Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A shout out to the madness among us

I love Japan. I love living here. I particularly love the fact that I wasn't raised here, as it allowed me to flourish and develop into the well-rounded, kind of balanced individual that all connected with me love.
My day to day life, however, puts me in touch with the result of a culture that demands conformity to the mould. There is what is expected. If you follow that, you end up in a good job. You work every hour that God gave you, and retire at 65, only to be struck down by dementia in your early 70s. Why? I really think it is because you have no memories in your head to keep the brain going. All you have is a lifetime of work, and memories of that cannot sustain mental cognition. Call me mad, but that's my take.
What happens if you don't follow what is expected of you?
Maybe you end up as a 40-year-old woman, working hard, but getting a pittance while listening to your Prime Minister bang on about how they are going to raise wages, etc, etc. Trying to work out how you worked so hard when you were young, but ended up on the wrong end of the stick somehow. Awful stuff.
I'd take the madness option any day of the week. I see it most days of the week here. Three cases in point.

The banging on the train windows guy
I get the same train into town every day. Most days my ride is pretty ordinary. Monotonous even. I play on my phone and raise my head to see everyone else doing the same. But sometimes, I get jolted out of my boredom by the window banging guy.
This guy is a young fella. In his early 20s, I suspect. And he is a train conductor. In his mind anyhow.
As the train pulls out of the station, he is pointing in every direction as the train drivers do. He then runs his index finger around the perimeter of the window of the door, then gives it a bloody good smack for effect. Everyone in the carriage who aren't wearing headphones gives a start. This bugger then runs up and down the carriage banging on various windows. 
For the novice, his antics are unsettling. For the veteran, amusing.

They talking to himself guy at the station
There is a station two stops from my regular station. I usually just pass through it on the train. Tomorrow, however, as circumstances have it, I will park in the supermarket carpark adjacent to the station. I need to drive, and park for a long time, then drive. They have a flat rate of 500 yen, so it is convenient.
So tomorrow will have me passing through the station. As I pass through the said station, I will see the same guy sitting in the same place, doing the same thing. And that thing is talking to himself, in an animated fashion. He just sits there, gesticulating and talking.
Not a care in the world.

The Blues Brothers guy
This guy won't get much of a mention, as I have only just noticed him. As I alight from my train at the main station and walk through the underground walkway on my way to work, I have noticed this guy leaning on the wall at the same place, wearing the same thing every time.The fact that he also is in earnest conversation with himself piques my interest.
He is always in black from head to toe, and wears dark sunglasses. Hence my Blues Brothers reference.

So, you've got these guys. Living in a society that is very unforgiving of differences. And they give zero. They just carry on in their own little worlds. Do you feel pity? Or do you in fact feel just ,a little jealous. Here we all are, striving to become what the world expects us to become. And here they are, happy with their lot. Only they know what their lot is, but that's cool, because it only matters to them.
I see the miserable people on a miserable treadmill, day after day. Pleasing the man. 
I see these three guys, in blissful ignorance of all the shit that we put ourselves through.
Who is crazy? Hmmm. It begs the question.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Who am I to ask for an English menu? Why am I perversely looking forward to the snow tomorrow?

So today, in the name of furthering another blog I do (if you're interested just ask in the comments), I visited a number of restaurants to ask if they had English menus.
The blog I'm setting up is to connect visitors to Hokkaido with restaurants with English menus, in the name of their dining convenience.
Anyhow, I found myself descending down a stairwell (well lit and perfectly cool) into a warren (again well lit and perfectly welcoming) of small eateries. 
My plan was to ask them all if they had an English menu, so as to include them in my register of restaurants with English menus.
I started by entering an Indian curry place. It was just out and out dodgy, so I moved on. I went through about six restaurants in total. They were lovely by and by, and I got one restaurants details. English menu, bloody good looking sushi and sashimi, and waitresses in traditional kimono/yukata get up.
That, however, was not the venue that sticks in my mind.
The honour of that goes to a smaller place. A place entered through a sliding door, with a TV bolted to the wall just to your right as you enter. The bar/serving station is directly in front of you. The whole place measures probably 7x4 metres, with about ten tables.
My memory of entering was not the sumo going on on the TV. It wasn't the music or the decor. It was the stare of the businessman seated at one of the tables. He was staring at me, with a 'what the hell are you doing here' look on his dial.
So I got to feeling miffed. How dare he look at me like that. I'm a person I thought. How dare you look at me like I don't belong.
But then I remembered this, this, this, this, and this story. (They all outline how locals are over tourists). And I had a moment of clarity.
This guy who was giving me the dirty had had a hard day at work. He has worked hard all his life, in a country that has rapidly changed around him. His city in particular, Sapporo, has become a tourist mecca of sorts. And here I was, in his safe place, speaking my awful accented Japanese, and taking away his quality after work time.
I get him. I know how he feels. Having lived in Japan for a spell now, I am turning Japanese a little I think. Case in point is the onsens at Niseko. Nothing I love more than a good onsen.
My favourite onsen is called Yuki Chichibu, and it is out the back of Niseko. If you forget to take your silver jewellery off, it comes out black. It stinks of sulphur, and leaves the lovely 
つるつる, or soft and smooth feeling on your skin when you hop out.
Unfortunately, in the winter now, I have to deal with Australians (and I regretfully suspect fellow  Kiwis) drinking beer whilst having an onsen. They aren't drunk, they aren't rowdy. They are just taking away from the calm and peace, and Japanese style that is an onsen. And it pisses me off no end.

And the perverse interest in the snow tomorrow? I don't know why, but I'm looking forward to it. When I am shoveling it and slipping over on it, and driving through it for three months, I will be cursing its very existence. I don't therefore understand my anticipation for its arrival. I is a very real, but unlogical feeling.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The futility of teaching (on rare occasions), the joy of teaching, and new winter threads

Here we go with the second instalment. If you like it, go back and read the first. You may like that too. You may not like it, if not, thank you all the same. As I said in the post I have yet to work out how to pin to the top, this is merely a recording of what I do to remind myself in years to come, which I am offering to you for perusal. Comment if you feel the urge.

The futility of teaching (sometimes)

Today I went to a nearby elementary school where I fill the role of English ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) most Monday mornings. I've been doing it for three years now.
Before we start, I won't bore you with an expose of what is wrong with English education in Japan. There is plenty wrong with it, and you can read about it here, here, here, here and ,here. The last one is quite an academic approach if that floats your boat.
Anyhow, my problem is with motivation. I have students who, by and large, enjoy my tutelage and finish feeling they've learnt something, I hope.
I am running through phonics with them, as it is criminally neglected by the public school education system. I have a laugh. I bring some prior knowledge into the game, I make it contextual, and I give it a good nudge basically.
Fifth grade is cool. I have two classes of about 25 in each class. I know what I'm doing. I'm qualified and experienced in it, so cool.
Sixth grade is the issue for me. For the first two years, I had two sixth grade classes also. This year, however, the bean counters at the local Board of Education have decided to combine the classes. I have about 40 in the class and find it impossible to engage those who need a bit of a push to get engaged.
Furthermore, the lesson plans have been taken from me and now the lessons are laid out by someone who doesn't have experience in teaching English, and can't speak English.
I don't blame the teachers. They are doing the best with what they have been told to do. What takes the jam out of my donut is the corner cutting.
For me, if you are going to teach a language, do it properly. You can't do it half-arsed. If you try to do a half-pie job, click on the links I referenced above to find out the result.
Rant over.

The joy of teaching

Two Mondays a month, I teach at a special needs school in a nearby town. It is very small, and very informally organized. The kids come and hang out and do different stuff. They have a range of different learning and behavioural issues which I won't try and identify, as I'm qualified to say. They just run around and yell and scream, and have a go sometimes.
I don't know much about the system of trying to integrate the students into the mainstream educational system, but I don't believe it is done so much.
Anyhow, the whole scene always offers such contrast to the morning at the elementary school. The students are just running around inside and doing their thing. Are they learning? Don't know. But then again, what is learning? It's not book learning for them, it's learning how to cope with the world around them that throws up all these crazy things.
I love trying to connect with them, and try and show them a bit of my world. Always difficult when they speak nary a word of English.

New winter threads

Just a quick reflection on my new winter threads, the joys of living in a population large enough to afford economies of scale, and the common misnomer that Japan is expensive.
I needed a few new pairs of warm socks for the upcoming winter. (It will begin to waggle its icy finger at me the day after tomorrow looking at the forecast). I also wanted to get a set of fleece clothes to wear in the house. Our house is very old, and heated by kerosene heaters, so a good warm set of clothes is nice in the house.
My first stop for clothes (and I daresay usually my only stop) is of course Uniqlo.
I always marvel at the quality and price of the clothing
Where I grew up, the population is a fraction of what it is here, which means stuff is more expensive. The economies of scale I mentioned. It makes things better for the shopper. It of course shuts down all the old mum and dad shops, but that's another discussion for another day.
Finally, the cheapness with which I can buy clothes, food, drink, and dine out, often makes a mockery of all the talk I hear of Japan being expensive.
Sure, if I go into a trendy pub in the middle of the city I might get stung for a bit of cash, but otherwise I'm finding life here as cheap as chips.

Thanks for getting this far. Ask questions or leave comments if you want. I'd love to hear thoughts.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

And it begins

Some wit once penned, 'Never has so much been written by so many and read by so few.'
He or she was, of course, referring to blogs. So I thought I may as throw my lot into the hurly-burly that is the blogosphere.
This blog is just my thoughts on life as it happens to me, a 43-year-old married guy living in Japan. It's as much for posterity for anything, but it may be equally as much that I'm sick of watching Rick and Morty, if that's possible, and felt like doing something constructive.
If you want to comment, go ahead. I've never had a comment on a blog I wrote so it would be a welcome change. If you want to tell me I spelt something wrong, go ahead. If you want to tell me I'm a genius, always welcomed. If you want to tell me I'm wrong, be my guest.

The Lion King
I watched The Lion King today whilst sitting in my wife's aunty's (she's my aunty too, but I referred to her as such to avoid confusion) apartment. It was of course in Japanese. My wife tried pressing buttons to change the language to English, to no avail.
What struck me is how easy it is to follow a story with no language. The expressions and the visuals saw me right.
Kind of think we think too much into things sometimes. Just look at what is in front of you and it's a lot clearer.
Nice story, and it always impresses me how they can translate songs into Japanese and keep them humming along to the same tune.

The car check up
We bought a new Honda N-Box a couple of years ago. This is what's called a 'kei-car' in Japan. The kanji is 軽自動車 in Japanese. The first kanji means light, and the last three combine to mean car. It has a 600cc engine, but that's all we need.
Inside, the seats fold down completely flat, so we can sleep at a full stretch. Kind of like a poor man's camping car.
When we bought the car, brand new, it came with five years of services included (or prepaid to be precise). It's grand. We take it in and they service it for nothing down, sit you down with a coffee and tell you any issues they may have had.
What I was chuffed about this time was the work the sales guy had put into finding out about the 2019 Rugby World Cup commemorative number plates. We wanted to get them on the car to express ourselves. However, we got a few months ago we got told it was not possible. As we were hire- purchasing the car, by the letter of the law the finance company owned it, so we couldn't do as we wished.
Turns out, via the sales guy's research that this was not, in fact, the case. We could change the plates, just not the numbers.
I love that. He put the work in. Didn't have to. Our money is already in his (company's) pocket, and he still puts in the yards. Is that usual with buying a brand new car? Is that Japan only?

The children playing, and loading up on sugar
Finally, we stopped at a friend's to drop off some food from our garden. Turns out that there was a kid's party going on. About ten of her daughter's friends were round having a bit of a shindig. What impressed me was the fact that there was not an electronic device around. They were laughing and playing and just having a good time. My entry, of course, engendered a sudden desire to speak English to the foreigner, so I had a bit of fun with them. Their take home for the day was that when they introduced themselves, they didn't need to use their last names. Leave that to the business people I told them.
The other thing that I noticed was what they were eating. Crikey they were downing enough sugary sweets to kill a horse. They offered me some, but these days the chocolates, although delicious, leave me feeling sick as a dog if I overindulge.

So, it began. My pointless blog, which is as much as record for myself as it is for any enjoyment that anyone may derive from it.
Leave a comment. Or a question. I'd love it.