My Japanese Life (Part Two)

In Part One I covered “my Japanese life in photos” before I got a job, when I was living in Tokyo and studying Japanese. There were lots of pretty pictures, which makes it suitable for people who have a short attention span are not that interested in Japan, or my life over there, but also keeps things succinct, which from a writers point of view is quite handy. I was going to follow a similar format for this post, but as I’ve been compiling it, I realised that it’ll just be a bit… boring.

So I’m going to try and make it a bit more interesting – things that are done differently in Japan, fun outings, silly stories, interesting factlets and random things. As a result, I suspect this will all be a bit disordered. But hopefully the good kind of disordered.

The reason I was concerned about this being boring is that the two years it covers mostly consisted of getting up early, teaching at state-run elementary schools, eating school lunch (yum), hustling to the dojo (my first ever phone call in Japanese was to the person who became Sensei for two years, asking if it was ok to come and train), then going home to sleep, or try to (you can actually read about my daily routine). I only realised when I got back how fried I was from sustaining what sounds now, and I thought at the time, like quite an undemanding lifestyle!

I worked with a company called Interac. Basically all the companies with whom you can get a job in Japan as a non-Japanese speaker (who isn’t a banker/professional) are somewhat dodgey. So If you want to work in Japan, you’ll be picking form a pretty lousy bunch. Interac, whilst not great, are by no means the worst. If anyone wants more information then feel free to contact me.

Teacher training was a three day crash course in Tokyo. Nothing if not thorough. There was a fair bit of time to be killed, so we utilised the hotel dressing gowns to their fullest…

Club Alternate!

At the above hotel I found a directory of hookers under my bed. I took some photos which you can see here.

After training, I moved over to my new home in Nagoya. In Japan they actually have a LOT of custom-built studio apartments. They are excellent, and are comfortable, functional spaces to live, making the best of a relatively small space. Here is a video tour of mine. My rent was 49,000 yen, excluding bills and tax (about £320 or $500, as of today – *much* cheaper than in London).

One of the best things about Japan are the 100 yen stores (about 75p), which have wayyyyy cooler stuff than the pound shops here and are perfect when you have an apartment to kit out.

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Just to set the scene, my job was teaching in State-run elementary schools. I had two sets of schools – they changed each academic year – and I’d generally rotate through two or three schools by doing a week at one then a week at another. Some were big, some small. Each had advantages and disadvantages (much like working in a big vs. a small company really).

My first non-friends social outing was getting taken to a matsuri – festival – by one of the teachers from school. Matsuri generally involve donning traditional clothes and everyone in the town (by which I mean “the men”) dragging around some very large floats. This particular festival was on the coast and ended up with the floats being dragged into the sea. It also involves a lot of drinking.

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Random Factlet: In Japan, they use different counting systems depending what the thing is being counted.

At weekends we often went to the beach, which in all honesty weren’t very nice, even compared to English beaches, but were a nice place to kick back and chill for a few hours. Here we are at Utsumi after having befriended some locals. Quite an entertaining story around this trip, and you can also see a photo of a genuine Man In A Mankini, who was shamelessly wandering around (solo) on the beach (probably cruising for guys).

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When you see pictures of Japanese gardens (see previous and forthcoming posts), you think they’re all green and calm oases of peace with perfectly sculpted trees, rolling lawns and the odd koi swimming gracefully around. Whilst that is mostly true, it’s all shattered when someone rocks up with a packet of fish food. This is what results – a disturbing but mesmerising fish food orgy (note – these fish are all at least a foot long):

FISH!

Random Factlet: It’s very common for families in Japan to own their own small rice paddy field. This is usually on the outskirts of the same town they live. They grow their own rice and it is dried and processed locally. I started a series called PaddyWatch, which charts the growth and harvest of one such field, which I passed on my way to work (like a very slow timelapse). Check out the series (scroll down and start at the bottom of that page).

School sports day is a very different, and way less serious, affair in Japan than it is here. It has some very random games, including a relay race with a pole, and one whereby the kids throw beanbags into a hoop, helped along by their grandparents. More photos and video here.

Random Factlet: One of the duties of the school teacher is to visit the home of each of their pupils in order to ensure that they are being brought up in the best possible environment. Could never in a million years imagine that happening here!

Another Random Ractlet: Discipline is a very different deal. Check out the story of a teacher pushing one of the kids up against the wall, hand round his neck…

During the summer holidays I met up with my beautiful sister in Cambodia for a holiday (which has been my only foreign holiday since I went on it, in 2009!).

Ta Prohm

Saw some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life and I would definitely urge you, whoever you are, to go.

Bantrey Srei

Ta Prohm

Also got to kick back at some serious beaches and do something which was not at all an option in Japan, and which I will remain suitably vague about ;)

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Read more about Cambodia (and, more importantly, look at the photos and start planning your trip there!):
Phnom Penh
Tuol Sleng (Khmer Rouge Prison)
Temples Day 1
Temples Day 2
Temples Day 3
The Beach

There have not been enough pictures of food on here to convey just how AMAZING the food is in Japan. It’s the best in the world, no exaggeration. On the top left is a gohei mochi from Tsumago, a speciality of the region, along with some cold soba noodles. Read more about the hike some friends and I did here.

Tsumago to Magome walk

My friend Sam came over for a flying visit, and was suitably happy at getting to eat sushi (blog post)

Kaiten sushi

Random Factlet: Pet shops in Japan are weird. So are gay sex shops.

Also, drugs are bad, mmmkay? Just say no.

Went to Nara with Kato Sensei, one of my closest Japanese friends who worked at the main school I taught at. Story of the day and some more pictures here, including several of deer, which wander freely around Nara and are mostly tame enough to eat out of your hands (they sell special rice crackers to feed them!).

Deer and ginko leaves

Random (yet obvious) Factlet: There is a lot of pointless paperwork (and shuffling) and silly bureaucracy in Japan.

You might be getting the impression that I didn’t do much karate, since none of these posts are about it. But I pretty much did it every day, just didn’t write much about it. Mostly practise was the same – kata and kihon, and there’s only so much that can be said. If you’re interested though, you can read a bit about what karate training was like over there, my dojo, my other dojo (same club, different location), my on-going practise and some of the differences between training in England and in Japan. There is loads more on the blog, but unless you’re a martial artist it’s probably not that interesting!

If you’re ever in Nagoya (and I’ll be honest – I’m not sure why you would be) then you can visit the Toyota Museum, which is pretty damn awesome. They have all kinds of machines that stamp out door panels, affix wheels and spray the cars. VERY cool. It was also very cool because my friend Lawrence, who I met through the internet (he was one of the Shiramizu interns and I’d contacted him to sort out training) came with me :) (Read more)

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Went snowboarding again with some friends. Had an awesome time riding, drinking and hanging out. It’s actually pretty easy to get to a resort from most places in Central Japan, and not as expensive as it is in Europe. Plus the food is wayyyy better!

Spent quite a lot of time at Nagoya institution Yamachan, which is a chain of restaurants specialising in chicken wings. Really really tasty chicken wings. Used to go quite a bit after karate training, and also with friends. Below is Tyler, whose leaving party it was:

Tyler

Also on the subject of food, there are lots of fruit and vegetables and other random foods you can’t get over here, which you can read a bit about here and here. In fact there are loads more posts about food on the blog.

Teaching was both fun and frustrating, mostly in equal measures. Sometimes the kids had a massive breakthrough though, and learnt to apply a word or phrase you taught them to another situation. This is a prime example, and particularly awesome as it involved poo.

This is the story of the most insane kindness I experienced in Japan (as a result of a not-insubstantial amount of stupidity on my part).

Iwakura hanami (literally “flower watching”) with Kato Sensei. Loads of trees line a canal and everyone sits down and has a picnic and wanders around. One of the best hanami spots in the local area.

Iwakura Hanami

Random Factlet: Despite being a massive tomboy, I can actually sew (and actually won the school prize for it many many years ago!). The commute to the schools gave me lots of time, enough to embroider this cardigan for my niece (yeah, showing off now ;) ):

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At the end of the academic year, there are lots of fun events on at school, one of which is an activities day where the kids get to try out lots of sports, crafts and so on. Here is my favourite kid in school, Taketo, with a kendo shinai (bamboo “sword”). Perfect combination of naughty as hell and totally adorable. Qualities I just realised that I look for in adults as well as kids ;) More ultra-cuteness.

Taketo with shinai

There was also a school festival – some of the girls pulling the floats (which you will see are involved in all Japanese festivals) below. More photos here, including on of me looking like a boss in shades and tabi boots.

Kids

This is a photo of one of the classes at Minami Kasuya, the smallest and friendliest school I taught at.

6th grade

At Shinden one of the sixth grade classes made me cards. See the rest on Flickr, and read more about the end of school here.

Maki - inside

The last of the school events was the Shinden staff party, which was a *lot* of fun!

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Random Factlet: There are very complex rules about sorting rubbish and recycling in Japan, including how to split your trash and how it must be washed (and dried). Have a look at the poster that you’re provided by the council.

During the long summer holidays my folks came out to visit. It was cool being a tourist again – staying in hotels and re-visiting many of the places I went to when I first came out, as well as some new ones.

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It also coincided with me getting a new camera – a Canon 50D. Perfect timing.

We all went out for dinner with the Suzuki’s, my original homestay family when I first came to Japan:

Happy families

Went around Tokyo, and got took a lot of photos, visited Kyoto again, which is absolutely beautiful, and did lots of foodie things – have a look at some shots of a traditional covered food market.

Random Factlet: Buying rice in Japan is a true test of you decision making skills.

After the ‘rentals left I had a few months of teaching, my karate First Dan grading (nidan) and then did some travelling, all of which I will cover in the final part of this series :) I will try and ensure it’s a little less all-over-the-place than this post has been!

If you want to read more about life in Japan, here’s a list of blogs I recommend.

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