About Me

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

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.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Stalking or Love?

On Friday I was at school, eating lunch and attempting conversation with the teachers. I say attempting, because the English teacher who eats lunch in the staff room is SO SHY that she sits as far away from me as possible, so I bumble along, mangling Japanese & English in an attempt to be sociable/make myself understood.

All of a sudden the school principal comes in - he had just received a special delivery, an early copy of the local newspaper. He was so excited because on the front there was a version of 'Where's Wally' - this time, spot the foreigner. That's right, there was a street shot from the Old Fashioned Festival, and there I am, front and centre.

All the teachers were oohing and aahing over it, but I was so unimpressed. I mean it's bad enough playing live Where's Wally in the supermarket, with kids stopping and staring, and people taking notes on what is my basket, but stealth photography of me being published on the front over... bloody Japan!


The Japanese make a lot of the fact that they have four distinct seasons - as if it was something unique to them. I have tried to explain that all 4 seasons exist in all but the equatorial counties! In my mind, the problem with the concept of 4 seasons in Japan is that there is no warm up - it changes from one season to the next ON THE DAY it is supposed to. For example, when I went to Bangladesh it was Winter, and when I returned it was Spring, and 10 degrees warmer. The sudden change was exceptionally terrible last December, however I have posted copiously about my problems with Winter!

Now, it's time to move on to Summer! Today it's June 1st and it was 23-25 degrees at about 11am - fantastic. I'm ready to hit the Hagi beach many, many times. However the weekend just gone I went with a big group of Yamaguchi JETs to go and play soccer against some other JET teams, and some Japanese teams too.

We headed up to Shimane prefecture (the prefecture immediately above Yamaguchi) on Friday night, and stayed at the Little Swiss Cabins. There were 8 of us to a cabin, which were on the top of a mountain, looking out over a beach. Of course, we partied on Friday night, but the tournament organisers had thoughtfully given us a late start (just in case we had decided to drive the 4 hours from Hagi to the tournament on Saturday morning).

The boys were playing regular soccer - full size pitches with 11 players per team. They lost both games - which is the standard, though they did score a goal this tournament (a feat they did not manage last September). Our girls team were playing on small pitches (definitely less than half the rize of a regular pitch) and only 6 players per team. I played goalie in the 2nd half of our 2nd & 3rd games - and no one scored against me!

As we were playing 6 a-side we had special rules - no offsides to begin with, and a whole bunch of rules to 'simplify' the game for us. In the end, all we had to remember was not to touch the ball with our hands. We won our first game 4-0, and then at the end of the 2nd game there was some dispute as to whether we had lost 3-2 or 3-1. So we had to take penalty kicks - luckily Steph was the goalie and she saved so many, but it the end we lost the penalty kicks 1-0 (after each team had taken 11 shots at goal each). This meant we played the 'bronze medal' game, and won 2-0 or 3-0 (not sure).

Of course, after a long day playing soccer we had to party! This time, it was with all the other teams who had played in the tournament. There was a mountain of food, a Japsican (Mexican + Japanese) band, and then an African drummer. The kids all went to bed, and it turned into a dance party where Monica and I befriended a Japanese soccer team - all boys who studied Geology at Shimane University.

Finally we went to bed, and way too quickly I was being woken up for my ride back to Hagi!

(On a side note, my camera is being temperamental and I am having trouble uploading photos from my camera so once it starts behaving there will be photos on facebook for those of you with access)