Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

wow! nine weeks already!

I've had the laziest of lazy days today, just reading and eating and sleeping........ and deliberating doing other things, but not quite getting around to them. Bliss!

I don't have a TV here and have no intention of getting one. I didn't realise how liberated not having a television makes you feel, and it certainly makes me think of all the hours I used to waste watching crap television. Yup, I used to be addicted to Eastenders, Holby City, Hollyoaks, Casualty, Bad Girls.... and anything voyeuristic like Wife Swap, Big Brother, etc.


I mean, I have a brain, I think and I do have more interests than just staring passively at moving pictures and not learning anything from them. I suppose this just drums home how exhausted mentally I used to be when I got home from my old job, and how talking to people or 'doing' anything was generally beyond me, I was THAT drained every day. And not in a good way.

Of course, I am probably spending too much time on the net, but nobody is perfect. And, more positively, I've been reading like a mad thing since getting here. One of the books, Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin', is one of the best books I've read in absolutely ages. I couldn't put it down and had to reread huge chunks again afterwards. About 3/4 of the way through, I started getting that despondant feeling that I always get with gripping books: the knowledge it'll soon be finished and how long will it be until you get a book that equals it.

I also quite liked the first story in Banana Yoshimoto's 'Kitchen' book, but only because I was reading things and knowing I did them, or I'd seen them. It was quite sweet though, if not a tad disappointing. I didn't think much of the second one.

Another one that gripped me, and that I've just finished, is Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code'. Generally, with exceptions of things like Harry Potter, I try to avoid books surrounded by too much hype, but my neighbour had this book. Have you read it? What did you think? I was totally gripped, and it's always nice for a book to be set somewhere you're familiar with. I wonder just how many mass 'secret' societies there are that hold power. Actually, another book I really enjoyed ages ago, on conspiracy theorists was Jon Ronson's 'Them', where he 'befriends' groups in order to get to know more about them.

And finally got around to trying out Isabel Allende, and read, 'City of the Beasts'. Another book I really enjoyed. Good adventure stuff. Actually, I didn't have a clue what the book was when I bought it. It was the day I was in a rush and dashing around the bookshop. I've been meaning to read some of Allende's work for ages, and wasn't disappointed.

But enough about literature for now. Let's talk about apples.

I'm obsessed with fruit, if you hadn't guessed and, as mentioned before, see it a treat to have one 200 yen apple a week. Can you imagine my absolute delight when student who brought me in bag of persimmons the other week, gave me a bag with four massive apples? By massive I mean, it's a two hand job to eat them, and I don't have tiny hands by any shot of the imagination. Think of the biggest cooking apple you've ever seen - these are bigger. They are so juicy you have to slurp as you eat, and taste as sweet as honey and are as crunchy as a bag of crisps (potato chips). Heaven! I love my students!! I was asking a couple of them about Japanese vegetables, and she's going to invite me and another student to her house to cook for us both in the new year. YAY!

I swear I'll never be a skinny cow. I love food too much. Oh well!!! The way I see it, food is there to be enjoyed. It's not just for survival.

I'm still in love with the service you get in Japan. Every assistant greets you in the shops, and even if you touch everything and buy nothing, they still thank you. I know it means nothing, but I love it!

And even if you buy fast food, they take so much care with folding your bag over and nipping in the corner....... It's nice! It makes a difference, and is certainly better than being served by some stroppy little spotty cow who'd rather be doing anything but serving you.

I bought a can of pop the other day, and I have no idea what they made the can from, but none of us could squeeze or dent it!

Sunday was nice. I went out to lunch with one of my colleagues, a school manager and some others, and we had a lovely relaxing lunch, before hiring boats on the lake. The boat I was in was a huge swan. The bloody thing wouldn't go under the bridges on the lake though. We were all very silly and in all, with the weather being lovely as well, it was a fun day.

I have a new neighbour. Another teacher working for the same company. He came around and introduced himself in the morning. Nice lad. Later I was in the kitchen and heard English voices outside, so went to investigate, and another of my neigbours, who I hadn't met (there are seven of us in the block of about 16 flats) was talking to new neighbour outside. We're all planning to go drinking next weekend.

Dried fish is massive here. As beer food. Think pork crackling I guess. Anyway, I've so far resisted buying a bag of dried squid to munch on. Or dried octopus. Or dried sprats. Or any of the many other delights on offer. And even the mixed nuts and dried fish bags (seriously) have so far not tempted me. I feel sure I will give in one day. But there's no rush!

Actually, I had my first ever oyster on Sunday. Are you meant to swallow them whole, or chew? Anyhow, I didn't think that much of it. It seemed an expensive way to have cold, slimy lemon.

Did I somehow miss something?

Saturday, November 27, 2004


buggerations. i've been googling for sites on japanese vegetables and started coming across some great links that i put into a post....... lots of nice links. and the bloody internet crashed out all the sites i had open. grrrr.

oh, and anyone (Mr Teacher?) who can tell me how to add links to the site outside of the posts, i'd be mightily grateful.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Trains, bikes and satsumas

This morning I took the wrong train. Twice. Now that takes skill. I teach on a Friday two stations from where I live. My Japanese lesson (with scarey, intimidating teacher) is in the middle station between these two, therefore getting to work from Japanese lesson meant going one stop. Today, however, I managed to accidently get on a fast train which took me six stations too far to the east. I then got on the wrong train to go back and went five stations too far to the west of where I wanted to go. Both trains took ages to get going and I ended up too late for a meeting I was meant to have!

I then managed to open the door of a new cupboard in the school and watch it come off in my hand.

Finally, one of my colleagues had a student scheduled he didn't like and asked if I'd swap with him. I didn't mind so agreed. Time of lesson came and I took the wrong student into my class and started the lesson (well, I'd met the student I should have had once, but I have so many students I'd forgotten what she looked like and the one sitting waiting smiled and...) until my colleague came in and pointed out I'd taken the wrong one. Hey, I'll teach anyone me! He ended up discussing Bush for most of his lesson, so I think I had a lucky escape. I just tortured my poor student with phrasal verbs. She's booked more lessons with me though (some students don't have regular days or regular teachers).

Today's school has a large and rather nice Christmas Tree. Nobody is meant to notice that it's hung with rabbits and eggs, so I pointed them out to one of my ten year old girls. We giggled our heads off. The school manager still couldn't explain the Christmas rabbit or Christmas egg though... Actually I had her miming in the class today (private lesson, just her) and she's hilarious. We both giggled. A lot. And she's a great kid - as long as you hold her attention! She has a very weird brother though that my colleague teaches at the same time. He doesn't think he could handle the sister, I don't think I could handle teaching weird brother. It works out well.

Another of my students commented I looked tired. I gave her a tough lesson as a result. That'll teach her!

I always used to get a little confused when I went to get my bike as it wasn't exactly where I'd left it. Remember, you lock them to themselves, not to any other object. Today, in two places, I realised why. A little man (in both places I saw them, they were little men) is employed to straighten out bikes and maximise space available. Sweet. Especially as these are generally in places that I don't think they should be. There are bike parking exclusion zones around stations for quite a distance.

Today I treated myself to a colouring book to go with the colouring pencils I got the other day. I felt the urge. Sarah, I'm sure will understand, but I doubt anyone else will!

I also treated myself to a bag of ten satsumas. I found a supermarket they weren't quite so expensive - worked out about 100 - 120 yen per satsuma. http://www.xe.com/ucc/ if you want to convert that!

And the school manager today asked if I fancied going out for lunch with her and some other teachers on Sunday. Should be nice.

I feel I'm finding my feet now, instead of just flapping around and hoping for the best.

And the wind outside is mad! It's going bananas and really whipping one up. Everything is thumping and clanging around out there. Hope my bike is still in one piece by the morning!

Thursday, November 25, 2004


To get kids to understand some of the longer words I've been exaggerating what I say, like I do with adults. Problem is, the adults sometimes don't get it for a long while. The kids, however, do. Well, sometimes. Other times they still mispronounce, but mimic my silly intonation exactly. It's the funniest thing ever! It's also made me realise just often I put on silly voices (to kids and adults alike) to drum home a point.

Japanese speakers have great difficulty differentiating between various pairs of sounds, like 's' and 'sh', 't', and 'th', 'l' and 'r', and making exaggerated face shapes, etc is the best way to try and teach this!

I've also realised that I'm picking up a lot of Japanese-isms, like bowing and waving to people when you are a few centimetres in front of them (not at the same time!) . Seriously. All Japanese do it, I just don't know when I started it!

My timetable is getting ridiculously full now in all my schools. Today I taught TEN classes in six hours, most of whom were beginners or kids. My final class was a more advanced adult. We discussed population demographics and the problems of old people. What a relief! Especially as the lesson before, with two intermediate adult sisters, is always so painful. Today one of them told me about a movie she saw at the weekend with Santa Clause and a polar train, or something like that, so I started discussing Santa Clause and asked if department stores had Santa Clauses in Japan, and if parents took their kids to see him. I thought I'd asked about quantum physics or something, as it took them nearly five minutes to say no. GAH!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The dental tooth, er truth, starts emerging...

I had one student define a dentist today, and she said: it's someone you go to when your teeth are bad. Now I get it. Prevention better than cure, and all that. Not. And no, I didn't start discussing teeth with her, we were defining different jobs.

My receptionist gave me two satsumas today. I was in heaven...... I adore satsumas and could eat millions. In Tokyo though, they're just too expensive for me. I generally 'treat' myself to one apple, one orange and one kiwi fruit a week, and a bunch of bananas if I'm being really generous. Madness.

I was getting my nine year old lads to tell me about their days today. I knew kids used to have to clean their own schools, but I had, for some reason, imagined it had stopped. It hasn't. After lunch, Japanese kids clean their schools. So, there you have it. Schools in Britain never have enough money: sack the caretaker and cleaners and get the kids rolling up their sleeves and scrubbing.

And one of my nine year olds has to clean the bath every night in his home, before having dinner... Is this normal anywhere else?

Todays cute dolphin story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4034383.stm - awww!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Just what season are we in?

Some random things - plastic sachets here can only be torn in one place. And if you're a millimetre out they will not open. Honestly!

Have I mentioned I've become addicted to Japanese mayonnaise? It's soooo nice. Nothing like the mayo in the UK!

I decided I HAD to try a green tea flavoured kit kat this evening. It was light green and delicious. I felt very sick after eating it though, but chocolate often has that affect (effect?) on me.

I realised I didn't explain clearly about the locking up bike situation here. The reason you get hundreds crammed into small areas here is that you don't lock the bike TO anything. All bikes come fitted with locks attached to the frame that hooks through the back wheel. They all have things to stand themselves up with and, hence, are free standing and crowded in together.

Oh and the tooth thing again: one of the reasons for bad teeth here is the toothpaste doesn't have flouride in it. Something I'm going to have to remember to ask for.

Victoria Beckham (Beck-HAM as the kids say here) is massive here. Apparantly. For any non-UKers - she's not taken at all seriously in the UK and generally annoys the hell out of people.

As the weather here is now all over the place (hot, cold, hot, cold), people have dug all their old clothes out. The stench of mothballs you now get in elevators and on the trains is unreal!

And heating is on everywhere too. Or on and off and on and off in the case of my schools. Means I'm generally too hot or too cold and constantly putting clothes back on or taking them back off again. There have been some lovely sunny days here recently, it's just the nights that are regularly bloody cold!

I have a rug in my 'kitchen' that I keep noticing every few days has moved by half a metre or more. I can't quite figure this out, unless every time I step on it I move it slightly.

Squat loos. I've not mentioned them for a while either. I'm happy (happier) to use them now. I may even try one without the precaution of rolling up my trouser legs next time....

Sunday was fantastic! I went to see the Shichigosan (7, 5, 3) festival at the Meiji Shrine. I had to go to Harajuku station to get there and the area is packed with people streaming out. As you come out the station the first thing to hit you is the massive Snoopy Town shop opposite you. As you enter you're thrown a Snoopyfied Disney shop basically but much much bigger and with everything you could possibly want with Snoopy on, and much more you really couldn't want even if you were certifiably insane. We're talking from Snoopy muffins, to Snoopy ironing boards (no, not ironing board COVERS but ironing boards), everything you could want for the kitchen and every item of clothing imaginable. And too too many other things. I didn't buy anything. I must find a Kittysan shop though (Hello Kitty).

As you leave the shop and head on towards the park to walk through to the shrine you pass a square where dozens of young (and not so young) people get dressed up in costumes, and stand around posing for people to take their pictures. We're talking carnival, gay pride, fancy dress party all in one. Baby doll outfits, bright yellow suits, shoes with big block heals six inches high. Lots and lots of stripey socks. Bizarre makeup and hair styles. The works. I also saw one old guy with a hat covered in a multitued of things including a little plastic bag in which a goldfish was swimming around. Really. I took a few pictures. It was most amusing.

I then crunched my way through a ton of gravel and passed lots of massive trees to get to the shrine, taking stacks of pictures of kids on the way. They were all dressed up in Kimonos and had their hair all made up, etc, and many of their parents and grandparents were also dressed up. Many of the kiddies were in red, but some had pink, yellow or green kimonos. At the beginning I politely asked the parents if I could take pictures of their kids - well, by politely we're talking, sumimasen [excuse me], dozo? [please?] [point at camera, point at kid] - at which point the kids were instructed by the parent/grandparent to pose for me. As every parent said yes, and I saw other people weren't asking first, I stopped asking after a while. I've said before, Japanese kids are really gorgeous. Japanese kids all dressed up are little treasures. And the little boys in little warrior looking outfits... awwww - I want some Japanese children. I just don't want to go through childbirth or bringing them up!

The shrine was something else. Massive and really impressive and there was a load of flowers and bonsais displayed just before you entered. I did the ritual hand and mouth wash thing, and soaked my camera at the same time. Still, I felt it was the proper thing to do. Inside the shrine (a massive square before the 'alter' bit) was a bit like a supermarket. Donno if it was a harvest festival thingy (quite likely I guess) but there was a massive amount of food and drink (including bottles of mayonnaise) all around the outside of the square. Watched and took more pictures of kids and their families and wrote a wish for all my friends that I inserted into a little box around a tree.

I was also lucky enough to observe parts of a wedding whilst there. The bride looked thoroughly bored and someone straightened the bride and grooms clothing every few minutes. Now, they must have been pretty well off to have married at the shrine. Something happened inside, then the whole procession and guests walked outside and sat down for a while as something else went on. They then wandered back inside for something else to happen. She was wearing a white kimono-ish thing during this. Later they came out again, wandered around for a lot longer and disappeared inside again. That time she was wearing a bright kimono. Later, after doing whatever else inside, they came out for another wander around (the whole procession and all the guests) and she was wearing the white thing again. They disappeared inside another time and I had to go so don't know if this went on all night.

After that I met up with my neighbour and her brother and we walked up the road a bit to see some Rockabillies who regularly 'perform'. Japanese rockabillies, complete with quiffs. Very amusing, and they were dancing away too! Apparantly they're there at least every Sunday.

We went into a 100 yen shop that had FOUR FLOORS. Lovely. I resisted buying anything from there though, although I adore 100 yen shops. The world should be full of them!

We also went into Doggy Gap. Okay, it wasn't called 'Gap' but might have well have been. Poor little chihuahuas (yuck!) aren't able to stand the climate in Japan. Apparantly. (bof). Anyway, doggy gap had everything your stylish chihuahua could want, from romper suits, to baseball jackets, to little hats with, or without, added ears. You could also get a Dalmation outfit for your chihuahua, a Mickey (or Minnie) Mouse outfit or, for the seasonal look a Santa or a Rudolph outfit. As I wasn't alone, we were roaring our heads off picking things up and screaming to each other. I can't remember half the other stuff they had there, but suits, t-shirts and jumpers, socks and shoes were amongst them...

I met up this morning with language exchange woman. Oh my god. She's lovely! We had a lovely natter in English and she helped me with Japanese and am definitely going to try to meet up every week. We met at one of the Starbucks and sat outside, as the weather was so lovely. Along with lots of people who all had large dogs with them. Real dogs. Labradores and the like. After seeing chihuahuas everywhere, this was so refreshing. The pipe smokers weren't so refreshing though.

Autumn has been hitting Tokyo the last few weeks, and this afternoon went with a friend to a big park where leaves were all starting to turn red. Beautiful. Would have been extremely peaceful there too, if it hadn't been for the hoards of people!


And all of my thoughts are with Jacks right now for what the next few weeks bring you all. (Okay, maybe not all of my thoughts, but a lot of them!)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Friday, Friday

Two of my students cancelled today. Bliss! Means I'm ahead on my weeks lesson preparations.

Some lessons, especially with the better students, I just forget to open the textbook as we get so engrossed in conversation. I'm learning so much from my students about Japan. About religion, death, customs in Japan, superstition, school girls and their teeny skirts, all sorts. I love it. And I think they like someone showing an interest. And lessons are fun with these students as you can have a bit of a laugh. One of my days I have pretty much nothing other than foundation and elementary students - ie not good - and it can get a bit painful...

I have one male student though, who goes over the top with the old hair drying and who I can't figure out if he smells of hair spray or some weird fragrance. Anyway, he's around my age, lives at home and has a Scottish fiancee. He is so serious. He's one of those students I mentioned that has little imagination, even when I get animated... And a sense of humour I'm yet to see. Had one particularly interesting bit last lesson when the text book said something was funny, he didn't get it, I thought it was silly anyway, but -- you know how when you have to explain a joke it loses it completely? I explained it and he still didn't get it (this is a pretty high level student remember) so I ended up having to explain the history of the joke and pull it apart. He still didn't get it, so I gave up. It wasn't that important. I've planned the next lesson with him already, and the text book has a reading comp that's a long and very corny joke. I'm dreading it. Thing is it IS a good exercise so I'm going to do it. The book says you may need to explain it and if the student doesn't get it move on..... GAH! Chances of him getting it are; well, I'll see!

Stubble. I'm yet to see a stubbly Japanese guy. Most have hairless faces. Quite nice really. And as for wrinkles - the Japanese have to be pretty old before you see wrinkles on them. I have some students who, were they British for example, would have wrinkled 20 years previously. Most seem pretty line-free too. Lucky buggers!

On my way to meet my Japanese volunteer this morning, I was on an escalator descending to the street when suddenly an American voice behind me rings out: 'is that a foreigner I see behind me?' I had nowhere to run to and was walking in the same direction as him unfortunately. Anyway, he's a missionery who's been in Japan for 21 years, although his church has been there for 103 years, or 7000 years or something... Luckily he had to cross over eventually and I wasn't invited to the church!

The Japanese lesson was so-so and the cheeky gits thrust some papers onto me to correct into English... I figured the organisation could come in pretty handy some time, so did it....

Stuff and life...

Bless! Look what they've done to help a disabled dolphin in Japan: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4021993.stm - brought tears to my eyes. But I am a softie really.

Talking of softies, or not - I have a class with two 3 year olds who are the cutest kids and very sweet natured and gentle and always burst into my class with big grins on their faces. They're a boy and a girl and work really well together. I think I've woken up the devils in them. I always make activities fair so if I tell them to find something there's enough things for them both to find (a blue triangle or whatever). Although even with that the competitive edge is becoming noticeable! 'Spot' however is a different matter. You know 'Spot' - as in 'Where's Spot?', the lift the flap book? Last week I introduced them to it and they loved it. This week I asked them, 'who's spot'? and their faces lit up and they pointed to the book which was amongst a heap of other stuff. We sat down and the passive little angels were practically elbowing each other out the way to lift flaps and yell 'no'. I even noticed some glares being passed.... Little sweetie girlie is going to be putting men in their place for ever more, I feel!

And as for little sweetie girls. There's a big festival for children here every year called the 7,5,3 festival, where girls of 7 and 3 and boys of 7 and 5 get dressed up in traditional gear (shichi-go-san festival) and taken to a temple for blessings. I'm off to one on Sunday to take lots of piccies. A couple of students were telling me the other day about how the kids get put into kimonos and their hair gets sculpted into weird do's and they have make-up put on, etc. It's common the month before the festival for kids to be dressed up for pics, and today I saw two of one of my cutesy 7 year old girls (okay, all Japanese kids are cute!) looking beautiful - she verges on tomboy normally - dead cheeky and bright, with hair all over the place. Bit like me really. Anyway, seeing lipstick on her in the pics made me shudder. Like all the American beauty pageant kids...... It's just SO wrong, imo. Maybe it's just me that feels uncomfy by it though.

Teeth. Have I mentioned teeth before? Not mine, but Japanese teeth? Maybe beautiful teeth and good dental care are a Western thing but I'm truely horrified by what I've seen here. The amount of rotten teeth in people's mouths (black, grey or dark brown), or black spots, thick thick layers of plaque, teeth leaning every which way and badly overlapping sometimes. Considering how much care and attention Tokyo-ites take with their appearance, I'm totally shocked by this. Cutesy 7 year old is case in point. All of her teeth have black spots over them. Too sad.

[Gah, I hate this laptop sometimes, it just deleted two paragraphs!]

Anyway, shorts and short skirts are still very much in abundance here, despite the cold. This is on kids and adults, mind you, and generally worn with long socks or long boots, or sometimes little shoes and, gasp, legwarmers (euw, euw, euw). There have been no sightings of tights so far... And I freeze in a suit.

I know have three umbrellas outside my apartment and one at one of my schools. Well, it was raining very very heavily this evening, and you borrow one, you leave one, you know how it is. Anyway, this evening has been nasty, nasty and when I got back to my station I had to decide what to do with my bike. I don't pay for it anymore, choosing instead to leave it outside a random bank with loads of other bikes. By loads of bikes, I mean it takes up to ten minutes on an average night to get it free. Anyway, tonight I could have left it where it was, in the hopes of staying dryer, but then it could have been nicked, and, if it's dry tomorrow I'll want to use it. Okay, both are unlikely, but still. This meant getting it home. If I'd been Japanese I'd have hopped straight onto my bike and, holding my umbrella over me, sped off home. I'm not however, and saw the likelyhood of me killing myself as pretty high. Or at the very least I'd have gotten soaked to the core. Instead, I manaeouvered (nope, can't be arsed to check spelling) my bike with one hand, umbrella with the other and walked the 15 minutes. That was enough of a feat. I'm glad I didn't try to cycle!

In my desire (desparation) for Japanese friends, I answered a language exchange ad in the weekly English language magazine for ex-pats that comes out here. No, really, I'm looking for language exchange not a boyfriend! Anyway, one woman advertised who lives close to me and I emailed her. We're going to meet next week. She's a housewife, about my age, with two kids and loves everything about England, including the Bay City Rollers. Should I tell her?

This isn't meant to be a 'pick on the Japanese' post, what with everything I've already said, but another thing we teachers here commonly agree on, is the lack of imagination most of our adult students have when asked to do simple hypothetical or imagining exercises. People put it down to the education system here. But I do wonder....

I love the little sachets of dried things you get here, that you just pop into water and suddenly it's grown into a full three course meal. Okay, not quite, but for example, the seaweed you put into Miso soup (yuuummmmy!) is tiny and dried one minute and kerblam - it's taken over your bowl. Likewise, the pot noodly things you get here that have 2 or 3 sachets of ingredients and sauce or oil to put over the noodle. It's all shrivelly and then the second the hot water hits it...

And thanks to everyone who's left a comment or stuck a pin in the map!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

All better!

Yesterday's mood passed and everything is back to normal. It's all cute again here in Tokyo. And it would seem most gaijin feel this way. Everyone gets their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/neighbour to do Japanese-y things for them. Some comfort, but I'd still like to be able to do more.

And.... I have internet access at home now. My neighbour came in and sorted it out for me. I left him a bottle of coke and a box of cookies outside his apartment as thanks. Well, he doesn't drink. Strange person!

Means I'm all MSN'd again!

Today I finished at 6pm, instead of my normal 9pm which was blissful!

And slow as I am to catch onto these things, I think I may be hooked on 24, which I'd never seen before yesterday. The local dvd store has all three series in.... Can't believe I never got into it before.

And getting back to a normal keyboard after using Japanese ones for so long is very weird!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Not such a good one.

Today I`ve been feeling really down. I`m hoping this will pass quickly.

Thing is, I`m an overly independent person, and it suddenly occurred to me that here, in Japan, I`m dependent on other people for the simplest of things, like phoning a post office to get my mail redirected, etc. It`s been seven weeks now and I`m finding out how to do more and more things, like yesterday I managed to break down a 10,000 yen note in the machine without any help or English instructions - or I figure out what a word means through hearing it loads, or I know if the shop assistant is offering to heat my bento box because that`s what always happens. It`s the rest that`s really getting me down though. I attempted to get a cinema ticket this evening and just gave up. My mobile phone, dvd club membership, etc I got by brandishing notes in Japanese that had been written for me. My phone line was organised by my school. I have a modem sitting at home now that gets activated tomorrow. All the instructions are are Japanese. This also makes me acutely aware that I can`t just call up a mate to help me.

It`s also the friend thing and the having to get people and get past the initial stages of friendship here. I mean, I know quite a few people here now, but no close buddies yet.

As I said, this will hopefully pass.

And all it comes down to (all?) is a lack of ability to communicate in Japanese. I just wish I could find the energy to study every day.

And what upset me even more, was passing a pet shop. I feel about pet shops the way I feel about zoos. This one had little cages with dogs, on their own, pacing up and down frantically. Except for one beautiful King Charles, who just lay there with no room to pace. Why? How can the shop do this to these poor animals? I hope they`re not in there for long.

Sorry for the lack of cuteness in this post. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


So, a vodka and tonic in Japanese is a vodka tonic. I`m liberated. Friday night after work went out for a colleagues birthday, had a couple of doubles and FISH and CHIPS in an Irish pub. Was pretty cheap too.

Then Saturday there was a welcome piss up for a few of us newer teachers at another of the schools I teach it. It involved a 3500 yen eat and drink as much as you can deal. Now, 3500 yen (about 17 quid) is a lot of money to me at the moment as I won`t have much money to throw around for another couple of months but, after much dithering, I gave in and went along. The choice of free drinks was pretty wide, but as my request for vodka some how became gin, that`s what I stuck to. As they are, obviously, pretty slow at coming with the drinks (we only had two hours) we were mass ordering. The first time I asked for a large gin (well, I actually tried to get a pitcher for myself, but they weren`t going for that for some reason) the waiter looked absolutely horrified. They obviously don`t get many Brits in that particular Shinjuku Izakaya. But bring them they did. And I spent most of the two hours rotating my way through pints of weak G & T. As we started running out of time, I thought I`d try to get a straight shot or two from them.

I wasn`t expecting a straight half pint of gin though!

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I didn`t get overly drunk, had a great evening and had no hangover the next day. We sang some karaoke and most of the group went on to sing more. My current budget wouldn`t allow for it though. Still, there`s no rush.

My modem finally arrived and gets switched on Wednesday. Problem is though that the installing instructions are all in Japanese. I have managed to figure out which bit to plug into which other bit though. And as anyone who knows me could testify, even if the instructions were in English, I`d probably have difficulties. And all my IT-knowledgeable friends are back in the UK.

Of course this ALSO means I`ll be MSN`d again!

My swollen gum cleared up by itself, which is a relief, as I didn`t want to have to tackle a dentist here.

And I now know where there`s a massive library, near me, with a huge selection of English language books. Can`t wait to find it!

Second Japanese lesson went much better too. I told her that memorising huge chunks of information wasn`t the British way of learning and I wasn`t capable of it. She understood. Thankfully! I just need to find the time to sit down and get into the habit of regular study!

Oh and I am SO bored with wearing suits and the same shirts every day. In the UK I wore the same thing all the time, but it was never a problem. Figure this one out!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bookshops, persimmons, sleep and stinky dogs

This morning I washed my duvet cover and hung it on the balcony to dry. We`ve had about five days or so of lovely sunshine. Today it rained. Grrrr!

I`m loving my persimmons. They sort of sweet and crunchy and orange. Niiiiiice. I hope I get given more fruit. Actually, I think one of my students is going to put some Japanese music onto a CD for me. We were discussing music in the class and I said I`d not heard any Japanese stuff. Her parting words were something to do with did I have a cassette player or a cd player. I hope I`m right! I love my students. :D

Student with six chihuahua`s brought one of them in. It was a scrawny, little thing that just laid across the student`s lap and did nothing. Call that a dog?? And it wore a t-shirt, though not a Beckham one. And it absolutely stank. The receptionist thinks the student stinks too, but I couldn`t tell whether the all the smell was from the dog or not so I`ll reserve judgement for now. He normally sits a bit further away from me too!!!

I finally got around to hunting down one of the secondhand Englsih bookshops in Tokyo. Heaven. Except I was running late so it was a whistlestop tour, which was horrible. Shopping for books should not be rushed under any circumstances, in my opinion. Anyway, I grabbed two. I really should investigate the situation with English novels in libraries here. The bookshop buys as wells as sells, so I guess I should be disciplined, and not hoard like I normally do!

Sleep is a funny thing here. It seems everyone learns from an early age that it is of a premium and to be grabbed whenever and wherever possible. As a result you often see young kids in the basket on a fast moving bike, sound asleep. Or a businessman on a train, one arm resting in the overhead strap, sound asleep. On Sunday, at the festival, this little kid was sitting on his little bike in front of the, extremely loud, drums, and just sort of dozed off, sitting upright. It was hilarious. Took ages for his dad to notice too!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Falling Apart

I REALLY have to get this sleep business sorted out. I did try sleeping with my head facing the other way, which has worked in other places I`ve lived in, but not here. More futon movement needed me thinks. In the meantime, I`m now 4.5 weeks into this cold and every time it nearly clears another student snuffles over me, or another commuter coughs....

I did find echinacea in a pharmacy here and stocked up on that and vitamin C. Actually, finding echinacea was SO wonderful I can`t actually explain it!

I`ve also got a bit of a swollen eye and a bit of a swollen gum. And my skin won`t clear up (I have eczema). Again, I put all of this down to lack of decent sleep.

One of my students bought me a bag of persimmons today. Apparantly they are rich in vitamin C. I love students that bring me gifts! I`m not sure if they are the same as what we call Sharon Fruits. Shaped like an orange but hard and shiny on the outside. You have to peel them...... Yummy! Can`t wait. Of course, they might be horrible........

Talking about fruit. I bought my first apple yesterday since I`ve been in Tokyo. It was big and juicy and wonderful. Although for nearly 200 yen (a pound to UKers) I was expecting pretty amazing things. I`ve mentioned before that fresh fruit and veg are shockingly expensive here. Most annoying.

And one of the school receptionists suggested we should go out for a drink next week. Awww!

I had a couple of interesting train experiences the other day. Someone who was sitting next to me got up and moved away to sit somewhere else. Silly cow. Maybe she was scared of gaijin`s or something. That evening, an oldish man came and sat down next to me and started nattering away for the whole duration of the journey. His English was pretty good and he obviously loved chatting in English. I couldn`t understand everything he said, but let him ramble anyway. We talked about the decline in religion in the world, and all sorts. Sweet guy!

Remember all the rain we`ve had here? Well, the last few days we`ve had glorious sunshine! Though today I stepped outside the school at five to get some lunch and it was dark and grey. I guess the constantly changing weather here isn`t helping with all the colds either.

And I`ve started seeing lots of leaves on the ground! Finally!

Especially on Sunday when I went to a local festival (Kokunbungi) in a large park near where I live. Apart from seeing a Yorkshire Terrier in a Beckham t-shirt, of which there is absolutely NO acceptable excuse, everything was wonderful. Though there were a lot of men without any trousers on and THE skinniest legs you could ever, or never, imagine. We`re talking about a sparrow looking fat in comparison. They looked like they would break. And I have no idea why they were trouserless. Though at least one was wearing a thong..... Well, if you WILL bend over to pick things up when you have nothing on your lower half what do you expect.....

As for the rest, lots of traditional costumes, traditional dancing and musical instruments and drumming displays on the BIGGEST drums I have ever seen. Oh and loads of food stalls and things being sold. In the autumn background of a warm day it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon off. (I could have spent the morning too, but sleep seemed more alluring).

I also bought a whole kilogramme of miso paste yesterday. Now I adore miso soup, but whether I can get through a whole kilo before it goes off, remains to be seen. Thing is, I didn`t see anything any smaller!

I think one of the reasons Japanese kids are so cute is because they are so tiny compared to British or American kids. I had THE cutest six year old boy today. He lived in the UK for four years (he`s Japanese) and returned to Japan about three weeks ago. His mother is worried he`ll forget his English and wanted a British female teacher. I gave him a trial lesson today and he`s now signed over to me. He`s SO SO cute, and really bright too. My Mondays are going to become even more tiring, I feel!

Oh and one student asked me to rewrite her daughters essay to win a place on a homestay in the UK next year. Technically, that`s not cheating is it? I`ve given her a wonderful essay to hand in!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Days Off

Tuesday night we had a `welcome party` thing. It involved some food and quite a bit of beer and hot saki. Great evening, and didn`t feel that drunk afterwards. On the way home I gave in, yet again to my fruit in jelly urge. As someone put it, it`s a rather odd thing to crave when you`ve been drinking, but hey.

Yesterday woke up with a headache :(

Now I`ve had more than my fair share of hangovers in the past and passionately hate people who claim to have never had one, but over the last couple of years alcohol can sometimes trigger off a headache in my that lasts rather a long time. The one I woke up with yesterday morning, I still haven`t completely shaken and it`s now the following evening. Just great!

It struck me the other day just how safe I feel here. I`m a Londoner who has also lived in Paris, but the Tokyo is in another league. I`ve not felt even slightly threatened once, and I`m not concerned about anyone rifling through my bag on the train, or knicking my mobile from my hand if I`m seen using it.... Maybe I just should have got back out of London a while ago.

It`s also struck me that I can either do things that I`d like to do, or get things done that need to be done. It`s humanly impossible to do both. Bit annoying that really.

Before I came out here, I was under the attitude that I didn`t want to spend all of my time here with other teachers. Funny how things change and how you long for real conversations with people who can relate to what you`re saying, isn`t it.

That said though, an old flatmate of mine from way back, a Japanese girl living in Tokyo, has finally picked up my emails and realised I`m here. Can`t wait to meet up with her again.

Forks are so daft. You pick food up with a fork and it falls off. Why doesn`t everyone just use chopsticks. It`s so much more civilised.

Yesterday I accidently played bike dominoes. My bike lives at the bottom of my apartment block next to a load of other bikes. I unlocked my bike yesterday, through my bag into the basket at the front and managed to, somehow, knock it slightly. It kind of toppled over, and toppled the ten bikes to the side of it. Oops. It WAS very funny though, and I`ve been waiting for it to happen for ages. The day before, I narrowly avoided walking into a bike (hey, I don`t always look where I`m going) - that WOULD have been embarrasing.

I went into a Subway sandwich shop. According to the t-shirts of the staff there, they are all `sandwich artists`. Gotta giggle...

Anyone remember the huge spider, `Maman`, that used to be in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern? I saw it yesterday. It`s now in Roppongi Hills, in Tokyo. Roppongi is known for hostess bars and prostitutes. Roppongi Hills has lots of designer shops and tall towers........

On the subject of hostess bars... hostesses in Tokyo chat to customers in bars, pour them drinks, light their cigarettes and sing karaoke with them. There`s a no touch policy. Apparantly. Sometimes the hostesses have to go out on `private dates` with the customers before taking them to the bar and they get bought dinners. That`s it. But I can`t get the sordid connotations out of my head. Yesterday I was talking with a few girls that get second incomes as hostesses, and this is what they told me. Choosing to be near drunken salarymen doesn`t appeal at all. Having to slap on a load of make up and be sweet and charming after a long day of working even less so. Each to their own I guess, although I think when I decide to get a second income it`ll be through private teaching and not hostessing. Anything is possible though, I guess.

What do you think? Doesn`t `hostess` and `hostess bar` have extremely sordid connotations??

I faxed off my internet application today. Should be a couple of weeks til I have it at home now!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

snuffle, snuffle.

I can`t shake this bloody cold. It`s driving me nuts, and getting the train and having snuffly students doesn`t help either.

When I was in Ueno, there was a massive tent city in the park. A bit of a complete contrast to what I`ve seen so far. And so many stray pussy cats and crows. Actually, I saw one old man feeding the crows. They were eating from his hand. I guess they`re not that evil after all.

I gave in and had a bath last night. By give in, I mean the idea of sitting in something which would need a good 12 inches or so extra length to be able to sit with your legs spread straight in front of you..... Well, the appeal wasn`t there. Anyway, armed with half a bottle of red wine, I gave it a go. Please let me know if you`ve experienced this AND managed to find a comfy position. Even the wine didn`t help, though there were definite moments of niceness about being up to your neck in hot water.

[Warning: euw bit..] My legs needed a bit of a shave so I gave them one. When I let the water out, I noticed a nice centimetre of water all over my bathroom floor (it`s okay, it`s plastic like the bath -- in fact it looks like it`s one huge bit of plastic that`s been used for both, and there`s also a massive drain in the corner), anyway, all the hairs I`d shaved off, were floating in it. Lovely. Not.

I had my first Japanese lesson today from a volunteer. She tried to get me to learn the whole of one of the systems of writing in the lesson. That`s 103 characters. I had a very good lesson in how not to teach anyway. I was exhausted.

Japanese fashion is interesting. Much of it is either just plain weird, or so dated it`s unbelievable. I love staring at what people are wearing here. And apparantly, according to one student, the reason school girls wear such short skirts, is they all take them to tailors to get them taken up professionally. Too much pocket money is my opinion!

A lot of Japanese females have a very strange walk. It`s hard to describe: sort of knock-kneed/sparrow legged, but also like they might be walking along doing kegel`s or something. (look it up). I don`t know if I`ll ever get a reason or explanation for this. Maybe they think it looks cute? A bit like the voice thing I mentioned before. I`ve started asking my intermediate students LOTS of questions anyway...

And, on top of lovely map from student last week, another student gave me a box of chocolates yesterday.

Also, I had a floating student (someone who doesn`t have regular lessons or a regular teacher) and the notes from previous teachers scared me shitless. There were comments saying she`s told one teacher they were the worst she`d ever had, and that she was timid, hard work and all sorts. I was scared shitless, but she was lovely and we had a half hour of chatting before she told the receptionist she`d like me again if I have any more cancellations. Guess I`m doing something right.

Teaching: in a nutshell you are an entertainer to most of your students, in my opinion. No wonder it`s so exhausting!

I DO love it though and wouldn`t be back in London, slaving away for the BBC again for all the money in the world.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I left my apartment and got on a train today

It`s Sunday. This is the first time in four weeks that I`ve actually left my apartment and got a train on a Sunday. Normally I`m too tired, or it`s raining too heavily, or I have too many things to do around my way.

But, today I got up reasonably early (well, I had two dvd`s to get back to the shop before 11:00), hopped on a train and made trek to Ueno which is, well, not that close to me. There`s a massive park with loads of museum`s in it and tons of shops, a market, etc here. Very big and bright and brash. I hit the park and headed to the first of the museums, The Shitamachi Museum, about old Japan. Well, 1920`s rather than old old. Normally it would have taken me about 30 minutes to do it, but I was there for two hours. There are mock ups of old houses and stores there which are pretty cool. They also have information sheets in English and Goodwill Guides -- these retired volunteers. I had one accompanying me for half the time I was there and, when he had to go to lunch a replacement came over. I had a wonderful time. I`m extremely interested in everything Japanese (obviously) and want to know lots more about Japanese history. The guides were chatting away to me, walking around and explaining everything on display and all about the traditions, the woman`s place in the house at that time, and so much more. Soo sweet. And their English was wonderful too.

In the museum, there was a famous - I don`t know what to call him - guy there known for his drawings on paper. (Think colourful anime/manga type drawings or godzilla eating ship kind of thing). He`s a really old guy and due to having had throat cancer at some point, can`t talk. Anyway, he was `performing` with his pictures and I was absolutely captivated by him. I could follow what he was saying as his pictures were so good as he went through them one by one. By `saying`, what I actually mean is he was voicing along to his voice on a tape. At the beginning this blew me away it was so funny, especially when his mouth went out of sync with what he was saying, but he was so animated, and kept banging a drum and striking a tambourine, that I forgot it was funny after a while.

As I was there so much longer than anticipated I figured it wasn`t worth paying to go into anything else, so went for a nice late lunch and another wander around.

I`ve been in training for the last couple of days. Torture, as we were aware that all other teachers working for our company had the two days off. The best thing was the human company though, as most of us there had done other training together or had come over on the same flight. We had a giggle and were extremely relieved to get out of the training! A few of us are planning a little trip to Disney in a couple of weeks. Well, why not?!

After a month, I`ve finally discovered that there are indicators all the way along the platforms at stations to tell you where to stand in relation to where the door will be. Why this took so long for me to realise I have no idea. I`m glad I have though.

I eat in public, walking around, etc, if I want to. I`ve noticed Japanese people don`t tend to do this. Oh well.

I have dozens of free packets of tissues. It`s meant to be bad manners to blow your nose in public so I find the amount of tissue pushers hilarious. Everywhere you go, people are handing out packets. They`re not like the handy andy / kleenex packets from the UK either - ie that you open at the top and that have a sticky tab to reseal. Think of the large tissue boxes that you can buy in a supermarket, but not in the cardboard boxes, but in plastic that you perforate down the centre. That`s what they`re like.

I love the mayonnaise bottles here. They`re a really flimsy, malleable plastic that means you can get every last bit out, unlike in the UK where you bash, leave sitting upside down, take a knife to, and then finally bin.

Suits. I am SO sick of wearing suits. I have nothing else to say about this.

Men. Ugly white men are gods in Japan. Most ugly white men have beautiful Japanese girls dripping off their arms. They are aware of how unusual this is for them. It makes them twats.

The Japan Times on a Saturday has pages from Sunday`s Observer. (British newspaper). I cannot discribe how happy this makes me.

I`ve given in and am now a proud possessor of silly dangly things hanging off my phone. It took a month for me to give in to cuteness. I`m doomed.

Latest bike report: still not taken away. Still expecting to find it gone whenever I go back for it though.