Wednesday, 6 November 2013

dragon boats, emojis, and halloween in japan

One of the upsides of being an expat is celebrating with gusto traditions you'd probably have all but ignored back home. Over the past few weeks it's been so interesting explaining traditions to the students and teachers at school and seeing their interpretations. 

I haven't finished posting about my trip yet, but here's a wee picture round-up of what's been going on since I got back. 

A couple of Fridays ago I took the train to Miyazaki shi, expecting some relaxed drinks and nibbles. I arrived at the agreed-upon place, Round 1, only to find a 5 storey mad house, complete with roller skating rink, pachinko, archery, karaoke, purikura and indoor carp fishing...

Madness ensued.

That weekend I also ran a 5km with two of my English teachers and fellow ALT at school. Having done approximately zero training, I was a little nervous. The race took place about an hour north of Miyakonojo in Aya, a beautiful small town famous for its wineries and surrounded by forest mountains. The day was cool and damp. Hundreds of serious runners, families and elderly people were shuttled with us from various car parks to a field full of food stalls and stages. We crossed over a wide river via a bridge of rocks and sand bags made especially for the day and took our places. The race itself turned out to be surprisingly easy - even pleasant - I ran alongside 5 year olds and octogenarians, and we were cheered all the way by townspeople, families with drums and rattles and shouts of "Gambate kudasai!" It was lovely to be running alongside a sea of people with no need for verbal communication and a faint sense of belonging. 

Beautiful carp, one day you will belong to me. 

My apartment is finally starting to feel more like home, with some improvised decoration.

A somewhat merry Friday night may or may not have seen me climbing to the top of a slide in a children's playground to look at the moon... each day I come closer to my goal of living in a Murakami novel. 

I have also recently come to appreciate the infinite genius of Japanese emojis. My friend Hana in particular is a true emoji master. 
A couple of weeks ago I found myself road tripping down to Kagoshima again for a stay in some cabins by the sea and a Saturday of racing in dragon boats (something I approached with trepidation given my push-up record, again, zero). The view from the cabins were beautiful. We spent the evening barbecuing, spotting the milky way, climbing in rafters and seeing who could fit into the under-floor fridge. Hey, when the sun sets at 6pm you make your own fun. 

 Oh hai Manu. 

We arrived bright and early to the races the next morning to register, people watch and embellish our costumes. Most other teams showed up in either matching lycra or identical, logical costumes befitting their various professions... we turned up in pajamas, lei, Harry Potter cloaks, bad wigs and coconut bras. Silly gaijin.  
First, a Shinto priest opened the proceedings and blessed one of the boats, and we began the heats in true efficient fashion.

New look? 
Of course, we came last in our races, but considering our utter lack of training, we didn't shame ourselves too badly. I solved the upper-body strength problem by acting as cox and beating our drum at the front of the boat!

After using our free onsen tickets and freaking out the old ladies with our invasion of the outdoor pools, we slowly made our way home via wooden viewing towers and Fleet Foxes singalongs.

The next exciting thing on the agenda was Halloween! I celebrated about ten times over this week with each class and with English Club. The students knew a lot of 'monster' vocabulary and sweetly greeted me with "Trick or treat!", as if they were saying "Merry Christmas!" on the day of Halloween itself. After a bit of cajoling, I persuaded the kids at English Club to try their hand at apple ducking Scottish-style - face masks and all. The session ended with a game of wink murder and a room full of screaming 16 year old boys. 

Hana and I got ourselves in the Halloween mood with Paranormal Activity and a lot of frightened/frightening emojis.

In another display of Japanese efficiency, I came home from school to find a building opposite my apartment block that hadn't been there when I left!

After the 5km, I realised I have been jogging about 5 times too fast my whole life - no wonder it was always a pain! Now I've realised the error of my ways and have been running all about town and finding some quaint little spots. 

This weekend I went to a salsa night hosted by my dentist! The bar was relaxed and earthy and felt very different from the rest of Miyakonojo. We were treated to a mini lesson and a few dances with some guys who actually knew what they were doing. It was sweaty and awesome. Hopefully we'll be going to some classes during the week! 

Then the grown up Halloween party rolled around! 

After a couple of years of ill-preparation, I finally got around to going as Margot Tenenbaum! 

It was great fun! I managed to find a children's Ralph Lauren polo dress for cheap on, as well as a cute fake Birkin bag and a not totally terrible wig. Add a paper bag wooden finger, red hair clip, loafers, cigarette, scowl and voila! The party was fantastic and it was great to find a place to dance here. It was tiny, smokey and played disco for four hours. Perfect. The next day we had the p.m. over a hungover brunch and a "chilli + Texas Chainsaw Massacre" night. 

The latest UK tradition we've transplanted to our new home is of course Guy Fawkes night. I began trying to explain this one to students - "So every year now we burn an effigy of a man on a fire to celebrate his execution, ho ho..." and was naturally met with bewilderment. Maybe I'll just stick to Hello Kitty pumpkins. 

Fireworks, sparklers, and watching V for Vendetta in my tatami room made for a very satisfactory 5th November.

I spent this evening cooking spicy southern fried chicken and watching New Girl with a pal... pretty good way to spend Hump Day. I'm excited to get to school tomorrow and finish marking my kids' diaries. Favourites so far this week have included:
"The pretty faces of the sleeping children healed me."
"I hated to eat yoghurt, so I decided to eat good luck instead."
Whatever works bro. 


  1. Your Margot Tenenbaum costume is amazing! The disenchanted stare, the posture, you got everything down. Did anyone recognize you or was it one of those costumes which requires a lot of explaining? (Every year my costumes require a lot of explanation. "No, I'm not a zombie, I'm Ralph from Lord Of The Flies!")

    I hope your students are enjoying their introduction to Sophie's Version Of Western Holidays. It seems like they're having a great time with you. Keep sharing your adventures, please!

  2. Thank you so much Sarah! You just made my evening :D It was great fun - only about 3/50 came up to me like "Oh my god yes!" - but now I know they're friends for life!