About Me

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

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.