Monday, 24 February 2014

writing projects! ave a read

This weekend I skated at a snowy mountain outdoor rink, sat with my feet in an outdoor onsen, ate Mexican food in Fukuoka, shopped, and went to a kabuki (traditional Japanese theatre) festival. I’m exhausted, but it was great to get out of town and shake away the winter cobwebs.

Waiting to skate! 

In the quiet exam weeks at school I’ve been writing a couple of articles. One was for a local newsletter, the Miyakonojo International Association, about experiencing the turning of the year as a foreigner in Japan. The other was for an online magazine I used to edit at called Owl Eyes, about the various merits of teaching abroad. Check them out if you’re vaguely interested in either! 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

japanese livin update and reflections

It’s been a while since I did an update of general goings-on and daily life here in Miyazaki – mainly because I was enjoying going through the dozens of Christmas trip pictures so much. I’ll post a picture round-up soon too, but for now here are some recent anecdotes and observations.

January was a little hard – saying goodbye to the family, living in the dark and cold, a relatively quiet social calendar, and dealing with a few things catching up with me, tested my strength – finally Culture Shock Stage 2 had arrived! However, despite cold and wet February weather, I only now have about 5 months left: no more time for homesickness. In any case, I came to appreciate the kindness of my friends here even more – especially Hana, who drove me to the hospital, took me food shopping, carried my bags and fed me my medicine when I got sick!

The view from my staff room during a run of few freak days of sunbathing and warm breezes. 

School has been quiet lately due to tests, but I feel I’m starting to get the hang of commanding a class’s attention and structuring lessons to encourage their participation. Even though I don’t want to teach at this stage – maybe in 10 or 15 years – it’s been extremely valuable growing accustomed to presenting and leading daily, something I only did once of twice in four years at St Andrews.

A sign hung up around school during exam time. Apparently it says "No frustration allowed!" #keepcalmanddon'tloseyourshit 

I’m also absolutely loving my taiko class lately – something clicked about the way to hold the drumsticks (if that’s what they’re even called) and my leg muscles don’t object to the lunges so much anymore. Last week we (the foreigners) practiced a little dance for the routine’s start, with fans and bells, as our sensei entreated us to “Show the gods you’re having fun! Say ‘Look at me having fun, gods!’” I’ll definitely be seeking out a group in London come October.

I'd like to note that this picture has stretched horizontally and that neither Simon nor Jessica are quite that rotund.

Part of our routine. 

In other news, it’s been difficult to maintain teacherly composure recently, as my students continue to surprise, delight and amuse me. Sometimes it’s with their originality and the random things they pick up about English. A chatty third year boy came up to me in the staffroom this week.  “Sophie, read this please,” he said, holding out a piece of paper with the word “better” on it. I obediently pronounced the word, then said it in American, New Zealand, Australian, Irish and London accents for laughs. “Not ‘bedda’?” he said. “Like ‘bedda bedda bedda bedda bedda beddaaaaaaa?’” Good to know my students are learning pronunciaton from The Beatles.

Sometimes, however, they’re not so innocent. . Last month we wrote New Year’s Resolutions in class.
“Sophie-sensei, this year I will be a man!”
“That’s great, Soujiro-kun!”
“I will move on to the next stage!”
“Oh, good English phrase!”
“I will now have different private parts.”

 Here’s the latest gems from their homework:
  •  There lay spread only mountains and rice fields but I felt the dreary scenery representative of sadness to end 2013 soon.
  • I will completeness combustion! I received an instruction about an eyebrow. I will change my heart, I will study hard and I want to be a good student.”  Eventually I divined that students aren’t allowed to pluck – or shave, which is common – their eyebrows and she had received a telling off.
  • My favoruite singer in “sexy zone” be very cool every day and he gives me happiness! I love “sexy zone” and I need “sexy zone!”
  • We had sex education and I thought something about myself after that. That evening, I talked about when I was born with my family. My mother waked up at 2am, because she dreamed about a god turtle was climbing to beach from the sea. 
  • If I could go Tokyo, I woyld go to sweet paradise. If I could go to sweet paradise I would at make cakes. If I could eat many cakes, I would feel full stomac and heart. If I could feel full stomac and heart, I would happy.
  • I became a fan of Mr Nishiioka baseball player. He is very cool and sadistic.
  • We went to the Miyakonojo City Assembly. But I was surprised when a parson used their mobile phone in front of assembly. I thought that I wanted them to get a grip more.
  • Happy New Year. I have decided two goals, first, I will be 185 cm tall. I am 160 cm tall now. I will go to bed early every day this year. I believe that I will be a tall boy.
  • Even though my hero is a hooligan, he is so shy and afraid of ghosts!
  • "What a pity.” I found that my comic book is written in English. It is my favourit I lokked on the Internet. I want to buy them but I don’t have no money. What a pity.
  • Ah… I am regrettable…. I am very very regretable!!!
  • What a beautiful woman Ema Watson is! How pretty the mouse who can speak! How long neck is he who has yellow body! What bad situations they are! I couldn’t say them! [I think you can guess what grammar construction they’d just learned].
  • Today, I will scatter devils in my heart, I have devils such as the devil of doing something lazily, the devil of an indecisive character and devil that can’t get up early in my heart.
  • I ate a long sushi roll at night. I ate it silently. And I made a wish in my hart. After I became an ogre.

These last two were somewhat disturbing revelations to read on a Friday morning. However, I soon found the root of the matter: setsubon. Setsubon is the day before the first day of Japanese spring, and it happened a few weeks ago. It’s kind of like another New Year’s Eve, and thus is replete with purification rituals. One such ritual involves throwing beans or peanuts (‘mamemaki’) at eachother to drive out devils and evil spirits, while shouting “Demons out, luck in!” Then people eat one soybean or peanut for each year of their life. Also, in some areas people eat a whole roll of sushi (ie. uncut into little bit size chunks) in silence while facing the year’s lucky compass direction. Even so, I never realised I had such penitent/ self-critical students! 

Saito-sensei and I still have our conversation times too. Discussing international eating habits, he made the following outburst:
“In America they go to cinema, eat potato chip, eat potato chip, potato chip, goblet of cola, then go out, go to dinner, WOW!!!”
He has also picked up the pharse “Know what I mean?” and enjoys adding it to the end of most sentences, pronounced like “Knowhaddamean?”, with sassy hand gestures. Yesterday our conversation time went like this:
 “Sophie, I am very hungry.”
“Oh dear.”
“Can you give me some food?”
“Er… do you want my banana?”
“Oh no! I don’t like bananas!” *Runs away*
I never know if he is practicing is vocabulary on me or is asking me genuine questions.

However, there have also been some moments that made me grateful for the “exchange” part of my job, and have really touched me. Saito-sensei is a history teacher and was asking me about the second world war, Britain’s relationship with Germany, and specifically my grandparent’s thoughts. I happened to have the very thing on my laptop – a typed version of some memories my Gran had written down for my school project when I was eleven years old. My wonderful Gran passed away in September, and reading through her memories, talking about them, Prestonpans and about her, was very poignant for me. Saito-sensei said after we were done, “This letter is my treasure”. That Gran’s thoughts and memories are being considered, enjoyed and remembered in the most unexpected of places, a school on the other side of the world, taught me something about the small ways we all live on. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

new year at fushimi inari

I woke up on the first day of the new year feeling decidedly more fresh than any other 1st January in recent memory...
Given our lack of shrine action the night before, we decided to head to the big one and visit Fushimi Inari... on just about the busiest day of the year. Check out my post from my last visit! 

She really does love suits. 

As you can see, it was a little more squashed than last time. All the way from the train station to the middle of the shrine complex, we jostled along slowly, frequently being pushed out the way by old women I might add! 

It was freezing again and the clouds seemed to hold snow, but we were fairly well insulated by the rubbing shoulders of our fellow visitors. 

 Once inside, I glimpsed this strange sight jauntily making its way through the crowds...

We caught up a little later! Unable to form a proper sentence, I simply exclaimed "Kawaaiii!", followed by "Why?!"

"He [the woman's husband] wants him [the woman's cat] to see the shrine! It's an important day!" 
Can't argue with that. 

So... my fox turned out really disturbing. Nice to know those manic eyes will remain at that sacred place for some time. 

 Jack the photo-bomber continues to thwart me. 

 Where can he be?

With legs like jelly from the long climb down, we slowly made our way back, jumped in a cab, and made for the nearest kaiten-zushi place in Kyoto Station. 

It was really fantastic to see one of my favourites shrines again, on one of the most important days of the year. The shrines were covered in tea, boiled eggs, sake, and other offerings. Around every corner people lit candles, rang bells, and read fortunes. Like last time, elderly people with walking sticks, children, and girls in ridiculous heels alike all made it up the hundred of steps to the top of the mountainside, embodying the principle of gaman, or endurance, as only the Japanese can. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

lazy links: valentine edition

It's Valentine's Day this week and Japan is doing what it does best - appropriating non-Japanese holidays and adding slightly odd packaging (This picture was taken by another Miyazaki ALT). 

On Valentine's Day in the West, generally men give women flowers, chocolates, dinner dates, jewelry, and women might reciprocate with a card, a gift... or new lingerie. It's consumerist, mass marketed extravaganza, but one between two (hopefully) loving people nonetheless. 

In Japan it's a little different. As with so many things here, Valentine's Day involves group obligation, hierarchy, respect, hassle, and putting yourself out to be nice to your community - for women, that is. Yes, it falls only to women to buy chocolates and gifts for their sweethearts and giri-choco or 'obligation chocolate' for their co-workers and bosses. As a result, the holiday seems to be widely resented and less popular co-workers are left with 'token' chocolate, rather than a heartfelt gift. However, in a stroke of genius, chocolate marketers came up with White Day for 14th March, when men can pay back their benefactors in kind. 

My students have been handing in homework late because of chocolate-cooking activities (hand-making the treats is popular here), but save for a surprise sent in the post, I'm drawing the line at leaving a box of sweets in the staff kitchen. For first time in 3 years I'll be aloooooone on V Day, and most likely will be celebrating with machination, intrigue and cold blooded revenge. In other words, I have a date House of Cards 
As such, and in an effort to streamline my bookmarks page, my Valentine's gift to you is a round up of my favourite things from around the interwebz of late. 

If you have not seen the first season of House of Cards, do not read these recaps via texts from someone's mum. 

I used to find this type of post on badly translated signs a little mean, but hilarious. Having spent 6 months grappling with the language and telling people "Watashi wa nihongo ga tabemasen" ("I do not eat Japanese"), I just find them hilarious. 

Speaking of signs, someone has been trolling the London Underground  recently.

The best ever combination is the cast of Game of Thrones and their cat doppelgangers

"There are two aspects to the ebook that seem to me profoundly to alter the relationship between the reader and the text. With the book, the reader's relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the ebook. "
Why e-Books are a different genre from print .

I'm a sucker for awesome photographs of random subcultures

The best rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody I've ever seen. 

And finally... every couple's Valentine dilemma

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

the last of 2013

We spent the last two days of the old year in north-west Kyoto and in Nara, immersing ourselves in temples, shrines, and peaceful gardens - starting with Ryoan-ji, a garden of Buddhist temples. 

We are very skilled at posing for group photos. 

Even though I'd been in October, we just had to visit Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, once again. It was busy and bitterly cold, but the elegant lines of the temple were reflected perfectly in the still water. 

We finished the morning with a stroll around Ninna-ji. 

After Some Hot soba in a River-Side Cafe, we Wandered through the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Groves, trying to recreate Air tracks with a Capella. 

Spot the Jack. 

Back in Kyoto station, we explored the sprawling monolith's storeys and staircases.  
 And couldn't for the life of us find Jack. Such a cunning little whippersnapper. 

Visiting Nara was also a repeat for me, but really, how many times is too many to see the world's largest wooden building? 
Ok, that came out way more architect's-daughter than I meant it to. But, the Todai-ji was no less awing for a second viewing. 

Nara WAS bustling with Worshippers paying respects Before the new year arrived, but for Some reason it WAS Quieter Before the Daibutsu  . than in the Autumn Therefore, I seized the Opportunity to TRY my Chances at this bad Boy - a narrow tunneled through Hole One of the wooden columns. Enlightenment is guaranteed to those who can pass through it (maybe the custom was originally to do with fasting?) Queuing behind children and tiny Japanese grandmas, I prepared for humiliation. 

But I made it! 

This is what enlightenment looks like guys.  
I finished off with some gymnastical flourishes and beat a hasty retreat outside. 

This guy can apparently cure various ailments if you rub the appropriate part of his anatomy.  

Obnoxious use of ipad. It's never ok. 

Mum catches two conspirators.

Mum and her "creative" offspring. 

I had fun experimenting with Some Line Camera
. New Year's Eve WAS a Funny One We started with Some Juicy and Highly Efficient  Yakiniku  - Nickynackynoo ACCORDING to Mum - and Proceeded on to the Hotel Bar. 

Being Japan, it of course closed promptly at 11.30, so we took the drinking games upstairs and emptied the mini bar as bells rang outside 108 times, once for each of the 108 sins in Buddhist belief and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires. 

We'd planned to head to the shrine across the street at midnight but arrived to find it dark and empty. In the alley next to it, however, dozens of people lined up to ring a huge bell under its own wooden gazebo. We saw in the bells with them before collapsing from our 15km of Nara walking, ready to face 2014 relatively fresh faced and chipper. Jack's resolution? "Be well read, well travelled, and well dressed." Hear hear.