrestle to the ground – that’s right, they were playing this on concrete. Seriously, don’t ask.

Then I was asked to judge the cheering competition – voice (loudness), teamwork, attitude and content. So I could easily do the first 3, but the content was difficult, given the cheers were in Japanese.

Then the boys did a `dance` actually more acrobatics, making pyramids and various other lifts, then the girls did theirs – with clacky things like maracas, but not. Finally there was one last relay and then they were ready to announce the winner. Shuji was in charge of organizing the scoring all day, so he and his helpers rushed upstairs and hung the covered up scoreboards out a 2nd floor window. Slowly they revealed the red team to be the winner. I was surprised, as the blue team had been doing well all day.

Home time, for a shower and stuff, then to the Well Heart Pia – a hotel near the beach, for the enkai (party). There was lots of food – well lots of plates with some food on them. Also, a fair amount of beer and coke too. But no one got really hammered, well not until the 2nd party. That was over at the UFO centre (in the arcade). The Higashi teachers were having their 2nd party there too. I did English karaoke with Shuji – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Boys Town Gang and Bon Jovi`s `Something For the Pain` with Shuji and Nakamura sensei. Many of the teachers came and talked to me, most of them spoke a little English, and once they had had some drinks they were confident enough to give it a try! One lady kept saying `I can’t speak English` and I just couldn’t help but laugh. I also love the way they all apologise for not being able to speak English.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The best mullet on an 8 year old ever!

This morning I went to Sanmi – I’m teaching at the Elementary today. As always, the train ride is spectacular, right along the coastline. The beaches are rocky, and it looks like a fair amount of rubbish washes up along them, so the beaches aren’t idyllic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite cool being on a train and almost being about to reach the water.

I arrived at the school before 8.30am –as nice as the train ride is, the walk from the station to the school in the humid weather is almost unbearable. Luckily, the teachers’ room is air-conditioned! I chilled, literally, in there until 10:30, when some of the first graders came to get me for class. Basically they just yell for me “Kato sensei, let’s go” and I go wherever they lead/drag me. I did my intro with a combined first and second grade class, then dashed back to the staff room in time for the 3rd grade kids to come and get me! Then I did my self introduction all over again – and still no one likes the taste of vegemite!

I ate lunch with the first and second grade, and then went out to play for a little while. One of the third graders has the most awesome mullet I have ever seen on anyone aged under 10! (There is a pic, but I`m not supposed to put pics up of students). Sat in the staff room and cooled down again before a train back at 2:40pm.

Only in Japan, again

So this is City Hall - and the little box/column thing at the front is a speaker. Everyday, during business hours, chimes play from the speaker so blind people can find the building. Yes I'm serious.

My Island Home

Real welcoming flag right? This is the first thing you see when you get off the ferry at Mishima - an island 45km away from Hagi or 70 minutes on the ferry. It's a pretty significant boat, and boat ride out there. It's quite comfortable, I just sit in the airconditioned room and sleep until I arrive!
When you arrive in Mishima the port is only 400metres from the school, but it's about a 45 degree angle from the port to the school. I arrived at the school before 10:30am, and didn't actually start teaching until after 11:30. This is pretty much the way it will be at most schools - turn up, slack off, do some teaching, go home.
I did my self-introduction 3 times. Once with one 7th grade boy, once with one 8th grade girl and once with a 9th grade boy and girl – yes, that’s right, there are only 4 students at the JHS. In between the classes I had school lunch, which was quite good. The students all have to help prepare lunch each day, and have to get dressed in lab coats, hair nets and face masks to prepare it – which only involves putting rice and the meal into a bowl and putting the bowl, along with dessert and a milk carton, onto a tray.
After school there isn't much to do out on the Island, so I went to the school gym to play table tennis with the students – actually I played with Morita sensei while the students played with each other, basically because they are so good, and I am terrible!
I stay at the only Ryokan out on the island - they always assign the ALT the back room, as it is the only one with its own bathroom. It's comfortable enough, though the futon is thin. The whole vibe out on the island is pretty chilled, I don't do much teaching and the people are nice.
At the elementary school the next day I did my self intro twice – once in the 1st & 2nd grade, and once in grades 3 – 6. Obviously I didn’t do the whole spiel, but spent more time playing with things, and making them eat vegemite! None of them liked it – some of their faces were fabulous, they just looked so totally disgusted by the taste.
At lunchtime a couple of kids came to grab me – literally! They came into the staffroom and grabbed my hands, and kept saying “lunch, let’s go”. Then of course I got all the “can you eat [insert Japanese food name here]” questions, and amazement when I used chopsticks! Then I was led around by a first grader and showed the cleaning up routine, before being dragged out to the playground.
What I love about the primary schoolers is that they have no comprehension of the fact that I don’t speak Japanese. They just speak at me, and drag me places. I spent the whole day just being completely illiterate. The dietician at the school speaks English, she works at it she told me, because she thinks it is important. The VP has a little, and the 3-6 Grade teacher also can a little.
After lunch I took the 2:30 ferry home, and was back at my apartment before 4pm.
Overall, it's nice to be out on Mishima, but good to be back in my apartment - and with internet access!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Friday, 31 August 2007

Horses sweat, Men perspire and Women glow

Or so the saying goes. However, whoever said that was clearly not enjoying the delights of a Japanese summer! All I can say is thank God for the beach!
Basically it's hot all the time, and humid. The humidity is not unbearable - though i am having a bad hair season because of the moisture in the air. It just seems like there is no respite from the heat, except the air-conditioned shops!
From when I get up, some time between 7 and 7:30 to when I go to bed I am warm, even in the airconditioned comfort of the BOE, or hot, when I am riding my bike places. I suppose the advantage of a bike is that you make your own breeze if you ride fast enough!
The beach technically closed on or about August 18, because of the impending jelly fish season, however we were still swimming there last weekend (August 26) without problems.
This month I have gone to the BOE each day, and in the last couple of weeks, I have gone to visit schools that I will teach at over the year ahead. That's right, I work from 8:30am until midday. Tough for some I realise. Then in the afternoon it's free time, which indicates beach time, or shopping time, or something equally taxing! I recall back in Canberra I used to tease many of my friends who were public servants for doing no work... I now know what it feels like! In fact, I think I do less than most of them combined!
Next week we start school visits, but from the lesson plans it doesn't look like I have a full day for quite a while. In fact, on Monday there are no classes because the students are all preparing for the sports festival. So after the welcome assembly I will practice dancing with the students apparently! While I am enjoying being slack at the moment, I think I will get to the stage where I really want to do something productive! However, if my public servant friends have proven anything it's that the bored stage may be a fair while off! (sorry guys!)

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Rubbish Rules

Possibly the most complicated thing about living in Japan is the bureaucracy surrounding rubbish. In fact, it's so complicated that our
supervisor, Tsucky, sat down with us one
morning at the BOE and explained the
different options. There are 6 types of rubbish. Burnable (plastic bag with blue writing), general plastic (bag with black writing on it), PET recycling, can recycling, glass recycling (glass has to be separated as to colour) - these 3 have to be taken and sorted into different boxes at the rubbish station, and finally the 'general' bag (bag with orange writing on it), which basically has anything else - the examples on the poster is a pair of shoes!
Once the rubbish is sorted it has to be put in the right place on the right day. Luckily my rubbish days are all Tuesdays, so I just need to remember which Tuesday we are on. The burnable bag goes at the end of my driveway, but all the other rubbish has to be taken to the community centre called 'Sun Life'.
Confused? Try living and figuring out where to put the rubbish once you've finished cooking or something. I'm still not sure which bin the aluminium foil goes in. So my solution to that is to wash the one piece I have used and re-use it until it disintegrates, then I don't need to find the right bin to put it in.
In some places in Yamaguchi you're supposed to write your name on the bag before you leave it, but I am terrified that will mean the bag gets returned because I've done something wrong, so I leave mine unlabelled. It seems that no one labels their bags as I'm yet to see a name on a bag anywhere!

Welcome to Hagi

I think the best way to describe my aparment is that it is bigger than I expected, but smaller than anything I have seen in Oz! The apartment is 3 rooms: bedroom (with a bed, not a futon), loungeroom and kitchen - off the kitchen is the laundry area, the toilet and the shower/bath.
Possibly the coolest thing in my apartment is a shoe cupboard (pictured). Now obviously, back in Australia a shoe cupboard that houses only 9 pairs of shoes would be insufficient for me, but over here there is still room for 1 more pair. On the idea of a shoe cupboard, does anyone want to hazard a guess at how big my shoe cupboard would have to be back home???
As a special welcome to Hagi the Board of Education (BOE) had organised fireworks and a festival... joke. The summer festival started the day we arrived, so I met up with the rest of the Hagi JET community (and some JETs from the inaka round here) and had some dinner and went down to the beach to watch the fireworks. So in Australia fireworks just go for however long they go for. I know the Skyfire one has a soundtrack, but this was divided into sections, with different sponsors, and announcements over the PA all night telling us what was going on - actually only about 40 minutes total including fireworks and announcements.
I spent my first morning in Hagi unpacking, not that I brought that much stuff, given our luggage limitations, but trying to decide where to put it. In the afternoon Tsucky (my supervisor at the BOE) and Flick took us to get bank accounts, and a keitai (mobile or cell phone as it is called over here).
I also got to visit my supermarket for the first time. It's amazing - you can get anything you can desire ready-made. Of course, I'm not really sure what everything is, but one day I'll probably figure it out.
All in all, Hagi seems quite cool

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Tokyo Orientation

I got up at 4.45am which is seriously inhumane. Played my last GH song for a fair while... It had to be 'Carry On'! At the Canberra Airport Erin J and Erin H, Ange, Dan, Katie, Xav and Geoff came to see me off - literally waited for my plane to leave! Faye came and said goodbye too! It was really great to see so many people so early in the morning! Thanks for coming.
Arrived at the Keio Plaza (lonely planet classification: Top End) at 9pm, and went out for dinner with the rest of the Canberra crew and some random Americans we found. Some annoying Australian 2nd year JET came with us, and thought we were from Brisbane, or otherwise loves Brisbane, because that is all she talked about!
Monday orientation was nothing special - I may or may not have attended all the sessions. It seemed to be different people from different parts of the government telling us how important the JET program is to them. So instead I went electronics shopping with the rest of the Canberra Crew and in true Australian style grabbed drinks at a bar after the shopping, rather than attend more seminars.
We had our prefectural night out - props to Louise and Panama Rob for the fun times. We went to the top of some train station and did nomihodai and tabehodai (all you can drink and all you can eat). Louise also introduced us to some of the Tokyo sights - very effeminate J-boys trying to pick up girls at train stations to go and work in the hostess bars, using original lines like, 'you're so beautiful'!
Tuesday's sessions were equally thrilling, so jumped on the subway down to Harajuku for some wandering/shopping. I tried on shoes, and was excited to realise I am a 24 over here, so shoe shopping here we come!
Tues night was Embassy Night - Aya came to visit me at the hotel and walked with us over to the Embassy, where she pointed out her old apartment. At the Embassy it was basically do the JET program and then come and work with us! Followed by a weird dinner.
Wednesday morning I had to get up at 6am to go to Hagi. I was honestly thinking at the time, this city better be great or I will be annoyed about the early start! After dealing with the bureaucracy at the airport - you have to present your bag so an airport staff member can check that the bag you are taking is the one you checked in - we three hagi bound JETs went into the lobby and found Flick andTsucky waiting for us with a big sign to welcome us.
In Hagi in the afternoon we experienced more Japanese bureaucracy. We went and applied for our gaijin cards (alien registration) and the application took about an hour. Then we went to meet the mayor - who was supposed to have really good English, because he studied at Tokyo University, but honestly, it was dismal.
Then, I went to my apartment. Thank goodness I could sit down.

My Farewell Party

So for those of you who missed it, my farewell party was fabulous fun. We started at Binara One, and there was generally drinking and merriment from 4:30pm onwards, and then a select group mosey'ed on over to Happy's for a banquet.
Thanks to all those who came, it was great to have such an awesome celebration just before I left!

I have the internet!

Ok, so my modem finally arrived, and I am connected. However, the blogspot instructions are in kanji, so will need some help from a friend over here before i start posting pics etc.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Big Picture Map

So this is a map of Japan (duh!) - the green area is my prefecture - Yamaguchi.

So it's just a short ferry ride to Korea!

Friday, 1 June 2007

So as soon as I created this blog Xav sent me this:

What do you all think?

So what's the JET thing?

From the Embassy's website:

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program seeks to help enhance internationalisation in Japan by promoting mutual understanding between Japan and other nations. The program aims to enhance foreign language education in Japan, and to promote international exchange at the local level through fostering ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth.
The objectives of the program are being achieved by offering JET Program participants (hereinafter, participants) the opportunity to serve in local authorities as well as public and private primary, junior high and senior high schools.

I'm going to be an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher): Participants engaged in language instruction. ALTs are placed mainly in local boards of education or publicly run primary, junior high and senior high schools. There may be a very limited number of cases in which the participants are placed in private primary, junior high and senior high schools through the prefectural offices or designated city offices.

Wish me luck!