World Cup 2006 and all that

I suppose I should start with the World Cup... They`re pretty crazy for it over here though maybe not quite as bad as we are. All the games are televised at night and during the day. Unfortunately Japan`s crushing defeat against Australia left most people pretty deflated. They`re realists here and seemed fairly happy with the 0-0 draw against Croatia. Japan have actually beaten Brazil before so a few diehards are maintaining a glimmer of hope..

Matches start at either 10 or 12 in the evening or 2 or 4 in the morning. This is actually surprisingly compatible with my teaching schedule as I teach between 1pm and 9pm. the other English teachers and I have probably seen as many of the games as you lot, and the patriotism still stirs abroad.
Thankfully the workload has been easing off. I have an eight day holiday starting on Saturday so I`ll have the chance to do some proper exploring. Akinabra (or technology city) is one place high on my list-paradise for you Jamie. Mount Fuji also beckons though i may have to wait until August before I can get a clear view.

As I mentioned before things are cheaper over here. Bizarrely it`s cheaper to eat out (which does beg the question- how do restaurants make money out here?) than it is to cook for oneself. I mean I bought a lobster and it cost me more than Macdonalds! I haven`t eaten any Macdonalds obviously, though I think their prices are a fairly accurate international barometer for the cost of living.

There have been some notable mistakes with language on both my part and by Japanese companies writing in English. My mistake involved washing my dishes with what soon transpired to be shampoo: it seemed to do the job though. It was just shampoo and not a shampoo and conditioner so they didn`t have that extra shine and smoothness to the touch unfortunately.

Mistakes in English appear all over the place as you would expect, but I just had to buy a sandwich which boasted `greater confidence, quality and freshness than any other sandwich. What , I mused, would a confident sandwich be like? Would it unwrap itself and urge me not to be shy about eating it? I had to find out and must confess I was disappointed by more than just the taste.

The sandwich, like everything else you buy from the convenience stores comes with an unnecessary amount of baggage. Despite having a strict recycling programme one can`t help but think they`re making it tougher than it needs to be. I think the profligate use of plastic is predominantly a result of trying to keep everything sanitary. They`re obsessed with hygiene here. Though in fairness, the humidity is a real problem when it comes to keeping stuff fresh or indeed from going mouldy.

As far as my Japanese goes, I`m still at the basic phrases level though I`ve started to learn the writing(which will help my speaking and pronunciation). Japanese is split into Hirigana (about 45 characters used for writing foreign words exclusively), Katakana (45 basic Japanese characters) and Kanji (3,000 odd complicated chinese symbols with multiple different meanings). I know and can write about 15 katakana and will hopefully have both Hirigana and Katakana under my belt in a month or so. It`s quite fun to learn so hopefully progress will be steady.

Teaching is getting easier. I haven`t been kanchoed though I don`t know if that`s out of respect or because I haven`t given them the chance. A `kancho` is when a student puts their hands together in a gun shape and sticks their fingers up your bum while simultaneously yelling `kancho!`. My students are by and large well behaved thankfully.

Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2006 at 15:24 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment

Working like a dog

It`s been crazy busy since I started working due to a shortage or teachers in my region, Higashi-Tokyo (Higashi means East). Today is my third day off since I started...

The first week left me with acute dysania, It appears I just cant settle for narcolepsy like everyone else in this city. On the train today at around 3pm everybody had their eyes closed. Sleepiness aside I now have a far clearer conception of what`s required of me as a teacher. The answer, somewhat distressingly, is quite a lot. Compared to the other new teachers my workload is substantial. This will be reflected in my wages but It`s still a bit of a bastard. I teach an average of 6 hours a day with lessons varying between half an hour to an hour. Mondays are particularly brutal as i have to teach children for 3 and a half hours without a break, and they`re no angels I can assure you. As I`m not completely familiar with the syllabi and course materials I teach, planning planning takes up to an hour and a half everyday. Tuesday isn`t much better as i have to teach a hyperactive 7 year old followed by two separate classes of 3 year olds. I badly need to learn the Japanese for `stop feeding your vicious tykes so much sugar` The accuracy and velocity with which Aozura (a three year old boy) can throw metal trucks at my head is alarming. I have a small dent in my head which brought me close to tears at the time. That said, I`m popular with the very small ones who generally wont let go of my legs when mum arrives to pick them up. The 5-9`s are the problem; the boys are really aggressive and discipline (of any kind) is not my strong suit. I keep telling myself they`ll calm down as the weeks roll by though whether they do remains to be seen. On the whole teaching is going well and the feedback i`ve been receiving has been almost entirely positive.

Most of the other teachers i`ve met are pretty sound though there are a fair few cretinous male teachers around. Nod nod wink winkers who make no effort to teach or learn the language. There`s one philodox who really pisses me off but thankfully I only work in the same school once a week. The school managers are all Japanese ladies who are very easy to get on with.

I went out for Karaoke and sushi with another teacher and a couple of the school managers the other day after taking all the kids to the aquarium. Twas a total, total piss-up. I`d been a little nervous about singing and had vowed, like Alexis, to sing only songs I didn`t like. This went out of the window immediately as Graham and I shouted our way through `Bridge over troubled water` before destroying a number of other classics. The ladies were in fairness pretty good. Practise. Part of me had thought `I watch the X-factor, how hard can it be?` That whimsy soon dissipated as it became blazingly apparent I had no talent for singing, even the booze couldn`t convince me otherwise.

Prior to the Karaoke we`d been eating in a traditional Japanese restaurant. As my brother and Belinda had mentioned they were going to Ascot I thought it would be a topical treat to eat horse when Miwa suggested it. I pitied not the horse; if it had been faster maybe it would have been enjoying the sun at Ascot instead of being served up sushi style I reasoned. Some of you may think that harsh though maybe not as harsh as eating the whale that followed. I must declare my innocence on that one though- I just got stuck in without asking and found out afterwards...If you live in the sea there`s a very real possibility you`ll get served up here.

On a different note the pushing and shoving on the train is quite ridiculous/ I had some 70 year old woman trying to push me off the train; it hadn’t even stopped! The old women are the worst. Telling them to calm down iisn’t an option. People push and shove on the train yet when I drag someone out of a taxi I nearly get arrested- what gives?

Unfortunately I can’t show you any photos for a month as I won`t be able to afford a camera until then. I`ll be walking up mount Fuji when i get my holiday in a couple of weeks so I`ll try to borrow Alexis` camera for that.

Posted on Wednesday, June 14, 2006 at 17:57 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment

First impressions

I assumed there would be loads of internet cafes over here but it transpires that this is just not the case. The last internet cafe I found was clearly labelled in English and Japanese; that was fortunate. I’m tired of walking into business meting and restaurants in their pursuit so that’s why I’ll be writing from Alexis` flat from now on.
Last night Alexis and I went to see an authentic Japanese DJ going under the name of Bryan G. Strangely it sounded more like UK drum and bass but there you go. The club was called WOMB and it cost 20 quid to get in! Expensive but standard apparently. Once you’re in there drinks only cost £2.50 though. We left the club around 4.45 and went to grab the Japanese equivalent of a fry up near Alexis` flat. These restaurants are open to six in the morning, and from what I’ve seen so far generally have drunken people slumped awkwardly over the bars-dead to the world. I swear half the population have narcolepsy. Anyway, the Japanese equivalent of a fry up is healthy and delicious. It’s kind of like coleslaw mixed with seafood and then fried on a hot plate in front of you. My explanations will never be able to do justice to how tasty it is.
As far as food is concerned this place is paradise (especially if you like shell fish) you can pick up 5 huge fresh tiger prawns for 1.50 and everything is so fresh. To my shock and disgust my local supermarket doesn’t have fresh chillies but in all other respects the shops are great. The restaurants are also amazing, and eating out is pretty cheap. As with London there’s a real variety of restaurants. I still haven’t eaten anything alive but I’ll keep you posted (this crab was giving me the eye in the supermarket) .
As of last Sunday I officially became a resident of Tokyo . I live on California road in Itchikawa city (in east Tokyo ). It’s surprisingly quiet and suburban but still fairly central. There’s a fairly large Indian expatriate community which makes me feel more at home. My area (Myoden) is fairly nondescript (standard Japanese architecture, but it’s nice). Unfortunately it’s about twenty stops away from Alexis` so it takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get to him (from one side of Tokyo to the other takes about two hours).

My apartment consists of a room with a bed and a small bathroom. The kitchen is by the entrance and it’s small, but clean so I’ve got no complaints. As it’s on ground level I may have to battle cockroaches but thankfully this hasn’t happened yet. My neighbour got woken up with a big one in what his pants, that isn’t going to happen to me.
Although I’ve only been here two weeks I’m already making a concerted effort to learn the language. My first full lesson is on Wednesday. In an effort to immerse myself fully in the language I spend a lot of my time at home with the television on in the background. They are a lot of obvious comparisons with English TV (cooking programmes etc) which at first led me to believe maybe things weren’t so different. Two shows have significantly swayed my opinion, one of them is presented by a chimpanzee, a well dressed primate he is too. The other one is a sort of teenage blindate show with a twist- they bet large sums of money on who will get together and who will get dumped. A bit cold I thought, especially as they interview the distraught teenagers shortly after they’ve been dumped.
Back home we always mention how organised the Japanese are. The simple truth is that there is no alternative. Seemingly simple activities like going to the toilet or throwing your rubbish away aren’t so straightforward; I have five different rubbish bags and different binmen come on different days to pick it all up. There are 10 stages to washing my clothes! That’s 9 more than usual! (10 more me thinks, ed).

Posted on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 15:17 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment