Wow! I an so excited... Do you remember back in November when I wrote that my students were writing haiku? Here's the LINK to my journal I don't know if I mentioned at the time, but one of the big tea companies in Japan was holding a haiku competition and so we entered all of their haiku in it..
One of my students, actually the first one in the list WON the prize! Can you believe it, she won ￥200,000 which is about a thousand pounds, and her haiku is now featured on tea adverts all over Japan. Isn't that utterly insane? I'm so proud she won, although that's a little tempered with the weirdness of creative prostitution that her haiku now will help sell tea, but ANYHOW. Isn't it incredible?
And HERE is the website..
And the haiku: Icicles are my xylophone
Sounding silent melodies
Today is a strange day. The air is strangely thick, maybe because it's so humid if you put a pen on its point it could balance there, just lying on the air. This weather makes me so stupid. Guess what I did this morning? I set my washing machine to wash clothes early so I could hang them out before school.. and then when I got up I accidently hung out all my dirty clothes and left the clean clothes in the washing machine. Then I had to take all the dirty clothes down again and hang up all the clean clothes from the washing machine and finally put the dirty clothes in the washing machine. I really hate hanging out clothes at the best of times, so my hanging out everything twice serves to emphasise quite how stupid I am at the moment.
I am currently at school and trying to work out how to gag one of my teachers as she keeps laughing at the students whenever they make mistakes, which really doesn't help when they're terrified to speak English because of worrying about making mistakes in the first place. Imbecilic woman.
I went to Aomori prefecture this weekend (literally "blue", i.e. green, "forest", and actually that's pretty much all there is there). It was wonderfully green, gloriously wet and the rain rained a lot. We went to take part in a charity fundraiser for building schools in Nepal by doing quizzes but I have to say, for me both the quiz and the charity ended up being somewhat irrelevant.
Hummmm it's lunch time now, I'll write a little more later..
On the subject of "what is your dream?" or "what do you want to be in the future?" one of my students has written (I didn't correct the English),
"I want to live Japanese house when I'm grandmother.
Spring, I see cherry tree in my garden.
Summer, I sun with dog and cat and I eat watermeron!
Fall, I go to "Momijigari" and I make "siori"
Winter, I dring hot Japanese tea and I sleep in my "kotatu".
It is my plan.
I hope my dream has come true."
momijigari = the trips japanese people take to go and see the red leaves in autumn
shiori = a bookmark, i think
kotatsu = a heated table you sit underneath in winter
I think the most disturbing thing is that this is written by a 15 year old, who wants to by pass the next 40 or 50 years and become a Japanese grandmother as soon as possible. To me while the lifestyle she describes sounds pretty idyllic, and certainly contrasts favourably to the average salariman's life of 9:00-21:00 every day if they are LUCKY, it seems sad she has no interest in the bit in between. I don't think much of me wishes I was 60 right now.
Masakun, one of my favourite students (he's the one who previously wrote in his self-introduction, “I like the neglect of Takeda Mirai. I don't like his face. My favourite sport is cricket. Don't put your greedy hands on my money.” And also, “ I forget to bring my eraser every day, so I haven't had a good school life for the last three years”and“Ms. Sato makes an abusive use of her powers.") wrote,
"My dream is become watch man.
Watchman is guard for your spirit.
My dream is very, very easy.
But, I hack computers."
I don't know what it means but he seems to have a slight obsession with people stealing each others' spirits.
We also have, "I want to be a broad-minded person! I want to be a make-up artist, too."
Of the students who I have marked so far the aspirations are as follows:
1 government official
1 footballer, 1 table tennis player
1 watchman of the spirit and computer hacker
2 designers (although one would rather be a grandmother), 1 illustrator
2 air hostess, 1 ground crew
5 musicians, 1 actor, 1 make-up artist (and broadminded person)
3 doctors, 2 nurses (one male, one female), 1 pharmacist, 1 vet
Remarkably I seemed to have managed not to update for a period of three months. I think the main reason is that I've been writing other things, such as the beginnings of my novel which has been taking all my energy. The other reason is that I HATE uploading photos as it takes me too long.
What I've been doing includes,
1. My parents visited Japan. My dad found he could barely endure the ludicrous cuteness that pervades all aspects of Japanese life. I have to say, I no longer notice it, and although some of the girls around are sickening in their pink and teddybeared sugary coating I actually love the fact that being cute is fine for both males and females. My mum on the other hand decided the Japanese are a warlike and violent race and dangerous to be around. I think she based this impression solely on the Kyoto Peace Museum whose depictions of the crazy nationalism before WWII certainly shows that...but things have changed. I'm coming back to London next month and I was walking home at 2am down an unlit back street when I remembered I'm going to have to be careful when I return to that delightfully unsafe capital.
2. I went to Tokyo a few times
There I visited, the Meguro parasite museum (it makes me itch thinking about it again), a maid cafe (quite frankly the least sexy place with the most cardboard boxes on display of any cafe i ever went to), the Ninja restaurant (whose name can only be whispered on still nights), the O-hanami in Ueno (cherry blossom viewing, utterly beautiful), then...fastforwarding to the next visit, I tried out a love hotel (karaoke! in bed! fairylights! on the ceiling! bath as big! as a bed! jacuzzi! wow!), wandered around the secondhand book and record districts, met a kofun and the tokyo tower, was shown around Tokyo University (rather like St. Johns without the river and lots of Japanese people exercising at midnight in a vast barn-like gymnasium), climbed a few of the really high tower blocks in Shinjuku's highrise city and looked at the view, ate Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Mexican food, went to an imperial iris garden and probably did other things I can't remember.
3. Went to Saitama Kofun Park
And got to see some of the most beautiful kofun ever. I was so excited. Nori seemed utterly bemused by my excitement.
4. Went to a Paleolithic site in Sendai
Also very excited.
5. Had a crazy spitting fit with my employers who managed to underpay me by £150 and drive me crazy in four dozen other ways over the last few days. This includes requiring me to fill in a form in kanji by myself. I cannot read the kanji so essentially I'm just copying out several dozen meaningless characters, and I keep making mistakes so I gave up.
6.Had another party with teachers
But didn't bite anyone this time.
7. Saw FatboySlim in concert
Even if you don't like his music go and see him. He's an incredible showman.
8. Spent a weekend chasing random dancers with fans around Sendai
But Tetsuya was disappointed we couldn't get any amezake or however it's spelt. I also realised I like carp very very much and wish to have them swimming around my aparto.
9. Had my birthday party
It was fun although possibly free tequila isn't a good idea.
10. Ate some incredibly good sushi
Incredibly good. Yum yum yum.
I'm sure lots more things have happened since then, but maybe I'll start updating properly soon. I'll also put photos up when I'm in less of a mood like this where uploading photos could potentially tip me over into insanity.
Imagine the scene. A school hall packed to bursting with students. First and Second years, plus all the graduated third years in roughly accurate school uniforms and a wonderfully louche air, as of course they’re not even members of this school any more. In the back loitered some high school girls from previous years, pink and cute with exceedingly short skirts. The teachers leaving promenaded onto stage. A short speech was required. And then Ando-san reprised her winning song from the Enkai. The three verses and choruses of the school song, in an even more wavering soprano as her tears came. I love Ando-san, I think she,s utterly awesome and her dismissal from the school is basically criminal, but...
I applaud the students for not becoming hysterical, although certain faces reflected my feeling that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Fortunately I was not hungover as today was Pride and Prejudice official marathon. Today we watched the whole of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice and I consumed;
1 umeboshi onigiri
1 egg mayonnaise sandwich
1 yakitori stick
1 home-made scone (that we made from about 9pm just before home time)
1 piece of Christmas cake (Tescos' import)
1 bowl miso soup
1 piece of chocolate containing nuts
1 glass of apple juice
3 bottles water
3 pieces of homemade banana cake
3 bottles mugicha
4 pieces of bitter chocolate
7 carrot sticks with guacamole
about 7 nuts with seaweed
8 strange onion-flavoured crisps
8 cups green tea
12 tortilla chips
about 40 small deep fried fish in salt
…and probably some other things too. My heart was wrenched and then gladdened by the film in spite of the dull predictability of Mr Darcy. We also managed to work out the animal equivalents of all the main characters.*
*(For example Jane who usually looks like a horse;
But here looks more like a toad)
Last night was the goodbye party enkai at my other school (the school where I'm generally ignored by the staff, not the school where I bite people). I was informed just yesterday morning that it would cost 1man, that's £50 but as I was too late to cancel on grounds of insane extravagance I was quite happy to attend with no feelings of guilt.
I arrived at the hotel with a couple of other attendees (note: it seems, from all such events I have attended, that as a young, unmarried woman I am expected to wear a tight black suit...) and was ushered to coat removal (as usual the slight Japanese woman buckling under the weight of mine while a ferret-featured male ran around looking concerned and helpful but actually achieved absolutely nothing). We took the lift to a tatame banquet room with dark overhead beams, where more kimono-clad women encouraged us to remove our shoes and placed them in lockers for us and then entered the main chamber. Each of the 25 attendees had their own tiny table and floor-chair, complete with an initial set of food, all arranged in a horseshoe shape. There were delicate paintings and calligraphy hanging in alcoves and a decidedly indelicate huge lion's head and big wooden bucket-thing. The tiniest and most Japanese of all the teachers swung the handle of the bucket gently while examining it, propelling it through the paper wall of the room. We spent the next five minutes positioning the handle so you couldn't see the hole she'd smashed through.
Finally all the teachers had been ushered (women in kimono tend to do a lot of ushering) into position and the 6 departees came into the room. We were nearly all in intensely formal dark (or black) suits and yet the teachers, for reasons best known to themselves, had chosen to decorate the departees with tinsel. Old, formally attired, calm sensible Japanese people with red, green, yellow or pink tinsel wrapped around their necks like boas entering the room with a wedding-like step. I managed not to giggle. We bowed. They bowed. The tinsel slipped a bit. And then the speeches began.
For each teacher was the Kyoto-sensei's speech, then the departee's response, then another teacher's speech, and then the departee's speech. Then the receiving of flowers and envelopes.
..it seemed to take a very long time..
The dinner lady, Ando-san, has been kicked out for reasons of expense after 10 years at the school (Tomiya Town Hall is new and made entirely of modern. Modern is very expensive and hence they're cutting things from the school budgets such as Dinner Ladies and new toilet paper). She cried at her farewell and tonight again. Then she sang the school song in a high and wavering soprano.
...then we watched a compilation film of all the annual formal photographs of the teachers over the years.. watching Ando-san morph from a plump middle-aged woman into the slightly haggard limping one she now is was interesting... 10 years is a very long time..
Finally it was time for the KAMPAI and we drank and began to eat..
The initial set up on my personal little cute table.. (tofu, baby squid with daikon, soy sauce)
...women in kimono continually fluttered in and out to bring new food to our tables..
Next (+ sashimi, huge meatball soup, mysterious dish with a green lid)
..Next (+ vegetable and miso thing, fried chicken, grilled fish)
..Next (+ small bowl of vegetables)
...and finally... (+ pickles, miso soup, fried rice, coconut icecream)
After a while the courses eased off and people began to pour alcohol for each other at an exponentially increasing rate. First, of course, they were eager to show respect to those leaving, in particularly the short, stinking, irritating man who was our Kocho-sensei. This can be clearly seen in this picture.
If it’s not clear, let me explain that all the backs are teachers waiting, kneeling, facing the teachers departing. The Kocho-sensei is therefore in the middle, on the other side of the table. All those teachers are trying to fill up his glass.
By about 30 minutes to the end the male teachers had become so drunk they were queuing to fill up my glasses (I am wondering whether they’ve heard rumours of my enkai-related craziness from the other school). I had a range of conversations largely focussing on Whisky and Jomon Archaeology. My favourite questions included, “So, where are you from in America?” and “When did the Jomon age begin in England”. The Jomon is a period in Japanese prehistory named for its cord-marked pottery specific to the Japanese archipelago. Yes, in England people were living there at that time, but no, they weren’t Jomon people.
We left (my teacher drove us to the centre..she doesn’t drink, but of course was just as drunk as the rest of us). At the second party we sat and chattered more about things and ate some more food and drank a lot more beer and things. We had mini-kegs at the table to compliment the Caesar salad and kimchee soup. I think I am going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Everyone attended, and it was a drinking and eating affair, very distant from the stripping and singing event that happened at the last nijikai I went to. Which was probably a very good thing. I think Liz’s parties should be limited as otherwise they would cease to have their special appeal.
This cat haunts my dreams. It leaves my home and attacks people when I'm not there. I have to bury the corpses below the cherry trees but I'm running out of space. I don't know what to do.
*Present from Russell
I was browsing to find equivalent Japanese-UK bra sizes (although I think the sizes given are wrong... here bras seem to be measured from the size they APPEAR to support rather than the goods inside, so to speak...the degree of padding in certain bras is just extraordinary) and I found this http://www.asiansexgazette.com/asg/japan/japan04news51.htm
I feel odd propagating it, as it seems to me to be child porn.
However, in the same pages I found this article http://www.asiansexgazette.com/asg/japan/japan04news98.htm which is pretty interesting. Ainsley was talking before about her experience of being harassed in the post-room and how uncomfortable it made her feel. Maybe this reflects that in the UK, it is only regarded as a problem when power politics come into play. I think that there is a valid point here of some sort; if someone in power puts you in such a position things grow murkier but obviously all people should have a right to freedom from harassment from anyone. Here, hierarchy is all and the system seems in a worse state than that of the UK, even. Recently an ALT from Miyagi left, and while she was apparently bad at fitting into the system; putting recycling out any day she felt like, exploding at school when things didn't go the way she expected, being very rude to her teachers, the reasons for her leaving were unconnected with this. She left because she was badly sexually harassed by her Kyoto-sensei. I was initially very shocked in a way most people weren't (and very shocked that no-one else was as shocked as I)...they completely accepted the fact she left, that it would never be investigated and that nothing would change. How can this be right? I think she may have put herself in a more awkward position than necessary; if she had had better relations with her co-workers maybe they'd have been more willing to help, but the fact remains most people felt it unthinkable that someone in such a low position as herself could cause trouble for someone as high as the Kyoto-sensei. I think not only does this re-emphasise how lowly us ALTs really are, but also how much hierarchy counts here. And nearly all the people in positions of power are men. I have only met one head teacher who was a woman in the whole time I've been here. At each school there is a row of photographs of all the previous head teachers and they are all men, stretching back up to 40 years. Women rush to make tea when visitors arrive. The visitors may be formal guests or former students popping into say hello, but they all are served and always served by the female teachers. Women here tend to rush around moving chairs, rearranging things while the men generally saunter in and take their positions. Similar to the way we take to our knees to scrub the floors as they look important playing with network connections.
This being said, there are also ALT-related sex-scandals in school also not resulting in dismissal. I have heard stories of male ALTs getting their students pregnant but not being sent home, merely being made to change schools (although this may be apocryphal I know that sleeping with one's Senior High School girls is not that uncommon and loudly bragged about on the JET message boards I avoid). Currently a female ALT in Sendai is apparently sleeping with a student. A Sannensei student, so he is 15 and she is 27. All such relationships, imbued with an inherent power element seem wrong to me, particularly given the extreme youth of the kids involved. Yet, as already mentioned, we are the ones who would be believed or at least absolved; the views of the students reduced to nothing.
Another person I have talked to, however, has a Kocho-sensei who not only sexually harasses all the women leaving them no course for redress but tyrannises all teachers making them bow and scrape. Allegedly upon laughing at the Kyoto-sensei knocking his own glasses off when drunk, one teacher was forced to supplicate himself on the ground before him.
This morning after last night not really sleeping thanks to clubbing at Ripperu (again) it was time to go to Akiu, one of the most famous onsen towns in Miyagi. But, before lying naked in a big hot bath we had to make traditional glass beads. In a traditional place with traditional slippers and traditional cups of coffee that I didn't drink.
( Photographs...yes really!Collapse )